THE SHEEP FAIR -- TROY TOUCHES HIS WIFE'S HAND
GREENHILL was the Nijni Novgorod of South
Wessex; and the busiest, merriest, noisiest day of the
whole statute number was the day of the sheep fair.
This yearly gathering was upon the summit of a hill
which retained in good preservation the remains of an
ancient earthwork, consisting of a huge rampart and
entrenchment of an oval form encircling the top of
the hill, though somewhat broken down here and there.
To each of the two chief openings on opposite sides a
winding road ascended, and the level green space of
ten or fifteen acres enclosed by the bank was the
site of the fair. A few permanent erections dotted the
spot, but the majority of visitors patronized canvas alone
for resting and feeding under during the time of their
Shepherds who attended with their flocks from long
distances started from home two or three days, or even
a week, before the fair, driving their charges a few miles
each day -- not more than ten or twelve -- and resting
them at night in hired fields by the wayside at pre-
viously chosen points, where they fed, having fasted since
morning. The shepherd of each flock marched behind,
a bundle containing his kit for the week strapped upon
his shoulders, and in his hand his crook, which he used
as the staff of his pilgrimage. Several of the sheep
would get worn and lame, and occasionally a lambing
occurred on the road. To meet these contingencies,
there was frequently provided, to accompany the flocks
from the remoter points, a pony and waggon into which
the weakly ones were taken for the remainder of the
The Weatherbury Farms, however, were no such
long distance from the hill, and those arrangements
were not necessary in their case. But the large united
flocks of Bathsheba and Farmer Boldwood formed a
valuable and imposing multitude which demanded much
attention, and on this account Gabriel, in addition to
Boldwood's shepherd and Cain Ball, accompanied them
along the way, through the decayed old town of Kings-
bere, and upward to the plateau, -- old George the dog
of course behind them.
When the autumn sun slanted over Greenhill this
morning and lighted the dewy flat upon its crest, nebu-
lous clouds of dust were to be seen floating between
the pairs of hedges which streaked the wide prospect
around in all directions. These gradually converged
upon the base of the hill, and the flocks became
individually visible, climbing the serpentine ways which
led to the top. Thus, in a slow procession, they entered
the opening to which the roads tended, multitude after
multitude, horned and hornless -- blue flocks and red
flocks, buff flocks and brown flocks, even green and
salmon-tinted flocks, according to the fancy of the
colourist and custom of the farm. Men were shouting,
dogs were barking, with greatest animation, but the
thronging travellers in so long a journey had grown
nearly indifferent to such terrors, though they still
bleated piteously at the unwontedness of their experi-
ences, a tall shepherd rising here and there in the midst
of them, like a gigantic idol amid a crowd of prostrate
The great mass of sheep in the fair consisted of
South Downs and the old Wessex horned breeds, to
the latter class Bathsheba's and Farmer Boldwood's
mainly belonged. These filed in about nine o'clock,
their vermiculated horns lopping gracefully on each side
of their cheeks in geometrically perfect spirals, a small
pink and white ear nestling under each horn. Before
and behind came other varieties, perfect leopards as to
the full rich substance of their coats, and only lacking the
spots. There were also a few of the Oxfordshire breed,
whose wool was beginning to curl like a child's flaxen
hair, though surpassed in this respect by the effeminate
Leicesters, which were in turn less curly than the Cots-
wolds. But the most picturesque by far was a small
flock of Exmoors, which chanced to be there this year.
Their pied faces and legs, dark and heavy horns, tresses
of wool hanging round their swarthy foreheads, quite
relieved the monotony of the flocks in that quarter.
All these bleating, panting, and weary thousands had
entered and were penned before the morning had far
advanced, the dog belonging to each flock being tied to
the corner of the pen containing it. Alleys for pedes-
trians intersected the pens, which soon became crowded
with buyers and sellers from far and near.
In another part of the hill an altogether different
scene began to force itself upon the eye towards mid-
day. A circular tent, of exceptional newness and size,
was in course of erection here. As the day drew on,
the flocks began to change hands, lightening the shep-
herd's responsibilities; and they turned their attention
to this tent and inquired of a man at work there, whose
soul seemed concentrated on tying a bothering knot in
no time, what was going on.
