Rain - One Solitary meets another

It was now five o'clock, and the dawn was promising to break in hues of drab and ash.

The air changed its temperature and stirred itself more vigorously. Cool breezes coursed in transparent eddies round Oak's face. The wind shifted yet a point or two and blew stronger. In ten minutes every wind of heaven seemed to be roaming at large. Some of the thatching on the wheat-stacks was now whirled fantastically aloft, and had to be replaced and weighted with some rails that lay near at hand. This done, Oak slaved away again at the barley. A huge drop of rain smote his face, and the wind snarled round every corner, the trees rocked to the bases of their trunks, and the twigs clashed in strife. Driving in spars at any point and on any system, inch by inch he covered more and more safely from ruin this distracting impersonation of seven hundred pounds. The rain came on in earnest, and Oak soon felt the water to be tracking cold and clammy routes down his back. Ultimately he was reduced well-nigh to a homogeneous sop, and the dyes of his clothes trickled down and stood in a pool at the foot of the ladder. The rain stretched obliquely through the dull atmosphere in liquid spines, unbroken in continuity between their beginnings in the clouds and their points in him.

Oak suddenly remembered that eight months before thin time he had been fighting against fire in the same spot as desperately as he was fighting against water now - and for a futile love of the same woman. As for her - But Oak was generous and true, and dismissed his reflections.

It was about seven o'clock in the dark leaden morning when Gabriel came down from the last stack, and thankfully exclaimed, `It is done!' He was drenched, weary, and sad, and yet not so sad as drenched and weary, for he was cheered by a sense of success in a good cause.

Faint sounds came from the barn, and he looked that way. Figures stepped singly and in pairs through the doors - all walking awkwardly, and abashed, save the foremost, who wore a red jacket, and advanced with his hands in his pockets, whistling. The others shambled after with a conscience-stricken air; the whole procession was not unlike Flaxman's group of the suitors tottering on towards the infernal regions under the conduct of Mercury: The gnarled shapes passed into the village, Troy, their leader, entering the farmhouse. Not a single one of them had turned his face to the ricks, or apparently bestowed one thought upon their condition.

Soon Oak too went homeward, by a different route from theirs. In front of him against the wet glazed surface of the lane he saw a person walking yet more slowly than himself under an umbrella. The man turned and plainly started; he was Boldwood.

`How are you this morning, sir?' said Oak.

`Yes, it is a wet day. - Oh, I am well, very well, I thank you; quite well.' `I am glad to hear it, sir.'

Boldwood seemed to awake to the present by degrees. `You look tired and ill, Oak,' he said then, desultorily regarding his companion.

`I am tired. You look strangely altered, sir.'

`I? Not a bit of it: I am well enough. What put that into your head?' `I thought you didn't look quite so topping as you used to, that was all.'

`Indeed, then you are mistaken,' said Boldwood shortly. `Nothing hurts me. My constitution is an iron one.'

`I've been working hard to get our ricks covered, and was barely in time. Never had such a struggle in my life... Yours of course are safe, sir.'

`O yes.' Boldwood added, after an interval of silence: `What did you ask, Oak?'

`Your ricks are all covered before this time?'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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