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Title: The Mayor of Casterbridge
Author: Thomas Hardy





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, were approaching the large village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper
Wessex, on foot. They were plainly but not ill clad, though the thick
hoar of dust which had accumulated on their shoes and garments from
an obviously long journey lent a disadvantageous shabbiness to their
appearance just now.

The man was of fine figure, swarthy, and stern in aspect; and he
showed in profile a facial angle so slightly inclined as to be almost
perpendicular. He wore 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 his back he carried by a looped strap a
rush basket, from which protruded at one end the crutch of a hay-knife,
a wimble for hay-bonds being also visible in the aperture. His measured,
springless walk was the walk of the skilled countryman as distinct from
the desultory shamble of the general labourer; while in the turn and
plant of each foot there was, further, a dogged and cynical indifference
personal to himself, showing its presence even in the regularly
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
have attracted the attention of any casual observer otherwise disposed
to overlook them, was the perfect silence they preserved. They walked
side by side in such a way as to suggest afar off the low, easy,
confidential chat of people full of reciprocity; but on closer view it
could be discerned that the man was reading, or pretending to read, a
ballad sheet which he kept before his eyes with 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 assumed one to escape
an intercourse that would have been irksome to him, nobody but himself
could have said precisely; but his taciturnity was unbroken, and the
woman enjoyed no society whatever from his presence. Virtually she
walked the highway alone, save for the child she bore. Sometimes the
man's bent elbow almost touched her shoulder, for she kept as close to
his side as was possible without actual contact, but she seemed to
have no idea of taking his arm, nor he of offering it; and far from
exhibiting surprise at his ignoring silence she appeared to receive it
as a natural thing. If any word at all were uttered by the little group,
it was an occasional whisper of the woman to the child--a tiny girl in
short clothes and blue boots of knitted yarn--and the murmured babble of
the child in reply.

The chief--almost the only--attraction of the young woman's face was its
mobility. When she looked down sideways to the girl she became pretty,
and even handsome, particularly that in the action her features
caught slantwise the rays of the strongly coloured sun, which made
transparencies of her eyelids and nostrils and set fire on her lips.
When she plodded on in the shade of the hedge, silently thinking,
she had the hard, half-apathetic expression of one who deems anything
possible at the hands of Time and Chance except, perhaps, fair play. The
first phase was the work of Nature, the second probably of civilization.

That the man and woman were husband and wife, and the parents of
the girl in arms there could be little doubt. No other than such
relationship would have accounted for the atmosphere of stale
familiarity which the trio carried along with them like a nimbus as they
moved down the road.

The wife mostly kept her eyes fixed ahead, though with little
interest--the scene for that matter being one that might have been
matched at almost any spot in any county in England at this time of
the year; a road neither straight nor crooked, neither level nor hilly,
bordered by hedges, trees, and other vegetation, which had entered the
blackened-green stage of colour that the doomed leaves pass through on
their way to dingy, and yellow, and red. The grassy margin of the bank,
and the nearest hedgerow boughs, were powdered by the dust that had been
stirred over them by hasty vehicles, the same dust as it lay on the road
deadening their footfalls like a carpet; and this, with the aforesaid
total absence of conversation, allowed every extraneous sound to be
heard.

For a long time there was none, beyond the voice of a weak bird singing
a trite old evening song that might doubtless have been heard on the
hill at the same hour, and with the self-same trills, quavers, and
breves, at any sunset of that season for centuries untold. But as they
approached the village sundry distant shouts and rattles reached their
ears from some elevated spot in that direction, as yet screened from
view by foliage. When the outlying houses of Weydon-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. The reader promptly
glanced up.

"Any trade doing here?" he asked phlegmatically, designating the village
in his van by a wave of the broadsheet. And thinking the labourer did
not understand him, he added, "Anything in the hay-trussing line?"

The turnip-hoer had already begun shaking his head. "Why, save the man,
what wisdom's in him that 'a should come to Weydon for a job of that
sort this time o' year?"

"Then is there any house to let--a little small new cottage just a
builded, or such like?" asked the other.

The pessimist still maintained a negative. "Pulling down is more the
nater of Weydon. There were five houses cleared away last year, and
three this; and the volk 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
clatter and scurry of getting away the money o' children and fools, for
the real business is done earlier than this. I've been working within
sound o't all day, 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 and sheep had been exhibited and sold in the forenoon, but
were now in great part taken away. At present, as their informant had
observed, but little real business remained on hand, the chief being the
sale by auction of a few inferior animals, that could not otherwise
be disposed of, and had been absolutely refused by the better class
of traders, who came and went early. Yet the crowd was denser now
than during the morning hours, the frivolous contingent of visitors,
including journeymen out for a holiday, a stray soldier or two come on
furlough, village shopkeepers, and the like, having latterly flocked in;
persons whose activities found a congenial field among the peep-shows,
toy-stands, waxworks, inspired monsters, disinterested medical men who
travelled for the public good, thimble-riggers, nick-nack vendors, and
readers of Fate.

Neither of our pedestrians had much heart for these things, and they
looked around for a refreshment tent among the many which dotted the
down. Two, which stood nearest to them in the ochreous haze of expiring
sunlight, seemed almost equally inviting. One was formed of new,
milk-hued canvas, and bore red flags on its summit; it announced "Good
Home-brewed Beer, Ale, and Cyder." The other was less new; a little iron
stove-pipe came out of it at the back and in front appeared the placard,
"Good Furmity Sold Hear." The man mentally weighed the two inscriptions
and inclined to the former tent.

"No--no--the other one," said the woman. "I always like furmity; and so
does Elizabeth-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 her
representations, and they entered the furmity booth forthwith.

A rather numerous company appeared within, seated at the long narrow
tables that 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. A haggish creature of about fifty presided, in a white
apron, which as it threw an air of respectability over her as far as
it extended, was made so wide as to 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 thus kept 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 of
boards and trestles close by.

The young man and woman ordered a basin each of the mixture, steaming
hot, and sat down to consume it at leisure. This was very well so far,
for furmity, as the woman had said, was nourishing, and as proper a
food as could be obtained within the four seas; though, to those not
accustomed to it, the grains of wheat swollen as large as lemon-pips,
which floated on its surface, might have a deterrent effect at first.

But there was more in that tent than met the cursory glance; and the
man, with the instinct of a perverse character, scented it quickly.
After a mincing attack on his bowl, he watched the hag's proceedings
from the corner of his eye, and saw the game she played. He winked to
her, and passed up his basin in reply to her nod; when she took a bottle
from under the table, slily measured out 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
satisfaction than it had been in its natural state. His wife had
observed the proceeding with much uneasiness; but he persuaded her to
have hers laced also, and she agreed to a milder allowance after some
misgiving.

The man finished his basin, and called for another, the rum being
signalled for in yet stronger proportion. The effect of it was soon
apparent in his manner, and his wife but too sadly perceived that in
strenuously steering off the rocks of the licensed liquor-tent she had
only got into maelstrom depths here amongst the smugglers.

The child began to prattle impatiently, and the wife more than once said
to her husband, "Michael, how about our lodging? You know we may have
trouble in getting it if we don't go soon."

But he turned a deaf ear to those bird-like chirpings. He talked loud to
the company. The child's black eyes, after slow, round, ruminating gazes
at the candles when they were lighted, fell together; then they opened,
then shut again, and she slept.

At the end of the first basin the man had risen to serenity; at the
second he was jovial; at the third, argumentative, at the fourth, the
qualities signified by the shape of his face, the occasional clench of
his mouth, and the fiery spark of his dark eye, began to tell in his
conduct; he was overbearing--even brilliantly quarrelsome.

The conversation took a high turn, as it often does on such occasions.
The ruin of good men by bad wives, and, more particularly, the
frustration of many a promising youth's high aims and hopes and the
extinction of his energies by an early imprudent marriage, was the
theme.

"I did for myself that way thoroughly," said the trusser with a
contemplative bitterness that was well-night resentful. "I married at
eighteen, like the fool that I was; and this is the consequence o't." He
pointed at himself and family with a wave of the hand intended to bring
out the penuriousness of the exhibition.

The young woman his wife, who seemed accustomed to such remarks, acted
as if she did not hear them, and continued her intermittent private
words of tender trifles to the sleeping and waking child, who was just
big enough to be placed for a moment on the bench beside her when she
wished to ease her arms. The man continued--

"I haven't more than fifteen shillings in the world, and yet I am a good
experienced hand in my line. I'd challenge England to beat me in the
fodder business; and if I were a free man again I'd be worth a thousand
pound before I'd done o't. But a fellow never knows these little things
till all chance of acting upon 'em is past."

The auctioneer selling the old horses in the field outside could be
heard saying, "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 over five years old, and nothing the matter with the
hoss at all, except that she's a little holler in the back and had her
left eye knocked out by the kick of another, 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 the man in the tent. "Why shouldn't they put 'em up and sell 'em
by auction to men who are in need of such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I'd
sell mine this minute if anybody would buy her!"

"There's them that would do that," some of the guests replied, looking
at the woman, who was by no means ill-favoured.

"True," said a smoking gentleman, whose coat had the fine polish about
the collar, elbows, seams, and shoulder-blades that long-continued
friction with grimy surfaces will produce, and which is usually more
desired on furniture than on clothes. From his appearance he had
possibly been in former time groom or coachman to some neighbouring
county family. "I've had my breedings in as good 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--as much 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 a
point in the air.

The fuddled young husband stared for a few seconds at this unexpected
praise of his wife, half in doubt of the wisdom of his own attitude
towards the possessor of such qualities. But he speedily lapsed into his
former conviction, 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 this
nonsense in public places before. A joke is a joke, but you may make it
once too 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
chance found its way through an opening into the upper part of the tent,
flew to and from quick curves above their heads, causing all eyes to
follow it absently. In watching the bird till it made its escape the
assembled company neglected to 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
furmity more and more heavily, though he was either so strong-minded or
such an intrepid toper that he still appeared fairly sober, recurred to
the old strain, 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 to me. Who'll have her?"

The company had by this time decidedly degenerated, and the renewed
inquiry was received with a laugh of appreciation. The woman whispered;
she was imploring and anxious: "Come, come, it is getting dark, and
this nonsense won'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
in upon the desultory conversation of the furmity drinkers with. "I
asked this question, and nobody answered to 't. Will any Jack Rag or Tom
Straw among ye buy my goods?"

The woman's manner changed, and her face assumed the grim shape and
colour of which 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 to her 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 her ways. 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, a damp 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
supreme effort 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 the poor 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
the money, 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 five guineas to any man that will pay me the money, and treat
her well; and he shall have her for ever, and never hear aught o' me.
But she shan't go for less. 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
give it? 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 door of the tent was a sailor, who, unobserved by the rest, had
arrived there within 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,
unfolded five crisp pieces of paper, and threw them down upon the
tablecloth. They were Bank-of-England notes for five pounds. Upon the
face of this he clinked down the shillings severally--one, two, three,
four, five.

The sight of real money in full amount, in answer to a challenge for the
same till then deemed slightly hypothetical had a great effect upon
the spectators. Their eyes became riveted upon the faces of the chief
actors, and then upon the 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, in spite of his tantalizing declaration, was really in earnest.
The spectators had indeed taken the proceedings throughout as a piece of
mirthful irony carried to extremes; and had assumed that, being out
of work, he was, as a consequence, 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 the scene departed. A lurid colour
seemed to fill the tent, and change the aspect of all therein. The
mirth-wrinkles left the listeners' faces, and they waited with parting
lips.

"Now," said the woman, breaking the silence, so that her low dry voice
sounded quite loud, "before you go further, Michael, listen to me. If
you touch that money, 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
resentment rising at her suggestion. "I take the money; the sailor takes
you. That's plain enough. It has been done elsewhere--and why not here?"

"'Tis quite on the understanding that the young woman is willing," said
the sailor blandly. "I wouldn't hurt her feelings for the world."

"Faith, nor I," said her husband. "But she is willing, provided she can
have the 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 no
repentance there.

"Very well, she shall have the child, and the bargain's complete," said
the trusser. He took the sailor's notes and deliberately folded them,
and put them with 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.
"The little one too--the more the merrier!" She paused for an instant,
with a close glance at him. Then dropping her eyes again, and saying
nothing, she took up the child and followed him as he made towards the
door. On reaching it, she turned, and pulling off her wedding-ring,
flung it across the booth in the hay-trusser's face.

"Mike," she said, "I've lived with thee a couple of years, and had
nothing but temper! Now I'm no more to 'ee; I'll try my luck elsewhere.
'Twill be better for me and Elizabeth-Jane, both. So good-bye!"

Seizing the sailor's arm with her right hand, and mounting the little
girl on her left, she went out of the tent sobbing bitterly.

A stolid look of concern filled the husband's face, as if, after all, he
had not 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 of his alcoholic load. Some others followed, and they stood
looking into the twilight. The difference between the peacefulness of
inferior nature and the wilful hostilities of mankind was very apparent
at this place. In contrast with the harshness of the act just ended
within the tent was the sight of several horses crossing their necks and
rubbing each other lovingly as they waited 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 the west heaven was hung
with rosy cloud, which seemed permanent, yet slowly changed. To watch
it was like looking at some grand feat of stagery from a darkened
auditorium. In presence of this scene after the other there was a
natural instinct to abjure man as the blot on an otherwise kindly
universe; till it was remembered that all terrestrial conditions were
intermittent, and that mankind might some night be innocently sleeping
when these quiet objects were raging loud.

"Where do the sailor live?" asked a spectator, when they had vainly
gazed around.

"God knows that," replied the man who had seen high life. "He's without
doubt a stranger here."

"He came in about five minutes ago," said the furmity woman, joining the
rest with her hands on her hips. "And then 'a stepped back, and then 'a
looked in again. I'm not a penny the better for him."

"Serves the husband well be-right," said the staylace vendor. "A comely
respectable body like her--what can a man want more? I glory in the
woman's sperrit. I'd ha' done it myself--od send if I wouldn't, if a
husband had behaved so to me! I'd go, and 'a might call, and call, till
his keacorn was raw; 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
deliberative turn. "For seafaring natures be very good shelter for shorn
lambs, and the man do 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 his seat. "Let her go! If she's up to such vagaries she must suffer
for 'em. She'd no business to take the maid--'tis my maid; and if it
were the doing again she shouldn't have her!"

Perhaps from some little sense of having countenanced an indefensible
proceeding, perhaps because it was late, the customers thinned away
from the tent shortly after this episode. The man stretched his elbows
forward on the table leant his face upon his arms, and soon began to
snore. The furmity seller 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 to where the man reclined. She shook
him, but could not wake him. As the tent was not to be struck that
night, the fair continuing for two or three days, she decided to let the
sleeper, who was obviously no tramp, stay where he was, and his basket
with him. Extinguishing the last candle, and lowering the flap of the
tent, she left it, and drove away.




2.


The morning sun was streaming through the crevices of the canvas when
the man awoke. A warm glow pervaded the whole atmosphere of the marquee,
and a single big blue fly buzzed musically round and round it. Besides
the buzz of the fly there was not a sound. He looked about--at the
benches--at the table supported by trestles--at his basket of tools--at
the stove where the furmity had been boiled--at the empty basins--at
some shed grains of wheat--at the corks which dotted the grassy floor.
Among the odds and ends he discerned a little shining object, and picked
it up. It was his wife's ring.

A confused picture of the events of the previous evening seemed to come
back to him, and he thrust his hand into his breast-pocket. A rustling
revealed the sailor's bank-notes thrust carelessly in.

This second verification of his dim memories was enough; he knew now
they were not dreams. He remained seated, looking on the ground for some
time. "I must get out of this as soon as I can," he said deliberately
at last, with the air of one who could not catch his thoughts without
pronouncing them. "She's gone--to be sure she is--gone with that sailor
who bought her, and little Elizabeth-Jane. We walked here, and I had the
furmity, and rum in it--and sold her. Yes, that's what's happened and
here am I. Now, what am I to do--am I sober enough to walk, I wonder?"
He stood up, found that he was in fairly good condition for progress,
unencumbered. Next he shouldered his tool basket, and found he could
carry it. Then lifting the tent door he emerged into the open air.

Here the man looked around with gloomy curiosity. The freshness of the
September morning inspired and braced him as he stood. He and his family
had been weary when they arrived the night before, and they had observed
but little of the place; so that he now beheld it as a new thing. It
exhibited itself as the top of an open down, bounded on one extreme by
a plantation, and approached by a winding road. At the bottom stood the
village which lent its name to the upland and the annual fair that was
held thereon. The spot stretched downward into valleys, and onward to
other uplands, dotted with barrows, and trenched with the remains of
prehistoric forts. The whole scene lay under the rays of a newly risen
sun, which had not as yet dried a single blade of the heavily dewed
grass, whereon the shadows of the yellow and red vans were projected far
away, those thrown by the felloe of each wheel being elongated in shape
to the orbit of a comet. All the gipsies and showmen who had remained
on the ground lay snug within their carts and tents or wrapped in
horse-cloths under them, and were silent and still as death, with the
exception of an occasional snore that revealed their presence. But
the Seven Sleepers had a dog; and dogs of the mysterious breeds that
vagrants own, that are as much like cats as dogs and as much like foxes
as cats also lay about here. A little one started up under one of the
carts, barked as a matter of principle, and quickly lay down again.
He was the only positive spectator of the hay-trusser's exit from the
Weydon Fair-field.

This seemed to accord with his desire. He went on in silent thought,
unheeding the yellowhammers which flitted about the hedges with straws
in their bills, the crowns of the mushrooms, and the tinkling of local
sheep-bells, whose wearer had had the good fortune not to be included
in the fair. When he reached a lane, a good mile from the scene of the
previous evening, the man pitched his basket and leant upon a gate. A
difficult problem or two occupied his mind.

"Did I tell my name to anybody last night, or didn't I tell my name?"
he said to himself; and at last concluded that he did not. His general
demeanour was enough to show how he was surprised and nettled that his
wife had taken him so literally--as much could be seen in his face, and
in the way he nibbled a straw which he pulled from the hedge. He knew
that she must have been somewhat excited to do this; moreover, she
must have believed that there was some sort of binding force in the
transaction. On this latter point he felt almost certain, knowing her
freedom from levity of character, and the extreme simplicity of her
intellect. There may, too, have been enough recklessness and resentment
beneath her ordinary placidity to make her stifle any momentary doubts.
On a previous occasion when he had declared during a fuddle that he
would dispose of her as he had done, she had replied that she would not
hear him say that many times more before it happened, in the resigned
tones of a fatalist.... "Yet she knows I am not in my senses when I do
that!" he exclaimed. "Well, I must walk about till I find her....Seize
her, why didn't she know better than bring me into this disgrace!" he
roared out. "She wasn't queer if I was. 'Tis like Susan to show such
idiotic simplicity. Meek--that meekness has done me more harm than the
bitterest temper!"

When he was calmer he turned to his original conviction that he must
somehow find her and his little Elizabeth-Jane, and put up with the
shame as best he could. It was of his own making, and he ought to bear
it. But first he resolved to register an oath, a greater oath than he
had ever sworn before: and to do it properly he required a fit place and
imagery; for there was something fetichistic in this man's beliefs.

He shouldered his basket and moved on, casting his eyes inquisitively
round upon the landscape as he walked, and at the distance of three or
four miles perceived the roofs of a village and the tower of a church.
He instantly made towards the latter object. The village was quite
still, it being that motionless hour of rustic daily life which fills
the interval between the departure of the field-labourers to their work,
and the rising of their wives and daughters to prepare the breakfast for
their return. Hence he reached the church without observation, and the
door being only latched he entered. The hay-trusser deposited his basket
by the font, went up the nave till he reached the altar-rails, and
opening the gate entered the sacrarium, where he seemed to feel a
sense of the strangeness for a moment; then he knelt upon the
footpace. Dropping his head upon the clamped book which lay on the
Communion-table, he said aloud--

"I, Michael Henchard, on this morning of the sixteenth of September, do
take an oath before God here in this solemn place that I will avoid all
strong liquors for the space of twenty-one years to come, being a year
for every year that I have lived. And this I swear upon the book before
me; and may I be strook dumb, blind, and helpless, if I break this my
oath!"

When he had said it and kissed the big book, the hay-trusser arose,
and seemed relieved at having made a start in a new direction. While
standing in the porch a moment he saw a thick jet of wood smoke suddenly
start up from the red chimney of a cottage near, and knew that the
occupant had just lit her fire. He went round to the door, and the
housewife agreed to prepare him some breakfast for a trifling payment,
which was done. Then he started on the search for his wife and child.

The perplexing nature of the undertaking became apparent soon enough.
Though he examined and inquired, and walked hither and thither day after
day, no such characters as those he described had anywhere been seen
since the evening of the fair. To add to the difficulty he could gain
no sound of the sailor's name. As money was short with him he decided,
after some hesitation, to spend the sailor's money in the prosecution
of this search; but it was equally in vain. The truth was that a
certain shyness of revealing his conduct prevented Michael Henchard from
following up the investigation with the loud hue-and-cry such a pursuit
demanded to render it effectual; and it was probably for this reason
that he obtained no clue, though everything was done by him that did not
involve an explanation of the circumstances under which he had lost her.

Weeks counted up to months, and still he searched on, maintaining
himself by small jobs of work in the intervals. By this time he had
arrived at a seaport, and there he derived intelligence that persons
answering somewhat to his description had emigrated a little time
before. Then he said he would search no longer, and that he would go and
settle in the district which he had had for some time in his mind.

Next day he started, journeying south-westward, and did not pause,
except for nights' lodgings, till he reached the town of Casterbridge,
in a far distant part of Wessex.




3.


The highroad into the village of Weydon-Priors was again carpeted with
dust. The trees had put on as of yore their aspect of dingy green, and
where the Henchard family of three had once walked along, two persons
not unconnected with the family walked now.

The scene in its broad aspect had so much of its previous character,
even to the voices and rattle from the neighbouring village down,
that it might for that matter have been the afternoon following the
previously recorded episode. Change was only to be observed in details;
but here it was obvious that a long procession of years had passed by.
One of the two who walked the road was she who had figured as the young
wife of Henchard on the previous occasion; now her face had lost much of
its rotundity; her skin had undergone a textural change; and though her
hair had not lost colour it was considerably thinner than heretofore.
She was dressed in the mourning clothes of a widow. Her companion,
also in black, appeared as a well-formed young woman about eighteen,
completely possessed of that ephemeral precious essence youth, which is
itself beauty, irrespective of complexion or contour.

A glance was sufficient to inform the eye that this was Susan Henchard's
grown-up daughter. While life's middle summer had set its hardening
mark on the mother's face, her former spring-like specialities were
transferred so dexterously by Time to the second figure, her child,
that the absence of certain facts within her mother's knowledge from the
girl's mind would have seemed for the moment, to one reflecting on those
facts, to be a curious imperfection in Nature's powers of continuity.

They walked with joined hands, and it could be perceived that this was
the act of simple affection. The daughter carried in her outer hand
a withy basket of old-fashioned make; the mother a blue bundle, which
contrasted oddly with her black stuff gown.

Reaching the outskirts of the village they pursued the same track as
formerly, and ascended to the fair. Here, too it was evident that the
years had told. Certain mechanical improvements might have been noticed
in the roundabouts and high-fliers, machines for testing rustic strength
and weight, and in the erections devoted to shooting for nuts. But the
real business of the fair had considerably dwindled. The new periodical
great markets of neighbouring towns were beginning to interfere
seriously with the trade carried on here for centuries. The pens for
sheep, the tie-ropes for horses, were about half as long as they had
been. The stalls of tailors, hosiers, coopers, linen-drapers, and other
such trades had almost disappeared, and the vehicles were far less
numerous. The mother and daughter threaded the crowd for some little
distance, and then stood still.

"Why did we hinder our time by coming in here? I thought you wished to
get onward?" said the maiden.

"Yes, my dear Elizabeth-Jane," explained the other. "But I had a fancy
for looking up here."

"Why?"

"It was here I first met with Newson--on such a day as this."

"First met with father here? Yes, you have told me so before. And now
he's drowned and gone from us!" As she spoke the girl drew a card from
her pocket and looked at it with a sigh. It was edged with black, and
inscribed within a design resembling a mural tablet were the words, "In
affectionate memory of Richard Newson, mariner, who was unfortunately
lost at sea, in the month of November 184--, aged forty-one years."

"And it was here," continued her mother, with more hesitation, "that I
last saw the relation we are going to look for--Mr. Michael Henchard."

"What is his exact kin to us, mother? I have never clearly had it told
me."

"He is, or was--for he may be dead--a connection by marriage," said her
mother deliberately.

"That's exactly what you have said a score of times before!" replied the
young woman, looking about her inattentively. "He's not a near relation,
I suppose?"

"Not by any means."

"He was a hay-trusser, wasn't he, when you last heard of him?

"He was."

"I suppose he never knew me?" the girl innocently continued.

Mrs. Henchard paused for a moment, and answered un-easily, "Of course
not, Elizabeth-Jane. But come this way." She moved on to another part of
the field.

"It is not much use inquiring here for anybody, I should think," the
daughter observed, as she gazed round about. "People at fairs change
like the leaves of trees; and I daresay you are the only one here to-day
who was here all those years ago."

"I am not so sure of that," said Mrs. Newson, as she now called herself,
keenly eyeing something under a green bank a little way off. "See
there."

The daughter looked in the direction signified. The object pointed
out was a tripod of sticks stuck into the earth, from which hung a
three-legged crock, kept hot by a smouldering wood fire beneath. Over
the pot stooped an old woman haggard, wrinkled, and almost in rags. She
stirred the contents of the pot with a large spoon, and occasionally
croaked in a broken voice, "Good furmity sold here!"

It was indeed the former mistress of the furmity tent--once thriving,
cleanly, white-aproned, and chinking with money--now tentless, dirty,
owning no tables or benches, and having scarce any customers except
two small whity-brown boys, who came up and asked for "A ha'p'orth,
please--good measure," which she served in a couple of chipped yellow
basins of commonest clay.

"She was here at that time," resumed Mrs. Newson, making a step as if to
draw nearer.

"Don't speak to her--it isn't respectable!" urged the other.

"I will just say a word--you, Elizabeth-Jane, can stay here."

The girl was not loth, and turned to some stalls of coloured prints
while her mother went forward. The old woman begged for the latter's
custom as soon as she saw her, and responded to Mrs. Henchard-Newson's
request for a pennyworth with more alacrity than she had shown in
selling six-pennyworths in her younger days. When the soi-disant widow
had taken the basin of thin poor slop that stood for the rich concoction
of the former time, the hag opened a little basket behind the fire, and
looking up slily, whispered, "Just a thought o' rum in it?--smuggled,
you know--say two penn'orth--'twill make it slip down like cordial!"

Her customer smiled bitterly at this survival of the old trick, and
shook her head with a meaning the old woman was far from translating.
She pretended to eat a little of the furmity with the leaden spoon
offered, and as she did so said blandly to the hag, "You've seen better
days?"

"Ah, ma'am--well ye may say it!" responded the old woman, opening the
sluices of her heart forthwith. "I've stood in this fair-ground, maid,
wife, and widow, these nine-and-thirty years, and in that time have
known what it was to do business with the richest stomachs in the
land! Ma'am you'd hardly believe that I was once the owner of a great
pavilion-tent that was the attraction of the fair. Nobody could come,
nobody could go, without having a dish of Mrs. Goodenough's furmity.
I knew the clergy's taste, the dandy gent's taste; I knew the town's
taste, the country's taste. I even knowed the taste of the coarse
shameless females. But Lord's my life--the world's no memory;
straightforward dealings don't bring profit--'tis the sly and the
underhand that get on in these times!"

Mrs. Newson glanced round--her daughter was still bending over the
distant stalls. "Can you call to mind," she said cautiously to the old
woman, "the sale of a wife by her husband in your tent eighteen years
ago to-day?"

The hag reflected, and half shook her head. "If it had been a big
thing I should have minded it in a moment," she said. "I can mind every
serious fight o' married parties, every murder, every manslaughter, even
every pocket-picking--leastwise large ones--that 't has been my lot to
witness. But a selling? Was it done quiet-like?"

"Well, yes. I think so."

The furmity woman half shook her head again. "And yet," she said, "I do.
At any rate, I can mind a man doing something o' the sort--a man in a
cord jacket, with a basket of tools; but, Lord bless ye, we don't gi'e
it head-room, we don't, such as that. The only reason why I can mind the
man is that he came back here to the next year's fair, and told me quite
private-like that if a woman ever asked for him I was to say he had gone
to--where?--Casterbridge--yes--to Casterbridge, said he. But, Lord's my
life, I shouldn't ha' thought of it again!"

Mrs. Newson would have rewarded the old woman as far as her small
means afforded had she not discreetly borne in mind that it was by that
unscrupulous person's liquor her husband had been degraded. She briefly
thanked her informant, and rejoined Elizabeth, who greeted her with,
"Mother, do let's get on--it was hardly respectable for you to buy
refreshments there. I see none but the lowest do."

"I have learned what I wanted, however," said her mother quietly.
"The last time our relative visited this fair he said he was living at
Casterbridge. It is a long, long way from here, and it was many years
ago that he said it, but there I think we'll go."

With this they descended out of the fair, and went onward to the
village, where they obtained a night's lodging.




4.


Henchard's wife acted for the best, but she had involved herself in
difficulties. A hundred times she had been upon the point of telling her
daughter Elizabeth-Jane the true story of her life, the tragical crisis
of which had been the transaction at Weydon Fair, when she was not much
older than the girl now beside her. But she had refrained. An innocent
maiden had thus grown up in the belief that the relations between the
genial sailor and her mother were the ordinary ones that they had always
appeared to be. The risk of endangering a child's strong affection by
disturbing ideas which had grown with her growth was to Mrs. Henchard
too fearful a thing to contemplate. It had seemed, indeed folly to think
of making Elizabeth-Jane wise.

But Susan Henchard's fear of losing her dearly loved daughter's heart by
a revelation had little to do with any sense of wrong-doing on her own
part. Her simplicity--the original ground of Henchard's contempt for
her--had allowed her to live on in the conviction that Newson
had acquired a morally real and justifiable right to her by his
purchase--though the exact bearings and legal limits of that right were
vague. It may seem strange to sophisticated minds that a sane young
matron could believe in the seriousness of such a transfer; and were
there not numerous other instances of the same belief the thing might
scarcely be credited. But she was by no means the first or last peasant
woman who had religiously adhered to her purchaser, as too many rural
records show.

The history of Susan Henchard's adventures in the interim can be told
in two or three sentences. Absolutely helpless she had been taken off
to Canada where they had lived several years without any great worldly
success, though she worked as hard as any woman could to keep their
cottage cheerful and well-provided. When Elizabeth-Jane was about twelve
years old the three returned to England, and settled at Falmouth,
where Newson made a living for a few years as boatman and general handy
shoreman.

He then engaged in the Newfoundland trade, and it was during this period
that Susan had an awakening. A friend to whom she confided her history
ridiculed her grave acceptance of her position; and all was over with
her peace of mind. When Newson came home at the end of one winter he saw
that the delusion he had so carefully sustained had vanished for ever.

There was then a time of sadness, in which she told him her doubts
if she could live with him longer. Newson left home again on the
Newfoundland trade when the season came round. The vague news of his
loss at sea a little later on solved a problem which had become torture
to her meek conscience. She saw him no more.

Of Henchard they heard nothing. To the liege subjects of Labour, the
England of those days was a continent, and a mile a geographical degree.

Elizabeth-Jane developed early into womanliness. One day a month or
so after receiving intelligence of Newson's death off the Bank of
Newfoundland, when the girl was about eighteen, she was sitting on a
willow chair in the cottage they still occupied, working twine nets for
the fishermen. Her mother was in a back corner of the same room engaged
in the same labour, and dropping the heavy wood needle she was filling
she surveyed her daughter thoughtfully. The sun shone in at the door
upon the young woman's head and hair, which was worn loose, so that the
rays streamed into its depths as into a hazel copse. Her face, though
somewhat wan and incomplete, possessed the raw materials of beauty in a
promising degree. There was an under-handsomeness in it, struggling
to reveal itself through the provisional curves of immaturity, and the
casual disfigurements that resulted from the straitened circumstances of
their lives. She was handsome in the bone, hardly as yet handsome in the
flesh. She possibly might never be fully handsome, unless the carking
accidents of her daily existence could be evaded before the mobile parts
of her countenance had settled to their final mould.

The sight of the girl made her mother sad--not vaguely but by logical
inference. They both were still in that strait-waistcoat of poverty from
which she had tried so many times to be delivered for the girl's sake.
The woman had long perceived how zealously and constantly the young mind
of her companion was struggling for enlargement; and yet now, in
her eighteenth year, it still remained but little unfolded. The
desire--sober and repressed--of Elizabeth-Jane's heart was indeed to
see, to hear, and to understand. How could she become a woman of wider
knowledge, higher repute--"better," as she termed it--this was her
constant inquiry of her mother. She sought further into things than
other girls in her position ever did, and her mother groaned as she felt
she could not aid in the search.

The sailor, drowned or no, was probably now lost to them; and Susan's
staunch, religious adherence to him as her husband in principle, till
her views had been disturbed by enlightenment, was demanded no more. She
asked herself whether the present moment, now that she was a free woman
again, were not as opportune a one as she would find in a world where
everything had been so inopportune, for making a desperate effort to
advance Elizabeth. To pocket her pride and search for the first husband
seemed, wisely or not, the best initiatory step. He had possibly drunk
himself into his tomb. But he might, on the other hand, have had too
much sense to do so; for in her time with him he had been given to bouts
only, and was not a habitual drunkard.

At any rate, the propriety of returning to him, if he lived, was
unquestionable. The awkwardness of searching for him lay in enlightening
Elizabeth, a proceeding which her mother could not endure to
contemplate. She finally resolved to undertake the search without
confiding to the girl her former relations with Henchard, leaving it to
him if they found him to take what steps he might choose to that
end. This will account for their conversation at the fair and the
half-informed state at which Elizabeth was led onward.

In this attitude they proceeded on their journey, trusting solely to the
dim light afforded of Henchard's whereabouts by the furmity woman. The
strictest economy was indispensable. Sometimes they might have been seen
on foot, sometimes on farmers' waggons, sometimes in carriers' vans; and
thus they drew near to Casterbridge. Elizabeth-Jane discovered to her
alarm that her mother's health was not what it once had been, and there
was ever and anon in her talk that renunciatory tone which showed that,
but for the girl, she would not be very sorry to quit a life she was
growing thoroughly weary of.

It was on a Friday evening, near the middle of September and just before
dusk, that they reached the summit of a hill within a mile of the place
they sought. There were high banked hedges to the coach-road here,
and they mounted upon the green turf within, and sat down. The spot
commanded a full view of the town and its environs.

"What an old-fashioned place it seems to be!" said Elizabeth-Jane, while
her silent mother mused on other things than topography. "It is huddled
all together; and it is shut in by a square wall of trees, like a plot
of garden ground by a box-edging."

Its squareness was, indeed, the characteristic which most struck the eye
in this antiquated borough, the borough of Casterbridge--at that time,
recent as it was, untouched by the faintest sprinkle of modernism. It
was compact as a box of dominoes. It had no suburbs--in the ordinary
sense. Country and town met at a mathematical line.

To birds of the more soaring kind Casterbridge must have appeared on
this fine evening as a mosaic-work of subdued reds, browns, greys, and
crystals, held together by a rectangular frame of deep green. To the
level eye of humanity it stood as an indistinct mass behind a dense
stockade of limes and chestnuts, set in the midst of miles of rotund
down and concave field. The mass became gradually dissected by the
vision into towers, gables, chimneys, and casements, the highest
glazings shining bleared and bloodshot with the coppery fire they caught
from the belt of sunlit cloud in the west.

From the centre of each side of this tree-bound square ran avenues
east, west, and south into the wide expanse of cornland and coomb to
the distance of a mile or so. It was by one of these avenues that the
pedestrians were about to enter. Before they had risen to proceed two
men passed outside the hedge, engaged in argumentative conversation.

"Why, surely," said Elizabeth, as they receded, "those men mentioned the
name of Henchard in their talk--the name of our relative?"

"I thought so too," said Mrs. Newson.

"That seems a hint to us that he is still here."

"Yes."

"Shall I run after them, and ask them about him----"

"No, no, no! Not for the world just yet. He may be in the workhouse, or
in the stocks, for all we know."

"Dear me--why should you think that, mother?"

"'Twas just something to say--that's all! But we must make private
inquiries."

Having sufficiently rested they proceeded on their way at evenfall. The
dense trees of the avenue rendered the road dark as a tunnel, though the
open land on each side was still under a faint daylight, in other words,
they passed down a midnight between two gloamings. The features of the
town had a keen interest for Elizabeth's mother, now that the human side
came to the fore. As soon as they had wandered about they could see that
the stockade of gnarled trees which framed in Casterbridge was itself
an avenue, standing on a low green bank or escarpment, with a ditch
yet visible without. Within the avenue and bank was a wall more or
less discontinuous, and within the wall were packed the abodes of the
burghers.

Though the two women did not know it these external features were but
the ancient defences of the town, planted as a promenade.

The lamplights now glimmered through the engirdling trees, conveying a
sense of great smugness and comfort inside, and rendering at the same
time the unlighted country without strangely solitary and vacant in
aspect, considering its nearness to life. The difference between burgh
and champaign was increased, too, by sounds which now reached them above
others--the notes of a brass band. The travellers returned into the High
Street, where there were timber houses with overhanging stories,
whose small-paned lattices were screened by dimity curtains on a
drawing-string, and under whose bargeboards old cobwebs waved in the
breeze. There were houses of brick-nogging, which derived their chief
support from those adjoining. There were slate roofs patched with tiles,
and tile roofs patched with slate, with occasionally a roof of thatch.

The agricultural and pastoral character of the people upon whom the town
depended for its existence was shown by the class of objects displayed
in the shop windows. Scythes, reap-hooks, sheep-shears, bill-hooks,
spades, mattocks, and hoes at the iron-monger's; bee-hives,
butter-firkins, churns, milking stools and pails, hay-rakes,
field-flagons, and seed-lips at the cooper's; cart-ropes and
plough-harness at the saddler's; carts, wheel-barrows, and mill-gear at
the wheelwright's and machinist's, horse-embrocations at the chemist's;
at the glover's and leather-cutter's, hedging-gloves, thatchers'
knee-caps, ploughmen's leggings, villagers' pattens and clogs.

They came to a grizzled church, whose massive square tower rose unbroken
into the darkening sky, the lower parts being illuminated by the nearest
lamps sufficiently to show how completely the mortar from the joints
of the stonework had been nibbled out by time and weather, which had
planted in the crevices thus made little tufts of stone-crop and grass
almost as far up as the very battlements. From this tower the clock
struck eight, and thereupon a bell began to toll with a peremptory
clang. The curfew was still rung in Casterbridge, and it was utilized by
the inhabitants as a signal for shutting their shops. No sooner did the
deep notes of the bell throb between the house-fronts than a clatter
of shutters arose through the whole length of the High Street. In a few
minutes business at Casterbridge was ended for the day.

Other clocks struck eight from time to time--one gloomily from the gaol,
another from the gable of an almshouse, with a preparative creak of
machinery, more audible than the note of the bell; a row of tall,
varnished case-clocks from the interior of a clock-maker's shop joined
in one after another just as the shutters were enclosing them, like a
row of actors delivering their final speeches before the fall of the
curtain; then chimes were heard stammering out the Sicilian Mariners'
Hymn; so that chronologists of the advanced school were appreciably on
their way to the next hour before the whole business of the old one was
satisfactorily wound up.

