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CHAPTER 20.


Of all the enigmas which ever confronted a girl there can
have been seldom one like that which followed Henchard's
announcement of himself to Elizabeth as her father. He had
done it in an ardour and an agitation which had half carried
the point of affection with her; yet, behold, from the next
morning onwards his manner was constrained as she had never
seen it before.

The coldness soon broke out into open chiding. One grievous
failing of Elizabeth's was her occasional pretty and
picturesque use of dialect words--those terrible marks of
the beast to the truly genteel.

It was dinner-time--they never met except at meals--and she
happened to say when he was rising from table, wishing to
show him something, "If you'll bide where you be a minute,
father, I'll get it."

"'Bide where you be,'" he echoed sharply, "Good God, are you
only fit to carry wash to a pig-trough, that ye use such
words as those?"

She reddened with shame and sadness.

"I meant 'Stay where you are,' father," she said, in a low,
humble voice. "I ought to have been more careful."

He made no reply, and went out of the room.

The sharp reprimand was not lost upon her, and in time it
came to pass that for "fay" she said "succeed"; that she no
longer spoke of "dumbledores" but of "humble bees"; no
longer said of young men and women that they "walked
together," but that they were "engaged"; that she grew to
talk of "greggles" as "wild hyacinths"; that when she had
not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next
morning that she had been "hag-rid," but that she had
"suffered from indigestion."

These improvements, however, are somewhat in advance of the
story. Henchard, being uncultivated himself, was the
bitterest critic the fair girl could possibly have had of
her own lapses--really slight now, for she read
omnivorously. A gratuitous ordeal was in store for her in
the matter of her handwriting. She was passing the dining-
room door one evening, and had occasion to go in for
something. It was not till she had opened the door that she
knew the Mayor was there in the company of a man with whom
he transacted business.

"Here, Elizabeth-Jane," he said, looking round at her, "just
write down what I tell you--a few words of an agreement for
me and this gentleman to sign. I am a poor tool with a
pen."

"Be jowned, and so be I," said the gentleman.

She brought forward blotting-book, paper, and ink, and sat
down.

"Now then--'An agreement entered into this sixteenth day of
October'--write that first."

She started the pen in an elephantine march across the
sheet. It was a splendid round, bold hand of her own
conception, a style that would have stamped a woman as
Minerva's own in more recent days. But other ideas reigned
then: Henchard's creed was that proper young girls wrote
ladies'-hand--nay, he believed that bristling characters
were as innate and inseparable a part of refined womanhood
as sex itself. Hence when, instead of scribbling, like the
Princess Ida,--


"In such a hand as when a field of corn
Bows all its ears before the roaring East,"


Elizabeth-Jane produced a line of chain-shot and sand-bags,
he reddened in angry shame for her, and, peremptorily
saying, "Never mind--I'll finish it," dismissed her there
and then.

Her considerate disposition became a pitfall to her now.
She was, it must be admitted, sometimes provokingly and
unnecessarily willing to saddle herself with manual labours.
She would go to the kitchen instead of ringing, "Not to make
Phoebe come up twice." She went down on her knees, shovel in
hand, when the cat overturned the coal-scuttle; moreover,
she would persistently thank the parlour-maid for
everything, till one day, as soon as the girl was gone from
the room, Henchard broke out with, "Good God, why dostn't
leave off thanking that girl as if she were a goddess-born!
Don't I pay her a dozen pound a year to do things for 'ee?"
Elizabeth shrank so visibly at the exclamation that he
became sorry a few minutes after, and said that he did not
mean to be rough.

These domestic exhibitions were the small protruding
needlerocks which suggested rather than revealed what was
underneath. But his passion had less terror for her than
his coldness. The increasing frequency of the latter mood
told her the sad news that he disliked her with a growing
dislike. The more interesting that her appearance and
manners became under the softening influences which she
could now command, and in her wisdom did command, the more
she seemed to estrange him. Sometimes she caught him
looking at her with a louring invidiousness that she could
hardly bear. Not knowing his secret it was cruel mockery
that she should for the first time excite his animosity when
she had taken his surname.

