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A LIGHT flapped over the scene, as if reflected from
phosphorescent wings crossing the sky, and a rumble
filled the air. It was the first move of the approaching
The second peal was noisy, with comparatively little
visible lightning. Gabriel saw a candle shining in Bath-
sheba's bedroom, and soon a shadow swept to and fro
upon the blind.
Then there came a third flash. Manoeuvres of a
most extraordinary kind were going on in the vast
firmamental hollows overhead. The lightning now was
the colour of silver, and gleamed in the heavens like a
mailed army. Rumbles became rattles. Gabriel from
his elevated position could see over the landscape at
least half-a-dozen miles in front. Every hedge, bush,
and tree was distinct as in a line engraving. In a
paddock in the same direction was a herd of heifers,
and the forms of these were visible at this moment in
the act of galloping about in the wildest and maddest
confusion, flinging their heels and tails high into the air,
their heads to earth. A poplar in the immediate fore-
ground was like an ink stroke on burnished tin. Then
the picture vanished, leaving the darkness so intense
that Gabriel worked entirely by feeling with his hands.
He had stuck his ricking-rod, or poniard, as it was
indifferently called -- a long iron lance, polished by
handling -- into the stack, used to support the sheaves
instead of the support called a groom used on houses,
A blue light appeared in the zenith, and in some in-
describable manner flickered down near the top of the
rod. It was the fourth of the larger flashes. A moment
later and there was a smack -- smart, clear, and short,
Gabriel felt his position to be anything but a safe one,
and he resolved to descend.
Not a drop of rain had fallen as yet. He wiped his
weary brow, and looked again at the black forms of
the unprotected stacks. Was his life so valuable to
him after all? What were his prospects that he
should be so chary of running risk, when important
and urgent labour could not be carried on without
such risk? He resolved to stick to the stack. How-
ever, he took a precaution. Under the staddles was
a long tethering chain, used to prevent the escape of
errant horses. This he carried up the ladder, and
sticking his rod through the clog at one end, allowed
the other end of the chain to trail upon the ground
The spike attached to it he drove in. Under the
shadow of this extemporized lightning-conductor he
felt himself comparatively safe.
Before Oak had laid his hands upon his tools again
out leapt the fifth flash, with the spring of a serpent
and the shout of a fiend. It was green as an
emerald, and the reverberation was stunning. What
was this the light revealed to him? In the open
ground before him, as he looked over the ridge of
the rick, was a dark and apparently female form.
Could it be that of the only venturesome woman in
the parish -- Bathsheba? The form moved on a step:
then he could see no more.
"Is that you, ma'am?" said Gabriel to the darkness.
"Who is there?" said the voice of Bathsheba,
"Gabriel. I am on the rick, thatching."
"O, Gabriel! -- and are you? I have come about
them. The weather awoke me, and I thought of the
corn. I am so distressed about it -- can we save it any-
how? I cannot find my husband. Is he with you?"
He is not here."
"Do you know where he is?"
"Asleep in the barn."
"He promised that the stacks should be seen to,
and now they are all neglected! Can I do anything
to help? Liddy is afraid to come out. Fancy finding
you here at such an hour! Surely I can do something?"
"You can bring up some reed-sheaves to me, one by
one, ma'am; if you are not afraid to come up the ladder
in the dark." said Gabriel. "Every moment is precious
now, and that would save a good deal of time. It is
not very dark when the lightning has been gone a bit."
"I'll do anything!" she said, resolutely. She instantly
took a sheaf upon her shoulder, clambered up close to
his heels, placed it behind the rod, and descended for
another. At her third ascent the rick suddenly brightened
with the brazen glare of shining majolica -- every knot
in every straw was visible. On the slope in front of him
appeared two human shapes, black as jet. The rick
lost its sheen -- the shapes vanished. Gabriel turned his
head. It had been the sixth flash which had come from
the east behind him, and the two dark forms on the
slope had been the shadows of himself and Bathsheba.
