The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Chapter 32.

Two bridges stood near the lower part of Casterbridge town. The first, of weather-stained brick, was immediately at the end of High Street, where a diverging branch from that thoroughfare ran round to the low-lying Durnover lanes; so that the precincts of the bridge formed the merging point of respectability and indigence. The second bridge, of stone, was further out on the highway — in fact, fairly in the meadows, though still within the town boundary.

These bridges had speaking countenances. Every projection in each was worn down to obtuseness, partly by weather, more by friction from generations of loungers, whose toes and heels had from year to year made restless movements against these parapets, as they had stood there meditating on the aspect of affairs. In the case of the more friable bricks and stones even the flat faces were worn into hollows by the same mixed mechanism. The masonry of the top was clamped with iron at each joint; since it had been no uncommon thing for desperate men to wrench the coping off and throw it down the river, in reckless defiance of the magistrates.

For to this pair of bridges gravitated all the failures of the town; those who had failed in business, in love, in sobriety, in crime. Why the unhappy hereabout usually chose the bridges for their meditations in preference to a railing, a gate, or a stile, was not so clear.

There was a marked difference of quality between the personages who haunted the near bridge of brick and the personages who haunted the far one of stone. Those of lowest character preferred the former, adjoining the town; they did not mind the glare of the public eye. They had been of comparatively no account during their successes; and though they might feel dispirited, they had no particular sense of shame in their ruin. Their hands were mostly kept in their pockets; they wore a leather strap round their hips or knees, and boots that required a great deal of lacing, but seemed never to get any. Instead of sighing at their adversities they spat, and instead of saying the iron had entered into their souls they said they were down on their luck. Jopp in his time of distress had often stood here; so had Mother Cuxsom, Christopher Coney, and poor Abel Whittle.

The miserables who would pause on the remoter bridge were of a politer stamp. They included bankrupts, hypochondriacs, persons who were what is called “out of a situation” from fault or lucklessness, the inefficient of the professional class — shabby-genteel men, who did not know how to get rid of the weary time between breakfast and dinner, and the yet more weary time between dinner and dark. The eye of this species were mostly directed over the parapet upon the running water below. A man seen there looking thus fixedly into the river was pretty sure to be one whom the world did not treat kindly for some reason or other. While one in straits on the townward bridge did not mind who saw him so, and kept his back to the parapet to survey the passers-by, one in straits on this never faced the road, never turned his head at coming footsteps, but, sensitive to his own condition, watched the current whenever a stranger approached, as if some strange fish interested him, though every finned thing had been poached out of the river years before.

There and thus they would muse; if their grief were the grief of oppression they would wish themselves kings; if their grief were poverty, wish themselves millionaires; if sin, they would wish they were saints or angels; if despised love, that they were some much-courted Adonis of county fame. Some had been known to stand and think so long with this fixed gaze downward that eventually they had allowed their poor carcases to follow that gaze; and they were discovered the next morning out of reach of their troubles, either here or in the deep pool called Blackwater, a little higher up the river.

To this bridge came Henchard, as other unfortunates had come before him, his way thither being by the riverside path on the chilly edge of the town. Here he was standing one windy afternoon when Durnover church clock struck five. While the gusts were bringing the notes to his ears across the damp intervening flat a man passed behind him and greeted 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 indifference.

Henchard returned him a scarcely perceptible nod, and Jopp stopped.

“He and she are gone into their new house to-day,” said Jopp.

“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 likewise!”

“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 you.”

“Yes, yes; that’s so! It’s the way o’ the warrld,” said Farfrae.

“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 home.”

“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.

“No, no.”

“By-the-bye, I had nearly forgot. I bought a good deal of your furniture.

“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 more.”

“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 me.”

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 Priory Mill.

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!”

“But, father —”

“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 owned.

“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 days.

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.”

“What 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.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:22