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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFar From The Madding Crowd - Chapter I - DESCRIPTION OF FARMER OAK -- AN INCIDENT
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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter I - DESCRIPTION OF FARMER OAK -- AN INCIDENT Post by :Gazoo Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Hardy Date :June 2011 Read :1745

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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter I - DESCRIPTION OF FARMER OAK -- AN INCIDENT

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."

Content of CHAPTER I - DESCRIPTION OF FARMER OAK -- AN INCIDENT (Thomas Hardy's novel: Far From The Madding Crowd)

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