eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER 36.


Returning from her appointment Lucetta saw a man waiting by
the lamp nearest to her own door. When she stopped to go in
he came and spoke to her. It was Jopp.

He begged her pardon for addressing her. But he had heard
that Mr. Farfrae had been applied to by a neighbouring corn-
merchant to recommend a working partner; if so he wished to
offer himself. He could give good security, and had stated
as much to Mr. Farfrae in a letter; but he would feel
much obliged if Lucetta would say a word in his favour to
her husband.

"It is a thing I know nothing about," said Lucetta coldly.

"But you can testify to my trustworthiness better than
anybody, ma'am," said Jopp. "I was in Jersey several years,
and knew you there by sight."

"Indeed," she replied. "But I knew nothing of you."

"I think, ma'am, that a word or two from you would secure
for me what I covet very much," he persisted.

She steadily refused to have anything to do with the affair,
and cutting him short, because of her anxiety to get indoors
before her husband should miss her, left him on the
pavement.

He watched her till she had vanished, and then went home.
When he got there he sat down in the fireless chimney corner
looking at the iron dogs, and the wood laid across them for
heating the morning kettle. A movement upstairs disturbed
him, and Henchard came down from his bedroom, where he
seemed to have been rummaging boxes.

"I wish," said Henchard, "you would do me a service, Jopp,
now--to-night, I mean, if you can. Leave this at Mrs.
Farfrae's for her. I should take it myself, of course, but
I don't wish to be seen there."

He handed a package in brown paper, sealed. Henchard had
been as good as his word. Immediately on coming indoors he
had searched over his few belongings, and every scrap of
Lucetta's writing that he possessed was here. Jopp
indifferently expressed his willingness.

"Well, how have ye got on to-day?" his lodger asked. "Any
prospect of an opening?"

"I am afraid not," said Jopp, who had not told the other of
his application to Farfrae.

"There never will be in Casterbridge," declared Henchard
decisively. "You must roam further afield." He said good-
night to Jopp, and returned to his own part of the house.

Jopp sat on till his eyes were attracted by the shadow of
the candle-snuff on the wall, and looking at the original he
found that it had formed itself into a head like a red-hot
cauliflower. Henchard's packet next met his gaze. He knew
there had been something of the nature of wooing between
Henchard and the now Mrs. Farfrae; and his vague ideas
on the subject narrowed themselves down to these: Henchard
had a parcel belonging to Mrs. Farfrae, and he had reasons
for not returning that parcel to her in person. What could
be inside it? So he went on and on till, animated by
resentment at Lucetta's haughtiness, as he thought it, and
curiosity to learn if there were any weak sides to this
transaction with Henchard, he examined the package. The pen
and all its relations being awkward tools in Henchard's
hands he had affixed the seals without an impression, it
never occurring to him that the efficacy of such a fastening
depended on this. Jopp was far less of a tyro; he lifted
one of the seals with his penknife, peeped in at the end
thus opened, saw that the bundle consisted of letters; and,
having satisfied himself thus far, sealed up the end again
by simply softening the wax with the candle, and went off
with the parcel as requested.

His path was by the river-side at the foot of the town.
Coming into the light at the bridge which stood at the end
of High Street he beheld lounging thereon Mother Cuxsom and
Nance Mockridge.

"We be just going down Mixen Lane way, to look into Peter's
finger afore creeping to bed," said Mrs. Cuxsom. "There's a
fiddle and tambourine going on there. Lord, what's all the
world--do ye come along too, Jopp--'twon't hinder ye five
minutes."

Jopp had mostly kept himself out of this company, but
present circumstances made him somewhat more reckless than
usual, and without many words he decided to go to his
destination that way.


Though the upper part of Durnover was mainly composed of a
curious congeries of barns and farm-steads, there was a less
picturesque side to the parish. This was Mixen Lane, now in
great part pulled down.

Mixen Lane was the Adullam of all the surrounding villages.
It was the hiding-place of those who were in distress, and
in debt, and trouble of every kind. Farm-labourers and
other peasants, who combined a little poaching with their
farming, and a little brawling and bibbing with their
poaching, found themselves sooner or later in Mixen Lane.
Rural mechanics too idle to mechanize, rural servants
too rebellious to serve, drifted or were forced into Mixen
Lane.

