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Coggan replied to the greeting. “Baint ye going to answer the man ?” he then said to Gabriel. “I'd say good-morning-you needn't spend a hapeth of meaning upon it, and yet keep the man civil."
Gabriel soon decided too that, since the deed was done, to put the best face upon the matter would be the greatest kindness to her he loved.
“Good-morning, Sergeant Troy," he returned, in a ghastly voice. “A rambling gloomy house this," said Troy, smiling.
Why--they may not be married !” suggested Coggan. “Perhaps she's not there."
Gabriel shook his head. The soldier turned a little towards the east, and the sun kindled his scarlet coat to an orange glow.
“But it is a nice old house," responded Gabriel.
“ Yes—I suppose so; but I feel like new wine in an old bottle here. My notion is that sash-windows should be put throughout, and these old wainscoted walls brightened up a bit; or the oak cleared quite away, and the walls papered.”
"It would be a pity, I think.”
Well, no. A philosopher once said in my hearing that the old builders, who worked when art was a living thing, had no respect for the work of builders who went before them, but pulled down and altered as they thought fit; and why shouldn't we? • Creation and preservation don't do well together,' says he, and a million of antiquarians can't invent a style.' My mind exactly. I am for making this place more modern, that we may be cheerful whilst we can."
The military man turned and surveyed the interior of the room, to assist his ideas of improvement in this direction. Gabriel and Coggan began to move on.
“Oh, Coggan," said Troy, as if inspired by a recollection, “ do you know if insanity has ever appeared in Mr. Boldwood's family ? "
Jan reflected for a moment.
“I once heard that an uncle of his was queer in his head, but I don't know the rights o't," he said.
“It is of no importance," said Troy lightly. “ Well, I shall be down in the fields with you some time this week; but I have a few matters to attend to first. So good-day to you. We shall, of course, keep on just as friendly terms as usual. I'm not a proud man: nobody is ever able to say that of Sergeant Troy. However, what is must be, and here's half-a-crown to drink my health, men.”
Troy threw the coin dexterously across the front plot towards Gabriel, who shunned it in its fall, his face turning to an angry red. Coggan twirled his eye, edged forward, and caught the money in its ricochet upon
“ Very well-you keep it, Coggan," said Gabriel with disdain, and almost fiercely. “ As for me, I'll do without gifts from him."
“Don't show it too much," said Coggan, musingly. “For if he's married to her, mark my words, he'll buy his discharge and be our master
here. Therefore 'tis well to say • Friend' outwardly, though you say • Troublehouse' within."
“ Well—perhaps it is best to be silent; but I can't go further than that. I can't flatter, and if my place here is only to be kept by smoothing him down, my place must be lost."
A horseman, whom they had for some time seen in the distance, now appeared close beside them.
“There's Mr. Boldwood,” said Oak. “I wonder what Troy meant by his question."
Coggan and Oak nodded respectfully to the farmer, just checked their paces to discover if they were wanted, and finding they were not, stood back to let bim pass on.
The only signs of the terrible sorrow Boldwood had been combating through the night and was combating now were the want of colour in his well-defined face, the enlarged appearance of the veins in his forehead and temples, and the sharper lines about his mouth. The horse bore him away, and the very step of the animal seemed significant of dogged despair. Gabriel, for a minute, rose above his own grief in noticing Boldwood's. He saw the square figure sitting erect upon the horse, the head turned to neither side, the elbows steady by the hips, the brim of the hat level and undisturbed in its onward glide, until the keen edges of Boldwood's shape sank by degrees over the hill. To one who knew the man and his story there was something more striking in this immobility than in a collapse. The clash of discord between mood and matter here was forced painfully home to the heart; and, as in laughter there are more dreadful phases than in tears, so was there in the steadiness of this agonised man an expression deeper than a cry.
WEALTH IN JEOPARDY: THE REVEL.
One night, at the end of August, when Bathsheba's experiences as a married woman were still new, and when the weather was yet dry and sultry, a man stood motionless in the stackyard of Weatherbury Upper Farm, looking at the moon and sky.
