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CHAPTER XLIX



OAK'S ADVANCEMENT -- A GREAT HOPE


THE later autumn and the winter drew on apace,
and the leaves lay thick upon the turf of the glades
and the mosses of the woods. Bathsheba, having
previously been living in a state of suspended feeling
which was not suspense, now lived in a mood of
quietude which was not precisely peacefulness. While
she had known him to be alive she could have thought
of his death with equanimity; but now that it might be
she had lost him, she regretted that he was not hers
still. She kept the farm going, raked in her profits
without caring keenly about them, and expended
money on ventures because she had done so in bygone
days, which, though not long gone by, seemed infinitely
removed from her present. She looked back upon that
past over a great gulf, as if she were now a dead person,
having the faculty of meditation still left in her, by
means of which, like the mouldering gentlefolk of the
poet's story, she could sit and ponder what a gift life
used to be.
However, one excellent result of her general apathy
was the long-delayed installation of Oak as bailiff; but
he having virtually exercised that function for a long
time already, the change, beyond the substantial in-
crease of wages it brought, was little more than a
nominal one addressed to the outside world.
Boldwood lived secluded and inactive. Much of
his wheat and all his barley of that season had been
spoilt by the rain. It sprouted, grew into intricate
mats, and was ultimately thrown to the pigs in armfuls.
The strange neglect which had produced this ruin
and waste became the subject of whispered talk among
all the people round; and it was elicited from one of
Boldwood's men that forgetfulness had nothing to do
with it, for he had been reminded of the danger to
his corn as many times and as persistently as inferiors
dared to do. The sight of the pigs turning in disgust
from the rotten ears seemed to arouse Boldwood, and
he one evening sent for Oak. Whether it was sug-
gested by Bathsheba's recent act of promotion or not,
the farmer proposed at the interview that Gabriel
should undertake the superintendence of the Lower
Farm as well as of Bathsheba's, because of the necessity
Boldwood felt for such aid, and the impossibility of
discovering a more trustworthy man. Gabriel's malig-
nant star was assuredly setting fast.
Bathsheba, when she learnt of this proposal-for
Oak was obliged to consult her -- at first languidly
objected. She considered that the two farms together
were too extensive for the observation of one man.
Boldwood, who was apparently determined by personal
rather than commercial reasons, suggested that Oak
should be furnished with a horse for his sole use,
when the plan would present no difficulty, the two
farms lying side by side. Boldwood did not directly
communicate with her during these negotiations, only
speaking to Oak, who was the go-between throughout.
All was harmoniously arranged at last, and we now
see Oak mounted on a strong cob, and daily trotting
the length breadth of about two thousand acres
in a cheerful spirit of surveillance, as if the crops
belonged to him -- the actual mistress of the one-half
and the master of the other, sitting in their respective
homes in gloomy and sad seclusion.
Out of this there arose, during the spring succeeding,
a talk in the parish that Gabriel Oak was feathering his
nest fast.
"Whatever d'ye think." said Susan Tall," Gable Oak
is coming it quite the dand. He now wears shining
boots with hardly a hob in 'em, two or three times
a-week, and a tall hat a-Sundays, and 'a hardly knows
the name of smockfrock. When I see people strut
enough to he cut up into bantam cocks, I stand
dormant with wonder, and says no more!"
It was eventually known that Gabriel, though paid
a fixed wage by Bathsheba independent of the fluctua-
tions of agricultural profits, had made an engagement
with Boldwood by which Oak was to receive a share
of the receipts -- a small share certainly, yet it was
money of a higher quality than mere wages, and
capable of expansion in a way that wages were not.
Some were beginning to consider Oak a "near" man,
for though his condition had thus far improved, he
lived in no better style than before, occupying the
same cottage, paring his own potatoes, mending his
stockings, and sometimes even making his bed with
his own hands. But as Oak was not only provokingly
indifferent to public opinion, but a man who clung
persistently to old habits and usages, simply because
they were old, there was room for doubt as to his
motives.
A great hope had latterly germinated in Boldwood,
whose unreasoning devotion to Bathsheba could only
be characterized as a fond madness which neither
time nor circumstance, evil nor good report, could
weaken or destroy. This fevered hope had grown up
again like a grain of mustard-seed during the quiet
which followed the hasty conjecture that Troy was
drowned. He nourished it fearfully, and almost
shunned the contemplation of it in earnest, lest facts
should reveal the wildness of the dream. Bathsheba
having at last been persuaded to wear mourning, her
appearance as she entered the church in that guise
was in itself a weekly addition to his faith that a
time was coming -- very far off perhaps, yet surely
