"I see," said Troy. "Suppose we sit down here."
An old tree trunk lay under the hedge immediately opposite, and they sat down.
"I was engaged to be married to Miss Everdene," said Boldwood, "but you came and — "
"Not engaged," said Troy.
"As good as engaged."
"If I had not turned up she might have become engaged to you."
"If you had not come I should certainly — yes, CERTAINLY — have been accepted by this time. If you had not seen her you might have been married to Fanny. Well, there's too much difference between Miss Everdene's station and your own for this flirtation with her ever to benefit you by ending in marriage. So all I ask is, don't molest her any more. Marry Fanny. I'll make it worth your while."
"How will you?"
"I'll pay you well now, I'll settle a sum of money upon her, and I'll see that you don't suffer from poverty in the future. I'll put it clearly. Bathsheba is only playing with you: you are too poor for her as I said; so give up wasting your time about a great match you'll never make for a moderate and rightful match you may make to-morrow; take up your carpet-bag, turn about, leave Weatherbury now, this night, and you shall take fifty pounds with you. Fanny shall have fifty to enable her to prepare for the wedding, when you have told me where she is living, and she shall have five hundred paid down on her wedding-day."
In making this statement Boldwood's voice revealed only too clearly a consciousness of the weakness of his position, his aims, and his method. His manner had lapsed quite from that of the firm and dignified Boldwood of former times; and such a scheme as he had now engaged in he would have condemned as childishly imbecile only a few months ago. We discern a grand force in the lover which he lacks whilst a free man; but there is a breadth of vision in the free man which in the lover we vainly seek. Where there is much bias there must be some narrowness, and love, though added emotion, is subtracted capacity. Boldwood exemplified this to an abnormal degree: he knew nothing of Fanny Robin's circumstances or whereabouts, he knew nothing of Troy's possibilities, yet that was what he said.
"I like Fanny best," said Troy; "and if, as you say, Miss Everdene is out of my reach, why I have all to gain by accepting your money, and marrying Fan. But she's only a servant."
"Never mind — do you agree to my arrangement?"
"Ah!" said Boldwood, in a more elastic voice. "Oh, Troy, if you like her best, why then did you step in here and injure my happiness?"
"I love Fanny best now," said Troy. "But Bathsh — Miss Everdene inflamed me, and displaced Fanny for a time. It is over now."
"Why should it be over so soon? And why then did you come here again?"
"There are weighty reasons. Fifty pounds at once, you said!"
"I did," said Boldwood, "and here they are — fifty sovereigns." He handed Troy a small packet.
"You have everything ready — it seems that you calculated on my accepting them," said the sergeant, taking the packet.
"I thought you might accept them," said Boldwood.
"You've only my word that the programme shall be adhered to, whilst I at any rate have fifty pounds."
"I had thought of that, and I have considered that if I can't appeal to your honour I can trust to your — well, shrewdness we'll call it — not to lose five hundred pounds in prospect, and also make a bitter enemy of a man who is willing to be an extremely useful friend."
"Stop, listen!" said Troy in a whisper.
A light pit-pat was audible upon the road just above them.
"By George — 'tis she," he continued. "I must go on and meet her."
"She — who?"
"Bathsheba — out alone at this time o' night!" said Boldwood in amazement, and starting up. "Why must you meet her?"
"She was expecting me to-night — and I must now speak to her, and wish her good-bye, according to your wish."
"I don't see the necessity of speaking."
"It can do no harm — and she'll be wandering about looking for me if I don't. You shall hear all I say to her. It will help you in your love-making when I am gone."
"Your tone is mocking."
"Oh no. And remember this, if she does not know what has become of me, she will think more about me than if I tell her flatly I have come to give her up."
"Will you confine your words to that one point? — Shall I hear every word you say?"
"Every word. Now sit still there, and hold my carpet bag for me, and mark what you hear."
The light footstep came closer, halting occasionally, as if the walker listened for a sound. Troy whistled a double note in a soft, fluty tone.
"Come to that, is it!" murmured Boldwood, uneasily.
"You promised silence," said Troy.
"I promise again."
Troy stepped forward.
"Frank, dearest, is that you?" The tones were Bathsheba's.
"O God!" said Boldwood.
"Yes," said Troy to her.
"How late you are," she continued, tenderly. "Did you come by the carrier? I listened and heard his wheels entering the village, but it was some time ago, and I had almost given you up, Frank."
"I was sure to come," said Frank. "You knew I should, did you not?"
"Well, I thought you would," she said, playfully; "and, Frank, it is so lucky! There's not a soul in my house but me to-night. I've packed them all off so nobody on earth will know of your visit to your lady's bower. Liddy wanted to go to her grandfather's to tell him about her holiday, and I said she might stay with them till to-morrow — when you'll be gone again."