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CHAPTER XXI



TROUBLES IN THE FOLD -- A MESSAGE


GABRIEL OAK had ceased to feed the Weatherbury
flock for about four-and-twenty hours, when on Sunday
afternoon the elderly gentlemen Joseph Poorgrass,
Matthew Moon, Fray, and half-a-dozen others, came
running up to the house of the mistress of the Upper
Farm.
"Whatever is the matter, men?" she said, meeting
them at the door just as she was coming out on her
way to church, and ceasing in a moment from the close
compression of her two red lips, with which she had
accompanied the exertion of pulling on a tight glove.
"Sixty!" said Joseph Poorgrass.
"Seventy!" said Moon.
"Fifty-nine!" said Susan Tall's husband.
"-- Sheep have broke fence." said Fray.
"-- And got into a field of young clover." said Tall.
"-- Young clover!" said Moon.
"-- Clover!" said Joseph Poorgrass.
"And they be getting blasted." said Henery Fray.
"That they be." said Joseph.
"And will all die as dead as nits, if they bain't got
out and cured!"said Tall.
Joseph's countenance was drawn into lines and
puckers by his concern. Fray's forehead was wrinkled
both perpendicularly and crosswise, after the pattern of
a portcullis, expressive of a double despair. Laban
Tall's lips were thin, and his face were rigid. Matthew's
jaws sank, and his eyes turned whichever way the
strongest muscle happened to pull them.
"Yes." said Joseph, "and I was sitting at home,
looking for Ephesians, and says I to myself, "'Tis
nothing but Corinthians and Thessalonians in this
danged Testament." when who should come in but
Henery there: "Joseph," he said, "the sheep have
With Bathsheba it was a moment when thought was
blasted theirselves -- "
With Bathsheba it was a moment when thought was
speech and speech exclamation. Moreover, she had
hardly recovered her equanimity since the disturbance
which she had suffered from Oak's remarks.
"That's enought -- that's enough! -- oh, you fools!"
she cried, throwing the parasol and Prayer-book into
the passage, and running out of doors in the direction
signified. "To come to me, and not go and get them
out directly! Oh, the stupid numskulls!"
Her eyes were at their darkest and brightest now.
Bathsheba's beauty belonged rather to the demonian
than to the angelic school, she never looked so well as
when she was angry -- and particularly when the effect
was heightened by a rather dashing velvet dress, care-
fully put on before a glass.
All the ancient men ran in a jumbled throng after
her to the clover-field, Joseph sinking down in the
midst when about half-way, like an individual withering
in a world which was more and more insupportable.
Having once received the stimulus that her presence
always gave them they went round among the sheep
with a will. The majority of the afflicted animals were
lying down, and could not be stirred. These were
bodily lifted out, and the others driven into the adjoining
field. Here, after the lapse of a few minutes, several
more fell down, and lay helpless and livid as the rest.
Bathsheba, with a sad, bursting heart, looked at these
primest specimens of her prime flock as they rolled
there --
Swoln with wind and the rank mist they drew.
Many of them foamed at the mouth, their breathing
being quick and short, whilst the bodies of all were
fearfully distended.
"O, what can I do, what can I do!" said Bathsheba,
helplessly. "Sheep are such unfortunate animals! --
there's always something happening to them! I never
knew a flock pass a year without getting into some scrape
or other."
"There's only one way of saving them." said Tall.
"What way? Tell me quick!"
"They must be pierced in the side with a thing made
on purpose."
"Can you do it? Can I?"
"No, ma'am. We can't, nor you neither. It must
be done in a particular spot. If ye go to the right or
left but an inch you stab the ewe and kill her. Not
even a shepherd can do it, as a rule."
"Then they must die." she said, in a resigned tone.
"Only one man in the neighbourhood knows the way,"
said Joseph, now just come up. "He could cure 'em
all if he were here."
"Who is he? Let's get him!"
"Shepherd Oak," said Matthew. "Ah, he's a clever
man in talents!"
"Ah, that he is so!" said Joseph Poorgrass.
"True -- he's the man." said Laban Tall.
"How dare you name that man in my presence!" she
said excitedly. "I told you never to allude to him, nor
shall you if you stay with me. Ah!" she added, brighten-
ing, "Farmer Boldwood knows!"
"O no, ma'am" said Matthew. "Two of his store
ewes got into some vetches t'other day, and were just
like these. He sent a man on horseback here post-haste
for Gable, and Gable went and saved 'em, Farmer
Boldwood hev got the thing they do it with. 'Tis a
holler pipe, with a sharp pricker inside. Isn't it,
Joseph?"
"Ay -- a holler pipe." echoed Joseph. "That's what
'tis."
"Ay, sure -- that's the machine." chimed in Henery
Fray, reflectively, with an Oriental indifference to the
flight of time.
"Well," burst out Bathsheba, "don't stand there with
your "ayes" and your "sures" talking at me! Get
somebody to cure the sheep instantly!"
All then stalked or in consternation, to get some-
body as directed, without any idea of who it was to be.
In a minute they had vanished through the gate, and
she stood alone with the dying flock.
"Never will I send for him never!" she said firmly.
One of the ewes here contracted its muscles horribly,
extended itself, and jumped high into the air. The
leap was an astonishing one. The ewe fell heavily, and
lay still.
Bathsheba went up to it. The sheep was dead.
"O, what shall I do -- what shall I do!" she again
exclaimed, wringing her hands. "I won't send for him.
No, I won't!"
The most vigorous expression of a resolution does
not always coincide with the greatest vigour of the
resolution itself. It is often flung out as a sort of prop
to support a decaying conviction which, whilst strong,
required no enunciation to prove it so. The "No, I
won't" of Bathsheba meant virtually, "I think I must."
She followed her assistants through the gate, and
lifted her hand to one of them. Laban answered to her
signal.
"Where is Oak staying?"
"Across the valley at Nest Cottage!"
"Jump on the bay mare, and ride across, and say he
