Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title: Far from the Madding Crowd
Author: Thomas Hardy




CONTENTS

            Preface
         I. Description of Farmer Oak--An Incident
        II. Night--The Flock--An Interior--Another Interior
       III. A Girl on Horseback--Conversation
        IV. Gabriel's Resolve--The Visit--The Mistake
         V. Departure of Bathsheba--A Pastoral Tragedy
        VI. The Fair--The Journey--The Fire
       VII. Recognition--A Timid Girl
      VIII. The Malthouse--The Chat--News
        IX. The Homestead--A Visitor--Half-Confidences
         X. Mistress and Men
        XI. Outside the Barracks--Snow--A Meeting
       XII. Farmers--A Rule--An Exception
      XIII. Sortes Sanctorum--The Valentine
       XIV. Effect of the Letter--Sunrise
        XV. A Morning Meeting--The Letter Again
       XVI. All Saints' and All Souls'
      XVII. In the Market-Place
     XVIII. Boldwood in Meditation--Regret
       XIX. The Sheep-Washing--The Offer
        XX. Perplexity--Grinding the Shears--A Quarrel
       XXI. Troubles in the Fold--A Message
      XXII. The Great Barn and the Sheep-Shearers
     XXIII. Eventide--A Second Declaration
      XXIV. The Same Night--The Fir Plantation
       XXV. The New Acquaintance Described
      XXVI. Scene on the Verge of the Hay-Mead
     XXVII. Hiving the Bees
    XXVIII. The Hollow Amid the Ferns
      XXIX. Particulars of a Twilight Walk
       XXX. Hot Cheeks and Tearful Eyes
      XXXI. Blame--Fury
     XXXII. Night--Horses Tramping
    XXXIII. In the Sun--A Harbinger
     XXXIV. Home Again--A Trickster
      XXXV. At an Upper Window
     XXXVI. Wealth in Jeopardy--The Revel
    XXXVII. The Storm--The Two Together
   XXXVIII. Rain--One Solitary Meets Another
     XXXIX. Coming Home--A Cry
        XL. On Casterbridge Highway
       XLI. Suspicion--Fanny Is Sent For
      XLII. Joseph and His Burden--Buck's Head
     XLIII. Fanny's Revenge
      XLIV. Under a Tree--Reaction
       XLV. Troy's Romanticism
      XLVI. The Gurgoyle: Its Doings
     XLVII. Adventures by the Shore
    XLVIII. Doubts Arise--Doubts Linger
      XLIX. Oak's Advancement--A Great Hope
         L. The Sheep Fair--Troy Touches His Wife's Hand
        LI. Bathsheba Talks with Her Outrider
       LII. Converging Courses
      LIII. Concurritur--Horae Momento
       LIV. After the Shock
        LV. The March Following--"Bathsheba Boldwood"
       LVI. Beauty in Loneliness--After All
      LVII. A Foggy Night and Morning--Conclusion





PREFACE

In reprinting this story for a new edition I am reminded that it was
in the chapters of "Far from the Madding Crowd," as they appeared
month by month in a popular magazine, that I first ventured to adopt
the word "Wessex" from the pages of early English history, and give
it a fictitious significance as the existing name of the district
once included in that extinct kingdom.  The series of novels I
projected being mainly of the kind called local, they seemed to
require a territorial definition of some sort to lend unity to their
scene.  Finding that the area of a single county did not afford a
canvas large enough for this purpose, and that there were objections
to an invented name, I disinterred the old one.  The press and the
public were kind enough to welcome the fanciful plan, and willingly
joined me in the anachronism of imagining a Wessex population living
under Queen Victoria;--a modern Wessex of railways, the penny post,
mowing and reaping machines, union workhouses, lucifer matches,
labourers who could read and write, and National school children.
But I believe I am correct in stating that, until the existence of
this contemporaneous Wessex was announced in the present story, in
1874, it had never been heard of, and that the expression, "a Wessex
peasant," or "a Wessex custom," would theretofore have been taken to
refer to nothing later in date than the Norman Conquest.

I did not anticipate that this application of the word to a modern
use would extend outside the chapters of my own chronicles.  But the
name was soon taken up elsewhere as a local designation.  The first
to do so was the now defunct _Examiner_, which, in the impression
bearing date July 15, 1876, entitled one of its articles "The Wessex
Labourer," the article turning out to be no dissertation on farming
during the Heptarchy, but on the modern peasant of the south-west
counties, and his presentation in these stories.

Since then the appellation which I had thought to reserve to the
horizons and landscapes of a merely realistic dream-country, has
become more and more popular as a practical definition; and the
dream-country has, by degrees, solidified into a utilitarian region
which people can go to, take a house in, and write to the papers
from.  But I ask all good and gentle readers to be so kind as to
forget this, and to refuse steadfastly to believe that there are any
inhabitants of a Victorian Wessex outside the pages of this and the
companion volumes in which they were first discovered.

Moreover, the village called Weatherbury, wherein the scenes of the
present story of the series are for the most part laid, would perhaps
be hardly discernible by the explorer, without help, in any existing
place nowadays; though at the time, comparatively recent, at which
the tale was written, a sufficient reality to meet the descriptions,
both of backgrounds and personages, might have been traced easily
enough.  The church remains, by great good fortune, unrestored and
intact, and a few of the old houses; but the ancient malt-house,
which was formerly so characteristic of the parish, has been pulled
down these twenty years; also most of the thatched and dormered
cottages that were once lifeholds.  The game of prisoner's base,
which not so long ago seemed to enjoy a perennial vitality in front
of the worn-out stocks, may, so far as I can say, be entirely unknown
to the rising generation of schoolboys there.  The practice of
divination by Bible and key, the regarding of valentines as things of
serious import, the shearing-supper, and the harvest-home, have, too,
nearly disappeared in the wake of the old houses; and with them have
gone, it is said, much of that love of fuddling to which the village
at one time was notoriously prone.  The change at the root of this
has been the recent supplanting of the class of stationary cottagers,
who carried on the local traditions and humours, by a population
of more or less migratory labourers, which has led to a break of
continuity in local history, more fatal than any other thing to the
preservation of legend, folk-lore, close inter-social relations, and
eccentric individualities.  For these the indispensable conditions
of existence are attachment to the soil of one particular spot by
generation after generation.

T.H.

February 1895




CHAPTER I


DESCRIPTION OF FARMER OAK--AN INCIDENT


When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they
were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were
reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them,
extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch
of the rising sun.

His Christian name was Gabriel, and on working days he was a young
man of sound judgment, easy motions, proper dress, and general good
character.  On Sundays he was a man of misty views, rather given to
postponing, and hampered by his best clothes and umbrella: upon the
whole, one who felt himself to occupy morally that vast middle space
of Laodicean neutrality which lay between the Communion people of
the parish and the drunken section,--that is, he went to church, but
yawned privately by the time the congregation reached the Nicene
creed, and thought of what there would be for dinner when he meant to
be listening to the sermon. Or, to state his character as it stood
in the scale of public opinion, when his friends and critics were in
tantrums, he was considered rather a bad man; when they were pleased,
he was rather a good man; when they were neither, he was a man whose
moral colour was a kind of pepper-and-salt mixture.

Since he lived six times as many working-days as Sundays, Oak's
appearance in his old clothes was most peculiarly his own--the mental
picture formed by his neighbours in imagining him being always
dressed in that way.  He wore a low-crowned felt hat, spread out at
the base by tight jamming upon the head for security in high winds,
and a coat like Dr. Johnson's; his lower extremities being encased
in ordinary leather leggings and boots emphatically large, affording
to each foot a roomy apartment so constructed that any wearer might
stand in a river all day long and know nothing of damp--their maker
being a conscientious man who endeavoured to compensate for any
weakness in his cut by unstinted dimension and solidity.

Mr. Oak carried about him, by way of watch, what may be called a
small silver clock; in other words, it was a watch as to shape and
intention, and a small clock as to size. This instrument being
several years older than Oak's grandfather, had the peculiarity of
going either too fast or not at all.  The smaller of its hands, too,
occasionally slipped round on the pivot, and thus, though the minutes
were told with precision, nobody could be quite certain of the hour
they belonged to.  The stopping peculiarity of his watch Oak remedied
by thumps and shakes, and he escaped any evil consequences from the
other two defects by constant comparisons with and observations of
the sun and stars, and by pressing his face close to the glass of his
neighbours' windows, till he could discern the hour marked by the
green-faced timekeepers within.  It may be mentioned that Oak's fob
being difficult of access, by reason of its somewhat high situation
in the waistband of his trousers (which also lay at a remote height
under his waistcoat), the watch was as a necessity pulled out by
throwing the body to one side, compressing the mouth and face to a
mere mass of ruddy flesh on account of the exertion required, and
drawing up the watch by its chain, like a bucket from a well.

But some thoughtful persons, who had seen him walking across one
of his fields on a certain December morning--sunny and exceedingly
mild--might have regarded Gabriel Oak in other aspects than these.
In his face one might notice that many of the hues and curves of
youth had tarried on to manhood: there even remained in his remoter
crannies some relics of the boy.  His height and breadth would
have been sufficient to make his presence imposing, had they been
exhibited with due consideration.  But there is a way some men have,
rural and urban alike, for which the mind is more responsible than
flesh and sinew: it is a way of curtailing their dimensions by their
manner of showing them.  And from a quiet modesty that would have
become a vestal, which seemed continually to impress upon him that he
had no great claim on the world's room, Oak walked unassumingly and
with a faintly perceptible bend, yet distinct from a bowing of the
shoulders.  This may be said to be a defect in an individual if he
depends for his valuation more upon his appearance than upon his
capacity to wear well, which Oak did not.

He had just reached the time of life at which "young" is ceasing to
be the prefix of "man" in speaking of one.  He was at the brightest
period of masculine growth, for his intellect and his emotions were
clearly separated: he had passed the time during which the influence
of youth indiscriminately mingles them in the character of impulse,
and he had not yet arrived at the stage wherein they become united
again, in the character of prejudice, by the influence of a wife and
family.  In short, he was twenty-eight, and a bachelor.

The field he was in this morning sloped to a ridge called Norcombe
Hill.  Through a spur of this hill ran the highway between Emminster
and Chalk-Newton.  Casually glancing over the hedge, Oak saw coming
down the incline before him an ornamental spring waggon, painted
yellow and gaily marked, drawn by two horses, a waggoner walking
alongside bearing a whip perpendicularly.  The waggon was laden with
household goods and window plants, and on the apex of the whole sat
a woman, young and attractive.  Gabriel had not beheld the sight for
more than half a minute, when the vehicle was brought to a standstill
just beneath his eyes.

"The tailboard of the waggon is gone, Miss," said the waggoner.

"Then I heard it fall," said the girl, in a soft, though not
particularly low voice.  "I heard a noise I could not account for
when we were coming up the hill."

"I'll run back."

"Do," she answered.

The sensible horses stood--perfectly still, and the waggoner's steps
sank fainter and fainter in the distance.

The girl on the summit of the load sat motionless, surrounded by
tables and chairs with their legs upwards, backed by an oak settle,
and ornamented in front by pots of geraniums, myrtles, and cactuses,
together with a caged canary--all probably from the windows of the
house just vacated.  There was also a cat in a willow basket, from
the partly-opened lid of which she gazed with half-closed eyes, and
affectionately surveyed the small birds around.

The handsome girl waited for some time idly in her place, and the
only sound heard in the stillness was the hopping of the canary up
and down the perches of its prison.  Then she looked attentively
downwards.  It was not at the bird, nor at the cat; it was at an
oblong package tied in paper, and lying between them.  She turned her
head to learn if the waggoner were coming.  He was not yet in sight;
and her eyes crept back to the package, her thoughts seeming to run
upon what was inside it.  At length she drew the article into her
lap, and untied the paper covering; a small swing looking-glass was
disclosed, in which she proceeded to survey herself attentively.  She
parted her lips and smiled.

It was a fine morning, and the sun lighted up to a scarlet glow the
crimson jacket she wore, and painted a soft lustre upon her bright
face and dark hair.  The myrtles, geraniums, and cactuses packed
around her were fresh and green, and at such a leafless season they
invested the whole concern of horses, waggon, furniture, and girl
with a peculiar vernal charm.  What possessed her to indulge in
such a performance in the sight of the sparrows, blackbirds, and
unperceived farmer who were alone its spectators,--whether the smile
began as a factitious one, to test her capacity in that art,--nobody
knows; it ended certainly in a real smile.  She blushed at herself,
and seeing her reflection blush, blushed the more.

The change from the customary spot and necessary occasion of such an
act--from the dressing hour in a bedroom to a time of travelling out
of doors--lent to the idle deed a novelty it did not intrinsically
possess.  The picture was a delicate one.  Woman's prescriptive
infirmity had stalked into the sunlight, which had clothed it in the
freshness of an originality.  A cynical inference was irresistible by
Gabriel Oak as he regarded the scene, generous though he fain would
have been.  There was no necessity whatever for her looking in the
glass.  She did not adjust her hat, or pat her hair, or press a
dimple into shape, or do one thing to signify that any such intention
had been her motive in taking up the glass.  She simply observed
herself as a fair product of Nature in the feminine kind, her
thoughts seeming to glide into far-off though likely dramas in which
men would play a part--vistas of probable triumphs--the smiles being
of a phase suggesting that hearts were imagined as lost and won.
Still, this was but conjecture, and the whole series of actions was
so idly put forth as to make it rash to assert that intention had any
part in them at all.

The waggoner's steps were heard returning.  She put the glass in the
paper, and the whole again into its place.

When the waggon had passed on, Gabriel withdrew from his point of
espial, and descending into the road, followed the vehicle to the
turnpike-gate some way beyond the bottom of the hill, where the
object of his contemplation now halted for the payment of toll.
About twenty steps still remained between him and the gate, when he
heard a dispute.  It was a difference concerning twopence between the
persons with the waggon and the man at the toll-bar.

"Mis'ess's niece is upon the top of the things, and she says that's
enough that I've offered ye, you great miser, and she won't pay any
more."  These were the waggoner's words.

"Very well; then mis'ess's niece can't pass," said the turnpike-keeper,
closing the gate.

Oak looked from one to the other of the disputants, and fell into
a reverie.  There was something in the tone of twopence remarkably
insignificant.  Threepence had a definite value as money--it was an
appreciable infringement on a day's wages, and, as such, a higgling
matter; but twopence--"Here," he said, stepping forward and handing
twopence to the gatekeeper; "let the young woman pass."  He looked up
at her then; she heard his words, and looked down.

Gabriel's features adhered throughout their form so exactly to the
middle line between the beauty of St. John and the ugliness of Judas
Iscariot, as represented in a window of the church he attended, that
not a single lineament could be selected and called worthy either of
distinction or notoriety.  The red-jacketed and dark-haired maiden
seemed to think so too, for she carelessly glanced over him, and told
her man to drive on.  She might have looked her thanks to Gabriel on
a minute scale, but she did not speak them; more probably she felt
none, for in gaining her a passage he had lost her her point, and we
know how women take a favour of that kind.

The gatekeeper surveyed the retreating vehicle.  "That's a
handsome maid," he said to Oak.

"But she has her faults," said Gabriel.

"True, farmer."

"And the greatest of them is--well, what it is always."

"Beating people down? ay, 'tis so."

"O no."

"What, then?"

Gabriel, perhaps a little piqued by the comely traveller's
indifference, glanced back to where he had witnessed her performance
over the hedge, and said, "Vanity."




CHAPTER II


NIGHT--THE FLOCK--AN INTERIOR--ANOTHER INTERIOR


It was nearly midnight on the eve of St. Thomas's, the shortest day
in the year.  A desolating wind wandered from the north over the hill
whereon Oak had watched the yellow waggon and its occupant in the
sunshine of a few days earlier.

Norcombe Hill--not far from lonely Toller-Down--was one of the spots
which suggest to a passer-by that he is in the presence of a shape
approaching the indestructible as nearly as any to be found on
earth.  It was a featureless convexity of chalk and soil--an ordinary
specimen of those smoothly-outlined protuberances of the globe which
may remain undisturbed on some great day of confusion, when far
grander heights and dizzy granite precipices topple down.

The hill was covered on its northern side by an ancient and decaying
plantation of beeches, whose upper verge formed a line over the
crest, fringing its arched curve against the sky, like a mane.
To-night these trees sheltered the southern slope from the keenest
blasts, which smote the wood and floundered through it with a sound
as of grumbling, or gushed over its crowning boughs in a weakened
moan.  The dry leaves in the ditch simmered and boiled in the same
breezes, a tongue of air occasionally ferreting out a few, and
sending them spinning across the grass.  A group or two of the latest
in date amongst the dead multitude had remained till this very
mid-winter time on the twigs which bore them and in falling rattled
against the trunks with smart taps.

Between this half-wooded half-naked hill, and the vague still horizon
that its summit indistinctly commanded, was a mysterious sheet of
fathomless shade--the sounds from which suggested that what it
concealed bore some reduced resemblance to features here.  The thin
grasses, more or less coating the hill, were touched by the wind in
breezes of differing powers, and almost of differing natures--one
rubbing the blades heavily, another raking them piercingly, another
brushing them like a soft broom.  The instinctive act of humankind
was to stand and listen, and learn how the trees on the right and the
trees on the left wailed or chaunted to each other in the regular
antiphonies of a cathedral choir; how hedges and other shapes to
leeward then caught the note, lowering it to the tenderest sob; and
how the hurrying gust then plunged into the south, to be heard no
more.

The sky was clear--remarkably clear--and the twinkling of all the
stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse.
The North Star was directly in the wind's eye, and since evening the
Bear had swung round it outwardly to the east, till he was now at
a right angle with the meridian.  A difference of colour in the
stars--oftener read of than seen in England--was really perceptible
here.  The sovereign brilliancy of Sirius pierced the eye with a
steely glitter, the star called Capella was yellow, Aldebaran and
Betelgueux shone with a fiery red.

To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as
this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement.
The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past
earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness,
or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the
wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression
of riding along is vivid and abiding.  The poetry of motion is a
phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification
it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night,
and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass
of civilised mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all
such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately
progress through the stars.  After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is
hard to get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of
such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.

Suddenly an unexpected series of sounds began to be heard in this
place up against the sky.  They had a clearness which was to be found
nowhere in the wind, and a sequence which was to be found nowhere in
nature.  They were the notes of Farmer Oak's flute.

The tune was not floating unhindered into the open air: it seemed
muffled in some way, and was altogether too curtailed in power to
spread high or wide.  It came from the direction of a small dark
object under the plantation hedge--a shepherd's hut--now presenting
an outline to which an uninitiated person might have been puzzled
to attach either meaning or use.

The image as a whole was that of a small Noah's Ark on a small
Ararat, allowing the traditionary outlines and general form of
the Ark which are followed by toy-makers--and by these means are
established in men's imaginations among their firmest, because
earliest impressions--to pass as an approximate pattern.  The hut
stood on little wheels, which raised its floor about a foot from the
ground.  Such shepherds' huts are dragged into the fields when the
lambing season comes on, to shelter the shepherd in his enforced
nightly attendance.

It was only latterly that people had begun to call Gabriel "Farmer"
Oak.  During the twelvemonth preceding this time he had been enabled
by sustained efforts of industry and chronic good spirits to lease
the small sheep-farm of which Norcombe Hill was a portion, and stock
it with two hundred sheep.  Previously he had been a bailiff for a
short time, and earlier still a shepherd only, having from his
childhood assisted his father in tending the flocks of large
proprietors, till old Gabriel sank to rest.

This venture, unaided and alone, into the paths of farming as master
and not as man, with an advance of sheep not yet paid for, was a
critical juncture with Gabriel Oak, and he recognised his position
clearly.  The first movement in his new progress was the lambing of
his ewes, and sheep having been his speciality from his youth, he
wisely refrained from deputing the task of tending them at this
season to a hireling or a novice.

The wind continued to beat about the corners of the hut, but the
flute-playing ceased.  A rectangular space of light appeared in the
side of the hut, and in the opening the outline of Farmer Oak's
figure.  He carried a lantern in his hand, and closing the door
behind him, came forward and busied himself about this nook of the
field for nearly twenty minutes, the lantern light appearing and
disappearing here and there, and brightening him or darkening him
as he stood before or behind it.

Oak's motions, though they had a quiet-energy, were slow, and their
deliberateness accorded well with his occupation.  Fitness being the
basis of beauty, nobody could have denied that his steady swings and
turns in and about the flock had elements of grace.  Yet, although if
occasion demanded he could do or think a thing with as mercurial a
dash as can the men of towns who are more to the manner born, his
special power, morally, physically, and mentally, was static, owing
little or nothing to momentum as a rule.

A close examination of the ground hereabout, even by the wan
starlight only, revealed how a portion of what would have been
casually called a wild slope had been appropriated by Farmer Oak for
his great purpose this winter.  Detached hurdles thatched with straw
were stuck into the ground at various scattered points, amid and
under which the whitish forms of his meek ewes moved and rustled.
The ring of the sheep-bell, which had been silent during his absence,
recommenced, in tones that had more mellowness than clearness, owing
to an increasing growth of surrounding wool.  This continued till Oak
withdrew again from the flock.  He returned to the hut, bringing in
his arms a new-born lamb, consisting of four legs large enough for
a full-grown sheep, united by a seemingly inconsiderable membrane
about half the substance of the legs collectively, which constituted
the animal's entire body just at present.

The little speck of life he placed on a wisp of hay before the small
stove, where a can of milk was simmering.  Oak extinguished the
lantern by blowing into it and then pinching the snuff, the cot being
lighted by a candle suspended by a twisted wire.  A rather hard
couch, formed of a few corn sacks thrown carelessly down, covered
half the floor of this little habitation, and here the young man
stretched himself along, loosened his woollen cravat, and closed his
eyes.  In about the time a person unaccustomed to bodily labour would
have decided upon which side to lie, Farmer Oak was asleep.

The inside of the hut, as it now presented itself, was cosy and
alluring, and the scarlet handful of fire in addition to the candle,
reflecting its own genial colour upon whatever it could reach, flung
associations of enjoyment even over utensils and tools.  In the
corner stood the sheep-crook, and along a shelf at one side were
ranged bottles and canisters of the simple preparations pertaining to
ovine surgery and physic; spirits of wine, turpentine, tar, magnesia,
ginger, and castor-oil being the chief.  On a triangular shelf across
the corner stood bread, bacon, cheese, and a cup for ale or cider,
which was supplied from a flagon beneath.  Beside the provisions lay
the flute, whose notes had lately been called forth by the lonely
watcher to beguile a tedious hour.  The house was ventilated by two
round holes, like the lights of a ship's cabin, with wood slides.

The lamb, revived by the warmth began to bleat, and the sound entered
Gabriel's ears and brain with an instant meaning, as expected
sounds will.  Passing from the profoundest sleep to the most alert
wakefulness with the same ease that had accompanied the reverse
operation, he looked at his watch, found that the hour-hand had
shifted again, put on his hat, took the lamb in his arms, and carried
it into the darkness.  After placing the little creature with its
mother, he stood and carefully examined the sky, to ascertain the
time of night from the altitudes of the stars.

The Dog-star and Aldebaran, pointing to the restless Pleiades, were
half-way up the Southern sky, and between them hung Orion, which
gorgeous constellation never burnt more vividly than now, as it
soared forth above the rim of the landscape.  Castor and Pollux with
their quiet shine were almost on the meridian: the barren and gloomy
Square of Pegasus was creeping round to the north-west; far away
through the plantation Vega sparkled like a lamp suspended amid the
leafless trees, and Cassiopeia's chair stood daintily poised on the
uppermost boughs.

"One o'clock," said Gabriel.

Being a man not without a frequent consciousness that there was some
charm in this life he led, he stood still after looking at the sky
as a useful instrument, and regarded it in an appreciative spirit,
as a work of art superlatively beautiful.  For a moment he seemed
impressed with the speaking loneliness of the scene, or rather with
the complete abstraction from all its compass of the sights and
sounds of man.  Human shapes, interferences, troubles, and joys
were all as if they were not, and there seemed to be on the shaded
hemisphere of the globe no sentient being save himself; he could
fancy them all gone round to the sunny side.

Occupied thus, with eyes stretched afar, Oak gradually perceived
that what he had previously taken to be a star low down behind the
outskirts of the plantation was in reality no such thing.  It was an
artificial light, almost close at hand.

To find themselves utterly alone at night where company is desirable
and expected makes some people fearful; but a case more trying by
far to the nerves is to discover some mysterious companionship when
intuition, sensation, memory, analogy, testimony, probability,
induction--every kind of evidence in the logician's list--have united
to persuade consciousness that it is quite in isolation.

Farmer Oak went towards the plantation and pushed through its lower
boughs to the windy side.  A dim mass under the slope reminded him
that a shed occupied a place here, the site being a cutting into the
slope of the hill, so that at its back part the roof was almost level
with the ground.  In front it was formed of board nailed to posts and
covered with tar as a preservative.  Through crevices in the roof and
side spread streaks and dots of light, a combination of which made
the radiance that had attracted him.  Oak stepped up behind, where,
leaning down upon the roof and putting his eye close to a hole, he
could see into the interior clearly.

The place contained two women and two cows.  By the side of the
latter a steaming bran-mash stood in a bucket.  One of the women was
past middle age.  Her companion was apparently young and graceful;
he could form no decided opinion upon her looks, her position being
almost beneath his eye, so that he saw her in a bird's-eye view, as
Milton's Satan first saw Paradise.  She wore no bonnet or hat, but
had enveloped herself in a large cloak, which was carelessly flung
over her head as a covering.

"There, now we'll go home," said the elder of the two, resting her
knuckles upon her hips, and looking at their goings-on as a whole.
"I do hope Daisy will fetch round again now.  I have never been more
frightened in my life, but I don't mind breaking my rest if she
recovers."

The young woman, whose eyelids were apparently inclined to fall
together on the smallest provocation of silence, yawned without
parting her lips to any inconvenient extent, whereupon Gabriel caught
the infection and slightly yawned in sympathy.

"I wish we were rich enough to pay a man to do these things," she
said.

"As we are not, we must do them ourselves," said the other; "for you
must help me if you stay."

"Well, my hat is gone, however," continued the younger. "It went over
the hedge, I think.  The idea of such a slight wind catching it."

The cow standing erect was of the Devon breed, and was encased in a
tight warm hide of rich Indian red, as absolutely uniform from eyes
to tail as if the animal had been dipped in a dye of that colour, her
long back being mathematically level.  The other was spotted, grey
and white.  Beside her Oak now noticed a little calf about a day old,
looking idiotically at the two women, which showed that it had not
long been accustomed to the phenomenon of eyesight, and often turning
to the lantern, which it apparently mistook for the moon, inherited
instinct having as yet had little time for correction by experience.
Between the sheep and the cows Lucina had been busy on Norcombe Hill
lately.

"I think we had better send for some oatmeal," said the elder woman;
"there's no more bran."

"Yes, aunt; and I'll ride over for it as soon as it is light."

"But there's no side-saddle."

"I can ride on the other: trust me."

Oak, upon hearing these remarks, became more curious to observe her
features, but this prospect being denied him by the hooding effect of
the cloak, and by his aerial position, he felt himself drawing upon
his fancy for their details.  In making even horizontal and clear
inspections we colour and mould according to the wants within us
whatever our eyes bring in.  Had Gabriel been able from the first to
get a distinct view of her countenance, his estimate of it as very
handsome or slightly so would have been as his soul required a
divinity at the moment or was ready supplied with one.  Having for
some time known the want of a satisfactory form to fill an increasing
void within him, his position moreover affording the widest scope for
his fancy, he painted her a beauty.

By one of those whimsical coincidences in which Nature, like a busy
mother, seems to spare a moment from her unremitting labours to turn
and make her children smile, the girl now dropped the cloak, and
forth tumbled ropes of black hair over a red jacket.  Oak knew
her instantly as the heroine of the yellow waggon, myrtles, and
looking-glass: prosily, as the woman who owed him twopence.

They placed the calf beside its mother again, took up the lantern,
and went out, the light sinking down the hill till it was no more
than a nebula.  Gabriel Oak returned to his flock.




CHAPTER III


A GIRL ON HORSEBACK--CONVERSATION


The sluggish day began to break.  Even its position terrestrially is
one of the elements of a new interest, and for no particular reason
save that the incident of the night had occurred there Oak went again
into the plantation.  Lingering and musing here, he heard the steps of
a horse at the foot of the hill, and soon there appeared in view an
auburn pony with a girl on its back, ascending by the path leading
past the cattle-shed.  She was the young woman of the night before.
Gabriel instantly thought of the hat she had mentioned as having
lost in the wind; possibly she had come to look for it.  He hastily
scanned the ditch and after walking about ten yards along it found
the hat among the leaves.  Gabriel took it in his hand and returned
to his hut.  Here he ensconced himself, and peeped through the
loophole in the direction of the rider's approach.

She came up and looked around--then on the other side of the hedge.
Gabriel was about to advance and restore the missing article when
an unexpected performance induced him to suspend the action for
the present.  The path, after passing the cowshed, bisected the
plantation.  It was not a bridle-path--merely a pedestrian's track,
and the boughs spread horizontally at a height not greater than seven
feet above the ground, which made it impossible to ride erect beneath
them.  The girl, who wore no riding-habit, looked around for a
moment, as if to assure herself that all humanity was out of view,
then dexterously dropped backwards flat upon the pony's back, her
head over its tail, her feet against its shoulders, and her eyes to
the sky.  The rapidity of her glide into this position was that of
a kingfisher--its noiselessness that of a hawk.  Gabriel's eyes had
scarcely been able to follow her.  The tall lank pony seemed used to
such doings, and ambled along unconcerned.  Thus she passed under the
level boughs.

The performer seemed quite at home anywhere between a horse's head
and its tail, and the necessity for this abnormal attitude having
ceased with the passage of the plantation, she began to adopt
another, even more obviously convenient than the first.  She had
no side-saddle, and it was very apparent that a firm seat upon the
smooth leather beneath her was unattainable sideways.  Springing to
her accustomed perpendicular like a bowed sapling, and satisfying
herself that nobody was in sight, she seated herself in the manner
demanded by the saddle, though hardly expected of the woman, and
trotted off in the direction of Tewnell Mill.

Oak was amused, perhaps a little astonished, and hanging up the hat
in his hut, went again among his ewes.  An hour passed, the girl
returned, properly seated now, with a bag of bran in front of
her.  On nearing the cattle-shed she was met by a boy bringing a
milking-pail, who held the reins of the pony whilst she slid off.
The boy led away the horse, leaving the pail with the young woman.

Soon soft spirts alternating with loud spirts came in regular
succession from within the shed, the obvious sounds of a person
milking a cow.  Gabriel took the lost hat in his hand, and waited
beside the path she would follow in leaving the hill.

She came, the pail in one hand, hanging against her knee. The left
arm was extended as a balance, enough of it being shown bare to make
Oak wish that the event had happened in the summer, when the whole
would have been revealed.  There was a bright air and manner about
her now, by which she seemed to imply that the desirability of her
existence could not be questioned; and this rather saucy assumption
failed in being offensive because a beholder felt it to be, upon the
whole, true.  Like exceptional emphasis in the tone of a genius,
that which would have made mediocrity ridiculous was an addition to
recognised power.  It was with some surprise that she saw Gabriel's
face rising like the moon behind the hedge.

The adjustment of the farmer's hazy conceptions of her charms to the
portrait of herself she now presented him with was less a diminution
than a difference.  The starting-point selected by the judgment was
her height. She seemed tall, but the pail was a small one, and the
hedge diminutive; hence, making allowance for error by comparison
with these, she could have been not above the height to be chosen by
women as best.  All features of consequence were severe and regular.
It may have been observed by persons who go about the shires with
eyes for beauty, that in Englishwoman a classically-formed face is
seldom found to be united with a figure of the same pattern, the
highly-finished features being generally too large for the remainder
of the frame; that a graceful and proportionate figure of eight heads
usually goes off into random facial curves.  Without throwing a
Nymphean tissue over a milkmaid, let it be said that here criticism
checked itself as out of place, and looked at her proportions with a
long consciousness of pleasure.  From the contours of her figure in
its upper part, she must have had a beautiful neck and shoulders; but
since her infancy nobody had ever seen them.  Had she been put into
a low dress she would have run and thrust her head into a bush.  Yet
she was not a shy girl by any means; it was merely her instinct to
draw the line dividing the seen from the unseen higher than they do
it in towns.

That the girl's thoughts hovered about her face and form as soon as
she caught Oak's eyes conning the same page was natural, and almost
certain.  The self-consciousness shown would have been vanity if
a little more pronounced, dignity if a little less.  Rays of male
vision seem to have a tickling effect upon virgin faces in rural
districts; she brushed hers with her hand, as if Gabriel had been
irritating its pink surface by actual touch, and the free air of her
previous movements was reduced at the same time to a chastened phase
of itself.  Yet it was the man who blushed, the maid not at all.

"I found a hat," said Oak.

"It is mine," said she, and, from a sense of proportion, kept down to
a small smile an inclination to laugh distinctly: "it flew away last
night."

"One o'clock this morning?"

"Well--it was."  She was surprised.  "How did you know?" she said.

"I was here."

"You are Farmer Oak, are you not?"

"That or thereabouts.  I'm lately come to this place."

"A large farm?" she inquired, casting her eyes round, and swinging
back her hair, which was black in the shaded hollows of its mass; but
it being now an hour past sunrise the rays touched its prominent
curves with a colour of their own.

"No; not large.  About a hundred."  (In speaking of farms the word
"acres" is omitted by the natives, by analogy to such old expressions
as "a stag of ten.")

"I wanted my hat this morning," she went on.  "I had to ride to
Tewnell Mill."

"Yes you had."

"How do you know?"

"I saw you."

"Where?" she inquired, a misgiving bringing every muscle of her
lineaments and frame to a standstill.

"Here--going through the plantation, and all down the hill," said
Farmer Oak, with an aspect excessively knowing with regard to some
matter in his mind, as he gazed at a remote point in the direction
named, and then turned back to meet his colloquist's eyes.

A perception caused him to withdraw his own eyes from hers as
suddenly as if he had been caught in a theft.  Recollection of the
strange antics she had indulged in when passing through the trees was
succeeded in the girl by a nettled palpitation, and that by a hot
face.  It was a time to see a woman redden who was not given to
reddening as a rule; not a point in the milkmaid but was of the
deepest rose-colour.  From the Maiden's Blush, through all varieties
of the Provence down to the Crimson Tuscany, the countenance of Oak's
acquaintance quickly graduated; whereupon he, in considerateness,
turned away his head.

The sympathetic man still looked the other way, and wondered when she
would recover coolness sufficient to justify him in facing her again.
He heard what seemed to be the flitting of a dead leaf upon the
breeze, and looked.  She had gone away.

With an air between that of Tragedy and Comedy Gabriel returned to
his work.

Five mornings and evenings passed.  The young woman came regularly to
milk the healthy cow or to attend to the sick one, but never allowed
her vision to stray in the direction of Oak's person.  His want of
tact had deeply offended her--not by seeing what he could not help,
but by letting her know that he had seen it.  For, as without law
there is no sin, without eyes there is no indecorum; and she appeared
to feel that Gabriel's espial had made her an indecorous woman
without her own connivance.  It was food for great regret with him;
it was also a _contretemps_ which touched into life a latent heat he
had experienced in that direction.

The acquaintanceship might, however, have ended in a slow forgetting,
but for an incident which occurred at the end of the same week.  One
afternoon it began to freeze, and the frost increased with evening,
which drew on like a stealthy tightening of bonds.  It was a time
when in cottages the breath of the sleepers freezes to the sheets;
when round the drawing-room fire of a thick-walled mansion the
sitters' backs are cold, even whilst their faces are all aglow.  Many
a small bird went to bed supperless that night among the bare boughs.

As the milking-hour drew near, Oak kept his usual watch upon the
cowshed.  At last he felt cold, and shaking an extra quantity of
bedding round the yearling ewes he entered the hut and heaped more
fuel upon the stove.  The wind came in at the bottom of the door,
and to prevent it Oak laid a sack there and wheeled the cot round a
little more to the south.  Then the wind spouted in at a ventilating
hole--of which there was one on each side of the hut.

Gabriel had always known that when the fire was lighted and the door
closed one of these must be kept open--that chosen being always on
the side away from the wind.  Closing the slide to windward, he
turned to open the other; on second thoughts the farmer considered
that he would first sit down leaving both closed for a minute or two,
till the temperature of the hut was a little raised.  He sat down.

His head began to ache in an unwonted manner, and, fancying himself
weary by reason of the broken rests of the preceding nights, Oak
decided to get up, open the slide, and then allow himself to fall
asleep.  He fell asleep, however, without having performed the
necessary preliminary.

How long he remained unconscious Gabriel never knew.  During the
first stages of his return to perception peculiar deeds seemed to be
in course of enactment.  His dog was howling, his head was aching
fearfully--somebody was pulling him about, hands were loosening his
neckerchief.

On opening his eyes he found that evening had sunk to dusk in
a strange manner of unexpectedness.  The young girl with the
remarkably pleasant lips and white teeth was beside him.  More than
this--astonishingly more--his head was upon her lap, his face and
neck were disagreeably wet, and her fingers were unbuttoning his
collar.

"Whatever is the matter?" said Oak, vacantly.

She seemed to experience mirth, but of too insignificant a kind to
start enjoyment.

"Nothing now," she answered, "since you are not dead. It is a wonder
you were not suffocated in this hut of yours."

"Ah, the hut!" murmured Gabriel.  "I gave ten pounds for that hut.
But I'll sell it, and sit under thatched hurdles as they did in old
times, and curl up to sleep in a lock of straw!  It played me nearly
the same trick the other day!"  Gabriel, by way of emphasis, brought
down his fist upon the floor.

"It was not exactly the fault of the hut," she observed in a tone
which showed her to be that novelty among women--one who finished a
thought before beginning the sentence which was to convey it.  "You
should, I think, have considered, and not have been so foolish as to
leave the slides closed."

"Yes I suppose I should," said Oak, absently.  He was endeavouring to
catch and appreciate the sensation of being thus with her, his head
upon her dress, before the event passed on into the heap of bygone
things.  He wished she knew his impressions; but he would as soon
have thought of carrying an odour in a net as of attempting to convey
the intangibilities of his feeling in the coarse meshes of language.
So he remained silent.

She made him sit up, and then Oak began wiping his face and shaking
himself like a Samson.  "How can I thank 'ee?" he said at last,
gratefully, some of the natural rusty red having returned to his
face.

"Oh, never mind that," said the girl, smiling, and allowing her smile
to hold good for Gabriel's next remark, whatever that might prove to
be.

"How did you find me?"

"I heard your dog howling and scratching at the door of the hut when
I came to the milking (it was so lucky, Daisy's milking is almost
over for the season, and I shall not come here after this week or the
next).  The dog saw me, and jumped over to me, and laid hold of my
skirt.  I came across and looked round the hut the very first thing
to see if the slides were closed.  My uncle has a hut like this one,
and I have heard him tell his shepherd not to go to sleep without
leaving a slide open.  I opened the door, and there you were like
dead.  I threw the milk over you, as there was no water, forgetting
it was warm, and no use."

"I wonder if I should have died?" Gabriel said, in a low voice, which
was rather meant to travel back to himself than to her.

"Oh no!" the girl replied.  She seemed to prefer a less tragic
probability; to have saved a man from death involved talk that should
harmonise with the dignity of such a deed--and she shunned it.

"I believe you saved my life, Miss--I don't know your name.  I know
your aunt's, but not yours."

"I would just as soon not tell it--rather not.  There is no reason
either why I should, as you probably will never have much to do with
me."

"Still, I should like to know."

"You can inquire at my aunt's--she will tell you."

"My name is Gabriel Oak."

"And mine isn't.  You seem fond of yours in speaking it so
decisively, Gabriel Oak."

"You see, it is the only one I shall ever have, and I must make the
most of it."

"I always think mine sounds odd and disagreeable."

"I should think you might soon get a new one."

"Mercy!--how many opinions you keep about you concerning other
people, Gabriel Oak."

"Well, Miss--excuse the words--I thought you would like them.  But I
can't match you, I know, in mapping out my mind upon my tongue.  I
never was very clever in my inside.  But I thank you.  Come, give me
your hand."

She hesitated, somewhat disconcerted at Oak's old-fashioned earnest
conclusion to a dialogue lightly carried on.  "Very well," she
said, and gave him her hand, compressing her lips to a demure
impassivity. He held it but an instant, and in his fear of being too
demonstrative, swerved to the opposite extreme, touching her fingers
with the lightness of a small-hearted person.

"I am sorry," he said the instant after.

"What for?"

"Letting your hand go so quick."

"You may have it again if you like; there it is."  She gave him her
hand again.

Oak held it longer this time--indeed, curiously long.  "How soft it
is--being winter time, too--not chapped or rough or anything!" he
said.

"There--that's long enough," said she, though without pulling it
away. "But I suppose you are thinking you would like to kiss it?  You
may if you want to."

"I wasn't thinking of any such thing," said Gabriel, simply; "but I
will--"

"That you won't!" She snatched back her hand.

Gabriel felt himself guilty of another want of tact.

"Now find out my name," she said, teasingly; and withdrew.




CHAPTER IV


GABRIEL'S RESOLVE--THE VISIT--THE MISTAKE


The only superiority in women that is tolerable to the rival sex is,
as a rule, that of the unconscious kind; but a superiority which
recognizes itself may sometimes please by suggesting possibilities
of capture to the subordinated man.

This well-favoured and comely girl soon made appreciable inroads upon
the emotional constitution of young Farmer Oak.

Love, being an extremely exacting usurer (a sense of exorbitant
profit, spiritually, by an exchange of hearts, being at the bottom of
pure passions, as that of exorbitant profit, bodily or materially,
is at the bottom of those of lower atmosphere), every morning Oak's
feelings were as sensitive as the money-market in calculations upon
his chances.  His dog waited for his meals in a way so like that in
which Oak waited for the girl's presence, that the farmer was quite
struck with the resemblance, felt it lowering, and would not look at
the dog.  However, he continued to watch through the hedge for her
regular coming, and thus his sentiments towards her were deepened
without any corresponding effect being produced upon herself.  Oak
had nothing finished and ready to say as yet, and not being able to
frame love phrases which end where they begin; passionate tales--


         --Full of sound and fury
      --Signifying nothing--


he said no word at all.

By making inquiries he found that the girl's name was Bathsheba
Everdene, and that the cow would go dry in about seven days.  He
dreaded the eighth day.

At last the eighth day came.  The cow had ceased to give milk for
that year, and Bathsheba Everdene came up the hill no more.  Gabriel
had reached a pitch of existence he never could have anticipated
a short time before.  He liked saying "Bathsheba" as a private
enjoyment instead of whistling; turned over his taste to black hair,
though he had sworn by brown ever since he was a boy, isolated
himself till the space he filled in the public eye was contemptibly
small.  Love is a possible strength in an actual weakness.  Marriage
transforms a distraction into a support, the power of which should
be, and happily often is, in direct proportion to the degree of
imbecility it supplants.  Oak began now to see light in this
direction, and said to himself, "I'll make her my wife, or upon my
soul I shall be good for nothing!"

All this while he was perplexing himself about an errand on which he
might consistently visit the cottage of Bathsheba's aunt.

He found his opportunity in the death of a ewe, mother of a living
lamb.  On a day which had a summer face and a winter constitution--a
fine January morning, when there was just enough blue sky visible
to make cheerfully-disposed people wish for more, and an occasional
gleam of silvery sunshine, Oak put the lamb into a respectable Sunday
basket, and stalked across the fields to the house of Mrs. Hurst, the
aunt--George, the dog walking behind, with a countenance of great
concern at the serious turn pastoral affairs seemed to be taking.

Gabriel had watched the blue wood-smoke curling from the chimney with
strange meditation.  At evening he had fancifully traced it down the
chimney to the spot of its origin--seen the hearth and Bathsheba
beside it--beside it in her out-door dress; for the clothes she had
worn on the hill were by association equally with her person included
in the compass of his affection; they seemed at this early time of
his love a necessary ingredient of the sweet mixture called Bathsheba
Everdene.

He had made a toilet of a nicely-adjusted kind--of a nature between
the carefully neat and the carelessly ornate--of a degree between
fine-market-day and wet-Sunday selection.  He thoroughly cleaned his
silver watch-chain with whiting, put new lacing straps to his boots,
looked to the brass eyelet-holes, went to the inmost heart of the
plantation for a new walking-stick, and trimmed it vigorously on his
way back; took a new handkerchief from the bottom of his clothes-box,
put on the light waistcoat patterned all over with sprigs of an
elegant flower uniting the beauties of both rose and lily without the
defects of either, and used all the hair-oil he possessed upon his
usually dry, sandy, and inextricably curly hair, till he had deepened
it to a splendidly novel colour, between that of guano and Roman
cement, making it stick to his head like mace round a nutmeg, or wet
seaweed round a boulder after the ebb.

Nothing disturbed the stillness of the cottage save the chatter of a
knot of sparrows on the eaves; one might fancy scandal and rumour to
be no less the staple topic of these little coteries on roofs than of
those under them.  It seemed that the omen was an unpropitious one,
for, as the rather untoward commencement of Oak's overtures, just
as he arrived by the garden gate, he saw a cat inside, going into
various arched shapes and fiendish convulsions at the sight of his
dog George.  The dog took no notice, for he had arrived at an age at
which all superfluous barking was cynically avoided as a waste of
breath--in fact, he never barked even at the sheep except to order,
when it was done with an absolutely neutral countenance, as a sort of
Commination-service, which, though offensive, had to be gone through
once now and then to frighten the flock for their own good.

A voice came from behind some laurel-bushes into which the cat had
run:

"Poor dear!  Did a nasty brute of a dog want to kill it;--did he,
poor dear!"

"I beg your pardon," said Oak to the voice, "but George was walking
on behind me with a temper as mild as milk."

Almost before he had ceased speaking, Oak was seized with a misgiving
as to whose ear was the recipient of his answer. Nobody appeared, and
he heard the person retreat among the bushes.

Gabriel meditated, and so deeply that he brought small furrows into
his forehead by sheer force of reverie.  Where the issue of an
interview is as likely to be a vast change for the worse as for
the better, any initial difference from expectation causes nipping
sensations of failure.  Oak went up to the door a little abashed:
his mental rehearsal and the reality had had no common grounds of
opening.

Bathsheba's aunt was indoors.  "Will you tell Miss Everdene that
somebody would be glad to speak to her?" said Mr. Oak.  (Calling
one's self merely Somebody, without giving a name, is not to be taken
as an example of the ill-breeding of the rural world: it springs
from a refined modesty, of which townspeople, with their cards and
announcements, have no notion whatever.)

Bathsheba was out.  The voice had evidently been hers.

"Will you come in, Mr. Oak?"

"Oh, thank 'ee," said Gabriel, following her to the fireplace.  "I've
brought a lamb for Miss Everdene.  I thought she might like one to
rear; girls do."

"She might," said Mrs. Hurst, musingly; "though she's only a visitor
here.  If you will wait a minute, Bathsheba will be in."

"Yes, I will wait," said Gabriel, sitting down.  "The lamb isn't
really the business I came about, Mrs. Hurst.  In short, I was going
to ask her if she'd like to be married."

"And were you indeed?"

"Yes.  Because if she would, I should be very glad to marry her.
D'ye know if she's got any other young man hanging about her at all?"

"Let me think," said Mrs. Hurst, poking the fire superfluously....
"Yes--bless you, ever so many young men.  You see, Farmer Oak, she's
so good-looking, and an excellent scholar besides--she was going to
be a governess once, you know, only she was too wild.  Not that her
young men ever come here--but, Lord, in the nature of women, she must
have a dozen!"

"That's unfortunate," said Farmer Oak, contemplating a crack in the
stone floor with sorrow.  "I'm only an every-day sort of man, and my
only chance was in being the first comer ... Well, there's no use in
my waiting, for that was all I came about: so I'll take myself off
home-along, Mrs. Hurst."

When Gabriel had gone about two hundred yards along the down, he
heard a "hoi-hoi!" uttered behind him, in a piping note of more
treble quality than that in which the exclamation usually embodies
itself when shouted across a field.  He looked round, and saw a girl
racing after him, waving a white handkerchief.

Oak stood still--and the runner drew nearer.  It was Bathsheba
Everdene.  Gabriel's colour deepened: hers was already deep, not, as
it appeared, from emotion, but from running.

"Farmer Oak--I--" she said, pausing for want of breath pulling up in
front of him with a slanted face and putting her hand to her side.

"I have just called to see you," said Gabriel, pending her further
speech.

"Yes--I know that," she said panting like a robin, her face red and
moist from her exertions, like a peony petal before the sun dries off
the dew.  "I didn't know you had come to ask to have me, or I should
have come in from the garden instantly.  I ran after you to say--that
my aunt made a mistake in sending you away from courting me--"

Gabriel expanded. "I'm sorry to have made you run so fast, my dear,"
he said, with a grateful sense of favours to come. "Wait a bit till
you've found your breath."

"--It was quite a mistake--aunt's telling you I had a young man
already," Bathsheba went on.  "I haven't a sweetheart at all--and I
never had one, and I thought that, as times go with women, it was
SUCH a pity to send you away thinking that I had several."

"Really and truly I am glad to hear that!" said Farmer Oak, smiling
one of his long special smiles, and blushing with gladness.  He held
out his hand to take hers, which, when she had eased her side by
pressing it there, was prettily extended upon her bosom to still her
loud-beating heart.  Directly he seized it she put it behind her, so
that it slipped through his fingers like an eel."

"I have a nice snug little farm," said Gabriel, with half a degree
less assurance than when he had seized her hand.

"Yes; you have."

"A man has advanced me money to begin with, but still, it will soon
be paid off, and though I am only an every-day sort of man, I have
got on a little since I was a boy."  Gabriel uttered "a little" in a
tone to show her that it was the complacent form of "a great deal."
He continued: "When we be married, I am quite sure I can work twice
as hard as I do now."

He went forward and stretched out his arm again.  Bathsheba had
overtaken him at a point beside which stood a low stunted holly bush,
now laden with red berries.  Seeing his advance take the form of an
attitude threatening a possible enclosure, if not compression, of her
person, she edged off round the bush.

"Why, Farmer Oak," she said, over the top, looking at him with
rounded eyes, "I never said I was going to marry you."

"Well--that IS a tale!" said Oak, with dismay. "To run after anybody
like this, and then say you don't want him!"

"What I meant to tell you was only this," she said eagerly, and yet
half conscious of the absurdity of the position she had made for
herself--"that nobody has got me yet as a sweetheart, instead of my
having a dozen, as my aunt said; I HATE to be thought men's property
in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day.  Why, if I'd
wanted you I shouldn't have run after you like this; 'twould have
been the FORWARDEST thing!  But there was no harm in hurrying to
correct a piece of false news that had been told you."

"Oh, no--no harm at all."  But there is such a thing as being too
generous in expressing a judgment impulsively, and Oak added with a
more appreciative sense of all the circumstances--"Well, I am not
quite certain it was no harm."

"Indeed, I hadn't time to think before starting whether I wanted to
marry or not, for you'd have been gone over the hill."

"Come," said Gabriel, freshening again; "think a minute or two.  I'll
wait a while, Miss Everdene.  Will you marry me?  Do, Bathsheba.  I
love you far more than common!"

"I'll try to think," she observed, rather more timorously; "if I can
think out of doors; my mind spreads away so."

"But you can give a guess."

"Then give me time."  Bathsheba looked thoughtfully into the
distance, away from the direction in which Gabriel stood.

"I can make you happy," said he to the back of her head, across the
bush.  "You shall have a piano in a year or two--farmers' wives are
getting to have pianos now--and I'll practise up the flute right well
to play with you in the evenings."

"Yes; I should like that."

"And have one of those little ten-pound gigs for market--and nice
flowers, and birds--cocks and hens I mean, because they be useful,"
continued Gabriel, feeling balanced between poetry and practicality.

"I should like it very much."

"And a frame for cucumbers--like a gentleman and lady."

"Yes."

"And when the wedding was over, we'd have it put in the newspaper
list of marriages."

"Dearly I should like that!"

"And the babies in the births--every man jack of 'em!  And at home by
the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be--and whenever I look
up there will be you."

"Wait, wait, and don't be improper!"

Her countenance fell, and she was silent awhile.  He regarded the red
berries between them over and over again, to such an extent, that
holly seemed in his after life to be a cypher signifying a proposal
of marriage.  Bathsheba decisively turned to him.

"No; 'tis no use," she said.  "I don't want to marry you."

"Try."

"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--"

"Well!"

"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--"

"Right?"

"No: wise."

"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."




CHAPTER V


DEPARTURE OF BATHSHEBA--A PASTORAL TRAGEDY


The news which one day reached Gabriel, that Bathsheba Everdene
had left the neighbourhood, had an influence upon him which might
have surprised any who never suspected that the more emphatic the
renunciation the less absolute its character.

It may have been observed that there is no regular path for getting
out of love as there is for getting in.  Some people look upon
marriage as a short cut that way, but it has been known to fail.
Separation, which was the means that chance offered to Gabriel Oak by
Bathsheba's disappearance, though effectual with people of certain
humours, is apt to idealize the removed object with others--notably
those whose affection, placid and regular as it may be, flows deep
and long.  Oak belonged to the even-tempered order of humanity, and
felt the secret fusion of himself in Bathsheba to be burning with a
finer flame now that she was gone--that was all.

His incipient friendship with her aunt had been nipped by the
failure of his suit, and all that Oak learnt of Bathsheba's
movements was done indirectly.  It appeared that she had gone to
a place called Weatherbury, more than twenty miles off, but in
what capacity--whether as a visitor, or permanently, he could not
discover.

Gabriel had two dogs.  George, the elder, exhibited an ebony-tipped
nose, surrounded by a narrow margin of pink flesh, and a coat marked
in random splotches approximating in colour to white and slaty
grey; but the grey, after years of sun and rain, had been scorched
and washed out of the more prominent locks, leaving them of a
reddish-brown, as if the blue component of the grey had faded, like
the indigo from the same kind of colour in Turner's pictures.  In
substance it had originally been hair, but long contact with sheep
seemed to be turning it by degrees into wool of a poor quality and
staple.

This dog had originally belonged to a shepherd of inferior morals
and dreadful temper, and the result was that George knew the exact
degrees of condemnation signified by cursing and swearing of all
descriptions better than the wickedest old man in the neighbourhood.
Long experience had so precisely taught the animal the difference
between such exclamations as "Come in!" and "D---- ye, come in!" that
he knew to a hair's breadth the rate of trotting back from the ewes'
tails that each call involved, if a staggerer with the sheep crook
was to be escaped.  Though old, he was clever and trustworthy still.

The young dog, George's son, might possibly have been the image
of his mother, for there was not much resemblance between him and
George.  He was learning the sheep-keeping business, so as to follow
on at the flock when the other should die, but had got no further
than the rudiments as yet--still finding an insuperable difficulty
in distinguishing between doing a thing well enough and doing it too
well.  So earnest and yet so wrong-headed was this young dog (he had
no name in particular, and answered with perfect readiness to any
pleasant interjection), that if sent behind the flock to help them
on, he did it so thoroughly that he would have chased them across the
whole county with the greatest pleasure if not called off or reminded
when to stop by the example of old George.

Thus much for the dogs.  On the further side of Norcombe Hill was
a chalk-pit, from which chalk had been drawn for generations, and
spread over adjacent farms.  Two hedges converged upon it in the form
of a V, but without quite meeting.  The narrow opening left, which
was immediately over the brow of the pit, was protected by a rough
railing.

One night, when Farmer Oak had returned to his house, believing there
would be no further necessity for his attendance on the down, he
called as usual to the dogs, previously to shutting them up in the
outhouse till next morning.  Only one responded--old George; the
other could not be found, either in the house, lane, or garden.
Gabriel then remembered that he had left the two dogs on the hill
eating a dead lamb (a kind of meat he usually kept from them, except
when other food ran short), and concluding that the young one had
not finished his meal, he went indoors to the luxury of a bed, which
latterly he had only enjoyed on Sundays.

It was a still, moist night.  Just before dawn he was assisted in
waking by the abnormal reverberation of familiar music.  To the
shepherd, the note of the sheep-bell, like the ticking of the clock
to other people, is a chronic sound that only makes itself noticed by
ceasing or altering in some unusual manner from the well-known idle
twinkle which signifies to the accustomed ear, however distant, that
all is well in the fold.  In the solemn calm of the awakening morn
that note was heard by Gabriel, beating with unusual violence and
rapidity.  This exceptional ringing may be caused in two ways--by
the rapid feeding of the sheep bearing the bell, as when the flock
breaks into new pasture, which gives it an intermittent rapidity,
or by the sheep starting off in a run, when the sound has a regular
palpitation.  The experienced ear of Oak knew the sound he now heard
to be caused by the running of the flock with great velocity.

He jumped out of bed, dressed, tore down the lane through a foggy
dawn, and ascended the hill.  The forward ewes were kept apart from
those among which the fall of lambs would be later, there being two
hundred of the latter class in Gabriel's flock.  These two hundred
seemed to have absolutely vanished from the hill.  There were the
fifty with their lambs, enclosed at the other end as he had left
them, but the rest, forming the bulk of the flock, were nowhere.
Gabriel called at the top of his voice the shepherd's call:

"Ovey, ovey, ovey!"

Not a single bleat.  He went to the hedge; a gap had been broken
through it, and in the gap were the footprints of the sheep.  Rather
surprised to find them break fence at this season, yet putting it
down instantly to their great fondness for ivy in winter-time, of
which a great deal grew in the plantation, he followed through the
hedge.  They were not in the plantation.  He called again: the
valleys and farthest hills resounded as when the sailors invoked the
lost Hylas on the Mysian shore; but no sheep.  He passed through the
trees and along the ridge of the hill.  On the extreme summit, where
the ends of the two converging hedges of which we have spoken were
stopped short by meeting the brow of the chalk-pit, he saw the
younger dog standing against the sky--dark and motionless as Napoleon
at St. Helena.

A horrible conviction darted through Oak.  With a sensation of bodily
faintness he advanced: at one point the rails were broken through,
and there he saw the footprints of his ewes.  The dog came up, licked
his hand, and made signs implying that he expected some great reward
for signal services rendered.  Oak looked over the precipice.  The
ewes lay dead and dying at its foot--a heap of two hundred mangled
carcasses, representing in their condition just now at least two
hundred more.

Oak was an intensely humane man: indeed, his humanity often tore in
pieces any politic intentions of his which bordered on strategy, and
carried him on as by gravitation.  A shadow in his life had always
been that his flock ended in mutton--that a day came and found every
shepherd an arrant traitor to his defenseless sheep.  His first
feeling now was one of pity for the untimely fate of these gentle
ewes and their unborn lambs.

It was a second to remember another phase of the matter.  The
sheep were not insured.  All the savings of a frugal life had been
dispersed at a blow; his hopes of being an independent farmer were
laid low--possibly for ever.  Gabriel's energies, patience, and
industry had been so severely taxed during the years of his life
between eighteen and eight-and-twenty, to reach his present stage of
progress that no more seemed to be left in him.  He leant down upon a
rail, and covered his face with his hands.

Stupors, however, do not last for ever, and Farmer Oak recovered from
his.  It was as remarkable as it was characteristic that the one
sentence he uttered was in thankfulness:--

"Thank God I am not married: what would SHE have done in the poverty
now coming upon me!"

Oak raised his head, and wondering what he could do, listlessly
surveyed the scene.  By the outer margin of the Pit was an oval pond,
and over it hung the attenuated skeleton of a chrome-yellow moon
which had only a few days to last--the morning star dogging her on
the left hand.  The pool glittered like a dead man's eye, and as the
world awoke a breeze blew, shaking and elongating the reflection of
the moon without breaking it, and turning the image of the star to a
phosphoric streak upon the water.  All this Oak saw and remembered.

As far as could be learnt it appeared that the poor young dog, still
under the impression that since he was kept for running after sheep,
the more he ran after them the better, had at the end of his meal
off the dead lamb, which may have given him additional energy and
spirits, collected all the ewes into a corner, driven the timid
creatures through the hedge, across the upper field, and by main
force of worrying had given them momentum enough to break down a
portion of the rotten railing, and so hurled them over the edge.

George's son had done his work so thoroughly that he was considered
too good a workman to live, and was, in fact, taken and tragically
shot at twelve o'clock that same day--another instance of the
untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers
who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and
attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely
of compromise.

Gabriel's farm had been stocked by a dealer--on the strength of Oak's
promising look and character--who was receiving a percentage from the
farmer till such time as the advance should be cleared off. Oak found
that the value of stock, plant, and implements which were really his
own would be about sufficient to pay his debts, leaving himself a
free man with the clothes he stood up in, and nothing more.




CHAPTER VI


THE FAIR--THE JOURNEY--THE FIRE


Two months passed away.  We are brought on to a day in February, on
which was held the yearly statute or hiring fair in the county-town
of Casterbridge.

At one end of the street stood from two to three hundred blithe and
hearty labourers waiting upon Chance--all men of the stamp to whom
labour suggests nothing worse than a wrestle with gravitation, and
pleasure nothing better than a renunciation of the same. Among
these, carters and waggoners were distinguished by having a piece
of whip-cord twisted round their hats; thatchers wore a fragment of
woven straw; shepherds held their sheep-crooks in their hands; and
thus the situation required was known to the hirers at a glance.

In the crowd was an athletic young fellow of somewhat superior
appearance to the rest--in fact, his superiority was marked enough to
lead several ruddy peasants standing by to speak to him inquiringly,
as to a farmer, and to use "Sir" as a finishing word.  His answer
always was,--

"I am looking for a place myself--a bailiff's.  Do ye know of anybody
who wants one?"

Gabriel was paler now.  His eyes were more meditative, and his
expression was more sad.  He had passed through an ordeal of
wretchedness which had given him more than it had taken away.  He
had sunk from his modest elevation as pastoral king into the very
slime-pits of Siddim; but there was left to him a dignified calm he
had never before known, and that indifference to fate which, though
it often makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when
it does not.  And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the
loss gain.

In the morning a regiment of cavalry had left the town, and a
sergeant and his party had been beating up for recruits through the
four streets.  As the end of the day drew on, and he found himself
not hired, Gabriel almost wished that he had joined them, and gone
off to serve his country.  Weary of standing in the market-place, and
not much minding the kind of work he turned his hand to, he decided
to offer himself in some other capacity than that of bailiff.

All the farmers seemed to be wanting shepherds.  Sheep-tending was
Gabriel's speciality.  Turning down an obscure street and entering
an obscurer lane, he went up to a smith's shop.

"How long would it take you to make a shepherd's crook?"

"Twenty minutes."

"How much?"

"Two shillings."

He sat on a bench and the crook was made, a stem being given him into
the bargain.

He then went to a ready-made clothes' shop, the owner of which had a
large rural connection.  As the crook had absorbed most of Gabriel's
money, he attempted, and carried out, an exchange of his overcoat for
a shepherd's regulation smock-frock.

This transaction having been completed, he again hurried off to the
centre of the town, and stood on the kerb of the pavement, as a
shepherd, crook in hand.

Now that Oak had turned himself into a shepherd, it seemed that
bailiffs were most in demand.  However, two or three farmers noticed
him and drew near.  Dialogues followed, more or less in the subjoined
form:--

"Where do you come from?"

"Norcombe."

"That's a long way.

"Fifteen miles."

"Who's farm were you upon last?"

"My own."

This reply invariably operated like a rumour of cholera. The
inquiring farmer would edge away and shake his head dubiously.
Gabriel, like his dog, was too good to be trustworthy, and he never
made advance beyond this point.

It is safer to accept any chance that offers itself, and extemporize
a procedure to fit it, than to get a good plan matured, and wait for
a chance of using it.  Gabriel wished he had not nailed up his
colours as a shepherd, but had laid himself out for anything in the
whole cycle of labour that was required in the fair.  It grew dusk.
Some merry men were whistling and singing by the corn-exchange.
Gabriel's hand, which had lain for some time idle in his smock-frock
pocket, touched his flute which he carried there.  Here was an
opportunity for putting his dearly bought wisdom into practice.

He drew out his flute and began to play "Jockey to the Fair" in the
style of a man who had never known moment's sorrow.  Oak could pipe
with Arcadian sweetness, and the sound of the well-known notes
cheered his own heart as well as those of the loungers.  He played on
with spirit, and in half an hour had earned in pence what was a small
fortune to a destitute man.

By making inquiries he learnt that there was another fair at
Shottsford the next day.

"How far is Shottsford?"

"Ten miles t'other side of Weatherbury."

Weatherbury!  It was where Bathsheba had gone two months before.
This information was like coming from night into noon.

"How far is it to Weatherbury?"

"Five or six miles."

Bathsheba had probably left Weatherbury long before this time, but
the place had enough interest attaching to it to lead Oak to choose
Shottsford fair as his next field of inquiry, because it lay in the
Weatherbury quarter.  Moreover, the Weatherbury folk were by no means
uninteresting intrinsically.  If report spoke truly they were as
hardy, merry, thriving, wicked a set as any in the whole county.  Oak
resolved to sleep at Weatherbury that night on his way to Shottsford,
and struck out at once into the high road which had been recommended
as the direct route to the village in question.

The road stretched through water-meadows traversed by little brooks,
whose quivering surfaces were braided along their centres, and
folded into creases at the sides; or, where the flow was more
rapid, the stream was pied with spots of white froth, which rode
on in undisturbed serenity.  On the higher levels the dead and
dry carcasses of leaves tapped the ground as they bowled along
helter-skelter upon the shoulders of the wind, and little birds in
the hedges were rustling their feathers and tucking themselves in
comfortably for the night, retaining their places if Oak kept moving,
but flying away if he stopped to look at them.  He passed by Yalbury
Wood where the game-birds were rising to their roosts, and heard the
crack-voiced cock-pheasants "cu-uck, cuck," and the wheezy whistle of
the hens.

By the time he had walked three or four miles every shape in the
landscape had assumed a uniform hue of blackness.  He descended
Yalbury Hill and could just discern ahead of him a waggon, drawn up
under a great over-hanging tree by the roadside.

On coming close, he found there were no horses attached to it, the
spot being apparently quite deserted.  The waggon, from its position,
seemed to have been left there for the night, for beyond about half
a truss of hay which was heaped in the bottom, it was quite empty.
Gabriel sat down on the shafts of the vehicle and considered his
position.  He calculated that he had walked a very fair proportion of
the journey; and having been on foot since daybreak, he felt tempted
to lie down upon the hay in the waggon instead of pushing on to the
village of Weatherbury, and having to pay for a lodging.

Eating his last slices of bread and ham, and drinking from the bottle
of cider he had taken the precaution to bring with him, he got into
the lonely waggon.  Here he spread half of the hay as a bed, and,
as well as he could in the darkness, pulled the other half over
him by way of bed-clothes, covering himself entirely, and feeling,
physically, as comfortable as ever he had been in his life.  Inward
melancholy it was impossible for a man like Oak, introspective far
beyond his neighbours, to banish quite, whilst conning the present
untoward page of his history.  So, thinking of his misfortunes,
amorous and pastoral, he fell asleep, shepherds enjoying, in common
with sailors, the privilege of being able to summon the god instead
of having to wait for him.

On somewhat suddenly awaking, after a sleep of whose length he had no
idea, Oak found that the waggon was in motion.  He was being carried
along the road at a rate rather considerable for a vehicle without
springs, and under circumstances of physical uneasiness, his
head being dandled up and down on the bed of the waggon like a
kettledrum-stick.  He then distinguished voices in conversation,
coming from the forpart of the waggon.  His concern at this dilemma
(which would have been alarm, had he been a thriving man; but
misfortune is a fine opiate to personal terror) led him to peer
cautiously from the hay, and the first sight he beheld was the stars
above him.  Charles's Wain was getting towards a right angle with
the Pole star, and Gabriel concluded that it must be about nine
o'clock--in other words, that he had slept two hours.  This small
astronomical calculation was made without any positive effort, and
whilst he was stealthily turning to discover, if possible, into whose
hands he had fallen.

Two figures were dimly visible in front, sitting with their legs
outside the waggon, one of whom was driving.  Gabriel soon found that
this was the waggoner, and it appeared they had come from
Casterbridge fair, like himself.

A conversation was in progress, which continued thus:--

"Be as 'twill, she's a fine handsome body as far's looks be
concerned.  But that's only the skin of the woman, and these dandy
cattle be as proud as a lucifer in their insides."

"Ay--so 'a do seem, Billy Smallbury--so 'a do seem."  This utterance
was very shaky by nature, and more so by circumstance, the jolting of
the waggon not being without its effect upon the speaker's larynx.
It came from the man who held the reins.

"She's a very vain feymell--so 'tis said here and there."

"Ah, now.  If so be 'tis like that, I can't look her in the face.
Lord, no: not I--heh-heh-heh!  Such a shy man as I be!"

"Yes--she's very vain.  'Tis said that every night at going to bed
she looks in the glass to put on her night-cap properly."

"And not a married woman.  Oh, the world!"

"And 'a can play the peanner, so 'tis said.  Can play so clever that
'a can make a psalm tune sound as well as the merriest loose song a
man can wish for."

"D'ye tell o't!  A happy time for us, and I feel quite a new man!
And how do she pay?"

"That I don't know, Master Poorgrass."

On hearing these and other similar remarks, a wild thought flashed
into Gabriel's mind that they might be speaking of Bathsheba.  There
were, however, no grounds for retaining such a supposition, for the
waggon, though going in the direction of Weatherbury, might be going
beyond it, and the woman alluded to seemed to be the mistress of some
estate.  They were now apparently close upon Weatherbury and not to
alarm the speakers unnecessarily, Gabriel slipped out of the waggon
unseen.

He turned to an opening in the hedge, which he found to be a gate,
and mounting thereon, he sat meditating whether to seek a cheap
lodging in the village, or to ensure a cheaper one by lying under
some hay or corn-stack.  The crunching jangle of the waggon died upon
his ear.  He was about to walk on, when he noticed on his left hand
an unusual light--appearing about half a mile distant.  Oak watched
it, and the glow increased.  Something was on fire.

Gabriel again mounted the gate, and, leaping down on the other side
upon what he found to be ploughed soil, made across the field in the
exact direction of the fire.  The blaze, enlarging in a double ratio
by his approach and its own increase, showed him as he drew nearer
the outlines of ricks beside it, lighted up to great distinctness.  A
rick-yard was the source of the fire.  His weary face now began to
be painted over with a rich orange glow, and the whole front of his
smock-frock and gaiters was covered with a dancing shadow pattern of
thorn-twigs--the light reaching him through a leafless intervening
hedge--and the metallic curve of his sheep-crook shone silver-bright
in the same abounding rays.  He came up to the boundary fence, and
stood to regain breath.  It seemed as if the spot was unoccupied by
a living soul.

The fire was issuing from a long straw-stack, which was so far gone
as to preclude a possibility of saving it.  A rick burns differently
from a house.  As the wind blows the fire inwards, the portion in
flames completely disappears like melting sugar, and the outline is
lost to the eye.  However, a hay or a wheat-rick, well put together,
will resist combustion for a length of time, if it begins on the
outside.

This before Gabriel's eyes was a rick of straw, loosely put together,
and the flames darted into it with lightning swiftness.  It glowed on
the windward side, rising and falling in intensity, like the coal of
a cigar.  Then a superincumbent bundle rolled down, with a whisking
noise; flames elongated, and bent themselves about with a quiet
roar, but no crackle.  Banks of smoke went off horizontally at the
back like passing clouds, and behind these burned hidden pyres,
illuminating the semi-transparent sheet of smoke to a lustrous yellow
uniformity.  Individual straws in the foreground were consumed in a
creeping movement of ruddy heat, as if they were knots of red worms,
and above shone imaginary fiery faces, tongues hanging from lips,
glaring eyes, and other impish forms, from which at intervals sparks
flew in clusters like birds from a nest.

Oak suddenly ceased from being a mere spectator by discovering the
case to be more serious than he had at first imagined.  A scroll
of smoke blew aside and revealed to him a wheat-rick in startling
juxtaposition with the decaying one, and behind this a series of
others, composing the main corn produce of the farm; so that instead
of the straw-stack standing, as he had imagined comparatively
isolated, there was a regular connection between it and the remaining
stacks of the group.

Gabriel leapt over the hedge, and saw that he was not alone.  The
first man he came to was running about in a great hurry, as if his
thoughts were several yards in advance of his body, which they could
never drag on fast enough.

"O, man--fire, fire!  A good master and a bad servant is fire,
fire!--I mane a bad servant and a good master.  Oh, Mark Clark--come!
And you, Billy Smallbury--and you, Maryann Money--and you, Jan
Coggan, and Matthew there!"  Other figures now appeared behind this
shouting man and among the smoke, and Gabriel found that, far from
being alone he was in a great company--whose shadows danced merrily
up and down, timed by the jigging of the flames, and not at all by
their owners' movements.  The assemblage--belonging to that class of
society which casts its thoughts into the form of feeling, and its
feelings into the form of commotion--set to work with a remarkable
confusion of purpose.

"Stop the draught under the wheat-rick!" cried Gabriel to those
nearest to him.  The corn stood on stone staddles, and between these,
tongues of yellow hue from the burning straw licked and darted
playfully.  If the fire once got UNDER this stack, all would be lost.

"Get a tarpaulin--quick!" said Gabriel.

A rick-cloth was brought, and they hung it like a curtain across the
channel.  The flames immediately ceased to go under the bottom of the
corn-stack, and stood up vertical.

"Stand here with a bucket of water and keep the cloth wet." said
Gabriel again.

The flames, now driven upwards, began to attack the angles of the
huge roof covering the wheat-stack.

"A ladder," cried Gabriel.

"The ladder was against the straw-rick and is burnt to a cinder,"
said a spectre-like form in the smoke.

Oak seized the cut ends of the sheaves, as if he were going to engage
in the operation of "reed-drawing," and digging in his feet, and
occasionally sticking in the stem of his sheep-crook, he clambered up
the beetling face.  He at once sat astride the very apex, and began
with his crook to beat off the fiery fragments which had lodged
thereon, shouting to the others to get him a bough and a ladder, and
some water.

Billy Smallbury--one of the men who had been on the waggon--by this
time had found a ladder, which Mark Clark ascended, holding on beside
Oak upon the thatch.  The smoke at this corner was stifling, and
Clark, a nimble fellow, having been handed a bucket of water, bathed
Oak's face and sprinkled him generally, whilst Gabriel, now with a
long beech-bough in one hand, in addition to his crook in the other,
kept sweeping the stack and dislodging all fiery particles.

On the ground the groups of villagers were still occupied in doing
all they could to keep down the conflagration, which was not much.
They were all tinged orange, and backed up by shadows of varying
pattern.  Round the corner of the largest stack, out of the direct
rays of the fire, stood a pony, bearing a young woman on its back.
By her side was another woman, on foot.  These two seemed to keep at
a distance from the fire, that the horse might not become restive.

"He's a shepherd," said the woman on foot.  "Yes--he is. See how his
crook shines as he beats the rick with it.  And his smock-frock is
burnt in two holes, I declare!  A fine young shepherd he is too,
ma'am."

"Whose shepherd is he?" said the equestrian in a clear voice.

"Don't know, ma'am."

"Don't any of the others know?"

"Nobody at all--I've asked 'em.  Quite a stranger, they say."

The young woman on the pony rode out from the shade and looked
anxiously around.

"Do you think the barn is safe?" she said.

"D'ye think the barn is safe, Jan Coggan?" said the second woman,
passing on the question to the nearest man in that direction.

"Safe-now--leastwise I think so.  If this rick had gone the barn
would have followed.  'Tis that bold shepherd up there that have done
the most good--he sitting on the top o' rick, whizzing his great
long-arms about like a windmill."

"He does work hard," said the young woman on horseback, looking up at
Gabriel through her thick woollen veil.  "I wish he was shepherd
here.  Don't any of you know his name."

"Never heard the man's name in my life, or seed his form afore."

The fire began to get worsted, and Gabriel's elevated position being
no longer required of him, he made as if to descend.

"Maryann," said the girl on horseback, "go to him as he comes down,
and say that the farmer wishes to thank him for the great service he
has done."

Maryann stalked off towards the rick and met Oak at the foot of the
ladder.  She delivered her message.

"Where is your master the farmer?" asked Gabriel, kindling with the
idea of getting employment that seemed to strike him now.

"'Tisn't a master; 'tis a mistress, shepherd."

"A woman farmer?"

"Ay, 'a b'lieve, and a rich one too!" said a bystander. "Lately
'a came here from a distance.  Took on her uncle's farm, who died
suddenly.  Used to measure his money in half-pint cups.  They say
now that she've business in every bank in Casterbridge, and thinks
no more of playing pitch-and-toss sovereign than you and I, do
pitch-halfpenny--not a bit in the world, shepherd."

"That's she, back there upon the pony," said Maryann; "wi' her face
a-covered up in that black cloth with holes in it."

Oak, his features smudged, grimy, and undiscoverable from the smoke
and heat, his smock-frock burnt into holes and dripping with water,
the ash stem of his sheep-crook charred six inches shorter, advanced
with the humility stern adversity had thrust upon him up to the
slight female form in the saddle.  He lifted his hat with respect,
and not without gallantry: stepping close to her hanging feet he said
in a hesitating voice,--

"Do you happen to want a shepherd, ma'am?"

She lifted the wool veil tied round her face, and looked all
astonishment.  Gabriel and his cold-hearted darling, Bathsheba
Everdene, were face to face.

Bathsheba did not speak, and he mechanically repeated in an abashed
and sad voice,--

"Do you want a shepherd, ma'am?"




CHAPTER VII


RECOGNITION--A TIMID GIRL


Bathsheba withdrew into the shade.  She scarcely knew whether most to
be amused at the singularity of the meeting, or to be concerned at
its awkwardness.  There was room for a little pity, also for a very
little exultation: the former at his position, the latter at her own.
Embarrassed she was not, and she remembered Gabriel's declaration of
love to her at Norcombe only to think she had nearly forgotten it.

"Yes," she murmured, putting on an air of dignity, and turning again
to him with a little warmth of cheek; "I do want a shepherd.  But--"

"He's the very man, ma'am," said one of the villagers, quietly.

Conviction breeds conviction.  "Ay, that 'a is," said a second,
decisively.

"The man, truly!" said a third, with heartiness.

"He's all there!" said number four, fervidly.

"Then will you tell him to speak to the bailiff," said Bathsheba.

All was practical again now.  A summer eve and loneliness would have
been necessary to give the meeting its proper fulness of romance.

The bailiff was pointed out to Gabriel, who, checking the palpitation
within his breast at discovering that this Ashtoreth of strange
report was only a modification of Venus the well-known and admired,
retired with him to talk over the necessary preliminaries of hiring.

The fire before them wasted away.  "Men," said Bathsheba, "you shall
take a little refreshment after this extra work.  Will you come to
the house?"

"We could knock in a bit and a drop a good deal freer, Miss, if so be
ye'd send it to Warren's Malthouse," replied the spokesman.

Bathsheba then rode off into the darkness, and the men straggled on
to the village in twos and threes--Oak and the bailiff being left by
the rick alone.

"And now," said the bailiff, finally, "all is settled, I think, about
your coming, and I am going home-along.  Good-night to ye, shepherd."

"Can you get me a lodging?" inquired Gabriel.

"That I can't, indeed," he said, moving past Oak as a Christian edges
past an offertory-plate when he does not mean to contribute.  "If you
follow on the road till you come to Warren's Malthouse, where they
are all gone to have their snap of victuals, I daresay some of 'em
will tell you of a place.  Good-night to ye, shepherd."

The bailiff who showed this nervous dread of loving his neighbour as
himself, went up the hill, and Oak walked on to the village, still
astonished at the reencounter with Bathsheba, glad of his nearness to
her, and perplexed at the rapidity with which the unpractised girl of
Norcombe had developed into the supervising and cool woman here.  But
some women only require an emergency to make them fit for one.

Obliged, to some extent, to forgo dreaming in order to find the way,
he reached the churchyard, and passed round it under the wall where
several ancient trees grew.  There was a wide margin of grass along
here, and Gabriel's footsteps were deadened by its softness, even at
this indurating period of the year.  When abreast of a trunk which
appeared to be the oldest of the old, he became aware that a figure
was standing behind it.  Gabriel did not pause in his walk, and in
another moment he accidentally kicked a loose stone. The noise was
enough to disturb the motionless stranger, who started and assumed
a careless position.

It was a slim girl, rather thinly clad.

"Good-night to you," said Gabriel, heartily.

"Good-night," said the girl to Gabriel.

The voice was unexpectedly attractive; it was the low and dulcet note
suggestive of romance; common in descriptions, rare in experience.

"I'll thank you to tell me if I'm in the way for Warren's Malthouse?"
Gabriel resumed, primarily to gain the information, indirectly to get
more of the music.

"Quite right.  It's at the bottom of the hill.  And do you know--"
The girl hesitated and then went on again.  "Do you know how late
they keep open the Buck's Head Inn?"  She seemed to be won by
Gabriel's heartiness, as Gabriel had been won by her modulations.

"I don't know where the Buck's Head is, or anything about it.  Do you
think of going there to-night?"

