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CHAPTER XVIII



BOLDWOOD IN MEDITATION -- REGRET


BOLDWOOD was tenant of what was called Little
Weatherbury Farm, and his person was the nearest ap-
proach 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. Bold-
wood 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 pre-
sented 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 constitu-
tion, 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 treat-
ment 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 tran-
quillity, her understanding had not yet told her what
Boldwood was. Nobody knew entirely; for though it
was possible to form guesses concerning his wild capa-
bilities 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 map
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 -help-
less 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 onee connecting these signs with the letter Bold-
wood 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.





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