The only superiority in women that is tolerable to the rival sex
is, as a rule, that of the unconscious kind; but a superiority
which recognizes itself may sometimes please by suggesting
possibilities of capture to the subordinated man.
This well-favoured and comely girl soon made appreciable inroads
upon the emotional constitution of young Farmer Oak.
Love, being an extremely exacting usurer (a sense of exorbitant
profit, spiritually, by an exchange of hearts, being at the bottom
of pure passions, as that of exorbitant profit, bodily or
materially, is at the bottom of those of lower atmosphere), every
morning Oak's feelings were as sensitive as the money-market in
calculations upon his chances. His dog waited for his meals in a
way so like that in which Oak waited for the girl's presence, that
the farmer was quite struck with the resemblance, felt it lowering,
and would not look at the dog. However, he continued to watch
through the hedge for her regular coming, and thus his sentiments
towards her were deepened without any corresponding effect being
produced upon herself. Oak had nothing finished and ready to say as
yet, and not being able to frame love phrases which end where they
begin; passionate tales—
—Full of sound and
he said no word at all.
By making inquiries he found that the girl's name was Bathsheba
Everdene, and that the cow would go dry in about seven days. He
dreaded the eighth day.
At last the eighth day came. The cow had ceased to give milk for
that year, and Bathsheba Everdene came up the hill no more. Gabriel
had reached a pitch of existence he never could have anticipated a
short time before. He liked saying "Bathsheba" as a private
enjoyment instead of whistling; turned over his taste to black
hair, though he had sworn by brown ever since he was a boy,
isolated himself till the space he filled in the public eye was
contemptibly small. Love is a possible strength in an actual
weakness. Marriage transforms a distraction into a support, the
power of which should be, and happily often is, in direct
proportion to the degree of imbecility it supplants. Oak began now
to see light in this direction, and said to himself, "I'll make her
my wife, or upon my soul I shall be good for nothing!"
All this while he was perplexing himself about an errand on
which he might consistently visit the cottage of Bathsheba's
He found his opportunity in the death of a ewe, mother of a
living lamb. On a day which had a summer face and a winter
constitution—a fine January morning, when there was just enough
blue sky visible to make cheerfully-disposed people wish for more,
and an occasional gleam of silvery sunshine, Oak put the lamb into
a respectable Sunday basket, and stalked across the fields to the
house of Mrs. Hurst, the aunt—George, the dog walking behind, with
a countenance of great concern at the serious turn pastoral affairs
seemed to be taking.
Gabriel had watched the blue wood-smoke curling from the chimney
with strange meditation. At evening he had fancifully traced it
down the chimney to the spot of its origin—seen the hearth and
Bathsheba beside it—beside it in her out-door dress; for the
clothes she had worn on the hill were by association equally with
her person included in the compass of his affection; they seemed at
this early time of his love a necessary ingredient of the sweet
mixture called Bathsheba Everdene.
He had made a toilet of a nicely-adjusted kind—of a nature
between the carefully neat and the carelessly ornate—of a degree
between fine-market-day and wet-Sunday selection. He thoroughly
cleaned his silver watch-chain with whiting, put new lacing straps
to his boots, looked to the brass eyelet-holes, went to the inmost
heart of the plantation for a new walking-stick, and trimmed it
vigorously on his way back; took a new handkerchief from the bottom
of his clothes-box, put on the light waistcoat patterned all over
with sprigs of an elegant flower uniting the beauties of both rose
and lily without the defects of either, and used all the hair-oil
he possessed upon his usually dry, sandy, and inextricably curly
hair, till he had deepened it to a splendidly novel colour, between
that of guano and Roman cement, making it stick to his head like
mace round a nutmeg, or wet seaweed round a boulder after the
Nothing disturbed the stillness of the cottage save the chatter
of a knot of sparrows on the eaves; one might fancy scandal and
rumour to be no less the staple topic of these little coteries on
roofs than of those under them. It seemed that the omen was an
unpropitious one, for, as the rather untoward commencement of Oak's
overtures, just as he arrived by the garden gate, he saw a cat
inside, going into various arched shapes and fiendish convulsions
at the sight of his dog George. The dog took no notice, for he had
arrived at an age at which all superfluous barking was cynically
avoided as a waste of breath—in fact, he never barked even at the
sheep except to order, when it was done with an absolutely neutral
countenance, as a sort of Commination-service, which, though
offensive, had to be gone through once now and then to frighten the
flock for their own good.
A voice came from behind some laurel-bushes into which the cat
"Poor dear! Did a nasty brute of a dog want to kill it;—did he,
"I beg your pardon," said Oak to the voice, "but George was
walking on behind me with a temper as mild as milk."
Almost before he had ceased speaking, Oak was seized with a
misgiving as to whose ear was the recipient of his answer. Nobody
appeared, and he heard the person retreat among the bushes.
