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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFar From The Madding Crowd - Chapter XX - PERPLEXITY -- GRINDING THE SHEARS -- A QUARREL
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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter XX - PERPLEXITY -- GRINDING THE SHEARS -- A QUARREL Post by :myonlineincome Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Hardy Date :June 2011 Read :862

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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter XX - PERPLEXITY -- GRINDING THE SHEARS -- A QUARREL

CHAPTER XX - PERPLEXITY -- GRINDING THE SHEARS -- A QUARREL


"HE is so disinterested and kind to offer me all that I can
desire," Bathsheba mused.

Yet Farmer Boldwood, whether by nature kind or the reverse
to kind, did not exercise kindness, here. The rarest
offerings of the purest loves are but a self-indulgence, and
no generosity at all.

Bathsheba, not being the least in love with him, was
eventually able to look calmly at his offer. It was one
which many women of her own station in the neighbourhood,
and not a few of higher rank, would have been wild to accept
and proud to publish. In every point of view, ranging from
politic to passionate, it was desirable that she, a lonely
girl, should marry, and marry this earnest, well-to-do, and
respected man. He was close to her doors: his standing was
sufficient: his qualities were even supererogatory. Had
she felt, which she did not, any wish whatever for the
married state in the abstract, she could not reasonably have
rejected him, being a woman who frequently appealed to her
understanding for deliverance from her whims. Boldwood as a
means to marriage was unexceptionable: she esteemed and
liked him, yet she did not want him. It appears that
ordinary men take wives because possession is not possible
without marriage, and that ordinary women accept husbands
because marriage is not possible without possession; with
totally differing aims the method is the same on both sides.
But the understood incentive on the woman's part was wanting
here. Besides, Bathsheba's position as absolute mistress of
a farm and house was a novel one, and the novelty had not
yet begun to wear off.

But a disquiet filled her which was somewhat to her credit,
for it would have affected few. Beyond the mentioned
reasons with which she combated her objections, she had a
strong feeling that, having been the one who began the game,
she ought in honesty to accept the consequences. Still the
reluctance remained. She said in the same breath that it
would be ungenerous not to marry Boldwood, and that she
couldn't do it to save her life.

Bathsheba's was an impulsive nature under a deliberative
aspect. An Elizabeth in brain and a Mary Stuart in spirit,
she often performed actions of the greatest temerity with a
manner of extreme discretion. Many of her thoughts were
perfect syllogisms; unluckily they always remained thoughts.
Only a few were irrational assumptions; but, unfortunately,
they were the ones which most frequently grew into deeds.

The next day to that of the declaration she found Gabriel
Oak at the bottom of her garden, grinding his shears for the
sheep-shearing. All the surrounding cottages were more or
less scenes of the same operation; the scurr of whetting
spread into the sky from all parts of the village as from an
armoury previous to a campaign. Peace and war kiss each
other at their hours of preparation -- sickles, scythes,
shears, and pruning-hooks, ranking with swords, bayonets,
and lances, in their common necessity for point and edge.

Cainy Ball turned the handle of Gabriel's grindstone, his
head performing a melancholy see-saw up and down with each
turn of the wheel. Oak stood somewhat as Eros is
represented when in the act of sharpening his arrows: his
figure slightly bent, the weight of his body thrown over on
the shears, and his head balanced side-ways, with a critical
compression of the lips and contraction of the eyelids to
crown the attitude.

His mistress came up and looked upon them in silence for a
minute or two; then she said --

"Cain, go to the lower mead and catch the bay mare. I'll
turn the winch of the grindstone. I want to speak to you,
Gabriel."

Cain departed, and Bathsheba took the handle. Gabriel had
glanced up in intense surprise, quelled its expression, and
looked down again. Bathsheba turned the winch, and Gabriel
applied the shears.

The peculiar motion involved in turning a wheel has a
wonderful tendency to benumb the mind. It is a sort of
attenuated variety of Ixion's punishment, and contributes a
dismal chapter to the history of goals. The brain gets
muddled, the head grows heavy, and the body's centre of
gravity seems to settle by degrees in a leaden lump
somewhere between the eyebrows and the crown. Bathsheba
felt the unpleasant symptoms after two or three dozen turns.

"Will you turn, Gabriel, and let me hold the shears?" she
said. "My head is in a whirl, and I can't talk."

Gabriel turned. Bathsheba then began, with some
awkwardness, allowing her thoughts to stray occasionally
from her story to attend to the shears, which required a
little nicety in sharpening.

"I wanted to ask you if the men made any observations on my
going behind the sedge with Mr. Boldwood yesterday?"

"Yes, they did," said Gabriel. "You don't hold the shears
right, miss -- I knew you wouldn't know the way -- hold like
this."

He relinquished the winch, and inclosing her two hands
completely in his own (taking each as we sometimes slap a
child's hand in teaching him to write), grasped the shears
with her. "Incline the edge so," he said.

Hands and shears were inclined to suit the words, and held
thus for a peculiarly long time by the instructor as he
spoke.

"That will do," exclaimed Bathsheba. "Loose my hands. I
won't have them held! Turn the winch."

Gabriel freed her hands quietly, retired to his handle, and
the grinding went on.

"Did the men think it odd?" she said again.

"Odd was not the idea, miss."

"What did they say?"

"That Farmer Boldwood's name and your own were likely to be
flung over pulpit together before the year was out."

