Part 1 out of 8
The Mayor of Casterbridge
by Thomas Hardy
One evening of late summer, before the nineteenth century
had reached one-third of its span, a young man and woman,
the latter carrying a child, were approaching the large
village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper Wessex, on foot. They
were plainly but not ill clad, though the thick hoar of dust
which had accumulated on their shoes and garments from an
obviously long journey lent a disadvantageous shabbiness to
their appearance just now.
The man was of fine figure, swarthy, and stern in aspect;
and he showed in profile a facial angle so slightly inclined
as to be almost perpendicular. He wore a short jacket of
brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which
was a fustian waistcoat with white horn buttons, breeches of
the same, tanned leggings, and a straw hat overlaid with
black glazed canvas. At his back he carried by a looped
strap a rush basket, from which protruded at one end the
crutch of a hay-knife, a wimble for hay-bonds being also
visible in the aperture. His measured, springless walk was
the walk of the skilled countryman as distinct from the
desultory shamble of the general labourer; while in the turn
and plant of each foot there was, further, a dogged and
cynical indifference personal to himself, showing its
presence even in the regularly interchanging fustian folds,
now in the left leg, now in the right, as he paced along.
What was really peculiar, however, in this couple's
progress, and would have attracted the attention of any
casual observer otherwise disposed to overlook them, was the
perfect silence they preserved. They walked side by side in
such a way as to suggest afar off the low, easy,
confidential chat of people full of reciprocity; but on
closer view it could be discerned that the man was reading,
or pretending to read, a ballad sheet which he kept before
his eyes with some difficulty by the hand that was passed
through the basket strap. Whether this apparent cause were
the real cause, or whether it were an assumed one to escape
an intercourse that would have been irksome to him, nobody
but himself could have said precisely; but his taciturnity
was unbroken, and the woman enjoyed no society whatever from
his presence. Virtually she walked the highway alone, save
for the child she bore. Sometimes the man's bent elbow
almost touched her shoulder, for she kept as close to his
side as was possible without actual contact, but she seemed
to have no idea of taking his arm, nor he of offering it;
and far from exhibiting surprise at his ignoring silence she
appeared to receive it as a natural thing. If any word at
all were uttered by the little group, it was an occasional
whisper of the woman to the child--a tiny girl in short
clothes and blue boots of knitted yarn--and the murmured
babble of the child in reply.
The chief--almost the only--attraction of the young woman's
face was its mobility. When she looked down sideways to the
girl she became pretty, and even handsome, particularly that
in the action her features caught slantwise the rays of the
strongly coloured sun, which made transparencies of her
eyelids and nostrils and set fire on her lips. When she
plodded on in the shade of the hedge, silently thinking, she
had the hard, half-apathetic expression of one who deems
anything possible at the hands of Time and Chance except,
perhaps, fair play. The first phase was the work of Nature,
the second probably of civilization.
That the man and woman were husband and wife, and the
parents of the girl in arms there could be little doubt. No
other than such relationship would have accounted for the
atmosphere of stale familiarity which the trio carried along
with them like a nimbus as they moved down the road.
The wife mostly kept her eyes fixed ahead, though with
little interest--the scene for that matter being one that
might have been matched at almost any spot in any county in
England at this time of the year; a road neither straight
nor crooked, neither level nor hilly, bordered by hedges,
trees, and other vegetation, which had entered the
blackened-green stage of colour that the doomed leaves pass
through on their way to dingy, and yellow, and red. The
grassy margin of the bank, and the nearest hedgerow boughs,
were powdered by the dust that had been stirred over them by
hasty vehicles, the same dust as it lay on the road
deadening their footfalls like a carpet; and this, with the
aforesaid total absence of conversation, allowed every
extraneous sound to be heard.
For a long time there was none, beyond the voice of a weak
bird singing a trite old evening song that might doubtless
have been heard on the hill at the same hour, and with the
self-same trills, quavers, and breves, at any sunset of that
season for centuries untold. But as they approached the
village sundry distant shouts and rattles reached their ears
from some elevated spot in that direction, as yet screened
from view by foliage. When the outlying houses of Weydon-
Priors could just be described, the family group was met by
a turnip-hoer with his hoe on his shoulder, and his dinner-
bag suspended from it. The reader promptly glanced up.
"Any trade doing here?" he asked phlegmatically, designating
the village in his van by a wave of the broadsheet. And
thinking the labourer did not understand him, he added,
"Anything in the hay-trussing line?"
The turnip-hoer had already begun shaking his head. "Why,
save the man, what wisdom's in him that 'a should come to
Weydon for a job of that sort this time o' year?"
"Then is there any house to let--a little small new cottage
just a builded, or such like?" asked the other.
The pessimist still maintained a negative. "Pulling down is
more the nater of Weydon. There were five houses cleared
away last year, and three this; and the volk nowhere to go--
no, not so much as a thatched hurdle; that's the way o'
The hay-trusser, which he obviously was, nodded with some
superciliousness. Looking towards the village, he
continued, "There is something going on here, however, is
"Ay. 'Tis Fair Day. Though what you hear now is little
more than the clatter and scurry of getting away the money
o' children and fools, for the real business is done earlier
than this. I've been working within sound o't all day, but
I didn't go up--not I. 'Twas no business of mine."
The trusser and his family proceeded on their way, and soon
entered the Fair-field, which showed standing-places and
pens where many hundreds of horses and sheep had been
exhibited and sold in the forenoon, but were now in great
part taken away. At present, as their informant had
observed, but little real business remained on hand, the
chief being the sale by auction of a few inferior animals,
that could not otherwise be disposed of, and had been
absolutely refused by the better class of traders, who came
and went early. Yet the crowd was denser now than during
the morning hours, the frivolous contingent of visitors,
including journeymen out for a holiday, a stray soldier or
two come on furlough, village shopkeepers, and the like,
having latterly flocked in; persons whose activities found a
congenial field among the peep-shows, toy-stands, waxworks,
inspired monsters, disinterested medical men who travelled
for the public good, thimble-riggers, nick-nack vendors, and
readers of Fate.
Neither of our pedestrians had much heart for these things,
and they looked around for a refreshment tent among the many
which dotted the down. Two, which stood nearest to them in
the ochreous haze of expiring sunlight, seemed almost
equally inviting. One was formed of new, milk-hued canvas,
and bore red flags on its summit; it announced "Good Home-
brewed Beer, Ale, and Cyder." The other was less new; a
little iron stove-pipe came out of it at the back and in
front appeared the placard, "Good Furmity Sold Hear." The
man mentally weighed the two inscriptions and inclined to
the former tent.
"No--no--the other one," said the woman. "I always like
furmity; and so does Elizabeth-Jane; and so will you. It is
nourishing after a long hard day."
"I've never tasted it," said the man. However, he gave way
to her representations, and they entered the furmity booth
A rather numerous company appeared within, seated at the
long narrow tables that ran down the tent on each side. At
the upper end stood a stove, containing a charcoal fire,
over which hung a large three-legged crock, sufficiently
polished round the rim to show that it was made of bell-
metal. A haggish creature of about fifty presided, in a
white apron, which as it threw an air of respectability over
her as far as it extended, was made so wide as to reach
nearly round her waist. She slowly stirred the contents of
the pot. The dull scrape of her large spoon was audible
throughout the tent as she thus kept from burning the
mixture of corn in the grain, flour, milk, raisins,
currants, and what not, that composed the antiquated slop in
which she dealt. Vessels holding the separate ingredients
stood on a white-clothed table of boards and trestles close by.
The young man and woman ordered a basin each of the mixture,
steaming hot, and sat down to consume it at leisure. This
was very well so far, for furmity, as the woman had said, was
nourishing, and as proper a food as could be obtained within
the four seas; though, to those not accustomed to it, the grains
of wheat swollen as large as lemon-pips, which floated on its
surface, might have a deterrent effect at first.
But there was more in that tent than met the cursory glance;
and the man, with the instinct of a perverse character,
scented it quickly. After a mincing attack on his bowl, he
watched the hag's proceedings from the corner of his eye,
and saw the game she played. He winked to her, and passed
up his basin in reply to her nod; when she took a bottle
from under the table, slily measured out a quantity of its
contents, and tipped the same into the man's furmity. The
liquor poured in was rum. The man as slily sent back money
He found the concoction, thus strongly laced, much more to
his satisfaction than it had been in its natural state. His
wife had observed the proceeding with much uneasiness; but
he persuaded her to have hers laced also, and she agreed to
a milder allowance after some misgiving.
The man finished his basin, and called for another, the rum
being signalled for in yet stronger proportion. The effect
of it was soon apparent in his manner, and his wife but too
sadly perceived that in strenuously steering off the rocks
of the licensed liquor-tent she had only got into maelstrom
depths here amongst the smugglers.
The child began to prattle impatiently, and the wife more
than once said to her husband, "Michael, how about our
lodging? You know we may have trouble in getting it if we
don't go soon."
But he turned a deaf ear to those bird-like chirpings. He
talked loud to the company. The child's black eyes, after
slow, round, ruminating gazes at the candles when they were
lighted, fell together; then they opened, then shut again,
and she slept.
At the end of the first basin the man had risen to serenity;
at the second he was jovial; at the third, argumentative, at
the fourth, the qualities signified by the shape of his
face, the occasional clench of his mouth, and the fiery
spark of his dark eye, began to tell in his conduct; he was
overbearing--even brilliantly quarrelsome.
