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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 solicitous-
ness, 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
uplan.
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 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 whirl-
pool. 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.
"Who's there?"
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, assigna-
tions 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?"
"O, 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 mannerin 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?"
"O 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?"
"What?"
"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?"
"Yes"
"To-morrow?"
"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
I'll go away now. Will you **qoDe,and seq be to-morroy
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 dean 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.





Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Literature
 
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