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Far from the Madding Crowd

24.
The Same Night -- The Fir Plantation
AMONG the multifarious duties which Bathsheba had voluntarily imposed upon
herself by dispensing with the services of a bailiff, was the particular one of
looking round the homestead before going to bed, to see that all was right and
safe for the night. Gabriel had almost constantly preceded her in this tour every
evening, watching her affairs as carefully as any specially appointed officer of
surveillance could have done; but this tender devotion was to a great extent
unknown to his mistress, and as much as was known was somewhat thanklessly
received. Women are never tired of bewailing man's fickleness in love, but they
only seem to snub his constancy.
As watching is best done invisibly, she usually carried a dark lantern in her hand,
and every now and then turned on the light to examine nooks and corners with
the coolness of a metropolitan policeman. This coolness may have owed its
existence not so much to her fearlessness of expected danger as to her freedom
from the suspicion of any; her worst anticipated discovery being that a horse
might not be well bedded, the fowls not all in, or a door not closed.
This night the buildings were inspected as usual, and she went round to the farm
paddock. Here the only sounds disturbing the stillness were steady munchings of
many mouths, and stentorian breathings from all but invisible noses, ending in
snores and puffs like the blowing of bellows slowly. Then the munching would
recommence, when the lively imagination might assist the eye to discern a group
of pink-white nostrils, shaped as caverns, and very clammy and humid on their
surfaces, not exactly pleasant to the touch until one got used to them; the mouths
beneath having a great partiality for closing upon any loose end of Bathsheba's
apparel which came within reach of their tongues. Above each of these a still
keener vision suggested a brown forehead and two staring though not unfriendly
eyes, and above all a pair of whitish crescent- shaped horns like two particularly
new moons, an occasional stolid "moo!" proclaiming beyond the shade of a doubt
that these phenomena were the features and persons of Daisy, Whitefoot,
Bonny-lass, Jolly-O, Spot, Twinkle-eye, etc., etc. -- the respectable dairy of
Devon cows belonging to Bathsheba aforesaid.
Her way back to the house was by a path through a young plantation of tapering
firs, which had been planted some years earlier to shelter the premises from the
north wind. By reason of the density of the interwoven foliage overhead, it was
gloomy there at cloudless noontide, twilight in the evening, dark as midnight at
dusk, and black as the ninth plague of Egypt at midnight. To describe the spot is
to call it a vast, low, naturally formed hall, the plumy ceiling of which was
supported by slender pillars of living wood, the floor being covered with a soft
dun carpet of dead spikelets and mildewed cones, with a tuft of grass-blades
here and there.
This bit of the path was always the crux of the night's ramble, though, before
starting, her apprehensions of danger were not vivid enough to lead her to take a
companion. Slipping along here covertly as Time, Bathsheba fancied she could
hear footsteps entering the track at the opposite end. It was certainly a rustle of
 
 
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