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CHAPTER XLII



JOSEPH AND HIS BURDEN


A WALL bounded the site of Casterbridge Union-
house, except along a 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 sug-
gested 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 Traitor's Gate
translated to another sphere. That entry and exit
hereby was only at rare intervals became apparent on
noting that tufts of grass were allowed to flourish undis-
turbed in the chinks of the sill.
As the clock over the South-street Alms-house pointed
to five minutes to three, a blue spring waggon, picked
out with red, and containing boughs and flowers, passed
the end of the street, and up towards 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
hand. (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
tailboard 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 down
the hill, and along the road to Weatherbury.
The afternoon drew on apace, and, looking to the
right towards the sea as he walked beside the horse, Poor-
grass saw strange clouds and scrolls of mist rolling over
the long ridges 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 moor 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,
this being 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, but 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, which
had never obtained a hearing except by night, were dis-
tinctly individualized.
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 spectrelike in
their monochrome of grey. He felt anything but cheer-
ful, and wished he had the company even of a child or
dog. Stopping the home, he 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 beeches were hung with similar drops,
like diamonds on auburn hair.
At the roadside hamlet called Roy-Town, just beyond
this wood, was the old inn 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, sig-
nified its existence to people far up and down the
highway by a sign hanging 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 -- some-
times said in passing, when they cast their eyes up to
the sign-bearing tree, that artists were fond of repre-
senting 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 the waggon was standing into which Gabriel Oak
crept on his first journey to Weatherbury; but, owing
to the darkness, the sign and the inn had been un-
observed.
The manners of the inn were of the old-established
type. Indeed, in the minds of its frequenters they
existed as unalterable formulae: E.G. --
Rap with the bottom of your pint for more liquor.
For tobacco, shout.
In calling for the girl in waiting, say, "Maid!"
Ditto for the landlady, "Old Soul!" etc., etc.
It was a relief to Joseph's heart when the friendly
signboard 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 quite. He turned the horse's head
to the green bank, and entered the hostel for a mug
of ale.
Going down into the kitchen of the inn, the floor
of which was a step below the passage, which in its
turn was a step below the road outside, what should
Joseph see to gladden his eyes but two copper-coloured
discs, in the form of the countenances of Mr. Jan
Coggan and Mr. Mark Clark. These owners of the
two most appreciative throats in the neighbourhood,
within the pale of respectability, were now sitting face
to face over a threelegged circular table, having an
iron rim to keep cups and pots from being accidentally
elbowed off; they might have been said to resemble
the setting sun and the full moon shining VIS-A-VIS
across the globe.
"Why, 'tis neighbour Poorgrass!" said Mark Clark.
"I'm sure your face don't praise your mistress's table,
Joseph."
"I've had a very pale companion for the last four
miles." said Joseph, indulging in a shudder toned
down by resignation. "And to speak the truth, 'twas
beginning to tell upon me. I assure ye, I ha'n't seed
the colour of victuals or drink since breakfast time
this morning, and that was no more than a dew-bit
afield."
"Then drink, Joseph, and don't restrain yourself!"
said Coggan, handing him a hooped mug three-
quarters full.
Joseph drank for a moderately long time, then for
a longer time, saying, as he lowered the jug, "'Tis
pretty drinking -- very pretty drinking, and is more
than cheerful on my melancholy errand, so to speak it."
"True, drink is a pleasant delight." said Jan, as one
who repeated a truism so familiar to his brain that he
hardly noticed its passage over his tongue; and,
lifting the cup, Coggan tilted his head gradually
backwards, with closed eyes, that his expectant soul
might not be diverted for one instant from its bliss
by irrelevant surroundings.
"Well, I must be on again." said Poorgrass. "Not
but that I should like another nip with ye; but the
parish might lose confidence in me if I was seed
here."
"Where be ye trading o't to to-day, then, Joseph?"
"Back to Weatherbury. I've got poor little Fanny
Robin in my waggon outside, and I must be at the
churchyard gates at a quarter to five with her."
"Ay-i've heard of it. And so she's nailed up in
parish boards after all, and nobody to pay the bell
shilling and the grave half-crown."