"The Royal Hippodrome Performance of Turpin's
Ride to York and the Death of Black Bess." replied the
man promptly, without turning his eyes or leaving off
As soon as the tent was completed the band struck
up highly stimulating harmonies, and the announce-
ment was publicly made, Black Bess standing in a con-
spicuous position on the outside, as a living proof, If
proof were wanted, of the truth of the oracular utterances
from the stage over which the people were to enter.
These were so convinced by such genuine appeals to
heart and understanding both that they soon began to
crowd in abundantly, among the foremost being visible
Jan Coggan and Joseph Poorgrass, who were holiday
keeping here to-day,
"'That's the great ruffen pushing me!" screamed a
woman in front of Jan over her shoulder at him when
the rush was at its fiercest.
"How can I help pushing ye when the folk behind
push me?" said Coggan, in a deprecating tone, turning
without turning his body, which was jammed as in a vice.
There was a silence; then the drums and trumpets
again sent forth their echoing notes. The crowd was
again ecstasied, and gave another lurch in which Coggan
and Poorgrass were again thrust by those behind upon
the women in front.
"O that helpless feymels should be at the mercy of
she swayed like a reed shaken by the wind.
Now." said Coggan, appealing in an earnest voice
to the public at large as it stood clustered about his
shoulder-blades. "Did ye ever hear such onreasonable
woman as that? Upon my carcase, neighbours, if I
could only get out of this cheesewring, the damn women
might eat the show for me!"
"Don't ye lose yer temper, Jan!" implored Joseph
Poorgrass, in a whisper." They might get their men to
murder us, for I think by the shine of their eyes that
they be a sinful form of womankind."
Jan held his tongue, as if he had no objection to be
pacified to please a friend, and they gradually reached
the foot of the ladder, Poorgrass being flattened like a
jumping-jack, and the sixpence, for admission, which he
had got ready half-an-hour earlier, having become so
reeking hot in the tight squeeze of his excited hand that
the woman in spangles, brazen rings set with glass
diamonds, and with chalked face and shoulders, who
took the money of him, hastily dropped it again from
a fear that some trick had been played to burn her
fingers. So they all entered, and the cloth of the
tent, to the eyes of an observer on the outside, became
bulged into innumerable pimples such as we observe on
a sack of potatoes, caused by the various human heads,
backs, and elbows at high pressure within.
At the rear of the large tent there were two small
dressing-tents. One of these, alloted to the male per-
formers, was partitioned into halves by a cloth; and in
one of the divisions there was sitting on the grass, pull
ing on a pair of jack-boots, a young man whom we
instantly recognise as Sergeant Troy.
Troy's appearance in this position may be briefly
accounted for. The brig aboard which he was taken in
Budmouth Roads was about to start on a voyage, though
somewhat short of hands. Troy read the articles and
joined, but before they sailed a boat was despatched
across the bay to Lulwind cove; as he had half expected,
his clothes were gone. He ultimately worked his passage
to the United States, where he made a precarious living
in various towns as Professor of Gymnastics, Sword
Exercise, Fencing, and Pugilism. A few months were
sufficient to give him a distaste for this kind of life.
There was a certain animal form of refinement in his
nature; and however pleasant a strange condition might
be whilst privations were easily warded off, it was dis-
advantageously coarse when money was short. There
was ever present, too, the idea that he could claim a
home and its comforts did he but chose to return to
England and Weatherbury Farm. Whether Bathsheba
thought him dead was a frequent subject of curious
conjecture. To England he did return at last; but the
but the fact of drawing nearer to Weatherbury abstracted its
fascinations, and his intention to enter his old groove at
the place became modified. It was with gloom he con-
sidered on landing at Liverpool that if he were to go home
his reception would be of a kind very unpleasant to con-
template; for what Troy had in the way of emotion was
an occasional fitful sentiment which sometimes caused
him as much inconvenience as emotion of a strong and
healthy kind. Bathsheba was not a women to be made
a fool of, or a woman to suffer in silence; and how
could he endure existence with a spirited wife to whom
at first entering he would be beholden for food and
lodging? Moreover, it was not at all unlikely that his
wife would fail at her farming, if she had not already
done so; and he would then become liable for her
maintenance: and what a life such a future of poverty
with her would be, the spectre of Fanny constantly be-
tween them, harrowing his temper and embittering her
words! Thus, for reasons touching on distaste, regret,
and shame commingled, he put off his return from day
to day, and would have decided to put it off altogether
if he could have found anywhere else the ready-made
establishment which existed for him there.
