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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFar From The Madding Crowd - Chapter VI - THE FAIR -- THE JOURNEY -- THE FIRE
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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter VI - THE FAIR -- THE JOURNEY -- THE FIRE Post by :Daio2000 Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Hardy Date :June 2011 Read :1097

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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter VI - THE FAIR -- THE JOURNEY -- THE FIRE

CHAPTER VI - THE FAIR -- THE JOURNEY -- THE FIRE


TWO months passed away. We are brought on to a day in
February, on which was held the yearly statute or hiring
fair in the county-town of Casterbridge.

At one end of the street stood from two to three hundred
blithe and hearty labourers waiting upon Chance -- all men
of the stamp to whom labour suggests nothing worse than a
wrestle with gravitation, and pleasure nothing better than a
renunciation of the same. Among these, carters and waggoners
were distinguished by having a piece of whip-cord twisted
round their hats; thatchers wore a fragment of woven straw;
shepherds held their sheep-crooks in their hands; and thus
the situation required was known to the hirers at a glance.

In the crowd was an athletic young fellow of some-what
superior appearance to the rest -- in fact, his superiority
was marked enough to lead several ruddy peasants standing by
to speak to him inquiringly, as to a farmer, and to use
'Sir' as a finishing word. His answer always was, --

"I am looking for a place myself -- a bailiff's. Do ye know
of anybody who wants one?"

Gabriel was paler now. His eyes were more meditative, and
his expression was more sad. He had passed through an
ordeal of wretchedness which had given him more than it had
taken away. He had sunk from his modest elevation as
pastoral king into the very slime-pits of Siddim; but there
was left to him a dignified calm he had never before known,
and that indifference to fate which, though it often makes a
villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does
not. And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the
loss gain.

In the morning a regiment of cavalry had left the town, and
a sergeant and his party had been beating up for recruits
through the four streets. As the end of the day drew on,
and he found himself not hired, Gabriel almost wished that
he had joined them, and gone off to serve his country.
Weary of standing in the market-place, and not much minding
the kind of work he turned his hand to, he decided to offer
himself in some other capacity than that of bailiff.

All the farmers seemed to be wanting shepherds. Sheep-
tending was Gabriel's speciality. Turning down an obscure
street and entering an obscurer lane, he went up to a
smith's shop.

"How long would it take you to make a shepherd's crook?"

"Twenty minutes."

"How much?"

"Two shillings."

He sat on a bench and the crook was made, a stem being given
him into the bargain.

He then went to a ready-made clothes' shop, the owner of
which had a large rural connection. As the crook had
absorbed most of Gabriel's money, he attempted, and carried
out, an exchange of his overcoat for a shepherd's regulation
smock-frock.

This transaction having been completed, he again hurried off
to the centre of the town, and stood on the kerb of the
pavement, as a shepherd, crook in hand.

Now that Oak had turned himself into a shepherd, it seemed
that bailifs were most in demand. However, two or three
farmers noticed him and drew near. Dialogues followed, more
or less in the subjoined form: --

"Where do you come from?"

"Norcombe."

"That's a long way.

"Fifteen miles."

"Who's farm were you upon last?"

"My own."

This reply invariably operated like a rumour of cholera.
The inquiring farmer would edge away and shake his head
dubiously. Gabriel, like his dog, was too good to be
trustworthy, and he never made advance beyond this point.

It is safer to accept any chance that offers itself, and
extemporize a procedure to fit it, than to get a good
shepherd, but had laid himself out for anything in the whole
cycle of labour that was required in the fair. It grew
dusk. Some merry men were whistling and singing by the
corn-exchange. Gabriel's hand, which had lain for some time
idle in his smock-frock pocket, touched his flute which he
carried there. Here was an opportunity for putting his
dearly bought wisdom into practice.

He drew out his flute and began to play "Jockey to the Fair"
in the style of a man who had never known moment's sorrow.
Oak could pipe with Arcadian sweetness and the sound of the
well-known notes cheered his own heart as well as those of
the loungers. He played on with spirit, and in half an hour
had earned in pence what was a small fortune to a destitute
man.

By making inquiries he learnt that there was another fair at
Shottsford the next day.

"How far is Shottsford?"

"Ten miles t'other side of Weatherbury."

Weatherbury! It was where Bathsheba had gone two months
before. This information was like coming from night into
noon.

"How far is it to Weatherbury?"

"Five or six miles."

