Part 6 out of 8
Henchard by name. Henchard turned slightly and saw that the
corner was Jopp, his old foreman, now employed elsewhere, to
whom, though he hated him, he had gone for lodgings because
Jopp was the one man in Casterbridge whose observation and
opinion the fallen corn-merchant despised to the point of
Henchard returned him a scarcely perceptible nod, and Jopp
"He and she are gone into their new house to-day," said
"Oh," said Henchard absently. "Which house is that?"
"Your old one."
"Gone into my house?" And starting up Henchard added, "
MY house of all others in the town!"
"Well, as somebody was sure to live there, and you couldn't,
it can do 'ee no harm that he's the man."
It was quite true: he felt that it was doing him no harm.
Farfrae, who had already taken the yards and stores, had
acquired possession of the house for the obvious convenience
of its contiguity. And yet this act of his taking up
residence within those roomy chambers while he, their former
tenant, lived in a cottage, galled Henchard indescribably.
Jopp continued: "And you heard of that fellow who bought all
the best furniture at your sale? He was bidding for no other
than Farfrae all the while! It has never been moved out of
the house, as he'd already got the lease."
"My furniture too! Surely he'll buy my body and soul
"There's no saying he won't, if you be willing to sell." And
having planted these wounds in the heart of his once
imperious master Jopp went on his way; while Henchard stared
and stared into the racing river till the bridge seemed
moving backward with him.
The low land grew blacker, and the sky a deeper grey, When
the landscape looked like a picture blotted in with ink,
another traveller approached the great stone bridge. He was
driving a gig, his direction being also townwards. On the
round of the middle of the arch the gig stopped. "Mr
Henchard?" came from it in the voice of Farfrae. Henchard
turned his face.
Finding that he had guessed rightly Farfrae told the man who
accompanied him to drive home; while he alighted and went up
to his former friend.
"I have heard that you think of emigrating, Mr. Henchard?"
he said. "Is it true? I have a real reason for asking."
Henchard withheld his answer for several instants, and then
said, "Yes; it is true. I am going where you were going to
a few years ago, when I prevented you and got you to bide
here. 'Tis turn and turn about, isn't it! Do ye mind how we
stood like this in the Chalk Walk when I persuaded 'ee to
stay? You then stood without a chattel to your name, and I
was the master of the house in corn Street. But now I stand
without a stick or a rag, and the master of that house is
"Yes, yes; that's so! It's the way o' the warrld," said
"Ha, ha, true!" cried Henchard, throwing himself into a mood
of jocularity. "Up and down! I'm used to it. What's the
odds after all!"
"Now listen to me, if it's no taking up your time," said
Farfrae, "just as I listened to you. Don't go. Stay at
"But I can do nothing else, man!" said Henchard scornfully.
"The little money I have will just keep body and soul
together for a few weeks, and no more. I have not felt
inclined to go back to journey-work yet; but I can't stay
doing nothing, and my best chance is elsewhere."
"No; but what I propose is this--if ye will listen. Come
and live in your old house. We can spare some rooms very
well--I am sure my wife would not mind it at all--until
there's an opening for ye."
Henchard started. Probably the picture drawn by the
unsuspecting Donald of himself under the same roof with
Lucetta was too striking to be received with equanimity.
"No, no," he said gruffly; "we should quarrel."
"You should hae a part to yourself," said Farfrae; "and
nobody to interfere wi' you. It will be a deal healthier
than down there by the river where you live now."
Still Henchard refused. "You don't know what you ask," he
said. "However, I can do no less than thank 'ee."
They walked into the town together side by side, as they had
done when Henchard persuaded the young Scotchman to remain.
"Will you come in and have some supper?" said Farfrae when
they reached the middle of the town, where their paths
diverged right and left.
"By-the-bye, I had nearly forgot. I bought a good deal of
"So I have heard."
"Well, it was no that I wanted it so very much for myself;
but I wish ye to pick out all that you care to have--such
things as may be endeared to ye by associations, or
particularly suited to your use. And take them to your own
house--it will not be depriving me, we can do with less very
well, and I will have plenty of opportunities of getting
"What--give it to me for nothing?" said Henchard. "But you
paid the creditors for it!"
"Ah, yes; but maybe it's worth more to you than it is to
Henchard was a little moved. "I--sometimes think I've
wronged 'ee!" he said, in tones which showed the disquietude
that the night shades hid in his face. He shook Farfrae
abruptly by the hand, and hastened away as if unwilling to
betray himself further. Farfrae saw him turn through the
thoroughfare into Bull Stake and vanish down towards the
Meanwhile Elizabeth-Jane, in an upper room no larger than
the Prophet's chamber, and with the silk attire of her palmy
days packed away in a box, was netting with great industry
between the hours which she devoted to studying such books
as she could get hold of.
Her lodgings being nearly opposite her stepfather's former
residence, now Farfrae's, she could see Donald and Lucetta
speeding in and out of their door with all the bounding
enthusiasm of their situation. She avoided looking that way
as much as possible, but it was hardly in human nature to
keep the eyes averted when the door slammed.
While living on thus quietly she heard the news that
Henchard had caught cold and was confined to his room--
possibly a result of standing about the meads in damp
weather. She went off to his house at once. This time she
was determined not to be denied admittance, and made her way
upstairs. He was sitting up in the bed with a greatcoat
round him, and at first resented her intrusion. "Go away--
go away," he said. "I don't like to see 'ee!"
"I don't like to see 'ee," he repeated.
However, the ice was broken, and she remained. She made the
room more comfortable, gave directions to the people below,
and by the time she went away had reconciled her stepfather
to her visiting him.
The effect, either of her ministrations or of her mere
presence, was a rapid recovery. He soon was well enough to
go out; and now things seemed to wear a new colour in his
eyes. He no longer thought of emigration, and thought more
of Elizabeth. The having nothing to do made him more dreary
than any other circumstance; and one day, with better views
of Farfrae than he had held for some time, and a sense that
honest work was not a thing to be ashamed of, he stoically
went down to Farfrae's yard and asked to be taken on as a
journeyman hay-trusser. He was engaged at once. This
hiring of Henchard was done through a foreman, Farfrae
feeling that it was undesirable to come personally in
contact with the ex-corn-factor more than was absolutely
necessary. While anxious to help him he was well aware by
this time of his uncertain temper, and thought reserved
relations best. For the same reason his orders to Henchard
to proceed to this and that country farm trussing in the
usual way were always given through a third person.
For a time these arrangements worked well, it being the
custom to truss in the respective stack-yards, before
bringing it away, the hay bought at the different farms
about the neighbourhood; so that Henchard was often absent
at such places the whole week long. When this was all done,
and Henchard had become in a measure broken in, he came to
work daily on the home premises like the rest. And thus the
once flourishing merchant and Mayor and what not stood as a
day-labourer in the barns and granaries he formerly had
"I have worked as a journeyman before now, ha'n't I?" he
would say in his defiant way; "and why shouldn't I do it
again?" But he looked a far different journeyman from the
one he had been in his earlier days. Then he had worn
clean, suitable clothes, light and cheerful in hue; leggings
yellow as marigolds, corduroys immaculate as new flax, and a
neckerchief like a flower-garden. Now he wore the remains
of an old blue cloth suit of his gentlemanly times, a rusty
silk hat, and a once black satin stock, soiled and shabby.
Clad thus he went to and fro, still comparatively an active
man--for he was not much over forty--and saw with the other
men in the yard Donald Farfrae going in and out the green
door that led to the garden, and the big house, and Lucetta.
At the beginning of the winter it was rumoured about
Casterbridge that Mr. Farfrae, already in the Town Council,
was to be proposed for Mayor in a year or two.
"Yes, she was wise, she was wise in her generation!" said
Henchard to himself when he heard of this one day on his way
to Farfrae's hay-barn. He thought it over as he wimbled his
bonds, and the piece of news acted as a reviviscent breath
to that old view of his--of Donald Farfrae as his triumphant
rival who rode rough-shod over him.
"A fellow of his age going to be Mayor, indeed!" he murmured
with a corner-drawn smile on his mouth. "But 'tis her money
that floats en upward. Ha-ha--how cust odd it is! Here be
I, his former master, working for him as man, and he the man
standing as master, with my house and my furniture and my
what-you-may-call wife all his own."
He repeated these things a hundred times a day. During the
whole period of his acquaintance with Lucetta he had never
wished to claim her as his own so desperately as he now
regretted her loss. It was no mercenary hankering after her
fortune that moved him, though that fortune had been the
means of making her so much the more desired by giving her
the air of independence and sauciness which attracts men of
his composition. It had given her servants, house, and fine
clothing--a setting that invested Lucetta with a startling
novelty in the eyes of him who had known her in her narrow
He accordingly lapsed into moodiness, and at every allusion
to the possibility of Farfrae's near election to the
municipal chair his former hatred of the Scotchman returned.
Concurrently with this he underwent a moral change. It
resulted in his significantly saying every now and then, in
tones of recklessness, "Only a fortnight more!"--"Only a
dozen days!" and so forth, lessening his figures day by day.
"Why d'ye say only a dozen days?" asked Solomon Longways as
he worked beside Henchard in the granary weighing oats.
"Because in twelve days I shall be released from my oath."
