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CHAPTER 37.


Such was the state of things when the current affairs of
Casterbridge were interrupted by an event of such magnitude
that its influence reached to the lowest social stratum
there, stirring the depths of its society simultaneously
with the preparations for the skimmington. It was one of
those excitements which, when they move a country town,
leave permanent mark upon its chronicles, as a warm
summer permanently marks the ring in the tree-trunk
corresponding to its date.

A Royal Personage was about to pass through the borough on
his course further west, to inaugurate an immense
engineering work out that way. He had consented to halt
half-an-hour or so in the town, and to receive an address
from the corporation of Casterbridge, which, as a
representative centre of husbandry, wished thus to express
its sense of the great services he had rendered to
agricultural science and economics, by his zealous promotion
of designs for placing the art of farming on a more
scientific footing.

Royalty had not been seen in Casterbridge since the days of
the third King George, and then only by candlelight for a
few minutes, when that monarch, on a night-journey, had
stopped to change horses at the King's Arms. The
inhabitants therefore decided to make a thorough fete
carillonee of the unwonted occasion. Half-an-hour's pause
was not long, it is true; but much might be done in it by a
judicious grouping of incidents, above all, if the weather
were fine.

The address was prepared on parchment by an artist who was
handy at ornamental lettering, and was laid on with the best
gold-leaf and colours that the sign-painter had in his shop.
The Council had met on the Tuesday before the appointed day,
to arrange the details of the procedure. While they were
sitting, the door of the Council Chamber standing open, they
heard a heavy footstep coming up the stairs. It advanced
along the passage, and Henchard entered the room, in clothes
of frayed and threadbare shabbiness, the very clothes which
he had used to wear in the primal days when he had sat among
them.

"I have a feeling," he said, advancing to the table and
laying his hand upon the green cloth, "that I should like to
join ye in this reception of our illustrious visitor. I
suppose I could walk with the rest?"

Embarrassed glances were exchanged by the Council and Grower
nearly ate the end of his quill-pen off, so gnawed he it
during the silence. Farfrae the young Mayor, who by virtue
of his office sat in the large chair, intuitively caught the
sense of the meeting, and as spokesman was obliged to
utter it, glad as he would have been that the duty should
have fallen to another tongue.

"I hardly see that it would be proper, Mr. Henchard," said
he. "The Council are the Council, and as ye are no longer
one of the body, there would be an irregularity in the
proceeding. If ye were included, why not others?"

"I have a particular reason for wishing to assist at the
ceremony."

Farfrae looked round. "I think I have expressed the feeling
of the Council," he said.

"Yes, yes," from Dr. Bath, Lawyer Long, Alderman Tubber, and
several more.

"Then I am not to be allowed to have anything to do with it
officially?"

"I am afraid so; it is out of the question, indeed. But of
course you can see the doings full well, such as they are to
be, like the rest of the spectators."

Henchard did not reply to that very obvious suggestion, and,
turning on his heel, went away.

It had been only a passing fancy of his, but opposition
crystallized it into a determination. "I'll welcome his
Royal Highness, or nobody shall!" he went about saying. "I
am not going to be sat upon by Farfrae, or any of the rest
of the paltry crew! You shall see."

The eventful morning was bright, a full-faced sun
confronting early window-gazers eastward, and all perceived
(for they were practised in weather-lore) that there was
permanence in the glow. Visitors soon began to flock in
from county houses, villages, remote copses, and lonely
uplands, the latter in oiled boots and tilt bonnets, to see
the reception, or if not to see it, at any rate to be near
it. There was hardly a workman in the town who did not put
a clean shirt on. Solomon Longways, Christopher Coney,
Buzzford, and the rest of that fraternity, showed their
sense of the occasion by advancing their customary eleven
o'clock pint to half-past ten; from which they found a
difficulty in getting back to the proper hour for several
days.

Henchard had determined to do no work that day. He primed
himself in the morning with a glass of rum, and walking down
the street met Elizabeth-Jane, whom he had not seen for
a week. "It was lucky," he said to her, "my twenty-one
years had expired before this came on, or I should never
have had the nerve to carry it out."

"Carry out what?" said she, alarmed.

