Behind the luminous streams of this aurora militaris, she could see the hue of Troy's sword arm, spread in a scarlet haze over the space covered by its motions, like a twanged harpstring, and behind all Troy himself, mostly facing her; sometimes, to show the rear cuts, half turned away, his eye nevertheless always keenly measuring her breadth and outline, and his lips tightly closed in sustained effort. Next, his movements lapsed slower, and she could see them individually. The hissing of the sword had ceased, and he stopped entirely.
"That outer loose lock of hair wants tidying," he said, before she had moved or spoken. "Wait: I'll do it for you."
An arc of silver shone on her right side: the sword had descended. The lock dropped to the ground.
"Bravely borne!" said Troy. "You didn't flinch a shade's thickness. Wonderful in a woman!"
"It was because I didn't expect it. Oh, you have spoilt my hair!"
"Only once more."
"No — no! I am afraid of you — indeed I am!" she cried.
"I won't touch you at all — not even your hair. I am only going to kill that caterpillar settling on you. Now: still!"
It appeared that a caterpillar had come from the fern and chosen the front of her bodice as his resting place. She saw the point glisten towards her bosom, and seemingly enter it. Bathsheba closed her eyes in the full persuasion that she was killed at last. However, feeling just as usual, she opened them again.
"There it is, look," said the sergeant, holding his sword before her eyes.
The caterpillar was spitted upon its point.
"Why, it is magic!" said Bathsheba, amazed.
"Oh no — dexterity. I merely gave point to your bosom where the caterpillar was, and instead of running you through checked the extension a thousandth of an inch short of your surface."
"But how could you chop off a curl of my hair with a sword that has no edge?"
"No edge! This sword will shave like a razor. Look here."
He touched the palm of his hand with the blade, and then, lifting it, showed her a thin shaving of scarf-skin dangling therefrom.
"But you said before beginning that it was blunt and couldn't cut me!"
"That was to get you to stand still, and so make sure of your safety. The risk of injuring you through your moving was too great not to force me to tell you a fib to escape it."
She shuddered. "I have been within an inch of my life, and didn't know it!"
"More precisely speaking, you have been within half an inch of being pared alive two hundred and ninety-five times."
"Cruel, cruel, 'tis of you!"
"You have been perfectly safe, nevertheless. My sword never errs." And Troy returned the weapon to the scabbard.
Bathsheba, overcome by a hundred tumultuous feelings resulting from the scene, abstractedly sat down on a tuft of heather.
"I must leave you now," said Troy, softly. "And I'll venture to take and keep this in remembrance of you."
She saw him stoop to the grass, pick up the winding lock which he had severed from her manifold tresses, twist it round his fingers, unfasten a button in the breast of his coat, and carefully put it inside. She felt powerless to withstand or deny him. He was altogether too much for her, and Bathsheba seemed as one who, facing a reviving wind, finds it blow so strongly that it stops the breath. He drew near and said, "I must be leaving you."
He drew nearer still. A minute later and she saw his scarlet form disappear amid the ferny thicket, almost in a flash, like a brand swiftly waved.
That minute's interval had brought the blood beating into her face, set her stinging as if aflame to the very hollows of her feet, and enlarged emotion to a compass which quite swamped thought. It had brought upon her a stroke resulting, as did that of Moses in Horeb, in a liquid stream — here a stream of tears. She felt like one who has sinned a great sin.
The circumstance had been the gentle dip of Troy's mouth downwards upon her own. He had kissed her.