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CHAPTER 40.


Long before this time Henchard, weary of his ruminations on
the bridge, had repaired towards the town. When he stood at
the bottom of the street a procession burst upon his view,
in the act of turning out of an alley just above him. The
lanterns, horns, and multitude startled him; he saw the
mounted images, and knew what it all meant.

They crossed the way, entered another street, and
disappeared. He turned back a few steps and was lost in
grave reflection, finally wending his way homeward by the
obscure river-side path. Unable to rest there he went to
his step-daughter's lodging, and was told that Elizabeth-
Jane had gone to Mr. Farfrae's. Like one acting in
obedience to a charm, and with a nameless apprehension, he
followed in the same direction in the hope of meeting her,
the roysterers having vanished. Disappointed in this he
gave the gentlest of pulls to the door-bell, and then learnt
particulars of what had occurred, together with the doctor's
imperative orders that Farfrae should be brought home, and
how they had set out to meet him on the Budmouth Road.

"But he has gone to Mellstock and Weatherbury!" exclaimed
Henchard, now unspeakably grieved. "Not Budmouth way at
all."

But, alas! for Henchard; he had lost his good name. They
would not believe him, taking his words but as the frothy
utterances of recklessness. Though Lucetta's life seemed at
that moment to depend upon her husband's return (she being
in great mental agony lest he should never know the
unexaggerated truth of her past relations with Henchard), no
messenger was despatched towards Weatherbury. Henchard, in
a state of bitter anxiety and contrition, determined to seek
Farfrae himself.

To this end he hastened down the town, ran along the eastern
road over Durnover Moor, up the hill beyond, and thus onward
in the moderate darkness of this spring night till he had
reached a second and almost a third hill about three miles
distant. In Yalbury Bottom, or Plain, at the foot of the
hill, he listened. At first nothing, beyond his own heart-
throbs, was to be heard but the slow wind making its moan
among the masses of spruce and larch of Yalbury Wood which
clothed the heights on either hand; but presently there came
the sound of light wheels whetting their felloes against the
newly stoned patches of road, accompanied by the distant
glimmer of lights.

He knew it was Farfrae's gig descending the hill from an
indescribable personality in its noise, the vehicle having
been his own till bought by the Scotchman at the sale of his
effects. Henchard thereupon retraced his steps along
Yalbury Plain, the gig coming up with him as its driver
slackened speed between two plantations.

It was a point in the highway near which the road to
Mellstock branched off from the homeward direction. By
diverging to that village, as he had intended to do, Farfrae
might probably delay his return by a couple of hours. It
soon appeared that his intention was to do so still, the
light swerving towards Cuckoo Lane, the by-road aforesaid.
Farfrae's off gig-lamp flashed in Henchard's face. At the
same time Farfrae discerned his late antagonist.

"Farfrae--Mr. Farfrae!" cried the breathless Henchard,
holding up his hand.

Farfrae allowed the horse to turn several steps into the
branch lane before he pulled up. He then drew rein, and
said "Yes?" over his shoulder, as one would towards a
pronounced enemy.

"Come back to Casterbridge at once!" Henchard said.
"There's something wrong at your house--requiring your
return. I've run all the way here on purpose to tell ye."

Farfrae was silent, and at his silence Henchard's soul sank
within him. Why had he not, before this, thought of what
was only too obvious? He who, four hours earlier, had
enticed Farfrae into a deadly wrestle stood now in the
darkness of late night-time on a lonely road, inviting him
to come a particular way, where an assailant might have
confederates, instead of going his purposed way, where there
might be a better opportunity of guarding himself from
attack. Henchard could almost feel this view of things in
course of passage through Farfrae's mind.

"I have to go to Mellstock," said Farfrae coldly, as he
loosened his reins to move on.

"But," implored Henchard, "the matter is more serious than
your business at Mellstock. It is--your wife! She is ill.
I can tell you particulars as we go along."

The very agitation and abruptness of Henchard increased
Farfrae's suspicion that this was a ruse to decoy him on
to the next wood, where might be effectually compassed what,
from policy or want of nerve, Henchard had failed to do
earlier in the day. He started the horse.

"I know what you think," deprecated Henchard running after,
almost bowed down with despair as he perceived the image of
unscrupulous villainy that he assumed in his former friend's
eyes. "But I am not what you think!" he cried hoarsely.
"Believe me, Farfrae; I have come entirely on your own and
your wife's account. She is in danger. I know no more; and
they want you to come. Your man has gone the other way in a
mistake. O Farfrae! don't mistrust me--I am a wretched man;
but my heart is true to you still!"

Farfrae, however, did distrust him utterly. He knew his
wife was with child, but he had left her not long ago in
perfect health; and Henchard's treachery was more credible
than his story. He had in his time heard bitter
ironies from Henchard's lips, and there might be ironies
now. He quickened the horse's pace, and had soon risen into
the high country lying between there and Mellstock,
Henchard's spasmodic run after him lending yet more
substance to his thought of evil purposes.

The gig and its driver lessened against the sky in
Henchard's eyes; his exertions for Farfrae's good had been
in vain. Over this repentant sinner, at least, there was to
be no joy in heaven. He cursed himself like a less
scrupulous Job, as a vehement man will do when he loses
self-respect, the last mental prop under poverty. To this
he had come after a time of emotional darkness of which the
adjoining woodland shade afforded inadequate illustration.
Presently he began to walk back again along the way by which
he had arrived. Farfrae should at all events have no reason
for delay upon the road by seeing him there when he took his
journey homeward later on.

Arriving at Casterbridge Henchard went again to Farfrae's
house to make inquiries. As soon as the door opened anxious
faces confronted his from the staircase, hall, and landing;
and they all said in grievous disappointment, "O--it is not
he!" The manservant, finding his mistake, had long since
returned, and all hopes had centred upon Henchard.

"But haven't you found him?" said the doctor.

"Yes....I cannot tell 'ee!" Henchard replied as he sank down
on a chair within the entrance. "He can't be home for two
hours."

"H'm," said the surgeon, returning upstairs.

"How is she?" asked Henchard of Elizabeth, who formed one of
the group.

"In great danger, father. Her anxiety to see her husband
makes her fearfully restless. Poor woman--I fear they have
killed her!"

Henchard regarded the sympathetic speaker for a few instants
as if she struck him in a new light, then, without further
remark, went out of the door and onward to his lonely
cottage. So much for man's rivalry, he thought. Death was
to have the oyster, and Farfrae and himself the shells. But
about Elizabeth-lane; in the midst of his gloom she
seemed to him as a pin-point of light. He had liked
the look on her face as she answered him from the stairs.
There had been affection in it, and above all things what he
desired now was affection from anything that was good and
pure. She was not his own, yet, for the first time, he had
a faint dream that he might get to like her as his own,--if
she would only continue to love him.

Jopp was just going to bed when Henchard got home. As the
latter entered the door Jopp said, "This is rather bad about
Mrs. Farfrae's illness."

"Yes," said Henchard shortly, though little dreaming of Jopp
s complicity in the night's harlequinade, and raising his
eyes just sufficiently to observe that Jopp's face was lined
with anxiety.

"Somebody has called for you," continued Jopp, when Henchard
was shutting himself into his own apartment. "A kind of
traveller, or sea-captain of some sort."

"Oh?--who could he be?"

"He seemed a well-be-doing man--had grey hair and a broadish
face; but he gave no name, and no message."

"Nor do I gi'e him any attention." And, saying this,
Henchard closed his door.


The divergence to Mellstock delayed Farfrae's return very
nearly the two hours of Henchard's estimate. Among the
other urgent reasons for his presence had been the need of
his authority to send to Budmouth for a second physician;
and when at length Farfrae did come back he was in a state
bordering on distraction at his misconception of Henchard's
motives.

A messenger was despatched to Budmouth, late as it had
grown; the night wore on, and the other doctor came in the
small hours. Lucetta had been much soothed by Donald's
arrival; he seldom or never left her side; and when,
immediately after his entry, she had tried to lisp out to
him the secret which so oppressed her, he checked her feeble
words, lest talking should be dangerous, assuring her there
was plenty of time to tell him everything.

Up to this time he knew nothing of the skimmington-ride.
The dangerous illness and miscarriage of Mrs. Farfrae was
soon rumoured through the town, and an apprehensive
guess having been given as to its cause by the leaders in
the exploit, compunction and fear threw a dead silence over
all particulars of their orgie; while those immediately
around Lucetta would not venture to add to her husband's
distress by alluding to the subject.

What, and how much, Farfrae's wife ultimately explained to
him of her past entanglement with Henchard, when they were
alone in the solitude of that sad night, cannot be told.
That she informed him of the bare facts of her peculiar
intimacy with the corn-merchant became plain from Farfrae's
own statements. But in respect of her subsequent conduct--
her motive in coming to Casterbridge to unite herself with
Henchard--her assumed justification in abandoning him when
she discovered reasons for fearing him (though in truth her
inconsequent passion for another man at first sight had most
to do with that abandonment)--her method of reconciling to
her conscience a marriage with the second when she was in a
measure committed to the first: to what extent she spoke of
these things remained Farfrae's secret alone.

Besides the watchman who called the hours and weather in
Casterbridge that night there walked a figure up and down
corn Street hardly less frequently. It was Henchard's,
whose retiring to rest had proved itself a futility as soon
as attempted; and he gave it up to go hither and thither,
and make inquiries about the patient every now and then. He
called as much on Farfrae's account as on Lucetta's, and on
Elizabeth-Jane's even more than on either's. Shorn one by
one of all other interests, his life seemed centring on the
personality of the stepdaughter whose presence but recently
he could not endure. To see her on each occasion of his
inquiry at Lucetta's was a comfort to him.

The last of his calls was made about four o'clock in the
morning, in the steely light of dawn. Lucifer was fading
into day across Durnover Moor, the sparrows were just
alighting into the street, and the hens had begun to cackle
from the outhouses. When within a few yards of Farfrae's he
saw the door gently opened, and a servant raise her hand to
the knocker, to untie the piece of cloth which had muffled
it. He went across, the sparrows in his way scarcely
flying up from the road-litter, so little did they believe
in human aggression at so early a time.

"Why do you take off that?" said Henchard.

She turned in some surprise at his presence, and did not
answer for an instant or two. Recognizing him, she said,
"Because they may knock as loud as they will; she will never
hear it any more."



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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