eBooks Cube
 
CHAPTER 8.


Thus they parted; and Elizabeth-Jane and her mother remained
each in her thoughts over their meal, the mother's face
being strangely bright since Henchard's avowal of shame for
a past action. The quivering of the partition to its core
presented denoted that Donald Farfrae had again rung his
bell, no doubt to have his supper removed; for humming a
tune, and walking up and down, he seemed to be attracted by
the lively bursts of conversation and melody from the
general company below. He sauntered out upon the landing,
and descended the staircase.

When Elizabeth-Jane had carried down his supper tray, and
also that used by her mother and herself, she found the
bustle of serving to be at its height below, as it always
was at this hour. The young woman shrank from having
anything to do with the ground-floor serving, and crept
silently about observing the scene--so new to her, fresh
from the seclusion of a seaside cottage. In the general
sitting-room, which was large, she remarked the two or three
dozen strong-backed chairs that stood round against the
wall, each fitted with its genial occupant; the sanded
floor; the black settle which, projecting endwise from the
wall within the door, permitted Elizabeth to be a spectator
of all that went on without herself being particularly seen.

The young Scotchman had just joined the guests. These, in
addition to the respectable master-tradesmen occupying the
seats of privileges in the bow-window and its neighbourhood,
included an inferior set at the unlighted end, whose seats
were mere benches against the wall, and who drank from cups
instead of from glasses. Among the latter she noticed some
of those personages who had stood outside the windows of the
King's Arms.

Behind their backs was a small window, with a wheel
ventilator in one of the panes, which would suddenly start
off spinning with a jingling sound, as suddenly stop, and as
suddenly start again.

While thus furtively making her survey the opening words of
a song greeted her ears from the front of the settle, in a
melody and accent of peculiar charm. There had been some
singing before she came down; and now the Scotchman had made
himself so soon at home that, at the request of some of the
master-tradesmen, he, too, was favouring the room with a
ditty.

Elizabeth-Jane was fond of music; she could not help pausing
to listen; and the longer she listened the more she was
enraptured. She had never heard any singing like this and
it was evident that the majority of the audience had not
heard such frequently, for they were attentive to a much
greater degree than usual. They neither whispered, nor
drank, nor dipped their pipe-stems in their ale to moisten
them, nor pushed the mug to their neighbours. The singer
himself grew emotional, till she could imagine a tear in his
eye as the words went on:--


"It's hame, and it's hame, hame fain would I be,
O hame, hame, hame to my ain countree!
There's an eye that ever weeps, and a fair face will be fain,
As I pass through Annan Water with my bonnie bands again;
When the flower is in the bud, and the leaf upon the tree,
The lark shall sing me hame to my ain countree!"


There was a burst of applause, and a deep silence which was
even more eloquent than the applause. It was of such a kind
that the snapping of a pipe-stem too long for him by old
Solomon Longways, who was one of those gathered at the shady
end of the room, seemed a harsh and irreverent act. Then
the ventilator in the window-pane spasmodically started off
for a new spin, and the pathos of Donald's song was
temporarily effaced.

"'Twas not amiss--not at all amiss!" muttered Christopher
Coney, who was also present. And removing his pipe a
finger's breadth from his lips, he said aloud, "Draw on with
the next verse, young gentleman, please."

"Yes. Let's have it again, stranger," said the glazier, a
stout, bucket-headed man, with a white apron rolled up round
his waist. "Folks don't lift up their hearts like that in
this part of the world." And turning aside, he said in
undertones, "Who is the young man?--Scotch, d'ye say?"

"Yes, straight from the mountains of Scotland, I believe,"
replied Coney.

Young Farfrae repeated the last verse. It was plain that
nothing so pathetic had been heard at the Three Mariners for
a considerable time. The difference of accent, the
excitability of the singer, the intense local feeling, and
the seriousness with which he worked himself up to a climax,
surprised this set of worthies, who were only too prone to
shut up their emotions with caustic words.

"Danged if our country down here is worth singing about like
that!" continued the glazier, as the Scotchman again
melodized with a dying fall, "My ain countree!" "When you
take away from among us the fools and the rogues, and the
lammigers, and the wanton hussies, and the slatterns, and
such like, there's cust few left to ornament a song with in
Casterbridge, or the country round."

