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CHAPTER XXXII



NIGHT -- HORSES TRAMPING


THE village of Weatherbury was quiet as the graveyard
in its midst, and the living were lying well nigh as still
as the dead. The church clock struck eleven. The
air was so empty of other sounds that the whirr of the
clock-work immediately before the strokes was distinct,
and so was also the click of the same at their close.
The notes flew forth with the usual blind obtuseness
of inanimate things -- flapping and rebounding among
walls, undulating against the scattered clouds, spreading
through their interstices into unexplored miles of space.
Bathsheba's crannied and mouldy halls were to-night
occupied only by Maryann, Liddy being, as was stated,
with her sister, whom Bathsheba had set out to visit.
A few minutes after eleven had struck, Maryann turned
in her bed with a sense of being disturbed. She was
totally unconscious of the nature of the interruption to
her sleep. It led to a dream, and the dream to an
awakening, with an uneasy sensation that something
had happened. She left her bed and looked out of
the window. The paddock abutted on this end of the
building, and in the paddock she could just discern by
the uncertain gray a moving figure approaching the
horse that was feeding there. The figure seized the
horse by the forelock, and led it to the corner of the
field. Here she could see some object which circum-
stances proved to be a vehicle for after a few minutes
the horse down the road, mingled with the sound of
light wheels.
Two varieties only of humanity could have entered
the paddock with the ghostlike glide of that mysterious
figure. They were a woman and a gipsy man. A woman
was out of the question in such an occupation at this
hour, and the comer could be no less than a thief, who
might probably have known the weakness of the house-
hold on this particular night, and have chosen it on
that account for his daring attempt. Moreover, to
raise suspicion to conviction itself, there were gipsies in!
Weatherbury Bottom.
Maryann, who had been afraid to shout in the robber's
presence, having seen him depart had no fear. She
hastily slipped on her clothes, stumped down the dis-
jointed staircase with its hundred creaks, ran to Coggan's,
the nearest house, and raised an alarm. Coggan called
Gabriel, who now again lodged in his house as at first,
and together they went to the paddock. Beyond all
doubt the horse was gone.
"Hark!" said Gabriel.
They listened. Distinct upon the stagnant air came
the sounds of a trotting horse passing up Longpuddle
Lane -- just beyond the gipsies' encampment in Weather-
bury Bottom.
"That's our Dainty-i'll swear to her step." said Jan.
"Mighty me! Won't mis'ess storm and call us stupids
wen she comes back!" moaned Maryann. "How I
wish it had happened when she was at home, and none
of us had been answerable!"
"We must ride after." said Gabriel, decisively.
be responsible to Miss Everdene for what we do. Yes,
we'll follow. "
"Faith, I don't see how." said Coggan. "All our
horses are too heavy for that trick except little Poppet,
and what's she between two of us?-if we only had that
pair over the hedge we might do something."
"Which pair?"
"Mr Boldwood's Tidy and Moll."
"Then wait here till I come hither again." said Gabriel.
He ran down the hill towards Farmer Boldwood's.
"Farmer Boldwood is not at home." said Maryann.
"All the better." said Coggan. "I know what he's
gone for."
Less than five minutes brought up Oak again, running
at the same pace, with two halters dangling from his hand.
"Where did you find 'em?" said Coggan, turning
round and leaping upon the hedge without waiting for
an answer.
"Under the eaves. I knew where they were kept,"
said Gabriel, following him. "Coggan, you can ride
bare-backed? there's no time to look for saddles."
"Like a hero!" said Jan.
"Maryann, you go to hed." Gabriel shouted to her
from the top of the hedge.
Springing down into Boldwood's pastures, each
pocketed his halter to hide it from the horses, who,
seeing the men empty-handed, docilely allowed them-
selves to he seized by the mane, when the halters
were dexterously slipped on. Having neither bit nor
bridle, Oak and Coggan extemporized the former by
passing the rope in each case through the animal's
mouth and looping it on the other side. Oak vaulted
astride, and Coggan clambered up by aid of the hank,
when they ascended to the gate and galloped off in the
direction taken by Bathsheha's horse and the robber.
Whose vehicle the horse had been harnessed to was a
matter of some uncertainty.
Weatherbury Bottom was reached in three or four
minutes. They scanned the shady green patch by the
roadside. The gipsies were gone.
"The villains!" said Gabriel. "Which way have they
gone, I wonder?"
"Straight on, as sure as God made little apples,"
said Jan.
"Very well; we are better mounted, and must over-
discovered. The road-metal grew softer and more
rain had wetted its surface to a somewhat plastic, but
not muddy state. They came to cross-roads. Coggan
suddenly pulled up Moll and slipped off.
"What's the matter?" said Gabriel.
