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CHAPTER 32.


Two bridges stood near the lower part of Casterbridge town.
The first, of weather-stained brick, was immediately at the
end of High Street, where a diverging branch from that
thoroughfare ran round to the low-lying Durnover lanes; so
that the precincts of the bridge formed the merging point of
respectability and indigence. The second bridge, of stone,
was further out on the highway--in fact, fairly in the
meadows, though still within the town boundary.

These bridges had speaking countenances. Every projection
in each was worn down to obtuseness, partly by weather, more
by friction from generations of loungers, whose toes and
heels had from year to year made restless movements against
these parapets, as they had stood there meditating on the
aspect of affairs. In the case of the more friable bricks
and stones even the flat faces were worn into hollows by the
same mixed mechanism. The masonry of the top was clamped
with iron at each joint; since it had been no uncommon thing
for desperate men to wrench the coping off and throw it down
the river, in reckless defiance of the magistrates.

For to this pair of bridges gravitated all the failures of
the town; those who had failed in business, in love, in
sobriety, in crime. Why the unhappy hereabout usually chose
the bridges for their meditations in preference to a
railing, a gate, or a stile, was not so clear.

There was a marked difference of quality between the
personages who haunted the near bridge of brick and the
personages who haunted the far one of stone. Those of
lowest character preferred the former, adjoining the town;
they did not mind the glare of the public eye. They had
been of comparatively no account during their successes; and
though they might feel dispirited, they had no particular
sense of shame in their ruin. Their hands were mostly kept
in their pockets; they wore a leather strap round their hips
or knees, and boots that required a great deal of lacing,
but seemed never to get any. Instead of sighing at their
adversities they spat, and instead of saying the iron had
entered into their souls they said they were down on their
luck. Jopp in his time of distress had often stood here; so
had Mother Cuxsom, Christopher Coney, and poor Abel Whittle.

The miserables who would pause on the remoter bridge
were of a politer stamp. They included bankrupts,
hypochondriacs, persons who were what is called "out of a
situation" from fault or lucklessness, the inefficient of
the professional class--shabby-genteel men, who did not know
how to get rid of the weary time between breakfast and
dinner, and the yet more weary time between dinner and dark.
The eye of this species were mostly directed over the
parapet upon the running water below. A man seen there
looking thus fixedly into the river was pretty sure to be
one whom the world did not treat kindly for some reason or
other. While one in straits on the townward bridge did not
mind who saw him so, and kept his back to the parapet to
survey the passers-by, one in straits on this never faced
the road, never turned his head at coming footsteps, but,
sensitive to his own condition, watched the current whenever
a stranger approached, as if some strange fish interested
him, though every finned thing had been poached out of the
river years before.

There and thus they would muse; if their grief were the
grief of oppression they would wish themselves kings; if
their grief were poverty, wish themselves millionaires; if
sin, they would wish they were saints or angels; if despised
love, that they were some much-courted Adonis of county
fame. Some had been known to stand and think so long with
this fixed gaze downward that eventually they had allowed
their poor carcases to follow that gaze; and they were
discovered the next morning out of reach of their troubles,
either here or in the deep pool called Blackwater, a little
higher up the river.

To this bridge came Henchard, as other unfortunates had come
before him, his way thither being by the riverside path on
the chilly edge of the town. Here he was standing one windy
afternoon when Durnover church clock struck five. While the
gusts were bringing the notes to his ears across the damp
intervening flat a man passed behind him and greeted
Henchard by name. Henchard turned slightly and saw that the
corner was Jopp, his old foreman, now employed elsewhere, to
whom, though he hated him, he had gone for lodgings because
Jopp was the one man in Casterbridge whose observation and
opinion the fallen corn-merchant despised to the point of
indifference.

Henchard returned him a scarcely perceptible nod, and Jopp
stopped.

"He and she are gone into their new house to-day," said
Jopp.

"Oh," said Henchard absently. "Which house is that?"

"Your old one."

"Gone into my house?" And starting up Henchard added, "
MY house of all others in the town!"

"Well, as somebody was sure to live there, and you couldn't,
it can do 'ee no harm that he's the man."

It was quite true: he felt that it was doing him no harm.
Farfrae, who had already taken the yards and stores, had
acquired possession of the house for the obvious convenience
of its contiguity. And yet this act of his taking up
residence within those roomy chambers while he, their former
tenant, lived in a cottage, galled Henchard indescribably.

Jopp continued: "And you heard of that fellow who bought all
the best furniture at your sale? He was bidding for no other
than Farfrae all the while! It has never been moved out of
the house, as he'd already got the lease."

"My furniture too! Surely he'll buy my body and soul
likewise!"

"There's no saying he won't, if you be willing to sell." And
having planted these wounds in the heart of his once
imperious master Jopp went on his way; while Henchard stared
and stared into the racing river till the bridge seemed
moving backward with him.

The low land grew blacker, and the sky a deeper grey, When
the landscape looked like a picture blotted in with ink,
another traveller approached the great stone bridge. He was
driving a gig, his direction being also townwards. On the
round of the middle of the arch the gig stopped. "Mr
Henchard?" came from it in the voice of Farfrae. Henchard
turned his face.

Finding that he had guessed rightly Farfrae told the man who
accompanied him to drive home; while he alighted and went up
to his former friend.

"I have heard that you think of emigrating, Mr. Henchard?"
he said. "Is it true? I have a real reason for asking."

Henchard withheld his answer for several instants, and then
said, "Yes; it is true. I am going where you were going to
a few years ago, when I prevented you and got you to bide
here. 'Tis turn and turn about, isn't it! Do ye mind how we
stood like this in the Chalk Walk when I persuaded 'ee to
stay? You then stood without a chattel to your name, and I
was the master of the house in corn Street. But now I stand
without a stick or a rag, and the master of that house is
you."

"Yes, yes; that's so! It's the way o' the warrld," said
Farfrae.

"Ha, ha, true!" cried Henchard, throwing himself into a mood
of jocularity. "Up and down! I'm used to it. What's the
odds after all!"

"Now listen to me, if it's no taking up your time," said
Farfrae, "just as I listened to you. Don't go. Stay at
home."

"But I can do nothing else, man!" said Henchard scornfully.
"The little money I have will just keep body and soul
together for a few weeks, and no more. I have not felt
inclined to go back to journey-work yet; but I can't stay
doing nothing, and my best chance is elsewhere."

"No; but what I propose is this--if ye will listen. Come
and live in your old house. We can spare some rooms very
well--I am sure my wife would not mind it at all--until
there's an opening for ye."

Henchard started. Probably the picture drawn by the
unsuspecting Donald of himself under the same roof with
Lucetta was too striking to be received with equanimity.
"No, no," he said gruffly; "we should quarrel."

"You should hae a part to yourself," said Farfrae; "and
nobody to interfere wi' you. It will be a deal healthier
than down there by the river where you live now."

Still Henchard refused. "You don't know what you ask," he
said. "However, I can do no less than thank 'ee."

They walked into the town together side by side, as they had
done when Henchard persuaded the young Scotchman to remain.
"Will you come in and have some supper?" said Farfrae when
they reached the middle of the town, where their paths
diverged right and left.

"No, no."

"By-the-bye, I had nearly forgot. I bought a good deal of
your furniture.

"So I have heard."

"Well, it was no that I wanted it so very much for myself;
but I wish ye to pick out all that you care to have--such
things as may be endeared to ye by associations, or
particularly suited to your use. And take them to your own
house--it will not be depriving me, we can do with less very
well, and I will have plenty of opportunities of getting
more."

"What--give it to me for nothing?" said Henchard. "But you
paid the creditors for it!"

"Ah, yes; but maybe it's worth more to you than it is to
me."

Henchard was a little moved. "I--sometimes think I've
wronged 'ee!" he said, in tones which showed the disquietude
that the night shades hid in his face. He shook Farfrae
abruptly by the hand, and hastened away as if unwilling to
betray himself further. Farfrae saw him turn through the
thoroughfare into Bull Stake and vanish down towards the
Priory Mill.

Meanwhile Elizabeth-Jane, in an upper room no larger than
the Prophet's chamber, and with the silk attire of her palmy
days packed away in a box, was netting with great industry
between the hours which she devoted to studying such books
as she could get hold of.

Her lodgings being nearly opposite her stepfather's former
residence, now Farfrae's, she could see Donald and Lucetta
speeding in and out of their door with all the bounding
enthusiasm of their situation. She avoided looking that way
as much as possible, but it was hardly in human nature to
keep the eyes averted when the door slammed.

While living on thus quietly she heard the news that
Henchard had caught cold and was confined to his room--
possibly a result of standing about the meads in damp
weather. She went off to his house at once. This time she
was determined not to be denied admittance, and made her way
upstairs. He was sitting up in the bed with a greatcoat
round him, and at first resented her intrusion. "Go away--
go away," he said. "I don't like to see 'ee!"

"But, father--"

"I don't like to see 'ee," he repeated.

However, the ice was broken, and she remained. She made the
room more comfortable, gave directions to the people below,
and by the time she went away had reconciled her stepfather
to her visiting him.

The effect, either of her ministrations or of her mere
presence, was a rapid recovery. He soon was well enough to
go out; and now things seemed to wear a new colour in his
eyes. He no longer thought of emigration, and thought more
of Elizabeth. The having nothing to do made him more dreary
than any other circumstance; and one day, with better views
of Farfrae than he had held for some time, and a sense that
honest work was not a thing to be ashamed of, he stoically
went down to Farfrae's yard and asked to be taken on as a
journeyman hay-trusser. He was engaged at once. This
hiring of Henchard was done through a foreman, Farfrae
feeling that it was undesirable to come personally in
contact with the ex-corn-factor more than was absolutely
necessary. While anxious to help him he was well aware by
this time of his uncertain temper, and thought reserved
relations best. For the same reason his orders to Henchard
to proceed to this and that country farm trussing in the
usual way were always given through a third person.

For a time these arrangements worked well, it being the
custom to truss in the respective stack-yards, before
bringing it away, the hay bought at the different farms
about the neighbourhood; so that Henchard was often absent
at such places the whole week long. When this was all done,
and Henchard had become in a measure broken in, he came to
work daily on the home premises like the rest. And thus the
once flourishing merchant and Mayor and what not stood as a
day-labourer in the barns and granaries he formerly had
owned.

"I have worked as a journeyman before now, ha'n't I?" he
would say in his defiant way; "and why shouldn't I do it
again?" But he looked a far different journeyman from the
one he had been in his earlier days. Then he had worn
clean, suitable clothes, light and cheerful in hue; leggings
yellow as marigolds, corduroys immaculate as new flax, and a
neckerchief like a flower-garden. Now he wore the remains
of an old blue cloth suit of his gentlemanly times, a rusty
silk hat, and a once black satin stock, soiled and shabby.
Clad thus he went to and fro, still comparatively an active
man--for he was not much over forty--and saw with the other
men in the yard Donald Farfrae going in and out the green
door that led to the garden, and the big house, and Lucetta.

At the beginning of the winter it was rumoured about
Casterbridge that Mr. Farfrae, already in the Town Council,
was to be proposed for Mayor in a year or two.

"Yes, she was wise, she was wise in her generation!" said
Henchard to himself when he heard of this one day on his way
to Farfrae's hay-barn. He thought it over as he wimbled his
bonds, and the piece of news acted as a reviviscent breath
to that old view of his--of Donald Farfrae as his triumphant
rival who rode rough-shod over him.

"A fellow of his age going to be Mayor, indeed!" he murmured
with a corner-drawn smile on his mouth. "But 'tis her money
that floats en upward. Ha-ha--how cust odd it is! Here be
I, his former master, working for him as man, and he the man
standing as master, with my house and my furniture and my
what-you-may-call wife all his own."

He repeated these things a hundred times a day. During the
whole period of his acquaintance with Lucetta he had never
wished to claim her as his own so desperately as he now
regretted her loss. It was no mercenary hankering after her
fortune that moved him, though that fortune had been the
means of making her so much the more desired by giving her
the air of independence and sauciness which attracts men of
his composition. It had given her servants, house, and fine
clothing--a setting that invested Lucetta with a startling
novelty in the eyes of him who had known her in her narrow
days.

He accordingly lapsed into moodiness, and at every allusion
to the possibility of Farfrae's near election to the
municipal chair his former hatred of the Scotchman returned.
Concurrently with this he underwent a moral change. It
resulted in his significantly saying every now and then, in
tones of recklessness, "Only a fortnight more!"--"Only a
dozen days!" and so forth, lessening his figures day by day.

"Why d'ye say only a dozen days?" asked Solomon Longways as
he worked beside Henchard in the granary weighing oats.

"Because in twelve days I shall be released from my oath."

"What oath?"

"The oath to drink no spirituous liquid. In twelve days it
will be twenty-one years since I swore it, and then I mean
to enjoy myself, please God!"

Elizabeth-Jane sat at her window one Sunday, and while there
she heard in the street below a conversation which
introduced Henchard's name. She was wondering what was the
matter, when a third person who was passing by asked the
question in her mind.

"Michael Henchard have busted out drinking after taking
nothing for twenty-one years!"

Elizabeth-Jane jumped up, put on her things, and went out.



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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