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The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy

Update: 2020-04-22

Chapter 1

  • One evening of late summer, before the nineteenth century had reached one- third of its span, a young man and woman, the latter carrying a child, wer_pproaching the large village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper Wessex, on foot. The_ere plainly but not ill clad, though the thick hoar of dust which ha_ccumulated on their shoes and garments from an obviously long journey lent _isadvantageous shabbiness to their appearance just now.
  • The man was of fine figure, swarthy, and stern in aspect; and he showed i_rofile a facial angle so slightly inclined as to be almost perpendicular. H_ore a short jacket of brown corduroy, newer than the remainder of his suit, which was a fustian waistcoat with white horn buttons, breeches of the same, tanned leggings, and a straw hat overlaid with black glazed canvas. At hi_ack he carried by a looped strap a rush basket, from which protruded at on_nd the crutch of a hay-knife, a wimble for hay-bonds being also visible i_he aperture. His measured, springless walk was the walk of the skille_ountryman as distinct from the desultory shamble of the general labourer; while in the turn and plant of each foot there was, further, a dogged an_ynical indifference personal to himself, showing its presence even in th_egularly interchanging fustian folds, now in the left leg, now in the right, as he paced along.
  • What was really peculiar, however, in this couple's progress, and would hav_ttracted the attention of any casual observer otherwise disposed to overloo_hem, was the perfect silence they preserved. They walked side by side in suc_ way as to suggest afar off the low, easy, confidential chat of people ful_f reciprocity; but on closer view it could be discerned that the man wa_eading, or pretending to read, a ballad sheet which he kept before his eye_ith some difficulty by the hand that was passed through the basket strap.
  • Whether this apparent cause were the real cause, or whether it were an assume_ne to escape an intercourse that would have been irksome to him, nobody bu_imself could have said precisely; but his taciturnity was unbroken, and th_oman enjoyed no society whatever from his presence. Virtually she walked th_ighway alone, save for the child she bore. Sometimes the man's bent elbo_lmost touched her shoulder, for she kept as close to his side as was possibl_ithout actual contact, but she seemed to have no idea of taking his arm, no_e of offering it; and far from exhibiting surprise at his ignoring silenc_he appeared to receive it as a natural thing. If any word at all were uttere_y the little group, it was an occasional whisper of the woman to the child—_iny girl in short clothes and blue boots of knitted yarn—and the murmure_abble of the child in reply.
  • The chief—almost the only—attraction of the young woman's face was it_obility. When she looked down sideways to the girl she became pretty, an_ven handsome, particularly that in the action her features caught slantwis_he rays of the strongly coloured sun, which made transparencies of he_yelids and nostrils and set fire on her lips. When she plodded on in th_hade of the hedge, silently thinking, she had the hard, half-apatheti_xpression of one who deems anything possible at the hands of Time and Chanc_xcept, perhaps, fair play. The first phase was the work of Nature, the secon_robably of civilization.
  • That the man and woman were husband and wife, and the parents of the girl i_rms there could be little doubt. No other than such relationship would hav_ccounted for the atmosphere of stale familiarity which the trio carried alon_ith them like a nimbus as they moved down the road.
  • The wife mostly kept her eyes fixed ahead, though with little interest—th_cene for that matter being one that might have been matched at almost an_pot in any county in England at this time of the year; a road neithe_traight nor crooked, neither level nor hilly, bordered by hedges, trees, an_ther vegetation, which had entered the blackened-green stage of colour tha_he doomed leaves pass through on their way to dingy, and yellow, and red. Th_rassy margin of the bank, and the nearest hedgerow boughs, were powdered b_he dust that had been stirred over them by hasty vehicles, the same dust a_t lay on the road deadening their footfalls like a carpet; and this, with th_foresaid total absence of conversation, allowed every extraneous sound to b_eard.
  • For a long time there was none, beyond the voice of a weak bird singing _rite old evening song that might doubtless have been heard on the hill at th_ame hour, and with the self-same trills, quavers, and breves, at any sunse_f that season for centuries untold. But as they approached the village sundr_istant shouts and rattles reached their ears from some elevated spot in tha_irection, as yet screened from view by foliage. When the outlying houses o_eydon-Priors could just be described, the family group was met by a turnip- hoer with his hoe on his shoulder, and his dinner-bag suspended from it. Th_eader promptly glanced up.
  • "Any trade doing here?" he asked phlegmatically, designating the village i_is van by a wave of the broadsheet. And thinking the labourer did no_nderstand him, he added, "Anything in the hay-trussing line?"
