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CHAPTER 43.


What Henchard saw thus early was, naturally enough, seen at
a little later date by other people. That Mr. Farfrae
"walked with that bankrupt Henchard's step-daughter, of all
women," became a common topic in the town, the simple
perambulating term being used hereabout to signify a wooing;
and the nineteen superior young ladies of Casterbridge, who
had each looked upon herself as the only woman capable of
making the merchant Councilman happy, indignantly left off
going to the church Farfrae attended, left off conscious
mannerisms, left off putting him in their prayers at night
amongst their blood relations; in short, reverted to their
normal courses.

Perhaps the only inhabitants of the town to whom this
looming choice of the Scotchman's gave unmixed satisfaction
were the members of the philosophic party, which included
Longways, Christopher Coney, Billy Wills, Mr. Buzzford, and
the like. The Three Mariners having been, years before, the
house in which they had witnessed the young man and woman's
first and humble appearance on the Casterbridge stage, they
took a kindly interest in their career, not unconnected,
perhaps, with visions of festive treatment at their hands
hereafter. Mrs. Stannidge, having rolled into the large
parlour one evening and said that it was a wonder such a man
as Mr. Farfrae, "a pillow of the town," who might have
chosen one of the daughters of the professional men or
private residents, should stoop so low, Coney ventured to
disagree with her.

"No, ma'am, no wonder at all. 'Tis she that's a
stooping to he--that's my opinion. A widow man--whose first
wife was no credit to him--what is it for a young perusing
woman that's her own mistress and well liked? But as a neat
patching up of things I see much good in it. When a man
have put up a tomb of best marble-stone to the other one, as
he've done, and weeped his fill, and thought it all over,
and said to hisself, 'T'other took me in, I knowed this one
first; she's a sensible piece for a partner, and there's no
faithful woman in high life now';--well, he may do worse
than not to take her, if she's tender-inclined."

Thus they talked at the Mariners. But we must guard against
a too liberal use of the conventional declaration that a
great sensation was caused by the prospective event, that
all the gossips' tongues were set wagging thereby, and so-
on, even though such a declaration might lend some eclat to
the career of our poor only heroine. When all has been said
about busy rumourers, a superficial and temporary thing is
the interest of anybody in affairs which do not directly
touch them. It would be a truer representation to say that
Casterbridge (ever excepting the nineteen young ladies)
looked up for a moment at the news, and withdrawing its
attention, went on labouring and victualling, bringing up
its children, and burying its dead, without caring a tittle
for Farfrae's domestic plans.

Not a hint of the matter was thrown out to her stepfather by
Elizabeth herself or by Farfrae either. Reasoning on the
cause of their reticence he concluded that, estimating him
by his past, the throbbing pair were afraid to broach the
subject, and looked upon him as an irksome obstacle whom
they would be heartily glad to get out of the way.
Embittered as he was against society, this moody view of
himself took deeper and deeper hold of Henchard, till the
daily necessity of facing mankind, and of them particularly
Elizabeth-Jane, became well-nigh more than he could endure.
His health declined; he became morbidly sensitive. He
wished he could escape those who did not want him, and hide
his head for ever.

But what if he were mistaken in his views, and there were no
necessity that his own absolute separation from her
should be involved in the incident of her marriage?

He proceeded to draw a picture of the alternative--himself
living like a fangless lion about the back rooms of a house
in which his stepdaughter was mistress, an inoffensive old
man, tenderly smiled on by Elizabeth, and good-naturedly
tolerated by her husband. It was terrible to his pride to
think of descending so low; and yet, for the girl's sake he
might put up with anything; even from Farfrae; even
snubbings and masterful tongue-scourgings. The privilege of
being in the house she occupied would almost outweigh the
personal humiliation.

Whether this were a dim possibility or the reverse, the
courtship--which it evidently now was--had an absorbing
interest for him.

Elizabeth, as has been said, often took her walks on the
Budmouth Road, and Farfrae as often made it convenient to
create an accidental meeting with her there. Two miles out,
a quarter of a mile from the highway, was the prehistoric
fort called Mai Dun, of huge dimensions and many ramparts,
within or upon whose enclosures a human being as seen from
the road, was but an insignificant speck. Hitherward
Henchard often resorted, glass in hand, and scanned the
hedgeless Via--for it was the original track laid out by
the legions of the Empire--to a distance of two or three
miles, his object being to read the progress of affairs
between Farfrae and his charmer.