"Yes--"  The woman again paused.  There was no necessity for any
continuance of speech, and the fact that she did add more seemed to
proceed from an unconscious desire to show unconcern by making a
remark, which is noticeable in the ingenuous when they are acting by
stealth.  "You are not a Weatherbury man?" she said, timorously.

"I am not.  I am the new shepherd--just arrived."

"Only a shepherd--and you seem almost a farmer by your ways."

"Only a shepherd," Gabriel repeated, in a dull cadence of finality.
His thoughts were directed to the past, his eyes to the feet of the
girl; and for the first time he saw lying there a bundle of some
sort.  She may have perceived the direction of his face, for she said
coaxingly,--

"You won't say anything in the parish about having seen me here, will
you--at least, not for a day or two?"

"I won't if you wish me not to," said Oak.

"Thank you, indeed," the other replied.  "I am rather poor, and I
don't want people to know anything about me."  Then she was silent
and shivered.

"You ought to have a cloak on such a cold night," Gabriel observed.
"I would advise 'ee to get indoors."

"O no!  Would you mind going on and leaving me?  I thank you much for
what you have told me."

"I will go on," he said; adding hesitatingly,--"Since you are not
very well off, perhaps you would accept this trifle from me.  It is
only a shilling, but it is all I have to spare."

"Yes, I will take it," said the stranger gratefully.

She extended her hand; Gabriel his.  In feeling for each other's palm
in the gloom before the money could be passed, a minute incident
occurred which told much.  Gabriel's fingers alighted on the young
woman's wrist.  It was beating with a throb of tragic intensity.  He
had frequently felt the same quick, hard beat in the femoral artery
of his lambs when overdriven.  It suggested a consumption too great
of a vitality which, to judge from her figure and stature, was
already too little.

"What is the matter?"

"Nothing."

"But there is?"

"No, no, no!  Let your having seen me be a secret!"

"Very well; I will.  Good-night, again."

"Good-night."

The young girl remained motionless by the tree, and Gabriel descended
into the village of Weatherbury, or Lower Longpuddle as it was
sometimes called.  He fancied that he had felt himself in the
penumbra of a very deep sadness when touching that slight and fragile
creature.  But wisdom lies in moderating mere impressions, and
Gabriel endeavoured to think little of this.




CHAPTER VIII


THE MALTHOUSE--THE CHAT--NEWS


Warren's Malthouse was enclosed by an old wall inwrapped with ivy,
and though not much of the exterior was visible at this hour, the
character and purposes of the building were clearly enough shown by
its outline upon the sky.  From the walls an overhanging thatched
roof sloped up to a point in the centre, upon which rose a small
wooden lantern, fitted with louvre-boards on all the four sides,
and from these openings a mist was dimly perceived to be escaping
into the night air.  There was no window in front; but a square
hole in the door was glazed with a single pane, through which red,
comfortable rays now stretched out upon the ivied wall in front.
Voices were to be heard inside.

Oak's hand skimmed the surface of the door with fingers extended to
an Elymas-the-Sorcerer pattern, till he found a leathern strap, which
he pulled.  This lifted a wooden latch, and the door swung open.

The room inside was lighted only by the ruddy glow from the kiln
mouth, which shone over the floor with the streaming horizontality
of the setting sun, and threw upwards the shadows of all facial
irregularities in those assembled around.  The stone-flag floor was
worn into a path from the doorway to the kiln, and into undulations
everywhere.  A curved settle of unplaned oak stretched along one
side, and in a remote corner was a small bed and bedstead, the owner
and frequent occupier of which was the maltster.

This aged man was now sitting opposite the fire, his frosty white
hair and beard overgrowing his gnarled figure like the grey moss and
lichen upon a leafless apple-tree.  He wore breeches and the laced-up
shoes called ankle-jacks; he kept his eyes fixed upon the fire.

Gabriel's nose was greeted by an atmosphere laden with the sweet
smell of new malt.  The conversation (which seemed to have been
concerning the origin of the fire) immediately ceased, and every one
ocularly criticised him to the degree expressed by contracting the
flesh of their foreheads and looking at him with narrowed eyelids, as
if he had been a light too strong for their sight.  Several exclaimed
meditatively, after this operation had been completed:--

"Oh, 'tis the new shepherd, 'a b'lieve."

"We thought we heard a hand pawing about the door for the bobbin, but
weren't sure 'twere not a dead leaf blowed across," said another.
"Come in, shepherd; sure ye be welcome, though we don't know yer
name."

"Gabriel Oak, that's my name, neighbours."

The ancient maltster sitting in the midst turned at this--his turning
being as the turning of a rusty crane.

"That's never Gable Oak's grandson over at Norcombe--never!" he said,
as a formula expressive of surprise, which nobody was supposed for a
moment to take literally.

"My father and my grandfather were old men of the name of Gabriel,"
said the shepherd, placidly.

"Thought I knowed the man's face as I seed him on the rick!--thought
I did!  And where be ye trading o't to now, shepherd?"

"I'm thinking of biding here," said Mr. Oak.

"Knowed yer grandfather for years and years!" continued the maltster,
the words coming forth of their own accord as if the momentum
previously imparted had been sufficient.

"Ah--and did you!"

"Knowed yer grandmother."

"And her too!"

"Likewise knowed yer father when he was a child.  Why, my boy
Jacob there and your father were sworn brothers--that they were
sure--weren't ye, Jacob?"

"Ay, sure," said his son, a young man about sixty-five, with a
semi-bald head and one tooth in the left centre of his upper jaw,
which made much of itself by standing prominent, like a milestone in
a bank.  "But 'twas Joe had most to do with him.  However, my son
William must have knowed the very man afore us--didn't ye, Billy,
afore ye left Norcombe?"

"No, 'twas Andrew," said Jacob's son Billy, a child of forty, or
thereabouts, who manifested the peculiarity of possessing a cheerful
soul in a gloomy body, and whose whiskers were assuming a chinchilla
shade here and there.

"I can mind Andrew," said Oak, "as being a man in the place when I
was quite a child."

"Ay--the other day I and my youngest daughter, Liddy, were over at
my grandson's christening," continued Billy.  "We were talking about
this very family, and 'twas only last Purification Day in this very
world, when the use-money is gied away to the second-best poor folk,
you know, shepherd, and I can mind the day because they all had to
traypse up to the vestry--yes, this very man's family."

"Come, shepherd, and drink.  'Tis gape and swaller with us--a drap of
sommit, but not of much account," said the maltster, removing from
the fire his eyes, which were vermilion-red and bleared by gazing
into it for so many years.  "Take up the God-forgive-me, Jacob.  See
if 'tis warm, Jacob."

Jacob stooped to the God-forgive-me, which was a two-handled tall mug
standing in the ashes, cracked and charred with heat: it was rather
furred with extraneous matter about the outside, especially in the
crevices of the handles, the innermost curves of which may not have
seen daylight for several years by reason of this encrustation
thereon--formed of ashes accidentally wetted with cider and baked
hard; but to the mind of any sensible drinker the cup was no
worse for that, being incontestably clean on the inside and about
the rim.  It may be observed that such a class of mug is called a
God-forgive-me in Weatherbury and its vicinity for uncertain reasons;
probably because its size makes any given toper feel ashamed of
himself when he sees its bottom in drinking it empty.

Jacob, on receiving the order to see if the liquor was warm enough,
placidly dipped his forefinger into it by way of thermometer, and
having pronounced it nearly of the proper degree, raised the cup and
very civilly attempted to dust some of the ashes from the bottom with
the skirt of his smock-frock, because Shepherd Oak was a stranger.

"A clane cup for the shepherd," said the maltster commandingly.

"No--not at all," said Gabriel, in a reproving tone of
considerateness.  "I never fuss about dirt in its pure state, and
when I know what sort it is."  Taking the mug he drank an inch or
more from the depth of its contents, and duly passed it to the
next man.  "I wouldn't think of giving such trouble to neighbours
in washing up when there's so much work to be done in the world
already." continued Oak in a moister tone, after recovering from the
stoppage of breath which is occasioned by pulls at large mugs.

"A right sensible man," said Jacob.

"True, true; it can't be gainsaid!" observed a brisk young man--Mark
Clark by name, a genial and pleasant gentleman, whom to meet anywhere
in your travels was to know, to know was to drink with, and to drink
with was, unfortunately, to pay for.

"And here's a mouthful of bread and bacon that mis'ess have sent,
shepherd.  The cider will go down better with a bit of victuals.
Don't ye chaw quite close, shepherd, for I let the bacon fall in
the road outside as I was bringing it along, and may be 'tis rather
gritty.  There, 'tis clane dirt; and we all know what that is, as you
say, and you bain't a particular man we see, shepherd."

"True, true--not at all," said the friendly Oak.

"Don't let your teeth quite meet, and you won't feel the sandiness at
all.  Ah! 'tis wonderful what can be done by contrivance!"

"My own mind exactly, neighbour."

"Ah, he's his grandfer's own grandson!--his grandfer were just such a
nice unparticular man!" said the maltster.

"Drink, Henry Fray--drink," magnanimously said Jan Coggan, a person
who held Saint-Simonian notions of share and share alike where liquor
was concerned, as the vessel showed signs of approaching him in its
gradual revolution among them.

Having at this moment reached the end of a wistful gaze into mid-air,
Henry did not refuse.  He was a man of more than middle age, with
eyebrows high up in his forehead, who laid it down that the law of
the world was bad, with a long-suffering look through his listeners
at the world alluded to, as it presented itself to his imagination.
He always signed his name "Henery"--strenuously insisting upon that
spelling, and if any passing schoolmaster ventured to remark that the
second "e" was superfluous and old-fashioned, he received the reply
that "H-e-n-e-r-y" was the name he was christened and the name he
would stick to--in the tone of one to whom orthographical differences
were matters which had a great deal to do with personal character.

Mr. Jan Coggan, who had passed the cup to Henery, was a crimson man
with a spacious countenance and private glimmer in his eye, whose
name had appeared on the marriage register of Weatherbury and
neighbouring parishes as best man and chief witness in countless
unions of the previous twenty years; he also very frequently filled
the post of head godfather in baptisms of the subtly-jovial kind.

"Come, Mark Clark--come.  Ther's plenty more in the barrel," said
Jan.

"Ay--that I will, 'tis my only doctor," replied Mr. Clark, who,
twenty years younger than Jan Coggan, revolved in the same orbit.  He
secreted mirth on all occasions for special discharge at popular
parties.

"Why, Joseph Poorgrass, ye han't had a drop!" said Mr. Coggan to a
self-conscious man in the background, thrusting the cup towards him.

"Such a modest man as he is!" said Jacob Smallbury.  "Why, ye've
hardly had strength of eye enough to look in our young mis'ess's
face, so I hear, Joseph?"

All looked at Joseph Poorgrass with pitying reproach.

"No--I've hardly looked at her at all," simpered Joseph, reducing his
body smaller whilst talking, apparently from a meek sense of undue
prominence.  "And when I seed her, 'twas nothing but blushes with
me!"

"Poor feller," said Mr. Clark.

"'Tis a curious nature for a man," said Jan Coggan.

"Yes," continued Joseph Poorgrass--his shyness, which was so painful
as a defect, filling him with a mild complacency now that it was
regarded as an interesting study.  "'Twere blush, blush, blush with
me every minute of the time, when she was speaking to me."

"I believe ye, Joseph Poorgrass, for we all know ye to be a very
bashful man."

"'Tis a' awkward gift for a man, poor soul," said the maltster.  "And
how long have ye have suffered from it, Joseph?" [a]

   [Transcriber's note a: Alternate text, appears in all three
   editions on hand: "'Tis a' awkward gift for a man, poor soul,"
   said the maltster.  "And ye have suffered from it a long time, we
   know."

   "Ay, ever since..."]

"Oh, ever since I was a boy.  Yes--mother was concerned to her heart
about it--yes.  But 'twas all nought."

"Did ye ever go into the world to try and stop it, Joseph Poorgrass?"

"Oh ay, tried all sorts o' company.  They took me to Greenhill
Fair, and into a great gay jerry-go-nimble show, where there were
women-folk riding round--standing upon horses, with hardly anything
on but their smocks; but it didn't cure me a morsel.  And then I
was put errand-man at the Women's Skittle Alley at the back of the
Tailor's Arms in Casterbridge.  'Twas a horrible sinful situation,
and a very curious place for a good man.  I had to stand and look
ba'dy people in the face from morning till night; but 'twas no use--I
was just as bad as ever after all.  Blushes hev been in the family
for generations.  There, 'tis a happy providence that I be no worse."

"True," said Jacob Smallbury, deepening his thoughts to a profounder
view of the subject.  "'Tis a thought to look at, that ye might have
been worse; but even as you be, 'tis a very bad affliction for 'ee,
Joseph.  For ye see, shepherd, though 'tis very well for a woman,
dang it all, 'tis awkward for a man like him, poor feller?"

"'Tis--'tis," said Gabriel, recovering from a meditation.  "Yes, very
awkward for the man."

"Ay, and he's very timid, too," observed Jan Coggan.  "Once he had
been working late at Yalbury Bottom, and had had a drap of drink, and
lost his way as he was coming home-along through Yalbury Wood, didn't
ye, Master Poorgrass?"

"No, no, no; not that story!" expostulated the modest man, forcing a
laugh to bury his concern.

"--And so 'a lost himself quite," continued Mr. Coggan, with an
impassive face, implying that a true narrative, like time and tide,
must run its course and would respect no man.  "And as he was coming
along in the middle of the night, much afeared, and not able to
find his way out of the trees nohow, 'a cried out, 'Man-a-lost!
man-a-lost!'  A owl in a tree happened to be crying 'Whoo-whoo-whoo!'
as owls do, you know, shepherd" (Gabriel nodded), "and Joseph, all in
a tremble, said, 'Joseph Poorgrass, of Weatherbury, sir!'"

"No, no, now--that's too much!" said the timid man, becoming a man
of brazen courage all of a sudden.  "I didn't say SIR.  I'll take my
oath I didn't say 'Joseph Poorgrass o' Weatherbury, sir.'  No, no;
what's right is right, and I never said sir to the bird, knowing very
well that no man of a gentleman's rank would be hollering there at
that time o' night.  'Joseph Poorgrass of Weatherbury,'--that's every
word I said, and I shouldn't ha' said that if 't hadn't been for
Keeper Day's metheglin....  There, 'twas a merciful thing it ended
where it did."

The question of which was right being tacitly waived by the company,
Jan went on meditatively:--

"And he's the fearfullest man, bain't ye, Joseph?  Ay, another time
ye were lost by Lambing-Down Gate, weren't ye, Joseph?"

"I was," replied Poorgrass, as if there were some conditions too
serious even for modesty to remember itself under, this being one.

"Yes; that were the middle of the night, too.  The gate would not
open, try how he would, and knowing there was the Devil's hand in it,
he kneeled down."

"Ay," said Joseph, acquiring confidence from the warmth of the fire,
the cider, and a perception of the narrative capabilities of the
experience alluded to.  "My heart died within me, that time; but I
kneeled down and said the Lord's Prayer, and then the Belief right
through, and then the Ten Commandments, in earnest prayer.  But
no, the gate wouldn't open; and then I went on with Dearly Beloved
Brethren, and, thinks I, this makes four, and 'tis all I know out
of book, and if this don't do it nothing will, and I'm a lost man.
Well, when I got to Saying After Me, I rose from my knees and found
the gate would open--yes, neighbours, the gate opened the same as
ever."

A meditation on the obvious inference was indulged in by all, and
during its continuance each directed his vision into the ashpit,
which glowed like a desert in the tropics under a vertical sun,
shaping their eyes long and liny, partly because of the light, partly
from the depth of the subject discussed.

Gabriel broke the silence.  "What sort of a place is this to live at,
and what sort of a mis'ess is she to work under?" Gabriel's bosom
thrilled gently as he thus slipped under the notice of the assembly
the inner-most subject of his heart.

"We d' know little of her--nothing.  She only showed herself a few
days ago.  Her uncle was took bad, and the doctor was called with his
world-wide skill; but he couldn't save the man.  As I take it, she's
going to keep on the farm.

"That's about the shape o't, 'a b'lieve," said Jan Coggan.  "Ay, 'tis
a very good family.  I'd as soon be under 'em as under one here and
there.  Her uncle was a very fair sort of man.  Did ye know en,
shepherd--a bachelor-man?"

"Not at all."

"I used to go to his house a-courting my first wife, Charlotte,
who was his dairymaid.  Well, a very good-hearted man were Farmer
Everdene, and I being a respectable young fellow was allowed to call
and see her and drink as much ale as I liked, but not to carry away
any--outside my skin I mane of course."

"Ay, ay, Jan Coggan; we know yer maning."

"And so you see 'twas beautiful ale, and I wished to value his
kindness as much as I could, and not to be so ill-mannered as to
drink only a thimbleful, which would have been insulting the man's
generosity--"

"True, Master Coggan, 'twould so," corroborated Mark Clark.

"--And so I used to eat a lot of salt fish afore going, and then by
the time I got there I were as dry as a lime-basket--so thorough dry
that that ale would slip down--ah, 'twould slip down sweet!  Happy
times!  Heavenly times!  Such lovely drunks as I used to have at that
house!  You can mind, Jacob?  You used to go wi' me sometimes."

"I can--I can," said Jacob.  "That one, too, that we had at Buck's
Head on a White Monday was a pretty tipple."

"'Twas.  But for a wet of the better class, that brought you no
nearer to the horned man than you were afore you begun, there was
none like those in Farmer Everdene's kitchen.  Not a single damn
allowed; no, not a bare poor one, even at the most cheerful moment
when all were blindest, though the good old word of sin thrown in
here and there at such times is a great relief to a merry soul."

"True," said the maltster.  "Nater requires her swearing at the
regular times, or she's not herself; and unholy exclamations is a
necessity of life."

"But Charlotte," continued Coggan--"not a word of the sort would
Charlotte allow, nor the smallest item of taking in vain....  Ay,
poor Charlotte, I wonder if she had the good fortune to get into
Heaven when 'a died!  But 'a was never much in luck's way, and
perhaps 'a went downwards after all, poor soul."

"And did any of you know Miss Everdene's father and mother?" inquired
the shepherd, who found some difficulty in keeping the conversation
in the desired channel.

"I knew them a little," said Jacob Smallbury; "but they were
townsfolk, and didn't live here.  They've been dead for years.
Father, what sort of people were mis'ess' father and mother?"

"Well," said the maltster, "he wasn't much to look at; but she was a
lovely woman.  He was fond enough of her as his sweetheart."

"Used to kiss her scores and long-hundreds o' times, so 'twas said,"
observed Coggan.

"He was very proud of her, too, when they were married, as I've been
told," said the maltster.

"Ay," said Coggan.  "He admired her so much that he used to light the
candle three times a night to look at her."

"Boundless love; I shouldn't have supposed it in the universe!"
murmured Joseph Poorgrass, who habitually spoke on a large scale in
his moral reflections.

"Well, to be sure," said Gabriel.

"Oh, 'tis true enough.  I knowed the man and woman both well.  Levi
Everdene--that was the man's name, sure.  'Man,' saith I in my
hurry, but he were of a higher circle of life than that--'a was a
gentleman-tailor really, worth scores of pounds.  And he became a
very celebrated bankrupt two or three times."

"Oh, I thought he was quite a common man!" said Joseph.

"Oh no, no!  That man failed for heaps of money; hundreds in gold and
silver."

The maltster being rather short of breath, Mr. Coggan, after absently
scrutinising a coal which had fallen among the ashes, took up the
narrative, with a private twirl of his eye:--

"Well, now, you'd hardly believe it, but that man--our Miss
Everdene's father--was one of the ficklest husbands alive, after a
while.  Understand? 'a didn't want to be fickle, but he couldn't help
it.  The pore feller were faithful and true enough to her in his
wish, but his heart would rove, do what he would.  He spoke to me in
real tribulation about it once.  'Coggan,' he said, 'I could never
wish for a handsomer woman than I've got, but feeling she's ticketed
as my lawful wife, I can't help my wicked heart wandering, do what I
will.'  But at last I believe he cured it by making her take off her
wedding-ring and calling her by her maiden name as they sat together
after the shop was shut, and so 'a would get to fancy she was only
his sweetheart, and not married to him at all.  And as soon as he
could thoroughly fancy he was doing wrong and committing the seventh,
'a got to like her as well as ever, and they lived on a perfect
picture of mutel love."

"Well, 'twas a most ungodly remedy," murmured Joseph Poorgrass; "but
we ought to feel deep cheerfulness that a happy Providence kept it
from being any worse.  You see, he might have gone the bad road and
given his eyes to unlawfulness entirely--yes, gross unlawfulness, so
to say it."

"You see," said Billy Smallbury, "The man's will was to do right,
sure enough, but his heart didn't chime in."

"He got so much better, that he was quite godly in his later years,
wasn't he, Jan?" said Joseph Poorgrass.  "He got himself confirmed
over again in a more serious way, and took to saying 'Amen' almost as
loud as the clerk, and he liked to copy comforting verses from the
tombstones.  He used, too, to hold the money-plate at Let Your Light
so Shine, and stand godfather to poor little come-by-chance children;
and he kept a missionary box upon his table to nab folks unawares
when they called; yes, and he would box the charity-boys' ears, if
they laughed in church, till they could hardly stand upright, and do
other deeds of piety natural to the saintly inclined."

"Ay, at that time he thought of nothing but high things," added Billy
Smallbury.  "One day Parson Thirdly met him and said, 'Good-Morning,
Mister Everdene; 'tis a fine day!'  'Amen' said Everdene, quite
absent-like, thinking only of religion when he seed a parson.  Yes,
he was a very Christian man."

"Their daughter was not at all a pretty chiel at that time," said
Henery Fray.  "Never should have thought she'd have growed up such a
handsome body as she is."

"'Tis to be hoped her temper is as good as her face."

"Well, yes; but the baily will have most to do with the business and
ourselves.  Ah!" Henery gazed into the ashpit, and smiled volumes of
ironical knowledge.

"A queer Christian, like the Devil's head in a cowl, [1] as the
saying is," volunteered Mark Clark.

   [Footnote 1: This phrase is a conjectural emendation of the
   unintelligible expression, "as the Devil said to the Owl,"
   used by the natives.]

"He is," said Henery, implying that irony must cease at a certain
point.  "Between we two, man and man, I believe that man would as
soon tell a lie Sundays as working-days--that I do so."

"Good faith, you do talk!" said Gabriel.

"True enough," said the man of bitter moods, looking round upon
the company with the antithetic laughter that comes from a keener
appreciation of the miseries of life than ordinary men are capable
of.  "Ah, there's people of one sort, and people of another, but
that man--bless your souls!"

Gabriel thought fit to change the subject.  "You must be a very aged
man, malter, to have sons growed mild and ancient," he remarked.

"Father's so old that 'a can't mind his age, can ye, father?"
interposed Jacob.  "And he's growed terrible crooked too, lately,"
Jacob continued, surveying his father's figure, which was rather
more bowed than his own.  "Really one may say that father there is
three-double."

"Crooked folk will last a long while," said the maltster, grimly, and
not in the best humour.

"Shepherd would like to hear the pedigree of yer life, father--
wouldn't ye, shepherd?"

"Ay that I should," said Gabriel with the heartiness of a man who had
longed to hear it for several months.  "What may your age be,
malter?"

The maltster cleared his throat in an exaggerated form for emphasis,
and elongating his gaze to the remotest point of the ashpit, said, in
the slow speech justifiable when the importance of a subject is so
generally felt that any mannerism must be tolerated in getting at it,
"Well, I don't mind the year I were born in, but perhaps I can reckon
up the places I've lived at, and so get it that way.  I bode at
Upper Longpuddle across there" (nodding to the north) "till I were
eleven. I bode seven at Kingsbere" (nodding to the east) "where
I took to malting.  I went therefrom to Norcombe, and malted
there two-and-twenty years, and-two-and-twenty years I was there
turnip-hoeing and harvesting.  Ah, I knowed that old place, Norcombe,
years afore you were thought of, Master Oak" (Oak smiled sincere
belief in the fact).  "Then I malted at Durnover four year, and
four year turnip-hoeing; and I was fourteen times eleven months at
Millpond St. Jude's" (nodding north-west-by-north).  "Old Twills
wouldn't hire me for more than eleven months at a time, to keep me
from being chargeable to the parish if so be I was disabled.  Then I
was three year at Mellstock, and I've been here one-and-thirty year
come Candlemas.  How much is that?"

"Hundred and seventeen," chuckled another old gentleman, given to
mental arithmetic and little conversation, who had hitherto sat
unobserved in a corner.

"Well, then, that's my age," said the maltster, emphatically.

"O no, father!" said Jacob.  "Your turnip-hoeing were in the summer
and your malting in the winter of the same years, and ye don't ought
to count-both halves, father."

"Chok' it all!  I lived through the summers, didn't I?  That's my
question.  I suppose ye'll say next I be no age at all to speak of?"

"Sure we shan't," said Gabriel, soothingly.

"Ye be a very old aged person, malter," attested Jan Coggan, also
soothingly. "We all know that, and ye must have a wonderful talented
constitution to be able to live so long, mustn't he, neighbours?"

"True, true; ye must, malter, wonderful," said the meeting
unanimously.

The maltster, being now pacified, was even generous enough to
voluntarily disparage in a slight degree the virtue of having lived a
great many years, by mentioning that the cup they were drinking out
of was three years older than he.

While the cup was being examined, the end of Gabriel Oak's flute
became visible over his smock-frock pocket, and Henery Fray
exclaimed, "Surely, shepherd, I seed you blowing into a great flute
by now at Casterbridge?"

"You did," said Gabriel, blushing faintly.  "I've been in great
trouble, neighbours, and was driven to it.  I used not to be so poor
as I be now."

"Never mind, heart!" said Mark Clark.  You should take it
careless-like, shepherd, and your time will come.  But we could thank
ye for a tune, if ye bain't too tired?"

"Neither drum nor trumpet have I heard since Christmas," said Jan
Coggan.  "Come, raise a tune, Master Oak!"

"Ay, that I will," said Gabriel, pulling out his flute and putting it
together.  "A poor tool, neighbours; but such as I can do ye shall
have and welcome."

Oak then struck up "Jockey to the Fair," and played that sparkling
melody three times through, accenting the notes in the third round in
a most artistic and lively manner by bending his body in small jerks
and tapping with his foot to beat time.

"He can blow the flute very well--that 'a can," said a young married
man, who having no individuality worth mentioning was known as "Susan
Tall's husband."  He continued, "I'd as lief as not be able to blow
into a flute as well as that."

"He's a clever man, and 'tis a true comfort for us to have such a
shepherd," murmured Joseph Poorgrass, in a soft cadence.  "We ought
to feel full o' thanksgiving that he's not a player of ba'dy songs
instead of these merry tunes; for 'twould have been just as easy for
God to have made the shepherd a loose low man--a man of iniquity, so
to speak it--as what he is.  Yes, for our wives' and daughters' sakes
we should feel real thanksgiving."

"True, true,--real thanksgiving!" dashed in Mark Clark conclusively,
not feeling it to be of any consequence to his opinion that he had
only heard about a word and three-quarters of what Joseph had said.

"Yes," added Joseph, beginning to feel like a man in the Bible; "for
evil do thrive so in these times that ye may be as much deceived in
the cleanest shaved and whitest shirted man as in the raggedest tramp
upon the turnpike, if I may term it so."

"Ay, I can mind yer face now, shepherd," said Henery Fray,
criticising Gabriel with misty eyes as he entered upon his second
tune.  "Yes--now I see 'ee blowing into the flute I know 'ee to be
the same man I see play at Casterbridge, for yer mouth were scrimped
up and yer eyes a-staring out like a strangled man's--just as they be
now."

"'Tis a pity that playing the flute should make a man look such a
scarecrow," observed Mr. Mark Clark, with additional criticism of
Gabriel's countenance, the latter person jerking out, with the
ghastly grimace required by the instrument, the chorus of "Dame
Durden:"--

   'Twas Moll' and Bet', and Doll' and Kate',
   And Dor'-othy Drag'-gle Tail'.

"I hope you don't mind that young man's bad manners in naming your
features?" whispered Joseph to Gabriel.

"Not at all," said Mr. Oak.

"For by nature ye be a very handsome man, shepherd," continued Joseph
Poorgrass, with winning sauvity.

"Ay, that ye be, shepard," said the company.

"Thank you very much," said Oak, in the modest tone good manners
demanded, thinking, however, that he would never let Bathsheba see
him playing the flute; in this resolve showing a discretion equal to
that related to its sagacious inventress, the divine Minerva herself.

"Ah, when I and my wife were married at Norcombe Church," said the
old maltster, not pleased at finding himself left out of the subject,
"we were called the handsomest couple in the neighbourhood--everybody
said so."

"Danged if ye bain't altered now, malter," said a voice with the
vigour natural to the enunciation of a remarkably evident truism.
It came from the old man in the background, whose offensiveness and
spiteful ways were barely atoned for by the occasional chuckle he
contributed to general laughs.

"O no, no," said Gabriel.

"Don't ye play no more shepherd" said Susan Tall's husband, the young
married man who had spoken once before.  "I must be moving and when
there's tunes going on I seem as if hung in wires.  If I thought
after I'd left that music was still playing, and I not there, I
should be quite melancholy-like."

"What's yer hurry then, Laban?" inquired Coggan.  "You used to bide
as late as the latest."

"Well, ye see, neighbours, I was lately married to a woman, and she's
my vocation now, and so ye see--"  The young man halted lamely.

"New Lords new laws, as the saying is, I suppose," remarked Coggan.

"Ay, 'a b'lieve--ha, ha!" said Susan Tall's husband, in a tone
intended to imply his habitual reception of jokes without minding
them at all.  The young man then wished them good-night and withdrew.

Henery Fray was the first to follow.  Then Gabriel arose and went off
with Jan Coggan, who had offered him a lodging.  A few minutes later,
when the remaining ones were on their legs and about to depart, Fray
came back again in a hurry.  Flourishing his finger ominously he
threw a gaze teeming with tidings just where his eye alighted by
accident, which happened to be in Joseph Poorgrass's face.

"O--what's the matter, what's the matter, Henery?" said Joseph,
starting back.

"What's a-brewing, Henrey?" asked Jacob and Mark Clark.

"Baily Pennyways--Baily Pennyways--I said so; yes, I said so!"

"What, found out stealing anything?"

"Stealing it is.  The news is, that after Miss Everdene got home she
went out again to see all was safe, as she usually do, and coming in
found Baily Pennyways creeping down the granary steps with half a a
bushel of barley.  She fleed at him like a cat--never such a tomboy
as she is--of course I speak with closed doors?"

"You do--you do, Henery."

"She fleed at him, and, to cut a long story short, he owned to having
carried off five sack altogether, upon her promising not to persecute
him.  Well, he's turned out neck and crop, and my question is, who's
going to be baily now?"

The question was such a profound one that Henery was obliged to drink
there and then from the large cup till the bottom was distinctly
visible inside.  Before he had replaced it on the table, in came the
young man, Susan Tall's husband, in a still greater hurry.

"Have ye heard the news that's all over parish?"

"About Baily Pennyways?"

"But besides that?"

"No--not a morsel of it!" they replied, looking into the very midst
of Laban Tall as if to meet his words half-way down his throat.

"What a night of horrors!" murmured Joseph Poorgrass, waving his
hands spasmodically.  "I've had the news-bell ringing in my left ear
quite bad enough for a murder, and I've seen a magpie all alone!"

"Fanny Robin--Miss Everdene's youngest servant--can't be found.
They've been wanting to lock up the door these two hours, but she
isn't come in.  And they don't know what to do about going to bed for
fear of locking her out.  They wouldn't be so concerned if she hadn't
been noticed in such low spirits these last few days, and Maryann d'
think the beginning of a crowner's inquest has happened to the poor
girl."

"Oh--'tis burned--'tis burned!" came from Joseph Poorgrass's dry
lips.

"No--'tis drowned!" said Tall.

"Or 'tis her father's razor!" suggested Billy Smallbury, with a vivid
sense of detail.

"Well--Miss Everdene wants to speak to one or two of us before we go
to bed.  What with this trouble about the baily, and now about the
girl, mis'ess is almost wild."

They all hastened up the lane to the farmhouse, excepting the old
maltster, whom neither news, fire, rain, nor thunder could draw from
his hole.  There, as the others' footsteps died away he sat down
again and continued gazing as usual into the furnace with his red,
bleared eyes.

From the bedroom window above their heads Bathsheba's head and
shoulders, robed in mystic white, were dimly seen extended into the
air.

"Are any of my men among you?" she said anxiously.

"Yes, ma'am, several," said Susan Tall's husband.

"To-morrow morning I wish two or three of you to make inquiries in
the villages round if they have seen such a person as Fanny Robin.
Do it quietly; there is no reason for alarm as yet.  She must have
left whilst we were all at the fire."

"I beg yer pardon, but had she any young man courting her in the
parish, ma'am?" asked Jacob Smallbury.

"I don't know," said Bathsheba.

"I've never heard of any such thing, ma'am," said two or three.

"It is hardly likely, either," continued Bathsheba.  "For any lover
of hers might have come to the house if he had been a respectable
lad.  The most mysterious matter connected with her absence--indeed,
the only thing which gives me serious alarm--is that she was seen
to go out of the house by Maryann with only her indoor working gown
on--not even a bonnet."

"And you mean, ma'am, excusing my words, that a young woman would
hardly go to see her young man without dressing up," said Jacob,
turning his mental vision upon past experiences.  "That's true--she
would not, ma'am."

"She had, I think, a bundle, though I couldn't see very well," said a
female voice from another window, which seemed that of Maryann.  "But
she had no young man about here.  Hers lives in Casterbridge, and I
believe he's a soldier."

"Do you know his name?" Bathsheba said.

"No, mistress; she was very close about it."

"Perhaps I might be able to find out if I went to Casterbridge
barracks," said William Smallbury.

"Very well; if she doesn't return to-morrow, mind you go there and try
to discover which man it is, and see him.  I feel more responsible
than I should if she had had any friends or relations alive.  I do
hope she has come to no harm through a man of that kind....  And then
there's this disgraceful affair of the bailiff--but I can't speak of
him now."

Bathsheba had so many reasons for uneasiness that it seemed she did
not think it worth while to dwell upon any particular one.  "Do as I
told you, then," she said in conclusion, closing the casement.

"Ay, ay, mistress; we will," they replied, and moved away.

That night at Coggan's, Gabriel Oak, beneath the screen of closed
eyelids, was busy with fancies, and full of movement, like a river
flowing rapidly under its ice.  Night had always been the time at
which he saw Bathsheba most vividly, and through the slow hours
of shadow he tenderly regarded her image now.  It is rarely that
the pleasures of the imagination will compensate for the pain of
sleeplessness, but they possibly did with Oak to-night, for the
delight of merely seeing her effaced for the time his perception
of the great difference between seeing and possessing.

He also thought of plans for fetching his few utensils and books from
Norcombe.  _The Young Man's Best Companion_, _The Farrier's Sure
Guide_, _The Veterinary Surgeon_, _Paradise Lost_, _The Pilgrim's
Progress_, _Robinson Crusoe_, Ash's _Dictionary_, and Walkingame's
_Arithmetic_, constituted his library; and though a limited series,
it was one from which he had acquired more sound information by
diligent perusal than many a man of opportunities has done from a
furlong of laden shelves.




CHAPTER IX


THE HOMESTEAD--A VISITOR--HALF-CONFIDENCES


By daylight, the bower of Oak's new-found mistress, Bathsheba
Everdene, presented itself as a hoary building, of the early stage of
Classic Renaissance as regards its architecture, and of a proportion
which told at a glance that, as is so frequently the case, it had
once been the memorial hall upon a small estate around it, now
altogether effaced as a distinct property, and merged in the vast
tract of a non-resident landlord, which comprised several such modest
demesnes.

Fluted pilasters, worked from the solid stone, decorated its front,
and above the roof the chimneys were panelled or columnar, some coped
gables with finials and like features still retaining traces of their
Gothic extraction.  Soft brown mosses, like faded velveteen, formed
cushions upon the stone tiling, and tufts of the houseleek or
sengreen sprouted from the eaves of the low surrounding buildings.  A
gravel walk leading from the door to the road in front was encrusted
at the sides with more moss--here it was a silver-green variety, the
nut-brown of the gravel being visible to the width of only a foot
or two in the centre.  This circumstance, and the generally sleepy
air of the whole prospect here, together with the animated and
contrasting state of the reverse façade, suggested to the imagination
that on the adaptation of the building for farming purposes the
vital principle of the house had turned round inside its body to
face the other way.  Reversals of this kind, strange deformities,
tremendous paralyses, are often seen to be inflicted by trade upon
edifices--either individual or in the aggregate as streets and
towns--which were originally planned for pleasure alone.

Lively voices were heard this morning in the upper rooms, the
main staircase to which was of hard oak, the balusters, heavy as
bed-posts, being turned and moulded in the quaint fashion of their
century, the handrail as stout as a parapet-top, and the stairs
themselves continually twisting round like a person trying to look
over his shoulder.  Going up, the floors above were found to have a
very irregular surface, rising to ridges, sinking into valleys; and
being just then uncarpeted, the face of the boards was seen to be
eaten into innumerable vermiculations.  Every window replied by a
clang to the opening and shutting of every door, a tremble followed
every bustling movement, and a creak accompanied a walker about the
house, like a spirit, wherever he went.

In the room from which the conversation proceeded Bathsheba and her
servant-companion, Liddy Smallbury, were to be discovered sitting
upon the floor, and sorting a complication of papers, books, bottles,
and rubbish spread out thereon--remnants from the household stores
of the late occupier.  Liddy, the maltster's great-granddaughter,
was about Bathsheba's equal in age, and her face was a prominent
advertisement of the light-hearted English country girl.  The beauty
her features might have lacked in form was amply made up for by
perfection of hue, which at this winter-time was the softened
ruddiness on a surface of high rotundity that we meet with in a
Terburg or a Gerard Douw; and, like the presentations of those great
colourists, it was a face which kept well back from the boundary
between comeliness and the ideal.  Though elastic in nature she was
less daring than Bathsheba, and occasionally showed some earnestness,
which consisted half of genuine feeling, and half of mannerliness
superadded by way of duty.

Through a partly-opened door the noise of a scrubbing-brush led up to
the charwoman, Maryann Money, a person who for a face had a circular
disc, furrowed less by age than by long gazes of perplexity at
distant objects.  To think of her was to get good-humoured; to speak
of her was to raise the image of a dried Normandy pippin.

"Stop your scrubbing a moment," said Bathsheba through the door to
her.  "I hear something."

Maryann suspended the brush.

The tramp of a horse was apparent, approaching the front of the
building.  The paces slackened, turned in at the wicket, and, what
was most unusual, came up the mossy path close to the door.  The door
was tapped with the end of a crop or stick.

"What impertinence!" said Liddy, in a low voice.  "To ride up the
footpath like that!  Why didn't he stop at the gate? Lord!  'Tis a
gentleman!  I see the top of his hat."

"Be quiet!" said Bathsheba.

The further expression of Liddy's concern was continued by aspect
instead of narrative.

"Why doesn't Mrs. Coggan go to the door?" Bath-sheba continued.

Rat-tat-tat-tat resounded more decisively from Bath-sheba's oak.

"Maryann, you go!" said she, fluttering under the onset of a crowd of
romantic possibilities.

"Oh ma'am--see, here's a mess!"

The argument was unanswerable after a glance at Maryann.

"Liddy--you must," said Bathsheba.

Liddy held up her hands and arms, coated with dust from the rubbish
they were sorting, and looked imploringly at her mistress.

"There--Mrs. Coggan is going!" said Bathsheba, exhaling her relief
in the form of a long breath which had lain in her bosom a minute or
more.

The door opened, and a deep voice said--

"Is Miss Everdene at home?"

"I'll see, sir," said Mrs. Coggan, and in a minute appeared in the
room.

"Dear, what a thirtover place this world is!" continued Mrs. Coggan
(a wholesome-looking lady who had a voice for each class of remark
according to the emotion involved; who could toss a pancake or twirl
a mop with the accuracy of pure mathematics, and who at this moment
showed hands shaggy with fragments of dough and arms encrusted with
flour).  "I am never up to my elbows, Miss, in making a pudding but
one of two things do happen--either my nose must needs begin
tickling, and I can't live without scratching it, or somebody knocks
at the door.  Here's Mr. Boldwood wanting to see you, Miss Everdene."

A woman's dress being a part of her countenance, and any disorder in
the one being of the same nature with a malformation or wound in the
other, Bathsheba said at once--

"I can't see him in this state.  Whatever shall I do?"

Not-at-homes were hardly naturalized in Weatherbury farmhouses, so
Liddy suggested--"Say you're a fright with dust, and can't come
down."

"Yes--that sounds very well," said Mrs. Coggan, critically.

"Say I can't see him--that will do."

Mrs. Coggan went downstairs, and returned the answer as requested,
adding, however, on her own responsibility, "Miss is dusting bottles,
sir, and is quite a object--that's why 'tis."

"Oh, very well," said the deep voice indifferently.  "All I wanted to
ask was, if anything had been heard of Fanny Robin?"

"Nothing, sir--but we may know to-night.  William Smallbury is gone
to Casterbridge, where her young man lives, as is supposed, and the
other men be inquiring about everywhere."

The horse's tramp then recommenced and retreated, and the door
closed.

"Who is Mr. Boldwood?" said Bathsheba.

"A gentleman-farmer at Little Weatherbury."

"Married?"

"No, miss."

"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!"

"What?"

"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."




CHAPTER X


MISTRESS AND MEN


Half-an-hour later Bathsheba, in finished dress, and followed by
Liddy, entered the upper end of the old hall to find that her men had
all deposited themselves on a long form and a settle at the lower
extremity.  She sat down at a table and opened the time-book, pen in
her hand, with a canvas money-bag beside her.  From this she poured
a small heap of coin.  Liddy chose a position at her elbow and began
to sew, sometimes pausing and looking round, or, with the air of
a privileged person, taking up one of the half-sovereigns lying
before her and surveying it merely as a work of art, while strictly
preventing her countenance from expressing any wish to possess it as
money.

"Now before I begin, men," said Bathsheba, "I have two matters to
speak of.  The first is that the bailiff is dismissed for thieving,
and that I have formed a resolution to have no bailiff at all, but to
manage everything with my own head and hands."

The men breathed an audible breath of amazement.

"The next matter is, have you heard anything of Fanny?"

"Nothing, ma'am."

"Have you done anything?"

"I met Farmer Boldwood," said Jacob Smallbury, "and I went with him
and two of his men, and dragged Newmill Pond, but we found nothing."

"And the new shepherd have been to Buck's Head, by Yalbury, thinking
she had gone there, but nobody had seed her," said Laban Tall.

"Hasn't William Smallbury been to Casterbridge?"

"Yes, ma'am, but he's not yet come home.  He promised to be back by
six."

"It wants a quarter to six at present," said Bathsheba, looking at
her watch.  "I daresay he'll be in directly.  Well, now then"--she
looked into the book--"Joseph Poorgrass, are you there?"

"Yes, sir--ma'am I mane," said the person addressed.  "I be the
personal name of Poorgrass."

"And what are you?"

"Nothing in my own eye.  In the eye of other people--well, I don't
say it; though public thought will out."

"What do you do on the farm?"

"I do do carting things all the year, and in seed time I shoots the
rooks and sparrows, and helps at pig-killing, sir."

"How much to you?"

"Please nine and ninepence and a good halfpenny where 'twas a bad
one, sir--ma'am I mane."

"Quite correct.  Now here are ten shillings in addition as a small
present, as I am a new comer."

Bathsheba blushed slightly at the sense of being generous in public,
and Henery Fray, who had drawn up towards her chair, lifted his
eyebrows and fingers to express amazement on a small scale.

"How much do I owe you--that man in the corner--what's your name?"
continued Bathsheba.

"Matthew Moon, ma'am," said a singular framework of clothes with
nothing of any consequence inside them, which advanced with the toes
in no definite direction forwards, but turned in or out as they
chanced to swing.

"Matthew Mark, did you say?--speak out--I shall not hurt you,"
inquired the young farmer, kindly.

"Matthew Moon, mem," said Henery Fray, correctingly, from behind her
chair, to which point he had edged himself.

"Matthew Moon," murmured Bathsheba, turning her bright eyes to the
book.  "Ten and twopence halfpenny is the sum put down to you, I
see?"

"Yes, mis'ess," said Matthew, as the rustle of wind among dead
leaves.

"Here it is, and ten shillings.  Now the next--Andrew Randle, you are
a new man, I hear.  How come you to leave your last farm?"

"P-p-p-p-p-pl-pl-pl-pl-l-l-l-l-ease, ma'am, p-p-p-p-pl-pl-pl-pl-please,
ma'am-please'm-please'm--"

"'A's a stammering man, mem," said Henery Fray in an undertone, "and
they turned him away because the only time he ever did speak plain
he said his soul was his own, and other iniquities, to the squire.
'A can cuss, mem, as well as you or I, but 'a can't speak a common
speech to save his life."

"Andrew Randle, here's yours--finish thanking me in a day or two.
Temperance Miller--oh, here's another, Soberness--both women I
suppose?"

"Yes'm.  Here we be, 'a b'lieve," was echoed in shrill unison.

"What have you been doing?"

"Tending thrashing-machine and wimbling haybonds, and saying 'Hoosh!'
to the cocks and hens when they go upon your seeds, and planting
Early Flourballs and Thompson's Wonderfuls with a dibble."

"Yes--I see.  Are they satisfactory women?" she inquired softly of
Henery Fray.

"Oh mem--don't ask me!  Yielding women--as scarlet a pair as ever
was!" groaned Henery under his breath.

"Sit down."

"Who, mem?"

"Sit down."

Joseph Poorgrass, in the background twitched, and his lips became
dry with fear of some terrible consequences, as he saw Bathsheba
summarily speaking, and Henery slinking off to a corner.

"Now the next.  Laban Tall, you'll stay on working for me?"

"For you or anybody that pays me well, ma'am," replied the young
married man.

"True--the man must live!" said a woman in the back quarter, who had
just entered with clicking pattens.

"What woman is that?" Bathsheba asked.

"I be his lawful wife!" continued the voice with greater prominence
of manner and tone.  This lady called herself five-and-twenty, looked
thirty, passed as thirty-five, and was forty.  She was a woman who
never, like some newly married, showed conjugal tenderness in public,
perhaps because she had none to show.

"Oh, you are," said Bathsheba.  "Well, Laban, will you stay on?"

"Yes, he'll stay, ma'am!" said again the shrill tongue of Laban's
lawful wife.

"Well, he can speak for himself, I suppose."

"Oh Lord, not he, ma'am!  A simple tool.  Well enough, but a poor
gawkhammer mortal," the wife replied.

"Heh-heh-heh!" laughed the married man with a hideous effort of
appreciation, for he was as irrepressibly good-humoured under ghastly
snubs as a parliamentary candidate on the hustings.

The names remaining were called in the same manner.

"Now I think I have done with you," said Bathsheba, closing the book
and shaking back a stray twine of hair.  "Has William Smallbury
returned?"

"No, ma'am."

"The new shepherd will want a man under him," suggested Henery Fray,
trying to make himself official again by a sideway approach towards
her chair.

"Oh--he will.  Who can he have?"

"Young Cain Ball is a very good lad," Henery said, "and Shepherd Oak
don't mind his youth?" he added, turning with an apologetic smile to
the shepherd, who had just appeared on the scene, and was now leaning
against the doorpost with his arms folded.

"No, I don't mind that," said Gabriel.

"How did Cain come by such a name?" asked Bathsheba.

"Oh you see, mem, his pore mother, not being a Scripture-read woman,
made a mistake at his christening, thinking 'twas Abel killed Cain,
and called en Cain, meaning Abel all the time.  The parson put it
right, but 'twas too late, for the name could never be got rid of in
the parish.  'Tis very unfortunate for the boy."

"It is rather unfortunate."

"Yes.  However, we soften it down as much as we can, and call him
Cainy.  Ah, pore widow-woman! she cried her heart out about it
almost.  She was brought up by a very heathen father and mother, who
never sent her to church or school, and it shows how the sins of the
parents are visited upon the children, mem."

Mr. Fray here drew up his features to the mild degree of melancholy
required when the persons involved in the given misfortune do not
belong to your own family.

"Very well then, Cainey Ball to be under-shepherd.  And you quite
understand your duties?--you I mean, Gabriel Oak?"

"Quite well, I thank you, Miss Everdene," said Shepherd Oak from the
doorpost.  "If I don't, I'll inquire."  Gabriel was rather staggered
by the remarkable coolness of her manner.  Certainly nobody without
previous information would have dreamt that Oak and the handsome
woman before whom he stood had ever been other than strangers.  But
perhaps her air was the inevitable result of the social rise which
had advanced her from a cottage to a large house and fields.  The
case is not unexampled in high places.  When, in the writings of the
later poets, Jove and his family are found to have moved from their
cramped quarters on the peak of Olympus into the wide sky above it,
their words show a proportionate increase of arrogance and reserve.

Footsteps were heard in the passage, combining in their character
the qualities both of weight and measure, rather at the expense of
velocity.

(All.) "Here's Billy Smallbury come from Casterbridge."

"And what's the news?" said Bathsheba, as William, after marching to
the middle of the hall, took a handkerchief from his hat and wiped
his forehead from its centre to its remoter boundaries.

"I should have been sooner, miss," he said, "if it hadn't been for
the weather."  He then stamped with each foot severely, and on
looking down his boots were perceived to be clogged with snow.

"Come at last, is it?" said Henery.

"Well, what about Fanny?" said Bathsheba.

"Well, ma'am, in round numbers, she's run away with the soldiers,"
said William.

"No; not a steady girl like Fanny!"

"I'll tell ye all particulars.  When I got to Casterbridge Barracks,
they said, 'The Eleventh Dragoon-Guards be gone away, and new troops
have come.' The Eleventh left last week for Melchester and onwards.
The Route came from Government like a thief in the night, as is his
nature to, and afore the Eleventh knew it almost, they were on the
march.  They passed near here."

Gabriel had listened with interest.  "I saw them go," he said.

"Yes," continued William, "they pranced down the street playing 'The
Girl I Left Behind Me,' so 'tis said, in glorious notes of triumph.
Every looker-on's inside shook with the blows of the great drum to
his deepest vitals, and there was not a dry eye throughout the town
among the public-house people and the nameless women!"

"But they're not gone to any war?"

"No, ma'am; but they be gone to take the places of them who may,
which is very close connected.  And so I said to myself, Fanny's
young man was one of the regiment, and she's gone after him.  There,
ma'am, that's it in black and white."

"Did you find out his name?"

"No; nobody knew it.  I believe he was higher in rank than a
private."

Gabriel remained musing and said nothing, for he was in doubt.

"Well, we are not likely to know more to-night, at any rate,"
said Bathsheba.  "But one of you had better run across to Farmer
Boldwood's and tell him that much."

She then rose; but before retiring, addressed a few words to them
with a pretty dignity, to which her mourning dress added a soberness
that was hardly to be found in the words themselves.

"Now mind, you have a mistress instead of a master. I don't yet know
my powers or my talents in farming; but I shall do my best, and if
you serve me well, so shall I serve you.  Don't any unfair ones among
you (if there are any such, but I hope not) suppose that because I'm
a woman I don't understand the difference between bad goings-on and
good."

(All.) "No'm!"

(Liddy.) "Excellent well said."

"I shall be up before you are awake; I shall be afield before you are
up; and I shall have breakfasted before you are afield.  In short, I
shall astonish you all."

(All.) "Yes'm!"

"And so good-night."

(All.) "Good-night, ma'am."

Then this small thesmothete stepped from the table, and surged out of
the hall, her black silk dress licking up a few straws and dragging
them along with a scratching noise upon the floor.  Liddy, elevating
her feelings to the occasion from a sense of grandeur, floated
off behind Bathsheba with a milder dignity not entirely free from
travesty, and the door was closed.




CHAPTER XI


OUTSIDE THE BARRACKS--SNOW--A MEETING


For dreariness nothing could surpass a prospect in the outskirts of a
certain town and military station, many miles north of Weatherbury,
at a later hour on this same snowy evening--if that may be called a
prospect of which the chief constituent was darkness.

It was a night when sorrow may come to the brightest without causing
any great sense of incongruity: when, with impressible persons, love
becomes solicitousness, hope sinks to misgiving, and faith to hope:
when the exercise of memory does not stir feelings of regret at
opportunities for ambition that have been passed by, and anticipation
does not prompt to enterprise.

The scene was a public path, bordered on the left hand by a river,
behind which rose a high wall.  On the right was a tract of land,
partly meadow and partly moor, reaching, at its remote verge, to a
wide undulating upland.

The changes of the seasons are less obtrusive on spots of this
kind than amid woodland scenery.  Still, to a close observer, they
are just as perceptible; the difference is that their media of
manifestation are less trite and familiar than such well-known ones
as the bursting of the buds or the fall of the leaf.  Many are not
so stealthy and gradual as we may be apt to imagine in considering
the general torpidity of a moor or waste.  Winter, in coming to the
country hereabout, advanced in well-marked stages, wherein might
have been successively observed the retreat of the snakes, the
transformation of the ferns, the filling of the pools, a rising of
fogs, the embrowning by frost, the collapse of the fungi, and an
obliteration by snow.

This climax of the series had been reached to-night on the aforesaid
moor, and for the first time in the season its irregularities were
forms without features; suggestive of anything, proclaiming nothing,
and without more character than that of being the limit of something
else--the lowest layer of a firmament of snow.  From this chaotic
skyful of crowding flakes the mead and moor momentarily received
additional clothing, only to appear momentarily more naked thereby.
The vast arch of cloud above was strangely low, and formed as it were
the roof of a large dark cavern, gradually sinking in upon its floor;
for the instinctive thought was that the snow lining the heavens and
that encrusting the earth would soon unite into one mass without any
intervening stratum of air at all.

We turn our attention to the left-hand characteristics; which were
flatness in respect of the river, verticality in respect of the wall
behind it, and darkness as to both.  These features made up the mass.
If anything could be darker than the sky, it was the wall, and if any
thing could be gloomier than the wall it was the river beneath.  The
indistinct summit of the facade was notched and pronged by chimneys
here and there, and upon its face were faintly signified the oblong
shapes of windows, though only in the upper part.  Below, down to the
water's edge, the flat was unbroken by hole or projection.

An indescribable succession of dull blows, perplexing in their
regularity, sent their sound with difficulty through the fluffy
atmosphere.  It was a neighbouring clock striking ten.  The bell was
in the open air, and being overlaid with several inches of muffling
snow, had lost its voice for the time.

About this hour the snow abated: ten flakes fell where twenty had
fallen, then one had the room of ten.  Not long after a form moved
by the brink of the river.

By its outline upon the colourless background, a close observer
might have seen that it was small.  This was all that was positively
discoverable, though it seemed human.

The shape went slowly along, but without much exertion, for the snow,
though sudden, was not as yet more than two inches deep.  At this
time some words were spoken aloud:--

"One.  Two.  Three.  Four.  Five."

Between each utterance the little shape advanced about half a dozen
yards.  It was evident now that the windows high in the wall were
being counted.  The word "Five" represented the fifth window from the
end of the wall.

Here the spot stopped, and dwindled smaller.  The figure was
stooping.  Then a morsel of snow flew across the river towards the
fifth window.  It smacked against the wall at a point several yards
from its mark.  The throw was the idea of a man conjoined with the
execution of a woman.  No man who had ever seen bird, rabbit, or
squirrel in his childhood, could possibly have thrown with such utter
imbecility as was shown here.

Another attempt, and another; till by degrees the wall must have
become pimpled with the adhering lumps of snow.  At last one fragment
struck the fifth window.

The river would have been seen by day to be of that deep smooth sort
which races middle and sides with the same gliding precision, any
irregularities of speed being immediately corrected by a small
whirlpool.  Nothing was heard in reply to the signal but the gurgle
and cluck of one of these invisible wheels--together with a few small
sounds which a sad man would have called moans, and a happy man
laughter--caused by the flapping of the waters against trifling
objects in other parts of the stream.

The window was struck again in the same manner.

Then a noise was heard, apparently produced by the opening of the
window.  This was followed by a voice from the same quarter.

"Who's there?"

The tones were masculine, and not those of surprise.  The high
wall being that of a barrack, and marriage being looked upon with
disfavour in the army, assignations and communications had probably
been made across the river before to-night.

"Is it Sergeant Troy?" said the blurred spot in the snow,
tremulously.

This person was so much like a mere shade upon the earth, and the
other speaker so much a part of the building, that one would have
said the wall was holding a conversation with the snow.

"Yes," came suspiciously from the shadow. "What girl are you?"

"Oh, Frank--don't you know me?" said the spot.  "Your wife, Fanny
Robin."

"Fanny!" said the wall, in utter astonishment.

"Yes," said the girl, with a half-suppressed gasp of emotion.

There was something in the woman's tone which is not that of the
wife, and there was a manner in the man which is rarely a husband's.
The dialogue went on:

"How did you come here?"

"I asked which was your window.  Forgive me!"

"I did not expect you to-night.  Indeed, I did not think you would
come at all.  It was a wonder you found me here.  I am orderly
to-morrow."

"You said I was to come."

"Well--I said that you might."

"Yes, I mean that I might.  You are glad to see me, Frank?"

"Oh yes--of course."

"Can you--come to me!"

My dear Fan, no!  The bugle has sounded, the barrack gates are
closed, and I have no leave.  We are all of us as good as in the
county gaol till to-morrow morning."

"Then I shan't see you till then!"  The words were in a faltering
tone of disappointment.

"How did you get here from Weatherbury?"

"I walked--some part of the way--the rest by the carriers."

"I am surprised."

"Yes--so am I.  And Frank, when will it be?"

"What?"

"That you promised."

"I don't quite recollect."

"O you do!  Don't speak like that.  It weighs me to the earth.  It
makes me say what ought to be said first by you."

"Never mind--say it."

"O, must I?--it is, when shall we be married, Frank?"

"Oh, I see.  Well--you have to get proper clothes."

"I have money.  Will it be by banns or license?"

"Banns, I should think."

"And we live in two parishes."

"Do we?  What then?"

"My lodgings are in St. Mary's, and this is not.  So they will have
to be published in both."

"Is that the law?"

"Yes.  O Frank--you think me forward, I am afraid!  Don't, dear
Frank--will you--for I love you so.  And you said lots of times you
would marry me, and--and--I--I--I--"

"Don't cry, now!  It is foolish.  If I said so, of course I will."

"And shall I put up the banns in my parish, and will you in yours?"

"Yes"

"To-morrow?"

"Not to-morrow.  We'll settle in a few days."

"You have the permission of the officers?"

"No, not yet."

"O--how is it?  You said you almost had before you left
Casterbridge."

"The fact is, I forgot to ask.  Your coming like this is so sudden
and unexpected."

"Yes--yes--it is.  It was wrong of me to worry you.  I'll go away
now.  Will you come and see me to-morrow, at Mrs. Twills's, in North
Street?  I don't like to come to the Barracks.  There are bad women
about, and they think me one."

"Quite, so.  I'll come to you, my dear.  Good-night."

"Good-night, Frank--good-night!"

And the noise was again heard of a window closing.  The little spot
moved away.  When she passed the corner a subdued exclamation was
heard inside the wall.

"Ho--ho--Sergeant--ho--ho!" An  expostulation followed, but it was
indistinct; and it became lost amid a low peal of laughter, which was
hardly distinguishable from the gurgle of the tiny whirlpools
outside.




CHAPTER XII


FARMERS--A RULE--AN EXCEPTION


The first public evidence of Bathsheba's decision to be a farmer in
her own person and by proxy no more was her appearance the following
market-day in the cornmarket at Casterbridge.

The low though extensive hall, supported by beams and pillars,
and latterly dignified by the name of Corn Exchange, was thronged
with hot men who talked among each other in twos and threes, the
speaker of the minute looking sideways into his auditor's face and
concentrating his argument by a contraction of one eyelid during
delivery.  The greater number carried in their hands ground-ash
saplings, using them partly as walking-sticks and partly for poking
up pigs, sheep, neighbours with their backs turned, and restful
things in general, which seemed to require such treatment in the
course of their peregrinations.  During conversations each subjected
his sapling to great varieties of usage--bending it round his back,
forming an arch of it between his two hands, overweighting it on the
ground till it reached nearly a semicircle; or perhaps it was hastily
tucked under the arm whilst the sample-bag was pulled forth and a
handful of corn poured into the palm, which, after criticism, was
flung upon the floor, an issue of events perfectly well known to
half-a-dozen acute town-bred fowls which had as usual crept into the
building unobserved, and waited the fulfilment of their anticipations
with a high-stretched neck and oblique eye.

Among these heavy yeomen a feminine figure glided, the single one of
her sex that the room contained.  She was prettily and even daintily
dressed.  She moved between them as a chaise between carts, was heard
after them as a romance after sermons, was felt among them like a
breeze among furnaces.  It had required a little determination--far
more than she had at first imagined--to take up a position here, for
at her first entry the lumbering dialogues had ceased, nearly every
face had been turned towards her, and those that were already turned
rigidly fixed there.

Two or three only of the farmers were personally known to Bathsheba,
and to these she had made her way.  But if she was to be the
practical woman she had intended to show herself, business must
be carried on, introductions or none, and she ultimately acquired
confidence enough to speak and reply boldly to men merely known to
her by hearsay.  Bathsheba too had her sample-bags, and by degrees
adopted the professional pour into the hand--holding up the grains
in her narrow palm for inspection, in perfect Casterbridge manner.

Something in the exact arch of her upper unbroken row of teeth, and
in the keenly pointed corners of her red mouth when, with parted
lips, she somewhat defiantly turned up her face to argue a point with
a tall man, suggested that there was potentiality enough in that
lithe slip of humanity for alarming exploits of sex, and daring
enough to carry them out.  But her eyes had a softness--invariably a
softness--which, had they not been dark, would have seemed mistiness;
as they were, it lowered an expression that might have been piercing
to simple clearness.

Strange to say of a woman in full bloom and vigor, she always allowed
her interlocutors to finish their statements before rejoining with
hers.  In arguing on prices, she held to her own firmly, as was
natural in a dealer, and reduced theirs persistently, as was
inevitable in a woman.  But there was an elasticity in her firmness
which removed it from obstinacy, as there was a _naïveté_ in her
cheapening which saved it from meanness.

Those of the farmers with whom she had no dealings (by far the
greater part) were continually asking each other, "Who is she?"
The reply would be--

"Farmer Everdene's niece; took on Weatherbury Upper Farm; turned away
the baily, and swears she'll do everything herself."

The other man would then shake his head.

"Yes, 'tis a pity she's so headstrong," the first would say.  "But we
ought to be proud of her here--she lightens up the old place.  'Tis
such a shapely maid, however, that she'll soon get picked up."

It would be ungallant to suggest that the novelty of her engagement
in such an occupation had almost as much to do with the magnetism
as had the beauty of her face and movements.  However, the interest
was general, and this Saturday's _début_ in the forum, whatever it
may have been to Bathsheba as the buying and selling farmer, was
unquestionably a triumph to her as the maiden.  Indeed, the sensation
was so pronounced that her instinct on two or three occasions was
merely to walk as a queen among these gods of the fallow, like a
little sister of a little Jove, and to neglect closing prices
altogether.

The numerous evidences of her power to attract were only thrown into
greater relief by a marked exception.  Women seem to have eyes in
their ribbons for such matters as these.  Bathsheba, without looking
within a right angle of him, was conscious of a black sheep among the
flock.

It perplexed her first.  If there had been a respectable minority on
either side, the case would have been most natural.  If nobody had
regarded her, she would have taken the matter indifferently--such
cases had occurred.  If everybody, this man included, she would have
taken it as a matter of course--people had done so before.  But the
smallness of the exception made the mystery.

She soon knew thus much of the recusant's appearance.  He was a
gentlemanly man, with full and distinctly outlined Roman features,
the prominences of which glowed in the sun with a bronze-like
richness of tone.  He was erect in attitude, and quiet in demeanour.
One characteristic pre-eminently marked him--dignity.

Apparently he had some time ago reached that entrance to middle age
at which a man's aspect naturally ceases to alter for the term of
a dozen years or so; and, artificially, a woman's does likewise.
Thirty-five and fifty were his limits of variation--he might have
been either, or anywhere between the two.

It may be said that married men of forty are usually ready and
generous enough to fling passing glances at any specimen of moderate
beauty they may discern by the way.  Probably, as with persons
playing whist for love, the consciousness of a certain immunity under
any circumstances from that worst possible ultimate, the having to
pay, makes them unduly speculative.  Bathsheba was convinced that
this unmoved person was not a married man.

When marketing was over, she rushed off to Liddy, who was waiting
for her beside the yellow gig in which they had driven to town.
The horse was put in, and on they trotted--Bathsheba's sugar, tea,
and drapery parcels being packed behind, and expressing in some
indescribable manner, by their colour, shape, and general lineaments,
that they were that young lady-farmer's property, and the grocer's
and draper's no more.

"I've been through it, Liddy, and it is over.  I shan't mind it
again, for they will all have grown accustomed to seeing me there;
but this morning it was as bad as being married--eyes everywhere!"

"I knowed it would be," Liddy said.  "Men be such a terrible class of
society to look at a body."

"But there was one man who had more sense than to waste his time upon
me."  The information was put in this form that Liddy might not for a
moment suppose her mistress was at all piqued.  "A very good-looking
man," she continued, "upright; about forty, I should think.  Do you
know at all who he could be?"

Liddy couldn't think.

"Can't you guess at all?" said Bathsheba with some disappointment.

"I haven't a notion; besides, 'tis no difference, since he took less
notice of you than any of the rest.  Now, if he'd taken more, it
would have mattered a great deal."

Bathsheba was suffering from the reverse feeling just then, and they
bowled along in silence.  A low carriage, bowling along still more
rapidly behind a horse of unimpeachable breed, overtook and passed
them.

"Why, there he is!" she said.

Liddy looked.  "That!  That's Farmer Boldwood--of course 'tis--the
man you couldn't see the other day when he called."

"Oh, Farmer Boldwood," murmured Bathsheba, and looked at him as he
outstripped them.  The farmer had never turned his head once, but
with eyes fixed on the most advanced point along the road, passed as
unconsciously and abstractedly as if Bathsheba and her charms were
thin air.

"He's an interesting man--don't you think so?" she remarked.

"O yes, very.  Everybody owns it," replied Liddy.

"I wonder why he is so wrapt up and indifferent, and seemingly so far
away from all he sees around him."

"It is said--but not known for certain--that he met with some bitter
disappointment when he was a young man and merry.  A woman jilted
him, they say."

"People always say that--and we know very well women scarcely ever
jilt men; 'tis the men who jilt us.  I expect it is simply his nature
to be so reserved."

"Simply his nature--I expect so, miss--nothing else in the world."

"Still, 'tis more romantic to think he has been served cruelly, poor
thing'!  Perhaps, after all, he has!"

"Depend upon it he has.  Oh yes, miss, he has!  I feel he must have."

"However, we are very apt to think extremes of people.  I shouldn't
wonder after all if it wasn't a little of both--just between the
two--rather cruelly used and rather reserved."

"Oh dear no, miss--I can't think it between the two!"

"That's most likely."

"Well, yes, so it is.  I am convinced it is most likely. You may take
my word, miss, that that's what's the matter with him."




CHAPTER XIII


SORTES SANCTORUM--THE VALENTINE


It was Sunday afternoon in the farmhouse, on the thirteenth of
February.  Dinner being over, Bathsheba, for want of a better
companion, had asked Liddy to come and sit with her.  The mouldy pile
was dreary in winter-time before the candles were lighted and the
shutters closed; the atmosphere of the place seemed as old as the
walls; every nook behind the furniture had a temperature of its own,
for the fire was not kindled in this part of the house early in the
day; and Bathsheba's new piano, which was an old one in other annals,
looked particularly sloping and out of level on the warped floor
before night threw a shade over its less prominent angles and hid
the unpleasantness.  Liddy, like a little brook, though shallow, was
always rippling; her presence had not so much weight as to task
thought, and yet enough to exercise it.

On the table lay an old quarto Bible, bound in leather.  Liddy
looking at it said,--

"Did you ever find out, miss, who you are going to marry by means of
the Bible and key?"

"Don't be so foolish, Liddy.  As if such things could be."

"Well, there's a good deal in it, all the same."

"Nonsense, child."

"And it makes your heart beat fearful.  Some believe in it; some
don't; I do."

"Very well, let's try it," said Bathsheba, bounding from her seat
with that total disregard of consistency which can be indulged in
towards a dependent, and entering into the spirit of divination at
once.  "Go and get the front door key."

Liddy fetched it.  "I wish it wasn't Sunday," she said, on returning.
"Perhaps 'tis wrong."

"What's right week days is right Sundays," replied her mistress in a
tone which was a proof in itself.

The book was opened--the leaves, drab with age, being quite worn away
at much-read verses by the forefingers of unpractised readers in
former days, where they were moved along under the line as an aid to
the vision.  The special verse in the Book of Ruth was sought out by
Bathsheba, and the sublime words met her eye.  They slightly thrilled
and abashed her.  It was Wisdom in the abstract facing Folly in the
concrete.  Folly in the concrete blushed, persisted in her intention,
and placed the key on the book.  A rusty patch immediately upon the
verse, caused by previous pressure of an iron substance thereon, told
that this was not the first time the old volume had been used for the
purpose.

"Now keep steady, and be silent," said Bathsheba.

The verse was repeated; the book turned round; Bathsheba blushed
guiltily.

"Who did you try?" said Liddy curiously.

"I shall not tell you."

"Did you notice Mr. Boldwood's doings in church this morning, miss?"
Liddy continued, adumbrating by the remark the track her thoughts had
taken.

"No, indeed," said Bathsheba, with serene indifference.

"His pew is exactly opposite yours, miss."

"I know it."

"And you did not see his goings on!"

"Certainly I did not, I tell you."

Liddy assumed a smaller physiognomy, and shut her lips decisively.

This move was unexpected, and proportionately disconcerting.  "What
did he do?" Bathsheba said perforce.

"Didn't turn his head to look at you once all the service."

"Why should he?" again demanded her mistress, wearing a nettled look.
"I didn't ask him to."

"Oh no.  But everybody else was noticing you; and it was odd he
didn't.  There, 'tis like him.  Rich and gentlemanly, what does he
care?"

Bathsheba dropped into a silence intended to express that she had
opinions on the matter too abstruse for Liddy's comprehension, rather
than that she had nothing to say.

"Dear me--I had nearly forgotten the valentine I bought yesterday,"
she exclaimed at length.

"Valentine! who for, miss?" said Liddy.  "Farmer Boldwood?"

It was the single name among all possible wrong ones that just at
this moment seemed to Bathsheba more pertinent than the right.

"Well, no.  It is only for little Teddy Coggan.  I have promised him
something, and this will be a pretty surprise for him.  Liddy, you
may as well bring me my desk and I'll direct it at once."

Bathsheba took from her desk a gorgeously illuminated and embossed
design in post-octavo, which had been bought on the previous
market-day at the chief stationer's in Casterbridge.  In the centre
was a small oval enclosure; this was left blank, that the sender
might insert tender words more appropriate to the special occasion
than any generalities by a printer could possibly be.

"Here's a place for writing," said Bathsheba.  "What shall I put?"

"Something of this sort, I should think," returned Liddy promptly:--


   "The rose is red,
   The violet blue,
   Carnation's sweet,
   And so are you."


"Yes, that shall be it.  It just suits itself to a chubby-faced child
like him," said Bathsheba.  She inserted the words in a small though
legible handwriting; enclosed the sheet in an envelope, and dipped
her pen for the direction.

"What fun it would be to send it to the stupid old Boldwood, and how
he would wonder!" said the irrepressible Liddy, lifting her eyebrows,
and indulging in an awful mirth on the verge of fear as she thought
of the moral and social magnitude of the man contemplated.

Bathsheba paused to regard the idea at full length.  Boldwood's had
begun to be a troublesome image--a species of Daniel in her kingdom
who persisted in kneeling eastward when reason and common sense said
that he might just as well follow suit with the rest, and afford her
the official glance of admiration which cost nothing at all.  She was
far from being seriously concerned about his nonconformity.  Still,
it was faintly depressing that the most dignified and valuable man
in the parish should withhold his eyes, and that a girl like Liddy
should talk about it.  So Liddy's idea was at first rather harassing
than piquant.

"No, I won't do that.  He wouldn't see any humour in it."

"He'd worry to death," said the persistent Liddy.

"Really, I don't care particularly to send it to Teddy," remarked her
mistress.  "He's rather a naughty child sometimes."

"Yes--that he is."

"Let's toss as men do," said Bathsheba, idly.  "Now then, head,
Boldwood; tail, Teddy.  No, we won't toss money on a Sunday, that
would be tempting the devil indeed."

"Toss this hymn-book; there can't be no sinfulness in that, miss."

"Very well.  Open, Boldwood--shut, Teddy.  No; it's more likely to
fall open.  Open, Teddy--shut, Boldwood."

The book went fluttering in the air and came down shut.

Bathsheba, a small yawn upon her mouth, took the pen, and with
off-hand serenity directed the missive to Boldwood.

"Now light a candle, Liddy.  Which seal shall we use? Here's a
unicorn's head--there's nothing in that.  What's this?--two
doves--no.  It ought to be something extraordinary, ought it not,
Liddy? Here's one with a motto--I remember it is some funny one, but
I can't read it. We'll try this, and if it doesn't do we'll have
another."

A large red seal was duly affixed.  Bathsheba looked closely at the
hot wax to discover the words.

"Capital!" she exclaimed, throwing down the letter frolicsomely.
"'Twould upset the solemnity of a parson and clerke too."

Liddy looked at the words of the seal, and read--


   "MARRY ME."


The same evening the letter was sent, and was duly sorted in
Casterbridge post-office that night, to be returned to Weatherbury
again in the morning.

So very idly and unreflectingly was this deed done.  Of love as a
spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively
she knew nothing.




CHAPTER XIV


EFFECT OF THE LETTER--SUNRISE


At dusk, on the evening of St. Valentine's Day, Boldwood sat down
to supper as usual, by a beaming fire of aged logs.  Upon the
mantel-shelf before him was a time-piece, surmounted by a spread
eagle, and upon the eagle's wings was the letter Bathsheba had sent.
Here the bachelor's gaze was continually fastening itself, till the
large red seal became as a blot of blood on the retina of his eye;
and as he ate and drank he still read in fancy the words thereon,
although they were too remote for his sight--


   "MARRY ME."


The pert injunction was like those crystal substances which,
colourless themselves, assume the tone of objects about them.  Here,
in the quiet of Boldwood's parlour, where everything that was not
grave was extraneous, and where the atmosphere was that of a Puritan
Sunday lasting all the week, the letter and its dictum changed their
tenor from the thoughtlessness of their origin to a deep solemnity,
imbibed from their accessories now.

Since the receipt of the missive in the morning, Boldwood had felt
the symmetry of his existence to be slowly getting distorted in the
direction of an ideal passion.  The disturbance was as the first
floating weed to Columbus--the contemptibly little suggesting
possibilities of the infinitely great.

The letter must have had an origin and a motive.  That the latter
was of the smallest magnitude compatible with its existence at all,
Boldwood, of course, did not know.  And such an explanation did not
strike him as a possibility even.  It is foreign to a mystified
condition of mind to realize of the mystifier that the processes of
approving a course suggested by circumstance, and of striking out a
course from inner impulse, would look the same in the result.  The
vast difference between starting a train of events, and directing
into a particular groove a series already started, is rarely apparent
to the person confounded by the issue.

When Boldwood went to bed he placed the valentine in the corner of
the looking-glass.  He was conscious of its presence, even when his
back was turned upon it.  It was the first time in Boldwood's life
that such an event had occurred.  The same fascination that caused
him to think it an act which had a deliberate motive prevented
him from regarding it as an impertinence.  He looked again at
the direction.  The mysterious influences of night invested the
writing with the presence of the unknown writer.  Somebody's--some
WOMAN'S--hand had travelled softly over the paper bearing his name;
her unrevealed eyes had watched every curve as she formed it; her
brain had seen him in imagination the while.  Why should she have
imagined him?  Her mouth--were the lips red or pale, plump or
creased?--had curved itself to a certain expression as the pen went
on--the corners had moved with all their natural tremulousness: what
had been the expression?

The vision of the woman writing, as a supplement to the words
written, had no individuality.  She was a misty shape, and well she
might be, considering that her original was at that moment sound
asleep and oblivious of all love and letter-writing under the sky.
Whenever Boldwood dozed she took a form, and comparatively ceased to
be a vision: when he awoke there was the letter justifying the dream.

The moon shone to-night, and its light was not of a customary kind.
His window admitted only a reflection of its rays, and the pale sheen
had that reversed direction which snow gives, coming upward and
lighting up his ceiling in an unnatural way, casting shadows in
strange places, and putting lights where shadows had used to be.

The substance of the epistle had occupied him but little in
comparison with the fact of its arrival.  He suddenly wondered
if anything more might be found in the envelope than what he had
withdrawn.  He jumped out of bed in the weird light, took the
letter, pulled out the flimsy sheet, shook the envelope--searched it.
Nothing more was there.  Boldwood looked, as he had a hundred times
the preceding day, at the insistent red seal: "Marry me," he said
aloud.

The solemn and reserved yeoman again closed the letter, and stuck
it in the frame of the glass.  In doing so he caught sight of his
reflected features, wan in expression, and insubstantial in form.
He saw how closely compressed was his mouth, and that his eyes were
wide-spread and vacant.  Feeling uneasy and dissatisfied with himself
for this nervous excitability, he returned to bed.

Then the dawn drew on.  The full power of the clear heaven was not
equal to that of a cloudy sky at noon, when Boldwood arose and
dressed himself.  He descended the stairs and went out towards the
gate of a field to the east, leaning over which he paused and looked
around.

It was one of the usual slow sunrises of this time of the year, and
the sky, pure violet in the zenith, was leaden to the northward,
and murky to the east, where, over the snowy down or ewe-lease on
Weatherbury Upper Farm, and apparently resting upon the ridge, the
only half of the sun yet visible burnt rayless, like a red and
flameless fire shining over a white hearthstone.  The whole effect
resembled a sunset as childhood resembles age.

In other directions, the fields and sky were so much of one colour by
the snow, that it was difficult in a hasty glance to tell whereabouts
the horizon occurred; and in general there was here, too, that
before-mentioned preternatural inversion of light and shade which
attends the prospect when the garish brightness commonly in the sky
is found on the earth, and the shades of earth are in the sky.  Over
the west hung the wasting moon, now dull and greenish-yellow, like
tarnished brass.

Boldwood was listlessly noting how the frost had hardened and glazed
the surface of the snow, till it shone in the red eastern light with
the polish of marble; how, in some portions of the slope, withered
grass-bents, encased in icicles, bristled through the smooth wan
coverlet in the twisted and curved shapes of old Venetian glass; and
how the footprints of a few birds, which had hopped over the snow
whilst it lay in the state of a soft fleece, were now frozen to a
short permanency.  A half-muffled noise of light wheels interrupted
him.  Boldwood turned back into the road.  It was the mail-cart--a
crazy, two-wheeled vehicle, hardly heavy enough to resist a puff of
wind.  The driver held out a letter.  Boldwood seized it and opened
it, expecting another anonymous one--so greatly are people's ideas of
probability a mere sense that precedent will repeat itself.

"I don't think it is for you, sir," said the man, when he saw
Boldwood's action.  "Though there is no name, I think it is for your
shepherd."

Boldwood looked then at the address--


   To the New Shepherd,
         Weatherbury Farm,
               Near Casterbridge


"Oh--what a mistake!--it is not mine.  Nor is it for my shepherd.  It
is for Miss Everdene's.  You had better take it on to him--Gabriel
Oak--and say I opened it in mistake."

At this moment, on the ridge, up against the blazing sky, a figure
was visible, like the black snuff in the midst of a candle-flame.
Then it moved and began to bustle about vigorously from place to
place, carrying square skeleton masses, which were riddled by the
same rays.  A small figure on all fours followed behind.  The tall
form was that of Gabriel Oak; the small one that of George; the
articles in course of transit were hurdles.

"Wait," said Boldwood. "That's the man on the hill.  I'll take the
letter to him myself."

To Boldwood it was now no longer merely a letter to another man.  It
was an opportunity.  Exhibiting a face pregnant with intention, he
entered the snowy field.

Gabriel, at that minute, descended the hill towards the right.  The
glow stretched down in this direction now, and touched the distant
roof of Warren's Malthouse--whither the shepherd was apparently bent:
Boldwood followed at a distance.




CHAPTER XV


A MORNING MEETING--THE LETTER AGAIN


The scarlet and orange light outside the malthouse did not penetrate
to its interior, which was, as usual, lighted by a rival glow of
similar hue, radiating from the hearth.

The maltster, after having lain down in his clothes for a few
hours, was now sitting beside a three-legged table, breakfasting of
bread and bacon.  This was eaten on the plateless system, which is
performed by placing a slice of bread upon the table, the meat flat
upon the bread, a mustard plaster upon the meat, and a pinch of salt
upon the whole, then cutting them vertically downwards with a large
pocket-knife till wood is reached, when the severed lump is impaled
on the knife, elevated, and sent the proper way of food.