But the most terrible ordeal was to come. Elizabeth had
latterly been accustomed of an afternoon to present a cup of
cider or ale and bread-and-cheese to Nance Mockridge, who
worked in the yard wimbling hay-bonds. Nance accepted this
offering thankfully at first; afterwards as a matter of
course. On a day when Henchard was on the premises he saw
his step-daughter enter the hay-barn on this errand; and, as
there was no clear spot on which to deposit the provisions,
she at once set to work arranging two trusses of hay as a
table, Mockridge meanwhile standing with her hands on her
hips, easefully looking at the preparations on her behalf.

"Elizabeth, come here!" said Henchard; and she obeyed.

"Why do you lower yourself so confoundedly?" he said with
suppressed passion. "Haven't I told you o't fifty times?
Hey? Making yourself a drudge for a common workwoman of such
a character as hers! Why, ye'll disgrace me to the dust!"

Now these words were uttered loud enough to reach Nance
inside the barn door, who fired up immediately at the slur
upon her personal character. Coming to the door she cried
regardless of consequences, "Come to that, Mr. Henchard, I
can let 'ee know she've waited on worse!"

"Then she must have had more charity than sense," said
Henchard.

"O no, she hadn't. 'Twere not for charity but for hire; and
at a public-house in this town!"

"It is not true!" cried Henchard indignantly.

"Just ask her," said Nance, folding her naked arms in such a
manner that she could comfortably scratch her elbows.

Henchard glanced at Elizabeth-Jane, whose complexion, now
pink and white from confinement, lost nearly all of the
former colour. "What does this mean?" he said to her.
"Anything or nothing?"

"It is true," said Elizabeth-Jane. "But it was only--"

"Did you do it, or didn't you? Where was it?"

"At the Three Mariners; one evening for a little while, when
we were staying there."

Nance glanced triumphantly at Henchard, and sailed into the
barn; for assuming that she was to be discharged on the
instant she had resolved to make the most of her victory.
Henchard, however, said nothing about discharging her.
Unduly sensitive on such points by reason of his own past,
he had the look of one completely ground down to the last
indignity. Elizabeth followed him to the house like a
culprit; but when she got inside she could not see him. Nor
did she see him again that day.

Convinced of the scathing damage to his local repute and
position that must have been caused by such a fact, though
it had never before reached his own ears, Henchard showed a
positive distaste for the presence of this girl not his own,
whenever he encountered her. He mostly dined with the
farmers at the market-room of one of the two chief hotels,
leaving her in utter solitude. Could he have seen how she
made use of those silent hours he might have found reason to
reserve his judgment on her quality. She read and took
notes incessantly, mastering facts with painful
laboriousness, but never flinching from her self-imposed
task. She began the study of Latin, incited by the Roman
characteristics of the town she lived in. "If I am not
well-informed it shall be by no fault of my own," she would
say to herself through the tears that would occasionally
glide down her peachy cheeks when she was fairly baffled by
the portentous obscurity of many of these educational works.

Thus she lived on, a dumb, deep-feeling, great-eyed
creature, construed by not a single contiguous being;
quenching with patient fortitude her incipient interest in
Farfrae, because it seemed to be one-sided, unmaidenly, and
unwise. True, that for reasons best known to herself, she
had, since Farfrae's dismissal, shifted her quarters from
the back room affording a view of the yard (which she had
occupied with such zest) to a front chamber overlooking the
street; but as for the young man, whenever he passed the
house he seldom or never turned his head.

Winter had almost come, and unsettled weather made her still
more dependent upon indoor resources. But there were
certain early winter days in Casterbridge--days of
firmamental exhaustion which followed angry south-westerly
tempests--when, if the sun shone, the air was like velvet.
She seized on these days for her periodical visits to the
spot where her mother lay buried--the still-used burial-
ground of the old Roman-British city, whose curious feature
was this, its continuity as a place of sepulture. Mrs.
Henchard's dust mingled with the dust of women who lay
ornamented with glass hair-pins and amber necklaces, and men
who held in their mouths coins of Hadrian, Posthumus, and
the Constantines.

Half-past ten in the morning was about her hour for seeking
this spot--a time when the town avenues were deserted as the
avenues of Karnac. Business had long since passed down them
into its daily cells, and Leisure had not arrived there. So
Elizabeth-Jane walked and read, or looked over the edge of
the book to think, and thus reached the churchyard.

