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CHAPTER 14.


A Martinmas summer of Mrs. Henchard's life set in with her
entry into her husband's large house and respectable social
orbit; and it was as bright as such summers well can be.
Lest she should pine for deeper affection than he could give
he made a point of showing some semblance of it in external
action. Among other things he had the iron railings, that
had smiled sadly in dull rust for the last eighty years,
painted a bright green, and the heavy-barred, small-paned
Georgian sash windows enlivened with three coats of white.
He was as kind to her as a man, mayor, and churchwarden
could possibly be. The house was large, the rooms lofty,
and the landings wide; and the two unassuming women scarcely
made a perceptible addition to its contents.

To Elizabeth-Jane the time was a most triumphant one. The
freedom she experienced, the indulgence with which she was
treated, went beyond her expectations. The reposeful, easy,
affluent life to which her mother's marriage had introduced
her was, in truth, the beginning of a great change in
Elizabeth. She found she could have nice personal
possessions and ornaments for the asking, and, as the
mediaeval saying puts it, "Take, have, and keep, are
pleasant words." With peace of mind came development, and
with development beauty. Knowledge--the result of great
natural insight--she did not lack; learning, accomplishment--
those, alas, she had not; but as the winter and spring
passed by her thin face and figure filled out in rounder and
softer curves; the lines and contractions upon her young
brow went away; the muddiness of skin which she had looked
upon as her lot by nature departed with a change to
abundance of good things, and a bloom came upon her cheek.
Perhaps, too, her grey, thoughtful eyes revealed an arch
gaiety sometimes; but this was infrequent; the sort of
wisdom which looked from their pupils did not readily keep
company with these lighter moods. Like all people who have
known rough times, light-heartedness seemed to her too
irrational and inconsequent to be indulged in except as a
reckless dram now and then; for she had been too early
habituated to anxious reasoning to drop the habit suddenly.
She felt none of those ups and downs of spirit which beset
so many people without cause; never--to paraphrase a recent
poet--never a gloom in Elizabeth-Jane's soul but she well
knew how it came there; and her present cheerfulness was
fairly proportionate to her solid guarantees for the same.

It might have been supposed that, given a girl rapidly
becoming good-looking, comfortably circumstanced, and for
the first time in her life commanding ready money, she would
go and make a fool of herself by dress. But no. The
reasonableness of almost everything that Elizabeth did was
nowhere more conspicuous than in this question of clothes.
To keep in the rear of opportunity in matters of indulgence
is as valuable a habit as to keep abreast of opportunity in
matters of enterprise. This unsophisticated girl did it by
an innate perceptiveness that was almost genius. Thus she
refrained from bursting out like a water-flower that spring,
and clothing herself in puffings and knick-knacks, as most
of the Casterbridge girls would have done in her
circumstances. Her triumph was tempered by circumspection,
she had still that field-mouse fear of the coulter of
destiny despite fair promise, which is common among the
thoughtful who have suffered early from poverty and
oppression.

"I won't be too gay on any account," she would say to
herself. "It would be tempting Providence to hurl mother
and me down, and afflict us again as He used to do."

We now see her in a black silk bonnet, velvet mantle or silk
spencer, dark dress, and carrying a sunshade. In this
latter article she drew the line at fringe, and had it plain
edged, with a little ivory ring for keeping it closed. It
was odd about the necessity for that sunshade. She
discovered that with the clarification of her complexion and
the birth of pink cheeks her skin had grown more sensitive
to the sun's rays. She protected those cheeks forthwith,
deeming spotlessness part of womanliness.

Henchard had become very fond of her, and she went out with
him more frequently than with her mother now. Her
appearance one day was so attractive that he looked at her
critically.

"I happened to have the ribbon by me, so I made it up," she
faltered, thinking him perhaps dissatisfied with some rather
bright trimming she had donned for the first time.

"Ay--of course--to be sure," he replied in his leonine way.
"Do as you like--or rather as your mother advises ye. 'Od
send--I've nothing to say to't!"