The maltster's lack of teeth appeared not to sensibly diminish
his powers as a mill.  He had been without them for so many years
that toothlessness was felt less to be a defect than hard gums an
acquisition.  Indeed, he seemed to approach the grave as a hyperbolic
curve approaches a straight line--less directly as he got nearer,
till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all.

In the ashpit was a heap of potatoes roasting, and a boiling pipkin
of charred bread, called "coffee", for the benefit of whomsoever
should call, for Warren's was a sort of clubhouse, used as an
alternative to the inn.

"I say, says I, we get a fine day, and then down comes a snapper at
night," was a remark now suddenly heard spreading into the malthouse
from the door, which had been opened the previous moment.  The form
of Henery Fray advanced to the fire, stamping the snow from his boots
when about half-way there.  The speech and entry had not seemed to be
at all an abrupt beginning to the maltster, introductory matter being
often omitted in this neighbourhood, both from word and deed, and
the maltster having the same latitude allowed him, did not hurry to
reply.  He picked up a fragment of cheese, by pecking upon it with
his knife, as a butcher picks up skewers.

Henery appeared in a drab kerseymere great-coat, buttoned over his
smock-frock, the white skirts of the latter being visible to the
distance of about a foot below the coat-tails, which, when you
got used to the style of dress, looked natural enough, and even
ornamental--it certainly was comfortable.

Matthew Moon, Joseph Poorgrass, and other carters and waggoners
followed at his heels, with great lanterns dangling from their hands,
which showed that they had just come from the cart-horse stables,
where they had been busily engaged since four o'clock that morning.

"And how is she getting on without a baily?" the maltster inquired.
Henery shook his head, and smiled one of the bitter smiles, dragging
all the flesh of his forehead into a corrugated heap in the centre.

"She'll rue it--surely, surely!" he said.  "Benjy Pennyways were not
a true man or an honest baily--as big a betrayer as Judas Iscariot
himself.  But to think she can carr' on alone!" He allowed his head
to swing laterally three or four times in silence.  "Never in all my
creeping up--never!"

This was recognized by all as the conclusion of some gloomy speech
which had been expressed in thought alone during the shake of the
head; Henery meanwhile retained several marks of despair upon his
face, to imply that they would be required for use again directly
he should go on speaking.

"All will be ruined, and ourselves too, or there's no meat in
gentlemen's houses!" said Mark Clark.

"A headstrong maid, that's what she is--and won't listen to no advice
at all.  Pride and vanity have ruined many a cobbler's dog.  Dear,
dear, when I think o' it, I sorrows like a man in travel!"

"True, Henery, you do, I've heard ye," said Joseph Poorgrass in a
voice of thorough attestation, and with a wire-drawn smile of misery.

"'Twould do a martel man no harm to have what's under her bonnet,"
said Billy Smallbury, who had just entered, bearing his one tooth
before him.  "She can spaik real language, and must have some sense
somewhere.  Do ye foller me?"

"I do, I do; but no baily--I deserved that place," wailed Henery,
signifying wasted genius by gazing blankly at visions of a high
destiny apparently visible to him on Billy Smallbury's smock-frock.
"There, 'twas to be, I suppose.  Your lot is your lot, and Scripture
is nothing; for if you do good you don't get rewarded according to
your works, but be cheated in some mean way out of your recompense."

"No, no; I don't agree with'ee there," said Mark Clark.  "God's a
perfect gentleman in that respect."

"Good works good pay, so to speak it," attested Joseph Poorgrass.

A short pause ensued, and as a sort of _entr'acte_ Henery turned and
blew out the lanterns, which the increase of daylight rendered no
longer necessary even in the malthouse, with its one pane of glass.

"I wonder what a farmer-woman can want with a harpsichord, dulcimer,
pianner, or whatever 'tis they d'call it?" said the maltster.  "Liddy
saith she've a new one."

"Got a pianner?"

"Ay.  Seems her old uncle's things were not good enough for her.
She've bought all but everything new.  There's heavy chairs for the
stout, weak and wiry ones for the slender; great watches, getting on
to the size of clocks, to stand upon the chimbley-piece."

"Pictures, for the most part wonderful frames."

"And long horse-hair settles for the drunk, with horse-hair pillows
at each end," said Mr. Clark.  "Likewise looking-glasses for the
pretty, and lying books for the wicked."

A firm loud tread was now heard stamping outside; the door was opened
about six inches, and somebody on the other side exclaimed--

"Neighbours, have ye got room for a few new-born lambs?"

"Ay, sure, shepherd," said the conclave.

The door was flung back till it kicked the wall and trembled from
top to bottom with the blow.  Mr. Oak appeared in the entry with a
steaming face, hay-bands wound about his ankles to keep out the snow,
a leather strap round his waist outside the smock-frock, and looking
altogether an epitome of the world's health and vigour.  Four lambs
hung in various embarrassing attitudes over his shoulders, and the
dog George, whom Gabriel had contrived to fetch from Norcombe,
stalked solemnly behind.

"Well, Shepherd Oak, and how's lambing this year, if I mid say it?"
inquired Joseph Poorgrass.

"Terrible trying," said Oak.  "I've been wet through twice a-day,
either in snow or rain, this last fortnight.  Cainy and I haven't
tined our eyes to-night."

"A good few twins, too, I hear?"

"Too many by half.  Yes; 'tis a very queer lambing this year.  We
shan't have done by Lady Day."

"And last year 'twer all over by Sexajessamine Sunday," Joseph
remarked.

"Bring on the rest Cain," said Gabriel, "and then run back to the
ewes.  I'll follow you soon."

Cainy Ball--a cheery-faced young lad, with a small circular orifice
by way of mouth, advanced and deposited two others, and retired as he
was bidden.  Oak lowered the lambs from their unnatural elevation,
wrapped them in hay, and placed them round the fire.

"We've no lambing-hut here, as I used to have at Norcombe," said
Gabriel, "and 'tis such a plague to bring the weakly ones to a house.
If 'twasn't for your place here, malter, I don't know what I should
do i' this keen weather.  And how is it with you to-day, malter?"

"Oh, neither sick nor sorry, shepherd; but no younger."

"Ay--I understand."

"Sit down, Shepherd Oak," continued the ancient man of malt.  "And
how was the old place at Norcombe, when ye went for your dog?  I
should like to see the old familiar spot; but faith, I shouldn't know
a soul there now."

"I suppose you wouldn't.  'Tis altered very much."

"Is it true that Dicky Hill's wooden cider-house is pulled down?"

"Oh yes--years ago, and Dicky's cottage just above it."

"Well, to be sure!"

"Yes; and Tompkins's old apple-tree is rooted that used to bear two
hogsheads of cider; and no help from other trees."

"Rooted?--you don't say it!  Ah! stirring times we live in--stirring
times."

"And you can mind the old well that used to be in the middle of the
place?  That's turned into a solid iron pump with a large stone
trough, and all complete."

"Dear, dear--how the face of nations alter, and what we live to see
nowadays!  Yes--and 'tis the same here.  They've been talking but now
of the mis'ess's strange doings."

"What have you been saying about her?" inquired Oak, sharply turning
to the rest, and getting very warm.

"These middle-aged men have been pulling her over the coals for pride
and vanity," said Mark Clark; "but I say, let her have rope enough.
Bless her pretty face--shouldn't I like to do so--upon her cherry
lips!" The gallant Mark Clark here made a peculiar and well known
sound with his own.

"Mark," said Gabriel, sternly, "now you mind this! none of that
dalliance-talk--that smack-and-coddle style of yours--about Miss
Everdene.  I don't allow it.  Do you hear?"

"With all my heart, as I've got no chance," replied Mr. Clark,
cordially.

"I suppose you've been speaking against her?" said Oak, turning to
Joseph Poorgrass with a very grim look.

"No, no--not a word I--'tis a real joyful thing that she's no worse,
that's what I say," said Joseph, trembling and blushing with terror.
"Matthew just said--"

"Matthew Moon, what have you been saying?" asked Oak.

"I?  Why ye know I wouldn't harm a worm--no, not one underground
worm?" said Matthew Moon, looking very uneasy.

"Well, somebody has--and look here, neighbours," Gabriel, though one
of the quietest and most gentle men on earth, rose to the occasion,
with martial promptness and vigour.  "That's my fist."  Here he
placed his fist, rather smaller in size than a common loaf, in the
mathematical centre of the maltster's little table, and with it gave
a bump or two thereon, as if to ensure that their eyes all thoroughly
took in the idea of fistiness before he went further.  "Now--the
first man in the parish that I hear prophesying bad of our mistress,
why" (here the fist was raised and let fall as Thor might have done
with his hammer in assaying it)--"he'll smell and taste that--or I'm
a Dutchman."

All earnestly expressed by their features that their minds did not
wander to Holland for a moment on account of this statement, but were
deploring the difference which gave rise to the figure; and Mark
Clark cried "Hear, hear; just what I should ha' said." The dog George
looked up at the same time after the shepherd's menace, and though he
understood English but imperfectly, began to growl.

"Now, don't ye take on so, shepherd, and sit down!" said Henery,
with a deprecating peacefulness equal to anything of the kind in
Christianity.

"We hear that ye be a extraordinary good and clever man, shepherd,"
said Joseph Poorgrass with considerable anxiety from behind the
maltster's bedstead, whither he had retired for safety.  "'Tis a
great thing to be clever, I'm sure," he added, making movements
associated with states of mind rather than body; "we wish we were,
don't we, neighbours?"

"Ay, that we do, sure," said Matthew Moon, with a small anxious laugh
towards Oak, to show how very friendly disposed he was likewise.

"Who's been telling you I'm clever?" said Oak.

"'Tis blowed about from pillar to post quite common," said Matthew.
"We hear that ye can tell the time as well by the stars as we can by
the sun and moon, shepherd."

"Yes, I can do a little that way," said Gabriel, as a man of medium
sentiments on the subject.

"And that ye can make sun-dials, and prent folks' names upon their
waggons almost like copper-plate, with beautiful flourishes, and
great long tails.  A excellent fine thing for ye to be such a clever
man, shepherd.  Joseph Poorgrass used to prent to Farmer James
Everdene's waggons before you came, and 'a could never mind which way
to turn the J's and E's--could ye, Joseph?" Joseph shook his head
to express how absolute was the fact that he couldn't.  "And so you
used to do 'em the wrong way, like this, didn't ye, Joseph?" Matthew
marked on the dusty floor with his whip-handle


[the word J A M E S appears here with the "J" and the "E"
printed backwards]


"And how Farmer James would cuss, and call thee a fool, wouldn't he,
Joseph, when 'a seed his name looking so inside-out-like?" continued
Matthew Moon with feeling.

"Ay--'a would," said Joseph, meekly.  "But, you see, I wasn't so much
to blame, for them J's and E's be such trying sons o' witches for the
memory to mind whether they face backward or forward; and I always
had such a forgetful memory, too."

"'Tis a very bad afiction for ye, being such a man of calamities in
other ways."

"Well, 'tis; but a happy Providence ordered that it should be no
worse, and I feel my thanks.  As to shepherd, there, I'm sure mis'ess
ought to have made ye her baily--such a fitting man for't as you be."

"I don't mind owning that I expected it," said Oak, frankly.
"Indeed, I hoped for the place.  At the same time, Miss Everdene has
a right to be her own baily if she choose--and to keep me down to be
a common shepherd only."  Oak drew a slow breath, looked sadly into
the bright ashpit, and seemed lost in thoughts not of the most
hopeful hue.

The genial warmth of the fire now began to stimulate the nearly
lifeless lambs to bleat and move their limbs briskly upon the hay,
and to recognize for the first time the fact that they were born.
Their noise increased to a chorus of baas, upon which Oak pulled the
milk-can from before the fire, and taking a small tea-pot from the
pocket of his smock-frock, filled it with milk, and taught those of
the helpless creatures which were not to be restored to their dams
how to drink from the spout--a trick they acquired with astonishing
aptitude.

"And she don't even let ye have the skins of the dead lambs, I hear?"
resumed Joseph Poorgrass, his eyes lingering on the operations of Oak
with the necessary melancholy.

"I don't have them," said Gabriel.

"Ye be very badly used, shepherd," hazarded Joseph again, in the hope
of getting Oak as an ally in lamentation after all.  "I think she's
took against ye--that I do."

"Oh no--not at all," replied Gabriel, hastily, and a sigh escaped
him, which the deprivation of lamb skins could hardly have caused.

Before any further remark had been added a shade darkened the door,
and Boldwood entered the malthouse, bestowing upon each a nod of a
quality between friendliness and condescension.

"Ah! Oak, I thought you were here," he said.  "I met the mail-cart
ten minutes ago, and a letter was put into my hand, which I opened
without reading the address.  I believe it is yours.  You must excuse
the accident please."

"Oh yes--not a bit of difference, Mr. Boldwood--not a bit," said
Gabriel, readily.  He had not a correspondent on earth, nor was there
a possible letter coming to him whose contents the whole parish would
not have been welcome to peruse.

Oak stepped aside, and read the following in an unknown hand:--


   DEAR FRIEND,--I do not know your name, but I think these
   few lines will reach you, which I wrote to thank you for
   your kindness to me the night I left Weatherbury in a
   reckless way.  I also return the money I owe you, which you
   will excuse my not keeping as a gift.  All has ended well,
   and I am happy to say I am going to be married to the young
   man who has courted me for some time--Sergeant Troy, of
   the 11th Dragoon Guards, now quartered in this town.  He
   would, I know, object to my having received anything except
   as a loan, being a man of great respectability and high
   honour--indeed, a nobleman by blood.

   I should be much obliged to you if you would keep the
   contents of this letter a secret for the present, dear
   friend.  We mean to surprise Weatherbury by coming there
   soon as husband and wife, though I blush to state it to one
   nearly a stranger.  The sergeant grew up in Weatherbury.
   Thanking you again for your kindness,

            I am, your sincere well-wisher,
                     FANNY ROBIN.


"Have you read it, Mr. Boldwood?" said Gabriel; "if not, you had
better do so.  I know you are interested in Fanny Robin."

Boldwood read the letter and looked grieved.

"Fanny--poor Fanny! the end she is so confident of has not yet
come, she should remember--and may never come.  I see she gives no
address."

"What sort of a man is this Sergeant Troy?" said Gabriel.

"H'm--I'm afraid not one to build much hope upon in such a case as
this," the farmer murmured, "though he's a clever fellow, and up to
everything.  A slight romance attaches to him, too.  His mother was
a French governess, and it seems that a secret attachment existed
between her and the late Lord Severn.  She was married to a poor
medical man, and soon after an infant was born; and while money was
forthcoming all went on well.  Unfortunately for her boy, his best
friends died; and he got then a situation as second clerk at a
lawyer's in Casterbridge.  He stayed there for some time, and might
have worked himself into a dignified position of some sort had he not
indulged in the wild freak of enlisting.  I have much doubt if ever
little Fanny will surprise us in the way she mentions--very much
doubt. A silly girl!--silly girl!"

The door was hurriedly burst open again, and in came running Cainy
Ball out of breath, his mouth red and open, like the bell of a penny
trumpet, from which he coughed with noisy vigour and great distension
of face.

"Now, Cain Ball," said Oak, sternly, "why will you run so fast and
lose your breath so?  I'm always telling you of it."

"Oh--I--a puff of mee breath--went--the--wrong way, please, Mister
Oak, and made me cough--hok--hok!"

"Well--what have you come for?"

"I've run to tell ye," said the junior shepherd, supporting his
exhausted youthful frame against the doorpost, "that you must come
directly.  Two more ewes have twinned--that's what's the matter,
Shepherd Oak."

"Oh, that's it," said Oak, jumping up, and dimissing for the present
his thoughts on poor Fanny.  "You are a good boy to run and tell me,
Cain, and you shall smell a large plum pudding some day as a treat.
But, before we go, Cainy, bring the tarpot, and we'll mark this lot
and have done with 'em."

Oak took from his illimitable pockets a marking iron, dipped it
into the pot, and imprinted on the buttocks of the infant sheep the
initials of her he delighted to muse on--"B. E.," which signified to
all the region round that henceforth the lambs belonged to Farmer
Bathsheba Everdene, and to no one else.

"Now, Cainy, shoulder your two, and off. Good morning, Mr. Boldwood."
The shepherd lifted the sixteen large legs and four small bodies he
had himself brought, and vanished with them in the direction of the
lambing field hard by--their frames being now in a sleek and hopeful
state, pleasantly contrasting with their death's-door plight of half
an hour before.

Boldwood followed him a little way up the field, hesitated, and
turned back.  He followed him again with a last resolve, annihilating
return.  On approaching the nook in which the fold was constructed,
the farmer drew out his pocket-book, unfastened it, and allowed it to
lie open on his hand.  A letter was revealed--Bathsheba's.

"I was going to ask you, Oak," he said, with unreal carelessness, "if
you know whose writing this is?"

Oak glanced into the book, and replied instantly, with a flushed
face, "Miss Everdene's."

Oak had coloured simply at the consciousness of sounding her name.
He now felt a strangely distressing qualm from a new thought.  The
letter could of course be no other than anonymous, or the inquiry
would not have been necessary.

Boldwood mistook his confusion: sensitive persons are always ready
with their "Is it I?" in preference to objective reasoning.

"The question was perfectly fair," he returned--and there was
something incongruous in the serious earnestness with which he
applied himself to an argument on a valentine.  "You know it is
always expected that privy inquiries will be made: that's where
the--fun lies."  If the word "fun" had been "torture," it could not
have been uttered with a more constrained and restless countenance
than was Boldwood's then.

Soon parting from Gabriel, the lonely and reserved man returned to
his house to breakfast--feeling twinges of shame and regret at having
so far exposed his mood by those fevered questions to a stranger.  He
again placed the letter on the mantelpiece, and sat down to think of
the circumstances attending it by the light of Gabriel's information.




CHAPTER XVI


ALL SAINTS' AND ALL SOULS'


On a week-day morning a small congregation, consisting mainly of
women and girls, rose from its knees in the mouldy nave of a church
called All Saints', in the distant barrack-town before-mentioned, at
the end of a service without a sermon.  They were about to disperse,
when a smart footstep, entering the porch and coming up the central
passage, arrested their attention.  The step echoed with a ring
unusual in a church; it was the clink of spurs.  Everybody looked.  A
young cavalry soldier in a red uniform, with the three chevrons of a
sergeant upon his sleeve, strode up the aisle, with an embarrassment
which was only the more marked by the intense vigour of his step, and
by the determination upon his face to show none.  A slight flush had
mounted his cheek by the time he had run the gauntlet between these
women; but, passing on through the chancel arch, he never paused till
he came close to the altar railing.  Here for a moment he stood
alone.

The officiating curate, who had not yet doffed his surplice,
perceived the new-comer, and followed him to the communion-space.  He
whispered to the soldier, and then beckoned to the clerk, who in his
turn whispered to an elderly woman, apparently his wife, and they
also went up the chancel steps.

"'Tis a wedding!" murmured some of the women, brightening.  "Let's
wait!"

The majority again sat down.

There was a creaking of machinery behind, and some of the young ones
turned their heads.  From the interior face of the west wall of the
tower projected a little canopy with a quarter-jack and small bell
beneath it, the automaton being driven by the same clock machinery
that struck the large bell in the tower.  Between the tower and the
church was a close screen, the door of which was kept shut during
services, hiding this grotesque clockwork from sight.  At present,
however, the door was open, and the egress of the jack, the blows on
the bell, and the mannikin's retreat into the nook again, were
visible to many, and audible throughout the church.

The jack had struck half-past eleven.

"Where's the woman?" whispered some of the spectators.

The young sergeant stood still with the abnormal rigidity of the old
pillars around.  He faced the south-east, and was as silent as he was
still.

The silence grew to be a noticeable thing as the minutes went on,
and nobody else appeared, and not a soul moved.  The rattle of the
quarter-jack again from its niche, its blows for three-quarters, its
fussy retreat, were almost painfully abrupt, and caused many of the
congregation to start palpably.

"I wonder where the woman is!" a voice whispered again.

There began now that slight shifting of feet, that artificial
coughing among several, which betrays a nervous suspense.  At length
there was a titter.  But the soldier never moved.  There he stood,
his face to the south-east, upright as a column, his cap in his hand.

The clock ticked on.  The women threw off their nervousness, and
titters and giggling became more frequent.  Then came a dead silence.
Every one was waiting for the end.  Some persons may have noticed how
extraordinarily the striking of quarters seems to quicken the flight
of time.  It was hardly credible that the jack had not got wrong with
the minutes when the rattle began again, the puppet emerged, and the
four quarters were struck fitfully as before.  One could almost be
positive that there was a malicious leer upon the hideous creature's
face, and a mischievous delight in its twitchings.  Then followed the
dull and remote resonance of the twelve heavy strokes in the tower
above.  The women were impressed, and there was no giggle this time.

The clergyman glided into the vestry, and the clerk vanished.  The
sergeant had not yet turned; every woman in the church was waiting to
see his face, and he appeared to know it.  At last he did turn, and
stalked resolutely down the nave, braving them all, with a compressed
lip.  Two bowed and toothless old almsmen then looked at each other
and chuckled, innocently enough; but the sound had a strange weird
effect in that place.

Opposite to the church was a paved square, around which several
overhanging wood buildings of old time cast a picturesque shade.  The
young man on leaving the door went to cross the square, when, in the
middle, he met a little woman.  The expression of her face, which had
been one of intense anxiety, sank at the sight of his nearly to
terror.

"Well?" he said, in a suppressed passion, fixedly looking at her.

"Oh, Frank--I made a mistake!--I thought that church with the spire
was All Saints', and I was at the door at half-past eleven to a
minute as you said.  I waited till a quarter to twelve, and found
then that I was in All Souls'.  But I wasn't much frightened, for
I thought it could be to-morrow as well."

"You fool, for so fooling me!  But say no more."

"Shall it be to-morrow, Frank?" she asked blankly.

"To-morrow!" and he gave vent to a hoarse laugh.  "I don't go through
that experience again for some time, I warrant you!"

"But after all," she expostulated in a trembling voice, "the mistake
was not such a terrible thing!  Now, dear Frank, when shall it be?"

"Ah, when?  God knows!" he said, with a light irony, and turning from
her walked rapidly away.




CHAPTER XVII


IN THE MARKET-PLACE


On Saturday Boldwood was in Casterbridge market house as usual, when
the disturber of his dreams entered and became visible to him.  Adam
had awakened from his deep sleep, and behold! there was Eve.  The
farmer took courage, and for the first time really looked at her.

Material causes and emotional effects are not to be arranged in
regular equation.  The result from capital employed in the production
of any movement of a mental nature is sometimes as tremendous as the
cause itself is absurdly minute.  When women are in a freakish mood,
their usual intuition, either from carelessness or inherent defect,
seemingly fails to teach them this, and hence it was that Bathsheba
was fated to be astonished to-day.

Boldwood looked at her--not slily, critically, or understandingly,
but blankly at gaze, in the way a reaper looks up at a passing
train--as something foreign to his element, and but dimly understood.
To Boldwood women had been remote phenomena rather than necessary
complements--comets of such uncertain aspect, movement, and
permanence, that whether their orbits were as geometrical,
unchangeable, and as subject to laws as his own, or as absolutely
erratic as they superficially appeared, he had not deemed it his duty
to consider.

He saw her black hair, her correct facial curves and profile, and
the roundness of her chin and throat.  He saw then the side of her
eyelids, eyes, and lashes, and the shape of her ear.  Next he noticed
her figure, her skirt, and the very soles of her shoes.

Boldwood thought her beautiful, but wondered whether he was right in
his thought, for it seemed impossible that this romance in the flesh,
if so sweet as he imagined, could have been going on long without
creating a commotion of delight among men, and provoking more inquiry
than Bathsheba had done, even though that was not a little.  To the
best of his judgement neither nature nor art could improve this
perfect one of an imperfect many.  His heart began to move within
him.  Boldwood, it must be remembered, though forty years of age, had
never before inspected a woman with the very centre and force of his
glance; they had struck upon all his senses at wide angles.

Was she really beautiful?  He could not assure himself that his
opinion was true even now.  He furtively said to a neighbour, "Is
Miss Everdene considered handsome?"

"Oh yes; she was a good deal noticed the first time she came, if you
remember.  A very handsome girl indeed."

A man is never more credulous than in receiving favourable opinions
on the beauty of a woman he is half, or quite, in love with; a mere
child's word on the point has the weight of an R.A.'s.  Boldwood was
satisfied now.

And this charming woman had in effect said to him, "Marry me."  Why
should she have done that strange thing?  Boldwood's blindness to
the difference between approving of what circumstances suggest, and
originating what they do not suggest, was well matched by Bathsheba's
insensibility to the possibly great issues of little beginnings.

She was at this moment coolly dealing with a dashing young farmer,
adding up accounts with him as indifferently as if his face had been
the pages of a ledger.  It was evident that such a nature as his had
no attraction for a woman of Bathsheba's taste.  But Boldwood grew
hot down to his hands with an incipient jealousy; he trod for the
first time the threshold of "the injured lover's hell."  His first
impulse was to go and thrust himself between them.  This could be
done, but only in one way--by asking to see a sample of her corn.
Boldwood renounced the idea.  He could not make the request; it was
debasing loveliness to ask it to buy and sell, and jarred with his
conceptions of her.

All this time Bathsheba was conscious of having broken into that
dignified stronghold at last.  His eyes, she knew, were following her
everywhere.  This was a triumph; and had it come naturally, such a
triumph would have been the sweeter to her for this piquing delay.
But it had been brought about by misdirected ingenuity, and she
valued it only as she valued an artificial flower or a wax fruit.

Being a woman with some good sense in reasoning on subjects wherein
her heart was not involved, Bathsheba genuinely repented that a freak
which had owed its existence as much to Liddy as to herself, should
ever have been undertaken, to disturb the placidity of a man she
respected too highly to deliberately tease.

She that day nearly formed the intention of begging his pardon on
the very next occasion of their meeting.  The worst features of this
arrangement were that, if he thought she ridiculed him, an apology
would increase the offence by being disbelieved; and if he thought
she wanted him to woo her, it would read like additional evidence of
her forwardness.




CHAPTER XVIII


BOLDWOOD IN MEDITATION--REGRET


Boldwood was tenant of what was called Little Weatherbury Farm, and
his person was the nearest approach to aristocracy that this remoter
quarter of the parish could boast of.  Genteel strangers, whose god
was their town, who might happen to be compelled to linger about this
nook for a day, heard the sound of light wheels, and prayed to see
good society, to the degree of a solitary lord, or squire at the very
least, but it was only Mr. Boldwood going out for the day.  They
heard the sound of wheels yet once more, and were re-animated to
expectancy: it was only Mr. Boldwood coming home again.

His house stood recessed from the road, and the stables, which are
to a farm what a fireplace is to a room, were behind, their lower
portions being lost amid bushes of laurel.  Inside the blue door,
open half-way down, were to be seen at this time the backs and tails
of half-a-dozen warm and contented horses standing in their stalls;
and as thus viewed, they presented alternations of roan and bay,
in shapes like a Moorish arch, the tail being a streak down the
midst of each.  Over these, and lost to the eye gazing in from the
outer light, the mouths of the same animals could be heard busily
sustaining the above-named warmth and plumpness by quantities of oats
and hay.  The restless and shadowy figure of a colt wandered about a
loose-box at the end, whilst the steady grind of all the eaters was
occasionally diversified by the rattle of a rope or the stamp of a
foot.

Pacing up and down at the heels of the animals was Farmer Boldwood
himself.  This place was his almonry and cloister in one: here, after
looking to the feeding of his four-footed dependants, the celibate
would walk and meditate of an evening till the moon's rays streamed
in through the cobwebbed windows, or total darkness enveloped the
scene.

His square-framed perpendicularity showed more fully now than in the
crowd and bustle of the market-house.  In this meditative walk his
foot met the floor with heel and toe simultaneously, and his fine
reddish-fleshed face was bent downwards just enough to render obscure
the still mouth and the well-rounded though rather prominent and
broad chin.  A few clear and thread-like horizontal lines were the
only interruption to the otherwise smooth surface of his large
forehead.

The phases of Boldwood's life were ordinary enough, but his was not
an ordinary nature.  That stillness, which struck casual observers
more than anything else in his character and habit, and seemed so
precisely like the rest of inanition, may have been the perfect
balance of enormous antagonistic forces--positives and negatives in
fine adjustment.  His equilibrium disturbed, he was in extremity at
once.  If an emotion possessed him at all, it ruled him; a feeling
not mastering him was entirely latent.  Stagnant or rapid, it was
never slow.  He was always hit mortally, or he was missed.

He had no light and careless touches in his constitution, either
for good or for evil.  Stern in the outlines of action, mild in the
details, he was serious throughout all.  He saw no absurd sides to
the follies of life, and thus, though not quite companionable in the
eyes of merry men and scoffers, and those to whom all things show
life as a jest, he was not intolerable to the earnest and those
acquainted with grief.  Being a man who read all the dramas of life
seriously, if he failed to please when they were comedies, there was
no frivolous treatment to reproach him for when they chanced to end
tragically.

Bathsheba was far from dreaming that the dark and silent shape upon
which she had so carelessly thrown a seed was a hotbed of tropic
intensity.  Had she known Boldwood's moods, her blame would have
been fearful, and the stain upon her heart ineradicable.  Moreover,
had she known her present power for good or evil over this man, she
would have trembled at her responsibility.  Luckily for her present,
unluckily for her future tranquillity, her understanding had not yet
told her what Boldwood was.  Nobody knew entirely; for though it was
possible to form guesses concerning his wild capabilities from old
floodmarks faintly visible, he had never been seen at the high tides
which caused them.

Farmer Boldwood came to the stable-door and looked forth across the
level fields.  Beyond the first enclosure was a hedge, and on the
other side of this a meadow belonging to Bathsheba's farm.

It was now early spring--the time of going to grass with the sheep,
when they have the first feed of the meadows, before these are laid
up for mowing.  The wind, which had been blowing east for several
weeks, had veered to the southward, and the middle of spring had come
abruptly--almost without a beginning.  It was that period in the
vernal quarter when we may suppose the Dryads to be waking for the
season.  The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to
rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless
plantations, where everything seems helpless and still after the
bond and slavery of frost, there are bustlings, strainings, united
thrusts, and pulls-all-together, in comparison with which the
powerful tugs of cranes and pulleys in a noisy city are but pigmy
efforts.

Boldwood, looking into the distant meadows, saw there three figures.
They were those of Miss Everdene, Shepherd Oak, and Cainy Ball.

When Bathsheba's figure shone upon the farmer's eyes it lighted him
up as the moon lights up a great tower.  A man's body is as the
shell, or the tablet, of his soul, as he is reserved or ingenuous,
overflowing or self-contained.  There was a change in Boldwood's
exterior from its former impassibleness; and his face showed that he
was now living outside his defences for the first time, and with a
fearful sense of exposure.  It is the usual experience of strong
natures when they love.

At last he arrived at a conclusion.  It was to go across and inquire
boldly of her.

The insulation of his heart by reserve during these many years,
without a channel of any kind for disposable emotion, had worked its
effect.  It has been observed more than once that the causes of love
are chiefly subjective, and Boldwood was a living testimony to the
truth of the proposition.  No mother existed to absorb his devotion,
no sister for his tenderness, no idle ties for sense.  He became
surcharged with the compound, which was genuine lover's love.

He approached the gate of the meadow.  Beyond it the ground was
melodious with ripples, and the sky with larks; the low bleating of
the flock mingling with both.  Mistress and man were engaged in the
operation of making a lamb "take," which is performed whenever an ewe
has lost her own offspring, one of the twins of another ewe being
given her as a substitute.  Gabriel had skinned the dead lamb, and
was tying the skin over the body of the live lamb, in the customary
manner, whilst Bathsheba was holding open a little pen of four
hurdles, into which the Mother and foisted lamb were driven, where
they would remain till the old sheep conceived an affection for the
young one.

Bathsheba looked up at the completion of the manoeuvre and saw the
farmer by the gate, where he was overhung by a willow tree in full
bloom.  Gabriel, to whom her face was as the uncertain glory of an
April day, was ever regardful of its faintest changes, and instantly
discerned thereon the mark of some influence from without, in the
form of a keenly self-conscious reddening.  He also turned and beheld
Boldwood.

At once connecting these signs with the letter Boldwood had shown
him, Gabriel suspected her of some coquettish procedure begun by that
means, and carried on since, he knew not how.

Farmer Boldwood had read the pantomime denoting that they were aware
of his presence, and the perception was as too much light turned upon
his new sensibility.  He was still in the road, and by moving on he
hoped that neither would recognize that he had originally intended
to enter the field.  He passed by with an utter and overwhelming
sensation of ignorance, shyness, and doubt.  Perhaps in her manner
there were signs that she wished to see him--perhaps not--he could
not read a woman.  The cabala of this erotic philosophy seemed to
consist of the subtlest meanings expressed in misleading ways.  Every
turn, look, word, and accent contained a mystery quite distinct from
its obvious import, and not one had ever been pondered by him until
now.

As for Bathsheba, she was not deceived into the belief that Farmer
Boldwood had walked by on business or in idleness.  She collected
the probabilities of the case, and concluded that she was herself
responsible for Boldwood's appearance there.  It troubled her much
to see what a great flame a little wildfire was likely to kindle.
Bathsheba was no schemer for marriage, nor was she deliberately a
trifler with the affections of men, and a censor's experience on
seeing an actual flirt after observing her would have been a feeling
of surprise that Bathsheba could be so different from such a one,
and yet so like what a flirt is supposed to be.

She resolved never again, by look or by sign, to interrupt the steady
flow of this man's life.  But a resolution to avoid an evil is
seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance
impossible.




CHAPTER XIX


THE SHEEP-WASHING--THE OFFER


Boldwood did eventually call upon her.  She was not at home.  "Of
course not," he murmured.  In contemplating Bathsheba as a woman, he
had forgotten the accidents of her position as an agriculturist--that
being as much of a farmer, and as extensive a farmer, as himself,
her probable whereabouts was out-of-doors at this time of the year.
This, and the other oversights Boldwood was guilty of, were natural
to the mood, and still more natural to the circumstances.  The
great aids to idealization in love were present here: occasional
observation of her from a distance, and the absence of social
intercourse with her--visual familiarity, oral strangeness.  The
smaller human elements were kept out of sight; the pettinesses that
enter so largely into all earthly living and doing were disguised by
the accident of lover and loved-one not being on visiting terms; and
there was hardly awakened a thought in Boldwood that sorry household
realities appertained to her, or that she, like all others, had
moments of commonplace, when to be least plainly seen was to be most
prettily remembered.  Thus a mild sort of apotheosis took place
in his fancy, whilst she still lived and breathed within his own
horizon, a troubled creature like himself.

It was the end of May when the farmer determined to be no longer
repulsed by trivialities or distracted by suspense.  He had by this
time grown used to being in love; the passion now startled him less
even when it tortured him more, and he felt himself adequate to the
situation.  On inquiring for her at her house they had told him she
was at the sheepwashing, and he went off to seek her there.

The sheep-washing pool was a perfectly circular basin of brickwork in
the meadows, full of the clearest water.  To birds on the wing its
glassy surface, reflecting the light sky, must have been visible for
miles around as a glistening Cyclops' eye in a green face.  The grass
about the margin at this season was a sight to remember long--in a
minor sort of way.  Its activity in sucking the moisture from the
rich damp sod was almost a process observable by the eye.  The
outskirts of this level water-meadow were diversified by rounded and
hollow pastures, where just now every flower that was not a buttercup
was a daisy.  The river slid along noiselessly as a shade, the
swelling reeds and sedge forming a flexible palisade upon its moist
brink.  To the north of the mead were trees, the leaves of which
were new, soft, and moist, not yet having stiffened and darkened
under summer sun and drought, their colour being yellow beside a
green--green beside a yellow.  From the recesses of this knot of
foliage the loud notes of three cuckoos were resounding through the
still air.

Boldwood went meditating down the slopes with his eyes on his boots,
which the yellow pollen from the buttercups had bronzed in artistic
gradations.  A tributary of the main stream flowed through the
basin of the pool by an inlet and outlet at opposite points of its
diameter.  Shepherd Oak, Jan Coggan, Moon, Poorgrass, Cain Ball,
and several others were assembled here, all dripping wet to the
very roots of their hair, and Bathsheba was standing by in a new
riding-habit--the most elegant she had ever worn--the reins of her
horse being looped over her arm.  Flagons of cider were rolling about
upon the green.  The meek sheep were pushed into the pool by Coggan
and Matthew Moon, who stood by the lower hatch, immersed to their
waists; then Gabriel, who stood on the brink, thrust them under as
they swam along, with an instrument like a crutch, formed for the
purpose, and also for assisting the exhausted animals when the wool
became saturated and they began to sink.  They were let out against
the stream, and through the upper opening, all impurities flowing
away below.  Cainy Ball and Joseph, who performed this latter
operation, were if possible wetter than the rest; they resembled
dolphins under a fountain, every protuberance and angle of their
clothes dribbling forth a small rill.

Boldwood came close and bade her good morning, with such constraint
that she could not but think he had stepped across to the washing for
its own sake, hoping not to find her there; more, she fancied his
brow severe and his eye slighting.  Bathsheba immediately contrived
to withdraw, and glided along by the river till she was a stone's
throw off.  She heard footsteps brushing the grass, and had a
consciousness that love was encircling her like a perfume.  Instead
of turning or waiting, Bathsheba went further among the high sedges,
but Boldwood seemed determined, and pressed on till they were
completely past the bend of the river. Here, without being seen,
they could hear the splashing and shouts of the washers above.

"Miss Everdene!" said the farmer.

She trembled, turned, and said "Good morning."  His tone was so
utterly removed from all she had expected as a beginning.  It was
lowness and quiet accentuated: an emphasis of deep meanings, their
form, at the same time, being scarcely expressed.  Silence has
sometimes a remarkable power of showing itself as the disembodied
soul of feeling wandering without its carcase, and it is then more
impressive than speech.  In the same way, to say a little is often to
tell more than to say a great deal.  Boldwood told everything in that
word.

As the consciousness expands on learning that what was fancied to
be the rumble of wheels is the reverberation of thunder, so did
Bathsheba's at her intuitive conviction.

"I feel--almost too much--to think," he said, with a solemn
simplicity.  "I have come to speak to you without preface.  My life
is not my own since I have beheld you clearly, Miss Everdene--I come
to make you an offer of marriage."

Bathsheba tried to preserve an absolutely neutral countenance, and
all the motion she made was that of closing lips which had previously
been a little parted.

"I am now forty-one years old," he went on.  "I may have been called
a confirmed bachelor, and I was a confirmed bachelor.  I had never
any views of myself as a husband in my earlier days, nor have I made
any calculation on the subject since I have been older.  But we all
change, and my change, in this matter, came with seeing you.  I have
felt lately, more and more, that my present way of living is bad in
every respect.  Beyond all things, I want you as my wife."

"I feel, Mr. Boldwood, that though I respect you much, I do not
feel--what would justify me to--in accepting your offer," she
stammered.

This giving back of dignity for dignity seemed to open the sluices of
feeling that Boldwood had as yet kept closed.

"My life is a burden without you," he exclaimed, in a low voice.  "I
want you--I want you to let me say I love you again and again!"

Bathsheba answered nothing, and the horse upon her arm seemed so
impressed that instead of cropping the herbage she looked up.

"I think and hope you care enough for me to listen to what I have to
tell!"

Bathsheba's momentary impulse at hearing this was to ask why he
thought that, till she remembered that, far from being a conceited
assumption on Boldwood's part, it was but the natural conclusion of
serious reflection based on deceptive premises of her own offering.

"I wish I could say courteous flatteries to you," the farmer
continued in an easier tone, "and put my rugged feeling into a
graceful shape: but I have neither power nor patience to learn such
things.  I want you for my wife--so wildly that no other feeling can
abide in me; but I should not have spoken out had I not been led to
hope."

"The valentine again!  O that valentine!" she said to herself, but
not a word to him.

"If you can love me say so, Miss Everdene.  If not--don't say no!"

"Mr. Boldwood, it is painful to have to say I am surprised, so that
I don't know how to answer you with propriety and respect--but am
only just able to speak out my feeling--I mean my meaning; that I am
afraid I can't marry you, much as I respect you.  You are too
dignified for me to suit you, sir."

"But, Miss Everdene!"

"I--I didn't--I know I ought never to have dreamt of sending that
valentine--forgive me, sir--it was a wanton thing which no woman with
any self-respect should have done.  If you will only pardon my
thoughtlessness, I promise never to--"

"No, no, no.  Don't say thoughtlessness!  Make me think it was
something more--that it was a sort of prophetic instinct--the
beginning of a feeling that you would like me.  You torture me to say
it was done in thoughtlessness--I never thought of it in that light,
and I can't endure it. Ah!  I wish I knew how to win you! but that I
can't do--I can only ask if I have already got you.  If I have not,
and it is not true that you have come unwittingly to me as I have to
you, I can say no more."

"I have not fallen in love with you, Mr. Boldwood--certainly I must
say that."  She allowed a very small smile to creep for the first
time over her serious face in saying this, and the white row of upper
teeth, and keenly-cut lips already noticed, suggested an idea of
heartlessness, which was immediately contradicted by the pleasant
eyes.

"But you will just think--in kindness and condescension think--if you
cannot bear with me as a husband!  I fear I am too old for you, but
believe me I will take more care of you than would many a man of your
own age.  I will protect and cherish you with all my strength--I will
indeed!  You shall have no cares--be worried by no household affairs,
and live quite at ease, Miss Everdene.  The dairy superintendence
shall be done by a man--I can afford it well--you shall never have
so much as to look out of doors at haymaking time, or to think of
weather in the harvest.  I rather cling to the chaise, because it is
the same my poor father and mother drove, but if you don't like it
I will sell it, and you shall have a pony-carriage of your own.  I
cannot say how far above every other idea and object on earth you
seem to me--nobody knows--God only knows--how much you are to me!"

Bathsheba's heart was young, and it swelled with sympathy for the
deep-natured man who spoke so simply.

"Don't say it! don't!  I cannot bear you to feel so much, and me to
feel nothing.  And I am afraid they will notice us, Mr. Boldwood.
Will you let the matter rest now?  I cannot think collectedly.  I did
not know you were going to say this to me.  Oh, I am wicked to have
made you suffer so!"  She was frightened as well as agitated at his
vehemence.

"Say then, that you don't absolutely refuse.  Do not quite refuse?"

"I can do nothing.  I cannot answer."

"I may speak to you again on the subject?"

"Yes."

"I may think of you?"

"Yes, I suppose you may think of me."

"And hope to obtain you?"

"No--do not hope!  Let us go on."

"I will call upon you again to-morrow."

"No--please not.  Give me time."

"Yes--I will give you any time," he said earnestly and gratefully.
"I am happier now."

"No--I beg you!  Don't be happier if happiness only comes from my
agreeing.  Be neutral, Mr. Boldwood!  I must think."

"I will wait," he said.

And then she turned away.  Boldwood dropped his gaze to the ground,
and stood long like a man who did not know where he was.  Realities
then returned upon him like the pain of a wound received in an
excitement which eclipses it, and he, too, then went on.




CHAPTER XX


PERPLEXITY--GRINDING THE SHEARS--A QUARREL


"He is so disinterested and kind to offer me all that I can desire,"
Bathsheba mused.

Yet Farmer Boldwood, whether by nature kind or the reverse to kind,
did not exercise kindness, here.  The rarest offerings of the purest
loves are but a self-indulgence, and no generosity at all.

Bathsheba, not being the least in love with him, was eventually able
to look calmly at his offer.  It was one which many women of her own
station in the neighbourhood, and not a few of higher rank, would
have been wild to accept and proud to publish.  In every point of
view, ranging from politic to passionate, it was desirable that she,
a lonely girl, should marry, and marry this earnest, well-to-do,
and respected man.  He was close to her doors: his standing was
sufficient: his qualities were even supererogatory.  Had she felt,
which she did not, any wish whatever for the married state in the
abstract, she could not reasonably have rejected him, being a woman
who frequently appealed to her understanding for deliverance from
her whims.  Boldwood as a means to marriage was unexceptionable: she
esteemed and liked him, yet she did not want him.  It appears that
ordinary men take wives because possession is not possible without
marriage, and that ordinary women accept husbands because marriage
is not possible without possession; with totally differing aims the
method is the same on both sides.  But the understood incentive on
the woman's part was wanting here.  Besides, Bathsheba's position
as absolute mistress of a farm and house was a novel one, and the
novelty had not yet begun to wear off.

But a disquiet filled her which was somewhat to her credit, for it
would have affected few.  Beyond the mentioned reasons with which
she combated her objections, she had a strong feeling that, having
been the one who began the game, she ought in honesty to accept the
consequences.  Still the reluctance remained.  She said in the same
breath that it would be ungenerous not to marry Boldwood, and that
she couldn't do it to save her life.

Bathsheba's was an impulsive nature under a deliberative aspect.  An
Elizabeth in brain and a Mary Stuart in spirit, she often performed
actions of the greatest temerity with a manner of extreme discretion.
Many of her thoughts were perfect syllogisms; unluckily they always
remained thoughts. Only a few were irrational assumptions; but,
unfortunately, they were the ones which most frequently grew into
deeds.

The next day to that of the declaration she found Gabriel Oak at the
bottom of her garden, grinding his shears for the sheep-shearing.
All the surrounding cottages were more or less scenes of the same
operation; the scurr of whetting spread into the sky from all parts
of the village as from an armoury previous to a campaign.  Peace and
war kiss each other at their hours of preparation--sickles, scythes,
shears, and pruning-hooks, ranking with swords, bayonets, and lances,
in their common necessity for point and edge.

Cainy Ball turned the handle of Gabriel's grindstone, his head
performing a melancholy see-saw up and down with each turn of the
wheel.  Oak stood somewhat as Eros is represented when in the act of
sharpening his arrows: his figure slightly bent, the weight of his
body thrown over on the shears, and his head balanced side-ways, with
a critical compression of the lips and contraction of the eyelids to
crown the attitude.

His mistress came up and looked upon them in silence for a minute or
two; then she said--

"Cain, go to the lower mead and catch the bay mare.  I'll turn the
winch of the grindstone.  I want to speak to you, Gabriel."

Cain departed, and Bathsheba took the handle.  Gabriel had glanced up
in intense surprise, quelled its expression, and looked down again.
Bathsheba turned the winch, and Gabriel applied the shears.

The peculiar motion involved in turning a wheel has a wonderful
tendency to benumb the mind.  It is a sort of attenuated variety of
Ixion's punishment, and contributes a dismal chapter to the history
of gaols.  The brain gets muddled, the head grows heavy, and the
body's centre of gravity seems to settle by degrees in a leaden lump
somewhere between the eyebrows and the crown.  Bathsheba felt the
unpleasant symptoms after two or three dozen turns.

"Will you turn, Gabriel, and let me hold the shears?" she said.  "My
head is in a whirl, and I can't talk."

Gabriel turned.  Bathsheba then began, with some awkwardness,
allowing her thoughts to stray occasionally from her story to attend
to the shears, which required a little nicety in sharpening.

"I wanted to ask you if the men made any observations on my going
behind the sedge with Mr. Boldwood yesterday?"

"Yes, they did," said Gabriel.  "You don't hold the shears right,
miss--I knew you wouldn't know the way--hold like this."

He relinquished the winch, and inclosing her two hands completely in
his own (taking each as we sometimes slap a child's hand in teaching
him to write), grasped the shears with her.  "Incline the edge so,"
he said.

Hands and shears were inclined to suit the words, and held thus for a
peculiarly long time by the instructor as he spoke.

"That will do," exclaimed Bathsheba.  "Loose my hands.  I won't have
them held!  Turn the winch."

Gabriel freed her hands quietly, retired to his handle, and the
grinding went on.

"Did the men think it odd?" she said again.

"Odd was not the idea, miss."

"What did they say?"

"That Farmer Boldwood's name and your own were likely to be flung
over pulpit together before the year was out."

"I thought so by the look of them!  Why, there's nothing in it.  A
more foolish remark was never made, and I want you to contradict it!
that's what I came for."

Gabriel looked incredulous and sad, but between his moments of
incredulity, relieved.

"They must have heard our conversation," she continued.

"Well, then, Bathsheba!" said Oak, stopping the handle, and gazing
into her face with astonishment.

"Miss Everdene, you mean," she said, with dignity.

"I mean this, that if Mr. Boldwood really spoke of marriage, I bain't
going to tell a story and say he didn't to please you.  I have
already tried to please you too much for my own good!"

Bathsheba regarded him with round-eyed perplexity.  She did not know
whether to pity him for disappointed love of her, or to be angry with
him for having got over it--his tone being ambiguous.

"I said I wanted you just to mention that it was not true I was going
to be married to him," she murmured, with a slight decline in her
assurance.

"I can say that to them if you wish, Miss Everdene.  And I could
likewise give an opinion to 'ee on what you have done."

"I daresay.  But I don't want your opinion."

"I suppose not," said Gabriel bitterly, and going on with his
turning, his words rising and falling in a regular swell and cadence
as he stooped or rose with the winch, which directed them, according
to his position, perpendicularly into the earth, or horizontally
along the garden, his eyes being fixed on a leaf upon the ground.

With Bathsheba a hastened act was a rash act; but, as does not always
happen, time gained was prudence insured.  It must be added, however,
that time was very seldom gained.  At this period the single opinion
in the parish on herself and her doings that she valued as sounder
than her own was Gabriel Oak's.  And the outspoken honesty of his
character was such that on any subject, even that of her love for,
or marriage with, another man, the same disinterestedness of opinion
might be calculated on, and be had for the asking.  Thoroughly
convinced of the impossibility of his own suit, a high resolve
constrained him not to injure that of another.  This is a lover's
most stoical virtue, as the lack of it is a lover's most venial sin.
Knowing he would reply truly she asked the question, painful as
she must have known the subject would be.  Such is the selfishness
of some charming women.  Perhaps it was some excuse for her thus
torturing honesty to her own advantage, that she had absolutely no
other sound judgment within easy reach.

"Well, what is your opinion of my conduct," she said, quietly.

"That it is unworthy of any thoughtful, and meek, and comely woman."

In an instant Bathsheba's face coloured with the angry crimson of
a Danby sunset.  But she forbore to utter this feeling, and the
reticence of her tongue only made the loquacity of her face the more
noticeable.

The next thing Gabriel did was to make a mistake.

"Perhaps you don't like the rudeness of my reprimanding you, for I
know it is rudeness; but I thought it would do good."

She instantly replied sarcastically--

"On the contrary, my opinion of you is so low, that I see in your
abuse the praise of discerning people!"

"I am glad you don't mind it, for I said it honestly and with every
serious meaning."

"I see.  But, unfortunately, when you try not to speak in jest you
are amusing--just as when you wish to avoid seriousness you sometimes
say a sensible word."

It was a hard hit, but Bathsheba had unmistakably lost her temper,
and on that account Gabriel had never in his life kept his own
better.  He said nothing.  She then broke out--

"I may ask, I suppose, where in particular my unworthiness lies?  In
my not marrying you, perhaps!"

"Not by any means," said Gabriel quietly.  "I have long given up
thinking of that matter."

"Or wishing it, I suppose," she said; and it was apparent that she
expected an unhesitating denial of this supposition.

Whatever Gabriel felt, he coolly echoed her words--

"Or wishing it either."

A woman may be treated with a bitterness which is sweet to her,
and with a rudeness which is not offensive.  Bathsheba would have
submitted to an indignant chastisement for her levity had Gabriel
protested that he was loving her at the same time; the impetuosity
of passion unrequited is bearable, even if it stings and
anathematizes--there is a triumph in the humiliation, and a
tenderness in the strife.  This was what she had been expecting,
and what she had not got.  To be lectured because the lecturer saw
her in the cold morning light of open-shuttered disillusion was
exasperating.  He had not finished, either.  He continued in a more
agitated voice:--

"My opinion is (since you ask it) that you are greatly to blame for
playing pranks upon a man like Mr. Boldwood, merely as a pastime.
Leading on a man you don't care for is not a praiseworthy action.
And even, Miss Everdene, if you seriously inclined towards him, you
might have let him find it out in some way of true loving-kindness,
and not by sending him a valentine's letter."

Bathsheba laid down the shears.

"I cannot allow any man to--to criticise my private conduct!" she
exclaimed.  "Nor will I for a minute.  So you'll please leave the
farm at the end of the week!"

It may have been a peculiarity--at any rate it was a fact--that when
Bathsheba was swayed by an emotion of an earthly sort her lower lip
trembled: when by a refined emotion, her upper or heavenward one.
Her nether lip quivered now.

"Very well, so I will," said Gabriel calmly.  He had been held to
her by a beautiful thread which it pained him to spoil by breaking,
rather than by a chain he could not break.  "I should be even better
pleased to go at once," he added.

"Go at once then, in Heaven's name!" said she, her eyes flashing at
his, though never meeting them.  "Don't let me see your face any
more."

"Very well, Miss Everdene--so it shall be."

And he took his shears and went away from her in placid dignity, as
Moses left the presence of Pharaoh.




CHAPTER XXI


TROUBLES IN THE FOLD--A MESSAGE


Gabriel Oak had ceased to feed the Weatherbury flock for about
four-and-twenty hours, when on Sunday afternoon the elderly gentlemen
Joseph Poorgrass, Matthew Moon, Fray, and half-a-dozen others, came
running up to the house of the mistress of the Upper Farm.

"Whatever IS the matter, men?" she said, meeting them at the door
just as she was coming out on her way to church, and ceasing in a
moment from the close compression of her two red lips, with which
she had accompanied the exertion of pulling on a tight glove.

"Sixty!" said Joseph Poorgrass.

"Seventy!" said Moon.

"Fifty-nine!" said Susan Tall's husband.

"--Sheep have broke fence," said Fray.

"--And got into a field of young clover," said Tall.

"--Young clover!" said Moon.

"--Clover!" said Joseph Poorgrass.

"And they be getting blasted," said Henery Fray.

"That they be," said Joseph.

"And will all die as dead as nits, if they bain't got out and cured!"
said Tall.

Joseph's countenance was drawn into lines and puckers by his concern.
Fray's forehead was wrinkled both perpendicularly and crosswise,
after the pattern of a portcullis, expressive of a double despair.
Laban Tall's lips were thin, and his face was rigid.  Matthew's jaws
sank, and his eyes turned whichever way the strongest muscle happened
to pull them.

"Yes," said Joseph, "and I was sitting at home, looking for
Ephesians, and says I to myself, ''Tis nothing but Corinthians and
Thessalonians in this danged Testament,' when who should come in but
Henery there: 'Joseph,' he said, 'the sheep have blasted
theirselves--'"

With Bathsheba it was a moment when thought was speech and speech
exclamation.  Moreover, she had hardly recovered her equanimity since
the disturbance which she had suffered from Oak's remarks.

"That's enough--that's enough!--oh, you fools!" she cried, throwing
the parasol and Prayer-book into the passage, and running out of
doors in the direction signified.  "To come to me, and not go and get
them out directly!  Oh, the stupid numskulls!"

Her eyes were at their darkest and brightest now.  Bathsheba's beauty
belonging rather to the demonian than to the angelic school, she
never looked so well as when she was angry--and particularly when the
effect was heightened by a rather dashing velvet dress, carefully put
on before a glass.

All the ancient men ran in a jumbled throng after her to the
clover-field, Joseph sinking down in the midst when about half-way,
like an individual withering in a world which was more and more
insupportable.  Having once received the stimulus that her presence
always gave them they went round among the sheep with a will.  The
majority of the afflicted animals were lying down, and could not be
stirred.  These were bodily lifted out, and the others driven into
the adjoining field.  Here, after the lapse of a few minutes, several
more fell down, and lay helpless and livid as the rest.

Bathsheba, with a sad, bursting heart, looked at these primest
specimens of her prime flock as they rolled there--


   Swoln with wind and the rank mist they drew.


Many of them foamed at the mouth, their breathing being quick and
short, whilst the bodies of all were fearfully distended.

"Oh, what can I do, what can I do!" said Bathsheba, helplessly.
"Sheep are such unfortunate animals!--there's always something
happening to them!  I never knew a flock pass a year without getting
into some scrape or other."

"There's only one way of saving them," said Tall.

"What way?  Tell me quick!"

"They must be pierced in the side with a thing made on purpose."

"Can you do it?  Can I?"

"No, ma'am.  We can't, nor you neither.  It must be done in a
particular spot.  If ye go to the right or left but an inch you stab
the ewe and kill her.  Not even a shepherd can do it, as a rule."

"Then they must die," she said, in a resigned tone.

"Only one man in the neighbourhood knows the way," said Joseph, now
just come up.  "He could cure 'em all if he were here."

"Who is he?  Let's get him!"

"Shepherd Oak," said Matthew.  "Ah, he's a clever man in talents!"

"Ah, that he is so!" said Joseph Poorgrass.

"True--he's the man," said Laban Tall.

"How dare you name that man in my presence!" she said excitedly.  "I
told you never to allude to him, nor shall you if you stay with me.
Ah!" she added, brightening, "Farmer Boldwood knows!"

"O no, ma'am" said Matthew.  "Two of his store ewes got into some
vetches t'other day, and were just like these.  He sent a man on
horseback here post-haste for Gable, and Gable went and saved 'em.
Farmer Boldwood hev got the thing they do it with.  'Tis a holler
pipe, with a sharp pricker inside.  Isn't it, Joseph?"

"Ay--a holler pipe," echoed Joseph.  "That's what 'tis."

"Ay, sure--that's the machine," chimed in Henery Fray, reflectively,
with an Oriental indifference to the flight of time.

"Well," burst out Bathsheba, "don't stand there with your 'ayes'
and your 'sures' talking at me!  Get somebody to cure the sheep
instantly!"

All then stalked off in consternation, to get somebody as directed,
without any idea of who it was to be.  In a minute they had vanished
through the gate, and she stood alone with the dying flock.

"Never will I send for him--never!" she said firmly.

One of the ewes here contracted its muscles horribly, extended
itself, and jumped high into the air.  The leap was an astonishing
one.  The ewe fell heavily, and lay still.

Bathsheba went up to it.  The sheep was dead.

"Oh, what shall I do--what shall I do!" she again exclaimed, wringing
her hands.  "I won't send for him.  No, I won't!"

The most vigorous expression of a resolution does not always coincide
with the greatest vigour of the resolution itself.  It is often flung
out as a sort of prop to support a decaying conviction which, whilst
strong, required no enunciation to prove it so.  The "No, I won't" of
Bathsheba meant virtually, "I think I must."

She followed her assistants through the gate, and lifted her hand to
one of them.  Laban answered to her signal.

"Where is Oak staying?"

"Across the valley at Nest Cottage!"

"Jump on the bay mare, and ride across, and say he must return
instantly--that I say so."

Tall scrambled off to the field, and in two minutes was on Poll,
the bay, bare-backed, and with only a halter by way of rein.  He
diminished down the hill.

Bathsheba watched.  So did all the rest.  Tall cantered along the
bridle-path through Sixteen Acres, Sheeplands, Middle Field, The
Flats, Cappel's Piece, shrank almost to a point, crossed the bridge,
and ascended from the valley through Springmead and Whitepits on the
other side.  The cottage to which Gabriel had retired before taking
his final departure from the locality was visible as a white spot on
the opposite hill, backed by blue firs.  Bathsheba walked up and
down.  The men entered the field and endeavoured to ease the anguish
of the dumb creatures by rubbing them.  Nothing availed.

Bathsheba continued walking.  The horse was seen descending the
hill, and the wearisome series had to be repeated in reverse order:
Whitepits, Springmead, Cappel's Piece, The Flats, Middle Field,
Sheeplands, Sixteen Acres.  She hoped Tall had had presence of mind
enough to give the mare up to Gabriel, and return himself on foot.
The rider neared them.  It was Tall.

"Oh, what folly!" said Bathsheba.

Gabriel was not visible anywhere.

"Perhaps he is already gone!" she said.

Tall came into the inclosure, and leapt off, his face tragic as
Morton's after the battle of Shrewsbury.

"Well?" said Bathsheba, unwilling to believe that her verbal
_lettre-de-cachet_ could possibly have miscarried.

"He says BEGGARS MUSTN'T BE CHOOSERS," replied Laban.

"What!" said the young farmer, opening her eyes and drawing in her
breath for an outburst.  Joseph Poorgrass retired a few steps behind
a hurdle.

"He says he shall not come onless you request en to come civilly and
in a proper manner, as becomes any 'ooman begging a favour."

"Oh, oh, that's his answer!  Where does he get his airs?  Who am I,
then, to be treated like that?  Shall I beg to a man who has begged
to me?"

Another of the flock sprang into the air, and fell dead.

The men looked grave, as if they suppressed opinion.

Bathsheba turned aside, her eyes full of tears.  The strait she was
in through pride and shrewishness could not be disguised longer: she
burst out crying bitterly; they all saw it; and she attempted no
further concealment.

"I wouldn't cry about it, miss," said William Smallbury,
compassionately.  "Why not ask him softer like?  I'm sure he'd come
then.  Gable is a true man in that way."

Bathsheba checked her grief and wiped her eyes.  "Oh, it is a wicked
cruelty to me--it is--it is!" she murmured.  "And he drives me to do
what I wouldn't; yes, he does!--Tall, come indoors."

After this collapse, not very dignified for the head of an
establishment, she went into the house, Tall at her heels.  Here she
sat down and hastily scribbled a note between the small convulsive
sobs of convalescence which follow a fit of crying as a ground-swell
follows a storm.  The note was none the less polite for being written
in a hurry.  She held it at a distance, was about to fold it, then
added these words at the bottom:--


   "DO NOT DESERT ME, GABRIEL!"


She looked a little redder in refolding it, and closed her lips,
as if thereby to suspend till too late the action of conscience in
examining whether such strategy were justifiable.  The note was
despatched as the message had been, and Bathsheba waited indoors
for the result.

It was an anxious quarter of an hour that intervened between the
messenger's departure and the sound of the horse's tramp again
outside.  She could not watch this time, but, leaning over the old
bureau at which she had written the letter, closed her eyes, as if
to keep out both hope and fear.

The case, however, was a promising one.  Gabriel was not angry: he
was simply neutral, although her first command had been so haughty.
Such imperiousness would have damned a little less beauty; and
on the other hand, such beauty would have redeemed a little less
imperiousness.

She went out when the horse was heard, and looked up.  A mounted
figure passed between her and the sky, and drew on towards the field
of sheep, the rider turning his face in receding.  Gabriel looked at
her.  It was a moment when a woman's eyes and tongue tell distinctly
opposite tales. Bathsheba looked full of gratitude, and she said:--

"Oh, Gabriel, how could you serve me so unkindly!"

Such a tenderly-shaped reproach for his previous delay was the
one speech in the language that he could pardon for not being
commendation of his readiness now.

Gabriel murmured a confused reply, and hastened on.  She knew from
the look which sentence in her note had brought him.  Bathsheba
followed to the field.

Gabriel was already among the turgid, prostrate forms.  He had flung
off his coat, rolled up his shirt-sleeves, and taken from his pocket
the instrument of salvation.  It was a small tube or trochar, with
a lance passing down the inside; and Gabriel began to use it with a
dexterity that would have graced a hospital surgeon.  Passing his
hand over the sheep's left flank, and selecting the proper point, he
punctured the skin and rumen with the lance as it stood in the tube;
then he suddenly withdrew the lance, retaining the tube in its place.
A current of air rushed up the tube, forcible enough to have
extinguished a candle held at the orifice.

It has been said that mere ease after torment is delight for a time;
and the countenances of these poor creatures expressed it now.
Forty-nine operations were successfully performed.  Owing to the
great hurry necessitated by the far-gone state of some of the flock,
Gabriel missed his aim in one case, and in one only--striking wide
of the mark, and inflicting a mortal blow at once upon the suffering
ewe.  Four had died; three recovered without an operation.  The total
number of sheep which had thus strayed and injured themselves so
dangerously was fifty-seven.

When the love-led man had ceased from his labours, Bathsheba came and
looked him in the face.

"Gabriel, will you stay on with me?" she said, smiling winningly,
and not troubling to bring her lips quite together again at the end,
because there was going to be another smile soon.

"I will," said Gabriel.

And she smiled on him again.




CHAPTER XXII


THE GREAT BARN AND THE SHEEP-SHEARERS


Men thin away to insignificance and oblivion quite as often by not
making the most of good spirits when they have them as by lacking
good spirits when they are indispensable.  Gabriel lately, for the
first time since his prostration by misfortune, had been independent
in thought and vigorous in action to a marked extent--conditions
which, powerless without an opportunity as an opportunity without
them is barren, would have given him a sure lift upwards when the
favourable conjunction should have occurred.  But this incurable
loitering beside Bathsheba Everdene stole his time ruinously.  The
spring tides were going by without floating him off, and the neap
might soon come which could not.

It was the first day of June, and the sheep-shearing season
culminated, the landscape, even to the leanest pasture, being
all health and colour.  Every green was young, every pore was
open, and every stalk was swollen with racing currents of juice.
God was palpably present in the country, and the devil had gone
with the world to town.  Flossy catkins of the later kinds,
fern-sprouts like bishops' croziers, the square-headed moschatel,
the odd cuckoo-pint,--like an apoplectic saint in a niche of
malachite,--snow-white ladies'-smocks, the toothwort, approximating
to human flesh, the enchanter's night-shade, and the black-petaled
doleful-bells, were among the quainter objects of the vegetable world
in and about Weatherbury at this teeming time; and of the animal,
the metamorphosed figures of Mr. Jan Coggan, the master-shearer; the
second and third shearers, who travelled in the exercise of their
calling, and do not require definition by name; Henery Fray the
fourth shearer, Susan Tall's husband the fifth, Joseph Poorgrass
the sixth, young Cain Ball as assistant-shearer, and Gabriel Oak as
general supervisor.  None of these were clothed to any extent worth
mentioning, each appearing to have hit in the matter of raiment the
decent mean between a high and low caste Hindoo.  An angularity of
lineament, and a fixity of facial machinery in general, proclaimed
that serious work was the order of the day.

They sheared in the great barn, called for the nonce the
Shearing-barn, which on ground-plan resembled a church with
transepts.  It not only emulated the form of the neighbouring church
of the parish, but vied with it in antiquity.  Whether the barn had
ever formed one of a group of conventual buildings nobody seemed to
be aware; no trace of such surroundings remained.  The vast porches
at the sides, lofty enough to admit a waggon laden to its highest
with corn in the sheaf, were spanned by heavy-pointed arches of
stone, broadly and boldly cut, whose very simplicity was the origin
of a grandeur not apparent in erections where more ornament has been
attempted.  The dusky, filmed, chestnut roof, braced and tied in
by huge collars, curves, and diagonals, was far nobler in design,
because more wealthy in material, than nine-tenths of those in our
modern churches.  Along each side wall was a range of striding
buttresses, throwing deep shadows on the spaces between them, which
were perforated by lancet openings, combining in their proportions
the precise requirements both of beauty and ventilation.

One could say about this barn, what could hardly be said of either
the church or the castle, akin to it in age and style, that the
purpose which had dictated its original erection was the same with
that to which it was still applied.  Unlike and superior to either
of those two typical remnants of mediævalism, the old barn embodied
practices which had suffered no mutilation at the hands of time.
Here at least the spirit of the ancient builders was at one with
the spirit of the modern beholder.  Standing before this abraded
pile, the eye regarded its present usage, the mind dwelt upon its
past history, with a satisfied sense of functional continuity
throughout--a feeling almost of gratitude, and quite of pride, at the
permanence of the idea which had heaped it up.  The fact that four
centuries had neither proved it to be founded on a mistake, inspired
any hatred of its purpose, nor given rise to any reaction that had
battered it down, invested this simple grey effort of old minds with
a repose, if not a grandeur, which a too curious reflection was apt
to disturb in its ecclesiastical and military compeers.  For once
mediævalism and modernism had a common stand-point.  The lanceolate
windows, the time-eaten archstones and chamfers, the orientation of
the axis, the misty chestnut work of the rafters, referred to no
exploded fortifying art or worn-out religious creed.  The defence and
salvation of the body by daily bread is still a study, a religion,
and a desire.

To-day the large side doors were thrown open towards the sun to admit
a bountiful light to the immediate spot of the shearers' operations,
which was the wood threshing-floor in the centre, formed of thick
oak, black with age and polished by the beating of flails for many
generations, till it had grown as slippery and as rich in hue as
the state-room floors of an Elizabethan mansion.  Here the shearers
knelt, the sun slanting in upon their bleached shirts, tanned arms,
and the polished shears they flourished, causing these to bristle
with a thousand rays strong enough to blind a weak-eyed man.  Beneath
them a captive sheep lay panting, quickening its pants as misgiving
merged in terror, till it quivered like the hot landscape outside.

This picture of to-day in its frame of four hundred years ago did
not produce that marked contrast between ancient and modern which
is implied by the contrast of date.  In comparison with cities,
Weatherbury was immutable.  The citizen's THEN is the rustic's
NOW.  In London, twenty or thirty-years ago are old times; in Paris
ten years, or five; in Weatherbury three or four score years were
included in the mere present, and nothing less than a century set a
mark on its face or tone.  Five decades hardly modified the cut of a
gaiter, the embroidery of a smock-frock, by the breadth of a hair.
Ten generations failed to alter the turn of a single phrase.  In
these Wessex nooks the busy outsider's ancient times are only old;
his old times are still new; his present is futurity.

So the barn was natural to the shearers, and the shearers were in
harmony with the barn.

The spacious ends of the building, answering ecclesiastically to nave
and chancel extremities, were fenced off with hurdles, the sheep
being all collected in a crowd within these two enclosures; and in
one angle a catching-pen was formed, in which three or four sheep
were continuously kept ready for the shearers to seize without loss
of time.  In the background, mellowed by tawny shade, were the three
women, Maryann Money, and Temperance and Soberness Miller, gathering
up the fleeces and twisting ropes of wool with a wimble for tying
them round.  They were indifferently well assisted by the old
maltster, who, when the malting season from October to April had
passed, made himself useful upon any of the bordering farmsteads.

Behind all was Bathsheba, carefully watching the men to see that
there was no cutting or wounding through carelessness, and that the
animals were shorn close.  Gabriel, who flitted and hovered under her
bright eyes like a moth, did not shear continuously, half his time
being spent in attending to the others and selecting the sheep for
them.  At the present moment he was engaged in handing round a mug of
mild liquor, supplied from a barrel in the corner, and cut pieces of
bread and cheese.

Bathsheba, after throwing a glance here, a caution there, and
lecturing one of the younger operators who had allowed his last
finished sheep to go off among the flock without re-stamping it with
her initials, came again to Gabriel, as he put down the luncheon to
drag a frightened ewe to his shear-station, flinging it over upon its
back with a dexterous twist of the arm.  He lopped off the tresses
about its head, and opened up the neck and collar, his mistress
quietly looking on.

"She blushes at the insult," murmured Bathsheba, watching the pink
flush which arose and overspread the neck and shoulders of the ewe
where they were left bare by the clicking shears--a flush which was
enviable, for its delicacy, by many queens of coteries, and would
have been creditable, for its promptness, to any woman in the world.

Poor Gabriel's soul was fed with a luxury of content by having her
over him, her eyes critically regarding his skilful shears, which
apparently were going to gather up a piece of the flesh at every
close, and yet never did so.  Like Guildenstern, Oak was happy in
that he was not over happy.  He had no wish to converse with her:
that his bright lady and himself formed one group, exclusively their
own, and containing no others in the world, was enough.

So the chatter was all on her side.  There is a loquacity that tells
nothing, which was Bathsheba's; and there is a silence which says
much: that was Gabriel's.  Full of this dim and temperate bliss, he
went on to fling the ewe over upon her other side, covering her head
with his knee, gradually running the shears line after line round her
dewlap; thence about her flank and back, and finishing over the tail.

"Well done, and done quickly!" said Bathsheba, looking at her watch
as the last snip resounded.

"How long, miss?" said Gabriel, wiping his brow.

"Three-and-twenty minutes and a half since you took the first lock
from its forehead.  It is the first time that I have ever seen one
done in less than half an hour."

The clean, sleek creature arose from its fleece--how perfectly
like Aphrodite rising from the foam should have been seen to be
realized--looking startled and shy at the loss of its garment, which
lay on the floor in one soft cloud, united throughout, the portion
visible being the inner surface only, which, never before exposed,
was white as snow, and without flaw or blemish of the minutest kind.

"Cain Ball!"

"Yes, Mister Oak; here I be!"

Cainy now runs forward with the tar-pot.  "B. E." is newly stamped
upon the shorn skin, and away the simple dam leaps, panting, over the
board into the shirtless flock outside.  Then up comes Maryann;
throws the loose locks into the middle of the fleece, rolls it up,
and carries it into the background as three-and-a-half pounds of
unadulterated warmth for the winter enjoyment of persons unknown and
far away, who will, however, never experience the superlative comfort
derivable from the wool as it here exists, new and pure--before
the unctuousness of its nature whilst in a living state has dried,
stiffened, and been washed out--rendering it just now as superior
to anything WOOLLEN as cream is superior to milk-and-water.

But heartless circumstance could not leave entire Gabriel's happiness
of this morning.  The rams, old ewes, and two-shear ewes had duly
undergone their stripping, and the men were proceeding with the
shear-lings and hogs, when Oak's belief that she was going to stand
pleasantly by and time him through another performance was painfully
interrupted by Farmer Boldwood's appearance in the extremest corner
of the barn.  Nobody seemed to have perceived his entry, but there he
certainly was.  Boldwood always carried with him a social atmosphere
of his own, which everybody felt who came near him; and the talk,
which Bathsheba's presence had somewhat suppressed, was now totally
suspended.

He crossed over towards Bathsheba, who turned to greet him with a
carriage of perfect ease.  He spoke to her in low tones, and she
instinctively modulated her own to the same pitch, and her voice
ultimately even caught the inflection of his.  She was far from
having a wish to appear mysteriously connected with him; but woman at
the impressionable age gravitates to the larger body not only in her
choice of words, which is apparent every day, but even in her shades
of tone and humour, when the influence is great.

What they conversed about was not audible to Gabriel, who was too
independent to get near, though too concerned to disregard.  The
issue of their dialogue was the taking of her hand by the courteous
farmer to help her over the spreading-board into the bright June
sunlight outside.  Standing beside the sheep already shorn, they went
on talking again.  Concerning the flock?  Apparently not. Gabriel
theorized, not without truth, that in quiet discussion of any matter
within reach of the speakers' eyes, these are usually fixed upon
it.  Bathsheba demurely regarded a contemptible straw lying upon the
ground, in a way which suggested less ovine criticism than womanly
embarrassment.  She became more or less red in the cheek, the blood
wavering in uncertain flux and reflux over the sensitive space
between ebb and flood.  Gabriel sheared on, constrained and sad.

She left Boldwood's side, and he walked up and down alone for nearly
a quarter of an hour.  Then she reappeared in her new riding-habit of
myrtle green, which fitted her to the waist as a rind fits its fruit;
and young Bob Coggan led on her mare, Boldwood fetching his own horse
from the tree under which it had been tied.

Oak's eyes could not forsake them; and in endeavouring to continue
his shearing at the same time that he watched Boldwood's manner,
he snipped the sheep in the groin.  The animal plunged; Bathsheba
instantly gazed towards it, and saw the blood.

"Oh, Gabriel!" she exclaimed, with severe remonstrance, "you who are
so strict with the other men--see what you are doing yourself!"

To an outsider there was not much to complain of in this remark; but
to Oak, who knew Bathsheba to be well aware that she herself was the
cause of the poor ewe's wound, because she had wounded the ewe's
shearer in a still more vital part, it had a sting which the abiding
sense of his inferiority to both herself and Boldwood was not
calculated to heal.  But a manly resolve to recognize boldly that he
had no longer a lover's interest in her, helped him occasionally to
conceal a feeling.

"Bottle!" he shouted, in an unmoved voice of routine.  Cainy Ball ran
up, the wound was anointed, and the shearing continued.

Boldwood gently tossed Bathsheba into the saddle, and before they
turned away she again spoke out to Oak with the same dominative and
tantalizing graciousness.

"I am going now to see Mr. Boldwood's Leicesters.  Take my place in
the barn, Gabriel, and keep the men carefully to their work."

The horses' heads were put about, and they trotted away.

Boldwood's deep attachment was a matter of great interest among all
around him; but, after having been pointed out for so many years
as the perfect exemplar of thriving bachelorship, his lapse was an
anticlimax somewhat resembling that of St. John Long's death by
consumption in the midst of his proofs that it was not a fatal
disease.

"That means matrimony," said Temperance Miller, following them out of
sight with her eyes.

"I reckon that's the size o't," said Coggan, working along without
looking up.

"Well, better wed over the mixen than over the moor," said Laban
Tall, turning his sheep.

Henery Fray spoke, exhibiting miserable eyes at the same time: "I
don't see why a maid should take a husband when she's bold enough
to fight her own battles, and don't want a home; for 'tis keeping
another woman out.  But let it be, for 'tis a pity he and she should
trouble two houses."

As usual with decided characters, Bathsheba invariably provoked the
criticism of individuals like Henery Fray.  Her emblazoned fault was
to be too pronounced in her objections, and not sufficiently overt in
her likings.  We learn that it is not the rays which bodies absorb,
but those which they reject, that give them the colours they are
known by; and in the same way people are specialized by their
dislikes and antagonisms, whilst their goodwill is looked upon as no
attribute at all.

Henery continued in a more complaisant mood: "I once hinted my mind
to her on a few things, as nearly as a battered frame dared to do so
to such a froward piece.  You all know, neighbours, what a man I be,
and how I come down with my powerful words when my pride is boiling
wi' scarn?"

"We do, we do, Henery."

"So I said, 'Mistress Everdene, there's places empty, and there's
gifted men willing; but the spite'--no, not the spite--I didn't say
spite--'but the villainy of the contrarikind,' I said (meaning
womankind), 'keeps 'em out.'  That wasn't too strong for her, say?"

"Passably well put."

"Yes; and I would have said it, had death and salvation overtook me
for it.  Such is my spirit when I have a mind."

"A true man, and proud as a lucifer."

"You see the artfulness?  Why, 'twas about being baily really; but
I didn't put it so plain that she could understand my meaning, so I
could lay it on all the stronger.  That was my depth! ... However,
let her marry an she will.  Perhaps 'tis high time.  I believe Farmer
Boldwood kissed her behind the spear-bed at the sheep-washing t'other
day--that I do."

"What a lie!" said Gabriel.

"Ah, neighbour Oak--how'st know?" said, Henery, mildly.

"Because she told me all that passed," said Oak, with a pharisaical
sense that he was not as other shearers in this matter.

"Ye have a right to believe it," said Henery, with dudgeon; "a very
true right.  But I mid see a little distance into things!  To be
long-headed enough for a baily's place is a poor mere trifle--yet
a trifle more than nothing.  However, I look round upon life quite
cool.  Do you heed me, neighbours?  My words, though made as simple
as I can, mid be rather deep for some heads."

"O yes, Henery, we quite heed ye."

"A strange old piece, goodmen--whirled about from here to yonder, as
if I were nothing!  A little warped, too.  But I have my depths; ha,
and even my great depths!  I might gird at a certain shepherd, brain
to brain.  But no--O no!"

"A strange old piece, ye say!" interposed the maltster, in a
querulous voice.  "At the same time ye be no old man worth naming--no
old man at all.  Yer teeth bain't half gone yet; and what's a old
man's standing if so be his teeth bain't gone?  Weren't I stale in
wedlock afore ye were out of arms?  'Tis a poor thing to be sixty,
when there's people far past four-score--a boast weak as water."

It was the unvarying custom in Weatherbury to sink minor differences
when the maltster had to be pacified.

"Weak as water! yes," said Jan Coggan. "Malter, we feel ye to be a
wonderful veteran man, and nobody can gainsay it."

"Nobody," said Joseph Poorgrass.  "Ye be a very rare old spectacle,
malter, and we all admire ye for that gift."

"Ay, and as a young man, when my senses were in prosperity, I was
likewise liked by a good-few who knowed me," said the maltster.

"'Ithout doubt you was--'ithout doubt."

The bent and hoary man was satisfied, and so apparently was Henery
Fray.  That matters should continue pleasant Maryann spoke, who, what
with her brown complexion, and the working wrapper of rusty linsey,
had at present the mellow hue of an old sketch in oils--notably some
of Nicholas Poussin's:--

"Do anybody know of a crooked man, or a lame, or any second-hand
fellow at all that would do for poor me?" said Maryann.  "A perfect
one I don't expect to get at my time of life.  If I could hear of
such a thing twould do me more good than toast and ale."