  • The turnip-hoer had already begun shaking his head. "Why, save the man, wha_isdom's in him that 'a should come to Weydon for a job of that sort this tim_' year?"
  • "Then is there any house to let—a little small new cottage just a builded, o_uch like?" asked the other.
  • The pessimist still maintained a negative. "Pulling down is more the nater o_eydon. There were five houses cleared away last year, and three this; and th_olk nowhere to go—no, not so much as a thatched hurdle; that's the way o'
  • Weydon-Priors."
  • The hay-trusser, which he obviously was, nodded with some superciliousness.
  • Looking towards the village, he continued, "There is something going on here, however, is there not?"
  • "Ay. 'Tis Fair Day. Though what you hear now is little more than the clatte_nd scurry of getting away the money o' children and fools, for the rea_usiness is done earlier than this. I've been working within sound o't al_ay, but I didn't go up—not I. 'Twas no business of mine."
  • The trusser and his family proceeded on their way, and soon entered the Fair- field, which showed standing-places and pens where many hundreds of horses an_heep had been exhibited and sold in the forenoon, but were now in great par_aken away. At present, as their informant had observed, but little rea_usiness remained on hand, the chief being the sale by auction of a fe_nferior animals, that could not otherwise be disposed of, and had bee_bsolutely refused by the better class of traders, who came and went early.
  • Yet the crowd was denser now than during the morning hours, the frivolou_ontingent of visitors, including journeymen out for a holiday, a stra_oldier or two come on furlough, village shopkeepers, and the like, havin_atterly flocked in; persons whose activities found a congenial field amon_he peep-shows, toy-stands, waxworks, inspired monsters, disinterested medica_en who travelled for the public good, thimble-riggers, nick-nack vendors, an_eaders of Fate.
  • Neither of our pedestrians had much heart for these things, and they looke_round for a refreshment tent among the many which dotted the down. Two, whic_tood nearest to them in the ochreous haze of expiring sunlight, seemed almos_qually inviting. One was formed of new, milk-hued canvas, and bore red flag_n its summit; it announced "Good Home-brewed Beer, Ale, and Cyder." The othe_as less new; a little iron stove-pipe came out of it at the back and in fron_ppeared the placard, "Good Furmity Sold Hear." The man mentally weighed th_wo inscriptions and inclined to the former tent.
  • "No—no—the other one," said the woman. "I always like furmity; and so doe_lizabeth-Jane; and so will you. It is nourishing after a long hard day."
  • "I've never tasted it," said the man. However, he gave way to he_epresentations, and they entered the furmity booth forthwith.
  • A rather numerous company appeared within, seated at the long narrow table_hat ran down the tent on each side. At the upper end stood a stove, containing a charcoal fire, over which hung a large three-legged crock, sufficiently polished round the rim to show that it was made of bell-metal. _aggish creature of about fifty presided, in a white apron, which as it thre_n air of respectability over her as far as it extended, was made so wide a_o reach nearly round her waist. She slowly stirred the contents of the pot.
  • The dull scrape of her large spoon was audible throughout the tent as she thu_ept from burning the mixture of corn in the grain, flour, milk, raisins, currants, and what not, that composed the antiquated slop in which she dealt.
  • Vessels holding the separate ingredients stood on a white-clothed table o_oards and trestles close by.
  • The young man and woman ordered a basin each of the mixture, steaming hot, an_at down to consume it at leisure. This was very well so far, for furmity, a_he woman had said, was nourishing, and as proper a food as could be obtaine_ithin the four seas; though, to those not accustomed to it, the grains o_heat swollen as large as lemon-pips, which floated on its surface, might hav_ deterrent effect at first.
  • But there was more in that tent than met the cursory glance; and the man, wit_he instinct of a perverse character, scented it quickly. After a mincin_ttack on his bowl, he watched the hag's proceedings from the corner of hi_ye, and saw the game she played. He winked to her, and passed up his basin i_eply to her nod; when she took a bottle from under the table, slily measure_ut a quantity of its contents, and tipped the same into the man's furmity.
  • The liquor poured in was rum. The man as slily sent back money in payment.
  • He found the concoction, thus strongly laced, much more to his satisfactio_han it had been in its natural state. His wife had observed the proceedin_ith much uneasiness; but he persuaded her to have hers laced also, and sh_greed to a milder allowance after some misgiving.
  • The man finished his basin, and called for another, the rum being signalle_or in yet stronger proportion. The effect of it was soon apparent in hi_anner, and his wife but too sadly perceived that in strenuously steering of_he rocks of the licensed liquor-tent she had only got into maelstrom depth_ere amongst the smugglers.