"True," said Buzzford, the dealer, looking at the grain of
the table. "Casterbridge is a old, hoary place o'
wickedness, by all account. 'Tis recorded in history that
we rebelled against the King one or two hundred years ago,
in the time of the Romans, and that lots of us was hanged on
Gallows Hill, and quartered, and our different jints sent
about the country like butcher's meat; and for my part I can
well believe it."

"What did ye come away from yer own country for, young
maister, if ye be so wownded about it?" inquired Christopher
Coney, from the background, with the tone of a man who
preferred the original subject. "Faith, it wasn't worth
your while on our account, for as Maister Billy Wills says,
we be bruckle folk here--the best o' us hardly honest
sometimes, what with hard winters, and so many mouths to
fill, and Goda'mighty sending his little taties so terrible
small to fill 'em with. We don't think about flowers and
fair faces, not we--except in the shape o' cauliflowers and
pigs' chaps."

"But, no!" said Donald Farfrae, gazing round into their
faces with earnest concern; "the best of ye hardly honest--
not that surely? None of ye has been stealing what didn't
belong to him?"

"Lord! no, no!" said Solomon Longways, smiling grimly.
"That's only his random way o' speaking. 'A was always such
a man of underthoughts." (And reprovingly towards
Christopher): "Don't ye be so over-familiar with a gentleman
that ye know nothing of--and that's travelled a'most from
the North Pole."

Christopher Coney was silenced, and as he could get no
public sympathy, he mumbled his feelings to himself: "Be
dazed, if I loved my country half as well as the young
feller do, I'd live by claning my neighbour's pigsties afore
I'd go away! For my part I've no more love for my country
than I have for Botany Bay!"

"Come," said Longways; "let the young man draw onward with
his ballet, or we shall be here all night."

"That's all of it," said the singer apologetically.

"Soul of my body, then we'll have another!" said the general
dealer.

"Can you turn a strain to the ladies, sir?" inquired a fat
woman with a figured purple apron, the waiststring of which
was overhung so far by her sides as to be invisible.

"Let him breathe--let him breathe, Mother Cuxsom. He hain't
got his second wind yet," said the master glazier.

"Oh yes, but I have!" exclaimed the young man; and he at
once rendered "O Nannie" with faultless modulations, and
another or two of the like sentiment, winding up at their
earnest request with "Auld Lang Syne."

By this time he had completely taken possession of the
hearts of the Three Mariners' inmates, including even old
Coney. Notwithstanding an occasional odd gravity which
awoke their sense of the ludicrous for the moment, they
began to view him through a golden haze which the tone of
his mind seemed to raise around him. Casterbridge had
sentiment--Casterbridge had romance; but this stranger's
sentiment was of differing quality. Or rather, perhaps, the
difference was mainly superficial; he was to them like the
poet of a new school who takes his contemporaries by storm;
who is not really new, but is the first to articulate what
all his listeners have felt, though but dumbly till then.

The silent landlord came and leant over the settle while the
young man sang; and even Mrs. Stannidge managed to unstick
herself from the framework of her chair in the bar and get
as far as the door-post, which movement she accomplished by
rolling herself round, as a cask is trundled on the chine by
a drayman without losing much of its perpendicular.

"And are you going to bide in Casterbridge, sir?" she asked.

"Ah--no!" said the Scotchman, with melancholy fatality in
his voice, "I'm only passing thirrough! I am on my way to
Bristol, and on frae there to foreign parts."

"We be truly sorry to hear it," said Solomon Longways. "We
can ill afford to lose tuneful wynd-pipes like yours when
they fall among us. And verily, to mak' acquaintance with a
man a-come from so far, from the land o' perpetual snow, as
we may say, where wolves and wild boars and other dangerous
animalcules be as common as blackbirds here-about--why, 'tis
a thing we can't do every day; and there's good sound
information for bide-at-homes like we when such a man opens
his mouth."

"Nay, but ye mistake my country," said the young man,
looking round upon them with tragic fixity, till his eye
lighted up and his cheek kindled with a sudden enthusiasm to
right their errors. "There are not perpetual snow and
wolves at all in it!--except snow in winter, and--well--a
little in summer just sometimes, and a 'gaberlunzie' or two
stalking about here and there, if ye may call them
dangerous. Eh, but you should take a summer jarreny to
Edinboro', and Arthur's Seat, and all round there, and then
go on to the lochs, and all the Highland scenery--in May and
June--and you would never say 'tis the land of wolves and
perpetual snow!"

