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CHAPTER VIII



THE MALTHOUSE -- THE CHAT -- NEWS


WARREN'S Malthouse was enclosed by an old wall
inwrapped with ivy, and though not much of the exterior
was visible at this hour, the character and purposes of
the building were clearly enough shown by its outline
upon the sky. From the walls an overhanging thatched
roof sloped up to a point in the centre, upon which rose
a small wooden lantern, fitted with louvre-boards on all
the four sides, and from these openings a mist was dimly
perceived to be escaping into the night air. There was
no window in front; but a square hole in the door was
glazed with a single pane, through which red, comfortable
rays now stretched out upon the ivied wall in front.
Voices were to be heard inside.
Oak's hand skimmed the surface of the door with
fingers extended to an Elymas-the-Somerer pattern, till
he found a leathern strap, which he pulled. This lifted
a wooden latch, and the door swung open.
The room inside was lighted only by the, ruddy glow
from the kiln mouth, which shone over ,the floor with
the streaming, horizontality of the setting sun, and threw
upwards the shadows of all facial irregularities in those
assembled around. The stone-flag floor was worn into
a path from the doorway to the kiln, and into undula-
tions everywhere. A curved settle of unplaned oak
stretched along one side, and in a remote corner was a
small bed and bedstead, the owner and frequent occupier
of which was the maltster.
This aged man was now sitting opposite the fire, his
frosty white hair and beard overgrowing his gnarled
figure like the grey moss and lichen upon a leafless
apple-tree. He wore breeches and the laced-up shoes
called ankle-jacks; he kept his eyes fixed upon the
fire.
Gabriel's nose was greeted by an atmosphere laden
with the sweet smell of new malt. The conversation
(which seemed to have been concerning the origin of the
fire) immediately ceased, and every one ocularly criticised
him to the degree expressed by contracting the flesh of
their foreheads and looking at him with narrowed eye-
lids, as if he had been a light too strong for their sight.
Several exclaimed meditatively, after this operation had
been completed: --
"Oh, 'tis the new shepherd, 'a b'lieve."
"We thought we heard a hand pawing about the
door for the bobbin, but weren't sure 'twere not a dead
leaf blowed across." said another. "Come in, shepherd;
sure ye be welcome, though we don't know yer name."
"Gabriel Oak, that's my name, neighbours."
The ancient maltster sitting in the midst turned up
this -- his turning being as the turning of a rusty
crane.
"That's never Gable Oak's grandson over at Nor-
combe -- never!" he said, as a formula expressive of
surprise, which nobody was supposed to take literally'.
"My father and my grandfather were old men of the
name of Gabriel." said the shepherd, placidly.
"Thought I knowed the man's face as I seed him
on the rick! -- thought I did! And where be ye trading
o't to now, shepherd?"
"I'm thinking of biding here." said Mr. Oak.
"Knowed yer grandfather for years and years!"
continued the maltster, the words coming forth of their
own accord as if the momentum previously imparted
had been sufficient.
"Ah -- and did you!"
"Knowed yer grandmother."
"And her too!"
"Likewise knowed yer father when he was a child.
Why, my boy Jacob there and your father were sworn
brothers -- that they were sure -- weren't ye, Jacob?"
"Ay, sure." said his son, a young man about sixty-
five, with a semi-bald head and one tooth in the left
centre of his upper jaw, which made much of itself by
standing prominent, like a milestone in a bank. "But
"twas Joe had most to do with him. However, my son
William must have knowed the very man afore us --
didn't ye, Billy, afore ye left Norcombe?"
"No, 'twas Andrew." said Jacob's son Billy, a child
of forty, or thereabouts, who manifested the peculiarity
of possessing a cheerful soul in a gloomy body, and
whose whiskers were assuming a chinchilla shade here
and there.
"I can mind Andrew." said Oak, "as being a man in
the place when I was quite a child."
"Ay -- the other day I and my youngest daughter,
Liddy, were over at my grandson's christening." continued
Billy. "We were talking about this very family, and
"twas only last Purification Day in this very world, when
the use-money is gied away to the second-best poor
folk, you know, shepherd, and I can mind the day
because they all had to traypse up to the vestry -- yes,
this very man's family."