"The parish pays the grave half-crown, but not the
bell shilling, because the bell's a luxery: but 'a can
hardly do without the grave, poor body. However, I
expect our mistress will pay all."
"A pretty maid as ever I see! But what's yer hurry,
Joseph? The pore woman's dead, and you can't bring
her to life, and you may as well sit down comfortable,
and finish another with us."
"I don't mind taking just the least thimbleful ye
can dream of more with ye, sonnies. But only a few
minutes, because 'tis as 'tis."
"Of course, you'll have another drop. A man's
twice the man afterwards. You feel so warm and
glorious, and you whop and slap at your work without
any trouble, and everything goes on like sticks a-
breaking. Too much liquor is bad, and leads us to
that horned man in the smoky house; but after all,
many people haven't the gift of enjoying a wet, and
since we be highly favoured with a power that way,
we should make the most o't."True." said Mark Clark. "'Tis a talent the
Lord
has mercifully bestowed upon us, and we ought not
to neglect it. But, what with the parsons and clerks
and schoolpeople and serious tea-parties, the merry
old ways of good life have gone to the dogs -- upon
my carcase, they have!"
"Well, really, I must be onward again now." said
Joseph.
"Now, now, Joseph; nonsense! The poor woman
is dead, isn't she, and what's your hurry?"
"Well, I hope Providence won't be in a way with
me for my doings." said Joseph, again sitting down.
"I've been troubled with weak moments lately, 'tis
true. I've been drinky once this month already, and
I did not go to church a-Sunday, and I dropped a
curse or two yesterday; so I don't want to go too far
for my safety. Your next world is your next world,
and not to be squandered offhand."
"I believe ye to be a chapelmember, Joseph. That
I do."
"Oh, no, no! I don't go so far as that."
"For my part." said Coggan, "I'm staunch Church
of England."
"Ay, and faith, so be I." said Mark Clark.
"I won't say much for myself; I don't wish to,"
Coggan continued, with that tendency to talk on
principles which is characteristic of the barley-corn.
"But I've never changed a single doctrine: I've stuck
like a plaster to the old faith I was born in. Yes;
there's this to be said for the Church, a man can
belong to the Church and bide in his cheerful old
inn, and never trouble or worry his mind about
doctrines at all. But to be a meetinger, you must
go to chapel in all winds and weathers, and make
yerself as frantic as a skit. Not but that chapel
members be clever chaps enough in their way. They
can lift up beautiful prayers out of their own heads, all
about their families and shipwrecks in the newspaper."
"They can -- they can." said Mark Clark, with cor-
roborative feeling; "but we Churchmen, you see, must
have it all printed aforehand, or, dang it all, we should
no more know what to say to a great gaffer like the
Lord than babes unborn,"
"Chapelfolk be more hand-in-glove with them above
than we." said Joseph, thoughtfully.
"Yes." said Coggan. "We know very well that if
anybody do go to heaven, they will. They've worked
hard for it, and they deserve to have it, such as 'tis.
I bain't such a fool as to pretend that we who stick
to the Church have the same chance as they, because
we know we have not. But I hate a feller who'll
change his old ancient doctrines for the sake of getting
to heaven. I'd as soon turn king's-evidence for the
few pounds you get. Why, neighbours, when every
one of my taties were frosted, our Parson Thirdly
were the man who gave me a sack for seed, though
he hardly had one for his own use, and no money to
buy 'em. If it hadn't been for him, I shouldn't hae
had a tatie to put in my garden. D'ye think I'd
turn after that? No, I'll stick to my side; and if we
be in the wrong, so be it: I'll fall with the fallen!"
"Well said -- very well said." observed Joseph. --
"However, folks, I must be moving now: upon my life
I must. Pa'son Thirdly will be waiting at the church
gates, and there's the woman a-biding outside in the
waggon."
"Joseph Poorgrass, don't be so miserable! Pa'son
Thirdly won't mind. He's a generous man; he's found
me in tracts for years, and I've consumed a good many
in the course of a long and shady life; but he's never
been the man to cry out at the expense. Sit down."
The longer Joseph Poorgrass remained, the less his
spirit was troubled by the duties which devolved upon
him this afternoon. The minutes glided by uncounted,
until the evening shades began perceptibly to deepen,
and the eyes of the three were but sparkling points
on the surface of darkness. Coggan's repeater struck
six from his pocket in the usual still small tones.
