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CHAPTER XXIII



EVENTIDE -- A SECOND DECLARATION


FOR the shearing-supper a long table was placed on the
grass-plot beside the house, the end of the table being
thrust over the sill of the wide parlour window and a
foot or two into the room. Miss Everdene sat inside
the window, facing down the table. She was thus at
the head without mingling with the men.
This evening Bathsheba was unusually excited, her
red cheeks and lips contrasting lustrously with the mazy
skeins of her shadowy hair. She seemed to expect
assistance, and the seat at the bottom of the table was
at her request left vacant until after they had begun
and the duties appertaining to that end, which he did
with great readiness.
At this moment Mr. Boldwood came in at the gate,
and crossed the green to Bathsheba at the window.
He apologized for his lateness: his arrival was evidently
by arrangement.
"Gabriel." said she, " will you move again, please,
and let Mr. Boldwood come there?"
Oak moved in silence back to his original seat.
The gentleman-farmer was dressed in cheerful style,
in a new coat and white waistcoat, quite contrasting
with his usual sober suits of grey. Inwardy, too, he
was blithe, and consequently chatty to an exceptional
degree. So also was Bathsheba now that he had come,
though the uninvited presence of Pennyways, the bailiff
who had been dismissed for theft, disturbed her equan-
imity for a while.
Supper being ended, Coggan began on his own
private account, without reference to listeners: --
l've lost my love and l care not,
I've lost my love, and l care not;
I shall soon have another
That's better than t'other!
I've lost my love, and I care not.
This lyric, when concluded, was received with a
silently appreciative gaze at the table, implying that the
performance, like a work by those established authors
who are independent of notices in the papers, was a
well-known delight which required no applause.
"Now, Master Poorgrass, your song!" said Coggan.
"I be all but in liquor, and the gift is wanting in
me." said Joseph, diminishing himself.
"Nonsense; wou'st never be so ungrateful, Joseph --
never!" said Coggan, expressing hurt feelings by an
inflection of voice. "And mistress is looking hard at
ye, as much as to say, "Sing at once, Joseph Poor-
grass."
"Faith, so she is; well, I must suffer it! ... Just
eye my features, and see if the tell-tale blood overheats
me much, neighbours?"
"No, yer blushes be quite reasonable." said Coggan.
"I always tries to keep my colours from rising when
a beauty's eyes get fixed on me." said Joseph, differently;
"but if so be 'tis willed they do, they must."
"Now, Joseph, your song, please." said Bathsheba,
from the window.
"Well, really, ma'am." he replied, in a yielding tone,
"I don't know what to say. It would be a poor plain
ballet of my own composure."
Hear, hear!" said the supper-party.
Poorgrass, thus assured, trilled forth a flickering yet
commendable piece of sentiment, the tune of which
consisted of the key-note and another, the latter being
the sound chiefly dwelt upon. This was so successful
that he rashly plunged into a second in the same
breath, after a few false starts: --
I sow'-ed th'-e
I sow'-ed
I sow'-ed the'-e seeds' of love',
I-it was' all' i'-in the'-e spring',
I-in A'-pril', Ma'-ay, a'-nd sun'-ny' June',
When sma'-all bi'-irds they' do' sing.
"Well put out of hand." said Coggan, at the end of the
verse. `They do sing' was a very taking paragraph."
"Ay; and there was a pretty place at "seeds of
love." and 'twas well heaved out. Though "love " is
a nasty high corner when a man's voice is getting
crazed. Next verse, Master Poorgrass."
But during this rendering young Bob Coggan ex-
hibited one of those anomalies which will afflict little
people when other persons are particularly serious: in
trying to check his laughter, he pushed down his throat
as much of the tablecloth as he could get hold of, when,
after continuing hermetically sealed for a short time, his
mirth burst out through his nose. Joseph perceived it,
and with hectic cheeks of indignation instantly ceased
singing. Coggan boxed Bob's ears immediately.
"Go on, Joseph -- go on, and never mind the young
scamp." said Coggan. "'Tis a very catching ballet.
Now then again -- the next bar; I'll help ye to flourish
up the shrill notes where yer wind is rather wheezy: --
O the wi'-il-lo'-ow tree' will' twist',
And the wil'-low' tre'-ee wi'ill twine'.
But the singer could not be set going again. Bob
Coggan was sent home for his ill manners, and tran-
quility was restored by Jacob Smallbury, who volunteered
a ballad as inclusive and interminable as that with which
the worthy toper old Silenus amused on a similar occasion
the swains Chromis and Mnasylus, and other jolly dogs
of his day.
It was still the beaming time of evening, though
night was stealthily making itself visible low down upon
the ground, the western lines of light taking the earth
without alighting upon it to any extent, or illuminating
the dead levels at all. The sun had crept round the
tree as a last effort before death, and then began to
sink, the shearers' lower parts becoming steeped in
embrowning twilight, whilst their heads and shoulders
were still enjoying day, touched with a yellow of self-
sustained brilliancy that seemed inherent rather than
acquired.
The sun went down in an ochreous mist; but they
sat, and talked on, and grew as merry as the gods in
Homer's heaven. Bathsheba still remained enthroned
inside the window, and occupied herself in knitting,
from which she sometimes looked up to view the fading
scene outside. The slow twilight expanded and enveloped
them completely before the signs of moving were shown.
Gabriel suddenly missed Farmer Boldwood from his
place at the bottom of the table. How long he had
been gone Oak did not know; but he had apparently
withdrawn into the encircling dusk. Whilst he was
thinking of this, Liddy brought candles into the back
part of the room overlooking the shearers, and their
lively new flames shone down the table and over the
men, and dispersed among the green shadows behind.
Bathsheba's form, still in its original position, was now
again distinct between their eyes and the light, which
revealed that Boldwood had gone inside the room, and