"Come, shepherd, and drink. 'Tis gape and
swaller with us -- a drap of sommit, but not of much
account." said the maltster, removing from the fire his
eyes, which were vermilion-red and bleared by gazing
into it for so many years. "Take up the God-forgive-
me, Jacob. See if 'tis warm, Jacob."
Jacob stooped to the God-forgive-me, which was a
two-handled tall mug standing in the ashes, cracked
and charred with heat: it was rather furred with ex-
traneous matter about the outside, especially in the
crevices of the handles, the innermost curves of which
may not have seen daylight for several years by reason
of this encrustation thereon -- formed of ashes accident-
ally wetted with cider and baked hard; but to the mind
of any sensible drinker the cup was no worse for that,
being incontestably clean on the inside and about the
rim. It may be observed that such a class of mug is
called a God-forgive-me in Weatherbury and its vicinity
for uncertain reasons; probably because its size makes
any given toper feel ashamed of himself when he sees
its bottom in drinking it empty.
Jacob, on receiving the order to see if the liquor was
warm enough, placidly dipped his forefinger into it by
way of thermometer, and having pronounced it nearly
of the proper degree, raised the cup and very civilly
attempted to dust some of the ashes from the bottom
with the skirt of his smock-frock, because Shepherd Oak
was a stranger.
"A clane cup for the shepherd." said the maltster
commandingly.
"No -- not at all," said Gabriel, in a reproving tone
of considerateness. "I never fuss about dirt in its pure
state, and when I know what sort it is." Taking the
mug he drank an inch or more from the depth of its
contents, and duly passed it to the next man.
wouldn't think of giving such trouble to neighbours in
washing up when there's so much work to be done in
the world already." continued Oak in a moister tone,
after recovering from the stoppage of breath which is
occasioned by pulls at large mugs.
"A right sensible man." said Jacob.
"True, true; it can't be gainsaid!" observed a brisk
young man -- Mark Clark by name, a genial and pleasant
gentleman, whom to meet anywhere in your travels was
to know, to know was to drink with, and to drink with
was, unfortunately, to pay for.
"And here's a mouthful of bread and bacon that
mis'ess have sent, shepherd. The cider will go down
better with a bit of victuals. Don't ye chaw quite close,
shepherd, for I let the bacon fall in the road outside as
I was bringing it along, and may be 'tis rather gritty.
There, 'tis clane dirt; and we all know what that is,
as you say, and you bain't a particular man we see,
shepherd."
"True, true -- not at all." said the friendly Oak.
"Don't let your teeth quite meet, and you won't feel
the sandiness at all. Ah! 'tis wonderful what can be
done by contrivance!"
"My own mind exactly, neighbour."
"Ah, he's his grandfer's own grandson! -- his grandfer
were just such a nice unparticular man!" said the maltster.
"Drink, Henry Fray -- drink." magnanimously said
Jan Coggan, a person who held Saint-Simonian notions
of share and share alike where liquor was concerned, as
the vessel showed signs of approaching him in its gradual
revolution among them.
Having at this moment reached the end of a wistful
gaze into mid-air, Henry did not refuse. He was a man
of more than middle age, with eyebrows high up in his
forehead, who laid it down that the law of the world
was bad, with a long-suffering look through his listeners
at the world alluded to, as it presented itself to his
imagination. He always signed his name "Henery" --
strenuously insisting upon that spelling, and if any
passing schoolmaster ventured to remark that the second
"e" was superfluous and old-fashioned, he received the
reply that "H-e-n-e-r-y" was the name he was christened
and the name he would stick to -- in the tone of one
to whom orthographical differences were matters which
had a great deal to do with personal character.
Mr. Jan Coggan, who had passed the cup to Henery,
was a crimson man with a spacious countenance, and
private glimmer in his eye, whose name had appeared
on the marriage register of Weatherbury and neighbour-
ing parishes as best man and chief witness in countless
unions of the previous twenty years; he also very
frequently filled the post of head godfather in baptisms
of the subtly-jovial kind.
"Come, Mark Clark -- come. Ther's plenty more
in the barrel." said Jan.
"Ay -- that I will, 'tis my only doctor." replied Mr.
