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CHAPTER XII



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 Ex-
change, 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 de-
livery. 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 hand-
ful 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 con-
fidence 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 state-
ments before rejoining with hers. In arguing on prices,
he held to her own firmly, as was natural in a dealer,
and reduced theirs persistently, as was inevitable in a
oman. 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 respect-
able 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 appear-
ance. 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't 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 drapers 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 un-
impeachable 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 uncon-
sciously 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! I
"Depend upon it he has. O yes, miss, he has!
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."
"O 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."





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