eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER 6.


Now the group outside the window had within the last few
minutes been reinforced by new arrivals, some of them
respectable shopkeepers and their assistants, who had come
out for a whiff of air after putting up the shutters for the
night; some of them of a lower class. Distinct from either
there appeared a stranger--a young man of remarkably
pleasant aspect--who carried in his hand a carpet-bag of the
smart floral pattern prevalent in such articles at that
time.

He was ruddy and of a fair countenance, bright-eyed, and
slight in build. He might possibly have passed by without
stopping at all, or at most for half a minute to glance in
at the scene, had not his advent coincided with the
discussion on corn and bread, in which event this history
had never been enacted. But the subject seemed to arrest
him, and he whispered some inquiries of the other
bystanders, and remained listening.

When he heard Henchard's closing words, "It can't be done,"
he smiled impulsively, drew out his pocketbook, and wrote
down a few words by the aid of the light in the window. He
tore out the leaf, folded and directed it, and seemed about
to throw it in through the open sash upon the dining-table;
but, on second thoughts, edged himself through the
loiterers, till he reached the door of the hotel, where one
of the waiters who had been serving inside was now idly
leaning against the doorpost.

"Give this to the Mayor at once," he said, handing in his
hasty note.

Elizabeth-Jane had seen his movements and heard the words,
which attracted her both by their subject and by their
accent--a strange one for those parts. It was quaint and
northerly.

The waiter took the note, while the young stranger
continued--

"And can ye tell me of a respectable hotel that's a little
more moderate than this?"

The waiter glanced indifferently up and down the street.

"They say the Three Mariners, just below here, is a very
good place," he languidly answered; "but I have never stayed
there myself."

The Scotchman, as he seemed to be, thanked him, and strolled
on in the direction of the Three Mariners aforesaid,
apparently more concerned about the question of an inn than
about the fate of his note, now that the momentary impulse
of writing it was over. While he was disappearing slowly
down the street the waiter left the door, and Elizabeth-Jane
saw with some interest the note brought into the dining-room
and handed to the Mayor.

Henchard looked at it carelessly, unfolded it with one hand,
and glanced it through. Thereupon it was curious to note an
unexpected effect. The nettled, clouded aspect which had
held possession of his face since the subject of his corn-
dealings had been broached, changed itself into one of
arrested attention. He read the note slowly, and fell into
thought, not moody, but fitfully intense, as that of a man
who has been captured by an idea.

By this time toasts and speeches had given place to songs,
the wheat subject being quite forgotten. Men were putting
their heads together in twos and threes, telling good
stories, with pantomimic laughter which reached convulsive
grimace. Some were beginning to look as if they did not
know how they had come there, what they had come for, or how
they were going to get home again; and provisionally sat on
with a dazed smile. Square-built men showed a tendency to
become hunchbacks; men with a dignified presence lost it in
a curious obliquity of figure, in which their features grew
disarranged and one-sided, whilst the heads of a few who had
dined with extreme thoroughness were somehow sinking into
their shoulders, the corners of their mouth and eyes being
bent upwards by the subsidence. Only Henchard did not
conform to these flexuous changes; he remained stately and
vertical, silently thinking.

The clock struck nine. Elizabeth-Jane turned to her
companion. "The evening is drawing on, mother," she said.
"What do you propose to do?"

She was surprised to find how irresolute her mother had
become. "We must get a place to lie down in," she murmured.
"I have seen--Mr. Henchard; and that's all I wanted to do."

"That's enough for to-night, at any rate," Elizabeth-Jane
replied soothingly. "We can think to-morrow what is best to
do about him. The question now is--is it not?--how shall we
find a lodging?"

As her mother did not reply Elizabeth-Jane's mind reverted
to the words of the waiter, that the Three Mariners was an
inn of moderate charges. A recommendation good for one
person was probably good for another. "Let's go where the
young man has gone to," she said. "He is respectable. What
do you say?"

