The Mayor of Casterbridge (6 of 6)


Uploaded by The16thCavern on 14.10.2012

Transcript:
Chapter 39.
When Farfrae descended out of the loft breathless from his encounter
with Henchard, he paused at the bottom to recover himself. He arrived
at the yard with the intention of putting the horse into the gig himself
(all the men having a holiday), and driving to a village on the Budmouth
Road. Despite the fearful struggle he decided still to persevere in his
journey, so as to recover himself before going indoors and meeting the
eyes of Lucetta. He wished to consider his course in a case so serious.
When he was just on the point of driving off Whittle arrived with a note
badly addressed, and bearing the word "immediate" upon the outside. On
opening it he was surprised to see that it was unsigned. It contained
a brief request that he would go to Weatherbury that evening about some
business which he was conducting there. Farfrae knew nothing that could
make it pressing; but as he was bent upon going out he yielded to the
anonymous request, particularly as he had a call to make at Mellstock
which could be included in the same tour. Thereupon he told Whittle of
his change of direction, in words which Henchard had overheard, and set
out on his way. Farfrae had not directed his man to take the message
indoors, and Whittle had not been supposed to do so on his own
responsibility.
Now the anonymous letter was a well-intentioned but clumsy contrivance
of Longways and other of Farfrae's men to get him out of the way for
the evening, in order that the satirical mummery should fall flat, if it
were attempted. By giving open information they would have brought down
upon their heads the vengeance of those among their comrades who enjoyed
these boisterous old games; and therefore the plan of sending a letter
recommended itself by its indirectness.
For poor Lucetta they took no protective measure, believing with the
majority there was some truth in the scandal, which she would have to
bear as she best might.
It was about eight o'clock, and Lucetta was sitting in the drawing-room
alone. Night had set in for more than half an hour, but she had not had
the candles lighted, for when Farfrae was away she preferred waiting for
him by the firelight, and, if it were not too cold, keeping one of the
window-sashes a little way open that the sound of his wheels might reach
her ears early. She was leaning back in the chair, in a more hopeful
mood than she had enjoyed since her marriage. The day had been such
a success, and the temporary uneasiness which Henchard's show of
effrontery had wrought in her disappeared with the quiet disappearance
of Henchard himself under her husband's reproof. The floating evidences
of her absurd passion for him, and its consequences, had been destroyed,
and she really seemed to have no cause for fear.
The reverie in which these and other subjects mingled was disturbed by
a hubbub in the distance, that increased moment by moment. It did not
greatly surprise her, the afternoon having been given up to recreation
by a majority of the populace since the passage of the Royal equipages.
But her attention was at once riveted to the matter by the voice of a
maid-servant next door, who spoke from an upper window across the street
to some other maid even more elevated than she.
"Which way be they going now?" inquired the first with interest.
"I can't be sure for a moment," said the second, "because of the
malter's chimbley. O yes—I can see 'em. Well, I declare, I declare!
"What, what?" from the first, more enthusiastically.
"They are coming up Corn Street after all! They sit back to back!"
"What—two of 'em—are there two figures?"
"Yes. Two images on a donkey, back to back, their elbows tied to one
another's! She's facing the head, and he's facing the tail."
"Is it meant for anybody in particular?"
"Well—it mid be. The man has got on a blue coat and kerseymere
leggings; he has black whiskers, and a reddish face. 'Tis a stuffed
figure, with a falseface."
The din was increasing now—then it lessened a little.
"There—I shan't see, after all!" cried the disappointed first maid.
"They have gone into a back street—that's all," said the one who
occupied the enviable position in the attic. "There—now I have got 'em
all endways nicely!"
"What's the woman like? Just say, and I can tell in a moment if 'tis
meant for one I've in mind."
"My—why—'tis dressed just as SHE dressed when she sat in the front
seat at the time the play-actors came to the Town Hall!"
Lucetta started to her feet, and almost at the instant the door of the
room was quickly and softly opened. Elizabeth-Jane advanced into the
firelight.
"I have come to see you," she said breathlessly. "I did not stop to
knock—forgive me! I see you have not shut your shutters, and the window
is open."
Without waiting for Lucetta's reply she crossed quickly to the window
and pulled out one of the shutters. Lucetta glided to her side. "Let
it be—hush!" she said peremporily, in a dry voice, while she seized
Elizabeth-Jane by the hand, and held up her finger. Their intercourse
had been so low and hurried that not a word had been lost of the
conversation without, which had thus proceeded:—
"Her neck is uncovered, and her hair in bands, and her back-comb in
place; she's got on a puce silk, and white stockings, and coloured
shoes."
Again Elizabeth-Jane attempted to close the window, but Lucetta held her
by main force.
"'Tis me!" she said, with a face pale as death. "A procession—a
scandal—an effigy of me, and him!"
The look of Elizabeth betrayed that the latter knew it already.
"Let us shut it out," coaxed Elizabeth-Jane, noting that the rigid
wildness of Lucetta's features was growing yet more rigid and wild with
the meaning of the noise and laughter. "Let us shut it out!"
"It is of no use!" she shrieked. "He will see it, won't he? Donald will
see it! He is just coming home—and it will break his heart—he will
never love me any more—and O, it will kill me—kill me!"
Elizabeth-Jane was frantic now. "O, can't something be done to stop it?"
she cried. "Is there nobody to do it—not one?"
She relinquished Lucetta's hands, and ran to the door. Lucetta herself,
saying recklessly "I will see it!" turned to the window, threw up the
sash, and went out upon the balcony. Elizabeth immediately followed, and
put her arm round her to pull her in. Lucetta's eyes were straight upon
the spectacle of the uncanny revel, now dancing rapidly. The numerous
lights round the two effigies threw them up into lurid distinctness; it
was impossible to mistake the pair for other than the intended victims.
"Come in, come in," implored Elizabeth; "and let me shut the window!"
"She's me—she's me—even to the parasol—my green parasol!" cried
Lucetta with a wild laugh as she stepped in. She stood motionless for
one second—then fell heavily to the floor.
Almost at the instant of her fall the rude music of the skimmington
ceased. The roars of sarcastic laughter went off in ripples, and the
trampling died out like the rustle of a spent wind. Elizabeth was only
indirectly conscious of this; she had rung the bell, and was bending
over Lucetta, who remained convulsed on the carpet in the paroxysms of
an epileptic seizure. She rang again and again, in vain; the probability
being that the servants had all run out of the house to see more of the
Daemonic Sabbath than they could see within.
At last Farfrae's man, who had been agape on the doorstep, came up;
then the cook. The shutters, hastily pushed to by Elizabeth, were quite
closed, a light was obtained, Lucetta carried to her room, and the man
sent off for a doctor. While Elizabeth was undressing her she recovered
consciousness; but as soon as she remembered what had passed the fit
returned.
The doctor arrived with unhoped-for promptitude; he had been standing
at his door, like others, wondering what the uproar meant. As soon as he
saw the unhappy sufferer he said, in answer to Elizabeth's mute appeal,
"This is serious."
"It is a fit," Elizabeth said.
"Yes. But a fit in the present state of her health means mischief. You
must send at once for Mr. Farfrae. Where is he?"
"He has driven into the country, sir," said the parlour-maid; "to some
place on the Budmouth Road. He's likely to be back soon."
"Never mind, he must be sent for, in case he should not hurry." The
doctor returned to the bedside again. The man was despatched, and they
soon heard him clattering out of the yard at the back.
Meanwhile Mr. Benjamin Grower, that prominent burgess of whom mention
has been already made, hearing the din of cleavers, tongs, tambourines,
kits, crouds, humstrums, serpents, rams'-horns, and other historical
kinds of music as he sat indoors in the High Street, had put on his hat
and gone out to learn the cause. He came to the corner above Farfrae's,
and soon guessed the nature of the proceedings; for being a native of
the town he had witnessed such rough jests before. His first move was
to search hither and thither for the constables, there were two in the
town, shrivelled men whom he ultimately found in hiding up an alley yet
more shrivelled than usual, having some not ungrounded fears that they
might be roughly handled if seen.
"What can we two poor lammigers do against such a multitude!"
expostulated Stubberd, in answer to Mr. Grower's chiding. "'Tis tempting
'em to commit felo-de-se upon us, and that would be the death of the
perpetrator; and we wouldn't be the cause of a fellow-creature's death
on no account, not we!"
"Get some help, then! Here, I'll come with you. We'll see what a few
words of authority can do. Quick now; have you got your staves?"
"We didn't want the folk to notice us as law officers, being so
short-handed, sir; so we pushed our Gover'ment staves up this
water-pipe.
"Out with 'em, and come along, for Heaven's sake! Ah, here's Mr.
Blowbody; that's lucky." (Blowbody was the third of the three borough
magistrates.)
"Well, what's the row?" said Blowbody. "Got their names—hey?"
"No. Now," said Grower to one of the constables, "you go with Mr.
Blowbody round by the Old Walk and come up the street; and I'll go with
Stubberd straight forward. By this plan we shall have 'em between us.
Get their names only: no attack or interruption."
Thus they started. But as Stubberd with Mr. Grower advanced into Corn
Street, whence the sounds had proceeded, they were surprised that no
procession could be seen. They passed Farfrae's, and looked to the end
of the street. The lamp flames waved, the Walk trees soughed, a few
loungers stood about with their hands in their pockets. Everything was
as usual.
"Have you seen a motley crowd making a disturbance?" Grower said
magisterially to one of these in a fustian jacket, who smoked a short
pipe and wore straps round his knees.
"Beg yer pardon, sir?" blandly said the person addressed, who was no
other than Charl, of Peter's Finger. Mr. Grower repeated the words.
Charl shook his head to the zero of childlike ignorance. "No; we haven't
seen anything; have we, Joe? And you was here afore I."
Joseph was quite as blank as the other in his reply.
"H'm—that's odd," said Mr. Grower. "Ah—here's a respectable man coming
that I know by sight. Have you," he inquired, addressing the nearing
shape of Jopp, "have you seen any gang of fellows making a devil of a
noise—skimmington riding, or something of the sort?"
"O no—nothing, sir," Jopp replied, as if receiving the most singular
news. "But I've not been far tonight, so perhaps—"
"Oh, 'twas here—just here," said the magistrate.
"Now I've noticed, come to think o't that the wind in the Walk trees
makes a peculiar poetical-like murmur to-night, sir; more than common;
so perhaps 'twas that?" Jopp suggested, as he rearranged his hand in his
greatcoat pocket (where it ingeniously supported a pair of kitchen tongs
and a cow's horn, thrust up under his waistcoat).
"No, no, no—d'ye think I'm a fool? Constable, come this way. They must
have gone into the back street."
Neither in back street nor in front street, however, could the
disturbers be perceived, and Blowbody and the second constable, who
came up at this time, brought similar intelligence. Effigies, donkey,
lanterns, band, all had disappeared like the crew of Comus.
