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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFar From The Madding Crowd - Chapter XLII - JOSEPH AND HIS BURDEN
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Far From The Madding Crowd - Chapter XLII - JOSEPH AND HIS BURDEN Post by :thyme Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas Hardy Date :June 2011 Read :869

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Far From The Madding Crowd - 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

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
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
undisturbed 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, Poorgrass 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 distinctly

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 cheerful, and wished he had
the company even of a child or dog. Stopping the horse, 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, signified 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 -- 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 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

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 corroborative
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

"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 Poorgrass blinked, and shrank
several inches into the background.

"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

"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

"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 -- let me be a man of contrite knees
-- let it be! I 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 unquestioned!
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 take 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. In 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 afternoon'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.

Content of CHAPTER XLII - JOSEPH AND HIS BURDEN (Thomas Hardy's novel: Far From The Madding Crowd)

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