Indoors she appeared with her hair divided by a parting that
arched like a white rainbow from ear to ear. All in front
of this line was covered with a thick encampment of curls;
all behind was dressed smoothly, and drawn to a knob.

The three members of the family were sitting at breakfast
one day, and Henchard was looking silently, as he often did,
at this head of hair, which in colour was brown--rather
light than dark. "I thought Elizabeth-Jane's hair--didn't
you tell me that Elizabeth-Jane's hair promised to be black
when she was a baby?" he said to his wife.

She looked startled, jerked his foot warningly, and
murmured, "Did I?"

As soon as Elizabeth was gone to her own room Henchard
resumed. "Begad, I nearly forgot myself just now! What I
meant was that the girl's hair certainly looked as if it
would be darker, when she was a baby."

"It did; but they alter so," replied Susan.

"Their hair gets darker, I know--but I wasn't aware it
lightened ever?"

"O yes." And the same uneasy expression came out on her
face, to which the future held the key. It passed as
Henchard went on:

"Well, so much the better. Now Susan, I want to have her
called Miss Henchard--not Miss Newson. Lots o' people do it
already in carelessness--it is her legal name--so it may as
well be made her usual name--I don't like t'other name at
all for my own flesh and blood. I'll advertise it in the
Casterbridge paper--that's the way they do it. She won't
object."

"No. O no. But--"

"Well, then, I shall do it," he said, peremptorily.
"Surely, if she's willing, you must wish it as much as I?"

"O yes--if she agrees let us do it by all means," she
replied.

Then Mrs. Henchard acted somewhat inconsistently; it might
have been called falsely, but that her manner was emotional
and full of the earnestness of one who wishes to do right at
great hazard. She went to Elizabeth-Jane, whom she found
sewing in her own sitting-room upstairs, and told her what
had been proposed about her surname. "Can you agree--is it
not a slight upon Newson--now he's dead and gone?"

Elizabeth reflected. "I'll think of it, mother," she
answered.

When, later in the day, she saw Henchard, she adverted to
the matter at once, in a way which showed that the line of
feeling started by her mother had been persevered in. "Do
you wish this change so very much, sir?" she asked.

"Wish it? Why, my blessed fathers, what an ado you women
make about a trifle! I proposed it--that's all. Now,
'Lizabeth-Jane, just please yourself. Curse me if I care
what you do. Now, you understand, don't 'ee go agreeing to
it to please me."

Here the subject dropped, and nothing more was said, and
nothing was done, and Elizabeth still passed as Miss Newson,
and not by her legal name.

Meanwhile the great corn and hay traffic conducted by
Henchard throve under the management of Donald Farfrae as it
had never thriven before. It had formerly moved in jolts;
now it went on oiled casters. The old crude viva voce
system of Henchard, in which everything depended upon his
memory, and bargains were made by the tongue alone, was
swept away. Letters and ledgers took the place of "I'll
do't," and "you shall hae't"; and, as in all such cases of
advance, the rugged picturesqueness of the old method
disappeared with its inconveniences.

The position of Elizabeth-Jane's room--rather high in the
house, so that it commanded a view of the hay-stores and
granaries across the garden--afforded her opportunity for
accurate observation of what went on there. She saw that
Donald and Mr. Henchard were inseparables. When walking
together Henchard would lay his arm familiarly on his
manager's shoulder, as if Farfrae were a younger brother,
bearing so heavily that his slight frame bent under the
weight. Occasionally she would hear a perfect cannonade of
laughter from Henchard, arising from something Donald had
said, the latter looking quite innocent and not laughing at
all. In Henchard's somewhat lonely life he evidently found
the young man as desirable for comradeship as he was useful
for consultations. Donald's brightness of intellect
maintained in the corn-factor the admiration it had won at
the first hour of their meeting. The poor opinion, and but
ill-concealed, that he entertained of the slim Farfrae's
physical girth, strength, and dash was more than
counterbalanced by the immense respect he had for his
brains.