Coggan furnished a suitable reply.  Oak went on with his shearing,
and said not another word.  Pestilent moods had come, and teased
away his quiet.  Bathsheba had shown indications of anointing him
above his fellows by installing him as the bailiff that the farm
imperatively required.  He did not covet the post relatively to the
farm: in relation to herself, as beloved by him and unmarried to
another, he had coveted it.  His readings of her seemed now to be
vapoury and indistinct.  His lecture to her was, he thought, one of
the absurdest mistakes.  Far from coquetting with Boldwood, she had
trifled with himself in thus feigning that she had trifled with
another.  He was inwardly convinced that, in accordance with the
anticipations of his easy-going and worse-educated comrades, that day
would see Boldwood the accepted husband of Miss Everdene.  Gabriel
at this time of his life had out-grown the instinctive dislike which
every Christian boy has for reading the Bible, perusing it now
quite frequently, and he inwardly said, "'I find more bitter than
death the woman whose heart is snares and nets!'" This was mere
exclamation--the froth of the storm.  He adored Bathsheba just the
same.

"We workfolk shall have some lordly junketing to-night," said Cainy
Ball, casting forth his thoughts in a new direction.  "This morning I
see 'em making the great puddens in the milking-pails--lumps of fat
as big as yer thumb, Mister Oak!  I've never seed such splendid large
knobs of fat before in the days of my life--they never used to be
bigger then a horse-bean.  And there was a great black crock upon the
brandish with his legs a-sticking out, but I don't know what was in
within."

"And there's two bushels of biffins for apple-pies," said Maryann.

"Well, I hope to do my duty by it all," said Joseph Poorgrass, in a
pleasant, masticating manner of anticipation.  "Yes; victuals and
drink is a cheerful thing, and gives nerves to the nerveless, if the
form of words may be used.  'Tis the gospel of the body, without
which we perish, so to speak it."




CHAPTER XXIII


EVENTIDE--A SECOND DECLARATION


For the shearing-supper a long table was placed on the grass-plot
beside the house, the end of the table being thrust over the sill
of the wide parlour window and a foot or two into the room.  Miss
Everdene sat inside the window, facing down the table.  She was
thus at the head without mingling with the men.

This evening Bathsheba was unusually excited, her red cheeks and lips
contrasting lustrously with the mazy skeins of her shadowy hair.  She
seemed to expect assistance, and the seat at the bottom of the table
was at her request left vacant until after they had begun the meal.
She then asked Gabriel to take the place and the duties appertaining
to that end, which he did with great readiness.

At this moment Mr. Boldwood came in at the gate, and crossed the
green to Bathsheba at the window.  He apologized for his lateness:
his arrival was evidently by arrangement.

"Gabriel," said she, "will you move again, please, and let Mr.
Boldwood come there?"

Oak moved in silence back to his original seat.

The gentleman-farmer was dressed in cheerful style, in a new coat
and white waistcoat, quite contrasting with his usual sober suits of
grey.  Inwardy, too, he was blithe, and consequently chatty to an
exceptional degree.  So also was Bathsheba now that he had come,
though the uninvited presence of Pennyways, the bailiff who had been
dismissed for theft, disturbed her equanimity for a while.

Supper being ended, Coggan began on his own private account, without
reference to listeners:--


   I've lost my love, and I care not,
   I've lost my love, and I care not;
     I shall soon have another
     That's better than t'other;
   I've lost my love, and I care not.


This lyric, when concluded, was received with a silently appreciative
gaze at the table, implying that the performance, like a work by
those established authors who are independent of notices in the
papers, was a well-known delight which required no applause.

"Now, Master Poorgrass, your song!" said Coggan.

"I be all but in liquor, and the gift is wanting in me," said Joseph,
diminishing himself.

"Nonsense; wou'st never be so ungrateful, Joseph--never!" said
Coggan, expressing hurt feelings by an inflection of voice.  "And
mistress is looking hard at ye, as much as to say, 'Sing at once,
Joseph Poorgrass.'"

"Faith, so she is; well, I must suffer it! ... Just eye my features,
and see if the tell-tale blood overheats me much, neighbours?"

"No, yer blushes be quite reasonable," said Coggan.

"I always tries to keep my colours from rising when a beauty's eyes
get fixed on me," said Joseph, differently; "but if so be 'tis willed
they do, they must."

"Now, Joseph, your song, please," said Bathsheba, from the window.

"Well, really, ma'am," he replied, in a yielding tone, "I don't know
what to say.  It would be a poor plain ballet of my own composure."

"Hear, hear!" said the supper-party.

Poorgrass, thus assured, trilled forth a flickering yet commendable
piece of sentiment, the tune of which consisted of the key-note and
another, the latter being the sound chiefly dwelt upon.  This was so
successful that he rashly plunged into a second in the same breath,
after a few false starts:--


   I sow'-ed th'-e .....
   I sow'-ed .....
   I sow'-ed th'-e seeds' of' love',
      I-it was' all' i'-in the'-e spring',
   I-in A'-pril', Ma'-ay, a'-nd sun'-ny' June',
      When sma'-all bi'-irds they' do' sing.


"Well put out of hand," said Coggan, at the end of the verse.  "'They
do sing' was a very taking paragraph."

"Ay; and there was a pretty place at 'seeds of love.' and 'twas well
heaved out.  Though 'love' is a nasty high corner when a man's voice
is getting crazed.  Next verse, Master Poorgrass."

But during this rendering young Bob Coggan exhibited one of those
anomalies which will afflict little people when other persons are
particularly serious: in trying to check his laughter, he pushed down
his throat as much of the tablecloth as he could get hold of, when,
after continuing hermetically sealed for a short time, his mirth
burst out through his nose.  Joseph perceived it, and with hectic
cheeks of indignation instantly ceased singing.  Coggan boxed Bob's
ears immediately.

"Go on, Joseph--go on, and never mind the young scamp," said Coggan.
"'Tis a very catching ballet.  Now then again--the next bar; I'll
help ye to flourish up the shrill notes where yer wind is rather
wheezy:--


   "Oh the wi'-il-lo'-ow tree' will' twist',
   And the wil'-low' tre'-ee wi'-ill twine'."


But the singer could not be set going again.  Bob Coggan was sent
home for his ill manners, and tranquility was restored by Jacob
Smallbury, who volunteered a ballad as inclusive and interminable
as that with which the worthy toper old Silenus amused on a similar
occasion the swains Chromis and Mnasylus, and other jolly dogs of
his day.

It was still the beaming time of evening, though night was stealthily
making itself visible low down upon the ground, the western lines of
light raking the earth without alighting upon it to any extent, or
illuminating the dead levels at all.  The sun had crept round the
tree as a last effort before death, and then began to sink, the
shearers' lower parts becoming steeped in embrowning twilight, whilst
their heads and shoulders were still enjoying day, touched with a
yellow of self-sustained brilliancy that seemed inherent rather than
acquired.

The sun went down in an ochreous mist; but they sat, and talked on,
and grew as merry as the gods in Homer's heaven.  Bathsheba still
remained enthroned inside the window, and occupied herself in
knitting, from which she sometimes looked up to view the fading scene
outside.  The slow twilight expanded and enveloped them completely
before the signs of moving were shown.

Gabriel suddenly missed Farmer Boldwood from his place at the bottom
of the table.  How long he had been gone Oak did not know; but he
had apparently withdrawn into the encircling dusk.  Whilst he was
thinking of this, Liddy brought candles into the back part of the
room overlooking the shearers, and their lively new flames shone down
the table and over the men, and dispersed among the green shadows
behind.  Bathsheba's form, still in its original position, was now
again distinct between their eyes and the light, which revealed that
Boldwood had gone inside the room, and was sitting near her.

Next came the question of the evening.  Would Miss Everdene sing to
them the song she always sang so charmingly--"The Banks of Allan
Water"--before they went home?

After a moment's consideration Bathsheba assented, beckoning to
Gabriel, who hastened up into the coveted atmosphere.

"Have you brought your flute?" she whispered.

"Yes, miss."

"Play to my singing, then."

She stood up in the window-opening, facing the men, the candles
behind her, Gabriel on her right hand, immediately outside the
sash-frame.  Boldwood had drawn up on her left, within the room.
Her singing was soft and rather tremulous at first, but it soon
swelled to a steady clearness.  Subsequent events caused one of the
verses to be remembered for many months, and even years, by more
than one of those who were gathered there:--


   For his bride a soldier sought her,
     And a winning tongue had he:
   On the banks of Allan Water
     None was gay as she!


In addition to the dulcet piping of Gabriel's flute, Boldwood
supplied a bass in his customary profound voice, uttering his notes
so softly, however, as to abstain entirely from making anything like
an ordinary duet of the song; they rather formed a rich unexplored
shadow, which threw her tones into relief.  The shearers reclined
against each other as at suppers in the early ages of the world, and
so silent and absorbed were they that her breathing could almost be
heard between the bars; and at the end of the ballad, when the last
tone loitered on to an inexpressible close, there arose that buzz of
pleasure which is the attar of applause.

It is scarcely necessary to state that Gabriel could not avoid noting
the farmer's bearing to-night towards their entertainer.  Yet there
was nothing exceptional in his actions beyond what appertained to
his time of performing them.  It was when the rest were all looking
away that Boldwood observed her; when they regarded her he turned
aside; when they thanked or praised he was silent; when they
were inattentive he murmured his thanks.  The meaning lay in the
difference between actions, none of which had any meaning of itself;
and the necessity of being jealous, which lovers are troubled with,
did not lead Oak to underestimate these signs.

Bathsheba then wished them good-night, withdrew from the window, and
retired to the back part of the room, Boldwood thereupon closing the
sash and the shutters, and remaining inside with her.  Oak wandered
away under the quiet and scented trees.  Recovering from the softer
impressions produced by Bathsheba's voice, the shearers rose to
leave, Coggan turning to Pennyways as he pushed back the bench to
pass out:--

"I like to give praise where praise is due, and the man deserves
it--that 'a do so," he remarked, looking at the worthy thief, as if
he were the masterpiece of some world-renowned artist.

"I'm sure I should never have believed it if we hadn't proved it, so
to allude," hiccupped Joseph Poorgrass, "that every cup, every one of
the best knives and forks, and every empty bottle be in their place
as perfect now as at the beginning, and not one stole at all."

"I'm sure I don't deserve half the praise you give me," said the
virtuous thief, grimly.

"Well, I'll say this for Pennyways," added Coggan, "that whenever he
do really make up his mind to do a noble thing in the shape of a good
action, as I could see by his face he did to-night afore sitting
down, he's generally able to carry it out.  Yes, I'm proud to say,
neighbours, that he's stole nothing at all."

"Well, 'tis an honest deed, and we thank ye for it, Pennyways," said
Joseph; to which opinion the remainder of the company subscribed
unanimously.

At this time of departure, when nothing more was visible of the
inside of the parlour than a thin and still chink of light between
the shutters, a passionate scene was in course of enactment there.

Miss Everdene and Boldwood were alone.  Her cheeks had lost a
great deal of their healthful fire from the very seriousness of
her position; but her eye was bright with the excitement of a
triumph--though it was a triumph which had rather been contemplated
than desired.

She was standing behind a low arm-chair, from which she had just
risen, and he was kneeling in it--inclining himself over its back
towards her, and holding her hand in both his own.  His body moved
restlessly, and it was with what Keats daintily calls a too happy
happiness.  This unwonted abstraction by love of all dignity from
a man of whom it had ever seemed the chief component, was, in its
distressing incongruity, a pain to her which quenched much of the
pleasure she derived from the proof that she was idolized.

"I will try to love you," she was saying, in a trembling voice quite
unlike her usual self-confidence.  "And if I can believe in any way
that I shall make you a good wife I shall indeed be willing to marry
you.  But, Mr. Boldwood, hesitation on so high a matter is honourable
in any woman, and I don't want to give a solemn promise to-night.  I
would rather ask you to wait a few weeks till I can see my situation
better.

"But you have every reason to believe that THEN--"

"I have every reason to hope that at the end of the five or six
weeks, between this time and harvest, that you say you are going to
be away from home, I shall be able to promise to be your wife," she
said, firmly.  "But remember this distinctly, I don't promise yet."

"It is enough; I don't ask more.  I can wait on those dear words.
And now, Miss Everdene, good-night!"

"Good-night," she said, graciously--almost tenderly; and Boldwood
withdrew with a serene smile.

Bathsheba knew more of him now; he had entirely bared his heart
before her, even until he had almost worn in her eyes the sorry look
of a grand bird without the feathers that make it grand.  She had
been awe-struck at her past temerity, and was struggling to make
amends without thinking whether the sin quite deserved the penalty
she was schooling herself to pay.  To have brought all this about her
ears was terrible; but after a while the situation was not without
a fearful joy.  The facility with which even the most timid women
sometimes acquire a relish for the dreadful when that is amalgamated
with a little triumph, is marvellous.




CHAPTER XXIV


THE SAME NIGHT--THE FIR PLANTATION


Among the multifarious duties which Bathsheba had voluntarily imposed
upon herself by dispensing with the services of a bailiff, was the
particular one of looking round the homestead before going to bed,
to see that all was right and safe for the night.  Gabriel had
almost constantly preceded her in this tour every evening, watching
her affairs as carefully as any specially appointed officer of
surveillance could have done; but this tender devotion was to a
great extent unknown to his mistress, and as much as was known was
somewhat thanklessly received.  Women are never tired of bewailing
man's fickleness in love, but they only seem to snub his constancy.

As watching is best done invisibly, she usually carried a dark
lantern in her hand, and every now and then turned on the light
to examine nooks and corners with the coolness of a metropolitan
policeman.  This coolness may have owed its existence not so much
to her fearlessness of expected danger as to her freedom from the
suspicion of any; her worst anticipated discovery being that a horse
might not be well bedded, the fowls not all in, or a door not closed.

This night the buildings were inspected as usual, and she went round
to the farm paddock.  Here the only sounds disturbing the stillness
were steady munchings of many mouths, and stentorian breathings from
all but invisible noses, ending in snores and puffs like the blowing
of bellows slowly.  Then the munching would recommence, when the
lively imagination might assist the eye to discern a group of
pink-white nostrils, shaped as caverns, and very clammy and humid on
their surfaces, not exactly pleasant to the touch until one got used
to them; the mouths beneath having a great partiality for closing
upon any loose end of Bathsheba's apparel which came within reach of
their tongues.  Above each of these a still keener vision suggested a
brown forehead and two staring though not unfriendly eyes, and above
all a pair of whitish crescent-shaped horns like two particularly
new moons, an occasional stolid "moo!" proclaiming beyond the shade
of a doubt that these phenomena were the features and persons of
Daisy, Whitefoot, Bonny-lass, Jolly-O, Spot, Twinkle-eye, etc.,
etc.--the respectable dairy of Devon cows belonging to Bathsheba
aforesaid.

Her way back to the house was by a path through a young plantation of
tapering firs, which had been planted some years earlier to shelter
the premises from the north wind.  By reason of the density of
the interwoven foliage overhead, it was gloomy there at cloudless
noontide, twilight in the evening, dark as midnight at dusk, and
black as the ninth plague of Egypt at midnight.  To describe the spot
is to call it a vast, low, naturally formed hall, the plumy ceiling
of which was supported by slender pillars of living wood, the floor
being covered with a soft dun carpet of dead spikelets and mildewed
cones, with a tuft of grass-blades here and there.

This bit of the path was always the crux of the night's ramble,
though, before starting, her apprehensions of danger were not vivid
enough to lead her to take a companion.  Slipping along here covertly
as Time, Bathsheba fancied she could hear footsteps entering the
track at the opposite end.  It was certainly a rustle of footsteps.
Her own instantly fell as gently as snowflakes.  She reassured
herself by a remembrance that the path was public, and that the
traveller was probably some villager returning home; regretting,
at the same time, that the meeting should be about to occur in the
darkest point of her route, even though only just outside her own
door.

The noise approached, came close, and a figure was apparently on the
point of gliding past her when something tugged at her skirt and
pinned it forcibly to the ground.  The instantaneous check nearly
threw Bathsheba off her balance.  In recovering she struck against
warm clothes and buttons.

"A rum start, upon my soul!" said a masculine voice, a foot or so
above her head.  "Have I hurt you, mate?"

"No," said Bathsheba, attempting to shrink away.

"We have got hitched together somehow, I think."

"Yes."

"Are you a woman?"

"Yes."

"A lady, I should have said."

"It doesn't matter."

"I am a man."

"Oh!"

Bathsheba softly tugged again, but to no purpose.

"Is that a dark lantern you have?  I fancy so," said the man.

"Yes."

"If you'll allow me I'll open it, and set you free."

A hand seized the lantern, the door was opened, the rays burst
out from their prison, and Bathsheba beheld her position with
astonishment.

The man to whom she was hooked was brilliant in brass and scarlet.
He was a soldier.  His sudden appearance was to darkness what the
sound of a trumpet is to silence.  Gloom, the _genius loci_ at all
times hitherto, was now totally overthrown, less by the lantern-light
than by what the lantern lighted.  The contrast of this revelation
with her anticipations of some sinister figure in sombre garb was so
great that it had upon her the effect of a fairy transformation.

It was immediately apparent that the military man's spur had become
entangled in the gimp which decorated the skirt of her dress.  He
caught a view of her face.

"I'll unfasten you in one moment, miss," he said, with new-born
gallantry.

"Oh no--I can do it, thank you," she hastily replied, and stooped for
the performance.

The unfastening was not such a trifling affair.  The rowel of the
spur had so wound itself among the gimp cords in those few moments,
that separation was likely to be a matter of time.

He too stooped, and the lantern standing on the ground betwixt them
threw the gleam from its open side among the fir-tree needles and the
blades of long damp grass with the effect of a large glowworm.  It
radiated upwards into their faces, and sent over half the plantation
gigantic shadows of both man and woman, each dusky shape becoming
distorted and mangled upon the tree-trunks till it wasted to nothing.

He looked hard into her eyes when she raised them for a moment;
Bathsheba looked down again, for his gaze was too strong to be
received point-blank with her own.  But she had obliquely noticed
that he was young and slim, and that he wore three chevrons upon his
sleeve.

Bathsheba pulled again.

"You are a prisoner, miss; it is no use blinking the matter," said
the soldier, drily.  "I must cut your dress if you are in such a
hurry."

"Yes--please do!" she exclaimed, helplessly.

"It wouldn't be necessary if you could wait a moment," and he unwound
a cord from the little wheel.  She withdrew her own hand, but,
whether by accident or design, he touched it.  Bathsheba was vexed;
she hardly knew why.

His unravelling went on, but it nevertheless seemed coming to no end.
She looked at him again.

"Thank you for the sight of such a beautiful face!" said the young
sergeant, without ceremony.

She coloured with embarrassment.  "'Twas unwillingly shown," she
replied, stiffly, and with as much dignity--which was very little--as
she could infuse into a position of captivity.

"I like you the better for that incivility, miss," he said.

"I should have liked--I wish--you had never shown yourself to me by
intruding here!" She pulled again, and the gathers of her dress began
to give way like liliputian musketry.

"I deserve the chastisement your words give me.  But why should such
a fair and dutiful girl have such an aversion to her father's sex?"

"Go on your way, please."

"What, Beauty, and drag you after me?  Do but look; I never saw such
a tangle!"

"Oh, 'tis shameful of you; you have been making it worse on purpose
to keep me here--you have!"

"Indeed, I don't think so," said the sergeant, with a merry twinkle.

"I tell you you have!" she exclaimed, in high temper.  "I insist upon
undoing it.  Now, allow me!"

"Certainly, miss; I am not of steel."  He added a sigh which had as
much archness in it as a sigh could possess without losing its nature
altogether.  "I am thankful for beauty, even when 'tis thrown to me
like a bone to a dog.  These moments will be over too soon!"

She closed her lips in a determined silence.

Bathsheba was revolving in her mind whether by a bold and desperate
rush she could free herself at the risk of leaving her skirt bodily
behind her.  The thought was too dreadful.  The dress--which she had
put on to appear stately at the supper--was the head and front of her
wardrobe; not another in her stock became her so well.  What woman
in Bathsheba's position, not naturally timid, and within call of her
retainers, would have bought escape from a dashing soldier at so dear
a price?

"All in good time; it will soon be done, I perceive," said her cool
friend.

"This trifling provokes, and--and--"

"Not too cruel!"

"--Insults me!"

"It is done in order that I may have the pleasure of apologizing to
so charming a woman, which I straightway do most humbly, madam," he
said, bowing low.

Bathsheba really knew not what to say.

"I've seen a good many women in my time," continued the young man in
a murmur, and more thoughtfully than hitherto, critically regarding
her bent head at the same time; "but I've never seen a woman so
beautiful as you.  Take it or leave it--be offended or like it--I
don't care."

"Who are you, then, who can so well afford to despise opinion?"

"No stranger.  Sergeant Troy.  I am staying in this place.--There!
it is undone at last, you see.  Your light fingers were more eager
than mine.  I wish it had been the knot of knots, which there's no
untying!"

This was worse and worse.  She started up, and so did he.  How to
decently get away from him--that was her difficulty now.  She sidled
off inch by inch, the lantern in her hand, till she could see the
redness of his coat no longer.

"Ah, Beauty; good-bye!" he said.

She made no reply, and, reaching a distance of twenty or thirty
yards, turned about, and ran indoors.

Liddy had just retired to rest.  In ascending to her own chamber,
Bathsheba opened the girl's door an inch or two, and, panting, said--

"Liddy, is any soldier staying in the village--sergeant somebody--
rather gentlemanly for a sergeant, and good looking--a red coat with
blue facings?"

"No, miss ... No, I say; but really it might be Sergeant Troy home on
furlough, though I have not seen him.  He was here once in that way
when the regiment was at Casterbridge."

"Yes; that's the name.  Had he a moustache--no whiskers or beard?"

"He had."

"What kind of a person is he?"

"Oh! miss--I blush to name it--a gay man!  But I know him to be very
quick and trim, who might have made his thousands, like a squire.
Such a clever young dandy as he is!  He's a doctor's son by name,
which is a great deal; and he's an earl's son by nature!"

"Which is a great deal more.  Fancy!  Is it true?"

"Yes.  And, he was brought up so well, and sent to Casterbridge
Grammar School for years and years.  Learnt all languages while he
was there; and it was said he got on so far that he could take down
Chinese in shorthand; but that I don't answer for, as it was only
reported.  However, he wasted his gifted lot, and listed a soldier;
but even then he rose to be a sergeant without trying at all.  Ah!
such a blessing it is to be high-born; nobility of blood will shine
out even in the ranks and files.  And is he really come home, miss?"

"I believe so.  Good-night, Liddy."

After all, how could a cheerful wearer of skirts be permanently
offended with the man?  There are occasions when girls like Bathsheba
will put up with a great deal of unconventional behaviour.  When they
want to be praised, which is often, when they want to be mastered,
which is sometimes; and when they want no nonsense, which is seldom.
Just now the first feeling was in the ascendant with Bathsheba,
with a dash of the second.  Moreover, by chance or by devilry, the
ministrant was antecedently made interesting by being a handsome
stranger who had evidently seen better days.

So she could not clearly decide whether it was her opinion that he
had insulted her or not.

"Was ever anything so odd!" she at last exclaimed to herself, in her
own room.  "And was ever anything so meanly done as what I did--to
skulk away like that from a man who was only civil and kind!" Clearly
she did not think his barefaced praise of her person an insult now.

It was a fatal omission of Boldwood's that he had never once told her
she was beautiful.




CHAPTER XXV


THE NEW ACQUAINTANCE DESCRIBED


Idiosyncrasy and vicissitude had combined to stamp Sergeant Troy as
an exceptional being.

He was a man to whom memories were an incumbrance, and anticipations
a superfluity.  Simply feeling, considering, and caring for what was
before his eyes, he was vulnerable only in the present.  His outlook
upon time was as a transient flash of the eye now and then: that
projection of consciousness into days gone by and to come, which
makes the past a synonym for the pathetic and the future a word
for circumspection, was foreign to Troy.  With him the past was
yesterday; the future, to-morrow; never, the day after.

On this account he might, in certain lights, have been regarded as
one of the most fortunate of his order.  For it may be argued with
great plausibility that reminiscence is less an endowment than a
disease, and that expectation in its only comfortable form--that of
absolute faith--is practically an impossibility; whilst in the form
of hope and the secondary compounds, patience, impatience, resolve,
curiosity, it is a constant fluctuation between pleasure and pain.

Sergeant Troy, being entirely innocent of the practice of
expectation, was never disappointed.  To set against this negative
gain there may have been some positive losses from a certain
narrowing of the higher tastes and sensations which it entailed.  But
limitation of the capacity is never recognized as a loss by the loser
therefrom: in this attribute moral or æsthetic poverty contrasts
plausibly with material, since those who suffer do not mind it,
whilst those who mind it soon cease to suffer.  It is not a denial
of anything to have been always without it, and what Troy had never
enjoyed he did not miss; but, being fully conscious that what sober
people missed he enjoyed, his capacity, though really less, seemed
greater than theirs.

He was moderately truthful towards men, but to women lied like
a Cretan--a system of ethics above all others calculated to win
popularity at the first flush of admission into lively society; and
the possibility of the favour gained being transitory had reference
only to the future.

He never passed the line which divides the spruce vices from the
ugly; and hence, though his morals had hardly been applauded,
disapproval of them had frequently been tempered with a smile.  This
treatment had led to his becoming a sort of regrater of other men's
gallantries, to his own aggrandizement as a Corinthian, rather than
to the moral profit of his hearers.

His reason and his propensities had seldom any reciprocating
influence, having separated by mutual consent long ago: thence it
sometimes happened that, while his intentions were as honourable as
could be wished, any particular deed formed a dark background which
threw them into fine relief.  The sergeant's vicious phases being the
offspring of impulse, and his virtuous phases of cool meditation, the
latter had a modest tendency to be oftener heard of than seen.

Troy was full of activity, but his activities were less of a
locomotive than a vegetative nature; and, never being based upon
any original choice of foundation or direction, they were exercised
on whatever object chance might place in their way.  Hence, whilst
he sometimes reached the brilliant in speech because that was
spontaneous, he fell below the commonplace in action, from inability
to guide incipient effort.  He had a quick comprehension and
considerable force of character; but, being without the power to
combine them, the comprehension became engaged with trivialities
whilst waiting for the will to direct it, and the force wasted itself
in useless grooves through unheeding the comprehension.

He was a fairly well-educated man for one of middle class--
exceptionally well educated for a common soldier.  He spoke fluently
and unceasingly.  He could in this way be one thing and seem another:
for instance, he could speak of love and think of dinner; call on the
husband to look at the wife; be eager to pay and intend to owe.

The wondrous power of flattery in _passados_ at woman is a perception
so universal as to be remarked upon by many people almost as
automatically as they repeat a proverb, or say that they are
Christians and the like, without thinking much of the enormous
corollaries which spring from the proposition.  Still less is it
acted upon for the good of the complemental being alluded to.
With the majority such an opinion is shelved with all those trite
aphorisms which require some catastrophe to bring their tremendous
meanings thoroughly home.  When expressed with some amount of
reflectiveness it seems co-ordinate with a belief that this flattery
must be reasonable to be effective.  It is to the credit of men that
few attempt to settle the question by experiment, and it is for
their happiness, perhaps, that accident has never settled it for
them.  Nevertheless, that a male dissembler who by deluging her with
untenable fictions charms the female wisely, may acquire powers
reaching to the extremity of perdition, is a truth taught to many by
unsought and wringing occurrences.  And some profess to have attained
to the same knowledge by experiment as aforesaid, and jauntily
continue their indulgence in such experiments with terrible effect.
Sergeant Troy was one.

He had been known to observe casually that in dealing with womankind
the only alternative to flattery was cursing and swearing.  There was
no third method.  "Treat them fairly, and you are a lost man." he
would say.

This person's public appearance in Weatherbury promptly followed his
arrival there.  A week or two after the shearing, Bathsheba, feeling
a nameless relief of spirits on account of Boldwood's absence,
approached her hayfields and looked over the hedge towards the
haymakers.  They consisted in about equal proportions of gnarled and
flexuous forms, the former being the men, the latter the women, who
wore tilt bonnets covered with nankeen, which hung in a curtain upon
their shoulders.  Coggan and Mark Clark were mowing in a less forward
meadow, Clark humming a tune to the strokes of his scythe, to
which Jan made no attempt to keep time with his.  In the first mead
they were already loading hay, the women raking it into cocks and
windrows, and the men tossing it upon the waggon.

From behind the waggon a bright scarlet spot emerged, and went on
loading unconcernedly with the rest.  It was the gallant sergeant,
who had come haymaking for pleasure; and nobody could deny that
he was doing the mistress of the farm real knight-service by this
voluntary contribution of his labour at a busy time.

As soon as she had entered the field Troy saw her, and sticking his
pitchfork into the ground and picking up his crop or cane, he came
forward.  Bathsheba blushed with half-angry embarrassment, and
adjusted her eyes as well as her feet to the direct line of her path.




CHAPTER XXVI


SCENE ON THE VERGE OF THE HAY-MEAD


"Ah, Miss Everdene!" said the sergeant, touching his diminutive cap.
"Little did I think it was you I was speaking to the other night.
And yet, if I had reflected, the 'Queen of the Corn-market' (truth is
truth at any hour of the day or night, and I heard you so named in
Casterbridge yesterday), the 'Queen of the Corn-market.' I say, could
be no other woman.  I step across now to beg your forgiveness a
thousand times for having been led by my feelings to express myself
too strongly for a stranger.  To be sure I am no stranger to the
place--I am Sergeant Troy, as I told you, and I have assisted your
uncle in these fields no end of times when I was a lad.  I have been
doing the same for you to-day."

"I suppose I must thank you for that, Sergeant Troy," said the Queen
of the Corn-market, in an indifferently grateful tone.

The sergeant looked hurt and sad.  "Indeed you must not, Miss
Everdene," he said.  "Why could you think such a thing necessary?"

"I am glad it is not."

"Why? if I may ask without offence."

"Because I don't much want to thank you for anything."

"I am afraid I have made a hole with my tongue that my heart will
never mend.  O these intolerable times: that ill-luck should follow
a man for honestly telling a woman she is beautiful!  'Twas the most
I said--you must own that; and the least I could say--that I own
myself."

"There is some talk I could do without more easily than money."

"Indeed.  That remark is a sort of digression."

"No.  It means that I would rather have your room than your company."

"And I would rather have curses from you than kisses from any other
woman; so I'll stay here."

Bathsheba was absolutely speechless.  And yet she could not help
feeling that the assistance he was rendering forbade a harsh repulse.

"Well," continued Troy, "I suppose there is a praise which is
rudeness, and that may be mine.  At the same time there is a
treatment which is injustice, and that may be yours.  Because a plain
blunt man, who has never been taught concealment, speaks out his mind
without exactly intending it, he's to be snapped off like the son of
a sinner."

"Indeed there's no such case between us," she said, turning away.  "I
don't allow strangers to be bold and impudent--even in praise of me."

"Ah--it is not the fact but the method which offends you," he said,
carelessly.  "But I have the sad satisfaction of knowing that my
words, whether pleasing or offensive, are unmistakably true.  Would
you have had me look at you, and tell my acquaintance that you are
quite a common-place woman, to save you the embarrassment of being
stared at if they come near you?  Not I.  I couldn't tell any such
ridiculous lie about a beauty to encourage a single woman in England
in too excessive a modesty."

"It is all pretence--what you are saying!" exclaimed Bathsheba,
laughing in spite of herself at the sly method.  "You have a rare
invention, Sergeant Troy.  Why couldn't you have passed by me that
night, and said nothing?--that was all I meant to reproach you for."

"Because I wasn't going to.  Half the pleasure of a feeling lies in
being able to express it on the spur of the moment, and I let out
mine.  It would have been just the same if you had been the reverse
person--ugly and old--I should have exclaimed about it in the same
way."

"How long is it since you have been so afflicted with strong feeling,
then?"

"Oh, ever since I was big enough to know loveliness from deformity."

"'Tis to be hoped your sense of the difference you speak of doesn't
stop at faces, but extends to morals as well."

"I won't speak of morals or religion--my own or anybody else's.
Though perhaps I should have been a very good Christian if you pretty
women hadn't made me an idolater."

Bathsheba moved on to hide the irrepressible dimplings of merriment.
Troy followed, whirling his crop.

"But--Miss Everdene--you do forgive me?"

"Hardly."

"Why?"

"You say such things."

"I said you were beautiful, and I'll say so still; for, by--so you
are!  The most beautiful ever I saw, or may I fall dead this instant!
Why, upon my--"

"Don't--don't!  I won't listen to you--you are so profane!" she said,
in a restless state between distress at hearing him and a _penchant_
to hear more.

"I again say you are a most fascinating woman.  There's nothing
remarkable in my saying so, is there?  I'm sure the fact is evident
enough.  Miss Everdene, my opinion may be too forcibly let out
to please you, and, for the matter of that, too insignificant to
convince you, but surely it is honest, and why can't it be excused?"

"Because it--it isn't a correct one," she femininely murmured.

"Oh, fie--fie!  Am I any worse for breaking the third of that
Terrible Ten than you for breaking the ninth?"

"Well, it doesn't seem QUITE true to me that I am fascinating," she
replied evasively.

"Not so to you: then I say with all respect that, if so, it is owing
to your modesty, Miss Everdene.  But surely you must have been told
by everybody of what everybody notices?  And you should take their
words for it."

"They don't say so exactly."

"Oh yes, they must!"

"Well, I mean to my face, as you do," she went on, allowing herself
to be further lured into a conversation that intention had rigorously
forbidden.

"But you know they think so?"

"No--that is--I certainly have heard Liddy say they do, but--"  She
paused.

Capitulation--that was the purport of the simple reply, guarded as it
was--capitulation, unknown to herself.  Never did a fragile tailless
sentence convey a more perfect meaning.  The careless sergeant smiled
within himself, and probably too the devil smiled from a loop-hole in
Tophet, for the moment was the turning-point of a career.  Her tone
and mien signified beyond mistake that the seed which was to lift the
foundation had taken root in the chink: the remainder was a mere
question of time and natural changes.

"There the truth comes out!" said the soldier, in reply.  "Never tell
me that a young lady can live in a buzz of admiration without knowing
something about it.  Ah, well, Miss Everdene, you are--pardon my
blunt way--you are rather an injury to our race than otherwise."

"How--indeed?" she said, opening her eyes.

"Oh, it is true enough.  I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb
(an old country saying, not of much account, but it will do for a
rough soldier), and so I will speak my mind, regardless of your
pleasure, and without hoping or intending to get your pardon.  Why,
Miss Everdene, it is in this manner that your good looks may do more
harm than good in the world."  The sergeant looked down the mead in
critical abstraction.  "Probably some one man on an average falls in
love with each ordinary woman.  She can marry him: he is content,
and leads a useful life.  Such women as you a hundred men always
covet--your eyes will bewitch scores on scores into an unavailing
fancy for you--you can only marry one of that many.  Out of these
say twenty will endeavour to drown the bitterness of despised love
in drink; twenty more will mope away their lives without a wish or
attempt to make a mark in he world, because they have no ambition
apart from their attachment to you; twenty more--the susceptible
person myself possibly among them--will be always draggling after
you, getting where they may just see you, doing desperate things.
Men are such constant fools!  The rest may try to get over their
passion with more or less success.  But all these men will be
saddened.  And not only those ninety-nine men, but the ninety-nine
women they might have married are saddened with them.  There's my
tale.  That's why I say that a woman so charming as yourself, Miss
Everdene, is hardly a blessing to her race."

The handsome sergeant's features were during this speech as rigid and
stern as John Knox's in addressing his gay young queen.

Seeing she made no reply, he said, "Do you read French?"

"No; I began, but when I got to the verbs, father died," she said
simply.

"I do--when I have an opportunity, which latterly has not been often
(my mother was a Parisienne)--and there's a proverb they have,
_Qui aime bien châtie bien_--'He chastens who loves well.'  Do you
understand me?"

"Ah!" she replied, and there was even a little tremulousness in the
usually cool girl's voice; "if you can only fight half as winningly
as you can talk, you are able to make a pleasure of a bayonet wound!"
And then poor Bathsheba instantly perceived her slip in making this
admission: in hastily trying to retrieve it, she went from bad to
worse.  "Don't, however, suppose that _I_ derive any pleasure from
what you tell me."

"I know you do not--I know it perfectly," said Troy, with much hearty
conviction on the exterior of his face: and altering the expression
to moodiness; "when a dozen men are ready to speak tenderly to you,
and give the admiration you deserve without adding the warning you
need, it stands to reason that my poor rough-and-ready mixture of
praise and blame cannot convey much pleasure.  Fool as I may be, I
am not so conceited as to suppose that!"

"I think you--are conceited, nevertheless," said Bathsheba, looking
askance at a reed she was fitfully pulling with one hand, having
lately grown feverish under the soldier's system of procedure--not
because the nature of his cajolery was entirely unperceived, but
because its vigour was overwhelming.

"I would not own it to anybody else--nor do I exactly to you.  Still,
there might have been some self-conceit in my foolish supposition
the other night.  I knew that what I said in admiration might be
an opinion too often forced upon you to give any pleasure, but I
certainly did think that the kindness of your nature might prevent
you judging an uncontrolled tongue harshly--which you have done--and
thinking badly of me and wounding me this morning, when I am working
hard to save your hay."

"Well, you need not think more of that: perhaps you did not mean to
be rude to me by speaking out your mind: indeed, I believe you did
not," said the shrewd woman, in painfully innocent earnest.  "And I
thank you for giving help here.  But--but mind you don't speak to me
again in that way, or in any other, unless I speak to you."

"Oh, Miss Bathsheba!  That is too hard!"

"No, it isn't.  Why is it?"

"You will never speak to me; for I shall not be here long.  I am soon
going back again to the miserable monotony of drill--and perhaps
our regiment will be ordered out soon.  And yet you take away the
one little ewe-lamb of pleasure that I have in this dull life
of mine. Well, perhaps generosity is not a woman's most marked
characteristic."

"When are you going from here?" she asked, with some interest.

"In a month."

"But how can it give you pleasure to speak to me?"

"Can you ask Miss Everdene--knowing as you do--what my offence is
based on?"

"If you do care so much for a silly trifle of that kind, then, I
don't mind doing it," she uncertainly and doubtingly answered.  "But
you can't really care for a word from me? you only say so--I think
you only say so."

"That's unjust--but I won't repeat the remark.  I am too gratified to
get such a mark of your friendship at any price to cavil at the tone.
I DO, Miss Everdene, care for it.  You may think a man foolish to
want a mere word--just a good morning.  Perhaps he is--I don't know.
But you have never been a man looking upon a woman, and that woman
yourself."

"Well."

"Then you know nothing of what such an experience is like--and Heaven
forbid that you ever should!"

"Nonsense, flatterer!  What is it like?  I am interested in knowing."

"Put shortly, it is not being able to think, hear, or look in
any direction except one without wretchedness, nor there without
torture."

"Ah, sergeant, it won't do--you are pretending!" she said, shaking
her head. "Your words are too dashing to be true."

"I am not, upon the honour of a soldier."

"But WHY is it so?--Of course I ask for mere pastime."

"Because you are so distracting--and I am so distracted."

"You look like it."

"I am indeed."

"Why, you only saw me the other night!"

"That makes no difference.  The lightning works instantaneously.  I
loved you then, at once--as I do now."

Bathsheba surveyed him curiously, from the feet upward, as high as
she liked to venture her glance, which was not quite so high as his
eyes.

"You cannot and you don't," she said demurely.  "There is no such
sudden feeling in people.  I won't listen to you any longer.  Hear
me, I wish I knew what o'clock it is--I am going--I have wasted too
much time here already!"

The sergeant looked at his watch and told her.  "What, haven't you a
watch, miss?" he inquired.

"I have not just at present--I am about to get a new one."

"No.  You shall be given one.  Yes--you shall.  A gift, Miss
Everdene--a gift."

And before she knew what the young man was intending, a heavy gold
watch was in her hand.

"It is an unusually good one for a man like me to possess," he
quietly said.  "That watch has a history.  Press the spring and open
the back."

She did so.

"What do you see?"

"A crest and a motto."

"A coronet with five points, and beneath, _Cedit amor rebus_--'Love
yields to circumstance.' It's the motto of the Earls of Severn.
That watch belonged to the last lord, and was given to my mother's
husband, a medical man, for his use till I came of age, when it was
to be given to me.  It was all the fortune that ever I inherited.
That watch has regulated imperial interests in its time--the stately
ceremonial, the courtly assignation, pompous travels, and lordly
sleeps.  Now it is yours."

"But, Sergeant Troy, I cannot take this--I cannot!" she exclaimed,
with round-eyed wonder.  "A gold watch!  What are you doing?  Don't
be such a dissembler!"

The sergeant retreated to avoid receiving back his gift, which she
held out persistently towards him.  Bathsheba followed as he retired.

"Keep it--do, Miss Everdene--keep it!" said the erratic child of
impulse.  "The fact of your possessing it makes it worth ten times
as much to me.  A more plebeian one will answer my purpose just
as well, and the pleasure of knowing whose heart my old one beats
against--well, I won't speak of that.  It is in far worthier hands
than ever it has been in before."

"But indeed I can't have it!" she said, in a perfect simmer of
distress.  "Oh, how can you do such a thing; that is if you really
mean it!  Give me your dead father's watch, and such a valuable one!
You should not be so reckless, indeed, Sergeant Troy!"

"I loved my father: good; but better, I love you more.  That's how I
can do it," said the sergeant, with an intonation of such exquisite
fidelity to nature that it was evidently not all acted now.  Her
beauty, which, whilst it had been quiescent, he had praised in jest,
had in its animated phases moved him to earnest; and though his
seriousness was less than she imagined, it was probably more than he
imagined himself.

Bathsheba was brimming with agitated bewilderment, and she said, in
half-suspicious accents of feeling, "Can it be!  Oh, how can it be,
that you care for me, and so suddenly!  You have seen so little
of me: I may not be really so--so nice-looking as I seem to you.
Please, do take it; Oh, do!  I cannot and will not have it.  Believe
me, your generosity is too great.  I have never done you a single
kindness, and why should you be so kind to me?"

A factitious reply had been again upon his lips, but it was again
suspended, and he looked at her with an arrested eye.  The truth was,
that as she now stood--excited, wild, and honest as the day--her
alluring beauty bore out so fully the epithets he had bestowed upon
it that he was quite startled at his temerity in advancing them as
false.  He said mechanically, "Ah, why?" and continued to look at
her.

"And my workfolk see me following you about the field, and are
wondering.  Oh, this is dreadful!" she went on, unconscious of the
transmutation she was effecting.

"I did not quite mean you to accept it at first, for it was my one
poor patent of nobility," he broke out, bluntly; "but, upon my soul,
I wish you would now.  Without any shamming, come!  Don't deny me the
happiness of wearing it for my sake?  But you are too lovely even to
care to be kind as others are."

"No, no; don't say so!  I have reasons for reserve which I cannot
explain."

"Let it be, then, let it be," he said, receiving back the watch at
last; "I must be leaving you now.  And will you speak to me for these
few weeks of my stay?"

"Indeed I will.  Yet, I don't know if I will!  Oh, why did you come
and disturb me so!"

"Perhaps in setting a gin, I have caught myself.  Such things have
happened.  Well, will you let me work in your fields?" he coaxed.

"Yes, I suppose so; if it is any pleasure to you."

"Miss Everdene, I thank you."

"No, no."

"Good-bye!"

The sergeant brought his hand to the cap on the slope of his head,
saluted, and returned to the distant group of haymakers.

Bathsheba could not face the haymakers now.  Her heart erratically
flitting hither and thither from perplexed excitement, hot, and
almost tearful, she retreated homeward, murmuring, "Oh, what have I
done!  What does it mean!  I wish I knew how much of it was true!"




CHAPTER XXVII


HIVING THE BEES


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
manoeuvre 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."

"What?"

"The sword-exercise."

"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."

"No!  How?"

"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.




CHAPTER XXVIII


THE HOLLOW AMID THE FERNS


The hill opposite Bathsheba's dwelling extended, a mile off, into an
uncultivated tract of land, dotted at this season with tall thickets
of brake fern, plump and diaphanous from recent rapid growth, and
radiant in hues of clear and untainted green.

At eight o'clock this midsummer evening, whilst the bristling ball
of gold in the west still swept the tips of the ferns with its long,
luxuriant rays, a soft brushing-by of garments might have been heard
among them, and Bathsheba appeared in their midst, their soft,
feathery arms caressing her up to her shoulders.  She paused, turned,
went back over the hill and half-way to her own door, whence she cast
a farewell glance upon the spot she had just left, having resolved
not to remain near the place after all.

She saw a dim spot of artificial red moving round the shoulder of the
rise.  It disappeared on the other side.

She waited one minute--two minutes--thought of Troy's disappointment
at her non-fulfilment of a promised engagement, till she again ran
along the field, clambered over the bank, and followed the original
direction.  She was now literally trembling and panting at this her
temerity in such an errant undertaking; her breath came and went
quickly, and her eyes shone with an infrequent light.  Yet go she
must.  She reached the verge of a pit in the middle of the ferns.
Troy stood in the bottom, looking up towards her.

"I heard you rustling through the fern before I saw you," he said,
coming up and giving her his hand to help her down the slope.

The pit was a saucer-shaped concave, naturally formed, with a top
diameter of about thirty feet, and shallow enough to allow the
sunshine to reach their heads.  Standing in the centre, the sky
overhead was met by a circular horizon of fern: this grew nearly to
the bottom of the slope and then abruptly ceased.  The middle within
the belt of verdure was floored with a thick flossy carpet of moss
and grass intermingled, so yielding that the foot was half-buried
within it.

"Now," said Troy, producing the sword, which, as he raised it into
the sunlight, gleamed a sort of greeting, like a living thing,
"first, we have four right and four left cuts; four right and four
left thrusts.   Infantry cuts and guards are more interesting than
ours, to my mind; but they are not so swashing.  They have seven
cuts and three thrusts.   So much as a preliminary.  Well, next, our
cut one is as if you were sowing your corn--so."  Bathsheba saw a
sort of rainbow, upside down in the air, and Troy's arm was still
again.  "Cut two, as if you were hedging--so.  Three, as if you were
reaping--so. Four, as if you were threshing--in that way.  Then the
same on the left.  The thrusts are these: one, two, three, four,
right; one, two, three, four, left."  He repeated them.  "Have 'em
again?" he said.  "One, two--"

She hurriedly interrupted: "I'd rather not; though I don't mind your
twos and fours; but your ones and threes are terrible!"

"Very well.  I'll let you off the ones and threes.  Next, cuts,
points and guards altogether."  Troy duly exhibited them.  "Then
there's pursuing practice, in this way."  He gave the movements as
before.   "There, those are the stereotyped forms.  The infantry have
two most diabolical upward cuts, which we are too humane to use.
Like this--three, four."

"How murderous and bloodthirsty!"

"They are rather deathly.  Now I'll be more interesting, and let you
see some loose play--giving all the cuts and points, infantry and
cavalry, quicker than lightning, and as promiscuously--with just
enough rule to regulate instinct and yet not to fetter it.  You are
my antagonist, with this difference from real warfare, that I shall
miss you every time by one hair's breadth, or perhaps two.  Mind you
don't flinch, whatever you do."

"I'll be sure not to!" she said invincibly.

He pointed to about a yard in front of him.

Bathsheba's adventurous spirit was beginning to find some grains of
relish in these highly novel proceedings.  She took up her position
as directed, facing Troy.

"Now just to learn whether you have pluck enough to let me do what I
wish, I'll give you a preliminary test."

He flourished the sword by way of introduction number two, and the
next thing of which she was conscious was that the point and blade of
the sword were darting with a gleam towards her left side, just above
her hip; then of their reappearance on her right side, emerging as
it were from between her ribs, having apparently passed through her
body.  The third item of consciousness was that of seeing the same
sword, perfectly clean and free from blood held vertically in Troy's
hand (in the position technically called "recover swords").  All was
as quick as electricity.

"Oh!" she cried out in affright, pressing her hand to her side. "Have
you run me through?--no, you have not!  Whatever have you done!"

"I have not touched you," said Troy, quietly.  "It was mere sleight
of hand.  The sword passed behind you.  Now you are not afraid, are
you?  Because if you are I can't perform.  I give my word that I will
not only not hurt you, but not once touch you."

"I don't think I am afraid.  You are quite sure you will not hurt
me?"

"Quite sure."

"Is the Sword very sharp?"

"O no--only stand as still as a statue.  Now!"

In an instant the atmosphere was transformed to Bathsheba's eyes.
Beams of light caught from the low sun's rays, above, around, in
front of her, well-nigh shut out earth and heaven--all emitted in
the marvellous evolutions of Troy's reflecting blade, which seemed
everywhere at once, and yet nowhere specially.  These circling gleams
were accompanied by a keen rush that was almost a whistling--also
springing from all sides of her at once.  In short, she was enclosed
in a firmament of light, and of sharp hisses, resembling a sky-full
of meteors close at hand.

Never since the broadsword became the national weapon had there been
more dexterity shown in its management than by the hands of Sergeant
Troy, and never had he been in such splendid temper for the
performance as now in the evening sunshine among the ferns with
Bathsheba.  It may safely be asserted with respect to the closeness
of his cuts, that had it been possible for the edge of the sword to
leave in the air a permanent substance wherever it flew past, the
space left untouched would have been almost a mould of Bathsheba's
figure.

Behind the luminous streams of this _aurora militaris_, she could see
the hue of Troy's sword arm, spread in a scarlet haze over the space
covered by its motions, like a twanged harpstring, and behind all
Troy himself, mostly facing her; sometimes, to show the rear cuts,
half turned away, his eye nevertheless always keenly measuring
her breadth and outline, and his lips tightly closed in sustained
effort.  Next, his movements lapsed slower, and she could see them
individually.  The hissing of the sword had ceased, and he stopped
entirely.

"That outer loose lock of hair wants tidying," he said, before she
had moved or spoken.  "Wait: I'll do it for you."

An arc of silver shone on her right side: the sword had descended.
The lock dropped to the ground.

"Bravely borne!" said Troy.  "You didn't flinch a shade's thickness.
Wonderful in a woman!"

"It was because I didn't expect it.  Oh, you have spoilt my hair!"

"Only once more."

"No--no!  I am afraid of you--indeed I am!" she cried.

"I won't touch you at all--not even your hair.  I am only going to
kill that caterpillar settling on you.  Now: still!"

It appeared that a caterpillar had come from the fern and chosen the
front of her bodice as his resting place.  She saw the point glisten
towards her bosom, and seemingly enter it.  Bathsheba closed her eyes
in the full persuasion that she was killed at last.  However, feeling
just as usual, she opened them again.

"There it is, look," said the sergeant, holding his sword before her
eyes.

The caterpillar was spitted upon its point.

"Why, it is magic!" said Bathsheba, amazed.

"Oh no--dexterity.  I merely gave point to your bosom where the
caterpillar was, and instead of running you through checked the
extension a thousandth of an inch short of your surface."

"But how could you chop off a curl of my hair with a sword that has
no edge?"

"No edge!  This sword will shave like a razor.  Look here."

He touched the palm of his hand with the blade, and then, lifting it,
showed her a thin shaving of scarf-skin dangling therefrom.

"But you said before beginning that it was blunt and couldn't cut
me!"

"That was to get you to stand still, and so make sure of your safety.
The risk of injuring you through your moving was too great not to
force me to tell you a fib to escape it."

She shuddered.  "I have been within an inch of my life, and didn't
know it!"

"More precisely speaking, you have been within half an inch of being
pared alive two hundred and ninety-five times."

"Cruel, cruel, 'tis of you!"

"You have been perfectly safe, nevertheless.  My sword never errs."
And Troy returned the weapon to the scabbard.

Bathsheba, overcome by a hundred tumultuous feelings resulting from
the scene, abstractedly sat down on a tuft of heather.

"I must leave you now," said Troy, softly.  "And I'll venture to take
and keep this in remembrance of you."

She saw him stoop to the grass, pick up the winding lock which he
had severed from her manifold tresses, twist it round his fingers,
unfasten a button in the breast of his coat, and carefully put
it inside.  She felt powerless to withstand or deny him.  He was
altogether too much for her, and Bathsheba seemed as one who, facing
a reviving wind, finds it blow so strongly that it stops the breath.
He drew near and said, "I must be leaving you."

He drew nearer still.  A minute later and she saw his scarlet form
disappear amid the ferny thicket, almost in a flash, like a brand
swiftly waved.

That minute's interval had brought the blood beating into her face,
set her stinging as if aflame to the very hollows of her feet, and
enlarged emotion to a compass which quite swamped thought.  It had
brought upon her a stroke resulting, as did that of Moses in Horeb,
in a liquid stream--here a stream of tears.  She felt like one who
has sinned a great sin.

The circumstance had been the gentle dip of Troy's mouth downwards
upon her own.  He had kissed her.




CHAPTER XXIX


PARTICULARS OF A TWILIGHT WALK


We now see the element of folly distinctly mingling with the many
varying particulars which made up the character of Bathsheba
Everdene.  It was almost foreign to her intrinsic nature.  Introduced
as lymph on the dart of Eros, it eventually permeated and coloured
her whole constitution.  Bathsheba, though she had too much
understanding to be entirely governed by her womanliness, had too
much womanliness to use her understanding to the best advantage.
Perhaps in no minor point does woman astonish her helpmate more than
in the strange power she possesses of believing cajoleries that she
knows to be false--except, indeed, in that of being utterly sceptical
on strictures that she knows to be true.

Bathsheba loved Troy in the way that only self-reliant women
love when they abandon their self-reliance.  When a strong woman
recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman
who has never had any strength to throw away.  One source of her
inadequacy is the novelty of the occasion. She has never had practice
in making the best of such a condition.  Weakness is doubly weak by
being new.

Bathsheba was not conscious of guile in this matter.  Though in one
sense a woman of the world, it was, after all, that world of daylight
coteries and green carpets wherein cattle form the passing crowd and
winds the busy hum; where a quiet family of rabbits or hares lives on
the other side of your party-wall, where your neighbour is everybody
in the tything, and where calculation is confined to market-days.
Of the fabricated tastes of good fashionable society she knew but
little, and of the formulated self-indulgence of bad, nothing at all.
Had her utmost thoughts in this direction been distinctly worded (and
by herself they never were), they would only have amounted to such a
matter as that she felt her impulses to be pleasanter guides than her
discretion.  Her love was entire as a child's, and though warm as
summer it was fresh as spring.  Her culpability lay in her making
no attempt to control feeling by subtle and careful inquiry into
consequences.  She could show others the steep and thorny way, but
"reck'd not her own rede."

And Troy's deformities lay deep down from a woman's vision, whilst
his embellishments were upon the very surface; thus contrasting with
homely Oak, whose defects were patent to the blindest, and whose
virtues were as metals in a mine.

The difference between love and respect was markedly shown in her
conduct.  Bathsheba had spoken of her interest in Boldwood with the
greatest freedom to Liddy, but she had only communed with her own
heart concerning Troy.

All this infatuation Gabriel saw, and was troubled thereby from the
time of his daily journey a-field to the time of his return, and on
to the small hours of many a night.  That he was not beloved had
hitherto been his great sorrow; that Bathsheba was getting into
the toils was now a sorrow greater than the first, and one which
nearly obscured it.  It was a result which paralleled the oft-quoted
observation of Hippocrates concerning physical pains.

That is a noble though perhaps an unpromising love which not even the
fear of breeding aversion in the bosom of the one beloved can deter
from combating his or her errors.  Oak determined to speak to his
mistress.  He would base his appeal on what he considered her unfair
treatment of Farmer Boldwood, now absent from home.

An opportunity occurred one evening when she had gone for a short
walk by a path through the neighbouring cornfields.  It was dusk when
Oak, who had not been far a-field that day, took the same path and
met her returning, quite pensively, as he thought.

The wheat was now tall, and the path was narrow; thus the way was
quite a sunken groove between the embowing thicket on either side.
Two persons could not walk abreast without damaging the crop, and
Oak stood aside to let her pass.

"Oh, is it Gabriel?" she said.  "You are taking a walk too.
Good-night."

"I thought I would come to meet you, as it is rather late," said Oak,
turning and following at her heels when she had brushed somewhat
quickly by him.

"Thank you, indeed, but I am not very fearful."

"Oh no; but there are bad characters about."

"I never meet them."

Now Oak, with marvellous ingenuity, had been going to introduce the
gallant sergeant through the channel of "bad characters."  But all at
once the scheme broke down, it suddenly occurring to him that this
was rather a clumsy way, and too barefaced to begin with.  He tried
another preamble.

"And as the man who would naturally come to meet you is away from
home, too--I mean Farmer Boldwood--why, thinks I, I'll go," he said.

"Ah, yes."  She walked on without turning her head, and for many
steps nothing further was heard from her quarter than the rustle
of her dress against the heavy corn-ears.  Then she resumed rather
tartly--

"I don't quite understand what you meant by saying that Mr. Boldwood
would naturally come to meet me."

I meant on account of the wedding which they say is likely to take
place between you and him, miss.  Forgive my speaking plainly."

"They say what is not true." she returned quickly.  "No marriage is
likely to take place between us."

Gabriel now put forth his unobscured opinion, for the moment had
come.  "Well, Miss Everdene," he said, "putting aside what people
say, I never in my life saw any courting if his is not a courting
of you."

Bathsheba would probably have terminated the conversation there and
then by flatly forbidding the subject, had not her conscious weakness
of position allured her to palter and argue in endeavours to better
it.

"Since this subject has been mentioned," she said very emphatically,
"I am glad of the opportunity of clearing up a mistake which is very
common and very provoking.  I didn't definitely promise Mr. Boldwood
anything.  I have never cared for him.  I respect him, and he has
urged me to marry him.  But I have given him no distinct answer.
As soon as he returns I shall do so; and the answer will be that I
cannot think of marrying him."

"People are full of mistakes, seemingly."

"They are."

The other day they said you were trifling with him, and you almost
proved that you were not; lately they have said that you be not, and
you straightway begin to show--"

"That I am, I suppose you mean."

"Well, I hope they speak the truth."

"They do, but wrongly applied.  I don't trifle with him; but then, I
have nothing to do with him."

Oak was unfortunately led on to speak of Boldwood's rival in a wrong
tone to her after all.  "I wish you had never met that young Sergeant
Troy, miss," he sighed.

Bathsheba's steps became faintly spasmodic.  "Why?" she asked.

"He is not good enough for 'ee."

"Did any one tell you to speak to me like this?"

"Nobody at all."

"Then it appears to me that Sergeant Troy does not concern us here,"
she said, intractably. "Yet I must say that Sergeant Troy is an
educated man, and quite worthy of any woman.  He is well born."

"His being higher in learning and birth than the ruck o' soldiers
is anything but a proof of his worth.  It show's his course to be
down'ard."

"I cannot see what this has to do with our conversation.  Mr. Troy's
course is not by any means downward; and his superiority IS a proof
of his worth!"

"I believe him to have no conscience at all.  And I cannot help
begging you, miss, to have nothing to do with him.  Listen to me this
once--only this once!  I don't say he's such a bad man as I have
fancied--I pray to God he is not.  But since we don't exactly know
what he is, why not behave as if he MIGHT be bad, simply for your own
safety?  Don't trust him, mistress; I ask you not to trust him so."

"Why, pray?"

"I like soldiers, but this one I do not like," he said, sturdily.
"His cleverness in his calling may have tempted him astray, and what
is mirth to the neighbours is ruin to the woman.  When he tries to
talk to 'ee again, why not turn away with a short 'Good day'; and
when you see him coming one way, turn the other.  When he says
anything laughable, fail to see the point and don't smile, and speak
of him before those who will report your talk as 'that fantastical
man,' or 'that Sergeant What's-his-name.' 'That man of a family
that has come to the dogs.'  Don't be unmannerly towards en, but
harmless-uncivil, and so get rid of the man."

No Christmas robin detained by a window-pane ever pulsed as did
Bathsheba now.

"I say--I say again--that it doesn't become you to talk about
him.  Why he should be mentioned passes me quite!" she exclaimed
desperately.  "I know this, th-th-that he is a thoroughly
conscientious man--blunt sometimes even to rudeness--but always
speaking his mind about you plain to your face!"

"Oh."

"He is as good as anybody in this parish!  He is very particular,
too, about going to church--yes, he is!"

"I am afeard nobody saw him there.  I never did, certainly."

"The reason of that is," she said eagerly, "that he goes in privately
by the old tower door, just when the service commences, and sits at
the back of the gallery.  He told me so."

This supreme instance of Troy's goodness fell upon Gabriel ears like
the thirteenth stroke of crazy clock.  It was not only received with
utter incredulity as regarded itself, but threw a doubt on all the
assurances that had preceded it.

Oak was grieved to find how entirely she trusted him.  He brimmed
with deep feeling as he replied in a steady voice, the steadiness of
which was spoilt by the palpableness of his great effort to keep it
so:--

"You know, mistress, that I love you, and shall love you always.
I only mention this to bring to your mind that at any rate I would
wish to do you no harm: beyond that I put it aside.  I have lost in
the race for money and good things, and I am not such a fool as to
pretend to 'ee now I am poor, and you have got altogether above me.
But Bathsheba, dear mistress, this I beg you to consider--that, both
to keep yourself well honoured among the workfolk, and in common
generosity to an honourable man who loves you as well as I, you
should be more discreet in your bearing towards this soldier."

"Don't, don't, don't!" she exclaimed, in a choking voice.

"Are ye not more to me than my own affairs, and even life!" he went
on.  "Come, listen to me!  I am six years older than you, and Mr.
Boldwood is ten years older than I, and consider--I do beg of 'ee to
consider before it is too late--how safe you would be in his hands!"

Oak's allusion to his own love for her lessened, to some extent, her
anger at his interference; but she could not really forgive him for
letting his wish to marry her be eclipsed by his wish to do her good,
any more than for his slighting treatment of Troy.

"I wish you to go elsewhere," she commanded, a paleness of face
invisible to the eye being suggested by the trembling words.  "Do not
remain on this farm any longer.  I don't want you--I beg you to go!"

"That's nonsense," said Oak, calmly.  "This is the second time you
have pretended to dismiss me; and what's the use o' it?"

"Pretended!  You shall go, sir--your lecturing I will not hear!  I am
mistress here."

"Go, indeed--what folly will you say next?  Treating me like Dick,
Tom and Harry when you know that a short time ago my position was as
good as yours!  Upon my life, Bathsheba, it is too barefaced.  You
know, too, that I can't go without putting things in such a strait as
you wouldn't get out of I can't tell when.  Unless, indeed, you'll
promise to have an understanding man as bailiff, or manager, or
something.  I'll go at once if you'll promise that."

"I shall have no bailiff; I shall continue to be my own manager," she
said decisively.

"Very well, then; you should be thankful to me for biding.  How would
the farm go on with nobody to mind it but a woman?  But mind this, I
don't wish 'ee to feel you owe me anything.  Not I.  What I do, I do.
Sometimes I say I should be as glad as a bird to leave the place--for
don't suppose I'm content to be a nobody.  I was made for better
things.  However, I don't like to see your concerns going to ruin, as
they must if you keep in this mind....  I hate taking my own measure
so plain, but, upon my life, your provoking ways make a man say
what he wouldn't dream of at other times!  I own to being rather
interfering.  But you know well enough how it is, and who she is that
I like too well, and feel too much like a fool about to be civil to
her!"

It is more than probable that she privately and unconsciously
respected him a little for this grim fidelity, which had been shown
in his tone even more than in his words.  At any rate she murmured
something to the effect that he might stay if he wished.  She said
more distinctly, "Will you leave me alone now?  I don't order it
as a mistress--I ask it as a woman, and I expect you not to be so
uncourteous as to refuse."

"Certainly I will, Miss Everdene," said Gabriel, gently.  He wondered
that the request should have come at this moment, for the strife was
over, and they were on a most desolate hill, far from every human
habitation, and the hour was getting late.  He stood still and
allowed her to get far ahead of him till he could only see her form
upon the sky.

A distressing explanation of this anxiety to be rid of him at that
point now ensued.  A figure apparently rose from the earth beside
her.  The shape beyond all doubt was Troy's.  Oak would not be even
a possible listener, and at once turned back till a good two hundred
yards were between the lovers and himself.

Gabriel went home by way of the churchyard.  In passing the tower
he thought of what she had said about the sergeant's virtuous habit
of entering the church unperceived at the beginning of service.
Believing that the little gallery door alluded to was quite disused,
he ascended the external flight of steps at the top of which
it stood, and examined it.  The pale lustre yet hanging in the
north-western heaven was sufficient to show that a sprig of ivy had
grown from the wall across the door to a length of more than a foot,
delicately tying the panel to the stone jamb.  It was a decisive
proof that the door had not been opened at least since Troy came back
to Weatherbury.




CHAPTER XXX


HOT CHEEKS AND TEARFUL EYES


Half an hour later Bathsheba entered her own house.  There burnt
upon her face when she met the light of the candles the flush and
excitement which were little less than chronic with her now.  The
farewell words of Troy, who had accompanied her to the very door,
still lingered in her ears.  He had bidden her adieu for two days,
which were, so he stated, to be spent at Bath in visiting some
friends.  He had also kissed her a second time.

It is only fair to Bathsheba to explain here a little fact which
did not come to light till a long time afterwards: that Troy's
presentation of himself so aptly at the roadside this evening was
not by any distinctly preconcerted arrangement.  He had hinted--she
had forbidden; and it was only on the chance of his still coming
that she had dismissed Oak, fearing a meeting between them just
then.

She now sank down into a chair, wild and perturbed by all these
new and fevering sequences.  Then she jumped up with a manner of
decision, and fetched her desk from a side table.

In three minutes, without pause or modification, she had written a
letter to Boldwood, at his address beyond Casterbridge, saying mildly
but firmly that she had well considered the whole subject he had
brought before her and kindly given her time to decide upon; that
her final decision was that she could not marry him.  She had
expressed to Oak an intention to wait till Boldwood came home before
communicating to him her conclusive reply.  But Bathsheba found that
she could not wait.

It was impossible to send this letter till the next day; yet to quell
her uneasiness by getting it out of her hands, and so, as it were,
setting the act in motion at once, she arose to take it to any one of
the women who might be in the kitchen.

She paused in the passage.  A dialogue was going on in the kitchen,
and Bathsheba and Troy were the subject of it.

"If he marry her, she'll gie up farming."

"'Twill be a gallant life, but may bring some trouble between the
mirth--so say I."

"Well, I wish I had half such a husband."

Bathsheba had too much sense to mind seriously what her servitors
said about her; but too much womanly redundance of speech to leave
alone what was said till it died the natural death of unminded
things.  She burst in upon them.

"Who are you speaking of?" she asked.

There was a pause before anybody replied.  At last Liddy said
frankly, "What was passing was a bit of a word about yourself, miss."

"I thought so!  Maryann and Liddy and Temperance--now I forbid you
to suppose such things.  You know I don't care the least for Mr.
Troy--not I.   Everybody knows how much I hate him.--Yes," repeated
the froward young person, "HATE him!"

"We know you do, miss," said Liddy; "and so do we all."

"I hate him too," said Maryann.

"Maryann--Oh you perjured woman!  How can you speak that wicked
story!" said Bathsheba, excitedly.  "You admired him from your heart
only this morning in the very world, you did.  Yes, Maryann, you know
it!"

"Yes, miss, but so did you.  He is a wild scamp now, and you are
right to hate him."

"He's NOT a wild scamp!  How dare you to my face!  I have no right to
hate him, nor you, nor anybody.  But I am a silly woman!  What is it
to me what he is?  You know it is nothing.  I don't care for him; I
don't mean to defend his good name, not I.  Mind this, if any of you
say a word against him you'll be dismissed instantly!"

She flung down the letter and surged back into the parlour, with a
big heart and tearful eyes, Liddy following her.

"Oh miss!" said mild Liddy, looking pitifully into Bathsheba's face.
"I am sorry we mistook you so!  I did think you cared for him; but I
see you don't now."

"Shut the door, Liddy."

Liddy closed the door, and went on: "People always say such foolery,
miss.  I'll make answer hencefor'ard, 'Of course a lady like Miss
Everdene can't love him'; I'll say it out in plain black and white."

Bathsheba burst out: "O Liddy, are you such a simpleton?  Can't you
read riddles?  Can't you see?  Are you a woman yourself?"

Liddy's clear eyes rounded with wonderment.

"Yes; you must be a blind thing, Liddy!" she said, in reckless
abandonment and grief.  "Oh, I love him to very distraction and
misery and agony!  Don't be frightened at me, though perhaps I am
enough to frighten any innocent woman.  Come closer--closer." She
put her arms round Liddy's neck.  "I must let it out to somebody; it
is wearing me away!  Don't you yet know enough of me to see through
that miserable denial of mine?  O God, what a lie it was! Heaven and
my Love forgive me.  And don't you know that a woman who loves at
all thinks nothing of perjury when it is balanced against her love?
There, go out of the room; I want to be quite alone."

Liddy went towards the door.

"Liddy, come here.  Solemnly swear to me that he's not a fast man;
that it is all lies they say about him!"

"But, miss, how can I say he is not if--"

"You graceless girl!  How can you have the cruel heart to repeat what
they say?  Unfeeling thing that you are....  But I'LL see if you or
anybody else in the village, or town either, dare do such a thing!"
She started off, pacing from fireplace to door, and back again.

"No, miss.  I don't--I know it is not true!" said Liddy, frightened
at Bathsheba's unwonted vehemence.

"I suppose you only agree with me like that to please me.  But,
Liddy, he CANNOT BE bad, as is said.  Do you hear?"

"Yes, miss, yes."

"And you don't believe he is?"

"I don't know what to say, miss," said Liddy, beginning to cry.  "If
I say No, you don't believe me; and if I say Yes, you rage at me!"

"Say you don't believe it--say you don't!"

"I don't believe him to be so bad as they make out."

"He is not bad at all....  My poor life and heart, how weak I
am!" she moaned, in a relaxed, desultory way, heedless of Liddy's
presence.  "Oh, how I wish I had never seen him!  Loving is misery
for women always.  I shall never forgive God for making me a woman,
and dearly am I beginning to pay for the honour of owning a pretty
face."  She freshened and turned to Liddy suddenly.  "Mind this,
Lydia Smallbury, if you repeat anywhere a single word of what I have
said to you inside this closed door, I'll never trust you, or love
you, or have you with me a moment longer--not a moment!"

"I don't want to repeat anything," said Liddy, with womanly dignity
of a diminutive order; "but I don't wish to stay with you.  And,
if you please, I'll go at the end of the harvest, or this week, or
to-day....  I don't see that I deserve to be put upon and stormed at
for nothing!" concluded the small woman, bigly.

"No, no, Liddy; you must stay!" said Bathsheba, dropping from
haughtiness to entreaty with capricious inconsequence.  "You must not
notice my being in a taking just now.  You are not as a servant--you
are a companion to me.  Dear, dear--I don't know what I am doing
since this miserable ache of my heart has weighted and worn upon me
so!  What shall I come to!  I suppose I shall get further and further
into troubles.  I wonder sometimes if I am doomed to die in the
Union.  I am friendless enough, God knows!"

"I won't notice anything, nor will I leave you!" sobbed Liddy,
impulsively putting up her lips to Bathsheba's, and kissing her.

Then Bathsheba kissed Liddy, and all was smooth again.

"I don't often cry, do I, Lidd? but you have made tears come into my
eyes," she said, a smile shining through the moisture.  "Try to think
him a good man, won't you, dear Liddy?"

"I will, miss, indeed."

"He is a sort of steady man in a wild way, you know.  That's better
than to be as some are, wild in a steady way.  I am afraid that's
how I am.  And promise me to keep my secret--do, Liddy!  And do not
let them know that I have been crying about him, because it will be
dreadful for me, and no good to him, poor thing!"

"Death's head himself shan't wring it from me, mistress, if I've
a mind to keep anything; and I'll always be your friend," replied
Liddy, emphatically, at the same time bringing a few more tears into
her own eyes, not from any particular necessity, but from an artistic
sense of making herself in keeping with the remainder of the picture,
which seems to influence women at such times.  "I think God likes us
to be good friends, don't you?"

"Indeed I do."

"And, dear miss, you won't harry me and storm at me, will you?
because you seem to swell so tall as a lion then, and it frightens
me!  Do you know, I fancy you would be a match for any man when you
are in one o' your takings."

"Never! do you?" said Bathsheba, slightly laughing, though somewhat
seriously alarmed by this Amazonian picture of herself.  "I hope I am
not a bold sort of maid--mannish?" she continued with some anxiety.

"Oh no, not mannish; but so almighty womanish that 'tis getting on
that way sometimes.  Ah! miss," she said, after having drawn her
breath very sadly in and sent it very sadly out, "I wish I had half
your failing that way.  'Tis a great protection to a poor maid in
these illegit'mate days!"




CHAPTER XXXI


BLAME--FURY


The next evening Bathsheba, with the idea of getting out of the way
of Mr. Boldwood in the event of his returning to answer her note
in person, proceeded to fulfil an engagement made with Liddy some
few hours earlier.  Bathsheba's companion, as a gauge of their
reconciliation, had been granted a week's holiday to visit her
sister, who was married to a thriving hurdler and cattle-crib-maker
living in a delightful labyrinth of hazel copse not far beyond
Yalbury.  The arrangement was that Miss Everdene should honour
them by coming there for a day or two to inspect some ingenious
contrivances which this man of the woods had introduced into his
wares.

Leaving her instructions with Gabriel and Maryann, that they were to
see everything carefully locked up for the night, she went out of the
house just at the close of a timely thunder-shower, which had refined
the air, and daintily bathed the coat of the land, though all beneath
was dry as ever.  Freshness was exhaled in an essence from the varied
contours of bank and hollow, as if the earth breathed maiden breath;
and the pleased birds were hymning to the scene.  Before her, among
the clouds, there was a contrast in the shape of lairs of fierce
light which showed themselves in the neighbourhood of a hidden sun,
lingering on to the farthest north-west corner of the heavens that
this midsummer season allowed.

She had walked nearly two miles of her journey, watching how the
day was retreating, and thinking how the time of deeds was quietly
melting into the time of thought, to give place in its turn to the
time of prayer and sleep, when she beheld advancing over Yalbury
hill the very man she sought so anxiously to elude.  Boldwood was
stepping on, not with that quiet tread of reserved strength which
was his customary gait, in which he always seemed to be balancing
two thoughts.  His manner was stunned and sluggish now.

Boldwood had for the first time been awakened to woman's privileges
in tergiversation even when it involves another person's possible
blight.  That Bathsheba was a firm and positive girl, far less
inconsequent than her fellows, had been the very lung of his hope;
for he had held that these qualities would lead her to adhere to a
straight course for consistency's sake, and accept him, though her
fancy might not flood him with the iridescent hues of uncritical
love.  But the argument now came back as sorry gleams from a broken
mirror.  The discovery was no less a scourge than a surprise.

He came on looking upon the ground, and did not see Bathsheba till
they were less than a stone's throw apart.  He looked up at the sound
of her pit-pat, and his changed appearance sufficiently denoted to
her the depth and strength of the feelings paralyzed by her letter.

"Oh; is it you, Mr. Boldwood?" she faltered, a guilty warmth pulsing
in her face.

Those who have the power of reproaching in silence may find it a
means more effective than words.  There are accents in the eye which
are not on the tongue, and more tales come from pale lips than can
enter an ear.  It is both the grandeur and the pain of the remoter
moods that they avoid the pathway of sound.  Boldwood's look was
unanswerable.

Seeing she turned a little aside, he said, "What, are you afraid of
me?"

"Why should you say that?" said Bathsheba.

"I fancied you looked so," said he.  "And it is most strange, because
of its contrast with my feeling for you."

She regained self-possession, fixed her eyes calmly, and waited.

"You know what that feeling is," continued Boldwood, deliberately.
"A thing strong as death.  No dismissal by a hasty letter affects
that."

"I wish you did not feel so strongly about me," she murmured.  "It is
generous of you, and more than I deserve, but I must not hear it
now."

"Hear it?  What do you think I have to say, then?  I am not to marry
you, and that's enough.  Your letter was excellently plain.  I want
you to hear nothing--not I."

Bathsheba was unable to direct her will into any definite groove for
freeing herself from this fearfully awkward position.  She confusedly
said, "Good evening," and was moving on.  Boldwood walked up to her
heavily and dully.

"Bathsheba--darling--is it final indeed?"

"Indeed it is."

"Oh, Bathsheba--have pity upon me!" Boldwood burst out. "God's sake,
yes--I am come to that low, lowest stage--to ask a woman for pity!
Still, she is you--she is you."

Bathsheba commanded herself well.  But she could hardly get a clear
voice for what came instinctively to her lips: "There is little
honour to the woman in that speech."  It was only whispered, for
something unutterably mournful no less than distressing in this
spectacle of a man showing himself to be so entirely the vane of a
passion enervated the feminine instinct for punctilios.

"I am beyond myself about this, and am mad," he said.  "I am no stoic
at all to be supplicating here; but I do supplicate to you.  I wish
you knew what is in me of devotion to you; but it is impossible,
that.  In bare human mercy to a lonely man, don't throw me off now!"

"I don't throw you off--indeed, how can I?  I never had you."  In her
noon-clear sense that she had never loved him she forgot for a moment
her thoughtless angle on that day in February.

"But there was a time when you turned to me, before I thought of you!
I don't reproach you, for even now I feel that the ignorant and cold
darkness that I should have lived in if you had not attracted me by
that letter--valentine you call it--would have been worse than my
knowledge of you, though it has brought this misery.  But, I say,
there was a time when I knew nothing of you, and cared nothing
for you, and yet you drew me on.  And if you say you gave me no
encouragement, I cannot but contradict you."

"What you call encouragement was the childish game of an idle minute.
I have bitterly repented of it--ay, bitterly, and in tears.  Can you
still go on reminding me?"

"I don't accuse you of it--I deplore it.  I took for earnest what
you insist was jest, and now this that I pray to be jest you say is
awful, wretched earnest.  Our moods meet at wrong places.  I wish
your feeling was more like mine, or my feeling more like yours!  Oh,
could I but have foreseen the torture that trifling trick was going
to lead me into, how I should have cursed you; but only having been
able to see it since, I cannot do that, for I love you too well!  But
it is weak, idle drivelling to go on like this....  Bathsheba, you
are the first woman of any shade or nature that I have ever looked at
to love, and it is the having been so near claiming you for my own
that makes this denial so hard to bear.  How nearly you promised me!
But I don't speak now to move your heart, and make you grieve because
of my pain; it is no use, that.  I must bear it; my pain would get no
less by paining you."

"But I do pity you--deeply--O, so deeply!" she earnestly said.

"Do no such thing--do no such thing.  Your dear love, Bathsheba, is
such a vast thing beside your pity, that the loss of your pity as
well as your love is no great addition to my sorrow, nor does the
gain of your pity make it sensibly less.  O sweet--how dearly you
spoke to me behind the spear-bed at the washing-pool, and in the barn
at the shearing, and that dearest last time in the evening at your
home!  Where are your pleasant words all gone--your earnest hope to
be able to love me?  Where is your firm conviction that you would get
to care for me very much?  Really forgotten?--really?"

She checked emotion, looked him quietly and clearly in the face, and
said in her low, firm voice, "Mr. Boldwood, I promised you nothing.
Would you have had me a woman of clay when you paid me that furthest,
highest compliment a man can pay a woman--telling her he loves her?
I was bound to show some feeling, if I would not be a graceless
shrew.  Yet each of those pleasures was just for the day--the day
just for the pleasure.  How was I to know that what is a pastime to
all other men was death to you?  Have reason, do, and think more
kindly of me!"

"Well, never mind arguing--never mind.  One thing is sure: you
were all but mine, and now you are not nearly mine.  Everything is
changed, and that by you alone, remember.  You were nothing to me
once, and I was contented; you are now nothing to me again, and how
different the second nothing is from the first!  Would to God you
had never taken me up, since it was only to throw me down!"

Bathsheba, in spite of her mettle, began to feel unmistakable signs
that she was inherently the weaker vessel. She strove miserably
against this femininity which would insist upon supplying unbidden
emotions in stronger and stronger current.  She had tried to elude
agitation by fixing her mind on the trees, sky, any trivial object
before her eyes, whilst his reproaches fell, but ingenuity could not
save her now.

"I did not take you up--surely I did not!" she answered as heroically
as she could.  "But don't be in this mood with me.  I can endure
being told I am in the wrong, if you will only tell it me gently!
O sir, will you not kindly forgive me, and look at it cheerfully?"

"Cheerfully!  Can a man fooled to utter heart-burning find a reason
for being merry?  If I have lost, how can I be as if I had won?
Heavens you must be heartless quite!  Had I known what a fearfully
bitter sweet this was to be, how I would have avoided you, and never
seen you, and been deaf of you.  I tell you all this, but what do you
care!  You don't care."

She returned silent and weak denials to his charges, and swayed
her head desperately, as if to thrust away the words as they came
showering about her ears from the lips of the trembling man in the
climax of life, with his bronzed Roman face and fine frame.

"Dearest, dearest, I am wavering even now between the two opposites
of recklessly renouncing you, and labouring humbly for you again.
Forget that you have said No, and let it be as it was!  Say,
Bathsheba, that you only wrote that refusal to me in fun--come, say
it to me!"

"It would be untrue, and painful to both of us.  You overrate my
capacity for love.  I don't possess half the warmth of nature you
believe me to have.  An unprotected childhood in a cold world has
beaten gentleness out of me."

