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coppery cloud which bounded a green and pellucid expanse in the western sky, amaranthine glosses came over them then, and the unresting world wheeled her round to a contrasting prospect eastward, in the shape of indecisive and palpitating stars. She gazed upon their silent throes amid the shades of space, but realised none at all. Her troubled spirit was far away with Troy.
NIGHT: HORSES TRAMPING.
The village of Weatherbury was quiet as the graveyard in its midst, and the living were lying well-nigh as still as the dead. The church clock struck eleven. · The air was so empty of other sounds that the whirr of the clockwork immediately before the strokes was distinct, and so was also the click of the same at their close. The notes flew forth with the usual blind obtaseness of inanimate things—flapping and rebounding among walls, undulating against the scattered clouds, spreading through their interstices into unexplored miles of space.
Bathsheba’s crannied and mouldy halls were to-night occupied only by Maryann, Liddy being, as was stated, with her sister, whom Bathsheba had set out to visit. A few minutes after eleven had struck, Maryann turned in her bed with a sense of being disturbed. She was totally unconscious of the nature of the interruption to her sleep. It led to a dream, and the dream to an awakening, with an uneasy sensation that something had happened. She left her bed and looked out of the window. The paddock abutted on this end of the build: g, and in the paddock she could just discern by the uncertain gray a moving figure approaching the horse that was feeding there. The figure seized the horse by the forelock, and led it to the corner of the field. Here she could see some object which circumstances proved to be a vehicle, for after a few minutes' spent apparently in harnessing, she heard the trot of the horse down the road, mingled with the sound of light wheels.
Two varieties only of humanity could have entered the paddock with the ghost-like glide of that mysterious figure. They were a woman and a gipsy man. A woman was out of the question in such an occupation at this hour, and the comer could be no less than a thief, who might probably have known the weakness of the household on this particular night, and have chosen it on that account for his daring attempt. Moreover, to raise suspicion to conviction itself, there were gipsies in Weatherbury Bottom.
Maryann, who had been afraid to shout in the robber's presence, having seen him depart, had no fear. She hastily slipped on her clothes, stumped down the disjointed staircase with its hundred creaks, ran to Coggan's, the nearest house, and raised an alarm. Coggan called Gabriel,
who now again lodged in his house as at first, and together they went to the paddock. Beyond all doubt the horse was gone.
“ Listen !” said Gabriel.
They listened. Distinct upon the stagnant air came the sounds of a trotting horse passing over Weatherbury Hill—just beyond the gipsies' encampment in Weatherbury Bottom.
“ That's our Dainty—I'll swear to her step,” said Jan.
“ Mighty me! Won't mis'ess storm and call us stupids when she comes back !” moaned Maryann. “ How I wish it had happened when she was at home, and none of us had been answerable !"
“We must ride after," said Gabriel, decisively. "I'll be responsible to Miss Everdene for what we do. Yes, we'll follow.”
“ Faith, I don't see how,” said Coggan. “ All our horses are two heavy for that trick except little Poppet, and what's she between two of us ?-If we only had that pair over the hedge we might do something."
" Which pair ? ”
“ Then wait here till I come hither again,” said Gabriel. He ran down the hill towards Farmer Boldwood's.
“ Farmer Boldwood is not at home,” said Maryann.
Less than five minutes brought up Oak again, running at the same pace, with two halters dangling from his hand.
“Where did you find 'em ? " said Coggan, turning round and leaping upon the hedge without waiting for an answer.
• Under the eaves. I knew where they were kept," said Gabriel, following him.
Coggan, you can ride bare-backed ? there's no time to look for saddles.”
“ Like a hero !” said Jan.
“ Maryann, you go to bed,” Gabriel shouted to her from the top of the hedge.
Springing down into Boldwood's pastures, each pocketed his halter to hide it from the horses, who, seeing the men empty-handed, docilely allowed themselves to be seized by the mane, when the halters were derterously slipped on. Having neither bit nor bridle, Oak and Coggan extemporised the former by passing the rope in each case through the animal's mouth and looping it on the other side. Oak vaulted astride, and Coggan clambered up by aid of the bank, when they ascended to the gate and galloped off in the direction taken by Bathsheba’s horse and the robber. Whose vehicle the horse had been harnessed to was a matter of some uncertainty.
Weatherbury Bottom was reached in three or four minutes. They scanned the shady green patch by the roadside. The gipsies were gone.
" The villains !” said Gabriel. “Which way have they gone, I wonder ?”
“ Straight on, as sure as God made little apples," said Jan.
“ Very well ; we are better mounted, and must overtake 'em," said Oak. « Now, on at full speed ! ”
No sound of the rider in their van could now be discovered. The road-metal grew softer and more clayey as Weatherbury was left behind, and the late rain had wetted its surface to a somewhat plastic, but not muddy state. They came to cross-roads. Coggan suddenly pulled up Moll and slipped off.
" What's the matter ? " said Gabriel.
" We must try to track 'em, since we can't hear 'em,” said Jan, fumbling in his pockets. He struck a light, and held the match to the ground. The rain had been heavier here, and all foot and horse tracks made previous to the storm had been abraded and blurred by the drops, and they were now so many little scoops of water, which reflected the flame of the match like eyes. One set of tracks was fresh and had no water in them; one pair of ruts was also empty, and not small canals, like the others. The footprints forming this recent impression were full of information as to pace; they were in equidistant pairs, three or four feet apart, the right and left foot of each pair being exactly opposite one another.
“ Straight on!" Jan exclaimed. 6. Tracks like that mean a stiff gallop. No wonder we don't hear him. And the horse is harnessed look at the ruts. Ay, that's our mare sure enough!”
“How do you know ? "
“ Old Jimmy Harris only shoed her last week, and I'd swear to his make among ten thousand.”
“ The rest of the gipsies must have gone on earlier, or some other way,” said Oak. “You saw there were no other tracks ?”
" Trew.” They rode along silently for a long weary time. Coggan's watch struck one. He lighted another match, and examined the ground again.
“ 'Tis a canter now,” he said, " throwing away the light. A twisty rickety pace for a gig. The fact is, they overdrove her at starting ; we shall catch them yet."
Again they hastened on. Coggan's watch struck two. When they looked again the hoof-marks were so spaced as to form a sort of zigzag if united, like the lamps along a street.
- That's a trot, I know," said Gabriel.
“Only a trot now,” said Coggan cheerfully. “We shall overtake him in time.”
They pushed rapidly on for yet two or three miles. “Ah! a moment,” said Jan. "Let's see how she was driven up this hill. 'Twill help us.” A light was promptly struck upon his gaiters as before, and the examination made.
“ Hurrah !” said Coggan. " She walked up here—and well she might. We shall get them in two miles, for a crown."
They rode three, and listened. No sound was to be heard save a
mill-pond trickling hoarsely through a hatch, and suggesting gloomy possibilities of drowning by jumping in. Gabriel dismounted when they came to a turning. The tracks were absolutely the only guide as to the direction that they now had, and great caution was necessary to avoid confusing them with some others which had made their appearance lately.
“What does this mean ?-though I guess," said Gabriel, looking up at Coggan as he moved the match over the ground about the turning. Coggan, who, no less than the panting horses, had latterly shown signs of weariness, again scrutinized the mystic characters. This time only three were of the regular horseshoe shape. Every fourth was a dot.
He screwed up his face, and emitted a long “ whew-w-w!” * Lame," said Oak.
“ Yes. Dainty is lamed; the near-foot-afore,” said Coggan slowly, staring still at the footprints.
“We'll push on," said Gabriel, remounting his humid steed.
Although the road along its greater part had been as good as any turnpike-road in the country it was nominally only a byway. The last turning had brought them into the high road leading to Bath. Coggan recollected himself.
6. We shall have him now! he exclaimed. " Where?”
“ Pettiton Turnpike. The keeper of that gate is the sleepiest man between here and London--Dan Randall, that's his name—knowed en for years, when he was at Casterbridge gate. Between the lameness and the gate 'tis a done job.”
They now advanced with extreme caution. Nothing was said until, against a shady background of foliage, five white bars were visible, crossing their route a little
ahead. “ Hush-we are almost close!” said Gabriel. “ Amble on upon the grass,” said Coggan.
The white bars were blotted out in the midst by a dark shape in front of them. The silence of this lonely time was pierced by an exclamation from that quarter.
“Hoy-a-hoy! Gate !"
It appeared that there had been a previous call which they had not noticed, for on their close approach the door of the turnpike-house opened, and the keeper came out half-dressed, with a candle in his hand. The rays illumined the whole group.
“ Keep the gate close ! ” shouted Gabriel. “He has stolen the horse !" “ Who? said the turnpike-man.
Gabriel looked at the driver of the gig, and saw a woman—Bathsheba, his mistress.
On hearing his voice she had turned her face away from the light. Coggan had, however, caught sight of her in the meanwhile,
“Why, 'tis mistress—I'll take my oath!” he said, amazed.
Bathsheba it certainly was, and she had by this time done the trick she could do so well in crises not of love, namely, mask a surprise by coolness of manner.
“Well, Gabriel,” she enquired quietly, " where are you going?” “We thought — " began Gabriel.
“I am driving to Bath,” she said, taking for her own use the assurance that Gabriel lacked. “ An important matter made it necessary for me to give up my visit to Liddy, and go off at once. What, then, were you following me ?”
“We thought the horse was stole.”
“ Well—what a thing! How very foolish of you not to know that I had taken the trap and horse. I could neither wake Maryann nor get into the house, though I hammered for ten minutes against her windowsill. Fortunately, I could get the key of the coach-house, so I troubled no one further. Didn't you think it might be me ? ”
“ Why should we, miss ? "
“ Perhaps not. Why, those are never Farmer Boldwood's horses ! Goodness mercy! what have you been doing-bringing trouble upon me in this way! What! mustn't a lady move an inch from her door without being dogged like a thief?”
“ But how were we to know, if you left no account of your doings," expostulated Coggan, “and ladies don't drive at these hours as a jineral rule of society."
“I did leave an account and you would have seen it in the morning. I wrote in chalk on the coach-house doors that I had come back for the horse and gig, and driven off; that I could arouse nobody, and should return soon.”
“But you'll consider, ma'am, that we couldn't see that till it got daylight.”
“ True,” she said, and though vexed at first she had too much sense to blame them long or seriously for a devotion to her that was as valuable as it was 'rare. She added with a very pretty grace, “ Well, I really thank you heartily for taking all this trouble ; but I wish you had borrowed anybody's horses but Mr. Boldwood's.”
“Dainty is lame, miss," said Coggan. “Can ye go on?"
“ It was only a stone in her shoe. I dismounted and pulled it out a hundred yards back. I can manage very well, thank
I shall be in Bath by daylight. Will you now return, please ?”
She turned her head-the gateman's candle shimmering upon her quick, clear eyes as she did so—passed through the gate, and was soon wrapped in the embowering shades of mysterious summer boughs. Coggan and Gabriel put about their horses, and, fanned by the velvety air of this July night, retraced the road by which they had come.
“A strange vagary, this of hers, isn't it, Oak?” said Coggan, curiously.
“Yes,” said Gabriel, shortly. "Coggan, suppose we keep this night's work as quiet as we can ? "