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CHAPTER 34.


Next morning, accordingly, she rose at five o'clock and went
into the street. It was not yet light; a dense fog
prevailed, and the town was as silent as it was dark, except
that from the rectangular avenues which framed in the
borough there came a chorus of tiny rappings, caused by the
fall of water-drops condensed on the boughs; now it was
wafted from the West Walk, now from the South Walk; and then
from both quarters simultaneously. She moved on to the
bottom of corn Street, and, knowing his time well, waited
only a few minutes before she heard the familiar bang of his
door, and then his quick walk towards her. She met him at
the point where the last tree of the engirding avenue
flanked the last house in the street.

He could hardly discern her till, glancing inquiringly, he
said, "What--Miss Henchard--and are ye up so airly?"

She asked him to pardon her for waylaying him at such an
unseemly time. "But I am anxious to mention something," she
said. "And I wished not to alarm Mrs. Farfrae by calling."

"Yes?" said he, with the cheeriness of a superior. "And
what may it be? It's very kind of ye, I'm sure."

She now felt the difficulty of conveying to his mind the
exact aspect of possibilities in her own. But she somehow
began, and introduced Henchard's name. "I sometimes fear,"
she said with an effort, "that he may be betrayed into some
attempt to--insult you, sir.

"But we are the best of friends?"

"Or to play some practical joke upon you, sir. Remember
that he has been hardly used."

"But we are quite friendly?"

"Or to do something--that would injure you--hurt you--wound
you." Every word cost her twice its length of pain. And she
could see that Farfrae was still incredulous. Henchard, a
poor man in his employ, was not to Farfrae's view the
Henchard who had ruled him. Yet he was not only the same
man, but that man with his sinister qualities, formerly
latent, quickened into life by his buffetings.

Farfrae, happy, and thinking no evil, persisted in making
light of her fears. Thus they parted, and she went
homeward, journeymen now being in the street, waggoners
going to the harness-makers for articles left to be
repaired, farm-horses going to the shoeing-smiths, and the
sons of labour showing themselves generally on the move.
Elizabeth entered her lodging unhappily, thinking she had
done no good, and only made herself appear foolish by her
weak note of warning.

But Donald Farfrae was one of those men upon whom an
incident is never absolutely lost. He revised impressions
from a subsequent point of view, and the impulsive judgment
of the moment was not always his permanent one. The vision
of Elizabeth's earnest face in the rimy dawn came back to
him several times during the day. Knowing the solidity of
her character he did not treat her hints altogether as idle
sounds.

But he did not desist from a kindly scheme on Henchard's
account that engaged him just then; and when he met Lawyer
Joyce, the town-clerk, later in the day, he spoke of it as
if nothing had occurred to damp it.

"About that little seedsman's shop," he said, "the shop
overlooking the churchyard, which is to let. It is not for
myself I want it, but for our unlucky fellow-townsman
Henchard. It would be a new beginning for him, if a small
one; and I have told the Council that I would head a private
subscription among them to set him up in it--that I would be
fifty pounds, if they would make up the other fifty among
them."

"Yes, yes; so I've heard; and there's nothing to say against
it for that matter," the town-clerk replied, in his plain,
frank way. "But, Farfrae, others see what you don't.
Henchard hates 'ee--ay, hates 'ee; and 'tis right that you
should know it. To my knowledge he was at the Three
Mariners last night, saying in public that about you which a
man ought not to say about another."

"Is that so--ah, is that so?" said Farfrae, looking down.
"Why should he do it?" added the young man bitterly; "what
harm have I done him that he should try to wrong me?"

"God only knows," said Joyce, lifting his eyebrows. "It
shows much long-suffering in you to put up with him, and
keep him in your employ."

"But I cannet discharge a man who was once a good friend to
me. How can I forget that when I came here 'twas he enabled
me to make a footing for mysel'? No, no. As long as I've a
day's work to offer he shall do it if he chooses. 'Tis not
I who will deny him such a little as that. But I'll drop
the idea of establishing him in a shop till I can think more
about it."

It grieved Farfrae much to give up this scheme. But a damp
having been thrown over it by these and other voices in the
air, he went and countermanded his orders. The then
occupier of the shop was in it when Farfrae spoke to him and
feeling it necessary to give some explanation of his
withdrawal from the negotiation Donald mentioned Henchard's
name, and stated that the intentions of the Council had been
changed.

The occupier was much disappointed, and straight-way
informed Henchard, as soon as he saw him, that a scheme of
the Council for setting him up in a shop had been knocked on
the head by Farfrae. And thus out of error enmity grew.

When Farfrae got indoors that evening the tea-kettle was
singing on the high hob of the semi-egg-shaped grate.
Lucetta, light as a sylph, ran forward and seized his hands,
whereupon Farfrae duly kissed her.

"Oh!" she cried playfully, turning to the window. "See--the
blinds are not drawn down, and the people can look in--what
a scandal!"

