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the year, and the sky, pure violet in the zenith, was
leaden to the northward, and murky to the east, where,
over the snowy down or ewe-lease on Weatherbury
Upper Farm, and apparently resting upon the ridge, the
only half of the sun yet visible burnt rayless, like a red
and flameless fire shining over a white hearthstone.
The whole effect resembled a sunset as childhood
resembles age.
In other directions, the fields and sky were so much
of one colour by the snow, that it was difficult in a
hasty glance to tell whereabouts the horizon occurred;
and in general there was here, too, that before-mentioned
preternatural inversion of light and shade which attends
the prospect when the garish brightness commonly in
the sky is found on the earth, and the shades of earth
are in the sky. Over the west hung the wasting moon,
now dull and greenish-yellow, like tarnished brass.
Boldwood was listlessly noting how the frost had
hardened and glazed the surface of the snow, till it
shone in the red eastern light wit-h the polish of marble;
how, in some portions of the slope, withered grass-bents,
encased in icicles, bristled through the smooth wan
coverlet in the twisted and curved shapes of old
Venetian glass; and how the footprints of a few birds,
which had hopped over the snow whilst it lay in the
state of a soft fleece, were now frozen to a short perma-
nency. A half-muffled noise of light wheels interrupted
him. Boldwood turned back into the road. It was
the mail-cart -- a crazy, two-wheeled vehicle, hardly
heavy enough to resist a puff of wind. The driver held
out a letter. Boldwood seized it and opened it, ex-
pecting another anonymous one -- so greatly are people's
ideas of probability a mere sense that precedent will
repeat itself.
"I don't think it is for you, sir." said the man, when
he saw Boldwood's action. "Though there is no name
I think it is for your shepherd."
Boldwood looked then at the address --
To the New Shepherd,
Weatherbury Farm,
Near Casterbridge.
"Oh -- what a mistake! -- it is not mine. Nor is it
for my shepherd. It is for Miss Everdene's." You had
better take it on to him -- Gabriel Oak -- and say I opened
it in mistake."
At this moment, on the ridge, up against the blazing
sky, a figure was visible, like the black snuff in the
midst of a candle-flame. Then it moved and began to
bustle about vigorously from place to place, carrying
square skeleton masses, which were riddled by the same
rays. A small figure on all fours followed behind. The
tall form was that of Gabriel Oak; the small one that
of George; the articles in course of transit were hurdles.
"Wait," said Boldwood." That's the man on the hill.
I'll take the letter to him myself."
To Boldwood it was now no longer merely a letter to
I another man. It was an opportunity. Exhibiting a
face pregnant with intention, he entered the snowy field.
Gabriel, at that minute, descended the hill towards
the right. The glow stretched down in this direction
now, and touched the distant roof of Warren's Malthouse
whither the shepherd was apparently bent: Boldwood
followed at a distance.

