childhood, could possibly have thrown with such utter imbecility as was shown here.
Another attempt, and another; till by degrees the wall must have become pimpled with the adhering lumps of snow. At last one fragment struck the fifth window.
The river would have been seen by day to be of that deep smooth sort which races middle and sides with the same gliding precision, any irregularities of speed being immediately corrected by a small whirlpool. Nothing was heard in reply to the signal but the gurgle and cluck of one of these invisible wheels — together with a few small sounds which a sad man would have called moans, and a happy man laughter — caused by the flapping of the waters against trifling objects in other parts of the stream.
The window was struck again in the same manner.
Then a noise was heard, apparently produced by the opening of the window. This was followed by a voice from the same quarter.
The tones were masculine, and not those of surprise. The high wall being that of a barrack, and marriage being looked upon with disfavour in the army, assignations and communications had probably been made across the river before tonight.
“Is it Sergeant Troy?” said the blurred spot in the snow, tremulously.
This person was so much like a mere shade upon the earth, and the other speaker so much a part of the building, that one would have said the wall was holding a conversation with the snow.
“Yes,” came suspiciously from the shadow. “What girl are you?”
“Oh, Frank — don’t you know me?” said the spot. “Your wife, Fanny Robin.”
“Fanny!” said the wall, in utter astonishment.
“Yes,” said the girl, with a half-suppressed gasp of emotion.
There was something in the woman’s tone which is not that of the wife, and there was a manner in the man which is rarely a husband’s. The dialogue went on:
“How did you come here?”
“I asked which was your window. Forgive me!”
“I did not expect you to-night. Indeed, I did not think you would come at all. It was a wonder you found me here. I am orderly to-morrow.”
“You said I was to come.”
“Well — I said that you might.”
“Yes, I mean that I might. You are glad to see me, Frank?”
“Oh yes — of course.”
“Can you — come to me!”
My dear Fan, no! The bugle has sounded, the barrack gates are closed, and I have no leave. We are all of us as good as in the county gaol till to-morrow morning.”
“Then I shan’t see you till then!” The words were in a faltering tone of disappointment.
“How did you get here from Weatherbury?”
“I walked — some part of the way — the rest by the carriers.”
“I am surprised.”
“Yes — so am I. And Frank, when will it be?”
“That you promised.”
“I don’t quite recollect.”
“O you do! Don’t speak like that. It weighs me to the earth. It makes me say what ought to be said first by you.”
“Never mind — say it.”
“O, must I? — it is, when shall we be married, Frank?”
“Oh, I see. Well — you have to get proper clothes.”
“I have money. Will it be by banns or license?”
“Banns, I should think.”
“And we live in two parishes.”
“Do we? What then?”
“My lodgings are in St. Mary’s, and this is not. So they will have to be published in both.”
“Is that the law?”
“Yes. O Frank — you think me forward, I am afraid! Don’t, dear Frank — will you — for I love you so. And you said lots of times you would marry me, and and — I — I — I — -”
“Don’t cry, now! It is foolish. If I said so, of course I will.”
“And shall I put up the banns in my parish, and will you in yours?”
“Not tomorrow. We’ll settle in a few days.”
“You have the permission of the officers?”
“No, not yet.”
“O — how is it? You said you almost had before you left Casterbridge.”
“The fact is, I forgot to ask. Your coming like this is so sudden and unexpected.”
“Yes — yes — it is. It was wrong of me to worry you. I’ll go away now. Will you come and see me to-morrow, at Mrs. Twills’s, in North Street? I don’t like to come to the Barracks. There are bad women about, and they think me one.”
“Quite, so. I’ll come to you, my dear. Good-night.”
“Good-night, Frank — good-night!”
And the noise was again heard of a window closing. The little spot moved away. When she passed the corner a subdued exclamation was heard inside the wall.
“Ho — ho — Sergeant — ho — ho!” An expostulation followed, but it was indistinct; and it became lost amid a low peal of laughter, which was hardly distinguishable from the gurgle of the tiny whirlpools outside.
FARMERS — A RULE — IN EXCEPTION
THE first public evidence of Bathsheba’s decision to be a farmer in her own person and by proxy no more was her appearance the following market-day in the cornmarket at Casterbridge.
The low though extensive hall, supported by beams and pillars, and latterly dignified by the name of Corn Exchange, was thronged with hot men who talked among each other in twos and threes, the speaker of the minute looking sideways into his auditor’s face and concentrating his argument by a contraction of one eyelid during delivery. The greater number carried in their hands ground-ash saplings, using them partly as walking-sticks and partly for poking up pigs, sheep, neighbours with their backs turned, and restful things in general, which seemed to require such treatment in the course of their peregrinations. During conversations each subjected his sapling to great varieties of usage — bending it round his back, forming an arch of it between his two hands, overweighting it on the ground till it reached nearly a semicircle; or perhaps it was hastily tucked under the arm whilst the sample-bag was pulled forth and a handful of corn poured into the palm, which, after criticism, was flung upon the floor, an issue of events perfectly well known to half-a-dozen acute town-bred fowls which had as usual crept into the building unobserved, and waited the fulfilment of their anticipations with a high- stretched neck and oblique eye.
Among these heavy yeomen a feminine figure glided, the single one of her sex that the room contained. She was prettily and even daintily dressed. She moved between them as a chaise between carts, was heard after them as a romance after sermons, was felt among them like a breeze among furnaces. It had required a little determination — far more than she had at first imagined — to take up a position here, for at her first entry the lumbering dialogues had ceased, nearly every face had been turned towards her, and those that were already turned rigidly fixed there.
Two or three only of the farmers were personally known to Bathsheba, and to these she had made her way. But if she was to be the practical woman she had intended to show herself, business must be carried on, introductions or none, and she ultimately acquired confidence enough to speak and reply boldly to men merely known to her by hearsay. Bathsheba too had her sample-bags, and by degrees adopted the professional pour into the hand — holding up the grains in her narrow palm for inspection, in perfect Casterbridge manner.
Something in the exact arch of her upper unbroken row of teeth, and in the keenly pointed corners of her red mouth when, with parted lips, she somewhat defiantly turned up her face to argue a point with a tall man, suggested that there was potentiality enough in that lithe slip of humanity for alarming exploits of sex, and daring enough to carry them out. But her eyes had a softness — invariably a softness — which, had they not been dark, would have seemed mistiness; as they were, it lowered an expression that might have been piercing to simple clearness.
Strange to say of a woman in full bloom and vigor, she always allowed her interlocutors to finish their statements before rejoining with hers. In arguing on prices, she held to her own firmly, as was natural in a dealer, and reduced theirs persistently, as was inevitable in a woman. But there was an elasticity in her firmness which removed it from obstinacy, as there was a naivete in her cheapening which saved it from meanness.
Those of the farmers with whom she had no dealings (by far the greater part) were continually asking each other, “Who is she?” The reply would be —
“Farmer Everdene’s niece; took on Weatherbury Upper Farm; turned away the baily, and swears she’ll do everything herself.”
The other man would then shake his head.
“Yes, ’tis a pity she’s so headstrong,” the first would say. “But we ought to be proud of her here — she lightens up the old place. ‘Tis such a shapely maid, however, that she’ll soon get picked up.”
It would be ungallant to suggest that the novelty of her engagement in such an occupation had almost as much to do with the magnetism as had the beauty of her face and movements. However, the interest was general, and this Saturday’s DEBUT in the forum, whatever it may have been to Bathsheba as the buying and selling farmer, was unquestionably a triumph to her as the maiden. Indeed, the sensation was so pronounced that her instinct on two or three occasions was merely to walk as a queen among these gods of the fallow, like a little sister of a little Jove, and to neglect closing prices altogether.
The numerous evidences of her power to attract were only thrown into greater relief by a marked exception. Women seem to have eyes in their ribbons for such matters as these. Bathsheba, without looking within a right angle of him, was conscious of a black sheep among the flock.
It perplexed her first. If there had been a respectable minority on either side, the case would have been most natural. If nobody had regarded her, she would have taken the matter indifferently — such cases had occurred. If everybody, this man included, she would have taken it as a matter of course — people had done so before. But the smallness of the exception made the mystery.
She soon knew thus much of the recusant’s appearance. He was a gentlemanly man, with full and distinctly outlined Roman features, the prominences of which glowed in the sun with a bronze-like richness of tone. He was erect in attitude, and quiet in demeanour. One characteristic pre- eminently marked him — dignity.
