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CHAPTER 24.


Poor Elizabeth-Jane, little thinking what her malignant star
had done to blast the budding attentions she had won from
Donald Farfrae, was glad to hear Lucetta's words about
remaining.

For in addition to Lucetta's house being a home, that raking
view of the market-place which it afforded had as much
attraction for her as for Lucetta. The carrefour was
like the regulation Open Place in spectacular dramas, where
the incidents that occur always happen to bear on the lives
of the adjoining residents. Farmers, merchants, dairymen,
quacks, hawkers, appeared there from week to week, and
disappeared as the afternoon wasted away. It was the node
of all orbits.

From Saturday to Saturday was as from day to day with the
two young women now. In an emotional sense they did not
live at all during the intervals. Wherever they might go
wandering on other days, on market-day they were sure to be
at home. Both stole sly glances out of the window at
Farfrae's shoulders and poll. His face they seldom saw,
for, either through shyness, or not to disturb his
mercantile mood, he avoided looking towards their quarters.

Thus things went on, till a certain market-morning brought a
new sensation. Elizabeth and Lucetta were sitting at
breakfast when a parcel containing two dresses arrived for
the latter from London. She called Elizabeth from her
breakfast, and entering her friend's bedroom Elizabeth saw
the gowns spread out on the bed, one of a deep cherry
colour, the other lighter--a glove lying at the end of each
sleeve, a bonnet at the top of each neck, and parasols
across the gloves, Lucetta standing beside the suggested
human figure in an attitude of contemplation.

"I wouldn't think so hard about it," said Elizabeth, marking
the intensity with which Lucetta was alternating the
question whether this or that would suit best.

"But settling upon new clothes is so trying," said Lucetta.
"You are that person" (pointing to one of the arrangements),
"or you are THAT totally different person" (pointing to
the other), "for the whole of the coming spring and one of
the two, you don't know which, may turn out to be very
objectionable."

It was finally decided by Miss Templeman that she would be
the cherry-coloured person at all hazards. The dress was
pronounced to be a fit, and Lucetta walked with it into the
front room, Elizabeth following her.

The morning was exceptionally bright for the time of year.
The sun fell so flat on the houses and pavement opposite
Lucetta's residence that they poured their brightness into
her rooms. Suddenly, after a rumbling of wheels, there were
added to this steady light a fantastic series of circling
irradiations upon the ceiling, and the companions turned to
the window. Immediately opposite a vehicle of strange
description had come to a standstill, as if it had been
placed there for exhibition.

It was the new-fashioned agricultural implement called a
horse-drill, till then unknown, in its modern shape, in this
part of the country, where the venerable seed-lip was still
used for sowing as in the days of the Heptarchy. Its
arrival created about as much sensation in the corn-market
as a flying machine would create at Charing Cross. The
farmers crowded round it, women drew near it, children crept
under and into it. The machine was painted in bright hues
of green, yellow, and red, and it resembled as a whole a
compound of hornet, grasshopper, and shrimp, magnified
enormously. Or it might have been likened to an upright
musical instrument with the front gone. That was how it
struck Lucetta. "Why, it is a sort of agricultural piano,"
she said.

"It has something to do with corn," said Elizabeth.

"I wonder who thought of introducing it here?"

Donald Farfrae was in the minds of both as the innovator,
for though not a farmer he was closely leagued with farming
operations. And as if in response to their thought he came
up at that moment, looked at the machine, walked round it,
and handled it as if he knew something about its make. The
two watchers had inwardly started at his coming, and
Elizabeth left the window, went to the back of the room, and
stood as if absorbed in the panelling of the wall. She
hardly knew that she had done this till Lucetta, animated by
the conjunction of her new attire with the sight of Farfrae,
spoke out: "Let us go and look at the instrument, whatever
it is."

Elizabeth-Jane's bonnet and shawl were pitchforked on in a
moment, and they went out. Among all the agriculturists
gathered round the only appropriate possessor of the new
machine seemed to be Lucetta, because she alone rivalled it
in colour.

They examined it curiously; observing the rows of trumpet-
shaped tubes one within the other, the little scoops, like
revolving salt-spoons, which tossed the seed into the upper
ends of the tubes that conducted it to the ground; till
somebody said, "Good morning, Elizabeth-Jane." She looked
up, and there was her stepfather.

His greeting had been somewhat dry and thunderous, and
Elizabeth-Jane, embarrassed out of her equanimity, stammered
at random, "This is the lady I live with, father--Miss
Templeman."

Henchard put his hand to his hat, which he brought down with
a great wave till it met his body at the knee. Miss
Templeman bowed. "I am happy to become acquainted with you,
Mr. Henchard," she said. "This is a curious machine."

"Yes," Henchard replied; and he proceeded to explain it, and
still more forcibly to ridicule it.

"Who brought it here?" said Lucetta.

"Oh, don't ask me, ma'am!" said Henchard. "The thing--why
'tis impossible it should act. 'Twas brought here by one of
our machinists on the recommendation of a jumped-up
jackanapes of a fellow who thinks----" His eye caught
Elizabeth-Jane's imploring face, and he stopped, probably
thinking that the suit might be progressing.

He turned to go away. Then something seemed to occur which
his stepdaughter fancied must really be a hallucination of
hers. A murmur apparently came from Henchard's lips in
which she detected the words, "You refused to see me!"
reproachfully addressed to Lucetta. She could not believe
that they had been uttered by her stepfather; unless,
indeed, they might have been spoken to one of the yellow-
gaitered farmers near them. Yet Lucetta seemed silent, and
then all thought of the incident was dissipated by the
humming of a song, which sounded as though from the interior
of the machine. Henchard had by this time vanished into the
market-house, and both the women glanced towards the corn-
drill. They could see behind it the bent back of a man who
was pushing his head into the internal works to master their
simple secrets. The hummed song went on--


"'Tw--s on a s--m--r aftern--n,
A wee be--re the s--n w--nt d--n,
When Kitty wi' a braw n--w g--wn
C--me ow're the h--lls to Gowrie."


Elizabeth-Jane had apprehended the singer in a moment, and
looked guilty of she did not know what. Lucetta next
recognized him, and more mistress of herself said archly,
"The 'Lass of Gowrie' from inside of a seed-drill--what a
phenomenon!"

Satisfied at last with his investigation the young man stood
upright, and met their eyes across the summit.

"We are looking at the wonderful new drill," Miss Templeman
said. "But practically it is a stupid thing--is it not?"
she added, on the strength of Henchard's information.

"Stupid? O no!" said Farfrae gravely. "It will
revolutionize sowing heerabout! No more sowers flinging
their seed about broadcast, so that some falls by the
wayside and some among thorns, and all that. Each grain
will go straight to its intended place, and nowhere else
whatever!"

"Then the romance of the sower is gone for good," observed
Elizabeth-Jane, who felt herself at one with Farfrae in
Bible-reading at least. "'He that observeth the wind shall
not sow,' so the Preacher said; but his words will not be to
the point any more. How things change!"

"Ay; ay....It must be so!" Donald admitted, his gaze fixing
itself on a blank point far away. "But the machines are
already very common in the East and North of England," he
added apologetically.

Lucetta seemed to be outside this train of sentiment, her
acquaintance with the Scriptures being somewhat limited.
"Is the machine yours?" she asked of Farfrae.

"O no, madam," said he, becoming embarrassed and deferential
at the sound of her voice, though with Elizabeth Jane he was
quite at his ease. No, no--I merely recommended that it
should be got."

In the silence which followed Farfrae appeared only
conscious of her; to have passed from perception of
Elizabeth into a brighter sphere of existence than she
appertained to. Lucetta, discerning that he was much mixed
that day, partly in his mercantile mood and partly in his
romantic one, said gaily to him--

"Well, don't forsake the machine for us," and went indoors
with her companion.

The latter felt that she had been in the way, though why was
unaccountable to her. Lucetta explained the matter somewhat
by saying when they were again in the sitting-room--

"I had occasion to speak to Mr. Farfrae the other day, and
so I knew him this morning."

Lucetta was very kind towards Elizabeth that day. Together
they saw the market thicken, and in course of time thin away
with the slow decline of the sun towards the upper end of
town, its rays taking the street endways and enfilading the
long thoroughfare from top to bottom. The gigs and vans
disappeared one by one till there was not a vehicle in the
street. The time of the riding world was over the
pedestrian world held sway. Field labourers and their wives
and children trooped in from the villages for their weekly
shopping, and instead of a rattle of wheels and a tramp of
horses ruling the sound as earlier, there was nothing but
the shuffle of many feet. All the implements were gone; all
the farmers; all the moneyed class. The character of the
town's trading had changed from bulk to multiplicity and
pence were handled now as pounds had been handled earlier in
the day.

Lucetta and Elizabeth looked out upon this, for though it
was night and the street lamps were lighted, they had kept
their shutters unclosed. In the faint blink of the fire
they spoke more freely.

"Your father was distant with you," said Lucetta.

"Yes." And having forgotten the momentary mystery of
Henchard's seeming speech to Lucetta she continued, "It is
because he does not think I am respectable. I have tried to
be so more than you can imagine, but in vain! My mother's
separation from my father was unfortunate for me. You don't
know what it is to have shadows like that upon your life."

Lucetta seemed to wince. "I do not--of that kind
precisely," she said, "but you may feel a--sense of
disgrace--shame--in other ways."

"Have you ever had any such feeling?" said the younger
innocently.

"O no," said Lucetta quickly. "I was thinking of--what
happens sometimes when women get themselves in strange
positions in the eyes of the world from no fault of their
own."

"It must make them very unhappy afterwards."

"It makes them anxious; for might not other women despise
them?"

"Not altogether despise them. Yet not quite like or respect
them."

Lucetta winced again. Her past was by no means secure from
investigation, even in Casterbridge. For one thing Henchard
had never returned to her the cloud of letters she had
written and sent him in her first excitement. Possibly they
were destroyed; but she could have wished that they had
never been written.

The rencounter with Farfrae and his bearings towards Lucetta
had made the reflective Elizabeth more observant of her
brilliant and amiable companion. A few days afterwards,
when her eyes met Lucetta's as the latter was going out, she
somehow knew that Miss Templeman was nourishing a hope of
seeing the attractive Scotchman. The fact was printed large
all over Lucetta's cheeks and eyes to any one who could read
her as Elizabeth-Jane was beginning to do. Lucetta passed
on and closed the street door.

A seer's spirit took possession of Elizabeth, impelling her
to sit down by the fire and divine events so surely from
data already her own that they could be held as witnessed.
She followed Lucetta thus mentally--saw her encounter Donald
somewhere as if by chance--saw him wear his special look
when meeting women, with an added intensity because this one
was Lucetta. She depicted his impassioned manner; beheld
the indecision of both between their lothness to separate
and their desire not to be observed; depicted their shaking
of hands; how they probably parted with frigidity in their
general contour and movements, only in the smaller features
showing the spark of passion, thus invisible to all but
themselves. This discerning silent witch had not done
thinking of these things when Lucetta came noiselessly
behind her and made her start.

It was all true as she had pictured--she could have sworn
it. Lucetta had a heightened luminousness in her eye over
and above the advanced colour of her cheeks.

"You've seen Mr. Farfrae," said Elizabeth demurely.

"Yes," said Lucetta. "How did you know?"

She knelt down on the hearth and took her friend's hands
excitedly in her own. But after all she did not say when or
how she had seen him or what he had said.

That night she became restless; in the morning she was
feverish; and at breakfast-time she told her companion that
she had something on her mind--something which concerned a
person in whom she was interested much. Elizabeth was
earnest to listen and sympathize.

"This person--a lady--once admired a man much--very much,"
she said tentatively.

"Ah," said Elizabeth-Jane.

"They were intimate--rather. He did not think so deeply of
her as she did of him. But in an impulsive moment, purely
out of reparation, he proposed to make her his wife. She
agreed. But there was an unsuspected hitch in the
proceedings; though she had been so far compromised with him
that she felt she could never belong to another man, as a
pure matter of conscience, even if she should wish to.
After that they were much apart, heard nothing of each other
for a long time, and she felt her life quite closed up for
her."

"Ah--poor girl!"

"She suffered much on account of him; though I should add
that he could not altogether be blamed for what had
happened. At last the obstacle which separated them was
providentially removed; and he came to marry her."

"How delightful!"

"But in the interval she--my poor friend--had seen a man,
she liked better than him. Now comes the point: Could she
in honour dismiss the first?"

"A new man she liked better--that's bad!"

"Yes," said Lucetta, looking pained at a boy who was
swinging the town pump-handle. "It is bad! Though you must
remember that she was forced into an equivocal position with
the first man by an accident--that he was not so well
educated or refined as the second, and that she had
discovered some qualities in the first that rendered him
less desirable as a husband than she had at first thought
him to be."

"I cannot answer," said Elizabeth-Jane thoughtfully. "It is
so difficult. It wants a Pope to settle that!"

"You prefer not to perhaps?" Lucetta showed in her appealing
tone how much she leant on Elizabeth's judgment.

"Yes, Miss Templeman," admitted Elizabeth. "I would rather
not say."

Nevertheless, Lucetta seemed relieved by the simple fact of
having opened out the situation a little, and was slowly
convalescent of her headache. "Bring me a looking-glass.
How do I appear to people?" she said languidly.

"Well--a little worn," answered Elizabeth, eyeing her as a
critic eyes a doubtful painting; fetching the glass she
enabled Lucetta to survey herself in it, which Lucetta
anxiously did.

"I wonder if I wear well, as times go!" she observed after a
while.

"Yes--fairly.

"Where am I worst?"

"Under your eyes--I notice a little brownness there."

"Yes. That is my worst place, I know. How many years more
do you think I shall last before I get hopelessly plain?"

There was something curious in the way in which Elizabeth,
though the younger, had come to play the part of experienced
sage in these discussions. "It may be five years," she said
judicially. "Or, with a quiet life, as many as ten. With
no love you might calculate on ten."

Lucetta seemed to reflect on this as on an unalterable,
impartial verdict. She told Elizabeth-Jane no more of the
past attachment she had roughly adumbrated as the
experiences of a third person; and Elizabeth, who in spite
of her philosophy was very tender-hearted, sighed that night
in bed at the thought that her pretty, rich Lucetta did not
treat her to the full confidence of names and dates in her
confessions. For by the "she" of Lucetta's story Elizabeth
had not been beguiled.



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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