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CHAPTER 31.


The retort of the furmity-woman before the magistrates had
spread; and in four-and-twenty hours there was not a person
in Casterbridge who remained unacquainted with the story of
Henchard's mad freak at Weydon-Priors Fair, long years
before. The amends he had made in after life were lost
sight of in the dramatic glare of the original act. Had the
incident been well known of old and always, it might by this
time have grown to be lightly regarded as the rather tall
wild oat, but well-nigh the single one, of a young man with
whom the steady and mature (if somewhat headstrong) burgher
of to-day had scarcely a point in common. But the act
having lain as dead and buried ever since, the interspace of
years was unperceived; and the black spot of his youth wore
the aspect of a recent crime.

Small as the police-court incident had been in itself, it
formed the edge or turn in the incline of Henchard's
fortunes. On that day--almost at that minute--he passed the
ridge of prosperity and honour, and began to descend rapidly
on the other side. It was strange how soon he sank in
esteem. Socially he had received a startling fillip
downwards; and, having already lost commercial buoyancy from
rash transactions, the velocity of his descent in both
aspects became accelerated every hour.

He now gazed more at the pavements and less at the house-
fronts when he walked about; more at the feet and leggings
of men, and less into the pupils of their eyes with the
blazing regard which formerly had made them blink.

New events combined to undo him. It had been a bad year for
others besides himself, and the heavy failure of a debtor
whom he had trusted generously completed the overthrow of
his tottering credit. And now, in his desperation, he
failed to preserve that strict correspondence between bulk
and sample which is the soul of commerce in grain. For
this, one of his men was mainly to blame; that worthy, in
his great unwisdom, having picked over the sample of an
enormous quantity of second-rate corn which Henchard had in
hand, and removed the pinched, blasted, and smutted grains
in great numbers. The produce if honestly offered would
have created no scandal; but the blunder of
misrepresentation, coming at such a moment, dragged
Henchard's name into the ditch.

The details of his failure were of the ordinary kind. One
day Elizabeth-Jane was passing the King's Arms, when she saw
people bustling in and out more than usual where there was
no market. A bystander informed her, with some surprise at
her ignorance, that it was a meeting of the Commissioners
under Mr. Henchard's bankruptcy. She felt quite tearful,
and when she heard that he was present in the hotel she
wished to go in and see him, but was advised not to intrude
that day.

The room in which debtor and creditors had assembled was a
front one, and Henchard, looking out of the window, had
caught sight of Elizabeth-Jane through the wire blind. His
examination had closed, and the creditors were leaving. The
appearance of Elizabeth threw him into a reverie, till,
turning his face from the window, and towering above all the
rest, he called their attention for a moment more. His
countenance had somewhat changed from its flush of
prosperity; the black hair and whiskers were the same as
ever, but a film of ash was over the rest.

"Gentlemen," he said, "over and above the assets that we've
been talking about, and that appear on the balance-sheet,
there be these. It all belongs to ye, as much as everything
else I've got, and I don't wish to keep it from you, not I."
Saying this, he took his gold watch from his pocket and laid
it on the table; then his purse--the yellow canvas money-
bag, such as was carried by all farmers and dealers--untying
it, and shaking the money out upon the table beside the
watch. The latter he drew back quickly for an instant, to
remove the hair-guard made and given him by Lucetta.
"There, now you have all I've got in the world," he said.
"And I wish for your sakes 'twas more."

The creditors, farmers almost to a man, looked at the watch,
and at the money, and into the street; when Farmer James
Everdene of Weatherbury spoke.

"No, no, Henchard," he said warmly. "We don't want that.
'Tis honourable in ye; but keep it. What do you say,
neighbours--do ye agree?"

"Ay, sure: we don't wish it at all," said Grower, another
creditor.

"Let him keep it, of course," murmured another in the
background--a silent, reserved young man named Boldwood; and
the rest responded unanimously.

