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Far from the Madding Crowd

3. A Girl on Horseback – Conversation
THE sluggish day began to break. Even its position terrestrially is one of the
elements of a new interest, and for no particular reason save that the incident of
the night had occurred there Oak went again into the plantation. Lingering and
musing here, he heard the steps of a horse at the foot of the hill, and soon there
appeared in view an auburn pony with a girl on its back, ascending by the path
leading past the cattle-shed. She was the young woman of the night before.
Gabriel instantly thought of the hat she had mentioned as having lost in the wind;
possibly she had come to look for it. He hastily scanned the ditch and after
walking about ten yards along it found the hat among the leaves. Gabriel took it
in his hand and returned to his hut. Here he ensconced himself, and peeped
through the loophole in the direction of the rider's approach.
She came up and looked around -- then on the other side of the hedge. Gabriel
was about to advance and restore the missing article when an unexpected
performance induced him to suspend the action for the present. The path, after
passing the cowshed, bisected the plantation. It was not a bridle-path -- merely a
pedestrian's track, and the boughs spread horizontally at a height not greater
than seven feet above the ground, which made it impossible to ride erect
beneath them. The girl, who wore no riding-habit, looked around for a moment,
as if to assure herself that all humanity was out of view, then dexterously
dropped backwards flat upon the pony's back, her head over its tail, her feet
against its shoulders, and her eyes to the sky. The rapidity of her glide into this
position was that of a kingfisher -- its noiselessness that of a hawk. Gabriel's
eyes had scarcely been able to follow her. The tall lank pony seemed used to
such doings, and ambled along unconcerned. Thus she passed under the level
boughs.
The performer seemed quite at home anywhere between a horse's head and its
tail, and the necessity for this abnormal attitude having ceased with the passage
of the plantation, she began to adopt another, even more obviously convenient
than the first. She had no side-saddle, and it was very apparent that a firm seat
upon the smooth leather beneath her was unattainable sideways. Springing to
her accustomed perpendicular like a bowed sapling, and satisfying herself that
nobody was in sight, she seated herself in the manner demanded by the saddle,
though hardly expected of the woman, and trotted off in the direction of Tewnell
Mill.
Oak was amused, perhaps a little astonished, and hanging up the hat in his hut,
went again among his ewes. An hour passed, the girl returned, properly seated
now, with a bag of bran in front of her. On nearing the cattle-shed she was met
by a boy bringing a milking-pail, who held the reins of the pony whilst she slid off.
The boy led away the horse, leaving the pail with the young woman.
Soon soft spirts alternating with loud spirts came in regular succession from
within the shed, the obvious sounds of a person milking a cow. Gabriel took the
lost hat in his hand, and waited beside the path she would follow in leaving the
hill.
 
 
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