Far from the Madding Crowd
The Hollow Amid the Ferns
THE hill opposite Bathsheba's dwelling extended, a mile off, into an uncultivated
tract of land, dotted at this season with tall thickets of brake fern, plump and
diaphanous from recent rapid growth, and radiant in hues of clear and untainted
At eight o'clock this midsummer evening, whilst the bristling ball of gold in the
west still swept the tips of the ferns with its long, luxuriant rays, a soft brushing-by
of garments might have been heard among them, and Bathsheba appeared in
their midst, their soft, feathery arms caressing her up to her shoulders. She
paused, turned, went back over the hill and half-way to her own door, whence
she cast a farewell glance upon the spot she had just left, having resolved not to
remain near the place after all.
She saw a dim spot of artificial red moving round the shoulder of the rise. It
disappeared on the other side.
She waited one minute -- two minutes -- thought of Troy's disappointment at her
non-fulfilment of a promised engagement, till she again ran along the field,
clambered over the bank, and followed the original direction. She was now
literally trembling and panting at this her temerity in such an errant undertaking;
her breath came and went quickly, and her eyes shone with an in-frequent light.
Yet go she must. She reached the verge of a pit in the middle of the ferns. Troy
stood in the bottom, looking up towards her.
"I heard you rustling through the fern before I saw you," he said, coming up and
giving her his hand to help her down the slope.
The pit was a saucer-shaped concave, naturally formed, with a top diameter of
about thirty feet, and shallow enough to allow the sunshine to reach their heads.
Standing in the centre, the sky overhead was met by a circular horizon of fern:
this grew nearly to the bottom of the slope and then abruptly ceased. The middle
within the belt of verdure was floored with a thick flossy carpet of moss and grass
intermingled, so yielding that the foot was half-buried within it.
"Now," said Troy, producing the sword, which, as he raised it into the sunlight,
gleamed a sort of greeting, like a living thing, "first, we have four right and four
left cuts; four right and four left thrusts. Infantry cuts and guards are more
interesting than ours, to my mind; but they are not so swashing. They have seven
cuts and three thrusts. So much as a preliminary. Well, next, our cut one is as if
you were sowing your corn -- so." Bathsheba saw a sort of rainbow, upside down
in the air, and Troy's arm was still again. "Cut two, as if you were hedging -- so.
Three, as if you were reaping -- so. Four, as if you were threshing -- in that way.
Then the same on the left. The thrusts are these: one, two, three, four, right; one,
two, three, four, left." He repeated them. "Have 'em again?" he said. "One, two ---
She hurriedly interrupted: "I'd rather not; though I don't mind your twos and fours;
but your ones and threes are terrible!"
"Very well. I'll let you off the ones and threes. Next, cuts, points and guards
altogether," Troy duly exhibited them. "Then there's pursuing practice, in this