  • The child began to prattle impatiently, and the wife more than once said t_er husband, "Michael, how about our lodging? You know we may have trouble i_etting it if we don't go soon."
  • But he turned a deaf ear to those bird-like chirpings. He talked loud to th_ompany. The child's black eyes, after slow, round, ruminating gazes at th_andles when they were lighted, fell together; then they opened, then shu_gain, and she slept.
  • At the end of the first basin the man had risen to serenity; at the second h_as jovial; at the third, argumentative, at the fourth, the qualitie_ignified by the shape of his face, the occasional clench of his mouth, an_he fiery spark of his dark eye, began to tell in his conduct; he wa_verbearing—even brilliantly quarrelsome.
  • The conversation took a high turn, as it often does on such occasions. Th_uin of good men by bad wives, and, more particularly, the frustration of man_ promising youth's high aims and hopes and the extinction of his energies b_n early imprudent marriage, was the theme.
  • "I did for myself that way thoroughly," said the trusser with a contemplativ_itterness that was well-night resentful. "I married at eighteen, like th_ool that I was; and this is the consequence o't." He pointed at himself an_amily with a wave of the hand intended to bring out the penuriousness of th_xhibition.
  • The young woman his wife, who seemed accustomed to such remarks, acted as i_he did not hear them, and continued her intermittent private words of tende_rifles to the sleeping and waking child, who was just big enough to be place_or a moment on the bench beside her when she wished to ease her arms. The ma_ontinued—
  • "I haven't more than fifteen shillings in the world, and yet I am a goo_xperienced hand in my line. I'd challenge England to beat me in the fodde_usiness; and if I were a free man again I'd be worth a thousand pound befor_'d done o't. But a fellow never knows these little things till all chance o_cting upon 'em is past."
  • The auctioneer selling the old horses in the field outside could be hear_aying, "Now this is the last lot—now who'll take the last lot for a song?
  • Shall I say forty shillings? 'Tis a very promising broodmare, a trifle ove_ive years old, and nothing the matter with the hoss at all, except that she'_ little holler in the back and had her left eye knocked out by the kick o_nother, her own sister, coming along the road."
  • "For my part I don't see why men who have got wives and don't want 'em, shouldn't get rid of 'em as these gipsy fellows do their old horses," said th_an in the tent. "Why shouldn't they put 'em up and sell 'em by auction to me_ho are in need of such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I'd sell mine this minut_f anybody would buy her!"
  • "There's them that would do that," some of the guests replied, looking at th_oman, who was by no means ill-favoured.
  • "True," said a smoking gentleman, whose coat had the fine polish about th_ollar, elbows, seams, and shoulder-blades that long-continued friction wit_rimy surfaces will produce, and which is usually more desired on furnitur_han on clothes. From his appearance he had possibly been in former time groo_r coachman to some neighbouring county family. "I've had my breedings in a_ood circles, I may say, as any man," he added, "and I know true cultivation, or nobody do; and I can declare she's got it—in the bone, mind ye, I say—a_uch as any female in the fair—though it may want a little bringing out."
  • Then, crossing his legs, he resumed his pipe with a nicely-adjusted gaze at _oint in the air.
  • The fuddled young husband stared for a few seconds at this unexpected prais_f his wife, half in doubt of the wisdom of his own attitude towards th_ossessor of such qualities. But he speedily lapsed into his forme_onviction, and said harshly—
  • "Well, then, now is your chance; I am open to an offer for this gem o'
  • creation."
  • She turned to her husband and murmured, "Michael, you have talked thi_onsense in public places before. A joke is a joke, but you may make it onc_oo often, mind!"
  • "I know I've said it before; I meant it. All I want is a buyer."
  • At the moment a swallow, one among the last of the season, which had by chanc_ound its way through an opening into the upper part of the tent, flew to an_rom quick curves above their heads, causing all eyes to follow it absently.
  • In watching the bird till it made its escape the assembled company neglecte_o respond to the workman's offer, and the subject dropped.
  • But a quarter of an hour later the man, who had gone on lacing his furmit_ore and more heavily, though he was either so strong-minded or such a_ntrepid toper that he still appeared fairly sober, recurred to the ol_train, as in a musical fantasy the instrument fetches up the original theme.
  • "Here—I am waiting to know about this offer of mine. The woman is no good t_e. Who'll have her?"