Gabriel meditated, and so deeply that he brought small furrows
into his forehead by sheer force of reverie. Where the issue of an
interview is as likely to be a vast change for the worse as for the
better, any initial difference from expectation causes nipping
sensations of failure. Oak went up to the door a little abashed:
his mental rehearsal and the reality had had no common grounds of
Bathsheba's aunt was indoors. "Will you tell Miss Everdene that
somebody would be glad to speak to her?" said Mr. Oak. (Calling
one's self merely Somebody, without giving a name, is not to be
taken as an example of the ill-breeding of the rural world: it
springs from a refined modesty, of which townspeople, with their
cards and announcements, have no notion whatever.)
Bathsheba was out. The voice had evidently been hers.
"Will you come in, Mr. Oak?"
"Oh, thank 'ee," said Gabriel, following her to the fireplace.
"I've brought a lamb for Miss Everdene. I thought she might like
one to rear; girls do."
"She might," said Mrs. Hurst, musingly; "though she's only a
visitor here. If you will wait a minute, Bathsheba will be in."
"Yes, I will wait," said Gabriel, sitting down. "The lamb isn't
really the business I came about, Mrs. Hurst. In short, I was going
to ask her if she'd like to be married."
"And were you indeed?"
"Yes. Because if she would, I should be very glad to marry her.
D'ye know if she's got any other young man hanging about her at
"Let me think," said Mrs. Hurst, poking the fire superfluously…
"Yes—bless you, ever so many young men. You see, Farmer Oak, she's
so good-looking, and an excellent scholar besides—she was going to
be a governess once, you know, only she was too wild. Not that her
young men ever come here—but, Lord, in the nature of women, she
must have a dozen!"
"That's unfortunate," said Farmer Oak, contemplating a crack in
the stone floor with sorrow. "I'm only an every-day sort of man,
and my only chance was in being the first comer … Well, there's no
use in my waiting, for that was all I came about: so I'll take
myself off home-along, Mrs. Hurst."
When Gabriel had gone about two hundred yards along the down, he
heard a "hoi-hoi!" uttered behind him, in a piping note of more
treble quality than that in which the exclamation usually embodies
itself when shouted across a field. He looked round, and saw a girl
racing after him, waving a white handkerchief.
Oak stood still—and the runner drew nearer. It was Bathsheba
Everdene. Gabriel's colour deepened: hers was already deep, not, as
it appeared, from emotion, but from running.
"Farmer Oak—I—" she said, pausing for want of breath pulling up
in front of him with a slanted face and putting her hand to her
"I have just called to see you," said Gabriel, pending her
"Yes—I know that," she said panting like a robin, her face red
and moist from her exertions, like a peony petal before the sun
dries off the dew. "I didn't know you had come to ask to have me,
or I should have come in from the garden instantly. I ran after you
to say—that my aunt made a mistake in sending you away from
Gabriel expanded. "I'm sorry to have made you run so fast, my
dear," he said, with a grateful sense of favours to come. "Wait a
bit till you've found your breath."
"—It was quite a mistake—aunt's telling you I had a young man
already," Bathsheba went on. "I haven't a sweetheart at all—and I
never had one, and I thought that, as times go with women, it
was such a pity to send you away thinking that I
"Really and truly I am glad to hear that!" said Farmer Oak,
smiling one of his long special smiles, and blushing with gladness.
He held out his hand to take hers, which, when she had eased her
side by pressing it there, was prettily extended upon her bosom to
still her loud-beating heart. Directly he seized it she put it
behind her, so that it slipped through his fingers like an
"I have a nice snug little farm," said Gabriel, with half a
degree less assurance than when he had seized her hand.
"Yes; you have."
"A man has advanced me money to begin with, but still, it will
soon be paid off, and though I am only an every-day sort of man, I
have got on a little since I was a boy." Gabriel uttered "a little"
in a tone to show her that it was the complacent form of "a great
deal." He continued: "When we be married, I am quite sure I can
work twice as hard as I do now."
He went forward and stretched out his arm again. Bathsheba had
overtaken him at a point beside which stood a low stunted holly
bush, now laden with red berries. Seeing his advance take the form
of an attitude threatening a possible enclosure, if not
compression, of her person, she edged off round the bush.
"Why, Farmer Oak," she said, over the top, looking at him with
rounded eyes, "I never said I was going to marry you."
"Well—that is a tale!" said Oak, with dismay.
"To run after anybody like this, and then say you don't want
"What I meant to tell you was only this," she said eagerly, and
yet half conscious of the absurdity of the position she had made
for herself—"that nobody has got me yet as a sweetheart, instead of
my having a dozen, as my aunt said; I hate to be
thought men's property in that way, though possibly I shall be had
some day. Why, if I'd wanted you I shouldn't have run after you
like this; 'twould have been the forwardestthing! But
there was no harm in hurrying to correct a piece of false news that
had been told you."
"Oh, no—no harm at all." But there is such a thing as being too
generous in expressing a judgment impulsively, and Oak added with a
more appreciative sense of all the circumstances—"Well, I am not
quite certain it was no harm."
"Indeed, I hadn't time to think before starting whether I wanted
to marry or not, for you'd have been gone over the hill."
"Come," said Gabriel, freshening again; "think a minute or two.
I'll wait a while, Miss Everdene. Will you marry me? Do, Bathsheba.
I love you far more than common!"
