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CHAPTER 9.


When Elizabeth-Jane opened the hinged casement next morning
the mellow air brought in the feel of imminent autumn almost
as distinctly as if she had been in the remotest hamlet.
Casterbridge was the complement of the rural life around,
not its urban opposite. Bees and butterflies in the
cornfields at the top of the town, who desired to get to the
meads at the bottom, took no circuitous course, but flew
straight down High Street without any apparent consciousness
that they were traversing strange latitudes. And in autumn
airy spheres of thistledown floated into the same street,
lodged upon the shop fronts, blew into drains, and
innumerable tawny and yellow leaves skimmed along the
pavement, and stole through people's doorways into their
passages with a hesitating scratch on the floor, like the
skirts of timid visitors.

Hearing voices, one of which was close at hand, she withdrew
her head and glanced from behind the window-curtains. Mr.
Henchard--now habited no longer as a great personage, but as
a thriving man of business--was pausing on his way up the
middle of the street, and the Scotchman was looking from the
window adjoining her own. Henchard it appeared, had gone a
little way past the inn before he had noticed his
acquaintance of the previous evening. He came back a few
steps, Donald Farfrae opening the window further.

"And you are off soon, I suppose?" said Henchard upwards.

"Yes--almost this moment, sir," said the other. "Maybe I'll
walk on till the coach makes up on me."

"Which way?"

"The way ye are going."

"Then shall we walk together to the top o' town?"

"If ye'll wait a minute," said the Scotchman.

In a few minutes the latter emerged, bag in hand. Henchard
looked at the bag as at an enemy. It showed there was no
mistake about the young man's departure. "Ah, my lad," he
said, "you should have been a wise man, and have stayed with
me."

"Yes, yes--it might have been wiser," said Donald, looking
microscopically at the houses that were furthest off. "It
is only telling ye the truth when I say my plans are vague."

They had by this time passed on from the precincts of the
inn, and Elizabeth-Jane heard no more. She saw that they
continued in conversation, Henchard turning to the other
occasionally, and emphasizing some remark with a gesture.
Thus they passed the King's Arms Hotel, the Market House,
St. Peter's churchyard wall, ascending to the upper end of
the long street till they were small as two grains of corn;
when they bent suddenly to the right into the Bristol Road,
and were out of view.

"He was a good man--and he's gone," she said to herself. "I
was nothing to him, and there was no reason why he should
have wished me good-bye."

The simple thought, with its latent sense of slight, had
moulded itself out of the following little fact: when the
Scotchman came out at the door he had by accident glanced up
at her; and then he had looked away again without nodding,
or smiling, or saying a word.

"You are still thinking, mother," she said, when she turned
inwards.

"Yes; I am thinking of Mr. Henchard's sudden liking for that
young man. He was always so. Now, surely, if he takes so
warmly to people who are not related to him at all, may he
not take as warmly to his own kin?"

While they debated this question a procession of five large
waggons went past, laden with hay up to the bedroom windows.
They came in from the country, and the steaming horses had
probably been travelling a great part of the night. To the
shaft of each hung a little board, on which was painted in
white letters, "Henchard, corn-factor and hay-merchant." The
spectacle renewed his wife's conviction that, for her
daughter's sake, she should strain a point to rejoin him.

The discussion was continued during breakfast, and the end
of it was that Mrs. Henchard decided, for good or for ill,
to send Elizabeth-Jane with a message to Henchard, to the
effect that his relative Susan, a sailor's widow, was in the
town; leaving it to him to say whether or not he would
recognize her. What had brought her to this determination
were chiefly two things. He had been described as a lonely
widower; and he had expressed shame for a past transaction
of his life. There was promise in both.

"If he says no," she enjoined, as Elizabeth-Jane stood,
bonnet on, ready to depart; "if he thinks it does not become
the good position he has reached to in the town, to own--to
let us call on him as--his distant kinfolk, say, 'Then, sir,
we would rather not intrude; we will leave Casterbridge as
quietly as we have come, and go back to our own
country.'...I almost feel that I would rather he did say so,
as I have not seen him for so many years, and we are so--
little allied to him!"

"And if he say yes?" inquired the more sanguine one.

"In that case," answered Mrs. Henchard cautiously, "ask him
to write me a note, saying when and how he will see us--or ME."

Elizabeth-Jane went a few steps towards the landing. "And
tell him," continued her mother, "that I fully know I have
no claim upon him--that I am glad to find he is thriving;
that I hope his life may be long and happy--there, go." Thus
with a half-hearted willingness, a smothered reluctance, did
the poor forgiving woman start her unconscious daughter on
this errand.

