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Far from the Madding
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
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 congegation 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
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
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
His height and breadth would have been sufficient to make his
presence imposing, had they been exhibited with due
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
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
Through a spur of this hill ran the highway between Emminster and
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
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
"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 affectionally 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.