must return instantly -- that I say so."
Tall scrambled off to the field, and in two minutes
was on Poll, the bay, bare-backed, and with only a
halter by way of rein. He diminished down the
hill.
Bathsheba watched. So did all the rest. Tall
cantered along the bridle-path through Sixteen Acres,
Sheeplands, Middle Field The Flats, Cappel's Piece,
shrank almost to a point, crossed the bridge, and
ascended from the valley through Springmead and
Whitepits on the other side. The cottage to which
Gabriel had retired before taking his final departure
from the locality was visible as a white spot on the
opposite hill, backed by blue firs. Bathsheba walked
up and down. The men entered the field and
endeavoured to ease the anguish of the dumb creatures
by rubbing them. Nothing availed.
Bathsheba continued walking. The horse was seen
descending the hill, and the wearisome series had to be
repeated in reverse order: Whitepits, Springmead,
Cappel's Piece, The Flats, Middle Field, Sheeplands,
Sixteen Acres. She hoped Tall had had presence of
mind enough to give the mare up to Gabriel, and return
himself on foot. The rider neared them. It was Tall.
"O, what folly!" said Bathsheba.
Gabriel was not visible anywhere.
"Perhaps he is already gone!" she said.
Tall came into the inclosure, and leapt off, his face
tragic as Morton's after the battle of Shrewsbury.
"Well?" said Bathsheba, unwilling to believe that
her verbal lettre-de-cachet could possibly have miscarried.
"He says beggars mustn't be choosers." replied Laban.
"What!" said the young farmer, opening her eyes
and drawing in her breath for an outburst. Joseph
Poorgrass retired a few steps behind a hurdle.
"He says he shall not come unless you request en
to come civilly and in a proper manner, as becomes any
"woman begging a favour."
"Oh, oh, that's his answer! Where does he get his
airs? Who am I, then, to be treated like that? Shall
I beg to a man who has begged to me?"
Another of the flock sprang into the air, and fell
dead.
The men looked grave, as if they suppressed opinion.
Bathsheba turned aside, her eyes full of tears. The
strait she was in through pride and shrewishness could
not be disguised longer: she burst out crying bitterly;
they all saw it; and she attempted no further concealment.
"I wouldn't cry about it, miss." said William Small-
bury, compassionately. "Why not ask him softer like?
I'm sure he'd come then. Gable is a true man in that
way."
Bathsheba checked her grief and wiped her eyes.
"O, it is a wicked cruelty to me -- it is -- it is!" she
murmured. "And he drives me to do what I wouldn't;
yes, he does! -- Tall, come indoors."
After this collapse, not very dignified for the head
of an establishment, she went into the house, Tall at
her heels. Here she sat down and hastily scribbled a
note between the small convulsive sobs of convalescence
which follow a fit of crying as a ground-swell follows a
storm. The note was none the less polite for being
written in a hurry. She held it at a distance, was
about to fold it, then added these words at the
bottom: --
"Do not desert me, Gabriel!"
She looked a little redder in refolding it, and closed
her lips, as if thereby to suspend till too late the action
of conscience in examining whether such strategy were
justifiable. The note was despatched as the message
had been, and Bathsheba waited indoors for the result.
It was an anxious quarter of an hour that intervened
between the messenger's departure and the sound of the
horse's tramp again outside. She- could not watch this
time, but, leaning over the old bureau at which she had
written the letter, closed her eyes, as if to keep out both
hope and fear.
The case, however, was a promising one. Gabriel
was not angry: he was simply neutral, although her first
command had been so haughty. Such imperiousness
would have damned a little less beauty; and on the
other hand, such beauty would have redeemed a little
less imperiousness.
She went out when the horse was heard, and looked
up. A mounted figure passed between her and the
sky, and drew on towards the field of sheep, the rider
turning his face in receding. Gabriel looked at her.
It was a moment when a woman's eyes and tongue tell
distinctly opposite tales. Bathsheba looked full of
gratitude, and she said: --
"O, Gabriel, how could you serve me so unkindly!"
Such a tenderly-shaped reproach for his previous
delay was the one speech in the language that he could
pardon for not being commendation of his readiness
now.
Gabriel murmured a confused reply, and hastened
on. She knew from the look which sentence in her
note had brought him. Bathsheba followed to the
field.
Gabriel was already among the turgid, prostrate forms.
He had flung off his coat, rolled up his shirt-sleeves,
and taken from his pocket the instrument of salvation.
It was a small tube or trochar, with a lance passing
down the inside; and Gabriel began to use it with a
dexterity that would have graced a hospital surgeon.
Passing his hand over the sheep's left flank, and
selecting the proper point, he punctured the skin and
rumen with the lance as it stood in the tube; then he
suddenly withdrew the lance, retaining the tube in its
place. A current of air rushed up the tube, forcible
enough to have extinguished a candle held at the
orifice.
It has been said that mere ease after torment is de-
light for a time; and the countenances of these poor
creatures expressed it now. Forty-nine operations were
successfully performed. Owing to the great hurry
necessitated by the far-gone state of some of the flock,
Gabriel missed his aim in one case, and in one only --
striking wide of the mark, and inflicting a mortal blow
at once upon the suffering ewe. Four had died; three
recovered without an operation. The total number of
sheep which had thus strayed and injured themselves
so dangerously was fifty-seven.
When the love-led man had ceased from his labours,
Bathsheba came and looked him in the face.
"Gabriel, will you stay on with me?" she, said,
smiling winningly, and not troubling to bring her lips
quite together again at the end, because there was going
to be another smile soon.
"I will." said Gabriel.
And she smiled on him again.





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