"The oath to drink no spirituous liquid. In twelve days it
will be twenty-one years since I swore it, and then I mean
to enjoy myself, please God!"
Elizabeth-Jane sat at her window one Sunday, and while there
she heard in the street below a conversation which
introduced Henchard's name. She was wondering what was the
matter, when a third person who was passing by asked the
question in her mind.
"Michael Henchard have busted out drinking after taking
nothing for twenty-one years!"
Elizabeth-Jane jumped up, put on her things, and went out.
At this date there prevailed in Casterbridge a convivial
custom--scarcely recognized as such, yet none the less
established. On the afternoon of every Sunday a large
contingent of the Casterbridge journeymen--steady church-
goers and sedate characters--having attended service, filed
from the church doors across the way to the Three Mariners
Inn. The rear was usually brought up by the choir, with
their bass-viols, fiddles, and flutes under their arms.
The great point, the point of honour, on these sacred
occasions was for each man to strictly limit himself to
half-a-pint of liquor. This scrupulosity was so well
understood by the landlord that the whole company was served
in cups of that measure. They were all exactly alike--
straight-sided, with two leafless lime-trees done in eel-
brown on the sides--one towards the drinker's lips, the
other confronting his comrade. To wonder how many of these
cups the landlord possessed altogether was a favourite
exercise of children in the marvellous. Forty at least
might have been seen at these times in the large room,
forming a ring round the margin of the great sixteen-legged
oak table, like the monolithic circle of Stonehenge in its
pristine days. Outside and above the forty cups came a
circle of forty smoke-jets from forty clay pipes; outside
the pipes the countenances of the forty church-goers,
supported at the back by a circle of forty chairs.
The conversation was not the conversation of week-days, but
a thing altogether finer in point and higher in tone. They
invariably discussed the sermon, dissecting it, weighing it,
as above or below the average--the general tendency being to
regard it as a scientific feat or performance which had no
relation to their own lives, except as between critics and
the thing criticized. The bass-viol player and the clerk
usually spoke with more authority than the rest on account
of their official connection with the preacher.
Now the Three Mariners was the inn chosen by Henchard as the
place for closing his long term of dramless years. He had
so timed his entry as to be well established in the large
room by the time the forty church-goers entered to their
customary cups. The flush upon his face proclaimed at once
that the vow of twenty-one years had lapsed, and the era of
recklessness begun anew. He was seated on a small table,
drawn up to the side of the massive oak board reserved for
the churchmen, a few of whom nodded to him as they took
their places and said, "How be ye, Mr. Henchard? Quite a
Henchard did not take the trouble to reply for a few
moments, and his eyes rested on his stretched-out legs and
boots. "Yes," he said at length; "that's true. I've been
down in spirit for weeks; some of ye know the cause. I am
better now, but not quite serene. I want you fellows of the
choir to strike up a tune; and what with that and this brew
of Stannidge's, I am in hopes of getting altogether out of
my minor key."
"With all my heart," said the first fiddle. "We've let back
our strings, that's true, but we can soon pull 'em up again.
Sound A, neighbours, and give the man a stave."
"I don't care a curse what the words be," said Henchard.
"Hymns, ballets, or rantipole rubbish; the Rogue's March or
the cherubim's warble--'tis all the same to me if 'tis good
harmony, and well put out."
"Well--heh, heh--it may be we can do that, and not a man
among us that have sat in the gallery less than twenty
year," said the leader of the band. "As 'tis Sunday,
neighbours, suppose we raise the Fourth Psa'am, to Samuel
Wakely's tune, as improved by me?"
"Hang Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by thee!" said
Henchard. "Chuck across one of your psalters--old Wiltshire
is the only tune worth singing--the psalm-tune that would
make my blood ebb and flow like the sea when I was a steady
chap. I'll find some words to fit en." He took one of the
psalters and began turning over the leaves.
Chancing to look out of the window at that moment he saw a
flock of people passing by, and perceived them to be the
congregation of the upper church, now just dismissed, their
sermon having been a longer one than that the lower parish
was favoured with. Among the rest of the leading
inhabitants walked Mr. Councillor Farfrae with Lucetta upon
his arm, the observed and imitated of all the smaller
tradesmen's womankind. Henchard's mouth changed a little,
and he continued to turn over the leaves.
"Now then," he said, "Psalm the Hundred-and-Ninth, to the
tune of Wiltshire: verses ten to fifteen. I gi'e ye the
"His seed shall orphans be, his wife
A widow plunged in grief;
His vagrant children beg their bread
Where none can give relief.
His ill-got riches shall be made
To usurers a prey;
The fruit of all his toil shall be
By strangers borne away.
None shall be found that to his wants
Their mercy will extend,
Or to his helpless orphan seed
The least assistance lend.
A swift destruction soon shall seize
On his unhappy race;
And the next age his hated name
Shall utterly deface."
"I know the Psa'am--I know the Psa'am!" said the leader
hastily; "but I would as lief not sing it. 'Twasn't made
for singing. We chose it once when the gipsy stole the
pa'son's mare, thinking to please him, but pa'son were quite
upset. Whatever Servant David were thinking about when he
made a Psalm that nobody can sing without disgracing
himself, I can't fathom! Now then, the Fourth Psalm, to
Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by me."
"'Od seize your sauce--I tell ye to sing the Hundred-and-
Ninth to Wiltshire, and sing it you shall!" roared Henchard.
"Not a single one of all the droning crew of ye goes out of
this room till that Psalm is sung!" He slipped off the
table, seized the poker, and going to the door placed his
back against it. "Now then, go ahead, if you don't wish to
have your cust pates broke!"
"Don't 'ee, don't'ee take on so!--As 'tis the Sabbath-day,
and 'tis Servant David's words and not ours, perhaps we
don't mind for once, hey?" said one of the terrified choir,
looking round upon the rest. So the instruments were tuned
and the comminatory verses sung.
"Thank ye, thank ye," said Henchard in a softened voice, his
eyes growing downcast, and his manner that of a man much
moved by the strains. "Don't you blame David," he went on
in low tones, shaking his head without raising his eyes.
"He knew what he was about when he wrote that!...If I could
afford it, be hanged if I wouldn't keep a church choir at my
own expense to play and sing to me at these low, dark times
of my life. But the bitter thing is, that when I was rich I
didn't need what I could have, and now I be poor I can't
have what I need!"
While they paused, Lucetta and Farfrae passed again, this
time homeward, it being their custom to take, like others, a
short walk out on the highway and back, between church and
tea-time. "There's the man we've been singing about," said
The players and singers turned their heads and saw his
meaning. "Heaven forbid!" said the bass-player.
"'Tis the man," repeated Henchard doggedly.
"Then if I'd known," said the performer on the clarionet
solemnly, "that 'twas meant for a living man, nothing should
have drawn out of my wynd-pipe the breath for that Psalm, so
"Nor from mine," said the first singer. "But, thought I, as
it was made so long ago perhaps there isn't much in it, so
I'll oblige a neighbour; for there's nothing to be said
against the tune."
"Ah, my boys, you've sung it," said Henchard triumphantly.
"As for him, it was partly by his songs that he got over me,
and heaved me out....I could double him up like that--and
yet I don't." He laid the poker across his knee, bent it as
if it were a twig, flung it down, and came away from the
It was at this time that Elizabeth-Jane, having heard where
her stepfather was, entered the room with a pale and
agonized countenance. The choir and the rest of the company
moved off, in accordance with their half-pint regulation.
Elizabeth-Jane went up to Henchard, and entreated him to
accompany her home.
By this hour the volcanic fires of his nature had burnt
down, and having drunk no great quantity as yet he was
inclined to acquiesce. She took his arm, and together they
went on. Henchard walked blankly, like a blind man,
repeating to himself the last words of the singers--
"And the next age his hated name
Shall utterly deface."
At length he said to her, "I am a man to my word. I have
kept my oath for twenty-one years; and now I can drink with
a good conscience....If I don't do for him--well, I am a
fearful practical joker when I choose! He has taken away
everything from me, and by heavens, if I meet him I won't
answer for my deeds!"
These half-uttered words alarmed Elizabeth--all the more by
reason of the still determination of Henchard's mien.
"What will you do?" she asked cautiously, while trembling
with disquietude, and guessing Henchard's allusion only too
Henchard did not answer, and they went on till they had
reached his cottage. "May I come in?" she said.
"No, no; not to-day," said Henchard; and she went away;
feeling that to caution Farfrae was almost her duty, as it
was certainly her strong desire.
As on the Sunday, so on the week-days, Farfrae and Lucetta
might have been seen flitting about the town like two
butterflies--or rather like a bee and a butterfly in league
for life. She seemed to take no pleasure in going anywhere
except in her husband's company; and hence when business
would not permit him to waste an afternoon she remained
indoors waiting for the time to pass till his return, her
face being visible to Elizabeth-Jane from her window aloft.
The latter, however, did not say to herself that Farfrae
should be thankful for such devotion, but, full of her
reading, she cited Rosalind's exclamation: "Mistress, know
yourself; down on your knees and thank Heaven fasting for a
good man's love."
She kept her eye upon Henchard also. One day he answered
her inquiry for his health by saying that he could not
endure Abel Whittle's pitying eyes upon him while they
worked together in the yard. "He is such a fool," said
Henchard, "that he can never get out of his mind the time
when I was master there."
