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CHAPTER 12.


On entering his own door after watching his wife out of
sight, the Mayor walked on through the tunnel-shaped passage
into the garden, and thence by the back door towards the
stores and granaries. A light shone from the office-window,
and there being no blind to screen the interior Henchard
could see Donald Farfrae still seated where he had left him,
initiating himself into the managerial work of the house by
overhauling the books. Henchard entered, merely observing,
"Don't let me interrupt you, if ye will stay so late."

He stood behind Farfrae's chair, watching his dexterity in
clearing up the numerical fogs which had been allowed to
grow so thick in Henchard's books as almost to baffle even
the Scotchman's perspicacity. The corn-factor's mien was
half admiring, and yet it was not without a dash of pity for
the tastes of any one who could care to give his mind to
such finnikin details. Henchard himself was mentally and
physically unfit for grubbing subtleties from soiled paper;
he had in a modern sense received the education of Achilles,
and found penmanship a tantalizing art.

"You shall do no more to-night," he said at length,
spreading his great hand over the paper. "There's time
enough to-morrow. Come indoors with me and have some
supper. Now you shall! I am determined on't." He shut the
account-books with friendly force.

Donald had wished to get to his lodgings; but he already saw
that his friend and employer was a man who knew no
moderation in his requests and impulses, and he yielded
gracefully. He liked Henchard's warmth, even if it
inconvenienced him; the great difference in their characters
adding to the liking.

They locked up the office, and the young man followed his
companion through the private little door which, admitting
directly into Henchard's garden, permitted a passage from
the utilitarian to the beautiful at one step. The garden
was silent, dewy, and full of perfume. It extended a long
way back from the house, first as lawn and flower-beds, then
as fruit-garden, where the long-tied espaliers, as old as
the old house itself, had grown so stout, and cramped, and
gnarled that they had pulled their stakes out of the ground
and stood distorted and writhing in vegetable agony, like
leafy Laocoons. The flowers which smelt so sweetly were not
discernible; and they passed through them into the house.

The hospitalities of the morning were repeated, and when
they were over Henchard said, "Pull your chair round to the
fireplace, my dear fellow, and let's make a blaze--there's
nothing I hate like a black grate, even in September." He
applied a light to the laid-in fuel, and a cheerful radiance
spread around.

"It is odd," said Henchard, "that two men should meet as we
have done on a purely business ground, and that at the end
of the first day I should wish to speak to 'ee on a family
matter. But, damn it all, I am a lonely man, Farfrae: I
have nobody else to speak to; and why shouldn't I tell it to
'ee?"

"I'll be glad to hear it, if I can be of any service," said
Donald, allowing his eyes to travel over the intricate wood-
carvings of the chimney-piece, representing garlanded lyres,
shields, and quivers, on either side of a draped ox-skull,
and flanked by heads of Apollo and Diana in low relief.

"I've not been always what I am now," continued Henchard,
his firm deep voice being ever so little shaken. He was
plainly under that strange influence which sometimes prompts
men to confide to the new-found friend what they will not
tell to the old. "I began life as a working hay-trusser,
and when I was eighteen I married on the strength o' my
calling. Would you think me a married man?"

"I heard in the town that you were a widower."

"Ah, yes--you would naturally have heard that. Well, I lost
my wife nineteen years ago or so--by my own fault....This is
how it came about. One summer evening I was travelling for
employment, and she was walking at my side, carying the
baby, our only child. We came to a booth in a country fair.
I was a drinking man at that time."

Henchard paused a moment, threw himself back so that his
elbow rested on the table, his forehead being shaded by his
hand, which, however, did not hide the marks of
introspective inflexibility on his features as he narrated
in fullest detail the incidents of the transaction with the
sailor. The tinge of indifference which had at first been
visible in the Scotchman now disappeared.

Henchard went on to describe his attempts to find his wife;
the oath he swore; the solitary life he led during the years
which followed. "I have kept my oath for nineteen years,"
he went on; "I have risen to what you see me now."

"Ay!"

"Well--no wife could I hear of in all that time; and being
by nature something of a woman-hater, I have found it no
hardship to keep mostly at a distance from the sex. No wife
could I hear of, I say, till this very day. And now--she
has come back."

"Come back, has she!"

"This morning--this very morning. And what's to be done?"

"Can ye no' take her and live with her, and make some
amends?"

"That's what I've planned and proposed. But, Farfrae," said
Henchard gloomily, "by doing right with Susan I wrong
another innocent woman."

"Ye don't say that?"

"In the nature of things, Farfrae, it is almost impossible
that a man of my sort should have the good fortune to tide
through twenty years o' life without making more blunders
than one. It has been my custom for many years to run
across to Jersey in the the way of business, particularly in
the potato and root season. I do a large trade wi' them in
that line. Well, one autumn when stopping there I fell
quite ill, and in my illness I sank into one of those gloomy
fits I sometimes suffer from, on account o' the loneliness
of my domestic life, when the world seems to have the
blackness of hell, and, like Job, I could curse the day that
gave me birth."

"Ah, now, I never feel like it," said Farfrae.

"Then pray to God that you never may, young man. While in
this state I was taken pity on by a woman--a young lady I
should call her, for she was of good family, well bred, and
well educated--the daughter of some harum-scarum military
officer who had got into difficulties, and had his pay
sequestrated. He was dead now, and her mother too, and she
was as lonely as I. This young creature was staying at the
boarding-house where I happened to have my lodging; and when
I was pulled down she took upon herself to nurse me. From
that she got to have a foolish liking for me. Heaven knows
why, for I wasn't worth it. But being together in the same
house, and her feeling warm, we got naturally intimate. I
won't go into particulars of what our relations were. It is
enough to say that we honestly meant to marry. There arose
a scandal, which did me no harm, but was of course ruin to
her. Though, Farfrae, between you and me, as man and man, I
solemnly declare that philandering with womankind has
neither been my vice nor my virtue. She was terribly
careless of appearances, and I was perhaps more, because o'
my dreary state; and it was through this that the scandal
arose. At last I was well, and came away. When I was gone
she suffered much on my account, and didn't forget to tell
me so in letters one after another; till latterly, I felt I
owed her something, and thought that, as I had not heard of
Susan for so long, I would make this other one the only
return I could make, and ask her if she would run the risk
of Susan being alive (very slight as I believed) and marry
me, such as I was. She jumped for joy, and we should no
doubt soon have been married--but, behold, Susan appears!"

Donald showed his deep concern at a complication so far
beyond the degree of his simple experiences.

"Now see what injury a man may cause around him! Even after
that wrong-doing at the fair when I was young, if I had
never been so selfish as to let this giddy girl devote
herself to me over at Jersey, to the injury of her name, all
might now be well. Yet, as it stands, I must bitterly
disappoint one of these women; and it is the second. My
first duty is to Susan--there's no doubt about that."

"They are both in a very melancholy position, and that's
true!" murmured Donald.

"They are! For myself I don't care--'twill all end one way.
But these two." Henchard paused in reverie. "I feel I
should like to treat the second, no less than the first, as
kindly as a man can in such a case."

"Ah, well, it cannet be helped!" said the other, with
philosophic woefulness. "You mun write to the young lady,
and in your letter you must put it plain and honest that it
turns out she cannet be your wife, the first having come
back; that ye cannet see her more; and that--ye wish her
weel."

"That won't do. 'Od seize it, I must do a little more than
that! I must--though she did always brag about her rich
uncle or rich aunt, and her expectations from 'em--I must
send a useful sum of money to her, I suppose--just as a
little recompense, poor girl....Now, will you help me in
this, and draw up an explanation to her of all I've told ye,
breaking it as gently as you can? I'm so bad at letters."

"And I will."

"Now, I haven't told you quite all yet. My wife Susan has
my daughter with her--the baby that was in her arms at the
fair; and this girl knows nothing of me beyond that I am
some sort of relation by marriage. She has grown up in the
belief that the sailor to whom I made over her mother, and
who is now dead, was her father, and her mother's husband.

What her mother has always felt, she and I together feel
now--that we can't proclaim our disgrace to the girl by
letting her know the truth. Now what would you do?--I want
your advice."

"I think I'd run the risk, and tell her the truth. She'll
forgive ye both."

"Never!" said Henchard. "I am not going to let her know the
truth. Her mother and I be going to marry again; and it
will not only help us to keep our child's respect, but it
will be more proper. Susan looks upon herself as the
sailor's widow, and won't think o' living with me as
formerly without another religious ceremony--and she's
right."

Farfrae thereupon said no more. The letter to the young
Jersey woman was carefully framed by him, and the interview
ended, Henchard saying, as the Scotchman left, "I feel it a
great relief, Farfrae, to tell some friend o' this! You see
now that the Mayor of Casterbridge is not so thriving in his
mind as it seems he might be from the state of his pocket."

"I do. And I'm sorry for ye!" said Farfrae.

When he was gone Henchard copied the letter, and, enclosing
a cheque, took it to the post-office, from which he walked
back thoughtfully.

"Can it be that it will go off so easily!" he said. "Poor
thing--God knows! Now then, to make amends to Susan!"



The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Classics
Book Review:
Thomas Hardy’s masterpiece "The Mayor of Casterbridge" proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that “character is destiny”, and in writing it Hardy proved that a tragedy can be one of the most enjoyable forms of literature. As in ancient Greek tragedies, the protagonist of
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