In an open space before the church walked a woman with her gown-sleeves
rolled up so high that the edge of her underlinen was visible, and her
skirt tucked up through her pocket hole. She carried a load under her
arm from which she was pulling pieces of bread, and handing them to some
other women who walked with her, which pieces they nibbled critically.
The sight reminded Mrs. Henchard-Newson and her daughter that they had
an appetite; and they inquired of the woman for the nearest baker's.

"Ye may as well look for manna-food as good bread in Casterbridge just
now," she said, after directing them. "They can blare their trumpets
and thump their drums, and have their roaring dinners"--waving her hand
towards a point further along the street, where the brass band could be
seen standing in front of an illuminated building--"but we must needs be
put-to for want of a wholesome crust. There's less good bread than good
beer in Casterbridge now."

"And less good beer than swipes," said a man with his hands in his
pockets.

"How does it happen there's no good bread?" asked Mrs. Henchard.

"Oh, 'tis the corn-factor--he's the man that our millers and bakers all
deal wi', and he has sold 'em growed wheat, which they didn't know
was growed, so they SAY, till the dough ran all over the ovens like
quicksilver; so that the loaves be as flat as toads, and like suet
pudden inside. I've been a wife, and I've been a mother, and I never see
such unprincipled bread in Casterbridge as this before.--But you must be
a real stranger here not to know what's made all the poor volks' insides
plim like blowed bladders this week?"

"I am," said Elizabeth's mother shyly.

Not wishing to be observed further till she knew more of her future
in this place, she withdrew with her daughter from the speaker's side.
Getting a couple of biscuits at the shop indicated as a temporary
substitute for a meal, they next bent their steps instinctively to where
the music was playing.




5.


A few score yards brought them to the spot where the town band was now
shaking the window-panes with the strains of "The Roast Beef of Old
England."

The building before whose doors they had pitched their music-stands was
the chief hotel in Casterbridge--namely, the King's Arms. A spacious
bow-window projected into the street over the main portico, and from the
open sashes came the babble of voices, the jingle of glasses, and the
drawing of corks. The blinds, moreover, being left unclosed, the whole
interior of this room could be surveyed from the top of a flight of
stone steps to the road-waggon office opposite, for which reason a knot
of idlers had gathered there.

"We might, perhaps, after all, make a few inquiries about--our
relation Mr. Henchard," whispered Mrs. Newson who, since her entry
into Casterbridge, had seemed strangely weak and agitated, "And this, I
think, would be a good place for trying it--just to ask, you know,
how he stands in the town--if he is here, as I think he must be. You,
Elizabeth-Jane, had better be the one to do it. I'm too worn out to do
anything--pull down your fall first."

She sat down upon the lowest step, and Elizabeth-Jane obeyed her
directions and stood among the idlers.

"What's going on to-night?" asked the girl, after singling out an old
man and standing by him long enough to acquire a neighbourly right of
converse.

"Well, ye must be a stranger sure," said the old man, without taking
his eyes from the window. "Why, 'tis a great public dinner of the
gentle-people and such like leading volk--wi' the Mayor in the chair. As
we plainer fellows bain't invited, they leave the winder-shutters open
that we may get jist a sense o't out here. If you mount the steps you
can see em. That's Mr. Henchard, the Mayor, at the end of the table, a
facing ye; and that's the Council men right and left....Ah, lots of them
when they begun life were no more than I be now!"

"Henchard!" said Elizabeth-Jane, surprised, but by no means suspecting
the whole force of the revelation. She ascended to the top of the steps.

Her mother, though her head was bowed, had already caught from the
inn-window tones that strangely riveted her attention, before the old
man's words, "Mr. Henchard, the Mayor," reached her ears. She arose,
and stepped up to her daughter's side as soon as she could do so without
showing exceptional eagerness.

The interior of the hotel dining-room was spread out before her, with
its tables, and glass, and plate, and inmates. Facing the window, in the
chair of dignity, sat a man about forty years of age; of heavy frame,
large features, and commanding voice; his general build being rather
coarse than compact. He had a rich complexion, which verged on
swarthiness, a flashing black eye, and dark, bushy brows and hair. When
he indulged in an occasional loud laugh at some remark among the
guests, his large mouth parted so far back as to show to the rays of the
chandelier a full score or more of the two-and-thirty sound white teeth
that he obviously still could boast of.

That laugh was not encouraging to strangers, and hence it may have been
well that it was rarely heard. Many theories might have been built upon
it. It fell in well with conjectures of a temperament which would have
no pity for weakness, but would be ready to yield ungrudging admiration
to greatness and strength. Its producer's personal goodness, if he had
any, would be of a very fitful cast--an occasional almost oppressive
generosity rather than a mild and constant kindness.

Susan Henchard's husband--in law, at least--sat before them, matured
in shape, stiffened in line, exaggerated in traits; disciplined,
thought-marked--in a word, older. Elizabeth, encumbered with no
recollections as her mother was, regarded him with nothing more than
the keen curiosity and interest which the discovery of such unexpected
social standing in the long-sought relative naturally begot. He was
dressed in an old-fashioned evening suit, an expanse of frilled shirt
showing on his broad breast; jewelled studs, and a heavy gold chain.
Three glasses stood at his right hand; but, to his wife's surprise, the
two for wine were empty, while the third, a tumbler, was half full of
water.

When last she had seen him he was sitting in a corduroy jacket, fustian
waistcoat and breeches, and tanned leather leggings, with a basin of hot
furmity before him. Time, the magician, had wrought much here. Watching
him, and thus thinking of past days, she became so moved that she shrank
back against the jamb of the waggon-office doorway to which the steps
gave access, the shadow from it conveniently hiding her features. She
forgot her daughter till a touch from Elizabeth-Jane aroused her. "Have
you seen him, mother?" whispered the girl.

"Yes, yes," answered her companion hastily. "I have seen him, and it is
enough for me! Now I only want to go--pass away--die."

"Why--O what?" She drew closer, and whispered in her mother's ear, "Does
he seem to you not likely to befriend us? I thought he looked a generous
man. What a gentleman he is, isn't he? and how his diamond studs shine!
How strange that you should have said he might be in the stocks, or in
the workhouse, or dead! Did ever anything go more by contraries! Why do
you feel so afraid of him? I am not at all; I'll call upon him--he can
but say he don't own such remote kin."

"I don't know at all--I can't tell what to set about. I feel so down."

"Don't be that, mother, now we have got here and all! Rest there where
you be a little while--I will look on and find out more about him."

"I don't think I can ever meet Mr. Henchard. He is not how I thought he
would be--he overpowers me! I don't wish to see him any more."

"But wait a little time and consider."

Elizabeth-Jane had never been so much interested in anything in her life
as in their present position, partly from the natural elation she felt
at discovering herself akin to a coach; and she gazed again at the
scene. The younger guests were talking and eating with animation; their
elders were searching for titbits, and sniffing and grunting over their
plates like sows nuzzling for acorns. Three drinks seemed to be sacred
to the company--port, sherry, and rum; outside which old-established
trinity few or no palates ranged.

A row of ancient rummers with ground figures on their sides, and each
primed with a spoon, was now placed down the table, and these were
promptly filled with grog at such high temperatures as to raise
serious considerations for the articles exposed to its vapours. But
Elizabeth-Jane noticed that, though this filling went on with great
promptness up and down the table, nobody filled the Mayor's glass, who
still drank large quantities of water from the tumbler behind the clump
of crystal vessels intended for wine and spirits.

"They don't fill Mr. Henchard's wine-glasses," she ventured to say to
her elbow acquaintance, the old man.

"Ah, no; don't ye know him to be the celebrated abstaining worthy of
that name? He scorns all tempting liquors; never touches nothing. O
yes, he've strong qualities that way. I have heard tell that he sware
a gospel oath in bygone times, and has bode by it ever since. So they
don't press him, knowing it would be unbecoming in the face of that: for
yer gospel oath is a serious thing."

Another elderly man, hearing this discourse, now joined in by inquiring,
"How much longer have he got to suffer from it, Solomon Longways?"

"Another two year, they say. I don't know the why and the wherefore of
his fixing such a time, for 'a never has told anybody. But 'tis exactly
two calendar years longer, they say. A powerful mind to hold out so
long!"

"True....But there's great strength in hope. Knowing that in
four-and-twenty months' time ye'll be out of your bondage, and able to
make up for all you've suffered, by partaking without stint--why, it
keeps a man up, no doubt."

"No doubt, Christopher Coney, no doubt. And 'a must need such
reflections--a lonely widow man," said Longways.

"When did he lose his wife?" asked Elizabeth.

"I never knowed her. 'Twas afore he came to Casterbridge," Solomon
Longways replied with terminative emphasis, as if the fact of his
ignorance of Mrs. Henchard were sufficient to deprive her history of all
interest. "But I know that 'a's a banded teetotaller, and that if any of
his men be ever so little overtook by a drop he's down upon 'em as stern
as the Lord upon the jovial Jews."

"Has he many men, then?" said Elizabeth-Jane.

"Many! Why, my good maid, he's the powerfullest member of the Town
Council, and quite a principal man in the country round besides. Never
a big dealing in wheat, barley, oats, hay, roots, and such-like but
Henchard's got a hand in it. Ay, and he'll go into other things too;
and that's where he makes his mistake. He worked his way up from nothing
when 'a came here; and now he's a pillar of the town. Not but what he's
been shaken a little to-year about this bad corn he has supplied in
his contracts. I've seen the sun rise over Durnover Moor these
nine-and-sixty year, and though Mr. Henchard has never cussed me
unfairly ever since I've worked for'n, seeing I be but a little small
man, I must say that I have never before tasted such rough bread as has
been made from Henchard's wheat lately. 'Tis that growed out that ye
could a'most call it malt, and there's a list at bottom o' the loaf as
thick as the sole of one's shoe."

The band now struck up another melody, and by the time it was ended the
dinner was over, and speeches began to be made. The evening being calm,
and the windows still open, these orations could be distinctly heard.
Henchard's voice arose above the rest; he was telling a story of his
hay-dealing experiences, in which he had outwitted a sharper who had
been bent upon outwitting him.

"Ha-ha-ha!" responded his audience at the upshot of the story; and
hilarity was general till a new voice arose with, "This is all very
well; but how about the bad bread?"

It came from the lower end of the table, where there sat a group of
minor tradesmen who, although part of the company, appeared to be a
little below the social level of the others; and who seemed to nourish
a certain independence of opinion and carry on discussions not quite
in harmony with those at the head; just as the west end of a church
is sometimes persistently found to sing out of time and tune with the
leading spirits in the chancel.

This interruption about the bad bread afforded infinite satisfaction to
the loungers outside, several of whom were in the mood which finds its
pleasure in others' discomfiture; and hence they echoed pretty freely,
"Hey! How about the bad bread, Mr. Mayor?" Moreover, feeling none of the
restraints of those who shared the feast, they could afford to add, "You
rather ought to tell the story o' that, sir!"

The interruption was sufficient to compel the Mayor to notice it.

"Well, I admit that the wheat turned out badly," he said. "But I was
taken in in buying it as much as the bakers who bought it o' me."

"And the poor folk who had to eat it whether or no," said the
inharmonious man outside the window.

Henchard's face darkened. There was temper under the thin bland
surface--the temper which, artificially intensified, had banished a wife
nearly a score of years before.

"You must make allowances for the accidents of a large business," he
said. "You must bear in mind that the weather just at the harvest of
that corn was worse than we have known it for years. However, I have
mended my arrangements on account o't. Since I have found my business
too large to be well looked after by myself alone, I have advertised for
a thorough good man as manager of the corn department. When I've got
him you will find these mistakes will no longer occur--matters will be
better looked into."

"But what are you going to do to repay us for the past?" inquired the
man who had before spoken, and who seemed to be a baker or miller. "Will
you replace the grown flour we've still got by sound grain?"

Henchard's face had become still more stern at these interruptions, and
he drank from his tumbler of water as if to calm himself or gain time.
Instead of vouchsafing a direct reply, he stiffly observed--

"If anybody will tell me how to turn grown wheat into wholesome wheat
I'll take it back with pleasure. But it can't be done."

Henchard was not to be drawn again. Having said this, he sat down.




6.


Now the group outside the window had within the last few minutes been
reinforced by new arrivals, some of them respectable shopkeepers and
their assistants, who had come out for a whiff of air after putting up
the shutters for the night; some of them of a lower class. Distinct from
either there appeared a stranger--a young man of remarkably pleasant
aspect--who carried in his hand a carpet-bag of the smart floral pattern
prevalent in such articles at that time.

He was ruddy and of a fair countenance, bright-eyed, and slight in
build. He might possibly have passed by without stopping at all, or at
most for half a minute to glance in at the scene, had not his advent
coincided with the discussion on corn and bread, in which event this
history had never been enacted. But the subject seemed to arrest him,
and he whispered some inquiries of the other bystanders, and remained
listening.

When he heard Henchard's closing words, "It can't be done," he smiled
impulsively, drew out his pocketbook, and wrote down a few words by
the aid of the light in the window. He tore out the leaf, folded and
directed it, and seemed about to throw it in through the open sash upon
the dining-table; but, on second thoughts, edged himself through the
loiterers, till he reached the door of the hotel, where one of the
waiters who had been serving inside was now idly leaning against the
doorpost.

"Give this to the Mayor at once," he said, handing in his hasty note.

Elizabeth-Jane had seen his movements and heard the words, which
attracted her both by their subject and by their accent--a strange one
for those parts. It was quaint and northerly.

The waiter took the note, while the young stranger continued--

"And can ye tell me of a respectable hotel that's a little more moderate
than this?"

The waiter glanced indifferently up and down the street.

"They say the Three Mariners, just below here, is a very good place," he
languidly answered; "but I have never stayed there myself."

The Scotchman, as he seemed to be, thanked him, and strolled on in the
direction of the Three Mariners aforesaid, apparently more concerned
about the question of an inn than about the fate of his note, now that
the momentary impulse of writing it was over. While he was disappearing
slowly down the street the waiter left the door, and Elizabeth-Jane saw
with some interest the note brought into the dining-room and handed to
the Mayor.

Henchard looked at it carelessly, unfolded it with one hand, and glanced
it through. Thereupon it was curious to note an unexpected effect. The
nettled, clouded aspect which had held possession of his face since the
subject of his corn-dealings had been broached, changed itself into one
of arrested attention. He read the note slowly, and fell into thought,
not moody, but fitfully intense, as that of a man who has been captured
by an idea.

By this time toasts and speeches had given place to songs, the wheat
subject being quite forgotten. Men were putting their heads together in
twos and threes, telling good stories, with pantomimic laughter which
reached convulsive grimace. Some were beginning to look as if they did
not know how they had come there, what they had come for, or how they
were going to get home again; and provisionally sat on with a dazed
smile. Square-built men showed a tendency to become hunchbacks; men with
a dignified presence lost it in a curious obliquity of figure, in which
their features grew disarranged and one-sided, whilst the heads of a few
who had dined with extreme thoroughness were somehow sinking into their
shoulders, the corners of their mouth and eyes being bent upwards by the
subsidence. Only Henchard did not conform to these flexuous changes; he
remained stately and vertical, silently thinking.

The clock struck nine. Elizabeth-Jane turned to her companion. "The
evening is drawing on, mother," she said. "What do you propose to do?"

She was surprised to find how irresolute her mother had become. "We must
get a place to lie down in," she murmured. "I have seen--Mr. Henchard;
and that's all I wanted to do."

"That's enough for to-night, at any rate," Elizabeth-Jane replied
soothingly. "We can think to-morrow what is best to do about him. The
question now is--is it not?--how shall we find a lodging?"

As her mother did not reply Elizabeth-Jane's mind reverted to the words
of the waiter, that the Three Mariners was an inn of moderate charges. A
recommendation good for one person was probably good for another. "Let's
go where the young man has gone to," she said. "He is respectable. What
do you say?"

Her mother assented, and down the street they went.

In the meantime the Mayor's thoughtfulness, engendered by the note as
stated, continued to hold him in abstraction; till, whispering to his
neighbour to take his place, he found opportunity to leave the chair.
This was just after the departure of his wife and Elizabeth.

Outside the door of the assembly-room he saw the waiter, and beckoning
to him asked who had brought the note which had been handed in a quarter
of an hour before.

"A young man, sir--a sort of traveller. He was a Scotchman seemingly."

"Did he say how he had got it?"

"He wrote it himself, sir, as he stood outside the window."

"Oh--wrote it himself....Is the young man in the hotel?"

"No, sir. He went to the Three Mariners, I believe."

The mayor walked up and down the vestibule of the hotel with his hands
under his coat tails, as if he were merely seeking a cooler atmosphere
than that of the room he had quitted. But there could be no doubt that
he was in reality still possessed to the full by the new idea, whatever
that might be. At length he went back to the door of the dining-room,
paused, and found that the songs, toasts, and conversation were
proceeding quite satisfactorily without his presence. The Corporation,
private residents, and major and minor tradesmen had, in fact, gone
in for comforting beverages to such an extent that they had quite
forgotten, not only the Mayor, but all those vast, political, religious,
and social differences which they felt necessary to maintain in the
daytime, and which separated them like iron grills. Seeing this the
Mayor took his hat, and when the waiter had helped him on with a thin
holland overcoat, went out and stood under the portico.

Very few persons were now in the street; and his eyes, by a sort of
attraction, turned and dwelt upon a spot about a hundred yards further
down. It was the house to which the writer of the note had gone--the
Three Mariners--whose two prominent Elizabethan gables, bow-window, and
passage-light could be seen from where he stood. Having kept his eyes on
it for a while he strolled in that direction.

This ancient house of accommodation for man and beast, now,
unfortunately, pulled down, was built of mellow sandstone, with
mullioned windows of the same material, markedly out of perpendicular
from the settlement of foundations. The bay window projecting into the
street, whose interior was so popular among the frequenters of the
inn, was closed with shutters, in each of which appeared a heart-shaped
aperture, somewhat more attenuated in the right and left ventricles
than is seen in Nature. Inside these illuminated holes, at a distance of
about three inches, were ranged at this hour, as every passer knew, the
ruddy polls of Billy Wills the glazier, Smart the shoemaker, Buzzford
the general dealer, and others of a secondary set of worthies, of a
grade somewhat below that of the diners at the King's Arms, each with
his yard of clay.

A four-centred Tudor arch was over the entrance, and over the arch
the signboard, now visible in the rays of an opposite lamp. Hereon
the Mariners, who had been represented by the artist as persons of two
dimensions only--in other words, flat as a shadow--were standing in a
row in paralyzed attitudes. Being on the sunny side of the street the
three comrades had suffered largely from warping, splitting, fading, and
shrinkage, so that they were but a half-invisible film upon the reality
of the grain, and knots, and nails, which composed the signboard. As a
matter of fact, this state of things was not so much owing to Stannidge
the landlord's neglect, as from the lack of a painter in Casterbridge
who would undertake to reproduce the features of men so traditional.

A long, narrow, dimly-lit passage gave access to the inn, within which
passage the horses going to their stalls at the back, and the coming and
departing human guests, rubbed shoulders indiscriminately, the latter
running no slight risk of having their toes trodden upon by the animals.
The good stabling and the good ale of the Mariners, though somewhat
difficult to reach on account of there being but this narrow way to
both, were nevertheless perseveringly sought out by the sagacious old
heads who knew what was what in Casterbridge.

Henchard stood without the inn for a few instants; then lowering the
dignity of his presence as much as possible by buttoning the brown
holland coat over his shirt-front, and in other ways toning himself down
to his ordinary everyday appearance, he entered the inn door.




7.


Elizabeth-Jane and her mother had arrived some twenty minutes earlier.
Outside the house they had stood and considered whether even this homely
place, though recommended as moderate, might not be too serious in its
prices for their light pockets. Finally, however, they had found courage
to enter, and duly met Stannidge the landlord, a silent man, who drew
and carried frothing measures to this room and to that, shoulder to
shoulder with his waiting-maids--a stately slowness, however, entering
into his ministrations by contrast with theirs, as became one whose
service was somewhat optional. It would have been altogether optional
but for the orders of the landlady, a person who sat in the bar,
corporeally motionless, but with a flitting eye and quick ear, with
which she observed and heard through the open door and hatchway the
pressing needs of customers whom her husband overlooked though close at
hand. Elizabeth and her mother were passively accepted as sojourners,
and shown to a small bedroom under one of the gables, where they sat
down.

The principle of the inn seemed to be to compensate for the antique
awkwardness, crookedness, and obscurity of the passages, floors, and
windows, by quantities of clean linen spread about everywhere, and this
had a dazzling effect upon the travellers.

"'Tis too good for us--we can't meet it!" said the elder woman, looking
round the apartment with misgiving as soon as they were left alone.

"I fear it is, too," said Elizabeth. "But we must be respectable."

"We must pay our way even before we must be respectable," replied her
mother. "Mr. Henchard is too high for us to make ourselves known to him,
I much fear; so we've only our own pockets to depend on."

"I know what I'll do," said Elizabeth-Jane after an interval of waiting,
during which their needs seemed quite forgotten under the press of
business below. And leaving the room, she descended the stairs and
penetrated to the bar.

If there was one good thing more than another which characterized this
single-hearted girl it was a willingness to sacrifice her personal
comfort and dignity to the common weal.

"As you seem busy here to-night, and mother's not well off, might I take
out part of our accommodation by helping?" she asked of the landlady.

The latter, who remained as fixed in the arm-chair as if she had been
melted into it when in a liquid state, and could not now be unstuck,
looked the girl up and down inquiringly, with her hands on the
chair-arms. Such arrangements as the one Elizabeth proposed were
not uncommon in country villages; but, though Casterbridge was
old-fashioned, the custom was well-nigh obsolete here. The mistress
of the house, however, was an easy woman to strangers, and she made no
objection. Thereupon Elizabeth, being instructed by nods and motions
from the taciturn landlord as to where she could find the different
things, trotted up and down stairs with materials for her own and her
parent's meal.

While she was doing this the wood partition in the centre of the house
thrilled to its centre with the tugging of a bell-pull upstairs. A bell
below tinkled a note that was feebler in sound than the twanging of
wires and cranks that had produced it.

"'Tis the Scotch gentleman," said the landlady omnisciently; and turning
her eyes to Elizabeth, "Now then, can you go and see if his supper is on
the tray? If it is you can take it up to him. The front room over this."

Elizabeth-Jane, though hungry, willingly postponed serving herself
awhile, and applied to the cook in the kitchen whence she brought
forth the tray of supper viands, and proceeded with it upstairs to the
apartment indicated. The accommodation of the Three Mariners was far
from spacious, despite the fair area of ground it covered. The
room demanded by intrusive beams and rafters, partitions, passages,
staircases, disused ovens, settles, and four-posters, left comparatively
small quarters for human beings. Moreover, this being at a time before
home-brewing was abandoned by the smaller victuallers, and a house in
which the twelve-bushel strength was still religiously adhered to by the
landlord in his ale, the quality of the liquor was the chief attraction
of the premises, so that everything had to make way for utensils and
operations in connection therewith. Thus Elizabeth found that the
Scotchman was located in a room quite close to the small one that had
been allotted to herself and her mother.

When she entered nobody was present but the young man himself--the
same whom she had seen lingering without the windows of the King's Arms
Hotel. He was now idly reading a copy of the local paper, and was hardly
conscious of her entry, so that she looked at him quite coolly, and saw
how his forehead shone where the light caught it, and how nicely his
hair was cut, and the sort of velvet-pile or down that was on the skin
at the back of his neck, and how his cheek was so truly curved as to be
part of a globe, and how clearly drawn were the lids and lashes which
hid his bent eyes.

She set down the tray, spread his supper, and went away without a word.
On her arrival below the landlady, who was as kind as she was fat
and lazy, saw that Elizabeth-Jane was rather tired, though in her
earnestness to be useful she was waiving her own needs altogether. Mrs.
Stannidge thereupon said with a considerate peremptoriness that she and
her mother had better take their own suppers if they meant to have any.

Elizabeth fetched their simple provisions, as she had fetched the
Scotchman's, and went up to the little chamber where she had left her
mother, noiselessly pushing open the door with the edge of the tray. To
her surprise her mother, instead of being reclined on the bed where she
had left her was in an erect position, with lips parted. At Elizabeth's
entry she lifted her finger.

The meaning of this was soon apparent. The room allotted to the two
women had at one time served as a dressing-room to the Scotchman's
chamber, as was evidenced by signs of a door of communication between
them--now screwed up and pasted over with the wall paper. But, as is
frequently the case with hotels of far higher pretensions than the Three
Mariners, every word spoken in either of these rooms was distinctly
audible in the other. Such sounds came through now.

Thus silently conjured Elizabeth deposited the tray, and her mother
whispered as she drew near, "'Tis he."

"Who?" said the girl.

"The Mayor."

The tremors in Susan Henchard's tone might have led any person but one
so perfectly unsuspicious of the truth as the girl was, to surmise
some closer connection than the admitted simple kinship as a means of
accounting for them.

Two men were indeed talking in the adjoining chamber, the young
Scotchman and Henchard, who, having entered the inn while Elizabeth-Jane
was in the kitchen waiting for the supper, had been deferentially
conducted upstairs by host Stannidge himself. The girl noiselessly laid
out their little meal, and beckoned to her mother to join her, which
Mrs. Henchard mechanically did, her attention being fixed on the
conversation through the door.

"I merely strolled in on my way home to ask you a question about
something that has excited my curiosity," said the Mayor, with careless
geniality. "But I see you have not finished supper."

"Ay, but I will be done in a little! Ye needn't go, sir. Take a seat.
I've almost done, and it makes no difference at all."

Henchard seemed to take the seat offered, and in a moment he resumed:
"Well, first I should ask, did you write this?" A rustling of paper
followed.

"Yes, I did," said the Scotchman.

"Then," said Henchard, "I am under the impression that we have met by
accident while waiting for the morning to keep an appointment with each
other? My name is Henchard, ha'n't you replied to an advertisement for a
corn-factor's manager that I put into the paper--ha'n't you come here to
see me about it?"

"No," said the Scotchman, with some surprise.

"Surely you are the man," went on Henchard insistingly, "who arranged to
come and see me? Joshua, Joshua, Jipp--Jopp--what was his name?"

"You're wrong!" said the young man. "My name is Donald Farfrae. It is
true I am in the corren trade--but I have replied to no advertisement,
and arranged to see no one. I am on my way to Bristol--from there to the
other side of the warrld, to try my fortune in the great wheat-growing
districts of the West! I have some inventions useful to the trade, and
there is no scope for developing them heere."

"To America--well, well," said Henchard, in a tone of disappointment, so
strong as to make itself felt like a damp atmosphere. "And yet I could
have sworn you were the man!"

The Scotchman murmured another negative, and there was a silence, till
Henchard resumed: "Then I am truly and sincerely obliged to you for the
few words you wrote on that paper."

"It was nothing, sir."

"Well, it has a great importance for me just now. This row about my
grown wheat, which I declare to Heaven I didn't know to be bad till the
people came complaining, has put me to my wits' end. I've some hundreds
of quarters of it on hand; and if your renovating process will make it
wholesome, why, you can see what a quag 'twould get me out of. I saw
in a moment there might be truth in it. But I should like to have it
proved; and of course you don't care to tell the steps of the process
sufficiently for me to do that, without my paying ye well for't first."

The young man reflected a moment or two. "I don't know that I have any
objection," he said. "I'm going to another country, and curing bad
corn is not the line I'll take up there. Yes, I'll tell ye the whole of
it--you'll make more out of it heere than I will in a foreign country.
Just look heere a minute, sir. I can show ye by a sample in my
carpet-bag."

The click of a lock followed, and there was a sifting and rustling;
then a discussion about so many ounces to the bushel, and drying, and
refrigerating, and so on.

"These few grains will be sufficient to show ye with," came in the young
fellow's voice; and after a pause, during which some operation seemed
to be intently watched by them both, he exclaimed, "There, now, do you
taste that."

"It's complete!--quite restored, or--well--nearly."

"Quite enough restored to make good seconds out of it," said the
Scotchman. "To fetch it back entirely is impossible; Nature won't stand
so much as that, but heere you go a great way towards it. Well, sir,
that's the process, I don't value it, for it can be but of little use
in countries where the weather is more settled than in ours; and I'll be
only too glad if it's of service to you."

"But hearken to me," pleaded Henchard. "My business you know, is in corn
and in hay, but I was brought up as a hay-trusser simply, and hay is
what I understand best though I now do more in corn than in the other.
If you'll accept the place, you shall manage the corn branch entirely,
and receive a commission in addition to salary."

"You're liberal--very liberal, but no, no--I cannet!" the young man
still replied, with some distress in his accents.

"So be it!" said Henchard conclusively. "Now--to change the subject--one
good turn deserves another; don't stay to finish that miserable supper.
Come to my house, I can find something better for 'ee than cold ham and
ale."

Donald Farfrae was grateful--said he feared he must decline--that he
wished to leave early next day.

"Very well," said Henchard quickly, "please yourself. But I tell you,
young man, if this holds good for the bulk, as it has done for the
sample, you have saved my credit, stranger though you be. What shall I
pay you for this knowledge?"

"Nothing at all, nothing at all. It may not prove necessary to ye to use
it often, and I don't value it at all. I thought I might just as well
let ye know, as you were in a difficulty, and they were harrd upon ye."

Henchard paused. "I shan't soon forget this," he said. "And from a
stranger!... I couldn't believe you were not the man I had engaged! Says
I to myself, 'He knows who I am, and recommends himself by this stroke.'
And yet it turns out, after all, that you are not the man who answered
my advertisement, but a stranger!"

"Ay, ay; that's so," said the young man.

Henchard again suspended his words, and then his voice came
thoughtfully: "Your forehead, Farfrae, is something like my poor
brother's--now dead and gone; and the nose, too, isn't unlike his. You
must be, what--five foot nine, I reckon? I am six foot one and a half
out of my shoes. But what of that? In my business, 'tis true that
strength and bustle build up a firm. But judgment and knowledge are what
keep it established. Unluckily, I am bad at science, Farfrae; bad at
figures--a rule o' thumb sort of man. You are just the reverse--I can
see that. I have been looking for such as you these two year, and yet
you are not for me. Well, before I go, let me ask this: Though you are
not the young man I thought you were, what's the difference? Can't
ye stay just the same? Have you really made up your mind about this
American notion? I won't mince matters. I feel you would be invaluable
to me--that needn't be said--and if you will bide and be my manager, I
will make it worth your while."

"My plans are fixed," said the young man, in negative tones. "I have
formed a scheme, and so we need na say any more about it. But will you
not drink with me, sir? I find this Casterbridge ale warreming to the
stomach."

"No, no; I fain would, but I can't," said Henchard gravely, the scraping
of his chair informing the listeners that he was rising to leave. "When
I was a young man I went in for that sort of thing too strong--far too
strong--and was well-nigh ruined by it! I did a deed on account of it
which I shall be ashamed of to my dying day. It made such an impression
on me that I swore, there and then, that I'd drink nothing stronger than
tea for as many years as I was old that day. I have kept my oath; and
though, Farfrae, I am sometimes that dry in the dog days that I could
drink a quarter-barrel to the pitching, I think o' my oath, and touch no
strong drink at all."

"I'll no' press ye, sir--I'll no' press ye. I respect your vow.

"Well, I shall get a manager somewhere, no doubt," said Henchard, with
strong feeling in his tones. "But it will be long before I see one that
would suit me so well!"

The young man appeared much moved by Henchard's warm convictions of
his value. He was silent till they reached the door. "I wish I could
stay--sincerely I would like to," he replied. "But no--it cannet be! it
cannet! I want to see the warrld."




8.


Thus they parted; and Elizabeth-Jane and her mother remained each in her
thoughts over their meal, the mother's face being strangely bright
since Henchard's avowal of shame for a past action. The quivering of the
partition to its core presented denoted that Donald Farfrae had again
rung his bell, no doubt to have his supper removed; for humming a tune,
and walking up and down, he seemed to be attracted by the lively bursts
of conversation and melody from the general company below. He sauntered
out upon the landing, and descended the staircase.

When Elizabeth-Jane had carried down his supper tray, and also that used
by her mother and herself, she found the bustle of serving to be at its
height below, as it always was at this hour. The young woman shrank from
having anything to do with the ground-floor serving, and crept silently
about observing the scene--so new to her, fresh from the seclusion of
a seaside cottage. In the general sitting-room, which was large, she
remarked the two or three dozen strong-backed chairs that stood round
against the wall, each fitted with its genial occupant; the sanded
floor; the black settle which, projecting endwise from the wall within
the door, permitted Elizabeth to be a spectator of all that went on
without herself being particularly seen.

The young Scotchman had just joined the guests. These, in addition to
the respectable master-tradesmen occupying the seats of privileges in
the bow-window and its neighbourhood, included an inferior set at the
unlighted end, whose seats were mere benches against the wall, and who
drank from cups instead of from glasses. Among the latter she noticed
some of those personages who had stood outside the windows of the King's
Arms.

Behind their backs was a small window, with a wheel ventilator in one
of the panes, which would suddenly start off spinning with a jingling
sound, as suddenly stop, and as suddenly start again.

While thus furtively making her survey the opening words of a song
greeted her ears from the front of the settle, in a melody and accent
of peculiar charm. There had been some singing before she came down; and
now the Scotchman had made himself so soon at home that, at the request
of some of the master-tradesmen, he, too, was favouring the room with a
ditty.

Elizabeth-Jane was fond of music; she could not help pausing to listen;
and the longer she listened the more she was enraptured. She had never
heard any singing like this and it was evident that the majority of the
audience had not heard such frequently, for they were attentive to a
much greater degree than usual. They neither whispered, nor drank, nor
dipped their pipe-stems in their ale to moisten them, nor pushed the mug
to their neighbours. The singer himself grew emotional, till she could
imagine a tear in his eye as the words went on:--

     "It's hame, and it's hame, hame fain would I be,
     O hame, hame, hame to my ain countree!
     There's an eye that ever weeps, and a fair face will be fain,
     As I pass through Annan Water with my bonnie bands again;
     When the flower is in the bud, and the leaf upon the tree,
     The lark shall sing me hame to my ain countree!"

There was a burst of applause, and a deep silence which was even more
eloquent than the applause. It was of such a kind that the snapping of a
pipe-stem too long for him by old Solomon Longways, who was one of those
gathered at the shady end of the room, seemed a harsh and irreverent
act. Then the ventilator in the window-pane spasmodically started off
for a new spin, and the pathos of Donald's song was temporarily effaced.

"'Twas not amiss--not at all amiss!" muttered Christopher Coney, who was
also present. And removing his pipe a finger's breadth from his lips, he
said aloud, "Draw on with the next verse, young gentleman, please."

"Yes. Let's have it again, stranger," said the glazier, a stout,
bucket-headed man, with a white apron rolled up round his waist. "Folks
don't lift up their hearts like that in this part of the world." And
turning aside, he said in undertones, "Who is the young man?--Scotch,
d'ye say?"

"Yes, straight from the mountains of Scotland, I believe," replied
Coney.

Young Farfrae repeated the last verse. It was plain that nothing so
pathetic had been heard at the Three Mariners for a considerable time.
The difference of accent, the excitability of the singer, the intense
local feeling, and the seriousness with which he worked himself up to a
climax, surprised this set of worthies, who were only too prone to shut
up their emotions with caustic words.

"Danged if our country down here is worth singing about like that!"
continued the glazier, as the Scotchman again melodized with a dying
fall, "My ain countree!" "When you take away from among us the fools
and the rogues, and the lammigers, and the wanton hussies, and the
slatterns, and such like, there's cust few left to ornament a song with
in Casterbridge, or the country round."

"True," said Buzzford, the dealer, looking at the grain of the table.
"Casterbridge is a old, hoary place o' wickedness, by all account. 'Tis
recorded in history that we rebelled against the King one or two hundred
years ago, in the time of the Romans, and that lots of us was hanged
on Gallows Hill, and quartered, and our different jints sent about the
country like butcher's meat; and for my part I can well believe it."

"What did ye come away from yer own country for, young maister, if ye be
so wownded about it?" inquired Christopher Coney, from the background,
with the tone of a man who preferred the original subject. "Faith, it
wasn't worth your while on our account, for as Maister Billy Wills says,
we be bruckle folk here--the best o' us hardly honest sometimes, what
with hard winters, and so many mouths to fill, and Goda'mighty sending
his little taties so terrible small to fill 'em with. We don't
think about flowers and fair faces, not we--except in the shape o'
cauliflowers and pigs' chaps."

"But, no!" said Donald Farfrae, gazing round into their faces with
earnest concern; "the best of ye hardly honest--not that surely? None of
ye has been stealing what didn't belong to him?"

"Lord! no, no!" said Solomon Longways, smiling grimly. "That's only his
random way o' speaking. 'A was always such a man of underthoughts." (And
reprovingly towards Christopher): "Don't ye be so over-familiar with a
gentleman that ye know nothing of--and that's travelled a'most from the
North Pole."

Christopher Coney was silenced, and as he could get no public sympathy,
he mumbled his feelings to himself: "Be dazed, if I loved my country
half as well as the young feller do, I'd live by claning my neighbour's
pigsties afore I'd go away! For my part I've no more love for my country
than I have for Botany Bay!"

"Come," said Longways; "let the young man draw onward with his ballet,
or we shall be here all night."

"That's all of it," said the singer apologetically.

"Soul of my body, then we'll have another!" said the general dealer.

"Can you turn a strain to the ladies, sir?" inquired a fat woman with
a figured purple apron, the waiststring of which was overhung so far by
her sides as to be invisible.

"Let him breathe--let him breathe, Mother Cuxsom. He hain't got his
second wind yet," said the master glazier.

"Oh yes, but I have!" exclaimed the young man; and he at once rendered
"O Nannie" with faultless modulations, and another or two of the like
sentiment, winding up at their earnest request with "Auld Lang Syne."

By this time he had completely taken possession of the hearts of the
Three Mariners' inmates, including even old Coney. Notwithstanding an
occasional odd gravity which awoke their sense of the ludicrous for the
moment, they began to view him through a golden haze which the tone
of his mind seemed to raise around him. Casterbridge had
sentiment--Casterbridge had romance; but this stranger's sentiment was
of differing quality. Or rather, perhaps, the difference was mainly
superficial; he was to them like the poet of a new school who takes
his contemporaries by storm; who is not really new, but is the first
to articulate what all his listeners have felt, though but dumbly till
then.

The silent landlord came and leant over the settle while the young
man sang; and even Mrs. Stannidge managed to unstick herself from the
framework of her chair in the bar and get as far as the door-post,
which movement she accomplished by rolling herself round, as a cask
is trundled on the chine by a drayman without losing much of its
perpendicular.

"And are you going to bide in Casterbridge, sir?" she asked.

"Ah--no!" said the Scotchman, with melancholy fatality in his voice,
"I'm only passing thirrough! I am on my way to Bristol, and on frae
there to foreign parts."

"We be truly sorry to hear it," said Solomon Longways. "We can ill
afford to lose tuneful wynd-pipes like yours when they fall among us.
And verily, to mak' acquaintance with a man a-come from so far, from the
land o' perpetual snow, as we may say, where wolves and wild boars and
other dangerous animalcules be as common as blackbirds here-about--why,
'tis a thing we can't do every day; and there's good sound information
for bide-at-homes like we when such a man opens his mouth."

"Nay, but ye mistake my country," said the young man, looking round upon
them with tragic fixity, till his eye lighted up and his cheek kindled
with a sudden enthusiasm to right their errors. "There are not perpetual
snow and wolves at all in it!--except snow in winter, and--well--a
little in summer just sometimes, and a 'gaberlunzie' or two stalking
about here and there, if ye may call them dangerous. Eh, but you should
take a summer jarreny to Edinboro', and Arthur's Seat, and all round
there, and then go on to the lochs, and all the Highland scenery--in May
and June--and you would never say 'tis the land of wolves and perpetual
snow!"