Clark, who, twenty years younger than Jan Coggan,
revolved in the same orbit. He secreted mirth on all
occasions for special discharge at popular parties.
"Why, Joseph Poorgrass, ye han't had a drop!" said
Mr. Coggan to a self-conscious man in the background,
thrusting the cup towards him.
"Such a modest man as he is!" said Jacob Smallbury.
"Why, ye've hardly had strength of eye enough to look
in our young mis'ess's face, so I hear, Joseph?"
All looked at Joseph Poorgrass with pitying reproach.
"No -- I've hardly looked at her at all." simpered
Joseph, reducing his body smaller whilst talking,
apparently from a meek sense of undue prominence.
"And when I seed her, 'twas nothing but blushes with
me!"
"Poor feller." said Mr. Clark.
"'Tis a curious nature for a man." said Jan Coggan.
"Yes." continued Joseph Poorgrass -- his shyness,
which was so painful as a defect, filling him with a
mild complacency now that it was regarded as an
interesting study. "'Twere blush, blush, blush with
me every minute of the time, when she was speaking
to me."
"I believe ye, Joseph Poorgrass, for we all know ye
to be a very bashful man."
"'Tis a' awkward gift for a man, poor soul." said the
maltster. "And ye have suffered from it a long time,
we know."
"Ay ever since I was a boy. Yes -- mother was
concerned to her heart about it -- yes. But twas all
nought."
"Did ye ever go into the world to try and stop it,
Joseph Poorgrass?"
"Oh ay, tried all sorts o' company. They took me
to Greenhill Fair, and into a great gay jerry-go-nimble
show, where there were women-folk riding round --
standing upon horses, with hardly anything on but their
smocks; but it didn't cure me a morsel. And then I
was put errand-man at the Women's Skittle Alley at the
back of the Tailor's Arms in Casterbridge. 'Twas a
horrible sinful situation, and a very curious place for a
good man. I had to stand and look ba'dy people in
the face from morning till night; but 'twas no use -- I
was just as-bad as ever after all. Blushes hev been
in the family for generations. There, 'tis a happy pro-
vidence that I be no worse."
"True." said Jacob Smallbury, deepening his thoughts
to a profounder view of the subject. "'Tis a thought
to look at, that ye might have been worse; but even
as you be, 'tis a very bad affliction for 'ee, Joseph. For
ye see, shepherd, though 'tis very well for a woman,
dang it all, 'tis awkward for a man like him, poor
feller?"
"'Tis -- 'tis." said Gabriel, recovering from a medita-
tion. "Yes, very awkward for the man."
"Ay, and he's very timid, too." observed Jan Coggan.
"Once he had been working late at Yalbury Bottom,
and had had a drap of drink, and lost his way as he was
coming home-along through Yalbury Wood, didn't ye,
Master Poorgrass?"
"No, no, no; not that story!" expostulated the
modest man, forcing a laugh to bury his concern.
"-- -- And so 'a lost himself quite." continued Mr
Coggan, with an impassive face, implying that a true
narrative, like time and tide, must run its course and
would respect no man. "And as he was coming along
in the middle of the night, much afeared, and not able
to find his way out of the trees nohow, 'a cried out,
"Man-a-lost! man-a-lost!" A owl in a tree happened
to be crying "Whoo-whoo-whoo!" as owls do, you
know, shepherd" (Gabriel nodded), " and Joseph, all
in a tremble, said, " Joseph Poorgrass, of Weatherbury,
sir!"
"No, no, now -- that's too much!" said the timid
man, becoming a man of brazen courage all of a sudden.
"I didn't say sir. I'll tike my oath I didn't say " Joseph
Poorgrass o' Weatherbury, sir." No, no; what's right
is right, and I never said sir to the bird, knowing very
well that no man of a gentleman's rank would be
hollering there at that time o' night." Joseph Poor-
grass of Weatherbury," -- that's every word I said, and
I shouldn't ha' said that if 't hadn't been for Keeper
Day's metheglin.... There, 'twas a merciful thing it
ended where it did."
The question of which was right being tacitly waived
by the company, Jan went on meditatively: --
"And he's the fearfullest man, bain't ye, Joseph?
Ay, another time ye were lost by Lambing-Down Gate,
weren't ye, Joseph?"
"I was." replied Poorgrass, as if there were some
conditions too serious even for modesty to remember
itself under, this being one.
"Yes; that were the middle of the night, too. The
gate would not open, try how he would, and knowing
there was the Devil's hand in it, he kneeled down."
"Ay." said Joseph, acquiring confidence from the
warmth of the fire, the cider, and a perception of the
narrative capabilities of the experience alluded to.
"My heart died within me, that time; but I kneeled
down and said the Lord's Prayer, and then the Belie
right through, and then the Ten Commandments, in
earnest prayer. But no, the gate wouldn't open; and
then I went on with Dearly Beloved Brethren, and,
thinks I, this makes four, and 'tis all I know out of
book, and if this don't do it nothing will, and I'm a
lost man. Well, when I got to Saying After Me, I
rose from my knees and found the gate would open
-- yes, neighbours, the gate opened the same as ever."
A meditation on the obvious inference was indulged
in by all, and during its continuance each directed his
vision into the ashpit, which glowed like a desert in
the tropics under a vertical sun, shaping their eyes long
and liny, partly because of the light, partly from the
depth of the subject discussed.
Gabriel broke the silence. "What sort of a place
is this to live at, and what sort of a mis'ess is she to
work under?" Gabriel's bosom thrilled gently as he
thus slipped under the notice of the assembly the inner-
most subject of his heart.
"We d' know little of her -- nothing. She only
showed herself a few days ago. Her uncle was took
bad, and the doctor was called with his world-wide
skill; but he couldn't save the man. As I take it,
she's going to keep on the farm.
"That's about the shape o't, 'a b'lieve." said Jan
uncle was a very fair sort of man. Did ye know en,
be under 'em as under one here and there. Her
uncle was a very fair sort of man. Did ye know 'en,
shepherd -- a bachelor-man?"
"Not at all."
"I used to go to his house a-courting my first wife,
Charlotte, who was his dairymaid. Well, a very good-
hearted man were Farmer Everdene, and I being a
respectable young fellow was allowed to call and see
her and drink as much ale as I liked, but not to carry
away any -- outside my skin I mane of course."
"Ay, ay, Jan Coggan; we know yer meaning."
"And so you see 'twas beautiful ale, and I wished
to value his kindness as much as I could, and not to
be so ill-mannered as to drink only a thimbleful, which
would have been insulting the man's generosity -- -- "
"True, Master Coggan, 'twould so." corroborated
Mark Clark.
" -- -- And so I used to eat a lot of salt fish afore
going, and then by the time I got there I were as dry
as a lime-basket -- so thorough dry that that ale would
slip down -- ah, 'twould slip down sweet! Happy
times! heavenly times! Such lovely drunks as I
used to have at that house! You can mind, Jacob?
You used to go wi' me sometimes."
"I can -- I can." said Jacob. "That one, too, that
we had at Buck's Head on a White Monday was a
pretty tipple."
"'Twas. But for a wet of the better class, that
brought you no nearer to the horned man than you were
afore you begun, there was none like those in Farmer
Everdene's kitchen. Not a single damn allowed; no,
not a bare poor one, even at the most cheerful moment
when all were blindest, though the good old word of
sin thrown in here and there at such times is a great
relief to a merry soul."
"True." said the maltster. "Nater requires her
swearing at the regular times, or she's not herself; and
unholy exclamations is a necessity of life."
"But Charlotte." continued Coggan -- "not a word of
the sort would Charlotte allow, nor the smallest item of
taking in vain.... Ay, poor Charlotte, I wonder if she
had the good fortune to get into Heaven when 'a died!
But 'a was never much in luck's way, and perhaps 'a
went downwards after all, poor soul."
"And did any of you know Miss Everdene's-father
and mother?" inquired the shepherd, who found some
difficulty in keeping the conversation in the desired
channel.
"I knew them a little." said Jacob Smallbury; "but
they were townsfolk, and didn't live here. They've
been dead for years. Father, what sort of people were
mis'ess' father and mother?"
"Well." said the maltster, "he wasn't much to look
at; but she was a lovely woman. He was fond enough
of her as his sweetheart."
"Used to kiss her scores and long-hundreds o times,
so 'twas said." observed Coggan.
"He was very proud of her, too, when they were
married, as I've been told." said the maltster.
"Ay." said Coggan. "He admired her so much that
he used to light the candle three time a night to look
at her."
"Boundless love; I shouldn't have supposed it in the
universe!" murmered Joseph Poorgrass, who habitually
spoke on a large scale in his moral reflections.
"Well, to be sure." said Gabriel.
"Oh, 'tis true enough. I knowed the man and
woman both well. Levi Everdene -- that was the man's
name, sure. "Man." saith I in my hurry, but he were
of a higher circle of life than that -- 'a was a gentleman-
tailor really, worth scores of pounds. And he became
a very celebrated bankrupt two or three times."
"Oh, I thought he was quite a common man!" said
Joseph.
"O no, no! That man failed for heaps of money;
hundreds in gold and silver."
The maltster being rather short of breath, Mr. Coggan,
after absently scrutinising a coal which had fallen among
the ashes, took up the narrative, with a private twirl of
his eye: --
"Well, now, you'd hardly believe it, but that man --
husbands alive, after a while. Understand? 'a didn't
want to be fickle, but he couldn't help it. The poor
feller were faithful and true enough to her in his wish,
but his heart would rove, do what he would. He spoke
to me in real tribulation about it once. "Coggan,"
he said, "I could never wish for a handsomer woman
than I've got, but feeling she's ticketed as my lawful
wife, I can't help my wicked heart wandering, do what
I will." But at last I believe he cured it by making her
take off her wedding-ring and calling her by her maiden
name as they sat together after the shop was shut, and
so 'a would get to fancy she was only his sweetheart, and
not married to him at all. And as soon as he could
thoroughly fancy he was doing wrong and committing
the seventh, 'a got to like her as well as ever, and they
lived on a perfect picture of mutel love."
"Well, 'twas a most ungodly remedy." murmured
Joseph Poorgrass; "but we ought to feel deep cheerful-
ness that a happy Providence kept it from being any
worse. You see, he might have gone the bad road and
given his eyes to unlawfulness entirely -- yes, gross un-
lawfulness, so to say it."
"You see." said Billy Smallbury, "The man's will was
to do right, sure enough, but his heart didn't chime in."
"He got so much better, that he was quite godly
in his later years, wasn't he, Jan?" said Joseph Poor-
grass. "He got himself confirmed over again in a more
serious way, and took to saying "Amen" almost as loud
as the clerk, and he liked to copy comforting verses
from the tombstones. He used, too, to hold the money-
plate at Let Your Light so Shine, and stand godfather
to poor little come-by-chance children; and he kept a
missionary box upon his table to nab folks unawares
when they called; yes, and he would-box the charity-
boys' ears, if they laughed in church, till they could
hardly stand upright, and do other deeds of piety
natural to the saintly inclined."
"Ay, at that time he thought of nothing but high
things." added Billy Smallbury. "One day Parson Thirdly
met him and said, "Good-Morning, Mister Everdene; 'tis
a fine day!" "Amen" said Everdene, quite absent-
like, thinking only of religion when he seed a parson-
"Their daughter was not at all a pretty chile at that
time." said Henery Fray. "Never should have. thought
she'd have growed up such a handsome body as she is."
"'Tis to be hoped her temper is as good as her face."
"Well, yes; but the baily will have most to do with
the business and ourselves. Ah!" Henery gazed into
the ashpit, and smiled volumes of ironical knowledge.
"A queer Christian, like the Devil's head in a cowl,
"He is." said Henery, implying that irony must cease
at a certain point. "Between we two, man and man, I
believe that man would as soon tell a lie Sundays as
working-days -- that I do so."
"Good faith, you do talk!" said Gabriel.
"True enough." said the man of bitter moods, looking
round upon the company with the antithetic laughter
that comes from a keener appreciation of the miseries
of life than ordinary men are capable of. 'Ah, there's
people of one sort, and people of another, but that man
-- bless your souls!"
Gabriel thought fit to change the subject. "You
must be a very aged man, malter, to have sons growed
mild and ancient" he remarked.
"Father's so old that 'a can't mind his age, can ye,
father?" interposed Jacob. "And he growled terrible
crooked too, lately" Jacob continued, surveying his
father's figure, which was rather more bowed than his own.
"Really one may say that father there is three-double."
"Crooked folk will last a long while." said the maltster,
grimly, and not in the best humour.
"Shepherd would like to hear the pedigree of yer
life, father -- wouldn't ye, shepherd?
"Ay that I should." said Gabriel with the heartiness
of a man who had longed to hear it for several months.
"What may your age be, malter?"
The maltster cleared his throat in an exaggerated
form for emphasis, and elongating his gaze to the
remotest point of the ashpit! said, in the slow speech
justifiable when the importance of a subject is so
generally felt that any mannerism must be tolerated
in getting at it, "Well, I don't mind the year I were
born in, but perhaps I can reckon up the places I've
lived at, and so get it that way. I bode at Upper Long-
puddle across there" (nodding to the north) "till I were
eleven. I bode seven at Kingsbere" (nodding to the
east) "where I took to malting. I went therefrom to
Norcombe, and malted there two-and-twenty years, and-
two-and-twenty years I was there turnip-hoeing and
harvesting. Ah, I knowed that old place, Norcombe,
years afore you were thought of, Master Oak" (Oak smiled
sincere belief in the fact). "Then I malted at Dur-
nover four year, and four year turnip-hoeing; and
I was fourteen times eleven months at Millpond St.
Jude's" (nodding north-west-by-north). "Old Twills
wouldn't hire me for more than eleven months at a
time, to keep me from being chargeable to the parish
if so be I was disabled. Then I was three year at
Mellstock, and I've been here one-and-thirty year come
Candlemas. How much is that?"
"Hundred and seventeen." chuckled another old
gentleman, given to mental arithmetic and little con-
versation, who had hitherto sat unobserved in a corner.
"Well, then, that's my age." said the maltster, em-
phatically.
"O no, father!" said Jacob. "Your turnip-hoeing
were in the summer and your malting in the winter of
the same years, and ye don't ought to count-both halves
father."
"Chok' it all! I lived through the summers, didn't
I? That's my question. I suppose ye'll say next I be
no age at all to speak of?"
"Sure we shan't." said Gabriel, soothingly.
"Ye be a very old aged person, malter." attested Jan
must have a wonderful talented constitution to be able
to live so long, mustn't he, neighbours?"
"True, true; ye must, malter, wonderful," said the
meeting unanimously.
The maltster, being know pacified, was even generous
enough to voluntarily disparage in a slight degree the
virtue of having lived a great many years, by mentioning
that the cup they were drinking out of was three years
older than he.
While the cup was being examined, the end of
Gabriel Oak's flute became visible over his smock-frock
I seed you blowing into a great flute by now at Caster-
bridge?"
"You did." said Gabriel, blushing faintly. "I've been
in great trouble, neighbours, and was driven to it.
take it careless-like, shepherd and your time will come
tired?"
"Neither drum nor trumpet have I heard since
Christmas." said Jan Coggan. "Come, raise a tune,
Master Oak!"
"That I will." said Gabriel, pulling out his flute and
putting it together. "A poor tool, neighbours; but
such as I can do ye shall have and welcome."
Oak then struck up "Jockey to the Fair." and played
that sparkling melody three times through accenting the
notes in the third round in a most artistic and lively
manner by bending his body in small jerks and tapping
with his foot to beat time.
"He can blow the flute very well -- that 'a can." said
a young married man, who having no individuality worth
mentioning was known as "Susan Tall's husband." He
continued, "I'd as lief as not be able to blow into a
flute as well-as that."
"He's a clever man, and 'tis a true comfort for us to
have such a shepherd." murmured Joseph Poorgrass, in
a soft cadence. "We ought to feel full o' thanksgiving
that he's not a player of ba'dy songs 'instead of these
merry tunes; for 'twould have been just as easy for God
to have made the shepherd a loose low man -- a man of
iniquity, so to speak it -- as what he is. Yes, for our wives"
and daughters' sakes we should feel real thanks giving."
"True, true, -- real thanksgiving!" dashed in Mark
Clark conclusively, not feeling it to be of any conse-
quence to his opinion that he had only heard about a
word and three-quarters of what Joseph had said.
"Yes." added Joseph, beginning to feel like a man in
the Bible; "for evil do thrive so in these times that ye
may be as much deceived in the cleanest shaved and
whitest shirted man as in the raggedest tramp upon the
turnpike, if I may term it so."
"Ay, I can mind yer face now, shepherd." said
Henery Fray, criticising Gabriel with misty eyes as he
entered upon his second tune. "Yes -- now I see 'ee
blowing into the flute I know 'ee to be the same man
I see play at Casterbridge, for yer mouth were scrimped
up and yer eyes a-staring out like a strangled man's --
just as they be now."
"'Tis a pity that playing the flute should make a man
look such a scarecrow." observed Mr. Mark Clark, with
additional criticism of Gabriel's countenance, the latter
person jerking out, with the ghastly grimace required by
the instrument, the chorus of "Dame Durden!
"I hope you don't mind that young man's bad
manners in naming your features?" whispered Joseph to
Gabriel.
"Not at all." said Mr. Oak.
"For by nature ye be a very handsome man,
shepherd." continued Joseph Poorgrass, with winning
sauvity.
"Ay, that ye be, shepard." said the company.
"Thank you very much." said Oak, in the modest
tone good manners demanded, thinking, however, that
he would never let Bathsheba see him playing the
flute; in this severe showing a discretion equal to that
related to its sagacious inventress, the divine Minerva
herself.
"Ah, when I and my wife were married at Norcombe
Church." said the old maltster, not pleased at finding
himself left out of the subject "we were called the
handsomest couple in the neighbourhood -- everybody
said so."
"Danged if ye bain't altered now, malter." said a voice
with the vigour natural to the enunciation of a remark-
ably evident truism. It came from the old man in the
background, whose offensiveness and spiteful ways were
barely atoned for by the occasional chuckle he con-
tributed to general laughs.
"O no, no." said Gabriel.
"Don't ye play no more shepherd" said Susan Tall's
husband, the young married man who had spoken once
before. "I must be moving and when there's tunes
going on I seem as if hung in wires. If I thought after
I'd left that music was still playing, and I not there, I
should be quite melancholy-like."
"What's yer hurry then, Laban?" inquired Coggan.
"You used to bide as late as the latest."
"Well, ye see, neighbours, I was lately married to a
woman, and she's my vocation now, and so ye see -- -- "
The young man hated lamely.
"New Lords new laws, as the saying is, I suppose,"
remarked Coggan.
"Ay, 'a b'lieve -- ha, ha!" said Susan Tall's husband,
in a tone intended to imply his habitual reception of
jokes without minding them at all. The young man
then wished them good-night and withdrew.
Henery Fray was the first to follow. Then Gabriel
arose and went off with Jan Coggan, who had offered
him a lodging. A few minutes later, when the remaining
ones were on their legs and about to depart, Fray came
back again in a hurry. Flourishing his finger ominously
he threw a gaze teeming with tidings just -- where his eye
alighted by accident, which happened to be in Joseph
Poorgrass's face.
"O -- what's the matter, what's the matter, Henery?"
said Joseph, starting back.
"What's a-brewing, Henrey?" asked Jacob and Mark
Clark.
"Baily Pennyways -- Baily Pennyways -- I said so; yes,
I said so!"
"What, found out stealing anything?"
"Stealing it is. The news is, that after Miss
Everdene got home she went out again to see all was
safe, as she usually do, and coming in found Baily
Pennyways creeping down the granary steps with half a
a bushel of barley. She fleed at him like a cat -- never
such a tomboy as she is -- of course I speak with closed
doors?"
"You do -- you do, Henery."
"She fleed at him, and, to cut a long story short,
he owned to having carried off five sack altogether, upon
her promising not to persecute him. Well, he's turned
out neck and crop, and my question is, who's going to
be baily now?"
The question was such a profound one that Henery
was obliged to drink there and then from the large
cup till the bottom was distinctly visible inside. Before
he had replaced it on the table, in came the young man,
Susan Tall's husband, in a still greater hurry.
"Have ye heard the news that's all over parish?"
"About Baily Pennyways?"
"But besides that?"
"No -- not a morsel of it!" they replied, looking into
the very midst of Laban Tall as if to meet his words
half-way down his throat.