He immediately said with more resentment: "That may be true,
somewhat; but ah, Miss Everdene, it won't do as a reason!  You are
not the cold woman you would have me believe.  No, no!  It isn't
because you have no feeling in you that you don't love me.  You
naturally would have me think so--you would hide from me that you
have a burning heart like mine.  You have love enough, but it is
turned into a new channel. I know where."

The swift music of her heart became hubbub now, and she throbbed
to extremity.  He was coming to Troy.  He did then know what had
occurred!  And the name fell from his lips the next moment.

"Why did Troy not leave my treasure alone?" he asked, fiercely.
"When I had no thought of injuring him, why did he force himself upon
your notice!  Before he worried you your inclination was to have me;
when next I should have come to you your answer would have been Yes.
Can you deny it--I ask, can you deny it?"

She delayed the reply, but was too honest to withhold it.  "I
cannot," she whispered.

"I know you cannot.  But he stole in in my absence and robbed me.
Why didn't he win you away before, when nobody would have been
grieved?--when nobody would have been set tale-bearing.  Now the
people sneer at me--the very hills and sky seem to laugh at me till I
blush shamefully for my folly.  I have lost my respect, my good name,
my standing--lost it, never to get it again.  Go and marry your
man--go on!"

"Oh sir--Mr. Boldwood!"

"You may as well.  I have no further claim upon you.  As for me, I
had better go somewhere alone, and hide--and pray. I loved a woman
once.  I am now ashamed.  When I am dead they'll say, Miserable
love-sick man that he was.  Heaven--heaven--if I had got jilted
secretly, and the dishonour not known, and my position kept!  But
no matter, it is gone, and the woman not gained.  Shame upon
him--shame!"

His unreasonable anger terrified her, and she glided from him,
without obviously moving, as she said, "I am only a girl--do not
speak to me so!"

"All the time you knew--how very well you knew--that your new freak
was my misery.  Dazzled by brass and scarlet--Oh, Bathsheba--this is
woman's folly indeed!"

She fired up at once.  "You are taking too much upon yourself!" she
said, vehemently.  "Everybody is upon me--everybody.  It is unmanly
to attack a woman so!  I have nobody in the world to fight my battles
for me; but no mercy is shown.  Yet if a thousand of you sneer and
say things against me, I WILL NOT be put down!"

"You'll chatter with him doubtless about me.  Say to him, 'Boldwood
would have died for me.'  Yes, and you have given way to him, knowing
him to be not the man for you.  He has kissed you--claimed you as
his.  Do you hear--he has kissed you.  Deny it!"

The most tragic woman is cowed by a tragic man, and although Boldwood
was, in vehemence and glow, nearly her own self rendered into another
sex, Bathsheba's cheek quivered.  She gasped, "Leave me, sir--leave
me!  I am nothing to you.  Let me go on!"

"Deny that he has kissed you."

"I shall not."

"Ha--then he has!" came hoarsely from the farmer.

"He has," she said, slowly, and, in spite of her fear, defiantly.  "I
am not ashamed to speak the truth."

"Then curse him; and curse him!" said Boldwood, breaking into a
whispered fury. "Whilst I would have given worlds to touch your hand,
you have let a rake come in without right or ceremony and--kiss you!
Heaven's mercy--kiss you! ...  Ah, a time of his life shall come
when he will have to repent, and think wretchedly of the pain he has
caused another man; and then may he ache, and wish, and curse, and
yearn--as I do now!"

"Don't, don't, oh, don't pray down evil upon him!" she implored in a
miserable cry.  "Anything but that--anything.  Oh, be kind to him,
sir, for I love him true!"

Boldwood's ideas had reached that point of fusion at which outline
and consistency entirely disappear.  The impending night appeared to
concentrate in his eye.  He did not hear her at all now.

"I'll punish him--by my soul, that will I!  I'll meet him, soldier or
no, and I'll horsewhip the untimely stripling for this reckless theft
of my one delight.  If he were a hundred men I'd horsewhip him--"
He dropped his voice suddenly and unnaturally.  "Bathsheba, sweet,
lost coquette, pardon me!  I've been blaming you, threatening you,
behaving like a churl to you, when he's the greatest sinner.  He
stole your dear heart away with his unfathomable lies! ...  It is a
fortunate thing for him that he's gone back to his regiment--that
he's away up the country, and not here!  I hope he may not return
here just yet.  I pray God he may not come into my sight, for I may
be tempted beyond myself.  Oh, Bathsheba, keep him away--yes, keep
him away from me!"

For a moment Boldwood stood so inertly after this that his soul
seemed to have been entirely exhaled with the breath of his
passionate words.  He turned his face away, and withdrew, and his
form was soon covered over by the twilight as his footsteps mixed
in with the low hiss of the leafy trees.

Bathsheba, who had been standing motionless as a model all this
latter time, flung her hands to her face, and wildly attempted to
ponder on the exhibition which had just passed away.  Such astounding
wells of fevered feeling in a still man like Mr. Boldwood were
incomprehensible, dreadful.  Instead of being a man trained to
repression he was--what she had seen him.

The force of the farmer's threats lay in their relation to a
circumstance known at present only to herself: her lover was coming
back to Weatherbury in the course of the very next day or two.  Troy
had not returned to his distant barracks as Boldwood and others
supposed, but had merely gone to visit some acquaintance in Bath,
and had yet a week or more remaining to his furlough.

She felt wretchedly certain that if he revisited her just at this
nick of time, and came into contact with Boldwood, a fierce quarrel
would be the consequence.  She panted with solicitude when she
thought of possible injury to Troy.  The least spark would kindle
the farmer's swift feelings of rage and jealousy; he would lose his
self-mastery as he had this evening; Troy's blitheness might become
aggressive; it might take the direction of derision, and Boldwood's
anger might then take the direction of revenge.

With almost a morbid dread of being thought a gushing girl, this
guileless woman too well concealed from the world under a manner of
carelessness the warm depths of her strong emotions.  But now there
was no reserve.  In her distraction, instead of advancing further she
walked up and down, beating the air with her fingers, pressing on her
brow, and sobbing brokenly to herself.  Then she sat down on a heap
of stones by the wayside to think.  There she remained long.  Above
the dark margin of the earth appeared foreshores and promontories of
coppery cloud, bounding a green and pellucid expanse in the western
sky.  Amaranthine glosses came over them then, and the unresting
world wheeled her round to a contrasting prospect eastward, in the
shape of indecisive and palpitating stars.  She gazed upon their
silent throes amid the shades of space, but realised none at all.
Her troubled spirit was far away with Troy.




CHAPTER XXXII


NIGHT--HORSES TRAMPING


The village of Weatherbury was quiet as the graveyard in its midst,
and the living were lying well-nigh as still as the dead.  The church
clock struck eleven.  The air was so empty of other sounds that the
whirr of the clock-work immediately before the strokes was distinct,
and so was also the click of the same at their close.  The notes flew
forth with the usual blind obtuseness of inanimate things--flapping
and rebounding among walls, undulating against the scattered clouds,
spreading through their interstices into unexplored miles of space.

Bathsheba's crannied and mouldy halls were to-night occupied only by
Maryann, Liddy being, as was stated, with her sister, whom Bathsheba
had set out to visit.  A few minutes after eleven had struck, Maryann
turned in her bed with a sense of being disturbed.  She was totally
unconscious of the nature of the interruption to her sleep.  It led
to a dream, and the dream to an awakening, with an uneasy sensation
that something had happened.  She left her bed and looked out of the
window.  The paddock abutted on this end of the building, and in the
paddock she could just discern by the uncertain gray a moving figure
approaching the horse that was feeding there.  The figure seized the
horse by the forelock, and led it to the corner of the field.  Here
she could see some object which circumstances proved to be a vehicle,
for after a few minutes spent apparently in harnessing, she heard the
trot of the horse down the road, mingled with the sound of light
wheels.

Two varieties only of humanity could have entered the paddock with
the ghostlike glide of that mysterious figure.  They were a woman and
a gipsy man.  A woman was out of the question in such an occupation
at this hour, and the comer could be no less than a thief, who might
probably have known the weakness of the household on this particular
night, and have chosen it on that account for his daring attempt.
Moreover, to raise suspicion to conviction itself, there were gipsies
in Weatherbury Bottom.

Maryann, who had been afraid to shout in the robber's presence,
having seen him depart had no fear.  She hastily slipped on her
clothes, stumped down the disjointed staircase with its hundred
creaks, ran to Coggan's, the nearest house, and raised an alarm.
Coggan called Gabriel, who now again lodged in his house as at first,
and together they went to the paddock.  Beyond all doubt the horse
was gone.

"Hark!" said Gabriel.

They listened.  Distinct upon the stagnant air came the sounds of a
trotting horse passing up Longpuddle Lane--just beyond the gipsies'
encampment in Weatherbury Bottom.

"That's our Dainty--I'll swear to her step," said Jan.

"Mighty me!  Won't mis'ess storm and call us stupids when she comes
back!" moaned Maryann.  "How I wish it had happened when she was at
home, and none of us had been answerable!"

"We must ride after," said Gabriel, decisively.  "I'll  be
responsible to Miss Everdene for what we do.  Yes, we'll follow."

"Faith, I don't see how," said Coggan.  "All our horses are too heavy
for that trick except little Poppet, and what's she between two of
us?--If we only had that pair over the hedge we might do something."

"Which pair?"

"Mr. Boldwood's Tidy and Moll."

"Then wait here till I come hither again," said Gabriel.  He ran down
the hill towards Farmer Boldwood's.

"Farmer Boldwood is not at home," said Maryann.

"All the better," said Coggan.  "I know what he's gone for."

Less than five minutes brought up Oak again, running at the same
pace, with two halters dangling from his hand.

"Where did you find 'em?" said Coggan, turning round and leaping upon
the hedge without waiting for an answer.

"Under the eaves.  I knew where they were kept," said Gabriel,
following him.  "Coggan, you can ride bare-backed? there's no time to
look for saddles."

"Like a hero!" said Jan.

"Maryann, you go to bed," Gabriel shouted to her from the top of the
hedge.

Springing down into Boldwood's pastures, each pocketed his halter to
hide it from the horses, who, seeing the men empty-handed, docilely
allowed themselves to be seized by the mane, when the halters were
dexterously slipped on.  Having neither bit nor bridle, Oak and
Coggan extemporized the former by passing the rope in each case
through the animal's mouth and looping it on the other side.  Oak
vaulted astride, and Coggan clambered up by aid of the bank, when
they ascended to the gate and galloped off in the direction taken by
Bathsheba's horse and the robber.  Whose vehicle the horse had been
harnessed to was a matter of some uncertainty.

Weatherbury Bottom was reached in three or four minutes.  They
scanned the shady green patch by the roadside.  The gipsies were
gone.

"The villains!" said Gabriel.  "Which way have they gone, I wonder?"

"Straight on, as sure as God made little apples," said Jan.

"Very well; we are better mounted, and must overtake em", said Oak.
"Now on at full speed!"

No sound of the rider in their van could now be discovered.  The
road-metal grew softer and more clayey as Weatherbury was left
behind, and the late rain had wetted its surface to a somewhat
plastic, but not muddy state.  They came to cross-roads.  Coggan
suddenly pulled up Moll and slipped off.

"What's the matter?" said Gabriel.

"We must try to track 'em, since we can't hear 'em," said Jan,
fumbling in his pockets.  He struck a light, and held the match to
the ground.  The rain had been heavier here, and all foot and horse
tracks made previous to the storm had been abraded and blurred by
the drops, and they were now so many little scoops of water, which
reflected the flame of the match like eyes.  One set of tracks was
fresh and had no water in them; one pair of ruts was also empty,
and not small canals, like the others.  The footprints forming this
recent impression were full of information as to pace; they were in
equidistant pairs, three or four feet apart, the right and left foot
of each pair being exactly opposite one another.

"Straight on!" Jan exclaimed.  "Tracks like that mean a stiff gallop.
No wonder we don't hear him.  And the horse is harnessed--look at the
ruts.  Ay, that's our mare sure enough!"

"How do you know?"

"Old Jimmy Harris only shoed her last week, and I'd swear to his make
among ten thousand."

"The rest of the gipsies must ha' gone on earlier, or some other
way," said Oak.  "You saw there were no other tracks?"

"True." They rode along silently for a long weary time. Coggan
carried an old pinchbeck repeater which he had inherited from some
genius in his family; and it now struck one.  He lighted another
match, and examined the ground again.

"'Tis a canter now," he said, throwing away the light.  "A twisty,
rickety pace for a gig.  The fact is, they over-drove her at
starting; we shall catch 'em yet."

Again they hastened on, and entered Blackmore Vale.  Coggan's watch
struck one.  When they looked again the hoof-marks were so spaced as
to form a sort of zigzag if united, like the lamps along a street.

"That's a trot, I know," said Gabriel.

"Only a trot now," said Coggan, cheerfully.  "We shall overtake him
in time."

They pushed rapidly on for yet two or three miles.  "Ah! a moment,"
said Jan.  "Let's see how she was driven up this hill.  'Twill help
us."  A light was promptly struck upon his gaiters as before, and the
examination made.

"Hurrah!" said Coggan.  "She walked up here--and well she might.  We
shall get them in two miles, for a crown."

They rode three, and listened.  No sound was to be heard save a
millpond trickling hoarsely through a hatch, and suggesting gloomy
possibilities of drowning by jumping in.  Gabriel dismounted when
they came to a turning.  The tracks were absolutely the only guide as
to the direction that they now had, and great caution was necessary
to avoid confusing them with some others which had made their
appearance lately.

"What does this mean?--though I guess," said Gabriel, looking up
at Coggan as he moved the match over the ground about the turning.
Coggan, who, no less than the panting horses, had latterly shown
signs of weariness, again scrutinized the mystic characters.  This
time only three were of the regular horseshoe shape.  Every fourth
was a dot.

He screwed up his face and emitted a long "Whew-w-w!"

"Lame," said Oak.

"Yes.  Dainty is lamed; the near-foot-afore," said Coggan slowly,
staring still at the footprints.

"We'll push on," said Gabriel, remounting his humid steed.

Although the road along its greater part had been as good as any
turnpike-road in the country, it was nominally only a byway.  The
last turning had brought them into the high road leading to Bath.
Coggan recollected himself.

"We shall have him now!" he exclaimed.

"Where?"

"Sherton Turnpike.  The keeper of that gate is the sleepiest man
between here and London--Dan Randall, that's his name--knowed en for
years, when he was at Casterbridge gate. Between the lameness and the
gate 'tis a done job."

They now advanced with extreme caution.  Nothing was said until,
against a shady background of foliage, five white bars were visible,
crossing their route a little way ahead.

"Hush--we are almost close!" said Gabriel.

"Amble on upon the grass," said Coggan.

The white bars were blotted out in the midst by a dark shape in
front of them.  The silence of this lonely time was pierced by an
exclamation from that quarter.

"Hoy-a-hoy!  Gate!"

It appeared that there had been a previous call which they had not
noticed, for on their close approach the door of the turnpike-house
opened, and the keeper came out half-dressed, with a candle in his
hand.  The rays illumined the whole group.

"Keep the gate close!" shouted Gabriel.  "He has stolen the horse!"

"Who?" said the turnpike-man.

Gabriel looked at the driver of the gig, and saw a woman--Bathsheba,
his mistress.

On hearing his voice she had turned her face away from the light.
Coggan had, however, caught sight of her in the meanwhile.

"Why, 'tis mistress--I'll take my oath!" he said, amazed.

Bathsheba it certainly was, and she had by this time done the trick
she could do so well in crises not of love, namely, mask a surprise
by coolness of manner.

"Well, Gabriel," she inquired quietly, "where are you going?"

"We thought--" began Gabriel.

"I am driving to Bath," she said, taking for her own use the
assurance that Gabriel lacked.  "An important matter made it
necessary for me to give up my visit to Liddy, and go off at once.
What, then, were you following me?"

"We thought the horse was stole."

"Well--what a thing!  How very foolish of you not to know that I had
taken the trap and horse.  I could neither wake Maryann nor get into
the house, though I hammered for ten minutes against her window-sill.
Fortunately, I could get the key of the coach-house, so I troubled no
one further. Didn't you think it might be me?"

"Why should we, miss?"

"Perhaps not.  Why, those are never Farmer Boldwood's horses!
Goodness mercy! what have you been doing--bringing trouble upon me in
this way?  What! mustn't a lady move an inch from her door without
being dogged like a thief?"

"But how was we to know, if you left no account of your doings?"
expostulated Coggan, "and ladies don't drive at these hours, miss,
as a jineral rule of society."

"I did leave an account--and you would have seen it in the morning.
I wrote in chalk on the coach-house doors that I had come back for
the horse and gig, and driven off; that I could arouse nobody, and
should return soon."

"But you'll consider, ma'am, that we couldn't see that till it got
daylight."

"True," she said, and though vexed at first she had too much sense
to blame them long or seriously for a devotion to her that was as
valuable as it was rare.  She added with a very pretty grace, "Well,
I really thank you heartily for taking all this trouble; but I wish
you had borrowed anybody's horses but Mr. Boldwood's."

"Dainty is lame, miss," said Coggan.  "Can ye go on?"

"It was only a stone in her shoe.  I got down and pulled it out a
hundred yards back.  I can manage very well, thank you.  I shall be
in Bath by daylight.  Will you now return, please?"

She turned her head--the gateman's candle shimmering upon her quick,
clear eyes as she did so--passed through the gate, and was soon
wrapped in the embowering shades of mysterious summer boughs.  Coggan
and Gabriel put about their horses, and, fanned by the velvety air of
this July night, retraced the road by which they had come.

"A strange vagary, this of hers, isn't it, Oak?" said Coggan,
curiously.

"Yes," said Gabriel, shortly.

"She won't be in Bath by no daylight!"

"Coggan, suppose we keep this night's work as quiet as we can?"

"I am of one and the same mind."

"Very well.  We shall be home by three o'clock or so, and can creep
into the parish like lambs."


Bathsheba's perturbed meditations by the roadside had ultimately
evolved a conclusion that there were only two remedies for the
present desperate state of affairs.  The first was merely to
keep Troy away from Weatherbury till Boldwood's indignation had
cooled; the second to listen to Oak's entreaties, and Boldwood's
denunciations, and give up Troy altogether.

Alas!  Could she give up this new love--induce him to renounce her
by saying she did not like him--could no more speak to him, and beg
him, for her good, to end his furlough in Bath, and see her and
Weatherbury no more?

It was a picture full of misery, but for a while she contemplated it
firmly, allowing herself, nevertheless, as girls will, to dwell upon
the happy life she would have enjoyed had Troy been Boldwood, and the
path of love the path of duty--inflicting upon herself gratuitous
tortures by imagining him the lover of another woman after forgetting
her; for she had penetrated Troy's nature so far as to estimate his
tendencies pretty accurately, but unfortunately loved him no less in
thinking that he might soon cease to love her--indeed, considerably
more.

She jumped to her feet.  She would see him at once.  Yes, she would
implore him by word of mouth to assist her in this dilemma.  A letter
to keep him away could not reach him in time, even if he should be
disposed to listen to it.

Was Bathsheba altogether blind to the obvious fact that the support
of a lover's arms is not of a kind best calculated to assist a
resolve to renounce him?  Or was she sophistically sensible, with a
thrill of pleasure, that by adopting this course for getting rid of
him she was ensuring a meeting with him, at any rate, once more?

It was now dark, and the hour must have been nearly ten.  The only
way to accomplish her purpose was to give up her idea of visiting
Liddy at Yalbury, return to Weatherbury Farm, put the horse into
the gig, and drive at once to Bath.  The scheme seemed at first
impossible: the journey was a fearfully heavy one, even for a strong
horse, at her own estimate; and she much underrated the distance.
It was most venturesome for a woman, at night, and alone.

But could she go on to Liddy's and leave things to take their course?
No, no; anything but that.  Bathsheba was full of a stimulating
turbulence, beside which caution vainly prayed for a hearing.  She
turned back towards the village.

Her walk was slow, for she wished not to enter Weatherbury till the
cottagers were in bed, and, particularly, till Boldwood was secure.
Her plan was now to drive to Bath during the night, see Sergeant Troy
in the morning before he set out to come to her, bid him farewell,
and dismiss him: then to rest the horse thoroughly (herself to weep
the while, she thought), starting early the next morning on her
return journey.  By this arrangement she could trot Dainty gently
all the day, reach Liddy at Yalbury in the evening, and come home to
Weatherbury with her whenever they chose--so nobody would know she
had been to Bath at all.  Such was Bathsheba's scheme.  But in her
topographical ignorance as a late comer to the place, she misreckoned
the distance of her journey as not much more than half what it really
was.

This idea she proceeded to carry out, with what initial success we
have already seen.




CHAPTER XXXIII


IN THE SUN--A HARBINGER


A week passed, and there were no tidings of Bathsheba; nor was there
any explanation of her Gilpin's rig.

Then a note came for Maryann, stating that the business which had
called her mistress to Bath still detained her there; but that she
hoped to return in the course of another week.

Another week passed.  The oat-harvest began, and all the men were
a-field under a monochromatic Lammas sky, amid the trembling air
and short shadows of noon.  Indoors nothing was to be heard save
the droning of blue-bottle flies; out-of-doors the whetting of
scythes and the hiss of tressy oat-ears rubbing together as their
perpendicular stalks of amber-yellow fell heavily to each swath.
Every drop of moisture not in the men's bottles and flagons in the
form of cider was raining as perspiration from their foreheads and
cheeks.  Drought was everywhere else.

They were about to withdraw for a while into the charitable shade
of a tree in the fence, when Coggan saw a figure in a blue coat and
brass buttons running to them across the field.

"I wonder who that is?" he said.

"I hope nothing is wrong about mistress," said Maryann, who with some
other women was tying the bundles (oats being always sheafed on this
farm), "but an unlucky token came to me indoors this morning.  I
went to unlock the door and dropped the key, and it fell upon the
stone floor and broke into two pieces.  Breaking a key is a dreadful
bodement.  I wish mis'ess was home."

"'Tis Cain Ball," said Gabriel, pausing from whetting his reaphook.

Oak was not bound by his agreement to assist in the corn-field; but
the harvest month is an anxious time for a farmer, and the corn was
Bathsheba's, so he lent a hand.

"He's dressed up in his best clothes," said Matthew Moon.  "He hev
been away from home for a few days, since he's had that felon upon
his finger; for 'a said, since I can't work I'll have a hollerday."

"A good time for one--a' excellent time," said Joseph Poorgrass,
straightening his back; for he, like some of the others, had a way
of resting a while from his labour on such hot days for reasons
preternaturally small; of which Cain Ball's advent on a week-day in
his Sunday-clothes was one of the first magnitude.  "Twas a bad leg
allowed me to read the _Pilgrim's Progress_, and Mark Clark learnt
All-Fours in a whitlow."

"Ay, and my father put his arm out of joint to have time to go
courting," said Jan Coggan, in an eclipsing tone, wiping his face
with his shirt-sleeve and thrusting back his hat upon the nape of
his neck.

By this time Cainy was nearing the group of harvesters, and was
perceived to be carrying a large slice of bread and ham in one hand,
from which he took mouthfuls as he ran, the other being wrapped in a
bandage.  When he came close, his mouth assumed the bell shape, and
he began to cough violently.

"Now, Cainy!" said Gabriel, sternly.  "How many more times must I
tell you to keep from running so fast when you be eating?  You'll
choke yourself some day, that's what you'll do, Cain Ball."

"Hok-hok-hok!" replied Cain.  "A crumb of my victuals went the
wrong way--hok-hok!  That's what 'tis, Mister Oak!  And I've been
visiting to Bath because I had a felon on my thumb; yes, and I've
seen--ahok-hok!"

Directly Cain mentioned Bath, they all threw down their hooks and
forks and drew round him.  Unfortunately the erratic crumb did not
improve his narrative powers, and a supplementary hindrance was that
of a sneeze, jerking from his pocket his rather large watch, which
dangled in front of the young man pendulum-wise.

"Yes," he continued, directing his thoughts to Bath and letting his
eyes follow, "I've seed the world at last--yes--and I've seed our
mis'ess--ahok-hok-hok!"

"Bother the boy!" said Gabriel. "Something is always going the wrong
way down your throat, so that you can't tell what's necessary to be
told."

"Ahok! there!  Please, Mister Oak, a gnat have just fleed into my
stomach and brought the cough on again!"

"Yes, that's just it.  Your mouth is always open, you young rascal!"

"'Tis terrible bad to have a gnat fly down yer throat, pore boy!"
said Matthew Moon.

"Well, at Bath you saw--" prompted Gabriel.

"I saw our mistress," continued the junior shepherd, "and a sojer,
walking along.  And bymeby they got closer and closer, and then they
went arm-in-crook, like courting complete--hok-hok! like courting
complete--hok!--courting complete--"  Losing the thread of his
narrative at this point simultaneously with his loss of breath, their
informant looked up and down the field apparently for some clue to
it.  "Well, I see our mis'ess and a soldier--a-ha-a-wk!"

"Damn the boy!" said Gabriel.

"'Tis only my manner, Mister Oak, if ye'll excuse it," said Cain
Ball, looking reproachfully at Oak, with eyes drenched in their own
dew.

"Here's some cider for him--that'll cure his throat," said Jan
Coggan, lifting a flagon of cider, pulling out the cork, and applying
the hole to Cainy's mouth; Joseph Poorgrass in the meantime beginning
to think apprehensively of the serious consequences that would follow
Cainy Ball's strangulation in his cough, and the history of his Bath
adventures dying with him.

"For my poor self, I always say 'please God' afore I do anything,"
said Joseph, in an unboastful voice; "and so should you, Cain Ball.
'Tis a great safeguard, and might perhaps save you from being choked
to death some day."

Mr. Coggan poured the liquor with unstinted liberality at the
suffering Cain's circular mouth; half of it running down the side of
the flagon, and half of what reached his mouth running down outside
his throat, and half of what ran in going the wrong way, and being
coughed and sneezed around the persons of the gathered reapers in the
form of a cider fog, which for a moment hung in the sunny air like a
small exhalation.

"There's a great clumsy sneeze!  Why can't ye have better manners,
you young dog!" said Coggan, withdrawing the flagon.

"The cider went up my nose!" cried Cainy, as soon as he could speak;
"and now 'tis gone down my neck, and into my poor dumb felon, and
over my shiny buttons and all my best cloze!"

"The poor lad's cough is terrible unfortunate," said Matthew Moon.
"And a great history on hand, too.  Bump his back, shepherd."

"'Tis my nater," mourned Cain.  "Mother says I always was so
excitable when my feelings were worked up to a point!"

"True, true," said Joseph Poorgrass.  "The Balls were always a very
excitable family.  I knowed the boy's grandfather--a truly nervous
and modest man, even to genteel refinery. 'Twas blush, blush with
him, almost as much as 'tis with me--not but that 'tis a fault in
me!"

"Not at all, Master Poorgrass," said Coggan.  "'Tis a very noble
quality in ye."

"Heh-heh! well, I wish to noise nothing abroad--nothing at all,"
murmured Poorgrass, diffidently.  "But we be born to things--that's
true.  Yet I would rather my trifle were hid; though, perhaps, a high
nater is a little high, and at my birth all things were possible to
my Maker, and he may have begrudged no gifts....  But under your
bushel, Joseph! under your bushel with 'ee!  A strange desire,
neighbours, this desire to hide, and no praise due.  Yet there is a
Sermon on the Mount with a calendar of the blessed at the head, and
certain meek men may be named therein."

"Cainy's grandfather was a very clever man," said Matthew Moon.
"Invented a' apple-tree out of his own head, which is called by his
name to this day--the Early Ball.  You know 'em, Jan?  A Quarrenden
grafted on a Tom Putt, and a Rathe-ripe upon top o' that again.  'Tis
trew 'a used to bide about in a public-house wi' a 'ooman in a way he
had no business to by rights, but there--'a were a clever man in the
sense of the term."

"Now then," said Gabriel, impatiently, "what did you see, Cain?"

"I seed our mis'ess go into a sort of a park place, where there's
seats, and shrubs and flowers, arm-in-crook with a sojer," continued
Cainy, firmly, and with a dim sense that his words were very
effective as regarded Gabriel's emotions.  "And I think the sojer
was Sergeant Troy.  And they sat there together for more than
half-an-hour, talking moving things, and she once was crying a'most
to death. And when they came out her eyes were shining and she was
as white as a lily; and they looked into one another's faces, as
far-gone friendly as a man and woman can be."

Gabriel's features seemed to get thinner.  "Well, what did you see
besides?"

"Oh, all sorts."

"White as a lily?  You are sure 'twas she?"

"Yes."

"Well, what besides?"

"Great glass windows to the shops, and great clouds in the sky, full
of rain, and old wooden trees in the country round."

"You stun-poll!  What will ye say next?" said Coggan.

"Let en alone," interposed Joseph Poorgrass.  "The boy's meaning is
that the sky and the earth in the kingdom of Bath is not altogether
different from ours here.  'Tis for our good to gain knowledge of
strange cities, and as such the boy's words should be suffered, so
to speak it."

"And the people of Bath," continued Cain, "never need to light their
fires except as a luxury, for the water springs up out of the earth
ready boiled for use."

"'Tis true as the light," testified Matthew Moon. "I've heard other
navigators say the same thing."

"They drink nothing else there," said Cain, "and seem to enjoy it, to
see how they swaller it down."

"Well, it seems a barbarian practice enough to us, but I daresay the
natives think nothing o' it," said Matthew.

"And don't victuals spring up as well as drink?" asked Coggan,
twirling his eye.

"No--I own to a blot there in Bath--a true blot.  God didn't provide
'em with victuals as well as drink, and 'twas a drawback I couldn't
get over at all."

"Well, 'tis a curious place, to say the least," observed Moon; "and
it must be a curious people that live therein."

"Miss Everdene and the soldier were walking about together, you say?"
said Gabriel, returning to the group.

"Ay, and she wore a beautiful gold-colour silk gown, trimmed with
black lace, that would have stood alone 'ithout legs inside if
required.  'Twas a very winsome sight; and her hair was brushed
splendid.  And when the sun shone upon the bright gown and his red
coat--my! how handsome they looked.  You could see 'em all the
length of the street."

"And what then?" murmured Gabriel.

"And then I went into Griffin's to hae my boots hobbed, and then I
went to Riggs's batty-cake shop, and asked 'em for a penneth of the
cheapest and nicest stales, that were all but blue-mouldy, but not
quite.  And whilst I was chawing 'em down I walked on and seed a
clock with a face as big as a baking trendle--"

"But that's nothing to do with mistress!"

"I'm coming to that, if you'll leave me alone, Mister Oak!"
remonstrated Cainy.  "If you excites me, perhaps you'll bring on my
cough, and then I shan't be able to tell ye nothing."

"Yes--let him tell it his own way," said Coggan.

Gabriel settled into a despairing attitude of patience, and Cainy
went on:--

"And there were great large houses, and more people all the week long
than at Weatherbury club-walking on White Tuesdays.  And I went to
grand churches and chapels.  And how the parson would pray!  Yes; he
would kneel down and put up his hands together, and make the holy
gold rings on his fingers gleam and twinkle in yer eyes, that he'd
earned by praying so excellent well!--Ah yes, I wish I lived there."

"Our poor Parson Thirdly can't get no money to buy such rings," said
Matthew Moon, thoughtfully.  "And as good a man as ever walked.  I
don't believe poor Thirdly have a single one, even of humblest tin
or copper.  Such a great ornament as they'd be to him on a dull
afternoon, when he's up in the pulpit lighted by the wax candles!
But 'tis impossible, poor man.  Ah, to think how unequal things be."

"Perhaps he's made of different stuff than to wear 'em," said
Gabriel, grimly. "Well, that's enough of this.  Go on, Cainy--quick."

"Oh--and the new style of parsons wear moustaches and long beards,"
continued the illustrious traveller, "and look like Moses and Aaron
complete, and make we fokes in the congregation feel all over like
the children of Israel."

"A very right feeling--very," said Joseph Poorgrass.

"And there's two religions going on in the nation now--High Church
and High Chapel.  And, thinks I, I'll play fair; so I went to High
Church in the morning, and High Chapel in the afternoon."

"A right and proper boy," said Joseph Poorgrass.

"Well, at High Church they pray singing, and worship all the colours
of the rainbow; and at High Chapel they pray preaching, and worship
drab and whitewash only.  And then--I didn't see no more of Miss
Everdene at all."

"Why didn't you say so afore, then?" exclaimed Oak, with much
disappointment.

"Ah," said Matthew Moon, "she'll wish her cake dough if so be she's
over intimate with that man."

"She's not over intimate with him," said Gabriel, indignantly.

"She would know better," said Coggan.  "Our mis'ess has too much
sense under they knots of black hair to do such a mad thing."

"You see, he's not a coarse, ignorant man, for he was well brought
up," said Matthew, dubiously.  "'Twas only wildness that made him a
soldier, and maids rather like your man of sin."

"Now, Cain Ball," said Gabriel restlessly, "can you swear in the most
awful form that the woman you saw was Miss Everdene?"

"Cain Ball, you be no longer a babe and suckling," said Joseph in the
sepulchral tone the circumstances demanded, "and you know what taking
an oath is.  'Tis a horrible testament mind ye, which you say and
seal with your blood-stone, and the prophet Matthew tells us that on
whomsoever it shall fall it will grind him to powder.  Now, before
all the work-folk here assembled, can you swear to your words as the
shepherd asks ye?"

"Please no, Mister Oak!" said Cainy, looking from one to the other
with great uneasiness at the spiritual magnitude of the position.  "I
don't mind saying 'tis true, but I don't like to say 'tis damn true,
if that's what you mane."

"Cain, Cain, how can you!" asked Joseph sternly.  "You be asked to
swear in a holy manner, and you swear like wicked Shimei, the son of
Gera, who cursed as he came.  Young man, fie!"

"No, I don't!  'Tis you want to squander a pore boy's soul, Joseph
Poorgrass--that's what 'tis!" said Cain, beginning to cry.  "All I
mane is that in common truth 'twas Miss Everdene and Sergeant Troy,
but in the horrible so-help-me truth that ye want to make of it
perhaps 'twas somebody else!"

"There's no getting at the rights of it," said Gabriel, turning to
his work.

"Cain Ball, you'll come to a bit of bread!" groaned Joseph Poorgrass.

Then the reapers' hooks were flourished again, and the old sounds
went on.  Gabriel, without making any pretence of being lively, did
nothing to show that he was particularly dull.  However, Coggan knew
pretty nearly how the land lay, and when they were in a nook together
he said--

"Don't take on about her, Gabriel.  What difference does it make
whose sweetheart she is, since she can't be yours?"

"That's the very thing I say to myself," said Gabriel.




CHAPTER XXXIV


HOME AGAIN--A TRICKSTER


That same evening at dusk Gabriel was leaning over Coggan's
garden-gate, taking an up-and-down survey before retiring to rest.

A vehicle of some kind was softly creeping along the grassy margin of
the lane.  From it spread the tones of two women talking.  The tones
were natural and not at all suppressed. Oak instantly knew the voices
to be those of Bathsheba and Liddy.

The carriage came opposite and passed by.  It was Miss Everdene's
gig, and Liddy and her mistress were the only occupants of the seat.
Liddy was asking questions about the city of Bath, and her companion
was answering them listlessly and unconcernedly.  Both Bathsheba and
the horse seemed weary.

The exquisite relief of finding that she was here again, safe and
sound, overpowered all reflection, and Oak could only luxuriate in
the sense of it.  All grave reports were forgotten.

He lingered and lingered on, till there was no difference between the
eastern and western expanses of sky, and the timid hares began to
limp courageously round the dim hillocks.  Gabriel might have been
there an additional half-hour when a dark form walked slowly by.
"Good-night, Gabriel," the passer said.

It was Boldwood.  "Good-night, sir," said Gabriel.

Boldwood likewise vanished up the road, and Oak shortly afterwards
turned indoors to bed.

Farmer Boldwood went on towards Miss Everdene's house.  He reached
the front, and approaching the entrance, saw a light in the parlour.
The blind was not drawn down, and inside the room was Bathsheba,
looking over some papers or letters.  Her back was towards Boldwood.
He went to the door, knocked, and waited with tense muscles and an
aching brow.

Boldwood had not been outside his garden since his meeting with
Bathsheba in the road to Yalbury.  Silent and alone, he had remained
in moody meditation on woman's ways, deeming as essentials of the
whole sex the accidents of the single one of their number he had ever
closely beheld.  By degrees a more charitable temper had pervaded
him, and this was the reason of his sally to-night.  He had come to
apologize and beg forgiveness of Bathsheba with something like a
sense of shame at his violence, having but just now learnt that she
had returned--only from a visit to Liddy, as he supposed, the Bath
escapade being quite unknown to him.

He inquired for Miss Everdene.  Liddy's manner was odd, but he did
not notice it.  She went in, leaving him standing there, and in her
absence the blind of the room containing Bathsheba was pulled down.
Boldwood augured ill from that sign.  Liddy came out.

"My mistress cannot see you, sir," she said.

The farmer instantly went out by the gate.  He was unforgiven--that
was the issue of it all.  He had seen her who was to him
simultaneously a delight and a torture, sitting in the room he had
shared with her as a peculiarly privileged guest only a little
earlier in the summer, and she had denied him an entrance there now.

Boldwood did not hurry homeward.  It was ten o'clock at least, when,
walking deliberately through the lower part of Weatherbury, he heard
the carrier's spring van entering the village.  The van ran to and
from a town in a northern direction, and it was owned and driven by
a Weatherbury man, at the door of whose house it now pulled up.  The
lamp fixed to the head of the hood illuminated a scarlet and gilded
form, who was the first to alight.

"Ah!" said Boldwood to himself, "come to see her again."

Troy entered the carrier's house, which had been the place of his
lodging on his last visit to his native place.  Boldwood was moved
by a sudden determination.  He hastened home.  In ten minutes he was
back again, and made as if he were going to call upon Troy at the
carrier's.  But as he approached, some one opened the door and came
out.  He heard this person say "Good-night" to the inmates, and the
voice was Troy's.  This was strange, coming so immediately after
his arrival.  Boldwood, however, hastened up to him.  Troy had what
appeared to be a carpet-bag in his hand--the same that he had brought
with him.  It seemed as if he were going to leave again this very
night.

Troy turned up the hill and quickened his pace.  Boldwood stepped
forward.

"Sergeant Troy?"

"Yes--I'm Sergeant Troy."

"Just arrived from up the country, I think?"

"Just arrived from Bath."

"I am William Boldwood."

"Indeed."

The tone in which this word was uttered was all that had been wanted
to bring Boldwood to the point.

"I wish to speak a word with you," he said.

"What about?"

"About her who lives just ahead there--and about a woman you have
wronged."

"I wonder at your impertinence," said Troy, moving on.

"Now look here," said Boldwood, standing in front of him, "wonder or
not, you are going to hold a conversation with me."

Troy heard the dull determination in Boldwood's voice, looked at his
stalwart frame, then at the thick cudgel he carried in his hand.  He
remembered it was past ten o'clock. It seemed worth while to be civil
to Boldwood.

"Very well, I'll listen with pleasure," said Troy, placing his bag on
the ground, "only speak low, for somebody or other may overhear us in
the farmhouse there."

"Well then--I know a good deal concerning your Fanny Robin's
attachment to you.  I may say, too, that I believe I am the only
person in the village, excepting Gabriel Oak, who does know it.  You
ought to marry her."

"I suppose I ought.  Indeed, I wish to, but I cannot."

"Why?"

Troy was about to utter something hastily; he then checked himself
and said, "I am too poor."  His voice was changed.  Previously it had
had a devil-may-care tone.  It was the voice of a trickster now.

Boldwood's present mood was not critical enough to notice tones.  He
continued, "I may as well speak plainly; and understand, I don't
wish to enter into the questions of right or wrong, woman's honour
and shame, or to express any opinion on your conduct.  I intend a
business transaction with you."

"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."

"Hang might!"

"Would, then."

"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?"

"I do."

"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."

"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."

"Capital," said Troy.  "But, dear me, I had better go back for my
bag, because my slippers and brush and comb are in it; you run home
whilst I fetch it, and I'll promise to be in your parlour in ten
minutes."

"Yes." She turned and tripped up the hill again.

During the progress of this dialogue there was a nervous twitching
of Boldwood's tightly closed lips, and his face became bathed in a
clammy dew.  He now started forward towards Troy.  Troy turned to
him and took up the bag.

"Shall I tell her I have come to give her up and cannot marry her?"
said the soldier, mockingly.

"No, no; wait a minute.  I want to say more to you--more to you!"
said Boldwood, in a hoarse whisper.

"Now," said Troy, "you see my dilemma.  Perhaps I am a bad man--the
victim of my impulses--led away to do what I ought to leave undone.
I can't, however, marry them both.  And I have two reasons for
choosing Fanny.  First, I like her best upon the whole, and second,
you make it worth my while."

At the same instant Boldwood sprang upon him, and held him by the
neck.  Troy felt Boldwood's grasp slowly tightening. The move was
absolutely unexpected.

"A moment," he gasped.  "You are injuring her you love!"

"Well, what do you mean?" said the farmer.

"Give me breath," said Troy.

Boldwood loosened his hand, saying, "By Heaven, I've a mind to kill
you!"

"And ruin her."

"Save her."

"Oh, how can she be saved now, unless I marry her?"

Boldwood groaned.  He reluctantly released the soldier, and flung him
back against the hedge.  "Devil, you torture me!" said he.

Troy rebounded like a ball, and was about to make a dash at the
farmer; but he checked himself, saying lightly--

"It is not worth while to measure my strength with you.  Indeed it
is a barbarous way of settling a quarrel.  I shall shortly leave the
army because of the same conviction.  Now after that revelation of
how the land lies with Bathsheba, 'twould be a mistake to kill me,
would it not?"

"'Twould be a mistake to kill you," repeated Boldwood, mechanically,
with a bowed head.

"Better kill yourself."

"Far better."

"I'm glad you see it."

"Troy, make her your wife, and don't act upon what I arranged just
now.  The alternative is dreadful, but take Bathsheba; I give her up!
She must love you indeed to sell soul and body to you so utterly as
she has done.  Wretched woman--deluded woman--you are, Bathsheba!"

"But about Fanny?"

"Bathsheba is a woman well to do," continued Boldwood, in nervous
anxiety, and, Troy, she will make a good wife; and, indeed, she is
worth your hastening on your marriage with her!"

"But she has a will--not to say a temper, and I shall be a mere slave
to her.  I could do anything with poor Fanny Robin."

"Troy," said Boldwood, imploringly, "I'll do anything for you, only
don't desert her; pray don't desert her, Troy."

"Which, poor Fanny?"

"No; Bathsheba Everdene.  Love her best!  Love her tenderly!  How
shall I get you to see how advantageous it will be to you to secure
her at once?"

"I don't wish to secure her in any new way."

Boldwood's arm moved spasmodically towards Troy's person again.  He
repressed the instinct, and his form drooped as with pain.

Troy went on--

"I shall soon purchase my discharge, and then--"

"But I wish you to hasten on this marriage!  It will be better for
you both.  You love each other, and you must let me help you to do
it."

"How?"

"Why, by settling the five hundred on Bathsheba instead of Fanny, to
enable you to marry at once.  No; she wouldn't have it of me.  I'll
pay it down to you on the wedding-day."

Troy paused in secret amazement at Boldwood's wild infatuation.  He
carelessly said, "And am I to have anything now?"

"Yes, if you wish to.  But I have not much additional money with me.
I did not expect this; but all I have is yours."

Boldwood, more like a somnambulist than a wakeful man, pulled out the
large canvas bag he carried by way of a purse, and searched it.

"I have twenty-one pounds more with me," he said.  "Two notes and a
sovereign.  But before I leave you I must have a paper signed--"

"Pay me the money, and we'll go straight to her parlour, and make any
arrangement you please to secure my compliance with your wishes.  But
she must know nothing of this cash business."

"Nothing, nothing," said Boldwood, hastily.  "Here is the sum, and
if you'll come to my house we'll write out the agreement for the
remainder, and the terms also."

"First we'll call upon her."

"But why?  Come with me to-night, and go with me to-morrow to the
surrogate's."

"But she must be consulted; at any rate informed."

"Very well; go on."

They went up the hill to Bathsheba's house.  When they stood at the
entrance, Troy said, "Wait here a moment."  Opening the door, he
glided inside, leaving the door ajar.

Boldwood waited.  In two minutes a light appeared in the passage.
Boldwood then saw that the chain had been fastened across the door.
Troy appeared inside, carrying a bedroom candlestick.

"What, did you think I should break in?" said Boldwood,
contemptuously.

"Oh, no, it is merely my humour to secure things.  Will you read this
a moment?  I'll hold the light."

Troy handed a folded newspaper through the slit between door and
doorpost, and put the candle close.  "That's the paragraph," he said,
placing his finger on a line.

Boldwood looked and read--


   MARRIAGES.

   On the 17th inst., at St. Ambrose's Church, Bath, by the
   Rev. G. Mincing, B.A., Francis Troy, only son of the late
   Edward Troy, Esq., M.D., of Weatherbury, and sergeant with
   Dragoon Guards, to Bathsheba, only surviving daughter of
   the late Mr. John Everdene, of Casterbridge.


"This may be called Fort meeting Feeble, hey, Boldwood?" said Troy.
A low gurgle of derisive laughter followed the words.

The paper fell from Boldwood's hands.  Troy continued--

"Fifty pounds to marry Fanny.  Good.  Twenty-one pounds not to marry
Fanny, but Bathsheba.  Good.  Finale: already Bathsheba's husband.
Now, Boldwood, yours is the ridiculous fate which always attends
interference between a man and his wife.  And another word.  Bad as I
am, I am not such a villain as to make the marriage or misery of any
woman a matter of huckster and sale.  Fanny has long ago left me.  I
don't know where she is.  I have searched everywhere.  Another word
yet.  You say you love Bathsheba; yet on the merest apparent evidence
you instantly believe in her dishonour.  A fig for such love!  Now
that I've taught you a lesson, take your money back again."

"I will not; I will not!" said Boldwood, in a hiss.

"Anyhow I won't have it," said Troy, contemptuously.  He wrapped the
packet of gold in the notes, and threw the whole into the road.

Boldwood shook his clenched fist at him.  "You juggler of Satan!  You
black hound!  But I'll punish you yet; mark me, I'll punish you yet!"

Another peal of laughter.  Troy then closed the door, and locked
himself in.

Throughout the whole of that night Boldwood's dark form might have
been seen walking about the hills and downs of Weatherbury like an
unhappy Shade in the Mournful Fields by Acheron.




CHAPTER XXXV


AT AN UPPER WINDOW


It was very early the next morning--a time of sun and dew.  The
confused beginnings of many birds' songs spread into the healthy air,
and the wan blue of the heaven was here and there coated with thin
webs of incorporeal cloud which were of no effect in obscuring day.
All the lights in the scene were yellow as to colour, and all the
shadows were attenuated as to form.  The creeping plants about the
old manor-house were bowed with rows of heavy water drops, which
had upon objects behind them the effect of minute lenses of high
magnifying power.

Just before the clock struck five Gabriel Oak and Coggan passed the
village cross, and went on together to the fields.  They were yet
barely in view of their mistress's house, when Oak fancied he saw the
opening of a casement in one of the upper windows.  The two men were
at this moment partially screened by an elder bush, now beginning
to be enriched with black bunches of fruit, and they paused before
emerging from its shade.

A handsome man leaned idly from the lattice.  He looked east and then
west, in the manner of one who makes a first morning survey.  The
man was Sergeant Troy.  His red jacket was loosely thrown on, but
not buttoned, and he had altogether the relaxed bearing of a soldier
taking his ease.

Coggan spoke first, looking quietly at the window.

"She has married him!" he said.

Gabriel had previously beheld the sight, and he now stood with his
back turned, making no reply.

"I fancied we should know something to-day," continued Coggan.  "I
heard wheels pass my door just after dark--you were out somewhere."
He glanced round upon Gabriel.  "Good heavens above us, Oak, how
white your face is; you look like a corpse!"

"Do I?" said Oak, with a faint smile.

"Lean on the gate: I'll wait a bit."

"All right, all right."

They stood by the gate awhile, Gabriel listlessly staring at the
ground.  His mind sped into the future, and saw there enacted in
years of leisure the scenes of repentance that would ensue from this
work of haste.  That they were married he had instantly decided.  Why
had it been so mysteriously managed?  It had become known that she
had had a fearful journey to Bath, owing to her miscalculating the
distance: that the horse had broken down, and that she had been more
than two days getting there.  It was not Bathsheba's way to do things
furtively.  With all her faults, she was candour itself.  Could she
have been entrapped?  The union was not only an unutterable grief to
him: it amazed him, notwithstanding that he had passed the preceding
week in a suspicion that such might be the issue of Troy's meeting
her away from home.  Her quiet return with Liddy had to some extent
dispersed the dread.  Just as that imperceptible motion which appears
like stillness is infinitely divided in its properties from stillness
itself, so had his hope undistinguishable from despair differed from
despair indeed.

In a few minutes they moved on again towards the house.  The sergeant
still looked from the window.

"Morning, comrades!" he shouted, in a cheery voice, when they came
up.

Coggan replied to the greeting.  "Bain't ye going to answer the man?"
he then said to Gabriel.  "I'd say good morning--you needn't spend a
hapenny of meaning upon it, and yet keep the man civil."

Gabriel soon decided too that, since the deed was done, to put the
best face upon the matter would be the greatest kindness to her he
loved.

"Good morning, Sergeant Troy," he returned, in a ghastly voice.

"A rambling, gloomy house this," said Troy, smiling.

"Why--they MAY not be married!" suggested Coggan.  "Perhaps she's not
there."

Gabriel shook his head.  The soldier turned a little towards the
east, and the sun kindled his scarlet coat to an orange glow.

"But it is a nice old house," responded Gabriel.

"Yes--I suppose so; but I feel like new wine in an old bottle here.
My notion is that sash-windows should be put throughout, and these
old wainscoted walls brightened up a bit; or the oak cleared quite
away, and the walls papered."

"It would be a pity, I think."

"Well, no.  A philosopher once said in my hearing that the old
builders, who worked when art was a living thing, had no respect
for the work of builders who went before them, but pulled down and
altered as they thought fit; and why shouldn't we?  'Creation and
preservation don't do well together,' says he, 'and a million of
antiquarians can't invent a style.' My mind exactly.  I am for making
this place more modern, that we may be cheerful whilst we can."

The military man turned and surveyed the interior of the room, to
assist his ideas of improvement in this direction.  Gabriel and
Coggan began to move on.

"Oh, Coggan," said Troy, as if inspired by a recollection "do you
know if insanity has ever appeared in Mr. Boldwood's family?"

Jan reflected for a moment.

"I once heard that an uncle of his was queer in his head, but I don't
know the rights o't," he said.

"It is of no importance," said Troy, lightly.  "Well, I shall be down
in the fields with you some time this week; but I have a few matters
to attend to first.  So good-day to you.  We shall, of course, keep
on just as friendly terms as usual.  I'm not a proud man: nobody is
ever able to say that of Sergeant Troy.  However, what is must be,
and here's half-a-crown to drink my health, men."

Troy threw the coin dexterously across the front plot and over the
fence towards Gabriel, who shunned it in its fall, his face turning
to an angry red.  Coggan twirled his eye, edged forward, and caught
the money in its ricochet upon the road.

"Very well--you keep it, Coggan," said Gabriel with disdain and
almost fiercely.  "As for me, I'll do without gifts from him!"

"Don't show it too much," said Coggan, musingly.  "For if he's
married to her, mark my words, he'll buy his discharge and be our
master here.  Therefore 'tis well to say 'Friend' outwardly, though
you say 'Troublehouse' within."

"Well--perhaps it is best to be silent; but I can't go further than
that.  I can't flatter, and if my place here is only to be kept by
smoothing him down, my place must be lost."

A horseman, whom they had for some time seen in the distance, now
appeared close beside them.

"There's Mr. Boldwood," said Oak.  "I wonder what Troy meant by his
question."

Coggan and Oak nodded respectfully to the farmer, just checked their
paces to discover if they were wanted, and finding they were not
stood back to let him pass on.

The only signs of the terrible sorrow Boldwood had been combating
through the night, and was combating now, were the want of colour
in his well-defined face, the enlarged appearance of the veins in
his forehead and temples, and the sharper lines about his mouth.
The horse bore him away, and the very step of the animal seemed
significant of dogged despair.  Gabriel, for a minute, rose above his
own grief in noticing Boldwood's.  He saw the square figure sitting
erect upon the horse, the head turned to neither side, the elbows
steady by the hips, the brim of the hat level and undisturbed in
its onward glide, until the keen edges of Boldwood's shape sank by
degrees over the hill.  To one who knew the man and his story there
was something more striking in this immobility than in a collapse.
The clash of discord between mood and matter here was forced
painfully home to the heart; and, as in laughter there are more
dreadful phases than in tears, so was there in the steadiness of
this agonized man an expression deeper than a cry.




CHAPTER XXXVI


WEALTH IN JEOPARDY--THE REVEL


One night, at the end of August, when Bathsheba's experiences as a
married woman were still new, and when the weather was yet dry and
sultry, a man stood motionless in the stockyard of Weatherbury Upper
Farm, looking at the moon and sky.

The night had a sinister aspect.  A heated breeze from the south
slowly fanned the summits of lofty objects, and in the sky dashes
of buoyant cloud were sailing in a course at right angles to that
of another stratum, neither of them in the direction of the breeze
below.  The moon, as seen through these films, had a lurid metallic
look.  The fields were sallow with the impure light, and all were
tinged in monochrome, as if beheld through stained glass.  The same
evening the sheep had trailed homeward head to tail, the behaviour of
the rooks had been confused, and the horses had moved with timidity
and caution.

Thunder was imminent, and, taking some secondary appearances into
consideration, it was likely to be followed by one of the lengthened
rains which mark the close of dry weather for the season.  Before
twelve hours had passed a harvest atmosphere would be a bygone thing.

Oak gazed with misgiving at eight naked and unprotected ricks,
massive and heavy with the rich produce of one-half the farm for
that year.  He went on to the barn.

This was the night which had been selected by Sergeant Troy--ruling
now in the room of his wife--for giving the harvest supper and dance.
As Oak approached the building the sound of violins and a tambourine,
and the regular jigging of many feet, grew more distinct.  He came
close to the large doors, one of which stood slightly ajar, and
looked in.

The central space, together with the recess at one end, was emptied
of all incumbrances, and this area, covering about two-thirds of
the whole, was appropriated for the gathering, the remaining end,
which was piled to the ceiling with oats, being screened off with
sail-cloth.  Tufts and garlands of green foliage decorated the walls,
beams, and extemporized chandeliers, and immediately opposite to Oak
a rostrum had been erected, bearing a table and chairs.  Here sat
three fiddlers, and beside them stood a frantic man with his hair
on end, perspiration streaming down his cheeks, and a tambourine
quivering in his hand.

The dance ended, and on the black oak floor in the midst a new row of
couples formed for another.

"Now, ma'am, and no offence I hope, I ask what dance you would like
next?" said the first violin.

"Really, it makes no difference," said the clear voice of Bathsheba,
who stood at the inner end of the building, observing the scene from
behind a table covered with cups and viands.  Troy was lolling beside
her.

"Then," said the fiddler, "I'll venture to name that the right and
proper thing is 'The Soldier's Joy'--there being a gallant soldier
married into the farm--hey, my sonnies, and gentlemen all?"

"It shall be 'The Soldier's Joy,'" exclaimed a chorus.

"Thanks for the compliment," said the sergeant gaily, taking
Bathsheba by the hand and leading her to the top of the dance.  "For
though I have purchased my discharge from Her Most Gracious Majesty's
regiment of cavalry the 11th Dragoon Guards, to attend to the new
duties awaiting me here, I shall continue a soldier in spirit and
feeling as long as I live."

So the dance began.  As to the merits of "The Soldier's Joy," there
cannot be, and never were, two opinions.  It has been observed in the
musical circles of Weatherbury and its vicinity that this melody, at
the end of three-quarters of an hour of thunderous footing, still
possesses more stimulative properties for the heel and toe than the
majority of other dances at their first opening.  "The Soldier's Joy"
has, too, an additional charm, in being so admirably adapted to the
tambourine aforesaid--no mean instrument in the hands of a performer
who understands the proper convulsions, spasms, St. Vitus's dances,
and fearful frenzies necessary when exhibiting its tones in their
highest perfection.

The immortal tune ended, a fine DD rolling forth from the bass-viol
with the sonorousness of a cannonade, and Gabriel delayed his entry
no longer.  He avoided Bathsheba, and got as near as possible
to the platform, where Sergeant Troy was now seated, drinking
brandy-and-water, though the others drank without exception cider and
ale. Gabriel could not easily thrust himself within speaking distance
of the sergeant, and he sent a message, asking him to come down for a
moment.  The sergeant said he could not attend.

"Will you tell him, then," said Gabriel, "that I only stepped ath'art
to say that a heavy rain is sure to fall soon, and that something
should be done to protect the ricks?"

"Mr. Troy says it will not rain," returned the messenger, "and he
cannot stop to talk to you about such fidgets."

In juxtaposition with Troy, Oak had a melancholy tendency to look
like a candle beside gas, and ill at ease, he went out again,
thinking he would go home; for, under the circumstances, he had no
heart for the scene in the barn.  At the door he paused for a moment:
Troy was speaking.

"Friends, it is not only the harvest home that we are celebrating
to-night; but this is also a Wedding Feast.  A short time ago I had
the happiness to lead to the altar this lady, your mistress, and not
until now have we been able to give any public flourish to the event
in Weatherbury.  That it may be thoroughly well done, and that every
man may go happy to bed, I have ordered to be brought here some
bottles of brandy and kettles of hot water.  A treble-strong goblet
will he handed round to each guest."

Bathsheba put her hand upon his arm, and, with upturned pale face,
said imploringly, "No--don't give it to them--pray don't, Frank!  It
will only do them harm: they have had enough of everything."

"True--we don't wish for no more, thank ye," said one or two.

"Pooh!" said the sergeant contemptuously, and raised his voice as
if lighted up by a new idea.  "Friends," he said, "we'll send the
women-folk home!  'Tis time they were in bed.  Then we cockbirds will
have a jolly carouse to ourselves!  If any of the men show the white
feather, let them look elsewhere for a winter's work."

Bathsheba indignantly left the barn, followed by all the women and
children.  The musicians, not looking upon themselves as "company,"
slipped quietly away to their spring waggon and put in the horse.
Thus Troy and the men on the farm were left sole occupants of the
place.  Oak, not to appear unnecessarily disagreeable, stayed a
little while; then he, too, arose and quietly took his departure,
followed by a friendly oath from the sergeant for not staying to a
second round of grog.

Gabriel proceeded towards his home.  In approaching the door, his
toe kicked something which felt and sounded soft, leathery, and
distended, like a boxing-glove.  It was a large toad humbly
travelling across the path.  Oak took it up, thinking it might be
better to kill the creature to save it from pain; but finding it
uninjured, he placed it again among the grass.  He knew what this
direct message from the Great Mother meant.  And soon came another.

When he struck a light indoors there appeared upon the table a thin
glistening streak, as if a brush of varnish had been lightly dragged
across it.  Oak's eyes followed the serpentine sheen to the other
side, where it led up to a huge brown garden-slug, which had come
indoors to-night for reasons of its own.  It was Nature's second way
of hinting to him that he was to prepare for foul weather.

Oak sat down meditating for nearly an hour.  During this time two
black spiders, of the kind common in thatched houses, promenaded the
ceiling, ultimately dropping to the floor.  This reminded him that
if there was one class of manifestation on this matter that he
thoroughly understood, it was the instincts of sheep.  He left the
room, ran across two or three fields towards the flock, got upon a
hedge, and looked over among them.

They were crowded close together on the other side around some furze
bushes, and the first peculiarity observable was that, on the sudden
appearance of Oak's head over the fence, they did not stir or run
away.  They had now a terror of something greater than their terror
of man.  But this was not the most noteworthy feature: they were all
grouped in such a way that their tails, without a single exception,
were towards that half of the horizon from which the storm
threatened.  There was an inner circle closely huddled, and outside
these they radiated wider apart, the pattern formed by the flock as a
whole not being unlike a vandyked lace collar, to which the clump of
furze-bushes stood in the position of a wearer's neck.

This was enough to re-establish him in his original opinion.  He knew
now that he was right, and that Troy was wrong. Every voice in nature
was unanimous in bespeaking change.  But two distinct translations
attached to these dumb expressions.  Apparently there was to be a
thunder-storm, and afterwards a cold continuous rain.  The creeping
things seemed to know all about the later rain, but little of the
interpolated thunder-storm; whilst the sheep knew all about the
thunder-storm and nothing of the later rain.

This complication of weathers being uncommon, was all the more to be
feared.  Oak returned to the stack-yard.  All was silent here, and
the conical tips of the ricks jutted darkly into the sky.  There were
five wheat-ricks in this yard, and three stacks of barley.  The wheat
when threshed would average about thirty quarters to each stack; the
barley, at least forty.  Their value to Bathsheba, and indeed to
anybody, Oak mentally estimated by the following simple
calculation:--


      5 x 30 = 150 quarters = 500 L.
      3 x 40 = 120 quarters = 250 L.
                            -------
                    Total . . 750 L.


Seven hundred and fifty pounds in the divinest form that money can
wear--that of necessary food for man and beast: should the risk be
run of deteriorating this bulk of corn to less than half its value,
because of the instability of a woman?  "Never, if I can prevent it!"
said Gabriel.

Such was the argument that Oak set outwardly before him.  But man,
even to himself, is a palimpsest, having an ostensible writing, and
another beneath the lines.  It is possible that there was this golden
legend under the utilitarian one: "I will help to my last effort the
woman I have loved so dearly."

He went back to the barn to endeavour to obtain assistance for
covering the ricks that very night.  All was silent within, and he
would have passed on in the belief that the party had broken up, had
not a dim light, yellow as saffron by contrast with the greenish
whiteness outside, streamed through a knot-hole in the folding doors.

Gabriel looked in.  An unusual picture met his eye.

The candles suspended among the evergreens had burnt down to their
sockets, and in some cases the leaves tied about them were scorched.
Many of the lights had quite gone out, others smoked and stank,
grease dropping from them upon the floor.  Here, under the table, and
leaning against forms and chairs in every conceivable attitude except
the perpendicular, were the wretched persons of all the work-folk,
the hair of their heads at such low levels being suggestive of mops
and brooms.  In the midst of these shone red and distinct the figure
of Sergeant Troy, leaning back in a chair.  Coggan was on his back,
with his mouth open, huzzing forth snores, as were several others;
the united breathings of the horizonal assemblage forming a subdued
roar like London from a distance.  Joseph Poorgrass was curled round
in the fashion of a hedge-hog, apparently in attempts to present the
least possible portion of his surface to the air; and behind him
was dimly visible an unimportant remnant of William Smallbury.
The glasses and cups still stood upon the table, a water-jug being
overturned, from which a small rill, after tracing its course with
marvellous precision down the centre of the long table, fell into the
neck of the unconscious Mark Clark, in a steady, monotonous drip,
like the dripping of a stalactite in a cave.

Gabriel glanced hopelessly at the group, which, with one or two
exceptions, composed all the able-bodied men upon the farm.  He saw
at once that if the ricks were to be saved that night, or even the
next morning, he must save them with his own hands.

A faint "ting-ting" resounded from under Coggan's waistcoat.  It was
Coggan's watch striking the hour of two.

Oak went to the recumbent form of Matthew Moon, who usually undertook
the rough thatching of the home-stead, and shook him.  The shaking
was without effect.

Gabriel shouted in his ear, "where's your thatching-beetle and
rick-stick and spars?"

"Under the staddles," said Moon, mechanically, with the unconscious
promptness of a medium.

Gabriel let go his head, and it dropped upon the floor like a bowl.
He then went to Susan Tall's husband.

"Where's the key of the granary?"

No answer.  The question was repeated, with the same result.  To be
shouted to at night was evidently less of a novelty to Susan Tall's
husband than to Matthew Moon.  Oak flung down Tall's head into the
corner again and turned away.

To be just, the men were not greatly to blame for this painful and
demoralizing termination to the evening's entertainment.  Sergeant
Troy had so strenuously insisted, glass in hand, that drinking should
be the bond of their union, that those who wished to refuse hardly
liked to be so unmannerly under the circumstances.  Having from their
youth up been entirely unaccustomed to any liquor stronger than cider
or mild ale, it was no wonder that they had succumbed, one and all,
with extraordinary uniformity, after the lapse of about an hour.

Gabriel was greatly depressed.  This debauch boded ill for that
wilful and fascinating mistress whom the faithful man even now felt
within him as the embodiment of all that was sweet and bright and
hopeless.

He put out the expiring lights, that the barn might not be
endangered, closed the door upon the men in their deep and oblivious
sleep, and went again into the lone night.  A hot breeze, as if
breathed from the parted lips of some dragon about to swallow the
globe, fanned him from the south, while directly opposite in the
north rose a grim misshapen body of cloud, in the very teeth of the
wind.  So unnaturally did it rise that one could fancy it to be
lifted by machinery from below.  Meanwhile the faint cloudlets had
flown back into the south-east corner of the sky, as if in terror of
the large cloud, like a young brood gazed in upon by some monster.

Going on to the village, Oak flung a small stone against the window
of Laban Tall's bedroom, expecting Susan to open it; but nobody
stirred.  He went round to the back door, which had been left
unfastened for Laban's entry, and passed in to the foot of the
staircase.

"Mrs. Tall, I've come for the key of the granary, to get at the
rick-cloths," said Oak, in a stentorian voice.

"Is that you?" said Mrs. Susan Tall, half awake.

"Yes," said Gabriel.

"Come along to bed, do, you drawlatching rogue--keeping a body awake
like this!"

"It isn't Laban--'tis Gabriel Oak.  I want the key of the granary."

"Gabriel!  What in the name of fortune did you pretend to be Laban
for?"

"I didn't.  I thought you meant--"

"Yes you did!  What do you want here?"

"The key of the granary."

"Take it then.  'Tis on the nail.  People coming disturbing women at
this time of night ought--"

Gabriel took the key, without waiting to hear the conclusion of the
tirade.  Ten minutes later his lonely figure might have been seen
dragging four large water-proof coverings across the yard, and soon
two of these heaps of treasure in grain were covered snug--two cloths
to each.  Two hundred pounds were secured.  Three wheat-stacks
remained open, and there were no more cloths.  Oak looked under the
staddles and found a fork.  He mounted the third pile of wealth and
began operating, adopting the plan of sloping the upper sheaves one
over the other; and, in addition, filling the interstices with the
material of some untied sheaves.

So far all was well.  By this hurried contrivance Bathsheba's
property in wheat was safe for at any rate a week or two, provided
always that there was not much wind.

Next came the barley.  This it was only possible to protect by
systematic thatching.  Time went on, and the moon vanished not to
reappear.  It was the farewell of the ambassador previous to war.
The night had a haggard look, like a sick thing; and there came
finally an utter expiration of air from the whole heaven in the form
of a slow breeze, which might have been likened to a death.  And now
nothing was heard in the yard but the dull thuds of the beetle which
drove in the spars, and the rustle of thatch in the intervals.




CHAPTER XXXVII


THE STORM--THE TWO TOGETHER


A light flapped over the scene, as if reflected from phosphorescent
wings crossing the sky, and a rumble filled the air.  It was the
first move of the approaching storm.

The second peal was noisy, with comparatively little visible
lightning.  Gabriel saw a candle shining in Bathsheba's bedroom,
and soon a shadow swept to and fro upon the blind.

Then there came a third flash.  Manoeuvres of a most extraordinary
kind were going on in the vast firmamental hollows overhead.  The
lightning now was the colour of silver, and gleamed in the heavens
like a mailed army. Rumbles became rattles.  Gabriel from his
elevated position could see over the landscape at least half-a-dozen
miles in front.  Every hedge, bush, and tree was distinct as in a
line engraving.  In a paddock in the same direction was a herd of
heifers, and the forms of these were visible at this moment in the
act of galloping about in the wildest and maddest confusion, flinging
their heels and tails high into the air, their heads to earth.
A poplar in the immediate foreground was like an ink stroke on
burnished tin.  Then the picture vanished, leaving the darkness so
intense that Gabriel worked entirely by feeling with his hands.

He had stuck his ricking-rod, or poniard, as it was indifferently
called--a long iron lance, polished by handling--into the stack,
used to support the sheaves instead of the support called a groom
used on houses.  A blue light appeared in the zenith, and in some
indescribable manner flickered down near the top of the rod.  It
was the fourth of the larger flashes.  A moment later and there was
a smack--smart, clear, and short.  Gabriel felt his position to be
anything but a safe one, and he resolved to descend.

Not a drop of rain had fallen as yet.  He wiped his weary brow, and
looked again at the black forms of the unprotected stacks.  Was his
life so valuable to him after all?  What were his prospects that he
should be so chary of running risk, when important and urgent labour
could not be carried on without such risk?  He resolved to stick to
the stack.  However, he took a precaution.  Under the staddles was a
long tethering chain, used to prevent the escape of errant horses.
This he carried up the ladder, and sticking his rod through the clog
at one end, allowed the other end of the chain to trail upon the
ground.  The spike attached to it he drove in.  Under the shadow of
this extemporized lightning-conductor he felt himself comparatively
safe.

Before Oak had laid his hands upon his tools again out leapt the
fifth flash, with the spring of a serpent and the shout of a fiend.
It was green as an emerald, and the reverberation was stunning.  What
was this the light revealed to him?  In the open ground before him,
as he looked over the ridge of the rick, was a dark and apparently
female form.  Could it be that of the only venturesome woman in the
parish--Bathsheba?  The form moved on a step: then he could see no
more.

"Is that you, ma'am?" said Gabriel to the darkness.

"Who is there?" said the voice of Bathsheba.

"Gabriel.  I am on the rick, thatching."

"Oh, Gabriel!--and are you?  I have come about them.  The weather
awoke me, and I thought of the corn.  I am so distressed about
it--can we save it anyhow?  I cannot find my husband.  Is he with
you?"

"He is not here."

"Do you know where he is?"

"Asleep in the barn."

"He promised that the stacks should be seen to, and now they are all
neglected!  Can I do anything to help?  Liddy is afraid to come out.
Fancy finding you here at such an hour!  Surely I can do something?"

"You can bring up some reed-sheaves to me, one by one, ma'am; if you
are not afraid to come up the ladder in the dark," said Gabriel.
"Every moment is precious now, and that would save a good deal of
time.  It is not very dark when the lightning has been gone a bit."

"I'll do anything!" she said, resolutely.  She instantly took a sheaf
upon her shoulder, clambered up close to his heels, placed it behind
the rod, and descended for another.  At her third ascent the rick
suddenly brightened with the brazen glare of shining majolica--every
knot in every straw was visible.  On the slope in front of him
appeared two human shapes, black as jet.  The rick lost its
sheen--the shapes vanished.  Gabriel turned his head.  It had been
the sixth flash which had come from the east behind him, and the two
dark forms on the slope had been the shadows of himself and
Bathsheba.

Then came the peal.  It hardly was credible that such a heavenly
light could be the parent of such a diabolical sound.

"How terrible!" she exclaimed, and clutched him by the sleeve.
Gabriel turned, and steadied her on her aerial perch by holding
her arm.  At the same moment, while he was still reversed in his
attitude, there was more light, and he saw, as it were, a copy of the
tall poplar tree on the hill drawn in black on the wall of the barn.
It was the shadow of that tree, thrown across by a secondary flash
in the west.

The next flare came.  Bathsheba was on the ground now, shouldering
another sheaf, and she bore its dazzle without flinching--thunder
and all--and again ascended with the load.  There was then a silence
everywhere for four or five minutes, and the crunch of the spars, as
Gabriel hastily drove them in, could again be distinctly heard.  He
thought the crisis of the storm had passed.  But there came a burst
of light.

"Hold on!" said Gabriel, taking the sheaf from her shoulder, and
grasping her arm again.

Heaven opened then, indeed.  The flash was almost too novel for its
inexpressibly dangerous nature to be at once realized, and they could
only comprehend the magnificence of its beauty.  It sprang from
east, west, north, south, and was a perfect dance of death.  The
forms of skeletons appeared in the air, shaped with blue fire for
bones--dancing, leaping, striding, racing around, and mingling
altogether in unparalleled confusion.  With these were intertwined
undulating snakes of green, and behind these was a broad mass of
lesser light.  Simultaneously came from every part of the tumbling
sky what may be called a shout; since, though no shout ever came
near it, it was more of the nature of a shout than of anything else
earthly.  In the meantime one of the grisly forms had alighted upon
the point of Gabriel's rod, to run invisibly down it, down the chain,
and into the earth.  Gabriel was almost blinded, and he could feel
Bathsheba's warm arm tremble in his hand--a sensation novel and
thrilling enough; but love, life, everything human, seemed small and
trifling in such close juxtaposition with an infuriated universe.

Oak had hardly time to gather up these impressions into a thought,
and to see how strangely the red feather of her hat shone in this
light, when the tall tree on the hill before mentioned seemed on fire
to a white heat, and a new one among these terrible voices mingled
with the last crash of those preceding.  It was a stupefying blast,
harsh and pitiless, and it fell upon their ears in a dead, flat blow,
without that reverberation which lends the tones of a drum to more
distant thunder.  By the lustre reflected from every part of the
earth and from the wide domical scoop above it, he saw that the
tree was sliced down the whole length of its tall, straight stem, a
huge riband of bark being apparently flung off.  The other portion
remained erect, and revealed the bared surface as a strip of white
down the front.  The lightning had struck the tree.  A sulphurous
smell filled the air; then all was silent, and black as a cave in
Hinnom.

"We had a narrow escape!" said Gabriel, hurriedly.  "You had better
go down."

Bathsheba said nothing; but he could distinctly hear her rhythmical
pants, and the recurrent rustle of the sheaf beside her in response
to her frightened pulsations.  She descended the ladder, and, on
second thoughts, he followed her.  The darkness was now impenetrable
by the sharpest vision.  They both stood still at the bottom, side by
side.  Bathsheba appeared to think only of the weather--Oak thought
only of her just then.  At last he said--

"The storm seems to have passed now, at any rate."

"I think so too," said Bathsheba.  "Though there are multitudes of
gleams, look!"

The sky was now filled with an incessant light, frequent repetition
melting into complete continuity, as an unbroken sound results from
the successive strokes on a gong.

"Nothing serious," said he.  "I cannot understand no rain falling.
But Heaven be praised, it is all the better for us.  I am now going
up again."

"Gabriel, you are kinder than I deserve!  I will stay and help you
yet.  Oh, why are not some of the others here!"

"They would have been here if they could," said Oak, in a hesitating
way.

"O, I know it all--all," she said, adding slowly: "They are all
asleep in the barn, in a drunken sleep, and my husband among them.
That's it, is it not?  Don't think I am a timid woman and can't
endure things."

"I am not certain," said Gabriel.  "I will go and see."

He crossed to the barn, leaving her there alone.  He looked through
the chinks of the door.  All was in total darkness, as he had left
it, and there still arose, as at the former time, the steady buzz of
many snores.

He felt a zephyr curling about his cheek, and turned.  It was
Bathsheba's breath--she had followed him, and was looking into the
same chink.

He endeavoured to put off the immediate and painful subject of
their thoughts by remarking gently, "If you'll come back again,
miss--ma'am, and hand up a few more; it would save much time."

Then Oak went back again, ascended to the top, stepped off the ladder
for greater expedition, and went on thatching.  She followed, but
without a sheaf.

"Gabriel," she said, in a strange and impressive voice.

Oak looked up at her.  She had not spoken since he left the barn.
The soft and continual shimmer of the dying lightning showed a marble
face high against the black sky of the opposite quarter.  Bathsheba
was sitting almost on the apex of the stack, her feet gathered up
beneath her, and resting on the top round of the ladder.

"Yes, mistress," he said.

"I suppose you thought that when I galloped away to Bath that night
it was on purpose to be married?"

"I did at last--not at first," he answered, somewhat surprised at the
abruptness with which this new subject was broached.

"And others thought so, too?"

"Yes."

"And you blamed me for it?"

"Well--a little."

"I thought so.  Now, I care a little for your good opinion, and
I want to explain something--I have longed to do it ever since I
returned, and you looked so gravely at me.  For if I were to die--and
I may die soon--it would be dreadful that you should always think
mistakenly of me.  Now, listen."

Gabriel ceased his rustling.

"I went to Bath that night in the full intention of breaking off my
engagement to Mr. Troy.  It was owing to circumstances which occurred
after I got there that--that we were married.  Now, do you see the
matter in a new light?"

"I do--somewhat."

"I must, I suppose, say more, now that I have begun.  And perhaps
it's no harm, for you are certainly under no delusion that I ever
loved you, or that I can have any object in speaking, more than that
object I have mentioned.  Well, I was alone in a strange city, and
the horse was lame.  And at last I didn't know what to do.  I saw,
when it was too late, that scandal might seize hold of me for meeting
him alone in that way.  But I was coming away, when he suddenly said
he had that day seen a woman more beautiful than I, and that his
constancy could not be counted on unless I at once became his....
And I was grieved and troubled--"  She cleared her voice, and waited
a moment, as if to gather breath.  "And then, between jealousy
and distraction, I married him!" she whispered with desperate
impetuosity.

Gabriel made no reply.

"He was not to blame, for it was perfectly true about--about his
seeing somebody else," she quickly added.  "And now I don't wish for
a single remark from you upon the subject--indeed, I forbid it.  I
only wanted you to know that misunderstood bit of my history before
a time comes when you could never know it.--You want some more
sheaves?"

She went down the ladder, and the work proceeded.  Gabriel soon
perceived a languor in the movements of his mistress up and down, and
he said to her, gently as a mother--

"I think you had better go indoors now, you are tired.  I can finish
the rest alone.  If the wind does not change the rain is likely to
keep off."

"If I am useless I will go," said Bathsheba, in a flagging cadence.
"But O, if your life should be lost!"

"You are not useless; but I would rather not tire you longer.  You
have done well."

"And you better!" she said, gratefully.  "Thank you for your
devotion, a thousand times, Gabriel!  Goodnight--I know you are doing
your very best for me."

She diminished in the gloom, and vanished, and he heard the latch
of the gate fall as she passed through.  He worked in a reverie
now, musing upon her story, and upon the contradictoriness of that
feminine heart which had caused her to speak more warmly to him
to-night than she ever had done whilst unmarried and free to speak
as warmly as she chose.

He was disturbed in his meditation by a grating noise from the
coach-house.  It was the vane on the roof turning round, and this
change in the wind was the signal for a disastrous rain.




CHAPTER XXXVIII


RAIN--ONE SOLITARY MEETS ANOTHER


It was now five o'clock, and the dawn was promising to break in hues
of drab and ash.

The air changed its temperature and stirred itself more vigorously.
Cool breezes coursed in transparent eddies round Oak's face.  The
wind shifted yet a point or two and blew stronger.  In ten minutes
every wind of heaven seemed to be roaming at large.  Some of the
thatching on the wheat-stacks was now whirled fantastically aloft,
and had to be replaced and weighted with some rails that lay near at
hand.  This done, Oak slaved away again at the barley.  A huge drop
of rain smote his face, the wind snarled round every corner, the
trees rocked to the bases of their trunks, and the twigs clashed in
strife.  Driving in spars at any point and on any system, inch by
inch he covered more and more safely from ruin this distracting
impersonation of seven hundred pounds.  The rain came on in earnest,
and Oak soon felt the water to be tracking cold and clammy routes
down his back.  Ultimately he was reduced well-nigh to a homogeneous
sop, and the dyes of his clothes trickled down and stood in a pool
at the foot of the ladder.  The rain stretched obliquely through the
dull atmosphere in liquid spines, unbroken in continuity between
their beginnings in the clouds and their points in him.

Oak suddenly remembered that eight months before this time he had
been fighting against fire in the same spot as desperately as he
was fighting against water now--and for a futile love of the same
woman.  As for her--But Oak was generous and true, and dismissed
his reflections.

It was about seven o'clock in the dark leaden morning when Gabriel
came down from the last stack, and thankfully exclaimed, "It is
done!"  He was drenched, weary, and sad, and yet not so sad as
drenched and weary, for he was cheered by a sense of success in a
good cause.

Faint sounds came from the barn, and he looked that way.  Figures
stepped singly and in pairs through the doors--all walking awkwardly,
and abashed, save the foremost, who wore a red jacket, and advanced
with his hands in his pockets, whistling.  The others shambled after
with a conscience-stricken air: the whole procession was not unlike
Flaxman's group of the suitors tottering on towards the infernal
regions under the conduct of Mercury.  The gnarled shapes passed
into the village, Troy, their leader, entering the farmhouse.  Not a
single one of them had turned his face to the ricks, or apparently
bestowed one thought upon their condition.

Soon Oak too went homeward, by a different route from theirs.  In
front of him against the wet glazed surface of the lane he saw a
person walking yet more slowly than himself under an umbrella.  The
man turned and plainly started; he was Boldwood.

