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CHAPTER 45.


It was about a month after the day which closed as in the
last chapter. Elizabeth-Jane had grown accustomed to the
novelty of her situation, and the only difference between
Donald's movements now and formerly was that he hastened
indoors rather more quickly after business hours than he had
been in the habit of doing for some time.

Newson had stayed in Casterbridge three days after the
wedding party (whose gaiety, as might have been surmised,
was of his making rather than of the married couple's), and
was stared at and honoured as became the returned Crusoe of
the hour. But whether or not because Casterbridge was
difficult to excite by dramatic returns and disappearances
through having been for centuries an assize town, in which
sensational exits from the world, antipodean absences, and
such like, were half-yearly occurrences, the inhabitants did
not altogether lose their equanimity on his account. On the
fourth morning he was discovered disconsolately climbing a
hill, in his craving to get a glimpse of the sea from
somewhere or other. The contiguity of salt water proved to
be such a necessity of his existence that he preferred
Budmouth as a place of residence, notwithstanding the
society of his daughter in the other town. Thither he went,
and settled in lodgings in a green-shuttered cottage which
had a bow-window, jutting out sufficiently to afford
glimpses of a vertical strip of blue sea to any one opening
the sash, and leaning forward far enough to look through a
narrow lane of tall intervening houses.

Elizabeth-Jane was standing in the middle of her
upstairs parlour, critically surveying some re-arrangement
of articles with her head to one side, when the housemaid
came in with the announcement, "Oh, please ma'am, we know
now how that bird-cage came there."

In exploring her new domain during the first week of
residence, gazing with critical satisfaction on this
cheerful room and that, penetrating cautiously into dark
cellars, sallying forth with gingerly tread to the garden,
now leaf-strewn by autumn winds, and thus, like a wise
field-marshal, estimating the capabilities of the site
whereon she was about to open her housekeeping campaign--
Mrs. Donald Farfrae had discovered in a screened corner a
new bird-cage, shrouded in newspaper, and at the bottom of
the cage a little ball of feathers--the dead body of a
goldfinch. Nobody could tell her how the bird and cage had
come there, though that the poor little songster had been
starved to death was evident. The sadness of the incident
had made an impression on her. She had not been able to
forget it for days, despite Farfrae's tender banter; and now
when the matter had been nearly forgotten it was again
revived.

"Oh, please ma'am, we know how the bird-cage came there.
That farmer's man who called on the evening of the wedding--
he was seen wi' it in his hand as he came up the street; and
'tis thoughted that he put it down while he came in with his
message, and then went away forgetting where he had left
it."

This was enough to set Elizabeth thinking, and in thinking
she seized hold of the idea, at one feminine bound, that the
caged bird had been brought by Henchard for her as a wedding
gift and token of repentance. He had not expressed to her
any regrets or excuses for what he had done in the past; but
it was a part of his nature to extenuate nothing, and live
on as one of his own worst accusers. She went out, looked
at the cage, buried the starved little singer, and from that
hour her heart softened towards the self-alienated man.

When her husband came in she told him her solution of the
bird-cage mystery; and begged Donald to help her in finding
out, as soon as possible, whither Henchard had banished
himself, that she might make her peace with him; try to do
something to render his life less that of an outcast, and
more tolerable to him. Although Farfrae had never so
passionately liked Henchard as Henchard had liked him, he
had, on the other hand, never so passionately hated in the
same direction as his former friend had done, and he was
therefore not the least indisposed to assist Elizabeth-Jane
in her laudable plan.

But it was by no means easy to set about discovering
Henchard. He had apparently sunk into the earth on leaving
Mr. and Mrs. Farfrae's door. Elizabeth-Jane remembered what
he had once attempted; and trembled.

But though she did not know it Henchard had become a changed
man since then--as far, that is, as change of emotional
basis can justify such a radical phrase; and she needed not
to fear. In a few days Farfrae's inquiries elicited that
Henchard had been seen by one who knew him walking steadily
along the Melchester highway eastward, at twelve o'clock at
night--in other words, retracing his steps on the road by
which he had come.