At this time -- the July preceding the September in
which we find at Greenhill Fair -- he fell in with a
travelling circus which was performing in the outskirts of
a northern town. Troy introduced himself to the
manager by taming a restive horse of the troupe, hitting
a suspended apple with pistol-- bullet fired from the
animal's back when in full gallop, and other feats. For
his merits in these -- all more or less based upon his ex-
periences as a dragoon-guardsman -- Troy was taken into
the company, and the play of Turpin was prepared with
a view to his personation of the chief character. Troy
was not greatly elated by the appreciative spirit in which
he was undoubtedly treated, but he thought the engage-
ment might afford him a few weeks for consideration.
It was thus carelessly, and without having formed any
definite plan for the future, that Troy found himself
at Greenhill Fair with the rest of the company on this
And now the mild autumn sun got lower, and in
front of the pavilion the following incident had taken
place. Bathsheba -- who was driven to the fair that day
by her odd man Poorgrass -- had, like every one else,
read or heard the announcement that Mr. Francis, the
Great Cosmopolitan Equestrian and Roughrider, would
enact the part of Turpin, and she was not yet too old
and careworn to be without a little curiosity to see him.
This particular show was by far the largest and grandest
in the fair, a horde of little shows grouping themselves
under its shade like chickens around a hen. The crowd
had passed in, and Boldwood, who had been watching
all the day for an opportunity of speaking to her, seeing
her comparatively isolated, came up to her side.
"I hope the sheep have done well to-day, Mrs. Troy?"
he said, nervously.
"O yes, thank you." said Bathsheba, colour springing
up in the centre of her cheeks. "I was fortunate
enough to sell them all just as we got upon the hill, so
we hadn't to pen at all."
"And now you are entirely at leisure?"
"Yes, except that I have to see one more dealer in
two hours' time: otherwise I should be going home.
He was looking at this large tent and the announcement.
Have you ever seen the play of "Turpin's Ride to
York?" Turpin was a real man, was he not?"
"O yes, perfectly true -- all of it. Indeed, I think
I've heard Jan Coggan say that a relation of his knew
Tom King, Turpin's friend, quite well."
"Coggan is rather given to strange stories connected
with his relations, we must remember. I hope they
can all be believed."
"Yes, yes; we know Coggan. But Turpin is true
enough. You have never seen it played, I suppose?"
"Never. I was not allowed to go into these places
when I was young. Hark! What's that prancing?
How they shout!"
"Black Bess just started off, I suppose. Am I right
in supposing you would like to see the performance,
Mrs. Troy? Please excuse my mistake, if it is one;
but if you would like to, I'll get a seat for you with
pleasure." Perceiving that she hesitated, he added, "I
myself shall not stay to see it: I've seen it before."
Now Bathsheba did care a little to see the show, and
had only withheld her feet from the ladder because she
feared to go in alone. She had been hoping that Oak
might appear, whose assistance in such cases was always
accepted as an inalienable right, but Oak was nowhere
to be seen; and hence it was that she said, "Then if
you will just look in first, to see if there's room, I think
I will go in for a minute or two."
And so a short time after this Bathsheba appeared
in the tent with Boldwood at her elbow, who, taking
her to a "reserved" seat, again withdrew.
This feature consisted of one raised bench in very
conspicuous part of the circle, covered with red cloth,
and floored with a piece of carpet, and Bathsheba
immediately found, to her confusion, that she was the
single reserved individual in the tent, the rest of the
crowded spectators, one and all, standing on their legs
on the borders of the arena, where they got twice as
good a view of the performance for half the money.
Hence as many eyes were turned upon her, enthroned
alone in this place of honour, against a scarlet back-
ground, as upon the ponies and clown who were
engaged in preliminary exploits in the centre, Turpin
not having yet appeared. Once there, Bathsheba was
forced to make the best of it and remain: she sat
down, spreading her skirts with some dignity over the
unoccupied space on each side of her, and giving a
new and feminine aspect to the pavilion. In a few
minutes she noticed the fat red nape of Coggan's neck
among those standing just below her, and Joseph Poor-
grass's saintly profile a little further on.
