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CHAPTER V



DEPARTURE OF BATHSHEBA -- A PASTORAL TRAGEDY


THE news which one day reached Gabriel, that Bath-
sheba Everdene had left the neighbourhood, had an
influence upon him which might have surprised any
who never suspected that the more emphatic the renun-
ciation the less absolute its character.
It may have been observed that there is no regula
path for getting out of love as there is for getting in.
Some people look upon marriage as a short cut that way,
but it has been known to fail. Separation, which was
the means that chance offered to Gabriel Oak by
Bathsheba's disappearance though effectual with people
of certain humours is apt to idealise the removed object
with others -- notably those whose affection, placid and
regular as it may be flows deep and long. Oak belonged
to the even-tempered order of humanity, and felt the
secret fusion of himself in Bathsheba to be burning with
a finer flame now that she was gone -- that was all.
His incipient friendship with her aunt-had been
nipped by the failure of his suit, and all that Oak learnt
of Bathsheba's movements was done indirectly. It ap-
peared that she had gone to a place called Weatherbury,
more than twenty miles off, but in what capacity --
whether as a visitor, or permanently, he could not
discover.
Gabriel had two dogs. George, the elder, exhibited
an ebony-tipped nose, surrounded by a narrow margin
of pink flesh, and a coat marked in random splotches
approximating in colour to white and slaty grey; but the
grey, after years of sun and rain, had been scorched and
washed out of the more prominent locks, leaving them
of a reddish-brown, as if the blue component of the grey
had faded, like the indigo from the same kind of colour in
Turner's pictures. In substance it had originally been
hair, but long contact with sheep seemed to be turning
it by degrees into wool of a poor quality and staple.
This dog had originally belonged to a shepherd of
inferior morals and dreadful temper, and the result was
that George knew the exact degrees of condemnation
signified by cursing and swearing of all descriptions
better than the wickedest old man in the neighbourhood.
Long experience had so precisely taught the animal the
difference between such exclamations as "Come in!"
and "D -- -- ye, come in!" that he knew to a hair's
breadth the rate of trotting back from the ewes' tails
that each call involved, if a staggerer with the sheep
crook was to be escaped. Though old, he was clever
and trustworthy still.
The young dog, George's son, might possibly have
been the image of his mother, for there was not much
resemblance between him and George. He was learn-
ing the sheep-keeping business, so as to follow on at
the flock when the other should die, but had got no
further than the rudiments as yet -- still finding an
insuperable difficulty in distinguishing between doing a
thing well enough and doing it too well. So earnest
and yet so wrong-headed was this young dog (he had no,
name in particular, and answered with perfect readiness
to any pleasant interjection), that if sent behind the
flock to help them on, he did it so thoroughly that he
would have chased them across the whole county with
the greatest pleasure if not called off or reminded when
to step by the example of old George.
Thus much for the dogs. On the further side of
Norcombe Hill was a chalk-pit, from which chalk had
been drawn for generations, and spread over adjacent
farms. Two hedges converged upon it in the form of
a V, but without quite meeting. The narrow opening
left, which was immediately over the brow of the pit,
was protected by a rough railing.
One night, when Farmer Oak had returned to, his
house, believing there would be no further necessity for
his attendance on the down, he called as usual to the
dogs, previously to shutting them up in the outhouse till
next morning. Only one responded -- old George; the
other-could not be found, either in the house, lane, or
garden. - Gabriel then remembered that he had left the
two dogs on the hill eating a dead lamb (a kind of meat
he usually kept from them, except when other food-ran
finished his meal, he went indoors to the luxury of a bed,
which latterly he had only enjoyed on Sundays.
It was a still, moist night. Just before dawn he was
assisted in waking by the abnormal reverberation of
familiar music. To the shepherd, the note of the sheep"
chronic sound that only makes itself noticed by ceasing
ever distant, that all is well in the fold. In the solemn
This exceptional ringing may be caused in two ways --
by the rapid feeding of the sheep bearing the bell, as
when the flock breaks into new pasture, which gives it
an intermittent rapidity, or by the sheep starting off in
a run, when the sound has a regular palpitation. The
experienced ear of Oak knew the sound he now heard
to be caused by the running of the flock with great
velocity.
He jumped out of bed, dressed, tore down the lane
through a foggy dawn, and ascended the hill. The
forward ewes were kept apart from those among which
the fall of lambs would be later, there being two hundred
of the latter class in Gabriel's flock. These two hundred
seemed to have absolutely vanished from the hill. There
were the fifty with their lambs, enclosed at the other end
as he had left them, but the rest, forming the bulk of
the flock, were nowhere. Gabriel called at the top of
his voice the shepherd's call.
"Ovey, ovey, ovey!"
Not a single bleat. He went to the hedge -- a gap
had been broken through it, and in the gap were the
footprints of the sheep. Rather surprised to find
them break fence at this season, yet putting it down
instantly to their great fondness for ivy in winter-time,
of which a great deal grew in the plantation, he followed
through the hedge. They were not in the plantation.
He called again: the valleys and farthest hills resounded
as when the sailors invoked the lost Hylas on the Mysian
shore; but no sheep. He passed through the trees and
along the ridge of the hill. On the extreme summit,
where the ends of the two converging hedges of which
we have spoken were stopped short by meeting the brow
of the chalk-pit, he saw the younger dog standing against
the sky -- dark and motionless as Napoleon at St.
Helena.
A horrible conviction darted through Oak. With
a sensation of bodily faintness he advanced: at one
point the rails were broken through, and there he saw
the footprints of his ewes. The dog came up, licked
his hand, and made signs implying that he expected
some great reward for signal services rendered. Oak
looked over the precipice. The ewes lay dead and dying
at its foot -- a heap of two hundred mangled carcasses,
representing in their condition just now at least two
hundred more.
Oak was an intensely humane man: indeed, his
humanity often tore in pieces any politic intentions of
his which bordered on strategy, and carried him on as
by gravitation. A shadow in his life had always been
that his flock ended in mutton -- that a day came and
found every shepherd an arrant traitor to his defenseless
sheep. His first feeling now was one of pity for the
untimely fate of these gentle ewes and their unborn
lambs.
It was a second to remember another phase of the
matter. The sheep were not insured. All the savings
of a frugal life had been dispersed at a blow; his hopes
of being an independent farmer were laid low -- possibly
for ever. Gabriel's energies, patience, and industry had
been so severely taxed during the years of his life between
eighteen and eight-and-twenty, to reach his present stage
of progress that no more seemed to be left in him. He
hands.
Stupors, however, do not last for ever, and Farmer
Oak recovered from his. It was as remarkable as it was
characteristic that the one sentence he uttered was in
thankfulness: --
"Thank God I am not married: what would she have
done in the poverty now coming upon me!"
Oak raised his head, and wondering what he could
do listlessly surveyed the scene. By the outer margin
of the Pit was an oval pond, and over it hung the
attenuated skeleton of a chrome-yellow moon which
had only a few days to last -- the morning star dogging
her on the left hand. The pool glittered like a dead
man's eye, and as the world awoke a breeze blew,
shaking and elongating the reflection of the moon
without breaking it, and turning the image of the star
to a phosphoric streak upon the water. All this Oak
saw and remembered.
As far as could be learnt it appeared that the poor
young dog, still under the impression that since he was
kept for running after sheep, the more he ran after
them the better, had at the end of his meal off the
dead lamb, which may have given him additional energy
and spirits, collected all the ewes into a corner, driven
the timid creatures through the hedge, across the upper
field, and by main force of worrying had given them
momentum enough to break down a portion of the
rotten railing, and so hurled them over the edge.
George's son had done his work so thoroughly that
he was considered too good a workman to live, and was,
in fact, taken and tragically shot at twelve o'clock that
same day -- another instance of the untoward fate which
so often attends dogs and other philosophers who
follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion,
and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world
made up so largely of compromise.
Gabriel's farm had been stocked by a dealer -- on the
strength of Oak's promising look and character -- who
was receiving a percentage from the farmer till such
time as the advance should be cleared off Oak found-
that the value of stock, plant, and implements which
were really his own would be about sufficient to pay his
debts, leaving himself a free man with the clothes he
stood up in, and nothing more.





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