eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER XXXVI



WEALTH IN JEOPARDY -- THE REVEL


ONE night, at the end of August, when Bathsheba's
experiences as a married woman were still new, and
when the weather was yet dry and sultry, a man stood
motionless in the stockyard of Weatherbury Upper
Farm, looking at the moon and sky.
The night had a sinister aspect. A heated breeze
from the south slowly fanned the summits of lofty
objects, and in the sky dashes of buoyant cloud were
sailing in a course at right angles to that of another
stratum, neither of them in the direction of the breeze
below. The moon, as seen through these films, had
a lurid metallic look. The fields were sallow with the
impure light, and all were tinged in monochrome, as
if beheld through stained glass. The same evening
the sheep had trailed homeward head to tail, the
behaviour of the rooks had been confused, and the
horses had moved with timidity and caution.
Thunder was imminent, and, taking some secondary
appearances into consideration, it was likely to be
followed by one of the lengthened rains which mark
the close of dry weather for the season. Before twelve
hours had passed a harvest atmosphere would be a
bygone thing.
Oak gazed with misgiving at eight naked and un-
protected ricks, massive and heavy with the rich
produce of one-half the farm for that year. He went
on to the barn.
This was the night which had been selected by
Sergeant Troy -- ruling now in the room of his wife --
for giving the harvest supper and dance. As Oak
approached the building the sound of violins and a
tambourine, and the regular jigging of many feet, grew
more distinct. He came close to the large doors, one
of which stood slightly ajar, and looked in.
The central space, together with the recess at one
end, was emptied of all incumbrances, and this area,
covering about two-thirds of the whole, was appropriated
for the gathering, the remaining end, which was piled
to the ceiling with oats, being screened off with sail-
cloth. Tufts and garlands of green foliage decorated
the walls, beams, and extemporized chandeliers, and
immediately opposite to Oak a rostrum had been
erected, bearing a table and chairs. Here sat three
fiddlers, and beside them stood a frantic man with his
hair on end, perspiration streaming down his cheeks,
and a tambourine quivering in his hand.
The dance ended, and on the black oak floor in the
midst a new row of couples formed for another.
"Now, ma'am, and no offence I hope, I ask what
dance you would like next?" said the first violin.
"Really, it makes no difference." said the clear voice
of Bathsheba, who stood at the inner end of the build-
ing, observing the scene from behind a table covered
with cups and viands. Troy was lolling beside her.
"Then." said the fiddler, "I'll venture to name that
the right and proper thing is "The Soldier's Joy" --
there being a gallant soldier married into the farm --
hey, my sonnies, and gentlemen all?"
"It shall be "The Soldier's Joy," exclaimed a
chorus.
"Thanks for the compliment." said the sergeant
gaily, taking Bathsheba by the hand and leading her
to the top of the dance. "For though I have pur-
chased my discharge from Her Most Gracious Majesty's
regiment of cavalry the 11th Dragoon Guards, to attend
to the new duties awaiting me here, I shall continue a
soldier in spirit and feeling as long as I live."
So the dance began. As to the merits of "The
Soldier's Joy." there cannot be, and never were, two
opinions. It has been observed in the musical circles
of Weatherbury and its vicinity that this melody, at
the end of three-quarters of an hour of thunderous
footing, still possesses more stimulative properties for
the heel and toe than the majority of other dances at
their first opening. "The Soldier's Joy" has, too, an
additional charm, in being so admirably adapted to
the tambourine aforesaid -- no mean instrument in the
hands of a performer who understands the proper
convulsions, spasms, St. vitus's dances, and fearful
frenzies necessary when exhibiting its tones in their
highest perfection.
The immortal tune ended, a fine DD rolling forth
from the bass-viol with the sonorousness of a cannonade,
and Gabriel delayed his entry no longer. He avoided
Bathsheba, and got as near as possible to the platform,
where Sergeant Troy was now seated, drinking brandy-
and-water, though the others drank without exception
cider and ale. Gabriel could not easily thrust himself
within speaking distance of the sergeant, and he sent
a message, asking him to come down for a moment.
"The sergeant said he could not attend.
"Will you tell him, then." said Gabriel, "that I only
stepped ath'art to say that a heavy rain is sure to fall
soon, and that something should be done to protect
the ricks?"
"M. Troy says it will not rain." returned the
messenger, "and he cannot stop to talk to you about
such fidgets."
In Juxtaposition with Troy, Oak had a melancholy
tendency to look like a candle beside gas, and ill at
ease, he went out again, thinking he would go home;
for, under the circumstances, he had no heart for the
scene in the barn. At the door he paused for a
moment: Troy was speaking.
"Friends, it is not only the harvest home that we
are celebrating to-night; but this is also a Wedding
Feast. A short time ago I had the happiness to lead
to the altar this lady, your mistress, and not until now
have we been able to give any public flourish to the
event in Weatherbury. That it may be thoroughly
well done, and that every man may go happy to bed,
I have ordered to be brought here some bottles of
brandy and kettles of hot water. A treble-strong
goblet will he handed round to each guest."