The interior was shadowy with a peculiar shade.
The strange luminous semi-opacities of fine autumn
afternoons and eves intensified into Rembrandt effects
the few yellow sunbeams which came through holes
and divisions in the canvas, and spirted like jets of
gold-dust across the dusky blue atmosphere of haze
pervading the tent, until they alighted on inner surfaces
of cloth opposite, and shone like little lamps suspended
Troy, on peeping from his dressing-tent through a
slit for a reconnoitre before entering, saw his unconscious
wife on high before him as described, sitting as queen
of the tournament. He started back in utter confusion,
for although his disguise effectually concealed his person-
ality, he instantly felt that she would be sure to recognize
his voice. He had several times during the day thought
of the possibility of some Weatherbury person or other
appearing and recognizing him; but he had taken the
risk carelessly. If they see me, let them, he had said.
But here was Bathsheba in her own person; and the
reality of the scene was so much intenser than any of
his prefigurings that he felt he had not half enough
considered the point.
She looked so charming and fair that his cool mood
about Weatherbury people was changed. He had not
expected her to exercise this power over him in the
twinkling of an eye. Should he go on, and care nothing?
He could not bring himself to do that. Beyond a politic
wish to remain unknown, there suddenly arose in him
now a sense of shame at the possibility that his
attractive young wife, who already despised him, should
despise him more by discovering him in so mean a
condition after so long a time. He actually blushed
at the thought, and was vexed beyond measure that
his sentiments of dislike towards Weatherbury should
have led him to dally about the country in this way.
But Troy was never more clever than when absolutely
at his wit's end. He hastily thrust aside the curtain
dividing his own little dressing space from that of the
manager and proprietor, who now appeared as the
individual called Tom King as far down as his waist, and
as the aforesaid respectable manager thence to his toes.
"Here's the devil to pay!" said Troy.
"Why, there's a blackguard creditor in the tent I don't
want to see, who'll discover me and nab me as sure as
Satan if I open my mouth. What's to be done?"
You must appear now, I think."
But the play must proceed."
"Do you give out that Turpin has got a bad cold,
and can't speak his part, but that he'll perform it just
the same without speaking."
The proprietor shook his head.
"Anyhow, play or no play, I won't open my mouth,
said Troy, firmly.
"Very well, then let me see. I tell you how we'll
manage." said the other, who perhaps felt it would be
extremely awkward to offend his leading man just at
this time. "I won't tell 'em anything about your
keeping silence; go on with the piece and say nothing,
doing what you can by a judicious wink now and then,
and a few indomitable nods in the heroic places, you
know. They'll never find out that the speeches are
This seemed feasible enough, for Turpin's speeches
were not many or long, the fascination of the piece
lying entirely in the action; and accordingly the play
began, and at the appointed time Black Bess leapt
into the grassy circle amid the plaudits of the spectators.
At the turnpike scene, where Bess and Turpin are hotly
pursued at midnight by the officers, and half-awake
gatekeeper in his tasselled nightcap denies that any
horseman has passed, Coggan uttered a broad-chested
"Well done!" which could be heard all over the fair
above the bleating, and Poorgrass smiled delightedly
with a nice sense of dramatic contrast between our
hero, who coolly leaps the gate, and halting justice in
the form of his enemies, who must needs pull up
cumbersomely and wait to be let through. At the
death of Tom King, he could not refrain from seizing
Coggan by the hand, and whispering, with tears in his
eyes, "Of course he's not really shot, Jan -- only
seemingly!" And when the last sad scene came on,
and the body of the gallant and faithful Bess had to
be carried out on a shutter by twelve volunteers from
among the spectators, nothing could restrain Poorgrass
from lending a hand, exclaiming, as he asked Jan to
join him, "Twill be something to tell of at Warren's in
future years, Jan, and hand down to our children." For
many a year in Weatherbury, Joseph told, with the air
of a man who had had experiences in his time, that he
touched with his own hand the hoof of Bess as she lay
upon the board upon his shoulder. If, as some thinkers
hold, immortality consists in being enshrined in others"
memories, then did Black Bess become immortal that
day if she never had done so before.
