She leant against the door-post, and gave him her hand. Charley took it in both his own with a tenderness beyond description, unless it was like that of a child holding a captured sparrow.
"Why, there's a glove on it!" he said in a deprecating way.
"I have been walking," she observed.
"Well — it is hardly fair." She pulled off the glove, and gave him her bare hand.
They stood together minute after minute, without further speech, each looking at the blackening scene, and each thinking his and her own thoughts.
"I think I won't use it all up tonight," said Charley devotedly, when six or eight minutes had been passed by him caressing her hand. "May I have the other few minutes another time?"
"As you like," said she without the least emotion. "But it must be over in a week. Now, there is only one thing I want you to do — to wait while I put on the dress, and then to see if I do my part properly. But let me look first indoors."
She vanished for a minute or two, and went in. Her grandfather was safely asleep in his chair. "Now, then," she said, on returning, "walk down the garden a little way, and when I am ready I'll call you."
Charley walked and waited, and presently heard a soft whistle. He returned to the fuelhouse door.
"Did you whistle, Miss Vye?"
"Yes; come in," reached him in Eustacia's voice from a back quarter. "I must not strike a light till the door is shut, or it may be seen shining. Push your hat into the hole through to the wash-house, if you can feel your way across."
Charley did as commanded, and she struck the light revealing herself to be changed in sex, brilliant in colours, and armed from top to toe. Perhaps she quailed a little under Charley's vigorous gaze, but whether any shyness at her male attire appeared upon her countenance could not be seen by reason of the strips of ribbon which used to cover the face in mumming costumes, representing the barred visor of the mediaeval helmet.
"It fits pretty well," she said, looking down at the white overalls, "except that the tunic, or whatever you call it, is long in the sleeve. The bottom of the overalls I can turn up inside. Now pay attention."
Eustacia then proceeded in her delivery, striking the sword against the staff or lance at the minatory phrases, in the orthodox mumming manner, and strutting up and down. Charley seasoned his admiration with criticism of the gentlest kind, for the touch of Eustacia's hand yet remained with him.
"And now for your excuse to the others," she said. "Where do you meet before you go to Mrs. Yeobright's?"
"We thought of meeting here, miss, if you have nothing to say against it. At eight o'clock, so as to get there by nine."
"Yes. Well, you of course must not appear. I will march in about five minutes late, ready-dressed, and tell them that you can't come. I have decided that the best plan will be for you to be sent somewhere by me, to make a real thing of the excuse. Our two heath-croppers are in the habit of straying into the meads, and tomorrow evening you can go and see if they are gone there. I'll manage the rest. Now you may leave me."
"Yes, miss. But I think I'll have one minute more of what I am owed, if you don't mind."
Eustacia gave him her hand as before.
"One minute," she said, and counted on till she reached seven or eight minutes. Hand and person she then withdrew to a distance of several feet, and recovered some of her old dignity. The contract completed, she raised between them a barrier impenetrable as a wall.
"There, 'tis all gone; and I didn't mean quite all," he said, with a sigh.
"You had good measure," said she, turning away.
"Yes, miss. Well, 'tis over, and now I'll get home-along."