CHAPTER XV

THE scarlet and orange light outside the malthouse did
not penetrate to its interior, which was, as usual, lighted
by a rival glow of similar hue, radiating from the hearth.
The maltster, after having lain down in his clothes
for a few hours, was now sitting beside a three-legged
table, breakfasting of bread and bacon. This was
eaten on the plateless system, which is performed by
placing a slice of bread upon the table, the meat flat
upon the bread, a mustard plaster upon the meat, and
a pinch of salt upon the whole, then cutting them
vertically downwards with a large pocket-knife till wood
is reached, when the severed lamp is impaled on the
knife, elevated, and sent the proper way of food.
The maltster's lack of teeth appeared not to sensibly
diminish his powers as a mill. He had been without
them for so many years that toothlessness was felt less
to be a defect than hard gums an acquisition. Indeed,
he seemed to approach the grave as a hyperbolic curve
approaches a straight line -- less directly as he got nearer,
till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all.
In the ashpit was a heap of potatoes roasting, and a
boiling pipkin of charred bread, called "coffee." for the
benefit of whomsoever should call, for Warren's was a
sort of clubhouse. used as an alternative to the in!
"I say, says I, we get a fine day, and then down
comes a snapper at night." was a remark now suddenly
heard spreading into the malthouse from the door, which
had been opened the previous moment. The form of
Henery Fray advanced to the fire, stamping the snow
from his boots when about half-way there. The speech
and entry had not seemed to be at all an abrupt begin-
ning to the maltster, introductory matter being often
omitted in this neighbourhood, both from word and
deed, and the maltster having the same latitude allowed
him, did not hurry to reply. He picked up a fragment
of cheese, by pecking upon it with his knife, as a butcher
picks up skewers.
Henery appeared in a drab kerseymere great-coat,
buttoned over his smock-frock, the white skirts of the
latter being visible to the distance of about a foot below
the coat-tails, which, when you got used to the style of
dress, looked natural enough, and even ornamental -- it
certainly was comfortable.
Matthew Moon, Joseph Poorgrass, and other carters
and waggoners followed at his heels, with great lanterns
dangling from their hands, which showed that they had
just come from the cart-horse stables, where they had
been busily engaged since four o'clock that morning.
"And how is she getting on without a baily?" the
maltster inquired.
Henery shook his head, and smiled one of the bitter
smiles, dragging all the flesh of his forehead into a
corrugated heap in the centre.
"She'll rue it -- surely, surely!" he said " Benjy
Pennyways were not a true man or an honest baily --
as big a betrayer as Judas Iscariot himself. But to think
she can carr' on alone!" He allowed his head to swing
laterally three or four times in silence. "Never in all my
creeping up -- never!"
This was recognized by all as the conclusion of some
gloomy speech which had been expressed in thought
alone during the shake of the head; Henery meanwhile
retained several marks of despair upon his face, to
imply that they would be required for use again directly
he should go on speaking.
"All will be ruined, and ourselves too, or there's no
meat in gentlemen's houses!" said Mark Clark.
"A headstrong maid, that's what she is -- and won't
listen to no advice at all. Pride and vanity have ruined
many a cobbler's dog. Dear, dear, when I think o' it,
I sorrows like a man in travel!"
"True, Henery, you do, I've heard ye." said Joseph
Poorgrass in a voice of thorough attestation, and with
a wire-drawn smile of misery.
"'Twould do a martel man no harm to have what's
under her bonnet." said Billy Smallbury, who had just
entered, bearing his one tooth before him. "She can
spaik real language, and must have some sense some-
where. Do ye foller me?"
"I do: but no baily -- I deserved that place." wailed
Henery, signifying wasted genius by gazing blankly at
visions of a high destiny apparently visible to him on
Billy Smallbury's smock-frock. "There, 'twas to be, I
suppose. Your lot is your lot, and Scripture is nothing;
for if you do good you don't get rewarded according to
your works, but be cheated in some mean way out of
your recompense."
"No, no; I don't agree with'ee there." said Mark
Clark. God's a perfect gentleman in that respect."
"Good works good pay, so to speak it." attested
Joseph Poorgrass.
A short pause ensued, and as a sort of entr'acte
Henery turned and blew out the lanterns, which the
increase of daylight rendered no longer necessary even
in the malthouse, with its one pane of glass.
"I wonder what a farmer-woman can want with a
harpsichord, dulcimer, pianner, or whatever 'tis they d'call
it?" said the maltster. "Liddy saith she've a new one."
"Got a pianner?"
"Ay. Seems her old uncle's things were not good
enough for her. She've bought all but everything new.
There's heavy chairs for the stout, weak and wiry ones
for the slender; great watches, getting on to the size
of clocks, to stand upon the chimbley-piece."
Pictures, for the most part wonderful frames."
"And long horse-hair settles for the drunk, with horse-
hair pillows at each end." said Mr. Clark. "Likewise
looking-glasses for the pretty, and lying books for the
wicked."
firm loud tread was now heard stamping outside;
the door was opened about six inches, and somebody on
the other side exclaimed --
"Neighbours, have ye got room for a few new-born
lambs?"Ay, sure, shepherd." said the conclave.
The door was flung back till it kicked the wall and
trembled from top to bottom with the blow. Mr.
Oak appeared in the entry with a steaming face, hay-
bands wound about his ankles to keep out the snow, a
leather strap round his waist outside the smock-frock,
and looking altogether an epitome of the world's health
and vigour. Four lambs hung in various embarrassing
attitudes over his shoulders, and the dog George, whom
Gabriel had contrived to fetch from Norcombe, stalked
solemnly behind.
"Well, Shepherd Oak, and how's lambing this year,
if I mid say it?" inquired Joseph Poorgrass.
"Terrible trying," said Oak. "I've been wet through
twice a-day, either in snow or rain, this last fortnight.
Cainy and I haven't tined our eyes to-night."
"A good few twins, too, I hear?"
"Too many by half. Yes; 'tis a very queer lambing
this year. We shan't have done by Lady Day."
"And last year 'twer all over by Sexajessamine
Sunday." Joseph remarked.
"Bring on the rest Cain." said Gabriel, " and then run
back to the ewes. I'll follow you soon."
Cainy Ball -- a cheery-faced young lad, with a small
circular orifice by way of mouth, advanced and deposited
two others, and retired as he was bidden. Oak lowered
the lambs from their unnatural elevation, wrapped them
in hay, and placed them round the fire.
"We've no lambing-hut here, as I used to have at
Norcombe." said Gabriel, " and 'tis such a plague to bring
the weakly ones to a house. If 'twasn't for your place
here, malter, I don't know what I should do! this keen
weather. And how is it with you to-day, malter?"
"Oh, neither sick nor sorry, shepherd, but no
younger."
"Ay -- I understand."
"Sit down, Shepherd Oak," continued the ancient man
of malt. "And how was the old place at Norcombe,
when ye went for your dog? I should like to see the
old familiar spot; but faith, I shouldn't" know a soul
there now."
"I suppose you wouldn't. 'Tis altered very much."
"Is it true that Dicky Hill's wooden cider-house is
pulled down?"
"O yes -- years ago, and Dicky's cottage just above it."
"Well, to be sure!,
"Yes; and Tompkins's old apple-tree is rooted that
used to bear two hogsheads of cider; and no help from
other trees."
"Rooted? -- you don't say it! Ah! stirring times we
live in -- stirring times."
And you can mind the old well that used to be in
the middle of the place? That's turned into a solid
iron pump with a large stone trough, and all complete."
"Dear, dear -- how the face of nations alter, and
what we live to see nowadays! Yes -- and 'tis the same
here. They've been talking but now of the mis'ess's
strange doings."
"What have you been saying about her?" inquired
Oak, sharply turning to the rest, and getting very
warm.
"These middle-aged men have been pulling her over
the coals for pride and vanity." said Mark Clark; "but
I say, let her have rope enough. Bless her pretty face
shouldn't I like to do so -- upon her cherry lips!"
The gallant Mark Clark here made a peculiar and well
known sound with his own.
"Mark." said Gabriel, sternly, "now you mind this!
none of that dalliance-talk -- that smack-and-coddle style
of yours -- about Miss Everdene. I don't allow it. Do
you hear? "
"With all my heart, as I've got no chance." replied
Mr. Clark, cordially.
"I suppose you've been speaking against her?" said
Oak, turning to Joseph Poorgrass with a very grim
look.
"No, no -- not a word I -- 'tis a real joyful thing that
she's no worse, that's what I say." said Joseph, trembling
and blushing with terror. "Matthew just said -- -- "
"Matthew Moon, what have you been saying?" asked
Oak.
"I? Why ye know I wouldn't harm a worm -- no,
not one underground worm?" said Matthew Moon,
looking very uneasy.
"Well, somebody has -- and look here, neighbours."
Gabriel, though one of the quietest and most gentle
men on earth, rose to the occasion, with martial
promptness and vigour. "That's my fist." Here he
placed his fist, rather smaller in size than a common
loaf, in the mathemarical centre of the maltster's little
table, and with it gave a bump or two thereon, as if
to ensure that their eyes all thoroughly took in the
idea of fistiness before he went further. "Now -- the
first man in the parish that I hear prophesying bad of
our mistress, why" (here the fist was raised and let fall
as T'hor might have done with his hammer in assaying
it) -- "he'll smell and taste that -- or I'm a Dutchman."
All earnestly expressed by their features that their
minds did not wander to Holland for a moment on
account of this statement, but were deploring the
difference which gave rise to the figure; and Mark
Clark cried "Hear, hear; just what I should ha' said."
The dog George looked up at the same time after the
shepherd's menace, and though he understood English
but imperfectly, began to growl.
"Now, don't ye take on so, shepherd, and sit down!"
said Henery, with a deprecating peacefulness equal to
anything of the kind in Christianity.
"We hear that ye be a extraordinary good and
clever man, shepherd." said Joseph Poorgrass with
considerable anxiety from behind the maltster's bed-
stead whither he had retired for safety. "'Tis a great
thing to be clever, I'm sure." he added, making move-
ments associated with states of mind rather than body;
"we wish we were, don't we, neighbours?"
"Ay, that we do, sure." said Matthew Moon, with
a small anxious laugh towards Oak, to show how very
friendly disposed he was likewise.
"Who's been telling you I'm clever?" said Oak.
"'Tis blowed about from pillar to post quite common,"
said Matthew. "We hear that ye can tell the time as
well by the stars as we can by the sun and moon,
shepherd."
"Yes, I can do a little that way." said Gabriel, as a
man of medium sentiments on the subject.
names upon their waggons almost like copper-plate,
with beautiful flourishes, and great long tails. A
excellent fine thing for ye to be such a clever man,
shepherd. Joseph Poorgrass used to prent to Farmer
James Everdene's waggons before you came, and 'a
could never mind which way to turn the J's and E's
-- could ye, Joseph?" Joseph shook his head to express
how absolute was the fact that he couldn't. "And so
you used to do 'em the wrong way, like this, didn't ye,
Joseph?" Matthew marked on the dusty floor with his
whip-handle.
"And how Farmer James would cuss, and call thee a
fool, wouldn't he, Joseph, when 'a seed his name
looking so inside-out-like?" continued Matthew Moon
with feeling.
"Ay -- 'a would." said Joseph, meekly. "But, you see,
I wasn't so much to blame, for them J's and E's be
such trying sons o' witches for the memory to mind
whether they face backward or forward; and I always
had such a forgetful memory, too."
"'Tis a bad afiction for ye, being such a man of
calamities in other ways."
"Well, 'tis; but a happy Providence ordered that it
should be no worse, and I feel my thanks. As to
shepherd, there, I'm sure mis'ess ought to have made
ye her baily -- such a fitting man for't as you be."
"I don't mind owning that I expected it." said Oak,
frankly." Indeed, I hoped for the place. At the same
time, Miss Everdene has a right to be own baily if
she choose -- and to keep me down to be a common
shepherd only." Oak drew a slow breath, looked sadly
into the bright ashpit, and seemed lost in thoughts not
of the most hopeful hue.
The genial warmth of the fire now began to stimulate
the nearly lifeless lambs to bleat and move their limbs
briskly upon the hay, and to recognize for the first time
the fact that they were born. Their noise increased to a
chorus of baas, upon which Oak pulled the milk-can from
before the fire, and taking a small tea-pot from the pocket
of his smock-frock, filled it with milk, and taught those of
the helpless creatures which were not to be restored to
their dams how to drink from the spout -- a trick they
acquired with astonishing aptitude.
"And she don't even let ye have the skins of the
dead lambs, I hear?" resumed Joseph Poorgrass, his
eyes lingering on the operations of Oak with the neces-
sary melancholy.
"I don't have them." said Gabriel.
"Ye be very badly used, shepherd." hazarded Joseph
again, in the hope of getting Oak as an ally in lamenta-
tion after all. "I think she's took against ye -- that
I do."
"O no -- not at all." replied Gabriel, hastily, and a
sigh escaped him, which the deprivation of lamb skins
could hardly have caused.
Before any further remark had been added a shade
darkened the door, and Boldwood entered the malthouse,
bestowing upon each a nod of a quality between friendli-
ness and condescension.
"Ah! Oak, I thought you were here." he said. "I
met the mail-cart ten minutes ago, and a letter was put
into my hand, which I opened without reading the
address. I believe it is yours. You must excuse the
accident please."
"O yes -- not a bit of difference, Mr. Boldwood --
not a bit." said Gabriel, readily. He had not a corre-
spondent on earth, nor was there a possible letter coming
to him whose contents the whole parish would not have
been welcome to persue.
Oak stepped aside, and read the following in an
unknown hand: --
"DEAR FRIEND, -- I do not know your name, but l think
these few lines will reach you, which I wrote to thank you
for your kindness to me the night I left Weatherbury in a
reckless way. I also return the money I owe you, which
you will excuse my not keeping as a gift. All has ended
well, and I am happy to say I am going to be married to
the young man who has courted me for some time -- Sergeant
Troy, of the 11th Dragoon Guards, now quartered in this
town. He would, I know, object to my having received
anything except as a loan, being a man of great respecta-
bility and high honour -- indeed, a nobleman by blood.
"I should be much obliged to you if you would keep the
contents of this letter a secret for the present, dear friend.
We mean to surprise Weatherbury by coming there soon
as husband and wife, though l blush to state it to one nearly
a stranger. The sergeant grew up in Weatherbury. Thank-
ing you again for your kindness,
"I am, your sincere well-wisher,
"FANNY ROBIN."
"Have you read it, Mr. Boldwood?" said Gabriel;
"if not, you had better do so. I know you are interested
in Fanny Robin."
Boldwood read the letter and looked grieved.
"Fanny -- poor Fanny! the end she is so confident
of has not yet come, she should remember -- and may
never come. I see she gives no address."
"What sort of a man is this Sergeant Troy?" said
Gabriel.
"H'm -- I'm afraid not one to build much hope upon
in such a case as this." the farmer murmured, "though
he's a clever fellow, and up to everything. A slight
romance attaches to him, too. His mother was a French
governess, and it seems that a secret attachment existed
between her and the late Lord Severn. She was married
to a poor medical man, and soon after an infant was
horn; and while money was forthcoming all went on
well. Unfortunately for her boy, his best friends died;
and he got then a situation as second clerk at a lawyer's
in Casterbridge. He stayed there for some time, and
might have worked himself into a dignified position of
some sort had he not indulged in the wild freak of
enlisting. I have much doubt if ever little Fanny will
surprise us in the way she mentions -- very much doubt
A silly girl! -- silly girl!"
The door was hurriedly burst open again, and in
came running Cainy Ball out of breath, his mouth red
and open, like the bell of a penny trumpet, from which
he coughed with noisy vigour and great distension of face.
"Now, Cain Ball." said Oak, sternly, "why will you
run so fast and lose your breath so? I'm always telling
you of it."
"Oh -- I -- a puff of mee breath -- went -- the -- wrong
way, please, Mister Oak, and made me cough -- hok --
hok!"
"Well -- what have you come for?"
"I've run to tell ye." said the junior shepherd,
supporting his exhausted youthful frame against the
doorpost," that you must come directly'. Two more ewes
have twinned -- that's what's the matter, Shepherd Oak."
"Oh, that's it." said Oak, jumping up, and dimissing
for the present his thoughts on poor Fanny. "You are
a good boy to run and tell me, Cain, and you shall
smell a large plum pudding some day as a treat. But,
before we go, Cainy, bring the tarpot, and we'll mark
this lot and have done with 'em."
Oak took from his illimitable pockets a marking iron,
dipped it into the pot, and imprintcd on the buttocks
of the infant sheep the initials of her he delighted to
muse on -- "B. E.." which signified to all the region
round that henceforth the lambs belonged to Farmer
Bathsheba Everdene, and to no one else.
"Now, Cainy, shoulder your two, and off Good
morning, Mr. Boldwood." The shepherd lifted the
sixteen large legs and four small bodies he had himself
brought, and vanished with them in the direction of
the lambing field hard by -- their frames being now in a
sleek and hopeful state, pleasantly contrasting with their
death's-door plight of half an hour before.
Boldwood followed him a little way up the field,
hesitated, and turned back. He followed him again
with a last resolve, annihilating return. On approaching
the nook in which the fold was constructed, the farmer
drew out-his pocket-book, unfastened-it, and allowed it
to lie open on his hand. A letter was revealed -- Bath-
sheba's.
"I was going to ask you, Oak." he said, with unreal
carelessness, "if you know whose writing this is? "
Oak glanced into the book, and replied instantly,
with a flushed face, " Miss Everdene's."
Oak had coloured simply at the consciousness of
sounding her name. He now felt a strangely distressing
qualm from a new thought." The letter could of course
be no other than anonymous, or the inquiry would not
have been necessary.
Boldwood mistook his confusion: sensitive persons
are always ready with their "Is it I?" in preference to
objective reasoning.
"The question was perfectly fair." he returned -- and
there was something incongruous in the serious earnest-
ness with which he applied himself to an argument on
a valentine. "You know it is always expected that
privy inquiries will be made: that's where the -- fun
lies." If the word "fun" had been "torture." it could
not have been uttered with a more constrained and
restless countenance than was Boldwood's then."
Soon parting from Gabriel, the lonely and reserved
man returned to his house to breakfast -- feeling twinges
of shame and regret at having so far exposed his mood
by those fevered questions to a stranger. He again
placed the letter on the mantelpiece, and sat down to
think of the circumstances attending it by the light of
Gabriel's information.