Meanwhile Troy had added a few touches to his
ordinary make-up for the character, the more effectually
to disguise himself, and though he had felt faint qualms
on first entering, the metamorphosis effected by judici-
ously "lining" his face with a wire rendered him safe from
the eyes of Bathsheba and her men. Nevertheless, he
was relieved when it was got through.
There a second performance in the evening, and
the tent was lighted up. Troy had taken his part very
quietly this time, venturing to introduce a few speeches
on occasion; and was just concluding it when, whilst
standing at the edge of the circle contiguous to the first
row of spectators, he observed within a yard of him the
eye of a man darted keenly into his side features. Troy
hastily shifted his position, after having recognized in
sworn enemy, who still hung about the outskirts of
At first Troy resolved to take no notice and abide
by circumstances. That he had been recognized by
this man was highly probable; yet there was room for
a doubt. Then the great objection he had felt to
allowing news of his proximity to precede him to
Weatherbury in the event of his return, based on a
feeling that knowledge of his present occupation would
discredit him still further in his wife's eyes, returned
in full force. Moreover, should he resolve not to
return at all, a tale of his being alive and being in
the neighbourhood would be awkward; and he was
anxious to acquire a knowledge of his wife's temporal
affairs before deciding which to do.
In this dilemma Troy at once went out to recon-
noitre. It occurred to him that to find Pennyways, and
make a friend of him if possible, would be a very wise
act. He had put on a thick beard borrowed from the
establishment, and this he wandered about the fair-
field. It was now almost dark, and respectable people
were getting their carts and gigs ready to go home
The largest refreshment booth in the fair was provided
by an innkeeper from a neighbouring town. This was
considered an unexceptionable place for obtaining the
necessary food and rest: Host Trencher (as he was
jauntily called by the local newspaper) being a sub-
stantial man of high repute for catering through all the
county round. The tent was divided into first and
second-class compartments, and at the end of the first-
class division was a yet further enclosure for the most
exclusive, fenced of from the body of the tent by a
luncheon-bar, behind which the host himself stood
bustling about in white apron and shirt-sleeves, and look-
ing as if he had never lived anywhere but under canvas
all his life. In these penetralia were chairs and a table,
which, on candles being lighted, made quite a cozy and
luxurious show, with an urn, plated tea and coffee pots,
china teacups, and plum cakes.
Troy stood at the entrance to the booth, where a
gipsy-woman was frying pancakes over a little fire of
sticks and selling them at a penny a-piece, and looked
over the heads of the people within. He could see
nothing of Pennyways, but he soon discerned Bathsheba
through an opening into the reserved space at the
further end. Troy thereupon retreated, went round the
tent into the darkness, and listened. He could hear
Bathsheba's voice immediately inside the canvas; she
was conversing with a man. A warmth overspread his
face: surely she was not so unprincipled as to flirt in
a fair! He wondered if, then, she reckoned upon his
death as an absolute certainty. To get at the root of
the matter, Troy took a penknife from his pocket and
softly made two little cuts crosswise in the cloth, which,
by folding back the corners left a hole the size of a
wafer. Close to this he placed his face, withdrawing
it again in a movement of surprise; for his eye had
been within twelve inches of the top of Bathsheba's
head. lt was too near to be convenient. He made
another hole a little to one side and lower down, in a
shaded place beside her chair, from which it was easy
and safe to survey her by looking horizontally'.
Troy took in the scene completely now. She was
leaning back, sipping a cup of tea that she held in her
hand, and the owner of the male voice was Boldwood,
who had apparently just brought the cup to her,
Bathsheba, being in a negligent mood, leant so idly
against the canvas that it was pressed to the shape of
her shoulder, and she was, in fact, as good as in Troy's
arms; and he was obliged to keep his breast carefully
backward that she might not feel its warmth through the
cloth as he gazed in.
Troy found unexpected chords of feeling to be stirred
again within him as they had been stirred earlier in the
day. She was handsome as ever, and she was his. It
was some minutes before he could counteract his sudden
wish to go in, and claim her. Then he thought how
the proud girl who had always looked down upon him
even whilst it was to love him, would hate him on dis-
covering him to be a strolling player. Were he to make
himself known, that chapter of his life must at all risks
be kept for ever from her and from the Weatherbury
people, or his name would be a byword throughout the
parish. He would be nicknamed "Turpin" as long as
he lived. Assuredly before he could claim her these few
past months of his existence must be entirely blotted out.