"How are you this morning, sir?" said Oak.

"Yes, it is a wet day.--Oh, I am well, very well, I thank you; quite
well."

"I am glad to hear it, sir."

Boldwood seemed to awake to the present by degrees.  "You look tired
and ill, Oak," he said then, desultorily regarding his companion.

"I am tired.  You look strangely altered, sir."

"I?  Not a bit of it: I am well enough.  What put that into your
head?"

"I thought you didn't look quite so topping as you used to, that was
all."

"Indeed, then you are mistaken," said Boldwood, shortly.  "Nothing
hurts me.  My constitution is an iron one."

"I've been working hard to get our ricks covered, and was barely in
time.  Never had such a struggle in my life....  Yours of course are
safe, sir."

"Oh yes," Boldwood added, after an interval of silence: "What did you
ask, Oak?"

"Your ricks are all covered before this time?"

"No."

"At any rate, the large ones upon the stone staddles?"

"They are not."

"Them under the hedge?"

"No.  I forgot to tell the thatcher to set about it."

"Nor the little one by the stile?"

"Nor the little one by the stile.  I overlooked the ricks this year."

"Then not a tenth of your corn will come to measure, sir."

"Possibly not."

"Overlooked them," repeated Gabriel slowly to himself.  It is
difficult to describe the intensely dramatic effect that announcement
had upon Oak at such a moment.  All the night he had been feeling
that the neglect he was labouring to repair was abnormal and
isolated--the only instance of the kind within the circuit of the
county.  Yet at this very time, within the same parish, a greater
waste had been going on, uncomplained of and disregarded.  A few
months earlier Boldwood's forgetting his husbandry would have been as
preposterous an idea as a sailor forgetting he was in a ship.  Oak
was just thinking that whatever he himself might have suffered from
Bathsheba's marriage, here was a man who had suffered more, when
Boldwood spoke in a changed voice--that of one who yearned to make
a confidence and relieve his heart by an outpouring.

"Oak, you know as well as I that things have gone wrong with me
lately.  I may as well own it.  I was going to get a little settled
in life; but in some way my plan has come to nothing."

"I thought my mistress would have married you," said Gabriel, not
knowing enough of the full depths of Boldwood's love to keep silence
on the farmer's account, and determined not to evade discipline by
doing so on his own.  "However, it is so sometimes, and nothing
happens that we expect," he added, with the repose of a man whom
misfortune had inured rather than subdued.

"I daresay I am a joke about the parish," said Boldwood, as if
the subject came irresistibly to his tongue, and with a miserable
lightness meant to express his indifference.

"Oh no--I don't think that."

"--But the real truth of the matter is that there was not, as some
fancy, any jilting on--her part.  No engagement ever existed between
me and Miss Everdene.  People say so, but it is untrue: she never
promised me!"  Boldwood stood still now and turned his wild face to
Oak.  "Oh, Gabriel," he continued, "I am weak and foolish, and I
don't know what, and I can't fend off my miserable grief! ...  I had
some faint belief in the mercy of God till I lost that woman.  Yes,
He prepared a gourd to shade me, and like the prophet I thanked Him
and was glad.  But the next day He prepared a worm to smite the gourd
and wither it; and I feel it is better to die than to live!"

A silence followed.  Boldwood aroused himself from the momentary
mood of confidence into which he had drifted, and walked on again,
resuming his usual reserve.

"No, Gabriel," he resumed, with a carelessness which was like
the smile on the countenance of a skull: "it was made more of by
other people than ever it was by us.  I do feel a little regret
occasionally, but no woman ever had power over me for any length of
time.  Well, good morning; I can trust you not to mention to others
what has passed between us two here."




CHAPTER XXXIX


COMING HOME--A CRY


On the turnpike road, between Casterbridge and Weatherbury, and about
three miles from the former place, is Yalbury Hill, one of those
steep long ascents which pervade the highways of this undulating
part of South Wessex.  In returning from market it is usual for the
farmers and other gig-gentry to alight at the bottom and walk up.

One Saturday evening in the month of October Bathsheba's vehicle was
duly creeping up this incline.  She was sitting listlessly in the
second seat of the gig, whilst walking beside her in a farmer's
marketing suit of unusually fashionable cut was an erect, well-made
young man.  Though on foot, he held the reins and whip, and
occasionally aimed light cuts at the horse's ear with the end of the
lash, as a recreation.  This man was her husband, formerly Sergeant
Troy, who, having bought his discharge with Bathsheba's money, was
gradually transforming himself into a farmer of a spirited and very
modern school.  People of unalterable ideas still insisted upon
calling him "Sergeant" when they met him, which was in some degree
owing to his having still retained the well-shaped moustache of his
military days, and the soldierly bearing inseparable from his form
and training.

"Yes, if it hadn't been for that wretched rain I should have cleared
two hundred as easy as looking, my love," he was saying.  "Don't you
see, it altered all the chances?  To speak like a book I once read,
wet weather is the narrative, and fine days are the episodes, of our
country's history; now, isn't that true?"

"But the time of year is come for changeable weather."

"Well, yes.  The fact is, these autumn races are the ruin of
everybody.  Never did I see such a day as 'twas!  'Tis a wild open
place, just out of Budmouth, and a drab sea rolled in towards us like
liquid misery.  Wind and rain--good Lord!  Dark?  Why, 'twas as black
as my hat before the last race was run.  'Twas five o'clock, and
you couldn't see the horses till they were almost in, leave alone
colours.  The ground was as heavy as lead, and all judgment from a
fellow's experience went for nothing.  Horses, riders, people, were
all blown about like ships at sea.  Three booths were blown over,
and the wretched folk inside crawled out upon their hands and knees;
and in the next field were as many as a dozen hats at one time.  Ay,
Pimpernel regularly stuck fast, when about sixty yards off, and when
I saw Policy stepping on, it did knock my heart against the lining
of my ribs, I assure you, my love!"

"And you mean, Frank," said Bathsheba, sadly--her voice was painfully
lowered from the fulness and vivacity of the previous summer--"that
you have lost more than a hundred pounds in a month by this dreadful
horse-racing?  O, Frank, it is cruel; it is foolish of you to take
away my money so.  We shall have to leave the farm; that will be the
end of it!"

"Humbug about cruel.  Now, there 'tis again--turn on the waterworks;
that's just like you."

"But you'll promise me not to go to Budmouth second meeting, won't
you?" she implored.  Bathsheba was at the full depth for tears, but
she maintained a dry eye.

"I don't see why I should; in fact, if it turns out to be a fine day,
I was thinking of taking you."

"Never, never!  I'll go a hundred miles the other way first. I hate
the sound of the very word!"

"But the question of going to see the race or staying at home has
very little to do with the matter.  Bets are all booked safely enough
before the race begins, you may depend.  Whether it is a bad race for
me or a good one, will have very little to do with our going there
next Monday."

"But you don't mean to say that you have risked anything on this one
too!" she exclaimed, with an agonized look.

"There now, don't you be a little fool.  Wait till you are told.
Why, Bathsheba, you have lost all the pluck and sauciness you
formerly had, and upon my life if I had known what a chicken-hearted
creature you were under all your boldness, I'd never have--I know
what."

A flash of indignation might have been seen in Bathsheba's dark eyes
as she looked resolutely ahead after this reply.  They moved on
without further speech, some early-withered leaves from the trees
which hooded the road at this spot occasionally spinning downward
across their path to the earth.

A woman appeared on the brow of the hill.  The ridge was in a
cutting, so that she was very near the husband and wife before she
became visible.  Troy had turned towards the gig to remount, and
whilst putting his foot on the step the woman passed behind him.

Though the overshadowing trees and the approach of eventide enveloped
them in gloom, Bathsheba could see plainly enough to discern the
extreme poverty of the woman's garb, and the sadness of her face.

"Please, sir, do you know at what time Casterbridge Union-house
closes at night?"

The woman said these words to Troy over his shoulder.

Troy started visibly at the sound of the voice; yet he seemed to
recover presence of mind sufficient to prevent himself from giving
way to his impulse to suddenly turn and face her.  He said, slowly--

"I don't know."

The woman, on hearing him speak, quickly looked up, examined the side
of his face, and recognized the soldier under the yeoman's garb.  Her
face was drawn into an expression which had gladness and agony both
among its elements.  She uttered an hysterical cry, and fell down.

"Oh, poor thing!" exclaimed Bathsheba, instantly preparing to alight.

"Stay where you are, and attend to the horse!" said Troy,
peremptorily throwing her the reins and the whip.  "Walk the horse
to the top: I'll see to the woman."

"But I--"

"Do you hear?  Clk--Poppet!"

The horse, gig, and Bathsheba moved on.

"How on earth did you come here?  I thought you were miles away, or
dead!  Why didn't you write to me?" said Troy to the woman, in a
strangely gentle, yet hurried voice, as he lifted her up.

"I feared to."

"Have you any money?"

"None."

"Good Heaven--I wish I had more to give you!  Here's--wretched--the
merest trifle.  It is every farthing I have left.  I have none but
what my wife gives me, you know, and I can't ask her now."

The woman made no answer.

"I have only another moment," continued Troy; "and now listen.  Where
are you going to-night?  Casterbridge Union?"

"Yes; I thought to go there."

"You shan't go there; yet, wait.  Yes, perhaps for to-night; I can
do nothing better--worse luck!  Sleep there to-night, and stay there
to-morrow.  Monday is the first free day I have; and on Monday
morning, at ten exactly, meet me on Grey's Bridge just out of the
town.  I'll bring all the money I can muster.  You shan't want--I'll
see that, Fanny; then I'll get you a lodging somewhere.  Good-bye
till then.  I am a brute--but good-bye!"

After advancing the distance which completed the ascent of the
hill, Bathsheba turned her head.  The woman was upon her feet, and
Bathsheba saw her withdrawing from Troy, and going feebly down the
hill by the third milestone from Casterbridge.  Troy then came on
towards his wife, stepped into the gig, took the reins from her hand,
and without making any observation whipped the horse into a trot.  He
was rather agitated.

"Do you know who that woman was?" said Bathsheba, looking searchingly
into his face.

"I do," he said, looking boldly back into hers.

"I thought you did," said she, with angry hauteur, and still
regarding him.  "Who is she?"

He suddenly seemed to think that frankness would benefit neither of
the women.

"Nothing to either of us," he said.  "I know her by sight."

"What is her name?"

"How should I know her name?"

"I think you do."

"Think if you will, and be--" The sentence was completed by a smart
cut of the whip round Poppet's flank, which caused the animal to
start forward at a wild pace.  No more was said.




CHAPTER XL


ON CASTERBRIDGE HIGHWAY


For a considerable time the woman walked on.  Her steps became
feebler, and she strained her eyes to look afar upon the naked road,
now indistinct amid the penumbræ of night.  At length her onward walk
dwindled to the merest totter, and she opened a gate within which was
a haystack.  Underneath this she sat down and presently slept.

When the woman awoke it was to find herself in the depths of a
moonless and starless night.  A heavy unbroken crust of cloud
stretched across the sky, shutting out every speck of heaven; and a
distant halo which hung over the town of Casterbridge was visible
against the black concave, the luminosity appearing the brighter by
its great contrast with the circumscribing darkness.  Towards this
weak, soft glow the woman turned her eyes.

"If I could only get there!" she said.  "Meet him the day after
to-morrow: God help me!  Perhaps I shall be in my grave before then."

A manor-house clock from the far depths of shadow struck the hour,
one, in a small, attenuated tone.  After midnight the voice of a
clock seems to lose in breadth as much as in length, and to diminish
its sonorousness to a thin falsetto.

Afterwards a light--two lights--arose from the remote shade, and grew
larger.  A carriage rolled along the toad, and passed the gate.  It
probably contained some late diners-out.  The beams from one lamp
shone for a moment upon the crouching woman, and threw her face into
vivid relief.  The face was young in the groundwork, old in the
finish; the general contours were flexuous and childlike, but the
finer lineaments had begun to be sharp and thin.

The pedestrian stood up, apparently with revived determination, and
looked around.  The road appeared to be familiar to her, and she
carefully scanned the fence as she slowly walked along.  Presently
there became visible a dim white shape; it was another milestone.
She drew her fingers across its face to feel the marks.

"Two more!" she said.

She leant against the stone as a means of rest for a short interval,
then bestirred herself, and again pursued her way.  For a slight
distance she bore up bravely, afterwards flagging as before.  This
was beside a lone copsewood, wherein heaps of white chips strewn upon
the leafy ground showed that woodmen had been faggoting and making
hurdles during the day.  Now there was not a rustle, not a breeze,
not the faintest clash of twigs to keep her company.  The woman
looked over the gate, opened it, and went in.  Close to the entrance
stood a row of faggots, bound and un-bound, together with stakes of
all sizes.

For a few seconds the wayfarer stood with that tense stillness which
signifies itself to be not the end, but merely the suspension, of
a previous motion.  Her attitude was that of a person who listens,
either to the external world of sound, or to the imagined discourse
of thought.  A close criticism might have detected signs proving that
she was intent on the latter alternative.  Moreover, as was shown by
what followed, she was oddly exercising the faculty of invention upon
the speciality of the clever Jacquet Droz, the designer of automatic
substitutes for human limbs.

By the aid of the Casterbridge aurora, and by feeling with her hands,
the woman selected two sticks from the heaps.  These sticks were
nearly straight to the height of three or four feet, where each
branched into a fork like the letter Y.  She sat down, snapped off
the small upper twigs, and carried the remainder with her into the
road.  She placed one of these forks under each arm as a crutch,
tested them, timidly threw her whole weight upon them--so little that
it was--and swung herself forward.  The girl had made for herself a
material aid.

The crutches answered well.  The pat of her feet, and the tap of
her sticks upon the highway, were all the sounds that came from
the traveller now.  She had passed the last milestone by a good
long distance, and began to look wistfully towards the bank as if
calculating upon another milestone soon.  The crutches, though so
very useful, had their limits of power.  Mechanism only transfers
labour, being powerless to supersede it, and the original amount of
exertion was not cleared away; it was thrown into the body and arms.
She was exhausted, and each swing forward became fainter.  At last
she swayed sideways, and fell.

Here she lay, a shapeless heap, for ten minutes and more.  The
morning wind began to boom dully over the flats, and to move afresh
dead leaves which had lain still since yesterday.  The woman
desperately turned round upon her knees, and next rose to her feet.
Steadying herself by the help of one crutch, she essayed a step, then
another, then a third, using the crutches now as walking-sticks only.
Thus she progressed till descending Mellstock Hill another milestone
appeared, and soon the beginning of an iron-railed fence came into
view.  She staggered across to the first post, clung to it, and
looked around.

The Casterbridge lights were now individually visible, It was getting
towards morning, and vehicles might be hoped for, if not expected
soon.  She listened.  There was not a sound of life save that acme
and sublimation of all dismal sounds, the bark of a fox, its three
hollow notes being rendered at intervals of a minute with the
precision of a funeral bell.

"Less than a mile!" the woman murmured.  "No; more," she added, after
a pause.  "The mile is to the county hall, and my resting-place is on
the other side Casterbridge.  A little over a mile, and there I am!"
After an interval she again spoke.  "Five or six steps to a yard--six
perhaps.  I have to go seventeen hundred yards.  A hundred times six,
six hundred.  Seventeen times that.  O pity me, Lord!"

Holding to the rails, she advanced, thrusting one hand forward upon
the rail, then the other, then leaning over it whilst she dragged her
feet on beneath.

This woman was not given to soliloquy; but extremity of feeling
lessens the individuality of the weak, as it increases that of the
strong.  She said again in the same tone, "I'll believe that the end
lies five posts forward, and no further, and so get strength to pass
them."

This was a practical application of the principle that a half-feigned
and fictitious faith is better than no faith at all.

She passed five posts and held on to the fifth.

"I'll pass five more by believing my longed-for spot is at the next
fifth.  I can do it."

She passed five more.

"It lies only five further."

She passed five more.

"But it is five further."

She passed them.

"That stone bridge is the end of my journey," she said, when the
bridge over the Froom was in view.

She crawled to the bridge.  During the effort each breath of the
woman went into the air as if never to return again.

"Now for the truth of the matter," she said, sitting down.  "The
truth is, that I have less than half a mile."  Self-beguilement with
what she had known all the time to be false had given her strength to
come over half a mile that she would have been powerless to face in
the lump.  The artifice showed that the woman, by some mysterious
intuition, had grasped the paradoxical truth that blindness may
operate more vigorously than prescience, and the short-sighted effect
more than the far-seeing; that limitation, and not comprehensiveness,
is needed for striking a blow.

The half-mile stood now before the sick and weary woman like a stolid
Juggernaut.  It was an impassive King of her world.  The road here
ran across Durnover Moor, open to the road on either side.  She
surveyed the wide space, the lights, herself, sighed, and lay down
against a guard-stone of the bridge.

Never was ingenuity exercised so sorely as the traveller here
exercised hers.  Every conceivable aid, method, stratagem, mechanism,
by which these last desperate eight hundred yards could be overpassed
by a human being unperceived, was revolved in her busy brain,
and dismissed as impracticable.  She thought of sticks, wheels,
crawling--she even thought of rolling.  But the exertion demanded
by either of these latter two was greater than to walk erect.  The
faculty of contrivance was worn out.  Hopelessness had come at last.

"No further!" she whispered, and closed her eyes.

From the stripe of shadow on the opposite side of the bridge a
portion of shade seemed to detach itself and move into isolation
upon the pale white of the road.  It glided noiselessly towards the
recumbent woman.

She became conscious of something touching her hand; it was softness
and it was warmth.  She opened her eye's, and the substance touched
her face.  A dog was licking her cheek.

He was a huge, heavy, and quiet creature, standing darkly against the
low horizon, and at least two feet higher than the present position
of her eyes.  Whether Newfoundland, mastiff, bloodhound, or what
not, it was impossible to say.  He seemed to be of too strange and
mysterious a nature to belong to any variety among those of popular
nomenclature.  Being thus assignable to no breed, he was the ideal
embodiment of canine greatness--a generalization from what was common
to all.  Night, in its sad, solemn, and benevolent aspect, apart from
its stealthy and cruel side, was personified in this form.  Darkness
endows the small and ordinary ones among mankind with poetical power,
and even the suffering woman threw her idea into figure.

In her reclining position she looked up to him just as in earlier
times she had, when standing, looked up to a man.  The animal, who
was as homeless as she, respectfully withdrew a step or two when the
woman moved, and, seeing that she did not repulse him, he licked her
hand again.

A thought moved within her like lightning.  "Perhaps I can make use
of him--I might do it then!"

She pointed in the direction of Casterbridge, and the dog seemed to
misunderstand: he trotted on.  Then, finding she could not follow, he
came back and whined.

The ultimate and saddest singularity of woman's effort and invention
was reached when, with a quickened breathing, she rose to a stooping
posture, and, resting her two little arms upon the shoulders of the
dog, leant firmly thereon, and murmured stimulating words.  Whilst
she sorrowed in her heart she cheered with her voice, and what was
stranger than that the strong should need encouragement from the weak
was that cheerfulness should be so well stimulated by such utter
dejection.  Her friend moved forward slowly, and she with small
mincing steps moved forward beside him, half her weight being thrown
upon the animal.  Sometimes she sank as she had sunk from walking
erect, from the crutches, from the rails.  The dog, who now
thoroughly understood her desire and her incapacity, was frantic in
his distress on these occasions; he would tug at her dress and run
forward.  She always called him back, and it was now to be observed
that the woman listened for human sounds only to avoid them.  It was
evident that she had an object in keeping her presence on the road
and her forlorn state unknown.

Their progress was necessarily very slow.  They reached the bottom
of the town, and the Casterbridge lamps lay before them like fallen
Pleiads as they turned to the left into the dense shade of a deserted
avenue of chestnuts, and so skirted the borough.  Thus the town was
passed, and the goal was reached.

On this much-desired spot outside the town rose a picturesque
building.  Originally it had been a mere case to hold people.  The
shell had been so thin, so devoid of excrescence, and so closely
drawn over the accommodation granted, that the grim character of what
was beneath showed through it, as the shape of a body is visible
under a winding-sheet.

Then Nature, as if offended, lent a hand.  Masses of ivy grew up,
completely covering the walls, till the place looked like an abbey;
and it was discovered that the view from the front, over the
Casterbridge chimneys, was one of the most magnificent in the
county. A neighbouring earl once said that he would give up a year's
rental to have at his own door the view enjoyed by the inmates from
theirs--and very probably the inmates would have given up the view
for his year's rental.

This stone edifice consisted of a central mass and two wings, whereon
stood as sentinels a few slim chimneys, now gurgling sorrowfully to
the slow wind.  In the wall was a gate, and by the gate a bellpull
formed of a hanging wire.  The woman raised herself as high as
possible upon her knees, and could just reach the handle.  She moved
it and fell forwards in a bowed attitude, her face upon her bosom.

It was getting on towards six o'clock, and sounds of movement were
to be heard inside the building which was the haven of rest to this
wearied soul.  A little door by the large one was opened, and a man
appeared inside.  He discerned the panting heap of clothes, went back
for a light, and came again.  He entered a second time, and returned
with two women.

These lifted the prostrate figure and assisted her in through the
doorway.  The man then closed the door.

"How did she get here?" said one of the women.

"The Lord knows," said the other.

"There is a dog outside," murmured the overcome traveller.  "Where is
he gone?  He helped me."

"I stoned him away," said the man.

The little procession then moved forward--the man in front bearing
the light, the two bony women next, supporting between them the small
and supple one.  Thus they entered the house and disappeared.




CHAPTER XLI


SUSPICION--FANNY IS SENT FOR


Bathsheba said very little to her husband all that evening of their
return from market, and he was not disposed to say much to her.  He
exhibited the unpleasant combination of a restless condition with a
silent tongue.  The next day, which was Sunday, passed nearly in the
same manner as regarded their taciturnity, Bathsheba going to church
both morning and afternoon.  This was the day before the Budmouth
races.  In the evening Troy said, suddenly--

"Bathsheba, could you let me have twenty pounds?"

Her countenance instantly sank. "Twenty pounds?" she said.

"The fact is, I want it badly."  The anxiety upon Troy's face was
unusual and very marked.  It was a culmination of the mood he had
been in all the day.

"Ah! for those races to-morrow."

Troy for the moment made no reply.  Her mistake had its advantages
to a man who shrank from having his mind inspected as he did now.
"Well, suppose I do want it for races?" he said, at last.

"Oh, Frank!" Bathsheba replied, and there was such a volume of
entreaty in the words.  "Only such a few weeks ago you said that I
was far sweeter than all your other pleasures put together, and that
you would give them all up for me; and now, won't you give up this
one, which is more a worry than a pleasure?  Do, Frank.  Come, let
me fascinate you by all I can do--by pretty words and pretty looks,
and everything I can think of--to stay at home.  Say yes to your
wife--say yes!"

The tenderest and softest phases of Bathsheba's nature were prominent
now--advanced impulsively for his acceptance, without any of the
disguises and defences which the wariness of her character when she
was cool too frequently threw over them.  Few men could have resisted
the arch yet dignified entreaty of the beautiful face, thrown a
little back and sideways in the well known attitude that expresses
more than the words it accompanies, and which seems to have been
designed for these special occasions.  Had the woman not been his
wife, Troy would have succumbed instantly; as it was, he thought he
would not deceive her longer.

"The money is not wanted for racing debts at all," he said.

"What is it for?" she asked.  "You worry me a great deal by these
mysterious responsibilities, Frank."

Troy hesitated.  He did not now love her enough to allow himself
to be carried too far by her ways.  Yet it was necessary to be
civil.  "You wrong me by such a suspicious manner," he said.  "Such
strait-waistcoating as you treat me to is not becoming in you at so
early a date."

"I think that I have a right to grumble a little if I pay," she said,
with features between a smile and a pout.

"Exactly; and, the former being done, suppose we proceed to the
latter.  Bathsheba, fun is all very well, but don't go too far, or
you may have cause to regret something."

She reddened.  "I do that already," she said, quickly.

"What do you regret?"

"That my romance has come to an end."

"All romances end at marriage."

"I wish you wouldn't talk like that.  You grieve me to my soul by
being smart at my expense."

"You are dull enough at mine.  I believe you hate me."

"Not you--only your faults.  I do hate them."

"'Twould be much more becoming if you set yourself to cure them.
Come, let's strike a balance with the twenty pounds, and be friends."

She gave a sigh of resignation.  "I have about that sum here for
household expenses.  If you must have it, take it."

"Very good.  Thank you.  I expect I shall have gone away before you
are in to breakfast to-morrow."

"And must you go?  Ah! there was a time, Frank, when it would have
taken a good many promises to other people to drag you away from me.
You used to call me darling, then.  But it doesn't matter to you how
my days are passed now."

"I must go, in spite of sentiment."  Troy, as he spoke, looked at his
watch, and, apparently actuated by _non lucendo_ principles, opened
the case at the back, revealing, snugly stowed within it, a small
coil of hair.

Bathsheba's eyes had been accidentally lifted at that moment, and she
saw the action and saw the hair.  She flushed in pain and surprise,
and some words escaped her before she had thought whether or not it
was wise to utter them.  "A woman's curl of hair!" she said.  "Oh,
Frank, whose is that?"

Troy had instantly closed his watch.  He carelessly replied, as one
who cloaked some feelings that the sight had stirred.  "Why, yours,
of course.  Whose should it be?  I had quite forgotten that I had
it."

"What a dreadful fib, Frank!"

"I tell you I had forgotten it!" he said, loudly.

"I don't mean that--it was yellow hair."

"Nonsense."

"That's insulting me.  I know it was yellow.  Now whose was it?  I
want to know."

"Very well--I'll tell you, so make no more ado.  It is the hair of a
young woman I was going to marry before I knew you."

"You ought to tell me her name, then."

"I cannot do that."

"Is she married yet?"

"No."

"Is she alive?"

"Yes."

"Is she pretty?"

"Yes."

"It is wonderful how she can be, poor thing, under such an awful
affliction!"

"Affliction--what affliction?" he inquired, quickly.

"Having hair of that dreadful colour."

"Oh--ho--I like that!" said Troy, recovering himself.  "Why, her hair
has been admired by everybody who has seen her since she has worn it
loose, which has not been long.  It is beautiful hair.  People used
to turn their heads to look at it, poor girl!"

"Pooh! that's nothing--that's nothing!" she exclaimed, in incipient
accents of pique.  "If I cared for your love as much as I used to I
could say people had turned to look at mine."

"Bathsheba, don't be so fitful and jealous.  You knew what married
life would be like, and shouldn't have entered it if you feared these
contingencies."

Troy had by this time driven her to bitterness: her heart was big in
her throat, and the ducts to her eyes were painfully full.  Ashamed
as she was to show emotion, at last she burst out:--

"This is all I get for loving you so well!  Ah! when I married you
your life was dearer to me than my own.  I would have died for
you--how truly I can say that I would have died for you!  And now
you sneer at my foolishness in marrying you.  O! is it kind to me to
throw my mistake in my face?  Whatever opinion you may have of my
wisdom, you should not tell me of it so mercilessly, now that I am
in your power."

"I can't help how things fall out," said Troy; "upon my heart, women
will be the death of me!"

"Well you shouldn't keep people's hair.  You'll burn it, won't you,
Frank?"

Frank went on as if he had not heard her.  "There are considerations
even before my consideration for you; reparations to be made--ties
you know nothing of.  If you repent of marrying, so do I."

Trembling now, she put her hand upon his arm, saying, in mingled
tones of wretchedness and coaxing, "I only repent it if you don't
love me better than any woman in the world!  I don't otherwise,
Frank.  You don't repent because you already love somebody better
than you love me, do you?"

"I don't know.  Why do you say that?"

"You won't burn that curl.  You like the woman who owns that pretty
hair--yes; it is pretty--more beautiful than my miserable black mane!
Well, it is no use; I can't help being ugly.  You must like her best,
if you will!"

"Until to-day, when I took it from a drawer, I have never looked upon
that bit of hair for several months--that I am ready to swear."

"But just now you said 'ties'; and then--that woman we met?"

"'Twas the meeting with her that reminded me of the hair."

"Is it hers, then?"

"Yes.  There, now that you have wormed it out of me, I hope you are
content."

"And what are the ties?"

"Oh! that meant nothing--a mere jest."

"A mere jest!" she said, in mournful astonishment.  "Can you jest
when I am so wretchedly in earnest?  Tell me the truth, Frank.  I
am not a fool, you know, although I am a woman, and have my woman's
moments.  Come! treat me fairly," she said, looking honestly and
fearlessly into his face.  "I don't want much; bare justice--that's
all!  Ah! once I felt I could be content with nothing less than the
highest homage from the husband I should choose.  Now, anything
short of cruelty will content me.  Yes! the independent and spirited
Bathsheba is come to this!"

"For Heaven's sake don't be so desperate!" Troy said, snappishly,
rising as he did so, and leaving the room.

Directly he had gone, Bathsheba burst into great sobs--dry-eyed sobs,
which cut as they came, without any softening by tears.  But she
determined to repress all evidences of feeling.  She was conquered;
but she would never own it as long as she lived.  Her pride was
indeed brought low by despairing discoveries of her spoliation by
marriage with a less pure nature than her own.  She chafed to and fro
in rebelliousness, like a caged leopard; her whole soul was in arms,
and the blood fired her face.  Until she had met Troy, Bathsheba had
been proud of her position as a woman; it had been a glory to her to
know that her lips had been touched by no man's on earth--that her
waist had never been encircled by a lover's arm.  She hated herself
now.  In those earlier days she had always nourished a secret
contempt for girls who were the slaves of the first good-looking
young fellow who should choose to salute them.  She had never taken
kindly to the idea of marriage in the abstract as did the majority of
women she saw about her.  In the turmoil of her anxiety for her lover
she had agreed to marry him; but the perception that had accompanied
her happiest hours on this account was rather that of self-sacrifice
than of promotion and honour.  Although she scarcely knew the
divinity's name, Diana was the goddess whom Bathsheba instinctively
adored.  That she had never, by look, word, or sign, encouraged a man
to approach her--that she had felt herself sufficient to herself,
and had in the independence of her girlish heart fancied there was
a certain degradation in renouncing the simplicity of a maiden
existence to become the humbler half of an indifferent matrimonial
whole--were facts now bitterly remembered.  Oh, if she had never
stooped to folly of this kind, respectable as it was, and could only
stand again, as she had stood on the hill at Norcombe, and dare Troy
or any other man to pollute a hair of her head by his interference!

The next morning she rose earlier than usual, and had the horse
saddled for her ride round the farm in the customary way.  When she
came in at half-past eight--their usual hour for breakfasting--she
was informed that her husband had risen, taken his breakfast, and
driven off to Casterbridge with the gig and Poppet.

After breakfast she was cool and collected--quite herself in
fact--and she rambled to the gate, intending to walk to another
quarter of the farm, which she still personally superintended as
well as her duties in the house would permit, continually, however,
finding herself preceded in forethought by Gabriel Oak, for whom she
began to entertain the genuine friendship of a sister.  Of course,
she sometimes thought of him in the light of an old lover, and had
momentary imaginings of what life with him as a husband would have
been like; also of life with Boldwood under the same conditions.
But Bathsheba, though she could feel, was not much given to futile
dreaming, and her musings under this head were short and entirely
confined to the times when Troy's neglect was more than ordinarily
evident.

She saw coming up the road a man like Mr. Boldwood.  It was Mr.
Boldwood.  Bathsheba blushed painfully, and watched.  The farmer
stopped when still a long way off, and held up his hand to Gabriel
Oak, who was in a footpath across the field.  The two men then
approached each other and seemed to engage in earnest conversation.

Thus they continued for a long time.  Joseph Poorgrass now passed
near them, wheeling a barrow of apples up the hill to Bathsheba's
residence.  Boldwood and Gabriel called to him, spoke to him for a
few minutes, and then all three parted, Joseph immediately coming
up the hill with his barrow.

Bathsheba, who had seen this pantomime with some surprise,
experienced great relief when Boldwood turned back again.  "Well,
what's the message, Joseph?" she said.

He set down his barrow, and, putting upon himself the refined aspect
that a conversation with a lady required, spoke to Bathsheba over the
gate.

"You'll never see Fanny Robin no more--use nor principal--ma'am."

"Why?"

"Because she's dead in the Union."

"Fanny dead--never!"

"Yes, ma'am."

"What did she die from?"

"I don't know for certain; but I should be inclined to think it was
from general neshness of constitution.  She was such a limber maid
that 'a could stand no hardship, even when I knowed her, and 'a went
like a candle-snoff, so 'tis said.  She was took bad in the morning,
and, being quite feeble and worn out, she died in the evening.  She
belongs by law to our parish; and Mr. Boldwood is going to send a
waggon at three this afternoon to fetch her home here and bury her."

"Indeed I shall not let Mr. Boldwood do any such thing--I shall do
it!  Fanny was my uncle's servant, and, although I only knew her
for a couple of days, she belongs to me.  How very, very sad this
is!--the idea of Fanny being in a workhouse."  Bathsheba had begun to
know what suffering was, and she spoke with real feeling....  "Send
across to Mr. Boldwood's, and say that Mrs. Troy will take upon
herself the duty of fetching an old servant of the family....  We
ought not to put her in a waggon; we'll get a hearse."

"There will hardly be time, ma'am, will there?"

"Perhaps not," she said, musingly.  "When did you say we must be at
the door--three o'clock?"

"Three o'clock this afternoon, ma'am, so to speak it."

"Very well--you go with it.  A pretty waggon is better than an ugly
hearse, after all.  Joseph, have the new spring waggon with the blue
body and red wheels, and wash it very clean.  And, Joseph--"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Carry with you some evergreens and flowers to put upon her
coffin--indeed, gather a great many, and completely bury her in
them.  Get some boughs of laurustinus, and variegated box, and yew,
and boy's-love; ay, and some bunches of chrysanthemum.  And let old
Pleasant draw her, because she knew him so well."

"I will, ma'am.  I ought to have said that the Union, in the form of
four labouring men, will meet me when I gets to our churchyard gate,
and take her and bury her according to the rites of the Board of
Guardians, as by law ordained."

"Dear me--Casterbridge Union--and is Fanny come to this?" said
Bathsheba, musing.  "I wish I had known of it sooner.  I thought she
was far away.  How long has she lived there?"

"On'y been there a day or two."

"Oh!--then she has not been staying there as a regular inmate?"

"No.  She first went to live in a garrison-town t'other side o'
Wessex, and since then she's been picking up a living at seampstering
in Melchester for several months, at the house of a very respectable
widow-woman who takes in work of that sort.  She only got handy the
Union-house on Sunday morning 'a b'lieve, and 'tis supposed here and
there that she had traipsed every step of the way from Melchester.
Why she left her place, I can't say, for I don't know; and as to a
lie, why, I wouldn't tell it.  That's the short of the story, ma'am."

"Ah-h!"

No gem ever flashed from a rosy ray to a white one more rapidly than
changed the young wife's countenance whilst this word came from her
in a long-drawn breath.  "Did she walk along our turnpike-road?" she
said, in a suddenly restless and eager voice.

"I believe she did....  Ma'am, shall I call Liddy?  You bain't well,
ma'am, surely?  You look like a lily--so pale and fainty!"

"No; don't call her; it is nothing.  When did she pass Weatherbury?"

"Last Saturday night."

"That will do, Joseph; now you may go."

"Certainly, ma'am."

"Joseph, come hither a moment.  What was the colour of Fanny Robin's
hair?"

"Really, mistress, now that 'tis put to me so judge-and-jury like, I
can't call to mind, if ye'll believe me!"

"Never mind; go on and do what I told you.  Stop--well no, go on."

She turned herself away from him, that he might no longer notice the
mood which had set its sign so visibly upon her, and went indoors
with a distressing sense of faintness and a beating brow.  About an
hour after, she heard the noise of the waggon and went out, still
with a painful consciousness of her bewildered and troubled look.
Joseph, dressed in his best suit of clothes, was putting in the horse
to start.  The shrubs and flowers were all piled in the waggon, as
she had directed; Bathsheba hardly saw them now.

"Whose sweetheart did you say, Joseph?"

"I don't know, ma'am."

"Are you quite sure?"

"Yes, ma'am, quite sure."

"Sure of what?"

"I'm sure that all I know is that she arrived in the morning and died
in the evening without further parley.  What Oak and Mr. Boldwood
told me was only these few words.  'Little Fanny Robin is dead,
Joseph,' Gabriel said, looking in my face in his steady old way.
I was very sorry, and I said, 'Ah!--and how did she come to die?'
'Well, she's dead in Casterbridge Union,' he said, 'and perhaps
'tisn't much matter about how she came to die.  She reached the
Union early Sunday morning, and died in the afternoon--that's clear
enough.' Then I asked what she'd been doing lately, and Mr. Boldwood
turned round to me then, and left off spitting a thistle with the end
of his stick.  He told me about her having lived by seampstering in
Melchester, as I mentioned to you, and that she walked therefrom at
the end of last week, passing near here Saturday night in the dusk.
They then said I had better just name a hint of her death to you, and
away they went.  Her death might have been brought on by biding in
the night wind, you know, ma'am; for people used to say she'd go off
in a decline: she used to cough a good deal in winter time.  However,
'tisn't much odds to us about that now, for 'tis all over."

"Have you heard a different story at all?" She looked at him so
intently that Joseph's eyes quailed.

"Not a word, mistress, I assure 'ee!" he said.  "Hardly anybody in
the parish knows the news yet."

"I wonder why Gabriel didn't bring the message to me himself.  He
mostly makes a point of seeing me upon the most trifling errand."
These words were merely murmured, and she was looking upon the
ground.

"Perhaps he was busy, ma'am," Joseph suggested.  "And sometimes he
seems to suffer from things upon his mind, connected with the time
when he was better off than 'a is now.  'A's rather a curious item,
but a very understanding shepherd, and learned in books."

"Did anything seem upon his mind whilst he was speaking to you about
this?"

"I cannot but say that there did, ma'am.  He was terrible down, and
so was Farmer Boldwood."

"Thank you, Joseph.  That will do.  Go on now, or you'll be late."

Bathsheba, still unhappy, went indoors again.  In the course of the
afternoon she said to Liddy, who had been informed of the occurrence,
"What was the colour of poor Fanny Robin's hair?  Do you know?  I
cannot recollect--I only saw her for a day or two."

"It was light, ma'am; but she wore it rather short, and packed away
under her cap, so that you would hardly notice it.  But I have seen
her let it down when she was going to bed, and it looked beautiful
then.  Real golden hair."

"Her young man was a soldier, was he not?"

"Yes.  In the same regiment as Mr. Troy.  He says he knew him very
well."

"What, Mr. Troy says so?  How came he to say that?"

"One day I just named it to him, and asked him if he knew Fanny's
young man.  He said, 'Oh yes, he knew the young man as well as he
knew himself, and that there wasn't a man in the regiment he liked
better.'"

"Ah!  Said that, did he?"

"Yes; and he said there was a strong likeness between himself and the
other young man, so that sometimes people mistook them--"

"Liddy, for Heaven's sake stop your talking!" said Bathsheba, with
the nervous petulance that comes from worrying perceptions.




CHAPTER XLII


JOSEPH AND HIS BURDEN--BUCK'S HEAD


A wall bounded the site of Casterbridge Union-house, except along a
portion of the end.  Here a high gable stood prominent, and it was
covered like the front with a mat of ivy.  In this gable was no
window, chimney, ornament, or protuberance of any kind.  The single
feature appertaining to it, beyond the expanse of dark green leaves,
was a small door.

The situation of the door was peculiar.  The sill was three or four
feet above the ground, and for a moment one was at a loss for an
explanation of this exceptional altitude, till ruts immediately
beneath suggested that the door was used solely for the passage of
articles and persons to and from the level of a vehicle standing on
the outside.  Upon the whole, the door seemed to advertise itself as
a species of Traitor's Gate translated to another sphere.  That entry
and exit hereby was only at rare intervals became apparent on noting
that tufts of grass were allowed to flourish undisturbed in the
chinks of the sill.

As the clock over the South-street Alms-house pointed to five minutes
to three, a blue spring waggon, picked out with red, and containing
boughs and flowers, passed the end of the street, and up towards this
side of the building.  Whilst the chimes were yet stammering out a
shattered form of "Malbrook," Joseph Poorgrass rang the bell, and
received directions to back his waggon against the high door under
the gable.  The door then opened, and a plain elm coffin was slowly
thrust forth, and laid by two men in fustian along the middle of the
vehicle.

One of the men then stepped up beside it, took from his pocket a lump
of chalk, and wrote upon the cover the name and a few other words in
a large scrawling hand.  (We believe that they do these things more
tenderly now, and provide a plate.) He covered the whole with a
black cloth, threadbare, but decent, the tail-board of the waggon
was returned to its place, one of the men handed a certificate of
registry to Poorgrass, and both entered the door, closing it behind
them.  Their connection with her, short as it had been, was over for
ever.

Joseph then placed the flowers as enjoined, and the evergreens
around the flowers, till it was difficult to divine what the waggon
contained; he smacked his whip, and the rather pleasing funeral car
crept down the hill, and along the road to Weatherbury.

The afternoon drew on apace, and, looking to the right towards the
sea as he walked beside the horse, Poorgrass saw strange clouds and
scrolls of mist rolling over the long ridges which girt the landscape
in that quarter.  They came in yet greater volumes, and indolently
crept across the intervening valleys, and around the withered papery
flags of the moor and river brinks.  Then their dank spongy forms
closed in upon the sky.  It was a sudden overgrowth of atmospheric
fungi which had their roots in the neighbouring sea, and by the time
that horse, man, and corpse entered Yalbury Great Wood, these silent
workings of an invisible hand had reached them, and they were
completely enveloped, this being the first arrival of the autumn
fogs, and the first fog of the series.

The air was as an eye suddenly struck blind.  The waggon and its load
rolled no longer on the horizontal division between clearness and
opacity, but were imbedded in an elastic body of a monotonous pallor
throughout.  There was no perceptible motion in the air, not a
visible drop of water fell upon a leaf of the beeches, birches,
and firs composing the wood on either side.  The trees stood in an
attitude of intentness, as if they waited longingly for a wind to
come and rock them.  A startling quiet overhung all surrounding
things--so completely, that the crunching of the waggon-wheels
was as a great noise, and small rustles, which had never obtained
a hearing except by night, were distinctly individualized.

Joseph Poorgrass looked round upon his sad burden as it loomed
faintly through the flowering laurustinus, then at the unfathomable
gloom amid the high trees on each hand, indistinct, shadowless, and
spectre-like in their monochrome of grey.  He felt anything but
cheerful, and wished he had the company even of a child or dog.
Stopping the horse, he listened.  Not a footstep or wheel was audible
anywhere around, and the dead silence was broken only by a heavy
particle falling from a tree through the evergreens and alighting
with a smart rap upon the coffin of poor Fanny.  The fog had by this
time saturated the trees, and this was the first dropping of water
from the overbrimming leaves.  The hollow echo of its fall reminded
the waggoner painfully of the grim Leveller.  Then hard by came down
another drop, then two or three.  Presently there was a continual
tapping of these heavy drops upon the dead leaves, the road, and
the travellers.  The nearer boughs were beaded with the mist to the
greyness of aged men, and the rusty-red leaves of the beeches were
hung with similar drops, like diamonds on auburn hair.

At the roadside hamlet called Roy-Town, just beyond this wood,
was the old inn Buck's Head.  It was about a mile and a half from
Weatherbury, and in the meridian times of stage-coach travelling
had been the place where many coaches changed and kept their relays
of horses.  All the old stabling was now pulled down, and little
remained besides the habitable inn itself, which, standing a little
way back from the road, signified its existence to people far up and
down the highway by a sign hanging from the horizontal bough of an
elm on the opposite side of the way.

Travellers--for the variety _tourist_ had hardly developed into a
distinct species at this date--sometimes said in passing, when they
cast their eyes up to the sign-bearing tree, that artists were fond
of representing the signboard hanging thus, but that they themselves
had never before noticed so perfect an instance in actual working
order.  It was near this tree that the waggon was standing into which
Gabriel Oak crept on his first journey to Weatherbury; but, owing to
the darkness, the sign and the inn had been unobserved.

The manners of the inn were of the old-established type.  Indeed,
in the minds of its frequenters they existed as unalterable formulæ:
_e.g._--


   Rap with the bottom of your pint for more liquor.
   For tobacco, shout.
   In calling for the girl in waiting, say, "Maid!"
   Ditto for the landlady, "Old Soul!" etc., etc.


It was a relief to Joseph's heart when the friendly signboard came in
view, and, stopping his horse immediately beneath it, he proceeded to
fulfil an intention made a long time before.  His spirits were oozing
out of him quite.  He turned the horse's head to the green bank, and
entered the hostel for a mug of ale.

Going down into the kitchen of the inn, the floor of which was a
step below the passage, which in its turn was a step below the
road outside, what should Joseph see to gladden his eyes but two
copper-coloured discs, in the form of the countenances of Mr. Jan
Coggan and Mr. Mark Clark.  These owners of the two most appreciative
throats in the neighbourhood, within the pale of respectability, were
now sitting face to face over a three-legged circular table, having
an iron rim to keep cups and pots from being accidentally elbowed
off; they might have been said to resemble the setting sun and the
full moon shining _vis-à-vis_ across the globe.

"Why, 'tis neighbour Poorgrass!" said Mark Clark.  "I'm sure your
face don't praise your mistress's table, Joseph."

"I've had a very pale companion for the last four miles," said
Joseph, indulging in a shudder toned down by resignation.  "And to
speak the truth, 'twas beginning to tell upon me.  I assure ye, I
ha'n't seed the colour of victuals or drink since breakfast time
this morning, and that was no more than a dew-bit afield."

"Then drink, Joseph, and don't restrain yourself!" said Coggan,
handing him a hooped mug three-quarters full.

Joseph drank for a moderately long time, then for a longer time,
saying, as he lowered the jug, "'Tis pretty drinking--very pretty
drinking, and is more than cheerful on my melancholy errand, so to
speak it."

"True, drink is a pleasant delight," said Jan, as one who repeated a
truism so familiar to his brain that he hardly noticed its passage
over his tongue; and, lifting the cup, Coggan tilted his head
gradually backwards, with closed eyes, that his expectant soul
might not be diverted for one instant from its bliss by irrelevant
surroundings.

"Well, I must be on again," said Poorgrass.  "Not but that I should
like another nip with ye; but the parish might lose confidence in me
if I was seed here."

"Where be ye trading o't to to-day, then, Joseph?"

"Back to Weatherbury.  I've got poor little Fanny Robin in my waggon
outside, and I must be at the churchyard gates at a quarter to five
with her."

"Ay--I've heard of it.  And so she's nailed up in parish boards after
all, and nobody to pay the bell shilling and the grave half-crown."

"The parish pays the grave half-crown, but not the bell shilling,
because the bell's a luxery: but 'a can hardly do without the grave,
poor body.  However, I expect our mistress will pay all."

"A pretty maid as ever I see!  But what's yer hurry, Joseph?  The
pore woman's dead, and you can't bring her to life, and you may as
well sit down comfortable, and finish another with us."

"I don't mind taking just the least thimbleful ye can dream of more
with ye, sonnies.  But only a few minutes, because 'tis as 'tis."

"Of course, you'll have another drop.  A man's twice the man
afterwards.  You feel so warm and glorious, and you whop and slap at
your work without any trouble, and everything goes on like sticks
a-breaking.  Too much liquor is bad, and leads us to that horned man
in the smoky house; but after all, many people haven't the gift of
enjoying a wet, and since we be highly favoured with a power that
way, we should make the most o't."

"True," said Mark Clark.  "'Tis a talent the Lord has mercifully
bestowed upon us, and we ought not to neglect it. But, what with the
parsons and clerks and school-people and serious tea-parties, the
merry old ways of good life have gone to the dogs--upon my carcase,
they have!"

"Well, really, I must be onward again now," said Joseph.

"Now, now, Joseph; nonsense!  The poor woman is dead, isn't she, and
what's your hurry?"

"Well, I hope Providence won't be in a way with me for my doings,"
said Joseph, again sitting down.  "I've been troubled with weak
moments lately, 'tis true.  I've been drinky once this month already,
and I did not go to church a-Sunday, and I dropped a curse or two
yesterday; so I don't want to go too far for my safety.  Your next
world is your next world, and not to be squandered offhand."

"I believe ye to be a chapelmember, Joseph.  That I do."

"Oh, no, no!  I don't go so far as that."

"For my part," said Coggan, "I'm staunch Church of England."

"Ay, and faith, so be I," said Mark Clark.

"I won't say much for myself; I don't wish to," Coggan continued,
with that tendency to talk on principles which is characteristic of
the barley-corn.  "But I've never changed a single doctrine: I've
stuck like a plaster to the old faith I was born in.  Yes; there's
this to be said for the Church, a man can belong to the Church and
bide in his cheerful old inn, and never trouble or worry his mind
about doctrines at all.  But to be a meetinger, you must go to chapel
in all winds and weathers, and make yerself as frantic as a skit.
Not but that chapel members be clever chaps enough in their way.
They can lift up beautiful prayers out of their own heads, all about
their families and shipwrecks in the newspaper."

"They can--they can," said Mark Clark, with corroborative feeling;
"but we Churchmen, you see, must have it all printed aforehand, or,
dang it all, we should no more know what to say to a great gaffer
like the Lord than babes unborn."

"Chapelfolk be more hand-in-glove with them above than we," said
Joseph, thoughtfully.

"Yes," said Coggan.  "We know very well that if anybody do go to
heaven, they will.  They've worked hard for it, and they deserve to
have it, such as 'tis.  I bain't such a fool as to pretend that we
who stick to the Church have the same chance as they, because we
know we have not.  But I hate a feller who'll change his old ancient
doctrines for the sake of getting to heaven.  I'd as soon turn
king's-evidence for the few pounds you get.  Why, neighbours, when
every one of my taties were frosted, our Parson Thirdly were the man
who gave me a sack for seed, though he hardly had one for his own
use, and no money to buy 'em.  If it hadn't been for him, I shouldn't
hae had a tatie to put in my garden.  D'ye think I'd turn after that?
No, I'll stick to my side; and if we be in the wrong, so be it: I'll
fall with the fallen!"

"Well said--very well said," observed Joseph.--"However, folks, I
must be moving now: upon my life I must.  Pa'son Thirdly will be
waiting at the church gates, and there's the woman a-biding outside
in the waggon."

"Joseph Poorgrass, don't be so miserable!  Pa'son Thirdly won't mind.
He's a generous man; he's found me in tracts for years, and I've
consumed a good many in the course of a long and shady life; but he's
never been the man to cry out at the expense.  Sit down."

The longer Joseph Poorgrass remained, the less his spirit was
troubled by the duties which devolved upon him this afternoon.
The minutes glided by uncounted, until the evening shades began
perceptibly to deepen, and the eyes of the three were but sparkling
points on the surface of darkness.  Coggan's repeater struck six
from his pocket in the usual still small tones.

At that moment hasty steps were heard in the entry, and the door
opened to admit the figure of Gabriel Oak, followed by the maid of
the inn bearing a candle.  He stared sternly at the one lengthy
and two round faces of the sitters, which confronted him with the
expressions of a fiddle and a couple of warming-pans.  Joseph
Poorgrass blinked, and shrank several inches into the background.

"Upon my soul, I'm ashamed of you; 'tis disgraceful, Joseph,
disgraceful!" said Gabriel, indignantly.  "Coggan, you call yourself
a man, and don't know better than this."

Coggan looked up indefinitely at Oak, one or other of his eyes
occasionally opening and closing of its own accord, as if it were not
a member, but a dozy individual with a distinct personality.

"Don't take on so, shepherd!" said Mark Clark, looking reproachfully
at the candle, which appeared to possess special features of interest
for his eyes.

"Nobody can hurt a dead woman," at length said Coggan, with the
precision of a machine.  "All that could be done for her is
done--she's beyond us: and why should a man put himself in a tearing
hurry for lifeless clay that can neither feel nor see, and don't know
what you do with her at all?  If she'd been alive, I would have been
the first to help her.  If she now wanted victuals and drink, I'd pay
for it, money down.  But she's dead, and no speed of ours will bring
her to life.  The woman's past us--time spent upon her is throwed
away: why should we hurry to do what's not required?  Drink,
shepherd, and be friends, for to-morrow we may be like her."

"We may," added Mark Clark, emphatically, at once drinking himself,
to run no further risk of losing his chance by the event alluded
to, Jan meanwhile merging his additional thoughts of to-morrow in a
song:--


                          To-mor-row, to-mor-row!
    And while peace and plen-ty I find at my board,
       With a heart free from sick-ness and sor-row,
    With my friends will I share what to-day may af-ford,
       And let them spread the ta-ble to-mor-row.
                          To-mor-row', to-mor--


"Do hold thy horning, Jan!" said Oak; and turning upon Poorgrass, "as
for you, Joseph, who do your wicked deeds in such confoundedly holy
ways, you are as drunk as you can stand."

"No, Shepherd Oak, no!  Listen to reason, shepherd.  All that's the
matter with me is the affliction called a multiplying eye, and that's
how it is I look double to you--I mean, you look double to me."

"A multiplying eye is a very bad thing," said Mark Clark.

"It always comes on when I have been in a public-house a little
time," said Joseph Poorgrass, meekly.  "Yes; I see two of every
sort, as if I were some holy man living in the times of King Noah
and entering into the ark....  Y-y-y-yes," he added, becoming much
affected by the picture of himself as a person thrown away, and
shedding tears; "I feel too good for England: I ought to have lived
in Genesis by rights, like the other men of sacrifice, and then I
shouldn't have b-b-been called a d-d-drunkard in such a way!"

"I wish you'd show yourself a man of spirit, and not sit whining
there!"

"Show myself a man of spirit? ...  Ah, well! let me take the name of
drunkard humbly--let me be a man of contrite knees--let it be!  I
know that I always do say 'Please God' afore I do anything, from my
getting up to my going down of the same, and I be willing to take as
much disgrace as there is in that holy act.  Hah, yes! ...  But not
a man of spirit?  Have I ever allowed the toe of pride to be lifted
against my hinder parts without groaning manfully that I question
the right to do so?  I inquire that query boldly?"

"We can't say that you have, Hero Poorgrass," admitted Jan.

"Never have I allowed such treatment to pass unquestioned!  Yet the
shepherd says in the face of that rich testimony that I be not a man
of spirit!  Well, let it pass by, and death is a kind friend!"

Gabriel, seeing that neither of the three was in a fit state to take
charge of the waggon for the remainder of the journey, made no reply,
but, closing the door again upon them, went across to where the
vehicle stood, now getting indistinct in the fog and gloom of this
mildewy time.  He pulled the horse's head from the large patch of
turf it had eaten bare, readjusted the boughs over the coffin, and
drove along through the unwholesome night.

It had gradually become rumoured in the village that the body to be
brought and buried that day was all that was left of the unfortunate
Fanny Robin who had followed the Eleventh from Casterbridge through
Melchester and onwards.  But, thanks to Boldwood's reticence
and Oak's generosity, the lover she had followed had never been
individualized as Troy.  Gabriel hoped that the whole truth of the
matter might not be published till at any rate the girl had been in
her grave for a few days, when the interposing barriers of earth
and time, and a sense that the events had been somewhat shut into
oblivion, would deaden the sting that revelation and invidious
remark would have for Bathsheba just now.

By the time that Gabriel reached the old manor-house, her residence,
which lay in his way to the church, it was quite dark.  A man came
from the gate and said through the fog, which hung between them like
blown flour--

"Is that Poorgrass with the corpse?"

Gabriel recognized the voice as that of the parson.

"The corpse is here, sir," said Gabriel.

"I have just been to inquire of Mrs. Troy if she could tell me the
reason of the delay.  I am afraid it is too late now for the funeral
to be performed with proper decency.  Have you the registrar's
certificate?"

"No," said Gabriel.  "I expect Poorgrass has that; and he's at the
Buck's Head.  I forgot to ask him for it."

"Then that settles the matter.  We'll put off the funeral till
to-morrow morning.  The body may be brought on to the church, or
it may be left here at the farm and fetched by the bearers in the
morning. They waited more than an hour, and have now gone home."

Gabriel had his reasons for thinking the latter a most objectionable
plan, notwithstanding that Fanny had been an inmate of the farm-house
for several years in the lifetime of Bathsheba's uncle.  Visions
of several unhappy contingencies which might arise from this delay
flitted before him.  But his will was not law, and he went indoors
to inquire of his mistress what were her wishes on the subject.  He
found her in an unusual mood: her eyes as she looked up to him were
suspicious and perplexed as with some antecedent thought.  Troy
had not yet returned.  At first Bathsheba assented with a mien of
indifference to his proposition that they should go on to the church
at once with their burden; but immediately afterwards, following
Gabriel to the gate, she swerved to the extreme of solicitousness on
Fanny's account, and desired that the girl might be brought into the
house.  Oak argued upon the convenience of leaving her in the waggon,
just as she lay now, with her flowers and green leaves about her,
merely wheeling the vehicle into the coach-house till the morning,
but to no purpose.  "It is unkind and unchristian," she said, "to
leave the poor thing in a coach-house all night."

"Very well, then," said the parson.  "And I will arrange that the
funeral shall take place early to-morrow.  Perhaps Mrs. Troy is
right in feeling that we cannot treat a dead fellow-creature too
thoughtfully.  We must remember that though she may have erred
grievously in leaving her home, she is still our sister: and it is
to be believed that God's uncovenanted mercies are extended towards
her, and that she is a member of the flock of Christ."

The parson's words spread into the heavy air with a sad yet
unperturbed cadence, and Gabriel shed an honest tear.  Bathsheba
seemed unmoved.  Mr. Thirdly then left them, and Gabriel lighted
a lantern.  Fetching three other men to assist him, they bore the
unconscious truant indoors, placing the coffin on two benches in the
middle of a little sitting-room next the hall, as Bathsheba directed.

Every one except Gabriel Oak then left the room.  He still
indecisively lingered beside the body.  He was deeply troubled at the
wretchedly ironical aspect that circumstances were putting on with
regard to Troy's wife, and at his own powerlessness to counteract
them.  In spite of his careful manoeuvering all this day, the very
worst event that could in any way have happened in connection with
the burial had happened now.  Oak imagined a terrible discovery
resulting from this afternoon's work that might cast over Bathsheba's
life a shade which the interposition of many lapsing years might but
indifferently lighten, and which nothing at all might altogether
remove.

Suddenly, as in a last attempt to save Bathsheba from, at any rate,
immediate anguish, he looked again, as he had looked before, at the
chalk writing upon the coffin-lid.  The scrawl was this simple one,
"FANNY ROBIN AND CHILD."  Gabriel took his handkerchief and carefully
rubbed out the two latter words, leaving visible the inscription
"FANNY ROBIN" only.  He then left the room, and went out quietly by
the front door.




CHAPTER XLIII


FANNY'S REVENGE


"Do you want me any longer ma'am?" inquired Liddy, at a later hour
the same evening, standing by the door with a chamber candlestick in
her hand and addressing Bathsheba, who sat cheerless and alone in the
large parlour beside the first fire of the season.

"No more to-night, Liddy."

"I'll sit up for master if you like, ma'am.  I am not at all afraid
of Fanny, if I may sit in my own room and have a candle.  She was
such a childlike, nesh young thing that her spirit couldn't appear
to anybody if it tried, I'm quite sure."

"Oh no, no!  You go to bed.  I'll sit up for him myself till twelve
o'clock, and if he has not arrived by that time, I shall give him up
and go to bed too."

"It is half-past ten now."

"Oh! is it?"

"Why don't you sit upstairs, ma'am?"

"Why don't I?" said Bathsheba, desultorily.  "It isn't worth
while--there's a fire here, Liddy."  She suddenly exclaimed in an
impulsive and excited whisper, "Have you heard anything strange said
of Fanny?" The words had no sooner escaped her than an expression of
unutterable regret crossed her face, and she burst into tears.

"No--not a word!" said Liddy, looking at the weeping woman with
astonishment.  "What is it makes you cry so, ma'am; has anything hurt
you?"  She came to Bathsheba's side with a face full of sympathy.

"No, Liddy--I don't want you any more.  I can hardly say why I have
taken to crying lately: I never used to cry.  Good-night."

Liddy then left the parlour and closed the door.

Bathsheba was lonely and miserable now; not lonelier actually than
she had been before her marriage; but her loneliness then was to that
of the present time as the solitude of a mountain is to the solitude
of a cave.  And within the last day or two had come these disquieting
thoughts about her husband's past.  Her wayward sentiment that
evening concerning Fanny's temporary resting-place had been the
result of a strange complication of impulses in Bathsheba's bosom.
Perhaps it would be more accurately described as a determined
rebellion against her prejudices, a revulsion from a lower instinct
of uncharitableness, which would have withheld all sympathy from
the dead woman, because in life she had preceded Bathsheba in the
attentions of a man whom Bathsheba had by no means ceased from
loving, though her love was sick to death just now with the gravity
of a further misgiving.

In five or ten minutes there was another tap at the door.  Liddy
reappeared, and coming in a little way stood hesitating, until at
length she said, "Maryann has just heard something very strange, but
I know it isn't true.  And we shall be sure to know the rights of it
in a day or two."

"What is it?"

"Oh, nothing connected with you or us, ma'am.  It is about Fanny.
That same thing you have heard."

"I have heard nothing."

"I mean that a wicked story is got to Weatherbury within this last
hour--that--"  Liddy came close to her mistress and whispered the
remainder of the sentence slowly into her ear, inclining her head as
she spoke in the direction of the room where Fanny lay.

Bathsheba trembled from head to foot.

"I don't believe it!" she said, excitedly.  "And there's only one
name written on the coffin-cover."

"Nor I, ma'am.  And a good many others don't; for we should surely
have been told more about it if it had been true--don't you think so,
ma'am?"

"We might or we might not."

Bathsheba turned and looked into the fire, that Liddy might not see
her face.  Finding that her mistress was going to say no more, Liddy
glided out, closed the door softly, and went to bed.

Bathsheba's face, as she continued looking into the fire that
evening, might have excited solicitousness on her account even among
those who loved her least.  The sadness of Fanny Robin's fate did not
make Bathsheba's glorious, although she was the Esther to this poor
Vashti, and their fates might be supposed to stand in some respects
as contrasts to each other.  When Liddy came into the room a second
time the beautiful eyes which met hers had worn a listless, weary
look.  When she went out after telling the story they had expressed
wretchedness in full activity.  Her simple country nature, fed on
old-fashioned principles, was troubled by that which would have
troubled a woman of the world very little, both Fanny and her child,
if she had one, being dead.

Bathsheba had grounds for conjecturing a connection between her own
history and the dimly suspected tragedy of Fanny's end which Oak
and Boldwood never for a moment credited her with possessing.  The
meeting with the lonely woman on the previous Saturday night had been
unwitnessed and unspoken of.  Oak may have had the best of intentions
in withholding for as many days as possible the details of what had
happened to Fanny; but had he known that Bathsheba's perceptions had
already been exercised in the matter, he would have done nothing to
lengthen the minutes of suspense she was now undergoing, when the
certainty which must terminate it would be the worst fact suspected
after all.

She suddenly felt a longing desire to speak to some one stronger than
herself, and so get strength to sustain her surmised position with
dignity and her lurking doubts with stoicism.  Where could she find
such a friend? nowhere in the house.  She was by far the coolest of
the women under her roof.  Patience and suspension of judgement for
a few hours were what she wanted to learn, and there was nobody to
teach her.  Might she but go to Gabriel Oak!--but that could not be.
What a way Oak had, she thought, of enduring things.  Boldwood,
who seemed so much deeper and higher and stronger in feeling than
Gabriel, had not yet learnt, any more than she herself, the simple
lesson which Oak showed a mastery of by every turn and look he
gave--that among the multitude of interests by which he was
surrounded, those which affected his personal well-being were not the
most absorbing and important in his eyes.  Oak meditatively looked
upon the horizon of circumstances without any special regard to his
own standpoint in the midst.  That was how she would wish to be.  But
then Oak was not racked by incertitude upon the inmost matter of his
bosom, as she was at this moment.  Oak knew all about Fanny that he
wished to know--she felt convinced of that.  If she were to go to him
now at once and say no more than these few words, "What is the truth
of the story?" he would feel bound in honour to tell her.  It would
be an inexpressible relief.  No further speech would need to be
uttered.  He knew her so well that no eccentricity of behaviour in
her would alarm him.

She flung a cloak round her, went to the door and opened it.  Every
blade, every twig was still.  The air was yet thick with moisture,
though somewhat less dense than during the afternoon, and a steady
smack of drops upon the fallen leaves under the boughs was almost
musical in its soothing regularity.  It seemed better to be out of
the house than within it, and Bathsheba closed the door, and walked
slowly down the lane till she came opposite to Gabriel's cottage,
where he now lived alone, having left Coggan's house through being
pinched for room.  There was a light in one window only, and that
was downstairs.  The shutters were not closed, nor was any blind or
curtain drawn over the window, neither robbery nor observation being
a contingency which could do much injury to the occupant of the
domicile.  Yes, it was Gabriel himself who was sitting up: he was
reading.  From her standing-place in the road she could see him
plainly, sitting quite still, his light curly head upon his hand, and
only occasionally looking up to snuff the candle which stood beside
him.  At length he looked at the clock, seemed surprised at the
lateness of the hour, closed his book, and arose.  He was going to
bed, she knew, and if she tapped it must be done at once.

Alas for her resolve!  She felt she could not do it.  Not for worlds
now could she give a hint about her misery to him, much less ask him
plainly for information on the cause of Fanny's death.  She must
suspect, and guess, and chafe, and bear it all alone.

Like a homeless wanderer she lingered by the bank, as if lulled and
fascinated by the atmosphere of content which seemed to spread from
that little dwelling, and was so sadly lacking in her own.  Gabriel
appeared in an upper room, placed his light in the window-bench,
and then--knelt down to pray.  The contrast of the picture with her
rebellious and agitated existence at this same time was too much for
her to bear to look upon longer.  It was not for her to make a truce
with trouble by any such means.  She must tread her giddy distracting
measure to its last note, as she had begun it.  With a swollen heart
she went again up the lane, and entered her own door.

More fevered now by a reaction from the first feelings which Oak's
example had raised in her, she paused in the hall, looking at the
door of the room wherein Fanny lay.  She locked her fingers, threw
back her head, and strained her hot hands rigidly across her
forehead, saying, with a hysterical sob, "Would to God you would
speak and tell me your secret, Fanny! ... Oh, I hope, hope it is not
true that there are two of you! ... If I could only look in upon you
for one little minute, I should know all!"

A few moments passed, and she added, slowly, "AND I WILL."

Bathsheba in after times could never gauge the mood which carried
her through the actions following this murmured resolution on this
memorable evening of her life.  She went to the lumber-closet for a
screw-driver.  At the end of a short though undefined time she found
herself in the small room, quivering with emotion, a mist before her
eyes, and an excruciating pulsation in her brain, standing beside the
uncovered coffin of the girl whose conjectured end had so entirely
engrossed her, and saying to herself in a husky voice as she gazed
within--

"It was best to know the worst, and I know it now!"

She was conscious of having brought about this situation by a series
of actions done as by one in an extravagant dream; of following that
idea as to method, which had burst upon her in the hall with glaring
obviousness, by gliding to the top of the stairs, assuring herself by
listening to the heavy breathing of her maids that they were asleep,
gliding down again, turning the handle of the door within which the
young girl lay, and deliberately setting herself to do what, if she
had anticipated any such undertaking at night and alone, would have
horrified her, but which, when done, was not so dreadful as was the
conclusive proof of her husband's conduct which came with knowing
beyond doubt the last chapter of Fanny's story.

Bathsheba's head sank upon her bosom, and the breath which had been
bated in suspense, curiosity, and interest, was exhaled now in the
form of a whispered wail: "Oh-h-h!" she said, and the silent room
added length to her moan.

Her tears fell fast beside the unconscious pair in the coffin:
tears of a complicated origin, of a nature indescribable, almost
indefinable except as other than those of simple sorrow.  Assuredly
their wonted fires must have lived in Fanny's ashes when events were
so shaped as to chariot her hither in this natural, unobtrusive, yet
effectual manner.  The one feat alone--that of dying--by which a mean
condition could be resolved into a grand one, Fanny had achieved.
And to that had destiny subjoined this reencounter to-night, which
had, in Bathsheba's wild imagining, turned her companion's failure to
success, her humiliation to triumph, her lucklessness to ascendency;
it had thrown over herself a garish light of mockery, and set upon
all things about her an ironical smile.

Fanny's face was framed in by that yellow hair of hers; and there was
no longer much room for doubt as to the origin of the curl owned by
Troy.  In Bathsheba's heated fancy the innocent white countenance
expressed a dim triumphant consciousness of the pain she was
retaliating for her pain with all the merciless rigour of the Mosaic
law: "Burning for burning; wound for wound: strife for strife."

Bathsheba indulged in contemplations of escape from her position by
immediate death, which, thought she, though it was an inconvenient
and awful way, had limits to its inconvenience and awfulness that
could not be overpassed; whilst the shames of life were measureless.
Yet even this scheme of extinction by death was but tamely copying
her rival's method without the reasons which had glorified it in her
rival's case.  She glided rapidly up and down the room, as was mostly
her habit when excited, her hands hanging clasped in front of her, as
she thought and in part expressed in broken words: "O, I hate her,
yet I don't mean that I hate her, for it is grievous and wicked; and
yet I hate her a little!  Yes, my flesh insists upon hating her,
whether my spirit is willing or no! ... If she had only lived, I
could have been angry and cruel towards her with some justification;
but to be vindictive towards a poor dead woman recoils upon myself.
O God, have mercy!  I am miserable at all this!"

Bathsheba became at this moment so terrified at her own state of mind
that she looked around for some sort of refuge from herself.  The
vision of Oak kneeling down that night recurred to her, and with the
imitative instinct which animates women she seized upon the idea,
resolved to kneel, and, if possible, pray.  Gabriel had prayed; so
would she.

She knelt beside the coffin, covered her face with her hands, and
for a time the room was silent as a tomb.  Whether from a purely
mechanical, or from any other cause, when Bathsheba arose it was with
a quieted spirit, and a regret for the antagonistic instincts which
had seized upon her just before.

In her desire to make atonement she took flowers from a vase by the
window, and began laying them around the dead girl's head.  Bathsheba
knew no other way of showing kindness to persons departed than by
giving them flowers.  She knew not how long she remained engaged
thus.  She forgot time, life, where she was, what she was doing.  A
slamming together of the coach-house doors in the yard brought her to
herself again.  An instant after, the front door opened and closed,
steps crossed the hall, and her husband appeared at the entrance to
the room, looking in upon her.

He beheld it all by degrees, stared in stupefaction at the scene, as
if he thought it an illusion raised by some fiendish incantation.
Bathsheba, pallid as a corpse on end, gazed back at him in the same
wild way.

So little are instinctive guesses the fruit of a legitimate induction
that, at this moment, as he stood with the door in his hand, Troy
never once thought of Fanny in connection with what he saw.  His
first confused idea was that somebody in the house had died.

"Well--what?" said Troy, blankly.

"I must go!  I must go!" said Bathsheba, to herself more than to him.
She came with a dilated eye towards the door, to push past him.

"What's the matter, in God's name? who's dead?" said Troy.

"I cannot say; let me go out.  I want air!" she continued.

"But no; stay, I insist!"  He seized her hand, and then volition
seemed to leave her, and she went off into a state of passivity.  He,
still holding her, came up the room, and thus, hand in hand, Troy and
Bathsheba approached the coffin's side.

The candle was standing on a bureau close by them, and the light
slanted down, distinctly enkindling the cold features of both mother
and babe.  Troy looked in, dropped his wife's hand, knowledge of it
all came over him in a lurid sheen, and he stood still.

So still he remained that he could be imagined to have left in him no
motive power whatever.  The clashes of feeling in all directions
confounded one another, produced a neutrality, and there was motion
in none.

"Do you know her?" said Bathsheba, in a small enclosed echo, as from
the interior of a cell.

"I do," said Troy.

"Is it she?"

"It is."

He had originally stood perfectly erect.  And now, in the well-nigh
congealed immobility of his frame could be discerned an incipient
movement, as in the darkest night may be discerned light after a
while.  He was gradually sinking forwards.  The lines of his features
softened, and dismay modulated to illimitable sadness.  Bathsheba
was regarding him from the other side, still with parted lips and
distracted eyes.  Capacity for intense feeling is proportionate to
the general intensity of the nature, and perhaps in all Fanny's
sufferings, much greater relatively to her strength, there never was
a time she suffered in an absolute sense what Bathsheba suffered now.

What Troy did was to sink upon his knees with an indefinable union of
remorse and reverence upon his face, and, bending over Fanny Robin,
gently kissed her, as one would kiss an infant asleep to avoid
awakening it.

At the sight and sound of that, to her, unendurable act, Bathsheba
sprang towards him.  All the strong feelings which had been scattered
over her existence since she knew what feeling was, seemed gathered
together into one pulsation now.  The revulsion from her indignant
mood a little earlier, when she had meditated upon compromised
honour, forestalment, eclipse in maternity by another, was violent
and entire.  All that was forgotten in the simple and still
strong attachment of wife to husband.  She had sighed for her
self-completeness then, and now she cried aloud against the severance
of the union she had deplored.  She flung her arms round Troy's neck,
exclaiming wildly from the deepest deep of her heart--

"Don't--don't kiss them!  O, Frank, I can't bear it--I can't!  I love
you better than she did: kiss me too, Frank--kiss me!  YOU WILL,
FRANK, KISS ME TOO!"

There was something so abnormal and startling in the childlike pain
and simplicity of this appeal from a woman of Bathsheba's calibre
and independence, that Troy, loosening her tightly clasped arms from
his neck, looked at her in bewilderment.  It was such an unexpected
revelation of all women being alike at heart, even those so different
in their accessories as Fanny and this one beside him, that Troy
could hardly seem to believe her to be his proud wife Bathsheba.
Fanny's own spirit seemed to be animating her frame.  But this was
the mood of a few instants only.  When the momentary surprise had
passed, his expression changed to a silencing imperious gaze.

"I will not kiss you!" he said pushing her away.

Had the wife now but gone no further.  Yet, perhaps, under the
harrowing circumstances, to speak out was the one wrong act which
can be better understood, if not forgiven in her, than the right and
politic one, her rival being now but a corpse.  All the feeling she
had been betrayed into showing she drew back to herself again by a
strenuous effort of self-command.

"What have you to say as your reason?" she asked, her bitter voice
being strangely low--quite that of another woman now.

"I have to say that I have been a bad, black-hearted man," he
answered.

"And that this woman is your victim; and I not less than she."

"Ah! don't taunt me, madam.  This woman is more to me, dead as she
is, than ever you were, or are, or can be.  If Satan had not tempted
me with that face of yours, and those cursed coquetries, I should
have married her.  I never had another thought till you came in my
way.  Would to God that I had; but it is all too late!"  He turned
to Fanny then.  "But never mind, darling," he said; "in the sight of
Heaven you are my very, very wife!"

At these words there arose from Bathsheba's lips a long, low cry of
measureless despair and indignation, such a wail of anguish as had
never before been heard within those old-inhabited walls.  It was the
[GREEK word meaning "it is finished"] of her union with Troy.

"If she's--that,--what--am I?" she added, as a continuation of the
same cry, and sobbing pitifully: and the rarity with her of such
abandonment only made the condition more dire.

"You are nothing to me--nothing," said Troy, heartlessly.  "A
ceremony before a priest doesn't make a marriage.  I am not morally
yours."

A vehement impulse to flee from him, to run from this place, hide,
and escape his words at any price, not stopping short of death
itself, mastered Bathsheba now.  She waited not an instant, but
turned to the door and ran out.




CHAPTER XLIV


UNDER A TREE--REACTION


Bathsheba went along the dark road, neither knowing nor caring about
the direction or issue of her flight.  The first time that she
definitely noticed her position was when she reached a gate leading
into a thicket overhung by some large oak and beech trees.  On
looking into the place, it occurred to her that she had seen it by
daylight on some previous occasion, and that what appeared like an
impassable thicket was in reality a brake of fern now withering fast.
She could think of nothing better to do with her palpitating self
than to go in here and hide; and entering, she lighted on a spot
sheltered from the damp fog by a reclining trunk, where she sank down
upon a tangled couch of fronds and stems.  She mechanically pulled
some armfuls round her to keep off the breezes, and closed her eyes.

Whether she slept or not that night Bathsheba was not clearly aware.
But it was with a freshened existence and a cooler brain that, a long
time afterwards, she became conscious of some interesting proceedings
which were going on in the trees above her head and around.

A coarse-throated chatter was the first sound.

It was a sparrow just waking.

Next: "Chee-weeze-weeze-weeze!" from another retreat.

It was a finch.

Third: "Tink-tink-tink-tink-a-chink!" from the hedge.

It was a robin.

"Chuck-chuck-chuck!" overhead.

A squirrel.

Then, from the road, "With my ra-ta-ta, and my rum-tum-tum!"

It was a ploughboy.  Presently he came opposite, and she believed
from his voice that he was one of the boys on her own farm.  He was
followed by a shambling tramp of heavy feet, and looking through the
ferns Bathsheba could just discern in the wan light of daybreak a
team of her own horses.  They stopped to drink at a pond on the other
side of the way.  She watched them flouncing into the pool, drinking,
tossing up their heads, drinking again, the water dribbling from
their lips in silver threads.  There was another flounce, and they
came out of the pond, and turned back again towards the farm.

She looked further around.  Day was just dawning, and beside its cool
air and colours her heated actions and resolves of the night stood
out in lurid contrast.  She perceived that in her lap, and clinging
to her hair, were red and yellow leaves which had come down from
the tree and settled silently upon her during her partial sleep.
Bathsheba shook her dress to get rid of them, when multitudes of the
same family lying round about her rose and fluttered away in the
breeze thus created, "like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing."

There was an opening towards the east, and the glow from the as yet
unrisen sun attracted her eyes thither.  From her feet, and between
the beautiful yellowing ferns with their feathery arms, the ground
sloped downwards to a hollow, in which was a species of swamp,
dotted with fungi.  A morning mist hung over it now--a fulsome
yet magnificent silvery veil, full of light from the sun, yet
semi-opaque--the hedge behind it being in some measure hidden by its
hazy luminousness.  Up the sides of this depression grew sheaves of
the common rush, and here and there a peculiar species of flag, the
blades of which glistened in the emerging sun, like scythes.  But
the general aspect of the swamp was malignant.  From its moist and
poisonous coat seemed to be exhaled the essences of evil things in
the earth, and in the waters under the earth.  The fungi grew in
all manner of positions from rotting leaves and tree stumps, some
exhibiting to her listless gaze their clammy tops, others their
oozing gills.  Some were marked with great splotches, red as arterial
blood, others were saffron yellow, and others tall and attenuated,
with stems like macaroni.  Some were leathery and of richest browns.
The hollow seemed a nursery of pestilences small and great, in the
immediate neighbourhood of comfort and health, and Bathsheba arose
with a tremor at the thought of having passed the night on the brink
of so dismal a place.

There were now other footsteps to be heard along the road.
Bathsheba's nerves were still unstrung: she crouched down out of
sight again, and the pedestrian came into view.  He was a schoolboy,
with a bag slung over his shoulder containing his dinner, and a
book in his hand.  He paused by the gate, and, without looking up,
continued murmuring words in tones quite loud enough to reach her
ears.

"'O Lord, O Lord, O Lord, O Lord, O Lord':--that I know out o' book.
'Give us, give us, give us, give us, give us':--that I know.  'Grace
that, grace that, grace that, grace that':--that I know." Other
words followed to the same effect.  The boy was of the dunce class
apparently; the book was a psalter, and this was his way of learning
the collect.  In the worst attacks of trouble there appears to be
always a superficial film of consciousness which is left disengaged
and open to the notice of trifles, and Bathsheba was faintly amused
at the boy's method, till he too passed on.

By this time stupor had given place to anxiety, and anxiety began to
make room for hunger and thirst.  A form now appeared upon the rise
on the other side of the swamp, half-hidden by the mist, and came
towards Bathsheba.  The woman--for it was a woman--approached with
her face askance, as if looking earnestly on all sides of her.
When she got a little further round to the left, and drew nearer,
Bathsheba could see the newcomer's profile against the sunny sky, and
knew the wavy sweep from forehead to chin, with neither angle nor
decisive line anywhere about it, to be the familiar contour of Liddy
Smallbury.

Bathsheba's heart bounded with gratitude in the thought that she was
not altogether deserted, and she jumped up.  "Oh, Liddy!" she said,
or attempted to say; but the words had only been framed by her lips;
there came no sound.  She had lost her voice by exposure to the
clogged atmosphere all these hours of night.

"Oh, ma'am!  I am so glad I have found you," said the girl, as soon
as she saw Bathsheba.

"You can't come across," Bathsheba said in a whisper, which she
vainly endeavoured to make loud enough to reach Liddy's ears.  Liddy,
not knowing this, stepped down upon the swamp, saying, as she did so,
"It will bear me up, I think."

