Part 1 out of 10
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
by Thomas Hardy
In reprinting this story for a new edition I am reminded
that it was in the chapters of "Far from the Madding Crowd"
as they appeared month by month in a popular magazine, that
I first ventured to adopt the word "Wessex" from the pages
of early English history, and give it a fictitious
significance as the existing name of the district once
included in that extinct kingdom. The series of novels I
projected being mainly of the kind called local, they seemed
to require a territorial definition of some sort to lend
unity to their scene. Finding that the area of a single
country did not afford a canvas large enough for this
purpose, and that there were objections to an invented name,
I disinterred the old one. The press and the public were
kind enough to welcome the fanciful plan, and willingly
joined me in the anachronism of imagining a Wessex
population living under Queen Victoria; -- a modern Wessex
of railways, the penny post, mowing and reaping machines,
union workhouses, lucifer matches, labourers who could read
and write, and National school children. But I believe I am
correct in stating that, until the existence of this
contemporaneous Wessex was announced in the present story,
in 1874, it had never been heard of, and that the
expression, "a Wessex peasant" or "a Wessex custom" would
theretofore have been taken to refer to nothing later in
date than the Norman Conquest.
I did not anticipate that this application of the word to a
modern use would extend outside the chapters of my own
chronicles. But the name was soon taken up elsewhere as a
local designation. The first to do so was the now defunct
Examiner, which, in the impression bearing date July 15,
1876, entitled one of its articles "The Wessex Labourer,"
the article turning out to be no dissertation on farming
during the Heptarchy, but on the modern peasant of the
south-west counties, and his presentation in these stories.
Since then the appellation which I had thought to reserve to
the horizons and landscapes of a merely realistic dream-
country, has become more and more popular as a practical
definition; and the dream-country has, by degrees,
solidified into a utilitarian region which people can go to,
take a house in, and write to the papers from. But I ask
all good and gentle readers to be so kind as to forget this,
and to refuse steadfastly to believe that there are any
inhabitants of a Victorian Wessex outside the pages of this
and the companion volumes in which they were first
Moreover, the village called Weatherbury, wherein the scenes
of the present story of the series are for the most part
laid, would perhaps be hardly discernible by the explorer,
without help, in any existing place nowadays; though at the
time, comparatively recent, at which the tale was written, a
sufficient reality to meet the descriptions, both of
backgrounds and personages, might have been traced easily
enough. The church remains, by great good fortune,
unrestored and intact, and a few of the old houses; but the
ancient malt-house, which was formerly so characteristic of
the parish, has been pulled down these twenty years; also
most of the thatched and dormered cottages that were once
lifeholds. The game of prisoner's base, which not so long
ago seemed to enjoy a perennial vitality in front of the
worn-out stocks, may, so far as I can say, be entirely
unknown to the rising generation of schoolboys there. The
practice of divination by Bible and key, the regarding of
valentines as things of serious import, the shearing-supper,
and the harvest-home, have, too, nearly disappeared in the
wake of the old houses; and with them have gone, it is said,
much of that love of fuddling to which the village at one
time was notoriously prone. The change at the root of this
has been the recent supplanting of the class of stationary
cottagers, who carried on the local traditions and humours,
by a population of more or less migratory labourers, which
has led to a break of continuity in local history, more
fatal than any other thing to the preservation of legend,
folk-lore, close inter-social relations, and eccentric
individualities. For these the indispensable conditions of
existence are attachment to the soil of one particular spot
by generation after generation.
DESCRIPTION OF FARMER OAK -- AN INCIDENT
WHEN Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till
they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his
eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared
round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in
a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.
His Christian name was Gabriel, and on working days he was a
young man of sound judgment, easy motions, proper dress, and
general good character. On Sundays he was a man of misty
views, rather given to postponing, and hampered by his best
clothes and umbrella: upon the whole, one who felt himself
to occupy morally that vast middle space of Laodicean
neutrality which lay between the Communion people of the
parish and the drunken section, -- that is, he went to
church, but yawned privately by the time the con-gegation
reached the Nicene creed, and thought of what there would be
for dinner when he meant to be listening to the sermon.
Or, to state his character as it stood in the scale of public
opinion, when his friends and critics were in tantrums, he
was considered rather a bad man; when they were pleased, he
was rather a good man; when they were neither, he was a man
whose moral colour was a kind of pepper-and-salt mixture.
Since he lived six times as many working-days as Sundays,
Oak's appearance in his old clothes was most peculiarly his
own -- the mental picture formed by his neighbours in
imagining him being always dressed in that way. He wore a
low-crowned felt hat, spread out at the base by tight
jamming upon the head for security in high winds, and a coat
like Dr. Johnson's; his lower extremities being encased in
ordinary leather leggings and boots emphatically large,
affording to each foot a roomy apartment so constructed that
any wearer might stand in a river all day long and know
nothing of damp -- their maker being a conscientious man who
endeavoured to compensate for any weakness in his cut by
unstinted dimension and solidity.
Mr. Oak carried about him, by way of watch, what may be
called a small silver clock; in other words, it was a watch
as to shape and intention, and a small clock as to size.
This instrument being several years older than Oak's
grandfather, had the peculiarity of going either too fast or
not at all. The smaller of its hands, too, occasionally
slipped round on the pivot, and thus, though the minutes
were told with precision, nobody could be quite certain of
the hour they belonged to. The stopping peculiarity of his
watch Oak remedied by thumps and shakes, and he escaped any
evil consequences from the other two defects by constant
comparisons with and observations of the sun and stars, and
by pressing his face close to the glass of his neighbours'
windows, till he could discern the hour marked by the green-
faced timekeepers within. It may be mentioned that Oak's
fob being difficult of access, by reason of its somewhat
high situation in the waistband of his trousers (which also
lay at a remote height under his waistcoat), the watch was
as a necessity pulled out by throwing the body to one side,
compressing the mouth and face to a mere mass of ruddy flesh
on account of the exertion required, and drawing up the
watch by its chain, like a bucket from a well.
But some thoughtful persons, who had seen him walking across
one of his fields on a certain December morning -- sunny and
exceedingly mild -- might have regarded Gabriel Oak in other
aspects than these. In his face one might notice that many
of the hues and curves of youth had tarried on to manhood:
there even remained in his remoter crannies some relics of
the boy. His height and breadth would have been sufficient
to make his presence imposing, had they been exhibited with
due consideration. But there is a way some men have, rural
and urban alike, for which the mind is more responsible than
flesh and sinew: it is a way of curtailing their dimensions
by their manner of showing them. And from a quiet modesty
that would have become a vestal which seemed continually to
impress upon him that he had no great claim on the world's
room, Oak walked unassumingly and with a faintly perceptible
bend, yet distinct from a bowing of the shoulders. This may
be said to be a defect in an individual if he depends for
his valuation more upon his appearance than upon his
capacity to wear well, which Oak did not.
He had just reached the time of life at which "young" is
ceasing to be the prefix of "man" in speaking of one.
He was at the brightest period of masculine growth, for his
intellect and his emotions were clearly separated: he had
passed the time during which the influence of youth
indiscriminately mingles them in the character of impulse,
and he had not yet arrived at the stage wherein they become
united again, in the character of prejudice, by the
influence of a wife and family. In short, he was
twenty-eight, and a bachelor.
The field he was in this morning sloped to a ridge called
Norcombe Hill. Through a spur of this hill ran the highway
between Emminster and Chalk-Newton. Casually glancing over
the hedge, Oak saw coming down the incline before him an
ornamental spring waggon, painted yellow and gaily marked,
drawn by two horses, a waggoner walking alongside bearing a
whip perpendicularly. The waggon was laden with household
goods and window plants, and on the apex of the whole sat a
woman, young and attractive. Gabriel had not beheld the
sight for more than half a minute, when the vehicle was
brought to a standstill just beneath his eyes.
"The tailboard of the waggon is gone, Miss," said the
"Then I heard it fall," said the girl, in a soft, though not
particularly low voice. "I heard a noise I could not
account for when we were coming up the hill."
"I'll run back."
"Do," she answered.
The sensible horses stood -- perfectly still, and the
waggoner's steps sank fainter and fainter in the distance.
The girl on the summit of the load sat motionless,
surrounded by tables and chairs with their legs upwards,
backed by an oak settle, and ornamented in front by pots of
geraniums, myrtles, and cactuses, together with a caged
canary -- all probably from the windows of the house just
vacated. There was also a cat in a willow basket, from the
partly-opened lid of which she gazed with half-closed eyes,
and affectionately-surveyed the small birds around.
The handsome girl waited for some time idly in her place,
and the only sound heard in the stillness was the hopping of
the canary up and down the perches of its prison. Then she
looked attentively downwards. It was not at the bird, nor
at the cat; it was at an oblong package tied in paper, and
lying between them. She turned her head to learn if the
waggoner were coming. He was not yet in sight; and her eyes
crept back to the package, her thoughts seeming to run upon
what was inside it. At length she drew the article into her
lap, and untied the paper covering; a small swing looking-
glass was disclosed, in which she proceeded to survey
herself attentively. She parted her lips and smiled.