When the candles were lighted, the curtains drawn, and the
twain sat at tea, she noticed that he looked serious.
Without directly inquiring why she let her eyes linger
solicitously on his face.

"Who has called?" he absently asked. "Any folk for me?"

"No," said Lucetta. "What's the matter, Donald?"

"Well--nothing worth talking of," he responded sadly.

"Then, never mind it. You will get through it, Scotchmen
are always lucky."

"No--not always!" he said, shaking his head gloomily as he
contemplated a crumb on the table. "I know many who have
not been so! There was Sandy Macfarlane, who started to
America to try his fortune, and he was drowned; and
Archibald Leith, he was murdered! And poor Willie Dunbleeze
and Maitland Macfreeze--they fell into bad courses, and went
the way of all such!"

"Why--you old goosey--I was only speaking in a general
sense, of course! You are always so literal. Now when we
have finished tea, sing me that funny song about high-heeled
shoon and siller tags, and the one-and-forty wooers."

"No, no. I couldna sing to-night! It's Henchard--he hates
me; so that I may not be his friend if I would. I would
understand why there should be a wee bit of envy; but I
cannet see a reason for the whole intensity of what he
feels. Now, can you, Lucetta? It is more like old-fashioned
rivalry in love than just a bit of rivalry in trade."

Lucetta had grown somewhat wan. "No," she replied.

"I give him employment--I cannet refuse it. But neither can
I blind myself to the fact that with a man of passions such
as his, there is no safeguard for conduct!"

"What have you heard--O Donald, dearest?" said Lucetta in
alarm. The words on her lips were "anything about me?"--but
she did not utter them. She could not, however, suppress
her agitation, and her eyes filled with tears.

"No, no--it is not so serious as ye fancy," declared Farfrae
soothingly; though he did not know its seriousness so well
as she.

"I wish you would do what we have talked of," mournfully
remarked Lucetta. "Give up business, and go away from here.
We have plenty of money, and why should we stay?"

Farfrae seemed seriously disposed to discuss this move, and
they talked thereon till a visitor was announced. Their
neighbour Alderman Vatt came in.

"You've heard, I suppose of poor Doctor Chalkfield's death?
Yes--died this afternoon at five," said Mr. Vatt Chalkfield
was the Councilman who had succeeded to the Mayoralty in the
preceding November.

Farfrae was sorry at the intelligence, and Mr. Vatt
continued: "Well, we know he's been going some days, and as
his family is well provided for we must take it all as it
is. Now I have called to ask 'ee this--quite privately. If
I should nominate 'ee to succeed him, and there should be no
particular opposition, will 'ee accept the chair?"

"But there are folk whose turn is before mine; and I'm over
young, and may be thought pushing!" said Farfrae after a
pause.

"Not at all. I don't speak for myself only, several have
named it. You won't refuse?"

"We thought of going away," interposed Lucetta, looking at
Farfrae anxiously.

"It was only a fancy," Farfrae murmured. "I wouldna refuse
if it is the wish of a respectable majority in the Council."

"Very well, then, look upon yourself as elected. We have
had older men long enough."

When he was gone Farfrae said musingly, "See now how it's
ourselves that are ruled by the Powers above us! We plan
this, but we do that. If they want to make me Mayor I will
stay, and Henchard must rave as he will."

From this evening onward Lucetta was very uneasy. If she
had not been imprudence incarnate she would not have acted
as she did when she met Henchard by accident a day or two
later. It was in the bustle of the market, when no one
could readily notice their discourse.

"Michael," said she, "I must again ask you what I asked you
months ago--to return me any letters or papers of mine that
you may have--unless you have destroyed them? You must see
how desirable it is that the time at Jersey should be
blotted out, for the good of all parties."

"Why, bless the woman!--I packed up every scrap of your
handwriting to give you in the coach--but you never
appeared."

She explained how the death of her aunt had prevented her
taking the journey on that day. "And what became of the
parcel then?" she asked.

He could not say--he would consider. When she was gone he
recollected that he had left a heap of useless papers in his
former dining-room safe--built up in the wall of his old
house--now occupied by Farfrae. The letters might have been
amongst them.

A grotesque grin shaped itself on Henchard's face. Had that
safe been opened?

On the very evening which followed this there was a great
ringing of bells in Casterbridge, and the combined brass,
wood, catgut, and leather bands played round the town with
more prodigality of percussion-notes than ever. Farfrae was
Mayor--the two-hundredth odd of a series forming an elective
dynasty dating back to the days of Charles I--and the fair
Lucetta was the courted of the town....But, Ah! the worm i'
the bud--Henchard; what he could tell!

He, in the meantime, festering with indignation at some
erroneous intelligence of Farfrae's opposition to the scheme
for installing him in the little seed-shop, was greeted with
the news of the municipal election (which, by reason of
Farfrae's comparative youth and his Scottish nativity--a
thing unprecedented in the case--had an interest far beyond
the ordinary). The bell-ringing and the band-playing, loud
as Tamerlane's trumpet, goaded the downfallen Henchard
indescribably: the ousting now seemed to him to be complete.

