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Far from the Madding Crowd

15.
A Morning Meeting -- The Letter Again
THE scarlet and orange light outside the malthouse did not penetrate to its
interior, which was, as usual, lighted by a rival glow of similar hue, radiating from
the hearth.
The maltster, after having lain down in his clothes for a few hours, was now
sitting beside a three-legged table, breakfasting of bread and bacon. This was
eaten on the plateless system, which is performed by placing a slice of bread
upon the table, the meat flat upon the bread, a mustard plaster upon the meat,
and a pinch of salt upon the whole, then cutting them vertically downwards with a
large pocket-knife till wood is reached, when the severed lamp is impaled on the
knife, elevated, and sent the proper way of food.
The maltster's lack of teeth appeared not to sensibly diminish his powers as a
mill. He had been without them for so many years that toothlessness was felt
less to be a defect than hard gums an acquisition. Indeed, he seemed to
approach the grave as a hyperbolic curve approaches a straight line -- less
directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all.
In the ashpit was a heap of potatoes roasting, and a boiling pipkin of charred
bread, called "coffee." for the benefit of whomsoever should call, for Warren's
was a sort of clubhouse, used as an alternative to the inn.
"I say, says I, we get a fine day, and then down comes a snapper at night," was a
remark now suddenly heard spreading into the malthouse from the door, which
had been opened the previous moment. The form of Henery Fray advanced to
the fire, stamping the snow from his boots when about half-way there. The
speech and entry had not seemed to be at all an abrupt beginning to the
maltster, introductory matter being often omitted in this neighbourhood, both from
word and deed, and the maltster having the same latitude allowed him, did not
hurry to reply. He picked up a fragment of cheese, by pecking upon it with his
knife, as a butcher picks up skewers.
Henery appeared in a drab kerseymere great-coat, buttoned over his smock-
frock, the white skirts of the latter being visible to the distance of about a foot
below the coat- tails, which, when you got used to the style of dress, looked
natural enough, and even ornamental -- it certainly was comfortable.
Matthew Moon, Joseph Poorgrass, and other carters and waggoners followed at
his heels, with great lanterns dangling from their hands, which showed that they
had just come from the cart-horse stables, where they had been busily engaged
since four o'clock that morning.
"And how is she getting on without a baily?" the maltster inquired. Henery shook
his head, and smiled one of the bitter smiles, dragging all the flesh of his
forehead into a corrugated heap in the centre.
"She'll rue it -- surely, surely!" he said "Benjy Pennyways were not a true man or
an honest baily -- as big a betrayer as Judas Iscariot himself. But to think she can
carr' on alone!" He allowed his head to swing laterally three or four times in
silence. "Never in all my creeping up -- never!"
 
 
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