"What a night of horrors!" murmured Joseph Poor-
grass, waving his hands spasmodically. "I've had the
news-bell ringing in my left ear quite bad enough for a
murder, and I've seen a magpie all alone!"
"Fanny Robin -- Miss everdene's youngest servant --
can't be found. They've been wanting to lock up the
door these two hours, but she isn't come in. And they
don't know what to do about going to hed for fear of
locking her out. They wouldn't be so concerned if she
hadn't been noticed in such low spirits these last few
days, and Maryann d'think the beginning of a crowner's
inquest has happened to the poor girl."
"O -- 'tis burned -- 'tis burned!" came from Joseph
Poorgrass's dry lips.
"No -- 'tis drowned!" said Tall.
"Or 'tis her father's razor!" suggested Billy Smallbury,
with a vivid sense of detail.
"Well -- Miss Everdene wants to speak to one or two
of us before we go to bed. What with this trouble about
the baily, and now about the girl, mis'ess is almost wild."
They all hastened up the lane to the farmhouse,
excepting the old maltster, whom neither news, fire,
rain, nor thunder could draw from his hole. There, as
the others' footsteps died away he sat down again and
continued gazing as usual into the furnace with his red,
bleared eyes.
From the bedroom window above their heads Bath-
sheba's head and shoulders, robed in mystic white, were
dimly seen extended into the air.
"Are any of my men among you?" she said anxiously.
"Yes, ma'am, several." said Susan Tall's husband.
"Tomorrow morning I wish two or three of you to
make inquiries in the villages round if they have seen
such a person as Fanny Robin. Do it quietly; there is
no reason for alarm as yet. She must have left whilst
we were all at the fire."
"I beg yer pardon, but had she any young man court-
ing her in the parish, ma'am?" asked Jacob Smallbury.
"I don't know." said Bathsheba.
"I've never heard of any such thing, ma'am." said
two or three.
"It is hardly likely, either." continued Bathsheba.
"For any lover of hers might have come to the house if
he had been a respectable lad. The most mysterious
matter connected with her absence -- indeed, the only
thing which gives me serious alarm -- is that she was
seen to go out of the house by Maryann with only her
indoor working gown on -- not even a bonnet."
"And you mean, ma'am, excusing my words, that a
young woman would hardly go to see her young man
without dressing up." said Jacob, turning his mental
vision upon past experiences. "That's true -- she would
not, ma'am."
"She had, I think, a bundle, though I couldn't see
very well." said a female voice from another window,
which seemed that of Maryann. "But she had no
young man about here. Hers lives in Casterbridge, and
I believe he's a soldier."
"Do you know his name?" Bathsheba said.
"No, mistress; she was very close about it."
"Perhaps I might be able to find out if I went to
Casterbridge barracks." said William Smallbury.
"Very well; if she doesn't return tomorrow, mind
you go there and try to discover which man it is, and
see him. I feel more responsible than I should if she
had had any friends or relations alive. I do hope she
has come to no harm through a man of that kind....
And then there's this disgraceful affair of the bailiff --
but I can't speak of him now."
Bathsheba had so many reasons for uneasiness that
it seemed she did not think it worth while to dwell
upon any particular one. "Do as I told you, then"
she said in conclusion, closing the casement.
"Ay, ay, mistress; we will." they replied, and moved
away.
That night at Coggan's, Gabriel Oak, beneath the
screen of closed eyelids, was busy with fancies, and full
of movement, like a river flowing rapidly under its ice.
Night had always been the time at which he saw Bath-
sheba most vividly, and through the slow hours of
shadow he tenderly regarded her image now. It is
rarely that the pleasures of the imagination will compen-
sate for the pain of sleeplessness, but they possibly did
with Oak to-night, for the delight of merely seeing her
effaced for the time his perception of the great differ-
ence between seeing and possessing.
He also thought of Plans for fetching his few utensils
and books from Norcombe. The Young Man's Best
Companion, The Farrier's Sure Guide, The Veterinary
Surgeon, Paradise Lost, The Pilgrim's Progress, Robinson
Crusoe, Ash's Dictionary, the Walkingame's Arithmetic,
constituted his library; and though a limited series, it was
one from which he had acquired more sound informa-
tion by diligent perusal than many a man of opportunities
has done from a furlong of laden shelves.





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