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Far from the Madding Crowd

40.
On Casterbridge Highway
FOR a considerable time the woman walked on. Her steps became feebler, and
she strained her eyes to look afar upon the naked road, now indistinct amid the
penumbrae of night. At length her onward walk dwindled to the merest totter, and
she opened a gate within which was a haystack. Underneath this she sat down
and presently slept.
When the woman awoke it was to find herself in the depths of a moonless and
starless night. A heavy unbroken crust of cloud stretched across the sky, shutting
out every speck of heaven; and a distant halo which hung over the town of
Casterbridge was visible against the black concave, the luminosity appearing the
brighter by its great contrast with the circumscribing darkness. Towards this
weak, soft glow the woman turned her eyes.
"If I could only get there!" she said. "Meet him the day after to-morrow: God help
me! Perhaps I shall be in my grave before then."
A manor-house clock from the far depths of shadow struck the hour, one, in a
small, attenuated tone. After midnight the voice of a clock seems to lose in
breadth as much as in length, and to diminish its sonorousness to a thin falsetto.
Afterwards a light -- two lights -- arose from the remote shade, and grew larger. A
carriage rolled along the toad, and passed the gate. It probably contained some
late diners-out. The beams from one lamp shone for a moment upon the
crouching woman, and threw her face into vivid relief. The face was young in the
groundwork, old in the finish; the general contours were flexuous and childlike,
but the finer lineaments had begun to be sharp and thin.
The pedestrian stood up, apparently with revived determination, and looked
around. The road appeared to be familiar to her, and she carefully scanned the
fence as she slowly walked along. Presently there became visible a dim white
shape; it was another milestone. She drew her fingers across its face to feel the
marks.
"Two more!" she said.
She leant against the stone as a means of rest for a short interval, then bestirred
herself, and again pursued her way. For a slight distance she bore up bravely,
afterwards flagging as before. This was beside a lone copsewood, wherein
heaps of white chips strewn upon the leafy ground showed that woodmen had
been faggoting and making hurdles during the day. Now there was not a rustle,
not a breeze, not the faintest clash of twigs to keep her company. The woman
looked over the gate, opened it, and went in. Close to the entrance stood a row
of faggots, bound and un-bound, together with stakes of all sizes.
For a few seconds the wayfarer stood with that tense stillness which signifies
itself to be not the end but merely the suspension, of a previous motion. Her
attitude was that of a person who listens, either to the external world of sound, or
to the imagined discourse of thought. A close criticism might have detected signs
proving that she was intent on the latter alternative. Moreover, as was shown by
what followed, she was oddly exercising the faculty of invention upon the
 
 
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