Bathsheba had probably left Weatherbury long before this
time, but the place had enough interest attaching to it to
lead Oak to choose Shottsford fair as his next field of
inquiry, because it lay in the Weatherbury quarter.
Moreover, the Weatherbury folk were by no means
uninteresting intrinsically. If report spoke truly they
were as hardy, merry, thriving, wicked a set as any in the
whole county. Oak resolved to sleep at Weatherbury that
night on his way to Shottsford, and struck out at once into
the high road which had been recommended as the direct route
to the village in question.

The road stretched through water-meadows traversed by little
brooks, whose quivering surfaces were braided along their
centres, and folded into creases at the sides; or, where the
flow was more rapid, the stream was pied with spots of white
froth, which rode on in undisturbed serenity. On the higher
levels the dead and dry carcasses of leaves tapped the
ground as they bowled along helter-skelter upon the
shoulders of the wind, and little birds in the hedges were
rustling their feathers and tucking themselves in
comfortably for the night, retaining their places if Oak
kept moving, but flying away if he stopped to look at them.
He passed by Yalbury Wood where the game-birds were rising
to their roosts, and heard the crack-voiced cock-pheasants
"cu-uck, cuck," and the wheezy whistle of the hens.

By the time he had walked three or four miles every shape in
the landscape had assumed a uniform hue of blackness. He
descended Yalbury Hill and could just discern ahead of him a
waggon, drawn up under a great over-hanging tree by the
roadside.

On coming close, he found there were no horses attached to
it, the spot being apparently quite deserted. The waggon,
from its position, seemed to have been left there for the
night, for beyond about half a truss of hay which was heaped
in the bottom, it was quite empty. Gabriel sat down on the
shafts of the vehicle and considered his position. He
calculated that he had walked a very fair proportion of the
journey; and having been on foot since daybreak, he felt
tempted to lie down upon the hay in the waggon instead of
pushing on to the village of Weatherbury, and having to pay
for a lodging.

Eating his last slices of bread and ham, and drinking from
the bottle of cider he had taken the precaution to bring
with him, he got into the lonely waggon. Here he spread
half of the hay as a bed, and, as well as he could in the
darkness, pulled the other half over him by way of bed-
clothes, covering himself entirely, and feeling, physically,
as comfortable as ever he had been in his life. Inward
melancholy it was impossible for a man like Oak,
introspective far beyond his neighbours, to banish quite,
whilst conning the present untoward page of his history.
So, thinking of his misfortunes, amorous and pastoral he
fell asleep, shepherds enjoying, in common with sailors, the
privilege of being able to summon the god instead of having
to wait for him.

On somewhat suddenly awaking, after a sleep of whose length
he had no idea, Oak found that the waggon was in motion. He
was being carried along the road at a rate rather
considerable for a vehicle without springs, and under
circumstances of physical uneasiness, his head being dandled
up and down on the bed of the waggon like a kettledrum-
stick. He then distinguished voices in conversation, coming
from the forpart of the waggon. His concern at this dilemma
(which would have been alarm, had he been a thriving man;
but misfortune is a fine opiate to personal terror) led him
to peer cautiously from the hay, and the first sight he
beheld was the stars above him. Charles's Wain was getting
towards a right angle with the Pole star, and Gabriel
concluded that it must be about nine o'clock -- in other
words, that he had slept two hours. This small astronomical
calculation was made without any positive effort, and whilst
he was stealthily turning to discover, if possible, into
whose hands he had fallen.

Two figures were dimly visible in front, sitting with their
legs outside the waggon, one of whom was driving. Gabriel
soon found that this was the waggoner, and it appeared they
had come from Casterbridge fair, like himself.

A conversation was in progress, which continued thus: --

"Be as 'twill, she's a fine handsome body as far's looks be
concerned. But that's only the skin of the woman, and these
dandy cattle be as proud as a lucifer in their insides."

"Ay -- so 'a do seem, Billy Smallbury -- so 'a do seem."
This utterance was very shaky by nature, and more so by
circumstance, the jolting of the waggon not being without
its effect upon the speaker's larynx. It came from the man
who held the reins.

"She's a very vain feymell -- so 'tis said here and there."

"Ah, now. If so be 'tis like that, I can't look her in the
face. Lord, no: not I -- heh-heh-heh! Such a shy man as I
be!"

"Yes -- she's very vain. 'Tis said that every night at
going to bed she looks in the glass to put on her night-cap
properly."

"And not a married woman. Oh, the world!"

"And 'a can play the peanner, so 'tis said. Can play so
clever that 'a can make a psalm tune sound as well as the
merriest loose song a man can wish for."

"D'ye tell o't! A happy time for us, and I feel quite a new
man! And how do she play?"

"That I don't know, Master Poorgrass."