This was enough; and the next morning Farfrae might have
been discovered driving his gig out of Casterbridge in that
direction, Elizabeth-Jane sitting beside him, wrapped in a
thick flat fur--the victorine of the period--her complexion
somewhat richer than formerly, and an incipient matronly
dignity, which the serene Minerva-eyes of one "whose
gestures beamed with mind" made becoming, settling on her
face. Having herself arrived at a promising haven from at
least the grosser troubles of her life, her object was to
place Henchard in some similar quietude before he should
sink into that lower stage of existence which was only too
possible to him now.

After driving along the highway for a few miles they made
further inquiries, and learnt of a road-mender, who had been
working thereabouts for weeks, that he had observed such a
man at the time mentioned; he had left the Melchester
coachroad at Weatherbury by a forking highway which skirted
the north of Egdon Heath. Into this road they directed the
horse's head, and soon were bowling across that ancient
country whose surface never had been stirred to a
finger's depth, save by the scratchings of rabbits,
since brushed by the feet of the earliest tribes. The
tumuli these had left behind, dun and shagged with heather,
jutted roundly into the sky from the uplands, as though they
were the full breasts of Diana Multimammia supinely extended
there.

They searched Egdon, but found no Henchard. Farfrae drove
onward, and by the afternoon reached the neighbourhood of
some extension of the heath to the north of Anglebury, a
prominent feature of which, in the form of a blasted clump
of firs on a summit of a hill, they soon passed under. That
the road they were following had, up to this point, been
Henchard's track on foot they were pretty certain; but the
ramifications which now began to reveal themselves in the
route made further progress in the right direction a matter
of pure guess-work, and Donald strongly advised his wife to
give up the search in person, and trust to other means for
obtaining news of her stepfather. They were now a score of
miles at least from home, but, by resting the horse for a
couple of hours at a village they had just traversed, it
would be possible to get back to Casterbridge that same day,
while to go much further afield would reduce them to the
necessity of camping out for the night, "and that will make
a hole in a sovereign," said Farfrae. She pondered the
position, and agreed with him.

He accordingly drew rein, but before reversing their
direction paused a moment and looked vaguely round upon the
wide country which the elevated position disclosed. While
they looked a solitary human form came from under the clump
of trees, and crossed ahead of them. The person was some
labourer; his gait was shambling, his regard fixed in front
of him as absolutely as if he wore blinkers; and in his hand
he carried a few sticks. Having crossed the road he
descended into a ravine, where a cottage revealed itself,
which he entered.

"If it were not so far away from Casterbridge I should say
that must be poor Whittle. 'Tis just like him," observed
Elizabeth-Jane.

"And it may be Whittle, for he's never been to the yard
these three weeks, going away without saying any word at
all; and I owing him for two days' work, without
knowing who to pay it to."

The possibility led them to alight, and at least make an
inquiry at the cottage. Farfrae hitched the reins to the
gate-post, and they approached what was of humble dwellings
surely the humblest. The walls, built of kneaded clay
originally faced with a trowel, had been worn by years of
rain-washings to a lumpy crumbling surface, channelled and
sunken from its plane, its gray rents held together here and
there by a leafy strap of ivy which could scarcely find
substance enough for the purpose. The rafters were sunken,
and the thatch of the roof in ragged holes. Leaves from the
fence had been blown into the corners of the doorway, and
lay there undisturbed. The door was ajar; Farfrae knocked;
and he who stood before them was Whittle, as they had
conjectured.

His face showed marks of deep sadness, his eyes lighting on
them with an unfocused gaze; and he still held in his hand
the few sticks he had been out to gather. As soon as he
recognized them he started.

"What, Abel Whittle; is it that ye are heere?" said Farfrae.

"Ay, yes sir! You see he was kind-like to mother when she
wer here below, though 'a was rough to me."

"Who are you talking of?"

"O sir--Mr. Henchet! Didn't ye know it? He's just gone--
about half-an-hour ago, by the sun; for I've got no watch to
my name."

"Not--dead?" faltered Elizabeth-Jane.

"Yes, ma'am, he's gone! He was kind-like to mother when she
wer here below, sending her the best ship-coal, and hardly
any ashes from it at all; and taties, and such-like that
were very needful to her. I seed en go down street on the
night of your worshipful's wedding to the lady at yer side,
and I thought he looked low and faltering. And I followed
en over Grey's Bridge, and he turned and zeed me, and said,
'You go back!' But I followed, and he turned again, and
said, 'Do you hear, sir? Go back!' But I zeed that he was
low, and I followed on still. Then 'a said, 'Whittle, what
do ye follow me for when I've told ye to go back all these
times?' And I said, 'Because, sir, I see things be bad with
'ee, and ye wer kind-like to mother if ye wer rough to
me, and I would fain be kind-like to you.' Then he walked
on, and I followed; and he never complained at me no more.
We walked on like that all night; and in the blue o' the
morning, when 'twas hardly day, I looked ahead o' me, and I
zeed that he wambled, and could hardly drag along. By the
time we had got past here, but I had seen that this house
was empty as I went by, and I got him to come back; and I
took down the boards from the windows, and helped him
inside. 'What, Whittle,' he said, 'and can ye really be
such a poor fond fool as to care for such a wretch as I!'
Then I went on further, and some neighbourly woodmen lent me
a bed, and a chair, and a few other traps, and we brought
'em here, and made him as comfortable as we could. But he
didn't gain strength, for you see, ma'am, he couldn't eat--
no appetite at all--and he got weaker; and to-day he died.
One of the neighbours have gone to get a man to measure
him."

"Dear me--is that so!" said Farfrae.

As for Elizabeth, she said nothing.

"Upon the head of his bed he pinned a piece of paper, with
some writing upon it," continued Abel Whittle. "But not
being a man o' letters, I can't read writing; so I don't
know what it is. I can get it and show ye."

They stood in silence while he ran into the cottage;
returning in a moment with a crumpled scrap of paper. On it
there was pencilled as follows:--


MICHAEL HENCHARD'S WILL

"That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or
made to grieve on account of me.
"& that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground.
"& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.
"& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.
"& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.
"& that no flours be planted on my grave,
"& that no man remember me.
"To this I put my name.

MICHAEL HENCHARD


"What are we to do?" said Donald, when he had handed
the paper to her.

She could not answer distinctly. "O Donald!" she cried at
last through her tears, "what bitterness lies there! O I
would not have minded so much if it had not been for my
unkindness at that last parting!...But there's no altering--
so it must be."

What Henchard had written in the anguish of his dying was
respected as far as practicable by Elizabeth-Jane, though
less from a sense of the sacredness of last words, as such,
than from her independent knowledge that the man who wrote
them meant what he said. She knew the directions to be a
piece of the same stuff that his whole life was made of, and
hence were not to be tampered with to give herself a
mournful pleasure, or her husband credit for large-
heartedness.

All was over at last, even her regrets for having
misunderstood him on his last visit, for not having searched
him out sooner, though these were deep and sharp for a good
while. From this time forward Elizabeth-Jane found herself
in a latitude of calm weather, kindly and grateful in
itself, and doubly so after the Capharnaum in which some of
her preceding years had been spent. As the lively and
sparkling emotions of her early married live cohered into an
equable serenity, the finer movements of her nature found
scope in discovering to the narrow-lived ones around her the
secret (as she had once learnt it) of making limited
opportunities endurable; which she deemed to consist in the
cunning enlargement, by a species of microscopic treatment,
of those minute forms of satisfaction that offer themselves
to everybody not in positive pain; which, thus handled, have
much of the same inspiring effect upon life as wider
interests cursorily embraced.

Her teaching had a reflex action upon herself, insomuch that
she thought she could perceive no great personal difference
between being respected in the nether parts of Casterbridge
and glorified at the uppermost end of the social world. Her
position was, indeed, to a marked degree one that, in the
common phrase, afforded much to be thankful for. That she
was not demonstratively thankful was no fault of hers. Her
experience had been of a kind to teach her, rightly or
wrongly, that the doubtful honour of a brief transmit
through a sorry world hardly called for effusiveness, even
when the path was suddenly irradiated at some half-way point
by daybeams rich as hers. But her strong sense that neither
she nor any human being deserved less than was given, did
not blind her to the fact that there were others receiving
less who had deserved much more. And in being forced to
class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to
wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen, when the one to
whom such unbroken tranquility had been accorded in the
adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that
happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama
of pain.


The End




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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