eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER XX



PERPLEXITY -- GRINDING THE SHEARS -- A QUARREL


"HE is so disinterested and kind to offer me all that I
can desire." Bathsheba mused.
Yet Farmer Boldwood, whether by nature kind or
the reverse to kind, did not exercise kindness, here.
The rarest offerings of the purest loves are but a self-
indulgence, and no generosity at all.
Bathsheba, not being the least in love with him, was
eventually able to look calmly at his offer. It was one
which many women of her own station in the neighbour-
hood, and not a few of higher rank, would have been
wild to accept and proud to publish. In every point of
view, ranging from politic to passionate, it was desirable
that she, a lonely girl, should marry, and marry this
earnest, well-to-do, and respected man. He was close
to her doors: his standing was sufficient: his qualities
were even supererogatory. Had she felt, which she did
not, any wish whatever for the married state in the
abstract, she could not reasonably have rejected him,
being a woman who frequently appealed to her under,
standing for deliverance from her whims. Boldwood as
a means to marriage was unexceptionable: she esteemed
and liked him, yet she did not want him. It appears
that ordinary men take wives because possession is not
possible without marriage, and that ordinary women
accept husbands because marriage is not possible with,
out possession; with totally differing aims the method is
the same on both sides. But the understood incentive
on the woman's part was wanting here. Besides, Bath-
sheba's position as absolute mistress of a farm and house
was a novel one, and the novelty had not yet begun to
wear off.
But a disquiet filled her which was somewhat to her
credit, for it would have affected few. Beyond the men-
tioned reasons with which she combated her objections,
she had a strong feeling that, having been the one who
began the game, she ought in honesty to accept the conse-
quences. Still the reluctance remained. She said in the
same breath that it would be ungenerous not to marry
Boldwood, and that she couldn't do it to save her life.
Bathsheba's was an impulsive nature under a delibera-
tive aspect. An Elizabeth in brain and a Mary Stuart
in spirit, she often performed actions of the greatest
temerity with a manner of extreme discretion. Many of
her thoughts were perfect syllogisms; unluckily they
always remained thoughts. Only a few were irrational
assumptions; but, unfortunately, they were the ones
which most frequently grew into deeds.
The next day to that of the declaration she found
Gabriel Oak at the bottom of her garden, grinding his
shears for the sheep-shearing. All the surrounding
cottages were more or less scenes of the same operation;
the scurr of whetting spread into the sky from all parts
of the village as from an armury previous to a campaign.
Peace and war kiss each other at their hours of prepara-
tion -- sickles, scythes, shears, and pruning-hooks, ranking
with swords, bayonets, and lances, in their common
necessity for point and edge.
Cainy Ball turned the handle of Gabriel's grindstone,
his head performing a melancholy see-saw up and down
with each turn of the wheel. Oak stood somewhat as
Eros is represented when in the act of sharpening his
arrows: his figure slightly bent, the weight of his body
thrown over on the shears, and his head balanced side-
ways, with a critical compression of the lips and contrac-
tion of the eyelids to crown the attitude.
His mistress came up and looked upon them in
silence for a minute or two; then she said --
"Cain, go to the lower mead and catch the bay mare.
I'll turn the winch of the grindstone. I want to speak
to you, Gabriel.
Cain departed, and Bathsheba took the handle.
Gabriel had glanced up in intense surprise, quelled its
expression, and looked down again. Bathsheba turned
the winch, and Gabriel applied the shears.
The peculiar motion involved in turning a wheel
has a wonderful tendency to benumb the mind. It
is a sort of attenuated variety of Ixion's punishment,
and contributes a dismal chapter to the history of
heavy, and the body's centre of gravity seems to
settle by degrees in a leaden lump somewhere be-
tween the eyebrows and the crown. Bathsheba felt
the unpleasant symptoms after two or three dozen
turns.
"Will you turn, Gabriel, and let me hold the shears?"
she said. "My head is in a'whirl, and I can't talk.
Gabriel turned. Bathsheba then began, with some
awkwardness, allowing her thoughts to stray occasion-
ally from her story to attend to the shears, which
required a little nicety in sharpening.
"I wanted to ask you if the men made any observa-
tions on my going behind the sedge with Mr. Boldwood
yesterday?"
"Yes, they did." said Gabriel. "You don't hold
the shears right, miss -- I knew you wouldn't know the
way -- hold like this."
He relinquished the winch, and inclosing her two
hands completely in his own (taking each as we some-
times slap a child's hand in teaching him to write),
grasped the shears with her. "Incline the edge so,"
he said.
Hands and shears were inclined to suit the words,
and held thus for a peculiarly long time by the in-
structor as he spoke.
"That will do." exclaimed Bathsheba. "Loose my
hands. I won't have them held! Turn the winch."
Gabriel freed her hands quietly, retired to his
handle, and the grinding went on.
"Did the men think it odd?" she said again.
"Odd was not the idea, miss."
"What did they say?"
"That Farmer Boldwood's name and your own
were likely to be flung over pulpit together before the
year was out."
"I thought so by the look of them! Why, there's
nothing in it. A more foolish remark was never made,
and I want you to contradict it! that's what I came for."
Gabriel looked incredulous and sad, but between
