`Well put out of hand,' said Coggan, at the end of the verse. "`They do sing" was a very taking paragraph.'
`Ay; and there was a pretty place at "seeds of love", and 'twas well heaved out. Though "love" is a nasty high corner when a man's voice is getting crazed. Next verse, Master Poorgrass.'
But during this rendering young Bob Coggan exhibited one of those anomalies which will afflict little people when other persons are particularly serious: in trying to check his laughter, he pushed down his throat as much of the tablecloth as he could get hold of when, after continuing hermetically sealed for a short time, his mirth burst out through his nose. Joseph perceived it, and with hectic cheeks of indignation instantly ceased singing. Coggan boxed Bob's ears immediately.
`Go on, Joseph - go on, and never mind the young scamp,' said Coggan. `'Tis a very catching ballet. Now then again - the next bar; I'll help ye to flourish up the shrill notes where yer wind is rather wheezy:
the wi'-il-lo'-ow tree' will' twist',
But the singer could not be set going again. Bob Coggan was sent home for his ill manners, and tranquillity was restored by Jacob Smallbury, who volunteered a ballad as inclusive and interminable as that with which the worthy toper old Silenus amused on a similar occasion the swains Chromis and Mnasylus, and other jolly dogs of his day.
It was still the beaming time of evening, though night was stealthily making itself visible low down upon the ground, the western lines of light raking the earth without alighting upon it to any extent, or illuminating the dead levels at all. The sun had crept round the tree as a last effort before death, and then began to sink, the shearers' lower parts becoming steeped in embrowning twilight, whilst their heads and shoulders were still enjoying day, touched with a yellow of self-sustained brilliancy that seemed inherent rather than acquired.
The sun went down in an ochreous mist; but they sat, and talked on, and grew as merry as the gods in Homer's heaven. Bathsheba still remained enthroned inside the window, and occupied herself in knitting, from which she sometimes looked up to view the fading scene outside. The slow twilight expanded and enveloped them completely before the signs of moving were shown.
Gabriel suddenly missed Farmer Boldwood from his place at the bottom of the table. How long he had been gone Oak did not know; but he had apparently withdrawn into the encircling dusk. Whilst he was thinking of this Liddy brought candles into the back part of the room overlooking the shearers, and their lively new flames shone down the table and over the men, and dispersed among the green shadows behind.
Bathsheba's form, still in its original position, was now again distinct between their eyes and the light, which revealed that Boldwood had gone inside the room, and was sitting near her.
Next came the question of the evening. Would Miss Everdene sing to them the song she always sang so charmingly - `The Banks of Allan Water' - before they went home?
After a moment's consideration Bathsheba assented, beckoning to Gabriel, who hastened up into the coveted atmosphere.
`Have you brought your flute?' she whispered.
`Play to my singing, then.'
She stood up in the window-opening, facing the men, the candles behind her. Gabriel on her right hand, immediately outside the sashframe. Boldwood had drawn up on her left, within the room. Her singing
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