"We must try to track 'em, since we can't hear 'em,"
said Jan, fumbling in his pockets. He struck a light,
and held the match to the ground. The rain had been
heavier here, and all foot and horse tracks made previous
to the storm had been abraded and blurred by the drops,
and they were now so many little scoops of water, which
reflected the flame of the match like eyes. One set of
tracks was fresh and had no water in them; one pair of
ruts was also empty, and not small canals, like the others.
The footprints forming this recent impression were full
of information as to pace; they were in equidistant pairs,
three or four feet apart, the right and left foot of each
pair being exactly opposite one another.
"Straight on!" Jan exclaimed. "Tracks like that
mean a stiff gallop. No wonder we don't hear him.
And the horse is harnessed -- look at the ruts. Ay,
"How do you know?"
"Old Jimmy Harris only shoed her last week, and
I'd swear to his make among ten thousand."
"The rest of the gipsies must ha" gone on earlier,
or some other way." said Oak. "You saw there were
no other tracks?"
"True." They rode along silently for a long weary
time. Coggan carried an old pinchbeck repeater which
he had inherited from some genius in his family; and
it now struck one. He lighted another match, and ex-
amined the ground again.
"'Tis a canter now." he said, throwing away the light.
"A twisty, rickety pace for a gig. The fact is, they over-
drove her at starting, we shall catch 'em yet."
Again they hastened on, and entered Blackmore
Vale. Coggan's watch struck one. When they looked
again the hoof-marks were so spaced as to form a sort
of zigzag if united, like the lamps along a street.
"That's a trot, I know." said Gabriel.
"Only a trot now." said Coggan, cheerfully. "We
shall overtake him in time."
They pushed rapidly on for yet two or three miles.
"Ah! a moment." said Jan. "Let's see how she was
driven up this hill. "Twill help us." A light was
promptly struck upon his gaiters as before, and the ex-
amination made,
"Hurrah!" said Coggan. "She walked up here --
and well she might. We shall get them in two miles,
for a crown."
They rode three, and listened. No sound was to be
heard save a millpond trickling hoarsely through a
hatch, and suggesting gloomy possibilities of drowning
by jumping in. Gabriel dismounted when they came
to a turning. The tracks were absolutely the only guide
as to the direction that they now had, and great caution
was necessary to avoid confusing them with some others
which had made their appearance lately.
"What does this mean? -- though I guess." said
Gabriel, looking up at Coggan as he moved the match
over the ground about the turning. Coggan, who, no
less than the panting horses, had latterly shown signs
of weariness, again scrutinized the mystic characters.
This time only three were of the regular horseshoe
shape. Every fourth was a dot.
He screwed up his face and emitted a long
"Whew-w-w!"
"Lame." said Oak.
"Yes Dainty is lamed; the near-foot-afore." said
Coggan slowly staring still at the footprints.
"We'll push on." said Gabriel, remounting his humid
steed.
Although the road along its greater part had been as
good as any turnpike-road in the country, it was nomin-
ally only a byway. The last turning had brought them
into the high road leading to Bath. Coggan recollected
himself.
"We shall have him now!" he exclaimed.
"Where?"
"Sherton Turnpike. The keeper of that gate is the
sleepiest man between here and London -- Dan Randall.
that's his name -- knowed en for years, when he was at
Casterbridge gate. Between the lameness and the gate
'tis a done job."
'Twas said until, against a shady background of foliage,
five white bars were visible, crossing their route a little
way ahead.
"Hush -- we are almost close!" said Gabriel.
"Amble on upon the grass." said Coggan.
The white bars were blotted out in the midst by a
dark shape in front of them. The silence of this lonely
time was pierced by an exclamation from that quarter.
"Hoy-a-hoy! Gate!"
It appeared that there had been a previous call which
they had not noticed, for on their close approach the
door of the turnpike-house opened, and the keeper
came out half-dressed, with a candle in his hand. The
rays illumined the whole group.
"Keep the gate close!" shouted Gabriel. "He has
stolen the horse!"
Who?" said the turnpike-man.
Gabriel looked at the driver of the gig, and saw a
woman -- Bathsheba, his mistress.
On hearing his voice she had turned her face away
from the light. Coggan had, however, caught sight of
her in the meanwhile.
"Why, 'tis mistress-i'll take my oath!" he said,
amazed.
Bathsheba it certainly was, and she had by this time
done the trick she could do so well in crises not of love,
namely, mask a surprise by coolness of manner.
"Well, Gabriel." she inquired quietly," where are you
going?"
"We thought -- --" began Gabriel.
"Bath." she said, taking for her own
use the assurance that Gabriel lacked. "An important
matter made it necessary for me to give up my visit to
liddy, and go off at once. What, then, were you
following me?"
"We thought the horse was stole."
"Well-what a thing! How very foolish of you not
to know that I had taken the trap and horse. I could
neither wake Maryann nor get into the house, though
I hammered for ten minutes against her window-sill.
