Bathsheba, with a sad, bursting heart, looked at these primest specimens of her prime flock as they rolled there--
Swoln with wind and the rank mist they drew
Many of them foamed at the mouth, their breathing being quick and short, whilst the bodies of all were fearfully distended.
`O, what can I do' what can I do!' said Bathsheba, helplessly. `Sheep are such unfortunate animals! - there's always something happening to them! I never knew a flock pass a year without getting into some scrape or other.'
`There's only one way of saving them,' said Tall.
`What way? Tell me quick!'
`They must be pierced in the side with a thing made on purpose.
`Can you do it? Can I?'
`No' ma'am. We can't, nor you neither. It must be done in a particular spot. If ye go to the right or left but an inch you stab the ewe and kill her. Not even a shepherd can do it, as a rule.'
`Then they must die,' she said, in a resigned tone.
`Only one man in the neighbourhood knows the way,' said Joseph, now just come up. He could cure 'em all if he were here.'
`Who is he? Let's get him!'
`Shepherd Oak,' said Matthew. `Ah, he's a clever man in talents!'
`Ah, that he is so!' said Joseph Poorgrass.
`True - he's the man,' said Laban Tall.
`How dare you name that man in my presence!' she said excitedly. `I told you never to allude to him, nor shall you if you stay with me. Ah!' she added, brightening, `Farmer Boldwood knows!'
`O no' ma'am,' said Matthew. 'two of his store ewes got into some vetches t'other day, and were just like these. He sent a man on horseback here post-haste for Gable, and Gable went and saved `em. Farmer Boldwood hev got the thing they do it with. 'tis a holler pipe, with a sharp pricker inside. Isn't it, Joseph?'
`Ay - a holler pipe,' echoed Joseph. 'that's what 'tis.'
`Ay, sure - that's the machine,' chimed in Henery Fray reflectively, with an Oriental indifference to the flight of time.
`Well,' burst out Bathsheba, `don't stand there with your "ayes" and your "sures", talking at me! Get somebody to cure the sheep instantly!'
All then stalked off in consternation, to get somebody as directed, without any idea of who it was to be. In a minute they had vanished through the gate, and she stood alone with the dying flock.
`Never will I send for him - never!' she said firmly.
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