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CHAPTER 44.


Meanwhile, the man of their talk had pursued his solitary
way eastward till weariness overtook him, and he looked
about for a place of rest. His heart was so exacerbated at
parting from the girl that he could not face an inn, or even
a household of the most humble kind; and entering a field he
lay down under a wheatrick, feeling no want of food. The
very heaviness of his soul caused him to sleep profoundly.

The bright autumn sun shining into his eyes across the
stubble awoke him the next morning early. He opened his
basket and ate for his breakfast what he had packed for his
supper; and in doing so overhauled the remainder of his kit.
Although everything he brought necessitated carriage at his
own back, he had secreted among his tools a few of
Elizabeth-Jane's cast-off belongings, in the shape of
gloves, shoes, a scrap of her handwriting, and the like, and
in his pocket he carried a curl of her hair. Having looked
at these things he closed them up again, and went onward.

During five consecutive days Henchard's rush basket rode
along upon his shoulder between the highway hedges, the new
yellow of the rushes catching the eye of an occasional
field-labourer as he glanced through the quickset,
together with the wayfarer's hat and head, and down-turned
face, over which the twig shadows moved in endless
procession. It now became apparent that the direction of
his journey was Weydon Priors, which he reached on the
afternoon of the sixth day.

The renowned hill whereon the annual fair had been held for
so many generations was now bare of human beings, and almost
of aught besides. A few sheep grazed thereabout, but these
ran off when Henchard halted upon the summit. He deposited
his basket upon the turf, and looked about with sad
curiosity; till he discovered the road by which his wife and
himself had entered on the upland so memorable to both,
five-and-twenty years before.

"Yes, we came up that way," he said, after ascertaining his
bearings. "She was carrying the baby, and I was reading a
ballet-sheet. Then we crossed about here--she so sad and
weary, and I speaking to her hardly at all, because of my
cursed pride and mortification at being poor. Then we saw
the tent--that must have stood more this way." He walked to
another spot, it was not really where the tent had stood but
it seemed so to him. "Here we went in, and here we sat
down. I faced this way. Then I drank, and committed my
crime. It must have been just on that very pixy-ring that
she was standing when she said her last words to me before
going off with him; I can hear their sound now, and the
sound of her sobs: 'O Mike! I've lived with thee all this
while, and had nothing but temper. Now I'm no more to 'ee--
I'll try my luck elsewhere.'"

He experienced not only the bitterness of a man who finds,
in looking back upon an ambitious course, that what he has
sacrificed in sentiment was worth as much as what he has
gained in substance; but the superadded bitterness of seeing
his very recantation nullified. He had been sorry for all
this long ago; but his attempts to replace ambition by love
had been as fully foiled as his ambition itself. His
wronged wife had foiled them by a fraud so grandly simple as
to be almost a virtue. It was an odd sequence that out of
all this tampering with social law came that flower of
Nature, Elizabeth. Part of his wish to wash his hands of
life arose from his perception of its contrarious
inconsistencies--of Nature's jaunty readiness to support
unorthodox social principles.

He intended to go on from this place--visited as an act of
penance--into another part of the country altogether. But
he could not help thinking of Elizabeth, and the quarter of
the horizon in which she lived. Out of this it happened
that the centrifugal tendency imparted by weariness of the
world was counteracted by the centripetal influence of his
love for his stepdaughter. As a consequence, instead of
following a straight course yet further away from
Casterbridge, Henchard gradually, almost unconsciously,
deflected from that right line of his first intention; till,
by degrees, his wandering, like that of the Canadian
woodsman, became part of a circle of which Casterbridge
formed the centre. In ascending any particular hill he
ascertained the bearings as nearly as he could by means of
the sun, moon, or stars, and settled in his mind the exact
direction in which Casterbridge and Elizabeth-Jane lay.
Sneering at himself for his weakness he yet every hour--nay,
every few minutes--conjectured her actions for the time
being--her sitting down and rising up, her goings and
comings, till thought of Newson's and Farfrae's counter-
influence would pass like a cold blast over a pool, and
efface her image. And then he would say to himself, "O you
fool! All this about a daughter who is no daughter of
thine!"

At length he obtained employment at his own occupation of
hay-trusser, work of that sort being in demand at this
autumn time. The scene of his hiring was a pastoral farm
near the old western highway, whose course was the channel
of all such communications as passed between the busy
centres of novelty and the remote Wessex boroughs. He had
chosen the neighbourhood of this artery from a sense that,
situated here, though at a distance of fifty miles, he was
virtually nearer to her whose welfare was so dear than he
would be at a roadless spot only half as remote.