Apparently he had some time ago reached that entrance to middle age at which a man’s aspect naturally ceases to alter for the term of a dozen years or so; and, artificially, a woman’s does likewise. Thirty-five and fifty were his limits of variation — he might have been either, or anywhere between the two.
It may be said that married men of forty are usually ready and generous enough to fling passing glances at any specimen of moderate beauty they may discern by the way. Probably, as with persons playing whist for love, the consciousness of a certain immunity under any circumstances from that worst possible ultimate, the having to pay, makes them unduly speculative. Bathsheba was convinced that this unmoved person was not a married man.
When marketing was over, she rushed off to Liddy, who was waiting for her — beside the yellowing in which they had driven to town. The horse was put in, and on they trotted Bathsheba’s sugar, tea, and drapery parcels being packed behind, and expressing in some indescribable manner, by their colour, shape, and general lineaments, that they were that young lady-farmer’s property, and the grocer’s and draper’s no more.
“I’ve been through it, Liddy, and it is over. I shan’t mind it again, for they will all have grown accustomed to seeing me there; but this morning it was as bad as being married — eyes everywhere!”
“I knowed it would be,” Liddy said. “Men be such a terrible class of society to look at a body.”
“But there was one man who had more sense than to waste his time upon me.” The information was put in this form that Liddy might not for a moment suppose her mistress was at all piqued. “A very good-looking man,” she continued, “upright; about forty, I should think. Do you know at all who he could be?”
Liddy couldn’t think.
“Can’t you guess at all?” said Bathsheba with some disappointment.
“I haven’t a notion; besides, ’tis no difference, since he took less notice of you than any of the rest. Now, if he’d taken more, it would have mattered a great deal.”
Bathsheba was suffering from the reverse feeling just then, and they bowled along in silence. A low carriage, bowling along still more rapidly behind a horse of unimpeachable breed, overtook and passed them.
“Why, there he is!” she said.
Liddy looked. “That! That’s Farmer Boldwood — of course ’tis — the man you couldn’t see the other day when he called.”
“Oh, Farmer Boldwood,” murmured Bathsheba, and looked at him as he outstripped them. The farmer had never turned his head once, but with eyes fixed on the most advanced point along the road, passed as unconsciously and abstractedly as if Bathsheba and her charms were thin air.
“He’s an interesting man — don’t you think so?” she remarked.
“O yes, very. Everybody owns it,” replied Liddy.
“I wonder why he is so wrapt up and indifferent, and seemingly so far away from all he sees around him.”
“It is said — but not known for certain — that he met with some bitter disappointment when he was a young man and merry. A woman jilted him, they say.”
“People always say that — and we know very well women scarcely ever jilt men; ’tis the men who jilt us. I expect it is simply his nature to be so reserved.”
“Simply his nature — I expect so, miss — nothing else in the world.”
“Still, ’tis more romantic to think he has been served cruelly, poor thing’! Perhaps, after all, he has!”
“Depend upon it he has. Oh yes, miss, he has! I feel he must have.”
“However, we are very apt to think extremes of people. I — shouldn’t wonder after all if it wasn’t a little of both — just between the two — rather cruelly used and rather reserved.”
“Oh dear no, miss — I can’t think it between the two!”
“That’s most likely.”
“Well, yes, so it is. I am convinced it is most likely. You may — take my word, miss, that that’s what’s the matter with him.”
SORTES SANCTORUM — THE VALENTINE
IT was Sunday afternoon in the farmhouse, on the thirteenth of February. Dinner being over, Bathsheba, for want of a better companion, had asked Liddy to come and sit with her. The mouldy pile was dreary in winter-time before the candles were lighted and the shutters closed; the atmosphere of the place seemed as old as the walls; every nook behind the furniture had a temperature of its own, for the fire was not kindled in this part of the house early in the day; and Bathsheba’s new piano, which was an old one in other annals, looked particularly sloping and out of level on the warped floor before night threw a shade over its less prominent angles and hid the unpleasantness. Liddy, like a little brook, though shallow, was always rippling; her presence had not so much weight as to task thought, and yet enough to exercise it.
On the table lay an old quarto Bible, bound in leather. Liddy looking at it said, —
“Did you ever find out, miss, who you are going to marry by means of the Bible and key?”
“Don’t be so foolish, Liddy. As if such things could be.”
“Well, there’s a good deal in it, all the same.”
“And it makes your heart beat fearful. Some believe in it; some don’t; I do.”
“Very well, let’s try it,” said Bathsheba, bounding from her seat with that total disregard of consistency which can be indulged in towards a dependent, and entering into the spirit of divination at once. “Go and get the front door key.”
Liddy fetched it. “I wish it wasn’t Sunday,” she said, on returning. “Perhaps ’tis wrong.”
“What’s right week days is right Sundays,” replied her mistress in a tone which was a proof in itself.
The book was opened — the leaves, drab with age, being quite worn away at much-read verses by the forefingers of unpractised readers in former days, where they were moved along under the line as an aid to the vision. The special verse in the Book of Ruth was sought out by Bathsheba, and the sublime words met her eye. They slightly thrilled and abashed her. It was Wisdom in the abstract facing Folly in the concrete. Folly in the concrete blushed, persisted in her intention, and placed the key on the book. A rusty patch immediately upon the verse, caused by previous pressure of an iron substance thereon, told that this was not the first time the old volume had been used for the purpose.
“Now keep steady, and be silent,” said Bathsheba.
The verse was repeated; the book turned round; Bathsheba blushed guiltily.
“Who did you try?” said Liddy curiously.
“I shall not tell you.”
“Did you notice Mr. Boldwood’s doings in church this morning, miss?” Liddy continued, adumbrating by the remark the track her thoughts had taken.
“No, indeed,” said Bathsheba, with serene indifference.
“His pew is exactly opposite yours, miss.”
“I know it.”
“And you did not see his goings on!”
“Certainly I did not, I tell you.”
Liddy assumed a smaller physiognomy, and shut her lips decisively.
This move was unexpected, and proportionately disconcerting. “What did he do?” Bathsheba said perforce.
“Didn’t turn his head to look at you once all the service.”
“Why should he?” again demanded her mistress, wearing a nettled look. “I didn’t ask him to.”
“Oh no. But everybody else was noticing you; and it was odd he didn’t. There, ’tis like him. Rich and gentlemanly, what does he care?”
Bathsheba dropped into a silence intended to express that she had opinions on the matter too abstruse for Liddy’s comprehension, rather than that she had nothing to say.
“Dear me — I had nearly forgotten the valentine I bought yesterday,” she exclaimed at length.
“Valentine! who for, miss?” said Liddy. “Farmer Boldwood?”
It was the single name among all possible wrong ones that just at this moment seemed to Bathsheba more pertinent than the right.
“Well, no. It is only for little Teddy Coggan. I have promised him something, and this will be a pretty surprise for him. Liddy, you may as well bring me my desk and I’ll direct it at once.”
Bathsheba took from her desk a gorgeously illuminated and embossed design in post-octavo, which had been bought on the previous market-day at the chief stationer’s in Casterbridge. In the centre was a small oval enclosure; this was left blank, that the sender might insert tender words more appropriate to the special occasion than any generalities by a printer could possibly be.
“Here’s a place for writing,” said Bathsheba. “What shall I put?”
“Something of this sort, I should think,” returned Liddy promptly: —
“The rose is red,
The violet blue,
And so are you.”
“Yes, that shall be it. It just suits itself to a chubby- faced child like him,” said Bathsheba. She inserted the words in a small though legible handwriting; enclosed the sheet in an envelope, and dipped her pen for the direction.
“What fun it would be to send it to the stupid old Boldwood, and how he would wonder!” said the irrepressible Liddy, lifting her eyebrows, and indulging in an awful mirth on the verge of fear as she thought of the moral and social magnitude of the man contemplated.
Bathsheba paused to regard the idea at full length. Boldwood’s had begun to be a troublesome image — a species of Daniel in her kingdom who persisted in kneeling eastward when reason and common sense said that he might just as well follow suit with the rest, and afford her the official glance of admiration which cost nothing at all. She was far from being seriously concerned about his nonconformity. Still, it was faintly depressing that the most dignified and valuable man in the parish should withhold his eyes, and that a girl like Liddy should talk about it. So Liddy’s idea was at first rather harassing than piquant.
“No, I won’t do that. He wouldn’t see any humour in it.”
“He’d worry to death,” said the persistent Liddy.
“Really, I don’t care particularly to send it to Teddy,” remarked her mistress. “He’s rather a naughty child sometimes.”
“Yes — that he is.”
