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CHAPTER 25.


The next phase of the supersession of Henchard in Lucetta's
heart was an experiment in calling on her performed by
Farfrae with some apparent trepidation. Conventionally
speaking he conversed with both Miss Templeman and her
companion; but in fact it was rather that Elizabeth sat
invisible in the room. Donald appeared not to see her at
all, and answered her wise little remarks with curtly
indifferent monosyllables, his looks and faculties hanging
on the woman who could boast of a more Protean variety in
her phases, moods, opinions, and also principles, than could
Elizabeth. Lucetta had persisted in dragging her into the
circle; but she had remained like an awkward third point
which that circle would not touch.

Susan Henchard's daughter bore up against the frosty ache of
the treatment, as she had borne up under worse things, and
contrived as soon as possible to get out of the inharmonious
room without being missed. The Scotchman seemed hardly the
same Farfrae who had danced with her and walked with her in
a delicate poise between love and friendship--that period in
the history of a love when alone it can be said to be
unalloyed with pain.

She stoically looked from her bedroom window, and
contemplated her fate as if it were written on the top of
the church-tower hard by. "Yes," she said at last, bringing
down her palm upon the sill with a pat: "HE is the
second man of that story she told me!"

All this time Henchard's smouldering sentiments towards
Lucetta had been fanned into higher and higher inflammation
by the circumstances of the case. He was discovering that
the young woman for whom he once felt a pitying warmth which
had been almost chilled out of him by reflection, was, when
now qualified with a slight inaccessibility and a more
matured beauty, the very being to make him satisfied with
life. Day after day proved to him, by her silence, that it
was no use to think of bringing her round by holding aloof;
so he gave in, and called upon her again, Elizabeth-Jane
being absent.

He crossed the room to her with a heavy tread of some
awkwardness, his strong, warm gaze upon her--like the sun
beside the moon in comparison with Farfrae's modest look--
and with something of a hail-fellow bearing, as, indeed, was
not unnatural. But she seemed so transubstantiated by her
change of position, and held out her hand to him in such
cool friendship, that he became deferential, and sat down
with a perceptible loss of power. He understood but little
of fashion in dress, yet enough to feel himself inadequate
in appearance beside her whom he had hitherto been dreaming
of as almost his property. She said something very polite
about his being good enough to call. This caused him to
recover balance. He looked her oddly in the face, losing
his awe.

"Why, of course I have called, Lucetta," he said. "What
does that nonsense mean? You know I couldn't have helped
myself if I had wished--that is, if I had any kindness at
all. I've called to say that I am ready, as soon as custom
will permit, to give you my name in return for your devotion
and what you lost by it in thinking too little of yourself
and too much of me; to say that you can fix the day or
month, with my full consent, whenever in your opinion it
would be seemly: you know more of these things than I."

"It is full early yet," she said evasively.

"Yes, yes; I suppose it is. But you know, Lucetta, I felt
directly my poor ill-used Susan died, and when I could not
bear the idea of marrying again, that after what had
happened between us it was my duty not to let any
unnecessary delay occur before putting things to rights.
Still, I wouldn't call in a hurry, because--well, you can
guess how this money you've come into made me feel." His
voice slowly fell; he was conscious that in this room his
accents and manner wore a roughness not observable in the
street. He looked about the room at the novel hangings and
ingenious furniture with which she had surrounded herself.

"Upon my life I didn't know such furniture as this could be
bought in Casterbridge," he said.

"Nor can it be " said she. "Nor will it till fifty years
more of civilization have passed over the town. It took a
waggon and four horses to get it here."

"H'm. It looks as if you were living on capital."

"O no, I am not."

"So much the better. But the fact is, your setting up like
this makes my beaming towards you rather awkward."

"Why?"

An answer was not really needed, and he did not furnish one.
"Well," he went on, "there's nobody in the world I would
have wished to see enter into this wealth before you,
Lucetta, and nobody, I am sure, who will become it more." He
turned to her with congratulatory admiration so fervid that
she shrank somewhat, notwithstanding that she knew him so
well.

"I am greatly obliged to you for all that," said she, rather
with an air of speaking ritual. The stint of reciprocal
feeling was perceived, and Henchard showed chagrin at once--
nobody was more quick to show that than he.

"You may be obliged or not for't. Though the things I say
may not have the polish of what you've lately learnt to
expect for the first time in your life, they are real, my
lady Lucetta."

"That's rather a rude way of speaking to me," pouted
Lucetta, with stormy eyes.