  • The company had by this time decidedly degenerated, and the renewed inquir_as received with a laugh of appreciation. The woman whispered; she wa_mploring and anxious: "Come, come, it is getting dark, and this nonsens_on't do. If you don't come along, I shall go without you. Come!"
  • She waited and waited; yet he did not move. In ten minutes the man broke i_pon the desultory conversation of the furmity drinkers with. "I asked thi_uestion, and nobody answered to 't. Will any Jack Rag or Tom Straw among y_uy my goods?"
  • The woman's manner changed, and her face assumed the grim shape and colour o_hich mention has been made.
  • "Mike, Mike," she said; "this is getting serious. O!—too serious!"
  • "Will anybody buy her?" said the man.
  • "I wish somebody would," said she firmly. "Her present owner is not at all t_er liking!"
  • "Nor you to mine," said he. "So we are agreed about that. Gentlemen, you hear?
  • It's an agreement to part. She shall take the girl if she wants to, and go he_ays. I'll take my tools, and go my ways. 'Tis simple as Scripture history.
  • Now then, stand up, Susan, and show yourself."
  • "Don't, my chiel," whispered a buxom staylace dealer in voluminous petticoats, who sat near the woman; "yer good man don't know what he's saying."
  • The woman, however, did stand up. "Now, who's auctioneer?" cried the hay- trusser.
  • "I be," promptly answered a short man, with a nose resembling a copper knob, _amp voice, and eyes like button-holes. "Who'll make an offer for this lady?"
  • The woman looked on the ground, as if she maintained her position by a suprem_ffort of will.
  • "Five shillings," said someone, at which there was a laugh.
  • "No insults," said the husband. "Who'll say a guinea?"
  • Nobody answered; and the female dealer in staylaces interposed.
  • "Behave yerself moral, good man, for Heaven's love! Ah, what a cruelty is th_oor soul married to! Bed and board is dear at some figures 'pon my 'vation
  • 'tis!"
  • "Set it higher, auctioneer," said the trusser.
  • "Two guineas!" said the auctioneer; and no one replied.
  • "If they don't take her for that, in ten seconds they'll have to give more,"
  • said the husband. "Very well. Now auctioneer, add another."
  • "Three guineas—going for three guineas!" said the rheumy man.
  • "No bid?" said the husband. "Good Lord, why she's cost me fifty times th_oney, if a penny. Go on."
  • "Four guineas!" cried the auctioneer.
  • "I'll tell ye what—I won't sell her for less than five," said the husband, bringing down his fist so that the basins danced. "I'll sell her for fiv_uineas to any man that will pay me the money, and treat her well; and h_hall have her for ever, and never hear aught o' me. But she shan't go fo_ess. Now then—five guineas—and she's yours. Susan, you agree?"
  • She bowed her head with absolute indifference.
  • "Five guineas," said the auctioneer, "or she'll be withdrawn. Do anybody giv_t? The last time. Yes or no?"
  • "Yes," said a loud voice from the doorway.
  • All eyes were turned. Standing in the triangular opening which formed the doo_f the tent was a sailor, who, unobserved by the rest, had arrived ther_ithin the last two or three minutes. A dead silence followed his affirmation.
  • "You say you do?" asked the husband, staring at him.
  • "I say so," replied the sailor.
  • "Saying is one thing, and paying is another. Where's the money?"
  • The sailor hesitated a moment, looked anew at the woman, came in, unfolde_ive crisp pieces of paper, and threw them down upon the tablecloth. They wer_ank-of-England notes for five pounds. Upon the face of this he clinked dow_he shillings severally—one, two, three, four, five.
  • The sight of real money in full amount, in answer to a challenge for the sam_ill then deemed slightly hypothetical had a great effect upon the spectators.
  • Their eyes became riveted upon the faces of the chief actors, and then upo_he notes as they lay, weighted by the shillings, on the table.
  • Up to this moment it could not positively have been asserted that the man, i_pite of his tantalizing declaration, was really in earnest. The spectator_ad indeed taken the proceedings throughout as a piece of mirthful iron_arried to extremes; and had assumed that, being out of work, he was, as _onsequence, out of temper with the world, and society, and his nearest kin.
  • But with the demand and response of real cash the jovial frivolity of th_cene departed. A lurid colour seemed to fill the tent, and change the aspec_f all therein. The mirth-wrinkles left the listeners' faces, and they waite_ith parting lips.
  • "Now," said the woman, breaking the silence, so that her low dry voice sounde_uite loud, "before you go further, Michael, listen to me. If you touch tha_oney, I and this girl go with the man. Mind, it is a joke no longer."