Bathsheba never forgot that transient little picture of Liddy
crossing the swamp to her there in the morning light.  Iridescent
bubbles of dank subterranean breath rose from the sweating sod beside
the waiting-maid's feet as she trod, hissing as they burst and
expanded away to join the vapoury firmament above.  Liddy did not
sink, as Bathsheba had anticipated.

She landed safely on the other side, and looked up at the beautiful
though pale and weary face of her young mistress.

"Poor thing!" said Liddy, with tears in her eyes, "Do hearten
yourself up a little, ma'am.  However did--"

"I can't speak above a whisper--my voice is gone for the present,"
said Bathsheba, hurriedly.  "I suppose the damp air from that
hollow has taken it away.  Liddy, don't question me, mind.  Who
sent you--anybody?"

"Nobody.  I thought, when I found you were not at home, that
something cruel had happened.  I fancy I heard his voice late last
night; and so, knowing something was wrong--"

"Is he at home?"

"No; he left just before I came out."

"Is Fanny taken away?"

"Not yet.  She will soon be--at nine o'clock."

"We won't go home at present, then.  Suppose we walk about in this
wood?"

Liddy, without exactly understanding everything, or anything, in this
episode, assented, and they walked together further among the trees.

"But you had better come in, ma'am, and have something to eat.  You
will die of a chill!"

"I shall not come indoors yet--perhaps never."

"Shall I get you something to eat, and something else to put over
your head besides that little shawl?"

"If you will, Liddy."

Liddy vanished, and at the end of twenty minutes returned with a
cloak, hat, some slices of bread and butter, a tea-cup, and some hot
tea in a little china jug.

"Is Fanny gone?" said Bathsheba.

"No," said her companion, pouring out the tea.

Bathsheba wrapped herself up and ate and drank sparingly.  Her voice
was then a little clearer, and trifling colour returned to her face.
"Now we'll walk about again," she said.

They wandered about the wood for nearly two hours, Bathsheba replying
in monosyllables to Liddy's prattle, for her mind ran on one subject,
and one only.  She interrupted with--

"I wonder if Fanny is gone by this time?"

"I will go and see."

She came back with the information that the men were just taking
away the corpse; that Bathsheba had been inquired for; that she had
replied to the effect that her mistress was unwell and could not be
seen.

"Then they think I am in my bedroom?"

"Yes."  Liddy then ventured to add: "You said when I first found you
that you might never go home again--you didn't mean it, ma'am?"

"No; I've altered my mind.  It is only women with no pride in them
who run away from their husbands.  There is one position worse than
that of being found dead in your husband's house from his ill usage,
and that is, to be found alive through having gone away to the house
of somebody else.  I've thought of it all this morning, and I've
chosen my course.  A runaway wife is an encumbrance to everybody,
a burden to herself and a byword--all of which make up a heap of
misery greater than any that comes by staying at home--though this
may include the trifling items of insult, beating, and starvation.
Liddy, if ever you marry--God forbid that you ever should!--you'll
find yourself in a fearful situation; but mind this, don't you
flinch. Stand your ground, and be cut to pieces.  That's what I'm
going to do."

"Oh, mistress, don't talk so!" said Liddy, taking her hand; "but I
knew you had too much sense to bide away.  May I ask what dreadful
thing it is that has happened between you and him?"

"You may ask; but I may not tell."

In about ten minutes they returned to the house by a circuitous
route, entering at the rear.  Bathsheba glided up the back stairs to
a disused attic, and her companion followed.

"Liddy," she said, with a lighter heart, for youth and hope had
begun to reassert themselves; "you are to be my confidante for the
present--somebody must be--and I choose you.  Well, I shall take up
my abode here for a while.  Will you get a fire lighted, put down
a piece of carpet, and help me to make the place comfortable.
Afterwards, I want you and Maryann to bring up that little stump
bedstead in the small room, and the bed belonging to it, and a table,
and some other things....  What shall I do to pass the heavy time
away?"

"Hemming handkerchiefs is a very good thing," said Liddy.

"Oh no, no!  I hate needlework--I always did."

"Knitting?"

"And that, too."

"You might finish your sampler.  Only the carnations and peacocks
want filling in; and then it could be framed and glazed, and hung
beside your aunt's ma'am."

"Samplers are out of date--horribly countrified.  No Liddy, I'll
read.  Bring up some books--not new ones.  I haven't heart to read
anything new."

"Some of your uncle's old ones, ma'am?"

"Yes.  Some of those we stowed away in boxes."  A faint gleam
of humour passed over her face as she said: "Bring Beaumont and
Fletcher's _Maid's Tragedy_, and the _Mourning Bride_, and--let
me see--_Night Thoughts_, and the _Vanity of Human Wishes_."

"And that story of the black man, who murdered his wife Desdemona?
It is a nice dismal one that would suit you excellent just now."

"Now, Liddy, you've been looking into my books without telling me;
and I said you were not to!  How do you know it would suit me?  It
wouldn't suit me at all."

"But if the others do--"

"No, they don't; and I won't read dismal books.  Why should
I read dismal books, indeed?  Bring me _Love in a Village_,
and _Maid of the Mill_, and _Doctor Syntax_, and some volumes of
the _Spectator-_."

All that day Bathsheba and Liddy lived in the attic in a state of
barricade; a precaution which proved to be needless as against Troy,
for he did not appear in the neighbourhood or trouble them at all.
Bathsheba sat at the window till sunset, sometimes attempting to
read, at other times watching every movement outside without much
purpose, and listening without much interest to every sound.

The sun went down almost blood-red that night, and a livid cloud
received its rays in the east.  Up against this dark background the
west front of the church tower--the only part of the edifice visible
from the farm-house windows--rose distinct and lustrous, the vane
upon the summit bristling with rays.  Hereabouts, at six o'clock, the
young men of the village gathered, as was their custom, for a game
of Prisoners' base.  The spot had been consecrated to this ancient
diversion from time immemorial, the old stocks conveniently forming
a base facing the boundary of the churchyard, in front of which the
ground was trodden hard and bare as a pavement by the players.  She
could see the brown and black heads of the young lads darting about
right and left, their white shirt-sleeves gleaming in the sun;
whilst occasionally a shout and a peal of hearty laughter varied the
stillness of the evening air.  They continued playing for a quarter
of an hour or so, when the game concluded abruptly, and the players
leapt over the wall and vanished round to the other side behind a
yew-tree, which was also half behind a beech, now spreading in one
mass of golden foliage, on which the branches traced black lines.

"Why did the base-players finish their game so suddenly?" Bathsheba
inquired, the next time that Liddy entered the room.

"I think 'twas because two men came just then from Casterbridge and
began putting up a grand carved tombstone," said Liddy.  "The lads
went to see whose it was."

"Do you know?" Bathsheba asked.

"I don't," said Liddy.




CHAPTER XLV


TROY'S ROMANTICISM


When Troy's wife had left the house at the previous midnight his
first act was to cover the dead from sight.  This done he ascended
the stairs, and throwing himself down upon the bed dressed as he was,
he waited miserably for the morning.

Fate had dealt grimly with him through the last four-and-twenty
hours.  His day had been spent in a way which varied very materially
from his intentions regarding it.  There is always an inertia to
be overcome in striking out a new line of conduct--not more in
ourselves, it seems, than in circumscribing events, which appear as
if leagued together to allow no novelties in the way of amelioration.

Twenty pounds having been secured from Bathsheba, he had managed to
add to the sum every farthing he could muster on his own account,
which had been seven pounds ten.  With this money, twenty-seven
pounds ten in all, he had hastily driven from the gate that morning
to keep his appointment with Fanny Robin.

On reaching Casterbridge he left the horse and trap at an inn, and
at five minutes before ten came back to the bridge at the lower end
of the town, and sat himself upon the parapet.  The clocks struck
the hour, and no Fanny appeared.  In fact, at that moment she was
being robed in her grave-clothes by two attendants at the Union
poorhouse--the first and last tiring-women the gentle creature had
ever been honoured with.  The quarter went, the half hour.  A rush of
recollection came upon Troy as he waited: this was the second time
she had broken a serious engagement with him.  In anger he vowed
it should be the last, and at eleven o'clock, when he had lingered
and watched the stone of the bridge till he knew every lichen upon
their face and heard the chink of the ripples underneath till they
oppressed him, he jumped from his seat, went to the inn for his
gig, and in a bitter mood of indifference concerning the past, and
recklessness about the future, drove on to Budmouth races.

He reached the race-course at two o'clock, and remained either there
or in the town till nine.  But Fanny's image, as it had appeared to
him in the sombre shadows of that Saturday evening, returned to his
mind, backed up by Bathsheba's reproaches.  He vowed he would not
bet, and he kept his vow, for on leaving the town at nine o'clock in
the evening he had diminished his cash only to the extent of a few
shillings.

He trotted slowly homeward, and it was now that he was struck for the
first time with a thought that Fanny had been really prevented by
illness from keeping her promise.  This time she could have made no
mistake.  He regretted that he had not remained in Casterbridge and
made inquiries.  Reaching home he quietly unharnessed the horse and
came indoors, as we have seen, to the fearful shock that awaited him.


As soon as it grew light enough to distinguish objects, Troy arose
from the coverlet of the bed, and in a mood of absolute indifference
to Bathsheba's whereabouts, and almost oblivious of her existence, he
stalked downstairs and left the house by the back door.  His walk was
towards the churchyard, entering which he searched around till he
found a newly dug unoccupied grave--the grave dug the day before for
Fanny.  The position of this having been marked, he hastened on to
Casterbridge, only pausing and musing for a while at the hill whereon
he had last seen Fanny alive.

Reaching the town, Troy descended into a side street and entered a
pair of gates surmounted by a board bearing the words, "Lester, stone
and marble mason."  Within were lying about stones of all sizes and
designs, inscribed as being sacred to the memory of unnamed persons
who had not yet died.

Troy was so unlike himself now in look, word, and deed, that the
want of likeness was perceptible even to his own consciousness.  His
method of engaging himself in this business of purchasing a tomb was
that of an absolutely unpractised man.  He could not bring himself
to consider, calculate, or economize.  He waywardly wished for
something, and he set about obtaining it like a child in a nursery.
"I want a good tomb," he said to the man who stood in a little office
within the yard.  "I want as good a one as you can give me for
twenty-seven pounds."

It was all the money he possessed.

"That sum to include everything?"

"Everything.  Cutting the name, carriage to Weatherbury, and
erection.  And I want it now, at once."

"We could not get anything special worked this week."

"I must have it now."

"If you would like one of these in stock it could be got ready
immediately."

"Very well," said Troy, impatiently.  "Let's see what you have."

"The best I have in stock is this one," said the stone-cutter, going
into a shed.  "Here's a marble headstone beautifully crocketed, with
medallions beneath of typical subjects; here's the footstone after
the same pattern, and here's the coping to enclose the grave.  The
polishing alone of the set cost me eleven pounds--the slabs are the
best of their kind, and I can warrant them to resist rain and frost
for a hundred years without flying."

"And how much?"

"Well, I could add the name, and put it up at Weatherbury for the sum
you mention."

"Get it done to-day, and I'll pay the money now."

The man agreed, and wondered at such a mood in a visitor who wore not
a shred of mourning.  Troy then wrote the words which were to form
the inscription, settled the account and went away.  In the afternoon
he came back again, and found that the lettering was almost done.  He
waited in the yard till the tomb was packed, and saw it placed in the
cart and starting on its way to Weatherbury, giving directions to the
two men who were to accompany it to inquire of the sexton for the
grave of the person named in the inscription.

It was quite dark when Troy came out of Casterbridge.  He carried
rather a heavy basket upon his arm, with which he strode moodily
along the road, resting occasionally at bridges and gates, whereon
he deposited his burden for a time.  Midway on his journey he met,
returning in the darkness, the men and the waggon which had conveyed
the tomb.  He merely inquired if the work was done, and, on being
assured that it was, passed on again.

Troy entered Weatherbury churchyard about ten o'clock and went
immediately to the corner where he had marked the vacant grave early
in the morning.  It was on the obscure side of the tower, screened to
a great extent from the view of passers along the road--a spot which
until lately had been abandoned to heaps of stones and bushes of
alder, but now it was cleared and made orderly for interments, by
reason of the rapid filling of the ground elsewhere.

Here now stood the tomb as the men had stated, snow-white and shapely
in the gloom, consisting of head and foot-stone, and enclosing border
of marble-work uniting them.  In the midst was mould, suitable for
plants.

Troy deposited his basket beside the tomb, and vanished for a few
minutes.  When he returned he carried a spade and a lantern, the
light of which he directed for a few moments upon the marble, whilst
he read the inscription.  He hung his lantern on the lowest bough
of the yew-tree, and took from his basket flower-roots of several
varieties.  There were bundles of snow-drop, hyacinth and crocus
bulbs, violets and double daisies, which were to bloom in early
spring, and of carnations, pinks, picotees, lilies of the valley,
forget-me-not, summer's farewell, meadow-saffron and others, for
the later seasons of the year.

Troy laid these out upon the grass, and with an impassive face set
to work to plant them.  The snowdrops were arranged in a line on the
outside of the coping, the remainder within the enclosure of the
grave.  The crocuses and hyacinths were to grow in rows; some of
the summer flowers he placed over her head and feet, the lilies and
forget-me-nots over her heart.  The remainder were dispersed in the
spaces between these.

Troy, in his prostration at this time, had no perception that in the
futility of these romantic doings, dictated by a remorseful reaction
from previous indifference, there was any element of absurdity.
Deriving his idiosyncrasies from both sides of the Channel, he showed
at such junctures as the present the inelasticity of the Englishman,
together with that blindness to the line where sentiment verges on
mawkishness, characteristic of the French.

It was a cloudy, muggy, and very dark night, and the rays from Troy's
lantern spread into the two old yews with a strange illuminating
power, flickering, as it seemed, up to the black ceiling of cloud
above.  He felt a large drop of rain upon the back of his hand, and
presently one came and entered one of the holes of the lantern,
whereupon the candle sputtered and went out.  Troy was weary and
it being now not far from midnight, and the rain threatening to
increase, he resolved to leave the finishing touches of his labour
until the day should break.  He groped along the wall and over the
graves in the dark till he found himself round at the north side.
Here he entered the porch, and, reclining upon the bench within,
fell asleep.




CHAPTER XLVI


THE GURGOYLE: ITS DOINGS


The tower of Weatherbury Church was a square erection of
fourteenth-century date, having two stone gurgoyles on each of the
four faces of its parapet.  Of these eight carved protuberances
only two at this time continued to serve the purpose of their
erection--that of spouting the water from the lead roof within.  One
mouth in each front had been closed by bygone church-wardens as
superfluous, and two others were broken away and choked--a matter not
of much consequence to the wellbeing of the tower, for the two mouths
which still remained open and active were gaping enough to do all the
work.

It has been sometimes argued that there is no truer criterion of the
vitality of any given art-period than the power of the master-spirits
of that time in grotesque; and certainly in the instance of Gothic
art there is no disputing the proposition.  Weatherbury tower was a
somewhat early instance of the use of an ornamental parapet in parish
as distinct from cathedral churches, and the gurgoyles, which are the
necessary correlatives of a parapet, were exceptionally prominent--of
the boldest cut that the hand could shape, and of the most original
design that a human brain could conceive.  There was, so to speak,
that symmetry in their distortion which is less the characteristic
of British than of Continental grotesques of the period.  All the
eight were different from each other.  A beholder was convinced that
nothing on earth could be more hideous than those he saw on the north
side until he went round to the south.  Of the two on this latter
face, only that at the south-eastern corner concerns the story.  It
was too human to be called like a dragon, too impish to be like a
man, too animal to be like a fiend, and not enough like a bird to be
called a griffin.  This horrible stone entity was fashioned as if
covered with a wrinkled hide; it had short, erect ears, eyes starting
from their sockets, and its fingers and hands were seizing the
corners of its mouth, which they thus seemed to pull open to give
free passage to the water it vomited.  The lower row of teeth was
quite washed away, though the upper still remained.  Here and thus,
jutting a couple of feet from the wall against which its feet rested
as a support, the creature had for four hundred years laughed at the
surrounding landscape, voicelessly in dry weather, and in wet with a
gurgling and snorting sound.

Troy slept on in the porch, and the rain increased outside. Presently
the gurgoyle spat.  In due time a small stream began to trickle
through the seventy feet of aerial space between its mouth and
the ground, which the water-drops smote like duckshot in their
accelerated velocity.  The stream thickened in substance, and
increased in power, gradually spouting further and yet further from
the side of the tower.  When the rain fell in a steady and ceaseless
torrent the stream dashed downward in volumes.

We follow its course to the ground at this point of time. The end of
the liquid parabola has come forward from the wall, has advanced over
the plinth mouldings, over a heap of stones, over the marble border,
into the midst of Fanny Robin's grave.

The force of the stream had, until very lately, been received upon
some loose stones spread thereabout, which had acted as a shield to
the soil under the onset.  These during the summer had been cleared
from the ground, and there was now nothing to resist the down-fall
but the bare earth.  For several years the stream had not spouted
so far from the tower as it was doing on this night, and such a
contingency had been over-looked.  Sometimes this obscure corner
received no inhabitant for the space of two or three years, and
then it was usually but a pauper, a poacher, or other sinner of
undignified sins.

The persistent torrent from the gurgoyle's jaws directed all its
vengeance into the grave.  The rich tawny mould was stirred into
motion, and boiled like chocolate.  The water accumulated and washed
deeper down, and the roar of the pool thus formed spread into the
night as the head and chief among other noises of the kind created
by the deluging rain.  The flowers so carefully planted by Fanny's
repentant lover began to move and writhe in their bed.  The
winter-violets turned slowly upside down, and became a mere mat of
mud.  Soon the snowdrop and other bulbs danced in the boiling mass
like ingredients in a cauldron.  Plants of the tufted species were
loosened, rose to the surface, and floated off.

Troy did not awake from his comfortless sleep till it was broad day.
Not having been in bed for two nights his shoulders felt stiff, his
feet tender, and his head heavy.  He remembered his position, arose,
shivered, took the spade, and again went out.

The rain had quite ceased, and the sun was shining through the
green, brown, and yellow leaves, now sparkling and varnished by the
raindrops to the brightness of similar effects in the landscapes of
Ruysdael and Hobbema, and full of all those infinite beauties that
arise from the union of water and colour with high lights.  The air
was rendered so transparent by the heavy fall of rain that the autumn
hues of the middle distance were as rich as those near at hand, and
the remote fields intercepted by the angle of the tower appeared in
the same plane as the tower itself.

He entered the gravel path which would take him behind the tower.
The path, instead of being stony as it had been the night before, was
browned over with a thin coating of mud.  At one place in the path
he saw a tuft of stringy roots washed white and clean as a bundle
of tendons.  He picked it up--surely it could not be one of the
primroses he had planted?  He saw a bulb, another, and another as
he advanced.  Beyond doubt they were the crocuses.  With a face of
perplexed dismay Troy turned the corner and then beheld the wreck
the stream had made.

The pool upon the grave had soaked away into the ground, and in its
place was a hollow.  The disturbed earth was washed over the grass
and pathway in the guise of the brown mud he had already seen, and it
spotted the marble tombstone with the same stains.  Nearly all the
flowers were washed clean out of the ground, and they lay, roots
upwards, on the spots whither they had been splashed by the stream.

Troy's brow became heavily contracted.  He set his teeth closely,
and his compressed lips moved as those of one in great pain.  This
singular accident, by a strange confluence of emotions in him, was
felt as the sharpest sting of all.  Troy's face was very expressive,
and any observer who had seen him now would hardly have believed him
to be a man who had laughed, and sung, and poured love-trifles into
a woman's ear.  To curse his miserable lot was at first his impulse,
but even that lowest stage of rebellion needed an activity whose
absence was necessarily antecedent to the existence of the morbid
misery which wrung him.  The sight, coming as it did, superimposed
upon the other dark scenery of the previous days, formed a sort of
climax to the whole panorama, and it was more than he could endure.
Sanguine by nature, Troy had a power of eluding grief by simply
adjourning it.  He could put off the consideration of any particular
spectre till the matter had become old and softened by time.  The
planting of flowers on Fanny's grave had been perhaps but a species
of elusion of the primary grief, and now it was as if his intention
had been known and circumvented.

Almost for the first time in his life, Troy, as he stood by this
dismantled grave, wished himself another man.  It is seldom that a
person with much animal spirit does not feel that the fact of his
life being his own is the one qualification which singles it out as a
more hopeful life than that of others who may actually resemble him
in every particular.  Troy had felt, in his transient way, hundreds
of times, that he could not envy other people their condition,
because the possession of that condition would have necessitated a
different personality, when he desired no other than his own.  He had
not minded the peculiarities of his birth, the vicissitudes of his
life, the meteor-like uncertainty of all that related to him, because
these appertained to the hero of his story, without whom there would
have been no story at all for him; and it seemed to be only in the
nature of things that matters would right themselves at some proper
date and wind up well.  This very morning the illusion completed its
disappearance, and, as it were, all of a sudden, Troy hated himself.
The suddenness was probably more apparent than real.  A coral reef
which just comes short of the ocean surface is no more to the horizon
than if it had never been begun, and the mere finishing stroke is
what often appears to create an event which has long been potentially
an accomplished thing.

He stood and meditated--a miserable man.  Whither should he
go?  "He that is accursed, let him be accursed still," was the
pitiless anathema written in this spoliated effort of his new-born
solicitousness.  A man who has spent his primal strength in
journeying in one direction has not much spirit left for reversing
his course.  Troy had, since yesterday, faintly reversed his; but the
merest opposition had disheartened him.  To turn about would have
been hard enough under the greatest providential encouragement; but
to find that Providence, far from helping him into a new course, or
showing any wish that he might adopt one, actually jeered his first
trembling and critical attempt in that kind, was more than nature
could bear.

He slowly withdrew from the grave.  He did not attempt to fill up the
hole, replace the flowers, or do anything at all.  He simply threw up
his cards and forswore his game for that time and always.  Going out
of the churchyard silently and unobserved--none of the villagers
having yet risen--he passed down some fields at the back, and emerged
just as secretly upon the high road.  Shortly afterwards he had gone
from the village.

Meanwhile, Bathsheba remained a voluntary prisoner in the attic.  The
door was kept locked, except during the entries and exits of Liddy,
for whom a bed had been arranged in a small adjoining room.  The
light of Troy's lantern in the churchyard was noticed about ten
o'clock by the maid-servant, who casually glanced from the window in
that direction whilst taking her supper, and she called Bathsheba's
attention to it.  They looked curiously at the phenomenon for a time,
until Liddy was sent to bed.

Bathsheba did not sleep very heavily that night.  When her attendant
was unconscious and softly breathing in the next room, the mistress
of the house was still looking out of the window at the faint gleam
spreading from among the trees--not in a steady shine, but blinking
like a revolving coast-light, though this appearance failed to
suggest to her that a person was passing and repassing in front
of it.  Bathsheba sat here till it began to rain, and the light
vanished, when she withdrew to lie restlessly in her bed and re-enact
in a worn mind the lurid scene of yesternight.

Almost before the first faint sign of dawn appeared she arose again,
and opened the window to obtain a full breathing of the new morning
air, the panes being now wet with trembling tears left by the night
rain, each one rounded with a pale lustre caught from primrose-hued
slashes through a cloud low down in the awakening sky.  From the
trees came the sound of steady dripping upon the drifted leaves under
them, and from the direction of the church she could hear another
noise--peculiar, and not intermittent like the rest, the purl of
water falling into a pool.

Liddy knocked at eight o'clock, and Bathsheba un-locked the door.

"What a heavy rain we've had in the night, ma'am!" said Liddy, when
her inquiries about breakfast had been made.

"Yes, very heavy."

"Did you hear the strange noise from the churchyard?"

"I heard one strange noise.  I've been thinking it must have been the
water from the tower spouts."

"Well, that's what the shepherd was saying, ma'am.  He's now gone on
to see."

"Oh!  Gabriel has been here this morning!"

"Only just looked in in passing--quite in his old way, which I
thought he had left off lately.  But the tower spouts used to spatter
on the stones, and we are puzzled, for this was like the boiling of a
pot."

Not being able to read, think, or work, Bathsheba asked Liddy to stay
and breakfast with her.  The tongue of the more childish woman still
ran upon recent events.  "Are you going across to the church, ma'am?"
she asked.

"Not that I know of," said Bathsheba.

"I thought you might like to go and see where they have put Fanny.
The trees hide the place from your window."

Bathsheba had all sorts of dreads about meeting her husband.  "Has
Mr. Troy been in to-night?" she said.

"No, ma'am; I think he's gone to Budmouth."

Budmouth!  The sound of the word carried with it a much diminished
perspective of him and his deeds; there were thirteen miles interval
betwixt them now.  She hated questioning Liddy about her husband's
movements, and indeed had hitherto sedulously avoided doing so; but
now all the house knew that there had been some dreadful disagreement
between them, and it was futile to attempt disguise.  Bathsheba had
reached a stage at which people cease to have any appreciative regard
for public opinion.

"What makes you think he has gone there?" she said.

"Laban Tall saw him on the Budmouth road this morning before
breakfast."

Bathsheba was momentarily relieved of that wayward heaviness of the
past twenty-four hours which had quenched the vitality of youth in
her without substituting the philosophy of maturer years, and she
resolved to go out and walk a little way.  So when breakfast was
over, she put on her bonnet, and took a direction towards the church.
It was nine o'clock, and the men having returned to work again from
their first meal, she was not likely to meet many of them in the
road.  Knowing that Fanny had been laid in the reprobates' quarter
of the graveyard, called in the parish "behind church," which was
invisible from the road, it was impossible to resist the impulse to
enter and look upon a spot which, from nameless feelings, she at
the same time dreaded to see.  She had been unable to overcome an
impression that some connection existed between her rival and the
light through the trees.

Bathsheba skirted the buttress, and beheld the hole and the tomb, its
delicately veined surface splashed and stained just as Troy had seen
it and left it two hours earlier.  On the other side of the scene
stood Gabriel.  His eyes, too, were fixed on the tomb, and her
arrival having been noiseless, she had not as yet attracted his
attention.  Bathsheba did not at once perceive that the grand tomb
and the disturbed grave were Fanny's, and she looked on both sides
and around for some humbler mound, earthed up and clodded in the
usual way.  Then her eye followed Oak's, and she read the words with
which the inscription opened:--


     ERECTED BY FRANCIS TROY
      IN BELOVED MEMORY OF
           FANNY ROBIN


Oak saw her, and his first act was to gaze inquiringly and learn how
she received this knowledge of the authorship of the work, which to
himself had caused considerable astonishment.  But such discoveries
did not much affect her now.  Emotional convulsions seemed to have
become the commonplaces of her history, and she bade him good
morning, and asked him to fill in the hole with the spade which
was standing by.  Whilst Oak was doing as she desired, Bathsheba
collected the flowers, and began planting them with that sympathetic
manipulation of roots and leaves which is so conspicuous in a woman's
gardening, and which flowers seem to understand and thrive upon.  She
requested Oak to get the churchwardens to turn the leadwork at the
mouth of the gurgoyle that hung gaping down upon them, that by this
means the stream might be directed sideways, and a repetition of the
accident prevented.  Finally, with the superfluous magnanimity of
a woman whose narrower instincts have brought down bitterness upon
her instead of love, she wiped the mud spots from the tomb as if she
rather liked its words than otherwise, and went again home. [2]

   [Footnote 2: The local tower and churchyard do not answer
   precisely to the foregoing description.]




CHAPTER XLVII


ADVENTURES BY THE SHORE


Troy wandered along towards the south.  A composite feeling, made up
of disgust with the, to him, humdrum tediousness of a farmer's life,
gloomy images of her who lay in the churchyard, remorse, and a
general averseness to his wife's society, impelled him to seek a
home in any place on earth save Weatherbury.  The sad accessories of
Fanny's end confronted him as vivid pictures which threatened to be
indelible, and made life in Bathsheba's house intolerable.  At three
in the afternoon he found himself at the foot of a slope more than
a mile in length, which ran to the ridge of a range of hills lying
parallel with the shore, and forming a monotonous barrier between
the basin of cultivated country inland and the wilder scenery of the
coast.  Up the hill stretched a road nearly straight and perfectly
white, the two sides approaching each other in a gradual taper till
they met the sky at the top about two miles off.  Throughout the
length of this narrow and irksome inclined plane not a sign of life
was visible on this garish afternoon.  Troy toiled up the road with a
languor and depression greater than any he had experienced for many a
day and year before.  The air was warm and muggy, and the top seemed
to recede as he approached.

At last he reached the summit, and a wide and novel prospect burst
upon him with an effect almost like that of the Pacific upon Balboa's
gaze.  The broad steely sea, marked only by faint lines, which had
a semblance of being etched thereon to a degree not deep enough to
disturb its general evenness, stretched the whole width of his front
and round to the right, where, near the town and port of Budmouth,
the sun bristled down upon it, and banished all colour, to substitute
in its place a clear oily polish.  Nothing moved in sky, land, or
sea, except a frill of milkwhite foam along the nearer angles of the
shore, shreds of which licked the contiguous stones like tongues.

He descended and came to a small basin of sea enclosed by the cliffs.
Troy's nature freshened within him; he thought he would rest and
bathe here before going farther.  He undressed and plunged in.
Inside the cove the water was uninteresting to a swimmer, being
smooth as a pond, and to get a little of the ocean swell, Troy
presently swam between the two projecting spurs of rock which
formed the pillars of Hercules to this miniature Mediterranean.
Unfortunately for Troy a current unknown to him existed outside,
which, unimportant to craft of any burden, was awkward for a swimmer
who might be taken in it unawares.  Troy found himself carried to
the left and then round in a swoop out to sea.

He now recollected the place and its sinister character.  Many
bathers had there prayed for a dry death from time to time, and, like
Gonzalo also, had been unanswered; and Troy began to deem it possible
that he might be added to their number.  Not a boat of any kind was
at present within sight, but far in the distance Budmouth lay upon
the sea, as it were quietly regarding his efforts, and beside the
town the harbour showed its position by a dim meshwork of ropes and
spars.  After well-nigh exhausting himself in attempts to get back to
the mouth of the cove, in his weakness swimming several inches deeper
than was his wont, keeping up his breathing entirely by his nostrils,
turning upon his back a dozen times over, swimming _en papillon_, and
so on, Troy resolved as a last resource to tread water at a slight
incline, and so endeavour to reach the shore at any point, merely
giving himself a gentle impetus inwards whilst carried on in the
general direction of the tide.  This, necessarily a slow process,
he found to be not altogether so difficult, and though there was no
choice of a landing-place--the objects on shore passing by him in a
sad and slow procession--he perceptibly approached the extremity of a
spit of land yet further to the right, now well defined against the
sunny portion of the horizon.  While the swimmer's eye's were fixed
upon the spit as his only means of salvation on this side of the
Unknown, a moving object broke the outline of the extremity, and
immediately a ship's boat appeared manned with several sailor lads,
her bows towards the sea.

All Troy's vigour spasmodically revived to prolong the struggle yet a
little further.  Swimming with his right arm, he held up his left to
hail them, splashing upon the waves, and shouting with all his might.
From the position of the setting sun his white form was distinctly
visible upon the now deep-hued bosom of the sea to the east of the
boat, and the men saw him at once.  Backing their oars and putting
the boat about, they pulled towards him with a will, and in five or
six minutes from the time of his first halloo, two of the sailors
hauled him in over the stern.

They formed part of a brig's crew, and had come ashore for sand.
Lending him what little clothing they could spare among them as a
slight protection against the rapidly cooling air, they agreed to
land him in the morning; and without further delay, for it was
growing late, they made again towards the roadstead where their
vessel lay.

And now night drooped slowly upon the wide watery levels in front;
and at no great distance from them, where the shoreline curved round,
and formed a long riband of shade upon the horizon, a series of
points of yellow light began to start into existence, denoting the
spot to be the site of Budmouth, where the lamps were being lighted
along the parade.  The cluck of their oars was the only sound of any
distinctness upon the sea, and as they laboured amid the thickening
shades the lamp-lights grew larger, each appearing to send a flaming
sword deep down into the waves before it, until there arose, among
other dim shapes of the kind, the form of the vessel for which they
were bound.




CHAPTER XLVIII


DOUBTS ARISE--DOUBTS LINGER


Bathsheba underwent the enlargement of her husband's absence from
hours to days with a slight feeling of surprise, and a slight feeling
of relief; yet neither sensation rose at any time far above the
level commonly designated as indifference.  She belonged to him: the
certainties of that position were so well defined, and the reasonable
probabilities of its issue so bounded that she could not speculate on
contingencies.  Taking no further interest in herself as a splendid
woman, she acquired the indifferent feelings of an outsider in
contemplating her probable fate as a singular wretch; for Bathsheba
drew herself and her future in colours that no reality could exceed
for darkness.  Her original vigorous pride of youth had sickened,
and with it had declined all her anxieties about coming years, since
anxiety recognizes a better and a worse alternative, and Bathsheba
had made up her mind that alternatives on any noteworthy scale had
ceased for her.  Soon, or later--and that not very late--her husband
would be home again.  And then the days of their tenancy of the Upper
Farm would be numbered.  There had originally been shown by the agent
to the estate some distrust of Bathsheba's tenure as James Everdene's
successor, on the score of her sex, and her youth, and her beauty;
but the peculiar nature of her uncle's will, his own frequent
testimony before his death to her cleverness in such a pursuit, and
her vigorous marshalling of the numerous flocks and herds which came
suddenly into her hands before negotiations were concluded, had won
confidence in her powers, and no further objections had been raised.
She had latterly been in great doubt as to what the legal effects of
her marriage would be upon her position; but no notice had been taken
as yet of her change of name, and only one point was clear--that in
the event of her own or her husband's inability to meet the agent at
the forthcoming January rent-day, very little consideration would be
shown, and, for that matter, very little would be deserved.  Once out
of the farm, the approach of poverty would be sure.

Hence Bathsheba lived in a perception that her purposes were broken
off.  She was not a woman who could hope on without good materials
for the process, differing thus from the less far-sighted and
energetic, though more petted ones of the sex, with whom hope goes
on as a sort of clockwork which the merest food and shelter are
sufficient to wind up; and perceiving clearly that her mistake had
been a fatal one, she accepted her position, and waited coldly for
the end.

The first Saturday after Troy's departure she went to Casterbridge
alone, a journey she had not before taken since her marriage.  On
this Saturday Bathsheba was passing slowly on foot through the crowd
of rural business-men gathered as usual in front of the market-house,
who were as usual gazed upon by the burghers with feelings that
those healthy lives were dearly paid for by exclusion from possible
aldermanship, when a man, who had apparently been following her,
said some words to another on her left hand.  Bathsheba's ears were
keen as those of any wild animal, and she distinctly heard what the
speaker said, though her back was towards him.

"I am looking for Mrs. Troy.  Is that she there?"

"Yes; that's the young lady, I believe," said the the person
addressed.

"I have some awkward news to break to her.  Her husband is drowned."

As if endowed with the spirit of prophecy, Bathsheba gasped out, "No,
it is not true; it cannot be true!"  Then she said and heard no more.
The ice of self-command which had latterly gathered over her was
broken, and the currents burst forth again, and overwhelmed her.  A
darkness came into her eyes, and she fell.

But not to the ground.  A gloomy man, who had been observing her from
under the portico of the old corn-exchange when she passed through
the group without, stepped quickly to her side at the moment of her
exclamation, and caught her in his arms as she sank down.

"What is it?" said Boldwood, looking up at the bringer of the big
news, as he supported her.

"Her husband was drowned this week while bathing in Lulwind Cove.
A coastguardsman found his clothes, and brought them into Budmouth
yesterday."

Thereupon a strange fire lighted up Boldwood's eye, and his face
flushed with the suppressed excitement of an unutterable thought.
Everybody's glance was now centred upon him and the unconscious
Bathsheba.  He lifted her bodily off the ground, and smoothed down
the folds of her dress as a child might have taken a storm-beaten
bird and arranged its ruffled plumes, and bore her along the
pavement to the King's Arms Inn.  Here he passed with her under the
archway into a private room; and by the time he had deposited--so
lothly--the precious burden upon a sofa, Bathsheba had opened her
eyes.  Remembering all that had occurred, she murmured, "I want to go
home!"

Boldwood left the room.  He stood for a moment in the passage to
recover his senses.  The experience had been too much for his
consciousness to keep up with, and now that he had grasped it it had
gone again.  For those few heavenly, golden moments she had been in
his arms.  What did it matter about her not knowing it?  She had been
close to his breast; he had been close to hers.

He started onward again, and sending a woman to her, went out to
ascertain all the facts of the case.  These appeared to be limited to
what he had already heard.  He then ordered her horse to be put into
the gig, and when all was ready returned to inform her.  He found
that, though still pale and unwell, she had in the meantime sent for
the Budmouth man who brought the tidings, and learnt from him all
there was to know.

Being hardly in a condition to drive home as she had driven to town,
Boldwood, with every delicacy of manner and feeling, offered to get
her a driver, or to give her a seat in his phaeton, which was more
comfortable than her own conveyance.  These proposals Bathsheba
gently declined, and the farmer at once departed.

About half-an-hour later she invigorated herself by an effort, and
took her seat and the reins as usual--in external appearance much
as if nothing had happened.  She went out of the town by a tortuous
back street, and drove slowly along, unconscious of the road and the
scene.  The first shades of evening were showing themselves when
Bathsheba reached home, where, silently alighting and leaving the
horse in the hands of the boy, she proceeded at once upstairs.
Liddy met her on the landing.  The news had preceded Bathsheba to
Weatherbury by half-an-hour, and Liddy looked inquiringly into her
mistress's face.  Bathsheba had nothing to say.

She entered her bedroom and sat by the window, and thought and
thought till night enveloped her, and the extreme lines only of her
shape were visible.  Somebody came to the door, knocked, and opened
it.

"Well, what is it, Liddy?" she said.

"I was thinking there must be something got for you to wear," said
Liddy, with hesitation.

"What do you mean?"

"Mourning."

"No, no, no," said Bathsheba, hurriedly.

"But I suppose there must be something done for poor--"

"Not at present, I think.  It is not necessary."

"Why not, ma'am?"

"Because he's still alive."

"How do you know that?" said Liddy, amazed.

"I don't know it.  But wouldn't it have been different, or shouldn't
I have heard more, or wouldn't they have found him, Liddy?--or--I
don't know how it is, but death would have been different from how
this is.  I am perfectly convinced that he is still alive!"


Bathsheba remained firm in this opinion till Monday, when two
circumstances conjoined to shake it.  The first was a short paragraph
in the local newspaper, which, beyond making by a methodizing
pen formidable presumptive evidence of Troy's death by drowning,
contained the important testimony of a young Mr. Barker, M.D., of
Budmouth, who spoke to being an eyewitness of the accident, in a
letter to the editor.  In this he stated that he was passing over the
cliff on the remoter side of the cove just as the sun was setting.
At that time he saw a bather carried along in the current outside the
mouth of the cove, and guessed in an instant that there was but a
poor chance for him unless he should be possessed of unusual muscular
powers.  He drifted behind a projection of the coast, and Mr. Barker
followed along the shore in the same direction.  But by the time that
he could reach an elevation sufficiently great to command a view of
the sea beyond, dusk had set in, and nothing further was to be seen.

The other circumstance was the arrival of his clothes, when it became
necessary for her to examine and identify them--though this had
virtually been done long before by those who inspected the letters in
his pockets.  It was so evident to her in the midst of her agitation
that Troy had undressed in the full conviction of dressing again
almost immediately, that the notion that anything but death could
have prevented him was a perverse one to entertain.

Then Bathsheba said to herself that others were assured in their
opinion; strange that she should not be.  A strange reflection
occurred to her, causing her face to flush.  Suppose that Troy had
followed Fanny into another world. Had he done this intentionally,
yet contrived to make his death appear like an accident?
Nevertheless, this thought of how the apparent might differ from the
real--made vivid by her bygone jealousy of Fanny, and the remorse
he had shown that night--did not blind her to the perception of a
likelier difference, less tragic, but to herself far more disastrous.

When alone late that evening beside a small fire, and much calmed
down, Bathsheba took Troy's watch into her hand, which had been
restored to her with the rest of the articles belonging to him.  She
opened the case as he had opened it before her a week ago.  There was
the little coil of pale hair which had been as the fuze to this great
explosion.

"He was hers and she was his; they should be gone together," she
said.  "I am nothing to either of them, and why should I keep
her hair?"  She took it in her hand, and held it over the fire.
"No--I'll not burn it--I'll keep it in memory of her, poor thing!"
she added, snatching back her hand.




CHAPTER XLIX


OAK'S ADVANCEMENT--A GREAT HOPE


The later autumn and the winter drew on apace, and the leaves lay
thick upon the turf of the glades and the mosses of the woods.
Bathsheba, having previously been living in a state of suspended
feeling which was not suspense, now lived in a mood of quietude which
was not precisely peacefulness.  While she had known him to be alive
she could have thought of his death with equanimity; but now that it
might be she had lost him, she regretted that he was not hers still.
She kept the farm going, raked in her profits without caring keenly
about them, and expended money on ventures because she had done so
in bygone days, which, though not long gone by, seemed infinitely
removed from her present.  She looked back upon that past over a
great gulf, as if she were now a dead person, having the faculty of
meditation still left in her, by means of which, like the mouldering
gentlefolk of the poet's story, she could sit and ponder what a gift
life used to be.

However, one excellent result of her general apathy was the
long-delayed installation of Oak as bailiff; but he having virtually
exercised that function for a long time already, the change, beyond
the substantial increase of wages it brought, was little more than a
nominal one addressed to the outside world.

Boldwood lived secluded and inactive.  Much of his wheat and all his
barley of that season had been spoilt by the rain.  It sprouted,
grew into intricate mats, and was ultimately thrown to the pigs in
armfuls.  The strange neglect which had produced this ruin and waste
became the subject of whispered talk among all the people round; and
it was elicited from one of Boldwood's men that forgetfulness had
nothing to do with it, for he had been reminded of the danger to his
corn as many times and as persistently as inferiors dared to do.
The sight of the pigs turning in disgust from the rotten ears seemed
to arouse Boldwood, and he one evening sent for Oak.  Whether it
was suggested by Bathsheba's recent act of promotion or not, the
farmer proposed at the interview that Gabriel should undertake the
superintendence of the Lower Farm as well as of Bathsheba's, because
of the necessity Boldwood felt for such aid, and the impossibility
of discovering a more trustworthy man. Gabriel's malignant star was
assuredly setting fast.

Bathsheba, when she learnt of this proposal--for Oak was obliged to
consult her--at first languidly objected.  She considered that the
two farms together were too extensive for the observation of one
man.  Boldwood, who was apparently determined by personal rather than
commercial reasons, suggested that Oak should be furnished with a
horse for his sole use, when the plan would present no difficulty,
the two farms lying side by side.  Boldwood did not directly
communicate with her during these negotiations, only speaking to Oak,
who was the go-between throughout.  All was harmoniously arranged at
last, and we now see Oak mounted on a strong cob, and daily trotting
the length breadth of about two thousand acres in a cheerful spirit
of surveillance, as if the crops all belonged to him--the actual
mistress of the one-half and the master of the other, sitting in
their respective homes in gloomy and sad seclusion.

Out of this there arose, during the spring succeeding, a talk in the
parish that Gabriel Oak was feathering his nest fast.

"Whatever d'ye think," said Susan Tall, "Gable Oak is coming it quite
the dand.  He now wears shining boots with hardly a hob in 'em, two
or three times a-week, and a tall hat a-Sundays, and 'a hardly knows
the name of smockfrock.  When I see people strut enough to be cut up
into bantam cocks, I stand dormant with wonder, and says no more!"

It was eventually known that Gabriel, though paid a fixed wage by
Bathsheba independent of the fluctuations of agricultural profits,
had made an engagement with Boldwood by which Oak was to receive a
share of the receipts--a small share certainly, yet it was money of
a higher quality than mere wages, and capable of expansion in a way
that wages were not.  Some were beginning to consider Oak a "near"
man, for though his condition had thus far improved, he lived in no
better style than before, occupying the same cottage, paring his own
potatoes, mending his stockings, and sometimes even making his bed
with his own hands.  But as Oak was not only provokingly indifferent
to public opinion, but a man who clung persistently to old habits and
usages, simply because they were old, there was room for doubt as to
his motives.

A great hope had latterly germinated in Boldwood, whose unreasoning
devotion to Bathsheba could only be characterized as a fond madness
which neither time nor circumstance, evil nor good report, could
weaken or destroy.  This fevered hope had grown up again like a grain
of mustard-seed during the quiet which followed the hasty conjecture
that Troy was drowned.  He nourished it fearfully, and almost shunned
the contemplation of it in earnest, lest facts should reveal the
wildness of the dream.  Bathsheba having at last been persuaded to
wear mourning, her appearance as she entered the church in that
guise was in itself a weekly addition to his faith that a time was
coming--very far off perhaps, yet surely nearing--when his waiting on
events should have its reward.  How long he might have to wait he had
not yet closely considered.  What he would try to recognize was that
the severe schooling she had been subjected to had made Bathsheba
much more considerate than she had formerly been of the feelings of
others, and he trusted that, should she be willing at any time in the
future to marry any man at all, that man would be himself.  There was
a substratum of good feeling in her: her self-reproach for the injury
she had thoughtlessly done him might be depended upon now to a much
greater extent than before her infatuation and disappointment.  It
would be possible to approach her by the channel of her good nature,
and to suggest a friendly businesslike compact between them for
fulfilment at some future day, keeping the passionate side of his
desire entirely out of her sight.  Such was Boldwood's hope.

To the eyes of the middle-aged, Bathsheba was perhaps additionally
charming just now.  Her exuberance of spirit was pruned down; the
original phantom of delight had shown herself to be not too bright
for human nature's daily food, and she had been able to enter this
second poetical phase without losing much of the first in the
process.

Bathsheba's return from a two months' visit to her old aunt at
Norcombe afforded the impassioned and yearning farmer a pretext for
inquiring directly after her--now possibly in the ninth month of her
widowhood--and endeavouring to get a notion of her state of mind
regarding him.  This occurred in the middle of the haymaking, and
Boldwood contrived to be near Liddy, who was assisting in the fields.

"I am glad to see you out of doors, Lydia," he said pleasantly.

She simpered, and wondered in her heart why he should speak so
frankly to her.

"I hope Mrs. Troy is quite well after her long absence," he
continued, in a manner expressing that the coldest-hearted neighbour
could scarcely say less about her.

"She is quite well, sir."

"And cheerful, I suppose."

"Yes, cheerful."

"Fearful, did you say?"

"Oh no.  I merely said she was cheerful."

"Tells you all her affairs?"

"No, sir."

"Some of them?"

"Yes, sir."

"Mrs. Troy puts much confidence in you, Lydia, and very wisely,
perhaps."

"She do, sir.  I've been with her all through her troubles, and was
with her at the time of Mr. Troy's going and all.  And if she were
to marry again I expect I should bide with her."

"She promises that you shall--quite natural," said the strategic
lover, throbbing throughout him at the presumption which Liddy's
words appeared to warrant--that his darling had thought of
re-marriage.

"No--she doesn't promise it exactly.  I merely judge on my own
account."

"Yes, yes, I understand.  When she alludes to the possibility of
marrying again, you conclude--"

"She never do allude to it, sir," said Liddy, thinking how very
stupid Mr. Boldwood was getting.

"Of course not," he returned hastily, his hope falling again.  "You
needn't take quite such long reaches with your rake, Lydia--short
and quick ones are best.  Well, perhaps, as she is absolute mistress
again now, it is wise of her to resolve never to give up her
freedom."

"My mistress did certainly once say, though not seriously, that she
supposed she might marry again at the end of seven years from last
year, if she cared to risk Mr. Troy's coming back and claiming her."

"Ah, six years from the present time.  Said that she might.  She
might marry at once in every reasonable person's opinion, whatever
the lawyers may say to the contrary."

"Have you been to ask them?" said Liddy, innocently.

"Not I," said Boldwood, growing red.  "Liddy, you needn't stay here
a minute later than you wish, so Mr. Oak says.  I am now going on a
little farther.  Good-afternoon."

He went away vexed with himself, and ashamed of having for this one
time in his life done anything which could be called underhand.  Poor
Boldwood had no more skill in finesse than a battering-ram, and he
was uneasy with a sense of having made himself to appear stupid and,
what was worse, mean.  But he had, after all, lighted upon one fact
by way of repayment.  It was a singularly fresh and fascinating fact,
and though not without its sadness it was pertinent and real.  In
little more than six years from this time Bathsheba might certainly
marry him.  There was something definite in that hope, for admitting
that there might have been no deep thought in her words to Liddy
about marriage, they showed at least her creed on the matter.

This pleasant notion was now continually in his mind.  Six years were
a long time, but how much shorter than never, the idea he had for so
long been obliged to endure!  Jacob had served twice seven years for
Rachel: what were six for such a woman as this?  He tried to like the
notion of waiting for her better than that of winning her at once.
Boldwood felt his love to be so deep and strong and eternal, that
it was possible she had never yet known its full volume, and this
patience in delay would afford him an opportunity of giving sweet
proof on the point.  He would annihilate the six years of his life as
if they were minutes--so little did he value his time on earth beside
her love.  He would let her see, all those six years of intangible
ethereal courtship, how little care he had for anything but as it
bore upon the consummation.

Meanwhile the early and the late summer brought round the week in
which Greenhill Fair was held.  This fair was frequently attended by
the folk of Weatherbury.




CHAPTER L


THE SHEEP FAIR--TROY TOUCHES HIS WIFE'S HAND


Greenhill was the Nijni Novgorod of South Wessex; and the busiest,
merriest, noisiest day of the whole statute number was the day of
the sheep fair.  This yearly gathering was upon the summit of a
hill which retained in good preservation the remains of an ancient
earthwork, consisting of a huge rampart and entrenchment of an oval
form encircling the top of the hill, though somewhat broken down here
and there.  To each of the two chief openings on opposite sides a
winding road ascended, and the level green space of ten or fifteen
acres enclosed by the bank was the site of the fair.  A few permanent
erections dotted the spot, but the majority of visitors patronized
canvas alone for resting and feeding under during the time of their
sojourn here.

Shepherds who attended with their flocks from long distances started
from home two or three days, or even a week, before the fair, driving
their charges a few miles each day--not more than ten or twelve--and
resting them at night in hired fields by the wayside at previously
chosen points, where they fed, having fasted since morning.  The
shepherd of each flock marched behind, a bundle containing his kit
for the week strapped upon his shoulders, and in his hand his crook,
which he used as the staff of his pilgrimage.  Several of the sheep
would get worn and lame, and occasionally a lambing occurred on the
road.  To meet these contingencies, there was frequently provided, to
accompany the flocks from the remoter points, a pony and waggon into
which the weakly ones were taken for the remainder of the journey.

The Weatherbury Farms, however, were no such long distance from the
hill, and those arrangements were not necessary in their case.  But
the large united flocks of Bathsheba and Farmer Boldwood formed a
valuable and imposing multitude which demanded much attention, and
on this account Gabriel, in addition to Boldwood's shepherd and Cain
Ball, accompanied them along the way, through the decayed old town of
Kingsbere, and upward to the plateau,--old George the dog of course
behind them.

When the autumn sun slanted over Greenhill this morning and lighted
the dewy flat upon its crest, nebulous clouds of dust were to be seen
floating between the pairs of hedges which streaked the wide prospect
around in all directions.  These gradually converged upon the base of
the hill, and the flocks became individually visible, climbing the
serpentine ways which led to the top.  Thus, in a slow procession,
they entered the opening to which the roads tended, multitude after
multitude, horned and hornless--blue flocks and red flocks, buff
flocks and brown flocks, even green and salmon-tinted flocks,
according to the fancy of the colourist and custom of the farm.
Men were shouting, dogs were barking, with greatest animation, but
the thronging travellers in so long a journey had grown nearly
indifferent to such terrors, though they still bleated piteously at
the unwontedness of their experiences, a tall shepherd rising here
and there in the midst of them, like a gigantic idol amid a crowd
of prostrate devotees.

The great mass of sheep in the fair consisted of South Downs and the
old Wessex horned breeds; to the latter class Bathsheba's and Farmer
Boldwood's mainly belonged.  These filed in about nine o'clock, their
vermiculated horns lopping gracefully on each side of their cheeks in
geometrically perfect spirals, a small pink and white ear nestling
under each horn.  Before and behind came other varieties, perfect
leopards as to the full rich substance of their coats, and only
lacking the spots.  There were also a few of the Oxfordshire breed,
whose wool was beginning to curl like a child's flaxen hair, though
surpassed in this respect by the effeminate Leicesters, which were in
turn less curly than the Cotswolds.  But the most picturesque by far
was a small flock of Exmoors, which chanced to be there this year.
Their pied faces and legs, dark and heavy horns, tresses of wool
hanging round their swarthy foreheads, quite relieved the monotony
of the flocks in that quarter.

All these bleating, panting, and weary thousands had entered and were
penned before the morning had far advanced, the dog belonging to each
flock being tied to the corner of the pen containing it.  Alleys for
pedestrians intersected the pens, which soon became crowded with
buyers and sellers from far and near.

In another part of the hill an altogether different scene began
to force itself upon the eye towards midday.  A circular tent, of
exceptional newness and size, was in course of erection here.  As
the day drew on, the flocks began to change hands, lightening the
shepherd's responsibilities; and they turned their attention to
this tent and inquired of a man at work there, whose soul seemed
concentrated on tying a bothering knot in no time, what was going
on.

"The Royal Hippodrome Performance of Turpin's Ride to York and the
Death of Black Bess," replied the man promptly, without turning his
eyes or leaving off tying.

As soon as the tent was completed the band struck up highly
stimulating harmonies, and the announcement was publicly made, Black
Bess standing in a conspicuous position on the outside, as a living
proof, if proof were wanted, of the truth of the oracular utterances
from the stage over which the people were to enter.  These were so
convinced by such genuine appeals to heart and understanding both
that they soon began to crowd in abundantly, among the foremost being
visible Jan Coggan and Joseph Poorgrass, who were holiday keeping
here to-day.

"That's the great ruffen pushing me!" screamed a woman in front of
Jan over her shoulder at him when the rush was at its fiercest.

"How can I help pushing ye when the folk behind push me?" said
Coggan, in a deprecating tone, turning his head towards the aforesaid
folk as far as he could without turning his body, which was jammed as
in a vice.

There was a silence; then the drums and trumpets again sent forth
their echoing notes.  The crowd was again ecstasied, and gave another
lurch in which Coggan and Poorgrass were again thrust by those behind
upon the women in front.

"Oh that helpless feymels should be at the mercy of such ruffens!"
exclaimed one of these ladies again, as she swayed like a reed shaken
by the wind.

"Now," said Coggan, appealing in an earnest voice to the public at
large as it stood clustered about his shoulder-blades, "did ye ever
hear such onreasonable woman as that?  Upon my carcase, neighbours,
if I could only get out of this cheese-wring, the damn women might
eat the show for me!"

"Don't ye lose yer temper, Jan!" implored Joseph Poorgrass, in a
whisper.  "They might get their men to murder us, for I think by the
shine of their eyes that they be a sinful form of womankind."

Jan held his tongue, as if he had no objection to be pacified to
please a friend, and they gradually reached the foot of the ladder,
Poorgrass being flattened like a jumping-jack, and the sixpence, for
admission, which he had got ready half-an-hour earlier, having become
so reeking hot in the tight squeeze of his excited hand that the
woman in spangles, brazen rings set with glass diamonds, and with
chalked face and shoulders, who took the money of him, hastily
dropped it again from a fear that some trick had been played to burn
her fingers.  So they all entered, and the cloth of the tent, to the
eyes of an observer on the outside, became bulged into innumerable
pimples such as we observe on a sack of potatoes, caused by the
various human heads, backs, and elbows at high pressure within.

At the rear of the large tent there were two small dressing-tents.
One of these, alloted to the male performers, was partitioned into
halves by a cloth; and in one of the divisions there was sitting on
the grass, pulling on a pair of jack-boots, a young man whom we
instantly recognise as Sergeant Troy.

Troy's appearance in this position may be briefly accounted for.  The
brig aboard which he was taken in Budmouth Roads was about to start
on a voyage, though somewhat short of hands.  Troy read the articles
and joined, but before they sailed a boat was despatched across the
bay to Lulwind cove; as he had half expected, his clothes were gone.
He ultimately worked his passage to the United States, where he made
a precarious living in various towns as Professor of Gymnastics,
Sword Exercise, Fencing, and Pugilism.  A few months were sufficient
to give him a distaste for this kind of life.  There was a certain
animal form of refinement in his nature; and however pleasant a
strange condition might be whilst privations were easily warded off,
it was disadvantageously coarse when money was short.  There was ever
present, too, the idea that he could claim a home and its comforts
did he but chose to return to England and Weatherbury Farm.  Whether
Bathsheba thought him dead was a frequent subject of curious
conjecture.  To England he did return at last; but the fact of
drawing nearer to Weatherbury abstracted its fascinations, and his
intention to enter his old groove at the place became modified.  It
was with gloom he considered on landing at Liverpool that if he
were to go home his reception would be of a kind very unpleasant
to contemplate; for what Troy had in the way of emotion was an
occasional fitful sentiment which sometimes caused him as much
inconvenience as emotion of a strong and healthy kind.  Bathsheba was
not a women to be made a fool of, or a woman to suffer in silence;
and how could he endure existence with a spirited wife to whom at
first entering he would be beholden for food and lodging?  Moreover,
it was not at all unlikely that his wife would fail at her farming,
if she had not already done so; and he would then become liable for
her maintenance: and what a life such a future of poverty with her
would be, the spectre of Fanny constantly between them, harrowing
his temper and embittering her words!  Thus, for reasons touching on
distaste, regret, and shame commingled, he put off his return from
day to day, and would have decided to put it off altogether if he
could have found anywhere else the ready-made establishment which
existed for him there.

At this time--the July preceding the September in which we find
at Greenhill Fair--he fell in with a travelling circus which was
performing in the outskirts of a northern town.  Troy introduced
himself to the manager by taming a restive horse of the troupe,
hitting a suspended apple with a pistol-bullet fired from the
animal's back when in full gallop, and other feats.  For his
merits in these--all more or less based upon his experiences as a
dragoon-guardsman--Troy was taken into the company, and the play
of Turpin was prepared with a view to his personation of the chief
character.  Troy was not greatly elated by the appreciative spirit in
which he was undoubtedly treated, but he thought the engagement might
afford him a few weeks for consideration.  It was thus carelessly,
and without having formed any definite plan for the future, that Troy
found himself at Greenhill Fair with the rest of the company on this
day.

And now the mild autumn sun got lower, and in front of the pavilion
the following incident had taken place.  Bathsheba--who was driven
to the fair that day by her odd man Poorgrass--had, like every one
else, read or heard the announcement that Mr. Francis, the Great
Cosmopolitan Equestrian and Roughrider, would enact the part of
Turpin, and she was not yet too old and careworn to be without a
little curiosity to see him.  This particular show was by far the
largest and grandest in the fair, a horde of little shows grouping
themselves under its shade like chickens around a hen.  The crowd had
passed in, and Boldwood, who had been watching all the day for an
opportunity of speaking to her, seeing her comparatively isolated,
came up to her side.

"I hope the sheep have done well to-day, Mrs. Troy?" he said,
nervously.

"Oh yes, thank you," said Bathsheba, colour springing up in the
centre of her cheeks.  "I was fortunate enough to sell them all just
as we got upon the hill, so we hadn't to pen at all."

"And now you are entirely at leisure?"

"Yes, except that I have to see one more dealer in two hours' time:
otherwise I should be going home.  He was looking at this large tent
and the announcement.  Have you ever seen the play of 'Turpin's Ride
to York'?  Turpin was a real man, was he not?"

"Oh yes, perfectly true--all of it.  Indeed, I think I've heard Jan
Coggan say that a relation of his knew Tom King, Turpin's friend,
quite well."

"Coggan is rather given to strange stories connected with his
relations, we must remember.  I hope they can all be believed."

"Yes, yes; we know Coggan.  But Turpin is true enough.  You have
never seen it played, I suppose?"

"Never.  I was not allowed to go into these places when I was young.
Hark!  What's that prancing?  How they shout!"

"Black Bess just started off, I suppose.  Am I right in supposing
you would like to see the performance, Mrs. Troy?  Please excuse my
mistake, if it is one; but if you would like to, I'll get a seat for
you with pleasure."  Perceiving that she hesitated, he added, "I
myself shall not stay to see it: I've seen it before."

Now Bathsheba did care a little to see the show, and had only
withheld her feet from the ladder because she feared to go in alone.
She had been hoping that Oak might appear, whose assistance in such
cases was always accepted as an inalienable right, but Oak was
nowhere to be seen; and hence it was that she said, "Then if you will
just look in first, to see if there's room, I think I will go in for
a minute or two."

And so a short time after this Bathsheba appeared in the tent with
Boldwood at her elbow, who, taking her to a "reserved" seat, again
withdrew.

This feature consisted of one raised bench in a very conspicuous
part of the circle, covered with red cloth, and floored with a piece
of carpet, and Bathsheba immediately found, to her confusion, that
she was the single reserved individual in the tent, the rest of
the crowded spectators, one and all, standing on their legs on the
borders of the arena, where they got twice as good a view of the
performance for half the money.  Hence as many eyes were turned upon
her, enthroned alone in this place of honour, against a scarlet
background, as upon the ponies and clown who were engaged in
preliminary exploits in the centre, Turpin not having yet appeared.
Once there, Bathsheba was forced to make the best of it and remain:
she sat down, spreading her skirts with some dignity over the
unoccupied space on each side of her, and giving a new and feminine
aspect to the pavilion.  In a few minutes she noticed the fat red
nape of Coggan's neck among those standing just below her, and Joseph
Poorgrass's saintly profile a little further on.

The interior was shadowy with a peculiar shade.  The strange luminous
semi-opacities of fine autumn afternoons and eves intensified into
Rembrandt effects the few yellow sunbeams which came through holes
and divisions in the canvas, and spirted like jets of gold-dust
across the dusky blue atmosphere of haze pervading the tent, until
they alighted on inner surfaces of cloth opposite, and shone like
little lamps suspended there.

Troy, on peeping from his dressing-tent through a slit for a
reconnoitre before entering, saw his unconscious wife on high before
him as described, sitting as queen of the tournament.  He started
back in utter confusion, for although his disguise effectually
concealed his personality, he instantly felt that she would be sure
to recognize his voice.  He had several times during the day thought
of the possibility of some Weatherbury person or other appearing and
recognizing him; but he had taken the risk carelessly.  If they see
me, let them, he had said.  But here was Bathsheba in her own person;
and the reality of the scene was so much intenser than any of his
prefigurings that he felt he had not half enough considered the
point.

She looked so charming and fair that his cool mood about Weatherbury
people was changed.  He had not expected her to exercise this power
over him in the twinkling of an eye.  Should he go on, and care
nothing?  He could not bring himself to do that.  Beyond a politic
wish to remain unknown, there suddenly arose in him now a sense of
shame at the possibility that his attractive young wife, who already
despised him, should despise him more by discovering him in so mean a
condition after so long a time.  He actually blushed at the thought,
and was vexed beyond measure that his sentiments of dislike towards
Weatherbury should have led him to dally about the country in this
way.

But Troy was never more clever than when absolutely at his wit's end.
He hastily thrust aside the curtain dividing his own little dressing
space from that of the manager and proprietor, who now appeared as
the individual called Tom King as far down as his waist, and as the
aforesaid respectable manager thence to his toes.

"Here's the devil to pay!" said Troy.

"How's that?"

"Why, there's a blackguard creditor in the tent I don't want to see,
who'll discover me and nab me as sure as Satan if I open my mouth.
What's to be done?"

"You must appear now, I think."

"I can't."

"But the play must proceed."

"Do you give out that Turpin has got a bad cold, and can't speak his
part, but that he'll perform it just the same without speaking."

The proprietor shook his head.

"Anyhow, play or no play, I won't open my mouth," said Troy, firmly.

"Very well, then let me see.  I tell you how we'll manage," said the
other, who perhaps felt it would be extremely awkward to offend his
leading man just at this time.  "I won't tell 'em anything about your
keeping silence; go on with the piece and say nothing, doing what
you can by a judicious wink now and then, and a few indomitable nods
in the heroic places, you know.  They'll never find out that the
speeches are omitted."

This seemed feasible enough, for Turpin's speeches were not many or
long, the fascination of the piece lying entirely in the action; and
accordingly the play began, and at the appointed time Black Bess
leapt into the grassy circle amid the plaudits of the spectators.
At the turnpike scene, where Bess and Turpin are hotly pursued at
midnight by the officers, and the half-awake gatekeeper in his
tasselled nightcap denies that any horseman has passed, Coggan
uttered a broad-chested "Well done!" which could be heard all over
the fair above the bleating, and Poorgrass smiled delightedly with a
nice sense of dramatic contrast between our hero, who coolly leaps
the gate, and halting justice in the form of his enemies, who must
needs pull up cumbersomely and wait to be let through.  At the death
of Tom King, he could not refrain from seizing Coggan by the hand,
and whispering, with tears in his eyes, "Of course he's not really
shot, Jan--only seemingly!"  And when the last sad scene came on, and
the body of the gallant and faithful Bess had to be carried out on a
shutter by twelve volunteers from among the spectators, nothing could
restrain Poorgrass from lending a hand, exclaiming, as he asked
Jan to join him, "Twill be something to tell of at Warren's in
future years, Jan, and hand down to our children."  For many a year
in Weatherbury, Joseph told, with the air of a man who had had
experiences in his time, that he touched with his own hand the hoof
of Bess as she lay upon the board upon his shoulder.  If, as some
thinkers hold, immortality consists in being enshrined in others'
memories, then did Black Bess become immortal that day if she never
had done so before.

Meanwhile Troy had added a few touches to his ordinary make-up for
the character, the more effectually to disguise himself, and though
he had felt faint qualms on first entering, the metamorphosis
effected by judiciously "lining" his face with a wire rendered him
safe from the eyes of Bathsheba and her men.  Nevertheless, he was
relieved when it was got through.

There was a second performance in the evening, and the tent was
lighted up.  Troy had taken his part very quietly this time,
venturing to introduce a few speeches on occasion; and was just
concluding it when, whilst standing at the edge of the circle
contiguous to the first row of spectators, he observed within a
yard of him the eye of a man darted keenly into his side features.
Troy hastily shifted his position, after having recognized in the
scrutineer the knavish bailiff Pennyways, his wife's sworn enemy,
who still hung about the outskirts of Weatherbury.

At first Troy resolved to take no notice and abide by circumstances.
That he had been recognized by this man was highly probable; yet
there was room for a doubt.  Then the great objection he had felt to
allowing news of his proximity to precede him to Weatherbury in the
event of his return, based on a feeling that knowledge of his present
occupation would discredit him still further in his wife's eyes,
returned in full force.  Moreover, should he resolve not to return at
all, a tale of his being alive and being in the neighbourhood would
be awkward; and he was anxious to acquire a knowledge of his wife's
temporal affairs before deciding which to do.

In this dilemma Troy at once went out to reconnoitre.  It occurred
to him that to find Pennyways, and make a friend of him if possible,
would be a very wise act.  He had put on a thick beard borrowed from
the establishment, and in this he wandered about the fair-field.  It
was now almost dark, and respectable people were getting their carts
and gigs ready to go home.

The largest refreshment booth in the fair was provided by an
innkeeper from a neighbouring town.  This was considered an
unexceptionable place for obtaining the necessary food and rest:
Host Trencher (as he was jauntily called by the local newspaper)
being a substantial man of high repute for catering through all the
country round.  The tent was divided into first and second-class
compartments, and at the end of the first-class division was a yet
further enclosure for the most exclusive, fenced off from the body
of the tent by a luncheon-bar, behind which the host himself stood
bustling about in white apron and shirt-sleeves, and looking as if
he had never lived anywhere but under canvas all his life.  In these
penetralia were chairs and a table, which, on candles being lighted,
made quite a cozy and luxurious show, with an urn, plated tea and
coffee pots, china teacups, and plum cakes.

Troy stood at the entrance to the booth, where a gipsy-woman was
frying pancakes over a little fire of sticks and selling them at a
penny a-piece, and looked over the heads of the people within.  He
could see nothing of Pennyways, but he soon discerned Bathsheba
through an opening into the reserved space at the further end.  Troy
thereupon retreated, went round the tent into the darkness, and
listened.  He could hear Bathsheba's voice immediately inside the
canvas; she was conversing with a man.  A warmth overspread his
face: surely she was not so unprincipled as to flirt in a fair!
He wondered if, then, she reckoned upon his death as an absolute
certainty.  To get at the root of the matter, Troy took a penknife
from his pocket and softly made two little cuts crosswise in the
cloth, which, by folding back the corners left a hole the size of a
wafer.  Close to this he placed his face, withdrawing it again in a
movement of surprise; for his eye had been within twelve inches of
the top of Bathsheba's head.  It was too near to be convenient.  He
made another hole a little to one side and lower down, in a shaded
place beside her chair, from which it was easy and safe to survey
her by looking horizontally.

Troy took in the scene completely now.  She was leaning back, sipping
a cup of tea that she held in her hand, and the owner of the male
voice was Boldwood, who had apparently just brought the cup to her,
Bathsheba, being in a negligent mood, leant so idly against the
canvas that it was pressed to the shape of her shoulder, and she was,
in fact, as good as in Troy's arms; and he was obliged to keep his
breast carefully backward that she might not feel its warmth through
the cloth as he gazed in.

Troy found unexpected chords of feeling to be stirred again within
him as they had been stirred earlier in the day.  She was handsome
as ever, and she was his.  It was some minutes before he could
counteract his sudden wish to go in, and claim her.  Then he thought
how the proud girl who had always looked down upon him even whilst it
was to love him, would hate him on discovering him to be a strolling
player.  Were he to make himself known, that chapter of his life
must at all risks be kept for ever from her and from the Weatherbury
people, or his name would be a byword throughout the parish.  He
would be nicknamed "Turpin" as long as he lived.  Assuredly before
he could claim her these few past months of his existence must be
entirely blotted out.

"Shall I get you another cup before you start, ma'am?" said Farmer
Boldwood.

"Thank you," said Bathsheba.  "But I must be going at once.  It was
great neglect in that man to keep me waiting here till so late.  I
should have gone two hours ago, if it had not been for him.  I had no
idea of coming in here; but there's nothing so refreshing as a cup of
tea, though I should never have got one if you hadn't helped me."

Troy scrutinized her cheek as lit by the candles, and watched each
varying shade thereon, and the white shell-like sinuosities of her
little ear.  She took out her purse and was insisting to Boldwood on
paying for her tea for herself, when at this moment Pennyways entered
the tent.  Troy trembled: here was his scheme for respectability
endangered at once.  He was about to leave his hole of espial,
attempt to follow Pennyways, and find out if the ex-bailiff had
recognized him, when he was arrested by the conversation, and found
he was too late.

"Excuse me, ma'am," said Pennyways; "I've some private information
for your ear alone."

"I cannot hear it now," she said, coldly.  That Bathsheba could not
endure this man was evident; in fact, he was continually coming to
her with some tale or other, by which he might creep into favour at
the expense of persons maligned.

"I'll write it down," said Pennyways, confidently.  He stooped over
the table, pulled a leaf from a warped pocket-book, and wrote upon
the paper, in a round hand--

"YOUR HUSBAND IS HERE.  I'VE SEEN HIM.  WHO'S THE FOOL NOW?"

This he folded small, and handed towards her.  Bathsheba would not
read it; she would not even put out her hand to take it.  Pennyways,
then, with a laugh of derision, tossed it into her lap, and, turning
away, left her.

From the words and action of Pennyways, Troy, though he had not been
able to see what the ex-bailiff wrote, had not a moment's doubt that
the note referred to him.  Nothing that he could think of could be
done to check the exposure.  "Curse my luck!" he whispered, and
added imprecations which rustled in the gloom like a pestilent wind.
Meanwhile Boldwood said, taking up the note from her lap--

"Don't you wish to read it, Mrs. Troy?  If not, I'll destroy it."

"Oh, well," said Bathsheba, carelessly, "perhaps it is unjust not to
read it; but I can guess what it is about.  He wants me to recommend
him, or it is to tell me of some little scandal or another connected
with my work-people.  He's always doing that."

Bathsheba held the note in her right hand.  Boldwood handed towards
her a plate of cut bread-and-butter; when, in order to take a slice,
she put the note into her left hand, where she was still holding
the purse, and then allowed her hand to drop beside her close to
the canvas.  The moment had come for saving his game, and Troy
impulsively felt that he would play the card.  For yet another time
he looked at the fair hand, and saw the pink finger-tips, and the
blue veins of the wrist, encircled by a bracelet of coral chippings
which she wore: how familiar it all was to him!  Then, with the
lightning action in which he was such an adept, he noiselessly
slipped his hand under the bottom of the tent-cloth, which was far
from being pinned tightly down, lifted it a little way, keeping his
eye to the hole, snatched the note from her fingers, dropped the
canvas, and ran away in the gloom towards the bank and ditch, smiling
at the scream of astonishment which burst from her.  Troy then slid
down on the outside of the rampart, hastened round in the bottom of
the entrenchment to a distance of a hundred yards, ascended again,
and crossed boldly in a slow walk towards the front entrance of
the tent.  His object was now to get to Pennyways, and prevent a
repetition of the announcement until such time as he should choose.

Troy reached the tent door, and standing among the groups there
gathered, looked anxiously for Pennyways, evidently not wishing to
make himself prominent by inquiring for him.  One or two men were
speaking of a daring attempt that had just been made to rob a young
lady by lifting the canvas of the tent beside her.  It was supposed
that the rogue had imagined a slip of paper which she held in her
hand to be a bank note, for he had seized it, and made off with
it, leaving her purse behind.  His chagrin and disappointment at
discovering its worthlessness would be a good joke, it was said.
However, the occurrence seemed to have become known to few, for it
had not interrupted a fiddler, who had lately begun playing by the
door of the tent, nor the four bowed old men with grim countenances
and walking-sticks in hand, who were dancing "Major Malley's Reel"
to the tune.  Behind these stood Pennyways.  Troy glided up to him,
beckoned, and whispered a few words; and with a mutual glance of
concurrence the two men went into the night together.




CHAPTER LI


BATHSHEBA TALKS WITH HER OUTRIDER


The arrangement for getting back again to Weatherbury had been that
Oak should take the place of Poorgrass in Bathsheba's conveyance and
drive her home, it being discovered late in the afternoon that Joseph
was suffering from his old complaint, a multiplying eye, and was,
therefore, hardly trustworthy as coachman and protector to a woman.
But Oak had found himself so occupied, and was full of so many
cares relative to those portions of Boldwood's flocks that were not
disposed of, that Bathsheba, without telling Oak or anybody, resolved
to drive home herself, as she had many times done from Casterbridge
Market, and trust to her good angel for performing the journey
unmolested.  But having fallen in with Farmer Boldwood accidentally
(on her part at least) at the refreshment-tent, she found it
impossible to refuse his offer to ride on horseback beside her as
escort.  It had grown twilight before she was aware, but Boldwood
assured her that there was no cause for uneasiness, as the moon
would be up in half-an-hour.

Immediately after the incident in the tent, she had risen to
go--now absolutely alarmed and really grateful for her old lover's
protection--though regretting Gabriel's absence, whose company she
would have much preferred, as being more proper as well as more
pleasant, since he was her own managing-man and servant.  This,
however, could not be helped; she would not, on any consideration,
treat Boldwood harshly, having once already ill-used him, and the
moon having risen, and the gig being ready, she drove across the
hilltop in the wending way's which led downwards--to oblivious
obscurity, as it seemed, for the moon and the hill it flooded with
light were in appearance on a level, the rest of the world lying as
a vast shady concave between them.  Boldwood mounted his horse, and
followed in close attendance behind.  Thus they descended into the
lowlands, and the sounds of those left on the hill came like voices
from the sky, and the lights were as those of a camp in heaven.  They
soon passed the merry stragglers in the immediate vicinity of the
hill, traversed Kingsbere, and got upon the high road.

The keen instincts of Bathsheba had perceived that the farmer's
staunch devotion to herself was still undiminished, and she
sympathized deeply.  The sight had quite depressed her this evening;
had reminded her of her folly; she wished anew, as she had wished
many months ago, for some means of making reparation for her fault.
Hence her pity for the man who so persistently loved on to his own
injury and permanent gloom had betrayed Bathsheba into an injudicious
considerateness of manner, which appeared almost like tenderness,
and gave new vigour to the exquisite dream of a Jacob's seven years
service in poor Boldwood's mind.

He soon found an excuse for advancing from his position in the rear,
and rode close by her side.  They had gone two or three miles in
the moonlight, speaking desultorily across the wheel of her gig
concerning the fair, farming, Oak's usefulness to them both, and
other indifferent subjects, when Boldwood said suddenly and simply--

"Mrs. Troy, you will marry again some day?"

This point-blank query unmistakably confused her, and it was not till
a minute or more had elapsed that she said, "I have not seriously
thought of any such subject."

"I quite understand that.  Yet your late husband has been dead nearly
one year, and--"

"You forget that his death was never absolutely proved, and may not
have taken place; so that I may not be really a widow," she said,
catching at the straw of escape that the fact afforded.

"Not absolutely proved, perhaps, but it was proved circumstantially.
A man saw him drowning, too.  No reasonable person has any doubt of
his death; nor have you, ma'am, I should imagine."

"I have none now, or I should have acted differently," she said,
gently.  "I certainly, at first, had a strange unaccountable feeling
that he could not have perished, but I have been able to explain that
in several ways since.  But though I am fully persuaded that I shall
see him no more, I am far from thinking of marriage with another.  I
should be very contemptible to indulge in such a thought."

They were silent now awhile, and having struck into an unfrequented
track across a common, the creaks of Boldwood's saddle and her gig
springs were all the sounds to be heard. Boldwood ended the pause.

"Do you remember when I carried you fainting in my arms into the
King's Arms, in Casterbridge?  Every dog has his day: that was mine."

"I know--I know it all," she said, hurriedly.

"I, for one, shall never cease regretting that events so fell out as
to deny you to me."

"I, too, am very sorry," she said, and then checked herself.  "I
mean, you know, I am sorry you thought I--"

"I have always this dreary pleasure in thinking over those past times
with you--that I was something to you before HE was anything, and
that you belonged ALMOST to me.  But, of course, that's nothing.  You
never liked me."

"I did; and respected you, too."

"Do you now?"

"Yes."

"Which?"

"How do you mean which?"

"Do you like me, or do you respect me?"

"I don't know--at least, I cannot tell you.  It is difficult for a
woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men
to express theirs.  My treatment of you was thoughtless, inexcusable,
wicked!  I shall eternally regret it.  If there had been anything
I could have done to make amends I would most gladly have done
it--there was nothing on earth I so longed to do as to repair the
error.  But that was not possible."

"Don't blame yourself--you were not so far in the wrong as you
suppose.  Bathsheba, suppose you had real complete proof that you are
what, in fact, you are--a widow--would you repair the old wrong to me
by marrying me?"

"I cannot say.  I shouldn't yet, at any rate."

"But you might at some future time of your life?"

"Oh yes, I might at some time."

"Well, then, do you know that without further proof of any kind you
may marry again in about six years from the present--subject to
nobody's objection or blame?"

"Oh yes," she said, quickly.  "I know all that.  But don't talk of
it--seven or six years--where may we all be by that time?"

"They will soon glide by, and it will seem an astonishingly short
time to look back upon when they are past--much less than to look
forward to now."

"Yes, yes; I have found that in my own experience."

"Now listen once more," Boldwood pleaded.  "If I wait that time, will
you marry me?  You own that you owe me amends--let that be your way
of making them."

"But, Mr. Boldwood--six years--"

"Do you want to be the wife of any other man?"

"No indeed!  I mean, that I don't like to talk about this matter now.
Perhaps it is not proper, and I ought not to allow it.  Let us drop
it.  My husband may be living, as I said."

"Of course, I'll drop the subject if you wish.  But propriety has
nothing to do with reasons.  I am a middle-aged man, willing to
protect you for the remainder of our lives.  On your side, at least,
there is no passion or blamable haste--on mine, perhaps, there is.
But I can't help seeing that if you choose from a feeling of pity,
and, as you say, a wish to make amends, to make a bargain with me for
a far-ahead time--an agreement which will set all things right and
make me happy, late though it may be--there is no fault to be found
with you as a woman.  Hadn't I the first place beside you?  Haven't
you been almost mine once already?  Surely you can say to me as much
as this, you will have me back again should circumstances permit?
Now, pray speak!  O Bathsheba, promise--it is only a little
promise--that if you marry again, you will marry me!"

His tone was so excited that she almost feared him at this moment,
even whilst she sympathized.  It was a simple physical fear--the weak
of the strong; there was no emotional aversion or inner repugnance.
She said, with some distress in her voice, for she remembered vividly
his outburst on the Yalbury Road, and shrank from a repetition of his
anger:--

"I will never marry another man whilst you wish me to be your wife,
whatever comes--but to say more--you have taken me so by surprise--"

"But let it stand in these simple words--that in six years' time you
will be my wife?  Unexpected accidents we'll not mention, because
those, of course, must be given way to.  Now, this time I know you
will keep your word."

