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CHAPTER 39.


When Farfrae descended out of the loft breathless from his
encounter with Henchard, he paused at the bottom to recover
himself. He arrived at the yard with the intention of
putting the horse into the gig himself (all the men having a
holiday), and driving to a village on the Budmouth Road.
Despite the fearful struggle he decided still to persevere
in his journey, so as to recover himself before going
indoors and meeting the eyes of Lucetta. He wished to
consider his course in a case so serious.

When he was just on the point of driving off Whittle arrived
with a note badly addressed, and bearing the word
"immediate" upon the outside. On opening it he was
surprised to see that it was unsigned. It contained a brief
request that he would go to Weatherbury that evening about
some business which he was conducting there. Farfrae knew
nothing that could make it pressing; but as he was bent upon
going out he yielded to the anonymous request, particularly
as he had a call to make at Mellstock which could be
included in the same tour. Thereupon he told Whittle of his
change of direction, in words which Henchard had overheard,
and set out on his way. Farfrae had not directed his man to
take the message indoors, and Whittle had not been supposed
to do so on his own responsibility.

Now the anonymous letter was a well-intentioned but clumsy
contrivance of Longways and other of Farfrae's men to
get him out of the way for the evening, in order that the
satirical mummery should fall flat, if it were attempted.
By giving open information they would have brought down upon
their heads the vengeance of those among their comrades who
enjoyed these boisterous old games; and therefore the plan
of sending a letter recommended itself by its indirectness.

For poor Lucetta they took no protective measure, believing
with the majority there was some truth in the scandal, which
she would have to bear as she best might.

It was about eight o'clock, and Lucetta was sitting in the
drawing-room alone. Night had set in for more than half an
hour, but she had not had the candles lighted, for when
Farfrae was away she preferred waiting for him by the
firelight, and, if it were not too cold, keeping one of the
window-sashes a little way open that the sound of his wheels
might reach her ears early. She was leaning back in the
chair, in a more hopeful mood than she had enjoyed since her
marriage. The day had been such a success, and the
temporary uneasiness which Henchard's show of effrontery had
wrought in her disappeared with the quiet disappearance of
Henchard himself under her husband's reproof. The floating
evidences of her absurd passion for him, and its
consequences, had been destroyed, and she really seemed to
have no cause for fear.

The reverie in which these and other subjects mingled was
disturbed by a hubbub in the distance, that increased moment
by moment. It did not greatly surprise her, the afternoon
having been given up to recreation by a majority of the
populace since the passage of the Royal equipages. But her
attention was at once riveted to the matter by the voice of
a maid-servant next door, who spoke from an upper window
across the street to some other maid even more elevated than
she.

"Which way be they going now?" inquired the first with
interest.

"I can't be sure for a moment," said the second, "because of
the malter's chimbley. O yes--I can see 'em. Well, I
declare, I declare!

"What, what?" from the first, more enthusiastically.

"They are coming up Corn Street after all! They sit
back to back!"

"What--two of 'em--are there two figures?"

"Yes. Two images on a donkey, back to back, their elbows
tied to one another's! She's facing the head, and he's
facing the tail."

"Is it meant for anybody in particular?"

"Well--it mid be. The man has got on a blue coat and
kerseymere leggings; he has black whiskers, and a reddish
face. 'Tis a stuffed figure, with a falseface."

The din was increasing now--then it lessened a little.

"There--I shan't see, after all!" cried the disappointed
first maid.

"They have gone into a back street--that's all," said the
one who occupied the enviable position in the attic.
"There--now I have got 'em all endways nicely!"

"What's the woman like? Just say, and I can tell in a moment
if 'tis meant for one I've in mind."

"My--why--'tis dressed just as SHE dressed when she sat
in the front seat at the time the play-actors came to the
Town Hall!"

Lucetta started to her feet, and almost at the instant the
door of the room was quickly and softly opened. Elizabeth-
Jane advanced into the firelight.

"I have come to see you," she said breathlessly. "I did not
stop to knock--forgive me! I see you have not shut your
shutters, and the window is open."

Without waiting for Lucetta's reply she crossed quickly to
the window and pulled out one of the shutters. Lucetta
glided to her side. "Let it be--hush!" she said
perempority, in a dry voice, while she seized Elizabeth-Jane
by the hand, and held up her finger. Their intercourse had
been so low and hurried that not a word had been lost of the
conversation without, which had thus proceeded:--

"Her neck is uncovered, and her hair in bands, and her back-
comb in place; she's got on a puce silk, and white
stockings, and coloured shoes."

