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  • 1874
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him through a leafless intervening hedge — and the metallic curve of his sheep-crook shone silver-bright in the same abounding rays. He came up to the boundary fence, and stood to regain breath. It seemed as if the spot was unoccupied by a living soul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get a tarpaulin — quick!” said Gabriel.

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

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

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

“A ladder,” cried Gabriel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t know, ma’am.”

“Don’t any of the others know?”

“Nobody at all — I’ve asked ’em. Quite a stranger, they say.”

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

“Do you think the barn is safe?” she said.

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

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

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

“Never heard the man’s name in my life, or seed his form afore.”

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

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

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

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

“‘Tisn’t a master; ’tis a mistress, shepherd.”

“A woman farmer?”

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

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

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

“Do you happen to want a shepherd, ma’am?”

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

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

“Do you want a shepherd, ma’am?”

CHAPTER VII

RECOGNITION — A TIMID GIRL

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

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

“He’s the very man, ma’am,” said one of the villagers, quietly.

Conviction breeds conviction. “Ay, that ‘a is,” said a second, decisively.

“The man, truly!” said a third, with heartiness.

“He’s all there!” said number four, fervidly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you get me a lodging?” inquired Gabriel.

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

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

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

It was a slim girl, rather thinly clad.

“Good-night to you,” said Gabriel, heartily.

“Good-night,” said the girl to Gabriel.

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

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

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

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

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

“I am not. I am the new shepherd — just arrived.”

“Only a shepherd — and you seem almost a farmer by your ways.”

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

“You won’t say anything in the parish about having seen me here, will you — at least, not for a day or two?”

“I won’t if you wish me not to,” said Oak.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, I will take it,” said the stranger gratefully.

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

“What is the matter?”

“Nothing.”

“But there is?”

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

“Very well; I will. Good-night, again.”

“Good-night.”

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

CHAPTER VIII

THE MALTHOUSE — THE CHAT — NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, ’tis the new shepherd, ‘a b’lieve.”

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

“Gabriel Oak, that’s my name, neighbours.”

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

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

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

“Thought I knowed the man’s face as I seed him on the rick! — thought I did! And where be ye trading o’t to now, shepherd?”

“I’m thinking of biding here,” said Mr. Oak.

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

“Ah — and did you!”

“Knowed yer grandmother.”

“And her too!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A clane cup for the shepherd,” said the maltster commandingly.

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

“A right sensible man,” said Jacob.

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

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

“True, true — not at all,” said the friendly Oak.

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

“My own mind exactly, neighbour.”

“Ah, he’s his grandfer’s own grandsonn! — his grandfer were just such a nice unparticular man!” said the maltster.

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

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

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

“Come, Mark Clark — come. Ther’s plenty more in the barrel,” said Jan.

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

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

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

All looked at Joseph Poorgrass with pitying reproach.

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

“Poor feller,” said Mr. Clark.

“‘Tis a curious nature for a man,” said Jan Coggan.

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

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

“‘Tis a’ awkward gift for a man, poor soul,” said the maltster. “And how long have ye have suffered from it, Joseph?”

[Alternate text: appears in all three additions on hand: “‘Tis a’ awkward gift for a man, poor soul,” said the maltster. “And ye have suffered from it a long time, we know.”

“Ay, ever since…”]

“Oh, ever since I was a boy. Yes — mother was concerned to her heart about it — yes. But ’twas all nought.”

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

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

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

“‘Tis — ’tis,” said Gabriel, recovering from a meditation. “Yes, very awkward for the man.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not at all.”

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

“Ay, ay, Jan Coggan; we know yer maning.”

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

“True, Master Coggan, ‘twould so,” corroborated Mark Clark.

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

“I can — I can,” said Jacob. “That one, too, that we had at Buck’s Head on a White Monday was a pretty tipple.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Used to kiss her scores and long-hundreds o’ times, so ’twas said,” observed Coggan.

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

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

“Boundless love; I shouldn’t have supposed it in the universe!” murmered Joseph Poorgrass, who habitually spoke on a large scale in his moral reflections.

“Well, to be sure,” said Gabriel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Tis to be hoped her temper is as good as her face.”

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

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

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

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

“Good faith, you do talk!” said Gabriel.

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

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

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

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

“Shepherd would like to hear the pedigree of yer life, father — wouldn’t ye, shepherd?”

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

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

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

“Well, then, that’s my age,” said the maltster, emphatically.

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

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

“Sure we shan’t,” said Gabriel, soothingly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not at all,” said Mr. Oak.

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

“Ay, that ye be, shepard,” said the company.

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

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

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

“O no, no,” said Gabriel.

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

“What’s yer hurry then, Laban?” inquired Coggan. “You used to bide as late as the latest.”

