Far from the Madding CrowdThomas Hardy / Romance & Love
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
by Thomas Hardy, 1874
From the Penguin edition, 1978
DESCRIPTION OF FARMER OAK -- AN INCIDENT
When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouthspread till they were within an unimportant distance ofhis ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and divergingwrinkles appeared round them, extending upon hiscountenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch ofthe rising sun.His Christian name was Gabriel, and on workingdays he was a young man of sound judgment, easymotions, proper dress, and general good character. OnSundays he was a man of misty views, rather given topostponing, and hampered by his best clothes andumbrella: upon the whole, one who felt himself tooccupy morally that vast middle space of Laodiceanneutrality which lay between the Communion peopleof the parish and the drunken section, -- that is, he wentto church, but yawned privately by the time the con-gegation reached the Nicene creed,- and thought ofwhat there would be for dinner when he meant to belistening to the sermon. Or, to state his character asit stood in the scale of public opinion, when his friendsand critics were in tantrums, he was considered rather abad man; when they were pleased, he was rather a goodman; when they were neither, he was a man whosemoral colour was a kind of pepper-and-salt mixture.Since he lived six times as many working-days asSundays, Oak's appearance in his old clothes was mostpeculiarly his own -- the mental picture formed by hisneighbours in imagining him being always dressed inthat way. He wore a low-crowned felt hat, spread outat the base by tight jamming upon the head for securityin high winds, and a coat like Dr. Johnson's; his lowerextremities being encased in ordinary leather leggingsand boots emphatically large, affording to each foot aroomy apartment so constructed that any wearer mightstand in a river all day long and know nothing ofdamp -- their maker being a conscientious man whoendeavoured to compensate for any weakness in his cutby unstinted dimension and solidity.Mr. Oak carried about him, by way of watch,-what may be called a small silver clock; in otherwords, it was a watch as to shape and intention, anda small clock as to size. This instrument being severalyears older than Oak's grandfather, had the peculiarityof going either too fast or not at all. The smallerof its hands, too, occasionally slipped round on thepivot, and thus, though the minutes were told withprecision, nobody could be quite certain of the hourthey belonged to. The stopping peculiarity of hiswatch Oak remedied by thumps and shakes, and heescaped any evil consequences from the other twodefects by constant comparisons with and observationsof the sun and stars, and by pressing his face closeto the glass of his neighbours' windows, till he coulddiscern the hour marked by the green-faced timekeeperswithin. It may be mentioned that Oak's fob beingdifficult of access, by reason of its somewhat highsituation in the waistband of his trousers (which alsolay at a remote height under his waistcoat), the watchwas as a necessity pulled out by throwing the body toone side, compressing the mouth and face to a meremass of ruddy flesh on account of the exertion, anddrawing up the watch by its chain, like a bucket from awell.But some thoughtfull persons, who had seen himwalking across one of his fields on a certain Decembermorning -- sunny and exceedingly mild -- might haveregarded Gabriel Oak in other aspects than these. Inhis face one might notice that many of the hues andcurves of youth had tarried on to manhood: there evenremained in his remoter crannies some relics of the boy.His height and breadth would have been sufficient tomake his presence imposing, had they been exhibitedwith due consideration. But there is a way some menhave, rural and urban alike, for which the mind is moreresponsible than flesh and sinew: it is a way of curtail-ing their dimensions by their manner of showing them.And from a quiet modesty that would have become avestal which seemed continually to impress upon himthat he had no great claim on the world's room, Oakwalked unassumingly and with a faintly perceptiblebend, yet distinct from a bowing of the shoulders.This may be said to be a defect in an individual if hedepends for his valuation more upon his appearancethan upon his capacity to wear well, which Oak did not.He had just reached the time of life at which youngis 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 ofyouth indiscriminately mingles them in the characterof impulse, and he had not yet arrived at the stagewherein they become united again, in the character ofprejudice, by the influence of a wife and family. Inshort, he was twenty-eight, and a bachelor.The field he was in this morning sloped to aridge called Norcombe Hill. Through a spur of thishill ran the highway between Emminster and Chalk-Newton. Casually glancing over the hedge, Oak sawcoming down the incline before him an ornamentalspring waggon, painted yellow and gaily marked,drawn by two horses, a waggoner walking alongsidebearing a whip perpendicularly. The waggon wasladen with household goods and window plants, andon the apex of the whole sat a woman, young andattractive. Gabriel had not beheld the sight for morethan half a minute, when the vehicle was brought to astandstill just beneath his eyes.The