"How old is he?"
"Forty, I should say — very handsome — rather stern-looking — and rich."
"What a bother this dusting is! I am always in some unfortunate plight or other," Bathsheba said, complainingly. "Why should he inquire about Fanny?"
"Oh, because, as she had no friends in her childhood, he took her and put her to school, and got her her place here under your uncle. He's a very kind man that way, but Lord — there!"
"Never was such a hopeless man for a woman! He's been courted by sixes and sevens — all the girls, gentle and simple, for miles round, have tried him. Jane Perkins worked at him for two months like a slave, and the two Miss Taylors spent a year upon him, and he cost Farmer Ives's daughter nights of tears and twenty pounds' worth of new clothes; but Lord — the money might as well have been thrown out of the window."
A little boy came up at this moment and looked in upon them. This child was one of the Coggans, who, with the Smallburys, were as common among the families of this district as the Avons and Derwents among our rivers. He always had a loosened tooth or a cut finger to show to particular friends, which he did with an air of being thereby elevated above the common herd of afflictionless humanity — to which exhibition people were expected to say "Poor child!" with a dash of congratulation as well as pity.
"I've got a pen-nee!" said Master Coggan in a scanning measure.
"Well — who gave it you, Teddy?" said Liddy.
"Mis-terr Bold-wood! He gave it to me for opening the gate."
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'Where are you going, my little man?' and I said, 'To Miss Everdene's please,' and he said, 'She is a staid woman, isn't she, my little man?' and I said, 'Yes.'"
"You naughty child! What did you say that for?"
"'Cause he gave me the penny!"
"What a pucker everything is in!" said Bathsheba, discontentedly when the child had gone. "Get away, Maryann, or go on with your scrubbing, or do something! You ought to be married by this time, and not here troubling me!"
"Ay, mistress — so I did. But what between the poor men I won't have, and the rich men who won't have me, I stand as a pelican in the wilderness!"
"Did anybody ever want to marry you miss?" Liddy ventured to ask when they were again alone. "Lots of 'em, I daresay?"
Bathsheba paused, as if about to refuse a reply, but the temptation to say yes, since it was really in her power was irresistible by aspiring virginity, in spite of her spleen at having been published as old.
"A man wanted to once," she said, in a highly experienced tone, and the image of Gabriel Oak, as the farmer, rose before her.
"How nice it must seem!" said Liddy, with the fixed features of mental realization. "And you wouldn't have him?"
"He wasn't quite good enough for me."
"How sweet to be able to disdain, when most of us are glad to say, 'Thank you!' I seem I hear it. 'No, sir — I'm your better.' or 'Kiss my foot, sir; my face is for mouths of consequence.' And did you love him, miss?"
"Oh, no. But I rather liked him."
"Do you now?"
"Of course not — what footsteps are those I hear?"
Liddy looked from a back window into the courtyard behind, which was now getting low-toned and dim with the earliest films of night. A crooked file of men was approaching the back door. The whole string of trailing individuals advanced in the completest balance of intention, like the remarkable creatures known as Chain Salpæ, which, distinctly organized in other respects, have one will common to a whole family. Some were, as usual, in snow-white smock-frocks of Russia duck, and some in whitey-brown ones of drabbet — marked on the wrists, breasts, backs, and sleeves with honeycomb-work. Two or three women in pattens brought up the rear.
"The Philistines be upon us," said Liddy, making her nose white against the glass.
"Oh, very well. Maryann, go down and keep them in the kitchen till I am dressed, and then show them in to me in the hall."