The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 1

It is the early 19th-century on a late summer evening. A man, his wife, and their child approach the village of Weydon-Priors after a long journey. The sturdy man appears to be a hay-trusser and carries a basket and a hay-knife. The attractive woman holds the child and whispers soothing words to quiet her, this being the only conversation between the three. As they walk along the road in silence, they grow nearer to the village where they hear some distant noises. The man inquires a local laborer about employment and housing, about which he receives negative responses, and he learns that Fair Day is coming to an end in town.

The family continues along, and they observe a quiet Fair field, in which little business is now being transacted. There are some entertainment booths still set up, but the family looks for a refreshment tent instead. They come across a furmity-booth (a mix of corn, grain, flour, milk, raisins, currants, and other ingredients) where the two adults order a bowl each. The man requests the lady-vendor to lace his portion with rum to make it more appetizing, and liking this extra ingredient, he orders bowl after bowl and continues to eat until he is sufficiently drunk.

He begins to rant and rave about his sorrows: marrying young, being poor, seeking employment. A horse auctioneer is overheard trying to make a sale, which gives the intoxicated man the idea that he too should have the option of selling his wife since she is of little use to him. The embarrassed wife tries to calm her husband, Michael, but he is undeterred, continuing to demand a buyer. Several bids are made, but a passing sailor makes the highest offer at five guineas. The shocked wife cautions Michael that if he accepts the money, she will indeed leave him, along with their daughter Elizabeth-Jane, but Michael is carefree. He pockets the money, causing the woman to harshly remove her wedding ring and fling it at him before she leaves with the new man. There is a sprinkling of comments from the witnesses of the transaction, but Michael as yet has no regrets. He stretches out at a table in the tent and is soon sound asleep.

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