“Let’s toss as men do,” said Bathsheba, idly. “Now then, head, Boldwood; tail, Teddy. No, we won’t toss money on a Sunday that would be tempting the devil indeed.”
“Toss this hymn-book; there can’t be no sinfulness in that, miss.”
“Very well. Open, Boldwood — shut, Teddy. No; it’s more likely to fall open. Open, Teddy — shut, Boldwood.”
The book went fluttering in the air and came down shut.
Bathsheba, a small yawn upon her mouth, took the pen, and with off-hand serenity directed the missive to Boldwood.
“Now light a candle, Liddy. Which seal shall we use? Here’s a unicorn’s head — there’s nothing in that. What’s this? — two doves — no. It ought to be something extraordinary, ought it not, Liddy? Here’s one with a motto — I remember it is some funny one, but I can’t read it. We’ll try this, and if it doesn’t do we’ll have another.”
A large red seal was duly affixed. Bathsheba looked closely at the hot wax to discover the words.
“Capital!” she exclaimed, throwing down the letter frolicsomely. “‘Twould upset the solemnity of a parson and clerke too.”
Liddy looked at the words of the seal, and read —
The same evening the letter was sent, and was duly sorted in Casterbridge post-office that night, to be returned to Weatherbury again in the morning.
So very idly and unreflectingly was this deed done. Of love as a spectacle Bathsheba had a fair knowledge; but of love subjectively she knew nothing.
EFFECT OF THE LETTER — SUNRISE
At dusk, on the evening of St. Valentine’s Day, Boldwood sat down to supper as usual, by a beaming fire of aged logs. Upon the mantel-shelf before him was a time-piece, surmounted by a spread eagle, and upon the eagle’s wings was the letter Bathsheba had sent. Here the bachelor’s gaze was continually fastening itself, till the large red seal became as a blot of blood on the retina of his eye; and as he ate and drank he still read in fancy the words thereon, although they were too remote for his sight —
The pert injunction was like those crystal substances which, colourless themselves, assume the tone of objects about them. Here, in the quiet of Boldwood’s parlour, where everything that was not grave was extraneous, and where the atmosphere was that of a Puritan Sunday lasting all the week, the letter and its dictum changed their tenor from the thoughtlessness of their origin to a deep solemnity, imbibed from their accessories now.
Since the receipt of the missive in the morning, Boldwood had felt the symmetry of his existence to be slowly getting distorted in the direction of an ideal passion. The disturbance was as the first floating weed to Columbus — the contemptibly little suggesting possibilities of the infinitely great.
The letter must have had an origin and a motive. That the latter was of the smallest magnitude compatible with its existence at all, Boldwood, of course, did not know. And such an explanation did not strike him as a possibility even. It is foreign to a mystified condition of mind to realize of the mystifier that the processes of approving a course suggested by circumstance, and of striking out a course from inner impulse, would look the same in the result. The vast difference between starting a train of events, and directing into a particular groove a series already started, is rarely apparent to the person confounded by the issue.
When Boldwood went to bed he placed the valentine in the corner of the looking-glass. He was conscious of its presence, even when his back was turned upon it. It was the first time in Boldwood’s life that such an event had occurred. The same fascination that caused him to think it an act which had a deliberate motive prevented him from regarding it as an impertinence. He looked again at the direction. The mysterious influences of night invested the writing with the presence of the unknown writer. Somebody’s — some WOMAN’S — hand had travelled softly over the paper bearing his name; her unrevealed eyes had watched every curve as she formed it; her brain had seen him in imagination the while. Why should she have imagined him? Her mouth — were the lips red or pale, plump or creased? — had curved itself to a certain expression as the pen went on — the corners had moved with all their natural tremulousness: what had been the expression?
The vision of the woman writing, as a supplement to the words written, had no individuality. She was a misty shape, and well she might be, considering that her original was at that moment sound asleep and oblivious of all love and letter-writing under the sky. Whenever Boldwood dozed she took a form, and comparatively ceased to be a vision: when he awoke there was the letter justifying the dream.
The moon shone to-night, and its light was not of a customary kind. His window admitted only a reflection of its rays, and the pale sheen had that reversed direction which snow gives, coming upward and lighting up his ceiling in an unnatural way, casting shadows in strange places, and putting lights where shadows had used to be.
The substance of the epistle had occupied him but little in comparison with the fact of its arrival. He suddenly wondered if anything more might be found in the envelope than what he had withdrawn. He jumped out of bed in the weird light, took the letter, pulled out the flimsy sheet, shook the envelope — searched it. Nothing more was there. Boldwood looked, as he had a hundred times the preceding day, at the insistent red seal: “Marry me,” he said aloud.
The solemn and reserved yeoman again closed the letter, and stuck it in the frame of the glass. In doing so he caught sight of his reflected features, wan in expression, and insubstantial in form. He saw how closely compressed was his mouth, and that his eyes were wide-spread and vacant. Feeling uneasy and dissatisfied with himself for this nervous excitability, he returned to bed.
Then the dawn drew on. The full power of the clear heaven was not equal to that of a cloudy sky at noon, when Boldwood arose and dressed himself. He descended the stairs and went out towards the gate of a field to the east, leaning over which he paused and looked around.
It was one of the usual slow sunrises of this time of the year, and the sky, pure violet in the zenith, was leaden to the northward, and murky to the east, where, over the snowy down or ewe-lease on Weatherbury Upper Farm, and apparently resting upon the ridge, the only half of the sun yet visible burnt rayless, like a red and flameless fire shining over a white hearthstone. The whole effect resembled a sunset as childhood resembles age.
In other directions, the fields and sky were so much of one colour by the snow, that it was difficult in a hasty glance to tell whereabouts the horizon occurred; and in general there was here, too, that before-mentioned preternatural inversion of light and shade which attends the prospect when the garish brightness commonly in the sky is found on the earth, and the shades of earth are in the sky. Over the west hung the wasting moon, now dull and greenish-yellow, like tarnished brass.
Boldwood was listlessly noting how the frost had hardened and glazed the surface of the snow, till it shone in the red eastern light with the polish of marble; how, in some portions of the slope, withered grass-bents, encased in icicles, bristled through the smooth wan coverlet in the twisted and curved shapes of old Venetian glass; and how the footprints of a few birds, which had hopped over the snow whilst it lay in the state of a soft fleece, were now frozen to a short permanency. A half-muffled noise of light wheels interrupted him. Boldwood turned back into the road. It was the mail-cart — a crazy, two-wheeled vehicle, hardly heavy enough to resist a puff of wind. The driver held out a letter. Boldwood seized it and opened it, expecting another anonymous one — so greatly are people’s ideas of probability a mere sense that precedent will repeat itself.
“I don’t think it is for you, sir,” said the man, when he saw Boldwood’s action. “Though there is no name I think it is for your shepherd.”
Boldwood looked then at the address —
To the New Shepherd,
“Oh — what a mistake! — it is not mine. Nor is it for my shepherd. It is for Miss Everdene’s.”You had better take it on to him — Gabriel Oak — and say I opened it in mistake.”
At this moment, on the ridge, up against the blazing sky, a figure was visible, like the black snuff in the midst of a candle-flame. Then it moved and began to bustle about vigorously from place to place, carrying square skeleton masses, which were riddled by the same rays. A small figure on all fours followed behind. The tall form was that of Gabriel Oak; the small one that of George; the articles in course of transit were hurdles.
“Wait,” said Boldwood. “That’s the man on the hill. I’ll take the letter to him myself.”
To Boldwood it was now no longer merely a letter to another man. It was an opportunity. Exhibiting a face pregnant with intention, he entered the snowy field.
Gabriel, at that minute, descended the hill towards the right. The glow stretched down in this direction now, and touched the distant roof of Warren’s Malthouse — whither the shepherd was apparently bent: Boldwood followed at a distance.
A MORNING MEETING — THE LETTER AGAIN
THE scarlet and orange light outside the malthouse did not penetrate to its interior, which was, as usual, lighted by a rival glow of similar hue, radiating from the hearth.
The maltster, after having lain down in his clothes for a few hours, was now sitting beside a three-legged table, breakfasting of bread and bacon. This was eaten on the plateless system, which is performed by placing a slice of bread upon the table, the meat flat upon the bread, a mustard plaster upon the meat, and a pinch of salt upon the whole, then cutting them vertically downwards with a large pocket-knife till wood is reached, when the severed lamp is impaled on the knife, elevated, and sent the proper way of food.
