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Far from the Madding Crowd

36.
Wealth in Jeopardy -- The Revel
ONE night, at the end of August, when Bathsheba's experiences as a married
woman were still new, and when the weather was yet dry and sultry, a man stood
motionless in the stockyard of Weatherbury Upper Farm, looking at the moon
and sky.
The night had a sinister aspect. A heated breeze from the south slowly fanned
the summits of lofty objects, and in the sky dashes of buoyant cloud were sailing
in a course at right angles to that of another stratum, neither of them in the
direction of the breeze below. The moon, as seen through these films, had a lurid
metallic look. The fields were sallow with the impure light, and all were tinged in
monochrome, as if beheld through stained glass. The same evening the sheep
had trailed homeward head to tail, the behaviour of the rooks had been confused,
and the horses had moved with timidity and caution.
Thunder was imminent, and, taking some secondary appearances into
consideration, it was likely to be followed by one of the lengthened rains which
mark the close of dry weather for the season. Before twelve hours had passed a
harvest atmosphere would be a bygone thing.
Oak gazed with misgiving at eight naked and unprotected ricks, massive and
heavy with the rich produce of one-half the farm for that year. He went on to the
barn.
This was the night which had been selected by Sergeant Troy -- ruling now in the
room of his wife -- for giving the harvest supper and dance. As Oak approached
the building the sound of violins and a tambourine, and the regular jigging of
many feet, grew more distinct. He came close to the large doors, one of which
stood slightly ajar, and looked in.
The central space, together with the recess at one end, was emptied of all
incumbrances, and this area, covering about two-thirds of the whole, was
appropriated for the gathering, the remaining end, which was piled to the ceiling
with oats, being screened off with sail-cloth. Tufts and garlands of green foliage
decorated the walls, beams, and extemporized chandeliers, and immediately
opposite to Oak a rostrum had been erected, bearing a table and chairs. Here sat
three fiddlers, and beside them stood a frantic man with his hair on end,
perspiration streaming down his cheeks, and a tambourine quivering in his hand.
The dance ended, and on the black oak floor in the midst a new row of couples
formed for another.
"Now, ma'am, and no offence I hope, I ask what dance you would like next?" said
the first violin.
"Really, it makes no difference," said the clear voice of Bathsheba, who stood at
the inner end of the building, observing the scene from behind a table covered
with cups and viands. Troy was lolling beside her.
"Then," said the fiddler, "I'll venture to name that the right and proper thing is
"The Soldier's Joy" -- there being a gallant soldier married into the farm -- hey,
my sonnies, and gentlemen all?"
"It shall be "The Soldier's Joy," exclaimed a chorus.
 
 
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