It was a fine morning, and the sun lighted up to a scarlet
glow the crimson jacket she wore, and painted a soft lustre
upon her bright face and dark hair. The myrtles, geraniums,
and cactuses packed around her were fresh and green, and at
such a leafless season they invested the whole concern of
horses, waggon, furniture, and girl with a peculiar vernal
charm. What possessed her to indulge in such a performance
in the sight of the sparrows, blackbirds, and unperceived
farmer who were alone its spectators, -- whether the smile
began as a factitious one, to test her capacity in that art,
-- nobody knows; it ended certainly in a real smile. She
blushed at herself, and seeing her reflection blush, blushed
The change from the customary spot and necessary occasion of
such an act -- from the dressing hour in a bedroom to a time
of travelling out of doors -- lent to the idle deed a
novelty it did not intrinsically possess. The picture was a
delicate one. Woman's prescriptive infirmity had stalked
into the sunlight, which had clothed it in the freshness of
an originality. A cynical inference was irresistible by
Gabriel Oak as he regarded the scene, generous though he
fain would have been. There was no necessity whatever for
her looking in the glass. She did not adjust her hat, or
pat her hair, or press a dimple into shape, or do one thing
to signify that any such intention had been her motive in
taking up the glass. She simply observed herself as a fair
product of Nature in the feminine kind, her thoughts seeming
to glide into far-off though likely dramas in which men
would play a part -- vistas of probable triumphs -- the
smiles being of a phase suggesting that hearts were imagined
as lost and won. Still, this was but conjecture, and the
whole series of actions was so idly put forth as to make it
rash to assert that intention had any part in them at all.
The waggoner's steps were heard returning. She put the
glass in the paper, and the whole again into its place.
When the waggon had passed on, Gabriel withdrew from his
point of espial, and descending into the road, followed the
vehicle to the turnpike-gate some way beyond the bottom of
the hill, where the object of his contemplation now halted
for the payment of toll. About twenty steps still remained
between him and the gate, when he heard a dispute. It was a
difference concerning twopence between the persons with the
waggon and the man at the toll-bar.
"Mis'ess's niece is upon the top of the things, and she says
that's enough that I've offered ye, you great miser, and she
won't pay any more." These were the waggoner's words.
"Very well; then mis'ess's niece can't pass," said the
turnpike-keeper, closing the gate.
Oak looked from one to the other of the disputants, and fell
into a reverie. There was something in the tone of twopence
remarkably insignificant. Threepence had a definite value
as money -- it was an appreciable infringement on a day's
wages, and, as such, a higgling matter; but twopence --
"Here," he said, stepping forward and handing twopence to
the gatekeeper; "let the young woman pass." He looked up at
her then; she heard his words, and looked down.
Gabriel's features adhered throughout their form so exactly
to the middle line between the beauty of St. John and the
ugliness of Judas Iscariot, as represented in a window of
the church he attended, that not a single lineament could be
selected and called worthy either of distinction or
notoriety. The red-jacketed and dark-haired maiden seemed
to think so too, for she carelessly glanced over him, and
told her man to drive on. She might have looked her thanks
to Gabriel on a minute scale, but she did not speak them;
more probably she felt none, for in gaining her a passage he
had lost her her point, and we know how women take a favour
of that kind.
The gatekeeper surveyed the retreating vehicle. "That's a
handsome maid," he said to Oak.
"But she has her faults," said Gabriel.
"And the greatest of them is -- well, what it is always."
"Beating people down? ay, 'tis so."
Gabriel, perhaps a little piqued by the comely traveller's
indifference, glanced back to where he had witnessed her
performance over the hedge, and said, "Vanity."
NIGHT -- THE FLOCK -- AN INTERIOR -- ANOTHER INTERIOR
IT was nearly midnight on the eve of St. Thomas's, the
shortest day in the year. A desolating wind wandered from
the north over the hill whereon Oak had watched the yellow
waggon and its occupant in the sunshine of a few days
Norcombe Hill -- not far from lonely Toller-Down -- was one
of the spots which suggest to a passer-by that he is in the
presence of a shape approaching the indestructible as nearly
as any to be found on earth. It was a featureless convexity
of chalk and soil -- an ordinary specimen of those smoothly-
outlined protuberances of the globe which may remain
undisturbed on some great day of confusion, when far grander
heights and dizzy granite precipices topple down.
The hill was covered on its northern side by an ancient and
decaying plantation of beeches, whose upper verge formed a
line over the crest, fringing its arched curve against the
sky, like a mane. To-night these trees sheltered the
southern slope from the keenest blasts, which smote the wood
and floundered through it with a sound as of grumbling, or
gushed over its crowning boughs in a weakened moan. The dry
leaves in the ditch simmered and boiled in the same breezes,
a tongue of air occasionally ferreting out a few, and
sending them spinning across the grass. A group or two of
the latest in date amongst the dead multitude had remained
till this very mid-winter time on the twigs which bore them
and in falling rattled against the trunks with smart taps.
Between this half-wooded half naked hill, and the vague
still horizon that its summit indistinctly commanded, was a
mysterious sheet of fathomless shade -- the sounds from
which suggested that what it concealed bore some reduced
resemblance to features here. The thin grasses, more or
less coating the hill, were touched by the wind in breezes
of differing powers, and almost of differing natures -- one
rubbing the blades heavily, another raking them piercingly,
another brushing them like a soft broom. The instinctive
act of humankind was to stand and listen, and learn how the
trees on the right and the trees on the left wailed or
chaunted to each other in the regular antiphonies of a
cathedral choir; how hedges and other shapes to leeward then
caught the note, lowering it to the tenderest sob; and how
the hurrying gust then plunged into the south, to be heard
The sky was clear -- remarkably clear -- and the twinkling
of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed
by a common pulse. The North Star was directly in the
wind's eye, and since evening the Bear had swung round it
outwardly to the east, till he was now at a right angle with
the meridian. A difference of colour in the stars --
oftener read of than seen in England -- was really
perceptible here. The sovereign brilliancy of Sirius
pierced the eye with a steely glitter, the star called
Capella was yellow, Aldebaran and Betelgueux shone with a
To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight
such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a
palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the
panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is
perceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better
outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or
by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression
of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion
is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that
gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small
hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense
of difference from the mass of civilised mankind, who are
dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this
time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through
the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to
get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of
such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.
Suddenly an unexpected series of sounds began to be heard in
this place up against the sky. They had a clearness which
was to be found nowhere in the wind, and a sequence which
was to be found nowhere in nature. They were the notes of
Farmer Oak's flute.
The tune was not floating unhindered into the open air: it
seemed muffled in some way, and was altogether too curtailed
in power to spread high or wide. It came from the direction
of a small dark object under the plantation hedge -- a
shepherd's hut -- now presenting an outline to which an
uninitiated person might have been puzzled to attach either
meaning or use.
The image as a whole was that of a small Noah's Ark on a
small Ararat, allowing the traditionary outlines and general
form of the Ark which are followed by toy-makers -- and by
these means are established in men's imaginations among
their firmest, because earliest impressions -- to pass as
an approximate pattern. The hut stood on little wheels,
which raised its floor about a foot from the ground. Such
shepherds' huts are dragged into the fields when the lambing
season comes on, to shelter the shepherd in his enforced
It was only latterly that people had begun to call Gabriel
"Farmer" Oak. During the twelvemonth preceding this time he
had been enabled by sustained efforts of industry and
chronic good spirits to lease the small sheep-farm of which
Norcombe Hill was a portion, and stock it with two hundred
sheep. Previously he had been a bailiff for a short time,
and earlier still a shepherd only, having from his childhood
assisted his father in tending the flocks of large
proprietors, till old Gabriel sank to rest.
This venture, unaided and alone, into the paths of farming
as master and not as man, with an advance of sheep not yet
paid for, was a critical juncture with Gabriel Oak, and he
recognised his position clearly. The first movement in his
new progress was the lambing of his ewes, and sheep having
been his speciality from his youth, he wisely refrained from
deputing the task of tending them at this season to a
hireling or a novice.
The wind continued to beat about the corners of the hut, but
the flute-playing ceased. A rectangular space of light
appeared in the side of the hut, and in the opening the
outline of Farmer Oak's figure. He carried a lantern in his
hand, and closing the door behind him, came forward and
busied himself about this nook of the field for nearly
twenty minutes, the lantern light appearing and disappearing
here and there, and brightening him or darkening him as he
stood before or behind it.
Oak's motions, though they had a quiet-energy, were slow,
and their deliberateness accorded well with his occupation.
Fitness being the basis of beauty, nobody could have denied
that his steady swings and turns in and about the flock had
elements of grace, Yet, although if occasion demanded he
could do or think a thing with as mercurial a dash as can
the men of towns who are more to the manner born, his
special power, morally, physically, and mentally, was
static, owing little or nothing to momentum as a rule.
