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Far From the Maddening Crowd


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 fac e to a mere mass of ruddy flesh
on account of the ex ertion 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 these. 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 boy. His height and breadth would have been sucient
to make his presence imposing, had they been exhibit ed with
due consideration. 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 them. And from a quiet modesty
that would have become a vestal which seemed continually to
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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 appearanc e 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 growt h, for his
intellect and his emotions were clearly separated: he had
passed the time during which the influence of youth
indiscriminat ely 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
Norc ombe Hill. Through a spur of this hill ran the highway
between Emminster and Chalk-Newton. 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
whip perpendicularly. 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 hill.”
”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.
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