CHAPTER XVI

ALL SAINTS' AND ALL SOULS'

ON a week-day morning a small congregation, con-
sisting mainly of women and girls, rose from its knees
in the mouldy nave of a church called All Saints', in
the distant barrack-town before mentioned, at the end
of a service without a sermon. They were about to
disperse, when a smart footstep, entering the porch and
coming up the central passage, arrested their attention.
The step echoed with a ring unusual in a church; it
was the clink of spurs. Everybody looked. A young
cavalry soldier in a red uniform, with the three chevrons
of a sergeant upon his sleeve, strode up the aisle, with
an embarrassment which was only the more marked
by the intense vigour of his step, and by the deter-
mination upon his face to show none. A slight flush
had mounted his cheek by the time he had run the
gauntlet between these women; but, passing on through
the chancel arch, he never paused till he came close
to the altar railing. Here for a moment he stood
alone.
The officiating curate, who had not yet doffed his
surplice, perceived the new-comer, and followed him
to the communion-space. He whispered to the soldier,
and then beckoned to the clerk, who in his turn
whispered to an elderly woman, apparently his wife, and
they also went up the chancel steps.
"'Tis a wedding!" murmured some of the women,
brightening. "Let's wait!"
The majority again sat down.
There was a creaking of machinery behind, and
some of the young ones turned their heads. From the
interior face of the west wall of the tower projected a
little canopy with a quarter-jack and small bell beneath
it, the automaton being driven by the same clock
machinery that struck the large bell in the tower. Be-
tween the tower and the church was a close screen, the
door of which was kept shut during services, hiding
this grotesque clockwork from sight. At present, how-
ever, the door was open, and the egress of the jack, the
blows on the bell, and the mannikin's retreat into.the
nook again, were visible to many, and audible through-
out the church.
The jack had struck half-past eleven.
"Where's the woman?" whispered some of the
spectators.
The young sergeant stood still with the abnormal
rigidity of the old pillars around. He faced the south-
east, and was as silent as he was still.
The silence grew to be a noticeable thing as the
minutes went on, and nobody else appeared, and not a
soul moved. The rattle of the quarter-jack again from
its niche, its blows for three-quarters, its fussy retreat,
were almost painfully abrupt, and caused many of the
congregation to start palpably.
"I wonder where the woman is!" a voice whispered
again.
There began now that slight shifting of feet, that
artificial coughing among several, which betrays a
nervous suspense. At length there was a titter. But
the soldier never moved. There he stood, his face to
the south-east, upright as a column, his cap in his hand.
The clock ticked on. The women threw off their
nervousness, and titters and giggling became more
frequent. Then came a dead silence. Every one was
waiting for the end. Some persons may have noticed
how extraordinarily the striking of quarters. seems to
quicken the flight of time. It was hardly credible that
the jack had not got wrong with the minutes when the
rattle began again, the puppet emerged, and the four
quarters were struck fitfully as before: One could al-
most be positive that there was a malicious leer upon
the hideous creature's face, and a mischievous delight
in its twitchings. Then, followed the dull and remote
resonance of the twelve heavy strokes in the tower
above. The women were impressed, and there was no
giggle this time.
The clergyman glided into the vestry, and the clerk
vanished. The sergeant had not yet turned; every
woman in the church was waiting to see his face, and
he appeared to know it. At last he did turn, and
stalked resolutely down the nave, braving them all,
with a compressed lip. Two bowed and toothless old
almsmen then looked at each other and chuckled,
innocently enough; but the sound had a strange weird
effect in that place.
Opposite to the church was a paved square, around
which several overhanging wood buildings of old time
cast a picturesque shade. The young man on leaving
the door went to cross the square, when, in the middle,
he met a little woman. The expression of her face,
which had been one of intense anxiety, sank at the
sight of his nearly to terror.
"Well?" he said, in a suppressed passion, fixedly
looking at her.
"O, Frank -- I made a mistake! -- I thought that
church with the spire was All Saints', and I was at the
door at half-past eleven to a minute as you said.
waited till a quarter to twelve, and found then that I
was in All Souls'. But I wasn't much frightened, for
I thought it could be to-morrow as well."
"You fool, for so fooling me! But say no more."
"Shall it be to-morrow, Frank?" she asked blankly.
"To-morrow!" and he gave vent to a hoarse laugh.
"I don't go through that experience again for some
time, I warrant you!"
"But after all." she expostulated in a trembling voice,
"the mistake was not such a terrible thing! Now, dear
Frank, when shall it be?"
"Ah, when? God knows!" he said, with a light
irony, and turning from her walked rapidly away.

CHAPTER XVII

IN THE MARKET-PLACE

ON Saturday Boldwood was in Casterbridge market
house as usual, when the disturber of his dreams entered
and became visible to him. Adam had awakened from
his deep sleep, and behold! there was Eve. The
farmer took courage, and for the first time really looked
at her.
Material causes and emotional effects are not to be
arranged in regular equation. The result from capital
employed in the production of any movement of a
mental nature is sometimes as tremendous as the cause
itself is absurdly minute. When women are in a freakish
mood, their usual intuition, either from carelessness or
inherent defect, seemingly fails to teach them this, and
hence it was that Bathsheba was fated to be astonished
today.
Boldwood looked at her -- not slily, critically, or
understandingly, but blankly at gaze, in the way a
reaper looks up at a passing train -- as something foreign
to his element, and but dimly understood. To Bold-
wood women had been remote phenomena rather than
necessary complements -- comets of such uncertain
aspect, movement, and permanence, that whether
their orbits were as geometrical, unchangeable, and
as subject to laws as his own, or as absolutely erratic
as they superficially appeared, he had not deemed it
his duty to consider.
He saw her black hair, her correct facial curves
and profile, and the roundness of her chin and throat.
He saw then the side of her eyelids, eyes, and lashes,
and the shape of her ear. Next he noticed her figure,
her skirt, and the very soles of her shoes.
Boldwood thought her beautiful, but wondered
whether he was right in his thought, for it seemed
impossible that this romance in the flesh, if so sweet
as he imagined, could have been going on long without
creating a commotion of delight among men, and pro-
voking more inquiry than Bathsheba had done, even
though that was not a little. To the best of his judge-
ment neither nature nor art could improve this perfect
one of an imperfect many. His heart began to move
within him. Boldwood, it must be remembered, though
forty years of age, had never before inspected a woman
with the very centre and force of his glance; they had
struck upon all his senses at wide angles.
Was she really beautiful? He could not assure
himself that his opinion was true even now. He fur-
tively said to a neighbour, "Is Miss Everdene considered
handsome?"
"O yes; she was a good deal noticed the first
time she came, if you remember. A very handsome
girl indeed."
A man is never more credulous than in receiving
favourable opinions on the beauty of a woman he is
half, or quite, in love with; a mere child's word on the
point has the weight of an R.A.'s. Boldwood was
satisfied now.
And this charming woman had in effect said to
him, "Marry me." Why should she have done that
strange thing? Boldwood's blindness to the difference
between approving of what circumstances suggest, and
originating what they do not suggest, was well matched
by Bathsheba's insensibility to the possibly great issues
of little beginnings.
She was at this moment coolly dealing with a dashing
young farmer, adding up accounts with him as indiffer-
ently as if his face had been the pages of a ledger. It
was evident that such a nature as his had no attraction
for a woman of Bathsheba's taste. But Boldwood grew
hot down to his hands with an incipient jealousy; he
trod for the first time the threshold of "the injured
lover's hell." His first impulse was to go and thrust
himself between them. This could be done, but only
in one way -- by asking to see a sample of her corn.
Boldwood renounced the idea. He could not make
the request; it was debasing loveliness to ask it to
buy and sell, and jarred with his conceptions of her.
All this time Bathsheba was conscious of having
broken into that dignified stronghold at last. His
eyes, she knew, were following her everywhere. This
was a triumph; and had it come naturally, such a
triumph would have been the sweeter to her for this
piquing delay. But it had been brought about by
misdirected ingenuity, and she valued it only as she
valued an artificial flower or a wax fruit.
Being a woman with some good sense in reasoning
on subjects wherein her heart was not involved, Bath-
sheba genuinely repented that a freak which had owed
its existence as much to Liddy as to herself, should
ever have been undertaken, to disturb the placidity of
a man she respected too highly to deliberately tease.
She that day nearly formed the intention of begging
his pardon on the very next occasion of their meeting.
The worst features of this arrangement were that, if
he thought she ridiculed him, an apology would in-
crease the offence by being disbelieved; and if he
thought she wanted him to woo her, it would read
like additional evidence of her forwardness.

