Part 8 out of 8
spring to his stride, that his state of hopelessness had
weakened him, and imparted to his shoulders, as weighted by
the basket, a perceptible bend.
He went on till he came to the first milestone, which stood
in the bank, half way up a steep hill. He rested his basket
on the top of the stone, placed his elbows on it, and gave
way to a convulsive twitch, which was worse than a sob,
because it was so hard and so dry.
"If I had only got her with me--if I only had!" he said.
"Hard work would be nothing to me then! But that was not to
be. I--Cain--go alone as I deserve--an outcast and a
vagabond. But my punishment is not greater than I can
He sternly subdued his anguish, shouldered his basket, and
Elizabeth, in the meantime, had breathed him a sigh,
recovered her equanimity, and turned her face to
Casterbridge. Before she had reached the first house she
was met in her walk by Donald Farfrae. This was evidently
not their first meeting that day; they joined hands without
ceremony, and Farfrae anxiously asked, "And is he gone--
and did you tell him?--I mean of the other matter--not of
"He is gone; and I told him all I knew of your friend.
Donald, who is he?"
"Well, well, dearie; you will know soon about that. And Mr.
Henchard will hear of it if he does not go far."
"He will go far--he's bent upon getting out of sight and
She walked beside her lover, and when they reached the
Crossways, or Bow, turned with him into Corn Street instead
of going straight on to her own door. At Farfrae's house
they stopped and went in.
Farfrae flung open the door of the ground-floor sitting-
room, saying, "There he is waiting for you," and Elizabeth
entered. In the arm-chair sat the broad-faced genial man
who had called on Henchard on a memorable morning between
one and two years before this time, and whom the latter had
seen mount the coach and depart within half-an-hour of his
arrival. It was Richard Newson. The meeting with the
light-hearted father from whom she had been separated half-
a-dozen years, as if by death, need hardly be detailed. It
was an affecting one, apart from the question of paternity.
Henchard's departure was in a moment explained. When the
true facts came to be handled the difficulty of restoring
her to her old belief in Newson was not so great as might
have seemed likely, for Henchard's conduct itself was a
proof that those facts were true. Moreover, she had grown
up under Newson's paternal care; and even had Henchard been
her father in nature, this father in early domiciliation
might almost have carried the point against him, when the
incidents of her parting with Henchard had a little worn
Newson's pride in what she had grown up to be was more than
he could express. He kissed her again and again.
"I've saved you the trouble to come and meet me--ha-ha!"
said Newson. "The fact is that Mr. Farfrae here, he said,
'Come up and stop with me for a day or two, Captain Newson,
and I'll bring her round.' 'Faith,' says I, 'so I will'; and
here I am."
"Well, Henchard is gone," said Farfrae, shutting the door.
"He has done it all voluntarily, and, as I gather from
Elizabeth, he has been very nice with her. I was got
rather uneasy; but all is as it should be, and we will have
no more deefficulties at all."
"Now, that's very much as I thought," said Newson, looking
into the face of each by turns. "I said to myself, ay, a
hundred times, when I tried to get a peep at her unknown to
herself--'Depend upon it, 'tis best that I should live on
quiet for a few days like this till something turns up for
the better.' I now know you are all right, and what can I
wish for more?"
"Well, Captain Newson, I will be glad to see ye here every
day now, since it can do no harm," said Farfrae. "And what
I've been thinking is that the wedding may as well be kept
under my own roof, the house being large, and you being in
lodgings by yourself--so that a great deal of trouble and
expense would be saved ye?--and 'tis a convenience when a
couple's married not to hae far to go to get home!"
"With all my heart," said Captain Newson; "since, as ye say,
it can do no harm, now poor Henchard's gone; though I
wouldn't have done it otherwise, or put myself in his way at
all; for I've already in my lifetime been an intruder into
his family quite as far as politeness can be expected to put
up with. But what do the young woman say herself about it?
Elizabeth, my child, come and hearken to what we be talking
about, and not bide staring out o' the window as if ye
"Donald and you must settle it," murmured Elizabeth, still
keeping up a scrutinizing gaze at some small object in the
"Well, then," continued Newson, turning anew to Farfrae with
a face expressing thorough entry into the subject, "that's
how we'll have it. And, Mr. Farfrae, as you provide so
much, and houseroom, and all that, I'll do my part in the
drinkables, and see to the rum and schiedam--maybe a dozen
jars will be sufficient?--as many of the folk will be
ladies, and perhaps they won't drink hard enough to make a
high average in the reckoning? But you know best. I've
provided for men and shipmates times enough, but I'm as
ignorant as a child how many glasses of grog a woman, that's
not a drinking woman, is expected to consume at these
"Oh, none--we'll no want much of that--O no!" said Farfrae,
shaking his head with appalled gravity. "Do you leave all
When they had gone a little further in these particulars
Newson, leaning back in his chair and smiling reflectively
at the ceiling, said, "I've never told ye, or have I, Mr.