The conversation took a high turn, as it often does on such
occasions. The ruin of good men by bad wives, and, more
particularly, the frustration of many a promising youth's
high aims and hopes and the extinction of his energies by an
early imprudent marriage, was the theme.
"I did for myself that way thoroughly," said the trusser
with a contemplative bitterness that was well-night
resentful. "I married at eighteen, like the fool that I
was; and this is the consequence o't." He pointed at himself
and family with a wave of the hand intended to bring out the
penuriousness of the exhibition.
The young woman his wife, who seemed accustomed to such
remarks, acted as if she did not hear them, and continued
her intermittent private words of tender trifles to the
sleeping and waking child, who was just big enough to be
placed for a moment on the bench beside her when she wished
to ease her arms. The man continued--
"I haven't more than fifteen shillings in the world, and yet
I am a good experienced hand in my line. I'd challenge
England to beat me in the fodder business; and if I were a
free man again I'd be worth a thousand pound before I'd done
o't. But a fellow never knows these little things till all
chance of acting upon 'em is past."
The auctioneer selling the old horses in the field outside
could be heard saying, "Now this is the last lot--now who'll
take the last lot for a song? Shall I say forty shillings?
'Tis a very promising broodmare, a trifle over five years
old, and nothing the matter with the hoss at all, except
that she's a little holler in the back and had her left eye
knocked out by the kick of another, her own sister, coming
along the road."
"For my part I don't see why men who have got wives and
don't want 'em, shouldn't get rid of 'em as these gipsy
fellows do their old horses," said the man in the tent.
"Why shouldn't they put 'em up and sell 'em by auction to
men who are in need of such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I'd
sell mine this minute if anybody would buy her!"
"There's them that would do that," some of the guests
replied, looking at the woman, who was by no means ill-favoured.
"True," said a smoking gentleman, whose coat had the fine
polish about the collar, elbows, seams, and shoulder-blades
that long-continued friction with grimy surfaces will
produce, and which is usually more desired on furniture than
on clothes. From his appearance he had possibly been in
former time groom or coachman to some neighbouring county
family. "I've had my breedings in as good circles, I may
say, as any man," he added, "and I know true cultivation, or
nobody do; and I can declare she's got it--in the bone, mind
ye, I say--as much as any female in the fair--though it may
want a little bringing out." Then, crossing his legs, he
resumed his pipe with a nicely-adjusted gaze at a point in
The fuddled young husband stared for a few seconds at this
unexpected praise of his wife, half in doubt of the wisdom of
his own attitude towards the possessor of such qualities. But
he speedily lapsed into his former conviction, and said harshly--
"Well, then, now is your chance; I am open to an offer for
this gem o' creation."
She turned to her husband and murmured, "Michael, you have
talked this nonsense in public places before. A joke is a
joke, but you may make it once too often, mind!"
"I know I've said it before; I meant it. All I want is a
At the moment a swallow, one among the last of the season,
which had by chance found its way through an opening into
the upper part of the tent, flew to and from quick curves
above their heads, causing all eyes to follow it absently.
In watching the bird till it made its escape the assembled
company neglected to respond to the workman's offer, and the
But a quarter of an hour later the man, who had gone on
lacing his furmity more and more heavily, though he was
either so strong-minded or such an intrepid toper that he
still appeared fairly sober, recurred to the old strain, as
in a musical fantasy the instrument fetches up the original
theme. "Here--I am waiting to know about this offer of
mine. The woman is no good to me. Who'll have her?"
The company had by this time decidedly degenerated, and the
renewed inquiry was received with a laugh of appreciation.
The woman whispered; she was imploring and anxious: "Come,
come, it is getting dark, and this nonsense won't do. If
you don't come along, I shall go without you. Come!"
She waited and waited; yet he did not move. In ten minutes
the man broke in upon the desultory conversation of the
furmity drinkers with. "I asked this question, and nobody
answered to 't. Will any Jack Rag or Tom Straw among ye buy
The woman's manner changed, and her face assumed the grim
shape and colour of which mention has been made.
"Mike, Mike," she said; "this is getting serious. O!--too
"Will anybody buy her?" said the man.
"I wish somebody would," said she firmly. "Her present
owner is not at all to her liking!"
"Nor you to mine," said he. "So we are agreed about that.
Gentlemen, you hear? It's an agreement to part. She shall
take the girl if she wants to, and go her ways. I'll take
my tools, and go my ways. 'Tis simple as Scripture history.
Now then, stand up, Susan, and show yourself."
"Don't, my chiel," whispered a buxom staylace dealer in
voluminous petticoats, who sat near the woman; "yer good man
don't know what he's saying."
The woman, however, did stand up. "Now, who's auctioneer?"
cried the hay-trusser.
"I be," promptly answered a short man, with a nose
resembling a copper knob, a damp voice, and eyes like
button-holes. "Who'll make an offer for this lady?"
The woman looked on the ground, as if she maintained her
position by a supreme effort of will.
"Five shillings," said someone, at which there was a laugh.
"No insults," said the husband. "Who'll say a guinea?"
Nobody answered; and the female dealer in staylaces
"Behave yerself moral, good man, for Heaven's love! Ah, what
a cruelty is the poor soul married to! Bed and board is dear
at some figures 'pon my 'vation 'tis!"
"Set it higher, auctioneer," said the trusser.
"Two guineas!" said the auctioneer; and no one replied.
"If they don't take her for that, in ten seconds they'll
have to give more," said the husband. "Very well. Now
auctioneer, add another."
"Three guineas--going for three guineas!" said the rheumy
"No bid?" said the husband. "Good Lord, why she's cost me
fifty times the money, if a penny. Go on."
"Four guineas!" cried the auctioneer.
"I'll tell ye what--I won't sell her for less than five,"
said the husband, bringing down his fist so that the basins
danced. "I'll sell her for five guineas to any man that
will pay me the money, and treat her well; and he shall have
her for ever, and never hear aught o' me. But she shan't go
for less. Now then--five guineas--and she's yours. Susan,
She bowed her head with absolute indifference.
"Five guineas," said the auctioneer, "or she'll be
withdrawn. Do anybody give it? The last time. Yes or no?"
"Yes," said a loud voice from the doorway.
All eyes were turned. Standing in the triangular opening
which formed the door of the tent was a sailor, who,
unobserved by the rest, had arrived there within the last
two or three minutes. A dead silence followed his
"You say you do?" asked the husband, staring at him.
"I say so," replied the sailor.
"Saying is one thing, and paying is another. Where's the
The sailor hesitated a moment, looked anew at the woman,
came in, unfolded five crisp pieces of paper, and threw them
down upon the tablecloth. They were Bank-of-England notes
for five pounds. Upon the face of this he clinked down the
shillings severally--one, two, three, four, five.
The sight of real money in full amount, in answer to a
challenge for the same till then deemed slightly
hypothetical had a great effect upon the spectators. Their
eyes became riveted upon the faces of the chief actors, and
then upon the notes as they lay, weighted by the shillings,
on the table.
Up to this moment it could not positively have been asserted
that the man, in spite of his tantalizing declaration, was
really in earnest. The spectators had indeed taken the
proceedings throughout as a piece of mirthful irony carried
to extremes; and had assumed that, being out of work, he
was, as a consequence, out of temper with the world, and
society, and his nearest kin. But with the demand and
response of real cash the jovial frivolity of the scene
departed. A lurid colour seemed to fill the tent, and
change the aspect of all therein. The mirth-wrinkles left
the listeners' faces, and they waited with parting lips.
"Now," said the woman, breaking the silence, so that her low
dry voice sounded quite loud, "before you go further,
Michael, listen to me. If you touch that money, I and this
girl go with the man. Mind, it is a joke no longer."
"A joke? Of course it is not a joke!" shouted her husband,
his resentment rising at her suggestion. "I take the money;
the sailor takes you. That's plain enough. It has been
done elsewhere--and why not here?"
"'Tis quite on the understanding that the young woman is
willing," said the sailor blandly. "I wouldn't hurt her
feelings for the world."
"Faith, nor I," said her husband. "But she is willing,
provided she can have the child. She said so only the other
day when I talked o't!"
"That you swear?" said the sailor to her.
"I do," said she, after glancing at her husband's face and
seeing no repentance there.
"Very well, she shall have the child, and the bargain's
complete," said the trusser. He took the sailor's notes and
deliberately folded them, and put them with the shillings in
a high remote pocket, with an air of finality.
The sailor looked at the woman and smiled. "Come along!" he
said kindly. "The little one too--the more the merrier!"
She paused for an instant, with a close glance at him. Then
dropping her eyes again, and saying nothing, she took up the
child and followed him as he made towards the door. On
reaching it, she turned, and pulling off her wedding-ring,
flung it across the booth in the hay-trusser's face.
"Mike," she said, "I've lived with thee a couple of years,
and had nothing but temper! Now I'm no more to 'ee; I'll try
my luck elsewhere. 'Twill be better for me and Elizabeth-
Jane, both. So good-bye!"
Seizing the sailor's arm with her right hand, and mounting
the little girl on her left, she went out of the tent
A stolid look of concern filled the husband's face, as if,
after all, he had not quite anticipated this ending; and
some of the guests laughed.
"Is she gone?" he said.
