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CHAPTER 38.


The proceedings had been brief--too brief--to Lucetta whom
an intoxicating Weltlust had fairly mastered; but they
had brought her a great triumph nevertheless. The shake of
the Royal hand still lingered in her fingers; and the chit-
chat she had overheard, that her husband might possibly
receive the honour of knighthood, though idle to a degree,
seemed not the wildest vision; stranger things had occurred
to men so good and captivating as her Scotchman was.

After the collision with the Mayor, Henchard had withdrawn
behind the ladies' stand; and there he stood, regarding with
a stare of abstraction the spot on the lapel of his coat
where Farfrae's hand had seized it. He put his own hand
there, as if he could hardly realize such an outrage from
one whom it had once been his wont to treat with ardent
generosity. While pausing in this half-stupefied state
the conversation of Lucetta with the other ladies
reached his ears; and he distinctly heard her deny him--deny
that he had assisted Donald, that he was anything more than
a common journeyman.

He moved on homeward, and met Jopp in the archway to the
Bull Stake. "So you've had a snub," said Jopp.

"And what if I have?" answered Henchard sternly.

"Why, I've had one too, so we are both under the same cold
shade." He briefly related his attempt to win Lucetta's
intercession.

Henchard merely heard his story, without taking it deeply
in. His own relation to Farfrae and Lucetta overshadowed
all kindred ones. He went on saying brokenly to himself,
"She has supplicated to me in her time; and now her tongue
won't own me nor her eyes see me!...And he--how angry he
looked. He drove me back as if I were a bull breaking
fence....I took it like a lamb, for I saw it could not be
settled there. He can rub brine on a green wound!...But he
shall pay for it, and she shall be sorry. It must come to a
tussle--face to face; and then we'll see how a coxcomb can
front a man!"

Without further reflection the fallen merchant, bent on some
wild purpose, ate a hasty dinner and went forth to find
Farfrae. After being injured by him as a rival, and snubbed
by him as a journeyman, the crowning degradation had been
reserved for this day--that he should be shaken at the
collar by him as a vagabond in the face of the whole town.

The crowds had dispersed. But for the green arches which
still stood as they were erected Casterbridge life had
resumed its ordinary shape. Henchard went down corn Street
till he came to Farfrae's house, where he knocked, and left
a message that he would be glad to see his employer at the
granaries as soon as he conveniently could come there.
Having done this he proceeded round to the back and entered
the yard.

Nobody was present, for, as he had been aware, the labourers
and carters were enjoying a half-holiday on account of the
events of the morning--though the carters would have to
return for a short time later on, to feed and litter down
the horses. He had reached the granary steps and was
about to ascend, when he said to himself aloud, "I'm
stronger than he."

Henchard returned to a shed, where he selected a short piece
of rope from several pieces that were lying about; hitching
one end of this to a nail, he took the other in his right
hand and turned himself bodily round, while keeping his arm
against his side; by this contrivance he pinioned the arm
effectively. He now went up the ladders to the top floor of
the corn-stores.

It was empty except of a few sacks, and at the further end
was the door often mentioned, opening under the cathead and
chain that hoisted the sacks. He fixed the door open and
looked over the sill. There was a depth of thirty or forty
feet to the ground; here was the spot on which he had been
standing with Farfrae when Elizabeth-Jane had seen him lift
his arm, with many misgivings as to what the movement
portended.

He retired a few steps into the loft and waited. From this
elevated perch his eyes could sweep the roofs round about,
the upper parts of the luxurious chestnut trees, now
delicate in leaves of a week's age, and the drooping boughs
of the lines; Farfrae's garden and the green door leading
therefrom. In course of time--he could not say how long--
that green door opened and Farfrae came through. He was
dressed as if for a journey. The low light of the nearing
evening caught his head and face when he emerged from the
shadow of the wall, warming them to a complexion of flame-
colour. Henchard watched him with his mouth firmly set the
squareness of his jaw and the verticality of his profile
being unduly marked.

