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Joseph Poorgrass drives to Casterbridge Union House. Fanny's coffin is brought out and put in the wagon. As he returns home, afternoon gives way to evening and a thick fog hangs in the air. Poorgrass feels very lonely as he crosses through a woods; he then comes to an old inn called Buck's Head, about a mile and half from Weatherbury. He parks the wagon outside and enters the inn for a mug of ale. Inside the inn, Coggan and Clark are found drinking, and Poorgrass joins them. Time passes merrily until the clock strikes six in the evening. Troy arrives on the scene and ironically rebukes Poorgrass and his two friends for their irresponsible behavior. Finding the three men too drunk to take charge of the wagon for the remainder of the journey, Troy takes drives it to Weatherbury. It is too late for burial that day, so the funeral is put off to the next morning. Fanny's coffin is placed inside Bathsheba's house. Troy is disturbed by the thought that Bathsheba may discover his love affair with Fanny Robin. The chalk writing on the coffin reads "Fanny Robin and child." Troy rubs out the last two words so that the circumstances of Fanny's past may remain hidden from Bathsheba.
Hardy's irony is powerfully at work in this chapter. As Poorgrass drives the coffin back to Weatherbury, the weather is gloomy and the air is heavy. He feels almost as if he is suffocating. When he sees life in the form of Buck's Head Inn, he flees from the symbol of death he has been carrying and drowns himself in drink. For Hardy there is life in the midst of death, and death in the midst of love.
The irresponsible Troy, who is ultimately responsible for Fanny's death, enters the Buck's Head Inn. He upbraids the three men for their drinking; ironically, at his marriage celebration, he was responsible for getting them drunk. Troy, in turn, drives Fanny's Coffin back to Weatherbury to his waiting wife, who has responsibly agreed to handle the burial arrangements. Fanny's body is brought into Bathsheba's house. Troy tries to erase his past association with her by blotting out the words indicating that Fanny was pregnant. There is irony throughout the entire scene, and the hand of Fate has clearly designed it.
Hardy is acutely aware of the cold indifference of people and institutions. In the last chapter, humans drove away the dog that had helped save Fanny. Now the institution that has taken Fanny in for shelter coldly transfers her body to the wagon. Poorgrass, with no respect, abandons the coffin in the wagon and drowns his gloominess with drink. Troy tries to erase Fanny's past history and his association with it by blotting out the words "and child." Hardy, however, makes it clear that it is very difficult to erase past mistakes and their inevitable consequences.