The night had a sinister aspect. A heated breeze from the south slowly fapned the summits of lofty objects, and in the sky dashes of buoyant cloud were sailing in a course at right angles to that of another stratum, neither of them in the direction of the breeze below. The moon, as seen through these films, had a lurid metallic look. The fields were sallow with the impure light, and all were tinged in monochrome, as if beheld through stained glass. The same evening the sheep had trailed homeward head to tail, the behaviour of the rooks had been confused, and the horses had moved with timidity and caution.
Thunder was imminent, and, taking some secondary appearances into consideration, it was likely to be followed by one of the lengthened rains which mark the close of dry weather for the season. Before twelve hours had passed a harvest atmosphere would be a bygone thing.
Oak gazed with misgiving at eight naked and unprotected ricks, massive and heavy with the rich produce of one-half the farm for that year. He went on to the barn.
This was the night which had been selected by Sergeant Troy-ruling now in the room of his wife-for giving the harvest-supper and dance. As Oak approached the building, the sound of violins and a tambourine, and the regular jigging of many feet, grew more distinct. He came close to the large doors, one of which stood slightly ajar, and looked in.
The central space, together with the recess at one end, was emptied of all encumbrances, and this area, covering about two-thirds of the whole, was appropriated for the gathering, the remaining end, which was piled to the ceiling with oats, being screened off with sail-cloth. Tufts and garlands of green foliage decorated the walls, beams, and extemporized chandeliers, and immediately opposite to Oak a rostrum had been erected, bearing a table and chairs. Ilere sat three fiddlers, and besido them stood a frantic man with his hair on end, perspiration streaming down bis cheeks, and a tambourine quivering in his hand.
The dance ended, and on the black oak floor in the midst a new row of couples formed for another.
“ Now ma'am, and no offence I hope, I ask what dance you would like next?” said the first violin.
• Really, it makes no difference,” said the clear voice of Bathsbeba, who stood at the inner end of the building, observing the scene from behind a table covered with cups and viands. Troy was lolling beside her.
Then,” said the fiddler, “I'll venture to name that the right and proper thing is “The Soldier's Joy'—there being a gallant soldier married into the farm-hey, my soonies, and gentlemen all ? ”
“ It shall be The Soldier's Joy,'” exclaimed a chorus.
“Thanks for the compliment," said the sergeant gaily, taking Bathsheba by the hand and leading her to the top of the dance. “For though I have purchased my discharge from Her Most Gracious Majesty's regiment of cavalry, the 11th Dragcon Guards, to attend to the new duties awaiting me here, I shall continue a soldier in spirit and feeling as long as I live."
So the dance began. As to the merits of “The Soldier's Joy," there cannot be, and never were, two opinions. It has been observed in the musical circles of Weatherbury and its vicinity that this melody, at the end of three-quarters of an hour of thunderous footing, still possesses more stimulative properties for the heel and toe than the majority of other dances at their first opening. “ The Soldier's Joy” has, too, an additional charm, in being so admirably adapted to the tambourine aforesaid
-no mean instrument in the hands of a performer who understands the
proper convulsions, spasms, St. Vitus's dances, and fearful frenzies necessary when exhibiting its tones in their highest perfection.
The immortal tune ended, a fine DD rolling forth from the bass-viol with the sonorousness of a cannonade, and Gabriel delayed his entry no longer. He avoided Bathsheba, and got as near as possible to the platform, where Sergeant Troy was now seated, drinking brandy-and-water, though the others drank without exception cider and ale. Gabriel could not easily thrust himself within speaking distance of the sergeant, and he sent a message, asking him to come down for a moment. The sergeant said he could not attend.
“Will you tell him, then," said Gabriel, “ that I only stepped ath'art to say that a heavy rain is sure to fall soon, and that something should be done to protect the ricks ?”
"Mr. Troy says it will not rain," returned the messenger," and he cannot stop to talk to you about such fidgets.”
In juxtaposition with Troy, Oak had a melancholy tendency to look like a candle beside gas, and ill at ease, he went out again, thinking be would go home; for, under the circumstances, he had no heart for the scene in the barn. At the door he paused for a moment: Troy was speaking.
“ Friends, it is not only the Harvest Home that we are celebrating to-night; but this is also a Wedding Feast. A short time ago I had the happiness to lead to the altar this lady, your mistress, and not until now har we been able to give any public flourish to the event in Weatherbury. That it may be thoroughly well done, and that every man may go happy to bed, I have ordered to be brought here some bottles of brandy and kettles of hot water. A treble-strong goblet will be handed round to each guest."
Bathsheba put her hand upon his arm, and, with apturned pale face, said imploringly, "No-don't give it to them-pray don't, Frank. It will only do them harm : they have had enough of everything."
“ Trew-we don't wish for no more, thank ye,” said one or two.
“Pooh!" said the sergeant contemptuously, and raised his voice as if lighted up by a new idea. “Friends," he said, “we'll send the women-folk home! 'Tis time they were in bed. Then we cockbirds will have a jolly carouse to ourselves. If any of the men show the white feather, let them look elsewhere for a winter's work."
Bathsheba indignantly left the barn, followed by all the women and children. The musicians, not looking upon themselves as “company,' slipped quietly away to their spring waggon and put in the horse. Thus Troy and the men on the farm were left sole occupants of the place. Oak, not to appear unnecessarily disagreeable, stayed a little while; then he, too, arose and quietly took his departure, followed by a friendly oath from the sergeant for not staying to a second round of grog. .
Gabriel proceeded towards his home. In approaching the door, his toe kicked something which felt and sounded soft, leathery, and distended, like a boxing-glove. It was a large toad humbly travelling across the
path. Oak took it up, thinking it might be better to kill the creature to save it from pain ; but finding it uninjured, he placed it again among
He knew what this direct message from the Great Motber meant. And soon came another.
When he struck a light indoors there appeared upon the table a thin glistening streak, as if a brush of varnish had been lightly dragged across it. Oak's eyes followed the serpentine sheen to the other side, where it led up to a huge brown garden-slug, which had come indoors to-night for reasons of its own. It was Nature's second way of hinting to him that he was to prepare for foul weather.
Oak sat down meditating for nearly an hour. During this time two black spiders, of the kind common in thatched houses, promenaded the ceiling, ultimately dropping to the floor. This reminded him that if there was one class of manifestation on this matter that he thoroughly understood, it was the instincts of sheep. He left the room, ran across two or three fields towards the flock, got upon a hedge, and looked over among them.
They were crowded close together on the other side around some furze bushes, and the first peculiarity observable was that, on the sudden appearance of Oak's head over the fence, they did not stir or run away. They had now a terror of something greater than their terror of man. But this was not the most noteworthy feature : they were all grouped in such a way that their tails, without a single exception, were towards that half of the horizon from which the storm threatened. There was an inner circle closely huddled, and outside these they radiated wider apart, the pattern formed by the flock as a whole being not unlike a vandyked lace collar, to which the clump of furze-bushes stood in the position of a wearer's neck.
This was enough to re-establish him in his original opinion. He knew now that he was right, and that Troy was wrong. Every voice in nature was unanimous in bespeaking change. But two distinct translations attached to these dumb expressions. Apparently there was to be a thunder-storm, and afterwards a cold continuous rain.
The creeping things seemed to know all about the latter rain, but little of the interpolated thunder-storm; whilst the sheep knew all about the thunder-storm and nothing of the latter rain.
This complication of weathers being uncommon, was all the more to be feared. Oak returned to the stack-yard. All was silent here, and the conical tips of the ricks jutted darkly into the sky. There were five wheat-ricks in this yard, and three stacks of barley. The wheat when threshed would average about thirty quarters to each stack; the barley, at least forty. Their value to Bathsheba, and indeed to anybody, Oak mentally estimated by the following simple calculation :
5 x 80=150 quarters=5001.