Then came the peal. It hardly was credible that
such a heavenly light could be the parent of such a
diabolical sound.
"How terrible!" she exclaimed, and clutched him by
the sleeve. Gabriel turned, and steadied her on her
aerial perch by holding her arm. At the same moment,
while he was still reversed in his attitude, there was
more light, and he saw, as it were, a copy of the tall
poplar tree on the hill drawn in black on the wall of
the barn. It was the shadow of that tree, thrown across
by a secondary flash in the west.
The next flare came. Bathsheba was on the ground
now, shouldering another sheaf, and she bore its dazzle
without flinching -- thunder and ali-and again ascended
with the load. There was then a silence everywhere
for four or five minutes, and the crunch of the spars,
as Gabriel hastily drove them in, could again be distinctly
heard. He thought the crisis of the storm had passed.
But there came a burst of light.
"Hold on!" said Gabriel, taking the sheaf from her
shoulder, and grasping her arm again.
Heaven opened then, indeed. The flash was almost
too novel for its inexpressibly dangerous nature to be
at once realized, and they could only comprehend the
magnificence of its beauty. It sprang from east, west,
north, south, and was a perfect dance of death. The
forms of skeletons appeared in the air, shaped with
blue fire for bones -- dancing, leaping, striding, racing
around, and mingling altogether in unparalleled con-
fusion. With these were intertwined undulating snakes of
green, and behind these was a broad mass of lesser light.
Simultaneously came from every part of the tumbling
sky what may be called a shout; since, though no shout
ever came near it, it was more of the nature of a shout
than of anything else earthly. In the meantime one of
the grisly forms had alighted upon the point of Gabriel's
rod, to run invisibly down it, down the chain, and into
the earth. Gabriel was almost blinded, and he could
feel Bathsheba's warm arm tremble in his hand -- a
sensation novel and thrilling enough; but love, life,
everything human, seemed small and trifling in such
close juxtaposition with an infuriated universe.
Oak had hardly time to gather up these impressions
into a thought, and to see how strangely the red feather
of her hat shone in this light, when the tall tree on the
hill before mentioned seemed on fire to a white heat,
and a new one among these terrible voices mingled with
the last crash of those preceding. It was a stupefying
blast, harsh and pitiless, and it fell upon their ears in a
dead, flat blow, without that reverberation which lends
the tones of a drum to more distant thunder. By the
lustre reflected from every part of the earth and from the
wide domical scoop above it, he saw that the tree was
sliced down the whole length of its tall, straight stem, a
huge riband of bark being apparently flung off. The
other portion remained erect, and revealed the bared
surface as a strip of white down the front. The
lightning had struck the tree. A sulphurous smell
filled the air; then all was silent, and black as a cave
in Hinnom.
"We had a narrow escape!" said Gabriel, hurriedly.
"You had better go down."
Bathsheba said nothing; but he could distinctly hear
her rhythmical pants, and the recurrent rustle of the
sheaf beside her in response to her frightened pulsations.
She descended the ladder, and, on second thoughts, he
followed her. The darkness was now impenetrable by
the sharpest vision. They both stood still at the
bottom, side by side. Bathsheba appeared to think
only of the weather -- Oak thought only of her just then.
At last he said --
"The storm seems to have passed now, at any
"I think so too." said Bathsheba. "Though there
are multitudes of gleams, look!"
The sky was now filled with an incessant light,
frequent repetition melting into complete continuity, as
an unbroken sound results from the successive strokes
on a gong.
"Nothing serious." said he. "I cannot understand
no rain falling. But Heaven be praised, it is all the
better for us. I am now going up again."
"Gabriel, you are kinder than I deserve! I will stay
and help you yet. O, why are not some of the others
"They would have been here if they could." said Oak,
in a hesitating way.
"O, I know it all -- all." she said, adding slowly:
"They are all asleep in the barn, in a drunken sleep, and
my husband among them. That's it, is it not? Don't
think I am a timid woman and can't endure things."
