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CHAPTER 19.


Henchard and Elizabeth sat conversing by the fire. It was
three weeks after Mrs. Henchard's funeral, the candles were
not lighted, and a restless, acrobatic flame, poised on a
coal, called from the shady walls the smiles of all shapes
that could respond--the old pier-glass, with gilt columns
and huge entablature, the picture-frames, sundry knobs and
handles, and the brass rosette at the bottom of each riband
bell-pull on either side of the chimney-piece.

"Elizabeth, do you think much of old times?" said Henchard.

"Yes, sir; often," she said.

"Who do you put in your pictures of 'em?"

"Mother and father--nobody else hardly."

Henchard always looked like one bent on resisting pain when
Elizabeth-Jane spoke of Richard Newson as "father." "Ah! I
am out of all that, am I not?" he said...."Was Newson a kind
father?"

"Yes, sir; very."

Henchard's face settled into an expression of stolid
loneliness which gradually modulated into something softer.
"Suppose I had been your real father?" he said. "Would you
have cared for me as much as you cared for Richard Newson?"

"I can't think it," she said quickly. "I can think of no
other as my father, except my father."

Henchard's wife was dissevered from him by death; his friend
and helper Farfrae by estrangement; Elizabeth-Jane by
ignorance. It seemed to him that only one of them could
possibly be recalled, and that was the girl. His mind began
vibrating between the wish to reveal himself to her and the
policy of leaving well alone, till he could no longer sit
still. He walked up and down, and then he came and stood
behind her chair, looking down upon the top of her head. He
could no longer restrain his impulse. "What did your mother
tell you about me--my history?" he asked.

"That you were related by marriage."

"She should have told more--before you knew me! Then my task
would not have been such a hard one....Elizabeth, it is I
who am your father, and not Richard Newson. Shame alone
prevented your wretched parents from owning this to you
while both of 'em were alive."

The back of Elizabeth's head remained still, and her
shoulders did not denote even the movements of breathing.
Henchard went on: "I'd rather have your scorn, your fear,
anything than your ignorance; 'tis that I hate! Your mother
and I were man and wife when we were young. What you saw
was our second marriage. Your mother was too honest. We
had thought each other dead--and--Newson became her
husband."

This was the nearest approach Henchard could make to the
full truth. As far as he personally was concerned he would
have screened nothing; but he showed a respect for the young
girl's sex and years worthy of a better man.

When he had gone on to give details which a whole series of
slight and unregarded incidents in her past life strangely
corroborated; when, in short, she believed his story to be
true, she became greatly agitated, and turning round to the
table flung her face upon it weeping.

"Don't cry--don't cry!" said Henchard, with vehement pathos,
"I can't bear it, I won't bear it. I am your father; why
should you cry? Am I so dreadful, so hateful to 'ee? Don't
take against me, Elizabeth-Jane!" he cried, grasping her wet
hand. "Don't take against me--though I was a drinking man
once, and used your mother roughly--I'll be kinder to you
than HE was! I'll do anything, if you will only look
upon me as your father!"

She tried to stand up and comfort him trustfully; but she
could not; she was troubled at his presence, like the
brethren at the avowal of Joseph.

"I don't want you to come to me all of a sudden," said
Henchard in jerks, and moving like a great tree in a wind.
"No, Elizabeth, I don't. I'll go away and not see you till
to-morrow, or when you like, and then I'll show 'ee papers
to prove my words. There, I am gone, and won't disturb you
any more....'Twas I that chose your name, my daughter; your
mother wanted it Susan. There, don't forget 'twas I gave
you your name!" He went out at the door and shut her softly
in, and she heard him go away into the garden. But he had
not done. Before she had moved, or in any way recovered
from the effect of his disclosure, he reappeared.

"One word more, Elizabeth," he said. "You'll take my
surname now--hey? Your mother was against it, but it will be
much more pleasant to me. 'Tis legally yours, you know.
But nobody need know that. You shall take it as if by
choice. I'll talk to my lawyer--I don't know the law of it
exactly; but will you do this--let me put a few lines into
the newspaper that such is to be your name?"

"If it is my name I must have it, mustn't I?" she asked.

"Well, well; usage is everything in these matters."

"I wonder why mother didn't wish it?"

"Oh, some whim of the poor soul's. Now get a bit of paper
and draw up a paragraph as I shall tell you. But let's have
a light."

"I can see by the firelight," she answered. "Yes--I'd
rather."

"Very well."