  • "A joke? Of course it is not a joke!" shouted her husband, his resentmen_ising at her suggestion. "I take the money; the sailor takes you. That'_lain enough. It has been done elsewhere—and why not here?"
  • "'Tis quite on the understanding that the young woman is willing," said th_ailor blandly. "I wouldn't hurt her feelings for the world."
  • "Faith, nor I," said her husband. "But she is willing, provided she can hav_he child. She said so only the other day when I talked o't!"
  • "That you swear?" said the sailor to her.
  • "I do," said she, after glancing at her husband's face and seeing n_epentance there.
  • "Very well, she shall have the child, and the bargain's complete," said th_russer. He took the sailor's notes and deliberately folded them, and put the_ith the shillings in a high remote pocket, with an air of finality.
  • The sailor looked at the woman and smiled. "Come along!" he said kindly. "Th_ittle one too—the more the merrier!" She paused for an instant, with a clos_lance at him. Then dropping her eyes again, and saying nothing, she took u_he child and followed him as he made towards the door. On reaching it, sh_urned, and pulling off her wedding-ring, flung it across the booth in th_ay-trusser's face.
  • "Mike," she said, "I've lived with thee a couple of years, and had nothing bu_emper! Now I'm no more to 'ee; I'll try my luck elsewhere. 'Twill be bette_or me and Elizabeth-Jane, both. So good-bye!"
  • Seizing the sailor's arm with her right hand, and mounting the little girl o_er left, she went out of the tent sobbing bitterly.
  • A stolid look of concern filled the husband's face, as if, after all, he ha_ot quite anticipated this ending; and some of the guests laughed.
  • "Is she gone?" he said.
  • "Faith, ay! she's gone clane enough," said some rustics near the door.
  • He rose and walked to the entrance with the careful tread of one conscious o_is alcoholic load. Some others followed, and they stood looking into th_wilight. The difference between the peacefulness of inferior nature and th_ilful hostilities of mankind was very apparent at this place. In contras_ith the harshness of the act just ended within the tent was the sight o_everal horses crossing their necks and rubbing each other lovingly as the_aited in patience to be harnessed for the homeward journey. Outside the fair, in the valleys and woods, all was quiet. The sun had recently set, and th_est heaven was hung with rosy cloud, which seemed permanent, yet slowl_hanged. To watch it was like looking at some grand feat of stagery from _arkened auditorium. In presence of this scene after the other there was _atural instinct to abjure man as the blot on an otherwise kindly universe; till it was remembered that all terrestrial conditions were intermittent, an_hat mankind might some night be innocently sleeping when these quiet object_ere raging loud.
  • "Where do the sailor live?" asked a spectator, when they had vainly gaze_round.
  • "God knows that," replied the man who had seen high life. "He's without doub_ stranger here."
  • "He came in about five minutes ago," said the furmity woman, joining the res_ith her hands on her hips. "And then 'a stepped back, and then 'a looked i_gain. I'm not a penny the better for him."
  • "Serves the husband well be-right," said the staylace vendor. "A comel_espectable body like her—what can a man want more? I glory in the woman'_perrit. I'd ha' done it myself—od send if I wouldn't, if a husband ha_ehaved so to me! I'd go, and 'a might call, and call, till his keacorn wa_aw; but I'd never come back—no, not till the great trumpet, would I!"
  • "Well, the woman will be better off," said another of a more deliberativ_urn. "For seafaring natures be very good shelter for shorn lambs, and the ma_o seem to have plenty of money, which is what she's not been used to lately, by all showings."
  • "Mark me—I'll not go after her!" said the trusser, returning doggedly to hi_eat. "Let her go! If she's up to such vagaries she must suffer for 'em. She'_o business to take the maid—'tis my maid; and if it were the doing again sh_houldn't have her!"
  • Perhaps from some little sense of having countenanced an indefensibl_roceeding, perhaps because it was late, the customers thinned away from th_ent shortly after this episode. The man stretched his elbows forward on th_able leant his face upon his arms, and soon began to snore. The furmit_eller decided to close for the night, and after seeing the rum-bottles, milk, corn, raisins, etc., that remained on hand, loaded into the cart, came t_here the man reclined. She shook him, but could not wake him. As the tent wa_ot to be struck that night, the fair continuing for two or three days, sh_ecided to let the sleeper, who was obviously no tramp, stay where he was, an_is basket with him. Extinguishing the last candle, and lowering the flap o_he tent, she left it, and drove away.