21. The Events Of Eighteen Hours
1. MARCH THE TWENTY-NINTH. NOON
Exactly seven days after Edward Springrove had seen the man with the bundle
of straw walking down the streets of Casterbridge, old Farmer Springrove was
standing on the edge of the same pavement, talking to his friend, Farmer Baker.
There was a pause in their discourse. Mr. Springrove was looking down the
street at some object which had attracted his attention. 'Ah, 'tis what we shall all
come to!' he murmured.
The other looked in the same direction. 'True, neighbour Springrove; true.'
Two men, advancing one behind the other in the middle of the road, were what
the farmers referred to. They were carpenters, and bore on their shoulders an
empty coffin, covered by a thin black cloth.
'I always feel a satisfaction at being breasted by such a sight as that,' said
Springrove, still regarding the men's sad burden. 'I call it a sort of medicine.'
'And it is medicine. . . . I have not heard of any body being ill up this way lately?
D'seem as if the person died suddenly.'
'May be so. Ah, Baker, we say sudden death, don't we? But there's no difference
in their nature between sudden death and death of any other sort. There's no
such thing as a random snapping off of what was laid down to last longer. We
only suddenly light upon an end-- thoughtfully formed as any other--which has
been existing at that very same point from the beginning, though unseen by us to
be so soon.'
'It is just a discovery to your own mind, and not an alteration in the Lord's.'
'That's it. Unexpected is not as to the thing, but as to our sight.'
'Now you'll hardly believe me, neighbour, but this little scene in front of us makes
me feel less anxious about pushing on wi' that threshing and winnowing next
week, that I was speaking about. Why should we not stand still, says I to myself,
and fling a quiet eye upon the Whys and the Wherefores, before the end o' it all,
and we go down into the mouldering-place, and are forgotten?'
''Tis a feeling that will come. But 'twont bear looking into. There's a back'ard
current in the world, and we must do our utmost to advance in order just to bide
where we be. But, Baker, they are turning in here with the coffin, look.'
The two carpenters had borne their load into a narrow way close at hand. The
farmers, in common with others, turned and watched them along the way.
''Tis a man's coffin, and a tall man's, too,' continued Farmer Springrove. 'His was
a fine frame, whoever he was.'
'A very plain box for the poor soul--just the rough elm, you see.' The corner of the
cloth had blown aside.
'Yes, for a very poor man. Well, death's all the less insult to him. I have often
thought how much smaller the richer class are made to look than the poor at last
pinches like this. Perhaps the greatest of all the reconcilers of a thoughtful man