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Far from the Madding Crowd

32.
Night -- Horses Tramping
THE village of Weatherbury was quiet as the graveyard in its midst, and the living
were lying well-nigh as still as the dead. The church clock struck eleven. The air
was so empty of other sounds that the whirr of the clock-work immediately before
the strokes was distinct, and so was also the click of the same at their close. The
notes flew forth with the usual blind obtuseness of inanimate things -- flapping
and rebounding among walls, undulating against the scattered clouds, spreading
through their interstices into unexplored miles of space.
Bathsheba's crannied and mouldy halls were to-night occupied only by Maryann,
Liddy being, as was stated, with her sister, whom Bathsheba had set out to visit.
A few minutes after eleven had struck, Maryann turned in her bed with a sense of
being disturbed. She was totally unconscious of the nature of the interruption to
her sleep. It led to a dream, and the dream to an awakening, with an uneasy
sensation that something had happened. She left her bed and looked out of the
window. The paddock abutted on this end of the building, and in the paddock she
could just discern by the uncertain gray a moving figure approaching the horse
that was feeding there. The figure seized the horse by the forelock, and led it to
the corner of the field. Here she could see some object which circumstances
proved to be a vehicle, for after a few minutes spent apparently in harnessing,
she heard the trot of the horse down the road, mingled with the sound of light
wheels.
Two varieties only of humanity could have entered the paddock with the ghostlike
glide of that mysterious figure. They were a woman and a gipsy man. A woman
was out of the question in such an occupation at this hour, and the comer could
be no less than a thief, who might probably have known the weakness of the
household on this particular night, and have chosen it on that account for his
daring attempt. Moreover, to raise suspicion to conviction itself, there were
gipsies in Weatherbury Bottom.
Maryann, who had been afraid to shout in the robber's presence, having seen
him depart had no fear. She hastily slipped on her clothes, stumped down the
disjointed staircase with its hundred creaks, ran to Coggan's, the nearest house,
and raised an alarm. Coggan called Gabriel, who now again lodged in his house
as at first, and together they went to the paddock. Beyond all doubt the horse
was gone.
"Hark!" said Gabriel.
They listened. Distinct upon the stagnant air came the sounds of a trotting horse
passing up Longpuddle Lane -- just beyond the gipsies' encampment in
Weatherbury Bottom.
"That's our Dainty -- I'll swear to her step," said Jan.
"Mighty me! Won't mis'ess storm and call us stupids wen she comes back!"
moaned Maryann. "How I wish it had happened when she was at home, and
none of us had been answerable!"
"We must ride after," said Gabriel, decisively. "I'll be responsible to Miss
Everdene for what we do. Yes, we'll follow."
 
 
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