Far from the Madding Crowd
In the Sun -- A Harbinger
A WEEK passed, and there were no tidings of Bathsheba; nor was there any
explanation of her Gilpin's rig.
Then a note came for Maryann, stating that the business which had called her
mistress to Bath still detained her there; but that she hoped to return in the
course of another week.
Another week passed. The oat-harvest began, and all the men were a-field under
a monochromatic Lammas sky, amid the trembling air and short shadows of
noon. Indoors nothing was to be heard save the droning of blue-bottle flies; out-
of-doors the whetting of scythes and the hiss of tressy oat- ears rubbing together
as their perpendicular stalks of amber-yellow fell heavily to each swath. Every
drop of moisture not in the men's bottles and flagons in the form of cider was
raining as perspiration from their foreheads and cheeks. Drought was
They were about to withdraw for a while into the charitable shade of a tree in the
fence, when Coggan saw a figure in a blue coat and brass buttons running to
them across the field.
"I wonder who that is?" he said.
"I hope nothing is wrong about mistress," said Maryann, who with some other
women was tying the bundles (oats being always sheafed on this farm), "but an
unlucky token came to me indoors this morning. I went to unlock the door and
dropped the key, and it fell upon the stone floor and broke into two pieces.
Breaking a key is a dreadful bodement. I wish mis'ess was home."
"'Tis Cain Ball," said Gabriel, pausing from whetting his reaphook.
Oak was not bound by his agreement to assist in the corn- field; but the harvest
month is an anxious time for a farmer, and the corn was Bathsheba's, so he lent
"He's dressed up in his best clothes," said Matthew Moon. "He hev been away
from home for a few days, since he's had that felon upon his finger; for 'a said,
since I can't work I'll have a hollerday."
"A good time for one -- a' excellent time," said Joseph Poorgrass, straightening
his back; for he, like some of the others, had a way of resting a while from his
labour on such hot days for reasons preternaturally small; of which Cain Ball's
advent on a week-day in his Sunday-clothes was one of the first magnitude.
"Twas a bad leg allowed me to read the PILGRIM'S PROGRESS, and Mark
Clark learnt All-Fours in a whitlow."
"Ay, and my father put his arm out of joint to have time to go courting," said Jan
Coggan, in an eclipsing tone, wiping his face with his shirt-sleeve and thrusting
back his hat upon the nape of his neck.
By this time Cainy was nearing the group of harvesters, and was perceived to be
carrying a large slice of bread and ham in one hand, from which he took
mouthfuls as he ran, the other being wrapped in a bandage. When he came
close, his mouth assumed the bell shape, and he began to cough violently.