It was about ten o'clock, and market-day, when Elizabeth
paced up the High Street, in no great hurry; for to herself
her position was only that of a poor relation deputed to
hunt up a rich one. The front doors of the private houses
were mostly left open at this warm autumn time, no thought
of umbrella stealers disturbing the minds of the placid
burgesses. Hence, through the long, straight, entrance
passages thus unclosed could be seen, as through tunnels,
the mossy gardens at the back, glowing with nasturtiums,
fuchsias, scarlet geraniums, "bloody warriors," snapdragons,
and dahlias, this floral blaze being backed by crusted grey
stone-work remaining from a yet remoter Casterbridge than
the venerable one visible in the street. The old-fashioned
fronts of these houses, which had older than old-fashioned
backs, rose sheer from the pavement, into which the bow
windows protruded like bastions, necessitating a pleasing
chassez-dechassez movement to the time-pressed pedestrian
at every few yards. He was bound also to evolve other
Terpsichorean figures in respect of door-steps, scrapers,
cellar-hatches, church buttresses, and the overhanging
angles of walls which, originally unobtrusive, had become
bow-legged and knock-kneed.

In addition to these fixed obstacles which spoke so
cheerfully of individual unrestraint as to boundaries,
movables occupied the path and roadway to a perplexing
extent. First the vans of the carriers in and out of
Casterbridge, who hailed from Mellstock, Weatherbury, The
Hintocks, Sherton-Abbas, Kingsbere, Overcombe, and many
other towns and villages round. Their owners were numerous
enough to be regarded as a tribe, and had almost
distinctiveness enough to be regarded as a race. Their vans
had just arrived, and were drawn up on each side of the
street in close file, so as to form at places a wall between
the pavement and the roadway. Moreover every shop pitched
out half its contents upon trestles and boxes on the kerb,
extending the display each week a little further and further
into the roadway, despite the expostulations of the two
feeble old constables, until there remained but a tortuous
defile for carriages down the centre of the street, which
afforded fine opportunities for skill with the reins. Over
the pavement on the sunny side of the way hung shopblinds so
constructed as to give the passenger's hat a smart buffet
off his head, as from the unseen hands of Cranstoun's Goblin
Page, celebrated in romantic lore.

Horses for sale were tied in rows, their forelegs on the
pavement, their hind legs in the street, in which position
they occasionally nipped little boys by the shoulder who
were passing to school. And any inviting recess in front of
a house that had been modestly kept back from the general
line was utilized by pig-dealers as a pen for their stock.

The yeomen, farmers, dairymen, and townsfolk, who came to
transact business in these ancient streets, spoke in other
ways than by articulation. Not to hear the words of your
interlocutor in metropolitan centres is to know nothing of
his meaning. Here the face, the arms, the hat, the stick,
the body throughout spoke equally with the tongue. To
express satisfaction the Casterbridge market-man added to
his utterance a broadening of the cheeks, a crevicing of the
eyes, a throwing back of the shoulders, which was
intelligible from the other end of the street. If he
wondered, though all Henchard's carts and waggons were
rattling past him, you knew it from perceiving the inside of
his crimson mouth, and a target-like circling of his eyes.
Deliberation caused sundry attacks on the moss of adjoining
walls with the end of his stick, a change of his hat from
the horizontal to the less so; a sense of tediousness
announced itself in a lowering of the person by spreading
the knees to a lozenge-shaped aperture and contorting the
arms. Chicanery, subterfuge, had hardly a place in the
streets of this honest borough to all appearance; and it was
said that the lawyers in the Court House hard by
occasionally threw in strong arguments for the other side
out of pure generosity (though apparently by mischance) when
advancing their own.

Thus Casterbridge was in most respects but the pole, focus,
or nerve-knot of the surrounding country life; differing
from the many manufacturing towns which are as foreign
bodies set down, like boulders on a plain, in a green world
with which they have nothing in common. Casterbridge lived
by agriculture at one remove further from the fountainhead
than the adjoining villages--no more. The townsfolk
understood every fluctuation in the rustic's condition, for
it affected their receipts as much as the labourer's; they
entered into the troubles and joys which moved the
aristocratic families ten miles round--for the same reason.
And even at the dinner-parties of the professional families
the subjects of discussion were corn, cattle-disease, sowing
and reaping, fencing and planting; while politics were
viewed by them less from their own standpoint of burgesses
with rights and privileges than from the standpoint of their
country neighbours.

All the venerable contrivances and confusions which
delighted the eye by their quaintness, and in a measure
reasonableness, in this rare old market-town, were
metropolitan novelties to the unpractised eyes of Elizabeth-
Jane, fresh from netting fish-seines in a seaside cottage.
Very little inquiry was necessary to guide her footsteps.
Henchard's house was one of the best, faced with dull red-
and-grey old brick. The front door was open, and, as in
other houses, she could see through the passage to the end
of the garden--nearly a quarter of a mile off.