At that moment hasty steps were heard in the entry,
and the door opened to admit the figure of Gabriel Oak,
followed by the maid of the inn bearing a candle. He
stared sternly at the one lengthy and two round faces
of the sitters, which confronted him with the expressions
of a fiddle and a couple of warming-pans. Joseph Poor-
grass blinked, and shrank several inches into the back-
ground.
"Upon my soul, I'm ashamed of you; 'tis disgraceful,
Joseph, disgraceful!" said Gabriel, indignantly. "Coggan,
you call yourself a man, and don't know better than this."
Coggan looked up indefinitely at Oak, one or other
of his eyes occasionally opening and closing of its own
accord, as if it were not a member, but a dozy individual
with a distinct personality.
"Don't take on so, shepherd!" said Mark Clark,
looking reproachfully at the candle, which appeared
to possess special features of interest for his eyes.
"Nobody can hurt a dead woman." at length said
Coggan, with the precision of a machine. "All that
could be done for her is done -- she's beyond us: and
why should a man put himself in a tearing hurry for
lifeless clay that can neither feel nor see, and don't
know what you do with her at all? If she'd been
alive, I would have been the first to help her. If she
now wanted victuals and drink, I'd pay for it, money
down. But she's dead, and no speed of ours will
bring her to life. The woman's past us -- time spent
upon her is throwed away: why should we hurry to
do what's not required? Drink, shepherd, and be
friends, for to-morrow we may be like her."
"We may." added Mark Clark, emphatically, at once
drinking himself, to run no further risk of losing his
chance by the event alluded to, Jan meanwhile merging
his additional thoughts of to-morrow in a song: --
To-mor-row, to-mor-row!
And while peace and plen-ty I find at my board,
With a heart free from sick-ness and sor-row,
With my friends will I share what to-day may af-ford,
And let them spread the ta-ble to-mor-row.
To-mor -- row', to-mor --
"Do hold thy horning, Jan!" said Oak; and turning
upon Poorgrass, " as for you, Joseph, who do your wicked
deeds in such confoundedly holy ways, you are as drunk
as you can stand."
"No, Shepherd Oak, no! Listen to reason, shepherd.
All that's the matter with me is the affliction called a
multiplying eye, and that's how it is I look double to
you-i mean, you look double to me."
A multiplying eye is a very bad thing." said Mark
Clark.
"It always comes on when I have been in a public --
house a little time." said Joseph Poorgrass, meekly.
"Yes; I see two of every sort, as if I were some holy
man living in the times of King Noah and entering
into the ark.... Y-y-y-yes." he added, becoming much
affected by the picture of himself as a person thrown
away, and shedding tears; "I feel too good for England:
I ought to have lived in Genesis by rights, like the other
men of sacrifice, and then I shouldn't have b-b-been
called a d-d-drunkard in such a way!"
"I wish you'd show yourself a man of spirit, and not
sit whining there!"
"Show myself a man of spirit? ... Ah, well! let
me take the name of drunkard humbly-iet me be a
man of contrite knees-iet it be! l know that I always
do say "Please God" afore I do anything, from my
getting up to my going down of the same, and I be
willing to take as much disgrace as there is in that
holy act. Hah, yes! ... But not a man of spirit?
Have I ever allowed the toe of pride to be lifted
against my hinder parts without groaning manfully that
I question the right to do so? I inquire that query
boldly?"
"We can't say that you have, Hero Poorgrass,"
admitted Jan.
"Never have I allowed such treatment to pass un-
questioned! Yet the shepherd says in the face of that
rich testimony that I be not a man of spirit! Well,
let it pass by, and death is a kind friend!"
Gabriel, seeing that neither of the three was in a fit
state to Cake charge of the waggon for the remainder of
the journey, made no reply, but, closing the door again
upon them, went across to where the vehicle stood, now
getting indistinct in the fog and gloom of this mildewy
time. He pulled the horse's head from the large patch
of turf it had eaten bare, readjusted the boughs over
the coffin, and drove along through the unwholesome
night.