"I'll try to think," she observed, rather more timorously; "if I
can think out of doors; my mind spreads away so."
"But you can give a guess."
"Then give me time." Bathsheba looked thoughtfully into the
distance, away from the direction in which Gabriel stood.
"I can make you happy," said he to the back of her head, across
the bush. "You shall have a piano in a year or two—farmers' wives
are getting to have pianos now—and I'll practise up the flute right
well to play with you in the evenings."
"Yes; I should like that."
"And have one of those little ten-pound gigs for market—and nice
flowers, and birds—cocks and hens I mean, because they be useful,"
continued Gabriel, feeling balanced between poetry and
"I should like it very much."
"And a frame for cucumbers—like a gentleman and lady."
"And when the wedding was over, we'd have it put in the
newspaper list of marriages."
"Dearly I should like that!"
"And the babies in the births—every man jack of 'em! And at home
by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be—and whenever I
look up there will be you."
"Wait, wait, and don't be improper!"
Her countenance fell, and she was silent awhile. He regarded the
red berries between them over and over again, to such an extent,
that holly seemed in his after life to be a cypher signifying a
proposal of marriage. Bathsheba decisively turned to him.
"No; 'tis no use," she said. "I don't want to marry you."
"I have tried hard all the time I've been thinking; for a
marriage would be very nice in one sense. People would talk about
me, and think I had won my battle, and I should feel triumphant,
and all that, But a husband—"
"Why, he'd always be there, as you say; whenever I looked up,
there he'd be."
"Of course he would—I, that is."
"Well, what I mean is that I shouldn't mind being a bride at a
wedding, if I could be one without having a husband. But since a
woman can't show off in that way by herself, I shan't marry—at
"That's a terrible wooden story!"
At this criticism of her statement Bathsheba made an addition to
her dignity by a slight sweep away from him.
"Upon my heart and soul, I don't know what a maid can say
stupider than that," said Oak. "But dearest," he continued in a
palliative voice, "don't be like it!" Oak sighed a deep honest
sigh—none the less so in that, being like the sigh of a pine
plantation, it was rather noticeable as a disturbance of the
atmosphere. "Why won't you have me?" he appealed, creeping round
the holly to reach her side.
"I cannot," she said, retreating.
"But why?" he persisted, standing still at last in despair of
ever reaching her, and facing over the bush.
"Because I don't love you."
She contracted a yawn to an inoffensive smallness, so that it
was hardly ill-mannered at all. "I don't love you," she said.
"But I love you—and, as for myself, I am content to be
"Oh Mr. Oak—that's very fine! You'd get to despise me."
"Never," said Mr Oak, so earnestly that he seemed to be coming,
by the force of his words, straight through the bush and into her
arms. "I shall do one thing in this life—one thing certain—that is,
love you, and long for you, and keep wanting
you till I die." His voice had a genuine pathos now, and
his large brown hands perceptibly trembled.
"It seems dreadfully wrong not to have you when you feel so
much!" she said with a little distress, and looking hopelessly
around for some means of escape from her moral dilemma. "How I wish
I hadn't run after you!" However she seemed to have a short cut for
getting back to cheerfulness, and set her face to signify archness.
"It wouldn't do, Mr Oak. I want somebody to tame me; I am too
independent; and you would never be able to, I know."
Oak cast his eyes down the field in a way implying that it was
useless to attempt argument.
"Mr. Oak," she said, with luminous distinctness and common
sense, "you are better off than I. I have hardly a penny in the
world—I am staying with my aunt for my bare sustenance. I am better
educated than you—and I don't love you a bit: that's my side of the
case. Now yours: you are a farmer just beginning; and you ought in
common prudence, if you marry at all (which you should certainly
not think of doing at present), to marry a woman with money, who
would stock a larger farm for you than you have now."
Gabriel looked at her with a little surprise and much
"That's the very thing I had been thinking myself!" he naively
Farmer Oak had one-and-a-half Christian characteristics too many
to succeed with Bathsheba: his humility, and a superfluous moiety
of honesty. Bathsheba was decidedly disconcerted.
"Well, then, why did you come and disturb me?" she said, almost
angrily, if not quite, an enlarging red spot rising in each
"I can't do what I think would be—would be—"
"You have made an admission now, Mr. Oak," she
exclaimed, with even more hauteur, and rocking her head
disdainfully. "After that, do you think I could marry you? Not if I
He broke in passionately. "But don't mistake me like that!
Because I am open enough to own what every man in my shoes would
have thought of, you make your colours come up your face, and get
crabbed with me. That about your not being good enough for me is
nonsense. You speak like a lady—all the parish notice it, and your
uncle at Weatherbury is, I have heerd, a large farmer—much larger
than ever I shall be. May I call in the evening, or will you walk
along with me o' Sundays? I don't want you to make-up your mind at
once, if you'd rather not."
"No—no—I cannot. Don't press me any more—don't. I don't love
you—so 'twould be ridiculous," she said, with a laugh.
No man likes to see his emotions the sport of a merry-go-round
of skittishness. "Very well," said Oak, firmly, with the bearing of
one who was going to give his days and nights to Ecclesiastes for
ever. "Then I'll ask you no more."