And thus Henchard found himself again on the precise
standing which he had occupied a quarter of a century
before. Externally there was nothing to hinder his making
another start on the upward slope, and by his new lights
achieving higher things than his soul in its half-
formed state had been able to accomplish. But the ingenious
machinery contrived by the Gods for reducing human
possibilities of amelioration to a minimum--which arranges
that wisdom to do shall come pari passu with the
departure of zest for doing--stood in the way of all that.
He had no wish to make an arena a second time of a world
that had become a mere painted scene to him.

Very often, as his hay-knife crunched down among the sweet-
smelling grassy stems, he would survey mankind and say to
himself: "Here and everywhere be folk dying before their
time like frosted leaves, though wanted by their families,
the country, and the world; while I, an outcast, an
encumberer of the ground, wanted by nobody, and despised by
all, live on against my will!"

He often kept an eager ear upon the conversation of those
who passed along the road--not from a general curiosity by
any means--but in the hope that among these travellers
between Casterbridge and London some would, sooner or later,
speak of the former place. The distance, however, was too
great to lend much probability to his desire; and the
highest result of his attention to wayside words was that he
did indeed hear the name "Casterbridge" uttered one day by
the driver of a road-waggon. Henchard ran to the gate of
the field he worked in, and hailed the speaker, who was a
stranger.

"Yes--I've come from there, maister," he said, in answer to
Henchard's inquiry. "I trade up and down, ye know; though,
what with this travelling without horses that's getting so
common, my work will soon be done."

"Anything moving in the old place, mid I ask?"

"All the same as usual."

"I've heard that Mr. Farfrae, the late mayor, is thinking of
getting married. Now is that true or not?"

"I couldn't say for the life o' me. O no, I should think
not."

"But yes, John--you forget," said a woman inside the waggon-
tilt. "What were them packages we carr'd there at the
beginning o' the week? Surely they said a wedding was coming
off soon--on Martin's Day?"

The man declared he remembered nothing about it; and
the waggon went on jangling over the hill.

Henchard was convinced that the woman's memory served her
well. The date was an extremely probable one, there being
no reason for delay on either side. He might, for that
matter, write and inquire of Elizabeth; but his instinct for
sequestration had made the course difficult. Yet before he
left her she had said that for him to be absent from her
wedding was not as she wished it to be.

The remembrance would continually revive in him now that it
was not Elizabeth and Farfrae who had driven him away from
them, but his own haughty sense that his presence was no
longer desired. He had assumed the return of Newson without
absolute proof that the Captain meant to return; still less
that Elizabeth-Jane would welcome him; and with no proof
whatever that if he did return he would stay. What if he
had been mistaken in his views; if there had been no
necessity that his own absolute separation from her he loved
should be involved in these untoward incidents? To make one
more attempt to be near her: to go back, to see her, to
plead his cause before her, to ask forgiveness for his
fraud, to endeavour strenuously to hold his own in her love;
it was worth the risk of repulse, ay, of life itself.

But how to initiate this reversal of all his former resolves
without causing husband and wife to despise him for his
inconsistency was a question which made him tremble and
brood.

He cut and cut his trusses two days more, and then he
concluded his hesitancies by a sudden reckless determination
to go to the wedding festivity. Neither writing nor message
would be expected of him. She had regretted his decision to
be absent--his unanticipated presence would fill the little
unsatisfied corner that would probably have place in her
just heart without him.

To intrude as little of his personality as possible upon a
gay event with which that personality could show nothing in
keeping, he decided not to make his appearance till evening--
when stiffness would have worn off, and a gentle wish to
let bygones be bygones would exercise its sway in all
hearts.

He started on foot, two mornings before St. Martin's-tide,
allowing himself about sixteen miles to perform for
each of the three days' journey, reckoning the wedding-day
as one. There were only two towns, Melchester and
Shottsford, of any importance along his course, and at the
latter he stopped on the second night, not only to rest, but
to prepare himself for the next evening.

Possessing no clothes but the working suit he stood in--now
stained and distorted by their two months of hard usage, he
entered a shop to make some purchases which should put him,
externally at any rate, a little in harmony with the
prevailing tone of the morrow. A rough yet respectable coat
and hat, a new shirt and neck-cloth, were the chief of
these; and having satisfied himself that in appearance at
least he would not now offend her, he proceeded to the more
interesting particular of buying her some present.

