The Weatherbury bees were late in their swarming this year. It was in the latter part of June, and the day after the interview with Troy in the hayfield, that Bathsheba was standing in her garden, watching a swarm in the air and guessing their probable settling place. Not only were they late this year, but unruly. Sometimes throughout a whole season all the swarms would alight on the lowest attainable bough—such as part of a currant-bush or espalier apple-tree; next year they would, with just the same unanimity, make straight off to the uppermost member of some tall, gaunt costard, or quarrenden, and there defy all invaders who did not come armed with ladders and staves to take them.
This was the case at present. Bathsheba’s eyes, shaded by one hand, were following the ascending multitude against the unexplorable stretch of blue till they ultimately halted by one of the unwieldy trees spoken of. A process somewhat analogous to that of alleged formations of the universe, time and times ago, was observable. The bustling swarm had swept the sky in a scattered and uniform haze, which now thickened to a nebulous centre: this glided on to a bough and grew still denser, till it formed a solid black spot upon the light.
The men and women being all busily engaged in saving the hay—even Liddy had left the house for the purpose of lending a hand—Bathsheba resolved to hive the bees herself, if possible. She had dressed the hive with herbs and honey, fetched a ladder, brush, and crook, made herself impregnable with armour of leather gloves, straw hat, and large gauze veil—once green but now faded to snuff colour—and ascended a dozen rungs of the ladder. At once she heard, not ten yards off, a voice that was beginning to have a strange power in agitating her.
“Miss Everdene, let me assist you; you should not attempt such a thing alone.”
Troy was just opening the garden gate.
Bathsheba flung down the brush, crook, and empty hive, pulled the skirt of her dress tightly round her ankles in a tremendous flurry, and as well as she could slid down the ladder. By the time she reached the bottom Troy was there also, and he stooped to pick up the hive.
“How fortunate I am to have dropped in at this moment!” exclaimed the sergeant.
She found her voice in a minute. “What! and will you shake them in for me?” she asked, in what, for a defiant girl, was a faltering way; though, for a timid girl, it would have seemed a brave way enough.
“Will I!” said Troy. “Why, of course I will. How blooming you are to-day!” Troy flung down his cane and put his foot on the ladder to ascend.
“But you must have on the veil and gloves, or you’ll be stung fearfully!”
“Ah, yes. I must put on the veil and gloves. Will you kindly show me how to fix them properly?”
“And you must have the broad-brimmed hat, too, for your cap has no brim to keep the veil off, and they’d reach your face.”
“The broad-brimmed hat, too, by all means.”
So a whimsical fate ordered that her hat should be taken off—veil and all attached—and placed upon his head, Troy tossing his own into a gooseberry bush. Then the veil had to be tied at its lower edge round his collar and the gloves put on him.
He looked such an extraordinary object in this guise that, flurried as she was, she could not avoid laughing outright. It was the removal of yet another stake from the palisade of cold manners which had kept him off.
Bathsheba looked on from the ground whilst he was busy sweeping and shaking the bees from the tree, holding up the hive with the other hand for them to fall into. She made use of an unobserved minute whilst his attention was absorbed in the operation to arrange her plumes a little. He came down holding the hive at arm’s length, behind which trailed a cloud of bees.
“Upon my life,” said Troy, through the veil, “holding up this hive makes one’s arm ache worse than a week of sword-exercise.” When the manœuvre was complete he approached her. “Would you be good enough to untie me and let me out? I am nearly stifled inside this silk cage.”
To hide her embarrassment during the unwonted process of untying the string about his neck, she said:—
“I have never seen that you spoke of.”
“Ah! would you like to?” said Troy.
Bathsheba hesitated. She had heard wondrous reports from time to time by dwellers in Weatherbury, who had by chance sojourned awhile in Casterbridge, near the barracks, of this strange and glorious performance, the sword-exercise. Men and boys who had peeped through chinks or over walls into the barrack-yard returned with accounts of its being the most flashing affair conceivable; accoutrements and weapons glistening like stars—here, there, around—yet all by rule and compass. So she said mildly what she felt strongly.
“Yes; I should like to see it very much.”
“And so you shall; you shall see me go through it.”
“Let me consider.”
“Not with a walking-stick—I don’t care to see that. It must be a real sword.”
“Yes, I know; and I have no sword here; but I think I could get one by the evening. Now, will you do this?”
Troy bent over her and murmured some suggestion in a low voice.
“Oh no, indeed!” said Bathsheba, blushing. “Thank you very much, but I couldn’t on any account.”
“Surely you might? Nobody would know.”
She shook her head, but with a weakened negation. “If I were to,” she said, “I must bring Liddy too. Might I not?”
Troy looked far away. “I don’t see why you want to bring her,” he said coldly.
An unconscious look of assent in Bathsheba’s eyes betrayed that something more than his coldness had made her also feel that Liddy would be superfluous in the suggested scene. She had felt it, even whilst making the proposal.
“Well, I won’t bring Liddy—and I’ll come. But only for a very short time,” she added; “a very short time.”
“It will not take five minutes,” said Troy.