eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER IX



THE HOMESTEAD -- A VISITOR -- HALF-CONFIDENCES


By daylight, the Bower of Oak's new-found mistress,
Bathsheba Everdene, presented itself as a hoary build-
ing, of the early stage of Classic Renaissance as regards
its architecture, and of 'a proportion which told at a
glance that, as is so frequently the case, it had once
been the memorial hall upon a small estate around it,
now altogether effaced as a distinct property, and merged
in the vast tract of a non-resident landlord, which com-
prised several such modest demesnes.
Fluted pilasters, worked from the solid stone,
decorated its front, and above the roof the chimneys
were panelled or columnar, some coped gables with
finials and like features still retaining traces of their
Gothic extraction. Soft Brown mosses, like faded
velveteen, formed cushions upon the stone tiling, and
tufts of the houseleek or sengreen sprouted from the
eaves of the low surrounding buildings. A gravel walk
leading from the door to the road in front was encrusted
at the sides with more moss -- here it was a silver-green
variety, the nut-brown of the gravel being visible to the
width of only a foot or two in the centre. This circum-
stance, and the generally sleepy air of the whole prospect
here, together with the animated and contrasting state
of the reverse facade, suggested to the imagination that
on the adaptation of the building for farming purposes
the vital principle' of the house had turned round inside
its body to face the other way. Reversals of this kind,
strange deformities, tremendous paralyses, are often seen
to be inflicted by trade upon edifices -- either individual
or in the aggregate as streets and towns -- which were
originally planned for pleasure alone.
Lively voices were heard this morning in the upper
rooms, the main staircase to which was of hard oak, the
balusters, heavy as bed-posts, being turned and moulded
in the quaint fashion of their century, the handrail as
stout as a parapet-top, and the stairs themselves con-
tinually twisting round like a person trying to look over
his shoulder. Going up, the floors above were found
to have a very irregular surface, rising to ridges, sinking
into valley; and being just then uncarpeted, the face
of the boards was seen to be eaten into innumerable
the opening and shutting of every door a tremble
followed every bustling movement, and a creak accom-
panied a walker about the house like a spirit, wherever-
he went.
In the room from which the conversation proceeded,
Bathsheba and her servant-companion, Liddy Small-
bury were to be discovered sitting upon the floor, and
sorting a complication of papers, books, bottles, and
rubbish spread out thereon -- remnants from the house-
hold stores of the late occupier. Liddy, the maltster's
great-granddaughter, was about Bathsheba's equal in
age, and her face was a prominent advertisement of the
features' might have lacked in form was amply made up
for by perfection of hue, which at this winter-time was
the softened ruddiness on a surface of high rotundity
and, like the presentations of those great colourists, it
was a face which kept well back from the boundary
between comeliness and the ideal. Though elastic in
nature she was less daring than Bathsheba, and occa-
sionally showed some earnestness, which consisted half
of genuine feeling, and half of mannerliness superadded
by way of duty.
Through a partly-opened door the noise of a scrubbing-
brush led up to the charwoman, Maryann Money, a person
who for a face had a circular disc, furrowed less by age
than by long gazes of perplexity at distant objects. To
think of her was to get good-humoured; to speak of
her was to raise the image of a dried Normandy
pippin.
"Stop your scrubbing a moment." said Bathsheba
through the door to her. "I hear something."
Maryann suspended the brush.
The tramp of a horse was apparent, approaching the
front of the building. The paces slackened, turned in
at the wicket, and, what was most unusual, came up
the mossy path close to the door. The door was
tapped with the end of a crop or stick.
"What impertinence!" said Liddy, in a low voice.
"To ride up the footpath like that! Why didn't he
stop at the gate? Lord! 'Tis a gentleman! I see the
top of his hat."
"Be quiet!" said Bathsheba.
The further expression of Liddy's concern was con-
tinued by aspect instead of narrative.
"Why doesn't Mrs. Coggan go to the door?" Bath-
sheba continued.
Rat-tat-tat-tat, resounded more decisively from Bath-
sheba's oak.
"Maryann, you go!" said she, fluttering under the
onset of a crowd of romantic possibilities.
"O ma'am -- see, here's a mess!"
The argument was unanswerable after a glance at
Maryann.
"Liddy -- you must." said Bathsheba.
Liddy held up her hands and arms, coated with dust
from the rubbish they were sorting, and looked implor-
ingly at her mistress.
"There -- Mrs. Coggan is going!" said Bathsheba,
exhaling her relief in the form of a long breath which
had lain in her bosom a minute or more.
The door opened, and a deep voice said --
"Is Miss Everdene at home?"
"I'll see, sir." said Mrs. Coggan, and in a minute
appeared in the room.
"Dear, what a thirtover place this world is!" con-
tinued Mrs. Coggan (a wholesome-looking lady who
had a voice for each class of remark according to the
emotion involved; who could toss a pancake or twirl
a mop with the accuracy of pure mathematics, and
who at this moment showed hands shaggy with frag-
ments of dough and arms encrusted with flour). "I
am never up to my elbows, Miss, in making a pudding
but one of two things do happen -- either my nose must
needs begin tickling, and I can't live without scratching
A woman's dress being a part of her countenance,
and any disorder in the one being of the same nature
with a malformation or wound in the other, Bathsheba
said at once --
"I can't see him in this state. Whatever shall I do?"
Not-at-homes were hardly naturalized in Weatherbury
farmhouses, so Liddy suggested -- "Say you're a fright
with dust, and can't come down."
"Yes -- that sounds very well." said Mrs. Coggan,
critically.
"Say I can't see him -- that will do."
Mrs. Coggan went downstairs, and returned the
answer as requested, adding, however, on her own
responsibility, "Miss is dusting bottles, sir, and is quite
a object -- that's why 'tis."
"Oh, very well." said the deep voice." indifferently.
"All I wanted to ask was, if anything had been heard
of Fanny Robin?"
"Nothing, sir -- but we may know to-night. William
Smallbury is gone to Casterbridge, where her young
man lives, as is supposed, and the other men be inquir-
ing about everywhere."
The horse's tramp then recommenced and -retreated,
and the door closed.
"Who is Mr. Boldwood?" said Bathsheba.
"A gentleman-farmer at Little Weatherbury."
"Married?"
"No, miss."
"How old is he?"
"Forty, I should say -- very handsome -- rather stern-
looking -- and rich."
"What a bother this dusting is! I am always in
some unfortunate plight or other," Bathsheba said,
complainingly. "Why should he inquire about Fanny?"
"Oh, because, as she had no friends in her childhood,
he took her and put her to school, and got her her
place here under your uncle. He's a very kind man
that way, but Lord -- there!"
"What?"
"Never was such a hopeless man for a woman!
He's been courted by sixes and sevens -- all the girls,
gentle and simple, for miles round, have tried him. Jane
Perkins worked at him for two months like a slave,
and the two Miss Taylors spent a year upon him,
and he cost Farmer Ives's daughter nights of tears
and twenty pounds' worth of new clothes; but Lord --
the money might as well have been thrown out of the
window."
A little boy came up at this moment and looked in
upon them. This child was one of the Coggans who,
with the Smallburys, were as common among the
families of this district as the Avons and Derwents
among our rivers. He always had a loosened tooth or
a cut finger to show to particular friends, which he did
with an air of being thereby elevated above the common
herd of afflictionless humanity -- to which exhibition
of congratulation as well as pity.
"I've got a pen-nee!" said Master Coggan in a
scanning measure.
"Well -- who gave it you, Teddy?" said Liddy.
"Mis-terr Bold-wood! He gave it to me for opening
the gate."
"What did he say?"
"He said "Where are you going, my little man?'"
and I said, "To Miss Everdene's please," and he said,
"She is a staid woman, isn't she, my little man?" and
I said, "Yes."
"You naughty child! What did you say that for?"
"Cause he gave me the penny!"
"What a pucker everything is in!" said Bathsheba,
discontentedly when the child had gone. 'Get away,
thing! You ought to be married by this time, and not
here troubling me!"
"Ay, mistress -- so I did. But what between the poor
men I won't have, and the rich men who won't have me,
I stand as a pelicon in the wilderness!"
"Did anybody ever want to marry you miss?" Liddy
ventured to ask when they were again alone. "Lots of
"em, i daresay.?"
Bathsheba paused, as if about to refuse a reply, but
the temptation to say yes, since it was really in her
power was irresistible by aspiring virginity, in spite of
her spleen at having been published as old.
"A man wanted to once." she said, in a highly experi-
enced tone and the image of Gabriel Oak, as the farmer,
rose before her.
"How nice it must seem!" said Liddy, with the fixed
features of mental realization. "And you wouldn't have
him?"
"He wasn't quite good enough for me."
"How sweet to be able to disdain, when most of us
are glad to say, "Thank you!" I seem I hear it.
"No, sir -- I'm your better." or "Kiss my foot, sir; my
face is for mouths of consequence." And did you love
him, miss?"
"Oh, no. But I rather liked him."
"Do you now?"
"Of course not -- what footsteps are those I hear?"
Liddy looked from a back window into the courtyard
behind, which was now getting low-toned and dim with
the earliest films of night. A crooked file of men was
approaching the back door. The whole string of trailing
individuals advanced in the completest balance of inten-
tion, like the remarkable creatures known as Chain
Salpae, which, distinctly organized in other respects, have
one will common to a whole family. Some were, as
usual, in snow-white smock-frocks of Russia duck, and
some in whitey-brown ones of drabbet -- marked on the
wrists, breasts, backs, and sleeves with honeycomb-work.
Two or three women in pattens brought up the rear.
"The Philistines be upon us." said Liddy, making her
nose white against the glass.
"Oh, very well. Maryann, go down and keep them
in the kitchen till I am dressed, and then show them in
to me in the hall."





Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Literature
 
Send this page to a friend
Nabou.com: the big site