Adam Bede HTML version

The history of the house is plain now. It was once the residence of a country
squire, whose family, probably dwindling down to mere spinsterhood, got merged
in the more territorial name of Donnithorne. It was once the Hall; it is now the Hall
Farm. Like the life in some coast town that was once a watering-place, and is
now a port, where the genteel streets are silent and grass-grown, and the docks
and warehouses busy and resonant, the life at the Hall has changed its focus,
and no longer radiates from the parlour, but from the kitchen and the farmyard.
Plenty of life there, though this is the drowsiest time of the year, just before hay-
harvest; and it is the drowsiest time of the day too, for it is close upon three by
the sun, and it is half- past three by Mrs. Poyser's handsome eight-day clock. But
there is always a stronger sense of life when the sun is brilliant after rain; and
now he is pouring down his beams, and making sparkles among the wet straw,
and lighting up every patch of vivid green moss on the red tiles of the cow-shed,
and turning even the muddy water that is hurrying along the channel to the drain
into a mirror for the yellow-billed ducks, who are seizing the opportunity of getting
a drink with as much body in it as possible. There is quite a concert of noises; the
great bull-dog, chained against the stables, is thrown into furious exasperation by
the unwary approach of a cock too near the mouth of his kennel, and sends forth
a thundering bark, which is answered by two fox- hounds shut up in the opposite
cow-house; the old top-knotted hens, scratching with their chicks among the
straw, set up a sympathetic croaking as the discomfited cock joins them; a sow
with her brood, all very muddy as to the legs, and curled as to the tail, throws in
some deep staccato notes; our friends the calves are bleating from the home
croft; and, under all, a fine ear discerns the continuous hum of human voices.
For the great barn-doors are thrown wide open, and men are busy there mending
the harness, under the superintendence of Mr. Goby, the "whittaw," otherwise
saddler, who entertains them with the latest Treddleston gossip. It is certainly
rather an unfortunate day that Alick, the shepherd, has chosen for having the
whittaws, since the morning turned out so wet; and Mrs. Poyser has spoken her
mind pretty strongly as to the dirt which the extra nurnber of men's shoes brought
into the house at dinnertime. Indeed, she has not yet recovered her equanimity
on the subject, though it is now nearly three hours since dinner, and the house-
floor is perfectly clean again; as clean as everything else in that wonderful house-
place, where the only chance of collecting a few grains of dust would be to climb
on the salt-coffer, and put your finger on the high mantel-shelf on which the
glittering brass candlesticks are enjoying their summer sinecure; for at this time
of year, of course, every one goes to bed while it is yet light, or at least light
enough to discern the outline of objects after you have bruised your shins against
them. Surely nowhere else could an oak clock-case and an oak table have got to
such a polish by the hand: genuine "elbow polish," as Mrs. Poyser called it, for
she thanked God she never had any of your varnished rubbish in her house.
Hetty Sorrel often took the opportunity, when her aunt's back was turned, of
looking at the pleasing reflection of herself in those polished surfaces, for the oak
table was usually turned up like a screen, and was more for ornament than for