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CHAPTER 21.


As a maxim glibly repeated from childhood remains
practically unmarked till some mature experience enforces
it, so did this High-Place Hall now for the first time
really show itself to Elizabeth-Jane, though her ears had
heard its name on a hundred occasions.

Her mind dwelt upon nothing else but the stranger, and the
house, and her own chance of living there, all the rest of
the day. In the afternoon she had occasion to pay a few
bills in the town and do a little shopping when she learnt
that what was a new discovery to herself had become a common
topic about the streets. High-Place Hall was undergoing
repair; a lady was coming there to live shortly; all the
shop-people knew it, and had already discounted the chance
of her being a customer.

Elizabeth-Jane could, however, add a capping touch to
information so new to her in the bulk. The lady, she said,
had arrived that day.

When the lamps were lighted, and it was yet not so dark as
to render chimneys, attics, and roofs invisible, Elizabeth,
almost with a lover's feeling, thought she would like to
look at the outside of High-Place Hall. She went up the
street in that direction.

The Hall, with its grey facade and parapet, was the only
residence of its sort so near the centre of the town. It
had, in the first place, the characteristics of a country
mansion--birds' nests in its chimneys, damp nooks where
fungi grew and irregularities of surface direct from
Nature's trowel. At night the forms of passengers were
patterned by the lamps in black shadows upon the pale walls.

This evening motes of straw lay around, and other signs of
the premises having been in that lawless condition which
accompanies the entry of a new tenant. The house was
entirely of stone, and formed an example of dignity without
great size. It was not altogether aristocratic, still less
consequential, yet the old-fashioned stranger instinctively
said "Blood built it, and Wealth enjoys it" however vague
his opinions of those accessories might be.

Yet as regards the enjoying it the stranger would have been
wrong, for until this very evening, when the new lady had
arrived, the house had been empty for a year or two while
before that interval its occupancy had been irregular. The
reason of its unpopularity was soon made manifest. Some of
its rooms overlooked the market-place; and such a prospect
from such a house was not considered desirable or seemly by
its would-be occupiers.

Elizabeth's eyes sought the upper rooms, and saw lights
there. The lady had obviously arrived. The impression that
this woman of comparatively practised manner had made upon
the studious girl's mind was so deep that she enjoyed
standing under an opposite archway merely to think that the
charming lady was inside the confronting walls, and to
wonder what she was doing. Her admiration for the
architecture of that front was entirely on account of the
inmate it screened. Though for that matter the architecture
deserved admiration, or at least study, on its own account.
It was Palladian, and like most architecture erected since
the Gothic age was a compilation rather than a design. But
its reasonableness made it impressive. It was not rich, but
rich enough. A timely consciousness of the ultimate vanity
of human architecture, no less than of other human things,
had prevented artistic superfluity.

Men had still quite recently been going in and out with
parcels and packing-cases, rendering the door and hall
within like a public thoroughfare. Elizabeth trotted
through the open door in the dusk, but becoming alarmed at
her own temerity she went quickly out again by another which
stood open in the lofty wall of the back court. To her
surprise she found herself in one of the little-used alleys
of the town. Looking round at the door which had given her
egress, by the light of the solitary lamp fixed in the
alley, she saw that it was arched and old--older even than
the house itself. The door was studded, and the keystone of
the arch was a mask. Originally the mask had exhibited a
comic leer, as could still be discerned; but generations of
Casterbridge boys had thrown stones at the mask, aiming at
its open mouth; and the blows thereon had chipped off the
lips and jaws as if they had been eaten away by disease.
The appearance was so ghastly by the weakly lamp-glimmer
that she could not bear to look at it--the first unpleasant
feature of her visit.

The position of the queer old door and the odd presence of
the leering mask suggested one thing above all others as
appertaining to the mansion's past history--intrigue. By
the alley it had been possible to come unseen from all sorts
of quarters in the town--the old play-house, the old bull-
stake, the old cock-pit, the pool wherein nameless infants
had been used to disappear. High-Place Hall could boast of
its conveniences undoubtedly.