his moments of incredulity, relieved.
"They must have heard our conversation." she
continued.
"Well, then, Bathsheba!" said Oak, stopping the
handle, and gazing into her face with astonishment.
"Miss Everdene, you mean," she said, with dignity.
"I mean this, that if Mr. Boldwood really spoke of
marriage, I bain't going to tell a story and say he
didn't to please you. I have already tried to please
you too much for my own good!"
Bathsheba regarded him with round-eyed perplexity.
She did not know whether to pity him for disappointed
love of her, or to be angry with him for having got
over it -- his tone being ambiguous.
"I said I wanted you just to mention that it was
not true I was going to be married to him." she mur-
mured, with a slight decline in her assurance.
"I can say that to them if you wish, Miss Everdene.
And I could likewise give an opinion to 'ee on what
you have done."
"I daresay. But I don't want your opinion."I suppose not." said Gabriel
bitterly, and going on
with his turning, his words rising and falling in a
regular swell and cadence as he stooped or rose with
the winch, which directed them, according to his
position, perpendicularly into the earth, or horizontally
along the garden, his eyes being fixed on a leaf upon
the ground.
With Bathsheba a hastened act was a rash act;
but, as does not always happen, time gained was
prudence insured. It must be added, however, that
time was very seldom gained. At this period the
single opinion in the parish on herself and her doings
that she valued as sounder than her own was Gabriel
Oak's. And the outspoken honesty of his character
was such- that on any subject even that of her love
for, or marriage with, another man, the same disinter-
estedness of opinion might be calculated on, and be
had for the asking. Thoroughly convinced of the
impossibility of his own suit, a high resolve constrained
him not to injure that of another. This is a lover's
most stoical virtue, as the lack of it is a lover's most
venial sin. Knowing he would reply truly, she asked
the question, painful as she must have known the sub-
ject would be. Such is the selfishness of some charm-
ing women. Perhaps it was some excuse for her thus
torturing honesty to her own advantage, that she had
absolutely no other sound judgment within easy reach.
"Well, what is your opinion of my conduct." she
said, quietly.
"That it is unworthy of any thoughtful, and meek,
and comely woman."
In an instant Bathsheba's face coloured with the
angry crimson of a danby sunset. But she forbore
to utter this feeling, and the reticence of her tongue
only made the loquacity of her face the more notice-
able.
The next thing Gabriel did was to make a mistake.
"Perhaps you don't like the rudeness of my repri-
manding you, for I know it is rudeness; but I thought
it would do good."
She instantly replied sarcastically --
"On the contrary, my opinion of you is so low, that
I see in your abuse the praise of discerning people!"
"I am glad you don't mind it, for I said it honestly
and with every serious meaning."
"I see. But, unfortunately, when you try not to
speak in jest you are amusing -- just as when you wish
to avoid seriousness you sometimes say a sensible word
It was a hard hit, but Bathsheba had unmistakably
lost her temper, and on that account Gabriel had
never in his life kept his own better. He said nothing.
She then broke out --
"I may ask, I suppose, where in particular my
unworthiness lies? In my not marrying you, perhaps!
"Not by any means." said Gabriel quietly. "I have
long given up thinking of that matter."Or wishing it, I suppose." she
said; and it was
apparent that she expected an unhesitating denial of
this supposition.
Whatever Gabriel felt, he coolly echoed her words --
"Or wishing it either."
A woman may be treated with a bitterness which
is sweet to her, and with a rudeness which is not
offensive. Bathsheba would have submitted to an
indignant chastisement for her levity had Gabriel pro-
tested that he was loving her at the same time; the
impetuosity of passion unrequited is bearable, even if
it stings and anathematizes there is a triumph in the
humiliation, and a tenderness in the strife. This was
what she had been expecting, and what she had not
got. To be lectured because the lecturer saw her in
the cold morning light of open-shuttered disillusion
was exasperating. He had not finished, either. He
continued in a more agitated voice: --
"My opinion is (since you ask it) that you are
greatly to blame for playing pranks upon a man like
Mr. Boldwood, merely as a pastime. Leading on a
man you don't care for is not a praiseworthy action.
And even, Miss Everdene, if you seriously inclined
towards him, you might have let him find it out in
some way of true loving-kindness, and not by sending
him a valentine's letter."
Bathsheba laid down the shears.
"I cannot allow any man to -- to criticise my private
Conduct!" she exclaimed. "Nor will I for a minute.
So you'll please leave the farm at the end of the week!"
It may have been a peculiarity -- at any rate it was
a fact -- that when Bathsheba was swayed by an emotion
of an earthly sort her lower lip trembled: when by a
refined emotion, her upper or heavenward one. Her
nether lip quivered now.
"Very well, so I will." said Gabriel calmly. He had
been held to her by a beautiful thread which it pained
him to spoil by breaking, rather than by a chain he
could not break. "I should be even better pleased to
go at once." he added.
"Go at once then, in Heaven's name!" said she,her
eyes flashing at his, though never meeting them.
"Don't let me see your face any more."
"Very well, Miss Everdene -- so it shall be."
And he took his shears and went away from her in
placid dignity, as Moses left the presence of Pharaoh.





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