"Shall I get you another cup before you start,
ma'am?" said Farmer Boldwood.
I thank you," said Bathsheba. "But I must be going
at once. It was great neglect in that man to keep me
waiting here till so late. I should have gone two hours
ago, if it had not been for him. I had no idea of
coming in here; but there's nothing so refreshing as a
cup of tea, though I should never have got one if you
hadn't helped me."
Troy scrutinized her cheek as lit by the candles,
and watched each varying shade thereon, and the
white shell-like sinuosities of her little ear. She took
out her purse and was insisting to Boldwood on paying
for her tea for herself, when at this moment Pennyways
entered the tent. Troy trembled: here was his scheme
for respectability endangered at once. He was about
to leave his hole of espial, attempt to follow Pennyways,
and find out if the ex-bailiff had recognized him, when
he was arrested by the conversation, and found he was
"Excuse me, ma'am." said Pennyways; "I've some
private information for your ear alone."
I cannot hear it now." she said, coldly. That
Bathsheba could not endure this man was evident; in
fact, he was continually coming to her with some tale
or other, by which he might creep into favour at the
expense of persons maligned.
"I'll write it down." said Pennyways, confidently. He
stooped over the table, pulled a leaf from a warped
pocket-book, and wrote upon the paper, in a round
"YOUR husband is here. I've seen him. Who's the fool
This he folded small, and handed towards her.
Bathsheba would not read it; she would not even put
out her hand to take it. Pennyways, then, with a laugh
of derision, tossed it into her lap, and, turning away,
From the words and action of Pennyways, Troy,
though he had not been able to see what the ex-bailiff
wrote, had not a moment's doubt that the note referred
to him. Nothing that he could think of could be done
to check the exposure. "Curse my luck!" he whispered,
and added imprecations which rustled in the gloom like
a pestilent wind. Meanwhile Boldwood said, taking up
the note from her lap --
"Don't you wish to read it, Mrs. Troy? If not,
I'll destroy it."
"Oh, well." said Bathsheba, carelessly, "perhaps it is
unjust not to read it; but I can guess what it is about.
He wants me to recommend him, or it is to tell me of
some little scandal or another connected with my work-
people. He's always doing that."
Bathsheba held the note in her right hand. Bold-
wood handed towards her a plate of cut bread-and-
butter; when, in order to take a slice, she put the note
into her left hand, where she was still holding the purse,
and then allowed her hand to drop beside her close to
the canvas. The moment had come for saving his game,
and Troy impulsively felt that he would play the card,
For yet another time he looked at the fair hand, and
saw the pink finger-tips, and the blue veins of the
wrist, encircled by a bracelet of coral chippings which
she wore: how familiar it all was to him! Then, with
the lightning action in which he was such an adept, he
noiselessly slipped his hand under the bottom of the
tent-cloth, which was far from being pinned tightly down,
lifted it a little way, keeping his eye to the hole,
snatched the note from her fingers, dropped the canvas,
and ran away in the gloom towards the bank and ditch,
smiling at the scream of astonishment which burst from
her. Troy then slid down on the outside of the rampart,
hastened round in the bottom of the entrenchment to
a distance of a hundred yards, ascended again, and
crossed boldly in a slow walk towards the front entrance
of the tent. His object was now to get to Pennyways,
and prevent a repetition of the announcement until
such time as he should choose.
Troy reached the tent door, and standing among the
groups there gathered, looked anxiously for Pennyways,
evidently not wishing to make himself prominent by
inquiring for him. One or two men were speaking of
a daring attempt that had just been made to rob a
young lady by lifting the canvas of the tent beside her.
It was supposed that the rogue had imagined a slip of
paper which she held in her hand to he a bank note,
for he had seized it, and made off with it, leaving her
purse behind. His chagrin and disappointment at dis-
covering its worthlessness would be a good joke, it was
said. However, the occurrence seemed to have become
known to few, for it had not interrupted a fiddler, who
had lately begun playing by the door of the tent, nor
the four bowed old men with grim countenances and
walking-sticks in hand, who were dancing "Major
Malley's Reel" to the tune. Behind these stood
Pennyways. Troy glided up to him, beckoned, and
whispered a few words; and with a mutual glance of
concurrence the two men went into the night together.