nearing -- when his waiting on events should have
its reward. How long he might have to wait he had
not yet closely considered. what he would try to
recognize was that the severe schooling she had been
subjected to had made Bathsheba much more con-
siderate than she had formerly been of the feelings of
others, and he trusted that, should she be willing at
any time in the future to marry any man at all, that
man would be himself. There was a substratum of
good feeling in her: her self-reproach for the injury
she had thoughtlessly done him might be depended
upon now to a much greater extent than before her
infatuation and disappointment. It would be possible
to approach her by the channel of her good nature,
and to suggest a friendly businesslike compact between
them for fulfilment at some future day, keeping the
passionate side of his desire entirely out of her sight.
Such was Boldwood's hope.
To the eyes of the middle-aged, Bathsheba was
perhaps additionally charming just now. Her exuber-
ance of spirit was pruned down; the original phantom
of delight had shown herself to be not too bright for
human nature's daily food, and she had been able to
enter this second poetical phase without losing much
of the first in the process.
Bathsheba's return from a two months' visit to her
old aunt at Norcombe afforded the impassioned and
yearning farmer a pretext for inquiring directly after
her -- now possibly in the ninth month of her
widowhood -- and endeavouring to get a notion of her
middle of the haymaking, and Boldwood contrived to
"I am glad to see you out of doors, Lydia." he said
She simpered, and wondered in her heart why he
"I hope Mrs. Troy is quite well after her long
the coldest-hearted neighbour could scarcely say less
"She is quite well, sir.
"Yes, cheerful.
"Fearful, did you say?"
"O no. I merely said she was cheerful."
"Tells you all her affairs?"
"No, sir.
"Some of them?"
"Yes, sir.
"Mrs Troy puts much confidence in you, Lydia,
and very wisely, perhaps."
"She do, sir. I've been with her all through her
troubles, and was with her at the time of Mr. Troy's
going and all. And if she were to marry again I
expect I should bide with her."
"She promises that you shall -- quite natural." said
the strategic lover, throbbing throughout him at the
presumption which Liddy's words appeared to warrant
-- that his darling had thought of re-marriage.
"No -- she doesn't promise it exactly. I merely
judge on my own account.
"Yes, yes, I understand. When she alludes to the
possibility of marrying again, you conclude -- -- "
"She never do allude to it, sir." said Liddy, thinking
how very stupid Mr. Boldwood was getting.
"Of course not." he returned hastily, his hope falling
again." You needn't take quite such long reaches with
your rake, Lydia -- short and quick ones are best. Well,
perhaps, as she is absolute mistress again now, it is wise
of her to resolve never to give up her freedom."
"My mistress did certainly once say, though not
seriously, that she supposed she might marry again at
the end of seven years from last year, if she cared to
risk Mr. Troy's coming back and claiming her."
"Ah, six years from the present time. Said that she
might. She might marry at once in every reasonable
person's opinion, whatever the lawyers may say to the
contrary."
"Have you been to ask them?" said Liddy, innocently.
"Not I." said Boldwood, growing red." Liddy, you
needn't stay here a minute later than you wish, so Mr,
Oak says. I am now going on a little farther. Good"
afternoon."
He went away vexed with himself, and ashamed of
having for this one time in his life done anything which
could be called underhand. Poor Boldwood had no
more skill in finesse than a battering-ram, and he was
uneasy with a sense of having made himself to appear
stupid and, what was worse, mean. But he had, after
all, lighted upon one fact by way of repayment. It was
a singularly fresh and fascinating fact, and though not
without its sadness it was pertinent and real. In little
more than six years from this time Bathsheba might
certainly marry him. There was something definite in
that hope, for admitting that there might have been no
deep thought in her words to Liddy about marriage,
they showed at least her creed on the matter.
This pleasant notion was now continually in his mind.
Six years were a long time, but how much shorter than
never, the idea he had for so long been obliged to
endure! Jacob had served twice seven years for
Rachel: what were six for such a woman as this? He
tried to like the notion of waiting for her better than
that of winning her at once. Boldwood felt his love
to be so deep and strong and eternal, that it was pos-
sible she had never yet known its full volume, and this
patience in delay would afford him an opportunity of
giving sweet proof on the point. He would annihilate
the six years of his life as if they were minutes -- so little
did he value his time on earth beside her love. He
would let her see, all those six years of intangible ether-
eal courtship, how little care he had for anything but as
it bore upon the consummation.
Meanwhile the early and the late summer brought
round the week in which Greenhill Fair was held.
This fair was frequently attended by the folk of Weather-
bury.





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