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CHAPTER 17.


Elizabeth-Jane had perceived from Henchard's manner that in
assenting to dance she had made a mistake of some kind. In
her simplicity she did not know what it was till a hint from
a nodding acquaintance enlightened her. As the Mayor's
step-daughter, she learnt, she had not been quite in her
place in treading a measure amid such a mixed throng as
filled the dancing pavilion.

Thereupon her ears, cheeks, and chin glowed like live coals
at the dawning of the idea that her tastes were not good
enough for her position, and would bring her into disgrace.

This made her very miserable, and she looked about for her
mother; but Mrs. Henchard, who had less idea of
conventionality than Elizabeth herself, had gone away,
leaving her daughter to return at her own pleasure. The
latter moved on into the dark dense old avenues, or rather
vaults of living woodwork, which ran along the town
boundary, and stood reflecting.

A man followed in a few minutes, and her face being to-wards
the shine from the tent he recognized her. It was Farfrae--
just come from the dialogue with Henchard which had
signified his dismissal.

"And it's you, Miss Newson?--and I've been looking for ye
everywhere!" he said, overcoming a sadness imparted by the
estrangement with the corn-merchant. "May I walk on with
you as far as your street-corner?"

She thought there might be something wrong in this, but did
not utter any objection. So together they went on, first
down the West Walk, and then into the Bowling Walk, till
Farfrae said, "It's like that I'm going to leave you soon."

She faltered, "Why?"

"Oh--as a mere matter of business--nothing more. But we'll
not concern ourselves about it--it is for the best. I hoped
to have another dance with you."

She said she could not dance--in any proper way.

"Nay, but you do! It's the feeling for it rather than the
learning of steps that makes pleasant dancers....I fear I
offended your father by getting up this! And now, perhaps,
I'll have to go to another part o' the warrld altogether!"

This seemed such a melancholy prospect that Elizabeth-Jane
breathed a sigh--letting it off in fragments that he might
not hear her. But darkness makes people truthful, and the
Scotchman went on impulsively--perhaps he had heard her
after all:

"I wish I was richer, Miss Newson; and your stepfather had
not been offended, I would ask you something in a short
time--yes, I would ask you to-night. But that's not for
me!"

What he would have asked her he did not say, and instead of
encouraging him she remained incompetently silent. Thus
afraid one of another they continued their promenade along
the walls till they got near the bottom of the Bowling Walk;
twenty steps further and the trees would end, and the
street-corner and lamps appear. In consciousness of this
they stopped.

"I never found out who it was that sent us to Durnover
granary on a fool's errand that day," said Donald, in his
undulating tones. "Did ye ever know yourself, Miss Newson?"

"Never," said she.

"I wonder why they did it!"

"For fun, perhaps."

"Perhaps it was not for fun. It might have been that they
thought they would like us to stay waiting there, talking to
one another? Ay, well! I hope you Casterbridge folk will not
forget me if I go."

"That I'm sure we won't!" she said earnestly. "I--wish you
wouldn't go at all."

They had got into the lamplight. "Now, I'll think over
that," said Donald Farfrae. "And I'll not come up to your
door; but part from you here; lest it make your father more
angry still."

They parted, Farfrae returning into the dark Bowling Walk,
and Elizabeth-Jane going up the street. Without any
consciousness of what she was doing she started running with
all her might till she reached her father's door. "O dear
me--what am I at?" she thought, as she pulled up breathless.

Indoors she fell to conjecturing the meaning of Farfrae's
enigmatic words about not daring to ask her what he fain
would. Elizabeth, that silent observing woman, had long
noted how he was rising in favour among the townspeople; and
knowing Henchard's nature now she had feared that Farfrae's
days as manager were numbered, so that the announcement gave
her little surprise. Would Mr. Farfrae stay in Casterbridge
despite his words and her father's dismissal? His occult
breathings to her might be solvable by his course in that
respect.