"Well," said the senior Commissioner, addressing Henchard,
"though the case is a desperate one, I am bound to admit
that I have never met a debtor who behaved more fairly.
I've proved the balance-sheet to be as honestly made out as
it could possibly be; we have had no trouble; there have
been no evasions and no concealments. The rashness of
dealing which led to this unhappy situation is obvious
enough; but as far as I can see every attempt has been made
to avoid wronging anybody."

Henchard was more affected by this than he cared to let them
perceive, and he turned aside to the window again. A
general murmur of agreement followed the Commissioner's
words, and the meeting dispersed. When they were gone
Henchard regarded the watch they had returned to him.
"'Tisn't mine by rights," he said to himself. "Why the
devil didn't they take it?--I don't want what don't belong
to me!" Moved by a recollection he took the watch to the
maker's just opposite, sold it there and then for what the
tradesman offered, and went with the proceeds to one among
the smaller of his creditors, a cottager of Durnover in
straitened circumstances, to whom he handed the money.

When everything was ticketed that Henchard had owned, and
the auctions were in progress, there was quite a sympathetic
reaction in the town, which till then for some time past had
done nothing but condemn him. Now that Henchard's whole
career was pictured distinctly to his neighbours, and they
could see how admirably he had used his one talent of energy
to create a position of affluence out of absolutely nothing--
which was really all he could show when he came to the town
as a journeyman hay-trusser, with his wimble and knife in
his basket--they wondered and regretted his fall.

Try as she might, Elizabeth could never meet with him. She
believed in him still, though nobody else did; and she
wanted to be allowed to forgive him for his roughness to
her, and to help him in his trouble.

She wrote to him; he did not reply. She then went to his
house--the great house she had lived in so happily for a
time--with its front of dun brick, vitrified here and there
and its heavy sash-bars--but Henchard was to be found there
no more. The ex-Mayor had left the home of his prosperity,
and gone into Jopp's cottage by the Priory Mill--the sad
purlieu to which he had wandered on the night of his
discovery that she was not his daughter. Thither she went.

Elizabeth thought it odd that he had fixed on this spot to
retire to, but assumed that necessity had no choice. Trees
which seemed old enough to have been planted by the friars
still stood around, and the back hatch of the original mill
yet formed a cascade which had raised its terrific roar for
centuries. The cottage itself was built of old stones from
the long dismantled Priory, scraps of tracery, moulded
window-jambs, and arch-labels, being mixed in with the
rubble of the walls.

In this cottage he occupied a couple of rooms, Jopp, whom
Henchard had employed, abused, cajoled, and dismissed by
turns, being the householder. But even here her stepfather
could not be seen.

"Not by his daughter?" pleaded Elizabeth.

"By nobody--at present: that's his order," she was informed.

Afterwards she was passing by the corn-stores and hay-barns
which had been the headquarters of his business. She knew
that he ruled there no longer; but it was with amazement
that she regarded the familiar gateway. A smear of decisive
lead-coloured paint had been laid on to obliterate
Henchard's name, though its letters dimly loomed through
like ships in a fog. Over these, in fresh white, spread the
name of Farfrae.

Abel Whittle was edging his skeleton in at the wicket, and
she said, "Mr. Farfrae is master here?"

"Yaas, Miss Henchet," he said, "Mr. Farfrae have bought the
concern and all of we work-folk with it; and 'tis better for
us than 'twas--though I shouldn't say that to you as a
daughter-law. We work harder, but we bain't made afeard
now. It was fear made my few poor hairs so thin! No busting
out, no slamming of doors, no meddling with yer eternal soul
and all that; and though 'tis a shilling a week less I'm the
richer man; for what's all the world if yer mind is always
in a larry, Miss Henchet?"

The intelligence was in a general sense true; and Henchard's
stores, which had remained in a paralyzed condition during
the settlement of his bankruptcy, were stirred into activity
again when the new tenant had possession. Thenceforward the
full sacks, looped with the shining chain, went scurrying up
and down under the cat-head, hairy arms were thrust out from
the different door-ways, and the grain was hauled in;
trusses of hay were tossed anew in and out of the barns, and
the wimbles creaked; while the scales and steel-yards began
to be busy where guess-work had formerly been the rule.



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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