She got a piece of paper, and bending over the fender wrote
at his dictation words which he had evidently got by heart
from some advertisement or other--words to the effect that
she, the writer, hitherto known as Elizabeth-Jane Newson,
was going to call herself Elizabeth-Jane Henchard forthwith.
It was done, and fastened up, and directed to the office of
the Casterbridge Chronicle.

"Now," said Henchard, with the blaze of satisfaction that he
always emitted when he had carried his point--though
tenderness softened it this time--"I'll go upstairs and hunt
for some documents that will prove it all to you. But I
won't trouble you with them till to-morrow. Good-night, my
Elizabeth-Jane!"

He was gone before the bewildered girl could realize what it
all meant, or adjust her filial sense to the new center of
gravity. She was thankful that he had left her to herself
for the evening, and sat down over the fire. Here she
remained in silence, and wept--not for her mother now, but
for the genial sailor Richard Newson, to whom she seemed
doing a wrong.

Henchard in the meantime had gone upstairs. Papers of a
domestic nature he kept in a drawer in his bedroom, and this
he unlocked. Before turning them over he leant back and
indulged in reposeful thought. Elizabeth was his at last
and she was a girl of such good sense and kind heart that
she would be sure to like him. He was the kind of man to
whom some human object for pouring out his heart upon--were
it emotive or were it choleric--was almost a necessity. The
craving for his heart for the re-establishment of this
tenderest human tie had been great during his wife's
lifetime, and now he had submitted to its mastery without
reluctance and without fear. He bent over the drawer again,
and proceeded in his search.

Among the other papers had been placed the contents of his
wife's little desk, the keys of which had been handed to him
at her request. Here was the letter addressed to him with
the restriction, "NOT TO BE OPENED TILL ELIZABETH-JANE'S
WEDDING-DAY."

Mrs. Henchard, though more patient than her husband, had
been no practical hand at anything. In sealing up the
sheet, which was folded and tucked in without an envelope,
in the old-fashioned way, she had overlaid the junction with
a large mass of wax without the requisite under-touch of the
same. The seal had cracked, and the letter was open.
Henchard had no reason to suppose the restriction one of
serious weight, and his feeling for his late wife had not
been of the nature of deep respect. "Some trifling fancy or
other of poor Susan's, I suppose," he said; and without
curiosity he allowed his eyes to scan the letter:--


MY DEAR MICHAEL,--For the good of all three of us I have
kept one thing a secret from you till now. I hope you will
understand why; I think you will; though perhaps you may not
forgive me. But, dear Michael, I have done it for the best.
I shall be in my grave when you read this, and Elizabeth-
Jane will have a home. Don't curse me Mike--think of how I
was situated. I can hardly write it, but here it is.
Elizabeth-Jane is not your Elizabeth-Jane--the child who was
in my arms when you sold me. No; she died three months
after that, and this living one is my other husband's. I
christened her by the same name we had given to the first,
and she filled up the ache I felt at the other's loss.
Michael, I am dying, and I might have held my tongue; but I
could not. Tell her husband of this or not, as you may
judge; and forgive, if you can, a woman you once deeply
wronged, as she forgives you.

SUSAN HENCHARD


Her husband regarded the paper as if it were a window-pane
through which he saw for miles. His lips twitched, and he
seemed to compress his frame, as if to bear better. His
usual habit was not to consider whether destiny were hard
upon him or not--the shape of his ideals in cases of
affliction being simply a moody "I am to suffer, I
perceive." "This much scourging, then, it is for me." But
now through his passionate head there stormed this thought--
that the blasting disclosure was what he had deserved.

His wife's extreme reluctance to have the girl's name
altered from Newson to Henchard was now accounted for fully.
It furnished another illustration of that honesty in
dishonesty which had characterized her in other things.

He remained unnerved and purposeless for near a couple of
hours; till he suddenly said, "Ah--I wonder if it is true!"

He jumped up in an impulse, kicked off his slippers, and
went with a candle to the door of Elizabeth-Jane's room,
where he put his ear to the keyhole and listened. She was
breathing profoundly. Henchard softly turned the handle,
entered, and shading the light, approached the bedside.
Gradually bringing the light from behind a screening curtain
he held it in such a manner that it fell slantwise on her
face without shining on her eyes. He steadfastly regarded
her features.

They were fair: his were dark. But this was an unimportant
preliminary. In sleep there come to the surface buried
genealogical facts, ancestral curves, dead men's traits,
which the mobility of daytime animation screens and
overwhelms. In the present statuesque repose of the young
girl's countenance Richard Newson's was unmistakably
reflected. He could not endure the sight of her, and
hastened away.

