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Far from the Madding Crowd

37.
The Storm -- The Two Together
A LIGHT flapped over the scene, as if reflected from phosphorescent wings
crossing the sky, and a rumble filled the air. It was the first move of the
approaching storm.
The second peal was noisy, with comparatively little visible lightning. Gabriel saw
a candle shining in Bathsheba's bedroom, and soon a shadow swept to and fro
upon the blind.
Then there came a third flash. Manoeuvres of a most extraordinary kind were
going on in the vast firmamental hollows overhead. The lightning now was the
colour of silver, and gleamed in the heavens like a mailed army. Rumbles
became rattles. Gabriel from his elevated position could see over the landscape
at least half-a-dozen miles in front. Every hedge, bush, and tree was distinct as in
a line engraving. In a paddock in the same direction was a herd of heifers, and
the forms of these were visible at this moment in the act of galloping about in the
wildest and maddest confusion, flinging their heels and tails high into the air, their
heads to earth. A poplar in the immediate fore-ground was like an ink stroke on
burnished tin. Then the picture vanished, leaving the darkness so intense that
Gabriel worked entirely by feeling with his hands.
He had stuck his ricking-rod, or poniard, as it was indifferently called -- a long
iron lance, polished by handling -- into the stack, used to support the sheaves
instead of the support called a groom used on houses. A blue light appeared in
the zenith, and in some indescribable manner flickered down near the top of the
rod. It was the fourth of the larger flashes. A moment later and there was a
smack -- smart, clear, and short, Gabriel felt his position to be anything but a safe
one, and he resolved to descend.
Not a drop of rain had fallen as yet. He wiped his weary brow, and looked again
at the black forms of the unprotected stacks. Was his life so valuable to him after
all? What were his prospects that he should be so chary of running risk, when
important and urgent labour could not be carried on without such risk? He
resolved to stick to the stack. However, he took a precaution. Under the staddles
was a long tethering chain, used to prevent the escape of errant horses. This he
carried up the ladder, and sticking his rod through the clog at one end, allowed
the other end of the chain to trail upon the ground The spike attached to it he
drove in. Under the shadow of this extemporized lightning conductor he felt
himself comparatively safe.
Before Oak had laid his hands upon his tools again out leapt the fifth flash, with
the spring of a serpent and the shout of a fiend. It was green as an emerald, and
the reverberation was stunning. What was this the light revealed to him? In the
open ground before him, as he looked over the ridge of the rick, was a dark and
apparently female form. Could it be that of the only venturesome woman in the
parish -- Bathsheba? The form moved on a step: then he could see no more.
"Is that you, ma'am?" said Gabriel to the darkness.
"Who is there?" said the voice of Bathsheba.
"Gabriel. I am on the rick, thatching."
 
 
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