On hearing these and other similar remarks, a wild thought
flashed into Gabriel's mind that they might be speaking of
Bathsheba. There were, however, no ground for retaining
such a supposition, for the waggon, though going in the
direction of Weatherbury, might be going beyond it, and the
woman alluded to seemed to be the mistress of some estate.
They were now apparently close upon Weatherbury and not to
alarm the speakers unnecessarily, Gabriel slipped out of the
waggon unseen.

He turned to an opening in the hedge, which he found to be a
gate, and mounting thereon, he sat meditating whether to
seek a cheap lodging in the village, or to ensure a cheaper
one by lying under some hay or corn-stack. The crunching
jangle of the waggon died upon his ear. He was about to
walk on, when he noticed on his left hand an unusual light --
appearing about half a mile distant. Oak watched it, and
the glow increased. Something was on fire.

Gabriel again mounted the gate, and, leaping down on the
other side upon what he found to be ploughed soil, made
across the field in the exact direction of the fire. The
blaze, enlarging in a double ratio by his approach and its
own increase, showed him as he drew nearer the outlines of
ricks beside it, lighted up to great distinctness. A rick-
yard was the source of the fire. His weary face now began
to be painted over with a rich orange glow, and the whole
front of his smock-frock and gaiters was covered with a
dancing shadow pattern of thorn-twigs -- the light reaching
him through a leafless intervening hedge -- and the metallic
curve of his sheep-crook shone silver-bright in the same
abounding rays. He came up to the boundary fence, and stood
to regain breath. It seemed as if the spot was unoccupied
by a living soul.

The fire was issuing from a long straw-stack, which was so
far gone as to preclude a possibility of saving it. A rick
burns differently from a house. As the wind blows the fire
inwards, the portion in flames completely disappears like
melting sugar, and the outline is lost to the eye. However,
a hay or a wheat-rick, well put together, will resist
combustion for a length of time, if it begins on the
outside.

This before Gabriel's eyes was a rick of straw, loosely put
together, and the flames darted into it with lightning
swiftness. It glowed on the windward side, rising and
falling in intensity, like the coal of a cigar. Then a
superincumbent bundle rolled down, with a whisking noise;
flames elongated, and bent themselves about with a quiet
roar, but no crackle. Banks of smoke went off horizontally
at the back like passing clouds, and behind these burned
hidden pyres, illuminating the semi-transparent sheet of
smoke to a lustrous yellow uniformity. Individual straws in
the foreground were consumed in a creeping movement of ruddy
heat, as if they were knots of red worms, and above shone
imaginary fiery faces, tongues hanging from lips, glaring
eyes, and other impish forms, from which at intervals sparks
flew in clusters like birds from a nest.

Oak suddenly ceased from being a mere spectator by
discovering the case to be more serious than he had at first
imagined. A scroll of smoke blew aside and revealed to him
a wheat-rick in startling juxtaposition with the decaying
one, and behind this a series of others, composing the main
corn produce of the farm; so that instead of the straw-stack
standing, as he had imagined comparatively isolated, there
was a regular connection between it and the remaining stacks
of the group.

Gabriel leapt over the hedge, and saw that he was not alone.
The first man he came to was running about in a great hurry,
as if his thoughts were several yards in advance of his
body, which they could never drag on fast enough.

"O, man -- fire, fire! A good master and a bad servant is
fire, fire! -- I mane a bad servant and a good master. Oh,
Mark Clark -- come! And you, Billy Smallbury -- and you,
Maryann Money -- and you, Jan Coggan, and Matthew there!"
Other figures now appeared behind this shouting man and
among the smoke, and Gabriel found that, far from being
alone he was in a great company -- whose shadows danced
merrily up and down, timed by the jigging of the flames, and
not at all by their owners' movements. The assemblage --
belonging to that class of society which casts its thoughts
into the form of feeling, and its feelings into the form of
commotion -- set to work with a remarkable confusion of
purpose.

"Stop the draught under the wheat-rick!" cried Gabriel to
those nearest to him. The corn stood on stone staddles, and
between these, tongues of yellow hue from the burning straw
licked and darted playfully. If the fire once got UNDER
this stack, all would be lost.

"Get a tarpaulin -- quick!" said Gabriel.

A rick-cloth was brought, and they hung it like a curtain
across the channel. The flames immediately ceased to go
under the bottom of the corn-stack, and stood up vertical.

"Stand here with a bucket of water and keep the cloth wet."
said Gabriel again.

The flames, now driven upwards, began to attack the angles
of the huge roof covering the wheat-stack.

"A ladder," cried Gabriel.

"The ladder was against the straw-rick and is burnt to a
cinder," said a spectre-like form in the smoke.