CHAPTER XVIII

BOLDWOOD IN MEDITATION -- REGRET

BOLDWOOD was tenant of what was called Little
Weatherbury Farm, and his person was the nearest ap-
proach to aristocracy that this remoter quarter of the
parish could boast of. Genteel strangers, whose god
was their town, who might happen to be compelled to
linger about this nook for a day, heard the sound of
light wheels, and prayed to see good society, to the
degree of a solitary lord, or squire at the very least,
but it was only Mr. Boldwood going out for the day.
They heard the sound of wheels yet once more, and
were re-animated to expectancy: it was only Mr. Bold-
wood coming home again.
His house stood recessed from the road, and the
stables, which are to a farm what a fireplace is to a
room, were behind, their lower portions being lost
amid bushes of laurel. Inside the blue door, open
half-way down, were to be seen at this time the backs
and tails of half-a-dozen warm and contented horses
standing in their stalls; and as thus viewed, they pre-
sented alternations of roan and bay, in shapes like a
Moorish arch, the tail being a streak down the midst
of each. Over these, and lost to the eye gazing in
from the outer light, the mouths of the same animals
could be heard busily sustaining the above-named
warmth and plumpness by quantities of oats and hay.
The restless and shadowy figure of a colt wandered
about a loose-box at the end, whilst the steady grind
of all the eaters was occasionally diversified by the
rattle of a rope or the stamp of a foot.
Pacing up and down at the heels of the animals was
Farmer Boldwood himself. This place was his almonry
and cloister in one: here, after looking to the feeding
of his four-footed dependants, the celibate would walk
and meditate of an evening till the moon's rays streamed
in through the cobwebbed windows, or total darkness
enveloped the scene.
His square-framed perpendicularity showed more fully
now than in the crowd and bustle of the market-house.
In this meditative walk his foot met the floor with heel
and toe simultaneously, and his fine reddish-fleshed face
was bent downwards just enough to render obscure the
still mouth and the well-rounded though rather prominent
and broad chin. A few clear and thread-like horizontal
lines were the only interruption to the otherwise smooth
surface of his large forehead.
The phases of Boldwood's life were ordinary enough,
but his was not an ordinary nature. That stillness,
which struck casual observers more than anything else
in his character and habit, and seemed so precisely
like the rest of inanition, may have been the perfect
balance of enormous antagonistic forces -- positives and
negatives in fine adjustment. His equilibrium disturbed,
he was in extremity at once. If an emotion possessed
him at all, it ruled him; a feeling not mastering him
was entirely latent. Stagnant or rapid, it was never
slow. He was always hit mortally, or he was missed.
He had no light and careless touches in his constitu-
tion, either for good or for evil. Stern in the outlines of
action, mild in the details, he was serious throughout all.
He saw no absurd sides to the follies of life, and thus,
though not quite companionable in the eyes of merry
men and scoffers, and those to whom all things show
life as a jest, he was not intolerable to the earnest and
those acquainted with grief. Being a man -who read
all the dramas of life seriously, if he failed to please
when they were comedies, there was no frivolous treat-
ment to reproach him for when they chanced to end
tragically.
Bathsheba was far from dreaming that the dark and
silent shape upon which she had so carelessly thrown a
seed was a hotbed of tropic intensity. Had she known
Boldwood's moods, her blame would have been fearful,
and the stain upon her heart ineradicable. Moreover,
had she known her present power for good or evil over
this man, she would have trembled at her responsibility.
Luckily for her present, unluckily for her future tran-
quillity, her understanding had not yet told her what
Boldwood was. Nobody knew entirely; for though it
was possible to form guesses concerning his wild capa-
bilities from old floodmarks faintly visible, he had never
been seen at the high tides which caused them.
Farmer Boldwood came to the stable-door and looked
forth across the level fields. Beyond the first enclosure
was a hedge, and on the other side of this a meadow
belonging to Bathsheba's farm.
It was now early spring -- the time of going to grass
with the sheep, when they have the first feed of the
meadows, before these are laid up for mowing. The
wind, which had been blowing east for several weeks,
had veered to the southward, and the middle of spring
had come abruptly -- almost without a beginning. It
was that period in the vernal quarter when we map
suppose the Dryads to be waking for the season. The
vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps
to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens
and trackless plantations, where- everything seems -help-
less and still after the bond and slavery of frost, there
are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-all-
together, in comparison with which the powerful tugs of
cranes and pulleys in a noisy city are but pigmy efforts.
Boldwood, looking into the distant meadows, saw
there three figures. They were those of Miss Everdene,
Shepherd Oak, and Cainy Ball.
When Bathsheba's figure shone upon the farmer's
eyes it lighted him up as the moon lights up a great
tower. A man's body is as the shell; or the tablet, of
his soul, as he is reserved or ingenuous, overflowing or
self-contained. There was a change in Boldwood's
exterior from its former impassibleness; and his face
showed that he was now living outside his defences
for the first time, and with a fearful sense of exposure.
It is the usual experience of strong natures when they
love.
At last he arrived at a conclusion. It was to go
across and inquire boldly of her.
The insulation of his heart by reserve during these
many years, without a channel of any kind for disposable
emotion, had worked its effect. It has been observed
more than once that the causes of love are chiefly
subjective, and Boldwood was a living testimony to
the truth of the proposition. No mother existed to
absorb his devotion, no sister for his tenderness, no
idle ties for sense. He became surcharged with the
compound, which was genuine lover's love.
He approached the gate of the meadow. Beyond
it the ground was melodious with ripples, and the sky
with larks; the low bleating of the flock mingling with
both. Mistress and man were engaged in the operation
of making a lamb "take." which is performed whenever
an ewe has lost her own offspring, one of the twins of
another ewe being given her as a substitute. Gabriel
had skinned the dead lamb, and was tying the skin
over the body of the live lamb, in the customary manner,
whilst Bathsheba was holding open a little pen of four
hurdles, into which the Mother and foisted lamb were
driven, where they would remain till the old sheep
conceived an affection for the young one.
Bathsheba looked up at the completion of the
manouvre, and saw the farmer by the gate, where he
was overhung by a willow tree in full bloom. Gabriel,
to whom her face was as the uncertain glory of an April
day, was ever regardful of its faintest changes, and
instantly discerned thereon the mark of some influence
from without, in the form of a keenly self-conscious
reddening. He also turned and beheld Boldwood.
At onee connecting these signs with the letter Bold-
wood had shown him, Gabriel suspected her of some
coquettish procedure begun by that means, and carried
on since, he knew not how.
Farmer Boldwood had read the pantomime denoting
that they were aware of his presence, and the perception
was as too much light turned upon his new sensibility.
He was still in the road, and by moving on he hoped
that neither would recognize that he had originally
intended to enter the field. He passed by with an
utter and overwhelming sensation of ignorance, shyness,
and doubt. Perhaps in her manner there were signs
that she wished to see him -- perhaps not -- he could not
read a woman. The cabala of this erotic philosophy
seemed to consist of the subtlest meanings expressed in
misleading ways. Every turn, look, word, and accent
contained a mystery quite distinct from its obvious
import, and not one had ever been pondered by him
until now.
As for Bathsheba, she was not deceived into the
belief that Farmer Boldwood had walked by on business
or in idleness. She collected the probabilities of the
case, and concluded that she was herself responsible for
Boldwood's appearance there. It troubled her much
to see what a great flame a little Wildfire was likely to
kindle. Bathsheba was no schemer for marriage, nor
was she deliberately a trifler with the affections of men,
and a censor's experience on seeing an actual flirt after
observing her would have been a feeling of surprise
that Bathsheba could be so different from such a one,
and yet so like what a flirt is supposed to be.
She resolved never again, by look or by sign, to
interrupt the steady flow of this man's life. But a
resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil
is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.