"Faith, ay! she's gone clane enough," said some rustics near
He rose and walked to the entrance with the careful tread of
one conscious of his alcoholic load. Some others followed,
and they stood looking into the twilight. The difference
between the peacefulness of inferior nature and the wilful
hostilities of mankind was very apparent at this place. In
contrast with the harshness of the act just ended within the
tent was the sight of several horses crossing their necks
and rubbing each other lovingly as they waited in patience
to be harnessed for the homeward journey. Outside the fair,
in the valleys and woods, all was quiet. The sun had
recently set, and the west heaven was hung with rosy cloud,
which seemed permanent, yet slowly changed. To watch it was
like looking at some grand feat of stagery from a darkened
auditorium. In presence of this scene after the other there
was a natural instinct to abjure man as the blot on an
otherwise kindly universe; till it was remembered that all
terrestrial conditions were intermittent, and that mankind
might some night be innocently sleeping when these quiet
objects were raging loud.
"Where do the sailor live?" asked a spectator, when they had
vainly gazed around.
"God knows that," replied the man who had seen high life.
"He's without doubt a stranger here."
"He came in about five minutes ago," said the furmity woman,
joining the rest with her hands on her hips. "And then 'a
stepped back, and then 'a looked in again. I'm not a penny
the better for him."
"Serves the husband well be-right," said the staylace
vendor. "A comely respectable body like her--what can a man
want more? I glory in the woman's sperrit. I'd ha' done it
myself--od send if I wouldn't, if a husband had behaved so
to me! I'd go, and 'a might call, and call, till his keacorn
was raw; but I'd never come back--no, not till the great
trumpet, would I!"
"Well, the woman will be better off," said another of a more
deliberative turn. "For seafaring natures be very good
shelter for shorn lambs, and the man do seem to have plenty
of money, which is what she's not been used to lately, by
"Mark me--I'll not go after her!" said the trusser,
returning doggedly to his seat. "Let her go! If she's up to
such vagaries she must suffer for 'em. She'd no business to
take the maid--'tis my maid; and if it were the doing again
she shouldn't have her!"
Perhaps from some little sense of having countenanced an
indefensible proceeding, perhaps because it was late, the
customers thinned away from the tent shortly after this
episode. The man stretched his elbows forward on the table
leant his face upon his arms, and soon began to snore. The
furmity seller decided to close for the night, and after
seeing the rum-bottles, milk, corn, raisins, etc., that
remained on hand, loaded into the cart, came to where the
man reclined. She shook him, but could not wake him. As
the tent was not to be struck that night, the fair
continuing for two or three days, she decided to let the
sleeper, who was obviously no tramp, stay where he was, and
his basket with him. Extinguishing the last candle, and
lowering the flap of the tent, she left it, and drove away.
The morning sun was streaming through the crevices of the
canvas when the man awoke. A warm glow pervaded the whole
atmosphere of the marquee, and a single big blue fly buzzed
musically round and round it. Besides the buzz of the fly
there was not a sound. He looked about--at the benches--at
the table supported by trestles--at his basket of tools--at
the stove where the furmity had been boiled--at the empty
basins--at some shed grains of wheat--at the corks which
dotted the grassy floor. Among the odds and ends he
discerned a little shining object, and picked it up. It was
his wife's ring.
A confused picture of the events of the previous evening
seemed to come back to him, and he thrust his hand into his
breast-pocket. A rustling revealed the sailor's bank-notes
thrust carelessly in.
This second verification of his dim memories was enough; he
knew now they were not dreams. He remained seated, looking
on the ground for some time. "I must get out of this as
soon as I can," he said deliberately at last, with the air
of one who could not catch his thoughts without pronouncing
them. "She's gone--to be sure she is--gone with that sailor
who bought her, and little Elizabeth-Jane. We walked here,
and I had the furmity, and rum in it--and sold her. Yes,
that's what's happened and here am I. Now, what am I to do--
am I sober enough to walk, I wonder?" He stood up, found
that he was in fairly good condition for progress,
unencumbered. Next he shouldered his tool basket, and found
he could carry it. Then lifting the tent door he emerged
into the open air.
Here the man looked around with gloomy curiosity. The
freshness of the September morning inspired and braced him
as he stood. He and his family had been weary when they
arrived the night before, and they had observed but little
of the place; so that he now beheld it as a new thing. It
exhibited itself as the top of an open down, bounded on one
extreme by a plantation, and approached by a winding road.
At the bottom stood the village which lent its name to the
upland and the annual fair that was held thereon. The spot
stretched downward into valleys, and onward to other
uplands, dotted with barrows, and trenched with the remains
of prehistoric forts. The whole scene lay under the rays of
a newly risen sun, which had not as yet dried a single blade
of the heavily dewed grass, whereon the shadows of the
yellow and red vans were projected far away, those thrown by
the felloe of each wheel being elongated in shape to the
orbit of a comet. All the gipsies and showmen who had
remained on the ground lay snug within their carts and tents
or wrapped in horse-cloths under them, and were silent and
still as death, with the exception of an occasional snore
that revealed their presence. But the Seven Sleepers had a
dog; and dogs of the mysterious breeds that vagrants own,
that are as much like cats as dogs and as much like foxes as
cats also lay about here. A little one started up under one
of the carts, barked as a matter of principle, and quickly
lay down again. He was the only positive spectator of the
hay-trusser's exit from the Weydon Fair-field.
This seemed to accord with his desire. He went on in silent
thought, unheeding the yellowhammers which flitted about the
hedges with straws in their bills, the crowns of the
mushrooms, and the tinkling of local sheep-bells, whose
wearer had had the good fortune not to be included in the
fair. When he reached a lane, a good mile from the scene of
the previous evening, the man pitched his basket and leant
upon a gate. A difficult problem or two occupied his mind.
"Did I tell my name to anybody last night, or didn't I tell
my name?" he said to himself; and at last concluded that he
did not. His general demeanour was enough to show how he
was surprised and nettled that his wife had taken him so
literally--as much could be seen in his face, and in the way
he nibbled a straw which he pulled from the hedge. He knew
that she must have been somewhat excited to do this;
moreover, she must have believed that there was some sort of
binding force in the transaction. On this latter point he
felt almost certain, knowing her freedom from levity of
character, and the extreme simplicity of her intellect.
There may, too, have been enough recklessness and resentment
beneath her ordinary placidity to make her stifle any
momentary doubts. On a previous occasion when he had
declared during a fuddle that he would dispose of her as he
had done, she had replied that she would not hear him say
that many times more before it happened, in the resigned
tones of a fatalist...."Yet she knows I am not in my senses
when I do that!" he exclaimed. "Well, I must walk about
till I find her....Seize her, why didn't she know better
than bring me into this disgrace!" he roared out. "She
wasn't queer if I was. 'Tis like Susan to show such idiotic
simplicity. Meek--that meekness has done me more harm than
the bitterest temper!"
When he was calmer he turned to his original conviction that
he must somehow find her and his little Elizabeth-Jane, and
put up with the shame as best he could. It was of his own
making, and he ought to bear it. But first he resolved to
register an oath, a greater oath than he had ever sworn
before: and to do it properly he required a fit place and
imagery; for there was something fetichistic in this man's
He shouldered his basket and moved on, casting his eyes
inquisitively round upon the landscape as he walked, and at
the distance of three or four miles perceived the roofs of a
village and the tower of a church. He instantly made
towards the latter object. The village was quite still, it
being that motionless hour of rustic daily life which fills
the interval between the departure of the field-labourers to
their work, and the rising of their wives and daughters to
prepare the breakfast for their return. Hence he reached
the church without observation, and the door being only
latched he entered. The hay-trusser deposited his basket by
the font, went up the nave till he reached the altar-rails,
and opening the gate entered the sacrarium, where he seemed
to feel a sense of the strangeness for a moment; then he
knelt upon the footpace. Dropping his head upon the clamped
book which lay on the Communion-table, he said aloud--
"I, Michael Henchard, on this morning of the sixteenth of
September, do take an oath before God here in this solemn
place that I will avoid all strong liquors for the space of
twenty-one years to come, being a year for every year that I
have lived. And this I swear upon the book before me; and
may I be strook dumb, blind, and helpless, if I break this
When he had said it and kissed the big book, the hay-trusser
arose, and seemed relieved at having made a start in a new
direction. While standing in the porch a moment he saw a
thick jet of wood smoke suddenly start up from the red
chimney of a cottage near, and knew that the occupant had
just lit her fire. He went round to the door, and the
housewife agreed to prepare him some breakfast for a
trifling payment, which was done. Then he started on the
search for his wife and child.
The perplexing nature of the undertaking became apparent
soon enough. Though he examined and inquired, and walked
hither and thither day after day, no such characters as
those he described had anywhere been seen since the evening
of the fair. To add to the difficulty he could gain no
sound of the sailor's name. As money was short with him he
decided, after some hesitation, to spend the sailor's money
in the prosecution of this search; but it was equally in
vain. The truth was that a certain shyness of revealing his
conduct prevented Michael Henchard from following up the
investigation with the loud hue-and-cry such a pursuit
demanded to render it effectual; and it was probably for
this reason that he obtained no clue, though everything was
done by him that did not involve an explanation of the
circumstances under which he had lost her.
Weeks counted up to months, and still he searched on,
maintaining himself by small jobs of work in the intervals.
