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CHAPTER LV



THE MARCH FOLLOWING -- "BATHSHEBA BOLDWOOD"


WE pass rapidly on into the month of March, to a
breezy day without sunshine, frost, or dew. On Yai*-
bury 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 fre-
quently 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 the Western
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 pro-
ceeded 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 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 bain't 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 balances," 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 shown
in him unequivocal symptoms of the mental derange-
ment which Bathsheba and Oak, alone of all others
and at different times, had momentarily suspected.
In a locked closet was now discovered an extraordinary
collection 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 manu-
facture. 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 malt-house when Oak entered from Caster-
bridge with tidings of the kiln glow shone upon
it, told the tale sufficiently well. Boldwood, as every
one 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 Caster-
bridge, 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 county towns, should have confused ideas about
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 Weather-
bury with solicitous interest. The execution had been
fixed for eight o'clock 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 came from Casterbridge Gaol, whither
he had been to wish Boldwood good-bye, and turned
down 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 moving
figures were there. They were carpenters lifting a post
into a vertical position within the parapet. He with-
drew 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. "How-
ever, 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 at
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 to-night; 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 any-
body'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.
"We shall soon know now, one way or other." said
Coggan, and they all stepped down from the bank on
which they had been standing into the road, and the
rider pranced into the midst of them.
"Is that you, Laban?" said Gabriel.
"Yes -- 'tis come. He's not to die. 'Tis confine-
ment during her Majesty's pleasure."
"Hurrah!" said Coggan, with a swelling heart. "God's
above the devil yet!"





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