The next day was windy--so windy that walking in the garden
she picked up a portion of the draft of a letter on business
in Donald Farfrae's writing, which had flown over the wall
from the office. The useless scrap she took indoors, and
began to copy the calligraphy, which she much admired. The
letter began "Dear Sir," and presently writing on a loose
slip "Elizabeth-Jane," she laid the latter over "Sir,"
making the phrase "Dear Elizabeth-Jane." When she saw the
effect a quick red ran up her face and warmed her through,
though nobody was there to see what she had done. She
quickly tore up the slip, and threw it away. After this she
grew cool and laughed at herself, walked about the room, and
laughed again; not joyfully, but distressfully rather.

It was quickly known in Casterbridge that Farfrae and
Henchard had decided to dispense with each other.
Elizabeth-Jane's anxiety to know if Farfrae were going away
from the town reached a pitch that disturbed her, for she
could no longer conceal from herself the cause. At length
the news reached her that he was not going to leave the
place. A man following the same trade as Henchard, but on a
very small scale, had sold his business to Farfrae, who was
forthwith about to start as corn and hay merchant on his own
account.

Her heart fluttered when she heard of this step of Donald's,
proving that he meant to remain; and yet, would a man who
cared one little bit for her have endangered his suit by
setting up a business in opposition to Mr. Henchard's?
Surely not; and it must have been a passing impulse only
which had led him to address her so softly.

To solve the problem whether her appearance on the evening
of the dance were such as to inspire a fleeting love at
first sight, she dressed herself up exactly as she had
dressed then--the muslin, the spencer, the sandals, the
para-sol--and looked in the mirror The picture glassed back
was in her opinion, precisely of such a kind as to inspire
that fleeting regard, and no more--"just enough to make him
silly, and not enough to keep him so," she said luminously;
and Elizabeth thought, in a much lower key, that by this
time he had discovered how plain and homely was the
informing spirit of that pretty outside.

Hence, when she felt her heart going out to him, she would
say to herself with a mock pleasantry that carried an ache
with it, "No, no, Elizabeth-Jane--such dreams are not for
you!" She tried to prevent herself from seeing him, and
thinking of him; succeeding fairly well in the former
attempt, in the latter not so completely.

Henchard, who had been hurt at finding that Farfrae did not
mean to put up with his temper any longer, was incensed
beyond measure when he learnt what the young man had done as
an alternative. It was in the town-hall, after a council
meeting, that he first became aware of Farfrae's coup
for establishing himself independently in the town; and his
voice might have been heard as far as the town-pump
expressing his feelings to his fellow councilmen. These
tones showed that, though under a long reign of self-control
he had become Mayor and churchwarden and what not, there was
still the same unruly volcanic stuff beneath the rind of
Michael Henchard as when he had sold his wife at Weydon
Fair.

"Well, he's a friend of mine, and I'm a friend of his--or if
we are not, what are we? 'Od send, if I've not been his
friend, who has, I should like to know? Didn't he come here
without a sound shoe to his voot? Didn't I keep him here--
help him to a living? Didn't I help him to money, or
whatever he wanted? I stuck out for no terms--I said 'Name
your own price.' I'd have shared my last crust with that
young fellow at one time, I liked him so well. And now he's
defied me! But damn him, I'll have a tussle with him now--at
fair buying and selling, mind--at fair buying and selling!
And if I can't overbid such a stripling as he, then I'm not
wo'th a varden! We'll show that we know our business as well
as one here and there!"

His friends of the Corporation did not specially respond.
Henchard was less popular now than he had been when nearly
two years before, they had voted him to the chief magistracy
on account of his amazing energy. While they had
collectively profited by this quality of the corn-factor's
they had been made to wince individually on more than one
occasion. So he went out of the hall and down the street
alone.

Reaching home he seemed to recollect something with a sour
satisfaction. He called Elizabeth-Jane. Seeing how he
looked when she entered she appeared alarmed.

"Nothing to find fault with," he said, observing her
concern. "Only I want to caution you, my dear. That man,
Farfrae--it is about him. I've seen him talking to you two
or three times--he danced with 'ee at the rejoicings, and
came home with 'ee. Now, now, no blame to you. But just
harken: Have you made him any foolish promise? Gone the
least bit beyond sniff and snaff at all?"

"No. I have promised him nothing."

"Good. All's well that ends well. I particularly wish you
not to see him again."

"Very well, sir."

"You promise?"

