Fear seized upon the shepherd-boy: the Duke was Jove himself to the rural population, whom to offend was starvation, homelessness, and death, and whom to look at was to be mentally scathed and dumbfounded.
Thomas Hardy – What The Shepherd Saw (1913)
Hardy’s story has a shepherd boy alone at night in the shepherd’s hut keeping watch on the sheep. From the hut window he sees the Duke in the moonlight and his immediate reaction is to stay out of sight. Nothing good can come of making himself known to such a powerful aristocrat in mysterious circumstances.
This is one of those quotes which stayed with me for years, an insight into a grim reality of agricultural life not so long ago. There is something distinctly criminal about such a level of personal power over other people. Hardy’s Duke is not so far removed from a gangland boss living a life of surface respectability when everyone knows they must never cross him. Even being known to him is a risk.