"Of course not--it stands to reason," said Buzzford. "'Tis barren
ignorance that leads to such words. He's a simple home-spun man, that
never was fit for good company--think nothing of him, sir."

"And do ye carry your flock bed, and your quilt, and your crock, and
your bit of chiney? or do ye go in bare bones, as I may say?" inquired
Christopher Coney.

"I've sent on my luggage--though it isn't much; for the voyage is long."
Donald's eyes dropped into a remote gaze as he added: "But I said to
myself, 'Never a one of the prizes of life will I come by unless I
undertake it!' and I decided to go."

A general sense of regret, in which Elizabeth-Jane shared not least,
made itself apparent in the company. As she looked at Farfrae from the
back of the settle she decided that his statements showed him to be no
less thoughtful than his fascinating melodies revealed him to be cordial
and impassioned. She admired the serious light in which he looked at
serious things. He had seen no jest in ambiguities and roguery, as the
Casterbridge toss-pots had done; and rightly not--there was none. She
disliked those wretched humours of Christopher Coney and his tribe; and
he did not appreciate them. He seemed to feel exactly as she felt about
life and its surroundings--that they were a tragical rather than a
comical thing; that though one could be gay on occasion, moments
of gaiety were interludes, and no part of the actual drama. It was
extraordinary how similar their views were.

Though it was still early the young Scotchman expressed his wish to
retire, whereupon the landlady whispered to Elizabeth to run upstairs
and turn down his bed. She took a candlestick and proceeded on her
mission, which was the act of a few moments only. When, candle in hand,
she reached the top of the stairs on her way down again, Mr. Farfrae
was at the foot coming up. She could not very well retreat; they met and
passed in the turn of the staircase.

She must have appeared interesting in some way--not-withstanding her
plain dress--or rather, possibly, in consequence of it, for she was
a girl characterized by earnestness and soberness of mien, with which
simple drapery accorded well. Her face flushed, too, at the slight
awkwardness of the meeting, and she passed him with her eyes bent on the
candle-flame that she carried just below her nose. Thus it happened
that when confronting her he smiled; and then, with the manner of a
temporarily light-hearted man, who has started himself on a flight of
song whose momentum he cannot readily check, he softly tuned an old
ditty that she seemed to suggest--

         "As I came in by my bower door,
            As day was waxin' wearie,
         Oh wha came tripping down the stair
            But bonnie Peg my dearie."

Elizabeth-Jane, rather disconcerted, hastened on; and the Scotchman's
voice died away, humming more of the same within the closed door of his
room.

Here the scene and sentiment ended for the present. When soon after,
the girl rejoined her mother, the latter was still in thought--on quite
another matter than a young man's song.

"We've made a mistake," she whispered (that the Scotch-man might not
overhear). "On no account ought ye to have helped serve here to-night.
Not because of ourselves, but for the sake of him. If he should befriend
us, and take us up, and then find out what you did when staying here,
'twould grieve and wound his natural pride as Mayor of the town."

Elizabeth, who would perhaps have been more alarmed at this than her
mother had she known the real relationship, was not much disturbed about
it as things stood. Her "he" was another man than her poor mother's.
"For myself," she said, "I didn't at all mind waiting a little upon him.
He's so respectable, and educated--far above the rest of 'em in the inn.
They thought him very simple not to know their grim broad way of talking
about themselves here. But of course he didn't know--he was too refined
in his mind to know such things!" Thus she earnestly pleaded.

Meanwhile, the "he" of her mother was not so far away as even they
thought. After leaving the Three Mariners he had sauntered up and down
the empty High Street, passing and repassing the inn in his promenade.
When the Scotchman sang his voice had reached Henchard's ears through
the heart-shaped holes in the window-shutters, and had led him to pause
outside them a long while.

"To be sure, to be sure, how that fellow does draw me!" he had said to
himself. "I suppose 'tis because I'm so lonely. I'd have given him a
third share in the business to have stayed!"




9.


When Elizabeth-Jane opened the hinged casement next morning the mellow
air brought in the feel of imminent autumn almost as distinctly as if
she had been in the remotest hamlet. Casterbridge was the complement of
the rural life around, not its urban opposite. Bees and butterflies in
the cornfields at the top of the town, who desired to get to the meads
at the bottom, took no circuitous course, but flew straight down High
Street without any apparent consciousness that they were traversing
strange latitudes. And in autumn airy spheres of thistledown floated
into the same street, lodged upon the shop fronts, blew into drains,
and innumerable tawny and yellow leaves skimmed along the pavement, and
stole through people's doorways into their passages with a hesitating
scratch on the floor, like the skirts of timid visitors.

Hearing voices, one of which was close at hand, she withdrew her head
and glanced from behind the window-curtains. Mr. Henchard--now habited
no longer as a great personage, but as a thriving man of business--was
pausing on his way up the middle of the street, and the Scotchman was
looking from the window adjoining her own. Henchard it appeared, had
gone a little way past the inn before he had noticed his acquaintance of
the previous evening. He came back a few steps, Donald Farfrae opening
the window further.

"And you are off soon, I suppose?" said Henchard upwards.

"Yes--almost this moment, sir," said the other. "Maybe I'll walk on till
the coach makes up on me."

"Which way?"

"The way ye are going."

"Then shall we walk together to the top o' town?"

"If ye'll wait a minute," said the Scotchman.

In a few minutes the latter emerged, bag in hand. Henchard looked at the
bag as at an enemy. It showed there was no mistake about the young man's
departure. "Ah, my lad," he said, "you should have been a wise man, and
have stayed with me."

"Yes, yes--it might have been wiser," said Donald, looking
microscopically at the houses that were furthest off. "It is only
telling ye the truth when I say my plans are vague."

They had by this time passed on from the precincts of the inn,
and Elizabeth-Jane heard no more. She saw that they continued
in conversation, Henchard turning to the other occasionally, and
emphasizing some remark with a gesture. Thus they passed the King's Arms
Hotel, the Market House, St. Peter's churchyard wall, ascending to the
upper end of the long street till they were small as two grains of corn;
when they bent suddenly to the right into the Bristol Road, and were out
of view.

"He was a good man--and he's gone," she said to herself. "I was nothing
to him, and there was no reason why he should have wished me good-bye."

The simple thought, with its latent sense of slight, had moulded itself
out of the following little fact: when the Scotchman came out at the
door he had by accident glanced up at her; and then he had looked away
again without nodding, or smiling, or saying a word.

"You are still thinking, mother," she said, when she turned inwards.

"Yes; I am thinking of Mr. Henchard's sudden liking for that young man.
He was always so. Now, surely, if he takes so warmly to people who are
not related to him at all, may he not take as warmly to his own kin?"

While they debated this question a procession of five large waggons went
past, laden with hay up to the bedroom windows. They came in from the
country, and the steaming horses had probably been travelling a great
part of the night. To the shaft of each hung a little board, on which
was painted in white letters, "Henchard, corn-factor and hay-merchant."
The spectacle renewed his wife's conviction that, for her daughter's
sake, she should strain a point to rejoin him.

The discussion was continued during breakfast, and the end of it was
that Mrs. Henchard decided, for good or for ill, to send Elizabeth-Jane
with a message to Henchard, to the effect that his relative Susan, a
sailor's widow, was in the town; leaving it to him to say whether or not
he would recognize her. What had brought her to this determination were
chiefly two things. He had been described as a lonely widower; and
he had expressed shame for a past transaction of his life. There was
promise in both.

"If he says no," she enjoined, as Elizabeth-Jane stood, bonnet on, ready
to depart; "if he thinks it does not become the good position he has
reached to in the town, to own--to let us call on him as--his distant
kinfolk, say, 'Then, sir, we would rather not intrude; we will leave
Casterbridge as quietly as we have come, and go back to our own
country.'...I almost feel that I would rather he did say so, as I have
not seen him for so many years, and we are so--little allied to him!"

"And if he say yes?" inquired the more sanguine one.

"In that case," answered Mrs. Henchard cautiously, "ask him to write me
a note, saying when and how he will see us--or ME."

Elizabeth-Jane went a few steps towards the landing. "And tell him,"
continued her mother, "that I fully know I have no claim upon him--that
I am glad to find he is thriving; that I hope his life may be long and
happy--there, go." Thus with a half-hearted willingness, a smothered
reluctance, did the poor forgiving woman start her unconscious daughter
on this errand.

It was about ten o'clock, and market-day, when Elizabeth paced up the
High Street, in no great hurry; for to herself her position was only
that of a poor relation deputed to hunt up a rich one. The front doors
of the private houses were mostly left open at this warm autumn time,
no thought of umbrella stealers disturbing the minds of the placid
burgesses. Hence, through the long, straight, entrance passages thus
unclosed could be seen, as through tunnels, the mossy gardens at the
back, glowing with nasturtiums, fuchsias, scarlet geraniums, "bloody
warriors," snapdragons, and dahlias, this floral blaze being backed by
crusted grey stone-work remaining from a yet remoter Casterbridge than
the venerable one visible in the street. The old-fashioned fronts of
these houses, which had older than old-fashioned backs, rose sheer
from the pavement, into which the bow windows protruded like bastions,
necessitating a pleasing chassez-dechassez movement to the time-pressed
pedestrian at every few yards. He was bound also to evolve
other Terpsichorean figures in respect of door-steps, scrapers,
cellar-hatches, church buttresses, and the overhanging angles of walls
which, originally unobtrusive, had become bow-legged and knock-kneed.

In addition to these fixed obstacles which spoke so cheerfully of
individual unrestraint as to boundaries, movables occupied the path and
roadway to a perplexing extent. First the vans of the carriers in
and out of Casterbridge, who hailed from Mellstock, Weatherbury, The
Hintocks, Sherton-Abbas, Kingsbere, Overcombe, and many other towns and
villages round. Their owners were numerous enough to be regarded as a
tribe, and had almost distinctiveness enough to be regarded as a race.
Their vans had just arrived, and were drawn up on each side of the
street in close file, so as to form at places a wall between the
pavement and the roadway. Moreover every shop pitched out half its
contents upon trestles and boxes on the kerb, extending the display
each week a little further and further into the roadway, despite the
expostulations of the two feeble old constables, until there remained
but a tortuous defile for carriages down the centre of the street, which
afforded fine opportunities for skill with the reins. Over the pavement
on the sunny side of the way hung shopblinds so constructed as to give
the passenger's hat a smart buffet off his head, as from the unseen
hands of Cranstoun's Goblin Page, celebrated in romantic lore.

Horses for sale were tied in rows, their forelegs on the pavement, their
hind legs in the street, in which position they occasionally nipped
little boys by the shoulder who were passing to school. And any inviting
recess in front of a house that had been modestly kept back from the
general line was utilized by pig-dealers as a pen for their stock.

The yeomen, farmers, dairymen, and townsfolk, who came to transact
business in these ancient streets, spoke in other ways than by
articulation. Not to hear the words of your interlocutor in metropolitan
centres is to know nothing of his meaning. Here the face, the arms, the
hat, the stick, the body throughout spoke equally with the tongue. To
express satisfaction the Casterbridge market-man added to his utterance
a broadening of the cheeks, a crevicing of the eyes, a throwing back of
the shoulders, which was intelligible from the other end of the street.
If he wondered, though all Henchard's carts and waggons were rattling
past him, you knew it from perceiving the inside of his crimson mouth,
and a target-like circling of his eyes. Deliberation caused sundry
attacks on the moss of adjoining walls with the end of his stick,
a change of his hat from the horizontal to the less so; a sense of
tediousness announced itself in a lowering of the person by spreading
the knees to a lozenge-shaped aperture and contorting the arms.
Chicanery, subterfuge, had hardly a place in the streets of this honest
borough to all appearance; and it was said that the lawyers in the Court
House hard by occasionally threw in strong arguments for the other side
out of pure generosity (though apparently by mischance) when advancing
their own.

Thus Casterbridge was in most respects but the pole, focus, or
nerve-knot of the surrounding country life; differing from the many
manufacturing towns which are as foreign bodies set down, like boulders
on a plain, in a green world with which they have nothing in common.
Casterbridge lived by agriculture at one remove further from the
fountainhead than the adjoining villages--no more. The townsfolk
understood every fluctuation in the rustic's condition, for it affected
their receipts as much as the labourer's; they entered into the troubles
and joys which moved the aristocratic families ten miles round--for the
same reason. And even at the dinner-parties of the professional families
the subjects of discussion were corn, cattle-disease, sowing and
reaping, fencing and planting; while politics were viewed by them less
from their own standpoint of burgesses with rights and privileges than
from the standpoint of their country neighbours.

All the venerable contrivances and confusions which delighted the eye
by their quaintness, and in a measure reasonableness, in this rare old
market-town, were metropolitan novelties to the unpractised eyes of
Elizabeth-Jane, fresh from netting fish-seines in a seaside cottage.
Very little inquiry was necessary to guide her footsteps. Henchard's
house was one of the best, faced with dull red-and-grey old brick. The
front door was open, and, as in other houses, she could see through the
passage to the end of the garden--nearly a quarter of a mile off.

Mr. Henchard was not in the house, but in the store-yard. She was
conducted into the mossy garden, and through a door in the wall, which
was studded with rusty nails speaking of generations of fruit-trees that
had been trained there. The door opened upon the yard, and here she was
left to find him as she could. It was a place flanked by hay-barns, into
which tons of fodder, all in trusses, were being packed from the waggons
she had seen pass the inn that morning. On other sides of the yard were
wooden granaries on stone staddles, to which access was given by Flemish
ladders, and a store-house several floors high. Wherever the doors of
these places were open, a closely packed throng of bursting wheat-sacks
could be seen standing inside, with the air of awaiting a famine that
would not come.

She wandered about this place, uncomfortably conscious of the impending
interview, till she was quite weary of searching; she ventured to
inquire of a boy in what quarter Mr. Henchard could be found. He
directed her to an office which she had not seen before, and knocking at
the door she was answered by a cry of "Come in."

Elizabeth turned the handle; and there stood before her, bending over
some sample-bags on a table, not the corn-merchant, but the young
Scotchman Mr. Farfrae--in the act of pouring some grains of wheat from
one hand to the other. His hat hung on a peg behind him, and the roses
of his carpet-bag glowed from the corner of the room.

Having toned her feelings and arranged words on her lips for Mr.
Henchard, and for him alone, she was for the moment confounded.

"Yes, what it is?" said the Scotchman, like a man who permanently ruled
there.

She said she wanted to see Mr. Henchard.

"Ah, yes; will you wait a minute? He's engaged just now," said the young
man, apparently not recognizing her as the girl at the inn. He handed
her a chair, bade her sit down and turned to his sample-bags again.
While Elizabeth-Jane sits waiting in great amaze at the young man's
presence we may briefly explain how he came there.

When the two new acquaintances had passed out of sight that morning
towards the Bath and Bristol road they went on silently, except for a
few commonplaces, till they had gone down an avenue on the town walls
called the Chalk Walk, leading to an angle where the North and West
escarpments met. From this high corner of the square earthworks a vast
extent of country could be seen. A footpath ran steeply down the green
slope, conducting from the shady promenade on the walls to a road at the
bottom of the scarp. It was by this path the Scotchman had to descend.

"Well, here's success to 'ee," said Henchard, holding out his right hand
and leaning with his left upon the wicket which protected the descent.
In the act there was the inelegance of one whose feelings are nipped and
wishes defeated. "I shall often think of this time, and of how you came
at the very moment to throw a light upon my difficulty."

Still holding the young man's hand he paused, and then added
deliberately: "Now I am not the man to let a cause be lost for want of
a word. And before ye are gone for ever I'll speak. Once more, will
ye stay? There it is, flat and plain. You can see that it isn't all
selfishness that makes me press 'ee; for my business is not quite so
scientific as to require an intellect entirely out of the common. Others
would do for the place without doubt. Some selfishness perhaps there
is, but there is more; it isn't for me to repeat what. Come bide with
me--and name your own terms. I'll agree to 'em willingly and 'ithout a
word of gainsaying; for, hang it, Farfrae, I like thee well!"

The young man's hand remained steady in Henchard's for a moment or two.
He looked over the fertile country that stretched beneath them, then
backward along the shaded walk reaching to the top of the town. His face
flushed.

"I never expected this--I did not!" he said. "It's Providence! Should
any one go against it? No; I'll not go to America; I'll stay and be your
man!"

His hand, which had lain lifeless in Henchard's, returned the latter's
grasp.

"Done," said Henchard.

"Done," said Donald Farfrae.

The face of Mr. Henchard beamed forth a satisfaction that was almost
fierce in its strength. "Now you are my friend!" he exclaimed. "Come
back to my house; let's clinch it at once by clear terms, so as to be
comfortable in our minds." Farfrae caught up his bag and retraced the
North-West Avenue in Henchard's company as he had come. Henchard was all
confidence now.

"I am the most distant fellow in the world when I don't care for a man,"
he said. "But when a man takes my fancy he takes it strong. Now I am
sure you can eat another breakfast? You couldn't have eaten much so
early, even if they had anything at that place to gi'e thee, which they
hadn't; so come to my house and we will have a solid, staunch tuck-in,
and settle terms in black-and-white if you like; though my word's my
bond. I can always make a good meal in the morning. I've got a splendid
cold pigeon-pie going just now. You can have some home-brewed if you
want to, you know."

"It is too airly in the morning for that," said Farfrae with a smile.

"Well, of course, I didn't know. I don't drink it because of my oath,
but I am obliged to brew for my work-people."

Thus talking they returned, and entered Henchard's premises by the back
way or traffic entrance. Here the matter was settled over the breakfast,
at which Henchard heaped the young Scotchman's plate to a prodigal
fulness. He would not rest satisfied till Farfrae had written for his
luggage from Bristol, and dispatched the letter to the post-office. When
it was done this man of strong impulses declared that his new friend
should take up his abode in his house--at least till some suitable
lodgings could be found.

He then took Farfrae round and showed him the place, and the stores
of grain, and other stock; and finally entered the offices where the
younger of them has already been discovered by Elizabeth.




10.


While she still sat under the Scotchman's eyes a man came up to the
door, reaching it as Henchard opened the door of the inner office to
admit Elizabeth. The newcomer stepped forward like the quicker cripple
at Bethesda, and entered in her stead. She could hear his words to
Henchard: "Joshua Jopp, sir--by appointment--the new manager."

"The new manager!--he's in his office," said Henchard bluntly.

"In his office!" said the man, with a stultified air.

"I mentioned Thursday," said Henchard; "and as you did not keep your
appointment, I have engaged another manager. At first I thought he must
be you. Do you think I can wait when business is in question?"

"You said Thursday or Saturday, sir," said the newcomer, pulling out a
letter.

"Well, you are too late," said the corn-factor. "I can say no more."

"You as good as engaged me," murmured the man.

"Subject to an interview," said Henchard. "I am sorry for you--very
sorry indeed. But it can't be helped."

There was no more to be said, and the man came out, encountering
Elizabeth-Jane in his passage. She could see that his mouth twitched
with anger, and that bitter disappointment was written in his face
everywhere.

Elizabeth-Jane now entered, and stood before the master of the premises.
His dark pupils--which always seemed to have a red spark of light in
them, though this could hardly be a physical fact--turned indifferently
round under his dark brows until they rested on her figure. "Now then,
what is it, my young woman?" he said blandly.

"Can I speak to you--not on business, sir?" said she.

"Yes--I suppose." He looked at her more thoughtfully.

"I am sent to tell you, sir," she innocently went on, "that a distant
relative of yours by marriage, Susan Newson, a sailor's widow, is in the
town, and to ask whether you would wish to see her."

The rich rouge-et-noir of his countenance underwent a slight change.
"Oh--Susan is--still alive?" he asked with difficulty.

"Yes, sir."

"Are you her daughter?"

"Yes, sir--her only daughter."

"What--do you call yourself--your Christian name?"

"Elizabeth-Jane, sir."

"Newson?"

"Elizabeth-Jane Newson."

This at once suggested to Henchard that the transaction of his early
married life at Weydon Fair was unrecorded in the family history. It was
more than he could have expected. His wife had behaved kindly to him
in return for his unkindness, and had never proclaimed her wrong to her
child or to the world.

"I am--a good deal interested in your news," he said. "And as this is
not a matter of business, but pleasure, suppose we go indoors."

It was with a gentle delicacy of manner, surprising to Elizabeth, that
he showed her out of the office and through the outer room, where Donald
Farfrae was overhauling bins and samples with the inquiring inspection
of a beginner in charge. Henchard preceded her through the door in the
wall to the suddenly changed scene of the garden and flowers, and
onward into the house. The dining-room to which he introduced her still
exhibited the remnants of the lavish breakfast laid for Farfrae. It
was furnished to profusion with heavy mahogany furniture of the deepest
red-Spanish hues. Pembroke tables, with leaves hanging so low that they
well-nigh touched the floor, stood against the walls on legs and feet
shaped like those of an elephant, and on one lay three huge folio
volumes--a Family Bible, a "Josephus," and a "Whole Duty of Man." In the
chimney corner was a fire-grate with a fluted semicircular back, having
urns and festoons cast in relief thereon, and the chairs were of
the kind which, since that day, has cast lustre upon the names of
Chippendale and Sheraton, though, in point of fact, their patterns may
have been such as those illustrious carpenters never saw or heard of.

"Sit down--Elizabeth-Jane--sit down," he said, with a shake in his voice
as he uttered her name, and sitting down himself he allowed his hands
to hang between his knees while he looked upon the carpet. "Your mother,
then, is quite well?"

"She is rather worn out, sir, with travelling."

"A sailor's widow--when did he die?"

"Father was lost last spring."

Henchard winced at the word "father," thus applied. "Do you and she come
from abroad--America or Australia?" he asked.

"No. We have been in England some years. I was twelve when we came here
from Canada."

"Ah; exactly." By such conversation he discovered the circumstances
which had enveloped his wife and her child in such total obscurity that
he had long ago believed them to be in their graves. These things being
clear, he returned to the present. "And where is your mother staying?"

"At the Three Mariners."

"And you are her daughter Elizabeth-Jane?" repeated Henchard. He arose,
came close to her, and glanced in her face. "I think," he said, suddenly
turning away with a wet eye, "you shall take a note from me to your
mother. I should like to see her....She is not left very well off by
her late husband?" His eye fell on Elizabeth's clothes, which, though
a respectable suit of black, and her very best, were decidedly
old-fashioned even to Casterbridge eyes.

"Not very well," she said, glad that he had divined this without her
being obliged to express it.

He sat down at the table and wrote a few lines, next taking from his
pocket-book a five-pound note, which he put in the envelope with the
letter, adding to it, as by an afterthought, five shillings. Sealing the
whole up carefully, he directed it to "Mrs. Newson, Three Mariners Inn,"
and handed the packet to Elizabeth.

"Deliver it to her personally, please," said Henchard. "Well, I am glad
to see you here, Elizabeth-Jane--very glad. We must have a long talk
together--but not just now."

He took her hand at parting, and held it so warmly that she, who had
known so little friendship, was much affected, and tears rose to her
aerial-grey eyes. The instant that she was gone Henchard's state showed
itself more distinctly; having shut the door he sat in his dining-room
stiffly erect, gazing at the opposite wall as if he read his history
there.

"Begad!" he suddenly exclaimed, jumping up. "I didn't think of that.
Perhaps these are impostors--and Susan and the child dead after all!"

However, a something in Elizabeth-Jane soon assured him that, as
regarded her, at least, there could be little doubt. And a few hours
would settle the question of her mother's identity; for he had arranged
in his note to see her that evening.

"It never rains but it pours!" said Henchard. His keenly excited
interest in his new friend the Scotchman was now eclipsed by this event,
and Donald Farfrae saw so little of him during the rest of the day that
he wondered at the suddenness of his employer's moods.

In the meantime Elizabeth had reached the inn. Her mother, instead of
taking the note with the curiosity of a poor woman expecting assistance,
was much moved at sight of it. She did not read it at once, asking
Elizabeth to describe her reception, and the very words Mr. Henchard
used. Elizabeth's back was turned when her mother opened the letter. It
ran thus:--


"Meet me at eight o'clock this evening, if you can, at the Ring on the
Budmouth road. The place is easy to find. I can say no more now. The
news upsets me almost. The girl seems to be in ignorance. Keep her so
till I have seen you. M. H."


He said nothing about the enclosure of five guineas. The amount was
significant; it may tacitly have said to her that he bought her
back again. She waited restlessly for the close of the day, telling
Elizabeth-Jane that she was invited to see Mr. Henchard; that she would
go alone. But she said nothing to show that the place of meeting was not
at his house, nor did she hand the note to Elizabeth.




11.


The Ring at Casterbridge was merely the local name of one of the finest
Roman Amphitheatres, if not the very finest, remaining in Britain.

Casterbridge announced old Rome in every street, alley, and precinct.
It looked Roman, bespoke the art of Rome, concealed dead men of Rome. It
was impossible to dig more than a foot or two deep about the town
fields and gardens without coming upon some tall soldier or other of the
Empire, who had lain there in his silent unobtrusive rest for a space of
fifteen hundred years. He was mostly found lying on his side, in an oval
scoop in the chalk, like a chicken in its shell; his knees drawn up to
his chest; sometimes with the remains of his spear against his arm,
a fibula or brooch of bronze on his breast or forehead, an urn at
his knees, a jar at his throat, a bottle at his mouth; and mystified
conjecture pouring down upon him from the eyes of Casterbridge street
boys and men, who had turned a moment to gaze at the familiar spectacle
as they passed by.

Imaginative inhabitants, who would have felt an unpleasantness at the
discovery of a comparatively modern skeleton in their gardens, were
quite unmoved by these hoary shapes. They had lived so long ago, their
time was so unlike the present, their hopes and motives were so widely
removed from ours, that between them and the living there seemed to
stretch a gulf too wide for even a spirit to pass.

The Amphitheatre was a huge circular enclosure, with a notch at opposite
extremities of its diameter north and south. From its sloping internal
form it might have been called the spittoon of the Jotuns. It was to
Casterbridge what the ruined Coliseum is to modern Rome, and was nearly
of the same magnitude. The dusk of evening was the proper hour at which
a true impression of this suggestive place could be received. Standing
in the middle of the arena at that time there by degrees became apparent
its real vastness, which a cursory view from the summit at noon-day
was apt to obscure. Melancholy, impressive, lonely, yet accessible from
every part of the town, the historic circle was the frequent spot for
appointments of a furtive kind. Intrigues were arranged there; tentative
meetings were there experimented after divisions and feuds. But one kind
of appointment--in itself the most common of any--seldom had place in
the Amphitheatre: that of happy lovers.

Why, seeing that it was pre-eminently an airy, accessible, and
sequestered spot for interviews, the cheerfullest form of those
occurrences never took kindly to the soil of the ruin, would be a
curious inquiry. Perhaps it was because its associations had about them
something sinister. Its history proved that. Apart from the sanguinary
nature of the games originally played therein, such incidents attached
to its past as these: that for scores of years the town-gallows had
stood at one corner; that in 1705 a woman who had murdered her husband
was half-strangled and then burnt there in the presence of ten thousand
spectators. Tradition reports that at a certain stage of the burning her
heart burst and leapt out of her body, to the terror of them all, and
that not one of those ten thousand people ever cared particularly for
hot roast after that. In addition to these old tragedies, pugilistic
encounters almost to the death had come off down to recent dates in that
secluded arena, entirely invisible to the outside world save by climbing
to the top of the enclosure, which few towns-people in the daily round
of their lives ever took the trouble to do. So that, though close to the
turnpike-road, crimes might be perpetrated there unseen at mid-day.

Some boys had latterly tried to impart gaiety to the ruin by using the
central arena as a cricket-ground. But the game usually languished
for the aforesaid reason--the dismal privacy which the earthen circle
enforced, shutting out every appreciative passer's vision, every
commendatory remark from outsiders--everything, except the sky; and to
play at games in such circumstances was like acting to an empty house.
Possibly, too, the boys were timid, for some old people said that at
certain moments in the summer time, in broad daylight, persons sitting
with a book or dozing in the arena had, on lifting their eyes, beheld
the slopes lined with a gazing legion of Hadrian's soldiery as if
watching the gladiatorial combat; and had heard the roar of their
excited voices, that the scene would remain but a moment, like a
lightning flash, and then disappear.

It was related that there still remained under the south entrance
excavated cells for the reception of the wild animals and athletes who
took part in the games. The arena was still smooth and circular, as if
used for its original purpose not so very long ago. The sloping pathways
by which spectators had ascended to their seats were pathways yet. But
the whole was grown over with grass, which now, at the end of summer,
was bearded with withered bents that formed waves under the brush of the
wind, returning to the attentive ear aeolian modulations, and detaining
for moments the flying globes of thistledown.

Henchard had chosen this spot as being the safest from observation which
he could think of for meeting his long-lost wife, and at the same time
as one easily to be found by a stranger after nightfall. As Mayor of the
town, with a reputation to keep up, he could not invite her to come to
his house till some definite course had been decided on.

Just before eight he approached the deserted earth-work and entered by
the south path which descended over the debris of the former dens. In
a few moments he could discern a female figure creeping in by the great
north gap, or public gateway. They met in the middle of the arena.
Neither spoke just at first--there was no necessity for speech--and the
poor woman leant against Henchard, who supported her in his arms.

"I don't drink," he said in a low, halting, apologetic voice. "You hear,
Susan?--I don't drink now--I haven't since that night." Those were his
first words.

He felt her bow her head in acknowledgment that she understood. After a
minute or two he again began:

"If I had known you were living, Susan! But there was every reason to
suppose you and the child were dead and gone. I took every possible step
to find you--travelled--advertised. My opinion at last was that you
had started for some colony with that man, and had been drowned on your
voyage. Why did you keep silent like this?"

"O Michael! because of him--what other reason could there be? I thought
I owed him faithfulness to the end of one of our lives--foolishly
I believed there was something solemn and binding in the bargain; I
thought that even in honour I dared not desert him when he had paid so
much for me in good faith. I meet you now only as his widow--I consider
myself that, and that I have no claim upon you. Had he not died I should
never have come--never! Of that you may be sure."

"Ts-s-s! How could you be so simple?"

"I don't know. Yet it would have been very wicked--if I had not thought
like that!" said Susan, almost crying.

"Yes--yes--so it would. It is only that which makes me feel 'ee an
innocent woman. But--to lead me into this!"

"What, Michael?" she asked, alarmed.

"Why, this difficulty about our living together again, and
Elizabeth-Jane. She cannot be told all--she would so despise us both
that--I could not bear it!"

"That was why she was brought up in ignorance of you. I could not bear
it either."

"Well--we must talk of a plan for keeping her in her present belief, and
getting matters straight in spite of it. You have heard I am in a large
way of business here--that I am Mayor of the town, and churchwarden, and
I don't know what all?"

"Yes," she murmured.

"These things, as well as the dread of the girl discovering our
disgrace, makes it necessary to act with extreme caution. So that I
don't see how you two can return openly to my house as the wife and
daughter I once treated badly, and banished from me; and there's the rub
o't."

"We'll go away at once. I only came to see--"

"No, no, Susan; you are not to go--you mistake me!" he said with kindly
severity. "I have thought of this plan: that you and Elizabeth take a
cottage in the town as the widow Mrs. Newson and her daughter; that I
meet you, court you, and marry you. Elizabeth-Jane coming to my house as
my step-daughter. The thing is so natural and easy that it is half done
in thinking o't. This would leave my shady, headstrong, disgraceful life
as a young man absolutely unopened; the secret would be yours and mine
only; and I should have the pleasure of seeing my own only child under
my roof, as well as my wife."

"I am quite in your hands, Michael," she said meekly. "I came here
for the sake of Elizabeth; for myself, if you tell me to leave again
to-morrow morning, and never come near you more, I am content to go."

"Now, now; we don't want to hear that," said Henchard gently. "Of course
you won't leave again. Think over the plan I have proposed for a few
hours; and if you can't hit upon a better one we'll adopt it. I have
to be away for a day or two on business, unfortunately; but during that
time you can get lodgings--the only ones in the town fit for you are
those over the china-shop in High Street--and you can also look for a
cottage."

"If the lodgings are in High Street they are dear, I suppose?"

"Never mind--you MUST start genteel if our plan is to be carried out.
Look to me for money. Have you enough till I come back?"

"Quite," said she.

"And are you comfortable at the inn?"

"O yes."

"And the girl is quite safe from learning the shame of her case and
ours?--that's what makes me most anxious of all."

"You would be surprised to find how unlikely she is to dream of the
truth. How could she ever suppose such a thing?"

True!

"I like the idea of repeating our marriage," said Mrs. Henchard, after
a pause. "It seems the only right course, after all this. Now I think
I must go back to Elizabeth-Jane, and tell her that our kinsman, Mr.
Henchard, kindly wishes us to stay in the town."

"Very well--arrange that yourself. I'll go some way with you."

"No, no. Don't run any risk!" said his wife anxiously. "I can find my
way back--it is not late. Please let me go alone."

"Right," said Henchard. "But just one word. Do you forgive me, Susan?"

She murmured something; but seemed to find it difficult to frame her
answer.

"Never mind--all in good time," said he. "Judge me by my future
works--good-bye!"

He retreated, and stood at the upper side of the Amphitheatre while his
wife passed out through the lower way, and descended under the trees to
the town. Then Henchard himself went homeward, going so fast that by the
time he reached his door he was almost upon the heels of the unconscious
woman from whom he had just parted. He watched her up the street, and
turned into his house.




12.


On entering his own door after watching his wife out of sight, the Mayor
walked on through the tunnel-shaped passage into the garden, and thence
by the back door towards the stores and granaries. A light shone from
the office-window, and there being no blind to screen the interior
Henchard could see Donald Farfrae still seated where he had left him,
initiating himself into the managerial work of the house by overhauling
the books. Henchard entered, merely observing, "Don't let me interrupt
you, if ye will stay so late."

He stood behind Farfrae's chair, watching his dexterity in clearing up
the numerical fogs which had been allowed to grow so thick in Henchard's
books as almost to baffle even the Scotchman's perspicacity. The
corn-factor's mien was half admiring, and yet it was not without a dash
of pity for the tastes of any one who could care to give his mind to
such finnikin details. Henchard himself was mentally and physically
unfit for grubbing subtleties from soiled paper; he had in a modern
sense received the education of Achilles, and found penmanship a
tantalizing art.

"You shall do no more to-night," he said at length, spreading his great
hand over the paper. "There's time enough to-morrow. Come indoors with
me and have some supper. Now you shall! I am determined on't." He shut
the account-books with friendly force.

Donald had wished to get to his lodgings; but he already saw that his
friend and employer was a man who knew no moderation in his requests and
impulses, and he yielded gracefully. He liked Henchard's warmth, even if
it inconvenienced him; the great difference in their characters adding
to the liking.

They locked up the office, and the young man followed his companion
through the private little door which, admitting directly into
Henchard's garden, permitted a passage from the utilitarian to the
beautiful at one step. The garden was silent, dewy, and full of
perfume. It extended a long way back from the house, first as lawn and
flower-beds, then as fruit-garden, where the long-tied espaliers, as old
as the old house itself, had grown so stout, and cramped, and gnarled
that they had pulled their stakes out of the ground and stood distorted
and writhing in vegetable agony, like leafy Laocoons. The flowers which
smelt so sweetly were not discernible; and they passed through them into
the house.

The hospitalities of the morning were repeated, and when they were over
Henchard said, "Pull your chair round to the fireplace, my dear fellow,
and let's make a blaze--there's nothing I hate like a black grate, even
in September." He applied a light to the laid-in fuel, and a cheerful
radiance spread around.

"It is odd," said Henchard, "that two men should meet as we have done on
a purely business ground, and that at the end of the first day I should
wish to speak to 'ee on a family matter. But, damn it all, I am a lonely
man, Farfrae: I have nobody else to speak to; and why shouldn't I tell
it to 'ee?"

"I'll be glad to hear it, if I can be of any service," said Donald,
allowing his eyes to travel over the intricate wood-carvings of the
chimney-piece, representing garlanded lyres, shields, and quivers, on
either side of a draped ox-skull, and flanked by heads of Apollo and
Diana in low relief.

"I've not been always what I am now," continued Henchard, his firm deep
voice being ever so little shaken. He was plainly under that strange
influence which sometimes prompts men to confide to the new-found
friend what they will not tell to the old. "I began life as a working
hay-trusser, and when I was eighteen I married on the strength o' my
calling. Would you think me a married man?"

"I heard in the town that you were a widower."

"Ah, yes--you would naturally have heard that. Well, I lost my wife
nineteen years ago or so--by my own fault....This is how it came about.
One summer evening I was travelling for employment, and she was walking
at my side, carrying the baby, our only child. We came to a booth in a
country fair. I was a drinking man at that time."

Henchard paused a moment, threw himself back so that his elbow rested
on the table, his forehead being shaded by his hand, which, however, did
not hide the marks of introspective inflexibility on his features as
he narrated in fullest detail the incidents of the transaction with the
sailor. The tinge of indifference which had at first been visible in the
Scotchman now disappeared.

Henchard went on to describe his attempts to find his wife; the oath he
swore; the solitary life he led during the years which followed. "I have
kept my oath for nineteen years," he went on; "I have risen to what you
see me now."

"Ay!"

"Well--no wife could I hear of in all that time; and being by nature
something of a woman-hater, I have found it no hardship to keep mostly
at a distance from the sex. No wife could I hear of, I say, till this
very day. And now--she has come back."

"Come back, has she!"

"This morning--this very morning. And what's to be done?"

"Can ye no' take her and live with her, and make some amends?"

"That's what I've planned and proposed. But, Farfrae," said Henchard
gloomily, "by doing right with Susan I wrong another innocent woman."

"Ye don't say that?"

"In the nature of things, Farfrae, it is almost impossible that a man
of my sort should have the good fortune to tide through twenty years o'
life without making more blunders than one. It has been my custom
for many years to run across to Jersey in the the way of business,
particularly in the potato and root season. I do a large trade wi' them
in that line. Well, one autumn when stopping there I fell quite ill, and
in my illness I sank into one of those gloomy fits I sometimes suffer
from, on account o' the loneliness of my domestic life, when the world
seems to have the blackness of hell, and, like Job, I could curse the
day that gave me birth."

"Ah, now, I never feel like it," said Farfrae.

"Then pray to God that you never may, young man. While in this state I
was taken pity on by a woman--a young lady I should call her, for she
was of good family, well bred, and well educated--the daughter of some
harum-scarum military officer who had got into difficulties, and had his
pay sequestrated. He was dead now, and her mother too, and she was as
lonely as I. This young creature was staying at the boarding-house where
I happened to have my lodging; and when I was pulled down she took upon
herself to nurse me. From that she got to have a foolish liking for me.
Heaven knows why, for I wasn't worth it. But being together in the same
house, and her feeling warm, we got naturally intimate. I won't go into
particulars of what our relations were. It is enough to say that we
honestly meant to marry. There arose a scandal, which did me no harm,
but was of course ruin to her. Though, Farfrae, between you and me, as
man and man, I solemnly declare that philandering with womankind
has neither been my vice nor my virtue. She was terribly careless of
appearances, and I was perhaps more, because o' my dreary state; and it
was through this that the scandal arose. At last I was well, and came
away. When I was gone she suffered much on my account, and didn't forget
to tell me so in letters one after another; till latterly, I felt I
owed her something, and thought that, as I had not heard of Susan for so
long, I would make this other one the only return I could make, and ask
her if she would run the risk of Susan being alive (very slight as I
believed) and marry me, such as I was. She jumped for joy, and we should
no doubt soon have been married--but, behold, Susan appears!"