Farfrae, how Henchard put me off the scent that time?"
He expressed ignorance of what the Captain alluded to.
"Ah, I thought I hadn't. I resolved that I would not, I
remember, not to hurt the man's name. But now he's gone I
can tell ye. Why, I came to Casterbridge nine or ten months
before that day last week that I found ye out. I had been
here twice before then. The first time I passed through the
town on my way westward, not knowing Elizabeth lived here.
Then hearing at some place--I forget where--that a man of
the name of Henchard had been mayor here, I came back, and
called at his house one morning. The old rascal!--he said
Elizabeth-Jane had died years ago."
Elizabeth now gave earnest heed to his story.
"Now, it never crossed my mind that the man was selling me a
packet," contiued Newson. "And, if you'll believe me, I was
that upset, that I went back to the coach that had brought
me, and took passage onward without lying in the town half-
an-hour. Ha-ha!--'twas a good joke, and well carried out,
and I give the man credit for't!"
Elizabeth-Jane was amazed at the intelligence. "A joke?--O
no!" she cried. "Then he kept you from me, father, all
those months, when you might have been here?"
The father admitted that such was the case.
"He ought not to have done it!" said Farfrae.
Elizabeth sighed. "I said I would never forget him. But O!
I think I ought to forget him now!"
Newson, like a good many rovers and sojourners among strange
men and strange moralities, failed to perceive the enormity
of Henchard's crime, notwithstanding that he himself had
been the chief sufferer therefrom. Indeed, the attack upon
the absent culprit waxing serious, he began to take
"Well, 'twas not ten words that he said, after all," Newson
pleaded. "And how could he know that I should be such
a simpleton as to believe him? 'Twas as much my fault as
his, poor fellow!"
"No," said Elizabeth-Jane firmly, in her revulsion of
feeling. "He knew your disposition--you always were so
trusting, father; I've heard my mother say so hundreds of
times--and he did it to wrong you. After weaning me from
you these five years by saying he was my father, he should
not have done this."
Thus they conversed; and there was nobody to set before
Elizabeth any extenuation of the absent one's deceit. Even
had he been present Henchard might scarce have pleaded it,
so little did he value himself or his good name.
"Well, well--never mind--it is all over and past," said
Newson good-naturedly. "Now, about this wedding again."
Meanwhile, the man of their talk had pursued his solitary
way eastward till weariness overtook him, and he looked
about for a place of rest. His heart was so exacerbated at
parting from the girl that he could not face an inn, or even
a household of the most humble kind; and entering a field he
lay down under a wheatrick, feeling no want of food. The
very heaviness of his soul caused him to sleep profoundly.
The bright autumn sun shining into his eyes across the
stubble awoke him the next morning early. He opened his
basket and ate for his breakfast what he had packed for his
supper; and in doing so overhauled the remainder of his kit.
Although everything he brought necessitated carriage at his
own back, he had secreted among his tools a few of
Elizabeth-Jane's cast-off belongings, in the shape of
gloves, shoes, a scrap of her handwriting, and the like, and
in his pocket he carried a curl of her hair. Having looked
at these things he closed them up again, and went onward.
During five consecutive days Henchard's rush basket rode
along upon his shoulder between the highway hedges, the new
yellow of the rushes catching the eye of an occasional
field-labourer as he glanced through the quickset,
together with the wayfarer's hat and head, and down-turned
face, over which the twig shadows moved in endless
procession. It now became apparent that the direction of
his journey was Weydon Priors, which he reached on the
afternoon of the sixth day.
The renowned hill whereon the annual fair had been held for
so many generations was now bare of human beings, and almost
of aught besides. A few sheep grazed thereabout, but these
ran off when Henchard halted upon the summit. He deposited
his basket upon the turf, and looked about with sad
curiosity; till he discovered the road by which his wife and
himself had entered on the upland so memorable to both,
five-and-twenty years before.
"Yes, we came up that way," he said, after ascertaining his
bearings. "She was carrying the baby, and I was reading a
ballet-sheet. Then we crossed about here--she so sad and
weary, and I speaking to her hardly at all, because of my
cursed pride and mortification at being poor. Then we saw
the tent--that must have stood more this way." He walked to
another spot, it was not really where the tent had stood but
it seemed so to him. "Here we went in, and here we sat
down. I faced this way. Then I drank, and committed my
crime. It must have been just on that very pixy-ring that
she was standing when she said her last words to me before
going off with him; I can hear their sound now, and the
sound of her sobs: 'O Mike! I've lived with thee all this
while, and had nothing but temper. Now I'm no more to 'ee--
I'll try my luck elsewhere.'"
