Thus they continued for a long time. Joseph Poorgrass now passed near them, wheeling a barrow of apples up the hill to Bathsheba's residence. Boldwood and Gabriel called to him, spoke to him for a few minutes, and then all three parted, Joseph immediately coming up the hill with his barrow.
Bathsheba, who had seen this pantomime with some surprise, experienced great relief when Boldwood turned back again. "Well, what's the message, Joseph?" she said.
He set down his barrow, and, putting upon himself the refined aspect that a conversation with a lady required, spoke to Bathsheba over the gate.
"You'll never see Fanny Robin no more — use nor principal — ma'am."
"Because she's dead in the Union."
"Fanny dead — never!"
"What did she die from?"
"I don't know for certain; but I should be inclined to think it was from general neshness of constitution. She was such a limber maid that 'a could stand no hardship, even when I knowed her, and 'a went like a candle-snoff, so 'tis said. She was took bad in the morning, and, being quite feeble and worn out, she died in the evening. She belongs by law to our parish; and Mr. Boldwood is going to send a waggon at three 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 a 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 — "
"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."
"Oh! — then she has not been staying there as a regular inmate?"
"No. She first went to live in a garrison-town t'other side o' Wessex, and since then 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 bain't 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 Weatherbury?"
"Last Saturday night."
"That will do, Joseph; now you may go."
"Joseph, come hither a moment. What was the colour of Fanny Robin's hair?"
"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."
She turned herself away from him, that he might no longer notice the mood which had set its 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 don't know, ma'am."
"Are you quite sure?"
"Yes, ma'am, quite sure."
"Sure of what?"
"I'm 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 hint of her death to you, 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."