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Chapter 33

  • At this date there prevailed in Casterbridge a convivial custom—scarcel_ecognized as such, yet none the less established. On the afternoon of ever_unday a large contingent of the Casterbridge journeymen—steady churchgoer_nd sedate characters—having attended service, filed from the church door_cross the way to the Three Mariners Inn. The rear was usually brought up b_he choir, with their bass-viols, fiddles, and flutes under their arms.
  • The great point, the point of honour, on these sacred occasions was for eac_an to strictly limit himself to half-a-pint of liquor. This scrupulosity wa_o well understood by the landlord that the whole company was served in cup_f that measure. They were all exactly alike—straight-sided, with two leafles_ime-trees done in eel-brown on the sides—one towards the drinker's lips, th_ther confronting his comrade. To wonder how many of these cups the landlor_ossessed altogether was a favourite exercise of children in the marvellous.
  • Forty at least might have been seen at these times in the large room, formin_ ring round the margin of the great sixteen-legged oak table, like th_onolithic circle of Stonehenge in its pristine days. Outside and above th_orty cups came a circle of forty smoke-jets from forty clay pipes; outsid_he pipes the countenances of the forty church-goers, supported at the back b_ circle of forty chairs.
  • The conversation was not the conversation of week-days, but a thing altogethe_iner in point and higher in tone. They invariably discussed the sermon, dissecting it, weighing it, as above or below the average—the general tendenc_eing to regard it as a scientific feat or performance which had no relatio_o their own lives, except as between critics and the thing criticized. Th_ass-viol player and the clerk usually spoke with more authority than the res_n account of their official connection with the preacher.
  • Now the Three Mariners was the inn chosen by Henchard as the place for closin_is long term of dramless years. He had so timed his entry as to be wel_stablished in the large room by the time the forty church-goers entered t_heir customary cups. The flush upon his face proclaimed at once that the vo_f twenty-one years had lapsed, and the era of recklessness begun anew. He wa_eated on a small table, drawn up to the side of the massive oak boar_eserved for the churchmen, a few of whom nodded to him as they took thei_laces and said, "How be ye, Mr. Henchard? Quite a stranger here."
  • Henchard did not take the trouble to reply for a few moments, and his eye_ested on his stretched-out legs and boots. "Yes," he said at length; "that'_rue. I've been down in spirit for weeks; some of ye know the cause. I a_etter now, but not quite serene. I want you fellows of the choir to strike u_ tune; and what with that and this brew of Stannidge's, I am in hopes o_etting 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 giv_he man a stave."
  • "I don't care a curse what the words be," said Henchard. "Hymns, ballets, o_antipole rubbish; the Rogue's March or the cherubim's warble—'tis all th_ame 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 sa_n the gallery less than twenty year," said the leader of the band. "As 'ti_unday, neighbours, suppose we raise the Fourth Psa'am, to Samuel Wakely'_une, as improved by me?"
  • "Hang Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by thee!" said Henchard. "Chuck acros_ne 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 stead_hap. I'll find some words to fit en." He took one of the psalters and bega_urning over the leaves.
  • Chancing to look out of the window at that moment he saw a flock of peopl_assing by, and perceived them to be the congregation of the upper church, no_ust dismissed, their sermon having been a longer one than that the lowe_arish was favoured with. Among the rest of the leading inhabitants walked Mr.
  • Councillor Farfrae with Lucetta upon his arm, the observed and imitated of al_he smaller tradesmen's womankind. Henchard's mouth changed a little, and h_ontinued 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 words:
  • "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 woul_s lief not sing it. 'Twasn't made for singing. We chose it once when th_ipsy stole the pa'son's mare, thinking to please him, but pa'son were quit_pset. Whatever Servant David were thinking about when he made a Psalm tha_obody can sing without disgracing himself, I can't fathom! Now then, th_ourth 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 dronin_rew of ye goes out of this room till that Psalm is sung!" He slipped off th_able, 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 Servan_avid's words and not ours, perhaps we don't mind for once, hey?" said one o_he terrified choir, looking round upon the rest. So the instruments wer_uned and the comminatory verses sung.
  • "Thank ye, thank ye," said Henchard in a softened voice, his eyes growin_owncast, and his manner that of a man much moved by the strains. "Don't yo_lame David," he went on in low tones, shaking his head without raising hi_yes. "He knew what he was about when he wrote that!… If I could afford it, b_anged if I wouldn't keep a church choir at my own expense to play and sing t_e at these low, dark times of my life. But the bitter thing is, that when _as rich I didn't need what I could have, and now I be poor I can't have wha_ need!"
  • While they paused, Lucetta and Farfrae passed again, this time homeward, i_eing their custom to take, like others, a short walk out on the highway an_ack, between church and tea-time. "There's the man we've been singing about,"
  • said Henchard.
  • The players and singers turned their heads and saw his meaning. "Heave_orbid!" said the bass-player.
  • "'Tis the man," repeated Henchard doggedly.
  • "Then if I'd known," said the performer on the clarionet solemnly, "that 'twa_eant for a living man, nothing should have drawn out of my wynd-pipe th_reath for that Psalm, so help me!
  • "Nor from mine," said the first singer. "But, thought I, as it was made s_ong ago perhaps there isn't much in it, so I'll oblige a neighbour; fo_here's nothing to be said against the tune."
  • "Ah, my boys, you've sung it," said Henchard triumphantly. "As for him, it wa_artly by his songs that he got over me, and heaved me out… .I could doubl_im up like that—and yet I don't." He laid the poker across his knee, bent i_s if it were a twig, flung it down, and came away from the door.
  • It was at this time that Elizabeth-Jane, having heard where her stepfathe_as, entered the room with a pale and agonized countenance. The choir and th_est 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 drun_o great quantity as yet he was inclined to acquiesce. She took his arm, an_ogether they went on. Henchard walked blankly, like a blind man, repeating t_imself 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 fo_wenty-one years; and now I can drink with a good conscience… .If I don't d_or him—well, I am a fearful practical joker when I choose! He has taken awa_verything from me, and by heavens, if I meet him I won't answer for m_eeds!"
  • These half-uttered words alarmed Elizabeth—all the more by reason of the stil_etermination of Henchard's mien.
  • "What will you do?" she asked cautiously, while trembling with disquietude, and guessing Henchard's allusion only too well.
  • 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 t_aution 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 bee_een flitting about the town like two butterflies—or rather like a bee and _utterfly in league for life. She seemed to take no pleasure in going anywher_xcept in her husband's company; and hence when business would not permit hi_o waste an afternoon she remained indoors waiting for the time to pass til_is return, her face being visible to Elizabeth-Jane from her window aloft.
  • The latter, however, did not say to herself that Farfrae should be thankfu_or such devotion, but, full of her reading, she cited Rosalind's exclamation:
  • "Mistress, know yourself; down on your knees and thank Heaven fasting for _ood man's love."
  • She kept her eye upon Henchard also. One day he answered her inquiry for hi_ealth by saying that he could not endure Abel Whittle's pitying eyes upon hi_hile 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 th_eneral position of affairs on Farfrae's premises now that her stepfather wa_ workman there. Henchard's threats had alarmed her so much that she wished t_ee his behaviour when the two were face to 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, an_t his heels Lucetta. Donald brought his wife forward without hesitation, i_eing obvious that he had no suspicion whatever of any antecedents in commo_etween her and the now journeyman hay-trusser.
  • Henchard did not turn his eyes toward either of the pair, keeping them fixe_n 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 triumphin_ver a fallen rivel, led him to keep away from the hay-barn where Henchard an_is daughter were working, and to go on to the corn department. Meanwhil_ucetta, never having been informed that Henchard had entered her husband'_ervice, rambled straight on to the barn, where she came suddenly upo_enchard, and gave vent to a little "Oh!" which the happy and busy Donald wa_oo far off to hear. Henchard, with withering humility of demeanour, touche_he brim of his hat to her as Whittle and the rest had done, to which sh_reathed a dead-alive "Good afternoon."
  • "I beg your pardon, ma'am?" said Henchard, as if he had not heard.
  • "I said good afternoon," she faltered.
  • "O yes, good afternoon, ma'am," he replied, touching his hat again. "I am gla_o see you, ma'am." Lucetta looked embarrassed, and Henchard continued: "Fo_e humble workmen here feel it a great honour that a lady should look in an_ake an interest in us."
  • She glanced at him entreatingly; the sarcasm was too bitter, too unendurable.
  • "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 a_ou 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 sh_ould be seen leading him away by the outer gates, so as to avoid passin_enchard again. That she had been taken by surprise was obvious. The result o_his casual rencounter was that the next morning a note was put int_enchard's hand by the postman.
  • "Will you," said Lucetta, with as much bitterness as she could put into _mall communication, "will you kindly undertake not to speak to me in th_iting undertones you used to-day, if I walk through the yard at any time? _ear you no ill-will, and I am only too glad that you should have employmen_f my dear husband; but in common fairness treat me as his wife, and do no_ry to make me wretched by covert sneers. I have committed no crime, and don_ou no injury.
  • "Poor fool!" said Henchard with fond savagery, holding out the note. "To kno_o better than commit herself in writing like this! Why, if I were to sho_hat 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 rathe_ave died than run the risk of encountering Henchard at such close quarters _econd time. The gulf between them was growing wider every day. Farfrae wa_lways considerate to his fallen acquaintance; but it was impossible that h_hould not, by degrees, cease to regard the ex-corn-merchant as more than on_f his other workmen. Henchard saw this, and concealed his feelings under _over of stolidity, fortifying his heart by drinking more freely at the Thre_ariners every evening.
  • Often did Elizabeth-Jane, in her endeavours to prevent his taking othe_iquor, carry tea to him in a little basket at five o'clock. Arriving one da_n 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 floo_ad a door opening into the air under a cat-head, from which a chain dangle_or hoisting the sacks.
  • When Elizabeth's head rose through the trap she perceived that the upper doo_as open, and that her stepfather and Farfrae stood just within it i_onversation, Farfrae being nearest the dizzy edge, and Henchard a little wa_ehind. Not to interrupt them she remained on the steps without raising he_ead any higher. While waiting thus she saw—or fancied she saw, for she had _error of feeling certain—her stepfather slowly raise his hand to a leve_ehind Farfrae's shoulders, a curious expression taking possession of hi_ace. The young man was quite unconscious of the action, which was so indirec_hat, if Farfrae had observed it, he might almost have regarded it as an idl_utstretching of the arm. But it would have been possible, by a comparativel_ight touch, to push Farfrae off his balance, and send him head over heel_nto 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, an_ent away. Reflecting, she endeavoured to assure herself that the movement wa_n idle eccentricity, and no more. Yet, on the other hand, his subordinat_osition in an establishment where he once had been master might be acting o_im like an irritant poison; and she finally resolved to caution Donald.