Misery taught him nothing more than defiant endurance of it.
His wife was dead, and the first impulse for revenge died
with the thought that she was beyond him. He looked out at
the night as at a fiend. Henchard, like all his kind, was
superstitious, and he could not help thinking that the
concatenation of events this evening had produced was the
scheme of some sinister intelligence bent on punishing him.
Yet they had developed naturally. If he had not revealed
his past history to Elizabeth he would not have searched the
drawer for papers, and so on. The mockery was, that he
should have no sooner taught a girl to claim the shelter of
his paternity than he discovered her to have no kinship with
him.

This ironical sequence of things angered him like an impish
trick from a fellow-creature. Like Prester John's, his
table had been spread, and infernal harpies had snatched up
the food. He went out of the house, and moved sullenly
onward down the pavement till he came to the bridge at the
bottom of the High Street. Here he turned in upon a bypath
on the river bank, skirting the north-eastern limits of the
town.

These precincts embodied the mournful phases of Casterbridge
life, as the south avenues embodied its cheerful moods. The
whole way along here was sunless, even in summer time; in
spring, white frosts lingered here when other places were
steaming with warmth; while in winter it was the seed-field
of all the aches, rheumatisms, and torturing cramps of the
year. The Casterbridge doctors must have pined away for
want of sufficient nourishment but for the configuration of
the landscape on the north-eastern side.

The river--slow, noiseless, and dark--the Schwarzwasser of
Casterbridge--ran beneath a low cliff, the two together
forming a defence which had rendered walls and artificial
earthworks on this side unnecessary. Here were ruins of a
Franciscan priory, and a mill attached to the same, the
water of which roared down a back-hatch like the voice of
desolation. Above the cliff, and behind the river, rose a
pile of buildings, and in the front of the pile a square
mass cut into the sky. It was like a pedestal lacking its
statue. This missing feature, without which the design
remained incomplete, was, in truth, the corpse of a man, for
the square mass formed the base of the gallows, the
extensive buildings at the back being the county gaol. In
the meadow where Henchard now walked the mob were wont to
gather whenever an execution took place, and there to the
tune of the roaring weir they stood and watched the
spectacle.

The exaggeration which darkness imparted to the glooms of
this region impressed Henchard more than he had expected.
The lugubrious harmony of the spot with his domestic
situation was too perfect for him, impatient of effects
scenes, and adumbrations. It reduced his heartburning to
melancholy, and he exclaimed, "Why the deuce did I come
here!" He went on past the cottage in which the old local
hangman had lived and died, in times before that calling was
monopolized over all England by a single gentleman; and
climbed up by a steep back lane into the town.

For the sufferings of that night, engendered by his bitter
disappointment, he might well have been pitied. He was like
one who had half fainted, and could neither recover nor
complete the swoon. In words he could blame his wife, but
not in his heart; and had he obeyed the wise directions
outside her letter this pain would have been spared him for
long--possibly for ever, Elizabeth-Jane seeming to show no
ambition to quit her safe and secluded maiden courses for
the speculative path of matrimony.

The morning came after this night of unrest, and with it the
necessity for a plan. He was far too self-willed to recede
from a position, especially as it would involve humiliation.
His daughter he had asserted her to be, and his daughter she
should always think herself, no matter what hyprocrisy it
involved.

But he was ill-prepared for the first step in this new
situation. The moment he came into the breakfast-room
Elizabeth advanced with open confidence to him and took him
by the arm.

"I have thought and thought all night of it," she said
frankly. "And I see that everything must be as you say.
And I am going to look upon you as the father that you are,
and not to call you Mr. Henchard any more. It is so plain
to me now. Indeed, father, it is. For, of course, you
would not have done half the things you have done for me,
and let me have my own way so entirely, and bought me
presents, if I had only been your step-daughter! He--Mr.
Newson--whom my poor mother married by such a strange
mistake" (Henchard was glad that he had disguised matters
here), "was very kind--O so kind!" (she spoke with tears in
her eyes); "but that is not the same thing as being one's
real father after all. Now, father, breakfast is ready!"
she said cheerfully.

Henchard bent and kissed her cheek. The moment and the act
he had prefigured for weeks with a thrill of pleasure; yet
it was no less than a miserable insipidity to him now that
it had come. His reinstation of her mother had been chiefly
for the girl's sake, and the fruition of the whole scheme
was such dust and ashes as this.



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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