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CHAPTER 15.


At first Miss Newson's budding beauty was not regarded with
much interest by anybody in Casterbridge. Donald Farfrae's
gaze, it is true, was now attracted by the Mayor's so-called
step-daughter, but he was only one. The truth is that she
was but a poor illustrative instance of the prophet Baruch's
sly definition: "The virgin that loveth to go gay."

When she walked abroad she seemed to be occupied with an
inner chamber of ideas, and to have slight need for visible
objects. She formed curious resolves on checking gay
fancies in the matter of clothes, because it was
inconsistent with her past life to blossom gaudily the
moment she had become possessed of money. But nothing is
more insidious than the evolution of wishes from mere
fancies, and of wants from mere wishes. Henchard gave
Elizabeth-Jane a box of delicately-tinted gloves one spring
day. She wanted to wear them to show her appreciation of
his kindness, but she had no bonnet that would harmonize.
As an artistic indulgence she thought she would have such a
bonnet. When she had a bonnet that would go with the gloves
she had no dress that would go with the bonnet. It was now
absolutely necessary to finish; she ordered the requisite
article, and found that she had no sunshade to go with the
dress. In for a penny in for a pound; she bought the
sunshade, and the whole structure was at last complete.

Everybody was attracted, and some said that her bygone
simplicity was the art that conceals art, the "delicate
imposition" of Rochefoucauld; she had produced an effect, a
contrast, and it had been done on purpose. As a matter of
fact this was not true, but it had its result; for as soon
as Casterbridge thought her artful it thought her worth
notice. "It is the first time in my life that I have been
so much admired," she said to herself; "though perhaps it is
by those whose admiration is not worth having."

But Donald Farfrae admired her, too; and altogether the time
was an exciting one; sex had never before asserted itself in
her so strongly, for in former days she had perhaps been too
impersonally human to be distinctively feminine. After an
unprecedented success one day she came indoors, went
upstairs, and leant upon her bed face downwards quite
forgetting the possible creasing and damage. "Good Heaven,"
she whispered, "can it be? Here am I setting up as the town
beauty!"

When she had thought it over, her usual fear of exaggerating
appearances engendered a deep sadness. "There is something
wrong in all this," she mused. "If they only knew what an
unfinished girl I am--that I can't talk Italian, or use
globes, or show any of the accomplishments they learn at
boarding schools, how they would despise me! Better sell all
this finery and buy myself grammar-books and dictionaries
and a history of all the philosophies!"

She looked from the window and saw Henchard and Farfrae in
the hay-yard talking, with that impetuous cordiality on the
Mayor's part, and genial modesty on the younger man's, that
was now so generally observable in their intercourse.
Friendship between man and man; what a rugged strength there
was in it, as evinced by these two. And yet the seed that
was to lift the foundation of this friendship was at that
moment taking root in a chink of its structure.

It was about six o'clock; the men were dropping off homeward
one by one. The last to leave was a round-shouldered,
blinking young man of nineteen or twenty, whose mouth fell
ajar on the slightest provocation, seemingly because there
was no chin to support it. Henchard called aloud to him as
he went out of the gate, "Here--Abel Whittle!"

Whittle turned, and ran back a few steps. "Yes, sir," he
said, in breathless deprecation, as if he knew what was
coming next.

"Once more--be in time to-morrow morning. You see what's to
be done, and you hear what I say, and you know I'm not going
to be trifled with any longer."

"Yes, sir." Then Abel Whittle left, and Henchard and
Farfrae; and Elizabeth saw no more of them.

Now there was good reason for this command on Henchard's
part. Poor Abel, as he was called, had an inveterate habit
of over-sleeping himself and coming late to his work. His
anxious will was to be among the earliest; but if his
comrades omitted to pull the string that he always tied
round his great toe and left hanging out the window for that
purpose, his will was as wind. He did not arrive in time.

As he was often second hand at the hay-weighing, or at the
crane which lifted the sacks, or was one of those who had to
accompany the waggons into the country to fetch away stacks
that had been purchased, this affliction of Abel's was
productive of much inconvenience. For two mornings in the
present week he had kept the others waiting nearly an hour;
hence Henchard's threat. It now remained to be seen what
would happen to-morrow.

