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Far from the Madding Crowd

22.
The Great Barn and the Sheep-Shearers
MEN thin away to insignificance and oblivion quite as often by not making the
most of good spirits when they have them as by lacking good spirits when they
are indispensable. Gabriel lately, for the first time since his prostration by
misfortune, had been independent in thought and vigorous in action to a marked
extent -- conditions which, powerless without an opportunity as an opportunity
without them is barren, would have given him a sure lift upwards when the
favourable conjunction should have occurred. But this incurable loitering beside
Bathsheba Everdene stole his time ruinously. The spring tides were going by
without floating him off, and the neap might soon come which could not.
It was the first day of June, and the sheep-shearing season culminated, the
landscape, even to the leanest pasture, being all health and colour. Every green
was young, every pore was open, and every stalk was swollen with racing
currents of juice. God was palpably present in the country, and the devil had
gone with the world to town. Flossy catkins of the later kinds, fern-sprouts like
bishops' croziers, the square-headed moschatel, the odd cuckoo-pint, -- like an
apoplectic saint in a niche of malachite, -- snow-white ladies'-smocks, the
toothwort, approximating to human flesh, the enchanter's night-shade, and the
black- petaled doleful-bells, were among the quainter objects of the vegetable
world in and about Weatherbury at this teeming time; and of the animal, the
metamorphosed figures of Mr. Jan Coggan, the master-shearer; the second and
third shearers, who travelled in the exercise of their calling, and do not require
definition by name; Henery Fray the fourth shearer, Susan Tall's husband the
fifth, Joseph Poorgrass the sixth, young Cain Ball as assistant-shearer, and
Gabriel Oak as general supervisor. None of these were clothed to any extent
worth mentioning, each appearing to have hit in the matter of raiment the decent
mean between a high and low caste Hindoo. An angularity of lineament, and a
fixity of facial machinery in general, proclaimed that serious work was the order
of the day.
They sheared in the great barn, called for the nonce the Shearing-barn, which on
ground-plan resembled a church with transepts. It not only emulated the form of
the neighbouring church of the parish, but vied with it in antiquity. Whether the
barn had ever formed one of a group of conventual buildings nobody seemed to
be aware; no trace of such surroundings remained. The vast porches at the
sides, lofty enough to admit a waggon laden to its highest with corn in the sheaf,
were spanned by heavy-pointed arches of stone, broadly and boldly cut, whose
very simplicity was the origin of a grandeur not apparent in erections where more
ornament has been attempted. The dusky, filmed, chestnut roof, braced and tied
in by huge collars, curves, and diagonals, was far nobler in design, because
more wealthy in material, than nine-tenths of those in our modern churches.
Along each side wall was a range of striding buttresses, throwing deep shadows
on the spaces between them, which were perforated by lancet openings,
combining in their proportions the precise requirements both of beauty and
ventilation.
 
 
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