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CHAPTER XLVI



THE GURGOYLE: ITS DOINGS


THE tower of Weatherbury Church was a square
erection of fourteenth-century date, having two stone
gurgoyles on each of the four faces of its parapet. Of
these eight carved protuberances only two at this time
continued to serve the purpose of their erection -- that
of spouting the water from the lead roof within. One
mouth in each front had been closed by bygone church-
wardens as superfluous, and two others were broken
away and choked -- a matter not of much consequence
to the wellbeing of the tower, for the two mouths which
still remained open and active were gaping enough to do
all the work.
It has been sometimes argued that there is no truer
criterion of the vitality of any given art-period than the
power of the master-spirits of that time in grotesque;
and certainly in the instance of Gothic art there is no
disputing the proposition. Weatherbury tower was a
somewhat early instance of the use of an ornamental
parapet in parish as distinct from cathedral churches,
and the gurgoyles, which are the necessary correlatives
of a parapet, were exceptionally prominent -- of the
boldest cut that the hand could shape, and of the most
original design that a human brain could conceive.
There was, so to speak, that symmetry in their distortion
which is less the characteristic of British than of
Continental grotesques of the period. All the eight
were different from each other. A beholder was con-
vinced that nothing on earth could be more hideous
than those he saw on the north side until he went
round to the south. Of the two on this latter face, only
that at the south-eastern corner concerns the story. It
was too human to be called like a dragon, too impish
to be like a man, too animal to be like a fiend, and not
enough like a bird to be called a griffin. This horrible
stone entity was fashioned as if covered with a wrinkled
hide; it had short, erect ears, eyes starting from their
sockets, and its fingers and hands were seizing the
corners of its mouth, which they thus seemed to pull
open to give free passage to the water it vomited. The
lower row of teeth was quite washed away, though the
upper still remained. Here and thus, jutting a couple
of feet from the wall against which its feet rested as a
support, the creature had for four hundred years
laughed at the surrounding landscape, voicelessly in
dry weather, and in wet with a gurgling and snorting
sound.
Troy slept on in the porch, and the rain increased
outside. Presently the gurgoyle spat. In due time a
small stream began to trickle through the seventy feet
of aerial space between its mouth and the ground, which
the water-drops smote like duckshot in their accelerated
velocity. The stream thickened in substance, and in-
creased in power, gradually spouting further and yet
further from the side of the tower. When the rain fell
in a steady and ceaseless torrent the stream dashed
downward in volumes.
We follow its course to the ground at this point of
time. The end of the liquid parabola has come forward
from the wall, has advanced over the plinth mouldings,
over a heap of stones, over the marble border, into the
midst of Fanny Robin's grave.
The force of the stream had, until very lately, been
received upon some loose stones spread thereabout,
which had acted as a shield to the soil under the onset.
These during the summer had been cleared from the
ground, and there was now nothing to resist the down-
fall but the bare earth. For several years the stream
had not spouted so far from the tower as it was doing
on this night, and such a contingency had been over-
looked. Sometimes this obscure corner received no
inhabitant for the space of two or three years, and
then it was usually but a pauper, a poacher, or other
sinner of undignified sins.
The persistent torrent from the gurgoyle's jaws
directed all its vengeance into the grave. The rich
tawny mould was stirred into motion, and boiled like
chocolate. The water accumulated and washed deeper
down, and the roar of the pool thus formed spread into
the night as the head and chief among other noises of
the kind created by the deluging rain. The flowers so
carefully planted by Fanny's repentant lover began to
move and writhe in their bed. The winter-violets
turned slowly upside down, and became a mere mat of
mud. Soon the snowdrop and other bulbs danced in
the boiling mass like ingredients in a cauldron. Plants
of the tufted species were loosened, rose to the surface,
and floated of.
Troy did not awake from his comfortless sleep till it
was broad day. Not having been in bed for two nights
his shoulders felt stiff his feet tender, and his head
heavy. He remembered his position, arose, shivered,
took the spade, and again went out.
The rain had quite ceased, and the sun was shining
through the green, brown, and yellow leaves, now
sparkling and varnished by the raindrops to the bright-
ness of similar effects in the landscapes of Ruysdael and
Hobbema, and full of all those infinite beauties that
arise from the union of water and colour with high
lights. The air was rendered so transparent by the
heavy fall of rain that the autumn hues of the middle
distance were as rich as those near at hand, and the
remote fields intercepted by the angle of the tower ap-
peared in the same plane as the tower itself.