"Of course not--it stands to reason," said Buzzford. "'Tis
barren ignorance that leads to such words. He's a simple
home-spun man, that never was fit for good company--think
nothing of him, sir."

"And do ye carry your flock bed, and your quilt, and your
crock, and your bit of chiney? or do ye go in bare bones, as
I may say?" inquired Christopher Coney.

"I've sent on my luggage--though it isn't much; for the
voyage is long." Donald's eyes dropped into a remote gaze as
he added: "But I said to myself, 'Never a one of the prizes
of life will I come by unless I undertake it!' and I decided
to go."

A general sense of regret, in which Elizabeth-Jane shared
not least, made itself apparent in the company. As she
looked at Farfrae from the back of the settle she decided
that his statements showed him to be no less thoughtful than
his fascinating melodies revealed him to be cordial and
impassioned. She admired the serious light in which he
looked at serious things. He had seen no jest in
ambiguities and roguery, as the Casterbridge toss-pots had
done; and rightly not--there was none. She disliked those
wretched humours of Christopher Coney and his tribe; and he
did not appreciate them. He seemed to feel exactly as she
felt about life and its surroundings--that they were a
tragical rather than a comical thing; that though one could
be gay on occasion, moments of gaiety were interludes, and
no part of the actual drama. It was extraordinary how
similar their views were.

Though it was still early the young Scotchman expressed his
wish to retire, whereupon the landlady whispered to
Elizabeth to run upstairs and turn down his bed. She took a
candlestick and proceeded on her mission, which was the act
of a few moments only. When, candle in hand, she reached
the top of the stairs on her way down again, Mr. Farfrae was
at the foot coming up. She could not very well retreat;
they met and passed in the turn of the staircase.

She must have appeared interesting in some way--not-
withstanding her plain dress--or rather, possibly, in
consequence of it, for she was a girl characterized by
earnestness and soberness of mien, with which simple drapery
accorded well. Her face flushed, too, at the slight
awkwardness of the meeting, and she passed him with her eyes
bent on the candle-flame that she carried just below her
nose. Thus it happened that when confronting her he smiled;
and then, with the manner of a temporarily light-hearted
man, who has started himself on a flight of song whose
momentum he cannot readily check, he softly tuned an old
ditty that she seemed to suggest--


"As I came in by my bower door,
As day was waxin' wearie,
Oh wha came tripping down the stair
But bonnie Peg my dearie."


Elizabeth-Jane, rather disconcerted, hastened on; and the
Scotchman's voice died away, humming more of the same within
the closed door of his room.

Here the scene and sentiment ended for the present. When
soon after, the girl rejoined her mother, the latter was
still in thought--on quite another matter than a young man's
song.

"We've made a mistake," she whispered (that the Scotch-man
might not overhear). "On no account ought ye to have helped
serve here to-night. Not because of ourselves, but for the
sake of him. If he should befriend us, and take us up, and
then find out what you did when staying here, 'twould grieve
and wound his natural pride as Mayor of the town."

Elizabeth, who would perhaps have been more alarmed at this
than her mother had she known the real relationship, was not
much disturbed about it as things stood. Her "he" was
another man than her poor mother's. "For myself," she said,
"I didn't at all mind waiting a little upon him. He's so
respectable, and educated--far above the rest of 'em in the
inn. They thought him very simple not to know their grim
broad way of talking about themselves here. But of course
he didn't know--he was too refined in his mind to know such
things!" Thus she earnestly pleaded.

Meanwhile, the "he" of her mother was not so far away as
even they thought. After leaving the Three Mariners he had
sauntered up and down the empty High Street, passing and
repassing the inn in his promenade. When the Scotchman sang
his voice had reached Henchard's ears through the heart-
shaped holes in the window-shutters, and had led him to
pause outside them a long while.

"To be sure, to be sure, how that fellow does draw me!" he
had said to himself. "I suppose 'tis because I'm so lonely.
I'd have given him a third share in the business to have
stayed!"



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