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

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

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

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

“O — what’s the matter, what’s the matter, Henery?” said Joseph, starting back.

“What’s a-brewing, Henrey?” asked Jacob and Mark Clark.

“Baily Pennyways — Baily Pennyways — I said so; yes, I said so!”

“What, found out stealing anything?”

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

“You do — you do, Henery.”

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

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

“Have ye heard the news that’s all over parish?”

“About Baily Pennyways?”

“But besides that?”

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

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

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

“Oh — ’tis burned — ’tis burned!” came from Joseph Poorgrass’s dry lips.

“No — ’tis drowned!” said Tall.

“Or ’tis her father’s razor!” suggested Billy Smallbury, with a vivid sense of detail.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, ma’am, several,” said Susan Tall’s husband.

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

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

“I don’t know,” said Bathsheba.

“I’ve never heard of any such thing, ma’am,” said two or three.

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

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

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

“Do you know his name?” Bathsheba said.

“No, mistress; she was very close about it.”

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

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

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

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

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

He also thought of plans for fetching his few utensils and books from Norcombe. THE YOUNG MAN’S BEST COMPANION, THE FARRIER’S SURE GUIDE, THE VETERINARY SURGEON, PARADISE LOST, THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, ROBINSON CRUSOE, ASH’S DICTIONARY, the Walkingame’s ARITHMETIC, constituted his library; and though a limited series, it was one from which he had acquired more sound information by diligent perusal than many a man of opportunities has done from a furlong of laden shelves.

CHAPTER IX

THE HOMESTEAD — A VISITOR — HALF-CONFIDENCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maryann suspended the brush.

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

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

“Be quiet!” said Bathsheba.

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

“Why doesn’t Mrs. Coggan go to the door?” Bath-sheba continued.

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

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

“Oh ma’am — see, here’s a mess!”

The argument was unanswerable after a glance at Maryann.

“Liddy — you must,” said Bathsheba.

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

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

The door opened, and a deep voice said —

“Is Miss Everdene at home?”

“I’ll see, sir,” said Mrs. Coggan, and in a minute appeared in the room.

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

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

“I can’t see him in this state. Whatever shall I do?”

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

“Yes — that sounds very well,” said Mrs. Coggan, critically.

“Say I can’t see him — that will do.”

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

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

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

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

“Who is Mr. Boldwood?” said Bathsheba.

“A gentleman-farmer at Little Weatherbury.”

“Married?”

“No, miss.”

“How old is he?”

“Forty, I should say — very handsome — rather stern- looking — and rich.”

“What a bother this dusting is! I am always in some unfortunate plight or other,” Bathsheba said, complainingly. “Why should he inquire about Fanny?”

“Oh, because, as she had no friends in her childhood, he took her and put her to school, and got her her place here under your uncle. He’s a very kind man that way, but Lord — there!”

“What?”

“Never was such a hopeless man for a woman! He’s been courted by sixes and sevens — all the girls, gentle and simple, for miles round, have tried him. Jane Perkins worked at him for two months like a slave, and the two Miss Taylors spent a year upon him, and he cost Farmer Ives’s daughter nights of tears and twenty pounds’ worth of new clothes; but Lord — the money might as well have been thrown out of the window.”

A little boy came up at this moment and looked in upon them. This child was one of the Coggans, who, with the Smallburys, were as common among the families of this district as the Avons and Derwents among our rivers. He always had a loosened tooth or a cut finger to show to particular friends, which he did with an air of being thereby elevated above the common herd of afflictionless humanity — to which exhibition people were expected to say “Poor child!” with a dash of congratulation as well as pity.

“I’ve got a pen-nee!” said Master Coggan in a scanning measure.

“Well — who gave it you, Teddy?” said Liddy.

“Mis-terr Bold-wood! He gave it to me for opening the gate.”

“What did he say?”

“He said, ‘Where are you going, my little man?’ and I said, ‘To Miss Everdene’s please,’ and he said, ‘She is a staid woman, isn’t she, my little man?’ and I said, ‘Yes.'”

“You naughty child! What did you say that for?”

“‘Cause he gave me the penny!”

“What a pucker everything is in!” said Bathsheba, discontentedly when the child had gone. “Get away, Maryann, or go on with your scrubbing, or do something! You ought to be married by this time, and not here troubling me!”

“Ay, mistress — so I did. But what between the poor men I won’t have, and the rich men who won’t have me, I stand as a pelicon in the wilderness!”

“Did anybody ever want to marry you miss?” Liddy ventured to ask when they were again alone. “Lots of ’em, I daresay?”

Bathsheba paused, as if about to refuse a reply, but the temptation to say yes, since it was really in her power was irresistible by aspiring virginity, in spite of her spleen at having been published as old.

