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CHAPTER 2.


The morning sun was streaming through the crevices of the
canvas when the man awoke. A warm glow pervaded the whole
atmosphere of the marquee, and a single big blue fly buzzed
musically round and round it. Besides the buzz of the fly
there was not a sound. He looked about--at the benches--at
the table supported by trestles--at his basket of tools--at
the stove where the furmity had been boiled--at the empty
basins--at some shed grains of wheat--at the corks which
dotted the grassy floor. Among the odds and ends he
discerned a little shining object, and picked it up. It was
his wife's ring.

A confused picture of the events of the previous evening
seemed to come back to him, and he thrust his hand into his
breast-pocket. A rustling revealed the sailor's bank-notes
thrust carelessly in.

This second verification of his dim memories was enough; he
knew now they were not dreams. He remained seated, looking
on the ground for some time. "I must get out of this as
soon as I can," he said deliberately at last, with the air
of one who could not catch his thoughts without pronouncing
them. "She's gone--to be sure she is--gone with that sailor
who bought her, and little Elizabeth-Jane. We walked here,
and I had the furmity, and rum in it--and sold her. Yes,
that's what's happened and here am I. Now, what am I to do--
am I sober enough to walk, I wonder?" He stood up, found
that he was in fairly good condition for progress,
unencumbered. Next he shouldered his tool basket, and found
he could carry it. Then lifting the tent door he emerged
into the open air.

Here the man looked around with gloomy curiosity. The
freshness of the September morning inspired and braced him
as he stood. He and his family had been weary when they
arrived the night before, and they had observed but little
of the place; so that he now beheld it as a new thing. It
exhibited itself as the top of an open down, bounded on one
extreme by a plantation, and approached by a winding road.
At the bottom stood the village which lent its name to the
upland and the annual fair that was held thereon. The spot
stretched downward into valleys, and onward to other
uplands, dotted with barrows, and trenched with the remains
of prehistoric forts. The whole scene lay under the rays of
a newly risen sun, which had not as yet dried a single blade
of the heavily dewed grass, whereon the shadows of the
yellow and red vans were projected far away, those thrown by
the felloe of each wheel being elongated in shape to the
orbit of a comet. All the gipsies and showmen who had
remained on the ground lay snug within their carts and tents
or wrapped in horse-cloths under them, and were silent and
still as death, with the exception of an occasional snore
that revealed their presence. But the Seven Sleepers had a
dog; and dogs of the mysterious breeds that vagrants own,
that are as much like cats as dogs and as much like foxes as
cats also lay about here. A little one started up under one
of the carts, barked as a matter of principle, and quickly
lay down again. He was the only positive spectator of the
hay-trusser's exit from the Weydon Fair-field.

This seemed to accord with his desire. He went on in silent
thought, unheeding the yellowhammers which flitted about the
hedges with straws in their bills, the crowns of the
mushrooms, and the tinkling of local sheep-bells, whose
wearer had had the good fortune not to be included in the
fair. When he reached a lane, a good mile from the scene of
the previous evening, the man pitched his basket and leant
upon a gate. A difficult problem or two occupied his mind.

"Did I tell my name to anybody last night, or didn't I tell
my name?" he said to himself; and at last concluded that he
did not. His general demeanour was enough to show how he
was surprised and nettled that his wife had taken him so
literally--as much could be seen in his face, and in the way
he nibbled a straw which he pulled from the hedge. He knew
that she must have been somewhat excited to do this;
moreover, she must have believed that there was some sort of
binding force in the transaction. On this latter point he
felt almost certain, knowing her freedom from levity of
character, and the extreme simplicity of her intellect.
There may, too, have been enough recklessness and resentment
beneath her ordinary placidity to make her stifle any
momentary doubts. On a previous occasion when he had
declared during a fuddle that he would dispose of her as he
had done, she had replied that she would not hear him say
that many times more before it happened, in the resigned
tones of a fatalist...."Yet she knows I am not in my senses
when I do that!" he exclaimed. "Well, I must walk about
till I find her....Seize her, why didn't she know better
than bring me into this disgrace!" he roared out. "She
wasn't queer if I was. 'Tis like Susan to show such idiotic
simplicity. Meek--that meekness has done me more harm than
the bitterest temper!"

When he was calmer he turned to his original conviction that
he must somehow find her and his little Elizabeth-Jane, and
put up with the shame as best he could. It was of his own
making, and he ought to bear it. But first he resolved to
register an oath, a greater oath than he had ever sworn
before: and to do it properly he required a fit place and
imagery; for there was something fetichistic in this man's
beliefs.

He shouldered his basket and moved on, casting his eyes
inquisitively round upon the landscape as he walked, and at
the distance of three or four miles perceived the roofs of a
village and the tower of a church. He instantly made
towards the latter object. The village was quite still, it
being that motionless hour of rustic daily life which fills
the interval between the departure of the field-labourers to
their work, and the rising of their wives and daughters to
prepare the breakfast for their return. Hence he reached
the church without observation, and the door being only
latched he entered. The hay-trusser deposited his basket by
the font, went up the nave till he reached the altar-rails,
and opening the gate entered the sacrarium, where he seemed
to feel a sense of the strangeness for a moment; then he
knelt upon the footpace. Dropping his head upon the clamped
book which lay on the Communion-table, he said aloud--

"I, Michael Henchard, on this morning of the sixteenth of
September, do take an oath before God here in this solemn
place that I will avoid all strong liquors for the space of
twenty-one years to come, being a year for every year that I
have lived. And this I swear upon the book before me; and
may I be strook dumb, blind, and helpless, if I break this
my oath!"

When he had said it and kissed the big book, the hay-trusser
arose, and seemed relieved at having made a start in a new
direction. While standing in the porch a moment he saw a
thick jet of wood smoke suddenly start up from the red
chimney of a cottage near, and knew that the occupant had
just lit her fire. He went round to the door, and the
housewife agreed to prepare him some breakfast for a
trifling payment, which was done. Then he started on the
search for his wife and child.

The perplexing nature of the undertaking became apparent
soon enough. Though he examined and inquired, and walked
hither and thither day after day, no such characters as
those he described had anywhere been seen since the evening
of the fair. To add to the difficulty he could gain no
sound of the sailor's name. As money was short with him he
decided, after some hesitation, to spend the sailor's money
in the prosecution of this search; but it was equally in
vain. The truth was that a certain shyness of revealing his
conduct prevented Michael Henchard from following up the
investigation with the loud hue-and-cry such a pursuit
demanded to render it effectual; and it was probably for
this reason that he obtained no clue, though everything was
done by him that did not involve an explanation of the
circumstances under which he had lost her.

Weeks counted up to months, and still he searched on,
maintaining himself by small jobs of work in the intervals.
By this time he had arrived at a seaport, and there he
derived intelligence that persons answering somewhat to his
description had emigrated a little time before. Then he
said he would search no longer, and that he would go and
settle in the district which he had had for some time in his
mind.

Next day he started, journeying south-westward, and did not
pause, except for nights' lodgings, till he reached the town
of Casterbridge, in a far distant part of Wessex.



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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