Again Elizabeth-Jane attempted to close the window, but
Lucetta held her by main force.

"'Tis me!" she said, with a face pale as death. "A
procession--a scandal--an effigy of me, and him!"

The look of Elizabeth betrayed that the latter knew it
already.

"Let us shut it out," coaxed Elizabeth-Jane, noting that the
rigid wildness of Lucetta's features was growing yet more
rigid and wild with the meaning of the noise and laughter.
"Let us shut it out!"

"It is of no use!" she shrieked. "He will see it, won't he?
Donald will see it! He is just coming home--and it will
break his heart--he will never love me any more--and O, it
will kill me--kill me!"

Elizabeth-Jane was frantic now. "O, can't something be done
to stop it?" she cried. "Is there nobody to do it--not
one?"

She relinquished Lucetta's hands, and ran to the door.
Lucetta herself, saying recklessly "I will see it!" turned
to the window, threw up the sash, and went out upon the
balcony. Elizabeth immediately followed, and put her arm
round her to pull her in. Lucetta's eyes were straight upon
the spectacle of the uncanny revel, now dancing rapidly.
The numerous lights round the two effigies threw them up
into lurid distinctness; it was impossible to mistake the
pair for other than the intended victims.

"Come in, come in," implored Elizabeth; "and let me shut the
window!"

"She's me--she's me--even to the parasol--my green parasol!"
cried Lucetta with a wild laugh as she stepped in. She
stood motionless for one second--then fell heavily to the
floor.

Almost at the instant of her fall the rude music of the
skimmington ceased. The roars of sarcastic laughter went
off in ripples, and the trampling died out like the rustle
of a spent wind. Elizabeth was only indirectly conscious of
this; she had rung the bell, and was bending over Lucetta,
who remained convulsed on the carpet in the paroxysms of an
epileptic seizure. She rang again and again, in vain; the
probability being that the servants had all run out of the
house to see more of the Daemonic Sabbath than they could
see within.

At last Farfrae's man, who had been agape on the door-
step, came up; then the cook. The shutters, hastily
pushed to by Elizabeth, were quite closed, a light was
obtained, Lucetta carried to her room, and the man sent off
for a doctor. While Elizabeth was undressing her she
recovered consciousness; but as soon as she remembered what
had passed the fit returned.

The doctor arrived with unhoped-for promptitude; he had been
standing at his door, like others, wondering what the uproar
meant. As soon as he saw the unhappy sufferer he said, in
answer to Elizabeth's mute appeal, "This is serious."

"It is a fit," Elizabeth said.

"Yes. But a fit in the present state of her health means
mischief. You must send at once for Mr. Farfrae. Where is
he?"

"He has driven into the country, sir," said the parlour-
maid; "to some place on the Budmouth Road. He's likely to
be back soon."

"Never mind, he must be sent for, in case he should not
hurry." The doctor returned to the bedside again. The man
was despatched, and they soon heard him clattering out of
the yard at the back.

Meanwhile Mr. Benjamin Grower, that prominent burgess of
whom mention has been already made, hearing the din of
cleavers, tongs, tambourines, kits, crouds, humstrums,
serpents, rams'-horns, and other historical kinds of music
as he sat indoors in the High Street, had put on his hat and
gone out to learn the cause. He came to the corner above
Farfrae's, and soon guessed the nature of the proceedings;
for being a native of the town he had witnessed such rough
jests before. His first move was to search hither and
thither for the constables, there were two in the town,
shrivelled men whom he ultimately found in hiding up an
alley yet more shrivelled than usual, having some not
ungrounded fears that they might be roughly handled if seen.

"What can we two poor lammigers do against such a
multitude!" expostulated Stubberd, in answer to Mr. Grower's
chiding. "'Tis tempting 'em to commit felo-de-se upon
us, and that would be the death of the perpetrator; and we
wouldn't be the cause of a fellow-creature's death on no
account, not we!"

"Get some help, then! Here, I'll come with you. We'll see
what a few words of authority can do. Quick now; have
you got your staves?"

"We didn't want the folk to notice us as law officers, being
so short-handed, sir; so we pushed our Gover'ment staves up
this water-pipe.

"Out with 'em, and come along, for Heaven's sake! Ah, here's
Mr. Blowbody; that's lucky." (Blowbody was the third of the
three borough magistrates.)

"Well, what's the row?" said Blowbody. "Got their names--
hey?"

"No. Now," said Grower to one of the constables, "you go
with Mr. Blowbody round by the Old Walk and come up the
street; and I'll go with Stubberd straight forward. By this
plan we shall have 'em between us. Get their names only: no
attack or interruption."

Thus they started. But as Stubberd with Mr. Grower advanced
into Corn Street, whence the sounds had proceeded, they were
surprised that no procession could be seen. They passed
Farfrae's, and looked to the end of the street. The lamp
flames waved, the Walk trees soughed, a few loungers stood
about with their hands in their pockets. Everything was as
usual.

"Have you seen a motley crowd making a disturbance?" Grower
said magisterially to one of these in a fustian jacket, who
smoked a short pipe and wore straps round his knees.

"Beg yer pardon, sir?" blandly said the person addressed,
who was no other than Charl, of Peter's finger. Mr. Grower
repeated the words.

Charl shook his head to the zero of childlike ignorance.
"No; we haven't seen anything; have we, Joe? And you was
here afore I."

Joseph was quite as blank as the other in his reply.

"H'm--that's odd," said Mr. Grower. "Ah--here's a
respectable man coming that I know by sight. Have you," he
inquired, addressing the nearing shape of Jopp, "have you
seen any gang of fellows making a devil of a noise--
skimmington riding, or something of the sort?"

"O no--nothing, sir," Jopp replied, as if receiving the most
singular news. "But I've not been far tonight, so perhaps--
"

"Oh, 'twas here--just here," said the magistrate.

"Now I've noticed, come to think o't that the wind in the
Walk trees makes a peculiar poetical-like murmur to-night,
sir; more than common; so perhaps 'twas that?" Jopp
suggested, as he rearranged his hand in his greatcoat pocket
(where it ingeniously supported a pair of kitchen tongs and
a cow's horn, thrust up under his waistcoat).

"No, no, no--d'ye think I'm a fool? Constable, come this
way. They must have gone into the back street."

Neither in back street nor in front street, however, could
the disturbers be perceived, and Blowbody and the second
constable, who came up at this time, brought similar
intelligence. Effigies, donkey, lanterns, band, all had
disappeared like the crew of Comus.

"Now," said Mr. Grower, "there's only one thing more we can
do. Get ye half-a-dozen helpers, and go in a body to Mixen
Lane, and into Peter's finger. I'm much mistaken if you
don't find a clue to the perpetrators there."

The rusty-jointed executors of the law mustered assistance
as soon as they could, and the whole party marched off to
the lane of notoriety. It was no rapid matter to get there
at night, not a lamp or glimmer of any sort offering itself
to light the way, except an occasional pale radiance through
some window-curtain, or through the chink of some door which
could not be closed because of the smoky chimney within. At
last they entered the inn boldly, by the till then bolted
front-door, after a prolonged knocking of loudness
commensurate with the importance of their standing.

In the settles of the large room, guyed to the ceiling by
cords as usual for stability, an ordinary group sat drinking
and smoking with statuesque quiet of demeanour. The
landlady looked mildly at the invaders, saying in honest
accents, "Good evening, gentlemen; there's plenty of room.
I hope there's nothing amiss?"

They looked round the room. "Surely," said Stubberd to one
of the men, "I saw you by now in Corn Street--Mr. Grower
spoke to 'ee?"

The man, who was Charl, shook his head absently. "I've been
here this last hour, hain't I, Nance?" he said to the woman
who meditatively sipped her ale near him.

"Faith, that you have. I came in for my quiet supper-
time half-pint, and you were here then, as well as all the
rest."

The other constable was facing the clock-case, where he saw
reflected in the glass a quick motion by the landlady.
Turning sharply, he caught her closing the oven-door.

"Something curious about that oven, ma'am!" he observed
advancing, opening it, and drawing out a tambourine.

"Ah," she said apologetically, "that's what we keep here to
use when there's a little quiet dancing. You see damp
weather spoils it, so I put it there to keep it dry."

The constable nodded knowingly, but what he knew was
nothing. Nohow could anything be elicited from this mute
and inoffensive assembly. In a few minutes the
investigators went out, and joining those of their
auxiliaries who had been left at the door they pursued their
way elsewhither.



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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