"I'll come and wimble for you instead of him, if you will
allow me," said she. Her motive on going to the yard was to
get an opportunity of observing the general position of
affairs on Farfrae's premises now that her stepfather was a
workman there. Henchard's threats had alarmed her so much
that she wished to see his behaviour when the two were face
For two or three days after her arrival Donald did not make
any appearance. Then one afternoon the green door opened,
and through came, first Farfrae, and at his heels Lucetta.
Donald brought his wife forward without hesitation, it being
obvious that he had no suspicion whatever of any antecedents
in common between her and the now journeyman hay-trusser.
Henchard did not turn his eyes toward either of the pair,
keeping them fixed on the bond he twisted, as if that alone
absorbed him. A feeling of delicacy, which ever prompted
Farfrae to avoid anything that might seem like triumphing
over a fallen rivel, led him to keep away from the hay-barn
where Henchard and his daughter were working, and to go on
to the corn department. Meanwhile Lucetta, never having
been informed that Henchard had entered her husband's
service, rambled straight on to the barn, where she came
suddenly upon Henchard, and gave vent to a little "Oh!"
which the happy and busy Donald was too far off to hear.
Henchard, with withering humility of demeanour, touched the
brim of his hat to her as Whittle and the rest had done, to
which she breathed a dead-alive "Good afternoon."
"I beg your pardon, ma'am?" said Henchard, as if he had not
"I said good afternoon," she faltered.
"O yes, good afternoon, ma'am," he replied, touching his hat
again. "I am glad to see you, ma'am." Lucetta looked
embarrassed, and Henchard continued: "For we humble workmen
here feel it a great honour that a lady should look in and
take an interest in us."
She glanced at him entreatingly; the sarcasm was too bitter,
"Can you tell me the time, ma'am?" he asked.
"Yes," she said hastily; "half-past four."
"Thank 'ee. An hour and a half longer before we are
released from work. Ah, ma'am, we of the lower classes know
nothing of the gay leisure that such as you enjoy!"
As soon as she could do so Lucetta left him, nodded and
smiled to Elizabeth-Jane, and joined her husband at the
other end of the enclosure, where she could be seen leading
him away by the outer gates, so as to avoid passing Henchard
again. That she had been taken by surprise was obvious.
The result of this casual rencounter was that the next
morning a note was put into Henchard's hand by the postman.
"Will you," said Lucetta, with as much bitterness as she
could put into a small communication, "will you kindly
undertake not to speak to me in the biting undertones you
used to-day, if I walk through the yard at any time? I bear
you no ill-will, and I am only too glad that you should have
employment of my dear husband; but in common fairness treat
me as his wife, and do not try to make me wretched by covert
sneers. I have committed no crime, and done you no injury.
"Poor fool!" said Henchard with fond savagery, holding out
the note. "To know no better than commit herself in writing
like this! Why, if I were to show that to her dear husband--
pooh!" He threw the letter into the fire.
Lucetta took care not to come again among the hay and corn.
She would rather have died than run the risk of encountering
Henchard at such close quarters a second time. The gulf
between them was growing wider every day. Farfrae was
always considerate to his fallen acquaintance; but it was
impossible that he should not, by degrees, cease to regard
the ex-corn-merchant as more than one of his other workmen.
Henchard saw this, and concealed his feelings under a cover
of stolidity, fortifying his heart by drinking more freely
at the Three Mariners every evening.
Often did Elizabeth-Jane, in her endeavours to prevent his
taking other liquor, carry tea to him in a little basket at
five o'clock. Arriving one day on this errand she found her
stepfather was measuring up clover-seed and rape-seed in the
corn-stores on the top floor, and she ascended to him. Each
floor had a door opening into the air under a cat-head, from
which a chain dangled for hoisting the sacks.
When Elizabeth's head rose through the trap she perceived
that the upper door was open, and that her stepfather and
Farfrae stood just within it in conversation, Farfrae being
nearest the dizzy edge, and Henchard a little way behind.
Not to interrupt them she remained on the steps without
raising her head any higher. While waiting thus she saw--or
fancied she saw, for she had a terror of feeling certain--
her stepfather slowly raise his hand to a level behind
Farfrae's shoulders, a curious expression taking possession
of his face. The young man was quite unconscious of the
action, which was so indirect that, if Farfrae had observed
it, he might almost have regarded it as an idle
outstretching of the arm. But it would have been possible,
by a comparatively light touch, to push Farfrae off his
balance, and send him head over heels into the air.
Elizabeth felt quite sick at heart on thinking of what this
MIGHT have meant. As soon as they turned she
mechanically took the tea to Henchard, left it, and went
away. Reflecting, she endeavoured to assure herself that
the movement was an idle eccentricity, and no more. Yet, on
the other hand, his subordinate position in an establishment
where he once had been master might be acting on him like an
irritant poison; and she finally resolved to caution Donald.
Next morning, accordingly, she rose at five o'clock and went
into the street. It was not yet light; a dense fog
prevailed, and the town was as silent as it was dark, except
that from the rectangular avenues which framed in the
borough there came a chorus of tiny rappings, caused by the
fall of water-drops condensed on the boughs; now it was
wafted from the West Walk, now from the South Walk; and then
from both quarters simultaneously. She moved on to the
bottom of corn Street, and, knowing his time well, waited
only a few minutes before she heard the familiar bang of his
door, and then his quick walk towards her. She met him at
the point where the last tree of the engirding avenue
flanked the last house in the street.
He could hardly discern her till, glancing inquiringly, he
said, "What--Miss Henchard--and are ye up so airly?"
She asked him to pardon her for waylaying him at such an
unseemly time. "But I am anxious to mention something," she
said. "And I wished not to alarm Mrs. Farfrae by calling."
"Yes?" said he, with the cheeriness of a superior. "And
what may it be? It's very kind of ye, I'm sure."
She now felt the difficulty of conveying to his mind the
exact aspect of possibilities in her own. But she somehow
began, and introduced Henchard's name. "I sometimes fear,"
she said with an effort, "that he may be betrayed into some
attempt to--insult you, sir.
"But we are the best of friends?"
"Or to play some practical joke upon you, sir. Remember
that he has been hardly used."
"But we are quite friendly?"
"Or to do something--that would injure you--hurt you--wound
you." Every word cost her twice its length of pain. And she
could see that Farfrae was still incredulous. Henchard, a
poor man in his employ, was not to Farfrae's view the
Henchard who had ruled him. Yet he was not only the same
man, but that man with his sinister qualities, formerly
latent, quickened into life by his buffetings.
Farfrae, happy, and thinking no evil, persisted in making
light of her fears. Thus they parted, and she went
homeward, journeymen now being in the street, waggoners
going to the harness-makers for articles left to be
repaired, farm-horses going to the shoeing-smiths, and the
sons of labour showing themselves generally on the move.
Elizabeth entered her lodging unhappily, thinking she had
done no good, and only made herself appear foolish by her
weak note of warning.
But Donald Farfrae was one of those men upon whom an
incident is never absolutely lost. He revised impressions
from a subsequent point of view, and the impulsive judgment
of the moment was not always his permanent one. The vision
of Elizabeth's earnest face in the rimy dawn came back to
him several times during the day. Knowing the solidity of
her character he did not treat her hints altogether as idle
But he did not desist from a kindly scheme on Henchard's
account that engaged him just then; and when he met Lawyer
Joyce, the town-clerk, later in the day, he spoke of it as
if nothing had occurred to damp it.
"About that little seedsman's shop," he said, "the shop
overlooking the churchyard, which is to let. It is not for
myself I want it, but for our unlucky fellow-townsman
Henchard. It would be a new beginning for him, if a small
one; and I have told the Council that I would head a private
subscription among them to set him up in it--that I would be
fifty pounds, if they would make up the other fifty among
"Yes, yes; so I've heard; and there's nothing to say against
it for that matter," the town-clerk replied, in his plain,
frank way. "But, Farfrae, others see what you don't.
Henchard hates 'ee--ay, hates 'ee; and 'tis right that you
should know it. To my knowledge he was at the Three
Mariners last night, saying in public that about you which a
man ought not to say about another."
"Is that so--ah, is that so?" said Farfrae, looking down.
"Why should he do it?" added the young man bitterly; "what
harm have I done him that he should try to wrong me?"
"God only knows," said Joyce, lifting his eyebrows. "It
shows much long-suffering in you to put up with him, and
keep him in your employ."
"But I cannet discharge a man who was once a good friend to
me. How can I forget that when I came here 'twas he enabled
me to make a footing for mysel'? No, no. As long as I've a
day's work to offer he shall do it if he chooses. 'Tis not
I who will deny him such a little as that. But I'll drop
the idea of establishing him in a shop till I can think more
It grieved Farfrae much to give up this scheme. But a damp
having been thrown over it by these and other voices in the
air, he went and countermanded his orders. The then
occupier of the shop was in it when Farfrae spoke to him and
feeling it necessary to give some explanation of his
withdrawal from the negotiation Donald mentioned Henchard's
name, and stated that the intentions of the Council had been
The occupier was much disappointed, and straight-way
informed Henchard, as soon as he saw him, that a scheme of
the Council for setting him up in a shop had been knocked on
the head by Farfrae. And thus out of error enmity grew.