CHAPTER XIX

THE SHEEP-WASHING -- THE OFFER

BOLDWOOD did eventually call upon her. She was
not at home. "Of course not." he murmured. In con-
templating Bathsheba as a woman, he had forgotten the
accidents of her position as an agriculturist -- that being
as much of a farmer, and as extensive a farmer, as
himself, her probable whereabouts was out-of-doors at
this time of the year. This, and the other oversights
Boldwood was guilty of, were natural to the mood, and
still more natural to the circumstances. The great aids
to idealization in love were present here: occasional
observation of her from a distance, and the absence of
social intercourse with her -- visual familiarity, oral
strangeness. The smaller human elements were kept
out of sight; the pettinesses that enter so largely into
all earthly living and doing were disguised by the
accident of lover and loved-one not being on visiting
terms; and there was hardly awakened a thought in
Boldwood that sorry household realities appertained to
her, or that she, like all others, had moments of
commonplace, when to be least plainly seen was to be
most prettily remembered. Thus a mild sort of
apotheosis took place in his fancy, whilst she still lived
and breathed within his own horizon, a troubled creature
like himself.
It was the end of May when the farmer determined
to be no longer repulsed by trivialities or distracted by
suspense. He had by this time grown used to being in
love; the passion now startled him less even when it
tortured him more, and he felt himself adequate to the
situation. On inquiring for her at her house they had
told him she was at the sheepwashing, and he went off
to seek her there.
The sheep-washing pool was a perfectly circular basin
of brickwork in the meadows, full of the clearest water.
To birds on the wing its glassy surface, reflecting the
light sky, must have been visible for miles around as a
glistening Cyclops' eye in a green face. The grass
about the margin at this season was a sight to remember
long -- in a minor sort of way. Its activity in sucking
the moisture from the rich damp sod. was almost a pro-
cess observable by the eye. The outskirts of this level
water-meadow were diversified by rounded and hollow
pastures, where just now every flower that was not a
buttercup was a daisy. The river slid along noiselessly
as a shade, the swelling reeds and sedge forming a
flexible palisade upon its moist brink. To the north
of the mead were trees, the leaves of which were new,
soft, and moist, not yet having stiffened and darkened
under summer sun and drought, their colour being
yellow beside a green -- green beside a yellow.
From the recesses of this knot of foliage the loud
notes of three cuckoos were resounding through the
still air.
Boldwood went meditating down the slopes with his
eyes on his boots, which the yellow pollen from the
buttercups had bronzed in artistic gradations. A tribu-
tary of the main stream flowed through the basin of the
pool by an inlet and outlet at opposite points of its
diameter. Shepherd Oak, Jan Coggan, Moon, Poor-
grass, Cain Ball, and several others were assembled
here, all dripping wet to the very roots of their hair,
and Bathsheba was standing by in a new riding-habit --
the most elegant she had ever worn -- the reins of her
horse being looped over her arm. Flagons of cider
were rolling about upon the green. The meek sheep
were pushed into the pool by Coggan and Matthew
Moon, who stood by the lower hatch, immersed to their
waists; then Gabriel, who stood on the brink, thrust
them under as they swam along, with an instrument
like a crutch, formed for the purpose, and also for
assisting the exhausted animals when the wool became
saturated and they began to sink. They were let out
against the stream, and through the upper opening, all
impurities flowing away below. Cainy Ball and Joseph,
who performed this latter operation, were if possible
wetter than the rest; they resembled dolphins under a
fountain, every protuberance and angle of their clothes
dribbling forth a small rill.
Boldwood came close and bade her good-morning, with
such constraint that she could not but think he had
stepped across to the washing for its own sake, hoping
not to find her there; more, she fancied his brow severe
and his eye slighting. Bathsheba immediately contrived
to withdraw, and glided along by the river till she was
a stone's throw off. She heard footsteps brushing the
grass, and had a consciousness that love was encircling
her like a perfume. Instead of turning or waiting,
Bathsheba went further among the high sedges, but
Boldwood seemed determined, and pressed on till they
were completely past the bend of the river. Here,
without being seen, they could hear the splashing and
shouts of the washers above.
"Miss Everdene!" said the farmer.
She trembled, turned, and said "Good morning."
His tone was so utterly removed from all she had
expected as a beginning. It was lowness and quiet
accentuated: an emphasis of deep meanings, their form,
at the same time, being scarcely expressed. Silence
has sometimes a remarkable power of showing itself as
the disembodied soul of feeling wandering without its
carcase, and it is then more impressive than speech.
In the same way, to say a little is often to tell more
than to say a great deal. Boldwood told everything in
that word.
As the consciousness expands on learning that what
was fancied to be the rumble of wheels is the reverbera-
tion of thunder, so did Bathsheba's at her intuitive
conviction.
"I feel -- almost too much -- to think." he said, with a
solemn simplicity. "I have come to speak to you with-
out preface. My life is not my own since I have beheld
you clearly, Miss Everdene -- I come to make you an
offer of marriage."
Bathsheba tried to preserve an absolutely neutral
countenance, and all the motion she made was that of
closing lips which had previously been a little parted.
"I am now forty-one years old." he went on. "I may
have been called a confirmed bachelor, and I was a
confirmed bachelor. I had never any views of myself
as a husband in my earlier days, nor have I made any
calculation on the subject since I have been older.
But we all change, and my change, in this matter, came
with seeing you. I have felt lately, more and more,
that my present way of living is bad in every respect.
Beyond all things, I want you as my wife."
"I feel, Mr. Boldwood, that though I respect you
much, I do not feel -- what would justify me to -- in
accepting your offer." she stammered.
This giving back of dignity for dignity seemed to
open the sluices of feeling that Boldwood had as yet
kept closed.
"My life is a burden without you." he exclaimed, in
a low voice. "I want you -- I want you to let me say
I love you again and again!"
Bathsheba answered nothing, and the mare upon
her arm seemed so impressed that instead of cropping
the herbage she looked up.
"I think and hope you care enough for me to listen
to what I have to tell!"
Bathsheba's momentary impulse at hearing this was
to ask why he thought that, till she remembered that,
far from being a conceited assumption on Boldwood's
part, it was but the natural conclusion of serious reflec-
tion based on deceptive premises of her own offering.
"I wish I could say courteous flatteries to you." the
farmer continued in an easier tone, " and put my rugged
feeling into a graceful shape: but I have neither power
nor patience to learn such things. I want you for my
wife -- so wildly that no other feeling can abide in me;
but I should not have spoken out had I not been led
to hope."
The valentine again! O that valentine!" she
said to herself, but not a word to him.
"If you can love me say so, Miss Everdene. If not
-- don't say no!"
"Mr. Boldwood, it is painful to have to say I am
surprised, so that I don't know how to answer you with
propriety and respect -- but am only just able to speak
out my feeling -- I mean my meaning; that I am afraid
I can't marry you, much as I respect you. You are too
dignified for me to suit you, sir."
"But, Miss Everdene!"
"I -- I didn't -- I know I ought never to have dreamt
of sending that valentine -- forgive me, sir -- it was a
wanton thing which no woman with any self-respect
should have done. If you will only pardon my thought-
lessness, I promise never to -- -- "
"No, no, no. Don't say thoughtlessness! Make me
think it was something more -- that it was a sort of
prophetic instinct -- the beginning of a feeling that you
would like me. You torture me to say it was done in
thoughtlessness -- I never thought of it in that light, and
I can't endure it. Ah! I wish I knew how to win you!
but that I can't do -- I can only ask if I have already got
you. If I have not, and it is not true that you have
come unwittingly to me as I have to you, I can say no
more."
"I have not fallen in love with you, Mr. Boldwood --
certainly I must say that." She allowed a very small
smile to creep for the first time over her serious face in
saying this, and the white row of upper teeth, and keenly-
cut lips already noticed, suggested an idea of heartless-
ness, which was immediately contradicted by the pleasant
eyes.
"But you will just think -- in kindness and conde-
scension think -- if you cannot bear with me as a husband!
I fear I am too old for you, but believe me I will take
more care of you than would many a man of your own
age. I will protect and cherish you with all my strength
-- I will indeed! You shall have no cares -- be worried
by no household affairs, and live quite at ease, Miss
Everdene. The dairy superintendence shall be done by
a man -- I can afford it will -- you shall never have so
much as to look out of doors at haymaking time, or to
think of weather in the harvest. I rather cling; to the
chaise, because it is he same my poor father and mother
drove, but if you don't like it I will sell it, and you shall
have a pony-carriage of your own. I cannot say how
far above every other idea and object on earth you seem
to me -- nobody knows -- God only knows -- how much
you are to me!"
Bathsheba's heart was young, and it swelled with
sympathy for the deep-natured man who spoke so
simply.
"Don't say it! don't! I cannot bear you to feel so
much, and me to feel nothing. And I am afraid they
will notice us, Mr. Boldwood. Will you let the matter
rest now? I cannot think collectedly. I did not know
you were going to say this to me. O, I am wicked to
have made you suffer so!" She was frightened as well
as agitated at his vehemence.
"Say then, that you don't absolutely refuse. Do not
quite refuse?"
"I can do nothing. I cannot answer."I may speak to you again on the
subject?"
"Yes."
"I may think of you?"
"Yes, I suppose you may think of me."
"And hope to obtain you?"
"No -- do not hope! Let us go on."
"I will call upon you again to-morrow."
"No -- please not. Give me time."
"Yes -- I will give you any time." he said earnestly and
gratefully. "I am happier now."
"No -- I beg you! Don't be happier if happiness
only comes from my agreeing. Be neutral, Mr. Bold-
wood! I must think."
"I will wait." he said.
And then she turned away. Boldwood dropped his
gaze to the ground, and stood long like a man who did not
know where he was. Realities then returned upon him
like the pain of a wound received in an excitement
which eclipses it, and he, too, then went on.

