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CHAPTER IV



GABRIEL'S RESOLVE -- THE VISIT -- THE MISTAKE


THE only superiority in women that is tolerable to the
rival sex is, as a rule, that of the unconscious kind; but
a superiority which recognizes itself may sometimes
please by suggesting possibilities of capture to the
subordinated man.
This well-favoured and comely girl soon made appre-
ciable inroads upon the emotional constitution of young
Farmer Oak.
Love, being an extremely exacting usurer (a sense of
exorbitant profit, spiritually, by an exchange of hearts,
being at the bottom of pure passions, as that of exorbi-
tant profit, bodily or materially, is at the bottom of
those of lower atmosphere), every morning Oak's feelings
were as sensitive as the money-market in calculations
upon his chances. His dog waited for his meals in a
way so like that in which Oak waited for the girl's
presence, that the farmer was quite struck with the
resemblance, felt it lowering, and would not look at the
dog. However, he continued to watch through the
hedge for her regular coming, and thus his sentiments
towards her were deepened without any corresponding
effect being produced upon herself. Oak had nothing
finished and ready to say as yet, and not being able
to frame love phrases which end where they begin;
passionate tales --
-- Full of sound and fury
-- signifying nothing --
he said no word at all.
By making inquiries he found that the girl's name
was Bathsheba Everdene, and that the cow would go
dry in about seven days. He dreaded the eight day.
At last the eighth day came. The cow had ceased
to give milk for that year, and Bathsheba Everdene
came up the hill no more. Gabriel had reached a
pitch of existence he never could have anticipated a
short time before. He liked saying `Bathsheba' as a
private enjoyment instead of whistling; turned over his
taste to black hair, though he had sworn by brown ever
since he was a boy, isolated himself till the space he
filled in a possible strength in an actual weakness. Marriage
transforms a distraction into a support, the power of
which should be, and happily often is, in direct pro-
portion to the degree of imbecility it supplants. Oak
began now to see light in this direction, and said to
himself, "I'll make her my wife, or upon my soul I shall
be good for nothing!"
All this while he was perplexing himself about an
errand on which he might consistently visit the cottage
of Bathsheba's aunt.
He found his opportunity in the death of a ewe,
mother of a living lamb. On a day which had a
summer face and a winter constitution-a fine January
morning, when there was just enough blue sky visible to
make cheerfully-disposed people wish for more, and an
occasional gleam of silvery sunshine, Oak put the lamb
into a respectable Sunday basket, and stalked across the
fields to the house of Mrs. Hurst, the aunt -- George,
the dog walking behind, with a countenance of great
concern at the serious turn pastoral affairs seemed to be
taking.
Gabriel had watched the blue wood-smoke curling
from the chimney with strange meditation. At evening
he had fancifully traced it down the chimney to the
spot of its origin -- seen the hearth and Bathsheba
beside it -- beside it in her out-door dress; for the
clothes she had worn on the hill were by association
equally with her person included in the compass of his
affection; they seemed at this early time of his love a
necessary ingredient of the sweet mixture called Bath-
sheba Everdene.
He had made a toilet of a nicely-adjusted kind -- of a
nature between the carefully neat and the carelessly
ornate -- of a degree between fine-market-day and wet-
Sunday selection. He thoroughly cleaned his silver
watch-chain with whiting, put new lacing straps to his
boots, looked to the brass eyelet-holes, went to the
inmost heart of the plantation for a new walking-stick,
and trimmed it vigorously on his way back; took a new
handkerchief from the bottom of his clothes-box, put
on the light waistcoat patterned all over with sprigs
of an elegant flower uniting the beauties of both rose
and lily without the defects of either, and used all the
hair-oil he possessed upon his usually dry, sandy, and
inextricably curly hair, till he had deepened it to a
splendidly novel colour, between that of guano and
Roman cement, making it stick to his head like mace
round a nutmeg, or wet seaweed round a boulder after
the ebb.
