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CHAPTER 16.


On this account Henchard's manner towards Farfrae insensibly
became more reserved. He was courteous--too courteous--and
Farfrae was quite surprised at the good breeding which now
for the first time showed itself among the qualities of a
man he had hitherto thought undisciplined, if warm and
sincere. The corn-factor seldom or never again put his arm
upon the young man's shoulder so as to nearly weigh him down
with the pressure of mechanized friendship. He left off
coming to Donald's lodgings and shouting into the passage.
"Hoy, Farfrae, boy, come and have some dinner with us! Don't
sit here in solitary confinement!" But in the daily routine
of their business there was little change.

Thus their lives rolled on till a day of public rejoicing
was suggested to the country at large in celebration of a
national event that had recently taken place.

For some time Casterbridge, by nature slow, made no
response. Then one day Donald Farfrae broached the subject
to Henchard by asking if he would have any objection to lend
some rick-cloths to himself and a few others, who
contemplated getting up an entertainment of some sort on the
day named, and required a shelter for the same, to which
they might charge admission at the rate of so much a head.

"Have as many cloths as you like," Henchard replied.

When his manager had gone about the business Henchard was
fired with emulation. It certainly had been very remiss of
him, as Mayor, he thought, to call no meeting ere this, to
discuss what should be done on this holiday. But Farfrae
had been so cursed quick in his movements as to give old-
fashioned people in authority no chance of the initiative.
However, it was not too late; and on second thoughts he
determined to take upon his own shoulders the responsibility
of organizing some amusements, if the other Councilmen would
leave the matter in his hands. To this they quite readily
agreed, the majority being fine old crusted characters who
had a decided taste for living without worry.

So Henchard set about his preparations for a really
brilliant thing--such as should be worthy of the venerable
town. As for Farfrae's little affair, Henchard nearly
forgot it; except once now and then when, on it coming into
his mind, he said to himself, "Charge admission at so much a
head--just like a Scotchman!--who is going to pay anything a
head?" The diversions which the Mayor intended to provide
were to be entirely free.

He had grown so dependent upon Donald that he could scarcely
resist calling him in to consult. But by sheer self-
coercion he refrained. No, he thought, Farfrae would be
suggesting such improvements in his damned luminous way that
in spite of himself he, Henchard, would sink to the position
of second fiddle, and only scrape harmonies to his manager's
talents.

Everybody applauded the Mayor's proposed entertainment,
especially when it became known that he meant to pay for it
all himself.

Close to the town was an elevated green spot surrounded by
an ancient square earthwork--earthworks square and not
square, were as common as blackberries hereabout--a spot
whereon the Casterbridge people usually held any kind of
merry-making, meeting, or sheep-fair that required more
space than the streets would afford. On one side it sloped
to the river Froom, and from any point a view was obtained
of the country round for many miles. This pleasant upland
was to be the scene of Henchard's exploit.

He advertised about the town, in long posters of a pink
colour, that games of all sorts would take place here; and
set to work a little battalion of men under his own eye.
They erected greasy-poles for climbing, with smoked hams and
local cheeses at the top. They placed hurdles in rows for
jumping over; across the river they laid a slippery pole,
with a live pig of the neighbourhood tied at the other end,
to become the property of the man who could walk over and
get it. There were also provided wheelbarrows for racing,
donkeys for the same, a stage for boxing, wrestling, and
drawing blood generally; sacks for jumping in. Moreover,
not forgetting his principles, Henchard provided a mammoth
tea, of which everybody who lived in the borough was invited
to partake without payment. The tables were laid parallel
with the inner slope of the rampart, and awnings were
stretched overhead.

Passing to and fro the Mayor beheld the unattractive
exterior of Farfrae's erection in the West Walk, rick-cloths
of different sizes and colours being hung up to the arching
trees without any regard to appearance. He was easy in his
mind now, for his own preparations far transcended these.

The morning came. The sky, which had been remarkably clear
down to within a day or two, was overcast, and the weather
threatening, the wind having an unmistakable hint of water
in it. Henchard wished he had not been quite so sure about
the continuance of a fair season. But it was too late to
modify or postpone, and the proceedings went on. At twelve
o'clock the rain began to fall, small and steady, commencing
and increasing so insensibly that it was difficult to state
exactly when dry weather ended or wet established itself.
In an hour the slight moisture resolved itself into a
monotonous smiting of earth by heaven, in torrents to which
no end could be prognosticated.

A number of people had heroically gathered in the field but
by three o'clock Henchard discerned that his project was
doomed to end in failure. The hams at the top of the poles
dripped watered smoke in the form of a brown liquor, the pig
shivered in the wind, the grain of the deal tables showed
through the sticking tablecloths, for the awning allowed the
rain to drift under at its will, and to enclose the sides at
this hour seemed a useless undertaking. The landscape over
the river disappeared; the wind played on the tent-cords in
aeolian improvisations, and at length rose to such a pitch
that the whole erection slanted to the ground those who had
taken shelter within it having to crawl out on their hands
and knees.

But towards six the storm abated, and a drier breeze shook
the moisture from the grass bents. It seemed possible to
carry out the programme after all. The awning was set up
again; the band was called out from its shelter, and ordered
to begin, and where the tables had stood a place was cleared
for dancing.

"But where are the folk?" said Henchard, after the lapse of
half-an-hour, during which time only two men and a woman had
stood up to dance. "The shops are all shut. Why don't they
come?"

"They are at Farfrae's affair in the West Walk," answered a
Councilman who stood in the field with the Mayor.

"A few, I suppose. But where are the body o 'em?"

"All out of doors are there."

"Then the more fools they!"