"Now," said Mr. Grower, "there's only one thing more we can do. Get ye
half-a-dozen helpers, and go in a body to Mixen Lane, and into Peter's
finger. I'm much mistaken if you don't find a clue to the perpetrators
there."
The rusty-jointed executors of the law mustered assistance as soon as
they could, and the whole party marched off to the lane of notoriety. It
was no rapid matter to get there at night, not a lamp or glimmer of
any sort offering itself to light the way, except an occasional pale
radiance through some window-curtain, or through the chink of some door
which could not be closed because of the smoky chimney within. At last
they entered the inn boldly, by the till then bolted front-door, after a
prolonged knocking of loudness commensurate with the importance of their
standing.
In the settles of the large room, guyed to the ceiling by cords as
usual for stability, an ordinary group sat drinking and smoking with
statuesque quiet of demeanour. The landlady looked mildly at the
invaders, saying in honest accents, "Good evening, gentlemen; there's
plenty of room. I hope there's nothing amiss?"
They looked round the room. "Surely," said Stubberd to one of the men,
"I saw you by now in Corn Street—Mr. Grower spoke to 'ee?"
The man, who was Charl, shook his head absently. "I've been here this
last hour, hain't I, Nance?" he said to the woman who meditatively
sipped her ale near him.
"Faith, that you have. I came in for my quiet suppertime half-pint, and
you were here then, as well as all the rest."
The other constable was facing the clock-case, where he saw reflected in
the glass a quick motion by the landlady. Turning sharply, he caught her
closing the oven-door.
"Something curious about that oven, ma'am!" he observed advancing,
opening it, and drawing out a tambourine.
"Ah," she said apologetically, "that's what we keep here to use when
there's a little quiet dancing. You see damp weather spoils it, so I put
it there to keep it dry."
The constable nodded knowingly, but what he knew was nothing. Nohow
could anything be elicited from this mute and inoffensive assembly. In
a few minutes the investigators went out, and joining those of their
auxiliaries who had been left at the door they pursued their way
elsewhither.
40.
Long before this time Henchard, weary of his ruminations on the bridge,
had repaired towards the town. When he stood at the bottom of the street
a procession burst upon his view, in the act of turning out of an alley
just above him. The lanterns, horns, and multitude startled him; he saw
the mounted images, and knew what it all meant.
They crossed the way, entered another street, and disappeared. He turned
back a few steps and was lost in grave reflection, finally wending his
way homeward by the obscure river-side path. Unable to rest there he
went to his step-daughter's lodging, and was told that Elizabeth-Jane
had gone to Mr. Farfrae's. Like one acting in obedience to a charm, and
with a nameless apprehension, he followed in the same direction in the
hope of meeting her, the roysterers having vanished. Disappointed in
this he gave the gentlest of pulls to the door-bell, and then learnt
particulars of what had occurred, together with the doctor's imperative
orders that Farfrae should be brought home, and how they had set out to
meet him on the Budmouth Road.
"But he has gone to Mellstock and Weatherbury!" exclaimed Henchard, now
unspeakably grieved. "Not Budmouth way at all."
But, alas! for Henchard; he had lost his good name. They would
not believe him, taking his words but as the frothy utterances of
recklessness. Though Lucetta's life seemed at that moment to depend upon
her husband's return (she being in great mental agony lest he should
never know the unexaggerated truth of her past relations with Henchard),
no messenger was despatched towards Weatherbury. Henchard, in a state of
bitter anxiety and contrition, determined to seek Farfrae himself.
To this end he hastened down the town, ran along the eastern road over
Durnover Moor, up the hill beyond, and thus onward in the moderate
darkness of this spring night till he had reached a second and almost
a third hill about three miles distant. In Yalbury Bottom, or Plain,
at the foot of the hill, he listened. At first nothing, beyond his own
heart-throbs, was to be heard but the slow wind making its moan among
the masses of spruce and larch of Yalbury Wood which clothed the heights
on either hand; but presently there came the sound of light wheels
whetting their felloes against the newly stoned patches of road,
accompanied by the distant glimmer of lights.
He knew it was Farfrae's gig descending the hill from an indescribable
personality in its noise, the vehicle having been his own till bought
by the Scotchman at the sale of his effects. Henchard thereupon retraced
his steps along Yalbury Plain, the gig coming up with him as its driver
slackened speed between two plantations.
It was a point in the highway near which the road to Mellstock branched
off from the homeward direction. By diverging to that village, as he had
intended to do, Farfrae might probably delay his return by a couple of
hours. It soon appeared that his intention was to do so still, the
light swerving towards Cuckoo Lane, the by-road aforesaid. Farfrae's off
gig-lamp flashed in Henchard's face. At the same time Farfrae discerned
his late antagonist.
"Farfrae—Mr. Farfrae!" cried the breathless Henchard, holding up his
hand.
Farfrae allowed the horse to turn several steps into the branch lane
before he pulled up. He then drew rein, and said "Yes?" over his
shoulder, as one would towards a pronounced enemy.
"Come back to Casterbridge at once!" Henchard said. "There's something
wrong at your house—requiring your return. I've run all the way here on
purpose to tell ye."
Farfrae was silent, and at his silence Henchard's soul sank within him.
Why had he not, before this, thought of what was only too obvious? He
who, four hours earlier, had enticed Farfrae into a deadly wrestle stood
now in the darkness of late night-time on a lonely road, inviting him
to come a particular way, where an assailant might have confederates,
instead of going his purposed way, where there might be a better
opportunity of guarding himself from attack. Henchard could almost feel
this view of things in course of passage through Farfrae's mind.
"I have to go to Mellstock," said Farfrae coldly, as he loosened his
reins to move on.
"But," implored Henchard, "the matter is more serious than your business
at Mellstock. It is—your wife! She is ill. I can tell you particulars
as we go along."
The very agitation and abruptness of Henchard increased Farfrae's
suspicion that this was a ruse to decoy him on to the next wood, where
might be effectually compassed what, from policy or want of nerve,
Henchard had failed to do earlier in the day. He started the horse.
"I know what you think," deprecated Henchard running after, almost bowed
down with despair as he perceived the image of unscrupulous villainy
that he assumed in his former friend's eyes. "But I am not what you
think!" he cried hoarsely. "Believe me, Farfrae; I have come entirely on
your own and your wife's account. She is in danger. I know no more; and
they want you to come. Your man has gone the other way in a mistake. O
Farfrae! don't mistrust me—I am a wretched man; but my heart is true to
you still!"
Farfrae, however, did distrust him utterly. He knew his wife was
with child, but he had left her not long ago in perfect health; and
Henchard's treachery was more credible than his story. He had in his
time heard bitter ironies from Henchard's lips, and there might be
ironies now. He quickened the horse's pace, and had soon risen into the
high country lying between there and Mellstock, Henchard's spasmodic run
after him lending yet more substance to his thought of evil purposes.
The gig and its driver lessened against the sky in Henchard's eyes;
his exertions for Farfrae's good had been in vain. Over this repentant
sinner, at least, there was to be no joy in heaven. He cursed himself
like a less scrupulous Job, as a vehement man will do when he loses
self-respect, the last mental prop under poverty. To this he had come
after a time of emotional darkness of which the adjoining woodland shade
afforded inadequate illustration. Presently he began to walk back again
along the way by which he had arrived. Farfrae should at all events have
no reason for delay upon the road by seeing him there when he took his
journey homeward later on.
Arriving at Casterbridge Henchard went again to Farfrae's house to make
inquiries. As soon as the door opened anxious faces confronted his
from the staircase, hall, and landing; and they all said in grievous
disappointment, "O—it is not he!" The manservant, finding his mistake,
had long since returned, and all hopes had centred upon Henchard.
"But haven't you found him?" said the doctor.
"Yes....I cannot tell 'ee!" Henchard replied as he sank down on a chair
within the entrance. "He can't be home for two hours."
"H'm," said the surgeon, returning upstairs.
"How is she?" asked Henchard of Elizabeth, who formed one of the group.
"In great danger, father. Her anxiety to see her husband makes her
fearfully restless. Poor woman—I fear they have killed her!"
Henchard regarded the sympathetic speaker for a few instants as if she
struck him in a new light, then, without further remark, went out of
the door and onward to his lonely cottage. So much for man's rivalry,
he thought. Death was to have the oyster, and Farfrae and himself the
shells. But about Elizabeth-Jane; in the midst of his gloom she seemed
to him as a pin-point of light. He had liked the look on her face as she
answered him from the stairs. There had been affection in it, and above
all things what he desired now was affection from anything that was good
and pure. She was not his own, yet, for the first time, he had a faint
dream that he might get to like her as his own,—if she would only
continue to love him.
Jopp was just going to bed when Henchard got home. As the latter entered
the door Jopp said, "This is rather bad about Mrs. Farfrae's illness."
"Yes," said Henchard shortly, though little dreaming of Jopp's
complicity in the night's harlequinade, and raising his eyes just
sufficiently to observe that Jopp's face was lined with anxiety.
"Somebody has called for you," continued Jopp, when Henchard was
shutting himself into his own apartment. "A kind of traveller, or
sea-captain of some sort."
"Oh?—who could he be?"
"He seemed a well-be-doing man—had grey hair and a broadish face; but
he gave no name, and no message."
"Nor do I gi'e him any attention." And, saying this, Henchard closed his
door.
The divergence to Mellstock delayed Farfrae's return very nearly the
two hours of Henchard's estimate. Among the other urgent reasons for his
presence had been the need of his authority to send to Budmouth for a
second physician; and when at length Farfrae did come back he was in
a state bordering on distraction at his misconception of Henchard's
motives.
A messenger was despatched to Budmouth, late as it had grown; the night
wore on, and the other doctor came in the small hours. Lucetta had been
much soothed by Donald's arrival; he seldom or never left her side; and
when, immediately after his entry, she had tried to lisp out to him the
secret which so oppressed her, he checked her feeble words, lest talking
should be dangerous, assuring her there was plenty of time to tell him
everything.
Up to this time he knew nothing of the skimmington-ride. The dangerous
illness and miscarriage of Mrs. Farfrae was soon rumoured through the
town, and an apprehensive guess having been given as to its cause by the
leaders in the exploit, compunction and fear threw a dead silence over
all particulars of their orgie; while those immediately around Lucetta
would not venture to add to her husband's distress by alluding to the
subject.
What, and how much, Farfrae's wife ultimately explained to him of her
past entanglement with Henchard, when they were alone in the solitude of
that sad night, cannot be told. That she informed him of the bare
facts of her peculiar intimacy with the corn-merchant became plain from
Farfrae's own statements. But in respect of her subsequent conduct—her
motive in coming to Casterbridge to unite herself with Henchard—her
assumed justification in abandoning him when she discovered reasons for
fearing him (though in truth her inconsequent passion for another man
at first sight had most to do with that abandonment)—her method of
reconciling to her conscience a marriage with the second when she was
in a measure committed to the first: to what extent she spoke of these
things remained Farfrae's secret alone.