Donald showed his deep concern at a complication so far beyond the
degree of his simple experiences.

"Now see what injury a man may cause around him! Even after that
wrong-doing at the fair when I was young, if I had never been so selfish
as to let this giddy girl devote herself to me over at Jersey, to the
injury of her name, all might now be well. Yet, as it stands, I must
bitterly disappoint one of these women; and it is the second. My first
duty is to Susan--there's no doubt about that."

"They are both in a very melancholy position, and that's true!" murmured
Donald.

"They are! For myself I don't care--'twill all end one way. But these
two." Henchard paused in reverie. "I feel I should like to treat the
second, no less than the first, as kindly as a man can in such a case."

"Ah, well, it cannet be helped!" said the other, with philosophic
woefulness. "You mun write to the young lady, and in your letter you
must put it plain and honest that it turns out she cannet be your wife,
the first having come back; that ye cannet see her more; and that--ye
wish her weel."

"That won't do. 'Od seize it, I must do a little more than that! I
must--though she did always brag about her rich uncle or rich aunt, and
her expectations from 'em--I must send a useful sum of money to her, I
suppose--just as a little recompense, poor girl....Now, will you help me
in this, and draw up an explanation to her of all I've told ye, breaking
it as gently as you can? I'm so bad at letters."

"And I will."

"Now, I haven't told you quite all yet. My wife Susan has my daughter
with her--the baby that was in her arms at the fair; and this girl knows
nothing of me beyond that I am some sort of relation by marriage. She
has grown up in the belief that the sailor to whom I made over her
mother, and who is now dead, was her father, and her mother's husband.
What her mother has always felt, she and I together feel now--that we
can't proclaim our disgrace to the girl by letting her know the truth.
Now what would you do?--I want your advice."

"I think I'd run the risk, and tell her the truth. She'll forgive ye
both."

"Never!" said Henchard. "I am not going to let her know the truth. Her
mother and I be going to marry again; and it will not only help us to
keep our child's respect, but it will be more proper. Susan looks upon
herself as the sailor's widow, and won't think o' living with me as
formerly without another religious ceremony--and she's right."

Farfrae thereupon said no more. The letter to the young Jersey woman was
carefully framed by him, and the interview ended, Henchard saying, as
the Scotchman left, "I feel it a great relief, Farfrae, to tell some
friend o' this! You see now that the Mayor of Casterbridge is not so
thriving in his mind as it seems he might be from the state of his
pocket."

"I do. And I'm sorry for ye!" said Farfrae.

When he was gone Henchard copied the letter, and, enclosing a cheque,
took it to the post-office, from which he walked back thoughtfully.

"Can it be that it will go off so easily!" he said. "Poor thing--God
knows! Now then, to make amends to Susan!"




13.


The cottage which Michael Henchard hired for his wife Susan under her
name of Newson--in pursuance of their plan--was in the upper or western
part of the town, near the Roman wall, and the avenue which overshadowed
it. The evening sun seemed to shine more yellowly there than anywhere
else this autumn--stretching its rays, as the hours grew later, under
the lowest sycamore boughs, and steeping the ground-floor of the
dwelling, with its green shutters, in a substratum of radiance which the
foliage screened from the upper parts. Beneath these sycamores on the
town walls could be seen from the sitting-room the tumuli and earth
forts of the distant uplands; making it altogether a pleasant spot, with
the usual touch of melancholy that a past-marked prospect lends.

As soon as the mother and daughter were comfortably installed, with a
white-aproned servant and all complete, Henchard paid them a visit,
and remained to tea. During the entertainment Elizabeth was carefully
hoodwinked by the very general tone of the conversation that
prevailed--a proceeding which seemed to afford some humour to Henchard,
though his wife was not particularly happy in it. The visit was repeated
again and again with business-like determination by the Mayor, who
seemed to have schooled himself into a course of strict mechanical
rightness towards this woman of prior claim, at any expense to the later
one and to his own sentiments.

One afternoon the daughter was not indoors when Henchard came, and he
said drily, "This is a very good opportunity for me to ask you to name
the happy day, Susan."

The poor woman smiled faintly; she did not enjoy pleasantries on a
situation into which she had entered solely for the sake of her girl's
reputation. She liked them so little, indeed, that there was room for
wonder why she had countenanced deception at all, and had not bravely
let the girl know her history. But the flesh is weak; and the true
explanation came in due course.

"O Michael!" she said, "I am afraid all this is taking up your time and
giving trouble--when I did not expect any such thing!" And she looked at
him and at his dress as a man of affluence, and at the furniture he had
provided for the room--ornate and lavish to her eyes.

"Not at all," said Henchard, in rough benignity. "This is only a
cottage--it costs me next to nothing. And as to taking up my time"--here
his red and black visage kindled with satisfaction--"I've a splendid
fellow to superintend my business now--a man whose like I've never been
able to lay hands on before. I shall soon be able to leave everything
to him, and have more time to call my own than I've had for these last
twenty years."

Henchard's visits here grew so frequent and so regular that it soon
became whispered, and then openly discussed in Casterbridge that the
masterful, coercive Mayor of the town was raptured and enervated by the
genteel widow Mrs. Newson. His well-known haughty indifference to the
society of womankind, his silent avoidance of converse with the sex,
contributed a piquancy to what would otherwise have been an unromantic
matter enough. That such a poor fragile woman should be his choice was
inexplicable, except on the ground that the engagement was a family
affair in which sentimental passion had no place; for it was known that
they were related in some way. Mrs. Henchard was so pale that the boys
called her "The Ghost." Sometimes Henchard overheard this epithet when
they passed together along the Walks--as the avenues on the walls
were named--at which his face would darken with an expression of
destructiveness towards the speakers ominous to see; but he said
nothing.

He pressed on the preparations for his union, or rather reunion, with
this pale creature in a dogged, unflinching spirit which did credit
to his conscientiousness. Nobody would have conceived from his outward
demeanour that there was no amatory fire or pulse of romance acting as
stimulant to the bustle going on in his gaunt, great house; nothing
but three large resolves--one, to make amends to his neglected Susan,
another, to provide a comfortable home for Elizabeth-Jane under his
paternal eye; and a third, to castigate himself with the thorns which
these restitutory acts brought in their train; among them the lowering
of his dignity in public opinion by marrying so comparatively humble a
woman.

Susan Henchard entered a carriage for the first time in her life when
she stepped into the plain brougham which drew up at the door on the
wedding-day to take her and Elizabeth-Jane to church. It was a windless
morning of warm November rain, which floated down like meal, and lay
in a powdery form on the nap of hats and coats. Few people had
gathered round the church door though they were well packed within.
The Scotchman, who assisted as groomsman, was of course the only one
present, beyond the chief actors, who knew the true situation of the
contracting parties. He, however, was too inexperienced, too thoughtful,
too judicial, too strongly conscious of the serious side of the
business, to enter into the scene in its dramatic aspect. That required
the special genius of Christopher Coney, Solomon Longways, Buzzford, and
their fellows. But they knew nothing of the secret; though, as the
time for coming out of church drew on, they gathered on the pavement
adjoining, and expounded the subject according to their lights.

"'Tis five-and-forty years since I had my settlement in this here town,"
said Coney; "but daze me if I ever see a man wait so long before to take
so little! There's a chance even for thee after this, Nance Mockridge."
The remark was addressed to a woman who stood behind his shoulder--the
same who had exhibited Henchard's bad bread in public when Elizabeth and
her mother entered Casterbridge.

"Be cust if I'd marry any such as he, or thee either," replied that
lady. "As for thee, Christopher, we know what ye be, and the less said
the better. And as for he--well, there--(lowering her voice) 'tis said
'a was a poor parish 'prentice--I wouldn't say it for all the world--but
'a was a poor parish 'prentice, that began life wi' no more belonging to
'en than a carrion crow."

"And now he's worth ever so much a minute," murmured Longways. "When a
man is said to be worth so much a minute, he's a man to be considered!"

Turning, he saw a circular disc reticulated with creases, and recognized
the smiling countenance of the fat woman who had asked for another song
at the Three Mariners. "Well, Mother Cuxsom," he said, "how's this?
Here's Mrs. Newson, a mere skellinton, has got another husband to keep
her, while a woman of your tonnage have not."

"I have not. Nor another to beat me....Ah, yes, Cuxsom's gone, and so
shall leather breeches!"

"Yes; with the blessing of God leather breeches shall go."

"'Tisn't worth my old while to think of another husband," continued Mrs.
Cuxsom. "And yet I'll lay my life I'm as respectable born as she."

"True; your mother was a very good woman--I can mind her. She were
rewarded by the Agricultural Society for having begot the greatest
number of healthy children without parish assistance, and other virtuous
marvels."

"'Twas that that kept us so low upon ground--that great hungry family."

"Ay. Where the pigs be many the wash runs thin."

"And dostn't mind how mother would sing, Christopher?" continued Mrs.
Cuxsom, kindling at the retrospection; "and how we went with her to the
party at Mellstock, do ye mind?--at old Dame Ledlow's, farmer Shinar's
aunt, do ye mind?--she we used to call Toad-skin, because her face were
so yaller and freckled, do ye mind?"

"I do, hee-hee, I do!" said Christopher Coney.

"And well do I--for I was getting up husband-high at that time--one-half
girl, and t'other half woman, as one may say. And canst mind"--she
prodded Solomon's shoulder with her finger-tip, while her eyes twinkled
between the crevices of their lids--"canst mind the sherry-wine, and the
zilver-snuffers, and how Joan Dummett was took bad when we were coming
home, and Jack Griggs was forced to carry her through the mud; and how
'a let her fall in Dairyman Sweet-apple's cow-barton, and we had to
clane her gown wi' grass--never such a mess as a' were in?"

"Ay--that I do--hee-hee, such doggery as there was in them ancient days,
to be sure! Ah, the miles I used to walk then; and now I can hardly step
over a furrow!"

Their reminiscences were cut short by the appearance of the reunited
pair--Henchard looking round upon the idlers with that ambiguous gaze
of his, which at one moment seemed to mean satisfaction, and at another
fiery disdain.

"Well--there's a difference between 'em, though he do call himself a
teetotaller," said Nance Mockridge. "She'll wish her cake dough afore
she's done of him. There's a blue-beardy look about 'en; and 'twill out
in time."

"Stuff--he's well enough! Some folk want their luck buttered. If I had a
choice as wide as the ocean sea I wouldn't wish for a better man. A poor
twanking woman like her--'tis a godsend for her, and hardly a pair of
jumps or night-rail to her name."

The plain little brougham drove off in the mist, and the idlers
dispersed. "Well, we hardly know how to look at things in these times!"
said Solomon. "There was a man dropped down dead yesterday, not so very
many miles from here; and what wi' that, and this moist weather, 'tis
scarce worth one's while to begin any work o' consequence to-day. I'm in
such a low key with drinking nothing but small table ninepenny this
last week or two that I shall call and warm up at the Mar'ners as I pass
along."

"I don't know but that I may as well go with 'ee, Solomon," said
Christopher; "I'm as clammy as a cockle-snail."




14.


A Martinmas summer of Mrs. Henchard's life set in with her entry into
her husband's large house and respectable social orbit; and it was as
bright as such summers well can be. Lest she should pine for deeper
affection than he could give he made a point of showing some semblance
of it in external action. Among other things he had the iron railings,
that had smiled sadly in dull rust for the last eighty years, painted
a bright green, and the heavy-barred, small-paned Georgian sash windows
enlivened with three coats of white. He was as kind to her as a man,
mayor, and churchwarden could possibly be. The house was large, the
rooms lofty, and the landings wide; and the two unassuming women
scarcely made a perceptible addition to its contents.

To Elizabeth-Jane the time was a most triumphant one. The freedom she
experienced, the indulgence with which she was treated, went beyond her
expectations. The reposeful, easy, affluent life to which her mother's
marriage had introduced her was, in truth, the beginning of a great
change in Elizabeth. She found she could have nice personal possessions
and ornaments for the asking, and, as the mediaeval saying puts it,
"Take, have, and keep, are pleasant words." With peace of mind came
development, and with development beauty. Knowledge--the result of great
natural insight--she did not lack; learning, accomplishment--those,
alas, she had not; but as the winter and spring passed by her thin
face and figure filled out in rounder and softer curves; the lines and
contractions upon her young brow went away; the muddiness of skin which
she had looked upon as her lot by nature departed with a change to
abundance of good things, and a bloom came upon her cheek. Perhaps, too,
her grey, thoughtful eyes revealed an arch gaiety sometimes; but this
was infrequent; the sort of wisdom which looked from their pupils did
not readily keep company with these lighter moods. Like all people who
have known rough times, light-heartedness seemed to her too irrational
and inconsequent to be indulged in except as a reckless dram now and
then; for she had been too early habituated to anxious reasoning to drop
the habit suddenly. She felt none of those ups and downs of spirit
which beset so many people without cause; never--to paraphrase a recent
poet--never a gloom in Elizabeth-Jane's soul but she well knew how it
came there; and her present cheerfulness was fairly proportionate to her
solid guarantees for the same.

It might have been supposed that, given a girl rapidly becoming
good-looking, comfortably circumstanced, and for the first time in her
life commanding ready money, she would go and make a fool of herself by
dress. But no. The reasonableness of almost everything that Elizabeth
did was nowhere more conspicuous than in this question of clothes. To
keep in the rear of opportunity in matters of indulgence is as valuable
a habit as to keep abreast of opportunity in matters of enterprise. This
unsophisticated girl did it by an innate perceptiveness that was almost
genius. Thus she refrained from bursting out like a water-flower that
spring, and clothing herself in puffings and knick-knacks, as most of
the Casterbridge girls would have done in her circumstances. Her triumph
was tempered by circumspection, she had still that field-mouse fear of
the coulter of destiny despite fair promise, which is common among the
thoughtful who have suffered early from poverty and oppression.

"I won't be too gay on any account," she would say to herself. "It would
be tempting Providence to hurl mother and me down, and afflict us again
as He used to do."

We now see her in a black silk bonnet, velvet mantle or silk spencer,
dark dress, and carrying a sunshade. In this latter article she drew
the line at fringe, and had it plain edged, with a little ivory ring for
keeping it closed. It was odd about the necessity for that sunshade. She
discovered that with the clarification of her complexion and the birth
of pink cheeks her skin had grown more sensitive to the sun's rays.
She protected those cheeks forthwith, deeming spotlessness part of
womanliness.

Henchard had become very fond of her, and she went out with him more
frequently than with her mother now. Her appearance one day was so
attractive that he looked at her critically.

"I happened to have the ribbon by me, so I made it up," she faltered,
thinking him perhaps dissatisfied with some rather bright trimming she
had donned for the first time.

"Ay--of course--to be sure," he replied in his leonine way. "Do as you
like--or rather as your mother advises ye. 'Od send--I've nothing to say
to't!"

Indoors she appeared with her hair divided by a parting that arched like
a white rainbow from ear to ear. All in front of this line was covered
with a thick encampment of curls; all behind was dressed smoothly, and
drawn to a knob.

The three members of the family were sitting at breakfast one day, and
Henchard was looking silently, as he often did, at this head of
hair, which in colour was brown--rather light than dark. "I thought
Elizabeth-Jane's hair--didn't you tell me that Elizabeth-Jane's hair
promised to be black when she was a baby?" he said to his wife.

She looked startled, jerked his foot warningly, and murmured, "Did I?"

As soon as Elizabeth was gone to her own room Henchard resumed. "Begad,
I nearly forgot myself just now! What I meant was that the girl's hair
certainly looked as if it would be darker, when she was a baby."

"It did; but they alter so," replied Susan.

"Their hair gets darker, I know--but I wasn't aware it lightened ever?"

"O yes." And the same uneasy expression came out on her face, to which
the future held the key. It passed as Henchard went on:

"Well, so much the better. Now Susan, I want to have her called
Miss Henchard--not Miss Newson. Lots o' people do it already in
carelessness--it is her legal name--so it may as well be made her usual
name--I don't like t'other name at all for my own flesh and blood. I'll
advertise it in the Casterbridge paper--that's the way they do it. She
won't object."

"No. O no. But--"

"Well, then, I shall do it," he said, peremptorily. "Surely, if she's
willing, you must wish it as much as I?"

"O yes--if she agrees let us do it by all means," she replied.

Then Mrs. Henchard acted somewhat inconsistently; it might have been
called falsely, but that her manner was emotional and full of the
earnestness of one who wishes to do right at great hazard. She went to
Elizabeth-Jane, whom she found sewing in her own sitting-room upstairs,
and told her what had been proposed about her surname. "Can you
agree--is it not a slight upon Newson--now he's dead and gone?"

Elizabeth reflected. "I'll think of it, mother," she answered.

When, later in the day, she saw Henchard, she adverted to the matter
at once, in a way which showed that the line of feeling started by her
mother had been persevered in. "Do you wish this change so very much,
sir?" she asked.

"Wish it? Why, my blessed fathers, what an ado you women make about
a trifle! I proposed it--that's all. Now, 'Lizabeth-Jane, just please
yourself. Curse me if I care what you do. Now, you understand, don't 'ee
go agreeing to it to please me."

Here the subject dropped, and nothing more was said, and nothing was
done, and Elizabeth still passed as Miss Newson, and not by her legal
name.

Meanwhile the great corn and hay traffic conducted by Henchard throve
under the management of Donald Farfrae as it had never thriven before.
It had formerly moved in jolts; now it went on oiled casters. The old
crude viva voce system of Henchard, in which everything depended upon
his memory, and bargains were made by the tongue alone, was swept
away. Letters and ledgers took the place of "I'll do't," and "you shall
hae't"; and, as in all such cases of advance, the rugged picturesqueness
of the old method disappeared with its inconveniences.

The position of Elizabeth-Jane's room--rather high in the house, so
that it commanded a view of the hay-stores and granaries across the
garden--afforded her opportunity for accurate observation of what went
on there. She saw that Donald and Mr. Henchard were inseparables. When
walking together Henchard would lay his arm familiarly on his manager's
shoulder, as if Farfrae were a younger brother, bearing so heavily that
his slight frame bent under the weight. Occasionally she would hear
a perfect cannonade of laughter from Henchard, arising from something
Donald had said, the latter looking quite innocent and not laughing at
all. In Henchard's somewhat lonely life he evidently found the young
man as desirable for comradeship as he was useful for consultations.
Donald's brightness of intellect maintained in the corn-factor the
admiration it had won at the first hour of their meeting. The poor
opinion, and but ill-concealed, that he entertained of the
slim Farfrae's physical girth, strength, and dash was more than
counterbalanced by the immense respect he had for his brains.

Her quiet eye discerned that Henchard's tigerish affection for the
younger man, his constant liking to have Farfrae near him, now and then
resulted in a tendency to domineer, which, however, was checked in a
moment when Donald exhibited marks of real offence. One day, looking
down on their figures from on high, she heard the latter remark, as they
stood in the doorway between the garden and yard, that their habit of
walking and driving about together rather neutralized Farfrae's value
as a second pair of eyes, which should be used in places where the
principal was not. "'Od damn it," cried Henchard, "what's all the world!
I like a fellow to talk to. Now come along and hae some supper, and
don't take too much thought about things, or ye'll drive me crazy."

When she walked with her mother, on the other hand, she often beheld the
Scotchman looking at them with a curious interest. The fact that he had
met her at the Three Mariners was insufficient to account for it, since
on the occasions on which she had entered his room he had never raised
his eyes. Besides, it was at her mother more particularly than
at herself that he looked, to Elizabeth-Jane's half-conscious,
simple-minded, perhaps pardonable, disappointment. Thus she could not
account for this interest by her own attractiveness, and she decided
that it might be apparent only--a way of turning his eyes that Mr.
Farfrae had.

She did not divine the ample explanation of his manner, without personal
vanity, that was afforded by the fact of Donald being the depositary
of Henchard's confidence in respect of his past treatment of the pale,
chastened mother who walked by her side. Her conjectures on that past
never went further than faint ones based on things casually heard and
seen--mere guesses that Henchard and her mother might have been lovers
in their younger days, who had quarrelled and parted.

Casterbridge, as has been hinted, was a place deposited in the
block upon a corn-field. There was no suburb in the modern sense, or
transitional intermixture of town and down. It stood, with regard to the
wide fertile land adjoining, clean-cut and distinct, like a chess-board
on a green tablecloth. The farmer's boy could sit under his barley-mow
and pitch a stone into the office-window of the town-clerk; reapers
at work among the sheaves nodded to acquaintances standing on the
pavement-corner; the red-robed judge, when he condemned a sheep-stealer,
pronounced sentence to the tune of Baa, that floated in at the window
from the remainder of the flock browsing hard by; and at executions
the waiting crowd stood in a meadow immediately before the drop, out of
which the cows had been temporarily driven to give the spectators room.

The corn grown on the upland side of the borough was garnered by farmers
who lived in an eastern purlieu called Durnover. Here wheat-ricks
overhung the old Roman street, and thrust their eaves against the church
tower; green-thatched barns, with doorways as high as the gates of
Solomon's temple, opened directly upon the main thoroughfare. Barns
indeed were so numerous as to alternate with every half-dozen houses
along the way. Here lived burgesses who daily walked the fallow;
shepherds in an intra-mural squeeze. A street of farmers' homesteads--a
street ruled by a mayor and corporation, yet echoing with the thump of
the flail, the flutter of the winnowing-fan, and the purr of the milk
into the pails--a street which had nothing urban in it whatever--this
was the Durnover end of Casterbridge.

Henchard, as was natural, dealt largely with this nursery or bed of
small farmers close at hand--and his waggons were often down that way.
One day, when arrangements were in progress for getting home corn from
one of the aforesaid farms, Elizabeth-Jane received a note by hand,
asking her to oblige the writer by coming at once to a granary on
Durnover Hill. As this was the granary whose contents Henchard was
removing, she thought the request had something to do with his business,
and proceeded thither as soon as she had put on her bonnet. The granary
was just within the farm-yard, and stood on stone staddles, high enough
for persons to walk under. The gates were open, but nobody was within.
However, she entered and waited. Presently she saw a figure approaching
the gate--that of Donald Farfrae. He looked up at the church clock, and
came in. By some unaccountable shyness, some wish not to meet him there
alone, she quickly ascended the step-ladder leading to the granary
door, and entered it before he had seen her. Farfrae advanced, imagining
himself in solitude, and a few drops of rain beginning to fall he moved
and stood under the shelter where she had just been standing. Here he
leant against one of the staddles, and gave himself up to patience. He,
too, was plainly expecting some one; could it be herself? If so, why?
In a few minutes he looked at his watch, and then pulled out a note, a
duplicate of the one she had herself received.

This situation began to be very awkward, and the longer she waited the
more awkward it became. To emerge from a door just above his head and
descend the ladder, and show she had been in hiding there, would look so
very foolish that she still waited on. A winnowing machine stood close
beside her, and to relieve her suspense she gently moved the handle;
whereupon a cloud of wheat husks flew out into her face, and covered
her clothes and bonnet, and stuck into the fur of her victorine. He must
have heard the slight movement for he looked up, and then ascended the
steps.

"Ah--it's Miss Newson," he said as soon as he could see into the
granary. "I didn't know you were there. I have kept the appointment, and
am at your service."

"O Mr. Farfrae," she faltered, "so have I. But I didn't know it was you
who wished to see me, otherwise I--"

"I wished to see you? O no--at least, that is, I am afraid there may be
a mistake."

"Didn't you ask me to come here? Didn't you write this?" Elizabeth held
out her note.

"No. Indeed, at no hand would I have thought of it! And for you--didn't
you ask me? This is not your writing?" And he held up his.

"By no means."

"And is that really so! Then it's somebody wanting to see us both.
Perhaps we would do well to wait a little longer."

Acting on this consideration they lingered, Elizabeth-Jane's face being
arranged to an expression of preternatural composure, and the young
Scot, at every footstep in the street without, looking from under the
granary to see if the passer were about to enter and declare himself
their summoner. They watched individual drops of rain creeping down the
thatch of the opposite rick--straw after straw--till they reached the
bottom; but nobody came, and the granary roof began to drip.

"The person is not likely to be coming," said Farfrae. "It's a trick
perhaps, and if so, it's a great pity to waste our time like this, and
so much to be done."

"'Tis a great liberty," said Elizabeth.

"It's true, Miss Newson. We'll hear news of this some day depend on't,
and who it was that did it. I wouldn't stand for it hindering myself;
but you, Miss Newson----"

"I don't mind--much,' she replied.

"Neither do I."

They lapsed again into silence. "You are anxious to get back to
Scotland, I suppose, Mr. Farfrae?" she inquired.

"O no, Miss Newson. Why would I be?"

"I only supposed you might be from the song you sang at the Three
Mariners--about Scotland and home, I mean--which you seemed to feel so
deep down in your heart; so that we all felt for you."

"Ay--and I did sing there--I did----But, Miss Newson"--and Donald's
voice musically undulated between two semi-tones as it always did when
he became earnest--"it's well you feel a song for a few minutes, and
your eyes they get quite tearful; but you finish it, and for all you
felt you don't mind it or think of it again for a long while. O no,
I don't want to go back! Yet I'll sing the song to you wi' pleasure
whenever you like. I could sing it now, and not mind at all?"

"Thank you, indeed. But I fear I must go--rain or no."

"Ay! Then, Miss Newson, ye had better say nothing about this hoax, and
take no heed of it. And if the person should say anything to you, be
civil to him or her, as if you did not mind it--so you'll take the
clever person's laugh away." In speaking his eyes became fixed upon
her dress, still sown with wheat husks. "There's husks and dust on you.
Perhaps you don't know it?" he said, in tones of extreme delicacy. "And
it's very bad to let rain come upon clothes when there's chaff on them.
It washes in and spoils them. Let me help you--blowing is the best."

As Elizabeth neither assented nor dissented Donald Farfrae began blowing
her back hair, and her side hair, and her neck, and the crown of her
bonnet, and the fur of her victorine, Elizabeth saying, "O, thank you,"
at every puff. At last she was fairly clean, though Farfrae, having got
over his first concern at the situation, seemed in no manner of hurry to
be gone.

"Ah--now I'll go and get ye an umbrella," he said.

She declined the offer, stepped out and was gone. Farfrae walked slowly
after, looking thoughtfully at her diminishing figure, and whistling in
undertones, "As I came down through Cannobie."




15.


At first Miss Newson's budding beauty was not regarded with much
interest by anybody in Casterbridge. Donald Farfrae's gaze, it is true,
was now attracted by the Mayor's so-called step-daughter, but he was
only one. The truth is that she was but a poor illustrative instance of
the prophet Baruch's sly definition: "The virgin that loveth to go gay."

When she walked abroad she seemed to be occupied with an inner chamber
of ideas, and to have slight need for visible objects. She formed
curious resolves on checking gay fancies in the matter of clothes,
because it was inconsistent with her past life to blossom gaudily the
moment she had become possessed of money. But nothing is more insidious
than the evolution of wishes from mere fancies, and of wants from mere
wishes. Henchard gave Elizabeth-Jane a box of delicately-tinted gloves
one spring day. She wanted to wear them to show her appreciation of his
kindness, but she had no bonnet that would harmonize. As an artistic
indulgence she thought she would have such a bonnet. When she had a
bonnet that would go with the gloves she had no dress that would go with
the bonnet. It was now absolutely necessary to finish; she ordered the
requisite article, and found that she had no sunshade to go with the
dress. In for a penny in for a pound; she bought the sunshade, and the
whole structure was at last complete.

Everybody was attracted, and some said that her bygone simplicity was
the art that conceals art, the "delicate imposition" of Rochefoucauld;
she had produced an effect, a contrast, and it had been done on purpose.
As a matter of fact this was not true, but it had its result; for as
soon as Casterbridge thought her artful it thought her worth notice. "It
is the first time in my life that I have been so much admired," she said
to herself; "though perhaps it is by those whose admiration is not worth
having."

But Donald Farfrae admired her, too; and altogether the time was an
exciting one; sex had never before asserted itself in her so strongly,
for in former days she had perhaps been too impersonally human to be
distinctively feminine. After an unprecedented success one day she came
indoors, went upstairs, and leant upon her bed face downwards quite
forgetting the possible creasing and damage. "Good Heaven," she
whispered, "can it be? Here am I setting up as the town beauty!"

When she had thought it over, her usual fear of exaggerating appearances
engendered a deep sadness. "There is something wrong in all this," she
mused. "If they only knew what an unfinished girl I am--that I can't
talk Italian, or use globes, or show any of the accomplishments they
learn at boarding schools, how they would despise me! Better sell all
this finery and buy myself grammar-books and dictionaries and a history
of all the philosophies!"

She looked from the window and saw Henchard and Farfrae in the hay-yard
talking, with that impetuous cordiality on the Mayor's part, and genial
modesty on the younger man's, that was now so generally observable
in their intercourse. Friendship between man and man; what a rugged
strength there was in it, as evinced by these two. And yet the seed that
was to lift the foundation of this friendship was at that moment taking
root in a chink of its structure.

It was about six o'clock; the men were dropping off homeward one by one.
The last to leave was a round-shouldered, blinking young man of nineteen
or twenty, whose mouth fell ajar on the slightest provocation, seemingly
because there was no chin to support it. Henchard called aloud to him as
he went out of the gate, "Here--Abel Whittle!"

Whittle turned, and ran back a few steps. "Yes, sir," he said, in
breathless deprecation, as if he knew what was coming next.

"Once more--be in time to-morrow morning. You see what's to be done, and
you hear what I say, and you know I'm not going to be trifled with any
longer."

"Yes, sir." Then Abel Whittle left, and Henchard and Farfrae; and
Elizabeth saw no more of them.

Now there was good reason for this command on Henchard's part. Poor
Abel, as he was called, had an inveterate habit of over-sleeping himself
and coming late to his work. His anxious will was to be among the
earliest; but if his comrades omitted to pull the string that he always
tied round his great toe and left hanging out the window for that
purpose, his will was as wind. He did not arrive in time.

As he was often second hand at the hay-weighing, or at the crane which
lifted the sacks, or was one of those who had to accompany the waggons
into the country to fetch away stacks that had been purchased, this
affliction of Abel's was productive of much inconvenience. For two
mornings in the present week he had kept the others waiting nearly an
hour; hence Henchard's threat. It now remained to be seen what would
happen to-morrow.

Six o'clock struck, and there was no Whittle. At half-past six Henchard
entered the yard; the waggon was horsed that Abel was to accompany; and
the other man had been waiting twenty minutes. Then Henchard swore, and
Whittle coming up breathless at that instant, the corn-factor turned on
him, and declared with an oath that this was the last time; that if he
were behind once more, by God, he would come and drag him out o' bed.

"There is sommit wrong in my make, your worshipful!" said Abel,
"especially in the inside, whereas my poor dumb brain gets as dead as
a clot afore I've said my few scrags of prayers. Yes--it came on as a
stripling, just afore I'd got man's wages, whereas I never enjoy my bed
at all, for no sooner do I lie down than I be asleep, and afore I be
awake I be up. I've fretted my gizzard green about it, maister, but what
can I do? Now last night, afore I went to bed, I only had a scantling o'
cheese and--"

"I don't want to hear it!" roared Henchard. "To-morrow the waggons must
start at four, and if you're not here, stand clear. I'll mortify thy
flesh for thee!"

"But let me clear up my points, your worshipful----"

Henchard turned away.

"He asked me and he questioned me, and then 'a wouldn't hear my
points!" said Abel, to the yard in general. "Now, I shall twitch like a
moment-hand all night to-night for fear o' him!"

The journey to be taken by the waggons next day was a long one into
Blackmoor Vale, and at four o'clock lanterns were moving about the yard.
But Abel was missing. Before either of the other men could run to Abel's
and warn him Henchard appeared in the garden doorway. "Where's Abel
Whittle? Not come after all I've said? Now I'll carry out my word, by
my blessed fathers--nothing else will do him any good! I'm going up that
way."

Henchard went off, entered Abel's house, a little cottage in Back
Street, the door of which was never locked because the inmates had
nothing to lose. Reaching Whittle's bedside the corn-factor shouted a
bass note so vigorously that Abel started up instantly, and beholding
Henchard standing over him, was galvanized into spasmodic movements
which had not much relation to getting on his clothes.

"Out of bed, sir, and off to the granary, or you leave my employ to-day!
'Tis to teach ye a lesson. March on; never mind your breeches!"

The unhappy Whittle threw on his sleeve waistcoat, and managed to get
into his boots at the bottom of the stairs, while Henchard thrust his
hat over his head. Whittle then trotted on down Back Street, Henchard
walking sternly behind.

Just at this time Farfrae, who had been to Henchard's house to look for
him, came out of the back gate, and saw something white fluttering in
the morning gloom, which he soon perceived to be part of Abel's shirt
that showed below his waistcoat.

"For maircy's sake, what object's this?" said Farfrae, following Abel
into the yard, Henchard being some way in the rear by this time.

"Ye see, Mr. Farfrae," gibbered Abel with a resigned smile of terror,
"he said he'd mortify my flesh if so be I didn't get up sooner, and now
he's a-doing on't! Ye see it can't be helped, Mr. Farfrae; things do
happen queer sometimes! Yes--I'll go to Blackmoor Vale half naked as
I be, since he do command; but I shall kill myself afterwards; I can't
outlive the disgrace, for the women-folk will be looking out of their
winders at my mortification all the way along, and laughing me to scorn
as a man 'ithout breeches! You know how I feel such things, Maister
Farfrae, and how forlorn thoughts get hold upon me. Yes--I shall do
myself harm--I feel it coming on!"

"Get back home, and slip on your breeches, and come to wark like a man!
If ye go not, you'll ha'e your death standing there!"

"I'm afeard I mustn't! Mr. Henchard said----"

"I don't care what Mr. Henchard said, nor anybody else! 'Tis simple
foolishness to do this. Go and dress yourself instantly Whittle."

"Hullo, hullo!" said Henchard, coming up behind. "Who's sending him
back?"

All the men looked towards Farfrae.

"I am," said Donald. "I say this joke has been carried far enough."

"And I say it hasn't! Get up in the waggon, Whittle."

"Not if I am manager," said Farfrae. "He either goes home, or I march
out of this yard for good."

Henchard looked at him with a face stern and red. But he paused for
a moment, and their eyes met. Donald went up to him, for he saw in
Henchard's look that he began to regret this.

"Come," said Donald quietly, "a man o' your position should ken better,
sir! It is tyrannical and no worthy of you."

"'Tis not tyrannical!" murmured Henchard, like a sullen boy. "It is to
make him remember!" He presently added, in a tone of one bitterly hurt:
"Why did you speak to me before them like that, Farfrae? You might have
stopped till we were alone. Ah--I know why! I've told ye the secret o'
my life--fool that I was to do't--and you take advantage of me!"

"I had forgot it," said Farfrae simply.

Henchard looked on the ground, said nothing more, and turned away.
During the day Farfrae learnt from the men that Henchard had kept Abel's
old mother in coals and snuff all the previous winter, which made him
less antagonistic to the corn-factor. But Henchard continued moody and
silent, and when one of the men inquired of him if some oats should be
hoisted to an upper floor or not, he said shortly, "Ask Mr. Farfrae.
He's master here!"

Morally he was; there could be no doubt of it. Henchard, who had
hitherto been the most admired man in his circle, was the most admired
no longer. One day the daughters of a deceased farmer in Durnover wanted
an opinion of the value of their haystack, and sent a messenger to ask
Mr. Farfrae to oblige them with one. The messenger, who was a child, met
in the yard not Farfrae, but Henchard.

"Very well," he said. "I'll come."

"But please will Mr. Farfrae come?" said the child.

"I am going that way....Why Mr. Farfrae?" said Henchard, with the fixed
look of thought. "Why do people always want Mr. Farfrae?"

"I suppose because they like him so--that's what they say."

"Oh--I see--that's what they say--hey? They like him because he's
cleverer than Mr. Henchard, and because he knows more; and, in short,
Mr. Henchard can't hold a candle to him--hey?"

"Yes--that's just it, sir--some of it."

"Oh, there's more? Of course there's more! What besides? Come, here's a
sixpence for a fairing."

"'And he's better tempered, and Henchard's a fool to him,' they say.
And when some of the women were a-walking home they said, 'He's a
diment--he's a chap o' wax--he's the best--he's the horse for my money,'
says they. And they said, 'He's the most understanding man o' them two
by long chalks. I wish he was the master instead of Henchard,' they
said."

"They'll talk any nonsense," Henchard replied with covered gloom. "Well,
you can go now. And I am coming to value the hay, d'ye hear?--I." The
boy departed, and Henchard murmured, "Wish he were master here, do
they?"

He went towards Durnover. On his way he overtook Farfrae. They walked on
together, Henchard looking mostly on the ground.

"You're no yoursel' the day?" Donald inquired.

"Yes, I am very well," said Henchard.

"But ye are a bit down--surely ye are down? Why, there's nothing to be
angry about! 'Tis splendid stuff that we've got from Blackmoor Vale. By
the by, the people in Durnover want their hay valued."

"Yes. I am going there."

"I'll go with ye."

As Henchard did not reply Donald practised a piece of music sotto voce,
till, getting near the bereaved people's door, he stopped himself with--

"Ah, as their father is dead I won't go on with such as that. How could
I forget?"

"Do you care so very much about hurting folks' feelings?" observed
Henchard with a half sneer. "You do, I know--especially mine!"

"I am sorry if I have hurt yours, sir," replied Donald, standing still,
with a second expression of the same sentiment in the regretfulness of
his face. "Why should you say it--think it?"

The cloud lifted from Henchard's brow, and as Donald finished the
corn-merchant turned to him, regarding his breast rather than his face.

"I have been hearing things that vexed me," he said. "'Twas that made me
short in my manner--made me overlook what you really are. Now, I don't
want to go in here about this hay--Farfrae, you can do it better than I.
They sent for 'ee, too. I have to attend a meeting of the Town Council
at eleven, and 'tis drawing on for't."

They parted thus in renewed friendship, Donald forbearing to ask
Henchard for meanings that were not very plain to him. On Henchard's
part there was now again repose; and yet, whenever he thought of
Farfrae, it was with a dim dread; and he often regretted that he had
told the young man his whole heart, and confided to him the secrets of
his life.




16.


On this account Henchard's manner towards Farfrae insensibly became
more reserved. He was courteous--too courteous--and Farfrae was quite
surprised at the good breeding which now for the first time
showed itself among the qualities of a man he had hitherto thought
undisciplined, if warm and sincere. The corn-factor seldom or never
again put his arm upon the young man's shoulder so as to nearly weigh
him down with the pressure of mechanized friendship. He left off coming
to Donald's lodgings and shouting into the passage. "Hoy, Farfrae,
boy, come and have some dinner with us! Don't sit here in solitary
confinement!" But in the daily routine of their business there was
little change.

Thus their lives rolled on till a day of public rejoicing was suggested
to the country at large in celebration of a national event that had
recently taken place.

For some time Casterbridge, by nature slow, made no response. Then one
day Donald Farfrae broached the subject to Henchard by asking if he
would have any objection to lend some rick-cloths to himself and a few
others, who contemplated getting up an entertainment of some sort on
the day named, and required a shelter for the same, to which they might
charge admission at the rate of so much a head.

"Have as many cloths as you like," Henchard replied.