He entered the gravel path which would take him
behind the tower. The path, instead of being stony as
it had been the night before, was browned over with a
thin coating of mud. At one place in the path he saw
a tuft of stringy roots washed white and clean as a
bundle of tendons. He picked it up -- surely it could
not be one of the primroses he had planted? He saw
a bulb, another, and another as he advanced. Beyond
doubt they were the crocuses. With a face of perplexed
dismay Troy turned the corner and then beheld the
wreck the stream had made.
The pool upon the grave had soaked away into the
ground, and in its place was a hollow. The disturbed
earth was washed over the grass and pathway in the
guise of the brown mud he had already seen, and it
spotted the marble tombstone with the same stains.
Nearly all the flowers were washed clean out of the
ground, and they lay, roots upwards, on the spots whither
they had been splashed by the stream.
Troy's brow became heavily contracted. He set his
teeth closely, and his compressed lips moved as those of
one in great pain. This singular accident, by a strange
confluence of emotions in him, was felt as the sharpest
sting of all. Troy's face was very expressive, and any
observer who had seen him now would hardly have
believed him to be a man who had laughed, and sung,
and poured love-trifles into a woman's ear. To curse
his miserable lot was at first his impulse, but even that
lowest stage of rebellion needed an activity whose
absence was necessarily antecedent to the existence of the
morbid misery which wrung him. The sight, coming
as it did, superimposed upon the other dark scenery of
the previous days, formed a sort of climax to the whole
panorama, and it was more than he could endure.
Sanguine by nature, Troy had a power of eluding
grief by simply adjourning it. He could put off the
consideration of any particular spectre till the matter
had become old and softened by time. The planting
of flowers on Fanny's grave had been perhaps but a
species of elusion of the primary grief, and now it was
as if his intention had been known and circumvented.
Almost for the first time in his life, Troy, as he stood
by this dismantled grave, wished himself another man.
lt is seldom that a person with much animal spirit does
not feel that the fact of his life being his own is the one
qualification which singles it out as a more hopeful life
than that of others who may actually resemble him in
every particular. Troy had felt, in his transient way,
hundreds of times, that he could not envy other people
their condition, because the possession of that condition
would have necessitated a different personality, when he
desired no other than his own. He had not minded
the peculiarities of his birth, the vicissitudes of his life,
the meteorlike uncertainty of all that related to him,
because these appertained to the hero of his story,
without whom there would have been no story at all for
him; and it seemed to be only in the nature of things
that matters would right themselves at some proper date
and wind up well. This very morning the illusion
completed its disappearance, and, as it were, all of a
sudden, Troy hated himself. The suddenness was
probably more apparent than real. A coral reef which
just comes short of the ocean surface is no more to the
horizon than if it had never been begun, and the mere
finishing stroke is what often appears to create an event
which has long been potentially an accomplished thing.
He stood and mediated -- a miserable man. Whither
should he go? " He that is accursed, let him be accursed
still." was the pitiless anathema written in this spoliated
effort of his new-born solicitousness. A man who has
spent his primal strength in journeying in one direction
has not much spirit left for reversing his course. Troy
had, since yesterday, faintly reversed his; but the merest
opposition had disheartened him. To turn about would
have been hard enough under the greatest providential
encouragement; but to find that Providence, far from
helping him into a new course, or showing any wish
that he might adopt one, actually jeered his first trembling
and critical attempt in that kind, was more than nature
could bear.
He slowly withdrew from the grave. He did not
attempt to fill up the hole, replace the flowers, or do
anything at all. He simply threw up his cards and
forswore his game for that time and always. Going out
of the churchyard silently and unobserved -- none of the
villagers having yet risen -- he passed down some fields
at the back, and emerged just as secretly upon the high
road. Shortly afterwards he had gone from the village.
Meanwhile, Bathsheba remained a voluntary prisoner
in the attic. The door was kept locked, except during
the entries and exits of Liddy, for whom a bed had
been arranged in a small adjoining room. The light
of Troy's lantern in the churchyard was noticed about
ten o'clock by the maid-servant, who casually glanced
from the window in that direction whilst taking her
supper, and she called Bathsheba's attention to it.
They looked curiously at the phenomenon for a time,
until Liddy was sent to bed.
bathsheba did not sleep very heavily that night.
When her attendant was unconscious and softly breath-
ing in the next room, the mistress of the house was
still looking out of the window at the faint gleam
spreading from among the trees -- not in a steady shine,
but blinking like a revolving coastlight, though this
appearance failed to suggest to her that a person was
passing and repassing in front of it. Bathsheba sat
here till it began to rain, and the light vanished, when
she withdrew to lie restlessly in her bed and re-enact
in a worn mind the lurid scene of yesternight.
