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CHAPTER 7.


Elizabeth-Jane and her mother had arrived some twenty
minutes earlier. Outside the house they had stood and
considered whether even this homely place, though
recommended as moderate, might not be too serious in its
prices for their light pockets. Finally, however, they had
found courage to enter, and duly met Stannidge the landlord,
a silent man, who drew and carried frothing measures to this
room and to that, shoulder to shoulder with his waiting-
maids--a stately slowness, however, entering into his
ministrations by contrast with theirs, as became one whose
service was somewhat optional. It would have been
altogether optional but for the orders of the landlady, a
person who sat in the bar, corporeally motionless, but with
a flitting eye and quick ear, with which she observed and
heard through the open door and hatchway the pressing needs
of customers whom her husband overlooked though close at
hand. Elizabeth and her mother were passively accepted as
sojourners, and shown to a small bedroom under one of the
gables, where they sat down.

The principle of the inn seemed to be to compensate for the
antique awkwardness, crookedness, and obscurity of the
passages, floors, and windows, by quantities of clean linen
spread about everywhere, and this had a dazzling effect upon
the travellers.

"'Tis too good for us--we can't meet it!" said the elder
woman, looking round the apartment with misgiving as soon as
they were left alone.

"I fear it is, too," said Elizabeth. "But we must be
respectable."

"We must pay our way even before we must be respectable,"
replied her mother. "Mr. Henchard is too high for us to
make ourselves known to him, I much fear; so we've only our
own pockets to depend on."

"I know what I'll do," said Elizabeth-Jane after an interval
of waiting, during which their needs seemed quite forgotten
under the press of business below. And leaving the room,
she descended the stairs and penetrated to the bar.

If there was one good thing more than another which
characterized this single-hearted girl it was a willingness
to sacrifice her personal comfort and dignity to the common
weal.

"As you seem busy here to-night, and mother's not well off,
might I take out part of our accommodation by helping?" she
asked of the landlady.

The latter, who remained as fixed in the arm-chair as if she
had been melted into it when in a liquid state, and could
not now be unstuck, looked the girl up and down inquiringly,
with her hands on the chair-arms. Such arrangements as the
one Elizabeth proposed were not uncommon in country
villages; but, though Casterbridge was old-fashioned, the
custom was well-nigh obsolete here. The mistress of the
house, however, was an easy woman to strangers, and she made
no objection. Thereupon Elizabeth, being instructed by nods
and motions from the taciturn landlord as to where she could
find the different things, trotted up and down stairs with
materials for her own and her parent's meal.

While she was doing this the wood partition in the centre of
the house thrilled to its centre with the tugging of a bell-
pull upstairs. A bell below tinkled a note that was feebler
in sound than the twanging of wires and cranks that had
produced it.

"'Tis the Scotch gentleman," said the landlady omnisciently;
and turning her eyes to Elizabeth, "Now then, can you go and
see if his supper is on the tray? If it is you can take it
up to him. The front room over this."

Elizabeth-Jane, though hungry, willingly postponed serving
herself awhile, and applied to the cook in the kitchen
whence she brought forth the tray of supper viands, and
proceeded with it upstairs to the apartment indicated. The
accommodation of the Three Mariners was far from spacious,
despite the fair area of ground it covered. The room
demanded by intrusive beams and rafters, partitions,
passages, staircases, disused ovens, settles, and four-
posters, left comparatively small quarters for human beings.
Moreover, this being at a time before home-brewing was
abandoned by the smaller victuallers, and a house in which
the twelve-bushel strength was still religiously adhered to
by the landlord in his ale, the quality of the liquor was
the chief attraction of the premises, so that everything had
to make way for utensils and operations in connection
therewith. Thus Elizabeth found that the Scotchman was
located in a room quite close to the small one that had been
allotted to herself and her mother.

When she entered nobody was present but the young man
himself--the same whom she had seen lingering without the
windows of the King's Arms Hotel. He was now idly reading a
copy of the local paper, and was hardly conscious of her
entry, so that she looked at him quite coolly, and saw how
his forehead shone where the light caught it, and how nicely
his hair was cut, and the sort of velvet-pile or down that
was on the skin at the back of his neck, and how his cheek
was so truly curved as to be part of a globe, and how
clearly drawn were the lids and lashes which hid his bent
eyes.

She set down the tray, spread his supper, and went away
without a word. On her arrival below the landlady, who was
as kind as she was fat and lazy, saw that Elizabeth-Jane was
rather tired, though in her earnestness to be useful she was
waiving her own needs altogether. Mrs. Stannidge thereupon
said with a considerate peremptoriness that she and her
mother had better take their own suppers if they meant to
have any.

Elizabeth fetched their simple provisions, as she had
fetched the Scotchman's, and went up to the little chamber
where she had left her mother, noiselessly pushing open the
door with the edge of the tray. To her surprise her mother,
instead of being reclined on the bed where she had left her
was in an erect position, with lips parted. At Elizabeth's
entry she lifted her finger.

The meaning of this was soon apparent. The room allotted to
the two women had at one time served as a dressing-room to
the Scotchman's chamber, as was evidenced by signs of a door
of communication between them--now screwed up and pasted
over with the wall paper. But, as is frequently the case
with hotels of far higher pretensions than the Three
Mariners, every word spoken in either of these rooms was
distinctly audible in the other. Such sounds came through
now.

Thus silently conjured Elizabeth deposited the tray, and her
mother whispered as she drew near, "'Tis he."

"Who?" said the girl.

"The Mayor."

The tremors in Susan Henchard's tone might have led any
person but one so perfectly unsuspicious of the truth as the
girl was, to surmise some closer connection than the
admitted simple kinship as a means of accounting for them.

Two men were indeed talking in the adjoining chamber, the
young Scotchman and Henchard, who, having entered the inn
while Elizabeth-Jane was in the kitchen waiting for the
supper, had been deferentially conducted upstairs by host
Stannidge himself. The girl noiselessly laid out their
little meal, and beckoned to her mother to join her, which
Mrs. Henchard mechanically did, her attention being fixed on
the conversation through the door.

"I merely strolled in on my way home to ask you a question
about something that has excited my curiosity," said the
Mayor, with careless geniality. "But I see you have not
finished supper."

"Ay, but I will be done in a little! Ye needn't go, sir.
Take a seat. I've almost done, and it makes no difference
at all."

Henchard seemed to take the seat offered, and in a moment he
resumed: "Well, first I should ask, did you write this?" A
rustling of paper followed.

"Yes, I did," said the Scotchman.

"Then," said Henchard, "I am under the impression that we
have met by accident while waiting for the morning to keep
an appointment with each other? My name is Henchard, ha'n't
you replied to an advertisement for a corn-factor's manager
that I put into the paper--ha'n't you come here to see me
about it?"

"No," said the Scotchman, with some surprise.

"Surely you are the man," went on Henchard insistingly, "who
arranged to come and see me? Joshua, Joshua, Jipp--Jopp--
what was his name?"

"You're wrong!" said the young man. "My name is Donald
Farfrae. It is true I am in the corren trade--but I have
replied to no advertisement, and arranged to see no one. I
am on my way to Bristol--from there to the other side of the
warrld, to try my fortune in the great wheat-growing
districts of the West! I have some inventions useful to the
trade, and there is no scope for developing them heere."

"To America--well, well," said Henchard, in a tone of
disappointment, so strong as to make itself felt like a damp
atmosphere. "And yet I could have sworn you were the man!"

The Scotchman murmured another negative, and there was a
silence, till Henchard resumed: "Then I am truly and
sincerely obliged to you for the few words you wrote on that
paper."

"It was nothing, sir."

"Well, it has a great importance for me just now. This row
about my grown wheat, which I declare to Heaven I didn't
know to be bad till the people came complaining, has put me
to my wits' end. I've some hundreds of quarters of it on
hand; and if your renovating process will make it wholesome,
why, you can see what a quag 'twould get me out of. I saw
in a moment there might be truth in it. But I should like
to have it proved; and of course you don't care to tell the
steps of the process sufficiently for me to do that, without
my paying ye well for't first."

The young man reflected a moment or two. "I don't know that
I have any objection," he said. "I'm going to another
country, and curing bad corn is not the line I'll take up
there. Yes, I'll tell ye the whole of it--you'll make more
out of it heere than I will in a foreign country. Just look
heere a minute, sir. I can show ye by a sample in my
carpet-bag."

The click of a lock followed, and there was a sifting and
rustling; then a discussion about so many ounces to the
bushel, and drying, and refrigerating, and so on.

"These few grains will be sufficient to show ye with," came
in the young fellow's voice; and after a pause, during which
some operation seemed to be intently watched by them both,
he exclaimed, "There, now, do you taste that."

"It's complete!--quite restored, or--well--nearly."

"Quite enough restored to make good seconds out of it," said
the Scotchman. "To fetch it back entirely is impossible;
Nature won't stand so much as that, but heere you go a great
way towards it. Well, sir, that's the process, I don't
value it, for it can be but of little use in countries where
the weather is more settled than in ours; and I'll be only
too glad if it's of service to you."

"But hearken to me," pleaded Henchard. "My business you
know, is in corn and in hay, but I was brought up as a hay-
trusser simply, and hay is what I understand best though I
now do more in corn than in the other. If you'll accept the
place, you shall manage the corn branch entirely, and
receive a commission in addition to salary."

"You're liberal--very liberal, but no, no--I cannet!" the
young man still replied, with some distress in his accents.

"So be it!" said Henchard conclusively. "Now--to change the
subject--one good turn deserves another; don't stay to
finish that miserable supper. Come to my house, I can find
something better for 'ee than cold ham and ale."

Donald Farfrae was grateful--said he feared he must decline--
that he wished to leave early next day.

"Very well," said Henchard quickly, "please yourself. But I
tell you, young man, if this holds good for the bulk, as it
has done for the sample, you have saved my credit, stranger
though you be. What shall I pay you for this knowledge?"

"Nothing at all, nothing at all. It may not prove necessary
to ye to use it often, and I don't value it at all. I
thought I might just as well let ye know, as you were in a
difficulty, and they were harrd upon ye."

Henchard paused. "I shan't soon forget this," he said.
"And from a stranger!...I couldn't believe you were not the
man I had engaged! Says I to myself, 'He knows who I am, and
recommends himself by this stroke.' And yet it turns out,
after all, that you are not the man who answered my
advertisement, but a stranger!"

"Ay, ay; that's so," said the young man.

Henchard again suspended his words, and then his voice came
thoughtfully: "Your forehead, Farfrae, is something like my
poor brother's--now dead and gone; and the nose, too, isn't
unlike his. You must be, what--five foot nine, I reckon? I
am six foot one and a half out of my shoes. But what of
that? In my business, 'tis true that strength and bustle
build up a firm. But judgment and knowledge are what keep
it established. Unluckily, I am bad at science, Farfrae;
bad at figures--a rule o' thumb sort of man. You are just
the reverse--I can see that. I have been looking for such
as you these two year, and yet you are not for me. Well,
before I go, let me ask this: Though you are not the young
man I thought you were, what's the difference? Can't ye stay
just the same? Have you really made up your mind about this
American notion? I won't mince matters. I feel you would be
invaluable to me--that needn't be said--and if you will bide
and be my manager, I will make it worth your while."

"My plans are fixed," said the young man, in negative tones.
"I have formed a scheme, and so we need na say any more
about it. But will you not drink with me, sir? I find this
Casterbridge ale warreming to the stomach."

"No, no; I fain would, but I can't," said Henchard gravely,
the scraping of his chair informing the listeners that he
was rising to leave. "When I was a young man I went in for
that sort of thing too strong--far too strong--and was well-
nigh ruined by it! I did a deed on account of it which I
shall be ashamed of to my dying day. It made such an
impression on me that I swore, there and then, that I'd
drink nothing stronger than tea for as many years as I was
old that day. I have kept my oath; and though, Farfrae, I
am sometimes that dry in the dog days that I could drink a
quarter-barrel to the pitching, I think o' my oath, and
touch no strong drink at all."

"I'll no' press ye, sir--I'll no' press ye. I respect your
vow.

"Well, I shall get a manager somewhere, no doubt," said
Henchard, with strong feeling in his tones. "But it will be
long before I see one that would suit me so well!"

The young man appeared much moved by Henchard's warm
convictions of his value. He was silent till they reached
the door. "I wish I could stay--sincerely I would like to,"
he replied. "But no--it cannet be! it cannet! I want to see
the warrld."



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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