Part 1 out of 9
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
by Thomas Hardy, 1874
From the Penguin edition, 1978
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 con-
gegation 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, and
drawing up the watch by its chain, like a bucket from a
But some thoughtfull 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 curtail-
ing 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
"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
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
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
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. lt was a difference con-
cerning 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
"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 redjacketed 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
The gatekeeper surveyed the retreating vehicle.
"That's a handsome maid" he said to Oak
"But she has her faults." said Gabriel.
"And the greatest of them is -- well, what it is
"Beating people down? ay, 'tis so."
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,
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 protuber-
ances 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 com-
manded, was a mysterious sheet of fathomless shade
-- the sounds from which suggested that what it con-
cealed 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 human-
kind was to stand and listen, and learn how the trees
to each other in the regular antiphonies of a cathedral
choir; how hedges and other shapes to leeward them
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 still-
ness, 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 differ-
ence 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 im-
pressions -- 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 pre-
ceding 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 appear-
ing 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 mem-
brane 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 simmer-
ing. 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 prepara-
tions pertaining to bovine 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"
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 will
the north-west; far away through the plantation Vega
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 this, with eyes stretched afar, Oak gradually per-
ceived 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 con-
sciousness 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 spots 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 ap-
parently 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 het, but had enveloped her-
self 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 break-
ing my rest if she recovers."
The young woman, whose eyelids were apparently inclined
to fall together on the smallest provocation of silence,yawned
"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
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 turn-
ing 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
"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 warts
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.
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 riders 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 per-
formance 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 un-
attainable sideways. Springing to her accustomed
perpendicular like a bowed sapling, and satisfying her,
self 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
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 shirts alternating with loud shirts 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
ha 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
"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 dis-
tinctly: "it flew away last night."
"One o'clock this morning?"
"Well -- it was." She was surprised. "How did you know?"
"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 suc-
ceeded 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 con-
siderateness, 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 con-
sidered 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
How long he remained unconscious Gabriel never
knew. During the first stages of his return to percep-
tion 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
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
"Whatever is the matter?" said Oak, vacantly.
She seemed to experience mirth, but of too insignifi-
cant 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, 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 ob-
served 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
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.
"O 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
napping 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.
"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 with-
out 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
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
This well-favoured and comely girl soon made appre-
ciable inroads upon the emotional constitution of young
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 exorbi-
tant 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 eight 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 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 pro-
portion 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
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 Bath-
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
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 commence-
ment 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 Com-
mination-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 Some-
body, 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
Bathsheba was out. The voice had evidently been
"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
"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
"-- 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
"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."
e 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
"Well -- that is a tale!" said Oak, with dismay." To
run after anybody like this, and then say you don't
"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 impuls-
ively, 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
"I'll try to think." she observed, rather more timor-
ously; "if I can think out of doors; my mind spreads
"But you can give a guess."
"Then give me time." Bathsheba looked thought-
fully into the distance, away from the direction in which
"I can make you happy," said he to the back of her
head, across the bush. "You shall have as 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
"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
"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
"I have tried hard all the time I've been thinking;
for a marriage would be very nice in one sense.
People would talk about me, and think I had won my
battle, and I should feel triumphant, and all that,
But a husband -- -- --
"Why, he'd always be there, as you say; whenever
I looked up, there he'd be."
"Of course he would -- I, that is."
"Well, what I mean is that I shouldn't mind being
a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having
a husband. But since a woman can't show off in that
way by herself, I shan't marry -- at least yet."
"That's a terrible wooden story."
At this criticism of her statement Bathsheba made
an addition to her dignity by a slight sweep away
"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 atmo-
sphere. "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
"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."
"O 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. "H(ow 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 begin-
ing; 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
"That's the very thing I had been thinking myself!"
he naively said.
Farmer Oak had one-and-a-half Christian character-
istics too many to succeed with Bathsheba: his humility,
and a superfluous moiety of honesty. Bathsheba was
"Well, then, why did you come and disturb me?"
she said, almost angrily, if not quite, an enlarging red
spot rising in each cheek.
"I can't do what I think would be -- would be -- -- "
"You have made an admission now, Mr. Oak." she
exclaimed, with even more hauteur, and rocking her
head disdainfully. "After that, do you think I could
marry you? Not if I know it."
He broke in passionately. "But don't mistake me
like that! Because I am open enough to own what
every man in my shoes would have thought of, you
make your colours come up your face, and get crabbed
with me. That about your not being good enough for
me is nonsense. You speak like a lady -- all the parish
notice it, and your uncle at Weatherbury is, I have
heerd, a large farmer -- much larger than ever I shall
be. May I call in the evening, or will you walk along
with me o' Sundays? I don't want you to make-up
your mind at once, if you'd rather not."
"No -- no -- I cannot. Don't press me any more --
don't. I don't love you -- so 'twould be ridiculous,"
he 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."
DEPARTURE OF BATHSHEBA -- A PASTORAL TRAGEDY
THE news which one day reached Gabriel, that Bath-
sheba Everdene had left the neighbourhood, had an
influence upon him which might have surprised any
who never suspected that the more emphatic the renun-
ciation the less absolute its character.
It may have been observed that there is no regula
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 idealise 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 ap-
peared 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
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 learn-
ing 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 step 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
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"
chronic sound that only makes itself noticed by ceasing
ever distant, that all is well in the fold. In the solemn
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
In the crowd was an athletic young fellow of some-
what 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 medi-
tative, 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 digni-
fied calm he had never before known, and that indiffer-
ence 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
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
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 bailifs were most in demand. However, two
or three farmers noticed him and drew near. Dialogues
followed, more or lessin the subjoined for: --
"Where do you come from?"
"That's a long way.
"Who's farm were you upon last?"
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
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
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
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
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 con-
sidered 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 las 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 dis-
tinguished 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
A conversation was in progress, which continued
"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
"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-
"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 play?"
"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
ground 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 abound-
ing 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
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 O, 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
"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
"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
"Don't know, ma'am." "Don't any of the others know?"
"Nobody at all -- I've asked 'em. Quite a stranger,
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
"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 by-
stander. "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,
"That's she, back there upon the pony." said Mary-
ann. "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, advansed 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?"
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,
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
All "was practical again now. A summer eve and
loneliness would have been necessary to give the
meeting its proper fulness of romance.
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 ren-
counter 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 emerg-
ency 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
"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."