CHAPTER XX

PERPLEXITY -- GRINDING THE SHEARS -- A QUARREL

"HE is so disinterested and kind to offer me all that I
can desire." Bathsheba mused.
Yet Farmer Boldwood, whether by nature kind or
the reverse to kind, did not exercise kindness, here.
The rarest offerings of the purest loves are but a self-
indulgence, and no generosity at all.
Bathsheba, not being the least in love with him, was
eventually able to look calmly at his offer. It was one
which many women of her own station in the neighbour-
hood, and not a few of higher rank, would have been
wild to accept and proud to publish. In every point of
view, ranging from politic to passionate, it was desirable
that she, a lonely girl, should marry, and marry this
earnest, well-to-do, and respected man. He was close
to her doors: his standing was sufficient: his qualities
were even supererogatory. Had she felt, which she did
not, any wish whatever for the married state in the
abstract, she could not reasonably have rejected him,
being a woman who frequently appealed to her under,
standing for deliverance from her whims. Boldwood as
a means to marriage was unexceptionable: she esteemed
and liked him, yet she did not want him. It appears
that ordinary men take wives because possession is not
possible without marriage, and that ordinary women
accept husbands because marriage is not possible with,
out possession; with totally differing aims the method is
the same on both sides. But the understood incentive
on the woman's part was wanting here. Besides, Bath-
sheba's position as absolute mistress of a farm and house
was a novel one, and the novelty had not yet begun to
wear off.
But a disquiet filled her which was somewhat to her
credit, for it would have affected few. Beyond the men-
tioned reasons with which she combated her objections,
she had a strong feeling that, having been the one who
began the game, she ought in honesty to accept the conse-
quences. Still the reluctance remained. She said in the
same breath that it would be ungenerous not to marry
Boldwood, and that she couldn't do it to save her life.
Bathsheba's was an impulsive nature under a delibera-
tive aspect. An Elizabeth in brain and a Mary Stuart
in spirit, she often performed actions of the greatest
temerity with a manner of extreme discretion. Many of
her thoughts were perfect syllogisms; unluckily they
always remained thoughts. Only a few were irrational
assumptions; but, unfortunately, they were the ones
which most frequently grew into deeds.
The next day to that of the declaration she found
Gabriel Oak at the bottom of her garden, grinding his
shears for the sheep-shearing. All the surrounding
cottages were more or less scenes of the same operation;
the scurr of whetting spread into the sky from all parts
of the village as from an armury previous to a campaign.
Peace and war kiss each other at their hours of prepara-
tion -- sickles, scythes, shears, and pruning-hooks, ranking
with swords, bayonets, and lances, in their common
necessity for point and edge.
Cainy Ball turned the handle of Gabriel's grindstone,
his head performing a melancholy see-saw up and down
with each turn of the wheel. Oak stood somewhat as
Eros is represented when in the act of sharpening his
arrows: his figure slightly bent, the weight of his body
thrown over on the shears, and his head balanced side-
ways, with a critical compression of the lips and contrac-
tion of the eyelids to crown the attitude.
His mistress came up and looked upon them in
silence for a minute or two; then she said --
"Cain, go to the lower mead and catch the bay mare.
I'll turn the winch of the grindstone. I want to speak
to you, Gabriel.
Cain departed, and Bathsheba took the handle.
Gabriel had glanced up in intense surprise, quelled its
expression, and looked down again. Bathsheba turned
the winch, and Gabriel applied the shears.
The peculiar motion involved in turning a wheel
has a wonderful tendency to benumb the mind. It
is a sort of attenuated variety of Ixion's punishment,
and contributes a dismal chapter to the history of
heavy, and the body's centre of gravity seems to
settle by degrees in a leaden lump somewhere be-
tween the eyebrows and the crown. Bathsheba felt
the unpleasant symptoms after two or three dozen
turns.
"Will you turn, Gabriel, and let me hold the shears?"
she said. "My head is in a'whirl, and I can't talk.
Gabriel turned. Bathsheba then began, with some
awkwardness, allowing her thoughts to stray occasion-
ally from her story to attend to the shears, which
required a little nicety in sharpening.
"I wanted to ask you if the men made any observa-
tions on my going behind the sedge with Mr. Boldwood
yesterday?"
"Yes, they did." said Gabriel. "You don't hold
the shears right, miss -- I knew you wouldn't know the
way -- hold like this."
He relinquished the winch, and inclosing her two
hands completely in his own (taking each as we some-
times slap a child's hand in teaching him to write),
grasped the shears with her. "Incline the edge so,"
he said.
Hands and shears were inclined to suit the words,
and held thus for a peculiarly long time by the in-
structor as he spoke.
"That will do." exclaimed Bathsheba. "Loose my
hands. I won't have them held! Turn the winch."
Gabriel freed her hands quietly, retired to his
handle, and the grinding went on.
"Did the men think it odd?" she said again.
"Odd was not the idea, miss."
"What did they say?"
"That Farmer Boldwood's name and your own
were likely to be flung over pulpit together before the
year was out."
"I thought so by the look of them! Why, there's
nothing in it. A more foolish remark was never made,
and I want you to contradict it! that's what I came for."
Gabriel looked incredulous and sad, but between
his moments of incredulity, relieved.
"They must have heard our conversation." she
continued.
"Well, then, Bathsheba!" said Oak, stopping the
handle, and gazing into her face with astonishment.
"Miss Everdene, you mean," she said, with dignity.
"I mean this, that if Mr. Boldwood really spoke of
marriage, I bain't going to tell a story and say he
didn't to please you. I have already tried to please
you too much for my own good!"
Bathsheba regarded him with round-eyed perplexity.
She did not know whether to pity him for disappointed
love of her, or to be angry with him for having got
over it -- his tone being ambiguous.
"I said I wanted you just to mention that it was
not true I was going to be married to him." she mur-
mured, with a slight decline in her assurance.
"I can say that to them if you wish, Miss Everdene.
And I could likewise give an opinion to 'ee on what
you have done."
"I daresay. But I don't want your opinion."I suppose not." said Gabriel
bitterly, and going on
with his turning, his words rising and falling in a
regular swell and cadence as he stooped or rose with
the winch, which directed them, according to his
position, perpendicularly into the earth, or horizontally
along the garden, his eyes being fixed on a leaf upon
the ground.
With Bathsheba a hastened act was a rash act;
but, as does not always happen, time gained was
prudence insured. It must be added, however, that
time was very seldom gained. At this period the
single opinion in the parish on herself and her doings
that she valued as sounder than her own was Gabriel
Oak's. And the outspoken honesty of his character
was such- that on any subject even that of her love
for, or marriage with, another man, the same disinter-
estedness of opinion might be calculated on, and be
had for the asking. Thoroughly convinced of the
impossibility of his own suit, a high resolve constrained
him not to injure that of another. This is a lover's
most stoical virtue, as the lack of it is a lover's most
venial sin. Knowing he would reply truly, she asked
the question, painful as she must have known the sub-
ject would be. Such is the selfishness of some charm-
ing women. Perhaps it was some excuse for her thus
torturing honesty to her own advantage, that she had
absolutely no other sound judgment within easy reach.
"Well, what is your opinion of my conduct." she
said, quietly.
"That it is unworthy of any thoughtful, and meek,
and comely woman."
In an instant Bathsheba's face coloured with the
angry crimson of a danby sunset. But she forbore
to utter this feeling, and the reticence of her tongue
only made the loquacity of her face the more notice-
able.
The next thing Gabriel did was to make a mistake.
"Perhaps you don't like the rudeness of my repri-
manding you, for I know it is rudeness; but I thought
it would do good."
She instantly replied sarcastically --
"On the contrary, my opinion of you is so low, that
I see in your abuse the praise of discerning people!"
"I am glad you don't mind it, for I said it honestly
and with every serious meaning."
"I see. But, unfortunately, when you try not to
speak in jest you are amusing -- just as when you wish
to avoid seriousness you sometimes say a sensible word
It was a hard hit, but Bathsheba had unmistakably
lost her temper, and on that account Gabriel had
never in his life kept his own better. He said nothing.
She then broke out --
"I may ask, I suppose, where in particular my
unworthiness lies? In my not marrying you, perhaps!
"Not by any means." said Gabriel quietly. "I have
long given up thinking of that matter."Or wishing it, I suppose." she
said; and it was
apparent that she expected an unhesitating denial of
this supposition.
Whatever Gabriel felt, he coolly echoed her words --
"Or wishing it either."
A woman may be treated with a bitterness which
is sweet to her, and with a rudeness which is not
offensive. Bathsheba would have submitted to an
indignant chastisement for her levity had Gabriel pro-
tested that he was loving her at the same time; the
impetuosity of passion unrequited is bearable, even if
it stings and anathematizes there is a triumph in the
humiliation, and a tenderness in the strife. This was
what she had been expecting, and what she had not
got. To be lectured because the lecturer saw her in
the cold morning light of open-shuttered disillusion
was exasperating. He had not finished, either. He
continued in a more agitated voice: --
"My opinion is (since you ask it) that you are
greatly to blame for playing pranks upon a man like
Mr. Boldwood, merely as a pastime. Leading on a
man you don't care for is not a praiseworthy action.
And even, Miss Everdene, if you seriously inclined
towards him, you might have let him find it out in
some way of true loving-kindness, and not by sending
him a valentine's letter."
Bathsheba laid down the shears.
"I cannot allow any man to -- to criticise my private
Conduct!" she exclaimed. "Nor will I for a minute.
So you'll please leave the farm at the end of the week!"
It may have been a peculiarity -- at any rate it was
a fact -- that when Bathsheba was swayed by an emotion
of an earthly sort her lower lip trembled: when by a
refined emotion, her upper or heavenward one. Her
nether lip quivered now.
"Very well, so I will." said Gabriel calmly. He had
been held to her by a beautiful thread which it pained
him to spoil by breaking, rather than by a chain he
could not break. "I should be even better pleased to
go at once." he added.
"Go at once then, in Heaven's name!" said she,her
eyes flashing at his, though never meeting them.
"Don't let me see your face any more."
"Very well, Miss Everdene -- so it shall be."
And he took his shears and went away from her in
placid dignity, as Moses left the presence of Pharaoh.