Bathsheba put her hand upon his arm, and, with
upturned pale face, said imploringly," No -- don't give
it to them -- pray don't, Frank! It will only do them
harm: they have had enough of everything."
"True -- we don't wish for no more, thank ye." said
one or two.
"Pooh!" said the sergeant contemptuously, and
raised his voice as if lighted up by a new idea.
"Friends." he said," we'll send the women-folk home!
'Tis time they were in bed. Then we cockbirds will
have a jolly carouse to ourselves! If any of the men
show the white feather, let them look elsewhere for a
winter's work."
Bathsheba indignantly left the barn, followed by
all the women and children. The musicians, not
looking upon themselves as "company." slipped quietly
away to their spring waggon and put in the horse.
Thus Troy and the men on the farm were left sole
occupants of the place. Oak, not to appear unneces-
sarily disagreeable, stayed a little while; then he, too,
arose and quietly took his departure, followed by a
friendly oath from the sergeant for not staying to a
second round of grog.
Gabriel proceeded towards his home. In approach-
ing the door, his toe kicked something which felt and
sounded soft, leathery, and distended, like a boxing-
glove. It was a large toad humbly travelling across
the path. Oak took it up, thinking it might be better
to kill the creature to save it from pain; but finding
it uninjured, he placed it again among the grass. He
knew what this direct message from the Great Mother
meant. And soon came another.
When he struck a light indoors there appeared upon
the table a thin glistening streak, as if a brush of varnish
had been lightly dragged across it. Oak's eyes followed
the serpentine sheen to the other side, where it led up
to a huge brown garden-slug, which had come indoors
to-night for reasons of its own. It was Nature's second
way of hinting to him that he was to prepare for foul
weather.
Oak sat down meditating for nearly an hour.
During this time two black spiders, of the kind common
in thatched houses, promenaded the ceiling, ultimately
dropping to the floor. This reminded him that if there
was one class of manifestation on this matter that he
thoroughly understood, it was the instincts of sheep.
He left the room, ran across two or three fields towards
the flock, got upon a hedge, and looked over among
them.
They were crowded close together on the other side
around some furze bushes, and the first peculiarity ob-
servable was that, on the sudden appearance of Oak's
head over the fence, they did not stir or run away.
They had now a terror of something greater than their
terror of man. But this was not the most noteworthy
feature: they were all grouped in such a way that their
tails, without a single exception, were towards that half
of the horizon from which the storm threatened. There
was an inner circle closely huddled, and outside these
they radiated wider apart, the pattern formed by the
flock as a whole not being unlike a vandyked lace
collar, to which the clump of furze-bushes stood in the
position of a wearer's neck.
opinion. He knew now that he was right, and that
Troy was wrong. Every voice in nature was unanimous
in bespeaking change. But two distinct translations
attached to these dumb expressions. Apparently there
was to be a thunder-storm, and afterwards a cold con-
tinuous rain. The creeping things seemed to know all
about the later rain, hut little of the interpolated
thunder-storm; whilst the sheep knew all about the
thunder-storm and nothing of the later rain.
This complication of weathers being uncommon,
was all the more to be feared. Oak returned to the
stack-yard. All was silent here, and the conical tips of
the ricks jutted darkly into the sky. There were five
wheat-ricks in this yard, and three stacks of barley.
The wheat when threshed would average about thirty
quarters to each stack; the barley, at least forty. Their
value to Bathsheba, and indeed to anybody, Oak
mentally estimated by the following simple calcula-
tion: --
5 x 30 = 150 quarters= 500 L.
3 x 40=120 quarters= 250 L.
Total . . 750 L.
Seven hundred and fifty pounds in the divinest form
that money can wear -- that of necessary food for man
and beast: should the risk be run of deteriorating this
bulk of corn to less than half its value, because of the
instability of a woman?"Never, if I can prevent it!"
said Gabriel.
Such was the argument that Oak set outwardly before
him. But man, even to himself, is a palimpsest, having
an ostensible writing, and another beneath the lines.
It is possible that there was this golden legend under
the utilitarian one: "I will help to my last effort the
woman I have loved so dearly."
He went back to the barn to endeavour to obtain
assistance for covering the ricks that very night. All
was silent within, and he would have passed on in the
belief that the party had broken up, had not a dim
light, yellow as saffron by contrast with the greenish
whiteness outside, streamed through a knot-hole in the
folding doors.
Gabriel looked in. An unusual picture met his eye.
The candles suspended among the evergreens had
burnt down to their sockets, and in some cases the
leaves tied about them were scorched. Many of the
lights had quite gone out, others smoked and stank,
grease dropping from them upon the floor. Here,
under the table, and leaning against forms and chairs
in every conceivable attitude except the perpendicular,!"
were the wretched persons of all the work-folk, the hair
of their heads at such low levels being suggestive of
mops and brooms. In the midst of these shone red
and distinct the figure of Sergeant Troy, leaning back
in a chair. Coggan was on his back, with his mouth
open, huzzing forth snores, as were several others; the
united breathings of the horizonal assemblage forming
a subdued roar like London from a distance. Joseph
Poorgrass was curled round in the fashion of a hedge-
hog, apparently in attempts to present the least possible
portion of his surface to the air; and behind him was
dimly visible an unimportant remnant of William Small-
bury. The glasses and cups still stood upon the table,
a water-jug being overturned, from which a small rill,
after tracing its course with marvellous precision down
the centre of the long table, fell into the neck of the
unconscious Mark Clark, in a steady, monotonous drip,
like the dripping of a stalactite in a cave.
Gabriel glanced hopelessly at the group, which, with
one or two exceptions, composed all the able-bodied
men upon the farm. He saw at once that if the ricks
were to be saved that night, or even the next morning,
he must save them with his own hands.
A faint "ting-ting" resounded from under Coggan's
waistcoat. It was Coggan's watch striking the hour of
two.
Oak went to the recumbent form of Matthew Moon,
who usually undertook the rough thatching of the home-
stead, and shook him. The shaking was without effect.
Gabriel shouted in his ear, "where's your thatching-
beetle and rick-stick and spars?"
"Under the staddles." said Moon, mechanically, with
the unconscious promptness of a medium.
Gabriel let go his head, and it dropped upon the
floor like a bowl. He then went to Susan Tall's
husband.
"where's the key of the granary?"
No answer. The question was repeated, with the
same result. To be shouted to at night was evidently
less of a novelty to Susan Tall's husband than to
Matthew Moon. Oak flung down Tall's head into the
corner again and turned away.
To be just, the men were not greatly to blame for
this painful and demoralizing termination to the
evening's entertainment. Sergeant Troy had so strenu-
ously insisted, glass in hand, that drinking should be
the bond of their union, that those who wished to refuse
hardly liked to be so unmannerly under the circum-
stances. Having from their youth up been entirely un-
accustomed to any liquor stronger than cider or mild
ale, it was no wonder that they had succumbed, one
and all, with extraordinary uniformity, after the lapse of
about an hour.
Gabriel was greatly depressed. This debauch boded
ill for that wilful and fascinating mistress whom the
faithful man even now felt within him as the embodi-
ment of all that was sweet and bright and hopeless.
He put out the expiring lights, that the barn might
not be endangered, closed the door upon the men in
their deep and oblivious sleep, and went again into the
lone night. A hot breeze, as if breathed from the
parted lips of some dragon about to swallow the globe,
fanned him from the south, while directly opposite in
the north rose a grim misshapen body of cloud, in the
very teeth of the wind. So unnaturally did it rise that
one could fancy it to be lifted by machinery from below.
Meanwhile the faint cloudlets had flown back into the
south-east corner of the sky, as if in terror of the large
cloud, like a young brood gazed in upon by some
monster.
Going on to the village, Oak flung a small stone
against the window of Laban Tall's bedroom, expecting
Susan to open it; but nobody stirred. He went round
to the back door, which had been left unfastened for
Laban's entry, and passed in to the foot of the stair-
case.
"Mrs. Tall, I've come for the key of the granary,
to get at the rick-cloths." said Oak, in a stentorian
voice.
"Is that you?" said Mrs. Susan Tall, half awake.
"Yes." said Gabriel.
"Come along to bed, do, you drawlatching rogue --
keeping a body awake like this ."
"It isn't Laban -- 'tis Gabriel Oak. I want the key
of the granary."
"Gabriel. what in the name of fortune did you
pretend to be Laban for?"
"I didn't. I thought you meant -- -- "
"Yes you did! what do you want here?"
"The key of the granary."
"Take it then. 'Tis on the nail. People coming
disturbing women at this time of night ought -- -- "
Gabriel took the key, without waiting to hear the
conclusion of the tirade. Ten minutes later his lonely
figure might have been seen dragging four large water-
proof coverings across the yard, and soon two of these
heaps of treasure in grain were covered snug -- two cloths
to each. Two hundred pounds were secured. Three
wheat-stacks remained open, and there were no more
cloths. Oak looked under the staddles and found a
fork. He mounted the third pile of wealth and began
operating, adopting the plan of sloping the upper
sheaves one over the other; and, in addition, filling
the interstices with the material of some untied sheaves.
So far all was well. By this hurried contrivance
Bathsheba's property in wheat was safe for at any rate
a week or two, provided always that there was not
much wind.
Next came the barley. This it was only possible to
protect by systematic thatching. Time went on, and
the moon vanished not to reappear. It was the
farewell of the ambassador previous to war. The
night had a haggard look, like a sick thing; and there
came finally an utter expiration of air from the whole
heaven in the form of a slow breeze, which might have
been likened to a death. And now nothing was heard
in the yard but the dull thuds of the beetle which drove
in the spars, and the rustle of thatch in the intervals.





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