One day Henchard was at this spot when a masculine figure
came along the road from Budmouth, and lingered. Applying
his telescope to his eye Henchard expected that Farfrae's
features would be disclosed as usual. But the lenses
revealed that today the man was not Elizabeth-Jane's lover.

It was one clothed as a merchant captain, and as he turned
in the scrutiny of the road he revealed his face. Henchard
lived a lifetime the moment he saw it. The face was
Newson's.

Henchard dropped the glass, and for some seconds made no
other movement. Newson waited, and Henchard waited--if that
could be called a waiting which was a transfixture. But
Elizabeth-Jane did not come. Something or other had caused
her to neglect her customary walk that day. Perhaps
Farfrae and she had chosen another road for variety's
sake. But what did that amount to? She might be here to-
morrow, and in any case Newson, if bent on a private meeting
and a revelation of the truth to her, would soon make his
opportunity.

Then he would tell her not only of his paternity, but of the
ruse by which he had been once sent away. Elizabeth's
strict nature would cause her for the first time to despise
her stepfather, would root out his image as that of an arch-
deceiver, and Newson would reign in her heart in his stead.

But Newson did not see anything of her that morning. Having
stood still awhile he at last retraced his steps, and
Henchard felt like a condemned man who has a few hours'
respite. When he reached his own house he found her there.

"O father!" she said innocently. "I have had a letter--a
strange one--not signed. Somebody has asked me to meet him,
either on the Budmouth Road at noon today, or in the evening
at Mr. Farfrae's. He says he came to see me some time ago,
but a trick was played him, so that he did not see me. I
don't understand it; but between you and me I think Donald
is at the bottom of the mystery, and that it is a relation
of his who wants to pass an opinion on his choice. But I
did not like to go till I had seen you. Shall I go?"

Henchard replied heavily, "Yes; go."

The question of his remaining in Casterbridge was for ever
disposed of by this closing in of Newson on the scene.
Henchard was not the man to stand the certainty of
condemnation on a matter so near his heart. And being an
old hand at bearing anguish in silence, and haughty withal,
he resolved to make as light as he could of his intentions,
while immediately taking his measures.

He surprised the young woman whom he had looked upon as his
all in this world by saying to her, as if he did not care
about her more: "I am going to leave Casterbridge,
Elizabeth-Jane."

"Leave Casterbridge!" she cried, "and leave--me?"

"Yes, this little shop can be managed by you alone as well
as by us both; I don't care about shops and streets and
folk--I would rather get into the country by myself, out of
sight, and follow my own ways, and leave you to yours."

She looked down and her tears fell silently. It seemed
to her that this resolve of his had come on account of her
attachment and its probable result. She showed her devotion
to Farfrae, however, by mastering her emotion and speaking
out.

"I am sorry you have decided on this," she said with
difficult firmness. "For I thought it probable--possible--
that I might marry Mr. Farfrae some little time hence, and I
did not know that you disapproved of the step!"

"I approve of anything you desire to do, Izzy," said
Henchard huskily. "If I did not approve it would be no
matter! I wish to go away. My presence might make things
awkward in the future, and, in short, it is best that I go."

Nothing that her affection could urge would induce him to
reconsider his determination; for she could not urge what
she did not know--that when she should learn he was not
related to her other than as a step-parent she would refrain
from despising him, and that when she knew what he had done
to keep her in ignorance she would refrain from hating him.
It was his conviction that she would not so refrain; and
there existed as yet neither word nor event which could
argue it away.

"Then," she said at last, "you will not be able to come to
my wedding; and that is not as it ought to be."

"I don't want to see it--I don't want to see it!" he
exclaimed; adding more softly, "but think of me sometimes in
your future life--you'll do that, Izzy?--think of me when
you are living as the wife of the richest, the foremost man
in the town, and don't let my sins, WHEN YOU KNOW THEM
ALL, cause 'ee to quite forget that though I loved 'ee late
I loved 'ee well."

"It is because of Donald!" she sobbed.

"I don't forbid you to marry him," said Henchard. "Promise
not to quite forget me when----" He meant when Newson should
come.