The lane and its surrounding thicket of thatched cottages
stretched out like a spit into the moist and misty lowland.
Much that was sad, much that was low, some things that were
baneful, could be seen in Mixen Lane. Vice ran freely in
and out certain of the doors in the neighbourhood;
recklessness dwelt under the roof with the crooked chimney;
shame in some bow-windows; theft (in times of privation) in
the thatched and mud-walled houses by the sallows. Even
slaughter had not been altogether unknown here. In a block
of cottages up an alley there might have been erected an
altar to disease in years gone by. Such was Mixen Lane in
the times when Henchard and Farfrae were Mayors.

Yet this mildewed leaf in the sturdy and flourishing
Casterbridge plant lay close to the open country; not a
hundred yards from a row of noble elms, and commanding a
view across the moor of airy uplands and corn-fields, and
mansions of the great. A brook divided the moor from the
tenements, and to outward view there was no way across it--
no way to the houses but round about by the road. But under
every householder's stairs there was kept a mysterious plank
nine inches wide; which plank was a secret bridge.

If you, as one of those refugee householders, came in from
business after dark--and this was the business time here--
you stealthily crossed the moor, approached the border of
the aforesaid brook, and whistled opposite the house to
which you belonged. A shape thereupon made its appearance
on the other side bearing the bridge on end against the sky;
it was lowered; you crossed, and a hand helped you to land
yourself, together with the pheasants and hares gathered
from neighbouring manors. You sold them slily the next
morning, and the day after you stood before the magistrates
with the eyes of all your sympathizing neighbours
concentrated on your back. You disappeared for a time; then
you were again found quietly living in Mixen Lane.

Walking along the lane at dusk the stranger was struck by
two or three peculiar features therein. One was an
intermittent rumbling from the back premises of the inn
half-way up; this meant a skittle alley. Another was the
extensive prevalence of whistling in the various
domiciles--a piped note of some kind coming from nearly
every open door. Another was the frequency of white aprons
over dingy gowns among the women around the doorways. A
white apron is a suspicious vesture in situations where
spotlessness is difficult; moreover, the industry and
cleanliness which the white apron expressed were belied by
the postures and gaits of the women who wore it--their
knuckles being mostly on their hips (an attitude which lent
them the aspect of two-handled mugs), and their shoulders
against door-posts; while there was a curious alacrity in
the turn of each honest woman's head upon her neck and in
the twirl of her honest eyes, at any noise resembling a
masculine footfall along the lane.

Yet amid so much that was bad needy respectability also
found a home. Under some of the roofs abode pure and
virtuous souls whose presence there was due to the iron hand
of necessity, and to that alone. Families from decayed
villages--families of that once bulky, but now nearly
extinct, section of village society called "liviers," or
lifeholders--copyholders and others, whose roof-trees had
fallen for some reason or other, compelling them to quit the
rural spot that had been their home for generations--came
here, unless they chose to lie under a hedge by the wayside.

The inn called Peter's finger was the church of Mixen Lane.

It was centrally situate, as such places should be, and bore
about the same social relation to the Three Mariners as the
latter bore to the King's Arms. At first sight the inn was
so respectable as to be puzzling. The front door was kept
shut, and the step was so clean that evidently but few
persons entered over its sanded surface. But at the corner
of the public-house was an alley, a mere slit, dividing it
from the next building. Half-way up the alley was a narrow
door, shiny and paintless from the rub of infinite hands and
shoulders. This was the actual entrance to the inn.

A pedestrian would be seen abstractedly passing along Mixen
Lane; and then, in a moment, he would vanish, causing the
gazer to blink like Ashton at the disappearance of
Ravenswood. That abstracted pedestrian had edged into the
slit by the adroit fillip of his person sideways; from the
slit he edged into the tavern by a similar exercise of
skill.

The company at the Three Mariners were persons of quality in
comparison with the company which gathered here; though it
must be admitted that the lowest fringe of the Mariner's
party touched the crest of Peter's at points. Waifs and
strays of all sorts loitered about here. The landlady was a
virtuous woman who years ago had been unjustly sent to gaol
as an accessory to something or other after the fact. She
underwent her twelvemonth, and had worn a martyr's
countenance ever since, except at times of meeting the
constable who apprehended her, when she winked her eye.