Besides the watchman who called the hours and weather in Casterbridge
that night there walked a figure up and down Corn Street hardly less
frequently. It was Henchard's, whose retiring to rest had proved itself
a futility as soon as attempted; and he gave it up to go hither and
thither, and make inquiries about the patient every now and then.
He called as much on Farfrae's account as on Lucetta's, and on
Elizabeth-Jane's even more than on either's. Shorn one by one of all
other interests, his life seemed centring on the personality of the
stepdaughter whose presence but recently he could not endure. To see her
on each occasion of his inquiry at Lucetta's was a comfort to him.
The last of his calls was made about four o'clock in the morning, in the
steely light of dawn. Lucifer was fading into day across Durnover Moor,
the sparrows were just alighting into the street, and the hens had begun
to cackle from the outhouses. When within a few yards of Farfrae's he
saw the door gently opened, and a servant raise her hand to the knocker,
to untie the piece of cloth which had muffled it. He went across, the
sparrows in his way scarcely flying up from the road-litter, so little
did they believe in human aggression at so early a time.
"Why do you take off that?" said Henchard.
She turned in some surprise at his presence, and did not answer for an
instant or two. Recognizing him, she said, "Because they may knock as
loud as they will; she will never hear it any more."
41.
Henchard went home. The morning having now fully broke he lit his fire,
and sat abstractedly beside it. He had not sat there long when a gentle
footstep approached the house and entered the passage, a finger tapping
lightly at the door. Henchard's face brightened, for he knew the motions
to be Elizabeth's. She came into his room, looking wan and sad.
"Have you heard?" she asked. "Mrs. Farfrae! She is—dead! Yes,
indeed—about an hour ago!"
"I know it," said Henchard. "I have but lately come in from there. It
is so very good of 'ee, Elizabeth, to come and tell me. You must be
so tired out, too, with sitting up. Now do you bide here with me this
morning. You can go and rest in the other room; and I will call 'ee when
breakfast is ready."
To please him, and herself—for his recent kindliness was winning a
surprised gratitude from the lonely girl—she did as he bade her, and
lay down on a sort of couch which Henchard had rigged up out of a
settle in the adjoining room. She could hear him moving about in his
preparations; but her mind ran most strongly on Lucetta, whose death
in such fulness of life and amid such cheerful hopes of maternity was
appallingly unexpected. Presently she fell asleep.
Meanwhile her stepfather in the outer room had set the breakfast in
readiness; but finding that she dozed he would not call her; he
waited on, looking into the fire and keeping the kettle boiling with
house-wifely care, as if it were an honour to have her in his house. In
truth, a great change had come over him with regard to her, and he was
developing the dream of a future lit by her filial presence, as though
that way alone could happiness lie.
He was disturbed by another knock at the door, and rose to open it,
rather deprecating a call from anybody just then. A stoutly built man
stood on the doorstep, with an alien, unfamiliar air about his figure
and bearing—an air which might have been called colonial by people of
cosmopolitan experience. It was the man who had asked the way at Peter's
finger. Henchard nodded, and looked inquiry.
"Good morning, good morning," said the stranger with profuse heartiness.
"Is it Mr. Henchard I am talking to?"
"My name is Henchard."
"Then I've caught 'ee at home—that's right. Morning's the time for
business, says I. Can I have a few words with you?"
"By all means," Henchard answered, showing the way in.
"You may remember me?" said his visitor, seating himself.
Henchard observed him indifferently, and shook his head.
"Well—perhaps you may not. My name is Newson."
Henchard's face and eyes seemed to die. The other did not notice it. "I
know the name well," Henchard said at last, looking on the floor.
"I make no doubt of that. Well, the fact is, I've been looking for 'ee
this fortnight past. I landed at Havenpool and went through Casterbridge
on my way to Falmouth, and when I got there, they told me you had some
years before been living at Casterbridge. Back came I again, and by long
and by late I got here by coach, ten minutes ago. 'He lives down by the
mill,' says they. So here I am. Now—that transaction between us
some twenty years agone—'tis that I've called about. 'Twas a curious
business. I was younger then than I am now, and perhaps the less said
about it, in one sense, the better."
"Curious business! 'Twas worse than curious. I cannot even allow that
I'm the man you met then. I was not in my senses, and a man's senses are
himself."
"We were young and thoughtless," said Newson. "However, I've come to
mend matters rather than open arguments. Poor Susan—hers was a strange
experience."
"She was a warm-hearted, home-spun woman. She was not what they call
shrewd or sharp at all—better she had been."
"She was not."
"As you in all likelihood know, she was simple-minded enough to think
that the sale was in a way binding. She was as guiltless o' wrong-doing
in that particular as a saint in the clouds."
"I know it, I know it. I found it out directly," said Henchard, still
with averted eyes. "There lay the sting o't to me. If she had seen it as
what it was she would never have left me. Never! But how should she be
expected to know? What advantages had she? None. She could write her own
name, and no more."
"Well, it was not in my heart to undeceive her when the deed was done,"
said the sailor of former days. "I thought, and there was not much
vanity in thinking it, that she would be happier with me. She was fairly
happy, and I never would have undeceived her till the day of her
death. Your child died; she had another, and all went well. But a time
came—mind me, a time always does come. A time came—it was some while
after she and I and the child returned from America—when somebody she
had confided her history to, told her my claim to her was a mockery, and
made a jest of her belief in my right. After that she was never happy
with me. She pined and pined, and socked and sighed. She said she must
leave me, and then came the question of our child. Then a man advised
me how to act, and I did it, for I thought it was best. I left her
at Falmouth, and went off to sea. When I got to the other side of
the Atlantic there was a storm, and it was supposed that a lot of
us, including myself, had been washed overboard. I got ashore at
Newfoundland, and then I asked myself what I should do.
"'Since I'm here, here I'll bide,' I thought to myself; ''twill be most
kindness to her, now she's taken against me, to let her believe me lost,
for,' I thought, 'while she supposes us both alive she'll be miserable;
but if she thinks me dead she'll go back to him, and the child will have
a home.' I've never returned to this country till a month ago, and I
found that, as I supposed, she went to you, and my daughter with
her. They told me in Falmouth that Susan was dead. But my
Elizabeth-Jane—where is she?"
"Dead likewise," said Henchard doggedly. "Surely you learnt that too?"
The sailor started up, and took an enervated pace or two down the room.
"Dead!" he said, in a low voice. "Then what's the use of my money to
me?"
Henchard, without answering, shook his head as if that were rather a
question for Newson himself than for him.
"Where is she buried?" the traveller inquired.
"Beside her mother," said Henchard, in the same stolid tones.
"When did she die?"
"A year ago and more," replied the other without hesitation.
The sailor continued standing. Henchard never looked up from the floor.
At last Newson said: "My journey hither has been for nothing! I may as
well go as I came! It has served me right. I'll trouble you no longer."
Henchard heard the retreating footsteps of Newson upon the sanded floor,
the mechanical lifting of the latch, the slow opening and closing of the
door that was natural to a baulked or dejected man; but he did not turn
his head. Newson's shadow passed the window. He was gone.
Then Henchard, scarcely believing the evidence of his senses, rose
from his seat amazed at what he had done. It had been the impulse of a
moment. The regard he had lately acquired for Elizabeth, the new-sprung
hope of his loneliness that she would be to him a daughter of whom he
could feel as proud as of the actual daughter she still believed herself
to be, had been stimulated by the unexpected coming of Newson to a
greedy exclusiveness in relation to her; so that the sudden prospect of
her loss had caused him to speak mad lies like a child, in pure mockery
of consequences. He had expected questions to close in round him, and
unmask his fabrication in five minutes; yet such questioning had not
come. But surely they would come; Newson's departure could be but
momentary; he would learn all by inquiries in the town; and return to
curse him, and carry his last treasure away!
He hastily put on his hat, and went out in the direction that Newson had
taken. Newson's back was soon visible up the road, crossing Bull-stake.
Henchard followed, and saw his visitor stop at the King's Arms, where
the morning coach which had brought him waited half-an-hour for another
coach which crossed there. The coach Newson had come by was now about to
move again. Newson mounted, his luggage was put in, and in a few minutes
the vehicle disappeared with him.
He had not so much as turned his head. It was an act of simple faith
in Henchard's words—faith so simple as to be almost sublime. The young
sailor who had taken Susan Henchard on the spur of the moment and on the
faith of a glance at her face, more than twenty years before, was still
living and acting under the form of the grizzled traveller who had taken
Henchard's words on trust so absolute as to shame him as he stood.
Was Elizabeth-Jane to remain his by virtue of this hardy invention of a
moment? "Perhaps not for long," said he. Newson might converse with his
fellow-travellers, some of whom might be Casterbridge people; and the
trick would be discovered.
This probability threw Henchard into a defensive attitude, and instead
of considering how best to right the wrong, and acquaint Elizabeth's
father with the truth at once, he bethought himself of ways to keep the
position he had accidentally won. Towards the young woman herself his
affection grew more jealously strong with each new hazard to which his
claim to her was exposed.
He watched the distant highway expecting to see Newson return on foot,
enlightened and indignant, to claim his child. But no figure appeared.
Possibly he had spoken to nobody on the coach, but buried his grief in
his own heart.
His grief!—what was it, after all, to that which he, Henchard, would
feel at the loss of her? Newson's affection cooled by years, could not
equal his who had been constantly in her presence. And thus his jealous
soul speciously argued to excuse the separation of father and child.
He returned to the house half expecting that she would have vanished.
No; there she was—just coming out from the inner room, the marks of
sleep upon her eyelids, and exhibiting a generally refreshed air.
"O father!" she said smiling. "I had no sooner lain down than I napped,
though I did not mean to. I wonder I did not dream about poor Mrs.
Farfrae, after thinking of her so; but I did not. How strange it is that
we do not often dream of latest events, absorbing as they may be."
"I am glad you have been able to sleep," he said, taking her hand with
anxious proprietorship—an act which gave her a pleasant surprise.
They sat down to breakfast, and Elizabeth-Jane's thoughts reverted to
Lucetta. Their sadness added charm to a countenance whose beauty had
ever lain in its meditative soberness.
"Father," she said, as soon as she recalled herself to the outspread
meal, "it is so kind of you to get this nice breakfast with your own
hands, and I idly asleep the while."
"I do it every day," he replied. "You have left me; everybody has left
me; how should I live but by my own hands."
"You are very lonely, are you not?"
"Ay, child—to a degree that you know nothing of! It is my own fault.
You are the only one who has been near me for weeks. And you will come
no more."