was sitting near her.
Next came the question of the evening. Would Miss
Everdene sing to them the song she always sang so
charmingly -- " The Banks of Allan Water" -- before they
went home?
After a moment's consideration Bathsheba assented,
beckoning to Gabriel, who hastened up into the coveted
atmosphere.
"Have you brought your flute? " she whispered.
"Yes, miss."
"Play to my singing, then."
She stood up in the window-opening, facing the
men, the candles behind her, Gabriel on her right hand,
immediately outside the sash-frame. Boldwood had
drawn up on her left, within the room. Her singing
was soft and rather tremulous at first, but it soon swelled
to a steady clearness. Subsequent events caused one
of the verses to be remembered for many months, and
even years, by more than one of those who were gathered
there: --
For his bride a soldier sought her,
And a winning tongue had he:
On the banks of Allan Water
None was gay as she!
In addition to the dulcet piping of Gabriel's flute,
Boldwood supplied a bass in his customary profound
voice, uttering his notes so softly, however, as to abstain
entirely from making anything like an ordinary duet of
the song; they rather formed a rich unexplored shadow,
which threw her tones into relief. The shearers reclined
against each other as at suppers in the early ages of the
world, and so silent and absorbed were they that her
breathing could almost be heard between the bars; and
at the end of the ballad, when the last tone loitered on
to an inexpressible close, there arose that buzz of
pleasure which is the attar of applause.
It is scarcely necessary to state that Gabriel could
not avoid noting the farmer's bearing to-night towards
their entertainer. Yet there was nothing exceptional in
his actions beyond what appertained to his time of
performing them. It was when the rest were all looking
away that Boldwood observed her; when they regarded
her he turned aside; when they thanked or praised he
was silent; when they were inattentive he murmured
his thanks. The meaning lay in the difference between
actions, none of which had any meaning of itself;
and the necessity of being jealous, which lovers are
troubled with, did not lead Oak to underestimate these
signs.
Bathsheba then wished them good-night, withdrew
from the window, and retired to the back part of the
room, Boldwood thereupon closing the sash and the
shutters, and remaining inside with her. Oak wandered
away under the quiet and scented trees. Recovering
from the softer impressions produced by Bathsheba's
voice, the shearers rose to leave, Coggan turning to
Pennyways as he pushed back the bench to pass out: --
"I like to give praise where praise is due, and the
man deserves it -- that 'a do so." he remarked, looking at
the worthy thief, as if he were the masterpiece of some
world-renowned artist.
"I'm sure I should never have believed it if we hadn't
proved it, so to allude," hiccupped Joseph Poorgrass, "that
every cup, every one of the best knives and forks, and
every empty bottle be in their place as perfect now as
at the beginning, and not one stole at all.
"I'm sure I don't deserve half the praise you give
me." said the virtuous thief, grimly.
"Well, I'll say this for Pennyways." added Coggan,
"that whenever he do really make up his mind to do a
noble thing in the shape of a good action, as I could
see by his face he. did to-night afore sitting down, he's
generally able to carry it out. Yes, I'm proud to say.
neighbours, that he's stole nothing at all.
"Well." -- 'tis an honest deed, and we thank ye for it,
Pennyways." said Joseph; to which opinion the remainder
of the company subscribed unanimously.
At this time of departure, when nothing more was
visible of the inside of the parlour than a thin and still
chink of light between the shutters, a passionate scene
was in course of enactment there."
Miss Everdene and Boldwood were alone. Her
cheeks had lost a great deal of their healthful fire from
the very seriousness of her position; but her eye was
bright with the excitement of a triumph -- though it was
a triumph which had rather been contemplated than
desired.
She was standing behind a low arm-chair, from which
she had just risen, and he was kneeling in it -- inclining
himself over its back towards her, and holding her hand
in both his own. His body moved restlessly, and it was
with what Keats daintily calls a too happy happiness.
This unwonted abstraction by love of all dignity from
a man of whom it had ever seemed the chief component,
was, in its distressing incongruity, a pain to her which
quenched much of the pleasure she derived from the
proof that she was idolized.
"I will try to love you." she was saying, in a trembling
voice quite unlike her usual self-confidence. "And if I
can believe in any way that I shall make you a good
wife I shall indeed be willing to marry you. But, Mr.
Boldwood, hesitation on so high a matter is honourable
in any woman, and I don't want to give a solemn
promise to-night. I would rather ask you to wait a few
weeks till I can see my situation better."But you have every reason to
believe that then -- -- "
"I have every reason to hope that at the end of the five or
six weeks, between this time and harvest, that
you say you are going to be away from home, I shall be
able to promise to be your wife." she said, firmly. "But
remember this distinctly, I don't promise yet."
"It is enough I don't ask more. I can wait on
those dear words. And now, Miss Everdene, good-
night!"
"Good-night." she said, graciously -- almost tenderly;
and Boldwood withdrew with a serene smile.
Bathsheba knew more of him now; he had entirely
bared his heart before her, even until he had almost
worn in her eyes the sorry look of a grand bird without
the feathers that make it grand. She had been awe-
struck at her past temerity, and was struggling to make
amends without thinking whether the sin quite deserved
the penalty she was schooling herself to pay. To have
brought all this about her ears was terrible; but after a
while the situation was not without a fearful joy. The
facility with which even the most timid woman some-
times acquire a relish for the dreadful when that is
amalgamated with a little triumph, is marvellous.





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