She promised mechanically, in her agitation; and the same
evening at dusk Henchard left the town, to whose development
he had been one of the chief stimulants for many years.
During the day he had bought a new tool-basket, cleaned up
his old hay-knife and wimble, set himself up in fresh
leggings, kneenaps and corduroys, and in other ways
gone back to the working clothes of his young manhood,
discarding for ever the shabby-genteel suit of cloth and
rusty silk hat that since his decline had characterized him
in the Casterbridge street as a man who had seen better
days.

He went secretly and alone, not a soul of the many who had
known him being aware of his departure. Elizabeth-Jane
accompanied him as far as the second bridge on the highway--
for the hour of her appointment with the unguessed visitor
at Farfrae's had not yet arrived--and parted from him with
unfeigned wonder and sorrow, keeping him back a minute or
two before finally letting him go. She watched his form
diminish across the moor, the yellow rush-basket at his back
moving up and down with each tread, and the creases behind
his knees coming and going alternately till she could no
longer see them. Though she did not know it Henchard formed
at this moment much the same picture as he had presented
when entering Casterbridge for the first time nearly a
quarter of a century before; except, to be sure, that the
serious addition to his years had considerably lessened the
spring to his stride, that his state of hopelessness had
weakened him, and imparted to his shoulders, as weighted by
the basket, a perceptible bend.

He went on till he came to the first milestone, which stood
in the bank, half way up a steep hill. He rested his basket
on the top of the stone, placed his elbows on it, and gave
way to a convulsive twitch, which was worse than a sob,
because it was so hard and so dry.

"If I had only got her with me--if I only had!" he said.
"Hard work would be nothing to me then! But that was not to
be. I--Cain--go alone as I deserve--an outcast and a
vagabond. But my punishment is not greater than I can
bear!"

He sternly subdued his anguish, shouldered his basket, and
went on.

Elizabeth, in the meantime, had breathed him a sigh,
recovered her equanimity, and turned her face to
Casterbridge. Before she had reached the first house she
was met in her walk by Donald Farfrae. This was evidently
not their first meeting that day; they joined hands without
ceremony, and Farfrae anxiously asked, "And is he gone--
and did you tell him?--I mean of the other matter--not of
ours."

"He is gone; and I told him all I knew of your friend.
Donald, who is he?"

"Well, well, dearie; you will know soon about that. And Mr.
Henchard will hear of it if he does not go far."

"He will go far--he's bent upon getting out of sight and
sound!"

She walked beside her lover, and when they reached the
Crossways, or Bow, turned with him into Corn Street instead
of going straight on to her own door. At Farfrae's house
they stopped and went in.

Farfrae flung open the door of the ground-floor sitting-
room, saying, "There he is waiting for you," and Elizabeth
entered. In the arm-chair sat the broad-faced genial man
who had called on Henchard on a memorable morning between
one and two years before this time, and whom the latter had
seen mount the coach and depart within half-an-hour of his
arrival. It was Richard Newson. The meeting with the
light-hearted father from whom she had been separated half-
a-dozen years, as if by death, need hardly be detailed. It
was an affecting one, apart from the question of paternity.
Henchard's departure was in a moment explained. When the
true facts came to be handled the difficulty of restoring
her to her old belief in Newson was not so great as might
have seemed likely, for Henchard's conduct itself was a
proof that those facts were true. Moreover, she had grown
up under Newson's paternal care; and even had Henchard been
her father in nature, this father in early domiciliation
might almost have carried the point against him, when the
incidents of her parting with Henchard had a little worn
off.

Newson's pride in what she had grown up to be was more than
he could express. He kissed her again and again.

"I've saved you the trouble to come and meet me--ha-ha!"
said Newson. "The fact is that Mr. Farfrae here, he said,
'Come up and stop with me for a day or two, Captain Newson,
and I'll bring her round.' 'Faith,' says I, 'so I will'; and
here I am."

"Well, Henchard is gone," said Farfrae, shutting the door.
"He has done it all voluntarily, and, as I gather from
Elizabeth, he has been very nice with her. I was got
rather uneasy; but all is as it should be, and we will have
no more deefficulties at all."