"Why do you say that? Indeed I will, if you would like to see me."
Henchard signified dubiousness. Though he had so lately hoped that
Elizabeth-Jane might again live in his house as daughter, he would
not ask her to do so now. Newson might return at any moment, and what
Elizabeth would think of him for his deception it were best to bear
apart from her.
When they had breakfasted his stepdaughter still lingered, till the
moment arrived at which Henchard was accustomed to go to his daily work.
Then she arose, and with assurance of coming again soon went up the hill
in the morning sunlight.
"At this moment her heart is as warm towards me as mine is towards her,
she would live with me here in this humble cottage for the asking! Yet
before the evening probably he will have come, and then she will scorn
me!"
This reflection, constantly repeated by Henchard to himself, accompanied
him everywhere through the day. His mood was no longer that of the
rebellious, ironical, reckless misadventurer; but the leaden gloom of
one who has lost all that can make life interesting, or even tolerable.
There would remain nobody for him to be proud of, nobody to fortify him;
for Elizabeth-Jane would soon be but as a stranger, and worse. Susan,
Farfrae, Lucetta, Elizabeth—all had gone from him, one after one,
either by his fault or by his misfortune.
In place of them he had no interest, hobby, or desire. If he could have
summoned music to his aid his existence might even now have been borne;
for with Henchard music was of regal power. The merest trumpet or organ
tone was enough to move him, and high harmonies transubstantiated him.
But hard fate had ordained that he should be unable to call up this
Divine spirit in his need.
The whole land ahead of him was as darkness itself; there was nothing
to come, nothing to wait for. Yet in the natural course of life he might
possibly have to linger on earth another thirty or forty years—scoffed
at; at best pitied.
The thought of it was unendurable.
To the east of Casterbridge lay moors and meadows through which much
water flowed. The wanderer in this direction who should stand still
for a few moments on a quiet night, might hear singular symphonies from
these waters, as from a lampless orchestra, all playing in their sundry
tones from near and far parts of the moor. At a hole in a rotten weir
they executed a recitative; where a tributary brook fell over a stone
breastwork they trilled cheerily; under an arch they performed a
metallic cymballing, and at Durnover Hole they hissed. The spot at
which their instrumentation rose loudest was a place called Ten Hatches,
whence during high springs there proceeded a very fugue of sounds.
The river here was deep and strong at all times, and the hatches on this
account were raised and lowered by cogs and a winch. A patch led
from the second bridge over the highway (so often mentioned) to these
Hatches, crossing the stream at their head by a narrow plank-bridge. But
after night-fall human beings were seldom found going that way, the path
leading only to a deep reach of the stream called Blackwater, and the
passage being dangerous.
Henchard, however, leaving the town by the east road, proceeded to the
second, or stone bridge, and thence struck into this path of solitude,
following its course beside the stream till the dark shapes of the Ten
Hatches cut the sheen thrown upon the river by the weak lustre that
still lingered in the west. In a second or two he stood beside the
weir-hole where the water was at its deepest. He looked backwards and
forwards, and no creature appeared in view. He then took off his coat
and hat, and stood on the brink of the stream with his hands clasped in
front of him.
While his eyes were bent on the water beneath there slowly became
visible a something floating in the circular pool formed by the wash of
centuries; the pool he was intending to make his death-bed. At first
it was indistinct by reason of the shadow from the bank; but it emerged
thence and took shape, which was that of a human body, lying stiff and
stark upon the surface of the stream.
In the circular current imparted by the central flow the form was
brought forward, till it passed under his eyes; and then he perceived
with a sense of horror that it was HIMSELF. Not a man somewhat
resembling him, but one in all respects his counterpart, his actual
double, was floating as if dead in Ten Hatches Hole.
The sense of the supernatural was strong in this unhappy man, and
he turned away as one might have done in the actual presence of an
appalling miracle. He covered his eyes and bowed his head. Without
looking again into the stream he took his coat and hat, and went slowly
away.
Presently he found himself by the door of his own dwelling. To his
surprise Elizabeth-Jane was standing there. She came forward, spoke,
called him "father" just as before. Newson, then, had not even yet
returned.
"I thought you seemed very sad this morning," she said, "so I have come
again to see you. Not that I am anything but sad myself. But everybody
and everything seem against you so, and I know you must be suffering."
How this woman divined things! Yet she had not divined their whole
extremity.
He said to her, "Are miracles still worked, do ye think, Elizabeth? I
am not a read man. I don't know so much as I could wish. I have tried
to peruse and learn all my life; but the more I try to know the more
ignorant I seem."
"I don't quite think there are any miracles nowadays," she said.
"No interference in the case of desperate intentions, for instance?
Well, perhaps not, in a direct way. Perhaps not. But will you come and
walk with me, and I will show 'ee what I mean."
She agreed willingly, and he took her over the highway, and by the
lonely path to Ten Hatches. He walked restlessly, as if some haunting
shade, unseen of her, hovered round him and troubled his glance. She
would gladly have talked of Lucetta, but feared to disturb him. When
they got near the weir he stood still, and asked her to go forward and
look into the pool, and tell him what she saw.
She went, and soon returned to him. "Nothing," she said.
"Go again," said Henchard, "and look narrowly."
She proceeded to the river brink a second time. On her return, after
some delay, she told him that she saw something floating round and round
there; but what it was she could not discern. It seemed to be a bundle
of old clothes.
"Are they like mine?" asked Henchard.
"Well—they are. Dear me—I wonder if—Father, let us go away!"
"Go and look once more; and then we will get home."
She went back, and he could see her stoop till her head was close to the
margin of the pool. She started up, and hastened back to his side.
"Well," said Henchard; "what do you say now?"
"Let us go home."
"But tell me—do—what is it floating there?"
"The effigy," she answered hastily. "They must have thrown it into the
river higher up amongst the willows at Blackwater, to get rid of it in
their alarm at discovery by the magistrates, and it must have floated
down here."
"Ah—to be sure—the image o' me! But where is the other? Why that one
only?... That performance of theirs killed her, but kept me alive!"
Elizabeth-Jane thought and thought of these words "kept me alive," as
they slowly retraced their way to the town, and at length guessed their
meaning. "Father!—I will not leave you alone like this!" she cried.
"May I live with you, and tend upon you as I used to do? I do not mind
your being poor. I would have agreed to come this morning, but you did
not ask me."
"May you come to me?" he cried bitterly. "Elizabeth, don't mock me! If
you only would come!"
"I will," said she.
"How will you forgive all my roughness in former days? You cannot!"
"I have forgotten it. Talk of that no more."
Thus she assured him, and arranged their plans for reunion; and at
length each went home. Then Henchard shaved for the first time during
many days, and put on clean linen, and combed his hair; and was as a man
resuscitated thenceforward.
The next morning the fact turned out to be as Elizabeth-Jane had stated;
the effigy was discovered by a cowherd, and that of Lucetta a little
higher up in the same stream. But as little as possible was said of the
matter, and the figures were privately destroyed.
Despite this natural solution of the mystery Henchard no less regarded
it as an intervention that the figure should have been floating there.
Elizabeth-Jane heard him say, "Who is such a reprobate as I! And yet it
seems that even I be in Somebody's hand!"
42.
But the emotional conviction that he was in Somebody's hand began to die
out of Henchard's breast as time slowly removed into distance the event
which had given that feeling birth. The apparition of Newson haunted
him. He would surely return.
Yet Newson did not arrive. Lucetta had been borne along the churchyard
path; Casterbridge had for the last time turned its regard upon her,
before proceeding to its work as if she had never lived. But Elizabeth
remained undisturbed in the belief of her relationship to Henchard, and
now shared his home. Perhaps, after all, Newson was gone for ever.
In due time the bereaved Farfrae had learnt the, at least, proximate
cause of Lucetta's illness and death, and his first impulse was
naturally enough to wreak vengeance in the name of the law upon the
perpetrators of the mischief. He resolved to wait till the funeral was
over ere he moved in the matter. The time having come he reflected.
Disastrous as the result had been, it was obviously in no way foreseen
or intended by the thoughtless crew who arranged the motley procession.
The tempting prospect of putting to the blush people who stand at the
head of affairs—that supreme and piquant enjoyment of those who writhe
under the heel of the same—had alone animated them, so far as he could
see; for he knew nothing of Jopp's incitements. Other considerations
were also involved. Lucetta had confessed everything to him before her
death, and it was not altogether desirable to make much ado about her
history, alike for her sake, for Henchard's, and for his own. To
regard the event as an untoward accident seemed, to Farfrae, truest
consideration for the dead one's memory, as well as best philosophy.
Henchard and himself mutually forbore to meet. For Elizabeth's sake the
former had fettered his pride sufficiently to accept the small seed and
root business which some of the Town Council, headed by Farfrae, had
purchased to afford him a new opening. Had he been only personally
concerned Henchard, without doubt, would have declined assistance even
remotely brought about by the man whom he had so fiercely assailed. But
the sympathy of the girl seemed necessary to his very existence; and on
her account pride itself wore the garments of humility.
Here they settled themselves; and on each day of their lives Henchard
anticipated her every wish with a watchfulness in which paternal regard
was heightened by a burning jealous dread of rivalry. Yet that Newson
would ever now return to Casterbridge to claim her as a daughter there
was little reason to suppose. He was a wanderer and a stranger, almost
an alien; he had not seen his daughter for several years; his affection
for her could not in the nature of things be keen; other interests would
probably soon obscure his recollections of her, and prevent any such
renewal of inquiry into the past as would lead to a discovery that she
was still a creature of the present. To satisfy his conscience somewhat
Henchard repeated to himself that the lie which had retained for him
the coveted treasure had not been deliberately told to that end, but
had come from him as the last defiant word of a despair which took no
thought of consequences. Furthermore he pleaded within himself that no
Newson could love her as he loved her, or would tend her to his life's
extremity as he was prepared to do cheerfully.
Thus they lived on in the shop overlooking the churchyard, and nothing
occurred to mark their days during the remainder of the year. Going out
but seldom, and never on a marketday, they saw Donald Farfrae only at
rarest intervals, and then mostly as a transitory object in the distance
of the street. Yet he was pursuing his ordinary avocations, smiling
mechanically to fellow-tradesmen, and arguing with bargainers—as
bereaved men do after a while.
Time, "in his own grey style," taught Farfrae how to estimate his
experience of Lucetta—all that it was, and all that it was not. There
are men whose hearts insist upon a dogged fidelity to some image or
cause thrown by chance into their keeping, long after their judgment has
pronounced it no rarity—even the reverse, indeed, and without them the
band of the worthy is incomplete. But Farfrae was not of those. It
was inevitable that the insight, briskness, and rapidity of his nature
should take him out of the dead blank which his loss threw about him. He
could not but perceive that by the death of Lucetta he had exchanged
a looming misery for a simple sorrow. After that revelation of her
history, which must have come sooner or later in any circumstances, it
was hard to believe that life with her would have been productive of
further happiness.
