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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

THOMAS HARDY

I did not anticipate that this application of the word to a
modern use would extend outside the chapters of my own
chronicles. But the name was soon taken up elsewhere as a
local designation. The first to do so was the now defunct
Examiner which in the impression bearing date July 15
1876 entitled one of its articles "The Wessex Labourer"
the article turning out to be no dissertation on farming
during the Heptarchy but on the modern peasant of the
south-west counties and his presentation in these stories.

Since then the appellation which I had thought to reserve to
the horizons and landscapes of a merely realistic dream-
country has become more and more popular as a practical
definition; and the dream-country has by degrees
solidified into a utilitarian region which people can go to
take a house in and write to the papers from. But I ask
all good and gentle readers to be so kind as to forget this
and to refuse steadfastly to believe that there are any
inhabitants of a Victorian Wessex outside the pages of this
and the companion volumes in which they were first
discovered.

Moreover the village called Weatherbury wherein the scenes
of the present story of the series are for the most part
laid would perhaps be hardly discernible by the explorer
without help in any existing place nowadays; though at the
time comparatively recent at which the tale was written a
sufficient reality to meet the descriptions both of
backgrounds and personages might have been traced easily
enough. The church remains by great good fortune
unrestored and intact and a few of the old houses; but the
ancient malt-house which was formerly so characteristic of
the parish has been pulled down these twenty years; also
most of the thatched and dormered cottages that were once
lifeholds. The game of prisoner's base which not so long
ago seemed to enjoy a perennial vitality in front of the
worn-out stocks may so far as I can say be entirely
unknown to the rising generation of schoolboys there. The
practice of divination by Bible and key the regarding of
valentines as things of serious import the shearing-supper
and the harvest-home have too nearly disappeared in the
wake of the old houses; and with them have gone it is said
much of that love of fuddling to which the village at one
time was notoriously prone. The change at the root of this
has been the recent supplanting of the class of stationary
cottagers who carried on the local traditions and humours
by a population of more or less migratory labourers which
has led to a break of continuity in local history more
fatal than any other thing to the preservation of legend
folk-lore close inter-social relations and eccentric
individualities. For these the indispensable conditions of
existence are attachment to the soil of one particular spot
by generation after generation.

T.H.

February 1895

CHAPTER I

DESCRIPTION OF FARMER OAK -- AN INCIDENT

WHEN Farmer Oak smiled the corners of his mouth spread till
they were within an unimportant distance of his ears his
eyes were reduced to chinks and diverging wrinkles appeared
round them extending upon his countenance like the rays in
a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

His Christian name was Gabriel and on working days he was a
young man of sound judgment easy motions proper dress and
general good character. On Sundays he was a man of misty
views rather given to postponing and hampered by his best
clothes and umbrella: upon the whole one who felt himself
to occupy morally that vast middle space of Laodicean
neutrality which lay between the Communion people of the
parish and the drunken section -- that is he went to
church but yawned privately by the time the congregation
reached the Nicene creed and thought of what there would be
for dinner when he meant to be listening to the sermon.
Or to state his character as it stood in the scale of public
opinion when his friends and critics were in tantrums he
was considered rather a bad man; when they were pleased he
was rather a good man; when they were neither he was a man
whose moral colour was a kind of pepper-and-salt mixture.

Since he lived six times as many working-days as Sundays
Oak's appearance in his old clothes was most peculiarly his
own -- the mental picture formed by his neighbours in
imagining him being always dressed in that way. He wore a
low-crowned felt hat spread out at the base by tight
jamming upon the head for security in high winds and a coat
like Dr. Johnson's; his lower extremities being encased in
ordinary leather leggings and boots emphatically large
affording to each foot a roomy apartment so constructed that
any wearer might stand in a river all day long and know
nothing of damp -- their maker being a conscientious man who
endeavoured to compensate for any weakness in his cut by
unstinted dimension and solidity.