Six o'clock struck, and there was no Whittle. At half-past
six Henchard entered the yard; the waggon was horsed that
Abel was to accompany; and the other man had been waiting
twenty minutes. Then Henchard swore, and Whittle coming up
breathless at that instant, the corn-factor turned on him,
and declared with an oath that this was the last time; that
if he were behind once more, by God, he would come and drag
him out o' bed.

"There is sommit wrong in my make, your worshipful!" said
Abel, "especially in the inside, whereas my poor dumb brain
gets as dead as a clot afore I've said my few scrags of
prayers. Yes--it came on as a stripling, just afore I'd got
man's wages, whereas I never enjoy my bed at all, for no
sooner do I lie down than I be asleep, and afore I be awake
I be up. I've fretted my gizzard green about it, maister,
but what can I do? Now last night, afore I went to bed, I
only had a scantling o' cheese and--"

"I don't want to hear it!" roared Henchard. "To-morrow the
waggons must start at four, and if you're not here, stand
clear. I'll mortify thy flesh for thee!"

"But let me clear up my points, your worshipful----"

Henchard turned away.

"He asked me and he questioned me, and then 'a wouldn't hear
my points!" said Abel, to the yard in general. "Now, I
shall twitch like a moment-hand all night to-night for fear
o' him!"

The journey to be taken by the waggons next day was a long
one into Blackmoor Vale, and at four o'clock lanterns were
moving about the yard. But Abel was missing. Before either
of the other men could run to Abel's and warn him Henchard
appeared in the garden doorway. "Where's Abel Whittle? Not
come after all I've said? Now I'll carry out my word, by my
blessed fathers--nothing else will do him any good! I'm
going up that way."

Henchard went off, entered Abel's house, a little cottage in
Back Street, the door of which was never locked because the
inmates had nothing to lose. Reaching Whittle's bedside the
corn-factor shouted a bass note so vigorously that Abel
started up instantly, and beholding Henchard standing over
him, was galvanized into spasmodic movements which had not
much relation to getting on his clothes.

"Out of bed, sir, and off to the granary, or you leave my
employ to-day! 'Tis to teach ye a lesson. March on; never
mind your breeches!"

The unhappy Whittle threw on his sleeve waistcoat, and
managed to get into his boots at the bottom of the stairs,
while Henchard thrust his hat over his head. Whittle then
trotted on down Back Street, Henchard walking sternly
behind.

Just at this time Farfrae, who had been to Henchard's house
to look for him, came out of the back gate, and saw
something white fluttering in the morning gloom, which he
soon perceived to be part of Abel's shirt that showed below
his waistcoat.

"For maircy's sake, what object's this?" said Farfrae,
following Abel into the yard, Henchard being some way in the
rear by this time.

"Ye see, Mr. Farfrae," gibbered Abel with a resigned smile
of terror, "he said he'd mortify my flesh if so be I didn't
get up sooner, and now he's a-doing on't! Ye see it can't be
helped, Mr. Farfrae; things do happen queer sometimes! Yes--
I'll go to Blackmoor Vale half naked as I be, since he do
command; but I shall kill myself afterwards; I can't outlive
the disgrace, for the women-folk will be looking out of
their winders at my mortification all the way along, and
laughing me to scorn as a man 'ithout breeches! You know how
I feel such things, Maister Farfrae, and how forlorn
thoughts get hold upon me. Yes--I shall do myself harm--I
feel it coming on!"

"Get back home, and slip on your breeches, and come to wark
like a man! If ye go not, you'll ha'e your death standing
there!"

"I'm afeard I mustn't! Mr. Henchard said----"

"I don't care what Mr. Henchard said, nor anybody else! 'Tis
simple foolishness to do this. Go and dress yourself
instantly Whittle."

"Hullo, hullo!" said Henchard, coming up behind. "Who's
sending him back?"

All the men looked towards Farfrae.

"I am," said Donald. "I say this joke has been carried far
enough."

"And I say it hasn't! Get up in the waggon, Whittle."

"Not if I am manager," said Farfrae. "He either goes home,
or I march out of this yard for good."

