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Chapter 37

  • Such was the state of things when the current affairs of Casterbridge wer_nterrupted by an event of such magnitude that its influence reached to th_owest social stratum there, stirring the depths of its society simultaneousl_ith the preparations for the skimmington. It was one of those excitement_hich, when they move a country town, leave permanent mark upon it_hronicles, as a warm summer permanently marks the ring in the tree-trun_orresponding to its date.
  • A Royal Personage was about to pass through the borough on his course furthe_est, to inaugurate an immense engineering work out that way. He had consente_o halt half-an-hour or so in the town, and to receive an address from th_orporation of Casterbridge, which, as a representative centre of husbandry, wished thus to express its sense of the great services he had rendered t_gricultural science and economics, by his zealous promotion of designs fo_lacing the art of farming on a more scientific footing.
  • Royalty had not been seen in Casterbridge since the days of the third Kin_eorge, and then only by candlelight for a few minutes, when that monarch, o_ night-journey, had stopped to change horses at the King's Arms. Th_nhabitants therefore decided to make a thorough fete carillonee of th_nwonted occasion. Half-an-hour's pause was not long, it is true; but muc_ight be done in it by a judicious grouping of incidents, above all, if th_eather were fine.
  • The address was prepared on parchment by an artist who was handy at ornamenta_ettering, and was laid on with the best gold-leaf and colours that the sign- painter had in his shop. The Council had met on the Tuesday before th_ppointed day, to arrange the details of the procedure. While they wer_itting, the door of the Council Chamber standing open, they heard a heav_ootstep coming up the stairs. It advanced along the passage, and Henchar_ntered the room, in clothes of frayed and threadbare shabbiness, the ver_lothes which he had used to wear in the primal days when he had sat amon_hem.
  • "I have a feeling," he said, advancing to the table and laying his hand upo_he green cloth, "that I should like to join ye in this reception of ou_llustrious visitor. I suppose I could walk with the rest?"
  • Embarrassed glances were exchanged by the Council and Grower nearly ate th_nd of his quill-pen off, so gnawed he it during the silence. Farfrae th_oung Mayor, who by virtue of his office sat in the large chair, intuitivel_aught the sense of the meeting, and as spokesman was obliged to utter it, glad as he would have been that the duty should have fallen to another tongue.
  • "I hardly see that it would be proper, Mr. Henchard," said he. "The Counci_re the Council, and as ye are no longer one of the body, there would be a_rregularity in the proceeding. If ye were included, why not others?"
  • "I have a particular reason for wishing to assist at the ceremony."
  • Farfrae looked round. "I think I have expressed the feeling of the Council,"
  • he said.
  • "Yes, yes," from Dr. Bath, Lawyer Long, Alderman Tubber, and several more.
  • "Then I am not to be allowed to have anything to do with it officially?"
  • "I am afraid so; it is out of the question, indeed. But of course you can se_he doings full well, such as they are to be, like the rest of th_pectators."
  • Henchard did not reply to that very obvious suggestion, and, turning on hi_eel, went away.
  • It had been only a passing fancy of his, but opposition crystallized it into _etermination. "I'll welcome his Royal Highness, or nobody shall!" he wen_bout saying. "I am not going to be sat upon by Farfrae, or any of the rest o_he paltry crew! You shall see."
  • The eventful morning was bright, a full-faced sun confronting early window- gazers eastward, and all perceived (for they were practised in weather-lore) that there was permanence in the glow. Visitors soon began to flock in fro_ounty houses, villages, remote copses, and lonely uplands, the latter i_iled boots and tilt bonnets, to see the reception, or if not to see it, a_ny rate to be near it. There was hardly a workman in the town who did not pu_ clean shirt on. Solomon Longways, Christopher Coney, Buzzford, and the res_f that fraternity, showed their sense of the occasion by advancing thei_ustomary eleven o'clock pint to half-past ten; from which they found _ifficulty in getting back to the proper hour for several days.
  • Henchard had determined to do no work that day. He primed himself in th_orning with a glass of rum, and walking down the street met Elizabeth-Jane, whom he had not seen for a week. "It was lucky," he said to her, "my twenty- one years had expired before this came on, or I should never have had th_erve to carry it out."
  • "Carry out what?" said she, alarmed.
  • "This welcome I am going to give our Royal visitor."
  • She was perplexed. "Shall we go and see it together?" she said.
  • "See it! I have other fish to fry. You see it. It will be worth seeing!"
  • She could do nothing to elucidate this, and decked herself out with a heav_eart. As the appointed time drew near she got sight again of her stepfather.
  • She thought he was going to the Three Mariners; but no, he elbowed his wa_hrough the gay throng to the shop of Woolfrey, the draper. She waited in th_rowd without.
  • In a few minutes he emerged, wearing, to her surprise, a brilliant rosette, while more surprising still, in his hand he carried a flag of somewhat homel_onstruction, formed by tacking one of the small Union Jacks, which abounde_n the town to-day, to the end of a deal wand—probably the roller from a piec_f calico. Henchard rolled up his flag on the doorstep, put it under his arm, and went down the street.
  • Suddenly the taller members of the crowd turned their heads, and the shorte_tood on tiptoe. It was said that the Royal cortege approached. The railwa_ad stretched out an arm towards Casterbridge at this time, but had no_eached it by several miles as yet; so that the intervening distance, as wel_s the remainder of the journey, was to be traversed by road in the ol_ashion. People thus waited—the county families in their carriages, the masse_n foot—and watched the far-stretching London highway to the ringing of bell_nd chatter of tongues.
  • From the background Elizabeth-Jane watched the scene. Some seats had bee_rranged from which ladies could witness the spectacle, and the front seat wa_ccupied by Lucetta, the Mayor's wife, just at present. In the road under he_yes stood Henchard. She appeared so bright and pretty that, as it seemed, h_as experiencing the momentary weakness of wishing for her notice. But he wa_ar from attractive to a woman's eye, ruled as that is so largely by th_uperficies of things. He was not only a journeyman, unable to appear as h_ormerly had appeared, but he disdained to appear as well as he might.
  • Everybody else, from the Mayor to the washerwoman, shone in new vestur_ccording to means; but Henchard had doggedly retained the fretted an_eather-beaten garments of bygone years.
  • Hence, alas, this occurred: Lucetta's eyes slid over him to this side and t_hat without anchoring on his features—as gaily dressed women's eyes will to_ften do on such occasions. Her manner signified quite plainly that she mean_o know him in public no more.
  • But she was never tired of watching Donald, as he stood in animated convers_ith his friends a few yards off, wearing round his young neck the officia_old chain with great square links, like that round the Royal unicorn. Ever_rifling emotion that her husband showed as he talked had its reflex on he_ace and lips, which moved in little duplicates to his. She was living hi_art rather than her own, and cared for no one's situation but Farfrae's tha_ay.
  • At length a man stationed at the furthest turn of the high road, namely, o_he second bridge of which mention has been made, gave a signal, and th_orporation in their robes proceeded from the front of the Town Hall to th_rchway erected at the entrance to the town. The carriages containing th_oyal visitor and his suite arrived at the spot in a cloud of dust, _rocession was formed, and the whole came on to the Town Hall at a walkin_ace.
  • This spot was the centre of interest. There were a few clear yards in front o_he Royal carriage, sanded; and into this space a man stepped before any on_ould prevent him. It was Henchard. He had unrolled his private flag, an_emoving his hat he staggered to the side of the slowing vehicle, waving th_nion Jack to and fro with his left hand while he blandly held out his righ_o the Illustrious Personage.
  • All the ladies said with bated breath, "O, look there!" and Lucetta was read_o faint. Elizabeth-Jane peeped through the shoulders of those in front, sa_hat it was, and was terrified; and then her interest in the spectacle as _trange phenomenon got the better of her fear.
  • Farfrae, with Mayoral authority, immediately rose to the occasion. He seize_enchard by the shoulder, dragged him back, and told him roughly to be off.
  • Henchard's eyes met his, and Farfrae observed the fierce light in them despit_is excitement and irritation. For a moment Henchard stood his ground rigidly; then by an unaccountable impulse gave way and retired. Farfrae glanced to th_adies' gallery, and saw that his Calphurnia's cheek was pale.
  • "Why—it is your husband's old patron!" said Mrs. Blowbody, a lady of th_eighbourhood who sat beside Lucetta.
  • "Patron!" said Donald's wife with quick indignation.
  • "Do you say the man is an acquaintance of Mr. Farfrae's?" observed Mrs. Bath, the physician's wife, a new-comer to the town through her recent marriage wit_he doctor.
  • "He works for my husband," said Lucetta.
  • "Oh—is that all? They have been saying to me that it was through him you_usband first got a footing in Casterbridge. What stories people will tell!"
  • "They will indeed. It was not so at all. Donald's genius would have enable_im to get a footing anywhere, without anybody's help! He would have been jus_he same if there had been no Henchard in the world!"
  • It was partly Lucetta's ignorance of the circumstances of Donald's arriva_hich led her to speak thus, partly the sensation that everybody seemed ben_n snubbing her at this triumphant time. The incident had occupied but a fe_oments, but it was necessarily witnessed by the Royal Personage, who, however, with practised tact affected not to have noticed anything unusual. H_lighted, the Mayor advanced, the address was read; the Illustrious Personag_eplied, then said a few words to Farfrae, and shook hands with Lucetta as th_ayor's wife. The ceremony occupied but a few minutes, and the carriage_attled heavily as Pharaoh's chariots down Corn Street and out upon th_udmouth Road, in continuation of the journey coastward.
  • In the crowd stood Coney, Buzzford, and Longways "Some difference between hi_ow and when he zung at the Dree Mariners," said the first. "'Tis wonderfu_ow he could get a lady of her quality to go snacks wi' en in such quic_ime."
  • "True. Yet how folk do worship fine clothes! Now there's a better-lookin_oman than she that nobody notices at all, because she's akin to that hontis_ellow Henchard."
  • "I could worship ye, Buzz, for saying that," remarked Nance Mockridge. "I d_ike to see the trimming pulled off such Christmas candles. I am quite unequa_o the part of villain myself, or I'd gi'e all my small silver to see tha_ady toppered… .And perhaps I shall soon," she added significantly.
  • "That's not a noble passiont for a 'oman to keep up," said Longways.
  • Nance did not reply, but every one knew what she meant. The ideas diffused b_he reading of Lucetta's letters at Peter's finger had condensed into _candal, which was spreading like a miasmatic fog through Mixen Lane, an_hence up the back streets of Casterbridge.
  • The mixed assemblage of idlers known to each other presently fell apart int_wo bands by a process of natural selection, the frequenters of Peter's Finge_oing off Mixen Lanewards, where most of them lived, while Coney, Buzzford, Longways, and that connection remained in the street.
  • "You know what's brewing down there, I suppose?" said Buzzford mysteriously t_he others.
  • Coney looked at him. "Not the skimmity-ride?"
  • Buzzford nodded.
  • "I have my doubts if it will be carried out," said Longways. "If they ar_etting it up they are keeping it mighty close.
  • "I heard they were thinking of it a fortnight ago, at all events."
  • "If I were sure o't I'd lay information," said Longways emphatically. "'Ti_oo rough a joke, and apt to wake riots in towns. We know that the Scotchma_s a right enough man, and that his lady has been a right enough 'oman sinc_he came here, and if there was anything wrong about her afore, that's thei_usiness, not ours."
  • Coney reflected. Farfrae was still liked in the community; but it must b_wned that, as the Mayor and man of money, engrossed with affairs an_mbitions, he had lost in the eyes of the poorer inhabitants something of tha_ondrous charm which he had had for them as a light-hearted penniless youn_an, who sang ditties as readily as the birds in the trees. Hence the anxiet_o keep him from annoyance showed not quite the ardour that would hav_nimated it in former days.
  • "Suppose we make inquiration into it, Christopher," continued Longways; "an_f we find there's really anything in it, drop a letter to them mos_oncerned, and advise 'em to keep out of the way?"
  • This course was decided on, and the group separated, Buzzford saying to Coney,
  • "Come, my ancient friend; let's move on. There's nothing more to see here."
  • These well-intentioned ones would have been surprised had they known how rip_he great jocular plot really was. "Yes, to-night," Jopp had said to th_eter's party at the corner of Mixen Lane. "As a wind-up to the Royal visi_he hit will be all the more pat by reason of their great elevation to-day."
  • To him, at least, it was not a joke, but a retaliation.