She turned to come away in the nearest direction homeward,
which was down the alley, but hearing footsteps approaching
in that quarter, and having no great wish to be found in
such a place at such a time she quickly retreated. There
being no other way out she stood behind a brick pier till
the intruder should have gone his ways.

Had she watched she would have been surprised. She would
have seen that the pedestrian on coming up made straight for
the arched doorway: that as he paused with his hand upon the
latch the lamplight fell upon the face of Henchard.

But Elizabeth-Jane clung so closely to her nook that she
discerned nothing of this. Henchard passed in, as ignorant
of her presence as she was ignorant of his identity, and
disappeared in the darkness. Elizabeth came out a second
time into the alley, and made the best of her way home.

Henchard's chiding, by begetting in her a nervous fear of
doing anything definable as unladylike, had operated thus
curiously in keeping them unknown to each other at a
critical moment. Much might have resulted from recognition--
at the least a query on either side in one and the self-
same form: What could he or she possibly be doing there?

Henchard, whatever his business at the lady's house, reached
his own home only a few minutes later than Elizabeth-Jane.
Her plan was to broach the question of leaving his roof this
evening; the events of the day had urged her to the course.
But its execution depended upon his mood, and she anxiously
awaited his manner towards her. She found that it had
changed. He showed no further tendency to be angry; he
showed something worse. Absolute indifference had taken the
place of irritability; and his coldness was such that it
encouraged her to departure, even more than hot temper could
have done.

"Father, have you any objection to my going away?" she
asked.

"Going away! No--none whatever. Where are you going?"

She thought it undesirable and unnecessary to say anything
at present about her destination to one who took so little
interest in her. He would know that soon enough. "I have
heard of an opportunity of getting more cultivated and
finished, and being less idle," she answered, with
hesitation. "A chance of a place in a household where I can
have advantages of study, and seeing refined life."

"Then make the best of it, in Heaven's name--if you can't
get cultivated where you are."

"You don't object?"

"Object--I? Ho--no! Not at all." After a pause he said, "But
you won't have enough money for this lively scheme without
help, you know? If you like I should be willing to make you
an allowance, so that you not be bound to live upon the
starvation wages refined folk are likely to pay 'ee."

She thanked him for this offer.

"It had better be done properly," he added after a pause.
"A small annuity is what I should like you to have--so as to
be independent of me--and so that I may be independent of
you. Would that please ye?"

Certainly.

"Then I'll see about it this very day." He seemed relieved
to get her off his hands by this arrangement, and as far as
they were concerned the matter was settled. She now simply
waited to see the lady again.

The day and the hour came; but a drizzling rain fell.
Elizabeth-Jane having now changed her orbit from one of gay
independence to laborious self-help, thought the weather
good enough for such declined glory as hers, if her friend
would only face it--a matter of doubt. She went to the
boot-room where her pattens had hung ever since her
apotheosis; took them down, had their mildewed leathers
blacked, and put them on as she had done in old times. Thus
mounted, and with cloak and umbrella, she went off to the
place of appointment--intending, if the lady were not there,
to call at the house.

One side of the churchyard--the side towards the weather--
was sheltered by an ancient thatched mud wall whose eaves
overhung as much as one or two feet. At the back of the
wall was a corn-yard with its granary and barns--the place
wherein she had met Farfrae many months earlier. Under the
projection of the thatch she saw a figure. The young lady
had come.

Her presence so exceptionally substantiated the girl's
utmost hopes that she almost feared her good fortune.
Fancies find rooms in the strongest minds. Here, in a
churchyard old as civilization, in the worst of weathers,
was a strange woman of curious fascinations never seen
elsewhere: there might be some devilry about her presence.
However, Elizabeth went on to the church tower, on whose
summit the rope of a flagstaff rattled in the wind; and thus
she came to the wall.

The lady had such a cheerful aspect in the drizzle that
Elizabeth forgot her fancy. "Well," said the lady, a little
of the whiteness of her teeth appearing with the word
through the black fleece that protected her face, "have you
decided?"

"Yes, quite," said the other eagerly.

"Your father is willing?"