Henchard looked at him with a face stern and red. But he
paused for a moment, and their eyes met. Donald went up to
him, for he saw in Henchard's look that he began to regret
this.

"Come," said Donald quietly, "a man o' your position should
ken better, sir! It is tyrannical and no worthy of you."

"'Tis not tyrannical!" murmured Henchard, like a sullen boy.
"It is to make him remember!" He presently added, in a tone
of one bitterly hurt: "Why did you speak to me before them
like that, Farfrae? You might have stopped till we were
alone. Ah--I know why! I've told ye the secret o' my life--
fool that I was to do't--and you take advantage of me!"

"I had forgot it," said Farfrae simply.

Henchard looked on the ground, said nothing more, and turned
away. During the day Farfrae learnt from the men that
Henchard had kept Abel's old mother in coals and snuff all
the previous winter, which made him less antagonistic to the
corn-factor. But Henchard continued moody and silent, and
when one of the men inquired of him if some oats should be
hoisted to an upper floor or not, he said shortly, "Ask Mr.
Farfrae. He's master here!"

Morally he was; there could be no doubt of it. Henchard,
who had hitherto been the most admired man in his circle,
was the most admired no longer. One day the daughters of a
deceased farmer in Durnover wanted an opinion of the value
of their haystack, and sent a messenger to ask Mr. Farfrae
to oblige them with one. The messenger, who was a child,
met in the yard not Farfrae, but Henchard.

"Very well," he said. "I'll come."

"But please will Mr. Farfrae come?" said the child.

"I am going that way....Why Mr. Farfrae?" said Henchard,
with the fixed look of thought. "Why do people always want
Mr. Farfrae?"

"I suppose because they like him so--that's what they say."

"Oh--I see--that's what they say--hey? They like him because
he's cleverer than Mr. Henchard, and because he knows more;
and, in short, Mr. Henchard can't hold a candle to him--
hey?"

"Yes--that's just it, sir--some of it."

"Oh, there's more? Of course there's more! What besides?
Come, here's a sixpence for a fairing."

"'And he's better tempered, and Henchard's a fool to him,'
they say. And when some of the women were a-walking home
they said, 'He's a diment--he's a chap o' wax--he's the
best--he's the horse for my money,' says they. And they
said, 'He's the most understanding man o' them two by long
chalks. I wish he was the master instead of Henchard,' they
said."

"They'll talk any nonsense," Henchard replied with covered
gloom. "Well, you can go now. And I am coming to value the
hay, d'ye hear?--I." The boy departed, and Henchard
murmured, "Wish he were master here, do they?"

He went towards Durnover. On his way he overtook Farfrae.
They walked on together, Henchard looking mostly on the
ground.

"You're no yoursel' the day?" Donald inquired.

"Yes, I am very well," said Henchard.

"But ye are a bit down--surely ye are down? Why, there's
nothing to be angry about! 'Tis splendid stuff that we've
got from Blackmoor Vale. By the by, the people in Durnover
want their hay valued."

"Yes. I am going there."

"I'll go with ye."

As Henchard did not reply Donald practised a piece of music
sotto voce, till, getting near the bereaved people's
door, he stopped himself with--

"Ah, as their father is dead I won't go on with such as
that. How could I forget?"

"Do you care so very much about hurting folks' feelings?"
observed Henchard with a half sneer. "You do, I know--
especially mine!"

"I am sorry if I have hurt yours, sir," replied Donald,
standing still, with a second expression of the same
sentiment in the regretfulness of his face. "Why should you
say it--think it?"

The cloud lifted from Henchard's brow, and as Donald
finished the corn-merchant turned to him, regarding his
breast rather than his face.

"I have been hearing things that vexed me," he said. "'Twas
that made me short in my manner--made me overlook what you
really are. Now, I don't want to go in here about this hay--
Farfrae, you can do it better than I. They sent for 'ee,
too. I have to attend a meeting of the Town Council at
eleven, and 'tis drawing on for't."

They parted thus in renewed friendship, Donald forbearing to
ask Henchard for meanings that were not very plain to him.
On Henchard's part there was now again repose; and yet,
whenever he thought of Farfrae, it was with a dim dread; and
he often regretted that he had told the young man his whole
heart, and confided to him the secrets of his life.



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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