What should that present be? He walked up and down the
street, regarding dubiously the display in the shop windows,
from a gloomy sense that what he might most like to give her
would be beyond his miserable pocket. At length a caged
goldfinch met his eye. The cage was a plain and small one,
the shop humble, and on inquiry he concluded he could afford
the modest sum asked. A sheet of newspaper was tied round
the little creature's wire prison, and with the wrapped up
cage in his hand Henchard sought a lodging for the night.

Next day he set out upon the last stage, and was soon within
the district which had been his dealing ground in bygone
years. Part of the distance he travelled by carrier,
seating himself in the darkest corner at the back of that
trader's van; and as the other passengers, mainly women
going short journeys, mounted and alighted in front of
Henchard, they talked over much local news, not the least
portion of this being the wedding then in course of
celebration at the town they were nearing. It appeared from
their accounts that the town band had been hired for the
evening party, and, lest the convivial instincts of that
body should get the better of their skill, the further step
had been taken of engaging the string band from Budmouth, so
that there would be a reserve of harmony to fall back upon
in case of need.

He heard, however, but few particulars beyond those
known to him already, the incident of the deepest interest
on the journey being the soft pealing of the Casterbridge
bells, which reached the travellers' ears while the van
paused on the top of Yalbury Hill to have the drag lowered.
The time was just after twelve o'clock.

Those notes were a signal that all had gone well; that there
had been no slip 'twixt cup and lip in this case; that
Elizabeth-Jane and Donald Farfrae were man and wife.

Henchard did not care to ride any further with his
chattering companions after hearing this sound. Indeed, it
quite unmanned him; and in pursuance of his plan of not
showing himself in Casterbridge street till evening, lest he
should mortify Farfrae and his bride, he alighted here, with
his bundle and bird-cage, and was soon left as a lonely
figure on the broad white highway.

It was the hill near which he had waited to meet Farfrae,
almost two years earlier, to tell him of the serious illness
of his wife Lucetta. The place was unchanged; the same
larches sighed the same notes; but Farfrae had another wife--
and, as Henchard knew, a better one. He only hoped that
Elizabeth-Jane had obtained a better home than had been hers
at the former time.

He passed the remainder of the afternoon in a curious high-
strung condition, unable to do much but think of the
approaching meeting with her, and sadly satirize himself for
his emotions thereon, as a Samson shorn. Such an innovation
on Casterbridge customs as a flitting of bridegroom and
bride from the town immediately after the ceremony, was not
likely, but if it should have taken place he would wait till
their return. To assure himself on this point he asked a
market-man when near the borough if the newly-married couple
had gone away, and was promptly informed that they had not;
they were at that hour, according to all accounts,
entertaining a houseful of guests at their home in Corn
Street.

Henchard dusted his boots, washed his hands at the
riverside, and proceeded up the town under the feeble lamps.
He need have made no inquiries beforehand, for on drawing
near Farfrae's residence it was plain to the least observant
that festivity prevailed within, and that Donald
himself shared it, his voice being distinctly audible in the
street, giving strong expression to a song of his dear
native country that he loved so well as never to have
revisited it. Idlers were standing on the pavement in
front; and wishing to escape the notice of these Henchard
passed quickly on to the door.

It was wide open, the hall was lighted extravagantly, and
people were going up and down the stairs. His courage
failed him; to enter footsore, laden, and poorly dressed
into the midst of such resplendency was to bring needless
humiliation upon her he loved, if not to court repulse from
her husband. Accordingly he went round into the street at
the back that he knew so well, entered the garden, and came
quietly into the house through the kitchen, temporarily
depositing the bird and cage under a bush outside, to lessen
the awkwardness of his arrival.

Solitude and sadness had so emolliated Henchard that he now
feared circumstances he would formerly have scorned, and he
began to wish that he had not taken upon himself to arrive
at such a juncture. However, his progress was made
unexpectedly easy by his discovering alone in the kitchen an
elderly woman who seemed to be acting as provisional
housekeeper during the convulsions from which Farfrae's
establishment was just then suffering. She was one of those
people whom nothing surprises, and though to her, a total
stranger, his request must have seemed odd, she willingly
volunteered to go up and inform the master and mistress of
the house that "a humble old friend" had come.

On second thought she said that he had better not wait in
the kitchen, but come up into the little back-parlour, which
was empty. He thereupon followed her thither, and she left
him. Just as she got across the landing to the door of the
best parlour a dance was struck up, and she returned to say
that she would wait till that was over before announcing
him--Mr. and Mrs. Farfrae having both joined in the figure.