"Not at all!" replied Henchard hotly. "But there, there, I
don't wish to quarrel with 'ee. I come with an honest
proposal for silencing your Jersey enemies, and you ought to
be thankful."

"How can you speak so!" she answered, firing quickly.
"Knowing that my only crime was the indulging in a foolish
girl's passion for you with too little regard for
correctness, and that I was what I call innocent all the
time they called me guilty, you ought not to be so cutting!
I suffered enough at that worrying time, when you wrote to
tell me of your wife's return and my consequent dismissal,
and if I am a little independent now, surely the privilege
is due to me!"

"Yes, it is," he said. "But it is not by what is, in this
life, but by what appears, that you are judged; and I
therefore think you ought to accept me--for your own good
name's sake. What is known in your native Jersey may get
known here."

"How you keep on about Jersey! I am English!"

"Yes, yes. Well, what do you say to my proposal?"

For the first time in their acquaintance Lucetta had the
move; and yet she was backward. "For the present let things
be," she said with some embarrassment. "Treat me as an
acquaintance, and I'll treat you as one. Time will--" She
stopped; and he said nothing to fill the gap for awhile,
there being no pressure of half acquaintance to drive them
into speech if they were not minded for it.

"That's the way the wind blows, is it?" he said at last
grimly, nodding an affirmative to his own thoughts.

A yellow flood of reflected sunlight filled the room for a
few instants. It was produced by the passing of a load of
newly trussed hay from the country, in a waggon marked with
Farfrae's name. Beside it rode Farfrae himself on horse-
back. Lucetta's face became--as a woman's face becomes when
the man she loves rises upon her gaze like an apparition.

A turn of the eye by Henchard, a glance from the window, and
the secret of her inaccessibility would have been revealed.
But Henchard in estimating her tone was looking down so
plumb-straight that he did not note the warm consciousness
upon Lucetta's face.

"I shouldn't have thought it--I shouldn't have thought it of
women!" he said emphatically by-and-by, rising and shaking
himself into activity; while Lucetta was so anxious to
divert him from any suspicion of the truth that she asked
him to be in no hurry. Bringing him some apples she
insisted upon paring one for him.

He would not take it. "No, no; such is not for me," he said
drily, and moved to the door. At going out he turned his
eye upon her.

"You came to live in Casterbridge entirely on my account,"
he said. "Yet now you are here you won't have anything to
say to my offer!"

He had hardly gone down the staircase when she dropped upon
the sofa and jumped up again in a fit of desperation. "I
WILL love him!" she cried passionately; "as for HIM--
he's hot-tempered and stern, and it would be madness to bind
myself to him knowing that. I won't be a slave to the past--
I'll love where I choose!"

Yet having decided to break away from Henchard one might
have supposed her capable of aiming higher than Farfrae.
But Lucetta reasoned nothing: she feared hard words from the
people with whom she had been earlier associated; she had no
relatives left; and with native lightness of heart took
kindly to what fate offered.

Elizabeth-Jane, surveying the position of Lucetta between
her two lovers from the crystalline sphere of a
straightforward mind, did not fail to perceive that her
father, as she called him, and Donald Farfrae became more
desperately enamoured of her friend every day. On Farfrae's
side it was the unforced passion of youth. On Henchard's
the artificially stimulated coveting of maturer age.

The pain she experienced from the almost absolute
obliviousness to her existence that was shown by the pair of
them became at times half dissipated by her sense of its
humourousness. When Lucetta had pricked her finger they
were as deeply concerned as if she were dying; when she
herself had been seriously sick or in danger they uttered a
conventional word of sympathy at the news, and forgot all
about it immediately. But, as regarded Henchard, this
perception of hers also caused her some filial grief; she
could not help asking what she had done to be neglected so,
after the professions of solicitude he had made. As
regarded Farfrae, she thought, after honest reflection, that
it was quite natural. What was she beside Lucetta?--as one
of the "meaner beauties of the night," when the moon had
risen in the skies.

She had learnt the lesson of renunciation, and was as
familiar with the wreck of each day's wishes as with the
diurnal setting of the sun. If her earthly career had
taught her few book philosophies it had at least well
practised her in this. Yet her experience had consisted
less in a series of pure disappointments than in a series of
substitutions. Continually it had happened that what she
had desired had not been granted her, and that what had been
granted her she had not desired. So she viewed with an
approach to equanimity the new cancelled days when Donald
had been her undeclared lover, and wondered what unwished-
for thing Heaven might send her in place of him.



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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