Almost before the first faint sign of dawn appeared
she arose again, and opened the window to obtain a full
breathing of the new morning air, the panes being now
wet with trembling tears left by the night rain, each
one rounded with a pale lustre caught from primrose-
hued slashes through a cloud low down in the awaken-
ing sky. From the trees came the sound of steady
dripping upon the drifted leaves under them, and from
the direction of the church she could hear another noise
-- peculiar, and not intermittent like the rest, the purl
of water falling into a pool.
Liddy knocked at eight o'clock, and Bathsheba un-
locked the door.
"What a heavy rain we've had in the night, ma'am!"
said Liddy, when her inquiries about breakfast had been
made.
"Yes, very heavy."
"Did you hear the strange noise from the church
yard?"
"I heard one strange noise. I've been thinking it
must have been the water from the tower spouts."
"Well, that's what the shepherd was saying, ma'am.
He's now gone on to see."
"Oh! Gabriel has been here this morning!"
"Only just looked in in passing -- quite in his old way,
which I thought he had left off lately. But the tower
spouts used to spatter on the stones, and we are puzzled,
for this was like the boiling of a pot."
Not being able to read, think, or work, Bathsheba asked
Liddy to stay and breakfast with her. The tongue of the
more childish woman still ran upon recent events. "Are
you going across to the church, ma'am?" she asked.
"Not that I know of." said Bathsheba.
"I thought you might like to go and see where they
have put Fanny. The trees hide the place from your
window."
Bathsheba had all sorts of dreads about meeting her
husband. "Has Mr. Troy been in to-night?" she said
"No, ma'am; I think he's gone to Budmouth.
Budmouth! The sound of the word carried with
it a much diminished perspective of him and his deeds;
there were thirteen miles interval betwixt them now.
She hated questioning Liddy about her husband's
movements, and indeed had hitherto sedulously avoided
doing so; but now all the house knew that there had
been some dreadful disagreement between them, and
it was futile to attempt disguise. Bathsheba had
reached a stage at which people cease to have any
appreciative regard for public opinion.
"What makes you think he has gone there?" she said.
"Laban Tall saw him on the Budmouth road this
morning before breakfast."
Bathsheba was momentarily relieved of that wayward
heaviness of the past twenty-four hours which had
quenched the vitality of youth in her without sub-
stituting the philosophy of maturer years, and the
resolved to go out and walk a little way. So when
breakfast was over, she put on her bonnet, and took
a direction towards the church. It was nine o'clock,
and the men having returned to work again from their
first meal, she was not likely to meet many of them in
the road. Knowing that Fanny had been laid in the
reprobates' quarter of the graveyard, called in the parish
"behind church." which was invisible from the road, it
was impossible to resist the impulse to enter and look
upon a spot which, from nameless feelings, she at the
same time dreaded to see. She had been unable to
overcome an impression that some connection existed
between her rival and the light through the trees.
Bathsheba skirted the buttress, and beheld the hole
and the tomb, its delicately veined surface splashed and
stained just as Troy had seen it and left it two hours
earlier. On the other side of the scene stood Gabriel.
His eyes, too, were fixed on the tomb, and her arrival
having been noiseless, she had not as yet attracted his
attention. Bathsheba did not at once perceive that the
grand tomb and the disturbed grave were Fanny's, and
she looked on both sides and around for some humbler
mound, earthed up and clodded in the usual way. Then
her eye followed Oak's, and she read the words with
which the inscription opened: --
"Erected by Francis Troy in Beloved Memory of
Fanny Robin."
Oak saw her, and his first act was to gaze inquiringly
and learn how she received this knowledge of the
authorship of the work, which to himself had caused
considerable astonishment. But such discoveries did
not much affect her now. Emotional convulsions seemed
to have become the commonplaces of her history, and
she bade him good morning, and asked him to fill in
the hole with the spade which was standing by. Whilst
Oak was doing as she desired, Bathsheba collected the
flowers, and began planting them with that sympathetic
manipulation of roots and leaves which is so conspicuous
in a woman's gardening, and which flowers seem to
understand and thrive upon. She requested Oak to
get the churchwardens to turn the leadwork at the
mouth of the gurgoyle that hung gaping down upon
them, that by this means the stream might be directed
sideways, and a repetition of the accident prevented.
Finally, with the superfluous magnanimity of a woman
whose narrower instincts have brought down bitterness
upon her instead of love, she wiped the mud spots from
the tomb as if she rather liked its words than otherwise,





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