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CHAPTER 41.


Henchard went home. The morning having now fully broke he
lit his fire, and sat abstractedly beside it. He had not
sat there long when a gentle footstep approached the house
and entered the passage, a finger tapping lightly at the
door. Henchard's face brightened, for he knew the motions
to be Elizabeth's. She came into his room, looking wan and
sad.

"Have you heard?" she asked. "Mrs. Farfrae! She is--dead!
Yes, indeed--about an hour ago!"

"I know it," said Henchard. "I have but lately come in from
there. It is so very good of 'ee, Elizabeth, to come and
tell me. You must be so tired out, too, with sitting up.
Now do you bide here with me this morning. You can go and
rest in the other room; and I will call 'ee when breakfast
is ready."

To please him, and herself--for his recent kindliness was
winning a surprised gratitude from the lonely girl--she did
as he bade her, and lay down on a sort of couch which
Henchard had rigged up out of a settle in the adjoining
room. She could hear him moving about in his preparations;
but her mind ran most strongly on Lucetta, whose death in
such fulness of life and amid such cheerful hopes of
maternity was appallingly unexpected. Presently she fell
asleep.

Meanwhile her stepfather in the outer room had set the
breakfast in readiness; but finding that she dozed he would
not call her; he waited on, looking into the fire and
keeping the kettle boiling with house-wifely care, as if it
were an honour to have her in his house. In truth, a
great change had come over him with regard to her, and he
was developing the dream of a future lit by her filial
presence, as though that way alone could happiness lie.

He was disturbed by another knock at the door, and rose to
open it, rather deprecating a call from anybody just then.
A stoutly built man stood on the doorstep, with an alien,
unfamiliar air about his figure and bearing--an air which
might have been called colonial by people of cosmopolitan
experience. It was the man who had asked the way at Peter's
finger. Henchard nodded, and looked inquiry.

"Good morning, good morning," said the stranger with profuse
heartiness. "Is it Mr. Henchard I am talking to?"

"My name is Henchard."

"Then I've caught 'ee at home--that's right. Morning's the
time for business, says I. Can I have a few words with
you?"

"By all means," Henchard answered, showing the way in.

"You may remember me?" said his visitor, seating himself.

Henchard observed him indifferently, and shook his head.

"Well--perhaps you may not. My name is Newson."

Henchard's face and eyes seemed to die. The other did not
notice it. "I know the name well," Henchard said at last,
looking on the floor.

"I make no doubt of that. Well, the fact is, I've been
looking for 'ee this fortnight past. I landed at Havenpool
and went through Casterbridge on my way to Falmouth, and
when I got there, they told me you had some years before
been living at Casterbridge. Back came I again, and by long
and by late I got here by coach, ten minutes ago. 'He lives
down by the mill,' says they. So here I am. Now--that
transaction between us some twenty years agone--'tis that
I've called about. 'Twas a curious business. I was younger
then than I am now, and perhaps the less said about it, in
one sense, the better."

"Curious business! 'Twas worse than curious. I cannot even
allow that I'm the man you met then. I was not in my
senses, and a man's senses are himself."

"We were young and thoughtless," said Newson. "However,
I've come to mend matters rather than open arguments. Poor
Susan--hers was a strange experience."

"She was a warm-hearted, home-spun woman. She was not
what they call shrewd or sharp at all--better she had been."

"She was not."

"As you in all likelihood know, she was simple-minded enough
to think that the sale was in a way binding. She was as
guiltless o' wrong-doing in that particular as a saint in
the clouds."

"I know it, I know it. I found it out directly," said
Henchard, still with averted eyes. "There lay the sting o't
to me. If she had seen it as what it was she would never
have left me. Never! But how should she be expected to
know? What advantages had she? None. She could write her
own name, and no more.

"Well, it was not in my heart to undeceive her when the deed
was done," said the sailor of former days. "I thought, and
there was not much vanity in thinking it, that she would be
happier with me. She was fairly happy, and I never would
have undeceived her till the day of her death. Your child
died; she had another, and all went well. But a time came--
mind me, a time always does come. A time came--it was some
while after she and I and the child returned from America--
when somebody she had confided her history to, told her my
claim to her was a mockery, and made a jest of her belief in
my right. After that she was never happy with me. She
pined and pined, and socked and sighed. She said she must
leave me, and then came the question of our child. Then a
man advised me how to act, and I did it, for I thought it
was best. I left her at Falmouth, and went off to sea.
When I got to the other side of the Atlantic there was a
storm, and it was supposed that a lot of us, including
myself, had been washed overboard. I got ashore at
Newfoundland, and then I asked myself what I should do.

