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CHAPTER XV



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 in!
"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 begin-
ning 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 some-
where. Do ye foller me?"
"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."
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! 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?"
"O 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 mathemarical 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 T'hor 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 bed-
stead whither he had retired for safety. "'Tis a great
thing to be clever, I'm sure." he added, making move-
ments 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.
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.
"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 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 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 neces-
sary 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 lamenta-
tion after all. "I think she's took against ye -- that
I do."
"O 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 friendli-
ness 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."
"O yes -- not a bit of difference, Mr. Boldwood --
not a bit." said Gabriel, readily. He had not a corre-
spondent on earth, nor was there a possible letter coming
to him whose contents the whole parish would not have
been welcome to persue.
Oak stepped aside, and read the following in an
unknown hand: --
"DEAR FRIEND, -- I do not know your name, but l 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 respecta-
bility 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 l blush to state it to one nearly
a stranger. The sergeant grew up in Weatherbury. Thank-
ing you again for your kindness,
"I am, your sincere well-wisher,
"FANNY ROBIN."
"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
horn; 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 -- Bath-
sheba'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 earnest-
ness 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.





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