He experienced not only the bitterness of a man who finds,
in looking back upon an ambitious course, that what he has
sacrificed in sentiment was worth as much as what he has
gained in substance; but the superadded bitterness of seeing
his very recantation nullified. He had been sorry for all
this long ago; but his attempts to replace ambition by love
had been as fully foiled as his ambition itself. His
wronged wife had foiled them by a fraud so grandly simple as
to be almost a virtue. It was an odd sequence that out of
all this tampering with social law came that flower of
Nature, Elizabeth. Part of his wish to wash his hands of
life arose from his perception of its contrarious
inconsistencies--of Nature's jaunty readiness to support
unorthodox social principles.
He intended to go on from this place--visited as an act of
penance--into another part of the country altogether. But
he could not help thinking of Elizabeth, and the quarter of
the horizon in which she lived. Out of this it happened
that the centrifugal tendency imparted by weariness of the
world was counteracted by the centripetal influence of his
love for his stepdaughter. As a consequence, instead of
following a straight course yet further away from
Casterbridge, Henchard gradually, almost unconsciously,
deflected from that right line of his first intention; till,
by degrees, his wandering, like that of the Canadian
woodsman, became part of a circle of which Casterbridge
formed the centre. In ascending any particular hill he
ascertained the bearings as nearly as he could by means of
the sun, moon, or stars, and settled in his mind the exact
direction in which Casterbridge and Elizabeth-Jane lay.
Sneering at himself for his weakness he yet every hour--nay,
every few minutes--conjectured her actions for the time
being--her sitting down and rising up, her goings and
comings, till thought of Newson's and Farfrae's counter-
influence would pass like a cold blast over a pool, and
efface her image. And then he would say to himself, "O you
fool! All this about a daughter who is no daughter of
At length he obtained employment at his own occupation of
hay-trusser, work of that sort being in demand at this
autumn time. The scene of his hiring was a pastoral farm
near the old western highway, whose course was the channel
of all such communications as passed between the busy
centres of novelty and the remote Wessex boroughs. He had
chosen the neighbourhood of this artery from a sense that,
situated here, though at a distance of fifty miles, he was
virtually nearer to her whose welfare was so dear than he
would be at a roadless spot only half as remote.
And thus Henchard found himself again on the precise
standing which he had occupied a quarter of a century
before. Externally there was nothing to hinder his making
another start on the upward slope, and by his new lights
achieving higher things than his soul in its half-
formed state had been able to accomplish. But the ingenious
machinery contrived by the Gods for reducing human
possibilities of amelioration to a minimum--which arranges
that wisdom to do shall come pari passu with the
departure of zest for doing--stood in the way of all that.
He had no wish to make an arena a second time of a world
that had become a mere painted scene to him.
Very often, as his hay-knife crunched down among the sweet-
smelling grassy stems, he would survey mankind and say to
himself: "Here and everywhere be folk dying before their
time like frosted leaves, though wanted by their families,
the country, and the world; while I, an outcast, an
encumberer of the ground, wanted by nobody, and despised by
all, live on against my will!"
He often kept an eager ear upon the conversation of those
who passed along the road--not from a general curiosity by
any means--but in the hope that among these travellers
between Casterbridge and London some would, sooner or later,
speak of the former place. The distance, however, was too
great to lend much probability to his desire; and the
highest result of his attention to wayside words was that he
did indeed hear the name "Casterbridge" uttered one day by
the driver of a road-waggon. Henchard ran to the gate of
the field he worked in, and hailed the speaker, who was a
"Yes--I've come from there, maister," he said, in answer to
Henchard's inquiry. "I trade up and down, ye know; though,
what with this travelling without horses that's getting so
common, my work will soon be done."
"Anything moving in the old place, mid I ask?"
"All the same as usual."
"I've heard that Mr. Farfrae, the late mayor, is thinking of
getting married. Now is that true or not?"
"I couldn't say for the life o' me. O no, I should think
"But yes, John--you forget," said a woman inside the waggon-
tilt. "What were them packages we carr'd there at the
beginning o' the week? Surely they said a wedding was coming
off soon--on Martin's Day?"
The man declared he remembered nothing about it; and
the waggon went on jangling over the hill.
Henchard was convinced that the woman's memory served her
well. The date was an extremely probable one, there being
no reason for delay on either side. He might, for that
matter, write and inquire of Elizabeth; but his instinct for
sequestration had made the course difficult. Yet before he
left her she had said that for him to be absent from her
wedding was not as she wished it to be.
