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CHAPTER 33.


At this date there prevailed in Casterbridge a convivial
custom--scarcely recognized as such, yet none the less
established. On the afternoon of every Sunday a large
contingent of the Casterbridge journeymen--steady church-
goers and sedate characters--having attended service, filed
from the church doors across the way to the Three Mariners
Inn. The rear was usually brought up by the choir, with
their bass-viols, fiddles, and flutes under their arms.

The great point, the point of honour, on these sacred
occasions was for each man to strictly limit himself to
half-a-pint of liquor. This scrupulosity was so well
understood by the landlord that the whole company was served
in cups of that measure. They were all exactly alike--
straight-sided, with two leafless lime-trees done in eel-
brown on the sides--one towards the drinker's lips, the
other confronting his comrade. To wonder how many of these
cups the landlord possessed altogether was a favourite
exercise of children in the marvellous. Forty at least
might have been seen at these times in the large room,
forming a ring round the margin of the great sixteen-legged
oak table, like the monolithic circle of Stonehenge in its
pristine days. Outside and above the forty cups came a
circle of forty smoke-jets from forty clay pipes; outside
the pipes the countenances of the forty church-goers,
supported at the back by a circle of forty chairs.

The conversation was not the conversation of week-days, but
a thing altogether finer in point and higher in tone. They
invariably discussed the sermon, dissecting it, weighing it,
as above or below the average--the general tendency being to
regard it as a scientific feat or performance which had no
relation to their own lives, except as between critics and
the thing criticized. The bass-viol player and the clerk
usually spoke with more authority than the rest on account
of their official connection with the preacher.

Now the Three Mariners was the inn chosen by Henchard as the
place for closing his long term of dramless years. He had
so timed his entry as to be well established in the large
room by the time the forty church-goers entered to their
customary cups. The flush upon his face proclaimed at once
that the vow of twenty-one years had lapsed, and the era of
recklessness begun anew. He was seated on a small table,
drawn up to the side of the massive oak board reserved for
the churchmen, a few of whom nodded to him as they took
their places and said, "How be ye, Mr. Henchard? Quite a
stranger here."

Henchard did not take the trouble to reply for a few
moments, and his eyes rested on his stretched-out legs and
boots. "Yes," he said at length; "that's true. I've been
down in spirit for weeks; some of ye know the cause. I am
better now, but not quite serene. I want you fellows of the
choir to strike up a tune; and what with that and this brew
of Stannidge's, I am in hopes of getting altogether out of
my minor key."

"With all my heart," said the first fiddle. "We've let back
our strings, that's true, but we can soon pull 'em up again.
Sound A, neighbours, and give the man a stave."

"I don't care a curse what the words be," said Henchard.
"Hymns, ballets, or rantipole rubbish; the Rogue's March or
the cherubim's warble--'tis all the same to me if 'tis good
harmony, and well put out."

"Well--heh, heh--it may be we can do that, and not a man
among us that have sat in the gallery less than twenty
year," said the leader of the band. "As 'tis Sunday,
neighbours, suppose we raise the Fourth Psa'am, to Samuel
Wakely's tune, as improved by me?"

"Hang Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by thee!" said
Henchard. "Chuck across one of your psalters--old Wiltshire
is the only tune worth singing--the psalm-tune that would
make my blood ebb and flow like the sea when I was a steady
chap. I'll find some words to fit en." He took one of the
psalters and began turning over the leaves.

Chancing to look out of the window at that moment he saw a
flock of people passing by, and perceived them to be the
congregation of the upper church, now just dismissed, their
sermon having been a longer one than that the lower parish
was favoured with. Among the rest of the leading
inhabitants walked Mr. Councillor Farfrae with Lucetta upon
his arm, the observed and imitated of all the smaller
tradesmen's womankind. Henchard's mouth changed a little,
and he continued to turn over the leaves.

"Now then," he said, "Psalm the Hundred-and-Ninth, to the
tune of Wiltshire: verses ten to fifteen. I gi'e ye the
words:



"His seed shall orphans be, his wife
A widow plunged in grief;
His vagrant children beg their bread
Where none can give relief.

His ill-got riches shall be made
To usurers a prey;
The fruit of all his toil shall be
By strangers borne away.

None shall be found that to his wants
Their mercy will extend,
Or to his helpless orphan seed
The least assistance lend.

A swift destruction soon shall seize
On his unhappy race;
And the next age his hated name
Shall utterly deface."


"I know the Psa'am--I know the Psa'am!" said the leader
hastily; "but I would as lief not sing it. 'Twasn't made
for singing. We chose it once when the gipsy stole the
pa'son's mare, thinking to please him, but pa'son were quite
upset. Whatever Servant David were thinking about when he
made a Psalm that nobody can sing without disgracing
himself, I can't fathom! Now then, the Fourth Psalm, to
Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by me."

"'Od seize your sauce--I tell ye to sing the Hundred-and-
Ninth to Wiltshire, and sing it you shall!" roared Henchard.
"Not a single one of all the droning crew of ye goes out of
this room till that Psalm is sung!" He slipped off the
table, seized the poker, and going to the door placed his
back against it. "Now then, go ahead, if you don't wish to
have your cust pates broke!"

"Don't 'ee, don't'ee take on so!--As 'tis the Sabbath-day,
and 'tis Servant David's words and not ours, perhaps we
don't mind for once, hey?" said one of the terrified choir,
looking round upon the rest. So the instruments were tuned
and the comminatory verses sung.

"Thank ye, thank ye," said Henchard in a softened voice, his
eyes growing downcast, and his manner that of a man much
moved by the strains. "Don't you blame David," he went on
in low tones, shaking his head without raising his eyes.
"He knew what he was about when he wrote that!...If I could
afford it, be hanged if I wouldn't keep a church choir at my
own expense to play and sing to me at these low, dark times
of my life. But the bitter thing is, that when I was rich I
didn't need what I could have, and now I be poor I can't
have what I need!"

While they paused, Lucetta and Farfrae passed again, this
time homeward, it being their custom to take, like others, a
short walk out on the highway and back, between church and
tea-time. "There's the man we've been singing about," said
Henchard.

The players and singers turned their heads and saw his
meaning. "Heaven forbid!" said the bass-player.

"'Tis the man," repeated Henchard doggedly.

"Then if I'd known," said the performer on the clarionet
solemnly, "that 'twas meant for a living man, nothing should
have drawn out of my wynd-pipe the breath for that Psalm, so
help me!

"Nor from mine," said the first singer. "But, thought I, as
it was made so long ago perhaps there isn't much in it, so
I'll oblige a neighbour; for there's nothing to be said
against the tune."

"Ah, my boys, you've sung it," said Henchard triumphantly.
"As for him, it was partly by his songs that he got over me,
and heaved me out....I could double him up like that--and
yet I don't." He laid the poker across his knee, bent it as
if it were a twig, flung it down, and came away from the
door.

It was at this time that Elizabeth-Jane, having heard where
her stepfather was, entered the room with a pale and
agonized countenance. The choir and the rest of the company
moved off, in accordance with their half-pint regulation.
Elizabeth-Jane went up to Henchard, and entreated him to
accompany her home.

By this hour the volcanic fires of his nature had burnt
down, and having drunk no great quantity as yet he was
inclined to acquiesce. She took his arm, and together they
went on. Henchard walked blankly, like a blind man,
repeating to himself the last words of the singers--


"And the next age his hated name
Shall utterly deface."


At length he said to her, "I am a man to my word. I have
kept my oath for twenty-one years; and now I can drink with
a good conscience....If I don't do for him--well, I am a
fearful practical joker when I choose! He has taken away
everything from me, and by heavens, if I meet him I won't
answer for my deeds!"

These half-uttered words alarmed Elizabeth--all the more by
reason of the still determination of Henchard's mien.

"What will you do?" she asked cautiously, while trembling
with disquietude, and guessing Henchard's allusion only too
well.

Henchard did not answer, and they went on till they had
reached his cottage. "May I come in?" she said.

"No, no; not to-day," said Henchard; and she went away;
feeling that to caution Farfrae was almost her duty, as it
was certainly her strong desire.

As on the Sunday, so on the week-days, Farfrae and Lucetta
might have been seen flitting about the town like two
butterflies--or rather like a bee and a butterfly in league
for life. She seemed to take no pleasure in going anywhere
except in her husband's company; and hence when business
would not permit him to waste an afternoon she remained
indoors waiting for the time to pass till his return, her
face being visible to Elizabeth-Jane from her window aloft.
The latter, however, did not say to herself that Farfrae
should be thankful for such devotion, but, full of her
reading, she cited Rosalind's exclamation: "Mistress, know
yourself; down on your knees and thank Heaven fasting for a
good man's love."

She kept her eye upon Henchard also. One day he answered
her inquiry for his health by saying that he could not
endure Abel Whittle's pitying eyes upon him while they
worked together in the yard. "He is such a fool," said
Henchard, "that he can never get out of his mind the time
when I was master there."

"I'll come and wimble for you instead of him, if you will
allow me," said she. Her motive on going to the yard was to
get an opportunity of observing the general position of
affairs on Farfrae's premises now that her stepfather was a
workman there. Henchard's threats had alarmed her so much
that she wished to see his behaviour when the two were face
to face.

For two or three days after her arrival Donald did not make
any appearance. Then one afternoon the green door opened,
and through came, first Farfrae, and at his heels Lucetta.
Donald brought his wife forward without hesitation, it being
obvious that he had no suspicion whatever of any antecedents
in common between her and the now journeyman hay-trusser.

Henchard did not turn his eyes toward either of the pair,
keeping them fixed on the bond he twisted, as if that alone
absorbed him. A feeling of delicacy, which ever prompted
Farfrae to avoid anything that might seem like triumphing
over a fallen rivel, led him to keep away from the hay-barn
where Henchard and his daughter were working, and to go on
to the corn department. Meanwhile Lucetta, never having
been informed that Henchard had entered her husband's
service, rambled straight on to the barn, where she came
suddenly upon Henchard, and gave vent to a little "Oh!"
which the happy and busy Donald was too far off to hear.
Henchard, with withering humility of demeanour, touched the
brim of his hat to her as Whittle and the rest had done, to
which she breathed a dead-alive "Good afternoon."

"I beg your pardon, ma'am?" said Henchard, as if he had not
heard.

"I said good afternoon," she faltered.

"O yes, good afternoon, ma'am," he replied, touching his hat
again. "I am glad to see you, ma'am." Lucetta looked
embarrassed, and Henchard continued: "For we humble workmen
here feel it a great honour that a lady should look in and
take an interest in us."

She glanced at him entreatingly; the sarcasm was too bitter,
too unendurable.

"Can you tell me the time, ma'am?" he asked.

"Yes," she said hastily; "half-past four."

"Thank 'ee. An hour and a half longer before we are
released from work. Ah, ma'am, we of the lower classes know
nothing of the gay leisure that such as you enjoy!"

As soon as she could do so Lucetta left him, nodded and
smiled to Elizabeth-Jane, and joined her husband at the
other end of the enclosure, where she could be seen leading
him away by the outer gates, so as to avoid passing Henchard
again. That she had been taken by surprise was obvious.
The result of this casual rencounter was that the next
morning a note was put into Henchard's hand by the postman.

"Will you," said Lucetta, with as much bitterness as she
could put into a small communication, "will you kindly
undertake not to speak to me in the biting undertones you
used to-day, if I walk through the yard at any time? I bear
you no ill-will, and I am only too glad that you should have
employment of my dear husband; but in common fairness treat
me as his wife, and do not try to make me wretched by covert
sneers. I have committed no crime, and done you no injury.

"Poor fool!" said Henchard with fond savagery, holding out
the note. "To know no better than commit herself in writing
like this! Why, if I were to show that to her dear husband--
pooh!" He threw the letter into the fire.

Lucetta took care not to come again among the hay and corn.
She would rather have died than run the risk of encountering
Henchard at such close quarters a second time. The gulf
between them was growing wider every day. Farfrae was
always considerate to his fallen acquaintance; but it was
impossible that he should not, by degrees, cease to regard
the ex-corn-merchant as more than one of his other workmen.
Henchard saw this, and concealed his feelings under a cover
of stolidity, fortifying his heart by drinking more freely
at the Three Mariners every evening.

Often did Elizabeth-Jane, in her endeavours to prevent his
taking other liquor, carry tea to him in a little basket at
five o'clock. Arriving one day on this errand she found her
stepfather was measuring up clover-seed and rape-seed in the
corn-stores on the top floor, and she ascended to him. Each
floor had a door opening into the air under a cat-head, from
which a chain dangled for hoisting the sacks.

When Elizabeth's head rose through the trap she perceived
that the upper door was open, and that her stepfather and
Farfrae stood just within it in conversation, Farfrae being
nearest the dizzy edge, and Henchard a little way behind.
Not to interrupt them she remained on the steps without
raising her head any higher. While waiting thus she saw--or
fancied she saw, for she had a terror of feeling certain--
her stepfather slowly raise his hand to a level behind
Farfrae's shoulders, a curious expression taking possession
of his face. The young man was quite unconscious of the
action, which was so indirect that, if Farfrae had observed
it, he might almost have regarded it as an idle
outstretching of the arm. But it would have been possible,
by a comparatively light touch, to push Farfrae off his
balance, and send him head over heels into the air.

Elizabeth felt quite sick at heart on thinking of what this
MIGHT have meant. As soon as they turned she
mechanically took the tea to Henchard, left it, and went
away. Reflecting, she endeavoured to assure herself that
the movement was an idle eccentricity, and no more. Yet, on
the other hand, his subordinate position in an establishment
where he once had been master might be acting on him like an
irritant poison; and she finally resolved to caution Donald.



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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