Liddy had just retired to rest. In ascending to her own chamber, Bathsheba opened the girl's door an inch or two, and, panting, said —
"Liddy, is any soldier staying in the village — sergeant somebody — rather gentlemanly for a sergeant, and good looking — a red coat with blue facings?"
"No, miss . . . No, I say; but really it might be Sergeant Troy home on furlough, though I have not seen him. He was here once in that way when the regiment was at Casterbridge."
"Yes; that's the name. Had he a moustache — no whiskers or beard?"
"What kind of a person is he?"
"Oh! miss — I blush to name it — a gay man! But I know him to be very quick and trim, who might have made his thousands, like a squire. Such a clever young dandy as he is! He's a doctor's son by name, which is a great deal; and he's an earl's son by nature!"
"Which is a great deal more. Fancy! Is it true?"
"Yes. And, he was brought up so well, and sent to Casterbridge Grammar School for years and years. Learnt all languages while he was there; and it was said he got on so far that he could take down Chinese in shorthand; but that I don't answer for, as it was only reported. However, he wasted his gifted lot, and listed a soldier; but even then he rose to be a sergeant without trying at all. Ah! such a blessing it is to be high-born; nobility of blood will shine out even in the ranks and files. And is he really come home, miss?"
"I believe so. Good-night, Liddy."
After all, how could a cheerful wearer of skirts be permanently offended with the man? There are occasions when girls like Bathsheba will put up with a great deal of unconventional behaviour. When they want to be praised, which is often, when they want to be mastered, which is sometimes; and when they want no nonsense, which is seldom. Just now the first feeling was in the ascendant with Bathsheba, with a dash of the second. Moreover, by chance or by devilry, the ministrant was antecedently made interesting by being a handsome stranger who had evidently seen better days.
So she could not clearly decide whether it was her opinion that he had insulted her or not.
"Was ever anything so odd!" she at last exclaimed to herself, in her own room. "And was ever anything so meanly done as what I did — to skulk away like that from a man who was only civil and kind!" Clearly she did not think his barefaced praise of her person an insult now.
It was a fatal omission of Boldwood's that he had never once told her she was beautiful.