The next morning he went to the corn-yard as usual, and
about eleven o'clock Donald entered through the green door,
with no trace of the worshipful about him. The yet more
emphatic change of places between him and Henchard which
this election had established renewed a slight embarrassment
in the manner of the modest young man; but Henchard showed
the front of one who had overlooked all this; and Farfrae
met his amenities half-way at once.

"I was going to ask you," said Henchard, "about a packet
that I may possibly have left in my old safe in the dining-
room." He added particulars.

"If so, it is there now," said Farfrae. "I have never
opened the safe at all as yet; for I keep ma papers at the
bank, to sleep easy o' nights."

"It was not of much consequence--to me," said Henchard.
"But I'll call for it this evening, if you don't mind?"

It was quite late when he fulfilled his promise. He had
primed himself with grog, as he did very frequently now, and
a curl of sardonic humour hung on his lip as he approached
the house, as though he were contemplating some terrible
form of amusement. Whatever it was, the incident of his
entry did not diminish its force, this being his first visit
to the house since he had lived there as owner. The ring of
the bell spoke to him like the voice of a familiar drudge
who had been bribed to forsake him; the movements of the
doors were revivals of dead days.

Farfrae invited him into the dining-room, where he at once
unlocked the iron safe built into the wall, HIS,
Henchard's safe, made by an ingenious locksmith under his
direction. Farfrae drew thence the parcel, and other
papers, with apologies for not having returned them.

"Never mind," said Henchard drily. "The fact is they are
letters mostly....Yes," he went on, sitting down and
unfolding Lucetta's passionate bundle, "here they be. That
ever I should see 'em again! I hope Mrs. Farfrae is well
after her exertions of yesterday?"

"She has felt a bit weary; and has gone to bed airly on that
account.

Henchard returned to the letters, sorting them over with
interest, Farfrae being seated at the other end of the
dining-table. "You don't forget, of course," he resumed,
"that curious chapter in the history of my past which I told
you of, and that you gave me some assistance in? These
letters are, in fact, related to that unhappy business.
Though, thank God, it is all over now."

"What became of the poor woman?" asked Farfrae.

"Luckily she married, and married well," said Henchard. "So
that these reproaches she poured out on me do not now cause
me any twinges, as they might otherwise have done....Just
listen to what an angry woman will say!"

Farfrae, willing to humour Henchard, though quite
uninterested, and bursting with yawns, gave well-mannered
attention.

"'For me,'" Henchard read, "'there is practically no future.
A creature too unconventionally devoted to you--who feels it
impossible that she can be the wife of any other man; and
who is yet no more to you than the first woman you meet in
the street--such am I. I quite acquit you of any intention
to wrong me, yet you are the door through which wrong has
come to me. That in the event of your present wife's death
you will place me in her position is a consolation so far as
it goes--but how far does it go? Thus I sit here, forsaken
by my few acquaintance, and forsaken by you!'"

"That's how she went on to me," said Henchard, "acres of
words like that, when what had happened was what I could not
cure."

"Yes," said Farfrae absently, "it is the way wi' women." But
the fact was that he knew very little of the sex; yet
detecting a sort of resemblance in style between the
effusions of the woman he worshipped and those of the
supposed stranger, he concluded that Aphrodite ever spoke
thus, whosesoever the personality she assumed.

Henchard unfolded another letter, and read it through
likewise, stopping at the subscription as before. "Her name
I don't give," he said blandly. "As I didn't marry her, and
another man did, I can scarcely do that in fairness to her."

"Tr-rue, tr-rue," said Farfrae. "But why didn't you marry
her when your wife Susan died?" Farfrae asked this and the
other questions in the comfortably indifferent tone of one
whom the matter very remotely concerned.

"Ah--well you may ask that!" said Henchard, the new-moon-
shaped grin adumbrating itself again upon his mouth. "In
spite of all her protestations, when I came forward to do
so, as in generosity bound, she was not the woman for me."

"She had already married another--maybe?"

Henchard seemed to think it would be sailing too near the
wind to descend further into particulars, and he answered
"Yes."

"The young lady must have had a heart that bore
transplanting very readily!"

"She had, she had," said Henchard emphatically.

He opened a third and fourth letter, and read. This time he
approached the conclusion as if the signature were indeed
coming with the rest. But again he stopped short. The
truth was that, as may be divined, he had quite intended to
effect a grand catastrophe at the end of this drama by
reading out the name, he had come to the house with no other
thought. But sitting here in cold blood he could not do it.

Such a wrecking of hearts appalled even him. His quality
was such that he could have annihilated them both in the
heat of action; but to accomplish the deed by oral poison
was beyond the nerve of his enmity.



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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