The maltster’s lack of teeth appeared not to sensibly diminish his powers as a mill. He had been without them for so many years that toothlessness was felt less to be a defect than hard gums an acquisition. Indeed, he seemed to approach the grave as a hyperbolic curve approaches a straight line — less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all.
In the ashpit was a heap of potatoes roasting, and a boiling pipkin of charred bread, called “coffee”, for the benefit of whomsoever should call, for Warren’s was a sort of clubhouse, used as an alternative to the inn.
“I say, says I, we get a fine day, and then down comes a snapper at night,” was a remark now suddenly heard spreading into the malthouse from the door, which had been opened the previous moment. The form of Henery Fray advanced to the fire, stamping the snow from his boots when about half-way there. The speech and entry had not seemed to be at all an abrupt beginning to the maltster, introductory matter being often omitted in this neighbourhood, both from word and deed, and the maltster having the same latitude allowed him, did not hurry to reply. He picked up a fragment of cheese, by pecking upon it with his knife, as a butcher picks up skewers.
Henery appeared in a drab kerseymere great-coat, buttoned over his smock-frock, the white skirts of the latter being visible to the distance of about a foot below the coat- tails, which, when you got used to the style of dress, looked natural enough, and even ornamental — it certainly was comfortable.
Matthew Moon, Joseph Poorgrass, and other carters and waggoners followed at his heels, with great lanterns dangling from their hands, which showed that they had just come from the cart-horse stables, where they had been busily engaged since four o’clock that morning.
“And how is she getting on without a baily?” the maltster inquired. Henery shook his head, and smiled one of the bitter smiles, dragging all the flesh of his forehead into a corrugated heap in the centre.
“She’ll rue it — surely, surely!” he said “Benjy Pennyways were not a true man or an honest baily — as big a betrayer as Judas Iscariot himself. But to think she can carr’ on alone!” He allowed his head to swing laterally three or four times in silence. “Never in all my creeping up — never!”
This was recognized by all as the conclusion of some gloomy speech which had been expressed in thought alone during the shake of the head; Henery meanwhile retained several marks of despair upon his face, to imply that they would be required for use again directly he should go on speaking.
“All will be ruined, and ourselves too, or there’s no meat in gentlemen’s houses!” said Mark Clark.
“A headstrong maid, that’s what she is — and won’t listen to no advice at all. Pride and vanity have ruined many a cobbler’s dog. Dear, dear, when I think o’ it, I sorrows like a man in travel!”
“True, Henery, you do, I’ve heard ye,” said Joseph Poorgrass in a voice of thorough attestation, and with a wire-drawn smile of misery.
“‘Twould do a martel man no harm to have what’s under her bonnet,” said Billy Smallbury, who had just entered, bearing his one tooth before him. “She can spaik real language, and must have some sense somewhere. Do ye foller me?”
“I do, I do; but no baily — I deserved that place,” wailed Henery, signifying wasted genius by gazing blankly at visions of a high destiny apparently visible to him on Billy Smallbury’s smock-frock. “There, ’twas to be, I suppose. Your lot is your lot, and Scripture is nothing; for if you do good you don’t get rewarded according to your works, but be cheated in some mean way out of your recompense.”
“No, no; I don’t agree with’ee there,” said Mark Clark. “God’s a perfect gentleman in that respect.”
“Good works good pay, so to speak it,” attested Joseph Poorgrass.
A short pause ensued, and as a sort of ENTR’ACTE Henery turned and blew out the lanterns, which the increase of daylight rendered no longer necessary even in the malthouse, with its one pane of glass.
“I wonder what a farmer-woman can want with a harpsichord, dulcimer, pianner, or whatever ’tis they d’call it?” said the maltster. “Liddy saith she’ve a new one.”
“Got a pianner?”
“Ay. Seems her old uncle’s things were not good enough for her. She’ve bought all but everything new. There’s heavy chairs for the stout, weak and wiry ones for the slender; great watches, getting on to the size of clocks, to stand upon the chimbley-piece.”
“Pictures, for the most part wonderful frames.”
“And long horse-hair settles for the drunk, with horse-hair pillows at each end,” said Mr. Clark. “Likewise looking- glasses for the pretty, and lying books for the wicked.”
A firm loud tread was now heard stamping outside; the door was opened about six inches, and somebody on the other side exclaimed —
“Neighbours, have ye got room for a few new-born lambs?”
“Ay, sure, shepherd,” said the conclave.
The door was flung back till it kicked the wall and trembled from top to bottom with the blow. Mr. Oak appeared in the entry with a steaming face, hay-bands wound about his ankles to keep out the snow, a leather strap round his waist outside the smock-frock, and looking altogether an epitome of the world’s health and vigour. Four lambs hung in various embarrassing attitudes over his shoulders, and the dog George, whom Gabriel had contrived to fetch from Norcombe, stalked solemnly behind.
“Well, Shepherd Oak, and how’s lambing this year, if I mid say it?” inquired Joseph Poorgrass.
“Terrible trying,” said Oak. “I’ve been wet through twice a-day, either in snow or rain, this last fortnight. Cainy and I haven’t tined our eyes to-night.”
“A good few twins, too, I hear?”
“Too many by half. Yes; ’tis a very queer lambing this year. We shan’t have done by Lady Day.”
“And last year ‘twer all over by Sexajessamine Sunday,” Joseph remarked.
“Bring on the rest Cain,” said Gabriel, “and then run back to the ewes. I’ll follow you soon.”
Cainy Ball — a cheery-faced young lad, with a small circular orifice by way of mouth, advanced and deposited two others, and retired as he was bidden. Oak lowered the lambs from their unnatural elevation, wrapped them in hay, and placed them round the fire.
“We’ve no lambing-hut here, as I used to have at Norcombe,” said Gabriel, “and ’tis such a plague to bring the weakly ones to a house. If ’twasn’t for your place here, malter, I don’t know what I should do i’ this keen weather. And how is it with you to-day, malter?”
“Oh, neither sick nor sorry, shepherd; but no younger.”
“Ay — I understand.”
“Sit down, Shepherd Oak,” continued the ancient man of malt. “And how was the old place at Norcombe, when ye went for your dog? I should like to see the old familiar spot; but faith, I shouldn’t know a soul there now.”
“I suppose you wouldn’t. ‘Tis altered very much.”
“Is it true that Dicky Hill’s wooden cider-house is pulled down?”
“Oh yes — years ago, and Dicky’s cottage just above it.”
“Well, to be sure!”
“Yes; and Tompkins’s old apple-tree is rooted that used to bear two hogsheads of cider; and no help from other trees.”
“Rooted? — you don’t say it! Ah! stirring times we live in — stirring times.”
“And you can mind the old well that used to be in the middle of the place? That’s turned into a solid iron pump with a large stone trough, and all complete.”
“Dear, dear — how the face of nations alter, and what we live to see nowadays! Yes — and ’tis the same here. They’ve been talking but now of the mis’ess’s strange doings.”
“What have you been saying about her?” inquired Oak, sharply turning to the rest, and getting very warm.
“These middle-aged men have been pulling her over the coals for pride and vanity,” said Mark Clark; “but I say, let her have rope enough. Bless her pretty face shouldn’t I like to do so — upon her cherry lips!” The gallant Mark Clark here made a peculiar and well known sound with his own.
“Mark,” said Gabriel, sternly, “now you mind this! none of that dalliance-talk — that smack-and-coddle style of yours — about Miss Everdene. I don’t allow it. Do you hear?”
“With all my heart, as I’ve got no chance,” replied Mr. Clark, cordially.
“I suppose you’ve been speaking against her?” said Oak, turning to Joseph Poorgrass with a very grim look.
“No, no — not a word I — ’tis a real joyful thing that she’s no worse, that’s what I say,” said Joseph, trembling and blushing with terror. “Matthew just said —-”
“Matthew Moon, what have you been saying?” asked Oak.
“I? Why ye know I wouldn’t harm a worm — no, not one underground worm?” said Matthew Moon, looking very uneasy.
“Well, somebody has — and look here, neighbours,” Gabriel, though one of the quietest and most gentle men on earth, rose to the occasion, with martial promptness and vigour. “That’s my fist.” Here he placed his fist, rather smaller in size than a common loaf, in the mathematical centre of the maltster’s little table, and with it gave a bump or two thereon, as if to ensure that their eyes all thoroughly took in the idea of fistiness before he went further. “Now — the first man in the parish that I hear prophesying bad of our mistress, why” (here the fist was raised and let fall as Thor might have done with his hammer in assaying it) — “he’ll smell and taste that — or I’m a Dutchman.”
All earnestly expressed by their features that their minds did not wander to Holland for a moment on account of this statement, but were deploring the difference which gave rise to the figure; and Mark Clark cried “Hear, hear; just what I should ha’ said.” The dog George looked up at the same time after the shepherd’s menace, and though he understood English but imperfectly, began to growl.
“Now, don’t ye take on so, shepherd, and sit down!” said Henery, with a deprecating peacefulness equal to anything of the kind in Christianity.
“We hear that ye be a extraordinary good and clever man, shepherd,” said Joseph Poorgrass with considerable anxiety from behind the maltster’s bedstead whither he had retired for safety. “‘Tis a great thing to be clever, I’m sure,” he added, making movements associated with states of mind rather than body; “we wish we were, don’t we, neighbours?”
“Ay, that we do, sure,” said Matthew Moon, with a small anxious laugh towards Oak, to show how very friendly disposed he was likewise.
“Who’s been telling you I’m clever?” said Oak.
“‘Tis blowed about from pillar to post quite common,” said Matthew. “We hear that ye can tell the time as well by the stars as we can by the sun and moon, shepherd.”
“Yes, I can do a little that way,” said Gabriel, as a man of medium sentiments on the subject.
And that ye can make sun-dials and prent folks’ names upon their waggons almost like copper-plate, with beautiful flourishes, and great long tails. A excellent fine thing for ye to be such a clever man, shepherd. Joseph Poorgrass used to prent to Farmer James Everdene’s waggons before you came, and ‘a could never mind which way to turn the J’s and E’s — could ye, Joseph?” Joseph shook his head to express how absolute was the fact that he couldn’t. “And so you used to do ’em the wrong way, like this, didn’t ye, Joseph?” Matthew marked on the dusty floor with his whip-handle.
[the word J A M E S appears here with the “J” and “E” printed as mirror images]
“And how Farmer James would cuss, and call thee a fool, wouldn’t he, Joseph, when ‘a seed his name looking so inside-out-like?” continued Matthew Moon with feeling.
“Ay — ‘a would,” said Joseph, meekly. “But, you see, I wasn’t so much to blame, for them J’s and E’s be such trying sons o’ witches for the memory to mind whether they face backward or forward; and I always had such a forgetful memory, too.”
“‘Tis a very bad afiction for ye, being such a man of calamities in other ways.”
“Well, ’tis; but a happy Providence ordered that it should be no worse, and I feel my thanks. As to shepherd, there, I’m sure mis’ess ought to have made ye her baily — such a fitting man for’t as you be.”
“I don’t mind owning that I expected it,” said Oak, frankly. “Indeed, I hoped for the place. At the same time, Miss Everdene has a right to be her own baily if she choose — and to keep me down to be a common shepherd only.” Oak drew a slow breath, looked sadly into the bright ashpit, and seemed lost in thoughts not of the most hopeful hue.
The genial warmth of the fire now began to stimulate the nearly lifeless lambs to bleat and move their limbs briskly upon the hay, and to recognize for the first time the fact that they were born. Their noise increased to a chorus of baas, upon which Oak pulled the milk-can from before the fire, and taking a small tea-pot from the pocket of his smock-frock, filled it with milk, and taught those of the helpless creatures which were not to be restored to their dams how to drink from the spout — a trick they acquired with astonishing aptitude.
“And she don’t even let ye have the skins of the dead lambs, I hear?” resumed Joseph Poorgrass, his eyes lingering on the operations of Oak with the necessary melancholy.
“I don’t have them,” said Gabriel.
“Ye be very badly used, shepherd,” hazarded Joseph again, in the hope of getting Oak as an ally in lamentation after all. “I think she’s took against ye — that I do.”
“Oh no — not at all,” replied Gabriel, hastily, and a sigh escaped him, which the deprivation of lamb skins could hardly have caused.
Before any further remark had been added a shade darkened the door, and Boldwood entered the malthouse, bestowing upon each a nod of a quality between friendliness and condescension.
“Ah! Oak, I thought you were here,” he said. “I met the mail-cart ten minutes ago, and a letter was put into my hand, which I opened without reading the address. I believe it is yours. You must excuse the accident please.”
“Oh yes — not a bit of difference, Mr. Boldwood — not a bit,” said Gabriel, readily. He had not a correspondent on earth, nor was there a possible letter coming to him whose contents the whole parish would not have been welcome to peruse.
Oak stepped aside, and read the following in an unknown hand: —
“DEAR FRIEND, — I do not know your name, but I think these few lines will reach you, which I wrote to thank you for your kindness to me the night I left Weatherbury in a reckless way. I also return the money I owe you, which you will excuse my not keeping as a gift. All has ended well, and I am happy to say I am going to be married to the young man who has courted me for some time — Sergeant Troy, of the 11th Dragoon Guards, now quartered in this town. He would, I know, object to my having received anything except as a loan, being a man of great respectability and high honour — indeed, a nobleman by blood.
“I should be much obliged to you if you would keep the contents of this letter a secret for the present, dear friend. We mean to surprise Weatherbury by coming there soon as husband and wife, though I blush to state it to one nearly a stranger. The sergeant grew up in Weatherbury. Thanking you again for your kindness,
I am, your sincere well-wisher,
“Have you read it, Mr. Boldwood?” said Gabriel; “if not, you had better do so. I know you are interested in Fanny Robin.”
Boldwood read the letter and looked grieved.
“Fanny — poor Fanny! the end she is so confident of has not yet come, she should remember — and may never come. I see she gives no address.”
“What sort of a man is this Sergeant Troy?” said Gabriel.
“H’m — I’m afraid not one to build much hope upon in such a case as this,” the farmer murmured, “though he’s a clever fellow, and up to everything. A slight romance attaches to him, too. His mother was a French governess, and it seems that a secret attachment existed between her and the late Lord Severn. She was married to a poor medical man, and soon after an infant was born; and while money was forthcoming all went on well. Unfortunately for her boy, his best friends died; and he got then a situation as second clerk at a lawyer’s in Casterbridge. He stayed there for some time, and might have worked himself into a dignified position of some sort had he not indulged in the wild freak of enlisting. I have much doubt if ever little Fanny will surprise us in the way she mentions — very much doubt. A silly girl! — silly girl!”
The door was hurriedly burst open again, and in came running Cainy Ball out of breath, his mouth red and open, like the bell of a penny trumpet, from which he coughed with noisy vigour and great distension of face.
“Now, Cain Ball,” said Oak, sternly, “why will you run so fast and lose your breath so? I’m always telling you of it.”
“Oh — I — a puff of mee breath — went — the — wrong way, please, Mister Oak, and made me cough — hok — hok!”
“Well — what have you come for?”
“I’ve run to tell ye,” said the junior shepherd, supporting his exhausted youthful frame against the doorpost, “that you must come directly. Two more ewes have twinned — that’s what’s the matter, Shepherd Oak.”
“Oh, that’s it,” said Oak, jumping up, and dimissing for the present his thoughts on poor Fanny. “You are a good boy to run and tell me, Cain, and you shall smell a large plum pudding some day as a treat. But, before we go, Cainy, bring the tarpot, and we’ll mark this lot and have done with ’em.”
Oak took from his illimitable pockets a marking iron, dipped it into the pot, and imprintcd on the buttocks of the infant sheep the initials of her he delighted to muse on — “B. E.,” which signified to all the region round that henceforth the lambs belonged to Farmer Bathsheba Everdene, and to no one else.
“Now, Cainy, shoulder your two, and off. Good morning, Mr. Boldwood.” The shepherd lifted the sixteen large legs and four small bodies he had himself brought, and vanished with them in the direction of the lambing field hard by — their frames being now in a sleek and hopeful state, pleasantly contrasting with their death’s-door plight of half an hour before.
Boldwood followed him a little way up the field, hesitated, and turned back. He followed him again with a last resolve, annihilating return. On approaching the nook in which the fold was constructed, the farmer drew out his pocket-book, unfastened-it, and allowed it to lie open on his hand. A letter was revealed — Bathsheba’s.
“I was going to ask you, Oak,” he said, with unreal carelessness, “if you know whose writing this is?”
Oak glanced into the book, and replied instantly, with a flushed face, “Miss Everdene’s.”
Oak had coloured simply at the consciousness of sounding her name. He now felt a strangely distressing qualm from a new thought. The letter could of course be no other than anonymous, or the inquiry would not have been necessary.
Boldwood mistook his confusion: sensitive persons are always ready with their “Is it I?” in preference to objective reasoning.