Her quiet eye discerned that Henchard's tigerish affection
for the younger man, his constant liking to have Farfrae
near him, now and then resulted in a tendency to domineer,
which, however, was checked in a moment when Donald
exhibited marks of real offence. One day, looking down on
their figures from on high, she heard the latter remark, as
they stood in the doorway between the garden and yard, that
their habit of walking and driving about together rather
neutralized Farfrae's value as a second pair of eyes, which
should be used in places where the principal was not. "'Od
damn it," cried Henchard, "what's all the world! I like a
fellow to talk to. Now come along and hae some supper, and
don't take too much thought about things, or ye'll drive me
crazy."

When she walked with her mother, on the other hand, she
often beheld the Scotchman looking at them with a curious
interest. The fact that he had met her at the Three
Mariners was insufficient to account for it, since on the
occasions on which she had entered his room he had never
raised his eyes. Besides, it was at her mother more
particularly than at herself that he looked, to Elizabeth-
Jane's half-conscious, simple-minded, perhaps pardonable,
disappointment. Thus she could not account for this
interest by her own attractiveness, and she decided that it
might be apparent only--a way of turning his eyes that Mr.
Farfrae had.

She did not divine the ample explanation of his manner,
without personal vanity, that was afforded by the fact of
Donald being the depositary of Henchard's confidence in
respect of his past treatment of the pale, chastened mother
who walked by her side. Her conjectures on that past never
went further than faint ones based on things casually heard
and seen--mere guesses that Henchard and her mother might
have been lovers in their younger days, who had quarrelled
and parted.

Casterbridge, as has been hinted, was a place deposited in
the block upon a corn-field. There was no suburb in the
modern sense, or transitional intermixture of town and down.
It stood, with regard to the wide fertile land adjoining,
clean-cut and distinct, like a chess-board on a green
tablecloth. The farmer's boy could sit under his barley-mow
and pitch a stone into the office-window of the town-clerk;
reapers at work among the sheaves nodded to acquaintances
standing on the pavement-corner; the red-robed judge, when
he condemned a sheep-stealer, pronounced sentence to the
tune of Baa, that floated in at the window from the
remainder of the flock browsing hard by; and at executions
the waiting crowd stood in a meadow immediately before the
drop, out of which the cows had been temporarily driven to
give the spectators room.

The corn grown on the upland side of the borough was
garnered by farmers who lived in an eastern purlieu called
Durnover. Here wheat-ricks overhung the old Roman street,
and thrust their eaves against the church tower; green-
thatched barns, with doorways as high as the gates of
Solomon's temple, opened directly upon the main
thoroughfare. Barns indeed were so numerous as to alternate
with every half-dozen houses along the way. Here lived
burgesses who daily walked the fallow; shepherds in an
intra-mural squeeze. A street of farmers' homesteads--a
street ruled by a mayor and corporation, yet echoing with
the thump of the flail, the flutter of the winnowing-fan,
and the purr of the milk into the pails--a street which had
nothing urban in it whatever--this was the Durnover end of
Casterbridge.

Henchard, as was natural, dealt largely with this nursery or
bed of small farmers close at hand--and his waggons were
often down that way. One day, when arrangements were in
progress for getting home corn from one of the aforesaid
farms, Elizabeth-Jane received a note by hand, asking her to
oblige the writer by coming at once to a granary on Durnover
Hill. As this was the granary whose contents Henchard was
removing, she thought the request had something to do with
his business, and proceeded thither as soon as she had put
on her bonnet. The granary was just within the farm-yard,
and stood on stone staddles, high enough for persons to walk
under. The gates were open, but nobody was within.
However, she entered and waited. Presently she saw a figure
approaching the gate--that of Donald Farfrae. He looked up
at the church clock, and came in. By some unaccountable
shyness, some wish not to meet him there alone, she quickly
ascended the step-ladder leading to the granary door, and
entered it before he had seen her. Farfrae advanced,
imagining himself in solitude, and a few drops of rain
beginning to fall he moved and stood under the shelter where
she had just been standing. Here he leant against one of
the staddles, and gave himself up to patience. He, too, was
plainly expecting some one; could it be herself? If so, why?
In a few minutes he looked at his watch, and then pulled out
a note, a duplicate of the one she had herself received.

