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 Casterbridge, 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 country 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 Weatherbury with solicitous interest. The execution had been fixed for eight o'clock in 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 figures were there. They were carpenters lifting post into a vertical position within the parapet. He withdrew 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 you think he really was out of his mind when he did it?' said Smallbury.
`I can't honestly say that I do,' Oak replied. `However, 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 with 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 anybody's pity.'
`Is she altered much?' said Coggan.
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