She hesitated for a moment, and then said--

"Yes, if you much wish it."

"I do. He's an enemy to our house!"

When she had gone he sat down, and wrote in a heavy hand to
Farfrae thus:--


SIR,--I make request that henceforth you and my step-
daughter be as strangers to each other. She on her part has
promised to welcome no more addresses from you; and I trust,
therefore, you will not attempt to force them upon her.
M. HENCHARD


One would almost have supposed Henchard to have had policy
to see that no better modus vivendi could be arrived at
with Farfrae than by encouraging him to become his son-in-
law. But such a scheme for buying over a rival had nothing
to recommend it to the Mayor's headstrong faculties. With
all domestic finesse of that kind he was hopelessly at
variance. Loving a man or hating him, his diplomacy was as
wrongheaded as a buffalo's; and his wife had not ventured to
suggest the course which she, for many reasons, would have
welcomed gladly.

Meanwhile Donald Farfrae had opened the gates of commerce on
his own account at a spot on Durnover Hill--as far as
possible from Henchard's stores, and with every intention of
keeping clear of his former friend and employer's customers.
There was, it seemed to the younger man, room for both of
them and to spare. The town was small, but the corn and
hay-trade was proportionately large, and with his native
sagacity he saw opportunity for a share of it.

So determined was he to do nothing which should seem like
trade-antagonism to the Mayor that he refused his first
customer--a large farmer of good repute--because Henchard
and this man had dealt together within the preceding three
months.

"He was once my friend," said Farfrae, "and it's not for me
to take business from him. I am sorry to disappoint you,
but I cannot hurt the trade of a man who's been so kind to
me."

In spite of this praiseworthy course the Scotchman's trade
increased. Whether it were that his northern energy was an
overmastering force among the easy-going Wessex worthies, or
whether it was sheer luck, the fact remained that whatever
he touched he prospered in. Like Jacob in Padan-Aram, he
would no sooner humbly limit himself to the ringstraked-and-
spotted exceptions of trade than the ringstraked-and-spotted
would multiply and prevail.

But most probably luck had little to do with it. Character
is Fate, said Novalis, and Farfrae's character was just the
reverse of Henchard's, who might not inaptly be described as
Faust has been described--as a vehement gloomy being who had
quitted the ways of vulgar men without light to guide him on
a better way.

Farfrae duly received the request to discontinue attentions
to Elizabeth-Jane. His acts of that kind had been so slight
that the request was almost superfluous. Yet he had felt a
considerable interest in her, and after some cogitation he
decided that it would be as well to enact no Romeo part just
then--for the young girl's sake no less than his own. Thus
the incipient attachment was stifled down.

A time came when, avoid collision with his former friend as
he might, Farfrae was compelled, in sheer self-defence, to
close with Henchard in mortal commercial combat. He could
no longer parry the fierce attacks of the latter by simple
avoidance. As soon as their war of prices began everybody
was interested, and some few guessed the end. It was, in
some degree, Northern insight matched against Southern
doggedness--the dirk against the cudgel--and Henchard's
weapon was one which, if it did not deal ruin at the first
or second stroke, left him afterwards well-nigh at his
antagonist's mercy.

Almost every Saturday they encountered each other amid the
crowd of farmers which thronged about the market-place in
the weekly course of their business. Donald was always
ready, and even anxious, to say a few friendly words, but
the Mayor invariably gazed stormfully past him, like one who
had endured and lost on his account, and could in no sense
forgive the wrong; nor did Farfrae's snubbed manner of
perplexity at all appease him. The large farmers, corn-
merchants, millers, auctioneers, and others had each an
official stall in the corn-market room, with their names
painted thereon; and when to the familiar series of
"Henchard," "Everdene," "Shiner," "Darton," and so on, was
added one inscribed "Farfrae," in staring new letters,
Henchard was stung into bitterness; like Bellerophon, he
wandered away from the crowd, cankered in soul.

From that day Donald Farfrae's name was seldom mentioned in
Henchard's house. If at breakfast or dinner Elizabeth-
Jane's mother inadvertently alluded to her favourite's
movements, the girl would implore her by a look to be
silent; and her husband would say, "What--are you, too, my
enemy?"



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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