Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

Chapter 35

At an Upper Window

IT was very early the next morning — a time of sun and dew. The confused beginnings of many birds’ songs spread into the healthy air, and the wan blue of the heaven was here and there coated with thin webs of incorporeal cloud which were of no effect in obscuring day. All the lights in the scene were yellow as to colour, and all the shadows were attenuated as to form. The creeping plants about the old manor-house were bowed with rows of heavy water drops, which had upon objects behind them the effect of minute lenses of high magnifying power.

Just before the clock struck five Gabriel Oak and Coggan passed the village cross, and went on together to the fields. They were yet barely in view of their mistress’s house, when Oak fancied he saw the opening of a casement in one of the upper windows. The two men were at this moment partially screened by an elder bush, now beginning to be enriched with black bunches of fruit, and they paused before emerging from its shade.

A handsome man leaned idly from the lattice. He looked east and then west, in the manner of one who makes a first morning survey. The man was Sergeant Troy. His red jacket was loosely thrown on, but not buttoned, and he had altogether the relaxed bearing of a soldier taking his ease.

Coggan spoke first, looking quietly at the window.

“She has married him!” he said.

Gabriel had previously beheld the sight, and he now stood with his back turned, making no reply.

“I fancied we should know something to-day,” continued Coggan. “I heard wheels pass my door just after dark — you were out somewhere.” He glanced round upon Gabriel. “Good heavens above us, Oak, how white your face is; you look like a corpse!”

“Do I?” said Oak, with a faint smile.

“Lean on the gate: I’ll wait a bit.”

“All right, all right.”

They stood by the gate awhile, Gabriel listlessly staring at the ground. His mind sped into the future, and saw there enacted in years of leisure the scenes of repentance that would ensue from this work of haste. That they were married he had instantly decided. Why had it been so mysteriously managed? It had become known that she had had a fearful journey to Bath, owing to her miscalculating the distance: that the horse had broken down, and that she had been more than two days getting there. It was not Bathsheba’s way to do things furtively. With all her faults, she was candour itself. Could she have been entrapped? The union was not only an unutterable grief to him: it amazed him, notwithstanding that he had passed the preceding week in a suspicion that such might be the issue of Troy’s meeting her away from home. Her quiet return with Liddy had to some extent dispersed the dread. Just as that imperceptible motion which appears like stillness is infinitely divided in its properties from stillness itself, so had his hope undistinguishable from despair differed from despair indeed.

In a few minutes they moved on again towards the house. The sergeant still looked from the window.

“Morning, comrades!” he shouted, in a cheery voice, when they came up.

Coggan replied to the greeting. “Bain’t ye going to answer the man?” he then said to Gabriel. “I’d say good morning — you needn’t spend a hapenny 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 and over the fence 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 the road.

“Very well — you keep it, Coggan,” said Gabriel with disdain and almost fiercely. “As for me, I’ll do with-out 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 him 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 agonized man an expression deeper than a cry.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:22