Henchard walked away moodily. One or two young fellows
gallantly came to climb the poles, to save the hams from
being wasted; but as there were no spectators, and the whole
scene presented the most melancholy appearance Henchard gave
orders that the proceedings were to be suspended, and the
entertainment closed, the food to be distributed among the
poor people of the town. In a short time nothing was left
in the field but a few hurdles, the tents, and the poles.

Henchard returned to his house, had tea with his wife and
daughter, and then walked out. It was now dusk. He soon
saw that the tendency of all promenaders was towards a
particular spot in the Walks, and eventually proceeded
thither himself. The notes of a stringed band came from the
enclosure that Farfrae had erected--the pavilion as he
called it--and when the Mayor reached it he perceived that a
gigantic tent had been ingeniously constructed without poles
or ropes. The densest point of the avenue of sycamores had
been selected, where the boughs made a closely interlaced
vault overhead; to these boughs the canvas had been hung,
and a barrel roof was the result. The end towards the wind
was enclosed, the other end was open. Henchard went round
and saw the interior.

In form it was like the nave of a cathedral with one gable
removed, but the scene within was anything but devotional.
A reel or fling of some sort was in progress; and the
usually sedate Farfrae was in the midst of the other dancers
in the costume of a wild Highlander, flinging himself about
and spinning to the tune. For a moment Henchard could not
help laughing. Then he perceived the immense admiration for
the Scotchman that revealed itself in the women's faces; and
when this exhibition was over, and a new dance proposed, and
Donald had disappeared for a time to return in his natural
garments, he had an unlimited choice of partners, every girl
being in a coming-on disposition towards one who so
thoroughly understood the poetry of motion as he.

All the town crowded to the Walk, such a delightful idea of
a ballroom never having occurred to the inhabitants before.
Among the rest of the onlookers were Elizabeth and her
mother--the former thoughtful yet much interested, her eyes
beaming with a longing lingering light, as if Nature had
been advised by Correggio in their creation. The dancing
progressed with unabated spirit, and Henchard walked and
waited till his wife should be disposed to go home. He did
not care to keep in the light, and when he went into the
dark it was worse, for there he heard remarks of a kind
which were becoming too frequent:

"Mr. Henchard's rejoicings couldn't say good morning to
this," said one. "A man must be a headstrong stunpoll to
think folk would go up to that bleak place to-day."

The other answered that people said it was not only in such
things as those that the Mayor was wanting. "Where would
his business be if it were not for this young fellow? 'Twas
verily Fortune sent him to Henchard. His accounts were like
a bramblewood when Mr. Farfrae came. He used to reckon his
sacks by chalk strokes all in a row like garden-palings,
measure his ricks by stretching with his arms, weigh his
trusses by a lift, judge his hay by a chaw, and settle the
price with a curse. But now this accomplished young man
does it all by ciphering and mensuration. Then the wheat--
that sometimes used to taste so strong o' mice when made
into bread that people could fairly tell the breed--Farfrae
has a plan for purifying, so that nobody would dream the
smallest four-legged beast had walked over it once. O yes,
everybody is full of him, and the care Mr. Henchard has to
keep him, to be sure!" concluded this gentleman.

"But he won't do it for long, good-now," said the other.

"No!" said Henchard to himself behind the tree. "Or if he
do, he'll be honeycombed clean out of all the character and
standing that he's built up in these eighteen year!"

He went back to the dancing pavilion. Farfrae was footing a
quaint little dance with Elizabeth-Jane--an old country
thing, the only one she knew, and though he considerately
toned down his movements to suit her demurer gait, the
pattern of the shining little nails in the soles of his
boots became familiar to the eyes of every bystander. The
tune had enticed her into it; being a tune of a busy,
vaulting, leaping sort--some low notes on the silver string
of each fiddle, then a skipping on the small, like running
up and down ladders--"Miss M'Leod of Ayr" was its name, so
Mr. Farfrae had said, and that it was very popular in his
own country.

It was soon over, and the girl looked at Henchard for
approval; but he did not give it. He seemed not to see her.
"Look here, Farfrae," he said, like one whose mind was
elsewhere, "I'll go to Port-Bredy Great Market to-morrow
myself. You can stay and put things right in your clothes-
box, and recover strength to your knees after your
vagaries." He planted on Donald an antagonistic glare that
had begun as a smile.

Some other townsmen came up, and Donald drew aside. "What's
this, Henchard," said Alderman Tubber, applying his thumb to
the corn-factor like a cheese-taster. "An opposition randy
to yours, eh? Jack's as good as his master, eh? Cut ye out
quite, hasn't he?"

"You see, Mr. Henchard," said the lawyer, another good-
natured friend, "where you made the mistake was in going so
far afield. You should have taken a leaf out of his book,
and have had your sports in a sheltered place like this.
But you didn't think of it, you see; and he did, and that's
where he's beat you."

"He'll be top-sawyer soon of you two, and carry all afore
him," added jocular Mr. Tubber.

"No," said Henchard gloomily. "He won't be that, because
he's shortly going to leave me." He looked towards Donald,
who had come near. "Mr. Farfrae's time as my manager is
drawing to a close--isn't it, Farfrae?"

The young man, who could now read the lines and folds of
Henchard's strongly-traced face as if they were clear verbal
inscriptions, quietly assented; and when people deplored the
fact, and asked why it was, he simply replied that Mr.
Henchard no longer required his help.

Henchard went home, apparently satisfied. But in the
morning, when his jealous temper had passed away, his heart
sank within him at what he had said and done. He was the
more disturbed when he found that this time Farfrae was
determined to take him at his word.



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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