"Yes."

"Then come along."

"When?"

"Now--as soon as you like. I had a good mind to send to you
to come to my house, thinking you might not venture up here
in the wind. But as I like getting out of doors, I thought
I would come and see first."

"It was my own thought."

"That shows we shall agree. Then can you come to-day? My
house is so hollow and dismal that I want some living thing
there."

"I think I might be able to," said the girl, reflecting.

Voices were borne over to them at that instant on the wind
and raindrops from the other side of the wall. There came
such words as "sacks," "quarters," "threshing," "tailing,"
"next Saturday's market," each sentence being disorganized
by the gusts like a face in a cracked mirror. Both the
women listened.

"Who are those?" said the lady.

"One is my father. He rents that yard and barn."

The lady seemed to forget the immediate business in
listening to the technicalities of the corn trade. At last
she said suddenly, "Did you tell him where you were going
to?"

"No."

"O--how was that?"

"I thought it safer to get away first--as he is so uncertain
in his temper."

"Perhaps you are right....Besides, I have never told you my
name. It is Miss Templeman....Are they gone--on the other
side?"

"No. They have only gone up into the granary."

"Well, it is getting damp here. I shall expect you to-day--
this evening, say, at six."

"Which way shall I come, ma'am?"

"The front way--round by the gate. There is no other that I
have noticed."

Elizabeth-Jane had been thinking of the door in the alley.

"Perhaps, as you have not mentioned your destination, you
may as well keep silent upon it till you are clear off. Who
knows but that he may alter his mind?"

Elizabeth-Jane shook her head. "On consideration I don't
fear it," she said sadly. "He has grown quite cold to me."

"Very well. Six o'clock then."

When they had emerged upon the open road and parted, they
found enough to do in holding their bowed umbrellas to the
wind. Nevertheless the lady looked in at the corn-yard
gates as she passed them, and paused on one foot for a
moment. But nothing was visible there save the ricks, and
the humpbacked barn cushioned with moss, and the granary
rising against the church-tower behind, where the smacking
of the rope against the flag-staff still went on.

Now Henchard had not the slightest suspicion that Elizabeth-
Jane's movement was to be so prompt. Hence when, just
before six, he reached home and saw a fly at the door from
the King's Arms, and his step-daughter, with all her little
bags and boxes, getting into it, he was taken by surprise.

"But you said I might go, father?" she explained through the
carriage window.

"Said!--yes. But I thought you meant next month, or next
year. 'Od, seize it--you take time by the forelock! This,
then, is how you be going to treat me for all my trouble
about ye?"

"O father! how can you speak like that? It is unjust of
you!" she said with spirit.

"Well, well, have your own way," he replied. He entered the
house, and, seeing that all her things had not yet been
brought down, went up to her room to look on. He had never
been there since she had occupied it. Evidences of her
care, of her endeavours for improvement, were visible all
around, in the form of books, sketches, maps, and little
arrangements for tasteful effects. Henchard had known
nothing of these efforts. He gazed at them, turned suddenly
about, and came down to the door.

"Look here," he said, in an altered voice--he never called
her by name now--"don't 'ee go away from me. It may be I've
spoke roughly to you--but I've been grieved beyond
everything by you--there's something that caused it."

"By me?" she said, with deep concern. "What have I done?"

"I can't tell you now. But if you'll stop, and go on living
as my daughter, I'll tell you all in time."

But the proposal had come ten minutes too late. She was in
the fly--was already, in imagination, at the house of the
lady whose manner had such charms for her. "Father," she
said, as considerately as she could, "I think it best for us
that I go on now. I need not stay long; I shall not be far
away, and if you want me badly I can soon come back again."

He nodded ever so slightly, as a receipt of her decision and
no more. "You are not going far, you say. What will be
your address, in case I wish to write to you? Or am I not to
know?"

"Oh yes--certainly. It is only in the town--High-Place
Hall!"

"Where?" said Henchard, his face stilling.

She repeated the words. He neither moved nor spoke, and
waving her hand to him in utmost friendliness she signified
to the flyman to drive up the street.



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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