“A man wanted to once,” she said, in a highly experienced tone and the image of Gabriel Oak, as the farmer, rose before her.

“How nice it must seem!” said Liddy, with the fixed features of mental realization. “And you wouldn’t have him?”

“He wasn’t quite good enough for me.”

“How sweet to be able to disdain, when most of us are glad to say, ‘Thank you!’ I seem I hear it. ‘No, sir — I’m your better.’ or ‘Kiss my foot, sir; my face is for mouths of consequence.’ And did you love him, miss?”

“Oh, no. But I rather liked him.”

“Do you now?”

“Of course not — what footsteps are those I hear?”

Liddy looked from a back window into the courtyard behind, which was now getting low-toned and dim with the earliest films of night. A crooked file of men was approaching the back door. The whole string of trailing individuals advanced in the completest balance of intention, like the remarkable creatures known as Chain Salpae, which, distinctly organized in other respects, have one will common to a whole family. Some were, as usual, in snow-white smock-frocks of Russia duck, and some in whitey-brown ones of drabbet — marked on the wrists, breasts, backs, and sleeves with honeycomb-work. Two or three women in pattens brought up the rear.

“The Philistines be upon us,” said Liddy, making her nose white against the glass.

“Oh, very well. Maryann, go down and keep them in the kitchen till I am dressed, and then show them in to me in the hall.”

CHAPTER X

MISTRESS AND MEN

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

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

The men breathed an audible breath of amazement.

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

“Nothing, ma’am.”

“Have you done anything?”

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

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

“Hasn’t William Smallbury been to Casterbridge?”

“Yes, ma’am, but he’s not yet come home. He promised to be back by six.”

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

“Yes, sir — ma’am I mane,” said the person addressed. “I be the personal name of Poorgrass.”

“And what are you?”

“Nothing in my own eye. In the eye of other people — well, I don’t say it; though public thought will out.”

“What do you do on the farm?”

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

“How much to you?”

“Please nine and ninepence and a good halfpenny where ’twas a bad one, sir — ma’am I mane.”

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

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

“How much do I owe you — that man in the corner — what’s your name?” continued Bathsheba.

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

“Matthew Mark, did you say? — speak out — I shall not hurt you,” inquired the young farmer, kindly.

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

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

“Yes, mis’ess,” said Matthew, as the rustle of wind among dead leaves.

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

“P-p-p-p-p-pl-pl-pl-pl-l-l-l-l-ease, ma’am, p-p-p-p-pl-pl- pl-pl-please, ma’am-please’m-please’m —-”

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

“Andrew Randle, here’s yours — finish thanking me in a day or two. Temperance Miller — oh, here’s another, Soberness — both women I suppose?”

“Yes’m. Here we be, ‘a b’lieve,” was echoed in shrill unison.

“What have you been doing?”

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

“Yes — I see. Are they satisfactory women?” she inquired softly of Henery Fray.

“Oh mem — don’t ask me! Yielding women — as scarlet a pair as ever was!” groaned Henery under his breath.

“Sit down.”

“Who, mem?”

“Sit down.”

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

“Now the next. Laban Tall, you’ll stay on working for me?”

“For you or anybody that pays me well, ma’am,” replied the young married man.

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

“What woman is that?” Bathsheba asked.

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

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

“Yes, he’ll stay, ma’am!” said again the shrill tongue of Laban’s lawful wife.

“Well, he can speak for himself, I suppose.”

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

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

The names remaining were called in the same manner.

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

“No, ma’am.”

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

“Oh — he will. Who can he have?”

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

“No, I don’t mind that,” said Gabriel.

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

“Oh you see, mem, his pore mother, not being a Scripture- read woman, made a mistake at his christening, thinking ’twas Abel killed Cain, and called en Cain, but ’twas too late, for the name could never be got rid of in the parish. ‘Tis very unfortunate for the boy.”

“It is rather unfortunate.”

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

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

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

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

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

(All.) “Here’s Billy Smallbury come from Casterbridge.”

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

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

“Come at last, is it?” said Henery.

“Well, what about Fanny?” said Bathsheba.

“Well, ma’am, in round numbers, she’s run away with the soldiers,” said William.

“No; not a steady girl like Fanny!”

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

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

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

“But they’re not gone to any war?”

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

“Did you find out his name?”

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

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

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

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

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

(All.) “No’m!”

(Liddy.) “Excellent well said.”

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

(All.) “Yes’m!”

“And so good-night.”

(All.) “Good-night, ma’am.”

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

CHAPTER XI

OUTSIDE THE BARRACKS — SNOW — A MEETING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One. Two. Three. Four. Five.”

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

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

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