Her mother assented, and down the street they went.

In the meantime the Mayor's thoughtfulness, engendered by
the note as stated, continued to hold him in abstraction;
till, whispering to his neighbour to take his place, he
found opportunity to leave the chair. This was just after
the departure of his wife and Elizabeth.

Outside the door of the assembly-room he saw the waiter, and
beckoning to him asked who had brought the note which had
been handed in a quarter of an hour before.

"A young man, sir--a sort of traveller. He was a Scotchman
seemingly."

"Did he say how he had got it?"

"He wrote it himself, sir, as he stood outside the window."

"Oh--wrote it himself....Is the young man in the hotel?"

"No, sir. He went to the Three Mariners, I believe."

The mayor walked up and down the vestibule of the hotel with
his hands under his coat tails, as if he were merely seeking
a cooler atmosphere than that of the room he had quitted.
But there could be no doubt that he was in reality still
possessed to the full by the new idea, whatever that might
be. At length he went back to the door of the dining-room,
paused, and found that the songs, toasts, and conversation
were proceeding quite satisfactorily without his presence.
The Corporation, private residents, and major and minor
tradesmen had, in fact, gone in for comforting beverages to
such an extent that they had quite forgotten, not only the
Mayor, but all those vast, political, religious, and social
differences which they felt necessary to maintain in the
daytime, and which separated them like iron grills. Seeing
this the Mayor took his hat, and when the waiter had helped
him on with a thin holland overcoat, went out and stood
under the portico.

Very few persons were now in the street; and his eyes, by a
sort of attraction, turned and dwelt upon a spot about a
hundred yards further down. It was the house to which the
writer of the note had gone--the Three Mariners--whose two
prominent Elizabethan gables, bow-window, and passage-light
could be seen from where he stood. Having kept his eyes on
it for a while he strolled in that direction.

This ancient house of accommodation for man and beast, now,
unfortunately, pulled down, was built of mellow sandstone,
with mullioned windows of the same material, markedly out of
perpendicular from the settlement of foundations. The bay
window projecting into the street, whose interior was so
popular among the frequenters of the inn, was closed with
shutters, in each of which appeared a heart-shaped aperture,
somewhat more attenuated in the right and left ventricles
than is seen in Nature. Inside these illuminated holes, at
a distance of about three inches, were ranged at this hour,
as every passer knew, the ruddy polls of Billy Wills the
glazier, Smart the shoemaker, Buzzford the general dealer,
and others of a secondary set of worthies, of a grade
somewhat below that of the diners at the King's Arms, each
with his yard of clay.

A four-centred Tudor arch was over the entrance, and over
the arch the signboard, now visible in the rays of an
opposite lamp. Hereon the Mariners, who had been
represented by the artist as persons of two dimensions only--
in other words, flat as a shadow--were standing in a row in
paralyzed attitudes. Being on the sunny side of the street
the three comrades had suffered largely from warping,
splitting, fading, and shrinkage, so that they were but a
half-invisible film upon the reality of the grain, and
knots, and nails, which composed the signboard. As a matter
of fact, this state of things was not so much owing to
Stannidge the landlord's neglect, as from the lack of a
painter in Casterbridge who would undertake to reproduce the
features of men so traditional.

A long, narrow, dimly-lit passage gave access to the inn,
within which passage the horses going to their stalls at the
back, and the coming and departing human guests, rubbed
shoulders indiscriminately, the latter running no slight
risk of having their toes trodden upon by the animals. The
good stabling and the good ale of the Mariners, though
somewhat difficult to reach on account of there being but
this narrow way to both, were nevertheless perseveringly
sought out by the sagacious old heads who knew what was what
in Casterbridge.

Henchard stood without the inn for a few instants; then
lowering the dignity of his presence as much as possible by
buttoning the brown holland coat over his shirt-front, and
in other ways toning himself down to his ordinary everyday
appearance, he entered the inn door.



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