"This welcome I am going to give our Royal visitor."

She was perplexed. "Shall we go and see it together?" she
said.

"See it! I have other fish to fry. You see it. It will be
worth seeing!"

She could do nothing to elucidate this, and decked herself
out with a heavy heart. As the appointed time drew near she
got sight again of her stepfather. She thought he was going
to the Three Mariners; but no, he elbowed his way through
the gay throng to the shop of Woolfrey, the draper. She
waited in the crowd without.

In a few minutes he emerged, wearing, to her surprise, a
brilliant rosette, while more surprising still, in his hand
he carried a flag of somewhat homely construction, formed by
tacking one of the small Union Jacks, which abounded in the
town to-day, to the end of a deal wand--probably the roller
from a piece of calico. Henchard rolled up his flag on the
doorstep, put it under his arm, and went down the street.

Suddenly the taller members of the crowd turned their heads,
and the shorter stood on tiptoe. It was said that the Royal
cortege approached. The railway had stretched out an
arm towards Casterbridge at this time, but had not reached
it by several miles as yet; so that the intervening
distance, as well as the remainder of the journey, was to be
traversed by road in the old fashion. People thus waited--
the county families in their carriages, the masses on foot--
and watched the far-stretching London highway to the ringing
of bells and chatter of tongues.

From the background Elizabeth-Jane watched the scene. Some
seats had been arranged from which ladies could witness the
spectacle, and the front seat was occupied by Lucetta, the
Mayor's wife, just at present. In the road under her eyes
stood Henchard. She appeared so bright and pretty that, as
it seemed, he was experiencing the momentary weakness of
wishing for her notice. But he was far from attractive to a
woman's eye, ruled as that is so largely by the
superficies of things. He was not only a journeyman,
unable to appear as he formerly had appeared, but he
disdained to appear as well as he might. Everybody else,
from the Mayor to the washerwoman, shone in new vesture
according to means; but Henchard had doggedly retained the
fretted and weather-beaten garments of bygone years.

Hence, alas, this occurred: Lucetta's eyes slid over him to
this side and to that without anchoring on his features--as
gaily dressed women's eyes will too often do on such
occasions. Her manner signified quite plainly that she
meant to know him in public no more.

But she was never tired of watching Donald, as he stood in
animated converse with his friends a few yards off, wearing
round his young neck the official gold chain with great
square links, like that round the Royal unicorn. Every
trifling emotion that her husband showed as he talked had
its reflex on her face and lips, which moved in little
duplicates to his. She was living his part rather than her
own, and cared for no one's situation but Farfrae's that
day.

At length a man stationed at the furthest turn of the high
road, namely, on the second bridge of which mention has been
made, gave a signal, and the Corporation in their robes
proceeded from the front of the Town Hall to the archway
erected at the entrance to the town. The carriages
containing the Royal visitor and his suite arrived at the
spot in a cloud of dust, a procession was formed, and the
whole came on to the Town Hall at a walking pace.

This spot was the centre of interest. There were a few
clear yards in front of the Royal carriage, sanded; and into
this space a man stepped before any one could prevent him.
It was Henchard. He had unrolled his private flag, and
removing his hat he staggered to the side of the slowing
vehicle, waving the Union Jack to and fro with his left hand
while he blandly held out his right to the Illustrious
Personage.

All the ladies said with bated breath, "O, look there!" and
Lucetta was ready to faint. Elizabeth-Jane peeped through
the shoulders of those in front, saw what it was, and was
terrified; and then her interest in the spectacle as a
strange phenomenon got the better of her fear.

Farfrae, with Mayoral authority, immediately rose to
the occasion. He seized Henchard by the shoulder, dragged
him back, and told him roughly to be off. Henchard's eyes
met his, and Farfrae observed the fierce light in them
despite his excitement and irritation. For a moment
Henchard stood his ground rigidly; then by an unaccountable
impulse gave way and retired. Farfrae glanced to the
ladies' gallery, and saw that his Calphurnia's cheek was
pale.

"Why--it is your husband's old patron!" said Mrs. Blowbody,
a lady of the neighbourhood who sat beside Lucetta.

