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Far from the Madding Crowd

38.
Rain -- One Solitary Meets Another
IT was now five o'clock, and the dawn was promising to break in hues of drab
and ash.
The air changed its temperature and stirred itself more vigorously. Cool breezes
coursed in transparent eddies round Oak's face. The wind shifted yet a point or
two and blew stronger. In ten minutes every wind of heaven seemed to be
roaming at large. Some of the thatching on the wheat- stacks was now whirled
fantastically aloft, and had to be replaced and weighted with some rails that lay
near at hand. This done, Oak slaved away again at the barley. A huge drop of
rain smote his face, the wind snarled round every corner, the trees rocked to the
bases of their trunks, and the twigs clashed in strife. Driving in spars at any point
and on any system, inch by inch he covered more and more safely from ruin this
distracting impersonation of seven hundred pounds. The rain came on in earnest,
and Oak soon felt the water to be tracking cold and clammy routes down his
back. Ultimately he was reduced well-nigh to a homogeneous sop, and the dyes
of his clothes trickled down and stood in a pool at the foot of the ladder. The rain
stretched obliquely through the dull atmosphere in liquid spines, unbroken in
continuity between their beginnings in the clouds and their points in him.
Oak suddenly remembered that eight months before this time he had been
fighting against fire in the same spot as desperately as he was fighting against
water now -- and for a futile love of the same woman. As for her ---- But Oak was
generous and true, and dismissed his reflections.
It was about seven o'clock in the dark leaden morning when Gabriel came down
from the last stack, and thankfully exclaimed, "It is done!" He was drenched,
weary, and sad, and yet not so sad as drenched and weary, for he was cheered
by a sense of success in a good cause.
Faint sounds came from the barn, and he looked that way. Figures stepped
singly and in pairs through the doors -- all walking awkwardly, and abashed, save
the foremost, who wore a red jacket, and advanced with his hands in his pockets,
whistling. The others shambled after with a conscience- stricken air: the whole
procession was not unlike Flaxman's group of the suitors tottering on towards the
infernal regions under the conduct of Mercury. The gnarled shapes passed into
the village, Troy, their leader, entering the farmhouse. Not a single one of them
had turned his face to the ricks, or apparently bestowed one thought upon their
condition.
Soon Oak too went homeward, by a different route from theirs. In front of him
against the wet glazed surface of the lane he saw a person walking yet more
slowly than himself under an umbrella. The man turned and plainly started; he
was Boldwood.
"How are you this morning, sir?" said Oak.
"Yes, it is a wet day. -- Oh, I am well, very well, I thank you; quite well."
"I am glad to hear it, sir."
Boldwood seemed to awake to the present by degrees. "You look tired and ill,
Oak," he said then, desultorily regarding his companion.
 
 
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