"'Since I'm here, here I'll bide,' I thought to myself;
''twill be most kindness to her, now she's taken against me,
to let her believe me lost, for,' I thought, 'while she
supposes us both alive she'll be miserable; but if she
thinks me dead she'll go back to him, and the child will
have a home.' I've never returned to this country till a
month ago, and I found that, as I supposed, she went to you,
and my daughter with her. They told me in Falmouth
that Susan was dead. But my Elizabeth-Jane--where is she?"

"Dead likewise," said Henchard doggedly. "Surely you learnt
that too?"

The sailor started up, and took an enervated pace or two
down the room. "Dead!" he said, in a low voice. "Then
what's the use of my money to me?"

Henchard, without answering, shook his head as if that were
rather a question for Newson himself than for him.

"Where is she buried?" the traveller inquired.

"Beside her mother," said Henchard, in the same stolid
tones.

"When did she die?"

"A year ago and more," replied the other without hesitation.

The sailor continued standing. Henchard never looked up
from the floor. At last Newson said: "My journey hither has
been for nothing! I may as well go as I came! It has served
me right. I'll trouble you no longer."

Henchard heard the retreating footsteps of Newson upon the
sanded floor, the mechanical lifting of the latch, the slow
opening and closing of the door that was natural to a
baulked or dejected man; but he did not turn his head.
Newson's shadow passed the window. He was gone.

Then Henchard, scarcely believing the evidence of his
senses, rose from his seat amazed at what he had done. It
had been the impulse of a moment. The regard he had lately
acquired for Elizabeth, the new-sprung hope of his
loneliness that she would be to him a daughter of whom he
could feel as proud as of the actual daughter she still
believed herself to be, had been stimulated by the
unexpected coming of Newson to a greedy exclusiveness in
relation to her; so that the sudden prospect of her loss had
caused him to speak mad lies like a child, in pure mockery
of consequences. He had expected questions to close in
round him, and unmask his fabrication in five minutes; yet
such questioning had not come. But surely they would come;
Newson's departure could be but momentary; he would learn
all by inquiries in the town; and return to curse him, and
carry his last treasure away!

He hastily put on his hat, and went out in the
direction that Newson had taken. Newson's back was soon
visible up the road, crossing Bull-stake. Henchard
followed, and saw his visitor stop at the King's Arms, where
the morning coach which had brought him waited half-an-hour
for another coach which crossed there. The coach Newson had
come by was now about to move again. Newson mounted, his
luggage was put in, and in a few minutes the vehicle
disappeared with him.

He had not so much as turned his head. It was an act of
simple faith in Henchard's words--faith so simple as to be
almost sublime. The young sailor who had taken Susan
Henchard on the spur of the moment and on the faith of a
glance at her face, more than twenty years before, was still
living and acting under the form of the grizzled traveller
who had taken Henchard's words on trust so absolute as to
shame him as he stood.

Was Elizabeth-Jane to remain his by virtue of this hardy
invention of a moment? "Perhaps not for long," said he.
Newson might converse with his fellow-travellers, some of
whom might be Casterbridge people; and the trick would be
discovered.

This probability threw Henchard into a defensive attitude,
and instead of considering how best to right the wrong, and
acquaint Elizabeth's father with the truth at once, he
bethought himself of ways to keep the position he had
accidentally won. Towards the young woman herself his
affection grew more jealously strong with each new hazard to
which his claim to her was exposed.

He watched the distant highway expecting to see Newson
return on foot, enlightened and indignant, to claim his
child. But no figure appeared. Possibly he had spoken to
nobody on the coach, but buried his grief in his own heart.

His grief!--what was it, after all, to that which he,
Henchard, would feel at the loss of her? Newson's affection
cooled by years, could not equal his who had been constantly
in her presence. And thus his jealous soul speciously
argued to excuse the separation of father and child.

He returned to the house half expecting that she would have
vanished. No; there she was--just coming out from the
inner room, the marks of sleep upon her eyelids, and
exhibiting a generally refreshed air.

"O father!" she said smiling. "I had no sooner lain down
than I napped, though I did not mean to. I wonder I did not
dream about poor Mrs. Farfrae, after thinking of her so; but
I did not. How strange it is that we do not often dream of
latest events, absorbing as they may be."

"I am glad you have been able to sleep," he said, taking her
hand with anxious proprietorship--an act which gave her a
pleasant surprise.

They sat down to breakfast, and Elizabeth-Jane's thoughts
reverted to Lucetta. Their sadness added charm to a
countenance whose beauty had ever lain in its meditative
soberness.

"Father," she said, as soon as she recalled herself to the
outspread meal, "it is so kind of you to get this nice
breakfast with your own hands, and I idly asleep the while."

"I do it every day," he replied. "You have left me;
everybody has left me; how should I live but by my own
hands."

"You are very lonely, are you not?"

"Ay, child--to a degree that you know nothing of! It is my
own fault. You are the only one who has been near me for
weeks. And you will come no more."

"Why do you say that? Indeed I will, if you would like to
see me."

Henchard signified dubiousness. Though he had so lately
hoped that Elizabeth-Jane might again live in his house as
daughter, he would not ask her to do so now. Newson might
return at any moment, and what Elizabeth would think of him
for his deception it were best to bear apart from her.

When they had breakfasted his stepdaughter still lingered,
till the moment arrived at which Henchard was accustomed to
go to his daily work. Then she arose, and with assurance of
coming again soon went up the hill in the morning sunlight.

"At this moment her heart is as warm towards me as mine is
towards her, she would live with me here in this humble
cottage for the asking! Yet before the evening probably he
will have come, and then she will scorn me!"

This reflection, constantly repeated by Henchard to
himself, accompanied him everywhere through the day.
His mood was no longer that of the rebellious, ironical,
reckless misadventurer; but the leaden gloom of one who has
lost all that can make life interesting, or even tolerable.
There would remain nobody for him to be proud of, nobody to
fortify him; for Elizabeth-Jane would soon be but as a
stranger, and worse. Susan, Farfrae, Lucetta, Elizabeth--
all had gone from him, one after one, either by his fault or
by his misfortune.

In place of them he had no interest, hobby, or desire. If
he could have summoned music to his aid his existence might
even now have been borne; for with Henchard music was of
regal power. The merest trumpet or organ tone was enough to
move him, and high harmonies transubstantiated him. But
hard fate had ordained that he should be unable to call up
this Divine spirit in his need.

The whole land ahead of him was as darkness itself; there
was nothing to come, nothing to wait for. Yet in the
natural course of life he might possibly have to linger on
earth another thirty or forty years--scoffed at; at best
pitied.

The thought of it was unendurable.

To the east of Casterbridge lay moors and meadows through
which much water flowed. The wanderer in this direction who
should stand still for a few moments on a quiet night, might
hear singular symphonies from these waters, as from a
lampless orchestra, all playing in their sundry tones from
near and far parts of the moor. At a hole in a rotten weir
they executed a recitative; where a tributary brook fell
over a stone breastwork they trilled cheerily; under an arch
they performed a metallic cymballing, and at Durnover Hole
they hissed. The spot at which their instrumentation rose
loudest was a place called Ten Hatches, whence during high
springs there proceeded a very fugue of sounds.

The river here was deep and strong at all times, and the
hatches on this account were raised and lowered by cogs and
a winch. A patch led from the second bridge over the
highway (so often mentioned) to these Hatches, crossing the
stream at their head by a narrow plank-bridge. But after
night-fall human beings were seldom found going that way,
the path leading only to a deep reach of the stream
called Blackwater, and the passage being dangerous.

Henchard, however, leaving the town by the east road,
proceeded to the second, or stone bridge, and thence struck
into this path of solitude, following its course beside the
stream till the dark shapes of the Ten Hatches cut the sheen
thrown upon the river by the weak lustre that still lingered
in the west. In a second or two he stood beside the weir-
hole where the water was at its deepest. He looked
backwards and forwards, and no creature appeared in view.
He then took off his coat and hat, and stood on the brink of
the stream with his hands clasped in front of him.

While his eyes were bent on the water beneath there slowly
became visible a something floating in the circular pool
formed by the wash of centuries; the pool he was intending
to make his death-bed. At first it was indistinct by reason
of the shadow from the bank; but it emerged thence and took
shape, which was that of a human body, lying stiff and stark
upon the surface of the stream.

In the circular current imparted by the central flow the
form was brought forward, till it passed under his eyes; and
then he perceived with a sense of horror that it was
HIMSELF. Not a man somewhat resembling him, but one in all
respects his counterpart, his actual double, was floating as
if dead in Ten Hatches Hole.

The sense of the supernatural was strong in this unhappy
man, and he turned away as one might have done in the actual
presence of an appalling miracle. He covered his eyes and
bowed his head. Without looking again into the stream he
took his coat and hat, and went slowly away.

Presently he found himself by the door of his own dwelling.
To his surprise Elizabeth-Jane was standing there. She came
forward, spoke, called him "father" just as before. Newson,
then, had not even yet returned.

"I thought you seemed very sad this morning," she said, "so
I have come again to see you. Not that I am anything but
sad myself. But everybody and everything seem against you
so, and I know you must be suffering.

How this woman divined things! Yet she had not divined their
whole extremity.

He said to her, "Are miracles still worked, do ye
think, Elizabeth? I am not a read man. I don't know so much
as I could wish. I have tried to peruse and learn all my
life; but the more I try to know the more ignorant I seem."

"I don't quite think there are any miracles nowadays," she
said.

"No interference in the case of desperate intentions, for
instance? Well, perhaps not, in a direct way. Perhaps not.
But will you come and walk with me, and I will show 'ee what
I mean."

She agreed willingly, and he took her over the highway, and
by the lonely path to Ten Hatches. He walked restlessly, as
if some haunting shade, unseen of her, hovered round him and
troubled his glance. She would gladly have talked of
Lucetta, but feared to disturb him. When they got near the
weir he stood still, and asked her to go forward and look
into the pool, and tell him what she saw.

She went, and soon returned to him. "Nothing," she said.

"Go again," said Henchard, "and look narrowly."

She proceeded to the river brink a second time. On her
return, after some delay, she told him that she saw
something floating round and round there; but what it was
she could not discern. It seemed to be a bundle of old
clothes.

"Are they like mine?" asked Henchard.

"Well--they are. Dear me--I wonder if--Father, let us go
away!"

"Go and look once more; and then we will get home."

She went back, and he could see her stoop till her head was
close to the margin of the pool. She started up, and
hastened back to his side.

"Well," said Henchard; "what do you say now?"

"Let us go home."

"But tell me--do--what is it floating there?"

"The effigy," she answered hastily. "They must have thrown
it into the river higher up amongst the willows at
Blackwater, to get rid of it in their alarm at discovery by
the magistrates, and it must have floated down here."

"Ah--to be sure--the image o' me! But where is the other?
Why that one only?...That performance of theirs killed her,
but kept me alive!"

Elizabeth-Jane thought and thought of these words "kept
me alive," as they slowly retraced their way to the town,
and at length guessed their meaning. "Father!--I will not
leave you alone like this!" she cried. "May I live with
you, and tend upon you as I used to do? I do not mind your
being poor. I would have agreed to come this morning, but
you did not ask me."

"May you come to me?" he cried bitterly. "Elizabeth, don't
mock me! If you only would come!"

"I will," said she.

"How will you forgive all my roughness in former days? You
cannot!"

"I have forgotten it. Talk of that no more."

Thus she assured him, and arranged their plans for reunion;
and at length each went home. Then Henchard shaved for the
first time during many days, and put on clean linen, and
combed his hair; and was as a man resuscitated thence-
forward.

The next morning the fact turned out to be as Elizabeth-Jane
had stated; the effigy was discovered by a cowherd, and that
of Lucetta a little higher up in the same stream. But as
little as possible was said of the matter, and the figures
were privately destroyed.

Despite this natural solution of the mystery Henchard no
less regarded it as an intervention that the figure should
have been floating there. Elizabeth-Jane heard him say,
"Who is such a reprobate as I! And yet it seems that even I
be in Somebody's hand!"



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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