"Patron!" said Donald's wife with quick indignation.

"Do you say the man is an acquaintance of Mr. Farfrae's?"
observed Mrs. Bath, the physician's wife, a new-comer to the
town through her recent marriage with the doctor.

"He works for my husband," said Lucetta.

"Oh--is that all? They have been saying to me that it was
through him your husband first got a footing in
Casterbridge. What stories people will tell!"

"They will indeed. It was not so at all. Donald's genius
would have enabled him to get a footing anywhere, without
anybody's help! He would have been just the same if there
had been no Henchard in the world!"

It was partly Lucetta's ignorance of the circumstances of
Donald's arrival which led her to speak thus, partly the
sensation that everybody seemed bent on snubbing her at this
triumphant time. The incident had occupied but a few
moments, but it was necessarily witnessed by the Royal
Personage, who, however, with practised tact affected not to
have noticed anything unusual. He alighted, the Mayor
advanced, the address was read; the Illustrious Personage
replied, then said a few words to Farfrae, and shook hands
with Lucetta as the Mayor's wife. The ceremony occupied but
a few minutes, and the carriages rattled heavily as
Pharaoh's chariots down Corn Street and out upon the
Budmouth Road, in continuation of the journey coastward.

In the crowd stood Coney, Buzzford, and Longways "Some
difference between him now and when he zung at the Dree
Mariners," said the first. "'Tis wonderful how he could get
a lady of her quality to go snacks wi' en in such quick
time."

"True. Yet how folk do worship fine clothes! Now
there's a better-looking woman than she that nobody notices
at all, because she's akin to that hontish fellow Henchard."

"I could worship ye, Buzz, for saying that," remarked Nance
Mockridge. "I do like to see the trimming pulled off such
Christmas candles. I am quite unequal to the part of
villain myself, or I'd gi'e all my small silver to see that
lady toppered....And perhaps I shall soon," she added
significantly.

"That's not a noble passiont for a 'oman to keep up," said
Longways.

Nance did not reply, but every one knew what she meant. The
ideas diffused by the reading of Lucetta's letters at
Peter's finger had condensed into a scandal, which was
spreading like a miasmatic fog through Mixen Lane, and
thence up the back streets of Casterbridge.

The mixed assemblage of idlers known to each other presently
fell apart into two bands by a process of natural selection,
the frequenters of Peter's Finger going off Mixen Lane-
wards, where most of them lived, while Coney, Buzzford,
Longways, and that connection remained in the street.

"You know what's brewing down there, I suppose?" said
Buzzford mysteriously to the others.

Coney looked at him. "Not the skimmity-ride?"

Buzzford nodded.

"I have my doubts if it will be carried out," said Longways.
"If they are getting it up they are keeping it mighty close.

"I heard they were thinking of it a fortnight ago, at all
events."

"If I were sure o't I'd lay information," said Longways
emphatically. "'Tis too rough a joke, and apt to wake riots
in towns. We know that the Scotchman is a right enough man,
and that his lady has been a right enough 'oman since she
came here, and if there was anything wrong about her afore,
that's their business, not ours."

Coney reflected. Farfrae was still liked in the community;
but it must be owned that, as the Mayor and man of money,
engrossed with affairs and ambitions, he had lost in the
eyes of the poorer inhabitants something of that wondrous
charm which he had had for them as a light-hearted
penniless young man, who sang ditties as readily as the
birds in the trees. Hence the anxiety to keep him from
annoyance showed not quite the ardour that would have
animated it in former days.

"Suppose we make inquiration into it, Christopher,"
continued Longways; "and if we find there's really anything
in it, drop a letter to them most concerned, and advise 'em
to keep out of the way?"

This course was decided on, and the group separated,
Buzzford saying to Coney, "Come, my ancient friend; let's
move on. There's nothing more to see here."

These well-intentioned ones would have been surprised had
they known how ripe the great jocular plot really was.
"Yes, to-night," Jopp had said to the Peter's party at the
corner of Mixen Lane. "As a wind-up to the Royal visit the
hit will be all the more pat by reason of their great
elevation to-day."

To him, at least, it was not a joke, but a retaliation.



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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