Oak seized the cut ends of the sheaves, as if he were going
to engage in the operation of "reed-drawing," and digging in
his feet, and occasionally sticking in the stem of his
sheep-crook, he clambered up the beetling face. He at once
sat astride the very apex, and began with his crook to beat
off the fiery fragments which had lodged thereon, shouting
to the others to get him a bough and a ladder, and some
water.

Billy Smallbury -- one of the men who had been on the waggon
-- by this time had found a ladder, which Mark Clark
ascended, holding on beside Oak upon the thatch. The smoke
at this corner was stifling, and Clark, a nimble fellow,
having been handed a bucket of water, bathed Oak's face and
sprinkled him generally, whilst Gabriel, now with a long
beech-bough in one hand, in addition to his crook in the
other, kept sweeping the stack and dislodging all fiery
particles.

On the ground the groups of villagers were still occupied in
doing all they could to keep down the conflagration, which
was not much. They were all tinged orange, and backed up by
shadows of varying pattern. Round the corner of the largest
stack, out of the direct rays of the fire, stood a pony,
bearing a young woman on its back. By her side was another
woman, on foot. These two seemed to keep at a distance from
the fire, that the horse might not become restive.

"He's a shepherd," said the woman on foot. "Yes -- he is.
See how his crook shines as he beats the rick with it. And
his smock-frock is burnt in two holes, I declare! A fine
young shepherd he is too, ma'am."

"Whose shepherd is he?" said the equestrian in a clear
voice.

"Don't know, ma'am."

"Don't any of the others know?"

"Nobody at all -- I've asked 'em. Quite a stranger, they
say."

The young woman on the pony rode out from the shade and
looked anxiously around.

"Do you think the barn is safe?" she said.

"D'ye think the barn is safe, Jan Coggan?" said the second
woman, passing on the question to the nearest man in that
direction.

"Safe-now -- leastwise I think so. If this rick had gone
the barn would have followed. 'Tis that bold shepherd up
there that have done the most good -- he sitting on the top
o' rick, whizzing his great long-arms about like a
windmill."

"He does work hard," said the young woman on horseback,
looking up at Gabriel through her thick woollen veil. "I
wish he was shepherd here. Don't any of you know his name."

"Never heard the man's name in my life, or seed his form
afore."

The fire began to get worsted, and Gabriel's elevated
position being no longer required of him, he made as if to
descend.

"Maryann," said the girl on horseback, "go to him as he
comes down, and say that the farmer wishes to thank him for
the great service he has done."

Maryann stalked off towards the rick and met Oak at the foot
of the ladder. She delivered her message.

"Where is your master the farmer?" asked Gabriel, kindling
with the idea of getting employment that seemed to strike
him now.

"'Tisn't a master; 'tis a mistress, shepherd."

"A woman farmer?"

"Ay, 'a b'lieve, and a rich one too!" said a bystander.
"Lately 'a came here from a distance. Took on her uncle's
farm, who died suddenly. Used to measure his money in half-
pint cups. They say now that she've business in every bank
in Casterbridge, and thinks no more of playing pitch-and-
toss sovereign than you and I, do pitch-halfpenny -- not a
bit in the world, shepherd."

"That's she, back there upon the pony," said Maryann. "wi'
her face a-covered up in that black cloth with holes in it."

Oak, his features smudged, grimy, and undiscoverable from
the smoke and heat, his smock-frock burnt into holes and
dripping with water, the ash stem of his sheep-crook charred
six inches shorter, advanced with the humility stern
adversity had thrust upon him up to the slight female form
in the saddle. He lifted his hat with respect, and not
without gallantry: stepping close to her hanging feet he
said in a hesitating voice, --

"Do you happen to want a shepherd, ma'am?"

She lifted the wool veil tied round her face, and looked all
astonishment. Gabriel and his cold-hearted darling,
Bathsheba Everdene, were face to face.

Bathsheba did not speak, and he mechanically repeated in an
abashed and sad voice, --

"Do you want a shepherd, ma'am?"

Content of CHAPTER VI - THE FAIR -- THE JOURNEY -- THE FIRE (Thomas Hardy's novel: Far From The Madding Crowd)

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CHAPTER V - DEPARTURE OF BATHSHEBA -- A PASTORAL TRAGEDYTHE news which one day reached Gabriel, that BathshebaEverdene had left the neighbourhood, had an influence uponhim which might have surprised any who never suspected thatthe more emphatic the renunciation the less absolute itscharacter.It may have been observed that there is no regulal path forgetting out of love as there is for getting in. Some peoplelook upon marriage as a short cut that way, but it has beenknown to fail. Separation, which was the means that chanceoffered to Gabriel Oak by Bathsheba's disappearance thougheffectual with people of certain humours is
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