"No; 'tis no use," she said. "I don't want to marry you."
"I have tried hard all the time I've been thinking; for a marriage would be very nice in one sense. People would talk about me, and think I had won my battle, and I should feel triumphant, and all that, But a husband — "
"Why, he'd always be there, as you say; whenever I looked up, there he'd be."
"Of course he would — I, that is."
"Well, what I mean is that I shouldn't mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband. But since a woman can't show off in that way by herself, I shan't marry — at least yet."
"That's a terrible wooden story!"
At this criticism of her statement Bathsheba made an addition to her dignity by a slight sweep away from him.
"Upon my heart and soul, I don't know what a maid can say stupider than that," said Oak. "But dearest," he continued in a palliative voice, "don't be like it!" Oak sighed a deep honest sigh — none the less so in that, being like the sigh of a pine plantation, it was rather noticeable as a disturbance of the atmosphere. "Why won't you have me?" he appealed, creeping round the holly to reach her side.
"I cannot," she said, retreating.
"But why?" he persisted, standing still at last in despair of ever reaching her, and facing over the bush.
"Because I don't love you."
"Yes, but — "
She contracted a yawn to an inoffensive smallness, so that it was hardly ill-mannered at all. "I don't love you," she said.
"But I love you — and, as for myself, I am content to be liked."
"Oh Mr. Oak — that's very fine! You'd get to despise me."
"Never," said Mr Oak, so earnestly that he seemed to be coming, by the force of his words, straight through the bush and into her arms. "I shall do one thing in this life — one thing certain — that is, love you, and long for you, and KEEP WANTING YOU till I die." His voice had a genuine pathos now, and his large brown hands perceptibly trembled.
"It seems dreadfully wrong not to have you when you feel so much!" she said with a little distress, and looking hopelessly around for some means of escape from her moral dilemma. "How I wish I hadn't run after you!" However she seemed to have a short cut for getting back to cheerfulness, and set her face to signify archness. "It wouldn't do, Mr Oak. I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and you would never be able to, I know."
Oak cast his eyes down the field in a way implying that it was useless to attempt argument.
"Mr. Oak," she said, with luminous distinctness and common sense, "you are better off than I. I have hardly a penny in the world — I am staying with my aunt for my bare sustenance. I am better educated than you — and I don't love you a bit: that's my side of the case. Now yours: you are a farmer just beginning; and you ought in common prudence, if you marry at all (which you should certainly not think of doing at present), to marry a woman with money, who would stock a larger farm for you than you have now."
Gabriel looked at her with a little surprise and much admiration.
"That's the very thing I had been thinking myself!" he naïvely said.
Farmer Oak had one-and-a-half Christian characteristics too many to succeed with Bathsheba: his humility, and a superfluous moiety of honesty. Bathsheba was decidedly disconcerted.
"Well, then, why did you come and disturb me?" she said, almost angrily, if not quite, an enlarging red spot rising in each cheek.
"I can't do what I think would be — would be — "
"You have made an admission NOW, Mr. Oak," she exclaimed, with even more hauteur, and rocking her head disdainfully. "After that, do you think I could marry you? Not if I know it."
He broke in passionately. "But don't mistake me like that! Because I am open enough to own what every man in my shoes would have thought of, you make your colours come up your face, and get crabbed with me. That about your not being good enough for me is nonsense. You speak like a lady — all the parish notice it, and your uncle at Weatherbury is, I have heerd, a large farmer — much larger than ever I shall be. May I call in the evening, or will you walk along with me o' Sundays? I don't want you to make-up your mind at once, if you'd rather not."
"No — no — I cannot. Don't press me any more — don't. I don't love you — so 'twould be ridiculous," she said, with a laugh.
No man likes to see his emotions the sport of a merry-go-round of skittishness. "Very well," said Oak, firmly, with the bearing of one who was going to give his days and nights to Ecclesiastes for ever. "Then I'll ask you no more."