Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

for a surgeon. It is, I believe, useless, but go. Mr. Boldwood has shot my husband.”

Her statement of the fact in such quiet and simple words came with more force than a tragic declamation, and had somewhat the effect of setting the distorted images in each mind present into proper focus. Oak, almost before he had comprehended anything beyond the briefest abstract of the event, hurried out of the room, saddled a horse and rode away. Not till he had ridden more than a mile did it occur to him that he would have done better by sending some other man on this errand, remaining himself in the house. What had become of Boldwood ? He should have been looked after. Was he mad—had there been a quarrel ? Then how had Troy got here? Where had he come from? How did this remarkable reappearance come to pass when he was supposed to be at the bottom of the sea ? Oak had in some slight measure been prepared for the presence of Troy by hearing a rumour of his return just before entering Boldwood's house ; but before he had weighed that information, this fatal event had been superimposed. However, it was too late now to think of sending another messenger, and he rode on, in the excitement of these self-inquiries not discerning, when about three miles from Casterbridge, a square-figured pedestrian passing along under the dark hedge in the same direction as his own.

The miles necessary to be traversed, and other hindrances incidental to the lateness of the hour and the darkness of the night, delayed the arrival of Mr. Granthead, the surgeon; and more than three hours passed between the time at which the shot was fired and that of his entering the house. Oak was additionally detained in Casterbridge through having to give notice to the authorities of what had happened ; and he then found that Boldwood had also entered the town, and delivered himself up.

In the meantime the surgeon, having hastened into the hall at Boldwood's, found it in darkness and quite deserted. He went on to the back of the house, where he discovered in the kitchen an old man, of whom he made inquiries.

“ She's had him took away to her own house, sir," said his informant. " Who has ?" said the doctor. “ Mrs. Troy. 'A was quite dead, sir."

This was astonishing information. “She had no right to do that," said the doctor. “ There will have to be an inquest, and she should have waited to know what to do."

• Yes, sir; it was hinted to her that she had better wait till the law was known. But she said law was nothing to her, and she wouldn't let her dear husband's corpse bide neglected for folks to stare at for all the crowners in England."

Mr. Granthead drove at once back again up the hill to Bathsheba's. The first person he met was poor Liddy, who seemed literally to have dwindled smaller in these few latter hours. What has been done ?" he said.

[ocr errors]

" I don't know, sir," said Liddy, with suspended breath. mistress has done it all.”

". Where is she?"

Upstairs with him, sir. When he was brought home and taken upstairs, she said she wanted no further help from the men. And then she called me, and made me fill the bath, and after that told me I had better go and lie down because I looked so ill. Then she locked herself into the room alone with him, and would not let a nurse come in, or anybody at all. But I thought I'd wait in the next room in case she should want me. I heard her moving about inside for more than an hour, but she only came out once, and that was for more candles, because her's had burnt down into the socket. She said we were to let her know when you or Mr. Thirdly came, sir.”

Oak entered with the parson at this moment, and they all went upstairs together, preceded by Liddy Smallbury. Everything was silent as the grave when they paused on the landing. Liddy knocked, and Bathsheba's dress was heard rustling across the room : the key turned in the lock, and she opened the door. Her looks were calm and nearly rigid, like a slightly animated bust of Melpomene.

“Oh, Mr. Granthead, you have come at last,” she murmured from her lips merely, and threw back the door. “Ah, and Mr. Thirdly. Well, all is done, and anybody in the world may see him now.” She then passed by him, crossed the landing, and entered another room.

Looking into the chamber of death she had vacated they saw by the light of the candles which were on the drawers a tall straight shape lying at the further end of the bedroom, wrapped in white. Everything around was quite orderly. The doctor went in, and after a few minutes returned to the landing again, where Oak and the parson still waited.

“ It is all done, indeed, as she says,” remarked Mr. Granthead, in a subdued voice. “ The body has been undressed and properly laid out in graveclothes. Gracious heaven—this mere girl ! She must have the nerve of a stoic !”