"I thought so by the look of them! Why, there's nothing in
it. A more foolish remark was never made, and I want you to
contradict it! that's what I came for."

Gabriel looked incredulous and sad, but between his moments
of incredulity, relieved.

"They must have heard our conversation," she continued.

"Well, then, Bathsheba!" said Oak, stopping the handle, and
gazing into her face with astonishment.

"Miss Everdene, you mean," she said, with dignity.

"I mean this, that if Mr. Boldwood really spoke of marriage,
I bain't going to tell a story and say he didn't to please
you. I have already tried to please you too much for my own
good!"

Bathsheba regarded him with round-eyed perplexity. She did
not know whether to pity him for disappointed love of her,
or to be angry with him for having got over it -- his tone
being ambiguous.

"I said I wanted you just to mention that it was not true I
was going to be married to him," she murmured, with a slight
decline in her assurance.

"I can say that to them if you wish, Miss Everdene. And I
could likewise give an opinion to 'ee on what you have
done."

"I daresay. But I don't want your opinion."

"I suppose not," said Gabriel bitterly, and going on with his
turning, his words rising and falling in a regular swell and
cadence as he stooped or rose with the winch, which directed
them, according to his position, perpendicularly into the
earth, or horizontally along the garden, his eyes being
fixed on a leaf upon the ground.

With Bathsheba a hastened act was a rash act; but, as does
not always happen, time gained was prudence insured. It
must be added, however, that time was very seldom gained.
At this period the single opinion in the parish on herself
and her doings that she valued as sounder than her own was
Gabriel Oak's. And the outspoken honesty of his character
was such that on any subject even that of her love for, or
marriage with, another man, the same disinterestedness of
opinion might be calculated on, and be had for the asking.
Thoroughly convinced of the impossibility of his own suit, a
high resolve constrained him not to injure that of another.
This is a lover's most stoical virtue, as the lack of it is
a lover's most venial sin. Knowing he would reply truly she
asked the question, painful as she must have known the
subject would be. Such is the selfishness of some charming
women. Perhaps it was some excuse for her thus torturing
honesty to her own advantage, that she had absolutely no
other sound judgment within easy reach.

"Well, what is your opinion of my conduct," she said,
quietly.

"That it is unworthy of any thoughtful, and meek, and comely
woman."

In an instant Bathsheba's face coloured with the angry
crimson of a danby sunset. But she forbore to utter this
feeling, and the reticence of her tongue only made the
loquacity of her face the more noticeable.

The next thing Gabriel did was to make a mistake.

"Perhaps you don't like the rudeness of my reprimanding you,
for I know it is rudeness; but I thought it would do good."

She instantly replied sarcastically --

"On the contrary, my opinion of you is so low, that I see in
your abuse the praise of discerning people!"

"I am glad you don't mind it, for I said it honestly and
with every serious meaning."

"I see. But, unfortunately, when you try not to speak in
jest you are amusing -- just as when you wish to avoid
seriousness you sometimes say a sensible word."

It was a hard hit, but Bathsheba had unmistakably lost her
temper, and on that account Gabriel had never in his life
kept his own better. He said nothing. She then broke out -
-

"I may ask, I suppose, where in particular my unworthiness
lies? In my not marrying you, perhaps!"

"Not by any means," said Gabriel quietly. "I have long
given up thinking of that matter."

"Or wishing it, I suppose," she said; and it was apparent
that she expected an unhesitating denial of this
supposition.

Whatever Gabriel felt, he coolly echoed her words --

"Or wishing it either."

A woman may be treated with a bitterness which is sweet to
her, and with a rudeness which is not offensive. Bathsheba
would have submitted to an indignant chastisement for her
levity had Gabriel protested that he was loving her at the
same time; the impetuosity of passion unrequited is
bearable, even if it stings and anathematizes there is a
triumph in the humiliation, and a tenderness in the strife.
This was what she had been expecting, and what she had not
got. To be lectured because the lecturer saw her in the
cold morning light of open-shuttered disillusion was
exasperating. He had not finished, either. He continued in
a more agitated voice: --

"My opinion is (since you ask it) that you are greatly to
blame for playing pranks upon a man like Mr. Boldwood,
merely as a pastime. Leading on a man you don't care for is
not a praiseworthy action. And even, Miss Everdene, if you
seriously inclined towards him, you might have let him find
it out in some way of true loving-kindness, and not by
sending him a valentine's letter."

Bathsheba laid down the shears.

"I cannot allow any man to -- to criticise my private
Conduct!" she exclaimed. "Nor will I for a minute. So
you'll please leave the farm at the end of the week!"

It may have been a peculiarity -- at any rate it was a fact
-- that when Bathsheba was swayed by an emotion of an
earthly sort her lower lip trembled: when by a refined
emotion, her upper or heavenward one. Her nether lip
quivered now.

"Very well, so I will," said Gabriel calmly. He had been
held to her by a beautiful thread which it pained him to
spoil by breaking, rather than by a chain he could not
break. "I should be even better pleased to go at once," he
added.

"Go at once then, in Heaven's name!" said she, her eyes
flashing at his, though never meeting them. "Don't let me
see your face any more."

"Very well, Miss Everdene -- so it shall be."

And he took his shears and went away from her in placid
dignity, as Moses left the presence of Pharaoh.

Content of CHAPTER XX - PERPLEXITY -- GRINDING THE SHEARS -- A QUARREL (Thomas Hardy's novel: Far From The Madding Crowd)

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