There, approaching her mother's grave she saw a solitary
dark figure in the middle of the gravel-walk. This figure,
too, was reading; but not from a book: the words which
engrossed it being the inscription on Mrs. Henchard's
tombstone. The personage was in mourning like herself, was
about her age and size, and might have been her wraith or
double, but for the fact that it was a lady much more
beautifully dressed than she. Indeed, comparatively
indifferent as Elizabeth-Jane was to dress, unless for some
temporary whim or purpose, her eyes were arrested by the
artistic perfection of the lady's appearance. Her gait,
too, had a flexuousness about it, which seemed to avoid
angularity. It was a revelation to Elizabeth that human
beings could reach this stage of external development--she
had never suspected it. She felt all the freshness and
grace to be stolen from herself on the instant by the
neighbourhood of such a stranger. And this was in face of
the fact that Elizabeth could now have been writ handsome,
while the young lady was simply pretty.

Had she been envious she might have hated the woman; but she
did not do that--she allowed herself the pleasure of feeling
fascinated. She wondered where the lady had come from. The
stumpy and practical walk of honest homeliness which mostly
prevailed there, the two styles of dress thereabout, the
simple and the mistaken, equally avouched that this figure
was no Casterbridge woman's, even if a book in her hand
resembling a guide-book had not also suggested it.

The stranger presently moved from the tombstone of Mrs.
Henchard, and vanished behind the corner of the wall.
Elizabeth went to the tomb herself; beside it were two foot-
prints distinct in the soil, signifying that the lady had
stood there a long time. She returned homeward, musing on
what she had seen, as she might have mused on a rainbow or
the Northern Lights, a rare butterfly or a cameo.

Interesting as things had been out of doors, at home it
turned out to be one of her bad days. Henchard, whose two
years' mayoralty was ending, had been made aware that he was
not to be chosen to fill a vacancy in the list of aldermen;
and that Farfrae was likely to become one of the Council.
This caused the unfortunate discovery that she had played
the waiting-maid in the town of which he was Mayor to rankle
in his mind yet more poisonously. He had learnt by personal
inquiry at the time that it was to Donald Farfrae--that
treacherous upstart--that she had thus humiliated herself.
And though Mrs. Stannidge seemed to attach no great
importance to the incident--the cheerful souls at the Three
Mariners having exhausted its aspects long ago--such was
Henchard's haughty spirit that the simple thrifty deed was
regarded as little less than a social catastrophe by him.

Ever since the evening of his wife's arrival with her
daughter there had been something in the air which had
changed his luck. That dinner at the King's Arms with his
friends had been Henchard's Austerlitz: he had had his
successes since, but his course had not been upward. He was
not to be numbered among the aldermen--that Peerage of
burghers--as he had expected to be, and the consciousness of
this soured him to-day.

"Well, where have you been?" he said to her with offhand
laconism.

"I've been strolling in the Walks and churchyard, father,
till I feel quite leery." She clapped her hand to her mouth,
but too late.

This was just enough to incense Henchard after the other
crosses of the day. "I WON'T have you talk like that!"
he thundered. "'Leery,' indeed. One would think you worked
upon a farm! One day I learn that you lend a hand in public-
houses. Then I hear you talk like a clodhopper. I'm
burned, if it goes on, this house can't hold us two."

The only way of getting a single pleasant thought to go to
sleep upon after this was by recalling the lady she had seen
that day, and hoping she might see her again.

Meanwhile Henchard was sitting up, thinking over his jealous
folly in forbidding Farfrae to pay his addresses to this
girl who did not belong to him, when if he had allowed them
to go on he might not have been encumbered with her. At
last he said to himself with satisfaction as he jumped up
and went to the writing-table: "Ah! he'll think it means
peace, and a marriage portion--not that I don't want my
house to be troubled with her, and no portion at all!" He
wrote as follows:--


Sir,--On consideration, I don't wish to interfere with your
courtship of Elizabeth-Jane, if you care for her. I
therefore withdraw my objection; excepting in this--that the
business be not carried on in my house.--

Yours,
M. HENCHARD
Mr. Farfrae.


The morrow, being fairly fine, found Elizabeth-Jane again in
the churchyard, but while looking for the lady she was
startled by the apparition of Farfrae, who passed outside
the gate. He glanced up for a moment from a pocket-book in
which he appeared to be making figures as he went; whether
or not he saw her he took no notice, and disappeared.