Farfrae came on with one hand in his pocket, and humming a
tune in a way which told that the words were most in his
mind. They were those of the song he had sung when he
arrived years before at the Three Mariners, a poor young
man, adventuring for life and fortune, and scarcely knowing
witherward:--


"And here's a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie's a hand o' thine."


Nothing moved Henchard like an old melody. He sank
back. "No; I can't do it!" he gasped. "Why does the
infernal fool begin that now!"

At length Farfrae was silent, and Henchard looked out of the
loft door. "Will ye come up here?" he said.

"Ay, man," said Farfrae. "I couldn't see ye. What's
wrang?"

A minute later Henchard heard his feet on the lowest ladder.
He heard him land on the first floor, ascend and land on the
second, begin the ascent to the third. And then his head
rose through the trap behind.

"What are you doing up here at this time?" he asked, coming
forward. "Why didn't ye take your holiday like the rest of
the men?" He spoke in a tone which had just severity enough
in it to show that he remembered the untoward event of the
forenoon, and his conviction that Henchard had been
drinking.

Henchard said nothing; but going back he closed the stair
hatchway, and stamped upon it so that it went tight into its
frame; he next turned to the wondering young man, who by
this time observed that one of Henchard's arms was bound to
his side.

"Now," said Henchard quietly, "we stand face to face--man
and man. Your money and your fine wife no longer lift 'ee
above me as they did but now, and my poverty does not press
me down."

"What does it all mean?" asked Farfrae simply.

"Wait a bit, my lad. You should ha' thought twice before
you affronted to extremes a man who had nothing to lose.
I've stood your rivalry, which ruined me, and your snubbing,
which humbled me; but your hustling, that disgraced me, I
won't stand!"

Farfrae warmed a little at this. "Ye'd no business there,"
he said.

"As much as any one among ye! What, you forward stripling,
tell a man of my age he'd no business there!" The anger-vein
swelled in his forehead as he spoke.

"You insulted Royalty, Henchard; and 'twas my duty, as the
chief magistrate, to stop you."

"Royalty be damned," said Henchard. "I am as loyal as
you, come to that!"

"I am not here to argue. Wait till you cool doon, wait till
you cool; and you will see things the same way as I do."

"You may be the one to cool first," said Henchard grimly.
"Now this is the case. Here be we, in this four-square
loft, to finish out that little wrestle you began this
morning. There's the door, forty foot above ground. One of
us two puts the other out by that door--the master stays
inside. If he likes he may go down afterwards and give the
alarm that the other has fallen out by accident--or he may
tell the truth--that's his business. As the strongest man
I've tied one arm to take no advantage of 'ee. D'ye
understand? Then here's at 'ee!"

There was no time for Farfrae to do aught but one thing, to
close with Henchard, for the latter had come on at once. It
was a wrestling match, the object of each being to give his
antagonist a back fall; and on Henchard's part,
unquestionably, that it should be through the door.

At the outset Henchard's hold by his only free hand, the
right, was on the left side of Farfrae's collar, which he
firmly grappled, the latter holding Henchard by his collar
with the contrary hand. With his right he endeavoured to
get hold of his antagonist's left arm, which, however, he
could not do, so adroitly did Henchard keep it in the rear
as he gazed upon the lowered eyes of his fair and slim
antagonist.

Henchard planted the first toe forward, Farfrae crossing him
with his; and thus far the struggle had very much the
appearance of the ordinary wrestling of those parts.
Several minutes were passed by them in this attitude, the
pair rocking and writhing like trees in a gale, both
preserving an absolute silence. By this time their
breathing could be heard. Then Farfrae tried to get hold of
the other side of Henchard's collar, which was resisted by
the larger man exerting all his force in a wrenching
movement, and this part of the struggle ended by his forcing
Farfrae down on his knees by sheer pressure of one of his
muscular arms. Hampered as he was, however, he could not
keep him there, and Farfrae finding his feet again the
struggle proceeded as before.