Fortunately, I could get the key of the coach-house, so
I troubled no one further. Didn't you think it might
be me?"
"Why should we, miss?"
"Perhaps not Why, those are never Farmer Bold-
wood's horses! Goodness mercy! what have you been
doing bringing trouble upon me in this way? What!
mustn't a lady move an inch from her door without being
dogged like a thief?"
"But how was we to know, if you left no account of
your doings?" expostulated Coggan, "and ladies don't
drive at these hours, miss, as a jineral rule of society."
"I did leave an account -- and you would have seen
it in the morning. I wrote in chalk on the coach-house
doors that I had come back for the horse and gig, and
driven off; that I could arouse nobody, and should
return soon."
"But you'll consider, ma'am, that we couldn't see
that till it got daylight."
"True." she said, and though vexed at first she had
too much sense to blame them long or seriously for a
devotion to her that was as valuable as it was rare.
She added with a very pretty grace," Well, I really thank
you heartily for taking all this trouble; but I wish you
had borrowed anybody's horses but Mr. Boldwood's."
"Dainty is lame, miss." said Coggan. "Can ye go
on?"
"lt was only a stone in her shoe. I got down and
pulled it out a hundred yards back. I can manage
very well, thank you. I shall be in Bath by daylight.
Will you now return, please?"
She turned her head -- the gateman's candle
shimmering upon her quick, clear eyes as she did so --
passed through the gate, and was soon wrapped in the
embowering shades of mysterious summer boughs.
Coggan and Gabriel put about their horses, and, fanned
by the velvety air of this July night, retraced the road
by which they had come.
"A strange vagary, this of hers, isn't it, Oak?" said
Coggan, curiously.
"Yes." said Gabriel, shortly.
"She won't be in Bath by no daylight!"
"Coggan, suppose we keep this night's work as quiet
as we can?"
"I am of one and the same mind."
"Very well. We shall be home by three o'clock or
so, and can creep into the parish like lambs."
Bathsheba's perturbed meditations by the roadside
had ultimately evolved a conclusion that there were only
two remedies for the present desperate state of affairs.
The first was merely to keep Troy away from Weather-
bury till Boldwood's indignation had cooled; the second
to listen to Oak's entreaties, and Boldwood's denuncia-
tions, and give up Troy altogether.
Alas! Could she give up this new love -- induce
him to renounce her by saying she did not like him --
could no more speak to him, and beg him, for her good,
to end his furlough in Bath, and see her and Weather-
bury no more?
It was a picture full of misery, but for a while she
contemplated it firmly, allowing herself, nevertheless,
as girls will, to dwell upon the happy life she would
have enjoyed had Troy been Boldwood, and the path
of love the path of duty -- inflicting upon herself gratuit-
ous tortures by imagining him the lover of another
woman after forgetting her; for she had penetrated
Troy's nature so far as to estimate his tendencies pretty
accurately, hut unfortunately loved him no less in
thinking that he might soon cease to love her -- indeed,
considerably more.
She jumped to her feet. She would see him at once.
Yes, she would implore him by word of mouth to assist
her in this dilemma. A letter to keep him away could
not reach him in time, even if he should be disposed to
listen to it.
Was Bathsheba altogether blind to the obvious fact
that the support of a lover's arms is not of a kind best
calculated to assist a resolve to renounce him? Or was
she sophistically sensible, with a thrill of pleasure, that
by adopting this course for getting rid of him she was
ensuring a meeting with him, at any rate, once more?
It was now dark, and the hour must have been nearly
ten. The only way to accomplish her purpose was to
give up her idea of visiting Liddy at Yalbury, return to
Weatherbury Farm, put the horse into the gig, and drive
at once to Bath. The scheme seemed at first impossible:
the journey was a fearfully heavy one, even for a strong
horse, at her own estimate; and she much underrated
the distance. It was most venturesome for a woman,
at night, and alone.
But could she go on to Liddy's and leave things to
take their course? No, no; anything but that. Bath-
sheba was full of a stimulating turbulence, beside which
caution vainly prayed for a hearing. she turned back
towards the village.
Her walk was slow, for she wished not to enter
Weatherbury till the cottagers were in bed, and, par-
ticularly, till Boldwood was secure. Her plan was now
to drive to Bath during the night, see Sergeant Troy in
the morning before he set out to come to her, bid him
farewell, and dismiss him: then to rest the horse
thoroughly (herself to weep the while, she thought),
starting early the next morning on her return journey.
By this arrangement she could trot Dainty gently all
the day, reach Liddy at Yalbury in the evening, and
come home to Weatherbury with her whenever they
chose -- so nobody would know she had been to Bath
at all.
Such was Bathsheba's scheme. But in her topo-
graphical ignorance as a late comer to the place, she
misreckoned the distance of her journey as not much
more than half what it really was. Her idea, however,
she proceeded to carry out, with what initial success we
have already seen.





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