"Now, that's very much as I thought," said Newson, looking
into the face of each by turns. "I said to myself, ay, a
hundred times, when I tried to get a peep at her unknown to
herself--'Depend upon it, 'tis best that I should live on
quiet for a few days like this till something turns up for
the better.' I now know you are all right, and what can I
wish for more?"

"Well, Captain Newson, I will be glad to see ye here every
day now, since it can do no harm," said Farfrae. "And what
I've been thinking is that the wedding may as well be kept
under my own roof, the house being large, and you being in
lodgings by yourself--so that a great deal of trouble and
expense would be saved ye?--and 'tis a convenience when a
couple's married not to hae far to go to get home!"

"With all my heart," said Captain Newson; "since, as ye say,
it can do no harm, now poor Henchard's gone; though I
wouldn't have done it otherwise, or put myself in his way at
all; for I've already in my lifetime been an intruder into
his family quite as far as politeness can be expected to put
up with. But what do the young woman say herself about it?
Elizabeth, my child, come and hearken to what we be talking
about, and not bide staring out o' the window as if ye
didn't hear.'

"Donald and you must settle it," murmured Elizabeth, still
keeping up a scrutinizing gaze at some small object in the
street.

"Well, then," continued Newson, turning anew to Farfrae with
a face expressing thorough entry into the subject, "that's
how we'll have it. And, Mr. Farfrae, as you provide so
much, and houseroom, and all that, I'll do my part in the
drinkables, and see to the rum and schiedam--maybe a dozen
jars will be sufficient?--as many of the folk will be
ladies, and perhaps they won't drink hard enough to make a
high average in the reckoning? But you know best. I've
provided for men and shipmates times enough, but I'm as
ignorant as a child how many glasses of grog a woman, that's
not a drinking woman, is expected to consume at these
ceremonies?"

"Oh, none--we'll no want much of that--O no!" said Farfrae,
shaking his head with appalled gravity. "Do you leave all
to me."

When they had gone a little further in these particulars
Newson, leaning back in his chair and smiling reflectively
at the ceiling, said, "I've never told ye, or have I, Mr.
Farfrae, how Henchard put me off the scent that time?"

He expressed ignorance of what the Captain alluded to.

"Ah, I thought I hadn't. I resolved that I would not, I
remember, not to hurt the man's name. But now he's gone I
can tell ye. Why, I came to Casterbridge nine or ten months
before that day last week that I found ye out. I had been
here twice before then. The first time I passed through the
town on my way westward, not knowing Elizabeth lived here.
Then hearing at some place--I forget where--that a man of
the name of Henchard had been mayor here, I came back, and
called at his house one morning. The old rascal!--he said
Elizabeth-Jane had died years ago."

Elizabeth now gave earnest heed to his story.

"Now, it never crossed my mind that the man was selling me a
packet," contiued Newson. "And, if you'll believe me, I was
that upset, that I went back to the coach that had brought
me, and took passage onward without lying in the town half-
an-hour. Ha-ha!--'twas a good joke, and well carried out,
and I give the man credit for't!"

Elizabeth-Jane was amazed at the intelligence. "A joke?--O
no!" she cried. "Then he kept you from me, father, all
those months, when you might have been here?"

The father admitted that such was the case.

"He ought not to have done it!" said Farfrae.

Elizabeth sighed. "I said I would never forget him. But O!
I think I ought to forget him now!"

Newson, like a good many rovers and sojourners among strange
men and strange moralities, failed to perceive the enormity
of Henchard's crime, notwithstanding that he himself had
been the chief sufferer therefrom. Indeed, the attack upon
the absent culprit waxing serious, he began to take
Henchard's part.

"Well, 'twas not ten words that he said, after all," Newson
pleaded. "And how could he know that I should be such
a simpleton as to believe him? 'Twas as much my fault as
his, poor fellow!"

"No," said Elizabeth-Jane firmly, in her revulsion of
feeling. "He knew your disposition--you always were so
trusting, father; I've heard my mother say so hundreds of
times--and he did it to wrong you. After weaning me from
you these five years by saying he was my father, he should
not have done this."

Thus they conversed; and there was nobody to set before
Elizabeth any extenuation of the absent one's deceit. Even
had he been present Henchard might scarce have pleaded it,
so little did he value himself or his good name.

"Well, well--never mind--it is all over and past," said
Newson good-naturedly. "Now, about this wedding again."



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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