“The question was perfectly fair,” he returned — and there was something incongruous in the serious earnestness with which he applied himself to an argument on a valentine. “You know it is always expected that privy inquiries will be made: that’s where the — fun lies.” If the word “fun” had been “torture.” it could not have been uttered with a more constrained and restless countenance than was Boldwood’s then.
Soon parting from Gabriel, the lonely and reserved man returned to his house to breakfast — feeling twinges of shame and regret at having so far exposed his mood by those fevered questions to a stranger. He again placed the letter on the mantelpiece, and sat down to think of the circumstances attending it by the light of Gabriel’s information.
ALL SAINTS’ AND ALL SOULS’
ON a week-day morning a small congregation, consisting mainly of women and girls, rose from its knees in the mouldy nave of a church called All Saints’, in the distant barrack- town before mentioned, at the end of a service without a sermon. They were about to disperse, when a smart footstep, entering the porch and coming up the central passage, arrested their attention. The step echoed with a ring unusual in a church; it was the clink of spurs. Everybody looked. A young cavalry soldier in a red uniform, with the three chevrons of a sergeant upon his sleeve, strode up the aisle, with an embarrassment which was only the more marked by the intense vigour of his step, and by the determination upon his face to show none. A slight flush had mounted his cheek by the time he had run the gauntlet between these women; but, passing on through the chancel arch, he never paused till he came close to the altar railing. Here for a moment he stood alone.
The officiating curate, who had not yet doffed his surplice, perceived the new-comer, and followed him to the communion- space. He whispered to the soldier, and then beckoned to the clerk, who in his turn whispered to an elderly woman, apparently his wife, and they also went up the chancel steps.
“‘Tis a wedding!” murmured some of the women, brightening. “Let’s wait!”
The majority again sat down.
There was a creaking of machinery behind, and some of the young ones turned their heads. From the interior face of the west wall of the tower projected a little canopy with a quarter-jack and small bell beneath it, the automaton being driven by the same clock machinery that struck the large bell in the tower. Between the tower and the church was a close screen, the door of which was kept shut during services, hiding this grotesque clockwork from sight. At present, however, the door was open, and the egress of the jack, the blows on the bell, and the mannikin’s retreat into the nook again, were visible to many, and audible through- out the church.
The jack had struck half-past eleven.
“Where’s the woman?” whispered some of the spectators.
The young sergeant stood still with the abnormal rigidity of the old pillars around. He faced the south-east, and was as silent as he was still.
The silence grew to be a noticeable thing as the minutes went on, and nobody else appeared, and not a soul moved. The rattle of the quarter-jack again from its niche, its blows for three-quarters, its fussy retreat, were almost painfully abrupt, and caused many of the congregation to start palpably.
“I wonder where the woman is!” a voice whispered again.
There began now that slight shifting of feet, that artificial coughing among several, which betrays a nervous suspense. At length there was a titter. But the soldier never moved. There he stood, his face to the south-east, upright as a column, his cap in his hand.
The clock ticked on. The women threw off their nervousness, and titters and giggling became more frequent. Then came a dead silence. Every one was waiting for the end. Some persons may have noticed how extraordinarily the striking of quarters seems to quicken the flight of time. It was hardly credible that the jack had not got wrong with the minutes when the rattle began again, the puppet emerged, and the four quarters were struck fitfully as before: One could almost be positive that there was a malicious leer upon the hideous creature’s face, and a mischievous delight in its twitchings. Then, followed the dull and remote resonance of the twelve heavy strokes in the tower above. The women were impressed, and there was no giggle this time.
The clergyman glided into the vestry, and the clerk vanished. The sergeant had not yet turned; every woman in the church was waiting to see his face, and he appeared to know it. At last he did turn, and stalked resolutely down the nave, braving them all, with a compressed lip. Two bowed and toothless old almsmen then looked at each other and chuckled, innocently enough; but the sound had a strange weird effect in that place.
Opposite to the church was a paved square, around which several overhanging wood buildings of old time cast a picturesque shade. The young man on leaving the door went to cross the square, when, in the middle, he met a little woman. The expression of her face, which had been one of intense anxiety, sank at the sight of his nearly to terror.
“Well?” he said, in a suppressed passion, fixedly looking at her.
“Oh, Frank — I made a mistake! — I thought that church with the spire was All Saints’, and I was at the door at half-past eleven to a minute as you said. I waited till a quarter to twelve, and found then that I was in All Souls’. But I wasn’t much frightened, for I thought it could be to- morrow as well.”
“You fool, for so fooling me! But say no more.”
“Shall it be to-morrow, Frank?” she asked blankly.
“To-morrow!” and he gave vent to a hoarse laugh. “I don’t go through that experience again for some time, I warrant you!”
“But after all,” she expostulated in a trembling voice, “the mistake was not such a terrible thing! Now, dear Frank, when shall it be?”
“Ah, when? God knows!” he said, with a light irony, and turning from her walked rapidly away.
IN THE MARKET-PLACE
ON Saturday Boldwood was in Casterbridge market house as usual, when the disturber of his dreams entered and became visible to him. Adam had awakened from his deep sleep, and behold! there was Eve. The farmer took courage, and for the first time really looked at her.
Material causes and emotional effects are not to be arranged in regular equation. The result from capital employed in the production of any movement of a mental nature is sometimes as tremendous as the cause itself is absurdly minute. When women are in a freakish mood, their usual intuition, either from carelessness or inherent defect, seemingly fails to teach them this, and hence it was that Bathsheba was fated to be astonished today.
Boldwood looked at her — not slily, critically, or understandingly, but blankly at gaze, in the way a reaper looks up at a passing train — as something foreign to his element, and but dimly understood. To Boldwood women had been remote phenomena rather than necessary complements — comets of such uncertain aspect, movement, and permanence, that whether their orbits were as geometrical, unchangeable, and as subject to laws as his own, or as absolutely erratic as they superficially appeared, he had not deemed it his duty to consider.
He saw her black hair, her correct facial curves and profile, and the roundness of her chin and throat. He saw then the side of her eyelids, eyes, and lashes, and the shape of her ear. Next he noticed her figure, her skirt, and the very soles of her shoes.
Boldwood thought her beautiful, but wondered whether he was right in his thought, for it seemed impossible that this romance in the flesh, if so sweet as he imagined, could have been going on long without creating a commotion of delight among men, and provoking more inquiry than Bathsheba had done, even though that was not a little. To the best of his judgement neither nature nor art could improve this perfect one of an imperfect many. His heart began to move within him. Boldwood, it must be remembered, though forty years of age, had never before inspected a woman with the very centre and force of his glance; they had struck upon all his senses at wide angles.
Was she really beautiful? He could not assure himself that his opinion was true even now. He furtively said to a neighbour, “Is Miss Everdene considered handsome?”
“Oh yes; she was a good deal noticed the first time she came, if you remember. A very handsome girl indeed.”
A man is never more credulous than in receiving favourable opinions on the beauty of a woman he is half, or quite, in love with; a mere child’s word on the point has the weight of an R.A.’s. Boldwood was satisfied now.
And this charming woman had in effect said to him, “Marry me.” Why should she have done that strange thing? Boldwood’s blindness to the difference between approving of what circumstances suggest, and originating what they do not suggest, was well matched by Bathsheba’s insensibility to the possibly great issues of little beginnings.
She was at this moment coolly dealing with a dashing young farmer, adding up accounts with him as indifferently as if his face had been the pages of a ledger. It was evident that such a nature as his had no attraction for a woman of Bathsheba’s taste. But Boldwood grew hot down to his hands with an incipient jealousy; he trod for the first time the threshold of “the injured lover’s hell.” His first impulse was to go and thrust himself between them. This could be done, but only in one way — by asking to see a sample of her corn. Boldwood renounced the idea. He could not make the request; it was debasing loveliness to ask it to buy and sell, and jarred with his conceptions of her.
All this time Bathsheba was conscious of having broken into that dignified stronghold at last. His eyes, she knew, were following her everywhere. This was a triumph; and had it come naturally, such a triumph would have been the sweeter to her for this piquing delay. But it had been brought about by misdirected ingenuity, and she valued it only as she valued an artificial flower or a wax fruit.
Being a woman with some good sense in reasoning on subjects wherein her heart was not involved, Bathsheba genuinely repented that a freak which had owed its existence as much to Liddy as to herself, should ever have been undertaken, to disturb the placidity of a man she respected too highly to deliberately tease.