CHAPTER XXI

TROUBLES IN THE FOLD -- A MESSAGE

GABRIEL OAK had ceased to feed the Weatherbury
flock for about four-and-twenty hours, when on Sunday
afternoon the elderly gentlemen Joseph Poorgrass,
Matthew Moon, Fray, and half-a-dozen others, came
running up to the house of the mistress of the Upper
Farm.
"Whatever is the matter, men?" she said, meeting
them at the door just as she was coming out on her
way to church, and ceasing in a moment from the close
compression of her two red lips, with which she had
accompanied the exertion of pulling on a tight glove.
"Sixty!" said Joseph Poorgrass.
"Seventy!" said Moon.
"Fifty-nine!" said Susan Tall's husband.
"-- Sheep have broke fence." said Fray.
"-- And got into a field of young clover." said Tall.
"-- Young clover!" said Moon.
"-- Clover!" said Joseph Poorgrass.
"And they be getting blasted." said Henery Fray.
"That they be." said Joseph.
"And will all die as dead as nits, if they bain't got
out and cured!"said Tall.
Joseph's countenance was drawn into lines and
puckers by his concern. Fray's forehead was wrinkled
both perpendicularly and crosswise, after the pattern of
a portcullis, expressive of a double despair. Laban
Tall's lips were thin, and his face were rigid. Matthew's
jaws sank, and his eyes turned whichever way the
strongest muscle happened to pull them.
"Yes." said Joseph, "and I was sitting at home,
looking for Ephesians, and says I to myself, "'Tis
nothing but Corinthians and Thessalonians in this
danged Testament." when who should come in but
Henery there: "Joseph," he said, "the sheep have
With Bathsheba it was a moment when thought was
blasted theirselves -- "
With Bathsheba it was a moment when thought was
speech and speech exclamation. Moreover, she had
hardly recovered her equanimity since the disturbance
which she had suffered from Oak's remarks.
"That's enought -- that's enough! -- oh, you fools!"
she cried, throwing the parasol and Prayer-book into
the passage, and running out of doors in the direction
signified. "To come to me, and not go and get them
out directly! Oh, the stupid numskulls!"
Her eyes were at their darkest and brightest now.
Bathsheba's beauty belonged rather to the demonian
than to the angelic school, she never looked so well as
when she was angry -- and particularly when the effect
was heightened by a rather dashing velvet dress, care-
fully put on before a glass.
All the ancient men ran in a jumbled throng after
her to the clover-field, Joseph sinking down in the
midst when about half-way, like an individual withering
in a world which was more and more insupportable.
Having once received the stimulus that her presence
always gave them they went round among the sheep
with a will. The majority of the afflicted animals were
lying down, and could not be stirred. These were
bodily lifted out, and the others driven into the adjoining
field. Here, after the lapse of a few minutes, several
more fell down, and lay helpless and livid as the rest.
Bathsheba, with a sad, bursting heart, looked at these
primest specimens of her prime flock as they rolled
there --
Swoln with wind and the rank mist they drew.
Many of them foamed at the mouth, their breathing
being quick and short, whilst the bodies of all were
fearfully distended.
"O, what can I do, what can I do!" said Bathsheba,
helplessly. "Sheep are such unfortunate animals! --
there's always something happening to them! I never
knew a flock pass a year without getting into some scrape
or other."
"There's only one way of saving them." said Tall.
"What way? Tell me quick!"
"They must be pierced in the side with a thing made
on purpose."
"Can you do it? Can I?"
"No, ma'am. We can't, nor you neither. It must
be done in a particular spot. If ye go to the right or
left but an inch you stab the ewe and kill her. Not
even a shepherd can do it, as a rule."
"Then they must die." she said, in a resigned tone.
"Only one man in the neighbourhood knows the way,"
said Joseph, now just come up. "He could cure 'em
all if he were here."
"Who is he? Let's get him!"
"Shepherd Oak," said Matthew. "Ah, he's a clever
man in talents!"
"Ah, that he is so!" said Joseph Poorgrass.
"True -- he's the man." said Laban Tall.
"How dare you name that man in my presence!" she
said excitedly. "I told you never to allude to him, nor
shall you if you stay with me. Ah!" she added, brighten-
ing, "Farmer Boldwood knows!"
"O no, ma'am" said Matthew. "Two of his store
ewes got into some vetches t'other day, and were just
like these. He sent a man on horseback here post-haste
for Gable, and Gable went and saved 'em, Farmer
Boldwood hev got the thing they do it with. 'Tis a
holler pipe, with a sharp pricker inside. Isn't it,
Joseph?"
"Ay -- a holler pipe." echoed Joseph. "That's what
'tis."
"Ay, sure -- that's the machine." chimed in Henery
Fray, reflectively, with an Oriental indifference to the
flight of time.
"Well," burst out Bathsheba, "don't stand there with
your "ayes" and your "sures" talking at me! Get
somebody to cure the sheep instantly!"
All then stalked or in consternation, to get some-
body as directed, without any idea of who it was to be.
In a minute they had vanished through the gate, and
she stood alone with the dying flock.
"Never will I send for him never!" she said firmly.
One of the ewes here contracted its muscles horribly,
extended itself, and jumped high into the air. The
leap was an astonishing one. The ewe fell heavily, and
lay still.
Bathsheba went up to it. The sheep was dead.
"O, what shall I do -- what shall I do!" she again
exclaimed, wringing her hands. "I won't send for him.
No, I won't!"
The most vigorous expression of a resolution does
not always coincide with the greatest vigour of the
resolution itself. It is often flung out as a sort of prop
to support a decaying conviction which, whilst strong,
required no enunciation to prove it so. The "No, I
won't" of Bathsheba meant virtually, "I think I must."
She followed her assistants through the gate, and
lifted her hand to one of them. Laban answered to her
signal.
"Where is Oak staying?"
"Across the valley at Nest Cottage!"
"Jump on the bay mare, and ride across, and say he
must return instantly -- that I say so."
Tall scrambled off to the field, and in two minutes
was on Poll, the bay, bare-backed, and with only a
halter by way of rein. He diminished down the
hill.
Bathsheba watched. So did all the rest. Tall
cantered along the bridle-path through Sixteen Acres,
Sheeplands, Middle Field The Flats, Cappel's Piece,
shrank almost to a point, crossed the bridge, and
ascended from the valley through Springmead and
Whitepits on the other side. The cottage to which
Gabriel had retired before taking his final departure
from the locality was visible as a white spot on the
opposite hill, backed by blue firs. Bathsheba walked
up and down. The men entered the field and
endeavoured to ease the anguish of the dumb creatures
by rubbing them. Nothing availed.
Bathsheba continued walking. The horse was seen
descending the hill, and the wearisome series had to be
repeated in reverse order: Whitepits, Springmead,
Cappel's Piece, The Flats, Middle Field, Sheeplands,
Sixteen Acres. She hoped Tall had had presence of
mind enough to give the mare up to Gabriel, and return
himself on foot. The rider neared them. It was Tall.
"O, what folly!" said Bathsheba.
Gabriel was not visible anywhere.
"Perhaps he is already gone!" she said.
Tall came into the inclosure, and leapt off, his face
tragic as Morton's after the battle of Shrewsbury.
"Well?" said Bathsheba, unwilling to believe that
her verbal lettre-de-cachet could possibly have miscarried.
"He says beggars mustn't be choosers." replied Laban.
"What!" said the young farmer, opening her eyes
and drawing in her breath for an outburst. Joseph
Poorgrass retired a few steps behind a hurdle.
"He says he shall not come unless you request en
to come civilly and in a proper manner, as becomes any
"woman begging a favour."
"Oh, oh, that's his answer! Where does he get his
airs? Who am I, then, to be treated like that? Shall
I beg to a man who has begged to me?"
Another of the flock sprang into the air, and fell
dead.
The men looked grave, as if they suppressed opinion.
Bathsheba turned aside, her eyes full of tears. The
strait she was in through pride and shrewishness could
not be disguised longer: she burst out crying bitterly;
they all saw it; and she attempted no further concealment.
"I wouldn't cry about it, miss." said William Small-
bury, compassionately. "Why not ask him softer like?
I'm sure he'd come then. Gable is a true man in that
way."
Bathsheba checked her grief and wiped her eyes.
"O, it is a wicked cruelty to me -- it is -- it is!" she
murmured. "And he drives me to do what I wouldn't;
yes, he does! -- Tall, come indoors."
After this collapse, not very dignified for the head
of an establishment, she went into the house, Tall at
her heels. Here she sat down and hastily scribbled a
note between the small convulsive sobs of convalescence
which follow a fit of crying as a ground-swell follows a
storm. The note was none the less polite for being
written in a hurry. She held it at a distance, was
about to fold it, then added these words at the
bottom: --
"Do not desert me, Gabriel!"
She looked a little redder in refolding it, and closed
her lips, as if thereby to suspend till too late the action
of conscience in examining whether such strategy were
justifiable. The note was despatched as the message
had been, and Bathsheba waited indoors for the result.
It was an anxious quarter of an hour that intervened
between the messenger's departure and the sound of the
horse's tramp again outside. She- could not watch this
time, but, leaning over the old bureau at which she had
written the letter, closed her eyes, as if to keep out both
hope and fear.
The case, however, was a promising one. Gabriel
was not angry: he was simply neutral, although her first
command had been so haughty. Such imperiousness
would have damned a little less beauty; and on the
other hand, such beauty would have redeemed a little
less imperiousness.
She went out when the horse was heard, and looked
up. A mounted figure passed between her and the
sky, and drew on towards the field of sheep, the rider
turning his face in receding. Gabriel looked at her.
It was a moment when a woman's eyes and tongue tell
distinctly opposite tales. Bathsheba looked full of
gratitude, and she said: --
"O, Gabriel, how could you serve me so unkindly!"
Such a tenderly-shaped reproach for his previous
delay was the one speech in the language that he could
pardon for not being commendation of his readiness
now.
Gabriel murmured a confused reply, and hastened
on. She knew from the look which sentence in her
note had brought him. Bathsheba followed to the
field.
Gabriel was already among the turgid, prostrate forms.
He had flung off his coat, rolled up his shirt-sleeves,
and taken from his pocket the instrument of salvation.
It was a small tube or trochar, with a lance passing
down the inside; and Gabriel began to use it with a
dexterity that would have graced a hospital surgeon.
Passing his hand over the sheep's left flank, and
selecting the proper point, he punctured the skin and
rumen with the lance as it stood in the tube; then he
suddenly withdrew the lance, retaining the tube in its
place. A current of air rushed up the tube, forcible
enough to have extinguished a candle held at the
orifice.
It has been said that mere ease after torment is de-
light for a time; and the countenances of these poor
creatures expressed it now. Forty-nine operations were
successfully performed. Owing to the great hurry
necessitated by the far-gone state of some of the flock,
Gabriel missed his aim in one case, and in one only --
striking wide of the mark, and inflicting a mortal blow
at once upon the suffering ewe. Four had died; three
recovered without an operation. The total number of
sheep which had thus strayed and injured themselves
so dangerously was fifty-seven.
When the love-led man had ceased from his labours,
Bathsheba came and looked him in the face.
"Gabriel, will you stay on with me?" she, said,
smiling winningly, and not troubling to bring her lips
quite together again at the end, because there was going
to be another smile soon.
"I will." said Gabriel.
And she smiled on him again.

