eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER X



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 resolu-
tion 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 New-
mill 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 addi-
tion 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, correct-
ingly, 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.
"O 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 conse-
quences, 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."
"O 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 Cainey. 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
Shepard Oak from the doorpost. "If I don't, I'll
inquire." Gabriel was rather staggered by the remark-
able 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 Caster-
bridge."
"And what's the news?" said Bathsheba, as William,
after marching to the middle of the hall, took a hand-
kerchief 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 Caster,
bridge 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 name-
less 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."
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.) "Nom!"
(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 scratch-
ing noise upon the floor. biddy, 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.





Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Literature
 
Send this page to a friend
Nabou.com: the big site