When Farfrae got indoors that evening the tea-kettle was
singing on the high hob of the semi-egg-shaped grate.
Lucetta, light as a sylph, ran forward and seized his hands,
whereupon Farfrae duly kissed her.
"Oh!" she cried playfully, turning to the window. "See--the
blinds are not drawn down, and the people can look in--what
When the candles were lighted, the curtains drawn, and the
twain sat at tea, she noticed that he looked serious.
Without directly inquiring why she let her eyes linger
solicitously on his face.
"Who has called?" he absently asked. "Any folk for me?"
"No," said Lucetta. "What's the matter, Donald?"
"Well--nothing worth talking of," he responded sadly.
"Then, never mind it. You will get through it, Scotchmen
are always lucky."
"No--not always!" he said, shaking his head gloomily as he
contemplated a crumb on the table. "I know many who have
not been so! There was Sandy Macfarlane, who started to
America to try his fortune, and he was drowned; and
Archibald Leith, he was murdered! And poor Willie Dunbleeze
and Maitland Macfreeze--they fell into bad courses, and went
the way of all such!"
"Why--you old goosey--I was only speaking in a general
sense, of course! You are always so literal. Now when we
have finished tea, sing me that funny song about high-heeled
shoon and siller tags, and the one-and-forty wooers."
"No, no. I couldna sing to-night! It's Henchard--he hates
me; so that I may not be his friend if I would. I would
understand why there should be a wee bit of envy; but I
cannet see a reason for the whole intensity of what he
feels. Now, can you, Lucetta? It is more like old-fashioned
rivalry in love than just a bit of rivalry in trade."
Lucetta had grown somewhat wan. "No," she replied.
"I give him employment--I cannet refuse it. But neither can
I blind myself to the fact that with a man of passions such
as his, there is no safeguard for conduct!"
"What have you heard--O Donald, dearest?" said Lucetta in
alarm. The words on her lips were "anything about me?"--but
she did not utter them. She could not, however, suppress
her agitation, and her eyes filled with tears.
"No, no--it is not so serious as ye fancy," declared Farfrae
soothingly; though he did not know its seriousness so well
"I wish you would do what we have talked of," mournfully
remarked Lucetta. "Give up business, and go away from here.
We have plenty of money, and why should we stay?"
Farfrae seemed seriously disposed to discuss this move, and
they talked thereon till a visitor was announced. Their
neighbour Alderman Vatt came in.
"You've heard, I suppose of poor Doctor Chalkfield's death?
Yes--died this afternoon at five," said Mr. Vatt Chalkfield
was the Councilman who had succeeded to the Mayoralty in the
Farfrae was sorry at the intelligence, and Mr. Vatt
continued: "Well, we know he's been going some days, and as
his family is well provided for we must take it all as it
is. Now I have called to ask 'ee this--quite privately. If
I should nominate 'ee to succeed him, and there should be no
particular opposition, will 'ee accept the chair?"
"But there are folk whose turn is before mine; and I'm over
young, and may be thought pushing!" said Farfrae after a
"Not at all. I don't speak for myself only, several have
named it. You won't refuse?"
"We thought of going away," interposed Lucetta, looking at
"It was only a fancy," Farfrae murmured. "I wouldna refuse
if it is the wish of a respectable majority in the Council."
"Very well, then, look upon yourself as elected. We have
had older men long enough."
When he was gone Farfrae said musingly, "See now how it's
ourselves that are ruled by the Powers above us! We plan
this, but we do that. If they want to make me Mayor I will
stay, and Henchard must rave as he will."
From this evening onward Lucetta was very uneasy. If she
had not been imprudence incarnate she would not have acted
as she did when she met Henchard by accident a day or two
later. It was in the bustle of the market, when no one
could readily notice their discourse.
"Michael," said she, "I must again ask you what I asked you
months ago--to return me any letters or papers of mine that
you may have--unless you have destroyed them? You must see
how desirable it is that the time at Jersey should be
blotted out, for the good of all parties."
"Why, bless the woman!--I packed up every scrap of your
handwriting to give you in the coach--but you never
She explained how the death of her aunt had prevented her
taking the journey on that day. "And what became of the
parcel then?" she asked.
He could not say--he would consider. When she was gone he
recollected that he had left a heap of useless papers in his
former dining-room safe--built up in the wall of his old
house--now occupied by Farfrae. The letters might have been
A grotesque grin shaped itself on Henchard's face. Had that
safe been opened?
On the very evening which followed this there was a great
ringing of bells in Casterbridge, and the combined brass,
wood, catgut, and leather bands played round the town with
more prodigality of percussion-notes than ever. Farfrae was
Mayor--the two-hundredth odd of a series forming an elective
dynasty dating back to the days of Charles I--and the fair
Lucetta was the courted of the town....But, Ah! the worm i'
the bud--Henchard; what he could tell!
He, in the meantime, festering with indignation at some
erroneous intelligence of Farfrae's opposition to the scheme
for installing him in the little seed-shop, was greeted with
the news of the municipal election (which, by reason of
Farfrae's comparative youth and his Scottish nativity--a
thing unprecedented in the case--had an interest far beyond
the ordinary). The bell-ringing and the band-playing, loud
as Tamerlane's trumpet, goaded the downfallen Henchard
indescribably: the ousting now seemed to him to be complete.
The next morning he went to the corn-yard as usual, and
about eleven o'clock Donald entered through the green door,
with no trace of the worshipful about him. The yet more
emphatic change of places between him and Henchard which
this election had established renewed a slight embarrassment
in the manner of the modest young man; but Henchard showed
the front of one who had overlooked all this; and Farfrae
met his amenities half-way at once.
"I was going to ask you," said Henchard, "about a packet
that I may possibly have left in my old safe in the dining-
room." He added particulars.
"If so, it is there now," said Farfrae. "I have never
opened the safe at all as yet; for I keep ma papers at the
bank, to sleep easy o' nights."
"It was not of much consequence--to me," said Henchard.
"But I'll call for it this evening, if you don't mind?"
It was quite late when he fulfilled his promise. He had
primed himself with grog, as he did very frequently now, and
a curl of sardonic humour hung on his lip as he approached
the house, as though he were contemplating some terrible
form of amusement. Whatever it was, the incident of his
entry did not diminish its force, this being his first visit
to the house since he had lived there as owner. The ring of
the bell spoke to him like the voice of a familiar drudge
who had been bribed to forsake him; the movements of the
doors were revivals of dead days.
Farfrae invited him into the dining-room, where he at once
unlocked the iron safe built into the wall, HIS,
Henchard's safe, made by an ingenious locksmith under his
direction. Farfrae drew thence the parcel, and other
papers, with apologies for not having returned them.
"Never mind," said Henchard drily. "The fact is they are
letters mostly....Yes," he went on, sitting down and
unfolding Lucetta's passionate bundle, "here they be. That
ever I should see 'em again! I hope Mrs. Farfrae is well
after her exertions of yesterday?"
"She has felt a bit weary; and has gone to bed airly on that
Henchard returned to the letters, sorting them over with
interest, Farfrae being seated at the other end of the
dining-table. "You don't forget, of course," he resumed,
"that curious chapter in the history of my past which I told
you of, and that you gave me some assistance in? These
letters are, in fact, related to that unhappy business.
Though, thank God, it is all over now."
"What became of the poor woman?" asked Farfrae.
"Luckily she married, and married well," said Henchard. "So
that these reproaches she poured out on me do not now cause
me any twinges, as they might otherwise have done....Just
listen to what an angry woman will say!"
Farfrae, willing to humour Henchard, though quite
uninterested, and bursting with yawns, gave well-mannered
"'For me,'" Henchard read, "'there is practically no future.
A creature too unconventionally devoted to you--who feels it
impossible that she can be the wife of any other man; and
who is yet no more to you than the first woman you meet in
the street--such am I. I quite acquit you of any intention
to wrong me, yet you are the door through which wrong has
come to me. That in the event of your present wife's death
you will place me in her position is a consolation so far as
it goes--but how far does it go? Thus I sit here, forsaken
by my few acquaintance, and forsaken by you!'"
"That's how she went on to me," said Henchard, "acres of
words like that, when what had happened was what I could not
"Yes," said Farfrae absently, "it is the way wi' women." But
the fact was that he knew very little of the sex; yet
detecting a sort of resemblance in style between the
effusions of the woman he worshipped and those of the
supposed stranger, he concluded that Aphrodite ever spoke
thus, whosesoever the personality she assumed.
Henchard unfolded another letter, and read it through
likewise, stopping at the subscription as before. "Her name
I don't give," he said blandly. "As I didn't marry her, and
another man did, I can scarcely do that in fairness to her."
"Tr-rue, tr-rue," said Farfrae. "But why didn't you marry
her when your wife Susan died?" Farfrae asked this and the
other questions in the comfortably indifferent tone of one
whom the matter very remotely concerned.
"Ah--well you may ask that!" said Henchard, the new-moon-
shaped grin adumbrating itself again upon his mouth. "In
spite of all her protestations, when I came forward to do
so, as in generosity bound, she was not the woman for me."
"She had already married another--maybe?"
Henchard seemed to think it would be sailing too near the
wind to descend further into particulars, and he answered
"The young lady must have had a heart that bore
transplanting very readily!"
"She had, she had," said Henchard emphatically.
He opened a third and fourth letter, and read. This time he
approached the conclusion as if the signature were indeed
coming with the rest. But again he stopped short. The
truth was that, as may be divined, he had quite intended to
effect a grand catastrophe at the end of this drama by
reading out the name, he had come to the house with no other
thought. But sitting here in cold blood he could not do it.
Such a wrecking of hearts appalled even him. His quality
was such that he could have annihilated them both in the
heat of action; but to accomplish the deed by oral poison
was beyond the nerve of his enmity.
As Donald stated, Lucetta had retired early to her room
because of fatigue. She had, however, not gone to rest, but
sat in the bedside chair reading and thinking over the
events of the day. At the ringing of the door-bell by
Henchard she wondered who it should be that would call at
that comparatively late hour. The dining-room was almost
under her bed-room; she could hear that somebody was
admitted there, and presently the indistinct murmur of a
person reading became audible.
The usual time for Donald's arrival upstairs came and
passed, yet still the reading and conversation went on.
This was very singular. She could think of nothing but that
some extraordinary crime had been committed, and that the
visitor, whoever he might be, was reading an account of it
from a special edition of the Casterbridge Chronicle.
At last she left the room, and descended the stairs. The
dining-room door was ajar, and in the silence of the resting
household the voice and the words were recognizable before
she reached the lower flight. She stood transfixed. Her
own words greeted her in Henchard's voice, like spirits from
Lucetta leant upon the banister with her cheek against the
smooth hand-rail, as if she would make a friend of it in her
misery. Rigid in this position, more and more words fell
successively upon her ear. But what amazed her most was the
tone of her husband. He spoke merely in the accents of a
man who made a present of his time.
"One word," he was saying, as the crackling of paper denoted
that Henchard was unfolding yet another sheet. "Is it quite
fair to this young woman's memory to read at such length to
a stranger what was intended for your eye alone?"
"Well, yes," said Henchard. "By not giving her name I make
it an example of all womankind, and not a scandal to one."
"If I were you I would destroy them," said Farfrae, giving
more thought to the letters than he had hitherto done. "As
another man's wife it would injure the woman if it were
"No, I shall not destroy them," murmured Henchard, putting
the letters away. Then he arose, and Lucetta heard no more.
She went back to her bedroom in a semi-paralyzed state. For
very fear she could not undress, but sat on the edge of the
bed, waiting. Would Henchard let out the secret in his
parting words? Her suspense was terrible. Had she confessed
all to Donald in their early acquaintance he might possibly
have got over it, and married her just the same--unlikely as
it had once seemed; but for her or any one else to tell him
now would be fatal.
The door slammed; she could hear her husband bolting it.
After looking round in his customary way he came leisurely
up the stairs. The spark in her eyes well-nigh went out
when he appeared round the bedroom door. Her gaze hung
doubtful for a moment, then to her joyous amazement she saw
that he looked at her with the rallying smile of one who had
just been relieved of a scene that was irksome. She could
hold out no longer, and sobbed hysterically.
When he had restored her Farfrae naturally enough spoke of
Henchard. "Of all men he was the least desirable as a
visitor," he said; "but it is my belief that he's just a bit
crazed. He has been reading to me a long lot of letters
relating to his past life; and I could do no less than
indulge him by listening.
This was sufficient. Henchard, then, had not told.
Henchard's last words to Farfrae, in short, as he stood on
the doorstep, had been these: "Well--I'm obliged to 'ee for
listening. I may tell more about her some day."
Finding this, she was much perplexed as to Henchard's
motives in opening the matter at all; for in such cases we
attribute to an enemy a power of consistent action which we
never find in ourselves or in our friends; and forget that
abortive efforts from want of heart are as possible to
revenge as to generosity.
Next morning Lucetta remained in bed, meditating how to
parry this incipient attack. The bold stroke of telling
Donald the truth, dimly conceived, was yet too bold; for she
dreaded lest in doing so he, like the rest of the world,
should believe that the episode was rather her fault than
her misfortune. She decided to employ persuasion--not with
Donald but with the enemy himself. It seemed the only
practicable weapon left her as a woman. Having laid her
plan she rose, and wrote to him who kept her on these
"I overheard your interview with my husband last night, and
saw the drift of your revenge. The very thought of it
crushes me! Have pity on a distressed woman! If you could
see me you would relent. You do not know how anxiety has
told upon me lately. I will be at the Ring at the time you
leave work--just before the sun goes down. Please come that
way. I cannot rest till I have seen you face to face, and
heard from your mouth that you will carry this horse-play no
To herself she said, on closing up her appeal: "If ever
tears and pleadings have served the weak to fight the
strong, let them do so now!"
With this view she made a toilette which differed from all
she had ever attempted before. To heighten her natural
attraction had hitherto been the unvarying endeavour of her
adult life, and one in which she was no novice. But now she
neglected this, and even proceeded to impair the natural
presentation. Beyond a natural reason for her slightly
drawn look, she had not slept all the previous night, and
this had produced upon her pretty though slightly worn
features the aspect of a countenance ageing prematurely from
extreme sorrow. She selected--as much from want of spirit
as design--her poorest, plainest and longest discarded
To avoid the contingency of being recognized she veiled
herself, and slipped out of the house quickly. The sun was
resting on the hill like a drop of blood on an eyelid by the
time she had got up the road opposite the amphitheatre,
which she speedily entered. The interior was shadowy, and
emphatic of the absence of every living thing.
She was not disappointed in the fearful hope with which
she awaited him. Henchard came over the top, descended and
Lucetta waited breathlessly. But having reached the arena
she saw a change in his bearing: he stood still at a little
distance from her; she could not think why.
Nor could any one else have known. The truth was that in
appointing this spot, and this hour, for the rendezvous,
Lucetta had unwittingly backed up her entreaty by the
strongest argument she could have used outside words, with
this man of moods, glooms, and superstitions. Her figure in
the midst of the huge enclosure, the unusual plainness of
her dress, her attitude of hope and appeal, so strongly
revived in his soul the memory of another ill-used woman who
had stood there and thus in bygone days, and had now passed
away into her rest, that he was unmanned, and his heart
smote him for having attempted reprisals on one of a sex so
weak. When he approached her, and before she had spoken a
word, her point was half gained.
His manner as he had come down had been one of cynical
carelessness; but he now put away his grim half-smile, and
said in a kindly subdued tone, "Goodnight t'ye. Of course I
in glad to come if you want me."
"O, thank you," she said apprehensively.
"I am sorry to see 'ee looking so ill," he stammered with
She shook her head. "How can you be sorry," she asked,
"when you deliberately cause it?"
"What!" said Henchard uneasily. "Is it anything I have done
that has pulled you down like that?"
"It is all your doing," she said. "I have no other grief.
My happiness would be secure enough but for your threats. O
Michael! don't wreck me like this! You might think that you
have done enough! When I came here I was a young woman; now
I am rapidly becoming an old one. Neither my husband nor
any other man will regard me with interest long."
Henchard was disarmed. His old feeling of supercilious pity
for womankind in general was intensified by this suppliant
appearing here as the double of the first. Moreover that
thoughtless want of foresight which had led to all her
trouble remained with poor Lucetta still; she had come to
meet him here in this compromising way without
perceiving the risk. Such a woman was very small deer to
hunt; he felt ashamed, lost all zest and desire to humiliate
Lucetta there and then, and no longer envied Farfrae his
bargain. He had married money, but nothing more. Henchard
was anxious to wash his hands of the game.
"Well, what do you want me to do?" he said gently. "I am
sure I shall be very willing. My reading of those letters
was only a sort of practical joke, and I revealed nothing."
"To give me back the letters and any papers you may have
that breathe of matrimony or worse."
"So be it. Every scrap shall be yours....But, between you
and me, Lucetta, he is sure to find out something of the
matter, sooner or later.
"Ah!" she said with eager tremulousness; "but not till I
have proved myself a faithful and deserving wife to him, and
then he may forgive me everything!"
Henchard silently looked at her: he almost envied Farfrae
such love as that, even now. "H'm--I hope so," he said.
"But you shall have the letters without fail. And your
secret shall be kept. I swear it."
"How good you are!--how shall I get them?"
He reflected, and said he would send them the next morning.
"Now don't doubt me," he added. "I can keep my word.
Returning from her appointment Lucetta saw a man waiting by
the lamp nearest to her own door. When she stopped to go in
he came and spoke to her. It was Jopp.
He begged her pardon for addressing her. But he had heard
that Mr. Farfrae had been applied to by a neighbouring corn-
merchant to recommend a working partner; if so he wished to
offer himself. He could give good security, and had stated
as much to Mr. Farfrae in a letter; but he would feel
much obliged if Lucetta would say a word in his favour to
"It is a thing I know nothing about," said Lucetta coldly.
"But you can testify to my trustworthiness better than
anybody, ma'am," said Jopp. "I was in Jersey several years,
and knew you there by sight."
"Indeed," she replied. "But I knew nothing of you."
"I think, ma'am, that a word or two from you would secure
for me what I covet very much," he persisted.
She steadily refused to have anything to do with the affair,
and cutting him short, because of her anxiety to get indoors
before her husband should miss her, left him on the
He watched her till she had vanished, and then went home.
When he got there he sat down in the fireless chimney corner
looking at the iron dogs, and the wood laid across them for
heating the morning kettle. A movement upstairs disturbed
him, and Henchard came down from his bedroom, where he
seemed to have been rummaging boxes.
"I wish," said Henchard, "you would do me a service, Jopp,
now--to-night, I mean, if you can. Leave this at Mrs.
Farfrae's for her. I should take it myself, of course, but
I don't wish to be seen there."
He handed a package in brown paper, sealed. Henchard had
been as good as his word. Immediately on coming indoors he
had searched over his few belongings, and every scrap of
Lucetta's writing that he possessed was here. Jopp
indifferently expressed his willingness.
"Well, how have ye got on to-day?" his lodger asked. "Any
prospect of an opening?"
"I am afraid not," said Jopp, who had not told the other of
his application to Farfrae.
"There never will be in Casterbridge," declared Henchard
decisively. "You must roam further afield." He said good-
night to Jopp, and returned to his own part of the house.
Jopp sat on till his eyes were attracted by the shadow of
the candle-snuff on the wall, and looking at the original he
found that it had formed itself into a head like a red-hot
cauliflower. Henchard's packet next met his gaze. He knew
there had been something of the nature of wooing between
Henchard and the now Mrs. Farfrae; and his vague ideas
on the subject narrowed themselves down to these: Henchard
had a parcel belonging to Mrs. Farfrae, and he had reasons
for not returning that parcel to her in person. What could
be inside it? So he went on and on till, animated by
resentment at Lucetta's haughtiness, as he thought it, and
curiosity to learn if there were any weak sides to this
transaction with Henchard, he examined the package. The pen
and all its relations being awkward tools in Henchard's
hands he had affixed the seals without an impression, it
never occurring to him that the efficacy of such a fastening
depended on this. Jopp was far less of a tyro; he lifted
one of the seals with his penknife, peeped in at the end
thus opened, saw that the bundle consisted of letters; and,
having satisfied himself thus far, sealed up the end again
by simply softening the wax with the candle, and went off
with the parcel as requested.
His path was by the river-side at the foot of the town.
Coming into the light at the bridge which stood at the end
of High Street he beheld lounging thereon Mother Cuxsom and
"We be just going down Mixen Lane way, to look into Peter's
finger afore creeping to bed," said Mrs. Cuxsom. "There's a
fiddle and tambourine going on there. Lord, what's all the
world--do ye come along too, Jopp--'twon't hinder ye five
Jopp had mostly kept himself out of this company, but
present circumstances made him somewhat more reckless than
usual, and without many words he decided to go to his
destination that way.
Though the upper part of Durnover was mainly composed of a
curious congeries of barns and farm-steads, there was a less
picturesque side to the parish. This was Mixen Lane, now in
great part pulled down.
Mixen Lane was the Adullam of all the surrounding villages.
It was the hiding-place of those who were in distress, and
in debt, and trouble of every kind. Farm-labourers and
other peasants, who combined a little poaching with their
farming, and a little brawling and bibbing with their
poaching, found themselves sooner or later in Mixen Lane.
Rural mechanics too idle to mechanize, rural servants
too rebellious to serve, drifted or were forced into Mixen
The lane and its surrounding thicket of thatched cottages
stretched out like a spit into the moist and misty lowland.
Much that was sad, much that was low, some things that were
baneful, could be seen in Mixen Lane. Vice ran freely in
and out certain of the doors in the neighbourhood;
recklessness dwelt under the roof with the crooked chimney;
shame in some bow-windows; theft (in times of privation) in
the thatched and mud-walled houses by the sallows. Even
slaughter had not been altogether unknown here. In a block
of cottages up an alley there might have been erected an
altar to disease in years gone by. Such was Mixen Lane in
the times when Henchard and Farfrae were Mayors.
Yet this mildewed leaf in the sturdy and flourishing
Casterbridge plant lay close to the open country; not a
hundred yards from a row of noble elms, and commanding a
view across the moor of airy uplands and corn-fields, and
mansions of the great. A brook divided the moor from the
tenements, and to outward view there was no way across it--
no way to the houses but round about by the road. But under
every householder's stairs there was kept a mysterious plank
nine inches wide; which plank was a secret bridge.
If you, as one of those refugee householders, came in from
business after dark--and this was the business time here--
you stealthily crossed the moor, approached the border of
the aforesaid brook, and whistled opposite the house to
which you belonged. A shape thereupon made its appearance
on the other side bearing the bridge on end against the sky;
it was lowered; you crossed, and a hand helped you to land
yourself, together with the pheasants and hares gathered
from neighbouring manors. You sold them slily the next
morning, and the day after you stood before the magistrates
with the eyes of all your sympathizing neighbours
concentrated on your back. You disappeared for a time; then
you were again found quietly living in Mixen Lane.
Walking along the lane at dusk the stranger was struck by
two or three peculiar features therein. One was an
intermittent rumbling from the back premises of the inn
half-way up; this meant a skittle alley. Another was the
extensive prevalence of whistling in the various
domiciles--a piped note of some kind coming from nearly
every open door. Another was the frequency of white aprons
over dingy gowns among the women around the doorways. A
white apron is a suspicious vesture in situations where
spotlessness is difficult; moreover, the industry and
cleanliness which the white apron expressed were belied by
the postures and gaits of the women who wore it--their
knuckles being mostly on their hips (an attitude which lent
them the aspect of two-handled mugs), and their shoulders
against door-posts; while there was a curious alacrity in
the turn of each honest woman's head upon her neck and in
the twirl of her honest eyes, at any noise resembling a
masculine footfall along the lane.
Yet amid so much that was bad needy respectability also
found a home. Under some of the roofs abode pure and
virtuous souls whose presence there was due to the iron hand
of necessity, and to that alone. Families from decayed
villages--families of that once bulky, but now nearly
extinct, section of village society called "liviers," or
lifeholders--copyholders and others, whose roof-trees had
fallen for some reason or other, compelling them to quit the
rural spot that had been their home for generations--came
here, unless they chose to lie under a hedge by the wayside.
The inn called Peter's finger was the church of Mixen Lane.
It was centrally situate, as such places should be, and bore
about the same social relation to the Three Mariners as the
latter bore to the King's Arms. At first sight the inn was
so respectable as to be puzzling. The front door was kept
shut, and the step was so clean that evidently but few
persons entered over its sanded surface. But at the corner
of the public-house was an alley, a mere slit, dividing it
from the next building. Half-way up the alley was a narrow
door, shiny and paintless from the rub of infinite hands and
shoulders. This was the actual entrance to the inn.
A pedestrian would be seen abstractedly passing along Mixen
Lane; and then, in a moment, he would vanish, causing the
gazer to blink like Ashton at the disappearance of
Ravenswood. That abstracted pedestrian had edged into the
slit by the adroit fillip of his person sideways; from the
slit he edged into the tavern by a similar exercise of
The company at the Three Mariners were persons of quality in
comparison with the company which gathered here; though it
must be admitted that the lowest fringe of the Mariner's
party touched the crest of Peter's at points. Waifs and
strays of all sorts loitered about here. The landlady was a
virtuous woman who years ago had been unjustly sent to gaol
as an accessory to something or other after the fact. She
underwent her twelvemonth, and had worn a martyr's
countenance ever since, except at times of meeting the
constable who apprehended her, when she winked her eye.
To this house Jopp and his acquaintances had arrived. The
settles on which they sat down were thin and tall, their
tops being guyed by pieces of twine to hooks in the ceiling;
for when the guests grew boisterous the settles would rock
and overturn without some such security. The thunder of
bowls echoed from the backyard; swingels hung behind the
blower of the chimney; and ex-poachers and ex-gamekeepers,
whom squires had persecuted without a cause, sat elbowing
each other--men who in past times had met in fights under
the moon, till lapse of sentences on the one part, and loss
of favour and expulsion from service on the other, brought
them here together to a common level, where they sat calmly
discussing old times.
"Dost mind how you could jerk a trout ashore with a bramble,
and not ruffle the stream, Charl?" a deposed keeper was
saying. "'Twas at that I caught 'ee once, if you can mind?"
"That I can. But the worst larry for me was that pheasant
business at Yalbury Wood. Your wife swore false that time,
Joe--O, by Gad, she did--there's no denying it."
"How was that?" asked Jopp.
"Why--Joe closed wi' me, and we rolled down together, close
to his garden hedge. Hearing the noise, out ran his wife
with the oven pyle, and it being dark under the trees she
couldn't see which was uppermost. 'Where beest thee, Joe,
under or top?' she screeched. 'O--under, by Gad!' says he.
She then began to rap down upon my skull, back, and ribs
with the pyle till we'd roll over again. 'Where beest now,
dear Joe, under or top?' she'd scream again. By George,
'twas through her I was took! And then when we got up
in hall she sware that the cock pheasant was one of her
rearing, when 'twas not your bird at all, Joe; 'twas Squire
Brown's bird--that's whose 'twas--one that we'd picked off
as we passed his wood, an hour afore. It did hurt my
feelings to be so wronged!...Ah well--'tis over now."
"I might have had 'ee days afore that," said the keeper. "I
was within a few yards of 'ee dozens of times, with a sight
more of birds than that poor one."
"Yes--'tis not our greatest doings that the world gets wind
of," said the furmity-woman, who, lately settled in this
purlieu, sat among the rest. Having travelled a great deal
in her time she spoke with cosmopolitan largeness of idea.
It was she who presently asked Jopp what was the parcel he
kept so snugly under his arm.
"Ah, therein lies a grand secret," said Jopp. "It is the
passion of love. To think that a woman should love one man
so well, and hate another so unmercifully."
"Who's the object of your meditation, sir?"
"One that stands high in this town. I'd like to shame her!
Upon my life, 'twould be as good as a play to read her love-
letters, the proud piece of silk and wax-work! For 'tis her
love-letters that I've got here."
"Love letters? then let's hear 'em, good soul," said Mother
Cuxsom. "Lord, do ye mind, Richard, what fools we used to
be when we were younger? Getting a schoolboy to write ours
for us; and giving him a penny, do ye mind, not to tell
other folks what he'd put inside, do ye mind?"
By this time Jopp had pushed his finger under the seals, and
unfastened the letters, tumbling them over and picking up
one here and there at random, which he read aloud. These
passages soon began to uncover the secret which Lucetta had
so earnestly hoped to keep buried, though the epistles,
being allusive only, did not make it altogether plain.
"Mrs. Farfrae wrote that!" said Nance Mockridge. "'Tis a
humbling thing for us, as respectable women, that one of the
same sex could do it. And now she's avowed herself to
"So much the better for her," said the aged furmity-woman.
"Ah, I saved her from a real bad marriage, and she's
never been the one to thank me."
"I say, what a good foundation for a skimmity-ride," said
"True," said Mrs. Cuxsom, reflecting. "'Tis as good a
ground for a skimmity-ride as ever I knowed; and it ought
not to be wasted. The last one seen in Casterbridge must
have been ten years ago, if a day."
At this moment there was a shrill whistle, and the landlady
said to the man who had been called Charl, "'Tis Jim coming
in. Would ye go and let down the bridge for me?"
Without replying Charl and his comrade Joe rose, and
receiving a lantern from her went out at the back door and
down the garden-path, which ended abruptly at the edge of
the stream already mentioned. Beyond the stream was the
open moor, from which a clammy breeze smote upon their faces
as they advanced. Taking up the board that had lain in
readiness one of them lowered it across the water, and the
instant its further end touched the ground footsteps entered
upon it, and there appeared from the shade a stalwart man
with straps round his knees, a double-barrelled gun under
his arm and some birds slung up behind him. They asked him
if he had had much luck.
"Not much," he said indifferently. "All safe inside?"
Receiving a reply in the affirmative he went on inwards, the
others withdrawing the bridge and beginning to retreat in
his rear. Before, however, they had entered the house a cry
of "Ahoy" from the moor led them to pause.
The cry was repeated. They pushed the lantern into an
outhouse, and went back to the brink of the stream.
"Ahoy--is this the way to Casterbridge?" said some one from
the other side.
"Not in particular," said Charl. "There's a river afore
"I don't care--here's for through it!" said the man in the
moor. "I've had travelling enough for to-day."
"Stop a minute, then," said Charl, finding that the man was
no enemy. "Joe, bring the plank and lantern; here's
somebody that's lost his way. You should have kept along
the turnpike road, friend, and not have strook across here."
"I should--as I see now. But I saw a light here, and says I
to myself, that's an outlying house, depend on't."
The plank was now lowered; and the stranger's form
shaped itself from the darkness. He was a middle-aged man,
with hair and whiskers prematurely grey, and a broad and
genial face. He had crossed on the plank without
hesitation, and seemed to see nothing odd in the transit.
He thanked them, and walked between them up the garden.
"What place is this?" he asked, when they reached the door.
"Ah, perhaps it will suit me to put up at. Now then, come
in and wet your whistle at my expense for the lift over you
have given me."
They followed him into the inn, where the increased light
exhibited him as one who would stand higher in an estimate
by the eye than in one by the ear. He was dressed with a
certain clumsy richness--his coat being furred, and his head
covered by a cap of seal-skin, which, though the nights were
chilly, must have been warm for the daytime, spring being
somewhat advanced. In his hand he carried a small mahogany
case, strapped, and clamped with brass.
Apparently surprised at the kind of company which confronted
him through the kitchen door, he at once abandoned his idea
of putting up at the house; but taking the situation
lightly, he called for glasses of the best, paid for them as
he stood in the passage, and turned to proceed on his way by
the front door. This was barred, and while the landlady was
unfastening it the conversation about the skimmington was
continued in the sitting-room, and reached his ears.
"What do they mean by a 'skimmity-ride'?" he asked.
"O, sir!" said the landlady, swinging her long earrings with
deprecating modesty; "'tis a' old foolish thing they do in
these parts when a man's wife is--well, not too particularly
his own. But as a respectable householder I don't encourage
"Still, are they going to do it shortly? It is a good sight
to see, I suppose?"
"Well, sir!" she simpered. And then, bursting into
naturalness, and glancing from the corner of her eye, "'Tis
the funniest thing under the sun! And it costs money."
"Ah! I remember hearing of some such thing. Now I shall be
in Casterbridge for two or three weeks to come, and
should not mind seeing the performance. Wait a
moment." He turned back, entered the sitting-room, and said,
"Here, good folks; I should like to see the old custom you
are talking of, and I don't mind being something towards it--
take that." He threw a sovereign on the table and returned
to the landlady at the door, of whom, having inquired the
way into the town, he took his leave.
"There were more where that one came from," said Charl when
the sovereign had been taken up and handed to the landlady
for safe keeping. "By George! we ought to have got a few
more while we had him here."
"No, no," answered the landlady. "This is a respectable
house, thank God! And I'll have nothing done but what's
"Well," said Jopp; "now we'll consider the business begun,
and will soon get it in train."
"We will!" said Nance. "A good laugh warms my heart more
than a cordial, and that's the truth on't."
Jopp gathered up the letters, and it being now somewhat late
he did not attempt to call at Farfrae's with them that
night. He reached home, sealed them up as before, and
delivered the parcel at its address next morning. Within an
hour its contents were reduced to ashes by Lucetta, who,
poor soul! was inclined to fall down on her knees in
thankfulness that at last no evidence remained of the
unlucky episode with Henchard in her past. For though hers
had been rather the laxity of inadvertence than of
intention, that episode, if known, was not the less likely
to operate fatally between herself and her husband.
Such was the state of things when the current affairs of
Casterbridge were interrupted by an event of such magnitude
that its influence reached to the lowest social stratum
there, stirring the depths of its society simultaneously
with the preparations for the skimmington. It was one of
those excitements which, when they move a country town,
leave permanent mark upon its chronicles, as a warm
summer permanently marks the ring in the tree-trunk
corresponding to its date.
A Royal Personage was about to pass through the borough on
his course further west, to inaugurate an immense
engineering work out that way. He had consented to halt
half-an-hour or so in the town, and to receive an address
from the corporation of Casterbridge, which, as a
representative centre of husbandry, wished thus to express
its sense of the great services he had rendered to
agricultural science and economics, by his zealous promotion
of designs for placing the art of farming on a more
Royalty had not been seen in Casterbridge since the days of
the third King George, and then only by candlelight for a
few minutes, when that monarch, on a night-journey, had
stopped to change horses at the King's Arms. The
inhabitants therefore decided to make a thorough fete
carillonee of the unwonted occasion. Half-an-hour's pause
was not long, it is true; but much might be done in it by a
judicious grouping of incidents, above all, if the weather
The address was prepared on parchment by an artist who was
handy at ornamental lettering, and was laid on with the best
gold-leaf and colours that the sign-painter had in his shop.
The Council had met on the Tuesday before the appointed day,
to arrange the details of the procedure. While they were
sitting, the door of the Council Chamber standing open, they
heard a heavy footstep coming up the stairs. It advanced
along the passage, and Henchard entered the room, in clothes
of frayed and threadbare shabbiness, the very clothes which
he had used to wear in the primal days when he had sat among
"I have a feeling," he said, advancing to the table and
laying his hand upon the green cloth, "that I should like to
join ye in this reception of our illustrious visitor. I
suppose I could walk with the rest?"
Embarrassed glances were exchanged by the Council and Grower
nearly ate the end of his quill-pen off, so gnawed he it
during the silence. Farfrae the young Mayor, who by virtue
of his office sat in the large chair, intuitively caught the
sense of the meeting, and as spokesman was obliged to
utter it, glad as he would have been that the duty should
have fallen to another tongue.
"I hardly see that it would be proper, Mr. Henchard," said
he. "The Council are the Council, and as ye are no longer
one of the body, there would be an irregularity in the
proceeding. If ye were included, why not others?"
"I have a particular reason for wishing to assist at the
Farfrae looked round. "I think I have expressed the feeling
of the Council," he said.
"Yes, yes," from Dr. Bath, Lawyer Long, Alderman Tubber, and
"Then I am not to be allowed to have anything to do with it
"I am afraid so; it is out of the question, indeed. But of
course you can see the doings full well, such as they are to
be, like the rest of the spectators."
Henchard did not reply to that very obvious suggestion, and,
turning on his heel, went away.
It had been only a passing fancy of his, but opposition
crystallized it into a determination. "I'll welcome his
Royal Highness, or nobody shall!" he went about saying. "I
am not going to be sat upon by Farfrae, or any of the rest
of the paltry crew! You shall see."
The eventful morning was bright, a full-faced sun
confronting early window-gazers eastward, and all perceived
(for they were practised in weather-lore) that there was
permanence in the glow. Visitors soon began to flock in
from county houses, villages, remote copses, and lonely
uplands, the latter in oiled boots and tilt bonnets, to see
the reception, or if not to see it, at any rate to be near
it. There was hardly a workman in the town who did not put
a clean shirt on. Solomon Longways, Christopher Coney,
Buzzford, and the rest of that fraternity, showed their
sense of the occasion by advancing their customary eleven
o'clock pint to half-past ten; from which they found a
difficulty in getting back to the proper hour for several
Henchard had determined to do no work that day. He primed
himself in the morning with a glass of rum, and walking down
the street met Elizabeth-Jane, whom he had not seen for
a week. "It was lucky," he said to her, "my twenty-one
years had expired before this came on, or I should never
have had the nerve to carry it out."
"Carry out what?" said she, alarmed.
"This welcome I am going to give our Royal visitor."
She was perplexed. "Shall we go and see it together?" she
"See it! I have other fish to fry. You see it. It will be
She could do nothing to elucidate this, and decked herself
out with a heavy heart. As the appointed time drew near she
got sight again of her stepfather. She thought he was going
to the Three Mariners; but no, he elbowed his way through
the gay throng to the shop of Woolfrey, the draper. She
waited in the crowd without.
In a few minutes he emerged, wearing, to her surprise, a
brilliant rosette, while more surprising still, in his hand
he carried a flag of somewhat homely construction, formed by
tacking one of the small Union Jacks, which abounded in the
town to-day, to the end of a deal wand--probably the roller
from a piece of calico. Henchard rolled up his flag on the
doorstep, put it under his arm, and went down the street.
Suddenly the taller members of the crowd turned their heads,
and the shorter stood on tiptoe. It was said that the Royal
cortege approached. The railway had stretched out an
arm towards Casterbridge at this time, but had not reached
it by several miles as yet; so that the intervening
distance, as well as the remainder of the journey, was to be
traversed by road in the old fashion. People thus waited--
the county families in their carriages, the masses on foot--
and watched the far-stretching London highway to the ringing
of bells and chatter of tongues.
From the background Elizabeth-Jane watched the scene. Some
seats had been arranged from which ladies could witness the
spectacle, and the front seat was occupied by Lucetta, the
Mayor's wife, just at present. In the road under her eyes
stood Henchard. She appeared so bright and pretty that, as
it seemed, he was experiencing the momentary weakness of
wishing for her notice. But he was far from attractive to a
woman's eye, ruled as that is so largely by the
superficies of things. He was not only a journeyman,
unable to appear as he formerly had appeared, but he
disdained to appear as well as he might. Everybody else,
from the Mayor to the washerwoman, shone in new vesture
according to means; but Henchard had doggedly retained the
fretted and weather-beaten garments of bygone years.
Hence, alas, this occurred: Lucetta's eyes slid over him to
this side and to that without anchoring on his features--as
gaily dressed women's eyes will too often do on such
occasions. Her manner signified quite plainly that she
meant to know him in public no more.
But she was never tired of watching Donald, as he stood in
animated converse with his friends a few yards off, wearing
round his young neck the official gold chain with great
square links, like that round the Royal unicorn. Every
trifling emotion that her husband showed as he talked had
its reflex on her face and lips, which moved in little
duplicates to his. She was living his part rather than her
own, and cared for no one's situation but Farfrae's that
At length a man stationed at the furthest turn of the high
road, namely, on the second bridge of which mention has been
made, gave a signal, and the Corporation in their robes
proceeded from the front of the Town Hall to the archway
erected at the entrance to the town. The carriages
containing the Royal visitor and his suite arrived at the
spot in a cloud of dust, a procession was formed, and the
whole came on to the Town Hall at a walking pace.
This spot was the centre of interest. There were a few
clear yards in front of the Royal carriage, sanded; and into
this space a man stepped before any one could prevent him.
It was Henchard. He had unrolled his private flag, and
removing his hat he staggered to the side of the slowing
vehicle, waving the Union Jack to and fro with his left hand
while he blandly held out his right to the Illustrious
All the ladies said with bated breath, "O, look there!" and
Lucetta was ready to faint. Elizabeth-Jane peeped through
the shoulders of those in front, saw what it was, and was
terrified; and then her interest in the spectacle as a
strange phenomenon got the better of her fear.
Farfrae, with Mayoral authority, immediately rose to
the occasion. He seized Henchard by the shoulder, dragged
him back, and told him roughly to be off. Henchard's eyes
met his, and Farfrae observed the fierce light in them
despite his excitement and irritation. For a moment
Henchard stood his ground rigidly; then by an unaccountable
impulse gave way and retired. Farfrae glanced to the
ladies' gallery, and saw that his Calphurnia's cheek was
"Why--it is your husband's old patron!" said Mrs. Blowbody,
a lady of the neighbourhood who sat beside Lucetta.
"Patron!" said Donald's wife with quick indignation.
"Do you say the man is an acquaintance of Mr. Farfrae's?"
observed Mrs. Bath, the physician's wife, a new-comer to the
town through her recent marriage with the doctor.
"He works for my husband," said Lucetta.
"Oh--is that all? They have been saying to me that it was
through him your husband first got a footing in
Casterbridge. What stories people will tell!"
"They will indeed. It was not so at all. Donald's genius
would have enabled him to get a footing anywhere, without
anybody's help! He would have been just the same if there
had been no Henchard in the world!"
It was partly Lucetta's ignorance of the circumstances of
Donald's arrival which led her to speak thus, partly the
sensation that everybody seemed bent on snubbing her at this
triumphant time. The incident had occupied but a few
moments, but it was necessarily witnessed by the Royal
Personage, who, however, with practised tact affected not to
have noticed anything unusual. He alighted, the Mayor
advanced, the address was read; the Illustrious Personage
replied, then said a few words to Farfrae, and shook hands
with Lucetta as the Mayor's wife. The ceremony occupied but
a few minutes, and the carriages rattled heavily as
Pharaoh's chariots down Corn Street and out upon the
Budmouth Road, in continuation of the journey coastward.
In the crowd stood Coney, Buzzford, and Longways "Some
difference between him now and when he zung at the Dree
Mariners," said the first. "'Tis wonderful how he could get
a lady of her quality to go snacks wi' en in such quick
"True. Yet how folk do worship fine clothes! Now
there's a better-looking woman than she that nobody notices
at all, because she's akin to that hontish fellow Henchard."
"I could worship ye, Buzz, for saying that," remarked Nance
Mockridge. "I do like to see the trimming pulled off such
Christmas candles. I am quite unequal to the part of
villain myself, or I'd gi'e all my small silver to see that
lady toppered....And perhaps I shall soon," she added
"That's not a noble passiont for a 'oman to keep up," said
Nance did not reply, but every one knew what she meant. The
ideas diffused by the reading of Lucetta's letters at
Peter's finger had condensed into a scandal, which was
spreading like a miasmatic fog through Mixen Lane, and
thence up the back streets of Casterbridge.
The mixed assemblage of idlers known to each other presently
fell apart into two bands by a process of natural selection,
the frequenters of Peter's Finger going off Mixen Lane-
wards, where most of them lived, while Coney, Buzzford,
Longways, and that connection remained in the street.
"You know what's brewing down there, I suppose?" said
Buzzford mysteriously to the others.
Coney looked at him. "Not the skimmity-ride?"
"I have my doubts if it will be carried out," said Longways.
"If they are getting it up they are keeping it mighty close.
"I heard they were thinking of it a fortnight ago, at all
"If I were sure o't I'd lay information," said Longways
emphatically. "'Tis too rough a joke, and apt to wake riots
in towns. We know that the Scotchman is a right enough man,
and that his lady has been a right enough 'oman since she
came here, and if there was anything wrong about her afore,
that's their business, not ours."
Coney reflected. Farfrae was still liked in the community;
but it must be owned that, as the Mayor and man of money,
engrossed with affairs and ambitions, he had lost in the
eyes of the poorer inhabitants something of that wondrous
charm which he had had for them as a light-hearted
penniless young man, who sang ditties as readily as the
birds in the trees. Hence the anxiety to keep him from
annoyance showed not quite the ardour that would have
animated it in former days.
"Suppose we make inquiration into it, Christopher,"
continued Longways; "and if we find there's really anything
in it, drop a letter to them most concerned, and advise 'em
to keep out of the way?"
This course was decided on, and the group separated,
Buzzford saying to Coney, "Come, my ancient friend; let's
move on. There's nothing more to see here."
These well-intentioned ones would have been surprised had
they known how ripe the great jocular plot really was.
"Yes, to-night," Jopp had said to the Peter's party at the
corner of Mixen Lane. "As a wind-up to the Royal visit the
hit will be all the more pat by reason of their great