But as a memory, nothwithstanding such conditions, Lucetta's image still
lived on with him, her weaknesses provoking only the gentlest criticism,
and her sufferings attenuating wrath at her concealments to a momentary
spark now and then.
By the end of a year Henchard's little retail seed and grain shop, not
much larger than a cupboard, had developed its trade considerably, and
the stepfather and daughter enjoyed much serenity in the pleasant, sunny
corner in which it stood. The quiet bearing of one who brimmed with an
inner activity characterized Elizabeth-Jane at this period. She took
long walks into the country two or three times a week, mostly in the
direction of Budmouth. Sometimes it occurred to him that when she sat
with him in the evening after those invigorating walks she was civil
rather than affectionate; and he was troubled; one more bitter regret
being added to those he had already experienced at having, by his severe
censorship, frozen up her precious affection when originally offered.
She had her own way in everything now. In going and coming, in buying
and selling, her word was law.
"You have got a new muff, Elizabeth," he said to her one day quite
humbly.
"Yes; I bought it," she said.
He looked at it again as it lay on an adjoining table. The fur was of a
glossy brown, and, though he was no judge of such articles, he thought
it seemed an unusually good one for her to possess.
"Rather costly, I suppose, my dear, was it not?" he hazarded.
"It was rather above my figure," she said quietly. "But it is not
showy."
"O no," said the netted lion, anxious not to pique her in the least.
Some little time after, when the year had advanced into another spring,
he paused opposite her empty bedroom in passing it. He thought of the
time when she had cleared out of his then large and handsome house in
Corn Street, in consequence of his dislike and harshness, and he had
looked into her chamber in just the same way. The present room was much
humbler, but what struck him about it was the abundance of books lying
everywhere. Their number and quality made the meagre furniture that
supported them seem absurdly disproportionate. Some, indeed many, must
have been recently purchased; and though he encouraged her to buy
in reason, he had no notion that she indulged her innate passion so
extensively in proportion to the narrowness of their income. For the
first time he felt a little hurt by what he thought her extravagance,
and resolved to say a word to her about it. But, before he had found
the courage to speak an event happened which set his thoughts flying in
quite another direction.
The busy time of the seed trade was over, and the quiet weeks that
preceded the hay-season had come—setting their special stamp upon
Casterbridge by thronging the market with wood rakes, new waggons in
yellow, green, and red, formidable scythes, and pitchforks of prong
sufficient to skewer up a small family. Henchard, contrary to his wont,
went out one Saturday afternoon towards the market-place from a curious
feeling that he would like to pass a few minutes on the spot of his
former triumphs. Farfrae, to whom he was still a comparative stranger,
stood a few steps below the Corn Exchange door—a usual position with
him at this hour—and he appeared lost in thought about something he was
looking at a little way off.
Henchard's eyes followed Farfrae's, and he saw that the object of his
gaze was no sample-showing farmer, but his own stepdaughter, who had
just come out of a shop over the way. She, on her part, was quite
unconscious of his attention, and in this was less fortunate than those
young women whose very plumes, like those of Juno's bird, are set with
Argus eyes whenever possible admirers are within ken.
Henchard went away, thinking that perhaps there was nothing significant
after all in Farfrae's look at Elizabeth-Jane at that juncture. Yet he
could not forget that the Scotchman had once shown a tender interest
in her, of a fleeting kind. Thereupon promptly came to the surface
that idiosyncrasy of Henchard's which had ruled his courses from the
beginning and had mainly made him what he was. Instead of thinking that
a union between his cherished step-daughter and the energetic thriving
Donald was a thing to be desired for her good and his own, he hated the
very possibility.
Time had been when such instinctive opposition would have taken shape
in action. But he was not now the Henchard of former days. He schooled
himself to accept her will, in this as in other matters, as absolute and
unquestionable. He dreaded lest an antagonistic word should lose for him
such regard as he had regained from her by his devotion, feeling that
to retain this under separation was better than to incur her dislike by
keeping her near.
But the mere thought of such separation fevered his spirit much, and in
the evening he said, with the stillness of suspense: "Have you seen Mr.
Farfrae to-day, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth-Jane started at the question; and it was with some confusion
that she replied "No."
"Oh—that's right—that's right....It was only that I saw him in the
street when we both were there." He was wondering if her embarrassment
justified him in a new suspicion—that the long walks which she had
latterly been taking, that the new books which had so surprised him, had
anything to do with the young man. She did not enlighten him, and lest
silence should allow her to shape thoughts unfavourable to their present
friendly relations, he diverted the discourse into another channel.
Henchard was, by original make, the last man to act stealthily, for good
or for evil. But the solicitus timor of his love—the dependence upon
Elizabeth's regard into which he had declined (or, in another sense,
to which he had advanced)—denaturalized him. He would often weigh
and consider for hours together the meaning of such and such a deed or
phrase of hers, when a blunt settling question would formerly have been
his first instinct. And now, uneasy at the thought of a passion for
Farfrae which should entirely displace her mild filial sympathy with
himself, he observed her going and coming more narrowly.
There was nothing secret in Elizabeth-Jane's movements beyond what
habitual reserve induced, and it may at once be owned on her account
that she was guilty of occasional conversations with Donald when they
chanced to meet. Whatever the origin of her walks on the Budmouth
Road, her return from those walks was often coincident with Farfrae's
emergence from Corn Street for a twenty minutes' blow on that rather
windy highway—just to winnow the seeds and chaff out of him before
sitting down to tea, as he said. Henchard became aware of this by going
to the Ring, and, screened by its enclosure, keeping his eye upon the
road till he saw them meet. His face assumed an expression of extreme
anguish.
"Of her, too, he means to rob me!" he whispered. "But he has the right.
I do not wish to interfere."
The meeting, in truth, was of a very innocent kind, and matters were by
no means so far advanced between the young people as Henchard's jealous
grief inferred. Could he have heard such conversation as passed he would
have been enlightened thus much:—
HE.—"You like walking this way, Miss Henchard—and is it not so?"
(uttered in his undulatory accents, and with an appraising, pondering
gaze at her).
SHE.—"O yes. I have chosen this road latterly. I have no great reason
for it."
HE.—"But that may make a reason for others."
SHE (reddening).—"I don't know that. My reason, however, such as it is,
is that I wish to get a glimpse of the sea every day."
HE.—"Is it a secret why?"
SHE ( reluctantly ).—"Yes."
HE (with the pathos of one of his native ballads).—"Ah, I doubt there
will be any good in secrets! A secret cast a deep shadow over my life.
And well you know what it was."
Elizabeth admitted that she did, but she refrained from confessing why
the sea attracted her. She could not herself account for it fully, not
knowing the secret possibly to be that, in addition to early marine
associations, her blood was a sailor's.
"Thank you for those new books, Mr. Farfrae," she added shyly. "I wonder
if I ought to accept so many!"
"Ay! why not? It gives me more pleasure to get them for you, than you to
have them!"
"It cannot."
They proceeded along the road together till they reached the town, and
their paths diverged.
Henchard vowed that he would leave them to their own devices, put
nothing in the way of their courses, whatever they might mean. If he
were doomed to be bereft of her, so it must be. In the situation which
their marriage would create he could see no locus standi for himself
at all. Farfrae would never recognize him more than superciliously; his
poverty ensured that, no less than his past conduct. And so Elizabeth
would grow to be a stranger to him, and the end of his life would be
friendless solitude.
With such a possibility impending he could not help watchfulness.
Indeed, within certain lines, he had the right to keep an eye upon her
as his charge. The meetings seemed to become matters of course with them
on special days of the week.
At last full proof was given him. He was standing behind a wall close
to the place at which Farfrae encountered her. He heard the young man
address her as "Dearest Elizabeth-Jane," and then kiss her, the girl
looking quickly round to assure herself that nobody was near.
When they were gone their way Henchard came out from the wall, and
mournfully followed them to Casterbridge. The chief looming trouble
in this engagement had not decreased. Both Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane,
unlike the rest of the people, must suppose Elizabeth to be his actual
daughter, from his own assertion while he himself had the same belief;
and though Farfrae must have so far forgiven him as to have no objection
to own him as a father-in-law, intimate they could never be. Thus would
the girl, who was his only friend, be withdrawn from him by degrees
through her husband's influence, and learn to despise him.
Had she lost her heart to any other man in the world than the one he had
rivalled, cursed, wrestled with for life in days before his spirit was
broken, Henchard would have said, "I am content." But content with the
prospect as now depicted was hard to acquire.
There is an outer chamber of the brain in which thoughts unowned,
unsolicited, and of noxious kind, are sometimes allowed to wander for a
moment prior to being sent off whence they came. One of these thoughts
sailed into Henchard's ken now.
Suppose he were to communicate to Farfrae the fact that his betrothed
was not the child of Michael Henchard at all—legally, nobody's child;
how would that correct and leading townsman receive the information?
He might possibly forsake Elizabeth-Jane, and then she would be her
step-sire's own again.
Henchard shuddered, and exclaimed, "God forbid such a thing! Why should
I still be subject to these visitations of the devil, when I try so hard
to keep him away?"
43.
What Henchard saw thus early was, naturally enough, seen at a little
later date by other people. That Mr. Farfrae "walked with that bankrupt
Henchard's step-daughter, of all women," became a common topic in the
town, the simple perambulating term being used hereabout to signify a
wooing; and the nineteen superior young ladies of Casterbridge, who
had each looked upon herself as the only woman capable of making the
merchant Councilman happy, indignantly left off going to the church
Farfrae attended, left off conscious mannerisms, left off putting him in
their prayers at night amongst their blood relations; in short, reverted
to their normal courses.
Perhaps the only inhabitants of the town to whom this looming choice
of the Scotchman's gave unmixed satisfaction were the members of the
philosophic party, which included Longways, Christopher Coney, Billy
Wills, Mr. Buzzford, and the like. The Three Mariners having been, years
before, the house in which they had witnessed the young man and woman's
first and humble appearance on the Casterbridge stage, they took a
kindly interest in their career, not unconnected, perhaps, with visions
of festive treatment at their hands hereafter. Mrs. Stannidge, having
rolled into the large parlour one evening and said that it was a wonder
such a man as Mr. Farfrae, "a pillow of the town," who might have chosen
one of the daughters of the professional men or private residents,
should stoop so low, Coney ventured to disagree with her.
"No, ma'am, no wonder at all. 'Tis she that's a stooping to he—that's
my opinion. A widow man—whose first wife was no credit to him—what is
it for a young perusing woman that's her own mistress and well liked?
But as a neat patching up of things I see much good in it. When a man
have put up a tomb of best marble-stone to the other one, as he've
done, and weeped his fill, and thought it all over, and said to hisself,
'T'other took me in, I knowed this one first; she's a sensible piece for
a partner, and there's no faithful woman in high life now';—well, he
may do worse than not to take her, if she's tender-inclined."
Thus they talked at the Mariners. But we must guard against a too
liberal use of the conventional declaration that a great sensation was
caused by the prospective event, that all the gossips' tongues were set
wagging thereby, and so-on, even though such a declaration might lend
some eclat to the career of our poor only heroine. When all has been
said about busy rumourers, a superficial and temporary thing is the
interest of anybody in affairs which do not directly touch them. It
would be a truer representation to say that Casterbridge (ever excepting
the nineteen young ladies) looked up for a moment at the news, and
withdrawing its attention, went on labouring and victualling, bringing
up its children, and burying its dead, without caring a tittle for
Farfrae's domestic plans.
Not a hint of the matter was thrown out to her stepfather by Elizabeth
herself or by Farfrae either. Reasoning on the cause of their reticence
he concluded that, estimating him by his past, the throbbing pair were
afraid to broach the subject, and looked upon him as an irksome obstacle
whom they would be heartily glad to get out of the way. Embittered as he
was against society, this moody view of himself took deeper and deeper
hold of Henchard, till the daily necessity of facing mankind, and of
them particularly Elizabeth-Jane, became well-nigh more than he could
endure. His health declined; he became morbidly sensitive. He wished he
could escape those who did not want him, and hide his head for ever.
But what if he were mistaken in his views, and there were no necessity
that his own absolute separation from her should be involved in the
incident of her marriage?
He proceeded to draw a picture of the alternative—himself living like a
fangless lion about the back rooms of a house in which his stepdaughter
was mistress, an inoffensive old man, tenderly smiled on by Elizabeth,
and good-naturedly tolerated by her husband. It was terrible to his
pride to think of descending so low; and yet, for the girl's sake
he might put up with anything; even from Farfrae; even snubbings and
masterful tongue-scourgings. The privilege of being in the house she
occupied would almost outweigh the personal humiliation.
Whether this were a dim possibility or the reverse, the courtship—which
it evidently now was—had an absorbing interest for him.
Elizabeth, as has been said, often took her walks on the Budmouth Road,
and Farfrae as often made it convenient to create an accidental meeting
with her there. Two miles out, a quarter of a mile from the highway,
was the prehistoric fort called Mai Dun, of huge dimensions and many
ramparts, within or upon whose enclosures a human being as seen from
the road, was but an insignificant speck. Hitherward Henchard often
resorted, glass in hand, and scanned the hedgeless Via—for it was the
original track laid out by the legions of the Empire—to a distance of
two or three miles, his object being to read the progress of affairs
between Farfrae and his charmer.
One day Henchard was at this spot when a masculine figure came along
the road from Budmouth, and lingered. Applying his telescope to his eye
Henchard expected that Farfrae's features would be disclosed as usual.
But the lenses revealed that today the man was not Elizabeth-Jane's
lover.
It was one clothed as a merchant captain, and as he turned in the
scrutiny of the road he revealed his face. Henchard lived a lifetime the
moment he saw it. The face was Newson's.
Henchard dropped the glass, and for some seconds made no other movement.
Newson waited, and Henchard waited—if that could be called a waiting
which was a transfixture. But Elizabeth-Jane did not come. Something
or other had caused her to neglect her customary walk that day. Perhaps
Farfrae and she had chosen another road for variety's sake. But what did
that amount to? She might be here to-morrow, and in any case Newson, if
bent on a private meeting and a revelation of the truth to her, would
soon make his opportunity.
Then he would tell her not only of his paternity, but of the ruse by
which he had been once sent away. Elizabeth's strict nature would cause
her for the first time to despise her stepfather, would root out his
image as that of an arch-deceiver, and Newson would reign in her heart
in his stead.
But Newson did not see anything of her that morning. Having stood still
awhile he at last retraced his steps, and Henchard felt like a condemned
man who has a few hours' respite. When he reached his own house he found
her there.
"O father!" she said innocently. "I have had a letter—a strange
one—not signed. Somebody has asked me to meet him, either on the
Budmouth Road at noon today, or in the evening at Mr. Farfrae's. He says
he came to see me some time ago, but a trick was played him, so that he
did not see me. I don't understand it; but between you and me I think
Donald is at the bottom of the mystery, and that it is a relation of
his who wants to pass an opinion on his choice. But I did not like to go
till I had seen you. Shall I go?"
Henchard replied heavily, "Yes; go."
The question of his remaining in Casterbridge was for ever disposed of
by this closing in of Newson on the scene. Henchard was not the man to
stand the certainty of condemnation on a matter so near his heart. And
being an old hand at bearing anguish in silence, and haughty withal,
he resolved to make as light as he could of his intentions, while
immediately taking his measures.
He surprised the young woman whom he had looked upon as his all in this
world by saying to her, as if he did not care about her more: "I am
going to leave Casterbridge, Elizabeth-Jane."
"Leave Casterbridge!" she cried, "and leave—me?"
"Yes, this little shop can be managed by you alone as well as by us
both; I don't care about shops and streets and folk—I would rather get
into the country by myself, out of sight, and follow my own ways, and
leave you to yours."
She looked down and her tears fell silently. It seemed to her that this
resolve of his had come on account of her attachment and its probable
result. She showed her devotion to Farfrae, however, by mastering her
emotion and speaking out.
"I am sorry you have decided on this," she said with difficult firmness.
"For I thought it probable—possible—that I might marry Mr. Farfrae
some little time hence, and I did not know that you disapproved of the
step!"
"I approve of anything you desire to do, Izzy," said Henchard huskily.
"If I did not approve it would be no matter! I wish to go away. My
presence might make things awkward in the future, and, in short, it is
best that I go."
Nothing that her affection could urge would induce him to reconsider his
determination; for she could not urge what she did not know—that when
she should learn he was not related to her other than as a step-parent
she would refrain from despising him, and that when she knew what he had
done to keep her in ignorance she would refrain from hating him. It was
his conviction that she would not so refrain; and there existed as yet
neither word nor event which could argue it away.
"Then," she said at last, "you will not be able to come to my wedding;
and that is not as it ought to be."
"I don't want to see it—I don't want to see it!" he exclaimed; adding
more softly, "but think of me sometimes in your future life—you'll do
that, Izzy?—think of me when you are living as the wife of the richest,
the foremost man in the town, and don't let my sins, WHEN YOU KNOW THEM
ALL, cause 'ee to quite forget that though I loved 'ee late I loved 'ee
well."
"It is because of Donald!" she sobbed.
"I don't forbid you to marry him," said Henchard. "Promise not to quite
forget me when——" He meant when Newson should come.
She promised mechanically, in her agitation; and the same evening at
dusk Henchard left the town, to whose development he had been one of
the chief stimulants for many years. During the day he had bought a new
tool-basket, cleaned up his old hay-knife and wimble, set himself up in
fresh leggings, kneenaps and corduroys, and in other ways gone back
to the working clothes of his young manhood, discarding for ever the
shabby-genteel suit of cloth and rusty silk hat that since his decline
had characterized him in the Casterbridge street as a man who had seen
better days.
He went secretly and alone, not a soul of the many who had known him
being aware of his departure. Elizabeth-Jane accompanied him as far as
the second bridge on the highway—for the hour of her appointment with
the unguessed visitor at Farfrae's had not yet arrived—and parted from
him with unfeigned wonder and sorrow, keeping him back a minute or two
before finally letting him go. She watched his form diminish across the
moor, the yellow rush-basket at his back moving up and down with each
tread, and the creases behind his knees coming and going alternately
till she could no longer see them. Though she did not know it Henchard
formed at this moment much the same picture as he had presented when
entering Casterbridge for the first time nearly a quarter of a century
before; except, to be sure, that the serious addition to his years
had considerably lessened the spring to his stride, that his state
of hopelessness had weakened him, and imparted to his shoulders, as
weighted by the basket, a perceptible bend.
He went on till he came to the first milestone, which stood in the bank,
half way up a steep hill. He rested his basket on the top of the stone,
placed his elbows on it, and gave way to a convulsive twitch, which was
worse than a sob, because it was so hard and so dry.
"If I had only got her with me—if I only had!" he said. "Hard work
would be nothing to me then! But that was not to be. I—Cain—go alone
as I deserve—an outcast and a vagabond. But my punishment is not
greater than I can bear!"
He sternly subdued his anguish, shouldered his basket, and went on.
Elizabeth, in the meantime, had breathed him a sigh, recovered her
equanimity, and turned her face to Casterbridge. Before she had reached
the first house she was met in her walk by Donald Farfrae. This was
evidently not their first meeting that day; they joined hands without
ceremony, and Farfrae anxiously asked, "And is he gone—and did you tell
him?—I mean of the other matter—not of ours."
"He is gone; and I told him all I knew of your friend. Donald, who is
he?"
"Well, well, dearie; you will know soon about that. And Mr. Henchard
will hear of it if he does not go far."
"He will go far—he's bent upon getting out of sight and sound!"
She walked beside her lover, and when they reached the Crossways, or
Bow, turned with him into Corn Street instead of going straight on to
her own door. At Farfrae's house they stopped and went in.
Farfrae flung open the door of the ground-floor sitting-room, saying,
"There he is waiting for you," and Elizabeth entered. In the arm-chair
sat the broad-faced genial man who had called on Henchard on a memorable
morning between one and two years before this time, and whom the latter
had seen mount the coach and depart within half-an-hour of his arrival.
It was Richard Newson. The meeting with the light-hearted father from
whom she had been separated half-a-dozen years, as if by death, need
hardly be detailed. It was an affecting one, apart from the question of
paternity. Henchard's departure was in a moment explained. When the
true facts came to be handled the difficulty of restoring her to her
old belief in Newson was not so great as might have seemed likely,
for Henchard's conduct itself was a proof that those facts were true.
Moreover, she had grown up under Newson's paternal care; and even had
Henchard been her father in nature, this father in early domiciliation
might almost have carried the point against him, when the incidents of
her parting with Henchard had a little worn off.
Newson's pride in what she had grown up to be was more than he could
express. He kissed her again and again.
"I've saved you the trouble to come and meet me—ha-ha!" said Newson.
"The fact is that Mr. Farfrae here, he said, 'Come up and stop with me
for a day or two, Captain Newson, and I'll bring her round.' 'Faith,'
says I, 'so I will'; and here I am."
"Well, Henchard is gone," said Farfrae, shutting the door. "He has done
it all voluntarily, and, as I gather from Elizabeth, he has been very
nice with her. I was got rather uneasy; but all is as it should be, and
we will have no more deefficulties at all."