When his manager had gone about the business Henchard was fired with
emulation. It certainly had been very remiss of him, as Mayor, he
thought, to call no meeting ere this, to discuss what should be done on
this holiday. But Farfrae had been so cursed quick in his movements as
to give oldfashioned people in authority no chance of the initiative.
However, it was not too late; and on second thoughts he determined
to take upon his own shoulders the responsibility of organizing some
amusements, if the other Councilmen would leave the matter in his hands.
To this they quite readily agreed, the majority being fine old crusted
characters who had a decided taste for living without worry.

So Henchard set about his preparations for a really brilliant
thing--such as should be worthy of the venerable town. As for Farfrae's
little affair, Henchard nearly forgot it; except once now and then when,
on it coming into his mind, he said to himself, "Charge admission at
so much a head--just like a Scotchman!--who is going to pay anything
a head?" The diversions which the Mayor intended to provide were to be
entirely free.

He had grown so dependent upon Donald that he could scarcely resist
calling him in to consult. But by sheer self-coercion he refrained. No,
he thought, Farfrae would be suggesting such improvements in his damned
luminous way that in spite of himself he, Henchard, would sink to the
position of second fiddle, and only scrape harmonies to his manager's
talents.

Everybody applauded the Mayor's proposed entertainment, especially when
it became known that he meant to pay for it all himself.

Close to the town was an elevated green spot surrounded by an ancient
square earthwork--earthworks square and not square, were as common as
blackberries hereabout--a spot whereon the Casterbridge people usually
held any kind of merry-making, meeting, or sheep-fair that required more
space than the streets would afford. On one side it sloped to the river
Froom, and from any point a view was obtained of the country round
for many miles. This pleasant upland was to be the scene of Henchard's
exploit.

He advertised about the town, in long posters of a pink colour, that
games of all sorts would take place here; and set to work a little
battalion of men under his own eye. They erected greasy-poles for
climbing, with smoked hams and local cheeses at the top. They placed
hurdles in rows for jumping over; across the river they laid a slippery
pole, with a live pig of the neighbourhood tied at the other end, to
become the property of the man who could walk over and get it. There
were also provided wheelbarrows for racing, donkeys for the same, a
stage for boxing, wrestling, and drawing blood generally; sacks for
jumping in. Moreover, not forgetting his principles, Henchard provided a
mammoth tea, of which everybody who lived in the borough was invited to
partake without payment. The tables were laid parallel with the inner
slope of the rampart, and awnings were stretched overhead.

Passing to and fro the Mayor beheld the unattractive exterior of
Farfrae's erection in the West Walk, rick-cloths of different sizes
and colours being hung up to the arching trees without any regard to
appearance. He was easy in his mind now, for his own preparations far
transcended these.

The morning came. The sky, which had been remarkably clear down to
within a day or two, was overcast, and the weather threatening, the wind
having an unmistakable hint of water in it. Henchard wished he had not
been quite so sure about the continuance of a fair season. But it was
too late to modify or postpone, and the proceedings went on. At twelve
o'clock the rain began to fall, small and steady, commencing and
increasing so insensibly that it was difficult to state exactly when dry
weather ended or wet established itself. In an hour the slight moisture
resolved itself into a monotonous smiting of earth by heaven, in
torrents to which no end could be prognosticated.

A number of people had heroically gathered in the field but by three
o'clock Henchard discerned that his project was doomed to end in
failure. The hams at the top of the poles dripped watered smoke in the
form of a brown liquor, the pig shivered in the wind, the grain of the
deal tables showed through the sticking tablecloths, for the awning
allowed the rain to drift under at its will, and to enclose the sides
at this hour seemed a useless undertaking. The landscape over the
river disappeared; the wind played on the tent-cords in aeolian
improvisations, and at length rose to such a pitch that the whole
erection slanted to the ground those who had taken shelter within it
having to crawl out on their hands and knees.

But towards six the storm abated, and a drier breeze shook the moisture
from the grass bents. It seemed possible to carry out the programme
after all. The awning was set up again; the band was called out from its
shelter, and ordered to begin, and where the tables had stood a place
was cleared for dancing.

"But where are the folk?" said Henchard, after the lapse of
half-an-hour, during which time only two men and a woman had stood up to
dance. "The shops are all shut. Why don't they come?"

"They are at Farfrae's affair in the West Walk," answered a Councilman
who stood in the field with the Mayor.

"A few, I suppose. But where are the body o 'em?"

"All out of doors are there."

"Then the more fools they!"

Henchard walked away moodily. One or two young fellows gallantly came to
climb the poles, to save the hams from being wasted; but as there
were no spectators, and the whole scene presented the most melancholy
appearance Henchard gave orders that the proceedings were to be
suspended, and the entertainment closed, the food to be distributed
among the poor people of the town. In a short time nothing was left in
the field but a few hurdles, the tents, and the poles.

Henchard returned to his house, had tea with his wife and daughter, and
then walked out. It was now dusk. He soon saw that the tendency of all
promenaders was towards a particular spot in the Walks, and eventually
proceeded thither himself. The notes of a stringed band came from the
enclosure that Farfrae had erected--the pavilion as he called it--and
when the Mayor reached it he perceived that a gigantic tent had been
ingeniously constructed without poles or ropes. The densest point of the
avenue of sycamores had been selected, where the boughs made a closely
interlaced vault overhead; to these boughs the canvas had been hung, and
a barrel roof was the result. The end towards the wind was enclosed, the
other end was open. Henchard went round and saw the interior.

In form it was like the nave of a cathedral with one gable removed, but
the scene within was anything but devotional. A reel or fling of some
sort was in progress; and the usually sedate Farfrae was in the midst of
the other dancers in the costume of a wild Highlander, flinging himself
about and spinning to the tune. For a moment Henchard could not help
laughing. Then he perceived the immense admiration for the Scotchman
that revealed itself in the women's faces; and when this exhibition was
over, and a new dance proposed, and Donald had disappeared for a time to
return in his natural garments, he had an unlimited choice of partners,
every girl being in a coming-on disposition towards one who so
thoroughly understood the poetry of motion as he.

All the town crowded to the Walk, such a delightful idea of a ballroom
never having occurred to the inhabitants before. Among the rest of the
onlookers were Elizabeth and her mother--the former thoughtful yet
much interested, her eyes beaming with a longing lingering light, as
if Nature had been advised by Correggio in their creation. The dancing
progressed with unabated spirit, and Henchard walked and waited till
his wife should be disposed to go home. He did not care to keep in the
light, and when he went into the dark it was worse, for there he heard
remarks of a kind which were becoming too frequent:

"Mr. Henchard's rejoicings couldn't say good morning to this," said one.
"A man must be a headstrong stunpoll to think folk would go up to that
bleak place to-day."

The other answered that people said it was not only in such things as
those that the Mayor was wanting. "Where would his business be if
it were not for this young fellow? 'Twas verily Fortune sent him to
Henchard. His accounts were like a bramblewood when Mr. Farfrae came.
He used to reckon his sacks by chalk strokes all in a row like
garden-palings, measure his ricks by stretching with his arms, weigh his
trusses by a lift, judge his hay by a chaw, and settle the price with a
curse. But now this accomplished young man does it all by ciphering and
mensuration. Then the wheat--that sometimes used to taste so strong
o' mice when made into bread that people could fairly tell the
breed--Farfrae has a plan for purifying, so that nobody would dream the
smallest four-legged beast had walked over it once. O yes, everybody
is full of him, and the care Mr. Henchard has to keep him, to be sure!"
concluded this gentleman.

"But he won't do it for long, good-now," said the other.

"No!" said Henchard to himself behind the tree. "Or if he do, he'll be
honeycombed clean out of all the character and standing that he's built
up in these eighteen year!"

He went back to the dancing pavilion. Farfrae was footing a quaint
little dance with Elizabeth-Jane--an old country thing, the only one she
knew, and though he considerately toned down his movements to suit her
demurer gait, the pattern of the shining little nails in the soles of
his boots became familiar to the eyes of every bystander. The tune
had enticed her into it; being a tune of a busy, vaulting, leaping
sort--some low notes on the silver string of each fiddle, then a
skipping on the small, like running up and down ladders--"Miss M'Leod of
Ayr" was its name, so Mr. Farfrae had said, and that it was very popular
in his own country.

It was soon over, and the girl looked at Henchard for approval; but
he did not give it. He seemed not to see her. "Look here, Farfrae," he
said, like one whose mind was elsewhere, "I'll go to Port-Bredy Great
Market to-morrow myself. You can stay and put things right in your
clothes-box, and recover strength to your knees after your vagaries." He
planted on Donald an antagonistic glare that had begun as a smile.

Some other townsmen came up, and Donald drew aside. "What's this,
Henchard," said Alderman Tubber, applying his thumb to the corn-factor
like a cheese-taster. "An opposition randy to yours, eh? Jack's as good
as his master, eh? Cut ye out quite, hasn't he?"

"You see, Mr. Henchard," said the lawyer, another goodnatured friend,
"where you made the mistake was in going so far afield. You should have
taken a leaf out of his book, and have had your sports in a sheltered
place like this. But you didn't think of it, you see; and he did, and
that's where he's beat you."

"He'll be top-sawyer soon of you two, and carry all afore him," added
jocular Mr. Tubber.

"No," said Henchard gloomily. "He won't be that, because he's shortly
going to leave me." He looked towards Donald, who had come near. "Mr.
Farfrae's time as my manager is drawing to a close--isn't it, Farfrae?"

The young man, who could now read the lines and folds of Henchard's
strongly-traced face as if they were clear verbal inscriptions, quietly
assented; and when people deplored the fact, and asked why it was, he
simply replied that Mr. Henchard no longer required his help.

Henchard went home, apparently satisfied. But in the morning, when his
jealous temper had passed away, his heart sank within him at what he had
said and done. He was the more disturbed when he found that this time
Farfrae was determined to take him at his word.




17.


Elizabeth-Jane had perceived from Henchard's manner that in assenting to
dance she had made a mistake of some kind. In her simplicity she did
not know what it was till a hint from a nodding acquaintance enlightened
her. As the Mayor's step-daughter, she learnt, she had not been quite in
her place in treading a measure amid such a mixed throng as filled the
dancing pavilion.

Thereupon her ears, cheeks, and chin glowed like live coals at the
dawning of the idea that her tastes were not good enough for her
position, and would bring her into disgrace.

This made her very miserable, and she looked about for her mother;
but Mrs. Henchard, who had less idea of conventionality than Elizabeth
herself, had gone away, leaving her daughter to return at her own
pleasure. The latter moved on into the dark dense old avenues, or rather
vaults of living woodwork, which ran along the town boundary, and stood
reflecting.

A man followed in a few minutes, and her face being to-wards the shine
from the tent he recognized her. It was Farfrae--just come from the
dialogue with Henchard which had signified his dismissal.

"And it's you, Miss Newson?--and I've been looking for ye everywhere!"
he said, overcoming a sadness imparted by the estrangement with the
corn-merchant. "May I walk on with you as far as your street-corner?"

She thought there might be something wrong in this, but did not utter
any objection. So together they went on, first down the West Walk, and
then into the Bowling Walk, till Farfrae said, "It's like that I'm going
to leave you soon."

She faltered, "Why?"

"Oh--as a mere matter of business--nothing more. But we'll not concern
ourselves about it--it is for the best. I hoped to have another dance
with you."

She said she could not dance--in any proper way.

"Nay, but you do! It's the feeling for it rather than the learning of
steps that makes pleasant dancers....I fear I offended your father by
getting up this! And now, perhaps, I'll have to go to another part o'
the warrld altogether!"

This seemed such a melancholy prospect that Elizabeth-Jane breathed
a sigh--letting it off in fragments that he might not hear her.
But darkness makes people truthful, and the Scotchman went on
impulsively--perhaps he had heard her after all:

"I wish I was richer, Miss Newson; and your stepfather had not been
offended, I would ask you something in a short time--yes, I would ask
you to-night. But that's not for me!"

What he would have asked her he did not say, and instead of encouraging
him she remained incompetently silent. Thus afraid one of another they
continued their promenade along the walls till they got near the bottom
of the Bowling Walk; twenty steps further and the trees would end,
and the street-corner and lamps appear. In consciousness of this they
stopped.

"I never found out who it was that sent us to Durnover granary on a
fool's errand that day," said Donald, in his undulating tones. "Did ye
ever know yourself, Miss Newson?"

"Never," said she.

"I wonder why they did it!"

"For fun, perhaps."

"Perhaps it was not for fun. It might have been that they thought they
would like us to stay waiting there, talking to one another? Ay, well! I
hope you Casterbridge folk will not forget me if I go."

"That I'm sure we won't!" she said earnestly. "I--wish you wouldn't go
at all."

They had got into the lamplight. "Now, I'll think over that," said
Donald Farfrae. "And I'll not come up to your door; but part from you
here; lest it make your father more angry still."

They parted, Farfrae returning into the dark Bowling Walk, and
Elizabeth-Jane going up the street. Without any consciousness of what
she was doing she started running with all her might till she reached
her father's door. "O dear me--what am I at?" she thought, as she pulled
up breathless.

Indoors she fell to conjecturing the meaning of Farfrae's enigmatic
words about not daring to ask her what he fain would. Elizabeth, that
silent observing woman, had long noted how he was rising in favour among
the townspeople; and knowing Henchard's nature now she had feared that
Farfrae's days as manager were numbered, so that the announcement gave
her little surprise. Would Mr. Farfrae stay in Casterbridge despite his
words and her father's dismissal? His occult breathings to her might be
solvable by his course in that respect.

The next day was windy--so windy that walking in the garden she picked
up a portion of the draft of a letter on business in Donald Farfrae's
writing, which had flown over the wall from the office. The useless
scrap she took indoors, and began to copy the calligraphy, which she
much admired. The letter began "Dear Sir," and presently writing on a
loose slip "Elizabeth-Jane," she laid the latter over "Sir," making the
phrase "Dear Elizabeth-Jane." When she saw the effect a quick red ran up
her face and warmed her through, though nobody was there to see what she
had done. She quickly tore up the slip, and threw it away. After this
she grew cool and laughed at herself, walked about the room, and laughed
again; not joyfully, but distressfully rather.

It was quickly known in Casterbridge that Farfrae and Henchard had
decided to dispense with each other. Elizabeth-Jane's anxiety to know
if Farfrae were going away from the town reached a pitch that disturbed
her, for she could no longer conceal from herself the cause. At length
the news reached her that he was not going to leave the place. A man
following the same trade as Henchard, but on a very small scale, had
sold his business to Farfrae, who was forthwith about to start as corn
and hay merchant on his own account.

Her heart fluttered when she heard of this step of Donald's, proving
that he meant to remain; and yet, would a man who cared one little bit
for her have endangered his suit by setting up a business in opposition
to Mr. Henchard's? Surely not; and it must have been a passing impulse
only which had led him to address her so softly.

To solve the problem whether her appearance on the evening of the dance
were such as to inspire a fleeting love at first sight, she dressed
herself up exactly as she had dressed then--the muslin, the spencer, the
sandals, the para-sol--and looked in the mirror The picture glassed back
was in her opinion, precisely of such a kind as to inspire that fleeting
regard, and no more--"just enough to make him silly, and not enough
to keep him so," she said luminously; and Elizabeth thought, in a much
lower key, that by this time he had discovered how plain and homely was
the informing spirit of that pretty outside.

Hence, when she felt her heart going out to him, she would say to
herself with a mock pleasantry that carried an ache with it, "No, no,
Elizabeth-Jane--such dreams are not for you!" She tried to prevent
herself from seeing him, and thinking of him; succeeding fairly well in
the former attempt, in the latter not so completely.

Henchard, who had been hurt at finding that Farfrae did not mean to
put up with his temper any longer, was incensed beyond measure when
he learnt what the young man had done as an alternative. It was in
the town-hall, after a council meeting, that he first became aware of
Farfrae's coup for establishing himself independently in the town; and
his voice might have been heard as far as the town-pump expressing his
feelings to his fellow councilmen. These tones showed that, though under
a long reign of self-control he had become Mayor and churchwarden and
what not, there was still the same unruly volcanic stuff beneath the
rind of Michael Henchard as when he had sold his wife at Weydon Fair.

"Well, he's a friend of mine, and I'm a friend of his--or if we are not,
what are we? 'Od send, if I've not been his friend, who has, I should
like to know? Didn't he come here without a sound shoe to his voot?
Didn't I keep him here--help him to a living? Didn't I help him to
money, or whatever he wanted? I stuck out for no terms--I said 'Name
your own price.' I'd have shared my last crust with that young fellow
at one time, I liked him so well. And now he's defied me! But damn him,
I'll have a tussle with him now--at fair buying and selling, mind--at
fair buying and selling! And if I can't overbid such a stripling as he,
then I'm not wo'th a varden! We'll show that we know our business as
well as one here and there!"

His friends of the Corporation did not specially respond. Henchard was
less popular now than he had been when nearly two years before, they
had voted him to the chief magistracy on account of his amazing
energy. While they had collectively profited by this quality of the
corn-factor's they had been made to wince individually on more than one
occasion. So he went out of the hall and down the street alone.

Reaching home he seemed to recollect something with a sour satisfaction.
He called Elizabeth-Jane. Seeing how he looked when she entered she
appeared alarmed.

"Nothing to find fault with," he said, observing her concern. "Only I
want to caution you, my dear. That man, Farfrae--it is about him. I've
seen him talking to you two or three times--he danced with 'ee at the
rejoicings, and came home with 'ee. Now, now, no blame to you. But just
harken: Have you made him any foolish promise? Gone the least bit beyond
sniff and snaff at all?"

"No. I have promised him nothing."

"Good. All's well that ends well. I particularly wish you not to see him
again."

"Very well, sir."

"You promise?"

She hesitated for a moment, and then said--

"Yes, if you much wish it."

"I do. He's an enemy to our house!"

When she had gone he sat down, and wrote in a heavy hand to Farfrae
thus:--


SIR,--I make request that henceforth you and my stepdaughter be as
strangers to each other. She on her part has promised to welcome no
more addresses from you; and I trust, therefore, you will not attempt to
force them upon her.

M. HENCHARD.


One would almost have supposed Henchard to have had policy to see
that no better modus vivendi could be arrived at with Farfrae than by
encouraging him to become his son-in-law. But such a scheme for buying
over a rival had nothing to recommend it to the Mayor's headstrong
faculties. With all domestic finesse of that kind he was hopelessly at
variance. Loving a man or hating him, his diplomacy was as wrongheaded
as a buffalo's; and his wife had not ventured to suggest the course
which she, for many reasons, would have welcomed gladly.

Meanwhile Donald Farfrae had opened the gates of commerce on his own
account at a spot on Durnover Hill--as far as possible from Henchard's
stores, and with every intention of keeping clear of his former friend
and employer's customers. There was, it seemed to the younger man, room
for both of them and to spare. The town was small, but the corn and
hay-trade was proportionately large, and with his native sagacity he saw
opportunity for a share of it.

So determined was he to do nothing which should seem like
trade-antagonism to the Mayor that he refused his first customer--a
large farmer of good repute--because Henchard and this man had dealt
together within the preceding three months.

"He was once my friend," said Farfrae, "and it's not for me to take
business from him. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I cannot hurt the
trade of a man who's been so kind to me."

In spite of this praiseworthy course the Scotchman's trade increased.
Whether it were that his northern energy was an overmastering force
among the easy-going Wessex worthies, or whether it was sheer luck, the
fact remained that whatever he touched he prospered in. Like Jacob
in Padan-Aram, he would no sooner humbly limit himself to
the ringstraked-and-spotted exceptions of trade than the
ringstraked-and-spotted would multiply and prevail.

But most probably luck had little to do with it. Character is Fate, said
Novalis, and Farfrae's character was just the reverse of Henchard's,
who might not inaptly be described as Faust has been described--as a
vehement gloomy being who had quitted the ways of vulgar men without
light to guide him on a better way.

Farfrae duly received the request to discontinue attentions to
Elizabeth-Jane. His acts of that kind had been so slight that the
request was almost superfluous. Yet he had felt a considerable interest
in her, and after some cogitation he decided that it would be as well
to enact no Romeo part just then--for the young girl's sake no less than
his own. Thus the incipient attachment was stifled down.

A time came when, avoid collision with his former friend as he might,
Farfrae was compelled, in sheer self-defence, to close with Henchard in
mortal commercial combat. He could no longer parry the fierce attacks
of the latter by simple avoidance. As soon as their war of prices began
everybody was interested, and some few guessed the end. It was, in some
degree, Northern insight matched against Southern doggedness--the dirk
against the cudgel--and Henchard's weapon was one which, if it did not
deal ruin at the first or second stroke, left him afterwards well-nigh
at his antagonist's mercy.

Almost every Saturday they encountered each other amid the crowd of
farmers which thronged about the market-place in the weekly course of
their business. Donald was always ready, and even anxious, to say a few
friendly words, but the Mayor invariably gazed stormfully past him,
like one who had endured and lost on his account, and could in no sense
forgive the wrong; nor did Farfrae's snubbed manner of perplexity at all
appease him. The large farmers, corn-merchants, millers, auctioneers,
and others had each an official stall in the corn-market room, with
their names painted thereon; and when to the familiar series of
"Henchard," "Everdene," "Shiner," "Darton," and so on, was added one
inscribed "Farfrae," in staring new letters, Henchard was stung into
bitterness; like Bellerophon, he wandered away from the crowd, cankered
in soul.

From that day Donald Farfrae's name was seldom mentioned in Henchard's
house. If at breakfast or dinner Elizabeth-Jane's mother inadvertently
alluded to her favourite's movements, the girl would implore her by a
look to be silent; and her husband would say, "What--are you, too, my
enemy?"




18.


There came a shock which had been foreseen for some time by Elizabeth,
as the box passenger foresees the approaching jerk from some channel
across the highway.

Her mother was ill--too unwell to leave her room. Henchard, who treated
her kindly, except in moments of irritation, sent at once for the
richest, busiest doctor, whom he supposed to be the best. Bedtime came,
and they burnt a light all night. In a day or two she rallied.

Elizabeth, who had been staying up, did not appear at breakfast on the
second morning, and Henchard sat down alone. He was startled to see
a letter for him from Jersey in a writing he knew too well, and had
expected least to behold again. He took it up in his hands and looked
at it as at a picture, a vision, a vista of past enactments; and then he
read it as an unimportant finale to conjecture.

The writer said that she at length perceived how impossible it would
be for any further communications to proceed between them now that
his re-marriage had taken place. That such reunion had been the only
straightforward course open to him she was bound to admit.


"On calm reflection, therefore," she went on, "I quite forgive you for
landing me in such a dilemma, remembering that you concealed nothing
before our ill-advised acquaintance; and that you really did set before
me in your grim way the fact of there being a certain risk in intimacy
with you, slight as it seemed to be after fifteen or sixteen years of
silence on your wife's part. I thus look upon the whole as a misfortune
of mine, and not a fault of yours.

"So that, Michael, I must ask you to overlook those letters with which I
pestered you day after day in the heat of my feelings. They were
written whilst I thought your conduct to me cruel; but now I know more
particulars of the position you were in I see how inconsiderate my
reproaches were.

"Now you will, I am sure, perceive that the one condition which will
make any future happiness possible for me is that the past connection
between our lives be kept secret outside this isle. Speak of it I know
you will not; and I can trust you not to write of it. One safe-guard
more remains to be mentioned--that no writings of mine, or trifling
articles belonging to me, should be left in your possession through
neglect or forgetfulness. To this end may I request you to return to
me any such you may have, particularly the letters written in the first
abandonment of feeling.

"For the handsome sum you forwarded to me as a plaster to the wound I
heartily thank you.

"I am now on my way to Bristol, to see my only relative. She is rich,
and I hope will do something for me. I shall return through Casterbridge
and Budmouth, where I shall take the packet-boat. Can you meet me with
the letters and other trifles? I shall be in the coach which changes
horses at the Antelope Hotel at half-past five Wednesday evening; I
shall be wearing a Paisley shawl with a red centre, and thus may easily
be found. I should prefer this plan of receiving them to having them
sent.--I remain still, yours; ever,

"LUCETTA"


Henchard breathed heavily. "Poor thing--better you had not known me!
Upon my heart and soul, if ever I should be left in a position to
carry out that marriage with thee, I OUGHT to do it--I ought to do it,
indeed!"

The contingency that he had in his mind was, of course, the death of
Mrs. Henchard.

As requested, he sealed up Lucetta's letters, and put the parcel aside
till the day she had appointed; this plan of returning them by hand
being apparently a little ruse of the young lady for exchanging a word
or two with him on past times. He would have preferred not to see her;
but deeming that there could be no great harm in acquiescing thus far,
he went at dusk and stood opposite the coach-office.

The evening was chilly, and the coach was late. Henchard crossed over to
it while the horses were being changed; but there was no Lucetta
inside or out. Concluding that something had happened to modify her
arrangements he gave the matter up and went home, not without a sense of
relief. Meanwhile Mrs. Henchard was weakening visibly. She could not
go out of doors any more. One day, after much thinking which seemed to
distress her, she said she wanted to write something. A desk was put
upon her bed with pen and paper, and at her request she was left alone.
She remained writing for a short time, folded her paper carefully,
called Elizabeth-Jane to bring a taper and wax, and then, still refusing
assistance, sealed up the sheet, directed it, and locked it in her desk.
She had directed it in these words:--

"MR. MICHAEL HENCHARD. NOT TO BE OPENED TILL ELIZABETH-JANE'S
WEDDING-DAY."

The latter sat up with her mother to the utmost of her strength night
after night. To learn to take the universe seriously there is no quicker
way than to watch--to be a "waker," as the country-people call it.
Between the hours at which the last toss-pot went by and the first
sparrow shook himself, the silence in Casterbridge--barring the rare
sound of the watchman--was broken in Elizabeth's ear only by the
time-piece in the bedroom ticking frantically against the clock on the
stairs; ticking harder and harder till it seemed to clang like a gong;
and all this while the subtle-souled girl asking herself why she was
born, why sitting in a room, and blinking at the candle; why things
around her had taken the shape they wore in preference to every other
possible shape. Why they stared at her so helplessly, as if waiting
for the touch of some wand that should release them from terrestrial
constraint; what that chaos called consciousness, which spun in her at
this moment like a top, tended to, and began in. Her eyes fell together;
she was awake, yet she was asleep.

A word from her mother roused her. Without preface, and as the
continuation of a scene already progressing in her mind, Mrs. Henchard
said: "You remember the note sent to you and Mr. Farfrae--asking you to
meet some one in Durnover Barton--and that you thought it was a trick to
make fools of you?"

"Yes."

"It was not to make fools of you--it was done to bring you together.
'Twas I did it."

"Why?" said Elizabeth, with a start.

"I--wanted you to marry Mr. Farfrae."

"O mother!" Elizabeth-Jane bent down her head so much that she looked
quite into her own lap. But as her mother did not go on, she said, "What
reason?"

"Well, I had a reason. 'Twill out one day. I wish it could have been in
my time! But there--nothing is as you wish it! Henchard hates him."

"Perhaps they'll be friends again," murmured the girl.

"I don't know--I don't know." After this her mother was silent, and
dozed; and she spoke on the subject no more.

Some little time later on Farfrae was passing Henchard's house on a
Sunday morning, when he observed that the blinds were all down. He rang
the bell so softly that it only sounded a single full note and a
small one; and then he was informed that Mrs. Henchard was dead--just
dead--that very hour.

At the town-pump there were gathered when he passed a few old
inhabitants, who came there for water whenever they had, as at present,
spare time to fetch it, because it was purer from that original fount
than from their own wells. Mrs. Cuxsom, who had been standing there for
an indefinite time with her pitcher, was describing the incidents of
Mrs. Henchard's death, as she had learnt them from the nurse.

"And she was white as marble-stone," said Mrs. Cuxsom. "And likewise
such a thoughtful woman, too--ah, poor soul--that a' minded every little
thing that wanted tending. 'Yes,' says she, 'when I'm gone, and my last
breath's blowed, look in the top drawer o' the chest in the back room
by the window, and you'll find all my coffin clothes, a piece of
flannel--that's to put under me, and the little piece is to put under my
head; and my new stockings for my feet--they are folded alongside, and
all my other things. And there's four ounce pennies, the heaviest I
could find, a-tied up in bits of linen, for weights--two for my right
eye and two for my left,' she said. 'And when you've used 'em, and my
eyes don't open no more, bury the pennies, good souls and don't ye go
spending 'em, for I shouldn't like it. And open the windows as soon as I
am carried out, and make it as cheerful as you can for Elizabeth-Jane.'"

"Ah, poor heart!"

"Well, and Martha did it, and buried the ounce pennies in the garden.
But if ye'll believe words, that man, Christopher Coney, went and dug
'em up, and spent 'em at the Three Mariners. 'Faith,' he said, 'why
should death rob life o' fourpence? Death's not of such good report that
we should respect 'en to that extent,' says he."

"'Twas a cannibal deed!" deprecated her listeners.

"Gad, then I won't quite ha'e it," said Solomon Longways. "I say it
to-day, and 'tis a Sunday morning, and I wouldn't speak wrongfully for
a zilver zixpence at such a time. I don't see noo harm in it. To respect
the dead is sound doxology; and I wouldn't sell skellintons--leastwise
respectable skellintons--to be varnished for 'natomies, except I were
out o' work. But money is scarce, and throats get dry. Why SHOULD death
rob life o' fourpence? I say there was no treason in it."

"Well, poor soul; she's helpless to hinder that or anything now,"
answered Mother Cuxsom. "And all her shining keys will be took from her,
and her cupboards opened; and little things a' didn't wish seen, anybody
will see; and her wishes and ways will all be as nothing!"




19.


Henchard and Elizabeth sat conversing by the fire. It was three weeks
after Mrs. Henchard's funeral, the candles were not lighted, and a
restless, acrobatic flame, poised on a coal, called from the shady walls
the smiles of all shapes that could respond--the old pier-glass, with
gilt columns and huge entablature, the picture-frames, sundry knobs and
handles, and the brass rosette at the bottom of each riband bell-pull on
either side of the chimney-piece.

"Elizabeth, do you think much of old times?" said Henchard.

"Yes, sir; often," she said.

"Who do you put in your pictures of 'em?"

"Mother and father--nobody else hardly."

Henchard always looked like one bent on resisting pain when
Elizabeth-Jane spoke of Richard Newson as "father." "Ah! I am out of all
that, am I not?" he said.... "Was Newson a kind father?"

"Yes, sir; very."

Henchard's face settled into an expression of stolid loneliness which
gradually modulated into something softer. "Suppose I had been your real
father?" he said. "Would you have cared for me as much as you cared for
Richard Newson?"

"I can't think it," she said quickly. "I can think of no other as my
father, except my father."

Henchard's wife was dissevered from him by death; his friend and helper
Farfrae by estrangement; Elizabeth-Jane by ignorance. It seemed to him
that only one of them could possibly be recalled, and that was the girl.
His mind began vibrating between the wish to reveal himself to her and
the policy of leaving well alone, till he could no longer sit still. He
walked up and down, and then he came and stood behind her chair, looking
down upon the top of her head. He could no longer restrain his impulse.
"What did your mother tell you about me--my history?" he asked.

"That you were related by marriage."

"She should have told more--before you knew me! Then my task would not
have been such a hard one....Elizabeth, it is I who am your father, and
not Richard Newson. Shame alone prevented your wretched parents from
owning this to you while both of 'em were alive."

The back of Elizabeth's head remained still, and her shoulders did not
denote even the movements of breathing. Henchard went on: "I'd rather
have your scorn, your fear, anything than your ignorance; 'tis that I
hate! Your mother and I were man and wife when we were young. What you
saw was our second marriage. Your mother was too honest. We had thought
each other dead--and--Newson became her husband."

This was the nearest approach Henchard could make to the full truth. As
far as he personally was concerned he would have screened nothing;
but he showed a respect for the young girl's sex and years worthy of a
better man.

When he had gone on to give details which a whole series of slight and
unregarded incidents in her past life strangely corroborated; when, in
short, she believed his story to be true, she became greatly agitated,
and turning round to the table flung her face upon it weeping.

"Don't cry--don't cry!" said Henchard, with vehement pathos, "I can't
bear it, I won't bear it. I am your father; why should you cry? Am I so
dreadful, so hateful to 'ee? Don't take against me, Elizabeth-Jane!"
he cried, grasping her wet hand. "Don't take against me--though I was a
drinking man once, and used your mother roughly--I'll be kinder to you
than HE was! I'll do anything, if you will only look upon me as your
father!"

She tried to stand up and comfort him trustfully; but she could not; she
was troubled at his presence, like the brethren at the avowal of Joseph.

"I don't want you to come to me all of a sudden," said Henchard in
jerks, and moving like a great tree in a wind. "No, Elizabeth, I don't.
I'll go away and not see you till to-morrow, or when you like, and then
I'll show 'ee papers to prove my words. There, I am gone, and won't
disturb you any more....'Twas I that chose your name, my daughter; your
mother wanted it Susan. There, don't forget 'twas I gave you your name!"
He went out at the door and shut her softly in, and she heard him go
away into the garden. But he had not done. Before she had moved, or in
any way recovered from the effect of his disclosure, he reappeared.

"One word more, Elizabeth," he said. "You'll take my surname now--hey?
Your mother was against it, but it will be much more pleasant to me.
'Tis legally yours, you know. But nobody need know that. You shall take
it as if by choice. I'll talk to my lawyer--I don't know the law of it
exactly; but will you do this--let me put a few lines into the newspaper
that such is to be your name?"

"If it is my name I must have it, mustn't I?" she asked.

"Well, well; usage is everything in these matters."

"I wonder why mother didn't wish it?"

"Oh, some whim of the poor soul's. Now get a bit of paper and draw up a
paragraph as I shall tell you. But let's have a light."

"I can see by the firelight," she answered. "Yes--I'd rather."

"Very well."

She got a piece of paper, and bending over the fender wrote at
his dictation words which he had evidently got by heart from some
advertisement or other--words to the effect that she, the writer,
hitherto known as Elizabeth-Jane Newson, was going to call herself
Elizabeth-Jane Henchard forthwith. It was done, and fastened up, and
directed to the office of the Casterbridge Chronicle.

"Now," said Henchard, with the blaze of satisfaction that he always
emitted when he had carried his point--though tenderness softened it
this time--"I'll go upstairs and hunt for some documents that will
prove it all to you. But I won't trouble you with them till to-morrow.
Good-night, my Elizabeth-Jane!"

He was gone before the bewildered girl could realize what it all
meant, or adjust her filial sense to the new center of gravity. She was
thankful that he had left her to herself for the evening, and sat down
over the fire. Here she remained in silence, and wept--not for her
mother now, but for the genial sailor Richard Newson, to whom she seemed
doing a wrong.

Henchard in the meantime had gone upstairs. Papers of a domestic nature
he kept in a drawer in his bedroom, and this he unlocked. Before turning
them over he leant back and indulged in reposeful thought. Elizabeth was
his at last and she was a girl of such good sense and kind heart that
she would be sure to like him. He was the kind of man to whom some
human object for pouring out his heart upon--were it emotive or were
it choleric--was almost a necessity. The craving for his heart for the
re-establishment of this tenderest human tie had been great during
his wife's lifetime, and now he had submitted to its mastery without
reluctance and without fear. He bent over the drawer again, and
proceeded in his search.

Among the other papers had been placed the contents of his wife's little
desk, the keys of which had been handed to him at her request. Here was
the letter addressed to him with the restriction, "NOT TO BE OPENED TILL
ELIZABETH-JANE'S WEDDING-DAY."

Mrs. Henchard, though more patient than her husband, had been no
practical hand at anything. In sealing up the sheet, which was folded
and tucked in without an envelope, in the old-fashioned way, she had
overlaid the junction with a large mass of wax without the requisite
under-touch of the same. The seal had cracked, and the letter was open.
Henchard had no reason to suppose the restriction one of serious weight,
and his feeling for his late wife had not been of the nature of deep
respect. "Some trifling fancy or other of poor Susan's, I suppose," he
said; and without curiosity he allowed his eyes to scan the letter:--


MY DEAR MICHAEL,--For the good of all three of us I have kept one thing
a secret from you till now. I hope you will understand why; I think you
will; though perhaps you may not forgive me. But, dear Michael, I have
done it for the best. I shall be in my grave when you read this, and
Elizabeth-Jane will have a home. Don't curse me Mike--think of how I was
situated. I can hardly write it, but here it is. Elizabeth-Jane is not
your Elizabeth-Jane--the child who was in my arms when you sold me.
No; she died three months after that, and this living one is my other
husband's. I christened her by the same name we had given to the first,
and she filled up the ache I felt at the other's loss. Michael, I
am dying, and I might have held my tongue; but I could not. Tell her
husband of this or not, as you may judge; and forgive, if you can, a
woman you once deeply wronged, as she forgives you.

SUSAN HENCHARD


Her husband regarded the paper as if it were a window-pane through
which he saw for miles. His lips twitched, and he seemed to compress his
frame, as if to bear better. His usual habit was not to consider whether
destiny were hard upon him or not--the shape of his ideals in cases of
affliction being simply a moody "I am to suffer, I perceive." "This
much scourging, then, it is for me." But now through his passionate head
there stormed this thought--that the blasting disclosure was what he had
deserved.

His wife's extreme reluctance to have the girl's name altered from
Newson to Henchard was now accounted for fully. It furnished another
illustration of that honesty in dishonesty which had characterized her
in other things.

He remained unnerved and purposeless for near a couple of hours; till he
suddenly said, "Ah--I wonder if it is true!"

He jumped up in an impulse, kicked off his slippers, and went with a
candle to the door of Elizabeth-Jane's room, where he put his ear to
the keyhole and listened. She was breathing profoundly. Henchard softly
turned the handle, entered, and shading the light, approached the
bedside. Gradually bringing the light from behind a screening curtain
he held it in such a manner that it fell slantwise on her face without
shining on her eyes. He steadfastly regarded her features.

They were fair: his were dark. But this was an unimportant preliminary.
In sleep there come to the surface buried genealogical facts, ancestral
curves, dead men's traits, which the mobility of daytime animation
screens and overwhelms. In the present statuesque repose of the young
girl's countenance Richard Newson's was unmistakably reflected. He could
not endure the sight of her, and hastened away.

Misery taught him nothing more than defiant endurance of it. His wife
was dead, and the first impulse for revenge died with the thought that
she was beyond him. He looked out at the night as at a fiend. Henchard,
like all his kind, was superstitious, and he could not help thinking
that the concatenation of events this evening had produced was the
scheme of some sinister intelligence bent on punishing him. Yet they
had developed naturally. If he had not revealed his past history to
Elizabeth he would not have searched the drawer for papers, and so on.
The mockery was, that he should have no sooner taught a girl to claim
the shelter of his paternity than he discovered her to have no kinship
with him.

This ironical sequence of things angered him like an impish trick from
a fellow-creature. Like Prester John's, his table had been spread, and
infernal harpies had snatched up the food. He went out of the house, and
moved sullenly onward down the pavement till he came to the bridge at
the bottom of the High Street. Here he turned in upon a bypath on the
river bank, skirting the north-eastern limits of the town.

These precincts embodied the mournful phases of Casterbridge life, as
the south avenues embodied its cheerful moods. The whole way along here
was sunless, even in summer time; in spring, white frosts lingered here
when other places were steaming with warmth; while in winter it was the
seed-field of all the aches, rheumatisms, and torturing cramps of
the year. The Casterbridge doctors must have pined away for want of
sufficient nourishment but for the configuration of the landscape on the
north-eastern side.