Mr. Oak carried about him by way of watch what may be
called a small silver clock; in other words it was a watch
as to shape and intention and a small clock as to size.
This instrument being several years older than Oak's
grandfather had the peculiarity of going either too fast or
not at all. The smaller of its hands too occasionally
slipped round on the pivot and thus though the minutes
were told with precision nobody could be quite certain of
the hour they belonged to. The stopping peculiarity of his
watch Oak remedied by thumps and shakes and he escaped any
evil consequences from the other two defects by constant
comparisons with and observations of the sun and stars and
by pressing his face close to the glass of his neighbours'
windows till he could discern the hour marked by the green-
faced timekeepers within. It may be mentioned that Oak's
fob being difficult of access by reason of its somewhat
high situation in the waistband of his trousers (which also
lay at a remote height under his waistcoat) the watch was
as a necessity pulled out by throwing the body to one side
compressing the mouth and face to a mere mass of ruddy flesh
on account of the exertion required and drawing up the
watch by its chain like a bucket from a well.

But some thoughtful persons who had seen him walking across
one of his fields on a certain December morning -- sunny and
exceedingly mild -- might have regarded Gabriel Oak in other
aspects than these. In his face one might notice that many
of the hues and curves of youth had tarried on to manhood:
there even remained in his remoter crannies some relics of
the boy. His height and breadth would have been sufficient
to make his presence imposing had they been exhibited with
due consideration. But there is a way some men have rural
and urban alike for which the mind is more responsible than
flesh and sinew: it is a way of curtailing their dimensions
by their manner of showing them. And from a quiet modesty
that would have become a vestal which seemed continually to
impress upon him that he had no great claim on the world's
room Oak walked unassumingly and with a faintly perceptible
bend yet distinct from a bowing of the shoulders. This may
be said to be a defect in an individual if he depends for
his valuation more upon his appearance than upon his
capacity to wear well which Oak did not.

He had just reached the time of life at which "young" is
ceasing to be the prefix of "man" in speaking of one.
He was at the brightest period of masculine growth for his
intellect and his emotions were clearly separated: he had
passed the time during which the influence of youth
indiscriminately mingles them in the character of impulse
and he had not yet arrived at the stage wherein they become
united again in the character of prejudice by the
influence of a wife and family. In short he was
twenty-eight and a bachelor.

The field he was in this morning sloped to a ridge called
Norcombe Hill. Through a spur of this hill ran the highway
between Emminster and Chalk-Newton. Casually glancing over
the hedge Oak saw coming down the incline before him an
ornamental spring waggon painted yellow and gaily marked
drawn by two horses a waggoner walking alongside bearing a
whip perpendicularly. The waggon was laden with household
goods and window plants and on the apex of the whole sat a
woman young and attractive. Gabriel had not beheld the
sight for more than half a minute when the vehicle was
brought to a standstill just beneath his eyes.

"The tailboard of the waggon is gone Miss" said the
waggoner.

"Then I heard it fall" said the girl in a soft though not
particularly low voice. "I heard a noise I could not
account for when we were coming up the hill."

"I'll run back."

"Do" she answered.

The sensible horses stood -- perfectly still and the
waggoner's steps sank fainter and fainter in the distance.

The girl on the summit of the load sat motionless
surrounded by tables and chairs with their legs upwards
backed by an oak settle and ornamented in front by pots of
geraniums myrtles and cactuses together with a caged
canary -- all probably from the windows of the house just
vacated. There was also a cat in a willow basket from the
partly-opened lid of which she gazed with half-closed eyes
and affectionately-surveyed the small birds around.

The handsome girl waited for some time idly in her place
and the only sound heard in the stillness was the hopping of
the canary up and down the perches of its prison. Then she
looked attentively downwards. It was not at the bird nor
at the cat; it was at an oblong package tied in paper and
lying between them. She turned her head to learn if the
waggoner were coming. He was not yet in sight; and her eyes
crept back to the package her thoughts seeming to run upon
what was inside it. At length she drew the article into her
lap and untied the paper covering; a small swing looking-
glass was disclosed in which she proceeded to survey
herself attentively. She parted her lips and smiled.