By this time he had arrived at a seaport, and there he
derived intelligence that persons answering somewhat to his
description had emigrated a little time before. Then he
said he would search no longer, and that he would go and
settle in the district which he had had for some time in his
Next day he started, journeying south-westward, and did not
pause, except for nights' lodgings, till he reached the town
of Casterbridge, in a far distant part of Wessex.
The highroad into the village of Weydon-Priors was again
carpeted with dust. The trees had put on as of yore their
aspect of dingy green, and where the Henchard family of
three had once walked along, two persons not unconnected
with the family walked now.
The scene in its broad aspect had so much of its previous
character, even to the voices and rattle from the
neighbouring village down, that it might for that matter
have been the afternoon following the previously recorded
episode. Change was only to be observed in details; but
here it was obvious that a long procession of years had
passed by. One of the two who walked the road was she who
had figured as the young wife of Henchard on the previous
occasion; now her face had lost much of its rotundity; her
skin had undergone a textural change; and though her hair
had not lost colour it was considerably thinner than
heretofore. She was dressed in the mourning clothes of a
widow. Her companion, also in black, appeared as a well-
formed young woman about eighteen, completely possessed of
that ephemeral precious essence youth, which is itself
beauty, irrespective of complexion or contour.
A glance was sufficient to inform the eye that this was
Susan Henchard's grown-up daughter. While life's middle
summer had set its hardening mark on the mother's face, her
former spring-like specialities were transferred so
dexterously by Time to the second figure, her child, that
the absence of certain facts within her mother's knowledge
from the girl's mind would have seemed for the moment, to
one reflecting on those facts, to be a curious imperfection
in Nature's powers of continuity.
They walked with joined hands, and it could be perceived
that this was the act of simple affection. The daughter
carried in her outer hand a withy basket of old-fashioned
make; the mother a blue bundle, which contrasted oddly with
her black stuff gown.
Reaching the outskirts of the village they pursued the same
track as formerly, and ascended to the fair. Here, too it
was evident that the years had told. Certain mechanical
improvements might have been noticed in the roundabouts and
high-fliers, machines for testing rustic strength and
weight, and in the erections devoted to shooting for nuts.
But the real business of the fair had considerably dwindled.
The new periodical great markets of neighbouring towns were
beginning to interfere seriously with the trade carried on
here for centuries. The pens for sheep, the tie-ropes for
horses, were about half as long as they had been. The
stalls of tailors, hosiers, coopers, linen-drapers, and
other such trades had almost disappeared, and the vehicles
were far less numerous. The mother and daughter threaded
the crowd for some little distance, and then stood still.
"Why did we hinder our time by coming in here? I thought you
wished to get onward?" said the maiden.
"Yes, my dear Elizabeth-Jane," explained the other. "But I
had a fancy for looking up here."
"It was here I first met with Newson--on such a day as
"First met with father here? Yes, you have told me so
before. And now he's drowned and gone from us!" As she
spoke the girl drew a card from her pocket and looked at it
with a sigh. It was edged with black, and inscribed within
a design resembling a mural tablet were the words, "In
affectionate memory of Richard Newson, mariner, who was
unfortunately lost at sea, in the month of November 184--,
aged forty-one years."
"And it was here," continued her mother, with more
hesitation, "that I last saw the relation we are going to
look for--Mr. Michael Henchard."
"What is his exact kin to us, mother? I have never clearly
had it told me."
"He is, or was--for he may be dead--a connection by
marriage," said her mother deliberately.
"That's exactly what you have said a score of times before!"
replied the young woman, looking about her inattentively.
"He's not a near relation, I suppose?"
"Not by any means."
"He was a hay-trusser, wasn't he, when you last heard of
"I suppose he never knew me?" the girl innocently continued.
Mrs. Henchard paused for a moment, and answered un-easily,
"Of course not, Elizabeth-Jane. But come this way." She
moved on to another part of the field.
"It is not much use inquiring here for anybody, I should
think," the daughter observed, as she gazed round about.
"People at fairs change like the leaves of trees; and I
daresay you are the only one here to-day who was here all
those years ago."
"I am not so sure of that," said Mrs. Newson, as she now
called herself, keenly eyeing something under a green bank a
little way off. "See there."
The daughter looked in the direction signified. The object
pointed out was a tripod of sticks stuck into the earth,
from which hung a three-legged crock, kept hot by a
smouldering wood fire beneath. Over the pot stooped an old
woman haggard, wrinkled, and almost in rags. She stirred
the contents of the pot with a large spoon, and occasionally
croaked in a broken voice, "Good furmity sold here!"
It was indeed the former mistress of the furmity tent--once
thriving, cleanly, white-aproned, and chinking with money--
now tentless, dirty, owning no tables or benches, and having
scarce any customers except two small whity-brown boys, who
came up and asked for "A ha'p'orth, please--good measure,"
which she served in a couple of chipped yellow basins of
"She was here at that time," resumed Mrs. Newson, making a
step as if to draw nearer.
"Don't speak to her--it isn't respectable!" urged the other.
"I will just say a word--you, Elizabeth-Jane, can stay
The girl was not loth, and turned to some stalls of coloured
prints while her mother went forward. The old woman begged
for the latter's custom as soon as she saw her, and
responded to Mrs. Henchard-Newson's request for a penny-
worth with more alacrity than she had shown in selling six-
pennyworths in her younger days. When the soi-disant
widow had taken the basin of thin poor slop that stood for
the rich concoction of the former time, the hag opened a
little basket behind the fire, and looking up slily,
whispered, "Just a thought o' rum in it?--smuggled, you
know--say two penn'orth--'twill make it slip down like
Her customer smiled bitterly at this survival of the old
trick, and shook her head with a meaning the old woman was
far from translating. She pretended to eat a little of the
furmity with the leaden spoon offered, and as she did so
said blandly to the hag, "You've seen better days?"
"Ah, ma'am--well ye may say it!" responded the old woman,
opening the sluices of her heart forthwith. "I've stood in
this fair-ground, maid, wife, and widow, these nine-and-
thirty years, and in that time have known what it was to do
business with the richest stomachs in the land! Ma'am you'd
hardly believe that I was once the owner of a great
pavilion-tent that was the attraction of the fair. Nobody
could come, nobody could go, without having a dish of Mrs.
Goodenough's furmity. I knew the clergy's taste, the dandy
gent's taste; I knew the town's taste, the country's taste.
I even knowed the taste of the coarse shameless females.
But Lord's my life--the world's no memory; straightforward
dealings don't bring profit--'tis the sly and the underhand
that get on in these times!"
Mrs. Newson glanced round--her daughter was still bending
over the distant stalls. "Can you call to mind," she said
cautiously to the old woman, "the sale of a wife by her
husband in your tent eighteen years ago to-day?"
The hag reflected, and half shook her head. "If it had been
a big thing I should have minded it in a moment," she said.
"I can mind every serious fight o' married parties, every
murder, every manslaughter, even every pocket-picking--
leastwise large ones--that 't has been my lot to witness.
But a selling? Was it done quiet-like?"
"Well, yes. I think so."
The furmity woman half shook her head again. "And yet," she
said, "I do. At any rate, I can mind a man doing something
o' the sort--a man in a cord jacket, with a basket of tools;
but, Lord bless ye, we don't gi'e it head-room, we don't,
such as that. The only reason why I can mind the man is
that he came back here to the next year's fair, and told me
quite private-like that if a woman ever asked for him I was
to say he had gone to--where?--Casterbridge--yes--to
Casterbridge, said he. But, Lord's my life, I shouldn't ha'
thought of it again!"
Mrs. Newson would have rewarded the old woman as far as her
small means afforded had she not discreetly borne in mind
that it was by that unscrupulous person's liquor her husband
had been degraded. She briefly thanked her informant, and
rejoined Elizabeth, who greeted her with, "Mother, do let's
get on--it was hardly respectable for you to buy
refreshments there. I see none but the lowest do."
"I have learned what I wanted, however," said her mother
quietly. "The last time our relative visited this fair he
said he was living at Casterbridge. It is a long, long way
from here, and it was many years ago that he said it, but
there I think we'll go."
With this they descended out of the fair, and went onward to
the village, where they obtained a night's lodging.
Henchard's wife acted for the best, but she had involved
herself in difficulties. A hundred times she had been upon
the point of telling her daughter Elizabeth-Jane the true
story of her life, the tragical crisis of which had been the
transaction at Weydon Fair, when she was not much older than
the girl now beside her. But she had refrained. An
innocent maiden had thus grown up in the belief that the
relations between the genial sailor and her mother were the
ordinary ones that they had always appeared to be. The risk
of endangering a child's strong affection by disturbing
ideas which had grown with her growth was to Mrs. Henchard
too fearful a thing to contemplate. It had seemed, indeed
folly to think of making Elizabeth-Jane wise.
But Susan Henchard's fear of losing her dearly loved
daughter's heart by a revelation had little to do with any
sense of wrong-doing on her own part. Her simplicity--the
original ground of Henchard's contempt for her--had allowed
her to live on in the conviction that Newson had acquired a
morally real and justifiable right to her by his purchase--
though the exact bearings and legal limits of that right
were vague. It may seem strange to sophisticated minds that
a sane young matron could believe in the seriousness of such
a transfer; and were there not numerous other instances of
the same belief the thing might scarcely be credited. But
she was by no means the first or last peasant woman who had
religiously adhered to her purchaser, as too many rural
The history of Susan Henchard's adventures in the interim
can be told in two or three sentences. Absolutely helpless
she had been taken off to Canada where they had lived
several years without any great worldly success, though she
worked as hard as any woman could to keep their cottage
cheerful and well-provided. When Elizabeth-Jane was about
twelve years old the three returned to England, and settled
at Falmouth, where Newson made a living for a few years as
boatman and general handy shoreman.