Unduly depressed by a sense of her own superfluity she
thought he probably scorned her; and quite broken in spirit
sat down on a bench. She fell into painful thought on her
position, which ended with her saying quite loud, "O, I wish
I was dead with dear mother!"

Behind the bench was a little promenade under the wall where
people sometimes walked instead of on the gravel. The bench
seemed to be touched by something, she looked round, and a
face was bending over her, veiled, but still distinct, the
face of the young woman she had seen yesterday.

Elizabeth-Jane looked confounded for a moment, knowing she
had been overheard, though there was pleasure in her
confusion. "Yes, I heard you," said the lady, in a
vivacious voice, answering her look. "What can have
happened?"

"I don't--I can't tell you," said Elizabeth, putting her
hand to her face to hide a quick flush that had come.

There was no movement or word for a few seconds; then the
girl felt that the young lady was sitting down beside her.

"I guess how it is with you," said the latter. "That was
your mother." She waved her hand towards the tombstone.
Elizabeth looked up at her as if inquiring of herself
whether there should be confidence. The lady's manner was
so desirous, so anxious, that the girl decided there should
be confidence. "It was my mother," she said, "my only
friend."

"But your father, Mr. Henchard. He is living?"

"Yes, he is living," said Elizabeth-Jane.

"Is he not kind to you?"

"I've no wish to complain of him."

"There has been a disagreement?"

"A little."

"Perhaps you were to blame," suggested the stranger.

"I was--in many ways," sighed the meek Elizabeth. "I swept
up the coals when the servants ought to have done it; and I
said I was leery;--and he was angry with me."

The lady seemed to warm towards her for that reply. "Do you
know the impression your words give me?" she said
ingenuously. "That he is a hot-tempered man--a little
proud--perhaps ambitious; but not a bad man." Her anxiety
not to condemn Henchard while siding with Elizabeth was
curious.

"O no; certainly not BAD," agreed the honest girl. "And
he has not even been unkind to me till lately--since mother
died. But it has been very much to bear while it has
lasted. All is owing to my defects, I daresay; and my
defects are owing to my history."

"What is your history?"

Elizabeth-Jane looked wistfully at her questioner. She
found that her questioner was looking at her, turned her
eyes down; and then seemed compelled to look back again.
"My history is not gay or attractive," she said. "And yet I
can tell it, if you really want to know."

The lady assured her that she did want to know; whereupon
Elizabeth-Jane told the tale of her life as she understood
it, which was in general the true one, except that the sale
at the fair had no part therein.

Contrary to the girl's expectation her new friend was not
shocked. This cheered her; and it was not till she thought
of returning to that home in which she had been treated so
roughly of late that her spirits fell.

"I don't know how to return," she murmured. "I think of
going away. But what can I do? Where can I go?"

"Perhaps it will be better soon," said her friend gently.
"So I would not go far. Now what do you think of this: I
shall soon want somebody to live in my house, partly as
housekeeper, partly as companion; would you mind coming to
me? But perhaps--"

"O yes," cried Elizabeth, with tears in her eyes. "I would,
indeed--I would do anything to be independent; for then
perhaps my father might get to love me. But, ah!"

"What?"

"I am no accomplished person. And a companion to you must
be that."

"O, not necessarily."

"Not? But I can't help using rural words sometimes, when I
don't mean to."

"Never mind, I shall like to know them."

"And--O, I know I shan't do!"--she cried with a distressful
laugh. "I accidentally learned to write round hand instead
of ladies'-hand. And, of course, you want some one who can
write that?"

"Well, no."

"What, not necessary to write ladies'-hand?" cried the
joyous Elizabeth.

"Not at all."

"But where do you live?"

"In Casterbridge, or rather I shall be living here after
twelve o'clock to-day."

Elizabeth expressed her astonishment.

"I have been staying at Budmouth for a few days while my
house was getting ready. The house I am going into is that
one they call High-Place Hall--the old stone one looking
down the lane to the market. Two or three rooms are fit for
occupation, though not all: I sleep there to-night for the
first time. Now will you think over my proposal, and meet
me here the first fine day next week, and say if you are
still in the same mind?"

Elizabeth, her eyes shining at this prospect of a change
from an unbearable position, joyfully assented; and the two
parted at the gate of the churchyard.



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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