Far from the Madding Crowd HTML version

8. The Malthouse -- The Chat – News
WARREN'S Malthouse was enclosed by an old wall inwrapped with ivy, and
though not much of the exterior was visible at this hour, the character and
purposes of the building were clearly enough shown by its outline upon the sky.
From the walls an overhanging thatched roof sloped up to a point in the centre,
upon which rose a small wooden lantern, fitted with louvre-boards on all the four
sides, and from these openings a mist was dimly perceived to be escaping into
the night air. There was no window in front; but a square hole in the door was
glazed with a single pane, through which red, comfortable rays now stretched out
upon the ivied wall in front. Voices were to be heard inside.
Oak's hand skimmed the surface of the door with fingers extended to an Elymas-
the-Sorcerer pattern, till he found a leathern strap, which he pulled. This lifted a
wooden latch, and the door swung open.
The room inside was lighted only by the, ruddy glow from the kiln mouth, which
shone over the floor with the streaming, horizontality of the setting sun, and threw
upwards the shadows of all facial irregularities in those assembled around. The
stone-flag floor was worn into a path from the doorway to the kiln, and into
undulations everywhere. A curved settle of unplaned oak stretched along one
side, and in a remote corner was a small bed and bedstead, the owner and
frequent occupier of which was the maltster.
This aged man was now sitting opposite the fire, his frosty white hair and beard
overgrowing his gnarled figure like the grey moss and lichen upon a leafless
apple-tree. He wore breeches and the laced-up shoes called ankle-jacks; he kept
his eyes fixed upon the fire.
Gabriel's nose was greeted by an atmosphere laden with the sweet smell of new
malt. The conversation (which seemed to have been concerning the origin of the
fire) immediately ceased, and every one ocularly criticised him to the degree
expressed by contracting the flesh of their foreheads and looking at him with
narrowed eyelids, as if he had been a light too strong for their sight. Several
exclaimed meditatively, after this operation had been completed: --
"Oh, 'tis the new shepherd, 'a b'lieve."
"We thought we heard a hand pawing about the door for the bobbin, but weren't
sure 'twere not a dead leaf blowed across," said another. "Come in, shepherd;
sure ye be welcome, though we don't know yer name."
"Gabriel Oak, that's my name, neighbours."
The ancient maltster sitting in the midst turned up this -- his turning being as the
turning of a rusty crane.
"That's never Gable Oak's grandson over at Norcombe -- never!" he said, as a
formula expressive of surprise, which nobody was supposed for a moment to
take literally.
"My father and my grandfather were old men of the name of Gabriel," said the
shepherd, placidly.
"Thought I knowed the man's face as I seed him on the rick! -- thought I did! And
where be ye trading o't to now, shepherd?"