He then engaged in the Newfoundland trade, and it was during
this period that Susan had an awakening. A friend to whom
she confided her history ridiculed her grave acceptance of
her position; and all was over with her peace of mind. When
Newson came home at the end of one winter he saw that the
delusion he had so carefully sustained had vanished for
There was then a time of sadness, in which she told him her
doubts if she could live with him longer. Newson left home
again on the Newfoundland trade when the season came round.
The vague news of his loss at sea a little later on solved a
problem which had become torture to her meek conscience.
She saw him no more.
Of Henchard they heard nothing. To the liege subjects of
Labour, the England of those days was a continent, and a
mile a geographical degree.
Elizabeth-Jane developed early into womanliness. One day a
month or so after receiving intelligence of Newson's death
off the Bank of Newfoundland, when the girl was about
eighteen, she was sitting on a willow chair in the cottage
they still occupied, working twine nets for the fishermen.
Her mother was in a back corner of the same room engaged in
the same labour, and dropping the heavy wood needle she was
filling she surveyed her daughter thoughtfully. The sun
shone in at the door upon the young woman's head and hair,
which was worn loose, so that the rays streamed into its
depths as into a hazel copse. Her face, though somewhat wan
and incomplete, possessed the raw materials of beauty in a
promising degree. There was an under-handsomeness in it,
struggling to reveal itself through the provisional curves
of immaturity, and the casual disfigurements that resulted
from the straitened circumstances of their lives. She was
handsome in the bone, hardly as yet handsome in the flesh.
She possibly might never be fully handsome, unless the
carking accidents of her daily existence could be evaded
before the mobile parts of her countenance had settled to
their final mould.
The sight of the girl made her mother sad--not vaguely but
by logical inference. They both were still in that strait-
waistcoat of poverty from which she had tried so many times
to be delivered for the girl's sake. The woman had long
perceived how zealously and constantly the young mind of her
companion was struggling for enlargement; and yet now, in
her eighteenth year, it still remained but little unfolded.
The desire--sober and repressed--of Elizabeth-Jane's heart
was indeed to see, to hear, and to understand. How could
she become a woman of wider knowledge, higher repute--
"better," as she termed it--this was her constant inquiry of
her mother. She sought further into things than other girls
in her position ever did, and her mother groaned as she felt
she could not aid in the search.
The sailor, drowned or no, was probably now lost to them;
and Susan's staunch, religious adherence to him as her
husband in principle, till her views had been disturbed by
enlightenment, was demanded no more. She asked herself
whether the present moment, now that she was a free woman
again, were not as opportune a one as she would find in a
world where everything had been so inopportune, for making a
desperate effort to advance Elizabeth. To pocket her pride
and search for the first husband seemed, wisely or not, the
best initiatory step. He had possibly drunk himself into
his tomb. But he might, on the other hand, have had too
much sense to do so; for in her time with him he had been
given to bouts only, and was not a habitual drunkard.
At any rate, the propriety of returning to him, if he lived,
was unquestionable. The awkwardness of searching for him
lay in enlightening Elizabeth, a proceeding which her mother
could not endure to contemplate. She finally resolved to
undertake the search without confiding to the girl her
former relations with Henchard, leaving it to him if they
found him to take what steps he might choose to that end.
This will account for their conversation at the fair and the
half-informed state at which Elizabeth was led onward.
In this attitude they proceeded on their journey, trusting
solely to the dim light afforded of Henchard's whereabouts
by the furmity woman. The strictest economy was
indispensable. Sometimes they might have been seen on foot,
sometimes on farmers' waggons, sometimes in carriers' vans;
and thus they drew near to Casterbridge. Elizabeth-Jane
discovered to her alarm that her mother's health was not
what it once had been, and there was ever and anon in her
talk that renunciatory tone which showed that, but for the
girl, she would not be very sorry to quit a life she was
growing thoroughly weary of.
It was on a Friday evening, near the middle of September and
just before dusk, that they reached the summit of a hill
within a mile of the place they sought. There were high
banked hedges to the coach-road here, and they mounted upon
the green turf within, and sat down. The spot commanded a
full view of the town and its environs.
"What an old-fashioned place it seems to be!" said
Elizabeth-Jane, while her silent mother mused on other
things than topography. "It is huddled all together; and it
is shut in by a square wall of trees, like a plot of garden
ground by a box-edging."
Its squareness was, indeed, the characteristic which most
struck the eye in this antiquated borough, the borough of
Casterbridge--at that time, recent as it was, untouched by
the faintest sprinkle of modernism. It was compact as a box
of dominoes. It had no suburbs--in the ordinary sense.
Country and town met at a mathematical line.
To birds of the more soaring kind Casterbridge must have
appeared on this fine evening as a mosaic-work of subdued
reds, browns, greys, and crystals, held together by a
rectangular frame of deep green. To the level eye of
humanity it stood as an indistinct mass behind a dense
stockade of limes and chestnuts, set in the midst of miles
of rotund down and concave field. The mass became gradually
dissected by the vision into towers, gables, chimneys, and
casements, the highest glazings shining bleared and
bloodshot with the coppery fire they caught from the belt of
sunlit cloud in the west.
From the centre of each side of this tree-bound square ran
avenues east, west, and south into the wide expanse of corn-
land and coomb to the distance of a mile or so. It was by
one of these avenues that the pedestrians were about to
enter. Before they had risen to proceed two men passed
outside the hedge, engaged in argumentative conversation.
"Why, surely," said Elizabeth, as they receded, "those men
mentioned the name of Henchard in their talk--the name of
"I thought so too," said Mrs. Newson.
"That seems a hint to us that he is still here."
"Shall I run after them, and ask them about him----"
"No, no, no! Not for the world just yet. He may be in the
workhouse, or in the stocks, for all we know."
"Dear me--why should you think that, mother?"
"'Twas just something to say--that's all! But we must make
Having sufficiently rested they proceeded on their way at
evenfall. The dense trees of the avenue rendered the road
dark as a tunnel, though the open land on each side was
still under a faint daylight, in other words, they passed
down a midnight between two gloamings. The features of the
town had a keen interest for Elizabeth's mother, now that
the human side came to the fore. As soon as they had
wandered about they could see that the stockade of gnarled
trees which framed in Casterbridge was itself an avenue,
standing on a low green bank or escarpment, with a ditch yet
visible without. Within the avenue and bank was a wall more
or less discontinuous, and within the wall were packed the
abodes of the burghers.
Though the two women did not know it these external features
were but the ancient defences of the town, planted as a
The lamplights now glimmered through the engirdling trees,
conveying a sense of great smugness and comfort inside, and
rendering at the same time the unlighted country without
strangely solitary and vacant in aspect, considering its
nearness to life. The difference between burgh and
champaign was increased, too, by sounds which now reached
them above others--the notes of a brass band. The
travellers returned into the High Street, where there were
timber houses with overhanging stories, whose small-paned
lattices were screened by dimity curtains on a drawing-
string, and under whose bargeboards old cobwebs waved in the
breeze. There were houses of brick-nogging, which derived
their chief support from those adjoining. There were slate
roofs patched with tiles, and tile roofs patched with slate,
with occasionally a roof of thatch.
The agricultural and pastoral character of the people upon
whom the town depended for its existence was shown by the
class of objects displayed in the shop windows. Scythes,
reap-hooks, sheep-shears, bill-hooks, spades, mattocks, and
hoes at the iron-monger's; bee-hives, butter-firkins,
churns, milking stools and pails, hay-rakes, field-flagons,
and seed-lips at the cooper's; cart-ropes and plough-harness
at the saddler's; carts, wheel-barrows, and mill-gear at the
wheelwright's and machinist's, horse-embrocations at the
chemist's; at the glover's and leather-cutter's, hedging-
gloves, thatchers' knee-caps, ploughmen's leggings,
villagers' pattens and clogs.
They came to a grizzled church, whose massive square tower
rose unbroken into the darkening sky, the lower parts being
illuminated by the nearest lamps sufficiently to show how
completely the mortar from the joints of the stonework had
been nibbled out by time and weather, which had planted in
the crevices thus made little tufts of stone-crop and grass
almost as far up as the very battlements. From this tower
the clock struck eight, and thereupon a bell began to toll
with a peremptory clang. The curfew was still rung in
Casterbridge, and it was utilized by the inhabitants as a
signal for shutting their shops. No sooner did the deep
notes of the bell throb between the house-fronts than a
clatter of shutters arose through the whole length of the
High Street. In a few minutes business at Casterbridge was
ended for the day.
Other clocks struck eight from time to time--one gloomily
from the gaol, another from the gable of an almshouse, with
a preparative creak of machinery, more audible than the note
of the bell; a row of tall, varnished case-clocks from the
interior of a clock-maker's shop joined in one after another
just as the shutters were enclosing them, like a row of
actors delivering their final speeches before the fall of
the curtain; then chimes were heard stammering out the
Sicilian Mariners' Hymn; so that chronologists of the
advanced school were appreciably on their way to the next
hour before the whole business of the old one was
satisfactorily wound up.
In an open space before the church walked a woman with her
gown-sleeves rolled up so high that the edge of her
underlinen was visible, and her skirt tucked up through her
pocket hole. She carried a load under her arm from which
she was pulling pieces of bread, and handing them to some
other women who walked with her, which pieces they nibbled
critically. The sight reminded Mrs. Henchard-Newson and her
daughter that they had an appetite; and they inquired of the
woman for the nearest baker's.
"Ye may as well look for manna-food as good bread in
Casterbridge just now," she said, after directing them.
"They can blare their trumpets and thump their drums, and
have their roaring dinners"--waving her hand towards a point
further along the street, where the brass band could be seen
standing in front of an illuminated building--"but we must
needs be put-to for want of a wholesome crust. There's less
good bread than good beer in Casterbridge now."
"And less good beer than swipes," said a man with his hands
in his pockets.
"How does it happen there's no good bread?" asked Mrs.
"Oh, 'tis the corn-factor--he's the man that our millers and
bakers all deal wi', and he has sold 'em growed wheat, which
they didn't know was growed, so they SAY, till the dough
ran all over the ovens like quicksilver; so that the loaves
be as fiat as toads, and like suet pudden inside. I've been
a wife, and I've been a mother, and I never see such
unprincipled bread in Casterbridge as this before.--But you
must be a real stranger here not to know what's made all the
poor volks' insides plim like blowed bladders this week?"
"I am," said Elizabeth's mother shyly.
Not wishing to be observed further till she knew more of her
future in this place, she withdrew with her daughter from
the speaker's side. Getting a couple of biscuits at the
shop indicated as a temporary substitute for a meal, they
next bent their steps instinctively to where the music was
A few score yards brought them to the spot where the town
band was now shaking the window-panes with the strains of
"The Roast Beef of Old England."
The building before whose doors they had pitched their
music-stands was the chief hotel in Casterbridge--namely,
the King's Arms. A spacious bow-window projected into the
street over the main portico, and from the open sashes came
the babble of voices, the jingle of glasses, and the drawing
of corks. The blinds, moreover, being left unclosed, the
whole interior of this room could be surveyed from the top
of a flight of stone steps to the road-waggon office
opposite, for which reason a knot of idlers had gathered
"We might, perhaps, after all, make a few inquiries about--
our relation Mr. Henchard," whispered Mrs. Newson who, since
her entry into Casterbridge, had seemed strangely weak and
agitated, "And this, I think, would be a good place for
trying it--just to ask, you know, how he stands in the town--
if he is here, as I think he must be. You, Elizabeth-Jane,
had better be the one to do it. I'm too worn out to do
anything--pull down your fall first."
She sat down upon the lowest step, and Elizabeth-Jane obeyed
her directions and stood among the idlers.
"What's going on to-night?" asked the girl, after singling
out an old man and standing by him long enough to acquire a
neighbourly right of converse.
"Well, ye must be a stranger sure," said the old man,
without taking his eyes from the window. "Why, 'tis a great
public dinner of the gentle-people and such like leading
volk--wi' the Mayor in the chair. As we plainer fellows
bain't invited, they leave the winder-shutters open that we
may get jist a sense o't out here. If you mount the steps
you can see em. That's Mr. Henchard, the Mayor, at the end
of the table, a facing ye; and that's the Council men right
and left....Ah, lots of them when they begun life were no
more than I be now!"
"Henchard!" said Elizabeth-Jane, surprised, but by no means
suspecting the whole force of the revelation. She ascended
to the top of the steps.
Her mother, though her head was bowed, had already caught
from the inn-window tones that strangely riveted her
attention, before the old man's words, "Mr. Henchard, the
Mayor," reached her ears. She arose, and stepped up to her
daughter's side as soon as she could do so without showing
The interior of the hotel dining-room was spread out before
her, with its tables, and glass, and plate, and inmates.
Facing the window, in the chair of dignity, sat a man about
forty years of age; of heavy frame, large features, and
commanding voice; his general build being rather coarse than
compact. He had a rich complexion, which verged on
swarthiness, a flashing black eye, and dark, bushy brows and
hair. When he indulged in an occasional loud laugh at some
remark among the guests, his large mouth parted so far back
as to show to the rays of the chandelier a full score or
more of the two-and-thirty sound white teeth that he
obviously still could boast of.
That laugh was not encouraging to strangers, and hence it
may have been well that it was rarely heard. Many theories
might have been built upon it. It fell in well with
conjectures of a temperament which would have no pity for
weakness, but would be ready to yield ungrudging admiration
to greatness and strength. Its producer's personal
goodness, if he had any, would be of a very fitful cast--an
occasional almost oppressive generosity rather than a mild
and constant kindness.
Susan Henchard's husband--in law, at least--sat before them,
matured in shape, stiffened in line, exaggerated in traits;
disciplined, thought-marked--in a word, older. Elizabeth,
encumbered with no recollections as her mother was, regarded
him with nothing more than the keen curiosity and interest
which the discovery of such unexpected social standing in
the long-sought relative naturally begot. He was dressed in
an old-fashioned evening suit, an expanse of frilled shirt
showing on his broad breast; jewelled studs, and a heavy
gold chain. Three glasses stood at his right hand; but, to
his wife's surprise, the two for wine were empty, while the
third, a tumbler, was half full of water.
When last she had seen him he was sitting in a corduroy
jacket, fustian waistcoat and breeches, and tanned leather
leggings, with a basin of hot furmity before him. Time, the
magician, had wrought much here. Watching him, and thus
thinking of past days, she became so moved that she shrank
back against the jamb of the waggon-office doorway to which
the steps gave access, the shadow from it conveniently
hiding her features. She forgot her daughter till a touch
from Elizabeth-Jane aroused her. "Have you seen him,
mother?" whispered the girl.
"Yes, yes," answered her companion hastily. "I have seen
him, and it is enough for me! Now I only want to go--pass
"Why--O what?" She drew closer, and whispered in her
mother's ear, "Does he seem to you not likely to befriend
us? I thought he looked a generous man. What a gentleman he
is, isn't he? and how his diamond studs shine! How strange
that you should have said he might be in the stocks, or in
the workhouse, or dead! Did ever anything go more by
contraries! Why do you feel so afraid of him? I am not at
all;I'll call upon him--he can but say he don't own such
"I don't know at all--I can't tell what to set about. I
feel so down."
"Don't be that, mother, now we have got here and all! Rest
there where you be a little while--I will look on and find
out more about him."
"I don't think I can ever meet Mr. Henchard. He is not how
I thought he would be--he overpowers me! I don't wish to see
him any more."
"But wait a little time and consider."
Elizabeth-Jane had never been so much interested in anything
in her life as in their present position, partly from the
natural elation she felt at discovering herself akin to a
coach; and she gazed again at the scene. The younger guests
were talking and eating with animation; their elders were
searching for titbits, and sniffing and grunting over their
plates like sows nuzzling for acorns. Three drinks seemed
to be sacred to the company--port, sherry, and rum; outside
which old-established trinity few or no palates ranged.
A row of ancient rummers with ground figures on their sides,
and each primed with a spoon, was now placed down the table,
and these were promptly filled with grog at such high
temperatures as to raise serious considerations for the
articles exposed to its vapours. But Elizabeth-Jane noticed
that, though this filling went on with great promptness up
and down the table, nobody filled the Mayor's glass, who
still drank large quantities of water from the tumbler
behind the clump of crystal vessels intended for wine and
"They don't fill Mr. Henchard's wine-glasses," she ventured
to say to her elbow acquaintance, the old man.
"Ah, no; don't ye know him to be the celebrated abstaining
worthy of that name? He scorns all tempting liquors; never
touches nothing. O yes, he've strong qualities that way. I
have heard tell that he sware a gospel oath in bygone times,
and has bode by it ever since. So they don't press him,
knowing it would be unbecoming in the face of that: for yer
gospel oath is a serious thing."
Another elderly man, hearing this discourse, now joined in
by inquiring, "How much longer have he got to suffer from
it, Solomon Longways?"
"Another two year, they say. I don't know the why and the
wherefore of his fixing such a time, for 'a never has told
anybody. But 'tis exactly two calendar years longer, they
say. A powerful mind to hold out so long!"
"True....But there's great strength in hope. Knowing that
in four-and-twenty months' time ye'll be out of your
bondage, and able to make up for all you've suffered, by
partaking without stint--why, it keeps a man up, no doubt."
"No doubt, Christopher Coney, no doubt. And 'a must need
such reflections--a lonely widow man," said Longways.
"When did he lose his wife?" asked Elizabeth.
"I never knowed her. 'Twas afore he came to Casterbridge,"
Solomon Longways replied with terminative emphasis, as if
the fact of his ignorance of Mrs. Henchard were sufficient
to deprive her history of all interest. "But I know that
'a's a banded teetotaller, and that if any of his men be
ever so little overtook by a drop he's down upon 'em as
stern as the Lord upon the jovial Jews."
"Has he many men, then?" said Elizabeth-Jane.
"Many! Why, my good maid, he's the powerfullest member of
the Town Council, and quite a principal man in the country
round besides. Never a big dealing in wheat, barley, oats,
hay, roots, and such-like but Henchard's got a hand in it.
Ay, and he'll go into other things too; and that's where he
makes his mistake. He worked his way up from nothing when
'a came here; and now he's a pillar of the town. Not but
what he's been shaken a little to-year about this bad corn
he has supplied in his contracts. I've seen the sun rise
over Durnover Moor these nine-and-sixty year, and though Mr.
Henchard has never cussed me unfairly ever since I've worked
for'n, seeing I be but a little small man, I must say that I
have never before tasted such rough bread as has been made
from Henchard's wheat lately. 'Tis that growed out that ye
could a'most call it malt, and there's a list at bottom o'
the loaf as thick as the sole of one's shoe."
The band now struck up another melody, and by the time it
was ended the dinner was over, and speeches began to be
made. The evening being calm, and the windows still open,
these orations could be distinctly heard. Henchard's voice
arose above the rest; he was telling a story of his hay-
dealing experiences, in which he had outwitted a sharper who
had been bent upon outwitting him.
"Ha-ha-ha!" responded his audience at the upshot of the
story; and hilarity was general till a new voice arose with,
"This is all very well; but how about the bad bread?"
It came from the lower end of the table, where there sat a
group of minor tradesmen who, although part of the company,
appeared to be a little below the social level of the
others; and who seemed to nourish a certain independence of
opinion and carry on discussions not quite in harmony with
those at the head; just as the west end of a church is
sometimes persistently found to sing out of time and tune
with the leading spirits in the chancel.
This interruption about the bad bread afforded infinite
satisfaction to the loungers outside, several of whom were
in the mood which finds its pleasure in others'
discomfiture; and hence they echoed pretty freely, "Hey! How
about the bad bread, Mr. Mayor?" Moreover, feeling none of
the restraints of those who shared the feast, they could
afford to add, "You rather ought to tell the story o' that,
The interruption was sufficient to compel the Mayor to
"Well, I admit that the wheat turned out badly," he said.
"But I was taken in in buying it as much as the bakers who
bought it o' me."
"And the poor folk who had to eat it whether or no," said
the inharmonious man outside the window.
Henchard's face darkened. There was temper under the thin
bland surface--the temper which, artificially intensified,
had banished a wife nearly a score of years before.
"You must make allowances for the accidents of a large
business," he said. "You must bear in mind that the weather
just at the harvest of that corn was worse than we have
known it for years. However, I have mended my arrangements
on account o't. Since I have found my business too large to
be well looked after by myself alone, I have advertised for
a thorough good man as manager of the corn department. When
I've got him you will find these mistakes will no longer
occur--matters will be better looked into."
"But what are you going to do to repay us for the past?"
inquired the man who had before spoken, and who seemed to be
a baker or miller. "Will you replace the grown flour we've
still got by sound grain?"
Henchard's face had become still more stern at these
interruptions, and he drank from his tumbler of water as if
to calm himself or gain time. Instead of vouchsafing a
direct reply, he stiffly observed--
"If anybody will tell me how to turn grown wheat into
wholesome wheat I'll take it back with pleasure. But it
can't be done."
Henchard was not to be drawn again. Having said this, he
Now the group outside the window had within the last few
minutes been reinforced by new arrivals, some of them
respectable shopkeepers and their assistants, who had come
out for a whiff of air after putting up the shutters for the
night; some of them of a lower class. Distinct from either
there appeared a stranger--a young man of remarkably
pleasant aspect--who carried in his hand a carpet-bag of the
smart floral pattern prevalent in such articles at that
He was ruddy and of a fair countenance, bright-eyed, and
slight in build. He might possibly have passed by without
stopping at all, or at most for half a minute to glance in
at the scene, had not his advent coincided with the
discussion on corn and bread, in which event this history
had never been enacted. But the subject seemed to arrest
him, and he whispered some inquiries of the other
bystanders, and remained listening.
When he heard Henchard's closing words, "It can't be done,"
he smiled impulsively, drew out his pocketbook, and wrote
down a few words by the aid of the light in the window. He
tore out the leaf, folded and directed it, and seemed about
to throw it in through the open sash upon the dining-table;
but, on second thoughts, edged himself through the
loiterers, till he reached the door of the hotel, where one
of the waiters who had been serving inside was now idly
leaning against the doorpost.
"Give this to the Mayor at once," he said, handing in his
Elizabeth-Jane had seen his movements and heard the words,
which attracted her both by their subject and by their
accent--a strange one for those parts. It was quaint and
The waiter took the note, while the young stranger
"And can ye tell me of a respectable hotel that's a little
more moderate than this?"
The waiter glanced indifferently up and down the street.
"They say the Three Mariners, just below here, is a very
good place," he languidly answered; "but I have never stayed
The Scotchman, as he seemed to be, thanked him, and strolled
on in the direction of the Three Mariners aforesaid,
apparently more concerned about the question of an inn than
about the fate of his note, now that the momentary impulse
of writing it was over. While he was disappearing slowly
down the street the waiter left the door, and Elizabeth-Jane
saw with some interest the note brought into the dining-room
and handed to the Mayor.
Henchard looked at it carelessly, unfolded it with one hand,
and glanced it through. Thereupon it was curious to note an
unexpected effect. The nettled, clouded aspect which had
held possession of his face since the subject of his corn-
dealings had been broached, changed itself into one of
arrested attention. He read the note slowly, and fell into
thought, not moody, but fitfully intense, as that of a man
who has been captured by an idea.
By this time toasts and speeches had given place to songs,
the wheat subject being quite forgotten. Men were putting
their heads together in twos and threes, telling good
stories, with pantomimic laughter which reached convulsive
grimace. Some were beginning to look as if they did not
know how they had come there, what they had come for, or how
they were going to get home again; and provisionally sat on
with a dazed smile. Square-built men showed a tendency to
become hunchbacks; men with a dignified presence lost it in
a curious obliquity of figure, in which their features grew
disarranged and one-sided, whilst the heads of a few who had
dined with extreme thoroughness were somehow sinking into
their shoulders, the corners of their mouth and eyes being
bent upwards by the subsidence. Only Henchard did not
conform to these flexuous changes; he remained stately and
vertical, silently thinking.
The clock struck nine. Elizabeth-Jane turned to her
companion. "The evening is drawing on, mother," she said.
"What do you propose to do?"
She was surprised to find how irresolute her mother had
become. "We must get a place to lie down in," she murmured.
"I have seen--Mr. Henchard; and that's all I wanted to do."
"That's enough for to-night, at any rate," Elizabeth-Jane
replied soothingly. "We can think to-morrow what is best to
do about him. The question now is--is it not?--how shall we
find a lodging?"
As her mother did not reply Elizabeth-Jane's mind reverted
to the words of the waiter, that the Three Mariners was an
inn of moderate charges. A recommendation good for one
person was probably good for another. "Let's go where the
young man has gone to," she said. "He is respectable. What
do you say?"
Her mother assented, and down the street they went.
In the meantime the Mayor's thoughtfulness, engendered by
the note as stated, continued to hold him in abstraction;
till, whispering to his neighbour to take his place, he
found opportunity to leave the chair. This was just after
the departure of his wife and Elizabeth.
Outside the door of the assembly-room he saw the waiter, and
beckoning to him asked who had brought the note which had
been handed in a quarter of an hour before.
"A young man, sir--a sort of traveller. He was a Scotchman
"Did he say how he had got it?"
"He wrote it himself, sir, as he stood outside the window."
"Oh--wrote it himself....Is the young man in the hotel?"
"No, sir. He went to the Three Mariners, I believe."
The mayor walked up and down the vestibule of the hotel with
his hands under his coat tails, as if he were merely seeking
a cooler atmosphere than that of the room he had quitted.
But there could be no doubt that he was in reality still
possessed to the full by the new idea, whatever that might
be. At length he went back to the door of the dining-room,
paused, and found that the songs, toasts, and conversation
were proceeding quite satisfactorily without his presence.
The Corporation, private residents, and major and minor
tradesmen had, in fact, gone in for comforting beverages to
such an extent that they had quite forgotten, not only the
Mayor, but all those vast, political, religious, and social
differences which they felt necessary to maintain in the
daytime, and which separated them like iron grills. Seeing
this the Mayor took his hat, and when the waiter had helped
him on with a thin holland overcoat, went out and stood
under the portico.
Very few persons were now in the street; and his eyes, by a
sort of attraction, turned and dwelt upon a spot about a
hundred yards further down. It was the house to which the
writer of the note had gone--the Three Mariners--whose two
prominent Elizabethan gables, bow-window, and passage-light
could be seen from where he stood. Having kept his eyes on
it for a while he strolled in that direction.
This ancient house of accommodation for man and beast, now,
unfortunately, pulled down, was built of mellow sandstone,
with mullioned windows of the same material, markedly out of
perpendicular from the settlement of foundations. The bay
window projecting into the street, whose interior was so
popular among the frequenters of the inn, was closed with
shutters, in each of which appeared a heart-shaped aperture,
somewhat more attenuated in the right and left ventricles
than is seen in Nature. Inside these illuminated holes, at
a distance of about three inches, were ranged at this hour,
as every passer knew, the ruddy polls of Billy Wills the
glazier, Smart the shoemaker, Buzzford the general dealer,
and others of a secondary set of worthies, of a grade
somewhat below that of the diners at the King's Arms, each
with his yard of clay.
A four-centred Tudor arch was over the entrance, and over
the arch the signboard, now visible in the rays of an
opposite lamp. Hereon the Mariners, who had been
represented by the artist as persons of two dimensions only--
in other words, flat as a shadow--were standing in a row in
paralyzed attitudes. Being on the sunny side of the street
the three comrades had suffered largely from warping,
splitting, fading, and shrinkage, so that they were but a
half-invisible film upon the reality of the grain, and
knots, and nails, which composed the signboard. As a matter
of fact, this state of things was not so much owing to
Stannidge the landlord's neglect, as from the lack of a
painter in Casterbridge who would undertake to reproduce the
features of men so traditional.
A long, narrow, dimly-lit passage gave access to the inn,
within which passage the horses going to their stalls at the
back, and the coming and departing human guests, rubbed
shoulders indiscriminately, the latter running no slight
risk of having their toes trodden upon by the animals. The
good stabling and the good ale of the Mariners, though
somewhat difficult to reach on account of there being but
this narrow way to both, were nevertheless perseveringly
sought out by the sagacious old heads who knew what was what
Henchard stood without the inn for a few instants; then
lowering the dignity of his presence as much as possible by
buttoning the brown holland coat over his shirt-front, and
in other ways toning himself down to his ordinary everyday
appearance, he entered the inn door.
Elizabeth-Jane and her mother had arrived some twenty
minutes earlier. Outside the house they had stood and
considered whether even this homely place, though
recommended as moderate, might not be too serious in its
prices for their light pockets. Finally, however, they had
found courage to enter, and duly met Stannidge the landlord,
a silent man, who drew and carried frothing measures to this
room and to that, shoulder to shoulder with his waiting-
maids--a stately slowness, however, entering into his
ministrations by contrast with theirs, as became one whose
service was somewhat optional. It would have been
altogether optional but for the orders of the landlady, a
person who sat in the bar, corporeally motionless, but with
a flitting eye and quick ear, with which she observed and
heard through the open door and hatchway the pressing needs
of customers whom her husband overlooked though close at
hand. Elizabeth and her mother were passively accepted as
sojourners, and shown to a small bedroom under one of the
gables, where they sat down.
The principle of the inn seemed to be to compensate for the
antique awkwardness, crookedness, and obscurity of the
passages, floors, and windows, by quantities of clean linen
spread about everywhere, and this had a dazzling effect upon
"'Tis too good for us--we can't meet it!" said the elder
woman, looking round the apartment with misgiving as soon as
they were left alone.
"I fear it is, too," said Elizabeth. "But we must be
"We must pay our way even before we must be respectable,"
replied her mother. "Mr. Henchard is too high for us to
make ourselves known to him, I much fear; so we've only our
own pockets to depend on."
"I know what I'll do," said Elizabeth-Jane after an interval
of waiting, during which their needs seemed quite forgotten
under the press of business below. And leaving the room,
she descended the stairs and penetrated to the bar.
If there was one good thing more than another which
characterized this single-hearted girl it was a willingness
to sacrifice her personal comfort and dignity to the common
"As you seem busy here to-night, and mother's not well off,
might I take out part of our accommodation by helping?" she
asked of the landlady.
The latter, who remained as fixed in the arm-chair as if she
had been melted into it when in a liquid state, and could
not now be unstuck, looked the girl up and down inquiringly,
with her hands on the chair-arms. Such arrangements as the
one Elizabeth proposed were not uncommon in country
villages; but, though Casterbridge was old-fashioned, the
custom was well-nigh obsolete here. The mistress of the
house, however, was an easy woman to strangers, and she made
no objection. Thereupon Elizabeth, being instructed by nods
and motions from the taciturn landlord as to where she could
find the different things, trotted up and down stairs with
materials for her own and her parent's meal.
While she was doing this the wood partition in the centre of
the house thrilled to its centre with the tugging of a bell-
pull upstairs. A bell below tinkled a note that was feebler
in sound than the twanging of wires and cranks that had
"'Tis the Scotch gentleman," said the landlady omnisciently;
and turning her eyes to Elizabeth, "Now then, can you go and
see if his supper is on the tray? If it is you can take it
up to him. The front room over this."
Elizabeth-Jane, though hungry, willingly postponed serving
herself awhile, and applied to the cook in the kitchen
whence she brought forth the tray of supper viands, and
proceeded with it upstairs to the apartment indicated. The
accommodation of the Three Mariners was far from spacious,
despite the fair area of ground it covered. The room
demanded by intrusive beams and rafters, partitions,
passages, staircases, disused ovens, settles, and four-
posters, left comparatively small quarters for human beings.
Moreover, this being at a time before home-brewing was
abandoned by the smaller victuallers, and a house in which
the twelve-bushel strength was still religiously adhered to
by the landlord in his ale, the quality of the liquor was
the chief attraction of the premises, so that everything had
to make way for utensils and operations in connection
therewith. Thus Elizabeth found that the Scotchman was
located in a room quite close to the small one that had been
allotted to herself and her mother.
When she entered nobody was present but the young man
himself--the same whom she had seen lingering without the
windows of the King's Arms Hotel. He was now idly reading a
copy of the local paper, and was hardly conscious of her
entry, so that she looked at him quite coolly, and saw how
his forehead shone where the light caught it, and how nicely
his hair was cut, and the sort of velvet-pile or down that
was on the skin at the back of his neck, and how his cheek
was so truly curved as to be part of a globe, and how
clearly drawn were the lids and lashes which hid his bent
She set down the tray, spread his supper, and went away
without a word. On her arrival below the landlady, who was
as kind as she was fat and lazy, saw that Elizabeth-Jane was
rather tired, though in her earnestness to be useful she was
waiving her own needs altogether. Mrs. Stannidge thereupon
said with a considerate peremptoriness that she and her
mother had better take their own suppers if they meant to
Elizabeth fetched their simple provisions, as she had
fetched the Scotchman's, and went up to the little chamber
where she had left her mother, noiselessly pushing open the
door with the edge of the tray. To her surprise her mother,
instead of being reclined on the bed where she had left her
was in an erect position, with lips parted. At Elizabeth's
entry she lifted her finger.
The meaning of this was soon apparent. The room allotted to
the two women had at one time served as a dressing-room to
the Scotchman's chamber, as was evidenced by signs of a door
of communication between them--now screwed up and pasted
over with the wall paper. But, as is frequently the case
with hotels of far higher pretensions than the Three
Mariners, every word spoken in either of these rooms was
distinctly audible in the other. Such sounds came through
Thus silently conjured Elizabeth deposited the tray, and her
mother whispered as she drew near, "'Tis he."
"Who?" said the girl.
The tremors in Susan Henchard's tone might have led any
person but one so perfectly unsuspicious of the truth as the
girl was, to surmise some closer connection than the
admitted simple kinship as a means of accounting for them.
Two men were indeed talking in the adjoining chamber, the
young Scotchman and Henchard, who, having entered the inn
while Elizabeth-Jane was in the kitchen waiting for the
supper, had been deferentially conducted upstairs by host
Stannidge himself. The girl noiselessly laid out their
little meal, and beckoned to her mother to join her, which
Mrs. Henchard mechanically did, her attention being fixed on
the conversation through the door.
"I merely strolled in on my way home to ask you a question
about something that has excited my curiosity," said the
Mayor, with careless geniality. "But I see you have not
"Ay, but I will be done in a little! Ye needn't go, sir.
Take a seat. I've almost done, and it makes no difference
Henchard seemed to take the seat offered, and in a moment he
resumed: "Well, first I should ask, did you write this?" A
rustling of paper followed.
"Yes, I did," said the Scotchman.
"Then," said Henchard, "I am under the impression that we
have met by accident while waiting for the morning to keep
an appointment with each other? My name is Henchard, ha'n't
you replied to an advertisement for a corn-factor's manager
that I put into the paper--ha'n't you come here to see me
"No," said the Scotchman, with some surprise.
"Surely you are the man," went on Henchard insistingly, "who
arranged to come and see me? Joshua, Joshua, Jipp--Jopp--
what was his name?"
"You're wrong!" said the young man. "My name is Donald
Farfrae. It is true I am in the corren trade--but I have
replied to no advertisement, and arranged to see no one. I
am on my way to Bristol--from there to the other side of the
warrld, to try my fortune in the great wheat-growing
districts of the West! I have some inventions useful to the
trade, and there is no scope for developing them heere."
"To America--well, well," said Henchard, in a tone of
disappointment, so strong as to make itself felt like a damp
atmosphere. "And yet I could have sworn you were the man!"
The Scotchman murmured another negative, and there was a
silence, till Henchard resumed: "Then I am truly and
sincerely obliged to you for the few words you wrote on that
"It was nothing, sir."
"Well, it has a great importance for me just now. This row
about my grown wheat, which I declare to Heaven I didn't
know to be bad till the people came complaining, has put me
to my wits' end. I've some hundreds of quarters of it on
hand; and if your renovating process will make it wholesome,
why, you can see what a quag 'twould get me out of. I saw
in a moment there might be truth in it. But I should like
to have it proved; and of course you don't care to tell the
steps of the process sufficiently for me to do that, without
my paying ye well for't first."
The young man reflected a moment or two. "I don't know that
I have any objection," he said. "I'm going to another
country, and curing bad corn is not the line I'll take up
there. Yes, I'll tell ye the whole of it--you'll make more
out of it heere than I will in a foreign country. Just look
heere a minute, sir. I can show ye by a sample in my
The click of a lock followed, and there was a sifting and
rustling; then a discussion about so many ounces to the
bushel, and drying, and refrigerating, and so on.
"These few grains will be sufficient to show ye with," came