“ The heart of a wife merely,” floated in a whisper about the ears of the three, and turning they saw Bathsheba in the midst of them. Then as if at that instant to prove that her fortitude had been more of will than of spontaneity, she silently sank down between them and was a shapeless heap of drapery on the floor. The simple consciousness that superhuman strain was no longer required had at once put a period to her power to continue it.

They took her away into a further room, and the medical attendance which had been useless in Troy’s case was invaluable in Bathsheba's, who fell into a series of fainting-fits that had a serious aspect for a time. The sufferer was got to bed, and Oak, finding from the bulletins that nothing really dreadful was to be apprehended on her score, left the house. Liddy kept watch in Bathsheba's chamber, where she heard her mistress, moaning in whispers through the dull slow hours of that wretched night: “0, it is my fault—how can I live! O heaven, how can I live!”

a

a

a

CHAPTER LV.

a

THE MARCH FOLLOWING : “ BATHSHEBA BOLDWOOD." We pass rapidly on into the month of March, to a breezy day without sunshine, frost or dew. On Yalbury Hill, about midway between Weatherbury and Casterbridge, where the turnpike road passes over the crest, a numerous concourse of people had gathered, the eyes of the greater number being frequently stretched afar in a northerly direction. The groups consisted of a throng of idlers, a party of javelin-men, and two trumpeters, and in the midst were carriages, one of which contained the high sheriff. With the idlers, many of whom had mounted to the top of a cutting formed for the road, were several Weatherbury men and boys-among others Poorgrass, Coggan, and Cain Ball.

At the end of half an hour a faint dust was seen in the expected quarter, and shortly after a travelling-carriage bringing one of the two judges on that circuit came up the hill and halted on the top. The judge changed carriages whilst a flourish was blown by the big-cheeked trumpeters, and a procession being formed of the vehicles and javelin-men, they all proceeded towards the town, excepting the Weatherbury men, who as soon as they had seen the judge move off returned home again to their work.

“ Joseph, I seed you squeezing close to the carriage," said Coggan, as they walked. “Did

ye
notice

my lord judge's face ?” “I did,” said Poorgrass. “I looked hard at en, as if I would read his very soul; and there was mercy in his eyes-or to speak with the

l exact truth required of us at this solemn time, in the eye that was towards me.”

“Well, I hope for the best,” said Coggan, " though bad that must be. However, I shan't go to the trial, and I'd advise the rest of ye that baint wanted to bide away. "Twill disturb his mind more than anything to see us there staring at him as if he were a show." “The very thing I said this morning," observed Joseph. “Justice

• is come to weigh him in the balance,' I said in my reflectious way, and if he's found wanting so be it unto him,' and a bystander said " • Hear, hear! A man who can talk like that ought to be heard.' But I don't like dwelling upon it, for my few words are my few words, and not much; though the speech of some men is rumoured abroad as though by nature formed for such.”

“ So 'tis, Joseph. And now, neighbours, as I said, every man bide at home."

The resolution was adhered to; and all waited anxiously for the news next day. Their suspense was diverted, however, by a discovery which was made in the afternoon, throwing more light on Boldwood's conduct and condition than any details which had preceded it.

That he had been from the time of Greenhill Fair until the fatal Christmas Eve in excited and unusual moods was known to those who had been intimate with him ; but nobody imagined that there had been shown unequivocal symptoms of the mental derangement which Bathsheba and Troy, alone of all others and at different times, had momentarily suspected. In a locked closet was now discovered an extraordinary col

a lection of articles. There were several sets of ladies' dresses in the piece, of sundry expensive materials; silks and satins, poplins and velvets, all of colours which from Bathsheba's style of dress might have been judged to be her favourites. There were two muffs, sable and ermine. Above all there was a case of jewellery, containing four heavy gold bracelets and several lockets and rings, all of fine quality and manufacture. These things had been bought in Bath and other towns from time to time, and brought home by stealth. They were all carefully packed in paper, and each package was labelled “Bathsheba Boldwood," a date being subjoined six years in advance in every instance.