She that day nearly formed the intention of begging his pardon on the very next occasion of their meeting. The worst features of this arrangement were that, if he thought she ridiculed him, an apology would increase the offence by being disbelieved; and if he thought she wanted him to woo her, it would read like additional evidence of her forwardness.
BOLDWOOD IN MEDITATION — REGRET
BOLDWOOD was tenant of what was called Little Weatherbury Farm, and his person was the nearest approach to aristocracy that this remoter quarter of the parish could boast of. Genteel strangers, whose god was their town, who might happen to be compelled to linger about this nook for a day, heard the sound of light wheels, and prayed to see good society, to the degree of a solitary lord, or squire at the very least, but it was only Mr. Boldwood going out for the day. They heard the sound of wheels yet once more, and were re-animated to expectancy: it was only Mr. Boldwood coming home again.
His house stood recessed from the road, and the stables, which are to a farm what a fireplace is to a room, were behind, their lower portions being lost amid bushes of laurel. Inside the blue door, open half-way down, were to be seen at this time the backs and tails of half-a-dozen warm and contented horses standing in their stalls; and as thus viewed, they presented alternations of roan and bay, in shapes like a Moorish arch, the tail being a streak down the midst of each. Over these, and lost to the eye gazing in from the outer light, the mouths of the same animals could be heard busily sustaining the above-named warmth and plumpness by quantities of oats and hay. The restless and shadowy figure of a colt wandered about a loose-box at the end, whilst the steady grind of all the eaters was occasionally diversified by the rattle of a rope or the stamp of a foot.
Pacing up and down at the heels of the animals was Farmer Boldwood himself. This place was his almonry and cloister in one: here, after looking to the feeding of his four- footed dependants, the celibate would walk and meditate of an evening till the moon’s rays streamed in through the cobwebbed windows, or total darkness enveloped the scene.
His square-framed perpendicularity showed more fully now than in the crowd and bustle of the market-house. In this meditative walk his foot met the floor with heel and toe simultaneously, and his fine reddish-fleshed face was bent downwards just enough to render obscure the still mouth and the well-rounded though rather prominent and broad chin. A few clear and thread-like horizontal lines were the only interruption to the otherwise smooth surface of his large forehead.
The phases of Boldwood’s life were ordinary enough, but his was not an ordinary nature. That stillness, which struck casual observers more than anything else in his character and habit, and seemed so precisely like the rest of inanition, may have been the perfect balance of enormous antagonistic forces — positives and negatives in fine adjustment. His equilibrium disturbed, he was in extremity at once. If an emotion possessed him at all, it ruled him; a feeling not mastering him was entirely latent. Stagnant or rapid, it was never slow. He was always hit mortally, or he was missed.
He had no light and careless touches in his constitution, either for good or for evil. Stern in the outlines of action, mild in the details, he was serious throughout all. He saw no absurd sides to the follies of life, and thus, though not quite companionable in the eyes of merry men and scoffers, and those to whom all things show life as a jest, he was not intolerable to the earnest and those acquainted with grief. Being a man-who read all the dramas of life seriously, if he failed to please when they were comedies, there was no frivolous treatment to reproach him for when they chanced to end tragically.
Bathsheba was far from dreaming that the dark and silent shape upon which she had so carelessly thrown a seed was a hotbed of tropic intensity. Had she known Boldwood’s moods, her blame would have been fearful, and the stain upon her heart ineradicable. Moreover, had she known her present power for good or evil over this man, she would have trembled at her responsibility. Luckily for her present, unluckily for her future tranquillity, her understanding had not yet told her what Boldwood was. Nobody knew entirely; for though it was possible to form guesses concerning his wild capabilities from old floodmarks faintly visible, he had never been seen at the high tides which caused them.
Farmer Boldwood came to the stable-door and looked forth across the level fields. Beyond the first enclosure was a hedge, and on the other side of this a meadow belonging to Bathsheba’s farm.
It was now early spring — the time of going to grass with the sheep, when they have the first feed of the meadows, before these are laid up for mowing. The wind, which had been blowing east for several weeks, had veered to the southward, and the middle of spring had come abruptly — almost without a beginning. It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may suppose the Dryads to be waking for the season. The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations, where everything seems helpless and still after the bond and slavery of frost, there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-all-together, in comparison with which the powerful tugs of cranes and pulleys in a noisy city are but pigmy efforts.
Boldwood, looking into the distant meadows, saw there three figures. They were those of Miss Everdene, Shepherd Oak, and Cainy Ball.
When Bathsheba’s figure shone upon the farmer’s eyes it lighted him up as the moon lights up a great tower. A man’s body is as the shell, or the tablet, of his soul, as he is reserved or ingenuous, overflowing or self-contained. There was a change in Boldwood’s exterior from its former impassibleness; and his face showed that he was now living outside his defences for the first time, and with a fearful sense of exposure. It is the usual experience of strong natures when they love.
At last he arrived at a conclusion. It was to go across and inquire boldly of her.
The insulation of his heart by reserve during these many years, without a channel of any kind for disposable emotion, had worked its effect. It has been observed more than once that the causes of love are chiefly subjective, and Boldwood was a living testimony to the truth of the proposition. No mother existed to absorb his devotion, no sister for his tenderness, no idle ties for sense. He became surcharged with the compound, which was genuine lover’s love.
He approached the gate of the meadow. Beyond it the ground was melodious with ripples, and the sky with larks; the low bleating of the flock mingling with both. Mistress and man were engaged in the operation of making a lamb “take,” which is performed whenever an ewe has lost her own offspring, one of the twins of another ewe being given her as a substitute. Gabriel had skinned the dead lamb, and was tying the skin over the body of the live lamb, in the customary manner, whilst Bathsheba was holding open a little pen of four hurdles, into which the Mother and foisted lamb were driven, where they would remain till the old sheep conceived an affection for the young one.
Bathsheba looked up at the completion of the manouvre, and saw the farmer by the gate, where he was overhung by a willow tree in full bloom. Gabriel, to whom her face was as the uncertain glory of an April day, was ever regardful of its faintest changes, and instantly discerned thereon the mark of some influence from without, in the form of a keenly self-conscious reddening. He also turned and beheld Boldwood.
At once connecting these signs with the letter Boldwood had shown him, Gabriel suspected her of some coquettish procedure begun by that means, and carried on since, he knew not how.
Farmer Boldwood had read the pantomime denoting that they were aware of his presence, and the perception was as too much light turned upon his new sensibility. He was still in the road, and by moving on he hoped that neither would recognize that he had originally intended to enter the field. He passed by with an utter and overwhelming sensation of ignorance, shyness, and doubt. Perhaps in her manner there were signs that she wished to see him — perhaps not — he could not read a woman. The cabala of this erotic philosophy seemed to consist of the subtlest meanings expressed in misleading ways. Every turn, look, word, and accent contained a mystery quite distinct from its obvious import, and not one had ever been pondered by him until now.
As for Bathsheba, she was not deceived into the belief that Farmer Boldwood had walked by on business or in idleness. She collected the probabilities of the case, and concluded that she was herself responsible for Boldwood’s appearance there. It troubled her much to see what a great flame a little wildfire was likely to kindle. Bathsheba was no schemer for marriage, nor was she deliberately a trifler with the affections of men, and a censor’s experience on seeing an actual flirt after observing her would have been a feeling of surprise that Bathsheba could be so different from such a one, and yet so like what a flirt is supposed to be.
She resolved never again, by look or by sign, to interrupt the steady flow of this man’s life. But a resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.
THE SHEEP-WASHING — THE OFFER
BOLDWOOD did eventually call upon her. She was not at home. “Of course not,” he murmured. In contemplating Bathsheba as a woman, he had forgotten the accidents of her position as an agriculturist — that being as much of a farmer, and as extensive a farmer, as himself, her probable whereabouts was out-of-doors at this time of the year. This, and the other oversights Boldwood was guilty of, were natural to the mood, and still more natural to the circumstances. The great aids to idealization in love were present here: occasional observation of her from a distance, and the absence of social intercourse with her — visual familiarity, oral strangeness. The smaller human elements were kept out of sight; the pettinesses that enter so largely into all earthly living and doing were disguised by the accident of lover and loved-one not being on visiting terms; and there was hardly awakened a thought in Boldwood that sorry household realities appertained to her, or that she, like all others, had moments of commonplace, when to be least plainly seen was to be most prettily remembered. Thus a mild sort of apotheosis took place in his fancy, whilst she still lived and breathed within his own horizon, a troubled creature like himself.
