The sergeant looked at his watch and told her. "What, haven't you a watch, miss?" he inquired.
"I have not just at present — I am about to get a new one."
"No. You shall be given one. Yes — you shall. A gift, Miss Everdene — a gift."
And before she knew what the young man was intending, a heavy gold watch was in her hand.
"It is an unusually good one for a man like me to possess," he quietly said. "That watch has a history. Press the spring and open the back."
She did so.
"What do you see?"
"A crest and a motto."
"A coronet with five points, and beneath, Cedit amor rebus — 'Love yields to circumstance.' It's the motto of the Earls of Severn. That watch belonged to the last lord, and was given to my mother's husband, a medical man, for his use till I came of age, when it was to be given to me. It was all the fortune that ever I inherited. That watch has regulated imperial interests in its time — the stately ceremonial, the courtly assignation, pompous travels, and lordly sleeps. Now it is yours."
"But, Sergeant Troy, I cannot take this — I cannot!" she exclaimed, with round-eyed wonder. "A gold watch! What are you doing? Don't be such a dissembler!"
The sergeant retreated to avoid receiving back his gift, which she held out persistently towards him. Bathsheba followed as he retired.
"Keep it — do, Miss Everdene — keep it!" said the erratic child of impulse. "The fact of your possessing it makes it worth ten times as much to me. A more plebeian one will answer my purpose just as well, and the pleasure of knowing whose heart my old one beats against — well, I won't speak of that. It is in far worthier hands than ever it has been in before."
"But indeed I can't have it!" she said, in a perfect simmer of distress. "Oh, how can you do such a thing; that is if you really mean it! Give me your dead father's watch, and such a valuable one! You should not be so reckless, indeed, Sergeant Troy!"
"I loved my father: good; but better, I love you more. That's how I can do it," said the sergeant, with an intonation of such exquisite fidelity to nature that it was evidently not all acted now. Her beauty, which, whilst it had been quiescent, he had praised in jest, had in its animated phases moved him to earnest; and though his seriousness was less than she imagined, it was probably more than he imagined himself.
Bathsheba was brimming with agitated bewilderment, and she said, in half-suspicious accents of feeling, "Can it be! Oh, how can it be, that you care for me, and so suddenly! You have seen so little of me: I may not be really so — so nice-looking as I seem to you. Please, do take it; Oh, do! I cannot and will not have it. Believe me, your generosity is too great. I have never done you a single kindness, and why should you be so kind to me?"
A factitious reply had been again upon his lips, but it was again suspended, and he looked at her with an arrested eye. The truth was, that as she now stood — excited, wild, and honest as the day — her alluring beauty bore out so fully the epithets he had bestowed upon it that he was quite startled at his temerity in advancing them as false. He said mechanically, "Ah, why?" and continued to look at her.
"And my workfolk see me following you about the field, and are wondering. Oh, this is dreadful!" she went on, unconscious of the transmutation she was effecting.
"I did not quite mean you to accept it at first, for it was my one poor patent of nobility," he broke out, bluntly; "but, upon my soul, I wish you would now. Without any shamming, come! Don't deny me the happiness of wearing it for my sake? But you are too lovely even to care to be kind as others are."
"No, no; don't say so! I have reasons for reserve which I cannot explain."
"Let it be, then, let it be," he said, receiving back the watch at last; "I must be leaving you now. And will you speak to me for these few weeks of my stay?"
"Indeed I will. Yet, I don't know if I will! Oh, why did you come and disturb me so!"
"Perhaps in setting a gin, I have caught myself. Such things have happened. Well, will you let me work in your fields?" he coaxed.
"Yes, I suppose so; if it is any pleasure to you."
"Miss Everdene, I thank you."
The sergeant brought his hand to the cap on the slope of his head, saluted, and returned to the distant group of haymakers.
Bathsheba could not face the haymakers now. Her heart erratically flitting hither and thither from perplexed excitement, hot, and almost tearful, she retreated homeward, murmuring, "Oh, what have I done! What does it mean! I wish I knew how much of it was true!"