To this house Jopp and his acquaintances had arrived. The
settles on which they sat down were thin and tall, their
tops being guyed by pieces of twine to hooks in the ceiling;
for when the guests grew boisterous the settles would rock
and overturn without some such security. The thunder of
bowls echoed from the backyard; swingels hung behind the
blower of the chimney; and ex-poachers and ex-gamekeepers,
whom squires had persecuted without a cause, sat elbowing
each other--men who in past times had met in fights under
the moon, till lapse of sentences on the one part, and loss
of favour and expulsion from service on the other, brought
them here together to a common level, where they sat calmly
discussing old times.

"Dost mind how you could jerk a trout ashore with a bramble,
and not ruffle the stream, Charl?" a deposed keeper was
saying. "'Twas at that I caught 'ee once, if you can mind?"

"That I can. But the worst larry for me was that pheasant
business at Yalbury Wood. Your wife swore false that time,
Joe--O, by Gad, she did--there's no denying it."

"How was that?" asked Jopp.

"Why--Joe closed wi' me, and we rolled down together, close
to his garden hedge. Hearing the noise, out ran his wife
with the oven pyle, and it being dark under the trees she
couldn't see which was uppermost. 'Where beest thee, Joe,
under or top?' she screeched. 'O--under, by Gad!' says he.
She then began to rap down upon my skull, back, and ribs
with the pyle till we'd roll over again. 'Where beest now,
dear Joe, under or top?' she'd scream again. By George,
'twas through her I was took! And then when we got up
in hall she sware that the cock pheasant was one of her
rearing, when 'twas not your bird at all, Joe; 'twas Squire
Brown's bird--that's whose 'twas--one that we'd picked off
as we passed his wood, an hour afore. It did hurt my
feelings to be so wronged!...Ah well--'tis over now."

"I might have had 'ee days afore that," said the keeper. "I
was within a few yards of 'ee dozens of times, with a sight
more of birds than that poor one."

"Yes--'tis not our greatest doings that the world gets wind
of," said the furmity-woman, who, lately settled in this
purlieu, sat among the rest. Having travelled a great deal
in her time she spoke with cosmopolitan largeness of idea.
It was she who presently asked Jopp what was the parcel he
kept so snugly under his arm.

"Ah, therein lies a grand secret," said Jopp. "It is the
passion of love. To think that a woman should love one man
so well, and hate another so unmercifully."

"Who's the object of your meditation, sir?"

"One that stands high in this town. I'd like to shame her!
Upon my life, 'twould be as good as a play to read her love-
letters, the proud piece of silk and wax-work! For 'tis her
love-letters that I've got here."

"Love letters? then let's hear 'em, good soul," said Mother
Cuxsom. "Lord, do ye mind, Richard, what fools we used to
be when we were younger? Getting a schoolboy to write ours
for us; and giving him a penny, do ye mind, not to tell
other folks what he'd put inside, do ye mind?"

By this time Jopp had pushed his finger under the seals, and
unfastened the letters, tumbling them over and picking up
one here and there at random, which he read aloud. These
passages soon began to uncover the secret which Lucetta had
so earnestly hoped to keep buried, though the epistles,
being allusive only, did not make it altogether plain.

"Mrs. Farfrae wrote that!" said Nance Mockridge. "'Tis a
humbling thing for us, as respectable women, that one of the
same sex could do it. And now she's avowed herself to
another man!"

"So much the better for her," said the aged furmity-woman.
"Ah, I saved her from a real bad marriage, and she's
never been the one to thank me."

"I say, what a good foundation for a skimmity-ride," said
Nance.

"True," said Mrs. Cuxsom, reflecting. "'Tis as good a
ground for a skimmity-ride as ever I knowed; and it ought
not to be wasted. The last one seen in Casterbridge must
have been ten years ago, if a day."

At this moment there was a shrill whistle, and the landlady
said to the man who had been called Charl, "'Tis Jim coming
in. Would ye go and let down the bridge for me?"

Without replying Charl and his comrade Joe rose, and
receiving a lantern from her went out at the back door and
down the garden-path, which ended abruptly at the edge of
the stream already mentioned. Beyond the stream was the
open moor, from which a clammy breeze smote upon their faces
as they advanced. Taking up the board that had lain in
readiness one of them lowered it across the water, and the
instant its further end touched the ground footsteps entered
upon it, and there appeared from the shade a stalwart man
with straps round his knees, a double-barrelled gun under
his arm and some birds slung up behind him. They asked him
if he had had much luck.