It was the end of May when the farmer determined to be no longer repulsed by trivialities or distracted by suspense. He had by this time grown used to being in love; the passion now startled him less even when it tortured him more, and he felt himself adequate to the situation. On inquiring for her at her house they had told him she was at the sheepwashing, and he went off to seek her there.
The sheep-washing pool was a perfectly circular basin of brickwork in the meadows, full of the clearest water. To birds on the wing its glassy surface, reflecting the light sky, must have been visible for miles around as a glistening Cyclops’ eye in a green face. The grass about the margin at this season was a sight to remember long — in a minor sort of way. Its activity in sucking the moisture from the rich damp sod was almost a process observable by the eye. The outskirts of this level water-meadow were diversified by rounded and hollow pastures, where just now every flower that was not a buttercup was a daisy. The river slid along noiselessly as a shade, the swelling reeds and sedge forming a flexible palisade upon its moist brink. To the north of the mead were trees, the leaves of which were new, soft, and moist, not yet having stiffened and darkened under summer sun and drought, their colour being yellow beside a green — green beside a yellow. From the recesses of this knot of foliage the loud notes of three cuckoos were resounding through the still air.
Boldwood went meditating down the slopes with his eyes on his boots, which the yellow pollen from the buttercups had bronzed in artistic gradations. A tributary of the main stream flowed through the basin of the pool by an inlet and outlet at opposite points of its diameter. Shepherd Oak, Jan Coggan, Moon, Poorgrass, Cain Ball, and several others were assembled here, all dripping wet to the very roots of their hair, and Bathsheba was standing by in a new riding- habit — the most elegant she had ever worn — the reins of her horse being looped over her arm. Flagons of cider were rolling about upon the green. The meek sheep were pushed into the pool by Coggan and Matthew Moon, who stood by the lower hatch, immersed to their waists; then Gabriel, who stood on the brink, thrust them under as they swam along, with an instrument like a crutch, formed for the purpose, and also for assisting the exhausted animals when the wool became saturated and they began to sink. They were let out against the stream, and through the upper opening, all impurities flowing away below. Cainy Ball and Joseph, who performed this latter operation, were if possible wetter than the rest; they resembled dolphins under a fountain, every protuberance and angle of their clothes dribbling forth a small rill.
Boldwood came close and bade her good morning, with such constraint that she could not but think he had stepped across to the washing for its own sake, hoping not to find her there; more, she fancied his brow severe and his eye slighting. Bathsheba immediately contrived to withdraw, and glided along by the river till she was a stone’s throw off. She heard footsteps brushing the grass, and had a consciousness that love was encircling her like a perfume. Instead of turning or waiting, Bathsheba went further among the high sedges, but Boldwood seemed determined, and pressed on till they were completely past the bend of the river. Here, without being seen, they could hear the splashing and shouts of the washers above.
“Miss Everdene!” said the farmer.
She trembled, turned, and said “Good morning.” His tone was so utterly removed from all she had expected as a beginning. It was lowness and quiet accentuated: an emphasis of deep meanings, their form, at the same time, being scarcely expressed. Silence has sometimes a remarkable power of showing itself as the disembodied soul of feeling wandering without its carcase, and it is then more impressive than speech. In the same way, to say a little is often to tell more than to say a great deal. Boldwood told everything in that word.
As the consciousness expands on learning that what was fancied to be the rumble of wheels is the reverberation of thunder, so did Bathsheba’s at her intuitive conviction.
“I feel — almost too much — to think,” he said, with a solemn simplicity. “I have come to speak to you without preface. My life is not my own since I have beheld you clearly, Miss Everdene — I come to make you an offer of marriage.”
Bathsheba tried to preserve an absolutely neutral countenance, and all the motion she made was that of closing lips which had previously been a little parted.
“I am now forty-one years old,” he went on. “I may have been called a confirmed bachelor, and I was a confirmed bachelor. I had never any views of myself as a husband in my earlier days, nor have I made any calculation on the subject since I have been older. But we all change, and my change, in this matter, came with seeing you. I have felt lately, more and more, that my present way of living is bad in every respect. Beyond all things, I want you as my wife.”
“I feel, Mr. Boldwood, that though I respect you much, I do not feel — what would justify me to — in accepting your offer,” she stammered.
This giving back of dignity for dignity seemed to open the sluices of feeling that Boldwood had as yet kept closed.
“My life is a burden without you,” he exclaimed, in a low voice. “I want you — I want you to let me say I love you again and again!”
Bathsheba answered nothing, and the horse upon her arm seemed so impressed that instead of cropping the herbage she looked up.
“I think and hope you care enough for me to listen to what I have to tell!”
Bathsheba’s momentary impulse at hearing this was to ask why he thought that, till she remembered that, far from being a conceited assumption on Boldwood’s part, it was but the natural conclusion of serious reflection based on deceptive premises of her own offering.
“I wish I could say courteous flatteries to you,” the farmer continued in an easier tone, “and put my rugged feeling into a graceful shape: but I have neither power nor patience to learn such things. I want you for my wife — so wildly that no other feeling can abide in me; but I should not have spoken out had I not been led to hope.”
“The valentine again! O that valentine!” she said to herself, but not a word to him.
“If you can love me say so, Miss Everdene. If not — don’t say no!”
“Mr. Boldwood, it is painful to have to say I am surprised, so that I don’t know how to answer you with propriety and respect — but am only just able to speak out my feeling — I mean my meaning; that I am afraid I can’t marry you, much as I respect you. You are too dignified for me to suit you, sir.”
“But, Miss Everdene!”
“I — I didn’t — I know I ought never to have dreamt of sending that valentine — forgive me, sir — it was a wanton thing which no woman with any self-respect should have done. If you will only pardon my thoughtlessness, I promise never to —-”
“No, no, no. Don’t say thoughtlessness! Make me think it was something more — that it was a sort of prophetic instinct — the beginning of a feeling that you would like me. You torture me to say it was done in thoughtlessness — I never thought of it in that light, and I can’t endure it. Ah! I wish I knew how to win you! but that I can’t do — I can only ask if I have already got you. If I have not, and it is not true that you have come unwittingly to me as I have to you, I can say no more.”
“I have not fallen in love with you, Mr. Boldwood — certainly I must say that.” She allowed a very small smile to creep for the first time over her serious face in saying this, and the white row of upper teeth, and keenly-cut lips already noticed, suggested an idea of heartlessness, which was immediately contradicted by the pleasant eyes.
“But you will just think — in kindness and condescension think — if you cannot bear with me as a husband! I fear I am too old for you, but believe me I will take more care of you than would many a man of your own age. I will protect and cherish you with all my strength — I will indeed! You shall have no cares — be worried by no household affairs, and live quite at ease, Miss Everdene. The dairy superintendence shall be done by a man — I can afford it well — you shall never have so much as to look out of doors at haymaking time, or to think of weather in the harvest. I rather cling to the chaise, because it is the same my poor father and mother drove, but if you don’t like it I will sell it, and you shall have a pony-carriage of your own. I cannot say how far above every other idea and object on earth you seem to me — nobody knows — God only knows — how much you are to me!”
Bathsheba’s heart was young, and it swelled with sympathy for the deep-natured man who spoke so simply.
“Don’t say it! don’t! I cannot bear you to feel so much, and me to feel nothing. And I am afraid they will notice us, Mr. Boldwood. Will you let the matter rest now? I cannot think collectedly. I did not know you were going to say this to me. Oh, I am wicked to have made you suffer so!” She was frightened as well as agitated at his vehemence.
“Say then, that you don’t absolutely refuse. Do not quite refuse?”
“I can do nothing. I cannot answer.”
“I may speak to you again on the subject?”
“I may think of you?”
“Yes, I suppose you may think of me.”
“And hope to obtain you?”
“No — do not hope! Let us go on.”
“I will call upon you again to-morrow.”
“No — please not. Give me time.”
“Yes — I will give you any time,” he said earnestly and gratefully. “I am happier now.”
“No — I beg you! Don’t be happier if happiness only comes from my agreeing. Be neutral, Mr. Boldwood! I must think.”
“I will wait,” he said.
And then she turned away. Boldwood dropped his gaze to the ground, and stood long like a man who did not know where he was. Realities then returned upon him like the pain of a wound received in an excitement which eclipses it, and he, too, then went on.
PERPLEXITY — GRINDING THE SHEARS — A QUARREL
“HE is so disinterested and kind to offer me all that I can desire,” Bathsheba mused.
Yet Farmer Boldwood, whether by nature kind or the reverse to kind, did not exercise kindness, here. The rarest