The remembrance would continually revive in him now that it
was not Elizabeth and Farfrae who had driven him away from
them, but his own haughty sense that his presence was no
longer desired. He had assumed the return of Newson without
absolute proof that the Captain meant to return; still less
that Elizabeth-Jane would welcome him; and with no proof
whatever that if he did return he would stay. What if he
had been mistaken in his views; if there had been no
necessity that his own absolute separation from her he loved
should be involved in these untoward incidents? To make one
more attempt to be near her: to go back, to see her, to
plead his cause before her, to ask forgiveness for his
fraud, to endeavour strenuously to hold his own in her love;
it was worth the risk of repulse, ay, of life itself.
But how to initiate this reversal of all his former resolves
without causing husband and wife to despise him for his
inconsistency was a question which made him tremble and
He cut and cut his trusses two days more, and then he
concluded his hesitancies by a sudden reckless determination
to go to the wedding festivity. Neither writing nor message
would be expected of him. She had regretted his decision to
be absent--his unanticipated presence would fill the little
unsatisfied corner that would probably have place in her
just heart without him.
To intrude as little of his personality as possible upon a
gay event with which that personality could show nothing in
keeping, he decided not to make his appearance till evening--
when stiffness would have worn off, and a gentle wish to
let bygones be bygones would exercise its sway in all
He started on foot, two mornings before St. Martin's-tide,
allowing himself about sixteen miles to perform for
each of the three days' journey, reckoning the wedding-day
as one. There were only two towns, Melchester and
Shottsford, of any importance along his course, and at the
latter he stopped on the second night, not only to rest, but
to prepare himself for the next evening.
Possessing no clothes but the working suit he stood in--now
stained and distorted by their two months of hard usage, he
entered a shop to make some purchases which should put him,
externally at any rate, a little in harmony with the
prevailing tone of the morrow. A rough yet respectable coat
and hat, a new shirt and neck-cloth, were the chief of
these; and having satisfied himself that in appearance at
least he would not now offend her, he proceeded to the more
interesting particular of buying her some present.
What should that present be? He walked up and down the
street, regarding dubiously the display in the shop windows,
from a gloomy sense that what he might most like to give her
would be beyond his miserable pocket. At length a caged
goldfinch met his eye. The cage was a plain and small one,
the shop humble, and on inquiry he concluded he could afford
the modest sum asked. A sheet of newspaper was tied round
the little creature's wire prison, and with the wrapped up
cage in his hand Henchard sought a lodging for the night.
Next day he set out upon the last stage, and was soon within
the district which had been his dealing ground in bygone
years. Part of the distance he travelled by carrier,
seating himself in the darkest corner at the back of that
trader's van; and as the other passengers, mainly women
going short journeys, mounted and alighted in front of
Henchard, they talked over much local news, not the least
portion of this being the wedding then in course of
celebration at the town they were nearing. It appeared from
their accounts that the town band had been hired for the
evening party, and, lest the convivial instincts of that
body should get the better of their skill, the further step
had been taken of engaging the string band from Budmouth, so
that there would be a reserve of harmony to fall back upon
in case of need.
He heard, however, but few particulars beyond those
known to him already, the incident of the deepest interest
on the journey being the soft pealing of the Casterbridge
bells, which reached the travellers' ears while the van
paused on the top of Yalbury Hill to have the drag lowered.
The time was just after twelve o'clock.
Those notes were a signal that all had gone well; that there
had been no slip 'twixt cup and lip in this case; that
Elizabeth-Jane and Donald Farfrae were man and wife.
Henchard did not care to ride any further with his
chattering companions after hearing this sound. Indeed, it
quite unmanned him; and in pursuance of his plan of not
showing himself in Casterbridge street till evening, lest he
should mortify Farfrae and his bride, he alighted here, with
his bundle and bird-cage, and was soon left as a lonely
figure on the broad white highway.
It was the hill near which he had waited to meet Farfrae,
almost two years earlier, to tell him of the serious illness
of his wife Lucetta. The place was unchanged; the same
larches sighed the same notes; but Farfrae had another wife--
and, as Henchard knew, a better one. He only hoped that
Elizabeth-Jane had obtained a better home than had been hers
at the former time.
He passed the remainder of the afternoon in a curious high-
strung condition, unable to do much but think of the
approaching meeting with her, and sadly satirize himself for
his emotions thereon, as a Samson shorn. Such an innovation
on Casterbridge customs as a flitting of bridegroom and
bride from the town immediately after the ceremony, was not
likely, but if it should have taken place he would wait till
their return. To assure himself on this point he asked a
market-man when near the borough if the newly-married couple
had gone away, and was promptly informed that they had not;
they were at that hour, according to all accounts,
entertaining a houseful of guests at their home in Corn
Henchard dusted his boots, washed his hands at the
riverside, and proceeded up the town under the feeble lamps.
He need have made no inquiries beforehand, for on drawing
near Farfrae's residence it was plain to the least observant
that festivity prevailed within, and that Donald
himself shared it, his voice being distinctly audible in the
street, giving strong expression to a song of his dear
native country that he loved so well as never to have
revisited it. Idlers were standing on the pavement in
front; and wishing to escape the notice of these Henchard
passed quickly on to the door.
It was wide open, the hall was lighted extravagantly, and
people were going up and down the stairs. His courage
failed him; to enter footsore, laden, and poorly dressed
into the midst of such resplendency was to bring needless
humiliation upon her he loved, if not to court repulse from
her husband. Accordingly he went round into the street at
the back that he knew so well, entered the garden, and came
quietly into the house through the kitchen, temporarily
depositing the bird and cage under a bush outside, to lessen
the awkwardness of his arrival.
Solitude and sadness had so emolliated Henchard that he now
feared circumstances he would formerly have scorned, and he
began to wish that he had not taken upon himself to arrive
at such a juncture. However, his progress was made
unexpectedly easy by his discovering alone in the kitchen an
elderly woman who seemed to be acting as provisional
housekeeper during the convulsions from which Farfrae's
establishment was just then suffering. She was one of those
people whom nothing surprises, and though to her, a total
stranger, his request must have seemed odd, she willingly
volunteered to go up and inform the master and mistress of
the house that "a humble old friend" had come.
On second thought she said that he had better not wait in
the kitchen, but come up into the little back-parlour, which
was empty. He thereupon followed her thither, and she left
him. Just as she got across the landing to the door of the
best parlour a dance was struck up, and she returned to say
that she would wait till that was over before announcing
him--Mr. and Mrs. Farfrae having both joined in the figure.
The door of the front room had been taken off its hinges to
give more space, and that of the room Henchard sat in being
ajar, he could see fractional parts of the dancers whenever
their gyrations brought them near the doorway, chiefly in
the shape of the skirts of dresses and streaming curls of
hair; together with about three-fifths of the band in
profile, including the restless shadow of a fiddler's elbow,
and the tip of the bass-viol bow.
The gaiety jarred upon Henchard's spirits; and he could not
quite understand why Farfrae, a much-sobered man, and a
widower, who had had his trials, should have cared for it
all, notwithstanding the fact that he was quite a young man
still, and quickly kindled to enthusiasm by dance and song.
That the quiet Elizabeth, who had long ago appraised life at
a moderate value, and who knew in spite of her maidenhood
that marriage was as a rule no dancing matter, should have
had zest for this revelry surprised him still more.
However, young people could not be quite old people, he
concluded, and custom was omnipotent.
With the progress of the dance the performers spread out
somewhat, and then for the first time he caught a glimpse of
the once despised daughter who had mastered him, and made
his heart ache. She was in a dress of white silk or satin,
he was not near enough to say which--snowy white, without a
tinge of milk or cream; and the expression of her face was
one of nervous pleasure rather than of gaiety. Presently
Farfrae came round, his exuberant Scotch movement making him
conspicuous in a moment. The pair were not dancing
together, but Henchard could discern that whenever the
chances of the figure made them the partners of a moment
their emotions breathed a much subtler essence than at other
By degrees Henchard became aware that the measure was trod
by some one who out-Farfraed Farfrae in saltatory
intenseness. This was strange, and it was stranger to find
that the eclipsing personage was Elizabeth-Jane's partner.
The first time that Henchard saw him he was sweeping grandly
round, his head quivering and low down, his legs in the form
of an X and his back towards the door. The next time he
came round in the other direction, his white waist-coat
preceding his face, and his toes preceding his white
waistcoat. That happy face--Henchard's complete
discomfiture lay in it. It was Newson's, who had indeed
come and supplanted him.
Henchard pushed to the door, and for some seconds made
no other movement. He rose to his feet, and stood like
a dark ruin, obscured by "the shade from his own soul up-
But he was no longer the man to stand these reverses
unmoved. His agitation was great, and he would fain have
been gone, but before he could leave the dance had ended,
the housekeeper had informed Elizabeth-Jane of the stranger
who awaited her, and she entered the room immediately.
"Oh--it is--Mr. Henchard!" she said, starting back.
"What, Elizabeth?" he cried, as she seized her hand. "What
do you say?--Mr. Henchard? Don't, don't scourge me like
that! Call me worthless old Henchard--anything--but don't
'ee be so cold as this! O my maid--I see you have another--a
real father in my place. Then you know all; but don't give
all your thought to him! Do ye save a little room for me!"