Nothing disturbed the stillness of the cottage save
the chatter of a knot of sparrows on the eaves; one
might fancy scandal and rumour to be no less the
staple topic of these little coteries on roofs than of
those under them. It seemed that the omen was an
unpropitious one, for, as the rather untoward commence-
ment of Oak's overtures, just as he arrived by the garden
gate, he saw a cat inside, going into various arched shapes
and fiendish convulsions at the sight of his dog George.
The dog took no notice , for he had arrived at an age
at which all superfluous barking was cynically avoided
as a waste of breath -- in fact he never barked even
at the sheep except to order, when it was done with
an absolutely neutral countenance, as a sort of Com-
mination-service, which, though offensive, had to be
gone through once now and then to frighten the flock
for their own good.
A voice came from behind some laurel-bushes into
which the cat had run:
"Poor dear! Did a nasty brute of a dog want to
kill it; -- did he poor dear!"
"I beg your pardon." said Oak to the voice, "but
George was walking on behind me with a temper as
mild as milk."
Almost before he had ceased speaking, Oak was
seized with a misgiving as to whose ear was the recipient
of his answer. Nobody appeared, and he heard the
person retreat among the bushes.
Gabriel meditated, and so deeply that he brought
small furrows into his forehead by sheer force of
reverie. Where the issue of an interview is as likely
to be a vast change for the worse as for the better,
any initial difference from expectation causes nipping
sensations of failure. Oak went up to the door a little
abashed: his mental rehearsal and the reality had had
no common grounds of opening.
Bathsheba's aunt was indoors. "Will you tell Miss
Everdene that somebody would be glad to speak to
her?" said Mr. Oak. (Calling one's self merely Some-
body, without giving a name, is not to be taken as
an example of the ill-breeding of the rural world: it
springs from a refined modesty, of which townspeople,
with their cards and announcements, have no notion
whatever.)
Bathsheba was out. The voice had evidently been
hers.
"Will you come in, Mr. Oak?"
"Oh, thank 'ee, said Gabriel, following her to the
fireplace. "I've brought a lamb for Miss Everdene.
I thought she might like one to rear; girls do."
"She might." said Mrs. Hurst, musingly; " though
she's only a visitor here. If you will wait a minute,
Bathsheba will be in."
"Yes, I will wait." said Gabriel, sitting down. "The
lamb isn't really the business I came about, Mrs. Hurst.
In short, I was going to ask her if she'd like to be
married."
"And were you indeed?"
"Yes. Because if she would, I should be very glad
to marry her. D'ye know if she's got any other young
man hanging about her at all?"
"Let me think," said Mrs. Hurst, poking the fire
superfluously.... "Yes -- bless you, ever so many young
men. You see, Farmer Oak, she's so good-looking, and
an excellent scholar besides -- she was going to be a
governess once, you know, only she was too wild. Not
that her young men ever come here -- but, Lord, in the
nature of women, she must have a dozen!"
"That's unfortunate." said Farmer Oak, contemplating
a crack in the stone floor with sorrow. "I'm only an
every-day sort of man, and my only chance was in being
the first comer... , Well, there's no use in my waiting,
for that was all I came about: so I'll take myself off
home-along, Mrs. Hurst."
When Gabriel had gone about two hundred yards along the
down, he heard a "hoi-hoi!" uttered behind
him, in a piping note of more treble quality than that
in which the exclamation usually embodies itself when
shouted across a field. He looked round, and saw a girl
racing after him, waving a white handkerchief.
Oak stood still -- and the runner drew nearer. It was
Bathsheba Everdene. Gabriel's colour deepened: hers
was already deep, not, as it appeared, from emotion,
but from running.
"Farmer Oak -- I -- " she said, pausing for want of
breath pulling up in front of him with a slanted face
and putting her hand to her side.
"I have just called to see you," said Gabriel, pending
her further speech.
"Yes-I know that!" she said panting like a robin,
her face red and moist from her exertions, like a peony
petal before the sun dries off the dew. "I didn't know
you had come to ask to have me, or I should have come
in from the garden instantly. I ran after you to say --
that my aunt made a mistake in sending you away from
courting me -- -- -- "
Gabriel expanded."I'm sorry to have made you
run so fast, my dear." he said, with a grateful sense of
favours to come. "Wait a bit till you've found your
breath."
