Far from the Madding Crowd HTML version

6. The Fair -- The Journey -- The Fire
TWO months passed away. We are brought on to a day in February, on which
was held the yearly statute or hiring fair in the county-town of Casterbridge.
At one end of the street stood from two to three hundred blithe and hearty
labourers waiting upon Chance -- all men of the stamp to whom labour suggests
nothing worse than a wrestle with gravitation, and pleasure nothing better than a
renunciation of the same. Among these, carters and waggoners were
distinguished by having a piece of whip-cord twisted round their hats; thatchers
wore a fragment of woven straw; shepherds held their sheep-crooks in their
hands; and thus the situation required was known to the hirers at a glance.
In the crowd was an athletic young fellow of some-what superior appearance to
the rest -- in fact, his superiority was marked enough to lead several ruddy
peasants standing by to speak to him inquiringly, as to a farmer, and to use 'Sir'
as a finishing word. His answer always was, --
"I am looking for a place myself -- a bailiff's. Do ye know of anybody who wants
Gabriel was paler now. His eyes were more meditative, and his expression was
more sad. He had passed through an ordeal of wretchedness which had given
him more than it had taken away. He had sunk from his modest elevation as
pastoral king into the very slime-pits of Siddim; but there was left to him a
dignified calm he had never before known, and that indifference to fate which,
though it often makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does
not. And thus the abasement had been exaltation, and the loss gain.
In the morning a regiment of cavalry had left the town, and a sergeant and his
party had been beating up for recruits through the four streets. As the end of the
day drew on, and he found himself not hired, Gabriel almost wished that he had
joined them, and gone off to serve his country. Weary of standing in the market-
place, and not much minding the kind of work he turned his hand to, he decided
to offer himself in some other capacity than that of bailiff.
All the farmers seemed to be wanting shepherds. Sheep- tending was Gabriel's
speciality. Turning down an obscure street and entering an obscurer lane, he
went up to a smith's shop.
"How long would it take you to make a shepherd's crook?"
"Twenty minutes."
"How much?"
"Two shillings."
He sat on a bench and the crook was made, a stem being given him into the
He then went to a ready-made clothes' shop, the owner of which had a large rural
connection. As the crook had absorbed most of Gabriel's money, he attempted,
and carried out, an exchange of his overcoat for a shepherd's regulation smock-
This transaction having been completed, he again hurried off to the centre of the
town, and stood on the kerb of the pavement, as a shepherd, crook in hand.