The door of the front room had been taken off its hinges to
give more space, and that of the room Henchard sat in being
ajar, he could see fractional parts of the dancers whenever
their gyrations brought them near the doorway, chiefly in
the shape of the skirts of dresses and streaming curls of
hair; together with about three-fifths of the band in
profile, including the restless shadow of a fiddler's elbow,
and the tip of the bass-viol bow.

The gaiety jarred upon Henchard's spirits; and he could not
quite understand why Farfrae, a much-sobered man, and a
widower, who had had his trials, should have cared for it
all, notwithstanding the fact that he was quite a young man
still, and quickly kindled to enthusiasm by dance and song.
That the quiet Elizabeth, who had long ago appraised life at
a moderate value, and who knew in spite of her maidenhood
that marriage was as a rule no dancing matter, should have
had zest for this revelry surprised him still more.
However, young people could not be quite old people, he
concluded, and custom was omnipotent.

With the progress of the dance the performers spread out
somewhat, and then for the first time he caught a glimpse of
the once despised daughter who had mastered him, and made
his heart ache. She was in a dress of white silk or satin,
he was not near enough to say which--snowy white, without a
tinge of milk or cream; and the expression of her face was
one of nervous pleasure rather than of gaiety. Presently
Farfrae came round, his exuberant Scotch movement making him
conspicuous in a moment. The pair were not dancing
together, but Henchard could discern that whenever the
chances of the figure made them the partners of a moment
their emotions breathed a much subtler essence than at other
times.

By degrees Henchard became aware that the measure was trod
by some one who out-Farfraed Farfrae in saltatory
intenseness. This was strange, and it was stranger to find
that the eclipsing personage was Elizabeth-Jane's partner.
The first time that Henchard saw him he was sweeping grandly
round, his head quivering and low down, his legs in the form
of an X and his back towards the door. The next time he
came round in the other direction, his white waist-coat
preceding his face, and his toes preceding his white
waistcoat. That happy face--Henchard's complete
discomfiture lay in it. It was Newson's, who had indeed
come and supplanted him.

Henchard pushed to the door, and for some seconds made
no other movement. He rose to his feet, and stood like
a dark ruin, obscured by "the shade from his own soul up-
thrown."

But he was no longer the man to stand these reverses
unmoved. His agitation was great, and he would fain have
been gone, but before he could leave the dance had ended,
the housekeeper had informed Elizabeth-Jane of the stranger
who awaited her, and she entered the room immediately.

"Oh--it is--Mr. Henchard!" she said, starting back.

"What, Elizabeth?" he cried, as she seized her hand. "What
do you say?--Mr. Henchard? Don't, don't scourge me like
that! Call me worthless old Henchard--anything--but don't
'ee be so cold as this! O my maid--I see you have another--a
real father in my place. Then you know all; but don't give
all your thought to him! Do ye save a little room for me!"

She flushed up, and gently drew her hand away. "I could
have loved you always--I would have, gladly," she said.
"But how can I when I know you have deceived me so--so
bitterly deceived me! You persuaded me that my father was
not my father--allowed me to live on in ignorance of the
truth for years; and then when he, my warm-hearted real
father, came to find me, cruelly sent him away with a wicked
invention of my death, which nearly broke his heart. O how
can I love as I once did a man who has served us like this!"

Henchard's lips half parted to begin an explanation. But he
shut them up like a vice, and uttered not a sound. How
should he, there and then, set before her with any effect
the palliatives of his great faults--that he had himself
been deceived in her identity at first, till informed by her
mother's letter that his own child had died; that, in the
second accusation, his lie had been the last desperate throw
of a gamester who loved her affection better than his own
honour? Among the many hindrances to such a pleading not the
least was this, that he did not sufficiently value himself
to lessen his sufferings by strenuous appeal or elaborate
argument.

Waiving, therefore, his privilege of self-defence, he
regarded only his discomposure. "Don't ye distress yourself
on my account," he said, with proud superiority. "I would
not wish it--at such a time, too, as this. I have done
wrong in coming to 'ee--I see my error. But it is only for
once, so forgive it. I'll never trouble 'ee again,
Elizabeth-Jane--no, not to my dying day! Good-night. Good-
bye!"

Then, before she could collect her thoughts, Henchard went
out from her rooms, and departed from the house by the back
way as he had come; and she saw him no 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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