Far from the Madding Crowd
Outside the Barracks -- Snow -- A Meeting
FOR dreariness nothing could surpass a prospect in the outskirts of a certain
town and military station, many miles north of Weatherbury, at a later hour on this
same snowy evening -- if that may be called a prospect of which the chief
constituent was darkness.
It was a night when sorrow may come to the brightest without causing any great
sense of incongruity: when, with impressible persons, love becomes
solicitousness, hope sinks to misgiving, and faith to hope: when the exercise of
memory does not stir feelings of regret at opportunities for ambition that have
been passed by, and anticipation does not prompt to enterprise.
The scene was a public path, bordered on the left hand by a river, behind which
rose a high wall. On the right was a tract of land, partly meadow and partly moor,
reaching, at its remote verge, to a wide undulating uplan.
The changes of the seasons are less obtrusive on spots of this kind than amid
woodland scenery. Still, to a close observer, they are just as perceptible; the
difference is that their media of manifestation are less trite and familiar than such
well-known ones as the bursting of the buds or the fall of the leaf. Many are not
so stealthy and gradual as we may be apt to imagine in considering the general
torpidity of a moor or waste. Winter, in coming to the country hereabout,
advanced in well-marked stages, wherein might have been successively
observed the retreat of the snakes, the transformation of the ferns, the filling of
the pools, a rising of fogs, the embrowning by frost, the collapse of the fungi, and
an obliteration by snow.
This climax of the series had been reached to-night on the aforesaid moor, and
for the first time in the season its irregularities were forms without features;
suggestive of anything, proclaiming nothing, and without more character than
that of being the limit of something else -- the lowest layer of a firmament of
snow. From this chaotic skyful of crowding flakes the mead and moor
momentarily received additional clothing, only to appear momentarily more naked
thereby. The vast arch of cloud above was strangely low, and formed as it were
the roof of a large dark cavern, gradually sinking in upon its floor; for the
instinctive thought was that the snow lining the heavens and that encrusting the
earth would soon unite into one mass without any intervening stratum of air at all.
We turn our attention to the left-hand characteristics; which were flatness in
respect of the river, verticality in respect of the wall behind it, and darkness as to
both. These features made up the mass. If anything could be darker than the sky,
it was the wall, and if any thing could be gloomier than the wall it was the river
beneath. The indistinct summit of the facade was notched and pronged by
chimneys here and there, and upon its face were faintly signified the oblong
shapes of windows, though only in the upper part. Below, down to the water's
edge, the flat was unbroken by hole or projection.
An indescribable succession of dull blows, perplexing in their regularity, sent their
sound with difficulty through the fluffy atmosphere. It was a neighbouring clock