"That's why I hesitate to give it."

"But do give it!  Remember the past, and be kind."

She breathed; and then said mournfully: "Oh what shall I do?  I don't
love you, and I much fear that I never shall love you as much as a
woman ought to love a husband.  If you, sir, know that, and I can
yet give you happiness by a mere promise to marry at the end of six
years, if my husband should not come back, it is a great honour to
me.  And if you value such an act of friendship from a woman who
doesn't esteem herself as she did, and has little love left, why
I--I will--"

"Promise!"

"--Consider, if I cannot promise soon."

"But soon is perhaps never?"

"Oh no, it is not!  I mean soon.  Christmas, we'll say."

"Christmas!"  He said nothing further till he added: "Well, I'll say
no more to you about it till that time."


Bathsheba was in a very peculiar state of mind, which showed how
entirely the soul is the slave of the body, the ethereal spirit
dependent for its quality upon the tangible flesh and blood.  It is
hardly too much to say that she felt coerced by a force stronger than
her own will, not only into the act of promising upon this singularly
remote and vague matter, but into the emotion of fancying that she
ought to promise.  When the weeks intervening between the night of
this conversation and Christmas day began perceptibly to diminish,
her anxiety and perplexity increased.

One day she was led by an accident into an oddly confidential
dialogue with Gabriel about her difficulty.  It afforded her a little
relief--of a dull and cheerless kind.  They were auditing accounts,
and something occurred in the course of their labours which led Oak
to say, speaking of Boldwood, "He'll never forget you, ma'am, never."

Then out came her trouble before she was aware; and she told him how
she had again got into the toils; what Boldwood had asked her, and
how he was expecting her assent.  "The most mournful reason of all
for my agreeing to it," she said sadly, "and the true reason why I
think to do so for good or for evil, is this--it is a thing I have
not breathed to a living soul as yet--I believe that if I don't give
my word, he'll go out of his mind."

"Really, do ye?" said Gabriel, gravely.

"I believe this," she continued, with reckless frankness; "and Heaven
knows I say it in a spirit the very reverse of vain, for I am grieved
and troubled to my soul about it--I believe I hold that man's future
in my hand.  His career depends entirely upon my treatment of him.  O
Gabriel, I tremble at my responsibility, for it is terrible!"

"Well, I think this much, ma'am, as I told you years ago," said Oak,
"that his life is a total blank whenever he isn't hoping for 'ee; but
I can't suppose--I hope that nothing so dreadful hangs on to it as
you fancy.  His natural manner has always been dark and strange, you
know.  But since the case is so sad and odd-like, why don't ye give
the conditional promise?  I think I would."

"But is it right?  Some rash acts of my past life have taught me that
a watched woman must have very much circumspection to retain only a
very little credit, and I do want and long to be discreet in this!
And six years--why we may all be in our graves by that time, even if
Mr. Troy does not come back again, which he may not impossibly do!
Such thoughts give a sort of absurdity to the scheme.  Now, isn't
it preposterous, Gabriel?  However he came to dream of it, I cannot
think.  But is it wrong?  You know--you are older than I."

"Eight years older, ma'am."

"Yes, eight years--and is it wrong?"

"Perhaps it would be an uncommon agreement for a man and woman to
make: I don't see anything really wrong about it," said Oak, slowly.
"In fact the very thing that makes it doubtful if you ought to marry
en under any condition, that is, your not caring about him--for I
may suppose--"

"Yes, you may suppose that love is wanting," she said shortly.  "Love
is an utterly bygone, sorry, worn-out, miserable thing with me--for
him or any one else."

"Well, your want of love seems to me the one thing that takes away
harm from such an agreement with him.  If wild heat had to do wi'
it, making ye long to over-come the awkwardness about your husband's
vanishing, it mid be wrong; but a cold-hearted agreement to oblige a
man seems different, somehow.  The real sin, ma'am in my mind, lies
in thinking of ever wedding wi' a man you don't love honest and
true."

"That I'm willing to pay the penalty of," said Bathsheba, firmly.
"You know, Gabriel, this is what I cannot get off my conscience--that
I once seriously injured him in sheer idleness.  If I had never
played a trick upon him, he would never have wanted to marry me.  Oh
if I could only pay some heavy damages in money to him for the harm
I did, and so get the sin off my soul that way!...  Well, there's
the debt, which can only be discharged in one way, and I believe
I am bound to do it if it honestly lies in my power, without any
consideration of my own future at all.  When a rake gambles away his
expectations, the fact that it is an inconvenient debt doesn't make
him the less liable.  I've been a rake, and the single point I ask
you is, considering that my own scruples, and the fact that in the
eye of the law my husband is only missing, will keep any man from
marrying me until seven years have passed--am I free to entertain
such an idea, even though 'tis a sort of penance--for it will be
that?  I HATE the act of marriage under such circumstances, and the
class of women I should seem to belong to by doing it!"

"It seems to me that all depends upon whe'r you think, as everybody
else do, that your husband is dead."

"Yes--I've long ceased to doubt that.  I well know what would have
brought him back long before this time if he had lived."

"Well, then, in a religious sense you will be as free to THINK o'
marrying again as any real widow of one year's standing.  But why
don't ye ask Mr. Thirdly's advice on how to treat Mr. Boldwood?"

"No.  When I want a broad-minded opinion for general enlightenment,
distinct from special advice, I never go to a man who deals in
the subject professionally.  So I like the parson's opinion on
law, the lawyer's on doctoring, the doctor's on business, and my
business-man's--that is, yours--on morals."

"And on love--"

"My own."

"I'm afraid there's a hitch in that argument," said Oak, with a grave
smile.

She did not reply at once, and then saying, "Good evening, Mr. Oak."
went away.

She had spoken frankly, and neither asked nor expected any reply
from Gabriel more satisfactory than that she had obtained.  Yet in
the centremost parts of her complicated heart there existed at this
minute a little pang of disappointment, for a reason she would not
allow herself to recognize.  Oak had not once wished her free that he
might marry her himself--had not once said, "I could wait for you as
well as he."  That was the insect sting.  Not that she would have
listened to any such hypothesis.  O no--for wasn't she saying all
the time that such thoughts of the future were improper, and wasn't
Gabriel far too poor a man to speak sentiment to her?  Yet he might
have just hinted about that old love of his, and asked, in a playful
off-hand way, if he might speak of it.  It would have seemed pretty
and sweet, if no more; and then she would have shown how kind and
inoffensive a woman's "No" can sometimes be.  But to give such cool
advice--the very advice she had asked for--it ruffled our heroine all
the afternoon.




CHAPTER LII


CONVERGING COURSES


I


Christmas-eve came, and a party that Boldwood was to give in the
evening was the great subject of talk in Weatherbury.  It was not
that the rarity of Christmas parties in the parish made this one a
wonder, but that Boldwood should be the giver.  The announcement
had had an abnormal and incongruous sound, as if one should hear of
croquet-playing in a cathedral aisle, or that some much-respected
judge was going upon the stage.  That the party was intended to be
a truly jovial one there was no room for doubt.  A large bough of
mistletoe had been brought from the woods that day, and suspended
in the hall of the bachelor's home.  Holly and ivy had followed in
armfuls.  From six that morning till past noon the huge wood fire
in the kitchen roared and sparkled at its highest, the kettle, the
saucepan, and the three-legged pot appearing in the midst of the
flames like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; moreover, roasting
and basting operations were continually carried on in front of the
genial blaze.

As it grew later the fire was made up in the large long hall into
which the staircase descended, and all encumbrances were cleared out
for dancing.  The log which was to form the back-brand of the evening
fire was the uncleft trunk of a tree, so unwieldy that it could be
neither brought nor rolled to its place; and accordingly two men were
to be observed dragging and heaving it in by chains and levers as the
hour of assembly drew near.

In spite of all this, the spirit of revelry was wanting in the
atmosphere of the house.  Such a thing had never been attempted
before by its owner, and it was now done as by a wrench.  Intended
gaieties would insist upon appearing like solemn grandeurs, the
organization of the whole effort was carried out coldly, by
hirelings, and a shadow seemed to move about the rooms, saying that
the proceedings were unnatural to the place and the lone man who
lived therein, and hence not good.


II


Bathsheba was at this time in her room, dressing for the event.  She
had called for candles, and Liddy entered and placed one on each side
of her mistress's glass.

"Don't go away, Liddy," said Bathsheba, almost timidly. "I am
foolishly agitated--I cannot tell why.  I wish I had not been obliged
to go to this dance; but there's no escaping now.  I have not spoken
to Mr. Boldwood since the autumn, when I promised to see him at
Christmas on business, but I had no idea there was to be anything of
this kind."

"But I would go now," said Liddy, who was going with her; for
Boldwood had been indiscriminate in his invitations.

"Yes, I shall make my appearance, of course," said Bathsheba.  "But I
am THE CAUSE of the party, and that upsets me!--Don't tell, Liddy."

"Oh no, ma'am.  You the cause of it, ma'am?"

"Yes.  I am the reason of the party--I.  If it had not been for me,
there would never have been one.  I can't explain any more--there's
no more to be explained.  I wish I had never seen Weatherbury."

"That's wicked of you--to wish to be worse off than you are."

"No, Liddy.  I have never been free from trouble since I have lived
here, and this party is likely to bring me more.  Now, fetch my black
silk dress, and see how it sits upon me."

"But you will leave off that, surely, ma'am?  You have been a
widow-lady fourteen months, and ought to brighten up a little on
such a night as this."

"Is it necessary?  No; I will appear as usual, for if I were to wear
any light dress people would say things about me, and I should seem
to be rejoicing when I am solemn all the time.  The party doesn't
suit me a bit; but never mind, stay and help to finish me off."


III


Boldwood was dressing also at this hour.  A tailor from Casterbridge
was with him, assisting him in the operation of trying on a new coat
that had just been brought home.

Never had Boldwood been so fastidious, unreasonable about the fit,
and generally difficult to please.  The tailor walked round and round
him, tugged at the waist, pulled the sleeve, pressed out the collar,
and for the first time in his experience Boldwood was not bored.
Times had been when the farmer had exclaimed against all such
niceties as childish, but now no philosophic or hasty rebuke whatever
was provoked by this man for attaching as much importance to a crease
in the coat as to an earthquake in South America.  Boldwood at last
expressed himself nearly satisfied, and paid the bill, the tailor
passing out of the door just as Oak came in to report progress for
the day.

"Oh, Oak," said Boldwood.  "I shall of course see you here to-night.
Make yourself merry.  I am determined that neither expense nor
trouble shall be spared."

"I'll try to be here, sir, though perhaps it may not be very early,"
said Gabriel, quietly.  "I am glad indeed to see such a change in
'ee from what it used to be."

"Yes--I must own it--I am bright to-night: cheerful and more than
cheerful--so much so that I am almost sad again with the sense that
all of it is passing away.  And sometimes, when I am excessively
hopeful and blithe, a trouble is looming in the distance: so that I
often get to look upon gloom in me with content, and to fear a happy
mood.  Still this may be absurd--I feel that it is absurd.  Perhaps
my day is dawning at last."

"I hope it 'ill be a long and a fair one."

"Thank you--thank you.  Yet perhaps my cheerfulness rests on a
slender hope.  And yet I trust my hope.  It is faith, not hope.  I
think this time I reckon with my host.--Oak, my hands are a little
shaky, or something; I can't tie this neckerchief properly.  Perhaps
you will tie it for me.  The fact is, I have not been well lately,
you know."

"I am sorry to hear that, sir."

"Oh, it's nothing.  I want it done as well as you can, please.  Is
there any late knot in fashion, Oak?"

"I don't know, sir," said Oak.  His tone had sunk to sadness.

Boldwood approached Gabriel, and as Oak tied the neckerchief the
farmer went on feverishly--

"Does a woman keep her promise, Gabriel?"

"If it is not inconvenient to her she may."

"--Or rather an implied promise."

"I won't answer for her implying," said Oak, with faint bitterness.
"That's a word as full o' holes as a sieve with them."

"Oak, don't talk like that.  You have got quite cynical lately--how
is it?  We seem to have shifted our positions: I have become the
young and hopeful man, and you the old and unbelieving one.  However,
does a woman keep a promise, not to marry, but to enter on an
engagement to marry at some time?  Now you know women better than
I--tell me."

"I am afeard you honour my understanding too much.  However, she may
keep such a promise, if it is made with an honest meaning to repair
a wrong."

"It has not gone far yet, but I think it will soon--yes, I know it
will," he said, in an impulsive whisper.  "I have pressed her upon
the subject, and she inclines to be kind to me, and to think of me
as a husband at a long future time, and that's enough for me.  How
can I expect more?  She has a notion that a woman should not marry
within seven years of her husband's disappearance--that her own self
shouldn't, I mean--because his body was not found.  It may be merely
this legal reason which influences her, or it may be a religious
one, but she is reluctant to talk on the point. Yet she has
promised--implied--that she will ratify an engagement to-night."

"Seven years," murmured Oak.

"No, no--it's no such thing!" he said, with impatience.  Five years,
nine months, and a few days.  Fifteen months nearly have passed since
he vanished, and is there anything so wonderful in an engagement of
little more than five years?"

"It seems long in a forward view.  Don't build too much upon such
promises, sir.  Remember, you have once be'n deceived.  Her meaning
may be good; but there--she's young yet."

"Deceived?  Never!" said Boldwood, vehemently.  "She never promised
me at that first time, and hence she did not break her promise!  If
she promises me, she'll marry me.  Bathsheba is a woman to her word."


IV


Troy was sitting in a corner of The White Hart tavern at
Casterbridge, smoking and drinking a steaming mixture from a glass.
A knock was given at the door, and Pennyways entered.

"Well, have you seen him?" Troy inquired, pointing to a chair.

"Boldwood?"

"No--Lawyer Long."

"He wadn' at home.  I went there first, too."

"That's a nuisance."

"'Tis rather, I suppose."

"Yet I don't see that, because a man appears to be drowned and was
not, he should be liable for anything.  I shan't ask any lawyer--not
I."

"But that's not it, exactly.  If a man changes his name and so forth,
and takes steps to deceive the world and his own wife, he's a cheat,
and that in the eye of the law is ayless a rogue, and that is ayless
a lammocken vagabond; and that's a punishable situation."

"Ha-ha!  Well done, Pennyways," Troy had laughed, but it was with
some anxiety that he said, "Now, what I want to know is this, do you
think there's really anything going on between her and Boldwood?
Upon my soul, I should never have believed it!  How she must detest
me!  Have you found out whether she has encouraged him?"

"I haen't been able to learn.  There's a deal of feeling on his side
seemingly, but I don't answer for her.  I didn't know a word about
any such thing till yesterday, and all I heard then was that she was
gwine to the party at his house to-night.  This is the first time she
has ever gone there, they say.  And they say that she've not so much
as spoke to him since they were at Greenhill Fair: but what can folk
believe o't?  However, she's not fond of him--quite offish and quite
careless, I know."

"I'm not so sure of that....  She's a handsome woman, Pennyways, is
she not?  Own that you never saw a finer or more splendid creature
in your life.  Upon my honour, when I set eyes upon her that day I
wondered what I could have been made of to be able to leave her by
herself so long.  And then I was hampered with that bothering show,
which I'm free of at last, thank the stars."  He smoked on awhile,
and then added, "How did she look when you passed by yesterday?"

"Oh, she took no great heed of me, ye may well fancy; but she looked
well enough, far's I know.  Just flashed her haughty eyes upon my
poor scram body, and then let them go past me to what was yond, much
as if I'd been no more than a leafless tree.  She had just got off
her mare to look at the last wring-down of cider for the year; she
had been riding, and so her colours were up and her breath rather
quick, so that her bosom plimmed and fell--plimmed and fell--every
time plain to my eye.  Ay, and there were the fellers round her
wringing down the cheese and bustling about and saying, 'Ware o' the
pommy, ma'am: 'twill spoil yer gown.'  'Never mind me,' says she.
Then Gabe brought her some of the new cider, and she must needs go
drinking it through a strawmote, and not in a nateral way at all.
'Liddy,' says she, 'bring indoors a few gallons, and I'll make some
cider-wine.'  Sergeant, I was no more to her than a morsel of scroff
in the fuel-house!"

"I must go and find her out at once--O yes, I see that--I must go.
Oak is head man still, isn't he?"

"Yes, 'a b'lieve.  And at Little Weatherbury Farm too.  He manages
everything."

"'Twill puzzle him to manage her, or any other man of his compass!"

"I don't know about that.  She can't do without him, and knowing it
well he's pretty independent.  And she've a few soft corners to her
mind, though I've never been able to get into one, the devil's in't!"

"Ah, baily, she's a notch above you, and you must own it: a higher
class of animal--a finer tissue.  However, stick to me, and neither
this haughty goddess, dashing piece of womanhood, Juno-wife of mine
(Juno was a goddess, you know), nor anybody else shall hurt you.  But
all this wants looking into, I perceive.  What with one thing and
another, I see that my work is well cut out for me."


V


"How do I look to-night, Liddy?" said Bathsheba, giving a final
adjustment to her dress before leaving the glass.

"I never saw you look so well before.  Yes--I'll tell you when you
looked like it--that night, a year and a half ago, when you came in
so wildlike, and scolded us for making remarks about you and Mr.
Troy."

"Everybody will think that I am setting myself to captivate Mr.
Boldwood, I suppose," she murmured.  "At least they'll say so.  Can't
my hair be brushed down a little flatter? I dread going--yet I dread
the risk of wounding him by staying away."

"Anyhow, ma'am, you can't well be dressed plainer than you are,
unless you go in sackcloth at once.  'Tis your excitement is what
makes you look so noticeable to-night."

"I don't know what's the matter, I feel wretched at one time, and
buoyant at another.  I wish I could have continued quite alone as I
have been for the last year or so, with no hopes and no fears, and
no pleasure and no grief."

"Now just suppose Mr. Boldwood should ask you--only just suppose
it--to run away with him, what would you do, ma'am?"

"Liddy--none of that," said Bathsheba, gravely.  "Mind, I won't hear
joking on any such matter.  Do you hear?"

"I beg pardon, ma'am.  But knowing what rum things we women be, I
just said--however, I won't speak of it again."

"No marrying for me yet for many a year; if ever, 'twill be for
reasons very, very different from those you think, or others will
believe!  Now get my cloak, for it is time to go."


VI


"Oak," said Boldwood, "before you go I want to mention what has been
passing in my mind lately--that little arrangement we made about
your share in the farm I mean.  That share is small, too small,
considering how little I attend to business now, and how much time
and thought you give to it.  Well, since the world is brightening
for me, I want to show my sense of it by increasing your proportion
in the partnership.  I'll make a memorandum of the arrangement which
struck me as likely to be convenient, for I haven't time to talk
about it now; and then we'll discuss it at our leisure.  My intention
is ultimately to retire from the management altogether, and until you
can take all the expenditure upon your shoulders, I'll be a sleeping
partner in the stock.  Then, if I marry her--and I hope--I feel I
shall, why--"

"Pray don't speak of it, sir," said Oak, hastily.  "We don't know
what may happen.  So many upsets may befall 'ee.  There's many a
slip, as they say--and I would advise you--I know you'll pardon me
this once--not to be TOO SURE."

"I know, I know.  But the feeling I have about increasing your share
is on account of what I know of you.  Oak, I have learnt a little
about your secret: your interest in her is more than that of bailiff
for an employer.  But you have behaved like a man, and I, as a sort
of successful rival--successful partly through your goodness of
heart--should like definitely to show my sense of your friendship
under what must have been a great pain to you."

"O that's not necessary, thank 'ee," said Oak, hurriedly. "I must get
used to such as that; other men have, and so shall I."

Oak then left him.  He was uneasy on Boldwood's account, for he saw
anew that this constant passion of the farmer made him not the man
he once had been.

As Boldwood continued awhile in his room alone--ready and dressed to
receive his company--the mood of anxiety about his appearance seemed
to pass away, and to be succeeded by a deep solemnity.  He looked out
of the window, and regarded the dim outline of the trees upon the
sky, and the twilight deepening to darkness.

Then he went to a locked closet, and took from a locked drawer
therein a small circular case the size of a pillbox, and was about to
put it into his pocket.  But he lingered to open the cover and take
a momentary glance inside.  It contained a woman's finger-ring, set
all the way round with small diamonds, and from its appearance had
evidently been recently purchased.  Boldwood's eyes dwelt upon its
many sparkles a long time, though that its material aspect concerned
him little was plain from his manner and mien, which were those of
a mind following out the presumed thread of that jewel's future
history.

The noise of wheels at the front of the house became audible.
Boldwood closed the box, stowed it away carefully in his pocket, and
went out upon the landing.  The old man who was his indoor factotum
came at the same moment to the foot of the stairs.

"They be coming, sir--lots of 'em--a-foot and a-driving!"

"I was coming down this moment.  Those wheels I heard--is it Mrs.
Troy?"

"No, sir--'tis not she yet."

A reserved and sombre expression had returned to Boldwood's face
again, but it poorly cloaked his feelings when he pronounced
Bathsheba's name; and his feverish anxiety continued to show its
existence by a galloping motion of his fingers upon the side of
his thigh as he went down the stairs.


VII


"How does this cover me?" said Troy to Pennyways.  "Nobody would
recognize me now, I'm sure."

He was buttoning on a heavy grey overcoat of Noachian cut, with cape
and high collar, the latter being erect and rigid, like a girdling
wall, and nearly reaching to the verge of a travelling cap which was
pulled down over his ears.

Pennyways snuffed the candle, and then looked up and deliberately
inspected Troy.

"You've made up your mind to go then?" he said.

"Made up my mind?  Yes; of course I have."

"Why not write to her?  'Tis a very queer corner that you have got
into, sergeant.  You see all these things will come to light if you
go back, and they won't sound well at all.  Faith, if I was you I'd
even bide as you be--a single man of the name of Francis.  A good
wife is good, but the best wife is not so good as no wife at all.
Now that's my outspoke mind, and I've been called a long-headed
feller here and there."

"All nonsense!" said Troy, angrily.  "There she is with plenty of
money, and a house and farm, and horses, and comfort, and here am I
living from hand to mouth--a needy adventurer.  Besides, it is no use
talking now; it is too late, and I am glad of it; I've been seen and
recognized here this very afternoon.  I should have gone back to her
the day after the fair, if it hadn't been for you talking about the
law, and rubbish about getting a separation; and I don't put it off
any longer.  What the deuce put it into my head to run away at all, I
can't think!  Humbugging sentiment--that's what it was.  But what man
on earth was to know that his wife would be in such a hurry to get
rid of his name!"

"I should have known it.  She's bad enough for anything."

"Pennyways, mind who you are talking to."

"Well, sergeant, all I say is this, that if I were you I'd go abroad
again where I came from--'tisn't too late to do it now.  I wouldn't
stir up the business and get a bad name for the sake of living with
her--for all that about your play-acting is sure to come out, you
know, although you think otherwise.  My eyes and limbs, there'll
be a racket if you go back just now--in the middle of Boldwood's
Christmasing!"

"H'm, yes.  I expect I shall not be a very welcome guest if he has
her there," said the sergeant, with a slight laugh.  "A sort of
Alonzo the Brave; and when I go in the guests will sit in silence and
fear, and all laughter and pleasure will be hushed, and the lights in
the chamber burn blue, and the worms--Ugh, horrible!--Ring for some
more brandy, Pennyways, I felt an awful shudder just then!  Well,
what is there besides?  A stick--I must have a walking-stick."

Pennyways now felt himself to be in something of a difficulty, for
should Bathsheba and Troy become reconciled it would be necessary
to regain her good opinion if he would secure the patronage of her
husband.  "I sometimes think she likes you yet, and is a good woman
at bottom," he said, as a saving sentence.  "But there's no telling
to a certainty from a body's outside.  Well, you'll do as you like
about going, of course, sergeant, and as for me, I'll do as you tell
me."

"Now, let me see what the time is," said Troy, after emptying his
glass in one draught as he stood.  "Half-past six o'clock.  I shall
not hurry along the road, and shall be there then before nine."




CHAPTER LIII


CONCURRITUR--HORAE MOMENTO


Outside the front of Boldwood's house a group of men stood in the
dark, with their faces towards the door, which occasionally opened
and closed for the passage of some guest or servant, when a golden
rod of light would stripe the ground for the moment and vanish again,
leaving nothing outside but the glowworm shine of the pale lamp amid
the evergreens over the door.

"He was seen in Casterbridge this afternoon--so the boy said," one of
them remarked in a whisper.  "And I for one believe it.  His body was
never found, you know."

"'Tis a strange story," said the next.  "You may depend upon't that
she knows nothing about it."

"Not a word."

"Perhaps he don't mean that she shall," said another man.

"If he's alive and here in the neighbourhood, he means mischief,"
said the first.  "Poor young thing: I do pity her, if 'tis true.
He'll drag her to the dogs."

"O no; he'll settle down quiet enough," said one disposed to take a
more hopeful view of the case.

"What a fool she must have been ever to have had anything to do with
the man!  She is so self-willed and independent too, that one is more
minded to say it serves her right than pity her."

"No, no.  I don't hold with 'ee there.  She was no otherwise than a
girl mind, and how could she tell what the man was made of?  If 'tis
really true, 'tis too hard a punishment, and more than she ought to
hae.--Hullo, who's that?"  This was to some footsteps that were heard
approaching.

"William Smallbury," said a dim figure in the shades, coming up and
joining them.  "Dark as a hedge, to-night, isn't it? I all but missed
the plank over the river ath'art there in the bottom--never did such
a thing before in my life.  Be ye any of Boldwood's workfolk?"  He
peered into their faces.

"Yes--all o' us.  We met here a few minutes ago."

"Oh, I hear now--that's Sam Samway: thought I knowed the voice, too.
Going in?"

"Presently.  But I say, William," Samway whispered, "have ye heard
this strange tale?"

"What--that about Sergeant Troy being seen, d'ye mean, souls?" said
Smallbury, also lowering his voice.

"Ay: in Casterbridge."

"Yes, I have.  Laban Tall named a hint of it to me but now--but I
don't think it.  Hark, here Laban comes himself, 'a b'lieve."  A
footstep drew near.

"Laban?"

"Yes, 'tis I," said Tall.

"Have ye heard any more about that?"

"No," said Tall, joining the group.  "And I'm inclined to think we'd
better keep quiet.  If so be 'tis not true, 'twill flurry her, and do
her much harm to repeat it; and if so be 'tis true, 'twill do no good
to forestall her time o' trouble.  God send that it mid be a lie, for
though Henery Fray and some of 'em do speak against her, she's never
been anything but fair to me.  She's hot and hasty, but she's a brave
girl who'll never tell a lie however much the truth may harm her, and
I've no cause to wish her evil."

"She never do tell women's little lies, that's true; and 'tis a thing
that can be said of very few.  Ay, all the harm she thinks she says
to yer face: there's nothing underhand wi' her."

They stood silent then, every man busied with his own thoughts,
during which interval sounds of merriment could be heard within.
Then the front door again opened, the rays streamed out, the
well-known form of Boldwood was seen in the rectangular area of
light, the door closed, and Boldwood walked slowly down the path.

"'Tis master," one of the men whispered, as he neared them. "We'd
better stand quiet--he'll go in again directly.  He would think it
unseemly o' us to be loitering here."

Boldwood came on, and passed by the men without seeing them, they
being under the bushes on the grass.  He paused, leant over the gate,
and breathed a long breath.  They heard low words come from him.

"I hope to God she'll come, or this night will be nothing but misery
to me!  Oh my darling, my darling, why do you keep me in suspense
like this?"

He said this to himself, and they all distinctly heard it.  Boldwood
remained silent after that, and the noise from indoors was again
just audible, until, a few minutes later, light wheels could be
distinguished coming down the hill.  They drew nearer, and ceased at
the gate.  Boldwood hastened back to the door, and opened it; and the
light shone upon Bathsheba coming up the path.

Boldwood compressed his emotion to mere welcome: the men marked her
light laugh and apology as she met him: he took her into the house;
and the door closed again.

"Gracious heaven, I didn't know it was like that with him!" said one
of the men.  "I thought that fancy of his was over long ago."

"You don't know much of master, if you thought that," said Samway.

"I wouldn't he should know we heard what 'a said for the world,"
remarked a third.

"I wish we had told of the report at once," the first uneasily
continued.  "More harm may come of this than we know of.  Poor Mr.
Boldwood, it will be hard upon en.  I wish Troy was in--Well, God
forgive me for such a wish!  A scoundrel to play a poor wife such
tricks.  Nothing has prospered in Weatherbury since he came here.
And now I've no heart to go in.  Let's look into Warren's for a few
minutes first, shall us, neighbours?"

Samway, Tall, and Smallbury agreed to go to Warren's, and went out at
the gate, the remaining ones entering the house.  The three soon drew
near the malt-house, approaching it from the adjoining orchard, and
not by way of the street.  The pane of glass was illuminated as
usual.  Smallbury was a little in advance of the rest when, pausing,
he turned suddenly to his companions and said, "Hist!  See there."

The light from the pane was now perceived to be shining not upon the
ivied wall as usual, but upon some object close to the glass.  It was
a human face.

"Let's come closer," whispered Samway; and they approached on tiptoe.
There was no disbelieving the report any longer.  Troy's face was
almost close to the pane, and he was looking in.  Not only was he
looking in, but he appeared to have been arrested by a conversation
which was in progress in the malt-house, the voices of the
interlocutors being those of Oak and the maltster.

"The spree is all in her honour, isn't it--hey?" said the old man.
"Although he made believe 'tis only keeping up o' Christmas?"

"I cannot say," replied Oak.

"Oh 'tis true enough, faith.  I cannot understand Farmer Boldwood
being such a fool at his time of life as to ho and hanker after this
woman in the way 'a do, and she not care a bit about en."

The men, after recognizing Troy's features, withdrew across
the orchard as quietly as they had come.  The air was big with
Bathsheba's fortunes to-night: every word everywhere concerned her.
When they were quite out of earshot all by one instinct paused.

"It gave me quite a turn--his face," said Tall, breathing.

"And so it did me," said Samway.  "What's to be done?"

"I don't see that 'tis any business of ours," Smallbury murmured
dubiously.

"But it is!  'Tis a thing which is everybody's business," said
Samway.  "We know very well that master's on a wrong tack, and that
she's quite in the dark, and we should let 'em know at once.  Laban,
you know her best--you'd better go and ask to speak to her."

"I bain't fit for any such thing," said Laban, nervously.  "I should
think William ought to do it if anybody.  He's oldest."

"I shall have nothing to do with it," said Smallbury.  "'Tis a
ticklish business altogether.  Why, he'll go on to her himself in a
few minutes, ye'll see."

"We don't know that he will.  Come, Laban."

"Very well, if I must I must, I suppose," Tall reluctantly answered.
"What must I say?"

"Just ask to see master."

"Oh no; I shan't speak to Mr. Boldwood.  If I tell anybody, 'twill be
mistress."

"Very well," said Samway.

Laban then went to the door.  When he opened it the hum of bustle
rolled out as a wave upon a still strand--the assemblage being
immediately inside the hall--and was deadened to a murmur as he
closed it again.  Each man waited intently, and looked around at
the dark tree tops gently rocking against the sky and occasionally
shivering in a slight wind, as if he took interest in the scene,
which neither did.  One of them began walking up and down, and then
came to where he started from and stopped again, with a sense that
walking was a thing not worth doing now.

"I should think Laban must have seen mistress by this time," said
Smallbury, breaking the silence.  "Perhaps she won't come and speak
to him."

The door opened.  Tall appeared, and joined them.

"Well?" said both.

"I didn't like to ask for her after all," Laban faltered out.  "They
were all in such a stir, trying to put a little spirit into the
party.  Somehow the fun seems to hang fire, though everything's there
that a heart can desire, and I couldn't for my soul interfere and
throw damp upon it--if 'twas to save my life, I couldn't!"

"I suppose we had better all go in together," said Samway, gloomily.
"Perhaps I may have a chance of saying a word to master."

So the men entered the hall, which was the room selected and arranged
for the gathering because of its size.  The younger men and maids
were at last just beginning to dance.  Bathsheba had been perplexed
how to act, for she was not much more than a slim young maid herself,
and the weight of stateliness sat heavy upon her.  Sometimes she
thought she ought not to have come under any circumstances; then she
considered what cold unkindness that would have been, and finally
resolved upon the middle course of staying for about an hour only,
and gliding off unobserved, having from the first made up her mind
that she could on no account dance, sing, or take any active part in
the proceedings.

Her allotted hour having been passed in chatting and looking on,
Bathsheba told Liddy not to hurry herself, and went to the small
parlour to prepare for departure, which, like the hall, was decorated
with holly and ivy, and well lighted up.

Nobody was in the room, but she had hardly been there a moment when
the master of the house entered.

"Mrs. Troy--you are not going?" he said.  "We've hardly begun!"

"If you'll excuse me, I should like to go now."  Her manner was
restive, for she remembered her promise, and imagined what he was
about to say.  "But as it is not late," she added, "I can walk home,
and leave my man and Liddy to come when they choose."

"I've been trying to get an opportunity of speaking to you," said
Boldwood.  "You know perhaps what I long to say?"

Bathsheba silently looked on the floor.

"You do give it?" he said, eagerly.

"What?" she whispered.

"Now, that's evasion!  Why, the promise.  I don't want to intrude
upon you at all, or to let it become known to anybody.  But do give
your word!  A mere business compact, you know, between two people who
are beyond the influence of passion."  Boldwood knew how false this
picture was as regarded himself; but he had proved that it was the
only tone in which she would allow him to approach her.  "A promise
to marry me at the end of five years and three-quarters.  You owe it
to me!"

"I feel that I do," said Bathsheba; "that is, if you demand it.  But
I am a changed woman--an unhappy woman--and not--not--"

"You are still a very beautiful woman," said Boldwood.  Honesty and
pure conviction suggested the remark, unaccompanied by any perception
that it might have been adopted by blunt flattery to soothe and win
her.

However, it had not much effect now, for she said, in a passionless
murmur which was in itself a proof of her words: "I have no feeling
in the matter at all.  And I don't at all know what is right to do
in my difficult position, and I have nobody to advise me.  But I
give my promise, if I must.  I give it as the rendering of a debt,
conditionally, of course, on my being a widow."

"You'll marry me between five and six years hence?"

"Don't press me too hard.  I'll marry nobody else."

"But surely you will name the time, or there's nothing in the promise
at all?"

"Oh, I don't know, pray let me go!" she said, her bosom beginning to
rise.  "I am afraid what to do! I want to be just to you, and to be
that seems to be wronging myself, and perhaps it is breaking the
commandments.  There is considerable doubt of his death, and then it
is dreadful; let me ask a solicitor, Mr. Boldwood, if I ought or no!"

"Say the words, dear one, and the subject shall be dismissed;
a blissful loving intimacy of six years, and then marriage--O
Bathsheba, say them!" he begged in a husky voice, unable to sustain
the forms of mere friendship any longer.  "Promise yourself to me; I
deserve it, indeed I do, for I have loved you more than anybody in
the world!  And if I said hasty words and showed uncalled-for heat
of manner towards you, believe me, dear, I did not mean to distress
you; I was in agony, Bathsheba, and I did not know what I said.  You
wouldn't let a dog suffer what I have suffered, could you but know
it!  Sometimes I shrink from your knowing what I have felt for you,
and sometimes I am distressed that all of it you never will know.  Be
gracious, and give up a little to me, when I would give up my life
for you!"

The trimmings of her dress, as they quivered against the light,
showed how agitated she was, and at last she burst out crying.  "And
you'll not--press me--about anything more--if I say in five or six
years?" she sobbed, when she had power to frame the words.

"Yes, then I'll leave it to time."

She waited a moment.  "Very well.  I'll marry you in six years from
this day, if we both live," she said solemnly.

"And you'll take this as a token from me."

Boldwood had come close to her side, and now he clasped one of her
hands in both his own, and lifted it to his breast.

"What is it?  Oh I cannot wear a ring!" she exclaimed, on seeing
what he held; "besides, I wouldn't have a soul know that it's an
engagement!  Perhaps it is improper?  Besides, we are not engaged in
the usual sense, are we?  Don't insist, Mr. Boldwood--don't!"  In her
trouble at not being able to get her hand away from him at once, she
stamped passionately on the floor with one foot, and tears crowded to
her eyes again.

"It means simply a pledge--no sentiment--the seal of a practical
compact," he said more quietly, but still retaining her hand in
his firm grasp.  "Come, now!" And Boldwood slipped the ring on her
finger.

"I cannot wear it," she said, weeping as if her heart would break.
"You frighten me, almost.  So wild a scheme!  Please let me go home!"

"Only to-night: wear it just to-night, to please me!"

Bathsheba sat down in a chair, and buried her face in her
handkerchief, though Boldwood kept her hand yet.  At length she
said, in a sort of hopeless whisper--

"Very well, then, I will to-night, if you wish it so earnestly.  Now
loosen my hand; I will, indeed I will wear it to-night."

"And it shall be the beginning of a pleasant secret courtship of six
years, with a wedding at the end?"

"It must be, I suppose, since you will have it so!" she said, fairly
beaten into non-resistance.

Boldwood pressed her hand, and allowed it to drop in her lap.  "I am
happy now," he said.  "God bless you!"

He left the room, and when he thought she might be sufficiently
composed sent one of the maids to her.  Bathsheba cloaked the effects
of the late scene as she best could, followed the girl, and in a few
moments came downstairs with her hat and cloak on, ready to go.  To
get to the door it was necessary to pass through the hall, and before
doing so she paused on the bottom of the staircase which descended
into one corner, to take a last look at the gathering.

There was no music or dancing in progress just now.  At the lower
end, which had been arranged for the work-folk specially, a group
conversed in whispers, and with clouded looks.  Boldwood was standing
by the fireplace, and he, too, though so absorbed in visions arising
from her promise that he scarcely saw anything, seemed at that moment
to have observed their peculiar manner, and their looks askance.

"What is it you are in doubt about, men?" he said.

One of them turned and replied uneasily: "It was something Laban
heard of, that's all, sir."

"News?  Anybody married or engaged, born or dead?" inquired the
farmer, gaily.  "Tell it to us, Tall.  One would think from your
looks and mysterious ways that it was something very dreadful
indeed."

"Oh no, sir, nobody is dead," said Tall.

"I wish somebody was," said Samway, in a whisper.

"What do you say, Samway?" asked Boldwood, somewhat sharply.  "If you
have anything to say, speak out; if not, get up another dance."

"Mrs. Troy has come downstairs," said Samway to Tall.  "If you want
to tell her, you had better do it now."

"Do you know what they mean?" the farmer asked Bathsheba, across the
room.

"I don't in the least," said Bathsheba.

There was a smart rapping at the door.  One of the men opened it
instantly, and went outside.

"Mrs. Troy is wanted," he said, on returning.

"Quite ready," said Bathsheba.  "Though I didn't tell them to send."

"It is a stranger, ma'am," said the man by the door.

"A stranger?" she said.

"Ask him to come in," said Boldwood.

The message was given, and Troy, wrapped up to his eyes as we have
seen him, stood in the doorway.

There was an unearthly silence, all looking towards the newcomer.
Those who had just learnt that he was in the neighbourhood recognized
him instantly; those who did not were perplexed.  Nobody noted
Bathsheba.  She was leaning on the stairs.  Her brow had heavily
contracted; her whole face was pallid, her lips apart, her eyes
rigidly staring at their visitor.

Boldwood was among those who did not notice that he was Troy.  "Come
in, come in!" he repeated, cheerfully, "and drain a Christmas beaker
with us, stranger!"

Troy next advanced into the middle of the room, took off his cap,
turned down his coat-collar, and looked Boldwood in the face.  Even
then Boldwood did not recognize that the impersonator of Heaven's
persistent irony towards him, who had once before broken in upon his
bliss, scourged him, and snatched his delight away, had come to do
these things a second time.  Troy began to laugh a mechanical laugh:
Boldwood recognized him now.

Troy turned to Bathsheba.  The poor girl's wretchedness at this time
was beyond all fancy or narration.  She had sunk down on the lowest
stair; and there she sat, her mouth blue and dry, and her dark eyes
fixed vacantly upon him, as if she wondered whether it were not all
a terrible illusion.

Then Troy spoke.  "Bathsheba, I come here for you!"

She made no reply.

"Come home with me: come!"

Bathsheba moved her feet a little, but did not rise.  Troy went
across to her.

"Come, madam, do you hear what I say?" he said, peremptorily.

A strange voice came from the fireplace--a voice sounding far off
and confined, as if from a dungeon.  Hardly a soul in the assembly
recognized the thin tones to be those of Boldwood.  Sudden dispaire
had transformed him.

"Bathsheba, go with your husband!"

Nevertheless, she did not move.  The truth was that Bathsheba was
beyond the pale of activity--and yet not in a swoon.  She was in a
state of mental _gutta serena_; her mind was for the minute totally
deprived of light at the same time no obscuration was apparent from
without.

Troy stretched out his hand to pull her her towards him, when she
quickly shrank back.  This visible dread of him seemed to irritate
Troy, and he seized her arm and pulled it sharply.  Whether his grasp
pinched her, or whether his mere touch was the cause, was never
known, but at the moment of his seizure she writhed, and gave a
quick, low scream.

The scream had been heard but a few seconds when it was followed by
sudden deafening report that echoed through the room and stupefied
them all.  The oak partition shook with the concussion, and the place
was filled with grey smoke.

In bewilderment they turned their eyes to Boldwood.  At his back,
as stood before the fireplace, was a gun-rack, as is usual in
farmhouses, constructed to hold two guns.  When Bathsheba had cried
out in her husband's grasp, Boldwood's face of gnashing despair had
changed.  The veins had swollen, and a frenzied look had gleamed in
his eye.  He had turned quickly, taken one of the guns, cocked it,
and at once discharged it at Troy.

Troy fell.  The distance apart of the two men was so small that
the charge of shot did not spread in the least, but passed like a
bullet into his body.  He uttered a long guttural sigh--there was
a contraction--an extension--then his muscles relaxed, and he lay
still.

Boldwood was seen through the smoke to be now again engaged with the
gun.  It was double-barrelled, and he had, meanwhile, in some way
fastened his hand-kerchief to the trigger, and with his foot on the
other end was in the act of turning the second barrel upon himself.
Samway his man was the first to see this, and in the midst of the
general horror darted up to him.  Boldwood had already twitched
the handkerchief, and the gun exploded a second time, sending its
contents, by a timely blow from Samway, into the beam which crossed
the ceiling.

"Well, it makes no difference!" Boldwood gasped.  "There is another
way for me to die."

Then he broke from Samway, crossed the room to Bathsheba, and kissed
her hand.  He put on his hat, opened the door, and went into the
darkness, nobody thinking of preventing him.




CHAPTER LIV


AFTER THE SHOCK


Boldwood passed into the high road and turned in the direction of
Casterbridge.  Here he walked at an even, steady pace over Yalbury
Hill, along the dead level beyond, mounted Mellstock Hill, and
between eleven and twelve o'clock crossed the Moor into the town.
The streets were nearly deserted now, and the waving lamp-flames only
lighted up rows of grey shop-shutters, and strips of white paving
upon which his step echoed as his passed along.  He turned to the
right, and halted before an archway of heavy stonework, which was
closed by an iron studded pair of doors.  This was the entrance
to the gaol, and over it a lamp was fixed, the light enabling the
wretched traveller to find a bell-pull.

The small wicket at last opened, and a porter appeared.  Boldwood
stepped forward, and said something in a low tone, when, after a
delay, another man came.  Boldwood entered, and the door was closed
behind him, and he walked the world no more.

Long before this time Weatherbury had been thoroughly aroused, and
the wild deed which had terminated Boldwood's merrymaking became
known to all.  Of those out of the house Oak was one of the first to
hear of the catastrophe, and when he entered the room, which was
about five minutes after Boldwood's exit, the scene was terrible.
All the female guests were huddled aghast against the walls like
sheep in a storm, and the men were bewildered as to what to do.  As
for Bathsheba, she had changed.  She was sitting on the floor beside
the body of Troy, his head pillowed in her lap, where she had herself
lifted it.  With one hand she held her handkerchief to his breast and
covered the wound, though scarcely a single drop of blood had flowed,
and with the other she tightly clasped one of his.  The household
convulsion had made her herself again.  The temporary coma had
ceased, and activity had come with the necessity for it.  Deeds of
endurance, which seem ordinary in philosophy, are rare in conduct,
and Bathsheba was astonishing all around her now, for her philosophy
was her conduct, and she seldom thought practicable what she did
not practise.  She was of the stuff of which great men's mothers
are made.  She was indispensable to high generation, hated at tea
parties, feared in shops, and loved at crises.  Troy recumbent in
his wife's lap formed now the sole spectacle in the middle of the
spacious room.

"Gabriel," she said, automatically, when he entered, turning up a
face of which only the well-known lines remained to tell him it
was hers, all else in the picture having faded quite.  "Ride to
Casterbridge instantly for a surgeon.  It is, I believe, useless,
but go.  Mr. Boldwood has shot my husband."

Her statement of the fact in such quiet and simple words came with
more force than a tragic declamation, and had somewhat the effect of
setting the distorted images in each mind present into proper focus.
Oak, almost before he had comprehended anything beyond the briefest
abstract of the event, hurried out of the room, saddled a horse and
rode away.  Not till he had ridden more than a mile did it occur to
him that he would have done better by sending some other man on this
errand, remaining himself in the house.  What had become of Boldwood?
He should have been looked after.  Was he mad--had there been a
quarrel?  Then how had Troy got there?  Where had he come from?  How
did this remarkable reappearance effect itself when he was supposed
by many to be at the bottom of the sea?  Oak had in some slight
measure been prepared for the presence of Troy by hearing a rumour
of his return just before entering Boldwood's house; but before he
had weighed that information, this fatal event had been superimposed.
However, it was too late now to think of sending another messenger,
and he rode on, in the excitement of these self-inquiries
not discerning, when about three miles from Casterbridge, a
square-figured pedestrian passing along under the dark hedge in the
same direction as his own.

The miles necessary to be traversed, and other hindrances incidental
to the lateness of the hour and the darkness of the night, delayed
the arrival of Mr. Aldritch, the surgeon; and more than three hours
passed between the time at which the shot was fired and that of his
entering the house.  Oak was additionally detained in Casterbridge
through having to give notice to the authorities of what had
happened; and he then found that Boldwood had also entered the town,
and delivered himself up.

In the meantime the surgeon, having hastened into the hall at
Boldwood's, found it in darkness and quite deserted.  He went on to
the back of the house, where he discovered in the kitchen an old man,
of whom he made inquiries.

"She's had him took away to her own house, sir," said his informant.

"Who has?" said the doctor.

"Mrs. Troy.  'A was quite dead, sir."

This was astonishing information.  "She had no right to do that,"
said the doctor.  "There will have to be an inquest, and she should
have waited to know what to do."

"Yes, sir; it was hinted to her that she had better wait till the law
was known.  But she said law was nothing to her, and she wouldn't let
her dear husband's corpse bide neglected for folks to stare at for
all the crowners in England."

Mr. Aldritch drove at once back again up the hill to Bathsheba's.
The first person he met was poor Liddy, who seemed literally to have
dwindled smaller in these few latter hours.  "What has been done?" he
said.

"I don't know, sir," said Liddy, with suspended breath.  "My mistress
has done it all."

"Where is she?"

"Upstairs with him, sir.  When he was brought home and taken
upstairs, she said she wanted no further help from the men.  And then
she called me, and made me fill the bath, and after that told me I
had better go and lie down because I looked so ill.  Then she locked
herself into the room alone with him, and would not let a nurse come
in, or anybody at all.  But I thought I'd wait in the next room in
case she should want me.  I heard her moving about inside for more
than an hour, but she only came out once, and that was for more
candles, because hers had burnt down into the socket.  She said we
were to let her know when you or Mr. Thirdly came, sir."

Oak entered with the parson at this moment, and they all went
upstairs together, preceded by Liddy Smallbury.  Everything was
silent as the grave when they paused on the landing.  Liddy knocked,
and Bathsheba's dress was heard rustling across the room: the key
turned in the lock, and she opened the door.  Her looks were calm and
nearly rigid, like a slightly animated bust of Melpomene.

"Oh, Mr. Aldritch, you have come at last," she murmured from her lips
merely, and threw back the door.  "Ah, and Mr. Thirdly.  Well, all is
done, and anybody in the world may see him now."  She then passed by
him, crossed the landing, and entered another room.

Looking into the chamber of death she had vacated they saw by the
light of the candles which were on the drawers a tall straight
shape lying at the further end of the bedroom, wrapped in white.
Everything around was quite orderly.  The doctor went in, and after a
few minutes returned to the landing again, where Oak and the parson
still waited.

"It is all done, indeed, as she says," remarked Mr. Aldritch, in a
subdued voice.  "The body has been undressed and properly laid out in
grave clothes.  Gracious Heaven--this mere girl!  She must have the
nerve of a stoic!"

"The heart of a wife merely," floated in a whisper about the ears
of the three, and turning they saw Bathsheba in the midst of them.
Then, as if at that instant to prove that her fortitude had been
more of will than of spontaneity, she silently sank down between
them and was a shapeless heap of drapery on the floor.  The simple
consciousness that superhuman strain was no longer required had at
once put a period to her power to continue it.

They took her away into a further room, and the medical attendance
which had been useless in Troy's case was invaluable in Bathsheba's,
who fell into a series of fainting-fits that had a serious aspect
for a time.  The sufferer was got to bed, and Oak, finding from the
bulletins that nothing really dreadful was to be apprehended on her
score, left the house.  Liddy kept watch in Bathsheba's chamber,
where she heard her mistress, moaning in whispers through the dull
slow hours of that wretched night: "Oh it is my fault--how can I
live!  O Heaven, how can I live!"




CHAPTER LV


THE MARCH FOLLOWING--"BATHSHEBA BOLDWOOD"


We pass rapidly on into the month of March, to a breezy day without
sunshine, frost, or dew.  On Yalbury Hill, about midway between
Weatherbury and Casterbridge, where the turnpike road passes over
the crest, a numerous concourse of people had gathered, the eyes of
the greater number being frequently stretched afar in a northerly
direction.  The groups consisted of a throng of idlers, a party of
javelin-men, and two trumpeters, and in the midst were carriages, one
of which contained the high sheriff.  With the idlers, many of whom
had mounted to the top of a cutting formed for the road, were several
Weatherbury men and boys--among others Poorgrass, Coggan, and Cain
Ball.

At the end of half-an-hour a faint dust was seen in the expected
quarter, and shortly after a travelling-carriage, bringing one of the
two judges on the Western Circuit, came up the hill and halted on the
top.  The judge changed carriages whilst a flourish was blown by the
big-cheeked trumpeters, and a procession being formed of the vehicles
and javelin-men, they all proceeded towards the town, excepting the
Weatherbury men, who as soon as they had seen the judge move off
returned home again to their work.

"Joseph, I seed you squeezing close to the carriage," said Coggan, as
they walked.  "Did ye notice my lord judge's face?"

"I did," said Poorgrass.  "I looked hard at en, as if I would read
his very soul; and there was mercy in his eyes--or to speak with the
exact truth required of us at this solemn time, in the eye that was
towards me."

"Well, I hope for the best," said Coggan, "though bad that must be.
However, I shan't go to the trial, and I'd advise the rest of ye
that bain't wanted to bide away.  'Twill disturb his mind more than
anything to see us there staring at him as if he were a show."

"The very thing I said this morning," observed Joseph, "'Justice is
come to weigh him in the balances,' I said in my reflectious way,
'and if he's found wanting, so be it unto him,' and a bystander said
'Hear, hear!  A man who can talk like that ought to be heard.' But I
don't like dwelling upon it, for my few words are my few words, and
not much; though the speech of some men is rumoured abroad as though
by nature formed for such."

"So 'tis, Joseph.  And now, neighbours, as I said, every man bide at
home."

The resolution was adhered to; and all waited anxiously for the news
next day.  Their suspense was diverted, however, by a discovery which
was made in the afternoon, throwing more light on Boldwood's conduct
and condition than any details which had preceded it.

That he had been from the time of Greenhill Fair until the fatal
Christmas Eve in excited and unusual moods was known to those who had
been intimate with him; but nobody imagined that there had shown in
him unequivocal symptoms of the mental derangement which Bathsheba
and Oak, alone of all others and at different times, had momentarily
suspected.  In a locked closet was now discovered an extraordinary
collection of articles.  There were several sets of ladies' dresses
in the piece, of sundry expensive materials; silks and satins,
poplins and velvets, all of colours which from Bathsheba's style of
dress might have been judged to be her favourites.  There were two
muffs, sable and ermine.  Above all there was a case of jewellery,
containing four heavy gold bracelets and several lockets and rings,
all of fine quality and manufacture.  These things had been bought in
Bath and other towns from time to time, and brought home by stealth.
They were all carefully packed in paper, and each package was
labelled "Bathsheba Boldwood," a date being subjoined six years in
advance in every instance.

These somewhat pathetic evidences of a mind crazed with care and love
were the subject of discourse in Warren's malt-house when Oak entered
from Casterbridge with tidings of sentence. He came in the afternoon,
and his face, as the kiln glow shone upon it, told the tale
sufficiently well.  Boldwood, as every one supposed he would do, had
pleaded guilty, and had been sentenced to death.

The conviction that Boldwood had not been morally responsible for his
later acts now became general.  Facts elicited previous to the trial
had pointed strongly in the same direction, but they had not been of
sufficient weight to lead to an order for an examination into the
state of Boldwood's mind.  It was astonishing, now that a presumption
of insanity was raised, how many collateral circumstances were
remembered to which a condition of mental disease seemed to afford
the only explanation--among others, the unprecedented neglect of his
corn stacks in the previous summer.

A petition was addressed to the Home Secretary, advancing
the circumstances which appeared to justify a request for a
reconsideration of the sentence.  It was not "numerously signed"
by the inhabitants of Casterbridge, as is usual in such cases, for
Boldwood had never made many friends over the counter.  The shops
thought it very natural that a man who, by importing direct from
the producer, had daringly set aside the first great principle of
provincial existence, namely that God made country villages to supply
customers to county towns, should have confused ideas about the
Decalogue.  The prompters were a few merciful men who had perhaps too
feelingly considered the facts latterly unearthed, and the result was
that evidence was taken which it was hoped might remove the crime in
a moral point of view, out of the category of wilful murder, and lead
it to be regarded as a sheer outcome of madness.

The upshot of the petition was waited for in Weatherbury with
solicitous interest.  The execution had been fixed for eight o'clock
on a Saturday morning about a fortnight after the sentence was
passed, and up to Friday afternoon no answer had been received.  At
that time Gabriel came from Casterbridge Gaol, whither he had been
to wish Boldwood good-bye, and turned down a by-street to avoid the
town.  When past the last house he heard a hammering, and lifting
his bowed head he looked back for a moment.  Over the chimneys he
could see the upper part of the gaol entrance, rich and glowing
in the afternoon sun, and some moving figures were there.  They
were carpenters lifting a post into a vertical position within the
parapet.  He withdrew his eyes quickly, and hastened on.

It was dark when he reached home, and half the village was out to
meet him.

"No tidings," Gabriel said, wearily.  "And I'm afraid there's no
hope.  I've been with him more than two hours."

"Do ye think he REALLY was out of his mind when he did it?" said
Smallbury.

"I can't honestly say that I do," Oak replied.  "However, that we can
talk of another time.  Has there been any change in mistress this
afternoon?"

"None at all."

"Is she downstairs?"

"No.  And getting on so nicely as she was too.  She's but very little
better now again than she was at Christmas.  She keeps on asking
if you be come, and if there's news, till one's wearied out wi'
answering her.  Shall I go and say you've come?"

"No," said Oak.  "There's a chance yet; but I couldn't stay in town
any longer--after seeing him too.  So Laban--Laban is here, isn't
he?"

"Yes," said Tall.

"What I've arranged is, that you shall ride to town the last thing
to-night; leave here about nine, and wait a while there, getting home
about twelve.  If nothing has been received by eleven to-night, they
say there's no chance at all."

"I do so hope his life will be spared," said Liddy.  "If it is not,
she'll go out of her mind too.  Poor thing; her sufferings have been
dreadful; she deserves anybody's pity."

"Is she altered much?" said Coggan.

"If you haven't seen poor mistress since Christmas, you wouldn't know
her," said Liddy.  "Her eyes are so miserable that she's not the same
woman.  Only two years ago she was a romping girl, and now she's
this!"

Laban departed as directed, and at eleven o'clock that night several
of the villagers strolled along the road to Casterbridge and awaited
his arrival--among them Oak, and nearly all the rest of Bathsheba's
men.  Gabriel's anxiety was great that Boldwood might be saved, even
though in his conscience he felt that he ought to die; for there had
been qualities in the farmer which Oak loved.  At last, when they all
were weary the tramp of a horse was heard in the distance--


     First dead, as if on turf it trode,
     Then, clattering on the village road
     In other pace than forth he yode.


"We shall soon know now, one way or other." said Coggan, and they all
stepped down from the bank on which they had been standing into the
road, and the rider pranced into the midst of them.

"Is that you, Laban?" said Gabriel.

"Yes--'tis come.  He's not to die.  'Tis confinement during Her
Majesty's pleasure."

"Hurrah!" said Coggan, with a swelling heart.  "God's above the devil
yet!"




CHAPTER LVI


BEAUTY IN LONELINESS--AFTER ALL


Bathsheba revived with the spring.  The utter prostration that
had followed the low fever from which she had suffered diminished
perceptibly when all uncertainty upon every subject had come to
an end.

But she remained alone now for the greater part of her time, and
stayed in the house, or at furthest went into the garden.  She
shunned every one, even Liddy, and could be brought to make no
confidences, and to ask for no sympathy.

As the summer drew on she passed more of her time in the open air,
and began to examine into farming matters from sheer necessity,
though she never rode out or personally superintended as at former
times.  One Friday evening in August she walked a little way along
the road and entered the village for the first time since the sombre
event of the preceding Christmas.  None of the old colour had as yet
come to her cheek, and its absolute paleness was heightened by the
jet black of her gown, till it appeared preternatural.  When she
reached a little shop at the other end of the place, which stood
nearly opposite to the churchyard, Bathsheba heard singing inside the
church, and she knew that the singers were practising.  She crossed
the road, opened the gate, and entered the graveyard, the high sills
of the church windows effectually screening her from the eyes of
those gathered within.  Her stealthy walk was to the nook wherein
Troy had worked at planting flowers upon Fanny Robin's grave, and
she came to the marble tombstone.

A motion of satisfaction enlivened her face as she read the complete
inscription.  First came the words of Troy himself:--


     ERECTED BY FRANCIS TROY
      IN BELOVED MEMORY OF
          FANNY ROBIN,
    WHO DIED OCTOBER 9, 18--,
          AGED 20 YEARS


Underneath this was now inscribed in new letters:--


      IN THE SAME GRAVE LIE
   THE REMAINS OF THE AFORESAID
          FRANCIS TROY,
   WHO DIED DECEMBER 24TH, 18--,
          AGED 26 YEARS


Whilst she stood and read and meditated the tones of the organ
began again in the church, and she went with the same light step
round to the porch and listened.  The door was closed, and the
choir was learning a new hymn.  Bathsheba was stirred by emotions
which latterly she had assumed to be altogether dead within her.
The little attenuated voices of the children brought to her ear
in distinct utterance the words they sang without thought or
comprehension--


     Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
       Lead Thou me on.


Bathsheba's feeling was always to some extent dependent upon her
whim, as is the case with many other women.  Something big came into
her throat and an uprising to her eyes--and she thought that she
would allow the imminent tears to flow if they wished.  They did
flow and plenteously, and one fell upon the stone bench beside her.
Once that she had begun to cry for she hardly knew what, she could
not leave off for crowding thoughts she knew too well.  She would
have given anything in the world to be, as those children were,
unconcerned at the meaning of their words, because too innocent to
feel the necessity for any such expression.  All the impassioned
scenes of her brief experience seemed to revive with added emotion at
that moment, and those scenes which had been without emotion during
enactment had emotion then.  Yet grief came to her rather as a luxury
than as the scourge of former times.

Owing to Bathsheba's face being buried in her hands she did not
notice a form which came quietly into the porch, and on seeing
her, first moved as if to retreat, then paused and regarded her.
Bathsheba did not raise her head for some time, and when she looked
round her face was wet, and her eyes drowned and dim.  "Mr. Oak,"
exclaimed she, disconcerted, "how long have you been here?"

"A few minutes, ma'am," said Oak, respectfully.

"Are you going in?" said Bathsheba; and there came from within the
church as from a prompter--


     I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
     Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.


"I was," said Gabriel.  "I am one of the bass singers, you know.  I
have sung bass for several months."

"Indeed: I wasn't aware of that.  I'll leave you, then."


     Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile,


sang the children.

"Don't let me drive you away, mistress.  I think I won't go in
to-night."

"Oh no--you don't drive me away."

Then they stood in a state of some embarrassment, Bathsheba trying to
wipe her dreadfully drenched and inflamed face without his noticing
her.  At length Oak said, "I've not seen you--I mean spoken to
you--since ever so long, have I?"  But he feared to bring distressing
memories back, and interrupted himself with: "Were you going into
church?"

"No," she said.  "I came to see the tombstone privately--to see if
they had cut the inscription as I wished.  Mr. Oak, you needn't mind
speaking to me, if you wish to, on the matter which is in both our
minds at this moment."

"And have they done it as you wished?" said Oak.

"Yes.  Come and see it, if you have not already."

So together they went and read the tomb.  "Eight months ago!" Gabriel
murmured when he saw the date.  "It seems like yesterday to me."

"And to me as if it were years ago--long years, and I had been dead
between.  And now I am going home, Mr. Oak."

Oak walked after her.  "I wanted to name a small matter to you as
soon as I could," he said, with hesitation.  "Merely about business,
and I think I may just mention it now, if you'll allow me."

"Oh yes, certainly."

It is that I may soon have to give up the management of your farm,
Mrs. Troy.  The fact is, I am thinking of leaving England--not yet,
you know--next spring."

"Leaving England!" she said, in surprise and genuine disappointment.
"Why, Gabriel, what are you going to do that for?"

"Well, I've thought it best," Oak stammered out.  "California is the
spot I've had in my mind to try."

"But it is understood everywhere that you are going to take poor Mr.
Boldwood's farm on your own account."

"I've had the refusal o' it 'tis true; but nothing is settled yet,
and I have reasons for giving up.  I shall finish out my year there
as manager for the trustees, but no more."

"And what shall I do without you?  Oh, Gabriel, I don't think you
ought to go away.  You've been with me so long--through bright times
and dark times--such old friends as we are--that it seems unkind
almost.  I had fancied that if you leased the other farm as master,
you might still give a helping look across at mine.  And now going
away!"

"I would have willingly."

"Yet now that I am more helpless than ever you go away!"

"Yes, that's the ill fortune o' it," said Gabriel, in a distressed
tone.  "And it is because of that very helplessness that I feel bound
to go.  Good afternoon, ma'am" he concluded, in evident anxiety to
get away, and at once went out of the churchyard by a path she could
follow on no pretence whatever.

Bathsheba went home, her mind occupied with a new trouble, which
being rather harassing than deadly was calculated to do good by
diverting her from the chronic gloom of her life.  She was set
thinking a great deal about Oak and of his wish to shun her;
and there occurred to Bathsheba several incidents of her latter
intercourse with him, which, trivial when singly viewed, amounted
together to a perceptible disinclination for her society.  It broke
upon her at length as a great pain that her last old disciple was
about to forsake her and flee.  He who had believed in her and argued
on her side when all the rest of the world was against her, had at
last like the others become weary and neglectful of the old cause,
and was leaving her to fight her battles alone.

Three weeks went on, and more evidence of his want of interest in
her was forthcoming.  She noticed that instead of entering the small
parlour or office where the farm accounts were kept, and waiting, or
leaving a memorandum as he had hitherto done during her seclusion,
Oak never came at all when she was likely to be there, only entering
at unseasonable hours when her presence in that part of the house
was least to be expected.  Whenever he wanted directions he sent a
message, or note with neither heading nor signature, to which she was
obliged to reply in the same offhand style.  Poor Bathsheba began to
suffer now from the most torturing sting of all--a sensation that she
was despised.

The autumn wore away gloomily enough amid these melancholy
conjectures, and Christmas-day came, completing a year of her legal
widowhood, and two years and a quarter of her life alone.  On
examining her heart it appeared beyond measure strange that the
subject of which the season might have been supposed suggestive--the
event in the hall at Boldwood's--was not agitating her at all; but
instead, an agonizing conviction that everybody abjured her--for what
she could not tell--and that Oak was the ringleader of the recusants.
Coming out of church that day she looked round in hope that Oak,
whose bass voice she had heard rolling out from the gallery overhead
in a most unconcerned manner, might chance to linger in her path in
the old way.  There he was, as usual, coming down the path behind
her.  But on seeing Bathsheba turn, he looked aside, and as soon
as he got beyond the gate, and there was the barest excuse for a
divergence, he made one, and vanished.

The next morning brought the culminating stroke; she had been
expecting it long.  It was a formal notice by letter from him that he
should not renew his engagement with her for the following Lady-day.

Bathsheba actually sat and cried over this letter most bitterly.  She
was aggrieved and wounded that the possession of hopeless love from
Gabriel, which she had grown to regard as her inalienable right for
life, should have been withdrawn just at his own pleasure in this
way.  She was bewildered too by the prospect of having to rely on her
own resources again: it seemed to herself that she never could again
acquire energy sufficient to go to market, barter, and sell.
Since Troy's death Oak had attended all sales and fairs for her,
transacting her business at the same time with his own.  What should
she do now?  Her life was becoming a desolation.

So desolate was Bathsheba this evening, that in an absolute hunger
for pity and sympathy, and miserable in that she appeared to have
outlived the only true friendship she had ever owned, she put on her
bonnet and cloak and went down to Oak's house just after sunset,
guided on her way by the pale primrose rays of a crescent moon a few
days old.

A lively firelight shone from the window, but nobody was visible in
the room.  She tapped nervously, and then thought it doubtful if
it were right for a single woman to call upon a bachelor who lived
alone, although he was her manager, and she might be supposed to call
on business without any real impropriety.  Gabriel opened the door,
and the moon shone upon his forehead.

"Mr. Oak," said Bathsheba, faintly.

"Yes; I am Mr. Oak," said Gabriel.  "Who have I the honour--O how
stupid of me, not to know you, mistress!"

"I shall not be your mistress much longer, shall I Gabriel?" she
said, in pathetic tones.

"Well, no.  I suppose--But come in, ma'am.  Oh--and I'll get a
light," Oak replied, with some awkwardness.

"No; not on my account."

"It is so seldom that I get a lady visitor that I'm afraid I haven't
proper accommodation.  Will you sit down, please? Here's a chair, and
there's one, too.  I am sorry that my chairs all have wood seats, and
are rather hard, but I--was thinking of getting some new ones."  Oak
placed two or three for her.

"They are quite easy enough for me."

So down she sat, and down sat he, the fire dancing in their faces,
and upon the old furniture,


            all a-sheenen
     Wi' long years o' handlen, [3]

   [Footnote 3: W. Barnes]

that formed Oak's array of household possessions, which sent back a
dancing reflection in reply.  It was very odd to these two persons,
who knew each other passing well, that the mere circumstance of their
meeting in a new place and in a new way should make them so awkward
and constrained.  In the fields, or at her house, there had never
been any embarrassment; but now that Oak had become the entertainer
their lives seemed to be moved back again to the days when they were
strangers.

"You'll think it strange that I have come, but--"

"Oh no; not at all."

"But I thought--Gabriel, I have been uneasy in the belief that I
have offended you, and that you are going away on that account.  It
grieved me very much and I couldn't help coming."

"Offended me!  As if you could do that, Bathsheba!"

"Haven't I?" she asked, gladly.  "But, what are you going away for
else?"

"I am not going to emigrate, you know; I wasn't aware that you would
wish me not to when I told 'ee or I shouldn't ha' thought of doing
it," he said, simply.  "I have arranged for Little Weatherbury Farm
and shall have it in my own hands at Lady-day.  You know I've had a
share in it for some time.  Still, that wouldn't prevent my attending
to your business as before, hadn't it been that things have been said
about us."

"What?" said Bathsheba, in surprise.  "Things said about you and me!
What are they?"

"I cannot tell you."

"It would be wiser if you were to, I think.  You have played the part
of mentor to me many times, and I don't see why you should fear to do
it now."

"It is nothing that you have done, this time.  The top and tail
o't is this--that I am sniffing about here, and waiting for poor
Boldwood's farm, with a thought of getting you some day."

"Getting me!  What does that mean?"

"Marrying of 'ee, in plain British.  You asked me to tell, so you
mustn't blame me."

Bathsheba did not look quite so alarmed as if a cannon had been
discharged by her ear, which was what Oak had expected.  "Marrying
me!  I didn't know it was that you meant," she said, quietly.  "Such
a thing as that is too absurd--too soon--to think of, by far!"

"Yes; of course, it is too absurd.  I don't desire any such thing;
I should think that was plain enough by this time.  Surely, surely
you be the last person in the world I think of marrying.  It is too
absurd, as you say."

"'Too--s-s-soon' were the words I used."

"I must beg your pardon for correcting you, but you said, 'too
absurd,' and so do I."

"I beg your pardon too!" she returned, with tears in her eyes.  "'Too
soon' was what I said.  But it doesn't matter a bit--not at all--but
I only meant, 'too soon.'  Indeed, I didn't, Mr. Oak, and you must
believe me!"

Gabriel looked her long in the face, but the firelight being faint
there was not much to be seen.  "Bathsheba," he said, tenderly and in
surprise, and coming closer: "if I only knew one thing--whether you
would allow me to love you and win you, and marry you after all--if
I only knew that!"

"But you never will know," she murmured.

"Why?"

"Because you never ask."

"Oh--Oh!" said Gabriel, with a low laugh of joyousness.  "My own
dear--"

"You ought not to have sent me that harsh letter this morning," she
interrupted.  "It shows you didn't care a bit about me, and were
ready to desert me like all the rest of them!  It was very cruel of
you, considering I was the first sweetheart that you ever had, and
you were the first I ever had; and I shall not forget it!"

"Now, Bathsheba, was ever anybody so provoking," he said, laughing.
"You know it was purely that I, as an unmarried man, carrying on a
business for you as a very taking young woman, had a proper hard part
to play--more particular that people knew I had a sort of feeling for
'ee; and I fancied, from the way we were mentioned together, that it
might injure your good name.  Nobody knows the heat and fret I have
been caused by it."

"And was that all?"

"All."

"Oh, how glad I am I came!" she exclaimed, thankfully, as she rose
from her seat.  "I have thought so much more of you since I fancied
you did not want even to see me again.  But I must be going now, or
I shall be missed.  Why Gabriel," she said, with a slight laugh, as
they went to the door, "it seems exactly as if I had come courting
you--how dreadful!"

"And quite right too," said Oak.  "I've danced at your skittish
heels, my beautiful Bathsheba, for many a long mile, and many a long
day; and it is hard to begrudge me this one visit."

He accompanied her up the hill, explaining to her the details of
his forthcoming tenure of the other farm.  They spoke very little
of their mutual feeling; pretty phrases and warm expressions being
probably unnecessary between such tried friends.  Theirs was that
substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the
two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher
sides of each other's character, and not the best till further on,
the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic
reality.  This good-fellowship--_camaraderie_--usually occurring
through similarity of pursuits, is unfortunately seldom superadded
to love between the sexes, because men and women associate, not in
their labours, but in their pleasures merely.  Where, however, happy
circumstance permits its development, the compounded feeling proves
itself to be the only love which is strong as death--that love which
many waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown, beside which the
passion usually called by the name is evanescent as steam.




CHAPTER LVII


A FOGGY NIGHT AND MORNING--CONCLUSION


"The most private, secret, plainest wedding that it is possible to
have."

Those had been Bathsheba's words to Oak one evening, some time after
the event of the preceding f, and he meditated a full hour by
the clock upon how to carry out her wishes to the letter.

"A license--O yes, it must be a license," he said to himself at last.
"Very well, then; first, a license."

On a dark night, a few days later, Oak came with mysterious steps
from the surrogate's door, in Casterbridge.  On the way home he heard
a heavy tread in front of him, and, overtaking the man, found him to
be Coggan.  They walked together into the village until they came to
a little lane behind the church, leading down to the cottage of Laban
Tall, who had lately been installed as clerk of the parish, and was
yet in mortal terror at church on Sundays when he heard his lone
voice among certain hard words of the Psalms, whither no man ventured
to follow him.

"Well, good-night, Coggan," said Oak, "I'm going down this way."

"Oh!" said Coggan, surprised; "what's going on to-night then, make so
bold Mr. Oak?"

It seemed rather ungenerous not to tell Coggan, under the
circumstances, for Coggan had been true as steel all through the time
of Gabriel's unhappiness about Bathsheba, and Gabriel said, "You can
keep a secret, Coggan?"

"You've proved me, and you know."

"Yes, I have, and I do know.  Well, then, mistress and I mean to get
married to-morrow morning."

"Heaven's high tower!  And yet I've thought of such a thing from time
to time; true, I have.  But keeping it so close!  Well, there, 'tis
no consarn of of mine, and I wish 'ee joy o' her."

"Thank you, Coggan.  But I assure 'ee that this great hush is not
what I wished for at all, or what either of us would have wished if
it hadn't been for certain things that would make a gay wedding seem
hardly the thing.  Bathsheba has a great wish that all the parish
shall not be in church, looking at her--she's shy-like and nervous
about it, in fact--so I be doing this to humour her."

"Ay, I see: quite right, too, I suppose I must say.  And you be now
going down to the clerk."

"Yes; you may as well come with me."

"I am afeard your labour in keeping it close will be throwed away,"
said Coggan, as they walked along.  "Labe Tall's old woman will horn
it all over parish in half-an-hour."

"So she will, upon my life; I never thought of that," said Oak,
pausing.  "Yet I must tell him to-night, I suppose, for he's working
so far off, and leaves early."

"I'll tell 'ee how we could tackle her," said Coggan.  "I'll knock
and ask to speak to Laban outside the door, you standing in the
background.  Then he'll come out, and you can tell yer tale.  She'll
never guess what I want en for; and I'll make up a few words about
the farm-work, as a blind."

This scheme was considered feasible; and Coggan advanced boldly, and
rapped at Mrs. Tall's door.  Mrs. Tall herself opened it.

"I wanted to have a word with Laban."

"He's not at home, and won't be this side of eleven o'clock.  He've
been forced to go over to Yalbury since shutting out work.  I shall
do quite as well."

"I hardly think you will.  Stop a moment;" and Coggan stepped round
the corner of the porch to consult Oak.

"Who's t'other man, then?" said Mrs. Tall.

"Only a friend," said Coggan.

"Say he's wanted to meet mistress near church-hatch to-morrow morning
at ten," said Oak, in a whisper.  "That he must come without fail,
and wear his best clothes."

"The clothes will floor us as safe as houses!" said Coggan.

"It can't be helped," said Oak.  "Tell her."

So Coggan delivered the message.  "Mind, het or wet, blow or snow,
he must come," added Jan.  "'Tis very particular, indeed.  The fact
is, 'tis to witness her sign some law-work about taking shares wi'
another farmer for a long span o' years.  There, that's what 'tis,
and now I've told 'ee, Mother Tall, in a way I shouldn't ha' done
if I hadn't loved 'ee so hopeless well."

Coggan retired before she could ask any further; and next they called
at the vicar's in a manner which excited no curiosity at all.  Then
Gabriel went home, and prepared for the morrow.


"Liddy," said Bathsheba, on going to bed that night, "I want you to
call me at seven o'clock to-morrow, In case I shouldn't wake."

"But you always do wake afore then, ma'am."

"Yes, but I have something important to do, which I'll tell you of
when the time comes, and it's best to make sure."

Bathsheba, however, awoke voluntarily at four, nor could she by any
contrivance get to sleep again.  About six, being quite positive that
her watch had stopped during the night, she could wait no longer.
She went and tapped at Liddy's door, and after some labour awoke her.

"But I thought it was I who had to call you?" said the bewildered
Liddy.  "And it isn't six yet."

"Indeed it is; how can you tell such a story, Liddy?  I know it must
be ever so much past seven.  Come to my room as soon as you can; I
want you to give my hair a good brushing."

When Liddy came to Bathsheba's room her mistress was already waiting.
Liddy could not understand this extraordinary promptness.  "Whatever
IS going on, ma'am?" she said.

"Well, I'll tell you," said Bathsheba, with a mischievous smile in
her bright eyes.  "Farmer Oak is coming here to dine with me to-day!"

"Farmer Oak--and nobody else?--you two alone?"

"Yes."

"But is it safe, ma'am, after what's been said?" asked her companion,
dubiously.  "A woman's good name is such a perishable article that--"

Bathsheba laughed with a flushed cheek, and whispered in Liddy's ear,
although there was nobody present.  Then Liddy stared and exclaimed,
"Souls alive, what news!  It makes my heart go quite bumpity-bump!"

"It makes mine rather furious, too," said Bathsheba.  "However,
there's no getting out of it now!"

It was a damp disagreeable morning.  Nevertheless, at twenty minutes
to ten o'clock, Oak came out of his house, and


              Went up the hill side
              With that sort of stride
     A man puts out when walking in search of a bride,


and knocked Bathsheba's door.  Ten minutes later a large and a
smaller umbrella might have been seen moving from the same door, and
through the mist along the road to the church.  The distance was not
more than a quarter of a mile, and these two sensible persons deemed
it unnecessary to drive.  An observer must have been very close
indeed to discover that the forms under the umbrellas were those of
Oak and Bathsheba, arm-in-arm for the first time in their lives, Oak
in a greatcoat extending to his knees, and Bathsheba in a cloak that
reached her clogs.  Yet, though so plainly dressed, there was a
certain rejuvenated appearance about her:--


     As though a rose should shut and be a bud again.


Repose had again incarnadined her cheeks; and having, at Gabriel's
request, arranged her hair this morning as she had worn it years ago
on Norcombe Hill, she seemed in his eyes remarkably like a girl of
that fascinating dream, which, considering that she was now only
three or four-and-twenty, was perhaps not very wonderful.  In the
church were Tall, Liddy, and the parson, and in a remarkably short
space of time the deed was done.

The two sat down very quietly to tea in Bathsheba's parlour in the
evening of the same day, for it had been arranged that Farmer Oak
should go there to live, since he had as yet neither money, house,
nor furniture worthy of the name, though he was on a sure way towards
them, whilst Bathsheba was, comparatively, in a plethora of all
three.

Just as Bathsheba was pouring out a cup of tea, their ears were
greeted by the firing of a cannon, followed by what seemed like a
tremendous blowing of trumpets, in the front of the house.

"There!" said Oak, laughing, "I knew those fellows were up to
something, by the look on their faces"

Oak took up the light and went into the porch, followed by Bathsheba
with a shawl over her head.  The rays fell upon a group of male
figures gathered upon the gravel in front, who, when they saw the
newly-married couple in the porch, set up a loud "Hurrah!" and at the
same moment bang again went the cannon in the background, followed by
a hideous clang of music from a drum, tambourine, clarionet, serpent,
hautboy, tenor-viol, and double-bass--the only remaining relics
of the true and original Weatherbury band--venerable worm-eaten
instruments, which had celebrated in their own persons the victories
of Marlborough, under the fingers of the forefathers of those who
played them now.  The performers came forward, and marched up to the
front.

"Those bright boys, Mark Clark and Jan, are at the bottom of all
this," said Oak.  "Come in, souls, and have something to eat and
drink wi' me and my wife."

"Not to-night," said Mr. Clark, with evident self-denial.  "Thank
ye all the same; but we'll call at a more seemly time.  However, we
couldn't think of letting the day pass without a note of admiration
of some sort.  If ye could send a drop of som'at down to Warren's,
why so it is.  Here's long life and happiness to neighbour Oak and
his comely bride!"

"Thank ye; thank ye all," said Gabriel.  "A bit and a drop shall be
sent to Warren's for ye at once.  I had a thought that we might very
likely get a salute of some sort from our old friends, and I was
saying so to my wife but now."

"Faith," said Coggan, in a critical tone, turning to his companions,
"the man hev learnt to say 'my wife' in a wonderful naterel way,
considering how very youthful he is in wedlock as yet--hey,
neighbours all?"

"I never heerd a skilful old married feller of twenty years'
standing pipe 'my wife' in a more used note than 'a did," said Jacob
Smallbury.  "It might have been a little more true to nater if't had
been spoke a little chillier, but that wasn't to be expected just
now."

"That improvement will come wi' time," said Jan, twirling his eye.

Then Oak laughed, and Bathsheba smiled (for she never laughed readily
now), and their friends turned to go.

"Yes; I suppose that's the size o't," said Joseph Poorgrass with a
cheerful sigh as they moved away; "and I wish him joy o' her; though
I were once or twice upon saying to-day with holy Hosea, in my
scripture manner, which is my second nature, 'Ephraim is joined to
idols: let him alone.'  But since 'tis as 'tis, why, it might have
been worse, and I feel my thanks accordingly."



THE END





This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia