Mistress and Men

Half-an-hour later Bathsheba, in finished dress, and followed by Liddy, entered the upper end of the old hall to find that her men had all deposited themselves on a long form and a settle at the lower extremity. She sat down at a table and opened the time-book, pen in her hand, with a canvas money-bag beside her. From this she poured a small heap of coin. Liddy chose a position at her elbow and began to sew, sometimes pausing and looking round, or, with the air of a privileged person, taking up one of the half- sovereigns lying before her, and surveying it merely as a work of art, while strictly preventing her countenance from expressing any wish to possess it as money.

`Now, before I begin, men,' said Bathsheba, `I have two matters to speak of. The first is that the dismissed for thieving, and that I have formed a resolution to have no bailiff at all, but to manage everything with my own head and hands.'

The men breathed an audible breath of amazement.

`The next matter is, have you heard anything of Fanny?'

`Nothing, ma'am.'

`Have you done anything?'

`I met Farmer Boldwood,' said Jacob Smallbury, `and I went with him and two of his men, and dragged Newmill Pond, but we found nothing.'

`And the new shepherd have been to Buck's Head, by Yalbury, thinking she had gone there, but nobody had seed her,' said Laban Tall.

`Hasn't William Smallbury been to Casterbridge?'

`Yes, ma'am, but he's not yet come home. He promised to be back by six.'

`It wants a quarter to six at present,' said Bathsheba, looking at her watch. `I daresay he'll be in directly. Well, now then' - she looked into the book - `Joseph Poorgrass, are you there?'

`Yes, sir - ma'am I mane,' said the person addressed. `I be the personal name of Poorgrass.'

`And what are you?'

`Nothing in my own eye. In the eye of other people - well, I don't say it; though public thought will out.'

`What do you do on the farm?'

`I do do carting things all the year, and in seed time I shoots the rooks and sparrows, and helps at pig- killing, sir.'

`How much to you?'

`Please nine and ninepence and a good halfpenny where 'twas a bad one, sir - ma'am I mane.'

`Quite correct. Now here are ten shillings in addition as a small present, as I am a new comer.'

Bathsheba blushed slightly at the sense of being generous in public, and Henery Fray, who had drawn up towards her chair, lifted his eyebrows and fingers to express amazement on a small scale.

`How much do I owe you - that man in the corner - what's your name?' continued Bathsheba.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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