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Far from the Madding Crowd

12.
Farmers -- A Rule -- In Exception
THE first public evidence of Bathsheba's decision to be a farmer in her own
person and by proxy no more was her appearance the following market-day in
the cornmarket at Casterbridge.
The low though extensive hall, supported by beams and pillars, and latterly
dignified by the name of Corn Exchange, was thronged with hot men who talked
among each other in twos and threes, the speaker of the minute looking
sideways into his auditor's face and concentrating his argument by a contraction
of one eyelid during delivery. The greater number carried in their hands ground-
ash saplings, using them partly as walking-sticks and partly for poking up pigs,
sheep, neighbours with their backs turned, and restful things in general, which
seemed to require such treatment in the course of their peregrinations. During
conversations each subjected his sapling to great varieties of usage -- bending it
round his back, forming an arch of it between his two hands, overweighting it on
the ground till it reached nearly a semicircle; or perhaps it was hastily tucked
under the arm whilst the sample-bag was pulled forth and a handful of corn
poured into the palm, which, after criticism, was flung upon the floor, an issue of
events perfectly well known to half-a-dozen acute town-bred fowls which had as
usual crept into the building unobserved, and waited the fulfilment of their
anticipations with a high- stretched neck and oblique eye.
Among these heavy yeomen a feminine figure glided, the single one of her sex
that the room contained. She was prettily and even daintily dressed. She moved
between them as a chaise between carts, was heard after them as a romance
after sermons, was felt among them like a breeze among furnaces. It had
required a little determination -- far more than she had at first imagined -- to take
up a position here, for at her first entry the lumbering dialogues had ceased,
nearly every face had been turned towards her, and those that were already
turned rigidly fixed there.
Two or three only of the farmers were personally known to Bathsheba, and to
these she had made her way. But if she was to be the practical woman she had
intended to show herself, business must be carried on, introductions or none,
and she ultimately acquired confidence enough to speak and reply boldly to men
merely known to her by hearsay. Bathsheba too had her sample-bags, and by
degrees adopted the professional pour into the hand -- holding up the grains in
her narrow palm for inspection, in perfect Casterbridge manner.
Something in the exact arch of her upper unbroken row of teeth, and in the
keenly pointed corners of her red mouth when, with parted lips, she somewhat
defiantly turned up her face to argue a point with a tall man, suggested that there
was potentiality enough in that lithe slip of humanity for alarming exploits of sex,
and daring enough to carry them out. But her eyes had a softness -- invariably a
softness -- which, had they not been dark, would have seemed mistiness; as they
were, it lowered an expression that might have been piercing to simple
clearness.
 
 
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