tailboard of the waggon is gone, Miss. said thewaggoner.Then I heard it fall. said the girl, in a soft, thoughnot particularly low voice. I heard a noise I couldnot account for when we were coming up the hill.I'll run back.Do. she answered.The sensible horses stood -- perfectly still, and thewaggoner'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 bypots of geraniums, myrtles, and cactuses, together witha caged canary -- all probably from the windows of thehouse just vacated. There was also a cat in a willowbasket, from the partly-opened lid of which she gazedwith half-closed eyes, and affectionately-surveyed thesmall birds around.The handsome girl waited for some time idly in herplace, and the only sound heard in the stillness was thehopping of the canary up-and down the perches of itsprison. Then she looked attentively downwards. Itwas not at the bird, nor at the cat; it was at an oblongpackage tied in paper, and lying between them. Sheturned her head to learn if the waggoner were coming.He was not yet in sight; and her-eyes crept back tothe package, her thoughts seeming to run upon whatwas inside it. At length she drew the article into herlap, and untied the paper covering; a small swinglooking-glass was disclosed, in which she proceeded tosurvey herself attentively. She parted her lips andsmiled.It was a fine morning, and the sun lighted up to ascarlet glow the crimson jacket she wore, and painteda soft lustre upon her bright face and dark hair. Themyrtles, geraniums, and cactuses packed around herwere fresh and green, and at such a leafless season theyinvested the whole concern of horses, waggon, furniture,and girl with a peculiar vernal charm. What possessedher to indulge in such a performance in the sight of thesparrows, blackbirds, and unperceived farmer who werealone its spectators, -- whether the smile began as afactitious one, to test her capacity in that art, -- nobodyknows; it ended certainly in a real smile. She blushedat herself, and seeing her reflection blush, blushed themore.The change from the customary spot and necessaryoccasion of such an act -- from the dressing hour in abedroom to a time of travelling out of doors -- lent tothe idle deed a novelty it did not intrinsically possess.The picture was a delicate one. Woman's prescriptiveinfirmity had stalked into the sunlight, which hadclothed it in the freshness of an originality. Acynical inference was irresistible by Gabriel Oak as heregarded the scene, generous though he fain would havebeen. There was no necessity whatever for her lookingin the glass. She did not adjust her hat, or pat herhair, or press a dimple into shape, or do one thing tosignify that any such intention had been her motive intaking up the glass. She simply observed herself as afair product of Nature in the feminine kind, her thoughtsseeming to glide into far-off though likely dramas inwhich men would play a part -- vistas of probabletriumphs -- the smiles being of a phase suggesting thathearts were imagined as lost and won. Still, this wasbut conjecture, and the whole series of actions was soidly put forth as to make it rash to assert that intentionhad any part in them at all.The waggoner's steps were heard returning. Sheput the glass in the paper, and the whole again into itsplace.When the waggon had passed on, Gabriel withdrewfrom his point of espial, and descending into the road,followed the vehicle to the turnpike-gate some waybeyond the bottom of the hill, where the object of hiscontemplation now halted for the payment of toll. Abouttwenty steps still remained between him and the gate,when he heard a dispute. lt was a difference con-cerning twopence between the persons with the waggonand the man at the toll-bar.Mis'ess's niece is upon the top of the things, andshe says that's enough that I've offered ye, you greatmiser, and she won't pay any more. These were thewaggoner's words.Very well; then mis'ess's niece can't pass. said theturnpike-keeper, closing the gate.Oak looked from one to the other of the disputants,and fell into a reverie. There was something in thetone of twopence remarkably insignificant. Threepencehad a definite value as money -- it was an appreciableinfringement on a day's wages, and, as such, a higglingmatter; but twopence -- Here. he said, steppingforward and handing twopence to the gatekeeper; letthe young woman pass. He looked up at her then;she heard his words, and looked down.Gabriel's features adhered throughout their form soexactly to the middle line between the beauty of St.John and the ugliness of Judas Iscariot, as representedin a window of the church he attended, that not a singlelineament could be selected and called worthy either ofdistinction or notoriety. The redjacketed and dark-haired maiden seemed to think so too, for she carelesslyglanced over him, and told her man to drive on. Shemight have looked her thanks to Gabriel on a minutescale, but she did not speak them; more probably shefelt none, for in gaining her a passage he had lost herher point, and we know how women take a favour ofthat kind.The gatekeeper surveyed the retreating vehicle.That's a handsome maid he said to OakBut she has her faults. said Gabriel.True, farmer.And the greatest of them is -- well, what it isalways.Beating people down? ay, 'tis so.O no.What, then?Gabriel, perhaps a little piqued by the comelytraveller's indifference, glanced back to where he hadwitnessed her performance over the hedge, and said,Vanity.