"-- It was quite a mistake-aunt's telling you I had
a young man "already."- Bathsheba went on. "I haven't
a sweetheart at all -- and I never had one, and I thought
that, as times go with women, it was such a pity to send
you away thinking that I had several."
"Really and truly I am glad to hear that!" said
Farmer Oak, smiling one of his long special smiles, and
blushing with gladness. He held out his hand to take
hers, which, when she had eased her side by pressing
it there, was prettily extended upon her bosom to still
her loud-beating heart. Directly he seized it she put
it behind her, so that it slipped through his fingers like
an eel. "
"I have a nice snug little farm." said Gabriel, with
half a degree less assurance than when he had seized
her hand.
"Yes; you have."
"A man has advanced me money to begin with, but
still, it will soon be paid off and though I am only an
every-day sort of man, I have got on a little since I was
a boy." Gabriel uttered "a little" in a tone to-show
her that it was the complacent form of "a great deal."
e continued: " When we be married, I am quite sure
I can work twice as hard as I do now."
He went forward and stretched out his arm again.
Bathsheba had overtaken him at a point beside which
stood a low stunted holly bush, now laden with red
berries. Seeing his advance take the form of an attitude
threatening a possible enclosure, if not compression, of
her person, she edged off round the bush.
"Why, Farmer Oak." she said, over the top, looking
at him with rounded eyes, "I never said I was going to
marry you."
"Well -- that is a tale!" said Oak, with dismay." To
run after anybody like this, and then say you don't
want him!"
"What I meant to tell you was only this." she said
eagerly, and yet half conscious of the absurdity of the
position she had made for herself -- "that nobody has
got me yet as a sweetheart, instead of my having a
dozen, as my aunt said; I hate to be thought men's
property in that way, though possibly I shall be had
some day. Why, if I'd wanted you I shouldn't have
run after you like this; 'twould have been the forwardest
thing! But there was no harm in 'hurrying to correct
a piece of false news that had been told you."
"Oh, no -- no harm at all." But there is such a thing
as being too generous in expressing a judgment impuls-
ively, and Oak added with a more appreciative sense
of all the circumstances -- "Well, I am not quite certain
it was no harm."
"Indeed, I hadn't time to think before starting
whether I wanted to marry or not, for you'd have been
gone over the hill."
"Come." said Gabriel, freshening again; "think a
minute or two. I'll wait a while, Miss Everdene. Will
you marry me? Do, Bathsheba. I love you far more
than common!"
"I'll try to think." she observed, rather more timor-
ously; "if I can think out of doors; my mind spreads
away so."
"But you can give a guess."
"Then give me time." Bathsheba looked thought-
fully into the distance, away from the direction in which
Gabriel stood.
"I can make you happy," said he to the back of her
head, across the bush. "You shall have as piano in a
year or two -- farmers' wives are getting to have pianos
now -- and I'll practise up the flute right well to play
with you in the evenings."
"Yes; I should like that."
"And have one of those little ten-pound" gigs for
market -- and nice flowers, and birds -- cocks and hens
I mean, because they be useful." continued Gabriel,
feeling balanced between poetry and practicality.
"I should like it very much."
"And a frame for cucumbers -- like a gentleman and
lady."
Yes."
"And when the wedding was over, we'd have it put
in the newspaper list of marriages."
"Dearly I should like that!"
"And the babies in the births -- every man jack of
"em! And at home by the fire, whenever you look up,
there I shall be -- and whenever I look up there will
be you."
"Wait wait and don't be improper!"
Her countenance fell, and she was silent awhile.
He regarded the red berries between them over and
over again, to such an extent, that holly seemed in
his after life to be a cypher signifying a proposal of
marriage. Bathsheba decisively turned to him.
"No;" 'tis no use." she said. "I don't want to marry
you."
"Try."
"I have tried hard all the time I've been thinking;
for a marriage would be very nice in one sense.