By a whirl Henchard brought Donald dangerously near the
precipice; seeing his position the Scotchman for the first
time locked himself to his adversary, and all the efforts of
that infuriated Prince of Darkness--as he might have been
called from his appearance just now--were inadequate to lift
or loosen Farfrae for a time. By an extraordinary effort he
succeeded at last, though not until they had got far back
again from the fatal door. In doing so Henchard contrived
to turn Farfrae a complete somersault. Had Henchard's other
arm been free it would have been all over with Farfrae then.
But again he regained his feet, wrenching Henchard's arm
considerably, and causing him sharp pain, as could be seen
from the twitching of his face. He instantly delivered the
younger man an annihilating turn by the left fore-hip, as it
used to be expressed, and following up his advantage thrust
him towards the door, never loosening his hold till
Farfrae's fair head was hanging over the window-sill, and
his arm dangling down outside the wall.

"Now," said Henchard between his gasps, "this is the end of
what you began this morning. Your life is in my hands."

"Then take it, take it!" said Farfrae. "Ye've wished to
long enough!"

Henchard looked down upon him in silence, and their eyes
met. "O Farfrae!--that's not true!" he said bitterly. "God
is my witness that no man ever loved another as I did thee
at one time....And now--though I came here to kill 'ee, I
cannot hurt thee! Go and give me in charge--do what you
will--I care nothing for what comes of me!"

He withdrew to the back part of the loft, loosened his arm,
and flung himself in a corner upon some sacks, in the
abandonment of remorse. Farfrae regarded him in silence;
then went to the hatch and descended through it. Henchard
would fain have recalled him, but his tongue failed in its
task, and the young man's steps died on his ear.

Henchard took his full measure of shame and self-reproach.
The scenes of his first acquaintance with Farfrae rushed
back upon him--that time when the curious mixture of romance
and thrift in the young man's composition so commanded his
heart that Farfrae could play upon him as on an instrument.
So thoroughly subdued was he that he remained on the sacks
in a crouching attitude, unusual for a man, and for
such a man. Its womanliness sat tragically on the figure of
so stern a piece of virility. He heard a conversation
below, the opening of the coach-house door, and the putting
in of a horse, but took no notice.

Here he stayed till the thin shades thickened to opaque
obscurity, and the loft-door became an oblong of gray light--
the only visible shape around. At length he arose, shook
the dust from his clothes wearily, felt his way to the
hatch, and gropingly descended the steps till he stood in
the yard.

"He thought highly of me once," he murmured. "Now he'll
hate me and despise me for ever!"

He became possessed by an overpowering wish to see Farfrae
again that night, and by some desperate pleading to attempt
the well-nigh impossible task of winning pardon for his late
mad attack. But as he walked towards Farfrae's door he
recalled the unheeded doings in the yard while he had lain
above in a sort of stupor. Farfrae he remembered had gone
to the stable and put the horse into the gig; while doing so
Whittle had brought him a letter; Farfrae had then said that
he would not go towards Budmouth as he had intended--that he
was unexpectedly summoned to Weatherbury, and meant to call
at Mellstock on his way thither, that place lying but one or
two miles out of his course.

He must have come prepared for a journey when he first
arrived in the yard, unsuspecting enmity; and he must have
driven off (though in a changed direction) without saying a
word to any one on what had occurred between themselves.

It would therefore be useless to call at Farfrae's house
till very late.

There was no help for it but to wait till his return, though
waiting was almost torture to his restless and self-accusing
soul. He walked about the streets and outskirts of the
town, lingering here and there till he reached the stone
bridge of which mention has been made, an accustomed
halting-place with him now. Here he spent a long time, the
purl of waters through the weirs meeting his ear, and the
Casterbridge lights glimmering at no great distance off.

While leaning thus upon the parapet his listless attention
was awakened by sounds of an unaccustomed kind from the town
quarter. They were a confusion of rhythmical noises,
to which the streets added yet more confusion by
encumbering them with echoes. His first incurious thought
that the clangour arose from the town band, engaged in an
attempt to round off a memorable day in a burst of evening
harmony, was contradicted by certain peculiarities of
reverberation. But inexplicability did not rouse him to
more than a cursory heed; his sense of degradation was too
strong for the admission of foreign ideas; and he leant
against the parapet as before.



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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