"I am not certain." said Gabriel. "I will go and see,"
He crossed to the barn, leaving her there alone. He
looked through the chinks of the door. All was in
total darkness, as he had left it, and there still arose, as
at the former time, the steady buzz of many snores.
He felt a zephyr curling about his cheek, and turned.
It was Bathsheba's breath -- she had followed him, and
was looking into the same chink.
He endeavoured to put off the immediate and pain-
ful subject of their thoughts by remarking gently, "If
you'll come back again, miss -- ma'am, and hand up a
few more; it would save much time."
Then Oak went back again, ascended to the top,
stepped off the ladder for greater expedition, and went
on thatching. She followed, but without a sheaf
"Gabriel." she said, in a strange and impressive voice.
Oak looked up at her. She had not spoken since
he left the barn. The soft and continual shimmer of
the dying lightning showed a marble face high against
the black sky of the opposite quarter. Bathsheba was
sitting almost on the apex of the stack, her feet gathered
up beneath her, and resting on the top round of the
"Yes, mistress." he said.
"I suppose you thought that when I galloped away
to Bath that night it was on purpose to be married?"
"I did at last -- not at first." he answered, somewhat
surprised at the abruptness with which this new subject
was broached.
"And others thought so, too?"
"And you blamed me for it?"
"Well-a little."
"I thought so. Now, I care a little for your good
opinion, and I want to explain something-i have
longed to do it ever since I returned, and you looked so
gravely at me. For if I were to die -- and I may die
soon -- it would be dreadful that you should always think
mistakenly of me. Now, listen."
Gabriel ceased his rustling.
"I went to Bath that night in the full intention of
breaking off my engagement to Mr. Troy. It was owing
to circumstances which occurred after I got there that
-- that we were married. Now, do you see the matter
in a new light?"
"I do -- somewhat."
"I must, I suppose, say more, now that I have
begun. And perhaps it's no harm, for you are certainly
under no delusion that I ever loved you, or that I can
have any object in speaking, more than that object I
have mentioned. Well, I was alone in a strange city,
and the horse was lame. And at last I didn't know
what to do. I saw, when it was too late, that scandal
might seize hold of me for meeting him alone in that
way. But I was coming away, when he suddenly said
he had that day seen a woman more beautiful than I,
and that his constancy could not be counted on unless
I at once became his.... And I was grieved and
troubled -- --" She cleared her voice, and waited a
moment, as if to gather breath. "And then, between
jealousy and distraction, I married him!" she whispered
with desperate impetuosity.
Gabriel made no reply.
"He was not to blame, for it was perfectly true about
-- about his seeing somebody else." she quickly added.
"And now I don't wish for a single remark from you
upon the subject -- indeed, I forbid it. I only wanted
you to know that misunderstood bit of my history before
a time comes when you could never know it. -- You want
some more sheaves?"
She went down the ladder, and the work proceeded.
Gabriel soon perceived a languor in the movements of
his mistress up and down, and he said to her, gently as
a mother --
"I think you had better go indoors now, you are
tired. I can finish the rest alone. If the wind does
not change the rain is likely to keep off."
"If I am useless I will go." said Bathsheba, in a
flagging cadence. "But O, if your life should be lost!"
"You are not useless; but I would rather not tire
you longer. You have done well."
"And you better!" she said, gratefully.! Thank you
for your devotion, a thousand times, Gabriel! Good-
night-i know you are doing your very best for me."
She diminished in the gloom, and vanished, and he
heard the latch of the gate fall as she passed through.
He worked in a reverie now, musing upon her story, and
upon the contradictoriness of that feminine heart which
had caused her to speak more warmly to him to-night
than she ever had done whilst unmarried and free to
speak as warmly as she chose.
He was disturbed in his meditation by a grating
noise from the coach-house. It was the vane on the
roof turning round, and this change in the wind was the
signal for a disastrous rain.

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
English Literature
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