People would talk about me, and think I had won my
battle, and I should feel triumphant, and all that,
But a husband -- -- --
"Well!"
"Why, he'd always be there, as you say; whenever
I looked up, there he'd be."
"Of course he would -- I, that is."
"Well, what I mean is that I shouldn't mind being
a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having
a husband. But since a woman can't show off in that
way by herself, I shan't marry -- at least yet."
"That's a terrible wooden story."
At this criticism of her statement Bathsheba made
an addition to her dignity by a slight sweep away
from him.
"Upon my heart and soul, I don't know what a
maid can say stupider than that." said Oak. "But
dearest." he continued in a palliative voice, "don't be
like it!" Oak sighed a deep honest sigh -- none the
less so in that, being like the sigh of a pine plantation,
it was rather noticeable as a disturbance of the atmo-
sphere. "Why won't you have me?" he appealed,
creeping round the holly to reach her side.
"I cannot." she said, retreating.
"But why?" he persisted, standing still at last in
despair of ever reaching her, and facing over the
bush.
"Because I don't love you."
"Yes, but -- -- "
She contracted a yawn to an inoffensive smallness,
so that it was hardly ill-mannered at all. "I don't love
you." she said."
"But I love you -- and, as for myself, I am content
to be liked."
"O Mr. Oak -- that's very fine! You'd get to despise me."
"Never." said Mr Oak, so earnestly that he seemed
to be coming, by the force of his words, straight
through the bush and into her arms. "I shall do one
thing in this life -- one thing certain -- that is, love you,
and long for you, and keep wanting you till I die." His
voice had a genuine pathos now, and his large brown
hands perceptibly trembled.
"It seems dreadfully wrong not to have you when
you feel so much!" she said with a little distress, and
looking hopelessly around for some means of escape
from her moral dilemma. "H(ow I wish I hadn't run
after you!" However she seemed to have a short cut
for getting back to cheerfulness, and set her face to
signify archness. "It wouldn't do, Mr Oak. I want
somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and
you would never be able to, I know."
Oak cast his eyes down the field in a way implying
that it was useless to attempt argument.
"Mr. Oak." she said, with luminous distinctness and
common sense, " you are better off than I. I have
hardly a penny in the world -- I am staying with my
aunt for my bare sustenance. I am better educated
than you -- and I don't love you a bit: that's my side
of the case. Now yours: you are a farmer just begin-
ing; and you ought in common prudence, if you marry
at all (which you should certainly not think of doing
at present) to marry a woman with money, who would
admiration.
"That's the very thing I had been thinking myself!"
he naively said.
Farmer Oak had one-and-a-half Christian character-
istics too many to succeed with Bathsheba: his humility,
and a superfluous moiety of honesty. Bathsheba was
decidedly disconcerted,
"Well, then, why did you come and disturb me?"
she said, almost angrily, if not quite, an enlarging red
spot rising in each cheek.
"I can't do what I think would be -- would be -- -- "
"Right?"
"No: wise."
"You have made an admission now, Mr. Oak." she
exclaimed, with even more hauteur, and rocking her
head disdainfully. "After that, do you think I could
marry you? Not if I know it."
He broke in passionately. "But don't mistake me
like that! Because I am open enough to own what
every man in my shoes would have thought of, you
make your colours come up your face, and get crabbed
with me. That about your not being good enough for
me is nonsense. You speak like a lady -- all the parish
notice it, and your uncle at Weatherbury is, I have
heerd, a large farmer -- much larger than ever I shall
be. May I call in the evening, or will you walk along
with me o' Sundays? I don't want you to make-up
your mind at once, if you'd rather not."
"No -- no -- I cannot. Don't press me any more --
don't. I don't love you -- so 'twould be ridiculous,"
he said, with a laugh.
No man likes to see his emotions the sport of a
merry-go-round of skittishness. "Very well." said Oak,
firmly, with the bearing of one who was going to give "
his days and nights to Ecclesiastes for ever. "Then
I'll ask you no more."





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