CHAPTER XXII

THE GREAT BARN AND THE SHEEP-SHEARERS

MEN thin away to insignificance and oblivion quite as
often by not making the most of good spirits when they
have them as by lacking good spirits when they are
indispensable. Gabriel lately, for the first time since
his prostration by misfortune, had been independent in
thought and vigorous in action to a marked extent --
conditions which, powerless without an opportunity as
an opportunity without them is barren, would have
given him a sure lift upwards when the favourable-con-
junction should have occurred. But this incurable
loitering beside Bathsheba Everdene stole his time
ruinously. The spring tides were going by without
floating him off, and the neap might soon come which
could not.
It was the first day of June, and the sheep-shearing
season culminated, the landscape, even to the leanest
pasture, being all health and colour. Every green was
young, every pore was open, and every stalk was swollen
with racing currents of juice. God was palpably present
in the country, and the devil had gone with the world
to town. Flossy catkins of the later kinds, fern-sprouts
like bishops' croziers, the square-headed moschatel, the
odd cuckoo-pint, -- like an apoplectic saint in a niche
of malachite, -- snow-white ladies'-smocks, the toothwort,
approximating to human flesh, the enchanter's night-
shade, and the black-petaled doleful-bells, were among
the quainter objects of the vegetable world in and about
Weatherbury at this teeming time; and of the animal,
the metamorphosed figures of Mr. Jan Coggan, the
master-shearer; the second and third shearers, who
travelled in the exercise of their calling, and do not re-
quire definition by name; Henery Fray the fourth
shearer, Susan Tall's husband the fifth, Joseph Poorgrass
the sixth, young Cain Ball as assistant-shearer, and
Gabriel Oak as general supervisor. None of these were
clothed to any extent worth mentioning, each appearing
to have hit in the matter of raiment the decent mean
between a high and low caste Hindoo. An angularity
of lineament, and a fixity of facial machinery in general,
proclaimed that serious work was the order of the day.
They sheared in the great barn, called for the nonce
the Shearing-barn, which on ground-plan resembled a
church with transepts. It not only emulated the form
of the neighbouring church of the parish, but vied with
it in antiquity. Whether the barn had ever formed one
of a group of conventual buildings nobody seemed to be
aware; no trace of such surroundings remained. The
vast porches at the sides, lofty enough to admit a waggon
laden to its highest with corn in the sheaf, were spanned
by heavy-pointed arches of stone, broadly and boldly cut,
whose very simplicity was the origin of a grandeur not
apparent in erections where more ornament has been
attempted. The dusky, filmed, chestnut roof, braced
and tied in by huge collars, curves, and diagonals, was
far nobler in design, because more wealthy in material,
than nine-tenths of those in our modern churches.
Along each side wall was a range of striding buttresses,
throwing deep shadows on the spaces between them,
which were perforated by lancet openings, combining
in their proportions the precise requirements both of
beauty and ventilation.
One could say about this barn, what could hardly
be said of either the church or the castle, akin to it in
age and style, that the purpose which had dictated its
original erection was the same with that to which it
was still applied. Unlike and superior to either of
those two typical remnants of mediaevalism, the old
barn embodied practices which had suffered no mutila-
tion at the hands of time. Here at least the spirit of
the ancient builders was at one with the spirit of the
modern beholder. Standing before this abraded pile,
the eye regarded its present usage, the mind-dwelt upon
its past history, with a satisfied sense of functional
continuity throughout -- a feeling almost of gratitude,
and quite of pride, at the permanence of the idea
which had heaped it up. The fact that four centuries
had neither proved it to be founded on a mistake,
inspired any hatred of its purpose, nor given rise to
any reaction that had battered it down, invested this
simple grey effort of old minds with a repose, if not a
grandeur, which a too curious reflection was apt to
disturb in its ecclesiastical and military compeers. For
once medievalism and modernism had a common stand-
point. The lanccolate windows, the time-eaten arch-
stones and chamfers, the orientation of the axis, the
misty chestnut work of the rafters, referred to no exploded
fortifying art or worn-out religious creed. The defence
and salvation of the body by daily bread is still a study,
a religion, and a desire.
To-day the large side doors were thrown open
towards the sun to admit a bountiful light to the
immediate spot of the shearers' operations, which was
the wood threshing-floor in the centre, formed of thick
oak, black with age and polished by the beating of flails
for many generations, till it had grown as slippery and
as rich in hue as the state-room floors of an Elizabethan
mansion. Here the shearers knelt, the sun slanting in
upon their bleached shirts, tanned arms, and the polished
shears they flourished, causing these to bristle with a
thousand rays strong enough to blind a weak-eyed man.
Beneath them a captive sheep lay panting, quickening
its pants as misgiving merged in terror, till it quivered
like the hot landscape outside.
This picture of to-day in its frame of four hundred
years ago did not produce that marked contrast between
ancient and modern which is implied by the contrast
of date. In comparison with cities, Weatherbury was
immutable. The citizen's Then is the rustic's Now.
In London, twenty or thirty-years ago are old times;
in Paris ten years, or five; in Weatherbury three or
four score years were included in the mere present,
and nothing less than a century set a mark on its
face or tone. Five decades hardly modified the cut of
a gaiter, the embroidery of a smock-frock, by the breadth
of a hair. Ten generations failed to alter the turn of
a single phrase. In these Wessex nooks the busy out-
sider's ancient times are only old; his old times are still
new; his present is futurity.
So the barn was natural to the shearers, and the
shearers were in harmony with the barn.
The spacious ends of the building, answering ecclesi-
astically to nave and chancel extremities, were fenced
off with hurdles, the sheep being all collected in a crowd
within these two enclosures; and in one angle a catching-
pen was formed, in which three or four sheep were
continuously kept ready for the shearers to seize without
loss of time. In the background, mellowed by tawny
shade, were the three women, Maryann Money, and
Temperance and Soberness Miller, gathering up the
fleeces and twisting ropes of wool with a wimble for
tying them round. They were indifferently well assisted
by the old maltster, who, when the malting season from
October to April had passed, made himself useful upon
any of the bordering farmsteads.
"Behind all was Bathsheba, carefully watching the
men to see that there was no cutting or wounding
through carelessness, and that the animals were shorn
close. Gabriel, who flitted and hovered under her
bright eyes like a moth, did not shear continuously,
half his time being spent in attending to the others
and selecting the sheep for them. At the present
moment he was engaged in handing round a mug of
mild liquor, supplied from a barrel in the corner,
and cut pieces of bread and cheese.
Bathsheba, after throwing a glance here, a caution
there, and lecturing one of the younger operators who
had allowed his last finished sheep to go off among
the flock without re-stamping it with her initials, came
again to Gabriel, as he put down the luncheon to drag
a frightened ewe to his shear-station, flinging it over
upon its back with a dexterous twist of the arm
He lopped off the tresses about its head, and opened
up the neck and collar, his mistress quietly looking
on:
"She blushes at the insult." murmured Bathsheba,
watching the pink flush which arose and overspread
the neck and shoulders of the ewe where they were
left bare by the clicking shears -- a flush which was
enviable, for its delicacy, by many queens of coteries,
and would have been creditable, for its promptness, to
any woman in the world.
Poor Gabriel's soul was fed with a luxury of content
by having her over him, her eyes critically regarding
his skilful shears, which apparently were going to gather
up a piece of the flesh at every close, and yet never did
so. Like Guildenstern, Oak was happy in that he was
not over happy. He had no wish to converse with her:
that his bright lady and himself formed one group,
exclusively their own, and containing no others in the
world, was enough.
So the chatter was all on her side. There is a
loquacity that tells nothing, which was Bathsheba's;
and there is a silence which says much: that was
Gabriel's. Full of this dim and temperate bliss, he
went on to fling the ewe over upon her other side,
covering her head with his knee, gradually running
the shears line after line round her dewlap; thence
about her flank and back, and finishing over the tail.
"Well done, and done quickly!" said Bathsheba,
looking at her watch as the last snip resounded.
"How long, miss?" said Gabriel, wiping his brow.
"Three-and-twenty minutes and a half since you took
the first lock from its forehead. It is the first time that
I have ever seen one done in less than half an hour."
The clean, sleek creature arose from its fleece -- how
perfectly like Aphrodite rising from the foam should
have been seen to be realized -- looking startled and
shy at the loss of its garment, which lay on the floor
in one soft cloud, united throughout, the portion visible
being the inner surface only, which, never before exposed,
was white as snow, and without flaw or blemish of the
minutest kind.
"Cain Ball!"
"Yes, Mister Oak; here I be!"
Cainy now runs forward with the tar-pot. "B. E." is
newly stamped upon the shorn skin, and away the simple
dam leaps, panting, over the board into the shirtless
flock outside. Then up comes Maryann; throws the
loose locks into the middle of the fleece, rolls it up,
and carries it into the background as three-and-a-half
pounds of unadulterated warmth for the winter enjoy-
ment of persons unknown and far away, who will,
however, never experience the superlative comfort
derivable from the wool as it here exists, new and pure
-- before the unctuousness of its nature whilst in a
living state has dried, stiffened, and been washed out
-- rendering it just now as superior to anything woollen
as cream is superior to milk-and-water.
But heartless circumstance could not leave entire
Gabriel's happiness of this morning. The rams, old
ewes, and two-shear ewes had duly undergone their
stripping, and the men were proceeding with the shear-
lings and hogs, when Oak's belief that she was going to
stand pleasantly by and time him through another
performance was painfully interrupted by Farmer Bold-
wood's appearance in the extremest corner of the barn.
Nobody seemed to have perceived his entry, but there
he certainly was. Boldwood always carried with him a
social atmosphere of his own, which everybody felt who
came near him; and the talk, which Bathsheba's
presence had somewhat suppressed, was now totally
suspended.
He crossed over towards Bathsheba, who turned to
greet him with a carriage of perfect ease. He spoke to
her in low tones, and she instinctively modulated her
own to the same pitch, and her voice ultimately even
caught the inflection of his. She was far from having
a wish to appear mysteriously connected with him; but
woman at the impressionable age gravitates to the larger
body not only in her choice of words, which is apparent
every day, but even in her shades of tone and humour,
when the influence is great.
What they conversed about was not audible to
Gabriel, who was too independent to get near, though
too concerned to disregard. The issue of their dialogue
was the taking of her hand by the courteous farmer to
help her over the spreading-board into the bright June
sunlight outside. Standing beside the sheep already
shorn, they went on talking again. Concerning the
flock? Apparently not. Gabriel theorized, not without
truth, that in quiet discussion of any matter within reach
of the speakers' eyes, these are usually fixed upon it.
Bathsheba demurely regarded a contemptible straw lying
upon the ground, in a way which suggested less ovine
criticism than womanly embarrassment. She became
more or less red in the cheek, the blood wavering in
uncertain flux and reflux over the sensitive space between
ebb and flood. Gabriel sheared on, constrained and
sad.
She left Boldwood's side, and he walked up and
down alone for nearly a quarter of an hour. Then she
reappeared in her new riding-habit of myrtle-green, which
fitted her to the waist as a rind fits its fruit; and young
Bob Coggan led -on -her mare, Boldwood fetching his
own horse from the tree under which it had been tied.
Oak's eyes could not forsake them; and in en-
deavouring to continue his shearing at the same time
that he watched Boldwood's manner, he snipped the
sheep in the groin. The animal plunged; Bathsheba
instantly gazed towards it, and saw the blood.
"O, Gabriel!" she exclaimed, with severe remon-
strance you who are so strict with the other men -- see
what you are doing yourself!"
To an outsider there was not much to complain of
in this remark; but to Oak, who "knew Bathsheba to be
well aware that she herself was the cause of the poor
ewe's wound, because she had wounded the ewe's shearer
in a -- still more vital part, it had a sting which the abiding
sense of his inferiority to both herself and Boldwood was
not calculated to heal. But a manly resolve to recognize
boldly that he had no longer a lover's interest in her,
helped him occasionally to conceal a feeling.
"Bottle!" he shouted, in an unmoved voice of routine.
Cainy Ball ran up, the wound was anointed, and the
shearing continued.
Boldwood gently tossed Bathsheba into the saddle,
and before they turned away she again spoke out to Oak
with the same dominative and tantalizing graciousness.
"I am going now to see Mr. Boldwood's Leicesters.
Take my place in the barn, Gabriel, and keep the men
carefully to their work."
The horses' heads were put about, and they trotted
away.
Boldwood's deep attachment was a matter of great
interest among all around him; but, after having been
pointed out for so many years as the perfect exemplar
of thriving bachelorship, his lapse was an anticlimax
somewhat resembling that of St. John Long's death by
consumption in the midst of his proofs that it was not
a fatal disease.
"That means matrimony." said Temperance Miller,
following them out of sight with her eyes.
"I reckon that's the size o't." said Coggan, working
along without looking up.
"Well, better wed over the mixen than over the moor,"
said Laban Tall, turning his sheep.
Henery Fray spoke, exhibiting miserable eyes at the
same time: "I don't see why a maid should take a
husband when she's bold enough to fight her own
battles, and don't want a home; for 'tis keeping another
woman out. But let it be, for 'tis a pity he and she
should trouble two houses."
As usual with decided characters, Bathsheba invari-
ably provoked the criticism of individuals like Henery
Fray. Her emblazoned fault was to be too pronounced

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