"Not much," he said indifferently. "All safe inside?"

Receiving a reply in the affirmative he went on inwards, the
others withdrawing the bridge and beginning to retreat in
his rear. Before, however, they had entered the house a cry
of "Ahoy" from the moor led them to pause.

The cry was repeated. They pushed the lantern into an
outhouse, and went back to the brink of the stream.

"Ahoy--is this the way to Casterbridge?" said some one from
the other side.

"Not in particular," said Charl. "There's a river afore
'ee."

"I don't care--here's for through it!" said the man in the
moor. "I've had travelling enough for to-day."

"Stop a minute, then," said Charl, finding that the man was
no enemy. "Joe, bring the plank and lantern; here's
somebody that's lost his way. You should have kept along
the turnpike road, friend, and not have strook across here."

"I should--as I see now. But I saw a light here, and says I
to myself, that's an outlying house, depend on't."

The plank was now lowered; and the stranger's form
shaped itself from the darkness. He was a middle-aged man,
with hair and whiskers prematurely grey, and a broad and
genial face. He had crossed on the plank without
hesitation, and seemed to see nothing odd in the transit.
He thanked them, and walked between them up the garden.
"What place is this?" he asked, when they reached the door.

"A public-house."

"Ah, perhaps it will suit me to put up at. Now then, come
in and wet your whistle at my expense for the lift over you
have given me."

They followed him into the inn, where the increased light
exhibited him as one who would stand higher in an estimate
by the eye than in one by the ear. He was dressed with a
certain clumsy richness--his coat being furred, and his head
covered by a cap of seal-skin, which, though the nights were
chilly, must have been warm for the daytime, spring being
somewhat advanced. In his hand he carried a small mahogany
case, strapped, and clamped with brass.

Apparently surprised at the kind of company which confronted
him through the kitchen door, he at once abandoned his idea
of putting up at the house; but taking the situation
lightly, he called for glasses of the best, paid for them as
he stood in the passage, and turned to proceed on his way by
the front door. This was barred, and while the landlady was
unfastening it the conversation about the skimmington was
continued in the sitting-room, and reached his ears.

"What do they mean by a 'skimmity-ride'?" he asked.

"O, sir!" said the landlady, swinging her long earrings with
deprecating modesty; "'tis a' old foolish thing they do in
these parts when a man's wife is--well, not too particularly
his own. But as a respectable householder I don't encourage
it.

"Still, are they going to do it shortly? It is a good sight
to see, I suppose?"

"Well, sir!" she simpered. And then, bursting into
naturalness, and glancing from the corner of her eye, "'Tis
the funniest thing under the sun! And it costs money."

"Ah! I remember hearing of some such thing. Now I shall be
in Casterbridge for two or three weeks to come, and
should not mind seeing the performance. Wait a
moment." He turned back, entered the sitting-room, and said,
"Here, good folks; I should like to see the old custom you
are talking of, and I don't mind being something towards it--
take that." He threw a sovereign on the table and returned
to the landlady at the door, of whom, having inquired the
way into the town, he took his leave.

"There were more where that one came from," said Charl when
the sovereign had been taken up and handed to the landlady
for safe keeping. "By George! we ought to have got a few
more while we had him here."

"No, no," answered the landlady. "This is a respectable
house, thank God! And I'll have nothing done but what's
honourable."

"Well," said Jopp; "now we'll consider the business begun,
and will soon get it in train."

"We will!" said Nance. "A good laugh warms my heart more
than a cordial, and that's the truth on't."

Jopp gathered up the letters, and it being now somewhat late
he did not attempt to call at Farfrae's with them that
night. He reached home, sealed them up as before, and
delivered the parcel at its address next morning. Within an
hour its contents were reduced to ashes by Lucetta, who,
poor soul! was inclined to fall down on her knees in
thankfulness that at last no evidence remained of the
unlucky episode with Henchard in her past. For though hers
had been rather the laxity of inadvertence than of
intention, that episode, if known, was not the less likely
to operate fatally between herself and her husband.



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
[...more]
Nabou.com: the big site