"Now, that's very much as I thought," said Newson, looking into the face
of each by turns. "I said to myself, ay, a hundred times, when I tried
to get a peep at her unknown to herself—'Depend upon it, 'tis best that
I should live on quiet for a few days like this till something turns up
for the better.' I now know you are all right, and what can I wish for
more?"
"Well, Captain Newson, I will be glad to see ye here every day now,
since it can do no harm," said Farfrae. "And what I've been thinking is
that the wedding may as well be kept under my own roof, the house being
large, and you being in lodgings by yourself—so that a great deal of
trouble and expense would be saved ye?—and 'tis a convenience when a
couple's married not to hae far to go to get home!"
"With all my heart," said Captain Newson; "since, as ye say, it can
do no harm, now poor Henchard's gone; though I wouldn't have done it
otherwise, or put myself in his way at all; for I've already in my
lifetime been an intruder into his family quite as far as politeness
can be expected to put up with. But what do the young woman say herself
about it? Elizabeth, my child, come and hearken to what we be talking
about, and not bide staring out o' the window as if ye didn't hear.'
"Donald and you must settle it," murmured Elizabeth, still keeping up a
scrutinizing gaze at some small object in the street.
"Well, then," continued Newson, turning anew to Farfrae with a face
expressing thorough entry into the subject, "that's how we'll have it.
And, Mr. Farfrae, as you provide so much, and houseroom, and all
that, I'll do my part in the drinkables, and see to the rum and
schiedam—maybe a dozen jars will be sufficient?—as many of the folk
will be ladies, and perhaps they won't drink hard enough to make a high
average in the reckoning? But you know best. I've provided for men and
shipmates times enough, but I'm as ignorant as a child how many glasses
of grog a woman, that's not a drinking woman, is expected to consume at
these ceremonies?"
"Oh, none—we'll no want much of that—O no!" said Farfrae, shaking his
head with appalled gravity. "Do you leave all to me."
When they had gone a little further in these particulars Newson, leaning
back in his chair and smiling reflectively at the ceiling, said, "I've
never told ye, or have I, Mr. Farfrae, how Henchard put me off the scent
that time?"
He expressed ignorance of what the Captain alluded to.
"Ah, I thought I hadn't. I resolved that I would not, I remember, not
to hurt the man's name. But now he's gone I can tell ye. Why, I came to
Casterbridge nine or ten months before that day last week that I found
ye out. I had been here twice before then. The first time I passed
through the town on my way westward, not knowing Elizabeth lived here.
Then hearing at some place—I forget where—that a man of the name of
Henchard had been mayor here, I came back, and called at his house one
morning. The old rascal!—he said Elizabeth-Jane had died years ago."
Elizabeth now gave earnest heed to his story.
"Now, it never crossed my mind that the man was selling me a packet,"
continued Newson. "And, if you'll believe me, I was that upset, that
I went back to the coach that had brought me, and took passage onward
without lying in the town half-an-hour. Ha-ha!—'twas a good joke, and
well carried out, and I give the man credit for't!"
Elizabeth-Jane was amazed at the intelligence. "A joke?—O no!" she
cried. "Then he kept you from me, father, all those months, when you
might have been here?"
The father admitted that such was the case.
"He ought not to have done it!" said Farfrae.
Elizabeth sighed. "I said I would never forget him. But O! I think I
ought to forget him now!"
Newson, like a good many rovers and sojourners among strange men and
strange moralities, failed to perceive the enormity of Henchard's crime,
notwithstanding that he himself had been the chief sufferer therefrom.
Indeed, the attack upon the absent culprit waxing serious, he began to
take Henchard's part.
"Well, 'twas not ten words that he said, after all," Newson pleaded.
"And how could he know that I should be such a simpleton as to believe
him? 'Twas as much my fault as his, poor fellow!"
"No," said Elizabeth-Jane firmly, in her revulsion of feeling. "He knew
your disposition—you always were so trusting, father; I've heard my
mother say so hundreds of times—and he did it to wrong you. After
weaning me from you these five years by saying he was my father, he
should not have done this."
Thus they conversed; and there was nobody to set before Elizabeth
any extenuation of the absent one's deceit. Even had he been present
Henchard might scarce have pleaded it, so little did he value himself or
his good name.
"Well, well—never mind—it is all over and past," said Newson
good-naturedly. "Now, about this wedding again."
44.
Meanwhile, the man of their talk had pursued his solitary way eastward
till weariness overtook him, and he looked about for a place of rest.
His heart was so exacerbated at parting from the girl that he could not
face an inn, or even a household of the most humble kind; and entering
a field he lay down under a wheatrick, feeling no want of food. The very
heaviness of his soul caused him to sleep profoundly.
The bright autumn sun shining into his eyes across the stubble awoke him
the next morning early. He opened his basket and ate for his breakfast
what he had packed for his supper; and in doing so overhauled the
remainder of his kit. Although everything he brought necessitated
carriage at his own back, he had secreted among his tools a few of
Elizabeth-Jane's cast-off belongings, in the shape of gloves, shoes, a
scrap of her handwriting, and the like, and in his pocket he carried a
curl of her hair. Having looked at these things he closed them up again,
and went onward.
During five consecutive days Henchard's rush basket rode along upon
his shoulder between the highway hedges, the new yellow of the rushes
catching the eye of an occasional field-labourer as he glanced through
the quickset, together with the wayfarer's hat and head, and down-turned
face, over which the twig shadows moved in endless procession. It now
became apparent that the direction of his journey was Weydon Priors,
which he reached on the afternoon of the sixth day.
The renowned hill whereon the annual fair had been held for so many
generations was now bare of human beings, and almost of aught besides. A
few sheep grazed thereabout, but these ran off when Henchard halted upon
the summit. He deposited his basket upon the turf, and looked about with
sad curiosity; till he discovered the road by which his wife and himself
had entered on the upland so memorable to both, five-and-twenty years
before.
"Yes, we came up that way," he said, after ascertaining his bearings.
"She was carrying the baby, and I was reading a ballet-sheet. Then we
crossed about here—she so sad and weary, and I speaking to her hardly
at all, because of my cursed pride and mortification at being poor.
Then we saw the tent—that must have stood more this way." He walked to
another spot, it was not really where the tent had stood but it seemed
so to him. "Here we went in, and here we sat down. I faced this way.
Then I drank, and committed my crime. It must have been just on that
very pixy-ring that she was standing when she said her last words to me
before going off with him; I can hear their sound now, and the sound of
her sobs: 'O Mike! I've lived with thee all this while, and had nothing
but temper. Now I'm no more to 'ee—I'll try my luck elsewhere.'"
He experienced not only the bitterness of a man who finds, in looking
back upon an ambitious course, that what he has sacrificed in sentiment
was worth as much as what he has gained in substance; but the superadded
bitterness of seeing his very recantation nullified. He had been sorry
for all this long ago; but his attempts to replace ambition by love had
been as fully foiled as his ambition itself. His wronged wife had foiled
them by a fraud so grandly simple as to be almost a virtue. It was an
odd sequence that out of all this tampering with social law came that
flower of Nature, Elizabeth. Part of his wish to wash his hands of
life arose from his perception of its contrarious inconsistencies—of
Nature's jaunty readiness to support unorthodox social principles.
He intended to go on from this place—visited as an act of penance—into
another part of the country altogether. But he could not help thinking
of Elizabeth, and the quarter of the horizon in which she lived. Out of
this it happened that the centrifugal tendency imparted by weariness of
the world was counteracted by the centripetal influence of his love
for his stepdaughter. As a consequence, instead of following a straight
course yet further away from Casterbridge, Henchard gradually, almost
unconsciously, deflected from that right line of his first intention;
till, by degrees, his wandering, like that of the Canadian woodsman,
became part of a circle of which Casterbridge formed the centre. In
ascending any particular hill he ascertained the bearings as nearly as
he could by means of the sun, moon, or stars, and settled in his mind
the exact direction in which Casterbridge and Elizabeth-Jane lay.
Sneering at himself for his weakness he yet every hour—nay, every few
minutes—conjectured her actions for the time being—her sitting down
and rising up, her goings and comings, till thought of Newson's and
Farfrae's counter-influence would pass like a cold blast over a pool,
and efface her image. And then he would say to himself, "O you fool! All
this about a daughter who is no daughter of thine!"
At length he obtained employment at his own occupation of hay-trusser,
work of that sort being in demand at this autumn time. The scene of his
hiring was a pastoral farm near the old western highway, whose course
was the channel of all such communications as passed between the busy
centres of novelty and the remote Wessex boroughs. He had chosen the
neighbourhood of this artery from a sense that, situated here, though at
a distance of fifty miles, he was virtually nearer to her whose welfare
was so dear than he would be at a roadless spot only half as remote.
And thus Henchard found himself again on the precise standing which he
had occupied a quarter of a century before. Externally there was nothing
to hinder his making another start on the upward slope, and by his new
lights achieving higher things than his soul in its half-formed state
had been able to accomplish. But the ingenious machinery contrived
by the Gods for reducing human possibilities of amelioration to a
minimum—which arranges that wisdom to do shall come pari passu with
the departure of zest for doing—stood in the way of all that. He had
no wish to make an arena a second time of a world that had become a mere
painted scene to him.
Very often, as his hay-knife crunched down among the sweet-smelling
grassy stems, he would survey mankind and say to himself: "Here and
everywhere be folk dying before their time like frosted leaves, though
wanted by their families, the country, and the world; while I, an
outcast, an encumberer of the ground, wanted by nobody, and despised by
all, live on against my will!"
He often kept an eager ear upon the conversation of those who passed
along the road—not from a general curiosity by any means—but in the
hope that among these travellers between Casterbridge and London
some would, sooner or later, speak of the former place. The distance,
however, was too great to lend much probability to his desire; and the
highest result of his attention to wayside words was that he did
indeed hear the name "Casterbridge" uttered one day by the driver of
a road-waggon. Henchard ran to the gate of the field he worked in, and
hailed the speaker, who was a stranger.
"Yes—I've come from there, maister," he said, in answer to Henchard's
inquiry. "I trade up and down, ye know; though, what with this
travelling without horses that's getting so common, my work will soon be
done."
"Anything moving in the old place, mid I ask?"
"All the same as usual."
"I've heard that Mr. Farfrae, the late mayor, is thinking of getting
married. Now is that true or not?"
"I couldn't say for the life o' me. O no, I should think not."
"But yes, John—you forget," said a woman inside the waggon-tilt. "What
were them packages we carr'd there at the beginning o' the week? Surely
they said a wedding was coming off soon—on Martin's Day?"
The man declared he remembered nothing about it; and the waggon went on
jangling over the hill.
Henchard was convinced that the woman's memory served her well. The date
was an extremely probable one, there being no reason for delay on either
side. He might, for that matter, write and inquire of Elizabeth; but his
instinct for sequestration had made the course difficult. Yet before he
left her she had said that for him to be absent from her wedding was not
as she wished it to be.