These somewhat pathetic evidences of a mind crazed with care and love were the subject of discourse in Warren's malthouse when Oak entered from Casterbridge with tidings of the sentence. He came in the afternoon, and his face, as the kiln glow sbone upon it, told the tale sufficiently well. Boldwood, as everyone supposed he would do, had pleaded guilty, and had been sentenced to death.

The conviction that Boldwood had not been morally responsible for his later acts now became general. Facts elicited previous to the trial had pointed strongly in the same direction, but they had not been of sufficient weight to lead to an order for an examination into the state of Boldwood's mind. It was astonishing, now that a presumption of insanity was raised, how many collateral circumstances were remembered to which a condition of mental disease seemed to afford the only explanation --among others, the unprecedented neglect of his corn-stacks in the previous summer.

A petition was addressed to the Home Secretary, advancing the circumstances which appeared to justify a request for a reconsideration of the sentence. It was not “numerously signed” by the inhabitants of Casterbridge, as is usual in such cases, for Boldwood had never made many friends over the counter. The shops thought it very natural that a man who, by importing direct from the producer, had daringly set aside the first great principle of provincial existence, namely, that God made country villages to supply customers to country towns, should have confused ideas about the second, the Decalogue. The prompters were a few merciful men who had perhaps too feelingly considered the facts latterly unearthed, and the result was that evidence was taken which it was hoped might remove the crime, in a moral point of view, out of the category of wilful murder, and lead it to be regarded as a sheer outcome of madness.

The upshot of the petition was waited for in Weatherbury with solicitous interest. The execution had been fixed for eight o'olock on a Saturday morning about a fortnight after the sentence was passed, and up to Friday afternoon no answer had been received. At that time Gabriel

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

came from Casterbridge Gaol, whither he had been to wish Boldwood good-bye, and turned up a by-street to avoid the town. When past the last house he heard a hammering, and lifting his bowed head he looked back for a moment. Over the chimneys he could see the upper part of the gaol entrance, rich and glowing in the afternoon sun, and some moring figures were there. They were carpenters lifting a post into a vertical position within the parapet. He withdrew his eyes quickly, and hastened on.

It was dark when he reached home, and half the village was out to meet him.

“No tidings,” Gabriel said, wearily. “And I'm afraid there's no hope. I've been with him more than two hours."

“ Do ye think he really was out of his mind when he did -it ? ” said Smallbury.

"I can't honestly say that I do," Oak replied. “ However, that we can talk of another time. Has there been any change in mistress this afternoon?

"None at all."
• Is she downstairs ? "

“No. And getting on so nicely as she was too. She's but very little better now again than she was a-Christmas. She keeps on asking if you be come, and if there's news, till one's wearied out wi' answering her. Shall I

go

and say you've come ?" • No,” said Oak. “There's a chance yet ; but I couldn't stay in town any longer-after seeing him too. So Laban-Laban is here, isn't he ?"

"Yes," said Tall.

“What I've arranged is, that you shall ride to town the last thing tonight; leave here about nine, and wait a while there, getting home about twelve. If nothing has been received by eleven to-night, they say there's no chance at all.”

I do so hope his life will be spared," said Liddy. “If it is not, she'll go out of her mind too. Poor thing; her sufferings have been dreadful; she deserves anybody's pity."

“ Is she altered much ? " said Coggan.

“If you haven't seen poor mistress since Christmas, you wouldn't know her," said Liddy. “Her eyes are so miserable that she's not the same woman. Only two years ago she was a romping girl, and now she's this !”

Laban departed as directed, and at eleven o'clock that night several of the villagers strolled along the road to Casterbridge and awaited his arrival-among them Oak, and nearly all the rest of Bathsheba's men. Gabriel's anxiety was great that Boldwood might be saved even though in his conscience he felt that he ought to die ; for there had been qualities in the farmer which Oak loved. At last, when they all were weary, the tramp of a horse was heard in the distance:

First dead, as if on turf it trode,
Then, clattering, on the village road
In other pace than forth he yode.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »