eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER 42.


But the emotional conviction that he was in Somebody's hand
began to die out of Henchard's breast as time slowly removed
into distance the event which had given that feeling birth.
The apparition of Newson haunted him. He would surely
return.

Yet Newson did not arrive. Lucetta had been borne along
the churchyard path; Casterbridge had for the last time
turned its regard upon her, before proceeding to its work as
if she had never lived. But Elizabeth remained undisturbed
in the belief of her relationship to Henchard, and now
shared his home. Perhaps, after all, Newson was gone for
ever.

In due time the bereaved Farfrae had learnt the, at least,
proximate cause of Lucetta's illness and death, and his
first impulse was naturally enough to wreak vengeance in the
name of the law upon the perpetrators of the mischief. He
resolved to wait till the funeral was over ere he moved in
the matter. The time having come he reflected. Disastrous
as the result had been, it was obviously in no way foreseen
or intended by the thoughtless crew who arranged the motley
procession. The tempting prospect of putting to the blush
people who stand at the head of affairs--that supreme and
piquant enjoyment of those who writhe under the heel of the
same--had alone animated them, so far as he could see; for
he knew nothing of Jopp's incitements. Other considerations
were also involved. Lucetta had confessed everything to him
before her death, and it was not altogether desirable to
make much ado about her history, alike for her sake, for
Henchard's, and for his own. To regard the event as an
untoward accident seemed, to Farfrae, truest consideration
for the dead one's memory, as well as best philosophy.

Henchard and himself mutually forbore to meet. For
Elizabeth's sake the former had fettered his pride
sufficiently to accept the small seed and root business
which some of the Town Council, headed by Farfrae, had
purchased to afford him a new opening. Had he been only
personally concerned Henchard, without doubt, would have
declined assistance even remotely brought about by the man
whom he had so fiercely assailed. But the sympathy of the
girl seemed necessary to his very existence; and on her
account pride itself wore the garments of humility.

Here they settled themselves; and on each day of their lives
Henchard anticipated her every wish with a watchfulness in
which paternal regard was heightened by a burning jealous
dread of rivalry. Yet that Newson would ever now return to
Casterbridge to claim her as a daughter there was
little reason to suppose. He was a wanderer and a
stranger, almost an alien; he had not seen his daughter for
several years; his affection for her could not in the nature
of things be keen; other interests would probably soon
obscure his recollections of her, and prevent any such
renewal of inquiry into the past as would lead to a
discovery that she was still a creature of the present. To
satisfy his conscience somewhat Henchard repeated to himself
that the lie which had retained for him the coveted treasure
had not been deliberately told to that end, but had come
from him as the last defiant word of a despair which took no
thought of consequences. Furthermore he pleaded within
himself that no Newson could love her as he loved her, or
would tend her to his life's extremity as he was prepared to
do cheerfully.

Thus they lived on in the shop overlooking the churchyard,
and nothing occurred to mark their days during the remainder
of the year. Going out but seldom, and never on a market-
day, they saw Donald Farfrae only at rarest intervals, and
then mostly as a transitory object in the distance of the
street. Yet he was pursuing his ordinary avocations,
smiling mechanically to fellow-tradesmen, and arguing with
bargainers--as bereaved men do after a while.

Time, "in his own grey style," taught Farfrae how to
estimate his experience of Lucetta--all that it was, and all
that it was not. There are men whose hearts insist upon a
dogged fidelity to some image or cause thrown by chance into
their keeping, long after their judgment has pronounced it
no rarity--even the reverse, indeed, and without them the
band of the worthy is incomplete. But Farfrae was not of
those. It was inevitable that the insight, briskness, and
rapidity of his nature should take him out of the dead blank
which his loss threw about him. He could not but perceive
that by the death of Lucetta he had exchanged a looming
misery for a simple sorrow. After that revelation of her
history, which must have come sooner or later in any
circumstances, it was hard to believe that life with her
would have been productive of further happiness.

But as a memory, nothwithstanding such conditions, Lucetta's
image still lived on with him, her weaknesses provoking only
the gentlest criticism, and her sufferings attenuating
wrath at her concealments to a momentary spark now and
then.

By the end of a year Henchard's little retail seed and grain
shop, not much larger than a cupboard, had developed its
trade considerably, and the stepfather and daughter enjoyed
much serenity in the pleasant, sunny corner in which it
stood. The quiet bearing of one who brimmed with an inner
activity characterized Elizabeth-Jane at this period. She
took long walks into the country two or three times a week,
mostly in the direction of Budmouth. Sometimes it occurred
to him that when she sat with him in the evening after those
invigorating walks she was civil rather than affectionate;
and he was troubled; one more bitter regret being added to
those he had already experienced at having, by his severe
censorship, frozen up her precious affection when originally
offered.

She had her own way in everything now. In going and coming,
in buying and selling, her word was law.

"You have got a new muff, Elizabeth," he said to her one day
quite humbly.

"Yes; I bought it," she said.

He looked at it again as it lay on an adjoining table. The
fur was of a glossy brown, and, though he was no judge of
such articles, he thought it seemed an unusually good one
for her to possess.

"Rather costly, I suppose, my dear, was it not?" he
hazarded.

"It was rather above my figure," she said quietly. "But it
is not showy."

"O no," said the netted lion, anxious not to pique her in
the least.

Some little time after, when the year had advanced into
another spring, he paused opposite her empty bedroom in
passing it. He thought of the time when she had cleared out
of his then large and handsome house in corn Street, in
consequence of his dislike and harshness, and he had looked
into her chamber in just the same way. The present room was
much humbler, but what struck him about it was the abundance
of books lying everywhere. Their number and quality made
the meagre furniture that supported them seem absurdly
disproportionate. Some, indeed many, must have been
recently purchased; and though he encouraged her to buy in
reason, he had no notion that she indulged her innate
passion so extensively in proportion to the narrowness of
their income. For the first time he felt a little hurt by
what he thought her extravagance, and resolved to say a word
to her about it. But, before he had found the courage to
speak an event happened which set his thoughts flying in
quite another direction.

The busy time of the seed trade was over, and the quiet
weeks that preceded the hay-season had come--setting their
special stamp upon Casterbridge by thronging the market with
wood rakes, new waggons in yellow, green, and red,
formidable scythes, and pitchforks of prong sufficient to
skewer up a small family. Henchard, contrary to his wont,
went out one Saturday afternoon towards the market-place
from a curious feeling that he would like to pass a few
minutes on the spot of his former triumphs. Farfrae, to
whom he was still a comparative stranger, stood a few steps
below the Corn Exchange door--a usual position with him at
this hour--and he appeared lost in thought about something
he was looking at a little way off.

Henchard's eyes followed Farfrae's, and he saw that the
object of his gaze was no sample-showing farmer, but his own
stepdaughter, who had just come out of a shop over the way.
She, on her part, was quite unconscious of his attention,
and in this was less fortunate than those young women whose
very plumes, like those of Juno's bird, are set with Argus
eyes whenever possible admirers are within ken.

Henchard went away, thinking that perhaps there was nothing
significant after all in Farfrae's look at Elizabeth-Jane at
that juncture. Yet he could not forget that the Scotchman
had once shown a tender interest in her, of a fleeting kind.
Thereupon promptly came to the surface that idiosyncrasy of
Henchard's which had ruled his courses from the beginning
and had mainly made him what he was. Instead of thinking
that a union between his cherished step-daughter and the
energetic thriving Donald was a thing to be desired for her
good and his own, he hated the very possibility.

Time had been when such instinctive opposition would
have taken shape in action. But he was not now the
Henchard of former days. He schooled himself to accept her
will, in this as in other matters, as absolute and
unquestionable. He dreaded lest an antagonistic word should
lose for him such regard as he had regained from her by his
devotion, feeling that to retain this under separation was
better than to incur her dislike by keeping her near.

But the mere thought of such separation fevered his spirit
much, and in the evening he said, with the stillness of
suspense: "Have you seen Mr. Farfrae to-day, Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth-Jane started at the question; and it was with some
confusion that she replied "No."

"Oh--that's right--that's right....It was only that I saw
him in the street when we both were there." He was wondering
if her embarrassment justified him in a new suspicion--that
the long walks which she had latterly been taking, that the
new books which had so surprised him, had anything to do
with the young man. She did not enlighten him, and lest
silence should allow her to shape thoughts unfavourable to
their present friendly relations, he diverted the discourse
into another channel.

Henchard was, by original make, the last man to act
stealthily, for good or for evil. But the solicitus
timor of his love--the dependence upon Elizabeth's regard
into which he had declined (or, in another sense, to which
he had advanced)--denaturalized him. He would often weigh
and consider for hours together the meaning of such and such
a deed or phrase of hers, when a blunt settling question
would formerly have been his first instinct. And now,
uneasy at the thought of a passion for Farfrae which should
entirely displace her mild filial sympathy with himself, he
observed her going and coming more narrowly.

There was nothing secret in Elizabeth-Jane's movements
beyond what habitual reserve induced, and it may at once be
owned on her account that she was guilty of occasional
conversations with Donald when they chanced to meet.
Whatever the origin of her walks on the Budmouth Road, her
return from those walks was often coincident with Farfrae's
emergence from corn Street for a twenty minutes' blow on
that rather windy highway--just to winnow the seeds and
chaff out of him before sitting down to tea, as he said.
Henchard became aware of this by going to the Ring, and,
screened by its enclosure, keeping his eye upon the road
till he saw them meet. His face assumed an expression of
extreme anguish.

"Of her, too, he means to rob me!" he whispered. "But he
has the right. I do not wish to interfere."

The meeting, in truth, was of a very innocent kind, and
matters were by no means so far advanced between the young
people as Henchard's jealous grief inferred. Could he have
heard such conversation as passed he would have been
enlightened thus much:--

HE.--"You like walking this way, Miss Henchard--and is
it not so?" (uttered in his undulatory accents, and with an
appraising, pondering gaze at her).

SHE.--"O yes. I have chosen this road latterly. I have
no great reason for it."

HE.--"But that may make a reason for others."

SHE (reddening).--"I don't know that. My reason,
however, such as it is, is that I wish to get a glimpse of
the sea every day.

HE.--"Is it a secret why?"

SHE ( reluctantly ).--"Yes."

HE (with the pathos of one of his native ballads).--"Ah,
I doubt there will be any good in secrets! A secret cast a
deep shadow over my life. And well you know what it was."

Elizabeth admitted that she did, but she refrained from
confessing why the sea attracted her. She could not herself
account for it fully, not knowing the secret possibly to be
that, in addition to early marine associations, her blood
was a sailor's.

"Thank you for those new books, Mr. Farfrae," she added
shyly. "I wonder if I ought to accept so many!"

"Ay! why not? It gives me more pleasure to get them for you,
than you to have them!"

"It cannot."

They proceeded along the road together till they reached the
town, and their paths diverged.

Henchard vowed that he would leave them to their own
devices, put nothing in the way of their courses, whatever
they might mean. If he were doomed to be bereft of
her, so it must be. In the situation which their marriage
would create he could see no locus standi for himself at
all. Farfrae would never recognize him more than
superciliously; his poverty ensured that, no less than his
past conduct. And so Elizabeth would grow to be a stranger
to him, and the end of his life would be friendless
solitude.

With such a possibility impending he could not help
watchfulness. Indeed, within certain lines, he had the
right to keep an eye upon her as his charge. The meetings
seemed to become matters of course with them on special days
of the week.

At last full proof was given him. He was standing behind a
wall close to the place at which Farfrae encountered her.
He heard the young man address her as "Dearest Elizabeth-
Jane," and then kiss her, the girl looking quickly round to
assure herself that nobody was near.

When they were gone their way Henchard came out from the
wall, and mournfully followed them to Casterbridge. The
chief looming trouble in this engagement had not decreased.
Both Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane, unlike the rest of the
people, must suppose Elizabeth to be his actual daughter,
from his own assertion while he himself had the same belief;
and though Farfrae must have so far forgiven him as to have
no objection to own him as a father-in-law, intimate they
could never be. Thus would the girl, who was his only
friend, be withdrawn from him by degrees through her
husband's influence, and learn to despise him.

Had she lost her heart to any other man in the world than
the one he had rivalled, cursed, wrestled with for life in
days before his spirit was broken, Henchard would have said,
"I am content." But content with the prospect as now
depicted was hard to acquire.

There is an outer chamber of the brain in which thoughts
unowned, unsolicited, and of noxious kind, are sometimes
allowed to wander for a moment prior to being sent off
whence they came. One of these thoughts sailed into
Henchard's ken now.

Suppose he were to communicate to Farfrae the fact that his
betrothed was not the child of Michael Henchard at all--
legally, nobody's child; how would that correct and leading
townsman receive the information? He might possibly forsake
Elizabeth-Jane, and then she would be her step-sire's own
again.

Henchard shuddered, and exclaimed, "God forbid such a thing!
Why should I still be subject to these visitations of the
devil, when I try so hard to keep him away?"



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
[...more]
Nabou.com: the big site