A close examination of the ground hereabout, even by the wan
starlight only, revealed how a portion of what would have
been casually called a wild slope had been appropriated by
Farmer Oak for his great purpose this winter. Detached
hurdles thatched with straw were stuck into the ground at
various scattered points, amid and under which the whitish
forms of his meek ewes moved and rustled. The ring of the
sheep-bell, which had been silent during his absence,
recommenced, in tones that had more mellowness than
clearness, owing to an increasing growth of surrounding
wool. This continued till Oak withdrew again from the
flock. He returned to the hut, bringing in his arms a new-
born lamb, consisting of four legs large enough for a full-
grown sheep, united by a seemingly inconsiderable membrane
about half the substance of the legs collectively, which
constituted the animal's entire body just at present.
The little speck of life he placed on a wisp of hay before
the small stove, where a can of milk was simmering. Oak
extinguished the lantern by blowing into it and then
pinching the snuff, the cot being lighted by a candle
suspended by a twisted wire. A rather hard couch, formed of
a few corn sacks thrown carelessly down, covered half the
floor of this little habitation, and here the young man
stretched himself along, loosened his woollen cravat, and
closed his eyes. In about the time a person unaccustomed to
bodily labour would have decided upon which side to lie,
Farmer Oak was asleep.
The inside of the hut, as it now presented itself, was cosy
and alluring, and the scarlet handful of fire in addition to
the candle, reflecting its own genial colour upon whatever
it could reach, flung associations of enjoyment even over
utensils and tools. In the corner stood the sheep-crook,
and along a shelf at one side were ranged bottles and
canisters of the simple preparations pertaining to ovine
surgery and physic; spirits of wine, turpentine, tar,
magnesia, ginger, and castor-oil being the chief. On a
triangular shelf across the corner stood bread, bacon,
cheese, and a cup for ale or cider, which was supplied from
a flagon beneath. Beside the provisions lay the flute,
whose notes had lately been called forth by the lonely
watcher to beguile a tedious hour. The house was ventilated
by two round holes, like the lights of a ship's cabin, with
The lamb, revived by the warmth began to bleat, and the
sound entered Gabriel's ears and brain with an instant
meaning, as expected sounds will. Passing from the
profoundest sleep to the most alert wakefulness with the
same ease that had accompanied the reverse operation, he
looked at his watch, found that the hour-hand had shifted
again, put on his hat, took the lamb in his arms, and
carried it into the darkness. After placing the little
creature with its mother, he stood and carefully examined
the sky, to ascertain the time of night from the altitudes
of the stars.
The Dog-star and Aldebaran, pointing to the restless
Pleiades, were half-way up the Southern sky, and between
them hung Orion, which gorgeous constellation never burnt
more vividly than now, as it soared forth above the rim of
the landscape. Castor and Pollux with their quiet shine
were almost on the meridian: the barren and gloomy Square of
Pegasus was creeping round to the north-west; far away
through the plantation Vega sparkled like a lamp suspended
amid the leafless trees, and Cassiopeia's chair stood
daintily poised on the uppermost boughs.
"One o'clock," said Gabriel.
Being a man not without a frequent consciousness that there
was some charm in this life he led, he stood still after
looking at the sky as a useful instrument, and regarded it
in an appreciative spirit, as a work of art superlatively
beautiful. For a moment he seemed impressed with the
speaking loneliness of the scene, or rather with the
complete abstraction from all its compass of the sights and
sounds of man. Human shapes, interferences, troubles, and
joys were all as if they were not, and there seemed to be on
the shaded hemisphere of the globe no sentient being save
himself; he could fancy them all gone round to the sunny
Occupied thus, with eyes stretched afar, Oak gradually
perceived that what he had previously taken to be a star low
down behind the outskirts of the plantation was in reality
no such thing. It was an artificial light, almost close at
To find themselves utterly alone at night where company is
desirable and expected makes some people fearful; but a case
more trying by far to the nerves is to discover some
mysterious companionship when intuition, sensation, memory,
analogy, testimony, probability, induction -- every kind of
evidence in the logician's list -- have united to persuade
consciousness that it is quite in isolation.
Farmer Oak went towards the plantation and pushed through
its lower boughs to the windy side. A dim mass under the
slope reminded him that a shed occupied a place here, the
site being a cutting into the slope of the hill, so that at
its back part the roof was almost level with the ground. In
front it was formed of board nailed to posts and covered
with tar as a preservative. Through crevices in the roof
and side spread streaks and dots of light, a combination of
which made the radiance that had attracted him. Oak stepped
up behind, where,leaning down upon the roof and putting his
eye close to a hole, he could see into the interior clearly.
The place contained two women and two cows. By the side of
the latter a steaming bran-mash stood in a bucket. One of
the women was past middle age. Her companion was apparently
young and graceful; he could form no decided opinion upon
her looks, her position being almost beneath his eye, so
that he saw her in a bird's-eye view, as Milton's Satan
first saw Paradise. She wore no bonnet or hat, but had
enveloped herself in a large cloak, which was carelessly
flung over her head as a covering.
"There, now we'll go home," said the elder of the two,
resting her knuckles upon her hips, and looking at their
goings-on as a whole. "I do hope Daisy will fetch round
again now. I have never been more frightened in my life,
but I don't mind breaking my rest if she recovers."
The young woman, whose eyelids were apparently inclined to
fall together on the smallest provocation of silence, yawned
without parting her lips to any inconvenient extent,
whereupon Gabriel caught the infection and slightly yawned
"I wish we were rich enough to pay a man to do these
things," she said.
"As we are not, we must do them ourselves," said the other;
"for you must help me if you stay."
"Well, my hat is gone, however," continued the younger.
"It went over the hedge, I think. The idea of such a slight
wind catching it."
The cow standing erect was of the Devon breed, and was
encased in a tight warm hide of rich Indian red, as
absolutely uniform from eyes to tail as if the animal had
been dipped in a dye of that colour, her long back being
mathematically level. The other was spotted, grey and
white. Beside her Oak now noticed a little calf about a day
old, looking idiotically at the two women, which showed that
it had not long been accustomed to the phenomenon of
eyesight, and often turning to the lantern, which it
apparently mistook for the moon, inherited instinct having
as yet had little time for correction by experience.
Between the sheep and the cows Lucina had been busy on
Norcombe Hill lately.
"I think we had better send for some oatmeal," said the
elder woman; "there's no more bran."
"Yes, aunt; and I'll ride over for it as soon as it is
"But there's no side-saddle."
"I can ride on the other: trust me."
Oak, upon hearing these remarks, became more curious to
observe her features, but this prospect being denied him by
the hooding effect of the cloak, and by his aerial position,
he felt himself drawing upon his fancy for their details.
In making even horizontal and clear inspections we colour
and mould according to the wants within us whatever our eyes
bring in. Had Gabriel been able from the first to get a
distinct view of her countenance, his estimate of it as very
handsome or slightly so would have been as his soul required
a divinity at the moment or was ready supplied with one.
Having for some time known the want of a satisfactory form
to fill an increasing void within him, his position moreover
affording the widest scope for his fancy, he painted her a
By one of those whimsical coincidences in which Nature, like
a busy mother, seems to spare a moment from her unremitting
labours to turn and make her children smile, the girl now
dropped the cloak, and forth tumbled ropes of black hair
over a red jacket. Oak knew her instantly as the heroine of
the yellow waggon, myrtles, and looking-glass: prosily, as
the woman who owed him twopence.
They placed the calf beside its mother again, took up the
lantern, and went out, the light sinking down the hill till
it was no more than a nebula. Gabriel Oak returned to his
A GIRL ON HORSEBACK -- CONVERSATION
THE sluggish day began to break. Even its position
terrestrially is one of the elements of a new interest, and
for no particular reason save that the incident of the night
had occurred there Oak went again into the plantation.
Lingering and musing here, he heard the steps of a horse at
the foot of the hill, and soon there appeared in view an
auburn pony with a girl on its back, ascending by the path
leading past the cattle-shed. She was the young woman of
the night before. Gabriel instantly thought of the hat she
had mentioned as having lost in the wind; possibly she had
come to look for it. He hastily scanned the ditch and after
walking about ten yards along it found the hat among the
leaves. Gabriel took it in his hand and returned to his
hut. Here he ensconced himself, and peeped through the
loophole in the direction of the rider's approach.
She came up and looked around -- then on the other side of
the hedge. Gabriel was about to advance and restore the
missing article when an unexpected performance induced him
to suspend the action for the present. The path, after
passing the cowshed, bisected the plantation. It was not a
bridle-path -- merely a pedestrian's track, and the boughs
spread horizontally at a height not greater than seven feet
above the ground, which made it impossible to ride erect
beneath them. The girl, who wore no riding-habit, looked
around for a moment, as if to assure herself that all
humanity was out of view, then dexterously dropped backwards
flat upon the pony's back, her head over its tail, her feet
against its shoulders, and her eyes to the sky. The
rapidity of her glide into this position was that of a
kingfisher -- its noiselessness that of a hawk. Gabriel's
eyes had scarcely been able to follow her. The tall lank
pony seemed used to such doings, and ambled along
unconcerned. Thus she passed under the level boughs.
The performer seemed quite at home anywhere between a
horse's head and its tail, and the necessity for this
abnormal attitude having ceased with the passage of the
plantation, she began to adopt another, even more obviously
convenient than the first. She had no side-saddle, and it
was very apparent that a firm seat upon the smooth leather
beneath her was unattainable sideways. Springing to her
accustomed perpendicular like a bowed sapling, and
satisfying herself that nobody was in sight, she seated
herself in the manner demanded by the saddle, though hardly
expected of the woman, and trotted off in the direction of
Oak was amused, perhaps a little astonished, and hanging up
the hat in his hut, went again among his ewes. An hour
passed, the girl returned, properly seated now, with a bag
of bran in front of her. On nearing the cattle-shed she was
met by a boy bringing a milking-pail, who held the reins of
the pony whilst she slid off. The boy led away the horse,
leaving the pail with the young woman.
Soon soft spirts alternating with loud spirts came in
regular succession from within the shed, the obvious sounds
of a person milking a cow. Gabriel took the lost hat in his
hand, and waited beside the path she would follow in leaving
She came, the pail in one hand, hanging against her knee.
The left arm was extended as a balance, enough of it being
shown bare to make Oak wish that the event had happened in
the summer, when the whole would have been revealed. There
was a bright air and manner about her now, by which she
seemed to imply that the desirability of her existence could
not be questioned; and this rather saucy assumption failed
in being offensive because a beholder felt it to be, upon
the whole, true. Like exceptional emphasis in the tone of a
genius, that which would have made mediocrity ridiculous was
an addition to recognised power. It was with some surprise
that she saw Gabriel's face rising like the moon behind the
The adjustment of the farmer's hazy conceptions of her
charms to the portrait of herself she now presented him with
was less a diminution than a difference. The starting-point
selected by the judgment was her height. She seemed tall,
but the pail was a small one, and the hedge diminutive;
hence, making allowance for error by comparison with these,
she could have been not above the height to be chosen by
women as best. All features of consequence were severe and
regular. It may have been observed by persons who go about
the shires with eyes for beauty, that in Englishwoman a
classically-formed face is seldom found to be united with a
figure of the same pattern, the highly-finished features
being generally too large for the remainder of the frame;
that a graceful and proportionate figure of eight heads
usually goes off into random facial curves. Without
throwing a Nymphean tissue over a milkmaid, let it be said
that here criticism checked itself as out of place, and
looked at her proportions with a long consciousness of
pleasure. From the contours of her figure in its upper
part, she must have had a beautiful neck and shoulders; but
since her infancy nobody had ever seen them. Had she been
put into a low dress she would have run and thrust her head
into a bush. Yet she was not a shy girl by any means; it
was merely her instinct to draw the line dividing the seen
from the unseen higher than they do it in towns.
That the girl's thoughts hovered about her face and form as
soon as she caught Oak's eyes conning the same page was
natural, and almost certain. The self-consciousness shown
would have been vanity if a little more pronounced, dignity
if a little less. Rays of male vision seem to have a
tickling effect upon virgin faces in rural districts; she
brushed hers with her hand, as if Gabriel had been
irritating its pink surface by actual touch, and the free
air of her previous movements was reduced at the same time
to a chastened phase of itself. Yet it was the man who
blushed, the maid not at all.
"I found a hat," said Oak.
"It is mine," said she, and, from a sense of proportion,
kept down to a small smile an inclination to laugh
distinctly: "it flew away last night."
"One o'clock this morning?"
"Well -- it was." She was surprised. "How did you know?"
"I was here."
"You are Farmer Oak, are you not?"
"That or thereabouts. I'm lately come to this place."
"A large farm?" she inquired, casting her eyes round, and
swinging back her hair, which was black in the shaded
hollows of its mass; but it being now an hour past sunrise the
rays touched its prominent curves with a colour of their own.
"No; not large. About a hundred." (In speaking of farms
the word "acres" is omitted by the natives, by analogy to
such old expressions as "a stag of ten.")
"I wanted my hat this morning." she went on. "I had to ride
to Tewnell Mill."
"Yes you had."
"How do you know?"
"I saw you."
"Where?" she inquired, a misgiving bringing every muscle of
her lineaments and frame to a standstill.
"Here -- going through the plantation, and all down the
hill," said Farmer Oak, with an aspect excessively knowing
with regard to some matter in his mind, as he gazed at a
remote point in the direction named, and then turned back to
meet his colloquist's eyes.
A perception caused him to withdraw his own eyes from hers
as suddenly as if he had been caught in a theft.
Recollection of the strange antics she had indulged in when
passing through the trees was succeeded in the girl by a
nettled palpitation, and that by a hot face. It was a time
to see a woman redden who was not given to reddening as a
rule; not a point in the milkmaid but was of the deepest
rose-colour. From the Maiden's Blush, through all varieties
of the Provence down to the Crimson Tuscany, the countenance
of Oak's acquaintance quickly graduated; whereupon he, in
considerateness, turned away his head.
The sympathetic man still looked the other way, and wondered
when she would recover coolness sufficient to justify him in
facing her again. He heard what seemed to be the flitting
of a dead leaf upon the breeze, and looked. She had gone
With an air between that of Tragedy and Comedy Gabriel
returned to his work.
Five mornings and evenings passed. The young woman came
regularly to milk the healthy cow or to attend to the sick
one, but never allowed her vision to stray in the direction
of Oak's person. His want of tact had deeply offended her --
not by seeing what he could not help, but by letting her
know that he had seen it. For, as without law there is no
sin, without eyes there is no indecorum; and she appeared to
feel that Gabriel's espial had made her an indecorous woman
without her own connivance. It was food for great regret
with him; it was also a CONTRETEMPS which touched into life
a latent heat he had experienced in that direction.
The acquaintanceship might, however, have ended in a slow
forgetting, but for an incident which occurred at the end of
the same week. One afternoon it began to freeze, and the
frost increased with evening, which drew on like a stealthy
tightening of bonds. It was a time when in cottages the
breath of the sleepers freezes to the sheets; when round the
drawing-room fire of a thick-walled mansion the sitters'
backs are cold, even whilst their faces are all aglow. Many
a small bird went to bed supperless that night among the
As the milking-hour drew near, Oak kept his usual watch upon
the cowshed. At last he felt cold, and shaking an extra
quantity of bedding round the yearling ewes he entered the
hut and heaped more fuel upon the stove. The wind came in
at the bottom of the door, and to prevent it Oak laid a sack
there and wheeled the cot round a little more to the south.
Then the wind spouted in at a ventilating hole -- of which
there was one on each side of the hut.
Gabriel had always known that when the fire was lighted and
the door closed one of these must be kept open -- that
chosen being always on the side away from the wind. Closing
the slide to windward, he turned to open the other; on
second thoughts the farmer considered that he would first
sit down leaving both closed for a minute or two, till the
temperature of the hut was a little raised. He sat down.
His head began to ache in an unwonted manner, and, fancying
himself weary by reason of the broken rests of the preceding
nights, Oak decided to get up, open the slide, and then
allow himself to fall asleep. He fell asleep, however,
without having performed the necessary preliminary.
How long he remained unconscious Gabriel never knew. During
the first stages of his return to perception peculiar deeds
seemed to be in course of enactment. His dog was howling,
his head was aching fearfully -- somebody was pulling him
about, hands were loosening his neckerchief.
On opening his eyes he found that evening had sunk to dusk
in a strange manner of unexpectedness. The young girl with
the remarkably pleasant lips and white teeth was beside him.
More than this -- astonishingly more -- his head was upon
her lap, his face and neck were disagreeably wet, and her
fingers were unbuttoning his collar.
"Whatever is the matter?" said Oak, vacantly.
She seemed to experience mirth, but of too insignificant a
kind to start enjoyment.
"Nothing now,' she answered, "since you are not dead. It is
a wonder you were not suffocated in this hut of yours."
"Ah, the hut!" murmured Gabriel. "I gave ten pounds for
that hut. But I'll sell it, and sit under thatched hurdles
as they did in old times, and curl up to sleep in a lock of
straw! It played me nearly the same trick the other day!"
Gabriel, by way of emphasis, brought down his fist upon the
"It was not exactly the fault of the hut," she observed in a
tone which showed her to be that novelty among women -- one
who finished a thought before beginning the sentence which
was to convey it. "You should, I think, have considered,
and not have been so foolish as to leave the slides closed."
"Yes I suppose I should," said Oak, absently. He was
endeavouring to catch and appreciate the sensation of being
thus with her, his head upon her dress, before the event
passed on into the heap of bygone things. He wished she
knew his impressions; but he would as soon have thought of
carrying an odour in a net as of attempting to convey the
intangibilities of his feeling in the coarse meshes of
language. So he remained silent.
She made him sit up, and then Oak began wiping his face and
shaking himself like a Samson. "How can I thank 'ee?" he
said at last, gratefully, some of the natural rusty red
having returned to his face.
"Oh, never mind that," said the girl, smiling, and allowing
her smile to hold good for Gabriel's next remark, whatever
that might prove to be.
"How did you find me?"
"I heard your dog howling and scratching at the door of the
hut when I came to the milking (it was so lucky, Daisy's
milking is almost over for the season, and I shall not come
here after this week or the next). The dog saw me, and
jumped over to me, and laid hold of my skirt. I came across
and looked round the hut the very first thing to see if the
slides were closed. My uncle has a hut like this one, and I
have heard him tell his shepherd not to go to sleep without
leaving a slide open. I opened the door, and there you were
like dead. I threw the milk over you, as there was no
water, forgetting it was warm, and no use."
"I wonder if I should have died?" Gabriel said, in a low
voice, which was rather meant to travel back to himself than
"Oh no!" the girl replied. She seemed to prefer a less
tragic probability; to have saved a man from death involved
talk that should harmonise with the dignity of such a deed --
and she shunned it.
"I believe you saved my life, Miss ---- I don't know your
name. I know your aunt's, but not yours."
"I would just as soon not tell it -- rather not. There is
no reason either why I should, as you probably will never
have much to do with me."
"Still, I should like to know."
"You can inquire at my aunt's -- she will tell you."
"My name is Gabriel Oak."
"And mine isn't. You seem fond of yours in speaking it so
decisively, Gabriel Oak."
"You see, it is the only one I shall ever have, and I must
make the most of it."
"I always think mine sounds odd and disagreeable."
"I should think you might soon get a new one."
"Mercy! -- how many opinions you keep about you concerning
other people, Gabriel Oak."
"Well, Miss -- excuse the words -- I thought you would like
them. But I can't match you, I know, in napping out my mind
upon my tongue. I never was very clever in my inside. But
I thank you. Come, give me your hand."
She hesitated, somewhat disconcerted at Oak's old-fashioned
earnest conclusion to a dialogue lightly carried on. "Very
well," she said, and gave him her hand, compressing her lips
to a demure impassivity. He held it but an instant, and in
his fear of being too demonstrative, swerved to the opposite
extreme, touching her fingers with the lightness of a small-
"I am sorry," he said the instant after.
"Letting your hand go so quick"
"You may have it again if you like; there it is." She gave
him her hand again.
Oak held it longer this time -- indeed, curiously long.
"How soft it is -- being winter time, too -- not chapped or
rough or anything!" he said.
"There -- that's long enough," said she, though without
pulling it away. "But I suppose you are thinking you would
like to kiss it? You may if you want to."
"I wasn't thinking of any such thing," said Gabriel, simply;
"but I will ----"
"That you won't!" She snatched back her hand.
Gabriel felt himself guilty of another want of tact.
"Now find out my name," she said, teasingly; and withdrew.
GABRIEL'S RESOLVE -- THE VISIT -- THE MISTAKE
THE only superiority in women that is tolerable to the rival
sex is, as a rule, that of the unconscious kind; but a
superiority which recognizes itself may sometimes please by
suggesting possibilities of capture to the subordinated man.
This well-favoured and comely girl soon made appreciable
inroads upon the emotional constitution of young Farmer Oak.
Love, being an extremely exacting usurer (a sense of
exorbitant profit, spiritually, by an exchange of hearts,
being at the bottom of pure passions, as that of exorbitant
profit, bodily or materially, is at the bottom of those of
lower atmosphere), every morning Oak's feelings were as
sensitive as the money-market in calculations upon his
chances. His dog waited for his meals in a way so like that
in which Oak waited for the girl's presence, that the farmer
was quite struck with the resemblance, felt it lowering, and
would not look at the dog. However, he continued to watch
through the hedge for her regular coming, and thus his
sentiments towards her were deepened without any
corresponding effect being produced upon herself. Oak had
nothing finished and ready to say as yet, and not being able
to frame love phrases which end where they begin; passionate
-- Full of sound and fury
-- signifying nothing --
he said no word at all.
By making inquiries he found that the girl's name was
Bathsheba Everdene, and that the cow would go dry in about
seven days. He dreaded the eighth day.
At last the eighth day came. The cow had ceased to give
milk for that year, and Bathsheba Everdene came up the hill
no more. Gabriel had reached a pitch of existence he never
could have anticipated a short time before. He liked saying
"Bathsheba" as a private enjoyment instead of whistling;
turned over his taste to black hair, though he had sworn by
brown ever since he was a boy, isolated himself till the
space he filled in the public eye was contemptibly small.
Love is a possible strength in an actual weakness. Marriage
transforms a distraction into a support, the power of which
should be, and happily often is, in direct proportion to the
degree of imbecility it supplants. Oak began now to see
light in this direction, and said to himself, "I'll make her
my wife, or upon my soul I shall be good for nothing!"
All this while he was perplexing himself about an errand on
which he might consistently visit the cottage of Bathsheba's
He found his opportunity in the death of a ewe, mother of a
living lamb. On a day which had a summer face and a winter
constitution -- a fine January morning, when there was just
enough blue sky visible to make cheerfully-disposed people
wish for more, and an occasional gleam of silvery sunshine,
Oak put the lamb into a respectable Sunday basket, and
stalked across the fields to the house of Mrs. Hurst, the
aunt -- George, the dog walking behind, with a countenance
of great concern at the serious turn pastoral affairs seemed
to be taking.
Gabriel had watched the blue wood-smoke curling from the
chimney with strange meditation. At evening he had
fancifully traced it down the chimney to the spot of its
origin -- seen the hearth and Bathsheba beside it -- beside
it in her out-door dress; for the clothes she had worn on
the hill were by association equally with her person
included in the compass of his affection; they seemed at
this early time of his love a necessary ingredient of the
sweet mixture called Bathsheba Everdene.
He had made a toilet of a nicely-adjusted kind -- of a
nature between the carefully neat and the carelessly ornate
-- of a degree between fine-market-day and wet-Sunday
selection. He thoroughly cleaned his silver watch-chain
with whiting, put new lacing straps to his boots, looked to
the brass eyelet-holes, went to the inmost heart of the
plantation for a new walking-stick, and trimmed it
vigorously on his way back; took a new handkerchief from the
bottom of his clothes-box, put on the light waistcoat
patterned all over with sprigs of an elegant flower uniting
the beauties of both rose and lily without the defects of
either, and used all the hair-oil he possessed upon his
usually dry, sandy, and inextricably curly hair, till he had
deepened it to a splendidly novel colour, between that of
guano and Roman cement, making it stick to his head like
mace round a nutmeg, or wet seaweed round a boulder after
Nothing disturbed the stillness of the cottage save the
chatter of a knot of sparrows on the eaves; one might fancy
scandal and rumour to be no less the staple topic of these
little coteries on roofs than of those under them. It
seemed that the omen was an unpropitious one, for, as the
rather untoward commencement of Oak's overtures, just as he
arrived by the garden gate, he saw a cat inside, going into
various arched shapes and fiendish convulsions at the sight
of his dog George. The dog took no notice , for he had
arrived at an age at which all superfluous barking was
cynically avoided as a waste of breath -- in fact, he never
barked even at the sheep except to order, when it was done
with an absolutely neutral countenance, as a sort of
Commination-service, which, though offensive, had to be gone
through once now and then to frighten the flock for their
A voice came from behind some laurel-bushes into which the
cat had run:
"Poor dear! Did a nasty brute of a dog want to kill it; --
did he, poor dear!"
"I beg your pardon," said Oak to the voice, "but George was
walking on behind me with a temper as mild as milk."
Almost before he had ceased speaking, Oak was seized with a
misgiving as to whose ear was the recipient of his answer.
Nobody appeared, and he heard the person retreat among the
Gabriel meditated, and so deeply that he brought small
furrows into his forehead by sheer force of reverie. Where
the issue of an interview is as likely to be a vast change
for the worse as for the better, any initial difference from
expectation causes nipping sensations of failure. Oak went
up to the door a little abashed: his mental rehearsal and
the reality had had no common grounds of opening.
Bathsheba's aunt was indoors. "Will you tell Miss Everdene
that somebody would be glad to speak to her?" said Mr. Oak.
(Calling one's self merely Somebody, without giving a name,
is not to be taken as an example of the ill-breeding of the
rural world: it springs from a refined modesty, of which
townspeople, with their cards and announcements, have no
Bathsheba was out. The voice had evidently been hers.
"Will you come in, Mr. Oak?"
"Oh, thank 'ee," said Gabriel, following her to the
fireplace. "I've brought a lamb for Miss Everdene. I
thought she might like one to rear; girls do."
"She might," said Mrs. Hurst, musingly; "though she's only a
visitor here. If you will wait a minute, Bathsheba will be
"Yes, I will wait," said Gabriel, sitting down. "The lamb
isn't really the business I came about, Mrs. Hurst. In
short, I was going to ask her if she'd like to be married."
"And were you indeed?"
"Yes. Because if she would, I should be very glad to marry
her. D'ye know if she's got any other young man hanging
about her at all?"
"Let me think," said Mrs. Hurst, poking the fire
superfluously.... "Yes -- bless you, ever so many young
men. You see, Farmer Oak, she's so good-looking, and an
excellent scholar besides -- she was going to be a governess
once, you know, only she was too wild. Not that her young
men ever come here -- but, Lord, in the nature of women, she
must have a dozen!"
"That's unfortunate," said Farmer Oak, contemplating a crack
in the stone floor with sorrow. "I'm only an every-day sort
of man, and my only chance was in being the first comer...
Well, there's no use in my waiting, for that was all I came
about: so I'll take myself off home-along, Mrs. Hurst."
When Gabriel had gone about two hundred yards along the
down, he heard a "hoi-hoi!" uttered behind him, in a piping
note of more treble quality than that in which the
exclamation usually embodies itself when shouted across a
field. He looked round, and saw a girl racing after him,
waving a white handkerchief.
Oak stood still -- and the runner drew nearer. It was
Bathsheba Everdene. Gabriel's colour deepened: hers was
already deep, not, as it appeared, from emotion, but from
"Farmer Oak -- I ----" she said, pausing for want of breath
pulling up in front of him with a slanted face and putting
her hand to her side.
"I have just called to see you," said Gabriel, pending her
"Yes -- I know that," she said panting like a robin, her
face red and moist from her exertions, like a peony petal
before the sun dries off the dew. "I didn't know you had
come to ask to have me, or I should have come in from the
garden instantly. I ran after you to say -- that my aunt
made a mistake in sending you away from courting me ----"
Gabriel expanded. "I'm sorry to have made you run so fast,
my dear," he said, with a grateful sense of favours to come.
"Wait a bit till you've found your breath."
"-- It was quite a mistake-aunt's telling you I had a young
man already," Bathsheba went on. "I haven't a sweetheart at
all -- and I never had one, and I thought that, as times go
with women, it was SUCH a pity to send you away thinking
that I had several."
"Really and truly I am glad to hear that!" said Farmer Oak,
smiling one of his long special smiles, and blushing with
gladness. He held out his hand to take hers, which, when
she had eased her side by pressing it there, was prettily
extended upon her bosom to still her loud-beating heart.
Directly he seized it she put it behind her, so that it
slipped through his fingers like an eel."
"I have a nice snug little farm," said Gabriel, with half a
degree less assurance than when he had seized her hand.
"Yes; you have."
"A man has advanced me money to begin with, but still, it
will soon be paid off and though I am only an every-day sort
of man, I have got on a little since I was a boy." Gabriel
uttered "a little" in a tone to show her that it was the
complacent form of "a great deal." He continued: "When we
be married, I am quite sure I can work twice as hard as I do
He went forward and stretched out his arm again. Bathsheba
had overtaken him at a point beside which stood a low
stunted holly bush, now laden with red berries. Seeing his
advance take the form of an attitude threatening a possible
enclosure, if not compression, of her person, she edged off
round the bush.
"Why, Farmer Oak," she said, over the top, looking at him
with rounded eyes, "I never said I was going to marry you."
"Well -- that IS a tale!" said Oak, with dismay." To run
after anybody like this, and then say you don't want him!"
"What I meant to tell you was only this," she said eagerly,
and yet half conscious of the absurdity of the position she
had made for herself -- "that nobody has got me yet as a
sweetheart, instead of my having a dozen, as my aunt said;
I HATE to be thought men's property in that way, though
possibly I shall be had some day. Why, if I'd wanted you I
shouldn't have run after you like this; 'twould have been
the FORWARDEST thing! But there was no harm in hurrying to
correct a piece of false news that had been told you."
"Oh, no -- no harm at all." But there is such a thing as
being too generous in expressing a judgment impulsively, and
Oak added with a more appreciative sense of all the
circumstances -- "Well, I am not quite certain it was no
"Indeed, I hadn't time to think before starting whether I
wanted to marry or not, for you'd have been gone over the
"Come," said Gabriel, freshening again; "think a minute or
two. I'll wait a while, Miss Everdene. Will you marry me?
Do, Bathsheba. I love you far more than common!"
"I'll try to think," she observed, rather more timorously;
"if I can think out of doors; my mind spreads away so."
"But you can give a guess."
"Then give me time." Bathsheba looked thoughtfully into the
distance, away from the direction in which Gabriel stood.
"I can make you happy," said he to the back of her head,
across the bush. "You shall have a piano in a year or two --
farmers' wives are getting to have pianos now -- and I'll
practise up the flute right well to play with you in the
"Yes; I should like that."
"And have one of those little ten-pound" gigs for market --
and nice flowers, and birds -- cocks and hens I mean,
because they be useful," continued Gabriel, feeling balanced
between poetry and practicality.
"I should like it very much."
"And a frame for cucumbers -- like a gentleman and lady.
"And when the wedding was over, we'd have it put in the
newspaper list of marriages."
"Dearly I should like that!"
"And the babies in the births -- every man jack of 'em! And
at home by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be
-- and whenever I look up there will be you."
"Wait, wait, and don't be improper!"
Her countenance fell, and she was silent awhile. He
regarded the red berries between them over and over again,
to such an extent, that holly seemed in his after life to be
a cypher signifying a proposal of marriage. Bathsheba
decisively turned to him.
"No;" 'tis no use," she said. "I don't want to marry you."
"I have tried hard all the time I've been thinking; for a
marriage would be very nice in one sense. People would talk
about me, and think I had won my battle, and I should feel
triumphant, and all that, But a husband ----
"Why, he'd always be there, as you say; whenever I looked
up, there he'd be."
"Of course he would -- I, that is."
"Well, what I mean is that I shouldn't mind being a bride at
a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband. But
since a woman can't show off in that way by herself, I
shan't marry -- at least yet."
"That's a terrible wooden story."
At this criticism of her statement Bathsheba made an
addition to her dignity by a slight sweep away from him.
"Upon my heart and soul, I don't know what a maid can say
stupider than that," said Oak. "But dearest," he continued
in a palliative voice, "don't be like it!" Oak sighed a deep
honest sigh -- none the less so in that, being like the sigh
of a pine plantation, it was rather noticeable as a
disturbance of the atmosphere. "Why won't you have me?" he
appealed, creeping round the holly to reach her side.
"I cannot," she said, retreating.
"But why?" he persisted, standing still at last in despair
of ever reaching her, and facing over the bush.
"Because I don't love you."
"Yes, but ----"
She contracted a yawn to an inoffensive smallness, so that
it was hardly ill-mannered at all. "I don't love you," she
"But I love you -- and, as for myself, I am content to be
"Oh Mr. Oak -- that's very fine! You'd get to despise me."
"Never," said Mr Oak, so earnestly that he seemed to be
coming, by the force of his words, straight through the bush
and into her arms. "I shall do one thing in this life --
one thing certain -- that is, love you, and long for you,
and KEEP WANTING YOU till I die." His voice had a genuine
pathos now, and his large brown hands perceptibly trembled.
"It seems dreadfully wrong not to have you when you feel so
much!" she said with a little distress, and looking
hopelessly around for some means of escape from her moral
dilemma. "How I wish I hadn't run after you!" However she
seemed to have a short cut for getting back to cheerfulness,
and set her face to signify archness. "It wouldn't do, Mr
Oak. I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and
you would never be able to, I know."
Oak cast his eyes down the field in a way implying that it
was useless to attempt argument.
"Mr. Oak," she said, with luminous distinctness and common
sense, "you are better off than I. I have hardly a penny in
the world -- I am staying with my aunt for my bare
sustenance. I am better educated than you -- and I don't
love you a bit: that's my side of the case. Now yours: you
are a farmer just begining; and you ought in common
prudence, if you marry at all (which you should certainly
not think of doing at present), to marry a woman with money,
who would stock a larger farm for you than you have now."
Gabriel looked at her with a little surprise and much
"That's the very thing I had been thinking myself!" he
Farmer Oak had one-and-a-half Christian characteristics too
many to succeed with Bathsheba: his humility, and a
superfluous moiety of honesty. Bathsheba was decidedly
"Well, then, why did you come and disturb me?" she said,
almost angrily, if not quite, an enlarging red spot rising
in each cheek.
"I can't do what I think would be -- would be ----"
"You have made an admission NOW, Mr. Oak," she exclaimed,
with even more hauteur, and rocking her head disdainfully.
"After that, do you think I could marry you? Not if I know
He broke in passionately. "But don't mistake me like that!
Because I am open enough to own what every man in my shoes
would have thought of, you make your colours come up your
face, and get crabbed with me. That about your not being
good enough for me is nonsense. You speak like a lady --
all the parish notice it, and your uncle at Weatherbury is,
I have heerd, a large farmer -- much larger than ever I
shall be. May I call in the evening, or will you walk along
with me o' Sundays? I don't want you to make-up your mind
at once, if you'd rather not."
"No -- no -- I cannot. Don't press me any more -- don't. I
don't love you -- so 'twould be ridiculous," she said, with
No man likes to see his emotions the sport of a merry-go-
round of skittishness. "Very well," said Oak, firmly, with
the bearing of one who was going to give his days and nights
to Ecclesiastes for ever. "Then I'll ask you no more."
DEPARTURE OF BATHSHEBA -- A PASTORAL TRAGEDY
THE news which one day reached Gabriel, that Bathsheba
Everdene had left the neighbourhood, had an influence upon
him which might have surprised any who never suspected that
the more emphatic the renunciation the less absolute its
It may have been observed that there is no regulal path for
getting out of love as there is for getting in. Some people
look upon marriage as a short cut that way, but it has been
known to fail. Separation, which was the means that chance
offered to Gabriel Oak by Bathsheba's disappearance though
effectual with people of certain humours is apt to idealize
the removed object with others -- notably those whose
affection, placid and regular as it may be, flows deep and
long. Oak belonged to the even-tempered order of humanity,
and felt the secret fusion of himself in Bathsheba to be
burning with a finer flame now that she was gone -- that was
His incipient friendship with her aunt had been nipped by
the failure of his suit, and all that Oak learnt of
Bathsheba's movements was done indirectly. It appeared that
she had gone to a place called Weatherbury, more than twenty
miles off, but in what capacity -- whether as a visitor, or
permanently, he could not discover.
Gabriel had two dogs. George, the elder, exhibited an
ebony-tipped nose, surrounded by a narrow margin of pink
flesh, and a coat marked in random splotches approximating
in colour to white and slaty grey; but the grey, after years
of sun and rain, had been scorched and washed out of the
more prominent locks, leaving them of a reddish-brown, as if
the blue component of the grey had faded, like the indigo
from the same kind of colour in Turner's pictures. In
substance it had originally been hair, but long contact with
sheep seemed to be turning it by degrees into wool of a poor
quality and staple.
This dog had originally belonged to a shepherd of inferior
morals and dreadful temper, and the result was that George
knew the exact degrees of condemnation signified by cursing
and swearing of all descriptions better than the wickedest
old man in the neighbourhood. Long experience had so
precisely taught the animal the difference between such
exclamations as "Come in!" and "D ---- ye, come in!" that he
knew to a hair's breadth the rate of trotting back from the
ewes' tails that each call involved, if a staggerer with the
sheep crook was to be escaped. Though old, he was clever
and trustworthy still.
The young dog, George's son, might possibly have been the
image of his mother, for there was not much resemblance
between him and George. He was learning the sheep-keeping
business, so as to follow on at the flock when the other
should die, but had got no further than the rudiments as yet
-- still finding an insuperable difficulty in distinguishing
between doing a thing well enough and doing it too well. So
earnest and yet so wrong-headed was this young dog (he had
no, name in particular, and answered with perfect readiness
to any pleasant interjection), that if sent behind the flock
to help them on, he did it so thoroughly that he would have
chased them across the whole county with the greatest
pleasure if not called off or reminded when to stop by the
example of old George.
Thus much for the dogs. On the further side of Norcombe
Hill was a chalk-pit, from which chalk had been drawn for
generations, and spread over adjacent farms. Two hedges
converged upon it in the form of a V, but without quite
meeting. The narrow opening left, which was immediately
over the brow of the pit, was protected by a rough railing.
One night, when Farmer Oak had returned to, his house,
believing there would be no further necessity for his
attendance on the down, he called as usual to the dogs,
previously to shutting them up in the outhouse till next
morning. Only one responded -- old George; the other could
not be found, either in the house, lane, or garden. Gabriel
then remembered that he had left the two dogs on the hill
eating a dead lamb (a kind of meat he usually kept from
them, except when other food ran short), and concluding that
the young one had not finished his meal, he went indoors to
the luxury of a bed, which latterly he had only enjoyed on
It was a still, moist night. Just before dawn he was
assisted in waking by the abnormal reverberation of familiar
music. To the shepherd, the note of the sheep-bell, like
the ticking of the clock to other people, is a chronic sound
that only makes itself noticed by ceasing or altering in
some unusual manner from the well-known idle twinkle which
signifies to the accustomed ear, however distant, that all
is well in the fold. In the solemn calm of the awakening
morn that note was heard by Gabriel, beating with unusual
violence and rapidity. This exceptional ringing may be
caused in two ways -- by the rapid feeding of the sheep
bearing the bell, as when the flock breaks into new pasture,
which gives it an intermittent rapidity, or by the sheep
starting off in a run, when the sound has a regular
palpitation. The experienced ear of Oak knew the sound he
now heard to be caused by the running of the flock with
He jumped out of bed, dressed, tore down the lane through a
foggy dawn, and ascended the hill. The forward ewes were
kept apart from those among which the fall of lambs would be
later, there being two hundred of the latter class in
Gabriel's flock. These two hundred seemed to have
absolutely vanished from the hill. There were the fifty
with their lambs, enclosed at the other end as he had left
them, but the rest, forming the bulk of the flock, were
nowhere. Gabriel called at the top of his voice the
"Ovey, ovey, ovey!"
Not a single bleat. He went to the hedge; a gap had been
broken through it, and in the gap were the footprints of the
sheep. Rather surprised to find them break fence at this
season, yet putting it down instantly to their great
fondness for ivy in winter-time, of which a great deal grew
in the plantation, he followed through the hedge. They were
not in the plantation. He called again: the valleys and
farthest hills resounded as when the sailors invoked the
lost Hylas on the Mysian shore; but no sheep. He passed
through the trees and along the ridge of the hill. On the
extreme summit, where the ends of the two converging hedges
of which we have spoken were stopped short by meeting the
brow of the chalk-pit, he saw the younger dog standing
against the sky -- dark and motionless as Napoleon at St.
A horrible conviction darted through Oak. With a sensation
of bodily faintness he advanced: at one point the rails
were broken through, and there he saw the footprints of his
ewes. The dog came up, licked his hand, and made signs
implying that he expected some great reward for signal
services rendered. Oak looked over the precipice. The ewes
lay dead and dying at its foot -- a heap of two hundred
mangled carcasses, representing in their condition just now
at least two hundred more.
Oak was an intensely humane man: indeed, his humanity often
tore in pieces any politic intentions of his which bordered
on strategy, and carried him on as by gravitation. A shadow
in his life had always been that his flock ended in mutton --
that a day came and found every shepherd an arrant traitor
to his defenseless sheep. His first feeling now was one of
pity for the untimely fate of these gentle ewes and their
It was a second to remember another phase of the matter.
The sheep were not insured. All the savings of a frugal
life had been dispersed at a blow; his hopes of being an
independent farmer were laid low -- possibly for ever.
Gabriel's energies, patience, and industry had been so
severely taxed during the years of his life between eighteen
and eight-and-twenty, to reach his present stage of progress
that no more seemed to be left in him. He leant down upon a
rail, and covered his face with his hands.
Stupors, however, do not last for ever, and Farmer Oak
recovered from his. It was as remarkable as it was
characteristic that the one sentence he uttered was in
"Thank God I am not married: what would she have done in
the poverty now coming upon me!"
Oak raised his head, and wondering what he could do,
listlessly surveyed the scene. By the outer margin of the
Pit was an oval pond, and over it hung the attenuated
skeleton of a chrome-yellow moon which had only a few days
to last -- the morning star dogging her on the left hand.
The pool glittered like a dead man's eye, and as the world
awoke a breeze blew, shaking and elongating the reflection
of the moon without breaking it, and turning the image of
the star to a phosphoric streak upon the water. All this
Oak saw and remembered.
As far as could be learnt it appeared that the poor young
dog, still under the impression that since he was kept for
running after sheep, the more he ran after them the better,
had at the end of his meal off the dead lamb, which may have
given him additional energy and spirits, collected all the
ewes into a corner, driven the timid creatures through the
hedge, across the upper field, and by main force of worrying
had given them momentum enough to break down a portion of
the rotten railing, and so hurled them over the edge.
George's son had done his work so thoroughly that he was
considered too good a workman to live, and was, in fact,
taken and tragically shot at twelve o'clock that same day --
another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends
dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of
reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly
consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of
Gabriel's farm had been stocked by a dealer -- on the
strength of Oak's promising look and character -- who was
receiving a percentage from the farmer till such time as the
advance should be cleared off. Oak found that the value of
stock, plant, and implements which were really his own would
be about sufficient to pay his debts, leaving himself a free
man with the clothes he stood up in, and nothing more.
THE FAIR -- THE JOURNEY -- THE FIRE
TWO months passed away. We are brought on to a day in
February, on which was held the yearly statute or hiring
fair in the county-town of Casterbridge.
At one end of the street stood from two to three hundred
blithe and hearty labourers waiting upon Chance -- all men
of the stamp to whom labour suggests nothing worse than a
wrestle with gravitation, and pleasure nothing better than a
renunciation of the same. Among these, carters and waggoners
were distinguished by having a piece of whip-cord twisted
round their hats; thatchers wore a fragment of woven straw;
shepherds held their sheep-crooks in their hands; and thus
the situation required was known to the hirers at a glance.
In the crowd was an athletic young fellow of some-what
superior appearance to the rest -- in fact, his superiority
was marked enough to lead several ruddy peasants standing by
to speak to him inquiringly, as to a farmer, and to use
'Sir' as a finishing word. His answer always was, --
"I am looking for a place myself -- a bailiff's. Do ye know
of anybody who wants one?"
Gabriel was paler now. His eyes were more meditative, and
his expression was more sad. He had passed through an
ordeal of wretchedness which had given him more than it had
taken away. He had sunk from his modest elevation as
pastoral king into the very slime-pits of Siddim; but there
was left to him a dignified calm he had never before known,
and that indifference to fate which, though it often makes a
villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does
not. And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the
In the morning a regiment of cavalry had left the town, and
a sergeant and his party had been beating up for recruits
through the four streets. As the end of the day drew on,
and he found himself not hired, Gabriel almost wished that
he had joined them, and gone off to serve his country.
Weary of standing in the market-place, and not much minding
the kind of work he turned his hand to, he decided to offer
himself in some other capacity than that of bailiff.
All the farmers seemed to be wanting shepherds. Sheep-
tending was Gabriel's speciality. Turning down an obscure
street and entering an obscurer lane, he went up to a
"How long would it take you to make a shepherd's crook?"
He sat on a bench and the crook was made, a stem being given
him into the bargain.
He then went to a ready-made clothes' shop, the owner of
which had a large rural connection. As the crook had
absorbed most of Gabriel's money, he attempted, and carried
out, an exchange of his overcoat for a shepherd's regulation
This transaction having been completed, he again hurried off
to the centre of the town, and stood on the kerb of the
pavement, as a shepherd, crook in hand.
Now that Oak had turned himself into a shepherd, it seemed
that bailifs were most in demand. However, two or three
farmers noticed him and drew near. Dialogues followed, more
or less in the subjoined form: --
"Where do you come from?"
"That's a long way.
"Who's farm were you upon last?"
This reply invariably operated like a rumour of cholera.
The inquiring farmer would edge away and shake his head
dubiously. Gabriel, like his dog, was too good to be
trustworthy, and he never made advance beyond this point.
It is safer to accept any chance that offers itself, and
extemporize a procedure to fit it, than to get a good
shepherd, but had laid himself out for anything in the whole
cycle of labour that was required in the fair. It grew
dusk. Some merry men were whistling and singing by the
corn-exchange. Gabriel's hand, which had lain for some time
idle in his smock-frock pocket, touched his flute which he
carried there. Here was an opportunity for putting his
dearly bought wisdom into practice.
He drew out his flute and began to play "Jockey to the Fair"
in the style of a man who had never known moment's sorrow.
Oak could pipe with Arcadian sweetness and the sound of the
well-known notes cheered his own heart as well as those of
the loungers. He played on with spirit, and in half an hour
had earned in pence what was a small fortune to a destitute
By making inquiries he learnt that there was another fair at
Shottsford the next day.
"How far is Shottsford?"
"Ten miles t'other side of Weatherbury."
Weatherbury! It was where Bathsheba had gone two months
before. This information was like coming from night into
"How far is it to Weatherbury?"
"Five or six miles."
Bathsheba had probably left Weatherbury long before this
time, but the place had enough interest attaching to it to
lead Oak to choose Shottsford fair as his next field of
inquiry, because it lay in the Weatherbury quarter.
Moreover, the Weatherbury folk were by no means
uninteresting intrinsically. If report spoke truly they
were as hardy, merry, thriving, wicked a set as any in the
whole county. Oak resolved to sleep at Weatherbury that
night on his way to Shottsford, and struck out at once into
the high road which had been recommended as the direct route
to the village in question.
The road stretched through water-meadows traversed by little
brooks, whose quivering surfaces were braided along their
centres, and folded into creases at the sides; or, where the
flow was more rapid, the stream was pied with spots of white
froth, which rode on in undisturbed serenity. On the higher
levels the dead and dry carcasses of leaves tapped the
ground as they bowled along helter-skelter upon the
shoulders of the wind, and little birds in the hedges were
rustling their feathers and tucking themselves in
comfortably for the night, retaining their places if Oak
kept moving, but flying away if he stopped to look at them.
He passed by Yalbury Wood where the game-birds were rising
to their roosts, and heard the crack-voiced cock-pheasants
"cu-uck, cuck," and the wheezy whistle of the hens.
By the time he had walked three or four miles every shape in
the landscape had assumed a uniform hue of blackness. He
descended Yalbury Hill and could just discern ahead of him a
waggon, drawn up under a great over-hanging tree by the
On coming close, he found there were no horses attached to
it, the spot being apparently quite deserted. The waggon,
from its position, seemed to have been left there for the
night, for beyond about half a truss of hay which was heaped
in the bottom, it was quite empty. Gabriel sat down on the
shafts of the vehicle and considered his position. He
calculated that he had walked a very fair proportion of the
journey; and having been on foot since daybreak, he felt
tempted to lie down upon the hay in the waggon instead of
pushing on to the village of Weatherbury, and having to pay
for a lodging.
Eating his last slices of bread and ham, and drinking from
the bottle of cider he had taken the precaution to bring
with him, he got into the lonely waggon. Here he spread
half of the hay as a bed, and, as well as he could in the
darkness, pulled the other half over him by way of bed-
clothes, covering himself entirely, and feeling, physically,
as comfortable as ever he had been in his life. Inward
melancholy it was impossible for a man like Oak,
introspective far beyond his neighbours, to banish quite,
whilst conning the present untoward page of his history.
So, thinking of his misfortunes, amorous and pastoral he
fell asleep, shepherds enjoying, in common with sailors, the
privilege of being able to summon the god instead of having
to wait for him.
On somewhat suddenly awaking, after a sleep of whose length
he had no idea, Oak found that the waggon was in motion. He
was being carried along the road at a rate rather
considerable for a vehicle without springs, and under
circumstances of physical uneasiness, his head being dandled
up and down on the bed of the waggon like a kettledrum-
stick. He then distinguished voices in conversation, coming
from the forpart of the waggon. His concern at this dilemma
(which would have been alarm, had he been a thriving man;
but misfortune is a fine opiate to personal terror) led him
to peer cautiously from the hay, and the first sight he
beheld was the stars above him. Charles's Wain was getting
towards a right angle with the Pole star, and Gabriel
concluded that it must be about nine o'clock -- in other
words, that he had slept two hours. This small astronomical
calculation was made without any positive effort, and whilst
he was stealthily turning to discover, if possible, into
whose hands he had fallen.
Two figures were dimly visible in front, sitting with their
legs outside the waggon, one of whom was driving. Gabriel
soon found that this was the waggoner, and it appeared they
had come from Casterbridge fair, like himself.
A conversation was in progress, which continued thus: --
"Be as 'twill, she's a fine handsome body as far's looks be
concerned. But that's only the skin of the woman, and these
dandy cattle be as proud as a lucifer in their insides."
"Ay -- so 'a do seem, Billy Smallbury -- so 'a do seem."
This utterance was very shaky by nature, and more so by
circumstance, the jolting of the waggon not being without
its effect upon the speaker's larynx. It came from the man
who held the reins.
"She's a very vain feymell -- so 'tis said here and there."
"Ah, now. If so be 'tis like that, I can't look her in the
face. Lord, no: not I -- heh-heh-heh! Such a shy man as I
"Yes -- she's very vain. 'Tis said that every night at
going to bed she looks in the glass to put on her night-cap
"And not a married woman. Oh, the world!"
"And 'a can play the peanner, so 'tis said. Can play so
clever that 'a can make a psalm tune sound as well as the
merriest loose song a man can wish for."
"D'ye tell o't! A happy time for us, and I feel quite a new
man! And how do she play?"
"That I don't know, Master Poorgrass."
On hearing these and other similar remarks, a wild thought
flashed into Gabriel's mind that they might be speaking of
Bathsheba. There were, however, no ground for retaining
such a supposition, for the waggon, though going in the
direction of Weatherbury, might be going beyond it, and the
woman alluded to seemed to be the mistress of some estate.
They were now apparently close upon Weatherbury and not to
alarm the speakers unnecessarily, Gabriel slipped out of the
He turned to an opening in the hedge, which he found to be a
gate, and mounting thereon, he sat meditating whether to
seek a cheap lodging in the village, or to ensure a cheaper
one by lying under some hay or corn-stack. The crunching
jangle of the waggon died upon his ear. He was about to
walk on, when he noticed on his left hand an unusual light --
appearing about half a mile distant. Oak watched it, and
the glow increased. Something was on fire.
Gabriel again mounted the gate, and, leaping down on the
other side upon what he found to be ploughed soil, made
across the field in the exact direction of the fire. The
blaze, enlarging in a double ratio by his approach and its
own increase, showed him as he drew nearer the outlines of
ricks beside it, lighted up to great distinctness. A rick-
yard was the source of the fire. His weary face now began
to be painted over with a rich orange glow, and the whole
front of his smock-frock and gaiters was covered with a
dancing shadow pattern of thorn-twigs -- the light reaching
him through a leafless intervening hedge -- and the metallic
curve of his sheep-crook shone silver-bright in the same
abounding rays. He came up to the boundary fence, and stood
to regain breath. It seemed as if the spot was unoccupied
by a living soul.
The fire was issuing from a long straw-stack, which was so
far gone as to preclude a possibility of saving it. A rick
burns differently from a house. As the wind blows the fire