The remembrance would continually revive in him now that it was not
Elizabeth and Farfrae who had driven him away from them, but his own
haughty sense that his presence was no longer desired. He had assumed
the return of Newson without absolute proof that the Captain meant to
return; still less that Elizabeth-Jane would welcome him; and with no
proof whatever that if he did return he would stay. What if he had
been mistaken in his views; if there had been no necessity that his
own absolute separation from her he loved should be involved in these
untoward incidents? To make one more attempt to be near her: to go back,
to see her, to plead his cause before her, to ask forgiveness for his
fraud, to endeavour strenuously to hold his own in her love; it was
worth the risk of repulse, ay, of life itself.
But how to initiate this reversal of all his former resolves without
causing husband and wife to despise him for his inconsistency was a
question which made him tremble and brood.
He cut and cut his trusses two days more, and then he concluded his
hesitancies by a sudden reckless determination to go to the wedding
festivity. Neither writing nor message would be expected of him. She had
regretted his decision to be absent—his unanticipated presence would
fill the little unsatisfied corner that would probably have place in her
just heart without him.
To intrude as little of his personality as possible upon a gay event
with which that personality could show nothing in keeping, he decided
not to make his appearance till evening—when stiffness would have worn
off, and a gentle wish to let bygones be bygones would exercise its sway
in all hearts.
He started on foot, two mornings before St. Martin's-tide, allowing
himself about sixteen miles to perform for each of the three days'
journey, reckoning the wedding-day as one. There were only two towns,
Melchester and Shottsford, of any importance along his course, and at
the latter he stopped on the second night, not only to rest, but to
prepare himself for the next evening.
Possessing no clothes but the working suit he stood in—now stained and
distorted by their two months of hard usage, he entered a shop to make
some purchases which should put him, externally at any rate, a little in
harmony with the prevailing tone of the morrow. A rough yet respectable
coat and hat, a new shirt and neck-cloth, were the chief of these; and
having satisfied himself that in appearance at least he would not now
offend her, he proceeded to the more interesting particular of buying
her some present.
What should that present be? He walked up and down the street, regarding
dubiously the display in the shop windows, from a gloomy sense that what
he might most like to give her would be beyond his miserable pocket.
At length a caged goldfinch met his eye. The cage was a plain and small
one, the shop humble, and on inquiry he concluded he could afford
the modest sum asked. A sheet of newspaper was tied round the little
creature's wire prison, and with the wrapped up cage in his hand
Henchard sought a lodging for the night.
Next day he set out upon the last stage, and was soon within the
district which had been his dealing ground in bygone years. Part of the
distance he travelled by carrier, seating himself in the darkest corner
at the back of that trader's van; and as the other passengers, mainly
women going short journeys, mounted and alighted in front of Henchard,
they talked over much local news, not the least portion of this being
the wedding then in course of celebration at the town they were nearing.
It appeared from their accounts that the town band had been hired for
the evening party, and, lest the convivial instincts of that body
should get the better of their skill, the further step had been taken of
engaging the string band from Budmouth, so that there would be a reserve
of harmony to fall back upon in case of need.
He heard, however, but few particulars beyond those known to him
already, the incident of the deepest interest on the journey being the
soft pealing of the Casterbridge bells, which reached the travellers'
ears while the van paused on the top of Yalbury Hill to have the drag
lowered. The time was just after twelve o'clock.
Those notes were a signal that all had gone well; that there had been
no slip 'twixt cup and lip in this case; that Elizabeth-Jane and Donald
Farfrae were man and wife.
Henchard did not care to ride any further with his chattering companions
after hearing this sound. Indeed, it quite unmanned him; and in
pursuance of his plan of not showing himself in Casterbridge street till
evening, lest he should mortify Farfrae and his bride, he alighted here,
with his bundle and bird-cage, and was soon left as a lonely figure on
the broad white highway.
It was the hill near which he had waited to meet Farfrae, almost two
years earlier, to tell him of the serious illness of his wife Lucetta.
The place was unchanged; the same larches sighed the same notes; but
Farfrae had another wife—and, as Henchard knew, a better one. He only
hoped that Elizabeth-Jane had obtained a better home than had been hers
at the former time.
He passed the remainder of the afternoon in a curious highstrung
condition, unable to do much but think of the approaching meeting with
her, and sadly satirize himself for his emotions thereon, as a Samson
shorn. Such an innovation on Casterbridge customs as a flitting of
bridegroom and bride from the town immediately after the ceremony, was
not likely, but if it should have taken place he would wait till their
return. To assure himself on this point he asked a market-man when near
the borough if the newly-married couple had gone away, and was promptly
informed that they had not; they were at that hour, according to all
accounts, entertaining a houseful of guests at their home in Corn
Street.
Henchard dusted his boots, washed his hands at the riverside, and
proceeded up the town under the feeble lamps. He need have made no
inquiries beforehand, for on drawing near Farfrae's residence it was
plain to the least observant that festivity prevailed within, and that
Donald himself shared it, his voice being distinctly audible in the
street, giving strong expression to a song of his dear native country
that he loved so well as never to have revisited it. Idlers were
standing on the pavement in front; and wishing to escape the notice of
these Henchard passed quickly on to the door.
It was wide open, the hall was lighted extravagantly, and people were
going up and down the stairs. His courage failed him; to enter footsore,
laden, and poorly dressed into the midst of such resplendency was to
bring needless humiliation upon her he loved, if not to court repulse
from her husband. Accordingly he went round into the street at the back
that he knew so well, entered the garden, and came quietly into the
house through the kitchen, temporarily depositing the bird and cage
under a bush outside, to lessen the awkwardness of his arrival.
Solitude and sadness had so emolliated Henchard that he now feared
circumstances he would formerly have scorned, and he began to wish that
he had not taken upon himself to arrive at such a juncture. However,
his progress was made unexpectedly easy by his discovering alone in
the kitchen an elderly woman who seemed to be acting as provisional
housekeeper during the convulsions from which Farfrae's establishment
was just then suffering. She was one of those people whom nothing
surprises, and though to her, a total stranger, his request must have
seemed odd, she willingly volunteered to go up and inform the master and
mistress of the house that "a humble old friend" had come.
On second thought she said that he had better not wait in the kitchen,
but come up into the little back-parlour, which was empty. He thereupon
followed her thither, and she left him. Just as she got across the
landing to the door of the best parlour a dance was struck up, and she
returned to say that she would wait till that was over before announcing
him—Mr. and Mrs. Farfrae having both joined in the figure.
The door of the front room had been taken off its hinges to give more
space, and that of the room Henchard sat in being ajar, he could see
fractional parts of the dancers whenever their gyrations brought them
near the doorway, chiefly in the shape of the skirts of dresses and
streaming curls of hair; together with about three-fifths of the band in
profile, including the restless shadow of a fiddler's elbow, and the tip
of the bass-viol bow.
The gaiety jarred upon Henchard's spirits; and he could not quite
understand why Farfrae, a much-sobered man, and a widower, who had had
his trials, should have cared for it all, notwithstanding the fact that
he was quite a young man still, and quickly kindled to enthusiasm by
dance and song. That the quiet Elizabeth, who had long ago appraised
life at a moderate value, and who knew in spite of her maidenhood that
marriage was as a rule no dancing matter, should have had zest for this
revelry surprised him still more. However, young people could not be
quite old people, he concluded, and custom was omnipotent.
With the progress of the dance the performers spread out somewhat,
and then for the first time he caught a glimpse of the once despised
daughter who had mastered him, and made his heart ache. She was in a
dress of white silk or satin, he was not near enough to say which—snowy
white, without a tinge of milk or cream; and the expression of her face
was one of nervous pleasure rather than of gaiety. Presently Farfrae
came round, his exuberant Scotch movement making him conspicuous in a
moment. The pair were not dancing together, but Henchard could discern
that whenever the chances of the figure made them the partners of a
moment their emotions breathed a much subtler essence than at other
times.
By degrees Henchard became aware that the measure was trod by some one
who out-Farfraed Farfrae in saltatory intenseness. This was strange,
and it was stranger to find that the eclipsing personage was
Elizabeth-Jane's partner. The first time that Henchard saw him he was
sweeping grandly round, his head quivering and low down, his legs in the
form of an X and his back towards the door. The next time he came round
in the other direction, his white waist-coat preceding his face, and his
toes preceding his white waistcoat. That happy face—Henchard's complete
discomfiture lay in it. It was Newson's, who had indeed come and
supplanted him.
Henchard pushed to the door, and for some seconds made no other
movement. He rose to his feet, and stood like a dark ruin, obscured by
"the shade from his own soul up-thrown."
But he was no longer the man to stand these reverses unmoved. His
agitation was great, and he would fain have been gone, but before
he could leave the dance had ended, the housekeeper had informed
Elizabeth-Jane of the stranger who awaited her, and she entered the room
immediately.
"Oh—it is—Mr. Henchard!" she said, starting back.
"What, Elizabeth?" he cried, as she seized her hand. "What do you
say?—Mr. Henchard? Don't, don't scourge me like that! Call me worthless
old Henchard—anything—but don't 'ee be so cold as this! O my maid—I
see you have another—a real father in my place. Then you know all; but
don't give all your thought to him! Do ye save a little room for me!"
She flushed up, and gently drew her hand away. "I could have loved you
always—I would have, gladly," she said. "But how can I when I know you
have deceived me so—so bitterly deceived me! You persuaded me that
my father was not my father—allowed me to live on in ignorance of the
truth for years; and then when he, my warm-hearted real father, came
to find me, cruelly sent him away with a wicked invention of my death,
which nearly broke his heart. O how can I love as I once did a man who
has served us like this!"
Henchard's lips half parted to begin an explanation. But he shut them up
like a vice, and uttered not a sound. How should he, there and then, set
before her with any effect the palliatives of his great faults—that he
had himself been deceived in her identity at first, till informed by
her mother's letter that his own child had died; that, in the second
accusation, his lie had been the last desperate throw of a gamester
who loved her affection better than his own honour? Among the many
hindrances to such a pleading not the least was this, that he did not
sufficiently value himself to lessen his sufferings by strenuous appeal
or elaborate argument.
Waiving, therefore, his privilege of self-defence, he regarded only his
discomposure. "Don't ye distress yourself on my account," he said, with
proud superiority. "I would not wish it—at such a time, too, as this.
I have done wrong in coming to 'ee—I see my error. But it is only for
once, so forgive it. I'll never trouble 'ee again, Elizabeth-Jane—no,
not to my dying day! Good-night. Good-bye!"
Then, before she could collect her thoughts, Henchard went out from her
rooms, and departed from the house by the back way as he had come; and
she saw him no more.
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.
End of Chapter 45 End of THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
by Thomas Hardy �