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CHAPTER XXXVIII



RAIN -- ONE SOLITARY MEETS ANOTHER


IT was now five o'clock, and the dawn was promising
to break in hues of drab and ash.
The air changed its temperature and stirred itself
more vigorously. Cool breezes coursed in transparent
eddies round Oak's face. The wind shifted yet a point
or two and blew stronger. In ten minutes every wind
of heaven seemed to be roaming at large. Some of the
thatching on the wheat-stacks was now whirled fantas-
tically aloft, and had to be replaced and weighted with
some rails that lay near at hand. This done, Oak slaved
away again at the barley. A huge drop of rain smote
his face, the wind snarled round every corner, the trees
rocked to the bases of their trunks, and the twigs clashed
in strife. Driving in spars at any point and on any
system, inch by inch he covered more and more safely
from ruin this distracting impersonation of seven hundred
pounds. "The rain came on in earnest, and Oak soon felt
the water to be tracking cold and clammy routes down
his back. Ultimately he was reduced well-nigh to a
homogeneous sop, and the dyes of his clothes trickled
down and stood in a pool at the foot of the ladder.
The rain stretched obliquely through the dull atmo-
sphere in liquid spines, unbroken in continuity between
their beginnings in the clouds and their points in him.
Oak suddenly remembered that eight months before
this time he had been fighting against fire in the same
spot as desperately as he was fighting against water
now -- and for a futile love of the same woman. As for
her -- -- But Oak was generous and true, and dis-
missed his reflections.
It was about seven o'clock in the dark leaden
morning when Gabriel came down from the last stack,
and thankfully exclaimed, "It is done!" He was
drenched, weary, and sad, and yet not so sad as drenched
and weary, for he was cheered by a sense of success in
a good cause.
Faint sounds came from the barn, and he looked
that way. Figures stepped singly and in pairs through
the doors -- all walking awkwardly, and abashed, save
the foremost, who wore a red jacket, and advanced
with his hands in his pockets, whistling. The others
shambled after with a conscience-stricken air: the whole
procession was not unlike Flaxman's group of the suitors
tottering on towards the infernal regions under the
conduct of Mercury. The gnarled shapes passed into
the village, Troy, their leader, entering the farmhouse.
Not a single one of them had turned his face to the
ricks, or apparently bestowed one thought upon their
condition.
Soon Oak too went homeward, by a different route
from theirs. In front of him against the wet glazed
surface of the lane he saw a person walking yet more
slowly than himself under an umbrella. The man
turned and plainly started; he was Boldwood.
"How are you this morning, sir?" said Oak.
"Yes, it is a wet day. -- Oh, I am well, very well, I
thank you; quite well."
"I am glad to hear it, sir."
Boldwood seemed to awake to the present by degrees.
"You look tired and ill, Oak." he said then, desultorily
regarding his companion.
"I am tired. You look strangely altered, sir."
"I? Not a bit of it: I am well enough. What put
that into your head?"
"I thought you didn't look quite so topping as you
used to, that was all."
"Indeed, then you are mistaken." said Boldwood,
shortly. "Nothing hurts me. My constitution is an
iron one."
"I've been working hard to get our ricks covered,
and was barely in time. Never had such a struggle in
my life.... Yours of course are safe, sir."
"O yes." Boldwood added, after an interval of
silence: " What did you ask, Oak?"
"Your ricks are all covered before this time?"
"No."
"At any rate, the large ones upon the stone staddles?"
"They are not."
"Them under the hedge?"
"No. I forgot to tell the thatcher to set about it."
"Nor the little one by the stile?"Nor the little one by the stile. I
overlooked the
ricks this year."
"Then not a tenth of your corn will come to measure,
sir."
"Possibly not.
"Overlooked them." repeated Gabriel slowly to him-
self. It is difficult to describe the intensely dramatic
effect that announcement had upon Oak at such a
moment. All the night he had been feeling that the
neglect he was labouring to repair was abnormal and
isolated -- the only instance of the kind within the circuit
of the county. Yet at this very time, within the same
parish, a greater waste had been going on, uncomplained
of and disregarded. A few months earlier Boldwood's
forgetting his husbandry would have been as preposter-
ous an idea as a sailor forgetting he was in a ship. Oak
was just thinking that whatever he himself might have
suffered from Bathsheba's marriage, here was a man
who had suffered more, when Boldwood spoke in a
changed voice -- that of one who yearned to make a
confidence and relieve his heart by an outpouring.
"Oak, you know as well as I that things have gone
wrong with me lately. I may as well own it. I was
going to get a little settled in life; but in some way my
plan has come to nothing."
"I thought my mistress would have married you,"
said Gabriel, not knowing enough of the full depths of
Boldwood's love to keep silence on the farmer's account,
and determined not to evade discipline by doing so on
his own. "However, it is so sometimes, and nothing
happens that we expect." he added, with the repose of
a man whom misfortune had inured rather than sub-
dued.
"I daresay I am a joke about the parish." said Bold-
wood, as if the subject came irresistibly to his tongue,
and with a miserable lightness meant to express his
indifference.
"O no -- I don't think that."
-- But the real truth of the matter is that there was
not, as some fancy, any jilting on -- her part. No
engagement ever existed between me and Miss Ever-
dene. People say so, but it is untrue: she never
promised me!" Boldwood stood still now and turned
his wild face to Oak. "O, Gabriel." he continued, "I
am weak and foolish, and I don't know what, and I
can't fend off my miserable grief! ... I had some faint
belief in the mercy of God till I lost that woman. Yes,
He prepared a gourd to shade me, and like the prophet
I thanked Him and was glad. But the next day He
prepared a worm to smite the gourd and wither it; and
I feel it is better to die than to live!"
A silence followed. Boldwood aroused himself from
the momentary mood of confidence into which he had
drifted, and walked on again, resuming his usual reserve,
"No, Gabriel." he resumed, with a carelessness which
was like the smile on the countenance of a skull: "it
was made more of by other people than ever it was by
us. I do feel a little regret occasionally, but no woman
ever had power over me for any length of time. Well,
good morning; I can trust you not to mention to others
what has passed between us two here."





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