This situation began to be very awkward, and the longer she
waited the more awkward it became. To emerge from a door
just above his head and descend the ladder, and show she had
been in hiding there, would look so very foolish that she
still waited on. A winnowing machine stood close beside
her, and to relieve her suspense she gently moved the
handle; whereupon a cloud of wheat husks flew out into her
face, and covered her clothes and bonnet, and stuck into the
fur of her victorine. He must have heard the slight
movement for he looked up, and then ascended the steps.

"Ah--it's Miss Newson," he said as soon as he could see into
the granary. "I didn't know you were there. I have kept
the appointment, and am at your service."

"O Mr. Farfrae," she faltered, "so have I. But I didn't
know it was you who wished to see me, otherwise I--"

"I wished to see you? O no--at least, that is, I am afraid
there may be a mistake."

"Didn't you ask me to come here? Didn't you write this?"
Elizabeth held out her note.

"No. Indeed, at no hand would I have thought of it! And for
you--didn't you ask me? This is not your writing?" And he
held up his.

"By no means."

"And is that really so! Then it's somebody wanting to see us
both. Perhaps we would do well to wait a little longer."

Acting on this consideration they lingered, Elizabeth-Jane's
face being arranged to an expression of preternatural
composure, and the young Scot, at every footstep in the
street without, looking from under the granary to see if the
passer were about to enter and declare himself their
summoner. They watched individual drops of rain creeping
down the thatch of the opposite rick--straw after straw--
till they reached the bottom; but nobody came, and the
granary roof began to drip.

"The person is not likely to be coming," said Farfrae.
"It's a trick perhaps, and if so, it's a great pity to waste
our time like this, and so much to be done."

"'Tis a great liberty," said Elizabeth.

"It's true, Miss Newson. We'll hear news of this some day
depend on't, and who it was that did it. I wouldn't stand
for it hindering myself; but you, Miss Newson----"

"I don't mind--much,' she replied.

"Neither do I."

They lapsed again into silence. "You are anxious to get
back to Scotland, I suppose, Mr. Farfrae?" she inquired.

"O no, Miss Newson. Why would I be?"

"I only supposed you might be from the song you sang at the
Three Mariners--about Scotland and home, I mean--which you
seemed to feel so deep down in your heart; so that we all
felt for you."

"Ay--and I did sing there--I did----But, Miss Newson"--and
Donald's voice musically undulated between two semi-tones as
it always did when he became earnest--"it's well you feel a
song for a few minutes, and your eyes they get quite
tearful; but you finish it, and for all you felt you don't
mind it or think of it again for a long while. O no, I
don't want to go back! Yet I'll sing the song to you wi'
pleasure whenever you like. I could sing it now, and not
mind at all?"

"Thank you, indeed. But I fear I must go--rain or no."

"Ay! Then, Miss Newson, ye had better say nothing about this
hoax, and take no heed of it. And if the person should say
anything to you, be civil to him or her, as if you did not
mind it--so you'll take the clever person's laugh away." In
speaking his eyes became fixed upon her dress, still sown
with wheat husks. "There's husks and dust on you. Perhaps
you don't know it?" he said, in tones of extreme delicacy.
"And it's very bad to let rain come upon clothes when
there's chaff on them. It washes in and spoils them. Let
me help you--blowing is the best."

As Elizabeth neither assented nor dissented Donald Farfrae
began blowing her back hair, and her side hair, and her
neck, and the crown of her bonnet, and the fur of her
victorine, Elizabeth saying, "O, thank you," at every puff.
At last she was fairly clean, though Farfrae, having got
over his first concern at the situation, seemed in no manner
of hurry to be gone.

"Ah--now I'll go and get ye an umbrella," he said.

She declined the offer, stepped out and was gone. Farfrae
walked slowly after, looking thoughtfully at her diminishing
figure, and whistling in undertones, "As I came down through
Cannobie."



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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