The river--slow, noiseless, and dark--the Schwarzwasser of
Casterbridge--ran beneath a low cliff, the two together forming a
defence which had rendered walls and artificial earthworks on this side
unnecessary. Here were ruins of a Franciscan priory, and a mill attached
to the same, the water of which roared down a back-hatch like the voice
of desolation. Above the cliff, and behind the river, rose a pile of
buildings, and in the front of the pile a square mass cut into the sky.
It was like a pedestal lacking its statue. This missing feature, without
which the design remained incomplete, was, in truth, the corpse of a
man, for the square mass formed the base of the gallows, the extensive
buildings at the back being the county gaol. In the meadow where
Henchard now walked the mob were wont to gather whenever an execution
took place, and there to the tune of the roaring weir they stood and
watched the spectacle.

The exaggeration which darkness imparted to the glooms of this region
impressed Henchard more than he had expected. The lugubrious harmony of
the spot with his domestic situation was too perfect for him, impatient
of effects scenes, and adumbrations. It reduced his heartburning to
melancholy, and he exclaimed, "Why the deuce did I come here!" He went
on past the cottage in which the old local hangman had lived and died,
in times before that calling was monopolized over all England by a
single gentleman; and climbed up by a steep back lane into the town.

For the sufferings of that night, engendered by his bitter
disappointment, he might well have been pitied. He was like one who had
half fainted, and could neither recover nor complete the swoon. In words
he could blame his wife, but not in his heart; and had he obeyed the
wise directions outside her letter this pain would have been spared him
for long--possibly for ever, Elizabeth-Jane seeming to show no ambition
to quit her safe and secluded maiden courses for the speculative path of
matrimony.

The morning came after this night of unrest, and with it the necessity
for a plan. He was far too self-willed to recede from a position,
especially as it would involve humiliation. His daughter he had asserted
her to be, and his daughter she should always think herself, no matter
what hyprocrisy it involved.

But he was ill-prepared for the first step in this new situation. The
moment he came into the breakfast-room Elizabeth advanced with open
confidence to him and took him by the arm.

"I have thought and thought all night of it," she said frankly. "And I
see that everything must be as you say. And I am going to look upon you
as the father that you are, and not to call you Mr. Henchard any more.
It is so plain to me now. Indeed, father, it is. For, of course, you
would not have done half the things you have done for me, and let me
have my own way so entirely, and bought me presents, if I had only been
your step-daughter! He--Mr. Newson--whom my poor mother married by such
a strange mistake" (Henchard was glad that he had disguised matters
here), "was very kind--O so kind!" (she spoke with tears in her eyes);
"but that is not the same thing as being one's real father after all.
Now, father, breakfast is ready!" she said cheerfully.

Henchard bent and kissed her cheek. The moment and the act he had
prefigured for weeks with a thrill of pleasure; yet it was no less than
a miserable insipidity to him now that it had come. His reinstation of
her mother had been chiefly for the girl's sake, and the fruition of the
whole scheme was such dust and ashes as this.




20.


Of all the enigmas which ever confronted a girl there can have been
seldom one like that which followed Henchard's announcement of himself
to Elizabeth as her father. He had done it in an ardour and an agitation
which had half carried the point of affection with her; yet, behold,
from the next morning onwards his manner was constrained as she had
never seen it before.

The coldness soon broke out into open chiding. One grievous failing of
Elizabeth's was her occasional pretty and picturesque use of dialect
words--those terrible marks of the beast to the truly genteel.

It was dinner-time--they never met except at meals--and she happened to
say when he was rising from table, wishing to show him something, "If
you'll bide where you be a minute, father, I'll get it."

"'Bide where you be,'" he echoed sharply, "Good God, are you only fit to
carry wash to a pig-trough, that ye use such words as those?"

She reddened with shame and sadness.

"I meant 'Stay where you are,' father," she said, in a low, humble
voice. "I ought to have been more careful."

He made no reply, and went out of the room.

The sharp reprimand was not lost upon her, and in time it came to
pass that for "fay" she said "succeed"; that she no longer spoke of
"dumbledores" but of "humble bees"; no longer said of young men and
women that they "walked together," but that they were "engaged"; that
she grew to talk of "greggles" as "wild hyacinths"; that when she had
not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next morning that she
had been "hag-rid," but that she had "suffered from indigestion."

These improvements, however, are somewhat in advance of the story.
Henchard, being uncultivated himself, was the bitterest critic the fair
girl could possibly have had of her own lapses--really slight now, for
she read omnivorously. A gratuitous ordeal was in store for her in the
matter of her handwriting. She was passing the dining-room door one
evening, and had occasion to go in for something. It was not till she
had opened the door that she knew the Mayor was there in the company of
a man with whom he transacted business.

"Here, Elizabeth-Jane," he said, looking round at her, "just write down
what I tell you--a few words of an agreement for me and this gentleman
to sign. I am a poor tool with a pen."

"Be jowned, and so be I," said the gentleman.

She brought forward blotting-book, paper, and ink, and sat down.

"Now then--'An agreement entered into this sixteenth day of
October'--write that first."

She started the pen in an elephantine march across the sheet. It was a
splendid round, bold hand of her own conception, a style that would have
stamped a woman as Minerva's own in more recent days. But other ideas
reigned then: Henchard's creed was that proper young girls wrote
ladies'-hand--nay, he believed that bristling characters were as innate
and inseparable a part of refined womanhood as sex itself. Hence when,
instead of scribbling, like the Princess Ida,--

     "In such a hand as when a field of corn
     Bows all its ears before the roaring East,"

Elizabeth-Jane produced a line of chain-shot and sand-bags, he reddened
in angry shame for her, and, peremptorily saying, "Never mind--I'll
finish it," dismissed her there and then.

Her considerate disposition became a pitfall to her now. She was, it
must be admitted, sometimes provokingly and unnecessarily willing to
saddle herself with manual labours. She would go to the kitchen instead
of ringing, "Not to make Phoebe come up twice." She went down on
her knees, shovel in hand, when the cat overturned the coal-scuttle;
moreover, she would persistently thank the parlour-maid for everything,
till one day, as soon as the girl was gone from the room, Henchard broke
out with, "Good God, why dostn't leave off thanking that girl as if she
were a goddess-born! Don't I pay her a dozen pound a year to do things
for 'ee?" Elizabeth shrank so visibly at the exclamation that he became
sorry a few minutes after, and said that he did not mean to be rough.

These domestic exhibitions were the small protruding needlerocks which
suggested rather than revealed what was underneath. But his passion had
less terror for her than his coldness. The increasing frequency of the
latter mood told her the sad news that he disliked her with a growing
dislike. The more interesting that her appearance and manners became
under the softening influences which she could now command, and in her
wisdom did command, the more she seemed to estrange him. Sometimes she
caught him looking at her with a louring invidiousness that she could
hardly bear. Not knowing his secret it was cruel mockery that she should
for the first time excite his animosity when she had taken his surname.

But the most terrible ordeal was to come. Elizabeth had latterly
been accustomed of an afternoon to present a cup of cider or ale and
bread-and-cheese to Nance Mockridge, who worked in the yard wimbling
hay-bonds. Nance accepted this offering thankfully at first; afterwards
as a matter of course. On a day when Henchard was on the premises he saw
his step-daughter enter the hay-barn on this errand; and, as there was
no clear spot on which to deposit the provisions, she at once set
to work arranging two trusses of hay as a table, Mockridge meanwhile
standing with her hands on her hips, easefully looking at the
preparations on her behalf.

"Elizabeth, come here!" said Henchard; and she obeyed.

"Why do you lower yourself so confoundedly?" he said with suppressed
passion. "Haven't I told you o't fifty times? Hey? Making yourself a
drudge for a common workwoman of such a character as hers! Why, ye'll
disgrace me to the dust!"

Now these words were uttered loud enough to reach Nance inside the barn
door, who fired up immediately at the slur upon her personal character.
Coming to the door she cried regardless of consequences, "Come to that,
Mr. Henchard, I can let 'ee know she've waited on worse!"

"Then she must have had more charity than sense," said Henchard.

"O no, she hadn't. 'Twere not for charity but for hire; and at a
public-house in this town!"

"It is not true!" cried Henchard indignantly.

"Just ask her," said Nance, folding her naked arms in such a manner that
she could comfortably scratch her elbows.

Henchard glanced at Elizabeth-Jane, whose complexion, now pink and white
from confinement, lost nearly all of the former colour. "What does this
mean?" he said to her. "Anything or nothing?"

"It is true," said Elizabeth-Jane. "But it was only--"

"Did you do it, or didn't you? Where was it?"

"At the Three Mariners; one evening for a little while, when we were
staying there."

Nance glanced triumphantly at Henchard, and sailed into the barn; for
assuming that she was to be discharged on the instant she had resolved
to make the most of her victory. Henchard, however, said nothing about
discharging her. Unduly sensitive on such points by reason of his
own past, he had the look of one completely ground down to the last
indignity. Elizabeth followed him to the house like a culprit; but when
she got inside she could not see him. Nor did she see him again that
day.

Convinced of the scathing damage to his local repute and position that
must have been caused by such a fact, though it had never before reached
his own ears, Henchard showed a positive distaste for the presence of
this girl not his own, whenever he encountered her. He mostly dined with
the farmers at the market-room of one of the two chief hotels, leaving
her in utter solitude. Could he have seen how she made use of those
silent hours he might have found reason to reserve his judgment on
her quality. She read and took notes incessantly, mastering facts with
painful laboriousness, but never flinching from her self-imposed task.
She began the study of Latin, incited by the Roman characteristics of
the town she lived in. "If I am not well-informed it shall be by no
fault of my own," she would say to herself through the tears that would
occasionally glide down her peachy cheeks when she was fairly baffled by
the portentous obscurity of many of these educational works.

Thus she lived on, a dumb, deep-feeling, great-eyed creature, construed
by not a single contiguous being; quenching with patient fortitude
her incipient interest in Farfrae, because it seemed to be one-sided,
unmaidenly, and unwise. True, that for reasons best known to herself,
she had, since Farfrae's dismissal, shifted her quarters from the back
room affording a view of the yard (which she had occupied with such
zest) to a front chamber overlooking the street; but as for the young
man, whenever he passed the house he seldom or never turned his head.

Winter had almost come, and unsettled weather made her still more
dependent upon indoor resources. But there were certain early winter
days in Casterbridge--days of firmamental exhaustion which followed
angry south-westerly tempests--when, if the sun shone, the air was like
velvet. She seized on these days for her periodical visits to the spot
where her mother lay buried--the still-used burial-ground of the old
Roman-British city, whose curious feature was this, its continuity as a
place of sepulture. Mrs. Henchard's dust mingled with the dust of women
who lay ornamented with glass hair-pins and amber necklaces, and men who
held in their mouths coins of Hadrian, Posthumus, and the Constantines.

Half-past ten in the morning was about her hour for seeking this spot--a
time when the town avenues were deserted as the avenues of Karnac.
Business had long since passed down them into its daily cells, and
Leisure had not arrived there. So Elizabeth-Jane walked and read,
or looked over the edge of the book to think, and thus reached the
churchyard.

There, approaching her mother's grave she saw a solitary dark figure in
the middle of the gravel-walk. This figure, too, was reading; but not
from a book: the words which engrossed it being the inscription on Mrs.
Henchard's tombstone. The personage was in mourning like herself, was
about her age and size, and might have been her wraith or double, but
for the fact that it was a lady much more beautifully dressed than she.
Indeed, comparatively indifferent as Elizabeth-Jane was to dress,
unless for some temporary whim or purpose, her eyes were arrested by
the artistic perfection of the lady's appearance. Her gait, too, had
a flexuousness about it, which seemed to avoid angularity. It was a
revelation to Elizabeth that human beings could reach this stage of
external development--she had never suspected it. She felt all the
freshness and grace to be stolen from herself on the instant by the
neighbourhood of such a stranger. And this was in face of the fact that
Elizabeth could now have been writ handsome, while the young lady was
simply pretty.

Had she been envious she might have hated the woman; but she did not
do that--she allowed herself the pleasure of feeling fascinated. She
wondered where the lady had come from. The stumpy and practical walk of
honest homeliness which mostly prevailed there, the two styles of dress
thereabout, the simple and the mistaken, equally avouched that
this figure was no Casterbridge woman's, even if a book in her hand
resembling a guide-book had not also suggested it.

The stranger presently moved from the tombstone of Mrs. Henchard, and
vanished behind the corner of the wall. Elizabeth went to the tomb
herself; beside it were two footprints distinct in the soil, signifying
that the lady had stood there a long time. She returned homeward,
musing on what she had seen, as she might have mused on a rainbow or the
Northern Lights, a rare butterfly or a cameo.

Interesting as things had been out of doors, at home it turned out to
be one of her bad days. Henchard, whose two years' mayoralty was ending,
had been made aware that he was not to be chosen to fill a vacancy in
the list of aldermen; and that Farfrae was likely to become one of the
Council. This caused the unfortunate discovery that she had played the
waiting-maid in the town of which he was Mayor to rankle in his mind yet
more poisonously. He had learnt by personal inquiry at the time that
it was to Donald Farfrae--that treacherous upstart--that she had thus
humiliated herself. And though Mrs. Stannidge seemed to attach no great
importance to the incident--the cheerful souls at the Three Mariners
having exhausted its aspects long ago--such was Henchard's haughty
spirit that the simple thrifty deed was regarded as little less than a
social catastrophe by him.

Ever since the evening of his wife's arrival with her daughter there had
been something in the air which had changed his luck. That dinner at the
King's Arms with his friends had been Henchard's Austerlitz: he had had
his successes since, but his course had not been upward. He was not
to be numbered among the aldermen--that Peerage of burghers--as he had
expected to be, and the consciousness of this soured him to-day.

"Well, where have you been?" he said to her with offhand laconism.

"I've been strolling in the Walks and churchyard, father, till I feel
quite leery." She clapped her hand to her mouth, but too late.

This was just enough to incense Henchard after the other crosses of the
day. "I WON'T have you talk like that!" he thundered. "'Leery,' indeed.
One would think you worked upon a farm! One day I learn that you lend
a hand in public-houses. Then I hear you talk like a clodhopper. I'm
burned, if it goes on, this house can't hold us two."

The only way of getting a single pleasant thought to go to sleep upon
after this was by recalling the lady she had seen that day, and hoping
she might see her again.

Meanwhile Henchard was sitting up, thinking over his jealous folly in
forbidding Farfrae to pay his addresses to this girl who did not belong
to him, when if he had allowed them to go on he might not have been
encumbered with her. At last he said to himself with satisfaction as
he jumped up and went to the writing-table: "Ah! he'll think it means
peace, and a marriage portion--not that I don't want my house to be
troubled with her, and no portion at all!" He wrote as follows:--


Sir,--On consideration, I don't wish to interfere with your courtship of
Elizabeth-Jane, if you care for her. I therefore withdraw my objection;
excepting in this--that the business be not carried on in my house.--

Yours, M. HENCHARD Mr. Farfrae.


The morrow, being fairly fine, found Elizabeth-Jane again in the
churchyard, but while looking for the lady she was startled by the
apparition of Farfrae, who passed outside the gate. He glanced up for a
moment from a pocket-book in which he appeared to be making figures as
he went; whether or not he saw her he took no notice, and disappeared.

Unduly depressed by a sense of her own superfluity she thought he
probably scorned her; and quite broken in spirit sat down on a bench.
She fell into painful thought on her position, which ended with her
saying quite loud, "O, I wish I was dead with dear mother!"

Behind the bench was a little promenade under the wall where people
sometimes walked instead of on the gravel. The bench seemed to be
touched by something, she looked round, and a face was bending over her,
veiled, but still distinct, the face of the young woman she had seen
yesterday.

Elizabeth-Jane looked confounded for a moment, knowing she had been
overheard, though there was pleasure in her confusion. "Yes, I heard
you," said the lady, in a vivacious voice, answering her look. "What can
have happened?"

"I don't--I can't tell you," said Elizabeth, putting her hand to her
face to hide a quick flush that had come.

There was no movement or word for a few seconds; then the girl felt that
the young lady was sitting down beside her.

"I guess how it is with you," said the latter. "That was your mother."
She waved her hand towards the tombstone. Elizabeth looked up at her as
if inquiring of herself whether there should be confidence. The lady's
manner was so desirous, so anxious, that the girl decided there should
be confidence. "It was my mother," she said, "my only friend."

"But your father, Mr. Henchard. He is living?"

"Yes, he is living," said Elizabeth-Jane.

"Is he not kind to you?"

"I've no wish to complain of him."

"There has been a disagreement?"

"A little."

"Perhaps you were to blame," suggested the stranger.

"I was--in many ways," sighed the meek Elizabeth. "I swept up the coals
when the servants ought to have done it; and I said I was leery;--and he
was angry with me."

The lady seemed to warm towards her for that reply. "Do you know the
impression your words give me?" she said ingenuously. "That he is a
hot-tempered man--a little proud--perhaps ambitious; but not a bad man."
Her anxiety not to condemn Henchard while siding with Elizabeth was
curious.

"O no; certainly not BAD," agreed the honest girl. "And he has not even
been unkind to me till lately--since mother died. But it has been very
much to bear while it has lasted. All is owing to my defects, I daresay;
and my defects are owing to my history."

"What is your history?"

Elizabeth-Jane looked wistfully at her questioner. She found that her
questioner was looking at her, turned her eyes down; and then seemed
compelled to look back again. "My history is not gay or attractive," she
said. "And yet I can tell it, if you really want to know."

The lady assured her that she did want to know; whereupon Elizabeth-Jane
told the tale of her life as she understood it, which was in general the
true one, except that the sale at the fair had no part therein.

Contrary to the girl's expectation her new friend was not shocked. This
cheered her; and it was not till she thought of returning to that home
in which she had been treated so roughly of late that her spirits fell.

"I don't know how to return," she murmured. "I think of going away. But
what can I do? Where can I go?"

"Perhaps it will be better soon," said her friend gently. "So I would
not go far. Now what do you think of this: I shall soon want somebody to
live in my house, partly as housekeeper, partly as companion; would you
mind coming to me? But perhaps--"

"O yes," cried Elizabeth, with tears in her eyes. "I would, indeed--I
would do anything to be independent; for then perhaps my father might
get to love me. But, ah!"

"What?"

"I am no accomplished person. And a companion to you must be that."

"O, not necessarily."

"Not? But I can't help using rural words sometimes, when I don't mean
to."

"Never mind, I shall like to know them."

"And--O, I know I shan't do!"--she cried with a distressful laugh. "I
accidentally learned to write round hand instead of ladies'-hand. And,
of course, you want some one who can write that?"

"Well, no."

"What, not necessary to write ladies'-hand?" cried the joyous Elizabeth.

"Not at all."

"But where do you live?"

"In Casterbridge, or rather I shall be living here after twelve o'clock
to-day."

Elizabeth expressed her astonishment.

"I have been staying at Budmouth for a few days while my house
was getting ready. The house I am going into is that one they call
High-Place Hall--the old stone one looking down the lane to the market.
Two or three rooms are fit for occupation, though not all: I sleep there
to-night for the first time. Now will you think over my proposal, and
meet me here the first fine day next week, and say if you are still in
the same mind?"

Elizabeth, her eyes shining at this prospect of a change from an
unbearable position, joyfully assented; and the two parted at the gate
of the churchyard.




21.


As a maxim glibly repeated from childhood remains practically unmarked
till some mature experience enforces it, so did this High-Place Hall now
for the first time really show itself to Elizabeth-Jane, though her ears
had heard its name on a hundred occasions.

Her mind dwelt upon nothing else but the stranger, and the house,
and her own chance of living there, all the rest of the day. In the
afternoon she had occasion to pay a few bills in the town and do a
little shopping when she learnt that what was a new discovery to
herself had become a common topic about the streets. High-Place Hall
was undergoing repair; a lady was coming there to live shortly; all the
shop-people knew it, and had already discounted the chance of her being
a customer.

Elizabeth-Jane could, however, add a capping touch to information so new
to her in the bulk. The lady, she said, had arrived that day.

When the lamps were lighted, and it was yet not so dark as to render
chimneys, attics, and roofs invisible, Elizabeth, almost with a lover's
feeling, thought she would like to look at the outside of High-Place
Hall. She went up the street in that direction.

The Hall, with its grey facade and parapet, was the only residence of
its sort so near the centre of the town. It had, in the first place, the
characteristics of a country mansion--birds' nests in its chimneys,
damp nooks where fungi grew and irregularities of surface direct from
Nature's trowel. At night the forms of passengers were patterned by the
lamps in black shadows upon the pale walls.

This evening motes of straw lay around, and other signs of the premises
having been in that lawless condition which accompanies the entry of a
new tenant. The house was entirely of stone, and formed an example of
dignity without great size. It was not altogether aristocratic, still
less consequential, yet the old-fashioned stranger instinctively said
"Blood built it, and Wealth enjoys it" however vague his opinions of
those accessories might be.

Yet as regards the enjoying it the stranger would have been wrong, for
until this very evening, when the new lady had arrived, the house had
been empty for a year or two while before that interval its occupancy
had been irregular. The reason of its unpopularity was soon made
manifest. Some of its rooms overlooked the market-place; and such a
prospect from such a house was not considered desirable or seemly by its
would-be occupiers.

Elizabeth's eyes sought the upper rooms, and saw lights there. The lady
had obviously arrived. The impression that this woman of comparatively
practised manner had made upon the studious girl's mind was so deep that
she enjoyed standing under an opposite archway merely to think that the
charming lady was inside the confronting walls, and to wonder what
she was doing. Her admiration for the architecture of that front was
entirely on account of the inmate it screened. Though for that matter
the architecture deserved admiration, or at least study, on its own
account. It was Palladian, and like most architecture erected since
the Gothic age was a compilation rather than a design. But its
reasonableness made it impressive. It was not rich, but rich enough. A
timely consciousness of the ultimate vanity of human architecture, no
less than of other human things, had prevented artistic superfluity.

Men had still quite recently been going in and out with parcels
and packing-cases, rendering the door and hall within like a public
thoroughfare. Elizabeth trotted through the open door in the dusk,
but becoming alarmed at her own temerity she went quickly out again by
another which stood open in the lofty wall of the back court. To her
surprise she found herself in one of the little-used alleys of the town.
Looking round at the door which had given her egress, by the light of
the solitary lamp fixed in the alley, she saw that it was arched and
old--older even than the house itself. The door was studded, and the
keystone of the arch was a mask. Originally the mask had exhibited a
comic leer, as could still be discerned; but generations of Casterbridge
boys had thrown stones at the mask, aiming at its open mouth; and the
blows thereon had chipped off the lips and jaws as if they had been
eaten away by disease. The appearance was so ghastly by the weakly
lamp-glimmer that she could not bear to look at it--the first unpleasant
feature of her visit.

The position of the queer old door and the odd presence of the leering
mask suggested one thing above all others as appertaining to the
mansion's past history--intrigue. By the alley it had been possible to
come unseen from all sorts of quarters in the town--the old play-house,
the old bull-stake, the old cock-pit, the pool wherein nameless
infants had been used to disappear. High-Place Hall could boast of its
conveniences undoubtedly.

She turned to come away in the nearest direction homeward, which was
down the alley, but hearing footsteps approaching in that quarter, and
having no great wish to be found in such a place at such a time she
quickly retreated. There being no other way out she stood behind a brick
pier till the intruder should have gone his ways.

Had she watched she would have been surprised. She would have seen that
the pedestrian on coming up made straight for the arched doorway: that
as he paused with his hand upon the latch the lamplight fell upon the
face of Henchard.

But Elizabeth-Jane clung so closely to her nook that she discerned
nothing of this. Henchard passed in, as ignorant of her presence as she
was ignorant of his identity, and disappeared in the darkness. Elizabeth
came out a second time into the alley, and made the best of her way
home.

Henchard's chiding, by begetting in her a nervous fear of doing anything
definable as unladylike, had operated thus curiously in keeping them
unknown to each other at a critical moment. Much might have resulted
from recognition--at the least a query on either side in one and the
selfsame form: What could he or she possibly be doing there?

Henchard, whatever his business at the lady's house, reached his own
home only a few minutes later than Elizabeth-Jane. Her plan was to
broach the question of leaving his roof this evening; the events of the
day had urged her to the course. But its execution depended upon his
mood, and she anxiously awaited his manner towards her. She found that
it had changed. He showed no further tendency to be angry; he
showed something worse. Absolute indifference had taken the place
of irritability; and his coldness was such that it encouraged her to
departure, even more than hot temper could have done.

"Father, have you any objection to my going away?" she asked.

"Going away! No--none whatever. Where are you going?"

She thought it undesirable and unnecessary to say anything at present
about her destination to one who took so little interest in her. He
would know that soon enough. "I have heard of an opportunity of getting
more cultivated and finished, and being less idle," she answered,
with hesitation. "A chance of a place in a household where I can have
advantages of study, and seeing refined life."

"Then make the best of it, in Heaven's name--if you can't get cultivated
where you are."

"You don't object?"

"Object--I? Ho--no! Not at all." After a pause he said, "But you won't
have enough money for this lively scheme without help, you know? If you
like I should be willing to make you an allowance, so that you not be
bound to live upon the starvation wages refined folk are likely to pay
'ee."

She thanked him for this offer.

"It had better be done properly," he added after a pause. "A small
annuity is what I should like you to have--so as to be independent of
me--and so that I may be independent of you. Would that please ye?"

"Certainly."

"Then I'll see about it this very day." He seemed relieved to get her
off his hands by this arrangement, and as far as they were concerned the
matter was settled. She now simply waited to see the lady again.

The day and the hour came; but a drizzling rain fell. Elizabeth-Jane
having now changed her orbit from one of gay independence to laborious
self-help, thought the weather good enough for such declined glory as
hers, if her friend would only face it--a matter of doubt. She went to
the boot-room where her pattens had hung ever since her apotheosis; took
them down, had their mildewed leathers blacked, and put them on as she
had done in old times. Thus mounted, and with cloak and umbrella, she
went off to the place of appointment--intending, if the lady were not
there, to call at the house.

One side of the churchyard--the side towards the weather--was sheltered
by an ancient thatched mud wall whose eaves overhung as much as one or
two feet. At the back of the wall was a corn-yard with its granary and
barns--the place wherein she had met Farfrae many months earlier. Under
the projection of the thatch she saw a figure. The young lady had come.

Her presence so exceptionally substantiated the girl's utmost hopes that
she almost feared her good fortune. Fancies find rooms in the strongest
minds. Here, in a churchyard old as civilization, in the worst of
weathers, was a strange woman of curious fascinations never seen
elsewhere: there might be some devilry about her presence. However,
Elizabeth went on to the church tower, on whose summit the rope of a
flagstaff rattled in the wind; and thus she came to the wall.

The lady had such a cheerful aspect in the drizzle that Elizabeth forgot
her fancy. "Well," said the lady, a little of the whiteness of her teeth
appearing with the word through the black fleece that protected her
face, "have you decided?"

"Yes, quite," said the other eagerly.

"Your father is willing?"

"Yes."

"Then come along."

"When?"

"Now--as soon as you like. I had a good mind to send to you to come to
my house, thinking you might not venture up here in the wind. But as I
like getting out of doors, I thought I would come and see first."

"It was my own thought."

"That shows we shall agree. Then can you come to-day? My house is so
hollow and dismal that I want some living thing there."

"I think I might be able to," said the girl, reflecting.

Voices were borne over to them at that instant on the wind and raindrops
from the other side of the wall. There came such words as "sacks,"
"quarters," "threshing," "tailing," "next Saturday's market," each
sentence being disorganized by the gusts like a face in a cracked
mirror. Both the women listened.

"Who are those?" said the lady.

"One is my father. He rents that yard and barn."

The lady seemed to forget the immediate business in listening to the
technicalities of the corn trade. At last she said suddenly, "Did you
tell him where you were going to?"

"No."

"O--how was that?"

"I thought it safer to get away first--as he is so uncertain in his
temper."

"Perhaps you are right....Besides, I have never told you my name. It is
Miss Templeman....Are they gone--on the other side?"

"No. They have only gone up into the granary."

"Well, it is getting damp here. I shall expect you to-day--this evening,
say, at six."

"Which way shall I come, ma'am?"

"The front way--round by the gate. There is no other that I have
noticed."

Elizabeth-Jane had been thinking of the door in the alley.

"Perhaps, as you have not mentioned your destination, you may as well
keep silent upon it till you are clear off. Who knows but that he may
alter his mind?"

Elizabeth-Jane shook her head. "On consideration I don't fear it," she
said sadly. "He has grown quite cold to me."

"Very well. Six o'clock then."

When they had emerged upon the open road and parted, they found enough
to do in holding their bowed umbrellas to the wind. Nevertheless the
lady looked in at the corn-yard gates as she passed them, and paused on
one foot for a moment. But nothing was visible there save the ricks, and
the humpbacked barn cushioned with moss, and the granary rising against
the church-tower behind, where the smacking of the rope against the
flag-staff still went on.

Now Henchard had not the slightest suspicion that Elizabeth-Jane's
movement was to be so prompt. Hence when, just before six, he
reached home and saw a fly at the door from the King's Arms, and his
step-daughter, with all her little bags and boxes, getting into it, he
was taken by surprise.

"But you said I might go, father?" she explained through the carriage
window.

"Said!--yes. But I thought you meant next month, or next year. 'Od,
seize it--you take time by the forelock! This, then, is how you be going
to treat me for all my trouble about ye?"

"O father! how can you speak like that? It is unjust of you!" she said
with spirit.

"Well, well, have your own way," he replied. He entered the house, and,
seeing that all her things had not yet been brought down, went up to
her room to look on. He had never been there since she had occupied it.
Evidences of her care, of her endeavours for improvement, were
visible all around, in the form of books, sketches, maps, and little
arrangements for tasteful effects. Henchard had known nothing of these
efforts. He gazed at them, turned suddenly about, and came down to the
door.

"Look here," he said, in an altered voice--he never called her by
name now--"don't 'ee go away from me. It may be I've spoke roughly to
you--but I've been grieved beyond everything by you--there's something
that caused it."

"By me?" she said, with deep concern. "What have I done?"

"I can't tell you now. But if you'll stop, and go on living as my
daughter, I'll tell you all in time."

But the proposal had come ten minutes too late. She was in the fly--was
already, in imagination, at the house of the lady whose manner had such
charms for her. "Father," she said, as considerately as she could, "I
think it best for us that I go on now. I need not stay long; I shall not
be far away, and if you want me badly I can soon come back again."

He nodded ever so slightly, as a receipt of her decision and no more.
"You are not going far, you say. What will be your address, in case I
wish to write to you? Or am I not to know?"

"Oh yes--certainly. It is only in the town--High-Place Hall!"

"Where?" said Henchard, his face stilling.

She repeated the words. He neither moved nor spoke, and waving her hand
to him in utmost friendliness she signified to the flyman to drive up
the street.




22.


We go back for a moment to the preceding night, to account for
Henchard's attitude.

At the hour when Elizabeth-Jane was contemplating her stealthy
reconnoitring excursion to the abode of the lady of her fancy, he had
been not a little amazed at receiving a letter by hand in Lucetta's
well-known characters. The self-repression, the resignation of her
previous communication had vanished from her mood; she wrote with
some of the natural lightness which had marked her in their early
acquaintance.


HIGH-PLACE HALL

MY DEAR MR. HENCHARD,--Don't be surprised. It is for your good and mine,
as I hope, that I have come to live at Casterbridge--for how long I
cannot tell. That depends upon another; and he is a man, and a merchant,
and a Mayor, and one who has the first right to my affections.

Seriously, mon ami, I am not so light-hearted as I may seem to be from
this. I have come here in consequence of hearing of the death of your
wife--whom you used to think of as dead so many years before! Poor
woman, she seems to have been a sufferer, though uncomplaining, and
though weak in intellect not an imbecile. I am glad you acted fairly by
her. As soon as I knew she was no more, it was brought home to me very
forcibly by my conscience that I ought to endeavour to disperse the
shade which my etourderie flung over my name, by asking you to carry out
your promise to me. I hope you are of the same mind, and that you
will take steps to this end. As, however, I did not know how you were
situated, or what had happened since our separation, I decided to come
and establish myself here before communicating with you.

You probably feel as I do about this. I shall be able to see you in a
day or two. Till then, farewell.--Yours,

LUCETTA.

P.S.--I was unable to keep my appointment to meet you for a moment or
two in passing through Casterbridge the other day. My plans were altered
by a family event, which it will surprise you to hear of.


Henchard had already heard that High-Place Hall was being prepared for
a tenant. He said with a puzzled air to the first person he encountered,
"Who is coming to live at the Hall?"

"A lady of the name of Templeman, I believe, sir," said his informant.

Henchard thought it over. "Lucetta is related to her, I suppose,"
he said to himself. "Yes, I must put her in her proper position,
undoubtedly."

It was by no means with the oppression that would once have accompanied
the thought that he regarded the moral necessity now; it was, indeed,
with interest, if not warmth. His bitter disappointment at finding
Elizabeth-Jane to be none of his, and himself a childless man, had left
an emotional void in Henchard that he unconsciously craved to fill. In
this frame of mind, though without strong feeling, he had strolled up
the alley and into High-Place Hall by the postern at which Elizabeth
had so nearly encountered him. He had gone on thence into the court, and
inquired of a man whom he saw unpacking china from a crate if Miss Le
Sueur was living there. Miss Le Sueur had been the name under which he
had known Lucetta--or "Lucette," as she had called herself at that time.

The man replied in the negative; that Miss Templeman only had come.
Henchard went away, concluding that Lucetta had not as yet settled in.

He was in this interested stage of the inquiry when he witnessed
Elizabeth-Jane's departure the next day. On hearing her announce the
address there suddenly took possession of him the strange thought that
Lucetta and Miss Templeman were one and the same person, for he could
recall that in her season of intimacy with him the name of the rich
relative whom he had deemed somewhat a mythical personage had been given
as Templeman. Though he was not a fortune-hunter, the possibility
that Lucetta had been sublimed into a lady of means by some munificent
testament on the part of this relative lent a charm to her image which
it might not otherwise have acquired. He was getting on towards the dead
level of middle age, when material things increasingly possess the mind.

But Henchard was not left long in suspense. Lucetta was rather addicted
to scribbling, as had been shown by the torrent of letters after the
fiasco in their marriage arrangements, and hardly had Elizabeth gone
away when another note came to the Mayor's house from High-Place Hall.


"I am in residence," she said, "and comfortable, though getting here has
been a wearisome undertaking. You probably know what I am going to tell
you, or do you not? My good Aunt Templeman, the banker's widow, whose
very existence you used to doubt, much more her affluence, has lately
died, and bequeathed some of her property to me. I will not enter into
details except to say that I have taken her name--as a means of escape
from mine, and its wrongs.

"I am now my own mistress, and have chosen to reside in Casterbridge--to
be tenant of High-Place Hall, that at least you may be put to no trouble
if you wish to see me. My first intention was to keep you in ignorance
of the changes in my life till you should meet me in the street; but I
have thought better of this.

"You probably are aware of my arrangement with your daughter, and have
doubtless laughed at the--what shall I call it?--practical joke (in all
affection) of my getting her to live with me. But my first meeting with
her was purely an accident. Do you see, Michael, partly why I have done
it?--why, to give you an excuse for coming here as if to visit HER, and
thus to form my acquaintance naturally. She is a dear, good girl, and
she thinks you have treated her with undue severity. You may have done
so in your haste, but not deliberately, I am sure. As the result has
been to bring her to me I am not disposed to upbraid you.--In haste,
yours always,

"LUCETTA."


The excitement which these announcements produced in Henchard's gloomy
soul was to him most pleasurable. He sat over his dining-table long and
dreamily, and by an almost mechanical transfer the sentiments which
had run to waste since his estrangement from Elizabeth-Jane and Donald
Farfrae gathered around Lucetta before they had grown dry. She was
plainly in a very coming-on disposition for marriage. But what else
could a poor woman be who had given her time and her heart to him
so thoughtlessly, at that former time, as to lose her credit by it?
Probably conscience no less than affection had brought her here. On the
whole he did not blame her.

"The artful little woman!" he said, smiling (with reference to Lucetta's
adroit and pleasant manoeuvre with Elizabeth-Jane).

To feel that he would like to see Lucetta was with Henchard to start
for her house. He put on his hat and went. It was between eight and nine
o'clock when he reached her door. The answer brought him was that Miss
Templeman was engaged for that evening; but that she would be happy to
see him the next day.

"That's rather like giving herself airs!" he thought. "And considering
what we--" But after all, she plainly had not expected him, and he took
the refusal quietly. Nevertheless he resolved not to go next day. "These
cursed women--there's not an inch of straight grain in 'em!" he said.

Let us follow the train of Mr. Henchard's thought as if it were a
clue line, and view the interior of High-Place Hall on this particular
evening.

On Elizabeth-Jane's arrival she had been phlegmatically asked by an
elderly woman to go upstairs and take off her things. She replied with
great earnestness that she would not think of giving that trouble, and
on the instant divested herself of her bonnet and cloak in the passage.
She was then conducted to the first floor on the landing, and left to
find her way further alone.

The room disclosed was prettily furnished as a boudoir or small
drawing-room, and on a sofa with two cylindrical pillows reclined a
dark-haired, large-eyed, pretty woman, of unmistakably French extraction
on one side or the other. She was probably some years older than
Elizabeth, and had a sparkling light in her eye. In front of the sofa
was a small table, with a pack of cards scattered upon it faces upward.

The attitude had been so full of abandonment that she bounded up like a
spring on hearing the door open.

Perceiving that it was Elizabeth she lapsed into ease, and came across
to her with a reckless skip that innate grace only prevented from being
boisterous.

"Why, you are late," she said, taking hold of Elizabeth-Jane's hands.

"There were so many little things to put up."

"And you seem dead-alive and tired. Let me try to enliven you by some
wonderful tricks I have learnt, to kill time. Sit there and don't move."
She gathered up the pack of cards, pulled the table in front of her, and
began to deal them rapidly, telling Elizabeth to choose some.

"Well, have you chosen?" she asked flinging down the last card.

"No," stammered Elizabeth, arousing herself from a reverie. "I forgot, I
was thinking of--you, and me--and how strange it is that I am here."

Miss Templeman looked at Elizabeth-Jane with interest, and laid down the
cards. "Ah! never mind," she said. "I'll lie here while you sit by me;
and we'll talk."

Elizabeth drew up silently to the head of the sofa, but with obvious
pleasure. It could be seen that though in years she was younger than her
entertainer in manner and general vision she seemed more of the sage.
Miss Templeman deposited herself on the sofa in her former flexuous
position, and throwing her arm above her brow--somewhat in the pose of
a well-known conception of Titian's--talked up at Elizabeth-Jane
invertedly across her forehead and arm.

"I must tell you something," she said. "I wonder if you have suspected
it. I have only been mistress of a large house and fortune a little
while."

"Oh--only a little while?" murmured Elizabeth-Jane, her countenance
slightly falling.

"As a girl I lived about in garrison towns and elsewhere with my father,
till I was quite flighty and unsettled. He was an officer in the army. I
should not have mentioned this had I not thought it best you should know
the truth."

"Yes, yes." She looked thoughtfully round the room--at the little square
piano with brass inlayings, at the window-curtains, at the lamp, at the
fair and dark kings and queens on the card-table, and finally at the
inverted face of Lucetta Templeman, whose large lustrous eyes had such
an odd effect upside down.

Elizabeth's mind ran on acquirements to an almost morbid degree. "You
speak French and Italian fluently, no doubt," she said. "I have not been
able to get beyond a wretched bit of Latin yet."

"Well, for that matter, in my native isle speaking French does not go
for much. It is rather the other way."

"Where is your native isle?"

It was with rather more reluctance that Miss Templeman said, "Jersey.
There they speak French on one side of the street and English on the
other, and a mixed tongue in the middle of the road. But it is a long
time since I was there. Bath is where my people really belong to, though
my ancestors in Jersey were as good as anybody in England. They were
the Le Sueurs, an old family who have done great things in their time.
I went back and lived there after my father's death. But I don't value
such past matters, and am quite an English person in my feelings and
tastes."

Lucetta's tongue had for a moment outrun her discretion. She had arrived
at Casterbridge as a Bath lady, and there were obvious reasons why
Jersey should drop out of her life. But Elizabeth had tempted her to
make free, and a deliberately formed resolve had been broken.

It could not, however, have been broken in safer company. Lucetta's
words went no further, and after this day she was so much upon her
guard that there appeared no chance of her identification with the young
Jersey woman who had been Henchard's dear comrade at a critical time.
Not the least amusing of her safeguards was her resolute avoidance of a
French word if one by accident came to her tongue more readily than
its English equivalent. She shirked it with the suddenness of the weak
Apostle at the accusation, "Thy speech bewrayeth thee!"

Expectancy sat visibly upon Lucetta the next morning. She dressed
herself for Mr. Henchard, and restlessly awaited his call before
mid-day; as he did not come she waited on through the afternoon. But
she did not tell Elizabeth that the person expected was the girl's
stepfather.

They sat in adjoining windows of the same room in Lucetta's great stone
mansion, netting, and looking out upon the market, which formed an
animated scene. Elizabeth could see the crown of her stepfather's hat
among the rest beneath, and was not aware that Lucetta watched the same
object with yet intenser interest. He moved about amid the throng, at
this point lively as an ant-hill; elsewhere more reposeful, and broken
up by stalls of fruit and vegetables.

The farmers as a rule preferred the open carrefour for their
transactions, despite its inconvenient jostlings and the danger from
crossing vehicles, to the gloomy sheltered market-room provided for
them. Here they surged on this one day of the week, forming a little
world of leggings, switches, and sample-bags; men of extensive stomachs,
sloping like mountain sides; men whose heads in walking swayed as the
trees in November gales; who in conversing varied their attitudes much,
lowering themselves by spreading their knees, and thrusting their hands
into the pockets of remote inner jackets. Their faces radiated tropical
warmth; for though when at home their countenances varied with the
seasons, their market-faces all the year round were glowing little
fires.

All over-clothes here were worn as if they were an inconvenience, a
hampering necessity. Some men were well dressed; but the majority were
careless in that respect, appearing in suits which were historical
records of their wearer's deeds, sun-scorchings, and daily struggles for
many years past. Yet many carried ruffled cheque-books in their pockets
which regulated at the bank hard by a balance of never less than four
figures. In fact, what these gibbous human shapes specially represented
was ready money--money insistently ready--not ready next year like
a nobleman's--often not merely ready at the bank like a professional
man's, but ready in their large plump hands.

It happened that to-day there rose in the midst of them all two or
three tall apple-trees standing as if they grew on the spot; till it was
perceived that they were held by men from the cider-districts who came
here to sell them, bringing the clay of their county on their boots.
Elizabeth-Jane, who had often observed them, said, "I wonder if the same
trees come every week?"

"What trees?" said Lucetta, absorbed in watching for Henchard.

Elizabeth replied vaguely, for an incident checked her. Behind one of
the trees stood Farfrae, briskly discussing a sample-bag with a farmer.
Henchard had come up, accidentally encountering the young man, whose
face seemed to inquire, "Do we speak to each other?"

She saw her stepfather throw a shine into his eye which answered "No!"
Elizabeth-Jane sighed.

"Are you particularly interested in anybody out there?" said Lucetta.

"O, no," said her companion, a quick red shooting over her face.

Luckily Farfrae's figure was immediately covered by the apple-tree.

Lucetta looked hard at her. "Quite sure?" she said.

"O yes," said Elizabeth-Jane.

Again Lucetta looked out. "They are all farmers, I suppose?" she said.

"No. There's Mr. Bulge--he's a wine merchant; there's Benjamin
Brownlet--a horse dealer; and Kitson, the pig breeder; and Yopper, the
auctioneer; besides maltsters, and millers--and so on." Farfrae stood
out quite distinctly now; but she did not mention him.

The Saturday afternoon slipped on thus desultorily. The market changed
from the sample-showing hour to the idle hour before starting homewards,
when tales were told. Henchard had not called on Lucetta though he had
stood so near. He must have been too busy, she thought. He would come on
Sunday or Monday.

The days came but not the visitor, though Lucetta repeated her dressing
with scrupulous care. She got disheartened. It may at once be declared
that Lucetta no longer bore towards Henchard all that warm allegiance
which had characterized her in their first acquaintance, the then
unfortunate issue of things had chilled pure love considerably. But
there remained a conscientious wish to bring about her union with him,
now that there was nothing to hinder it--to right her position--which
in itself was a happiness to sigh for. With strong social reasons on
her side why their marriage should take place there had ceased to be
any worldly reason on his why it should be postponed, since she had
succeeded to fortune.

Tuesday was the great Candlemas fair. At breakfast she said to
Elizabeth-Jane quite coolly: "I imagine your father may call to see you
to-day. I suppose he stands close by in the market-place with the rest
of the corn-dealers?"

She shook her head. "He won't come."

"Why?"

"He has taken against me," she said in a husky voice.

"You have quarreled more deeply than I know of."

Elizabeth, wishing to shield the man she believed to be her father from
any charge of unnatural dislike, said "Yes."

"Then where you are is, of all places, the one he will avoid?"

Elizabeth nodded sadly.

Lucetta looked blank, twitched up her lovely eyebrows and lip, and
burst into hysterical sobs. Here was a disaster--her ingenious scheme
completely stultified.

"O, my dear Miss Templeman--what's the matter?" cried her companion.

"I like your company much!" said Lucetta, as soon as she could speak.

"Yes, yes--and so do I yours!" Elizabeth chimed in soothingly.

"But--but--" She could not finish the sentence, which was, naturally,
that if Henchard had such a rooted dislike for the girl as now seemed to
be the case, Elizabeth-Jane would have to be got rid of--a disagreeable
necessity.

A provisional resource suggested itself. "Miss Henchard--will you go on
an errand for me as soon as breakfast is over?--Ah, that's very good of
you. Will you go and order--" Here she enumerated several commissions at
sundry shops, which would occupy Elizabeth's time for the next hour or
two, at least.

"And have you ever seen the Museum?"

Elizabeth-Jane had not.

"Then you should do so at once. You can finish the morning by going
there. It is an old house in a back street--I forget where--but you'll
find out--and there are crowds of interesting things--skeletons, teeth,
old pots and pans, ancient boots and shoes, birds' eggs--all charmingly
instructive. You'll be sure to stay till you get quite hungry."

Elizabeth hastily put on her things and departed. "I wonder why she
wants to get rid of me to-day!" she said sorrowfully as she went. That
her absence, rather than her services or instruction, was in request,
had been readily apparent to Elizabeth-Jane, simple as she seemed, and
difficult as it was to attribute a motive for the desire.

She had not been gone ten minutes when one of Lucetta's servants was
sent to Henchard's with a note. The contents were briefly:--


DEAR MICHAEL,--You will be standing in view of my house to-day for two
or three hours in the course of your business, so do please call and
see me. I am sadly disappointed that you have not come before, for can I
help anxiety about my own equivocal relation to you?--especially now
my aunt's fortune has brought me more prominently before society? Your
daughter's presence here may be the cause of your neglect; and I have
therefore sent her away for the morning. Say you come on business--I
shall be quite alone.

LUCETTA.


When the messenger returned her mistress gave directions that if a
gentleman called he was to be admitted at once, and sat down to await
results.

Sentimentally she did not much care to see him--his delays had wearied
her, but it was necessary; and with a sigh she arranged herself
picturesquely in the chair; first this way, then that; next so that the
light fell over her head. Next she flung herself on the couch in the
cyma-recta curve which so became her, and with her arm over her brow
looked towards the door. This, she decided, was the best position after
all, and thus she remained till a man's step was heard on the stairs.
Whereupon Lucetta, forgetting her curve (for Nature was too strong
for Art as yet), jumped up and ran and hid herself behind one of the
window-curtains in a freak of timidity. In spite of the waning of
passion the situation was an agitating one--she had not seen Henchard
since his (supposed) temporary parting from her in Jersey.

She could hear the servant showing the visitor into the room, shutting
the door upon him, and leaving as if to go and look for her mistress.
Lucetta flung back the curtain with a nervous greeting. The man before
her was not Henchard.




23.


A conjecture that her visitor might be some other person had, indeed,
flashed through Lucetta's mind when she was on the point of bursting
out; but it was just too late to recede.

He was years younger than the Mayor of Casterbridge; fair, fresh, and
slenderly handsome. He wore genteel cloth leggings with white buttons,
polished boots with infinite lace holes, light cord breeches under a
black velveteen coat and waistcoat; and he had a silver-topped switch in
his hand. Lucetta blushed, and said with a curious mixture of pout and
laugh on her face--"O, I've made a mistake!"

The visitor, on the contrary, did not laugh half a wrinkle.

"But I'm very sorry!" he said, in deprecating tones. "I came and I
inquired for Miss Henchard, and they showed me up here, and in no case
would I have caught ye so unmannerly if I had known!"

"I was the unmannerly one," she said.

"But is it that I have come to the wrong house, madam?" said Mr.
Farfrae, blinking a little in his bewilderment and nervously tapping his
legging with his switch.

"O no, sir,--sit down. You must come and sit down now you are here,"
replied Lucetta kindly, to relieve his embarrassment. "Miss Henchard
will be here directly."

Now this was not strictly true; but that something about the young
man--that hyperborean crispness, stringency, and charm, as of a
well-braced musical instrument, which had awakened the interest of
Henchard, and of Elizabeth-Jane and of the Three Mariners' jovial crew,
at sight, made his unexpected presence here attractive to Lucetta.
He hesitated, looked at the chair, thought there was no danger in it
(though there was), and sat down.

Farfrae's sudden entry was simply the result of Henchard's permission to
him to see Elizabeth if he were minded to woo her. At first he had taken
no notice of Henchard's brusque letter; but an exceptionally fortunate
business transaction put him on good terms with everybody, and revealed
to him that he could undeniably marry if he chose. Then who so pleasing,
thrifty, and satisfactory in every way as Elizabeth-Jane? Apart from
her personal recommendations a reconciliation with his former friend
Henchard would, in the natural course of things, flow from such a union.
He therefore forgave the Mayor his curtness; and this morning on his
way to the fair he had called at her house, where he learnt that she
was staying at Miss Templeman's. A little stimulated at not finding her
ready and waiting--so fanciful are men!--he hastened on to High-Place
Hall to encounter no Elizabeth but its mistress herself.

"The fair to-day seems a large one," she said when, by natural
deviation, their eyes sought the busy scene without. "Your numerous
fairs and markets keep me interested. How many things I think of while I
watch from here!"

He seemed in doubt how to answer, and the babble without reached them
as they sat--voices as of wavelets on a looping sea, one ever and anon
rising above the rest. "Do you look out often?" he asked.

"Yes--very often."

"Do you look for any one you know?"

Why should she have answered as she did?

"I look as at a picture merely. But," she went on, turning pleasantly to
him, "I may do so now--I may look for you. You are always there, are
you not? Ah--I don't mean it seriously! But it is amusing to look for
somebody one knows in a crowd, even if one does not want him. It takes
off the terrible oppressiveness of being surrounded by a throng, and
having no point of junction with it through a single individual."

"Ay! Maybe you'll be very lonely, ma'am?"

"Nobody knows how lonely."

"But you are rich, they say?"

"If so, I don't know how to enjoy my riches. I came to Casterbridge
thinking I should like to live here. But I wonder if I shall."

"Where did ye come from, ma'am?"

"The neighbourhood of Bath."

"And I from near Edinboro'," he murmured. "It's better to stay at home,
and that's true; but a man must live where his money is made. It is a
great pity, but it's always so! Yet I've done very well this year. O
yes," he went on with ingenuous enthusiasm. "You see that man with the
drab kerseymere coat? I bought largely of him in the autumn when wheat
was down, and then afterwards when it rose a little I sold off all
I had! It brought only a small profit to me; while the farmers kept
theirs, expecting higher figures--yes, though the rats were gnawing the
ricks hollow. Just when I sold the markets went lower, and I bought up
the corn of those who had been holding back at less price than my first
purchases. And then," cried Farfrae impetuously, his face alight, "I
sold it a few weeks after, when it happened to go up again! And so, by
contenting mysel' with small profits frequently repeated, I soon made
five hundred pounds--yes!"--(bringing down his hand upon the table, and
quite forgetting where he was)--"while the others by keeping theirs in
hand made nothing at all!"

Lucetta regarded him with a critical interest. He was quite a new type
of person to her. At last his eye fell upon the lady's and their glances
met.

"Ay, now, I'm wearying you!" he exclaimed.

She said, "No, indeed," colouring a shade.

"What then?"

"Quite otherwise. You are most interesting."

It was now Farfrae who showed the modest pink.

"I mean all you Scotchmen," she added in hasty correction. "So free from
Southern extremes. We common people are all one way or the other--warm
or cold, passionate or frigid. You have both temperatures going on in
you at the same time."

"But how do you mean that? Ye were best to explain clearly, ma'am."

"You are animated--then you are thinking of getting on. You are sad the
next moment--then you are thinking of Scotland and friends."

"Yes. I think of home sometimes!" he said simply.

"So do I--as far as I can. But it was an old house where I was born, and
they pulled it down for improvements, so I seem hardly to have any home
to think of now."

Lucetta did not add, as she might have done, that the house was in St.
Helier, and not in Bath.

"But the mountains, and the mists and the rocks, they are there! And
don't they seem like home?"

She shook her head.

"They do to me--they do to me," he murmured. And his mind could be seen
flying away northwards. Whether its origin were national or personal, it
was quite true what Lucetta had said, that the curious double strands
in Farfrae's thread of life--the commercial and the romantic--were very
distinct at times. Like the colours in a variegated cord those contrasts
could be seen intertwisted, yet not mingling.

"You are wishing you were back again," she said.

"Ah, no, ma'am," said Farfrae, suddenly recalling himself.

The fair without the windows was now raging thick and loud. It was the
chief hiring fair of the year, and differed quite from the market of a
few days earlier. In substance it was a whitey-brown crowd flecked with
white--this being the body of labourers waiting for places. The long
bonnets of the women, like waggon-tilts, their cotton gowns and checked
shawls, mixed with the carters' smockfrocks; for they, too, entered into
the hiring. Among the rest, at the corner of the pavement, stood an
old shepherd, who attracted the eyes of Lucetta and Farfrae by his
stillness. He was evidently a chastened man. The battle of life had been
a sharp one with him, for, to begin with, he was a man of small frame.
He was now so bowed by hard work and years that, approaching from
behind, a person could hardly see his head. He had planted the stem of
his crook in the gutter and was resting upon the bow, which was polished
to silver brightness by the long friction of his hands. He had quite
forgotten where he was, and what he had come for, his eyes being bent
on the ground. A little way off negotiations were proceeding which
had reference to him; but he did not hear them, and there seemed to be
passing through his mind pleasant visions of the hiring successes of his
prime, when his skill laid open to him any farm for the asking.

The negotiations were between a farmer from a distant county and the old
man's son. In these there was a difficulty. The farmer would not take
the crust without the crumb of the bargain, in other words, the old man
without the younger; and the son had a sweetheart on his present farm,
who stood by, waiting the issue with pale lips.

"I'm sorry to leave ye, Nelly," said the young man with emotion. "But,
you see, I can't starve father, and he's out o' work at Lady-day. 'Tis
only thirty-five mile."

The girl's lips quivered. "Thirty-five mile!" she murmured. "Ah! 'tis
enough! I shall never see 'ee again!" It was, indeed, a hopeless length
of traction for Dan Cupid's magnet; for young men were young men at
Casterbridge as elsewhere.

"O! no, no--I never shall," she insisted, when he pressed her hand; and
she turned her face to Lucetta's wall to hide her weeping. The farmer
said he would give the young man half-an-hour for his answer, and went
away, leaving the group sorrowing.

Lucetta's eyes, full of tears, met Farfrae's. His, too, to her surprise,
were moist at the scene.

"It is very hard," she said with strong feelings. "Lovers ought not to
be parted like that! O, if I had my wish, I'd let people live and love
at their pleasure!"

"Maybe I can manage that they'll not be parted," said Farfrae. "I want
a young carter; and perhaps I'll take the old man too--yes; he'll not be
very expensive, and doubtless he will answer my pairrpose somehow."

"O, you are so good!" she cried, delighted. "Go and tell them, and let
me know if you have succeeded!"

Farfrae went out, and she saw him speak to the group. The eyes of
all brightened; the bargain was soon struck. Farfrae returned to her
immediately it was concluded.

"It is kind-hearted of you, indeed," said Lucetta. "For my part, I have
resolved that all my servants shall have lovers if they want them! Do
make the same resolve!"

Farfrae looked more serious, waving his head a half turn. "I must be a
little stricter than that," he said.

"Why?"

"You are a--a thriving woman; and I am a struggling hay-and-corn
merchant."

"I am a very ambitious woman."

"Ah, well, I cannet explain. I don't know how to talk to ladies,
ambitious or no; and that's true," said Donald with grave regret. "I try
to be civil to a' folk--no more!"

"I see you are as you say," replied she, sensibly getting the upper
hand in these exchanges of sentiment. Under this revelation of insight
Farfrae again looked out of the window into the thick of the fair.

Two farmers met and shook hands, and being quite near the window their
remarks could be heard as others' had been.

"Have you seen young Mr. Farfrae this morning?" asked one. "He promised
to meet me here at the stroke of twelve; but I've gone athwart and about
the fair half-a-dozen times, and never a sign of him: though he's mostly
a man to his word."

"I quite forgot the engagement," murmured Farfrae.

"Now you must go," said she; "must you not?"

"Yes," he replied. But he still remained.

"You had better go," she urged. "You will lose a customer.

"Now, Miss Templeman, you will make me angry," exclaimed Farfrae.

"Then suppose you don't go; but stay a little longer?"

He looked anxiously at the farmer who was seeking him and who just then
ominously walked across to where Henchard was standing, and he looked
into the room and at her. "I like staying; but I fear I must go!" he
said. "Business ought not to be neglected, ought it?

"Not for a single minute."

"It's true. I'll come another time--if I may, ma'am?"

"Certainly," she said. "What has happened to us to-day is very curious."

"Something to think over when we are alone, it's like to be?"

"Oh, I don't know that. It is commonplace after all."

"No, I'll not say that. O no!"

"Well, whatever it has been, it is now over; and the market calls you to
be gone."

"Yes, yes. Market--business! I wish there were no business in the
warrld."

Lucetta almost laughed--she would quite have laughed--but that there was
a little emotion going in her at the time. "How you change!" she said.
"You should not change like this.

"I have never wished such things before," said the Scotchman, with a
simple, shamed, apologetic look for his weakness. "It is only since
coming here and seeing you!"

"If that's the case, you had better not look at me any longer. Dear me,
I feel I have quite demoralized you!"

"But look or look not, I will see you in my thoughts. Well, I'll
go--thank you for the pleasure of this visit."

"Thank you for staying."

"Maybe I'll get into my market-mind when I've been out a few minutes,"
he murmured. "But I don't know--I don't know!"

As he went she said eagerly, "You may hear them speak of me in
Casterbridge as time goes on. If they tell you I'm a coquette, which
some may, because of the incidents of my life, don't believe it, for I
am not."

"I swear I will not!" he said fervidly.

Thus the two. She had enkindled the young man's enthusiasm till he was
quite brimming with sentiment; while he from merely affording her a new
form of idleness, had gone on to wake her serious solicitude. Why was
this? They could not have told.

Lucetta as a young girl would hardly have looked at a tradesman. But her
ups and downs, capped by her indiscretions with Henchard had made her
uncritical as to station. In her poverty she had met with repulse from
the society to which she had belonged, and she had no great zest for
renewing an attempt upon it now. Her heart longed for some ark into
which it could fly and be at rest. Rough or smooth she did not care so
long as it was warm.

Farfrae was shown out, it having entirely escaped him that he had called
to see Elizabeth. Lucetta at the window watched him threading the maze
of farmers and farmers' men. She could see by his gait that he
was conscious of her eyes, and her heart went out to him for his
modesty--pleaded with her sense of his unfitness that he might be
allowed to come again. He entered the market-house, and she could see
him no more.

Three minutes later, when she had left the window, knocks, not
of multitude but of strength, sounded through the house, and the
waiting-maid tripped up.

"The Mayor," she said.

Lucetta had reclined herself, and she was looking dreamily through
her fingers. She did not answer at once, and the maid repeated the
information with the addition, "And he's afraid he hasn't much time to
spare, he says."

"Oh! Then tell him that as I have a headache I won't detain him to-day."

The message was taken down, and she heard the door close.

Lucetta had come to Casterbridge to quicken Henchard's feelings with
regard to her. She had quickened them, and now she was indifferent to
the achievement.

Her morning view of Elizabeth-Jane as a disturbing element changed, and
she no longer felt strongly the necessity of getting rid of the girl for
her stepfather's sake. When the young woman came in, sweetly unconscious
of the turn in the tide, Lucetta went up to her, and said quite
sincerely--

"I'm so glad you've come. You'll live with me a long time, won't you?"

Elizabeth as a watch-dog to keep her father off--what a new idea. Yet
it was not unpleasing. Henchard had neglected her all these days, after
compromising her indescribably in the past. The least he could have done
when he found himself free, and herself affluent, would have been to
respond heartily and promptly to her invitation.

Her emotions rose, fell, undulated, filled her with wild surmise at
their suddenness; and so passed Lucetta's experiences of that day.




24.


Poor Elizabeth-Jane, little thinking what her malignant star had done to
blast the budding attentions she had won from Donald Farfrae, was glad
to hear Lucetta's words about remaining.

For in addition to Lucetta's house being a home, that raking view of
the market-place which it afforded had as much attraction for her as for
Lucetta. The carrefour was like the regulation Open Place in spectacular
dramas, where the incidents that occur always happen to bear on the
lives of the adjoining residents. Farmers, merchants, dairymen, quacks,
hawkers, appeared there from week to week, and disappeared as the
afternoon wasted away. It was the node of all orbits.

From Saturday to Saturday was as from day to day with the two young
women now. In an emotional sense they did not live at all during the
intervals. Wherever they might go wandering on other days, on market-day
they were sure to be at home. Both stole sly glances out of the window
at Farfrae's shoulders and poll. His face they seldom saw, for, either
through shyness, or not to disturb his mercantile mood, he avoided
looking towards their quarters.

Thus things went on, till a certain market-morning brought a new
sensation. Elizabeth and Lucetta were sitting at breakfast when a parcel
containing two dresses arrived for the latter from London. She called
Elizabeth from her breakfast, and entering her friend's bedroom
Elizabeth saw the gowns spread out on the bed, one of a deep cherry
colour, the other lighter--a glove lying at the end of each sleeve, a
bonnet at the top of each neck, and parasols across the gloves,
Lucetta standing beside the suggested human figure in an attitude of
contemplation.

"I wouldn't think so hard about it," said Elizabeth, marking the
intensity with which Lucetta was alternating the question whether this
or that would suit best.

"But settling upon new clothes is so trying," said Lucetta. "You are
that person" (pointing to one of the arrangements), "or you are THAT
totally different person" (pointing to the other), "for the whole of the
coming spring and one of the two, you don't know which, may turn out to
be very objectionable."

It was finally decided by Miss Templeman that she would be the
cherry-coloured person at all hazards. The dress was pronounced to be a
fit, and Lucetta walked with it into the front room, Elizabeth following
her.

The morning was exceptionally bright for the time of year. The sun fell
so flat on the houses and pavement opposite Lucetta's residence that
they poured their brightness into her rooms. Suddenly, after a rumbling
of wheels, there were added to this steady light a fantastic series of
circling irradiations upon the ceiling, and the companions turned to the
window. Immediately opposite a vehicle of strange description had come
to a standstill, as if it had been placed there for exhibition.

It was the new-fashioned agricultural implement called a horse-drill,
till then unknown, in its modern shape, in this part of the country,
where the venerable seed-lip was still used for sowing as in the days
of the Heptarchy. Its arrival created about as much sensation in the
corn-market as a flying machine would create at Charing Cross. The
farmers crowded round it, women drew near it, children crept under and
into it. The machine was painted in bright hues of green, yellow, and
red, and it resembled as a whole a compound of hornet, grasshopper,
and shrimp, magnified enormously. Or it might have been likened to an
upright musical instrument with the front gone. That was how it struck
Lucetta. "Why, it is a sort of agricultural piano," she said.

"It has something to do with corn," said Elizabeth.

"I wonder who thought of introducing it here?"

Donald Farfrae was in the minds of both as the innovator, for though not
a farmer he was closely leagued with farming operations. And as if
in response to their thought he came up at that moment, looked at the
machine, walked round it, and handled it as if he knew something about
its make. The two watchers had inwardly started at his coming, and
Elizabeth left the window, went to the back of the room, and stood as if
absorbed in the panelling of the wall. She hardly knew that she had done
this till Lucetta, animated by the conjunction of her new attire with
the sight of Farfrae, spoke out: "Let us go and look at the instrument,
whatever it is."

Elizabeth-Jane's bonnet and shawl were pitchforked on in a moment, and
they went out. Among all the agriculturists gathered round the only
appropriate possessor of the new machine seemed to be Lucetta, because
she alone rivalled it in colour.

They examined it curiously; observing the rows of trumpet-shaped tubes
one within the other, the little scoops, like revolving salt-spoons,
which tossed the seed into the upper ends of the tubes that conducted it
to the ground; till somebody said, "Good morning, Elizabeth-Jane." She
looked up, and there was her stepfather.

His greeting had been somewhat dry and thunderous, and Elizabeth-Jane,
embarrassed out of her equanimity, stammered at random, "This is the
lady I live with, father--Miss Templeman."

Henchard put his hand to his hat, which he brought down with a great
wave till it met his body at the knee. Miss Templeman bowed. "I am
happy to become acquainted with you, Mr. Henchard," she said. "This is a
curious machine."

"Yes," Henchard replied; and he proceeded to explain it, and still more
forcibly to ridicule it.

"Who brought it here?" said Lucetta.

"Oh, don't ask me, ma'am!" said Henchard. "The thing--why 'tis
impossible it should act. 'Twas brought here by one of our machinists on
the recommendation of a jumped-up jackanapes of a fellow who thinks----"
His eye caught Elizabeth-Jane's imploring face, and he stopped, probably
thinking that the suit might be progressing.

He turned to go away. Then something seemed to occur which his
stepdaughter fancied must really be a hallucination of hers. A murmur
apparently came from Henchard's lips in which she detected the words,
"You refused to see me!" reproachfully addressed to Lucetta. She could
not believe that they had been uttered by her stepfather; unless,
indeed, they might have been spoken to one of the yellow-gaitered
farmers near them. Yet Lucetta seemed silent, and then all thought of
the incident was dissipated by the humming of a song, which sounded
as though from the interior of the machine. Henchard had by this time
vanished into the market-house, and both the women glanced towards the
corn-drill. They could see behind it the bent back of a man who was
pushing his head into the internal works to master their simple secrets.
The hummed song went on--

     "'Tw--s on a s--m--r aftern--n,
     A wee be--re the s--n w--nt d--n,
     When Kitty wi' a braw n--w g--wn
     C--me ow're the h--lls to Gowrie."

Elizabeth-Jane had apprehended the singer in a moment, and looked guilty
of she did not know what. Lucetta next recognized him, and more
mistress of herself said archly, "The 'Lass of Gowrie' from inside of a
seed-drill--what a phenomenon!"

Satisfied at last with his investigation the young man stood upright,
and met their eyes across the summit.

"We are looking at the wonderful new drill," Miss Templeman said. "But
practically it is a stupid thing--is it not?" she added, on the strength
of Henchard's information.

"Stupid? O no!" said Farfrae gravely. "It will revolutionize sowing
heerabout! No more sowers flinging their seed about broadcast, so that
some falls by the wayside and some among thorns, and all that.
Each grain will go straight to its intended place, and nowhere else
whatever!"

"Then the romance of the sower is gone for good," observed
Elizabeth-Jane, who felt herself at one with Farfrae in Bible-reading
at least. "'He that observeth the wind shall not sow,' so the Preacher
said; but his words will not be to the point any more. How things
change!"

"Ay; ay....It must be so!" Donald admitted, his gaze fixing itself on a
blank point far away. "But the machines are already very common in the
East and North of England," he added apologetically.

Lucetta seemed to be outside this train of sentiment, her acquaintance
with the Scriptures being somewhat limited. "Is the machine yours?" she
asked of Farfrae.

"O no, madam," said he, becoming embarrassed and deferential at the
sound of her voice, though with Elizabeth Jane he was quite at his ease.
"No, no--I merely recommended that it should be got."

In the silence which followed Farfrae appeared only conscious of her;
to have passed from perception of Elizabeth into a brighter sphere of
existence than she appertained to. Lucetta, discerning that he was much
mixed that day, partly in his mercantile mood and partly in his romantic
one, said gaily to him--

"Well, don't forsake the machine for us," and went indoors with her
companion.

The latter felt that she had been in the way, though why was
unaccountable to her. Lucetta explained the matter somewhat by saying
when they were again in the sitting-room--

"I had occasion to speak to Mr. Farfrae the other day, and so I knew him
this morning."

Lucetta was very kind towards Elizabeth that day. Together they saw the
market thicken, and in course of time thin away with the slow decline
of the sun towards the upper end of town, its rays taking the street
endways and enfilading the long thoroughfare from top to bottom. The
gigs and vans disappeared one by one till there was not a vehicle in the
street. The time of the riding world was over; the pedestrian world held
sway. Field labourers and their wives and children trooped in from the
villages for their weekly shopping, and instead of a rattle of wheels
and a tramp of horses ruling the sound as earlier, there was nothing but
the shuffle of many feet. All the implements were gone; all the farmers;
all the moneyed class. The character of the town's trading had changed
from bulk to multiplicity and pence were handled now as pounds had been
handled earlier in the day.

Lucetta and Elizabeth looked out upon this, for though it was night and
the street lamps were lighted, they had kept their shutters unclosed. In
the faint blink of the fire they spoke more freely.

"Your father was distant with you," said Lucetta.

"Yes." And having forgotten the momentary mystery of Henchard's seeming
speech to Lucetta she continued, "It is because he does not think I am
respectable. I have tried to be so more than you can imagine, but in
vain! My mother's separation from my father was unfortunate for me. You
don't know what it is to have shadows like that upon your life."

Lucetta seemed to wince. "I do not--of that kind precisely," she said,
"but you may feel a--sense of disgrace--shame--in other ways."

"Have you ever had any such feeling?" said the younger innocently.

"O no," said Lucetta quickly. "I was thinking of--what happens sometimes
when women get themselves in strange positions in the eyes of the world
from no fault of their own."

"It must make them very unhappy afterwards."

"It makes them anxious; for might not other women despise them?"

"Not altogether despise them. Yet not quite like or respect them."

Lucetta winced again. Her past was by no means secure from
investigation, even in Casterbridge. For one thing Henchard had never
returned to her the cloud of letters she had written and sent him in
her first excitement. Possibly they were destroyed; but she could have
wished that they had never been written.

The rencounter with Farfrae and his bearings towards Lucetta had made
the reflective Elizabeth more observant of her brilliant and amiable
companion. A few days afterwards, when her eyes met Lucetta's as
the latter was going out, she somehow knew that Miss Templeman was
nourishing a hope of seeing the attractive Scotchman. The fact was
printed large all over Lucetta's cheeks and eyes to any one who could
read her as Elizabeth-Jane was beginning to do. Lucetta passed on and
closed the street door.

A seer's spirit took possession of Elizabeth, impelling her to sit down
by the fire and divine events so surely from data already her own that
they could be held as witnessed. She followed Lucetta thus mentally--saw
her encounter Donald somewhere as if by chance--saw him wear his special
look when meeting women, with an added intensity because this one was
Lucetta. She depicted his impassioned manner; beheld the indecision
of both between their lothness to separate and their desire not to be
observed; depicted their shaking of hands; how they probably parted with
frigidity in their general contour and movements, only in the smaller
features showing the spark of passion, thus invisible to all but
themselves. This discerning silent witch had not done thinking of these
things when Lucetta came noiselessly behind her and made her start.

It was all true as she had pictured--she could have sworn it. Lucetta
had a heightened luminousness in her eye over and above the advanced
colour of her cheeks.

"You've seen Mr. Farfrae," said Elizabeth demurely.

"Yes," said Lucetta. "How did you know?"

She knelt down on the hearth and took her friend's hands excitedly in
her own. But after all she did not say when or how she had seen him or
what he had said.

That night she became restless; in the morning she was feverish; and
at breakfast-time she told her companion that she had something on her
mind--something which concerned a person in whom she was interested
much. Elizabeth was earnest to listen and sympathize.

"This person--a lady--once admired a man much--very much," she said
tentatively.

"Ah," said Elizabeth-Jane.

"They were intimate--rather. He did not think so deeply of her as she
did of him. But in an impulsive moment, purely out of reparation, he
proposed to make her his wife. She agreed. But there was an unsuspected
hitch in the proceedings; though she had been so far compromised with
him that she felt she could never belong to another man, as a pure
matter of conscience, even if she should wish to. After that they were
much apart, heard nothing of each other for a long time, and she felt
her life quite closed up for her."

"Ah--poor girl!"

"She suffered much on account of him; though I should add that he could
not altogether be blamed for what had happened. At last the obstacle
which separated them was providentially removed; and he came to marry
her."

"How delightful!"

"But in the interval she--my poor friend--had seen a man, she liked
better than him. Now comes the point: Could she in honour dismiss the
first?"

"A new man she liked better--that's bad!"

"Yes," said Lucetta, looking pained at a boy who was swinging the town
pump-handle. "It is bad! Though you must remember that she was forced
into an equivocal position with the first man by an accident--that he
was not so well educated or refined as the second, and that she had
discovered some qualities in the first that rendered him less desirable
as a husband than she had at first thought him to be."

"I cannot answer," said Elizabeth-Jane thoughtfully. "It is so
difficult. It wants a Pope to settle that!"

"You prefer not to perhaps?" Lucetta showed in her appealing tone how
much she leant on Elizabeth's judgment.

"Yes, Miss Templeman," admitted Elizabeth. "I would rather not say."

Nevertheless, Lucetta seemed relieved by the simple fact of having
opened out the situation a little, and was slowly convalescent of her
headache. "Bring me a looking-glass. How do I appear to people?" she
said languidly.

"Well--a little worn," answered Elizabeth, eyeing her as a critic eyes
a doubtful painting; fetching the glass she enabled Lucetta to survey
herself in it, which Lucetta anxiously did.

"I wonder if I wear well, as times go!" she observed after a while.

"Yes--fairly.

"Where am I worst?"

"Under your eyes--I notice a little brownness there."

"Yes. That is my worst place, I know. How many years more do you think I
shall last before I get hopelessly plain?"

There was something curious in the way in which Elizabeth, though
the younger, had come to play the part of experienced sage in these
discussions. "It may be five years," she said judicially. "Or, with a
quiet life, as many as ten. With no love you might calculate on ten."

Lucetta seemed to reflect on this as on an unalterable, impartial
verdict. She told Elizabeth-Jane no more of the past attachment she had
roughly adumbrated as the experiences of a third person; and Elizabeth,
who in spite of her philosophy was very tender-hearted, sighed that
night in bed at the thought that her pretty, rich Lucetta did not treat
her to the full confidence of names and dates in her confessions. For by
the "she" of Lucetta's story Elizabeth had not been beguiled.




25.


The next phase of the supersession of Henchard in Lucetta's heart was
an experiment in calling on her performed by Farfrae with some apparent
trepidation. Conventionally speaking he conversed with both Miss
Templeman and her companion; but in fact it was rather that Elizabeth
sat invisible in the room. Donald appeared not to see her at all, and
answered her wise little remarks with curtly indifferent monosyllables,
his looks and faculties hanging on the woman who could boast of a more
Protean variety in her phases, moods, opinions, and also principles,
than could Elizabeth. Lucetta had persisted in dragging her into the
circle; but she had remained like an awkward third point which that
circle would not touch.

Susan Henchard's daughter bore up against the frosty ache of the
treatment, as she had borne up under worse things, and contrived as soon
as possible to get out of the inharmonious room without being missed.
The Scotchman seemed hardly the same Farfrae who had danced with her and
walked with her in a delicate poise between love and friendship--that
period in the history of a love when alone it can be said to be
unalloyed with pain.

She stoically looked from her bedroom window, and contemplated her fate
as if it were written on the top of the church-tower hard by. "Yes," she
said at last, bringing down her palm upon the sill with a pat: "HE is
the second man of that story she told me!"

All this time Henchard's smouldering sentiments towards Lucetta had been
fanned into higher and higher inflammation by the circumstances of the
case. He was discovering that the young woman for whom he once felt a
pitying warmth which had been almost chilled out of him by reflection,
was, when now qualified with a slight inaccessibility and a more matured
beauty, the very being to make him satisfied with life. Day after day
proved to him, by her silence, that it was no use to think of bringing
her round by holding aloof; so he gave in, and called upon her again,
Elizabeth-Jane being absent.

He crossed the room to her with a heavy tread of some awkwardness, his
strong, warm gaze upon her--like the sun beside the moon in comparison
with Farfrae's modest look--and with something of a hail-fellow bearing,
as, indeed, was not unnatural. But she seemed so transubstantiated
by her change of position, and held out her hand to him in such cool
friendship, that he became deferential, and sat down with a perceptible
loss of power. He understood but little of fashion in dress, yet enough
to feel himself inadequate in appearance beside her whom he had hitherto
been dreaming of as almost his property. She said something very polite
about his being good enough to call. This caused him to recover balance.
He looked her oddly in the face, losing his awe.

"Why, of course I have called, Lucetta," he said. "What does that
nonsense mean? You know I couldn't have helped myself if I had
wished--that is, if I had any kindness at all. I've called to say that
I am ready, as soon as custom will permit, to give you my name in return
for your devotion and what you lost by it in thinking too little of
yourself and too much of me; to say that you can fix the day or month,
with my full consent, whenever in your opinion it would be seemly: you
know more of these things than I."

"It is full early yet," she said evasively.

"Yes, yes; I suppose it is. But you know, Lucetta, I felt directly my
poor ill-used Susan died, and when I could not bear the idea of marrying
again, that after what had happened between us it was my duty not to let
any unnecessary delay occur before putting things to rights. Still, I
wouldn't call in a hurry, because--well, you can guess how this money
you've come into made me feel." His voice slowly fell; he was conscious
that in this room his accents and manner wore a roughness not observable
in the street. He looked about the room at the novel hangings and
ingenious furniture with which she had surrounded herself.

"Upon my life I didn't know such furniture as this could be bought in
Casterbridge," he said.

"Nor can it be," said she. "Nor will it till fifty years more of
civilization have passed over the town. It took a waggon and four horses
to get it here."

"H'm. It looks as if you were living on capital."

"O no, I am not."

"So much the better. But the fact is, your setting up like this makes my
beaming towards you rather awkward."

"Why?"

An answer was not really needed, and he did not furnish one. "Well," he
went on, "there's nobody in the world I would have wished to see enter
into this wealth before you, Lucetta, and nobody, I am sure, who will
become it more." He turned to her with congratulatory admiration so
fervid that she shrank somewhat, notwithstanding that she knew him so
well.

"I am greatly obliged to you for all that," said she, rather with an air
of speaking ritual. The stint of reciprocal feeling was perceived, and
Henchard showed chagrin at once--nobody was more quick to show that than
he.