It had gradually become rumoured in the village
that the body to be brought and buried that day was
all that was left of the unfortunate Fanny Robin who
had followed the Eleventh from Casterbridge through
Melchester and onwards. But, thanks to Boldwood's
reticence and Oak's generosity, the lover she had followed
had never been individualized as Troy. Gabriel hoped
that the whole truth of the matter might not be published
till at any rate the girl had been in her grave for a few
days, when the interposing barriers of earth and time,
and a sense that the events had been somewhat shut
into oblivion, would deaden the sting that revelation and
invidious remark would have for Bathsheba just now.
By the time that Gabriel reached the old manor-
house, her residence, which lay in his way to the church,
it was quite dark. A man came from the gate and said
through the fog, which hung between them like blown
flour --
"Is that Poorgrass with the corpse?"
Gabriel recognized the voice as that of the parson.
"The corpse is here, sir." said Gabriel.
"I have just been to inquire of Mrs. Troy if she could
tell me the reason of the delay. I am afraid it is too
late now for the funeral to be performed with proper
decency. Have you the registrar's certificate?"
"No." said Gabriel. "I expect Poorgrass has that;
and he's at the Buck's Head. I forgot to ask him
for it."
"Then that settles the matter. We'll put off the
funeral till to-morrow morning. The body may be
brought on to the church, or it may be left here at
the farm and fetched by the bearers in the morning.
They waited more than an hour, and have now gone
home."
Gabriel had his reasons for thinking the latter a
most objectionable plan, notwithstanding that Fanny
had been an inmate of the farm-house for several years
in the lifetime of Bathsheba's uncle. Visions of several
unhappy contingencies which might arise from this delay
flitted before him. But his will was not law, and he
went indoors to inquire of his mistress what were her
wishes on the subject. He found her in an unusual
mood: her eyes as she looked up to him were suspicious
and perplexed as with some antecedent thought. Troy
had not yet returned. At first Bathsheba assented with
a mien of indifference to his proposition that they should
go on to the church at once with their burden; but
immediately afterwards, following Gabriel to the gate,
she swerved to the extreme of solicitousness on Fanny's
account, and desired that the girl might be brought into
the house. Oak argued upon the convenience of leaving
her in the waggon, just as she lay now, with her flowers
and green leaves about her, merely wheeling the vehicle
into the coach-house till the morning, but to no purpose,
"It is unkind and unchristian." she said, "to leave the
poor thing in a coach-house all night."
Very well, then." said the parson. "And I will
arrange that the funeral shall take place early to-
morrow. Perhaps Mrs. Troy is right in feeling that we
cannot treat a dead fellow-creature too thoughtfully
We must remember that though she may have erred
grievously in leaving her home, she is still our sister:
and it is to be believed that God's uncovenanted
mercies are extended towards her, and that she is a
member of the flock of Christ."
The parson's words spread into the heavy air with a
sad yet unperturbed cadence, and Gabriel shed an
honest tear. Bathsheba seemed unmoved. Mr.
Thirdly then left them, and Gabriel lighted a lantern.
Fetching three other men to assist him, they bore the
unconscious truant indoors, placing the coffin on two
benches in the middle of a little sitting-room next the
hall, as Bathsheba directed.
Every one except Gabriel Oak then left the room.
He still indecisively lingered beside the body. He was
deeply troubled at the wretchedly ironical aspect that
circumstances were putting on with regard to Troy's
wife, and at his own powerlessness to counteract them,
(n spite of his careful manoeuvring all this day, the very
worst event that could in any way have happened in
connection with the burial had happened now. Oak
imagined a terrible discovery resulting from this after-
noon's work that might cast over Bathsheba's life a shade
which the interposition of many lapsing years might but
indifferently lighten, and which nothing at all might
altogether remove.
Suddenly, as in a last attempt to save Bathsheba
from, at any rate, immediate anguish, he looked again,
as he had looked before, at the chalk writing upon the
coffinlid. The scrawl was this simple one, " Fanny
Robin and child." Gabriel took his handkerchief and
carefully rubbed out the two latter words, leaving visible
the inscription "Fanny Robin" only. He then left the
room, and went out quietly by the front door.





Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Literature
 
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