She flushed up, and gently drew her hand away. "I could
have loved you always--I would have, gladly," she said.
"But how can I when I know you have deceived me so--so
bitterly deceived me! You persuaded me that my father was
not my father--allowed me to live on in ignorance of the
truth for years; and then when he, my warm-hearted real
father, came to find me, cruelly sent him away with a wicked
invention of my death, which nearly broke his heart. O how
can I love as I once did a man who has served us like this!"
Henchard's lips half parted to begin an explanation. But he
shut them up like a vice, and uttered not a sound. How
should he, there and then, set before her with any effect
the palliatives of his great faults--that he had himself
been deceived in her identity at first, till informed by her
mother's letter that his own child had died; that, in the
second accusation, his lie had been the last desperate throw
of a gamester who loved her affection better than his own
honour? Among the many hindrances to such a pleading not the
least was this, that he did not sufficiently value himself
to lessen his sufferings by strenuous appeal or elaborate
Waiving, therefore, his privilege of self-defence, he
regarded only his discomposure. "Don't ye distress yourself
on my account," he said, with proud superiority. "I would
not wish it--at such a time, too, as this. I have done
wrong in coming to 'ee--I see my error. But it is only for
once, so forgive it. I'll never trouble 'ee again,
Elizabeth-Jane--no, not to my dying day! Good-night. Good-
Then, before she could collect her thoughts, Henchard went
out from her rooms, and departed from the house by the back
way as he had come; and she saw him no more.
It was about a month after the day which closed as in the
last chapter. Elizabeth-Jane had grown accustomed to the
novelty of her situation, and the only difference between
Donald's movements now and formerly was that he hastened
indoors rather more quickly after business hours than he had
been in the habit of doing for some time.
Newson had stayed in Casterbridge three days after the
wedding party (whose gaiety, as might have been surmised,
was of his making rather than of the married couple's), and
was stared at and honoured as became the returned Crusoe of
the hour. But whether or not because Casterbridge was
difficult to excite by dramatic returns and disappearances
through having been for centuries an assize town, in which
sensational exits from the world, antipodean absences, and
such like, were half-yearly occurrences, the inhabitants did
not altogether lose their equanimity on his account. On the
fourth morning he was discovered disconsolately climbing a
hill, in his craving to get a glimpse of the sea from
somewhere or other. The contiguity of salt water proved to
be such a necessity of his existence that he preferred
Budmouth as a place of residence, notwithstanding the
society of his daughter in the other town. Thither he went,
and settled in lodgings in a green-shuttered cottage which
had a bow-window, jutting out sufficiently to afford
glimpses of a vertical strip of blue sea to any one opening
the sash, and leaning forward far enough to look through a
narrow lane of tall intervening houses.
Elizabeth-Jane was standing in the middle of her
upstairs parlour, critically surveying some re-arrangement
of articles with her head to one side, when the housemaid
came in with the announcement, "Oh, please ma'am, we know
now how that bird-cage came there."
In exploring her new domain during the first week of
residence, gazing with critical satisfaction on this
cheerful room and that, penetrating cautiously into dark
cellars, sallying forth with gingerly tread to the garden,
now leaf-strewn by autumn winds, and thus, like a wise
field-marshal, estimating the capabilities of the site
whereon she was about to open her housekeeping campaign--
Mrs. Donald Farfrae had discovered in a screened corner a
new bird-cage, shrouded in newspaper, and at the bottom of
the cage a little ball of feathers--the dead body of a
goldfinch. Nobody could tell her how the bird and cage had
come there, though that the poor little songster had been
starved to death was evident. The sadness of the incident
had made an impression on her. She had not been able to
forget it for days, despite Farfrae's tender banter; and now
when the matter had been nearly forgotten it was again
"Oh, please ma'am, we know how the bird-cage came there.
That farmer's man who called on the evening of the wedding--
he was seen wi' it in his hand as he came up the street; and
'tis thoughted that he put it down while he came in with his
message, and then went away forgetting where he had left
This was enough to set Elizabeth thinking, and in thinking
she seized hold of the idea, at one feminine bound, that the
caged bird had been brought by Henchard for her as a wedding
gift and token of repentance. He had not expressed to her
any regrets or excuses for what he had done in the past; but
it was a part of his nature to extenuate nothing, and live
on as one of his own worst accusers. She went out, looked
at the cage, buried the starved little singer, and from that
hour her heart softened towards the self-alienated man.
When her husband came in she told him her solution of the
bird-cage mystery; and begged Donald to help her in finding
out, as soon as possible, whither Henchard had banished
himself, that she might make her peace with him; try to do
something to render his life less that of an outcast, and
more tolerable to him. Although Farfrae had never so
passionately liked Henchard as Henchard had liked him, he
had, on the other hand, never so passionately hated in the
same direction as his former friend had done, and he was
therefore not the least indisposed to assist Elizabeth-Jane
in her laudable plan.
But it was by no means easy to set about discovering
Henchard. He had apparently sunk into the earth on leaving
Mr. and Mrs. Farfrae's door. Elizabeth-Jane remembered what
he had once attempted; and trembled.
But though she did not know it Henchard had become a changed
man since then--as far, that is, as change of emotional
basis can justify such a radical phrase; and she needed not
to fear. In a few days Farfrae's inquiries elicited that
Henchard had been seen by one who knew him walking steadily
along the Melchester highway eastward, at twelve o'clock at
night--in other words, retracing his steps on the road by
which he had come.
This was enough; and the next morning Farfrae might have
been discovered driving his gig out of Casterbridge in that
direction, Elizabeth-Jane sitting beside him, wrapped in a
thick flat fur--the victorine of the period--her complexion
somewhat richer than formerly, and an incipient matronly
dignity, which the serene Minerva-eyes of one "whose
gestures beamed with mind" made becoming, settling on her
face. Having herself arrived at a promising haven from at
least the grosser troubles of her life, her object was to
place Henchard in some similar quietude before he should
sink into that lower stage of existence which was only too
possible to him now.
After driving along the highway for a few miles they made
further inquiries, and learnt of a road-mender, who had been
working thereabouts for weeks, that he had observed such a
man at the time mentioned; he had left the Melchester
coachroad at Weatherbury by a forking highway which skirted
the north of Egdon Heath. Into this road they directed the
horse's head, and soon were bowling across that ancient
country whose surface never had been stirred to a
finger's depth, save by the scratchings of rabbits,
since brushed by the feet of the earliest tribes. The
tumuli these had left behind, dun and shagged with heather,
jutted roundly into the sky from the uplands, as though they
were the full breasts of Diana Multimammia supinely extended
They searched Egdon, but found no Henchard. Farfrae drove
onward, and by the afternoon reached the neighbourhood of
some extension of the heath to the north of Anglebury, a
prominent feature of which, in the form of a blasted clump
of firs on a summit of a hill, they soon passed under. That
the road they were following had, up to this point, been
Henchard's track on foot they were pretty certain; but the
ramifications which now began to reveal themselves in the
route made further progress in the right direction a matter
of pure guess-work, and Donald strongly advised his wife to
give up the search in person, and trust to other means for
obtaining news of her stepfather. They were now a score of
miles at least from home, but, by resting the horse for a
couple of hours at a village they had just traversed, it
would be possible to get back to Casterbridge that same day,
while to go much further afield would reduce them to the
necessity of camping out for the night, "and that will make
a hole in a sovereign," said Farfrae. She pondered the
position, and agreed with him.
He accordingly drew rein, but before reversing their
direction paused a moment and looked vaguely round upon the
wide country which the elevated position disclosed. While
they looked a solitary human form came from under the clump
of trees, and crossed ahead of them. The person was some
labourer; his gait was shambling, his regard fixed in front
of him as absolutely as if he wore blinkers; and in his hand
he carried a few sticks. Having crossed the road he
descended into a ravine, where a cottage revealed itself,
which he entered.
"If it were not so far away from Casterbridge I should say
that must be poor Whittle. 'Tis just like him," observed
"And it may be Whittle, for he's never been to the yard
these three weeks, going away without saying any word at
all; and I owing him for two days' work, without
knowing who to pay it to."
The possibility led them to alight, and at least make an
inquiry at the cottage. Farfrae hitched the reins to the
gate-post, and they approached what was of humble dwellings
surely the humblest. The walls, built of kneaded clay
originally faced with a trowel, had been worn by years of
rain-washings to a lumpy crumbling surface, channelled and
sunken from its plane, its gray rents held together here and
there by a leafy strap of ivy which could scarcely find
substance enough for the purpose. The rafters were sunken,
and the thatch of the roof in ragged holes. Leaves from the
fence had been blown into the corners of the doorway, and
lay there undisturbed. The door was ajar; Farfrae knocked;
and he who stood before them was Whittle, as they had
His face showed marks of deep sadness, his eyes lighting on
them with an unfocused gaze; and he still held in his hand
the few sticks he had been out to gather. As soon as he
recognized them he started.
"What, Abel Whittle; is it that ye are heere?" said Farfrae.
"Ay, yes sir! You see he was kind-like to mother when she
wer here below, though 'a was rough to me."
"Who are you talking of?"
"O sir--Mr. Henchet! Didn't ye know it? He's just gone--
about half-an-hour ago, by the sun; for I've got no watch to
"Not--dead?" faltered Elizabeth-Jane.
"Yes, ma'am, he's gone! He was kind-like to mother when she
wer here below, sending her the best ship-coal, and hardly
any ashes from it at all; and taties, and such-like that
were very needful to her. I seed en go down street on the
night of your worshipful's wedding to the lady at yer side,
and I thought he looked low and faltering. And I followed
en over Grey's Bridge, and he turned and zeed me, and said,
'You go back!' But I followed, and he turned again, and
said, 'Do you hear, sir? Go back!' But I zeed that he was
low, and I followed on still. Then 'a said, 'Whittle, what
do ye follow me for when I've told ye to go back all these
times?' And I said, 'Because, sir, I see things be bad with
'ee, and ye wer kind-like to mother if ye wer rough to
me, and I would fain be kind-like to you.' Then he walked
on, and I followed; and he never complained at me no more.
We walked on like that all night; and in the blue o' the
morning, when 'twas hardly day, I looked ahead o' me, and I
zeed that he wambled, and could hardly drag along. By the
time we had got past here, but I had seen that this house
was empty as I went by, and I got him to come back; and I
took down the boards from the windows, and helped him
inside. 'What, Whittle,' he said, 'and can ye really be
such a poor fond fool as to care for such a wretch as I!'
Then I went on further, and some neighbourly woodmen lent me
a bed, and a chair, and a few other traps, and we brought
'em here, and made him as comfortable as we could. But he
didn't gain strength, for you see, ma'am, he couldn't eat--
no appetite at all--and he got weaker; and to-day he died.
One of the neighbours have gone to get a man to measure
"Dear me--is that so!" said Farfrae.
As for Elizabeth, she said nothing.
"Upon the head of his bed he pinned a piece of paper, with
some writing upon it," continued Abel Whittle. "But not
being a man o' letters, I can't read writing; so I don't
know what it is. I can get it and show ye."
They stood in silence while he ran into the cottage;
returning in a moment with a crumpled scrap of paper. On it
there was pencilled as follows:--
MICHAEL HENCHARD'S WILL
"That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or
made to grieve on account of me.
"& that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground.
"& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.
"& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.
"& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.
"& that no flours be planted on my grave,
"& that no man remember me.
"To this I put my name.
"What are we to do?" said Donald, when he had handed
the paper to her.
She could not answer distinctly. "O Donald!" she cried at
last through her tears, "what bitterness lies there! O I
would not have minded so much if it had not been for my
unkindness at that last parting!...But there's no altering--
so it must be."
What Henchard had written in the anguish of his dying was
respected as far as practicable by Elizabeth-Jane, though
less from a sense of the sacredness of last words, as such,
than from her independent knowledge that the man who wrote
them meant what he said. She knew the directions to be a
piece of the same stuff that his whole life was made of, and
hence were not to be tampered with to give herself a
mournful pleasure, or her husband credit for large-
All was over at last, even her regrets for having
misunderstood him on his last visit, for not having searched
him out sooner, though these were deep and sharp for a good
while. From this time forward Elizabeth-Jane found herself
in a latitude of calm weather, kindly and grateful in
itself, and doubly so after the Capharnaum in which some of
her preceding years had been spent. As the lively and
sparkling emotions of her early married live cohered into an
equable serenity, the finer movements of her nature found
scope in discovering to the narrow-lived ones around her the
secret (as she had once learnt it) of making limited
opportunities endurable; which she deemed to consist in the
cunning enlargement, by a species of microscopic treatment,
of those minute forms of satisfaction that offer themselves
to everybody not in positive pain; which, thus handled, have
much of the same inspiring effect upon life as wider
interests cursorily embraced.
Her teaching had a reflex action upon herself, insomuch that
she thought she could perceive no great personal difference
between being respected in the nether parts of Casterbridge
and glorified at the uppermost end of the social world. Her
position was, indeed, to a marked degree one that, in the
common phrase, afforded much to be thankful for. That she
was not demonstratively thankful was no fault of hers. Her
experience had been of a kind to teach her, rightly or
wrongly, that the doubtful honour of a brief transmit
through a sorry world hardly called for effusiveness, even
when the path was suddenly irradiated at some half-way point
by daybeams rich as hers. But her strong sense that neither
she nor any human being deserved less than was given, did
not blind her to the fact that there were others receiving
less who had deserved much more. And in being forced to
class herself among the fortunate she did not cease to
wonder at the persistence of the unforeseen, when the one to
whom such unbroken tranquility had been accorded in the
adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that
happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama