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candle-snoff, so 'tis said. She was took bad in the morning, and, being quite feeble and worn out, she died in the afternoon. She belongs by law to our parish; and Mr. Boldwood is going to send a waggon this afternoon to fetch her home here and bury her.”
“Indeed I shall not let Mr. Boldwood do any such thing I shall do it. Fanny was my uncle's servant, and, although I only knew her for a couple of days, she belongs to me. How very, very sad this is !- the idea of Fanny being in & workhouse." Bathsheba had begun to know what suffering was, and she spoke with real feeling ... “Send across to Mr. Boldwood's, and say that Mrs. Troy will take upon herself the duty of fetching an old servant of the family ... We ought not to put her in a waggon ; we'll get a hearse."
“ There will hardly be time ma'am, will there?"
“Perhaps not,” she said, musingly: “When did you say we must be at the door-three o'clock ?”
“ Three o'clock this afternoon ma'am, so to speak it."
“Very well-you go with it. A pretty waggon is better than an ugly hearse, after all. Joseph, have the new spring waggon with the blue body and red wheels, and wash it very clean. And, Joseph.'
“ Yes ma'am."
Carry with you some evergreens and flowers to put upon her coffin --indeed, gather a great many, and completely bury her in them. Get some boughs of laurustinus, and variegated box, and yew, and boy's-love; ay, and some bunches of chrysanthemum. And let old Pleasant draw her, because she knew him so well.”
"I will ma'am. I ought to have said that the Union, in the form of four labouring men, will meet me when I gets to our churchyard gate, and take her and bury her according to the rites of the Board of Guardians, as by law ordained."
" Dear me -Casterbridge Union- and is Fanny come to this !” said Bathsheba, musing. “I wish I had known of it sooner. I thought she was far away. How long has she lived there ? "
On'y been there a day or two."
She's been picking up a living at seampstering in Melchester for several months, at the house of a very respectable widow-woman who takes in work of that sort. She only got handy the Union-house on Sunday morning 'a b'lieve, and 'tis supposed here and there that she had traipsed every step of the way from Melchester. Why she left her place I can't say, for I don't know; and as to a lie, why, I wouldn't tell it. That's the short of the story ma'am.”
No gem ever flashed from a rosy ray to a white one more rapidly than changed the young wife's countenance whilst this word came from her in a long drawn breath. “Did she walk along our turnpike-road?" she said, in a suddenly restless and eager voice.
"I believe she did ... Ma'am, shall I call Liddy? You baint well, ma'am, surely? You look like a lily—so pale and fainty !”
"No; don't call her; it is nothing. When did she pass Weather. bury?"
"Last Saturday night."
Joseph, come hither a moment. What was the colour of Fanny
“Really mistress, now that 'tis put to me so judge-and-jury-like, I can't call to mind, if ye'll believe me.”
“Never mind; go on and do what I told you. Stop-well no, go on.”
Sbe turned herself away from him, that he might no longer notice the mood which had set it: sign so visibly upon her, and went indoors with a distressing sense of faintness and a beating brow. About an hour after she heard the noise of the waggon and went out, still with a painful consciousness of her bewildered and troubled look. Joseph, dressed in his best suit of clothes, was putting in the horse to start. The shrubs and flowers were all piled in the waggon, as she had directed. Bathsheba hardly saw them now.
Whose sweetheart did you say, Joseph ?”
“I am sure that all I know is that she arrived in the morning and died in the evening without further parley. What Oak and Mr. Boldwood told me was only these few words. Little Fanny Robin is dead, Joseph,' Gabriel said, looking in my face in his steady old way. I was very sorry, and I said, 'Ah !—and how did she come to die?' Well, she's dead in Casterbridge Union,' he said ; ' and perhaps 'tisn't much matter about how she came to die. She reached the Union early Sunday morning, and died in the afternoon—that's clear enough.' Then I asked what she'd been doing lately, and Mr. Boldwood turned round to me then, and left off spitting a thistle with the end of his stick. He told me about her having lived by seampstering in Melchester, as I mentioned to you, and that she walked therefrom at the end of last week, passing near here Saturday night in the dusk. They then said I had better just name a hent of her death to yon, and away they went. Her death might have been brought on by biding in the night wind, you know, ma'am; for people used to say she'd go off in a decline : she used to cough a good deal in winter time. However 'tisn't much odds to us about that now, for 'tis all over."
“ Have you heard a different story at all?” She looked at him so intently that Joseph's eyes quailed.
“ Not a word, mistress, I assure you," he said. “Hardly anybody in the parish knows the news yet.”
“I wonder why Gabriel didn't bring the message to me himself. He mostly makes a point of seeing me upon the most trifling errand." These words were merely murmured, and she was looking upon the ground.
"Perhaps he was busy, ma'am," Joseph suggested. “And sometimes he seems to suffer from things upon his mind connected with the time when he was better off than 'a is now. 'A's rather a curious item, but a very understanding shepherd, and learned in books."
“ Did anything seem upon his mind whilst he was speaking to you about this?"
“I cannot but say that there did, ma'am. He was terrible down, and 80 was Farmer Boldwood."
“Thank you, Joseph. That will do. Go on now, or you'll be late."
Bathsheba, still unhappy, went indoors again. In the course of the afternoon she said to Liddy, who had been informed of the occurrence, “What was the colour of poor Fanny Robin's hair? Do you know? I cannot recollect—I only saw her for a day or two."
“ It was light, ma'am ; but she wore it rather short, and packed away under her cap, so that you would hardly notice it. But I have seen her let it down when she was going to bed, and it looked beautiful then. Real golden hair."
“Her young man was a soldier, was he not?' “ Yes. In the same regiment as Mr. Troy. He says he knew him
“What, Mr. Troy says so ? How came he to say that ? "
“One day I just named it to him, and asked him if he knew Fanny's young man. He said, “Oh yes, he knew the young man as well as he knew himself, and that there wasn't a man in the regiment he liked better.'"
“Ah! Said that, did he ?"
“Yes, and he said there was a strong likeness between himself and the other young man, so that sometimes people mistook them
“Liddy, for Heaven's sake stop your talking!” said Bathsheba, with • the nervous petulance that comes from worrying perceptions.
JOSEPH AND HIS BURDEN: “ Buck's HEAD."
A WALL bounded the site of Casterbridge Union-house, except along & portion of the end. Here a high gable stood prominent, and it was covered like the front with a mat of ivy. In this gable was no window, chimney, ornament, or protuberance of any kind. The single feature appertaining to it, beyond the expanse of dark green leaves, was a small door.
The situation of the door was peculiar. The sill was three or four feet above the ground, and for a moment one was at a loss for an explanation of this exceptional altitude, till ruts immediately beneath suggested that the door was used solely for the passage of articles and persons to and from the level of a vehicle standing on the outside. Upon the whole, the door seemed to advertise itself as a species of Traitors’ Gate translated to another element. That entry and exit hereby was only at rare intervals became apparent on noting that tufts of grass were allowed to flourish undisturbed in the chinks of tbe sill.
As the clock from the tower of St. George's Church pointed at three minutes to three, a blue spring waggon, picked out with red, and containing boughs and flowers, turned from the high road and halted on this side of the building. Whilst the chimes were yet stammering out a shattered form of “Malbrook," Joseph Poorgrass rang the bell, and received directions to back his waggon against the high door under the gable. The door then opened, and a plain elm coffin was slowly thrust forth, and laid by two men in fustian along the middle of the vehicle.
One of the men then stepped up beside it, took from his pocket a lump of chalk, and wrote upon the cover the name and a few other words in a large scrawling band. (We believe that they do these things more tenderly now, and provide a plate.) He covered the whole with a black cloth, threadbare, but decent, the tail-board of the waggon was returned to its place, one of the men handed a certificate of registry to Poorgrass, and both entered the door, closing it behind them. Their connection with her, short as it had been, was over for ever.
Joseph then placed the flowers as enjoined, and the evergreens around the flowers, till it was difficult to divine what the waggon contained; he smacked his whip, and the rather pleasing funeral car crept up the hill, and along the road to Weatherbury.
The afternoon drew on apace, and, looking to the left towards the sea as he walked beside the horse, Poorgrass saw strange clouds and scrolls of mist rolling over the high hills which girt the landscape in that quarter. They came in yet greater volumes, and indolently crept across the intervening valleys, and around the withered papery flags of the sloughs and river brinks. Then their dank spongy forms closed in upon the sky. It was a sudden overgrowth of atmospheric fungi which had their roots in the neighbouring sea, and by the time that horse, man, and' corpse entered Yalbury Great Wood,' these silent workings of an invisible hand had reached them, and they were completely enveloped. It was the first arrival of the autumn fogs, and the first fog of the series.
The air was as an eye suddenly struck blind. The waggon and its load rolled no longer on the horizontal division between clearness and opacity. They were imbedded in an elastic body of a monotonous pallor throughout. There was no perceptible motion in the air, not a visible drop of water fell upon a leaf of the beeches, birches, and firs composing the wood on either side. The trees stood in an attitude of intentness, as
if they waited longingly for a wind to come and rock them. A startling quiet overhung all surrounding things—so completely, that the crunching of the waggon-wheels was as a great noise, and small rustles, wbich had never obtained a hearing except by night, were distinctly individualised.
Joseph Poorgrass looked round upon his sad burden as it loomed faintly through the flowering laurustinus, then at the unfathomable gloom amid the high trees on each hand, indistinct, shadowless, and spectre-like in their monochrome of grey. He felt anything but cheerful, and wished he had the company even of a child or dog. Stopping the horse, ho listened. Not a footstep or wheel was audible anywhere around, and the dead silence was broken only by a heavy particle falling from a tree through the evergreens and alighting with a smart rap upon the coffin of poor Fanny. The fog had by this time saturated the trees, and this was the first dropping of water from the overbrimming leaves. The hollow echo of its fall reminded the waggoner painfully of the grim Leveller. Then hard by came down another drop, then two or three. Presently there was a continual tapping of these heavy drops upon the dead leaves, the road, and the travellers. The nearer boughs were beaded with the mist to the greyness of aged men, and the rusty-red leaves of the beeehes were hung with similar drops, like diamonds on auburn hair.
Situated by the roadside in the midst of this wood was the old inn, called “ Buck's Head.” It was about a mile and a half from Weatherbury, and in the meridian times of stage-coach travelling had been the place where many coaches changed and kept their relays of horses. All the old stabling was now pulled down, and little remained besides the habitable inn itself, which, standing a little way back from the road, signified its existence to people far up and down the highway by a sign banging from the horizontal bough of an elm on the opposite side of the way.
Travellers—for the variety tourist had hardly developed into a distinct species at this date-sometimes said in passing, when they cast their eyes up to the sign-bearing tree, that artists were fond of representing the signboard hanging thus, but that they themselves had never before noticed so perfect an instance in actual working order. It was near this tree that tbe waggon was standing into which Gabriel Oak crept on his first journey to Weatherbury; but, owing to the darkness, the sign and the inn bad been unobserved.
The manners of the inn were of the old-established type. Indeed, in the minds of its frequenters they existed as unalterable formulæ : e.g.
Rap with the bottom of your pint for more liquor.
Ditto for the landlady, “ Old Soul !” &c. &c. It was a relief to Joseph's heart when the friendly sign-board came in view, and, stopping his horse immediately beneath it, he proceeded to fulfil an intention made a long time before. His spirits were oozing out of him