Mr. Henchard was not in the house, but in the store-yard.
She was conducted into the mossy garden, and through a door
in the wall, which was studded with rusty nails speaking of
generations of fruit-trees that had been trained there. The
door opened upon the yard, and here she was left to find him
as she could. It was a place flanked by hay-barns, into
which tons of fodder, all in trusses, were being packed from
the waggons she had seen pass the inn that morning. On
other sides of the yard were wooden granaries on stone
staddles, to which access was given by Flemish ladders, and
a store-house several floors high. Wherever the doors of
these places were open, a closely packed throng of bursting
wheat-sacks could be seen standing inside, with the air of
awaiting a famine that would not come.

She wandered about this place, uncomfortably conscious of
the impending interview, till she was quite weary of
searching; she ventured to inquire of a boy in what quarter
Mr. Henchard could be found. He directed her to an office
which she had not seen before, and knocking at the door she
was answered by a cry of "Come in."

Elizabeth turned the handle; and there stood before her,
bending over some sample-bags on a table, not the corn-
merchant, but the young Scotchman Mr. Farfrae--in the act of
pouring some grains of wheat from one hand to the other.
His hat hung on a peg behind him, and the roses of his
carpet-bag glowed from the corner of the room.

Having toned her feelings and arranged words on her lips for
Mr. Henchard, and for him alone, she was for the moment
confounded.

"Yes, what it is?" said the Scotchman, like a man who
permanently ruled there.

She said she wanted to see Mr. Henchard.

"Ah, yes; will you wait a minute? He's engaged just now,"
said the young man, apparently not recognizing her as the
girl at the inn. He handed her a chair, bade her sit down
and turned to his sample-bags again. While Elizabeth-Jane
sits waiting in great amaze at the young man's presence we
may briefly explain how he came there.

When the two new acquaintances had passed out of sight that
morning towards the Bath and Bristol road they went on
silently, except for a few commonplaces, till they had gone
down an avenue on the town walls called the Chalk Walk,
leading to an angle where the North and West escarpments
met. From this high corner of the square earthworks a vast
extent of country could be seen. A footpath ran steeply
down the green slope, conducting from the shady promenade on
the walls to a road at the bottom of the scarp. It was by
this path the Scotchman had to descend.

"Well, here's success to 'ee," said Henchard, holding out
his right hand and leaning with his left upon the wicket
which protected the descent. In the act there was the
inelegance of one whose feelings are nipped and wishes
defeated. "I shall often think of this time, and of how you
came at the very moment to throw a light upon my
difficulty."

Still holding the young man's hand he paused, and then added
deliberately: "Now I am not the man to let a cause be lost
for want of a word. And before ye are gone for ever I'll
speak. Once more, will ye stay? There it is, flat and
plain. You can see that it isn't all selfishness that makes
me press 'ee; for my business is not quite so scientific as
to require an intellect entirely out of the common. Others
would do for the place without doubt. Some selfishness
perhaps there is, but there is more; it isn't for me to
repeat what. Come bide with me--and name your own terms.
I'll agree to 'em willingly and 'ithout a word of
gainsaying; for, hang it, Farfrae, I like thee well!"

The young man's hand remained steady in Henchard's for a
moment or two. He looked over the fertile country that
stretched beneath them, then backward along the shaded walk
reaching to the top of the town. His face flushed.

"I never expected this--I did not!" he said. "It's
Providence! Should any one go against it? No; I'll not go to
America; I'll stay and be your man!"

His hand, which had lain lifeless in Henchard's, returned
the latter's grasp.

"Done," said Henchard.

"Done," said Donald Farfrae.

The face of Mr. Henchard beamed forth a satisfaction that
was almost fierce in its strength. "Now you are my friend!"
he exclaimed. "Come back to my house; let's clinch it at
once by clear terms, so as to be comfortable in our minds."
Farfrae caught up his bag and retraced the North-West Avenue
in Henchard's company as he had come. Henchard was all
confidence now.

"I am the most distant fellow in the world when I don't care
for a man," he said. "But when a man takes my fancy he
takes it strong. Now I am sure you can eat another
breakfast? You couldn't have eaten much so early, even if
they had anything at that place to gi'e thee, which they
hadn't; so come to my house and we will have a solid,
staunch tuck-in, and settle terms in black-and-white if you
like; though my word's my bond. I can always make a good
meal in the morning. I've got a splendid cold pigeon-pie
going just now. You can have some home-brewed if you want
to, you know."

"It is too airly in the morning for that," said Farfrae with
a smile.

"Well, of course, I didn't know. I don't drink it because
of my oath, but I am obliged to brew for my work-people."

Thus talking they returned, and entered Henchard's premises
by the back way or traffic entrance. Here the matter was
settled over the breakfast, at which Henchard heaped the
young Scotchman's plate to a prodigal fulness. He would not
rest satisfied till Farfrae had written for his luggage from
Bristol, and dispatched the letter to the post-office. When
it was done this man of strong impulses declared that his
new friend should take up his abode in his house--at least
till some suitable lodgings could be found.

He then took Farfrae round and showed him the place, and the
stores of grain, and other stock; and finally entered the
offices where the younger of them has already been
discovered by Elizabeth.



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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