It was a fine morning and the sun lighted up to a scarlet
glow the crimson jacket she wore and painted a soft lustre
upon her bright face and dark hair. The myrtles geraniums
and cactuses packed around her were fresh and green and at
such a leafless season they invested the whole concern of
horses waggon furniture and girl with a peculiar vernal
charm. What possessed her to indulge in such a performance
in the sight of the sparrows blackbirds and unperceived
farmer who were alone its spectators -- whether the smile
began as a factitious one to test her capacity in that art
-- nobody knows; it ended certainly in a real smile. She
blushed at herself and seeing her reflection blush blushed
the more.

The change from the customary spot and necessary occasion of
such an act -- from the dressing hour in a bedroom to a time
of travelling out of doors -- lent to the idle deed a
novelty it did not intrinsically possess. The picture was a
delicate one. Woman's prescriptive infirmity had stalked
into the sunlight which had clothed it in the freshness of
an originality. A cynical inference was irresistible by
Gabriel Oak as he regarded the scene generous though he
fain would have been. There was no necessity whatever for
her looking in the glass. She did not adjust her hat or
pat her hair or press a dimple into shape or do one thing
to signify that any such intention had been her motive in
taking up the glass. She simply observed herself as a fair
product of Nature in the feminine kind her thoughts seeming
to glide into far-off though likely dramas in which men
would play a part -- vistas of probable triumphs -- the
smiles being of a phase suggesting that hearts were imagined
as lost and won. Still this was but conjecture and the
whole series of actions was so idly put forth as to make it
rash to assert that intention had any part in them at all.

The waggoner's steps were heard returning. She put the
glass in the paper and the whole again into its place.

When the waggon had passed on Gabriel withdrew from his
point of espial and descending into the road followed the
vehicle to the turnpike-gate some way beyond the bottom of
the hill where the object of his contemplation now halted
for the payment of toll. About twenty steps still remained
between him and the gate when he heard a dispute. It was a
difference concerning twopence between the persons with the
waggon and the man at the toll-bar.

"Mis'ess's niece is upon the top of the things and she says
that's enough that I've offered ye you great miser and she
won't pay any more." These were the waggoner's words.

"Very well; then mis'ess's niece can't pass" said the
turnpike-keeper closing the gate.

Oak looked from one to the other of the disputants and fell
into a reverie. There was something in the tone of twopence
remarkably insignificant. Threepence had a definite value
as money -- it was an appreciable infringement on a day's
wages and as such a higgling matter; but twopence --
"Here" he said stepping forward and handing twopence to
the gatekeeper; "let the young woman pass." He looked up at
her then; she heard his words and looked down.

Gabriel's features adhered throughout their form so exactly
to the middle line between the beauty of St. John and the
ugliness of Judas Iscariot as represented in a window of
the church he attended that not a single lineament could be
selected and called worthy either of distinction or
notoriety. The red-jacketed and dark-haired maiden seemed
to think so too for she carelessly glanced over him and
told her man to drive on. She might have looked her thanks
to Gabriel on a minute scale but she did not speak them;
more probably she felt none for in gaining her a passage he
had lost her her point and we know how women take a favour
of that kind.

The gatekeeper surveyed the retreating vehicle. "That's a
handsome maid" he said to Oak.

"But she has her faults" said Gabriel.

"True farmer."

"And the greatest of them is -- well what it is always."

"Beating people down? ay 'tis so."

"O no."

"What then?"

Gabriel perhaps a little piqued by the comely traveller's
indifference glanced back to where he had witnessed her
performance over the hedge and said "Vanity."

CHAPTER II

NIGHT -- THE FLOCK -- AN INTERIOR -- ANOTHER INTERIOR

IT was nearly midnight on the eve of St. Thomas's the
shortest day in the year. A desolating wind wandered from
the north over the hill whereon Oak had watched the yellow
waggon and its occupant in the sunshine of a few days
earlier.

Norcombe Hill -- not far from lonely Toller-Down -- was one
of the spots which suggest to a passer-by that he is in the
presence of a shape approaching the indestructible as nearly
as any to be found on earth. It was a featureless convexity
of chalk and soil -- an ordinary specimen of those smoothly-
outlined protuberances of the globe which may remain
undisturbed on some great day of confusion when far grander
heights and dizzy granite precipices topple down.

The hill was covered on its northern side by an ancient and
decaying plantation of beeches whose upper verge formed a
line over the crest fringing its arched curve against the
sky like a mane. To-night these trees sheltered the
southern slope from the keenest blasts which smote the wood
and floundered through it with a sound as of grumbling or
gushed over its crowning boughs in a weakened moan. The dry
leaves in the ditch simmered and boiled in the same breezes
a tongue of air occasionally ferreting out a few and
sending them spinning across the grass. A group or two of
the latest in date amongst the dead multitude had remained
till this very mid-winter time on the twigs which bore them
and in falling rattled against the trunks with smart taps.

Between this half-wooded half naked hill and the vague
still horizon that its summit indistinctly commanded was a
mysterious sheet of fathomless shade -- the sounds from
which suggested that what it concealed bore some reduced
resemblance to features here. The thin grasses more or
less coating the hill were touched by the wind in breezes
of differing powers and almost of differing natures -- one
rubbing the blades heavily another raking them piercingly
another brushing them like a soft broom. The instinctive
act of humankind was to stand and listen and learn how the
trees on the right and the trees on the left wailed or
chaunted to each other in the regular antiphonies of a
cathedral choir; how hedges and other shapes to leeward then
caught the note lowering it to the tenderest sob; and how
the hurrying gust then plunged into the south to be heard
no more.

The sky was clear -- remarkably clear -- and the twinkling
of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body timed
by a common pulse. The North Star was directly in the
wind's eye and since evening the Bear had swung round it
outwardly to the east till he was now at a right angle with
the meridian. A difference of colour in the stars --
oftener read of than seen in England -- was really
perceptible here. The sovereign brilliancy of Sirius
pierced the eye with a steely glitter the star called
Capella was yellow Aldebaran and Betelgueux shone with a
fiery red.

To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight
such as this the roll of the world eastward is almost a
palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the
panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects which is
perceptible in a few minutes of stillness or by the better
outlook upon space that a hill affords or by the wind or
by the solitude; but whatever be its origin the impression
of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion
is a phrase much in use and to enjoy the epic form of that
gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small
hour of the night and having first expanded with a sense
of difference from the mass of civilised mankind who are
dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this
time long and quietly watch your stately progress through
the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to
get back to earth and to believe that the consciousness of
such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.

Suddenly an unexpected series of sounds began to be heard in
this place up against the sky. They had a clearness which
was to be found nowhere in the wind and a sequence which
was to be found nowhere in nature. They were the notes of
Farmer Oak's flute.

The tune was not floating unhindered into the open air: it
seemed muffled in some way and was altogether too curtailed
in power to spread high or wide. It came from the direction
of a small dark object under the plantation hedge -- a
shepherd's hut -- now presenting an outline to which an
uninitiated person might have been puzzled to attach either
meaning or use.

The image as a whole was that of a small Noah's Ark on a
small Ararat allowing the traditionary outlines and general
form of the Ark which are followed by toy-makers -- and by
these means are established in men's imaginations among
their firmest because earliest impressions -- to pass as
an approximate pattern. The hut stood on little wheels
which raised its floor about a foot from the ground. Such
shepherds' huts are dragged into the fields when the lambing
season comes on to shelter the shepherd in his enforced
nightly attendance.

It was only latterly that people had begun to call Gabriel
"Farmer" Oak. During the twelvemonth preceding this time he
had been enabled by sustained efforts of industry and
chronic good spirits to lease the small sheep-farm of which
Norcombe Hill was a portion and stock it with two hundred
sheep. Previously he had been a bailiff for a short time
and earlier still a shepherd only having from his childhood
assisted his father in tending the flocks of large
...



 
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