"You may be obliged or not for't. Though the things I say may not have
the polish of what you've lately learnt to expect for the first time in
your life, they are real, my lady Lucetta."

"That's rather a rude way of speaking to me," pouted Lucetta, with
stormy eyes.

"Not at all!" replied Henchard hotly. "But there, there, I don't wish
to quarrel with 'ee. I come with an honest proposal for silencing your
Jersey enemies, and you ought to be thankful."

"How can you speak so!" she answered, firing quickly. "Knowing that my
only crime was the indulging in a foolish girl's passion for you with
too little regard for correctness, and that I was what I call innocent
all the time they called me guilty, you ought not to be so cutting! I
suffered enough at that worrying time, when you wrote to tell me of
your wife's return and my consequent dismissal, and if I am a little
independent now, surely the privilege is due to me!"

"Yes, it is," he said. "But it is not by what is, in this life, but by
what appears, that you are judged; and I therefore think you ought to
accept me--for your own good name's sake. What is known in your native
Jersey may get known here."

"How you keep on about Jersey! I am English!"

"Yes, yes. Well, what do you say to my proposal?"

For the first time in their acquaintance Lucetta had the move; and yet
she was backward. "For the present let things be," she said with some
embarrassment. "Treat me as an acquaintance, and I'll treat you as
one. Time will--" She stopped; and he said nothing to fill the gap for
awhile, there being no pressure of half acquaintance to drive them into
speech if they were not minded for it.

"That's the way the wind blows, is it?" he said at last grimly, nodding
an affirmative to his own thoughts.

A yellow flood of reflected sunlight filled the room for a few instants.
It was produced by the passing of a load of newly trussed hay from the
country, in a waggon marked with Farfrae's name. Beside it rode Farfrae
himself on horseback. Lucetta's face became--as a woman's face becomes
when the man she loves rises upon her gaze like an apparition.

A turn of the eye by Henchard, a glance from the window, and the
secret of her inaccessibility would have been revealed. But Henchard in
estimating her tone was looking down so plumb-straight that he did not
note the warm consciousness upon Lucetta's face.

"I shouldn't have thought it--I shouldn't have thought it of women!" he
said emphatically by-and-by, rising and shaking himself into activity;
while Lucetta was so anxious to divert him from any suspicion of the
truth that she asked him to be in no hurry. Bringing him some apples she
insisted upon paring one for him.

He would not take it. "No, no; such is not for me," he said drily, and
moved to the door. At going out he turned his eye upon her.

"You came to live in Casterbridge entirely on my account," he said. "Yet
now you are here you won't have anything to say to my offer!"

He had hardly gone down the staircase when she dropped upon the sofa and
jumped up again in a fit of desperation. "I WILL love him!" she cried
passionately; "as for HIM--he's hot-tempered and stern, and it would be
madness to bind myself to him knowing that. I won't be a slave to the
past--I'll love where I choose!"

Yet having decided to break away from Henchard one might have supposed
her capable of aiming higher than Farfrae. But Lucetta reasoned nothing:
she feared hard words from the people with whom she had been earlier
associated; she had no relatives left; and with native lightness of
heart took kindly to what fate offered.

Elizabeth-Jane, surveying the position of Lucetta between her two lovers
from the crystalline sphere of a straightforward mind, did not fail to
perceive that her father, as she called him, and Donald Farfrae became
more desperately enamoured of her friend every day. On Farfrae's side
it was the unforced passion of youth. On Henchard's the artificially
stimulated coveting of maturer age.

The pain she experienced from the almost absolute obliviousness to
her existence that was shown by the pair of them became at times half
dissipated by her sense of its humourousness. When Lucetta had pricked
her finger they were as deeply concerned as if she were dying; when she
herself had been seriously sick or in danger they uttered a conventional
word of sympathy at the news, and forgot all about it immediately.
But, as regarded Henchard, this perception of hers also caused her
some filial grief; she could not help asking what she had done to
be neglected so, after the professions of solicitude he had made. As
regarded Farfrae, she thought, after honest reflection, that it was
quite natural. What was she beside Lucetta?--as one of the "meaner
beauties of the night," when the moon had risen in the skies.

She had learnt the lesson of renunciation, and was as familiar with the
wreck of each day's wishes as with the diurnal setting of the sun. If
her earthly career had taught her few book philosophies it had at least
well practised her in this. Yet her experience had consisted less in
a series of pure disappointments than in a series of substitutions.
Continually it had happened that what she had desired had not been
granted her, and that what had been granted her she had not desired. So
she viewed with an approach to equanimity the now cancelled days when
Donald had been her undeclared lover, and wondered what unwished-for
thing Heaven might send her in place of him.




26.


It chanced that on a fine spring morning Henchard and Farfrae met in the
chestnut-walk which ran along the south wall of the town. Each had just
come out from his early breakfast, and there was not another soul near.
Henchard was reading a letter from Lucetta, sent in answer to a note
from him, in which she made some excuse for not immediately granting him
a second interview that he had desired.

Donald had no wish to enter into conversation with his former friend on
their present constrained terms; neither would he pass him in scowling
silence. He nodded, and Henchard did the same. They receded from each
other several paces when a voice cried "Farfrae!" It was Henchard's, who
stood regarding him.

"Do you remember," said Henchard, as if it were the presence of the
thought and not of the man which made him speak, "do you remember my
story of that second woman--who suffered for her thoughtless intimacy
with me?"

"I do," said Farfrae.

"Do you remember my telling 'ee how it all began and how it ended?

"Yes."

"Well, I have offered to marry her now that I can; but she won't marry
me. Now what would you think of her--I put it to you?"

"Well, ye owe her nothing more now," said Farfrae heartily.

"It is true," said Henchard, and went on.

That he had looked up from a letter to ask his questions completely shut
out from Farfrae's mind all vision of Lucetta as the culprit. Indeed,
her present position was so different from that of the young woman of
Henchard's story as of itself to be sufficient to blind him absolutely
to her identity. As for Henchard, he was reassured by Farfrae's words
and manner against a suspicion which had crossed his mind. They were not
those of a conscious rival.

Yet that there was rivalry by some one he was firmly persuaded. He could
feel it in the air around Lucetta, see it in the turn of her pen. There
was an antagonistic force in exercise, so that when he had tried to
hang near her he seemed standing in a refluent current. That it was not
innate caprice he was more and more certain. Her windows gleamed as
if they did not want him; her curtains seem to hang slily, as if
they screened an ousting presence. To discover whose presence that
was--whether really Farfrae's after all, or another's--he exerted
himself to the utmost to see her again; and at length succeeded.

At the interview, when she offered him tea, he made it a point to launch
a cautious inquiry if she knew Mr. Farfrae.

O yes, she knew him, she declared; she could not help knowing almost
everybody in Casterbridge, living in such a gazebo over the centre and
arena of the town.

"Pleasant young fellow," said Henchard.

"Yes," said Lucetta.

"We both know him," said kind Elizabeth-Jane, to relieve her companion's
divined embarrassment.

There was a knock at the door; literally, three full knocks and a little
one at the end.

"That kind of knock means half-and-half--somebody between gentle
and simple," said the corn-merchant to himself. "I shouldn't wonder
therefore if it is he." In a few seconds surely enough Donald walked in.

Lucetta was full of little fidgets and flutters, which increased
Henchard's suspicions without affording any special proof of their
correctness. He was well-nigh ferocious at the sense of the queer
situation in which he stood towards this woman. One who had reproached
him for deserting her when calumniated, who had urged claims upon his
consideration on that account, who had lived waiting for him, who at the
first decent opportunity had come to ask him to rectify, by making her
his, the false position into which she had placed herself for his sake;
such she had been. And now he sat at her tea-table eager to gain her
attention, and in his amatory rage feeling the other man present to be a
villain, just as any young fool of a lover might feel.

They sat stiffly side by side at the darkening table, like some Tuscan
painting of the two disciples supping at Emmaus. Lucetta, forming the
third and haloed figure, was opposite them; Elizabeth-Jane, being out
of the game, and out of the group, could observe all from afar, like
the evangelist who had to write it down: that there were long spaces of
taciturnity, when all exterior circumstances were subdued to the touch
of spoons and china, the click of a heel on the pavement under the
window, the passing of a wheelbarrow or cart, the whistling of the
carter, the gush of water into householders' buckets at the town-pump
opposite, the exchange of greetings among their neighbours, and the
rattle of the yokes by which they carried off their evening supply.

"More bread-and-butter?" said Lucetta to Henchard and Farfrae equally,
holding out between them a plateful of long slices. Henchard took a
slice by one end and Donald by the other; each feeling certain he was
the man meant; neither let go, and the slice came in two.

"Oh--I am so sorry!" cried Lucetta, with a nervous titter. Farfrae tried
to laugh; but he was too much in love to see the incident in any but a
tragic light.

"How ridiculous of all three of them!" said Elizabeth to herself.

Henchard left the house with a ton of conjecture, though without a grain
of proof, that the counterattraction was Farfrae; and therefore he
would not make up his mind. Yet to Elizabeth-Jane it was plain as the
town-pump that Donald and Lucetta were incipient lovers. More than once,
in spite of her care, Lucetta had been unable to restrain her glance
from flitting across into Farfrae's eyes like a bird to its nest. But
Henchard was constructed upon too large a scale to discern such minutiae
as these by an evening light, which to him were as the notes of an
insect that lie above the compass of the human ear.

But he was disturbed. And the sense of occult rivalry in suitorship was
so much superadded to the palpable rivalry of their business lives. To
the coarse materiality of that rivalry it added an inflaming soul.

The thus vitalized antagonism took the form of action by Henchard
sending for Jopp, the manager originally displaced by Farfrae's arrival.
Henchard had frequently met this man about the streets, observed that
his clothing spoke of neediness, heard that he lived in Mixen
Lane--a back slum of the town, the pis aller of Casterbridge
domiciliation--itself almost a proof that a man had reached a stage when
he would not stick at trifles.

Jopp came after dark, by the gates of the storeyard, and felt his way
through the hay and straw to the office where Henchard sat in solitude
awaiting him.

"I am again out of a foreman," said the corn-factor. "Are you in a
place?"

"Not so much as a beggar's, sir."

"How much do you ask?"

Jopp named his price, which was very moderate.

"When can you come?"

"At this hour and moment, sir," said Jopp, who, standing hands-pocketed
at the street corner till the sun had faded the shoulders of his coat
to scarecrow green, had regularly watched Henchard in the market-place,
measured him, and learnt him, by virtue of the power which the still
man has in his stillness of knowing the busy one better than he knows
himself. Jopp too, had had a convenient experience; he was the only one
in Casterbridge besides Henchard and the close-lipped Elizabeth who knew
that Lucetta came truly from Jersey, and but proximately from Bath. "I
know Jersey too, sir," he said. "Was living there when you used to do
business that way. O yes--have often seen ye there."

"Indeed! Very good. Then the thing is settled. The testimonials you
showed me when you first tried for't are sufficient."

That characters deteriorated in time of need possibly did not occur
to Henchard. Jopp said, "Thank you," and stood more firmly, in the
consciousness that at last he officially belonged to that spot.

"Now," said Henchard, digging his strong eyes into Jopp's face, "one
thing is necessary to me, as the biggest corn-and-hay dealer in these
parts. The Scotchman, who's taking the town trade so bold into
his hands, must be cut out. D'ye hear? We two can't live side by
side--that's clear and certain."

"I've seen it all," said Jopp.

"By fair competition I mean, of course," Henchard continued. "But as
hard, keen, and unflinching as fair--rather more so. By such a desperate
bid against him for the farmers' custom as will grind him into the
ground--starve him out. I've capital, mind ye, and I can do it."

"I'm all that way of thinking," said the new foreman. Jopp's dislike of
Farfrae as the man who had once ursurped his place, while it made him
a willing tool, made him, at the same time, commercially as unsafe a
colleague as Henchard could have chosen.

"I sometimes think," he added, "that he must have some glass that he
sees next year in. He has such a knack of making everything bring him
fortune."

"He's deep beyond all honest men's discerning, but we must make him
shallower. We'll undersell him, and over-buy him, and so snuff him out."

They then entered into specific details of the process by which this
would be accomplished, and parted at a late hour.

Elizabeth-Jane heard by accident that Jopp had been engaged by her
stepfather. She was so fully convinced that he was not the right man for
the place that, at the risk of making Henchard angry, she expressed
her apprehension to him when they met. But it was done to no purpose.
Henchard shut up her argument with a sharp rebuff.

The season's weather seemed to favour their scheme. The time was in
the years immediately before foreign competition had revolutionized
the trade in grain; when still, as from the earliest ages, the wheat
quotations from month to month depended entirely upon the home harvest.
A bad harvest, or the prospect of one, would double the price of corn in
a few weeks; and the promise of a good yield would lower it as rapidly.
Prices were like the roads of the period, steep in gradient, reflecting
in their phases the local conditions, without engineering, levellings,
or averages.

The farmer's income was ruled by the wheat-crop within his own horizon,
and the wheat-crop by the weather. Thus in person, he became a sort of
flesh-barometer, with feelers always directed to the sky and wind around
him. The local atmosphere was everything to him; the atmospheres of
other countries a matter of indifference. The people, too, who were
not farmers, the rural multitude, saw in the god of the weather a
more important personage than they do now. Indeed, the feeling of the
peasantry in this matter was so intense as to be almost unrealizable in
these equable days. Their impulse was well-nigh to prostrate themselves
in lamentation before untimely rains and tempests, which came as the
Alastor of those households whose crime it was to be poor.

After midsummer they watched the weather-cocks as men waiting in
antechambers watch the lackey. Sun elated them; quiet rain sobered them;
weeks of watery tempest stupefied them. That aspect of the sky which
they now regard as disagreeable they then beheld as maleficent.

It was June, and the weather was very unfavourable. Casterbridge, being
as it were the bell-board on which all the adjacent hamlets and villages
sounded their notes, was decidedly dull. Instead of new articles in the
shop-windows those that had been rejected in the foregoing summer were
brought out again; superseded reap-hooks, badly-shaped rakes, shop-worn
leggings, and time-stiffened water-tights reappeared, furbished up as
near to new as possible.

Henchard, backed by Jopp, read a disastrous garnering, and resolved to
base his strategy against Farfrae upon that reading. But before acting
he wished--what so many have wished--that he could know for certain what
was at present only strong probability. He was superstitious--as such
head-strong natures often are--and he nourished in his mind an idea
bearing on the matter; an idea he shrank from disclosing even to Jopp.

In a lonely hamlet a few miles from the town--so lonely that what are
called lonely villages were teeming by comparison--there lived a man of
curious repute as a forecaster or weather-prophet. The way to his house
was crooked and miry--even difficult in the present unpropitious season.
One evening when it was raining so heavily that ivy and laurel resounded
like distant musketry, and an out-door man could be excused for
shrouding himself to his ears and eyes, such a shrouded figure on foot
might have been perceived travelling in the direction of the hazel-copse
which dripped over the prophet's cot. The turnpike-road became a lane,
the lane a cart-track, the cart-track a bridle-path, the bridle-path a
foot-way, the foot-way overgrown. The solitary walker slipped here and
there, and stumbled over the natural springes formed by the brambles,
till at length he reached the house, which, with its garden, was
surrounded with a high, dense hedge. The cottage, comparatively a large
one, had been built of mud by the occupier's own hands, and thatched
also by himself. Here he had always lived, and here it was assumed he
would die.

He existed on unseen supplies; for it was an anomalous thing that while
there was hardly a soul in the neighbourhood but affected to laugh at
this man's assertions, uttering the formula, "There's nothing in 'em,"
with full assurance on the surface of their faces, very few of them were
unbelievers in their secret hearts. Whenever they consulted him they
did it "for a fancy." When they paid him they said, "Just a trifle for
Christmas," or "Candlemas," as the case might be.

He would have preferred more honesty in his clients, and less sham
ridicule; but fundamental belief consoled him for superficial irony. As
stated, he was enabled to live; people supported him with their backs
turned. He was sometimes astonished that men could profess so little and
believe so much at his house, when at church they professed so much and
believed so little.

Behind his back he was called "Wide-oh," on account of his reputation;
to his face "Mr." Fall.

The hedge of his garden formed an arch over the entrance, and a door
was inserted as in a wall. Outside the door the tall traveller stopped,
bandaged his face with a handkerchief as if he were suffering from
toothache, and went up the path. The window shutters were not closed,
and he could see the prophet within, preparing his supper.

In answer to the knock Fall came to the door, candle in hand. The
visitor stepped back a little from the light, and said, "Can I speak
to 'ee?" in significant tones. The other's invitation to come in was
responded to by the country formula, "This will do, thank 'ee," after
which the householder had no alternative but to come out. He placed
the candle on the corner of the dresser, took his hat from a nail, and
joined the stranger in the porch, shutting the door behind him.

"I've long heard that you can--do things of a sort?" began the other,
repressing his individuality as much as he could.

"Maybe so, Mr. Henchard," said the weather-caster.

"Ah--why do you call me that?" asked the visitor with a start.

"Because it's your name. Feeling you'd come I've waited for 'ee;
and thinking you might be leery from your walk I laid two supper
plates--look ye here." He threw open the door and disclosed the
supper-table, at which appeared a second chair, knife and fork, plate
and mug, as he had declared.

Henchard felt like Saul at his reception by Samuel; he remained in
silence for a few moments, then throwing off the disguise of frigidity
which he had hitherto preserved he said, "Then I have not come in
vain....Now, for instance, can ye charm away warts?"

"Without trouble."

"Cure the evil?"

"That I've done--with consideration--if they will wear the toad-bag by
night as well as by day."

"Forecast the weather?"

"With labour and time."

"Then take this," said Henchard. "'Tis a crownpiece. Now, what is the
harvest fortnight to be? When can I know?'

"I've worked it out already, and you can know at once." (The fact
was that five farmers had already been there on the same errand from
different parts of the country.) "By the sun, moon, and stars, by the
clouds, the winds, the trees, and grass, the candle-flame and swallows,
the smell of the herbs; likewise by the cats' eyes, the ravens, the
leeches, the spiders, and the dungmixen, the last fortnight in August
will be--rain and tempest."

"You are not certain, of course?"

"As one can be in a world where all's unsure. 'Twill be more like living
in Revelations this autumn than in England. Shall I sketch it out for
'ee in a scheme?"

"O no, no," said Henchard. "I don't altogether believe in forecasts,
come to second thoughts on such. But I--"

"You don't--you don't--'tis quite understood," said Wide-oh, without a
sound of scorn. "You have given me a crown because you've one too many.
But won't you join me at supper, now 'tis waiting and all?"

Henchard would gladly have joined; for the savour of the stew
had floated from the cottage into the porch with such appetizing
distinctness that the meat, the onions, the pepper, and the herbs could
be severally recognized by his nose. But as sitting down to
hob-and-nob there would have seemed to mark him too implicitly as the
weather-caster's apostle, he declined, and went his way.

The next Saturday Henchard bought grain to such an enormous extent that
there was quite a talk about his purchases among his neighbours the
lawyer, the wine merchant, and the doctor; also on the next, and on
all available days. When his granaries were full to choking all the
weather-cocks of Casterbridge creaked and set their faces in another
direction, as if tired of the south-west. The weather changed; the
sunlight, which had been like tin for weeks, assumed the hues of
topaz. The temperament of the welkin passed from the phlegmatic to
the sanguine; an excellent harvest was almost a certainty; and as a
consequence prices rushed down.

All these transformations, lovely to the outsider, to the wrong-headed
corn-dealer were terrible. He was reminded of what he had well known
before, that a man might gamble upon the square green areas of fields as
readily as upon those of a card-room.

Henchard had backed bad weather, and apparently lost. He had mistaken
the turn of the flood for the turn of the ebb. His dealings had been so
extensive that settlement could not long be postponed, and to settle he
was obliged to sell off corn that he had bought only a few weeks before
at figures higher by many shillings a quarter. Much of the corn he had
never seen; it had not even been moved from the ricks in which it lay
stacked miles away. Thus he lost heavily.

In the blaze of an early August day he met Farfrae in the market-place.
Farfrae knew of his dealings (though he did not guess their intended
bearing on himself) and commiserated him; for since their exchange
of words in the South Walk they had been on stiffly speaking terms.
Henchard for the moment appeared to resent the sympathy; but he suddenly
took a careless turn.

"Ho, no, no!--nothing serious, man!" he cried with fierce gaiety. "These
things always happen, don't they? I know it has been said that figures
have touched me tight lately; but is that anything rare? The case is not
so bad as folk make out perhaps. And dammy, a man must be a fool to mind
the common hazards of trade!"

But he had to enter the Casterbridge Bank that day for reasons which
had never before sent him there--and to sit a long time in the partners'
room with a constrained bearing. It was rumoured soon after that much
real property as well as vast stores of produce, which had stood
in Henchard's name in the town and neighbourhood, was actually the
possession of his bankers.

Coming down the steps of the bank he encountered Jopp. The gloomy
transactions just completed within had added fever to the original sting
of Farfrae's sympathy that morning, which Henchard fancied might be a
satire disguised so that Jopp met with anything but a bland reception.
The latter was in the act of taking off his hat to wipe his forehead,
and saying, "A fine hot day," to an acquaintance.

"You can wipe and wipe, and say, 'A fine hot day,' can ye!" cried
Henchard in a savage undertone, imprisoning Jopp between himself and the
bank wall. "If it hadn't been for your blasted advice it might have been
a fine day enough! Why did ye let me go on, hey?--when a word of doubt
from you or anybody would have made me think twice! For you can never be
sure of weather till 'tis past."

"My advice, sir, was to do what you thought best."

"A useful fellow! And the sooner you help somebody else in that way the
better!" Henchard continued his address to Jopp in similar terms till it
ended in Jopp's dismissal there and then, Henchard turning upon his heel
and leaving him.

"You shall be sorry for this, sir; sorry as a man can be!" said Jopp,
standing pale, and looking after the corn-merchant as he disappeared in
the crowd of market-men hard by.




27.


It was the eve of harvest. Prices being low Farfrae was buying. As was
usual, after reckoning too surely on famine weather the local farmers
had flown to the other extreme, and (in Farfrae's opinion) were selling
off too recklessly--calculating with just a trifle too much certainty
upon an abundant yield. So he went on buying old corn at its
comparatively ridiculous price: for the produce of the previous year,
though not large, had been of excellent quality.

When Henchard had squared his affairs in a disastrous way, and got rid
of his burdensome purchases at a monstrous loss, the harvest began.
There were three days of excellent weather, and then--"What if that
curst conjuror should be right after all!" said Henchard.

The fact was, that no sooner had the sickles begun to play than the
atmosphere suddenly felt as if cress would grow in it without other
nourishment. It rubbed people's cheeks like damp flannel when they
walked abroad. There was a gusty, high, warm wind; isolated raindrops
starred the window-panes at remote distances: the sunlight would flap
out like a quickly opened fan, throw the pattern of the window upon the
floor of the room in a milky, colourless shine, and withdraw as suddenly
as it had appeared.

From that day and hour it was clear that there was not to be so
successful an ingathering after all. If Henchard had only waited long
enough he might at least have avoided loss though he had not made a
profit. But the momentum of his character knew no patience. At this turn
of the scales he remained silent. The movements of his mind seemed to
tend to the thought that some power was working against him.

"I wonder," he asked himself with eerie misgiving; "I wonder if it can
be that somebody has been roasting a waxen image of me, or stirring an
unholy brew to confound me! I don't believe in such power; and yet--what
if they should ha' been doing it!" Even he could not admit that
the perpetrator, if any, might be Farfrae. These isolated hours of
superstition came to Henchard in time of moody depression, when all his
practical largeness of view had oozed out of him.

Meanwhile Donald Farfrae prospered. He had purchased in so depressed a
market that the present moderate stiffness of prices was sufficient to
pile for him a large heap of gold where a little one had been.

"Why, he'll soon be Mayor!" said Henchard. It was indeed hard that the
speaker should, of all others, have to follow the triumphal chariot of
this man to the Capitol.

The rivalry of the masters was taken up by the men.

September-night shades had fallen upon Casterbridge; the clocks had
struck half-past eight, and the moon had risen. The streets of the town
were curiously silent for such a comparatively early hour. A sound of
jangling horse-bells and heavy wheels passed up the street. These were
followed by angry voices outside Lucetta's house, which led her and
Elizabeth-Jane to run to the windows, and pull up the blinds.

The neighbouring Market House and Town Hall abutted against its next
neighbour the Church except in the lower storey, where an arched
thoroughfare gave admittance to a large square called Bull Stake. A
stone post rose in the midst, to which the oxen had formerly been tied
for baiting with dogs to make them tender before they were killed in the
adjoining shambles. In a corner stood the stocks.

The thoroughfare leading to this spot was now blocked by two four-horse
waggons and horses, one laden with hay-trusses, the leaders having
already passed each other, and become entangled head to tail. The
passage of the vehicles might have been practicable if empty; but built
up with hay to the bedroom windows as one was, it was impossible.

"You must have done it a' purpose!" said Farfrae's waggoner. "You can
hear my horses' bells half-a-mile such a night as this!"

"If ye'd been minding your business instead of zwailing along in such
a gawk-hammer way, you would have zeed me!" retorted the wroth
representative of Henchard.

However, according to the strict rule of the road it appeared that
Henchard's man was most in the wrong, he therefore attempted to back
into the High Street. In doing this the near hind-wheel rose against
the churchyard wall and the whole mountainous load went over, two of the
four wheels rising in the air, and the legs of the thill horse.

Instead of considering how to gather up the load the two men closed in
a fight with their fists. Before the first round was quite over Henchard
came upon the spot, somebody having run for him.

Henchard sent the two men staggering in contrary directions by collaring
one with each hand, turned to the horse that was down, and extricated
him after some trouble. He then inquired into the circumstances; and
seeing the state of his waggon and its load began hotly rating Farfrae's
man.

Lucetta and Elizabeth-Jane had by this time run down to the street
corner, whence they watched the bright heap of new hay lying in the
moon's rays, and passed and repassed by the forms of Henchard and the
waggoners. The women had witnessed what nobody else had seen--the origin
of the mishap; and Lucetta spoke.

"I saw it all, Mr. Henchard," she cried; "and your man was most in the
wrong!"

Henchard paused in his harangue and turned. "Oh, I didn't notice you,
Miss Templeman," said he. "My man in the wrong? Ah, to be sure; to be
sure! But I beg your pardon notwithstanding. The other's is the empty
waggon, and he must have been most to blame for coming on."

"No; I saw it, too," said Elizabeth-Jane. "And I can assure you he
couldn't help it."

"You can't trust THEIR senses!" murmured Henchard's man.

"Why not?" asked Henchard sharply.

"Why, you see, sir, all the women side with Farfrae--being a damn young
dand--of the sort that he is--one that creeps into a maid's heart like
the giddying worm into a sheep's brain--making crooked seem straight to
their eyes!"

"But do you know who that lady is you talk about in such a fashion? Do
you know that I pay my attentions to her, and have for some time? Just
be careful!"

"Not I. I know nothing, sir, outside eight shillings a week."

"And that Mr. Farfrae is well aware of it? He's sharp in trade, but he
wouldn't do anything so underhand as what you hint at."

Whether because Lucetta heard this low dialogue, or not her white
figure disappeared from her doorway inward, and the door was shut before
Henchard could reach it to converse with her further. This disappointed
him, for he had been sufficiently disturbed by what the man had said to
wish to speak to her more closely. While pausing the old constable came
up.

"Just see that nobody drives against that hay and waggon to-night,
Stubberd," said the corn-merchant. "It must bide till the morning, for
all hands are in the field still. And if any coach or road-waggon wants
to come along, tell 'em they must go round by the back street, and be
hanged to 'em....Any case tomorrow up in Hall?"

"Yes, sir. One in number, sir."

"Oh, what's that?"

"An old flagrant female, sir, swearing and committing a nuisance in a
horrible profane manner against the church wall, sir, as if 'twere no
more than a pot-house! That's all, sir."

"Oh. The Mayor's out o' town, isn't he?"

"He is, sir."

"Very well, then I'll be there. Don't forget to keep an eye on that hay.
Good night t' 'ee."

During those moments Henchard had determined to follow up Lucetta
notwithstanding her elusiveness, and he knocked for admission.

The answer he received was an expression of Miss Templeman's sorrow at
being unable to see him again that evening because she had an engagement
to go out.

Henchard walked away from the door to the opposite side of the street,
and stood by his hay in a lonely reverie, the constable having strolled
elsewhere, and the horses being removed. Though the moon was not bright
as yet there were no lamps lighted, and he entered the shadow of one of
the projecting jambs which formed the thoroughfare to Bull Stake; here
he watched Lucetta's door.

Candle-lights were flitting in and out of her bedroom, and it was
obvious that she was dressing for the appointment, whatever the nature
of that might be at such an hour. The lights disappeared, the clock
struck nine, and almost at the moment Farfrae came round the opposite
corner and knocked. That she had been waiting just inside for him was
certain, for she instantly opened the door herself. They went together
by the way of a back lane westward, avoiding the front street; guessing
where they were going he determined to follow.

The harvest had been so delayed by the capricious weather that whenever
a fine day occurred all sinews were strained to save what could be saved
of the damaged crops. On account of the rapid shortening of the days the
harvesters worked by moonlight. Hence to-night the wheat-fields abutting
on the two sides of the square formed by Casterbridge town were animated
by the gathering hands. Their shouts and laughter had reached Henchard
at the Market House, while he stood there waiting, and he had little
doubt from the turn which Farfrae and Lucetta had taken that they were
bound for the spot.

Nearly the whole town had gone into the fields. The Casterbridge
populace still retained the primitive habit of helping one another in
time of need; and thus, though the corn belonged to the farming section
of the little community--that inhabiting the Durnover quarter--the
remainder was no less interested in the labour of getting it home.

Reaching the top of the lane Henchard crossed the shaded avenue on the
walls, slid down the green rampart, and stood amongst the stubble. The
"stitches" or shocks rose like tents about the yellow expanse, those in
the distance becoming lost in the moonlit hazes.

He had entered at a point removed from the scene of immediate
operations; but two others had entered at that place, and he could
see them winding among the shocks. They were paying no regard to the
direction of their walk, whose vague serpentining soon began to
bear down towards Henchard. A meeting promised to be awkward, and he
therefore stepped into the hollow of the nearest shock, and sat down.

"You have my leave," Lucetta was saying gaily. "Speak what you like."

"Well, then," replied Farfrae, with the unmistakable inflection of the
lover pure, which Henchard had never heard in full resonance of his lips
before, "you are sure to be much sought after for your position, wealth,
talents, and beauty. But will ye resist the temptation to be one of
those ladies with lots of admirers--ay--and be content to have only a
homely one?"

"And he the speaker?" said she, laughing. "Very well, sir, what next?"

"Ah! I'm afraid that what I feel will make me forget my manners!"

"Then I hope you'll never have any, if you lack them only for that
cause." After some broken words which Henchard lost she added, "Are you
sure you won't be jealous?"

Farfrae seemed to assure her that he would not, by taking her hand.

"You are convinced, Donald, that I love nobody else," she presently
said. "But I should wish to have my own way in some things."

"In everything! What special thing did you mean?"

"If I wished not to live always in Casterbridge, for instance, upon
finding that I should not be happy here?"

Henchard did not hear the reply; he might have done so and much more,
but he did not care to play the eavesdropper. They went on towards
the scene of activity, where the sheaves were being handed, a dozen a
minute, upon the carts and waggons which carried them away.

Lucetta insisted on parting from Farfrae when they drew near the
workpeople. He had some business with them, and, though he entreated
her to wait a few minutes, she was inexorable, and tripped off homeward
alone.

Henchard thereupon left the field and followed her. His state of mind
was such that on reaching Lucetta's door he did not knock but opened it,
and walked straight up to her sitting-room, expecting to find her
there. But the room was empty, and he perceived that in his haste he had
somehow passed her on the way hither. He had not to wait many minutes,
however, for he soon heard her dress rustling in the hall, followed by a
soft closing of the door. In a moment she appeared.

The light was so low that she did not notice Henchard at first. As soon
as she saw him she uttered a little cry, almost of terror.

"How can you frighten me so?" she exclaimed, with a flushed face. "It
is past ten o'clock, and you have no right to surprise me here at such a
time."

"I don't know that I've not the right. At any rate I have the excuse. Is
it so necessary that I should stop to think of manners and customs?"

"It is too late for propriety, and might injure me."

"I called an hour ago, and you would not see me, and I thought you were
in when I called now. It is you, Lucetta, who are doing wrong. It is
not proper in 'ee to throw me over like this. I have a little matter to
remind you of, which you seem to forget."

She sank into a chair, and turned pale.

"I don't want to hear it--I don't want to hear it!" she said through her
hands, as he, standing close to the edge of her gown, began to allude to
the Jersey days.

"But you ought to hear it," said he.

"It came to nothing; and through you. Then why not leave me the freedom
that I gained with such sorrow! Had I found that you proposed to marry
me for pure love I might have felt bound now. But I soon learnt that
you had planned it out of mere charity--almost as an unpleasant
duty--because I had nursed you, and compromised myself, and you thought
you must repay me. After that I did not care for you so deeply as
before."

"Why did you come here to find me, then?"

"I thought I ought to marry you for conscience' sake, since you were
free, even though I--did not like you so well."

"And why then don't you think so now?"

She was silent. It was only too obvious that conscience had ruled well
enough till new love had intervened and usurped that rule. In feeling
this she herself forgot for the moment her partially justifying
argument--that having discovered Henchard's infirmities of temper, she
had some excuse for not risking her happiness in his hands after once
escaping them. The only thing she could say was, "I was a poor girl
then; and now my circumstances have altered, so I am hardly the same
person."

"That's true. And it makes the case awkward for me. But I don't want to
touch your money. I am quite willing that every penny of your property
shall remain to your personal use. Besides, that argument has nothing in
it. The man you are thinking of is no better than I."

"If you were as good as he you would leave me!" she cried passionately.

This unluckily aroused Henchard. "You cannot in honour refuse me," he
said. "And unless you give me your promise this very night to be my
wife, before a witness, I'll reveal our intimacy--in common fairness to
other men!"

A look of resignation settled upon her. Henchard saw its bitterness;
and had Lucetta's heart been given to any other man in the world than
Farfrae he would probably have had pity upon her at that moment. But the
supplanter was the upstart (as Henchard called him) who had mounted into
prominence upon his shoulders, and he could bring himself to show no
mercy.

Without another word she rang the bell, and directed that Elizabeth-Jane
should be fetched from her room. The latter appeared, surprised in the
midst of her lucubrations. As soon as she saw Henchard she went across
to him dutifully.

"Elizabeth-Jane," he said, taking her hand, "I want you to hear this."
And turning to Lucetta: "Will you, or will you not, marry me?

"If you--wish it, I must agree!"

"You say yes?"

"I do."

No sooner had she given the promise than she fell back in a fainting
state.

"What dreadful thing drives her to say this, father, when it is such a
pain to her?" asked Elizabeth, kneeling down by Lucetta. "Don't compel
her to do anything against her will! I have lived with her, and know
that she cannot bear much."

"Don't be a no'thern simpleton!" said Henchard drily. "This promise will
leave him free for you, if you want him, won't it?"

At this Lucetta seemed to wake from her swoon with a start.

"Him? Who are you talking about?" she said wildly.

"Nobody, as far as I am concerned," said Elizabeth firmly.

"Oh--well. Then it is my mistake," said Henchard. "But the business is
between me and Miss Templeman. She agrees to be my wife."

"But don't dwell on it just now," entreated Elizabeth, holding Lucetta's
hand.

"I don't wish to, if she promises," said Henchard.

"I have, I have," groaned Lucetta, her limbs hanging like fluid, from
very misery and faintness. "Michael, please don't argue it any more!"

"I will not," he said. And taking up his hat he went away.

Elizabeth-Jane continued to kneel by Lucetta. "What is this?" she said.
"You called my father 'Michael' as if you knew him well? And how is it
he has got this power over you, that you promise to marry him against
your will? Ah--you have many many secrets from me!"

"Perhaps you have some from me," Lucetta murmured with closed eyes,
little thinking, however, so unsuspicious was she, that the secret of
Elizabeth's heart concerned the young man who had caused this damage to
her own.

"I would not--do anything against you at all!" stammered Elizabeth,
keeping in all signs of emotion till she was ready to burst. "I cannot
understand how my father can command you so; I don't sympathize with him
in it at all. I'll go to him and ask him to release you."

"No, no," said Lucetta. "Let it all be."




28.


The next morning Henchard went to the Town Hall below Lucetta's house,
to attend Petty Sessions, being still a magistrate for the year by
virtue of his late position as Mayor. In passing he looked up at her
windows, but nothing of her was to be seen.

Henchard as a Justice of the Peace may at first seem to be an even
greater incongruity than Shallow and Silence themselves. But his rough
and ready perceptions, his sledge-hammer directness, had often served
him better than nice legal knowledge in despatching such simple business
as fell to his hands in this Court. To-day Dr. Chalkfield, the Mayor for
the year, being absent, the corn-merchant took the big chair, his eyes
still abstractedly stretching out of the window to the ashlar front of
High-Place Hall.

There was one case only, and the offender stood before him. She was an
old woman of mottled countenance, attired in a shawl of that nameless
tertiary hue which comes, but cannot be made--a hue neither tawny,
russet, hazel, nor ash; a sticky black bonnet that seemed to have been
worn in the country of the Psalmist where the clouds drop fatness; and
an apron that had been white in time so comparatively recent as still to
contrast visibly with the rest of her clothes. The steeped aspect of the
woman as a whole showed her to be no native of the country-side or even
of a country-town.

She looked cursorily at Henchard and the second magistrate, and Henchard
looked at her, with a momentary pause, as if she had reminded him
indistinctly of somebody or something which passed from his mind as
quickly as it had come. "Well, and what has she been doing?" he said,
looking down at the charge sheet.

"She is charged, sir, with the offence of disorderly female and
nuisance," whispered Stubberd.

"Where did she do that?" said the other magistrate.

"By the church, sir, of all the horrible places in the world!--I caught
her in the act, your worship."

"Stand back then," said Henchard, "and let's hear what you've got to
say."

Stubberd was sworn in, the magistrate's clerk dipped his pen, Henchard
being no note-taker himself, and the constable began--

"Hearing a' illegal noise I went down the street at twenty-five minutes
past eleven P.M. on the night of the fifth instinct, Hannah Dominy. When
I had--

"Don't go so fast, Stubberd," said the clerk.

The constable waited, with his eyes on the clerk's pen, till the latter
stopped scratching and said, "yes." Stubberd continued: "When I had
proceeded to the spot I saw defendant at another spot, namely, the
gutter." He paused, watching the point of the clerk's pen again.

"Gutter, yes, Stubberd."

"Spot measuring twelve feet nine inches or thereabouts from where I--"
Still careful not to outrun the clerk's penmanship Stubberd pulled up
again; for having got his evidence by heart it was immaterial to him
whereabouts he broke off.

"I object to that," spoke up the old woman, "'spot measuring twelve feet
nine or thereabouts from where I,' is not sound testimony!"

The magistrates consulted, and the second one said that the bench was
of opinion that twelve feet nine inches from a man on his oath was
admissible.

Stubberd, with a suppressed gaze of victorious rectitude at the old
woman, continued: "Was standing myself. She was wambling about quite
dangerous to the thoroughfare and when I approached to draw near she
committed the nuisance, and insulted me."

"'Insulted me.'...Yes, what did she say?"

"She said, 'Put away that dee lantern,' she says."

"Yes."

"Says she, 'Dost hear, old turmit-head? Put away that dee lantern. I
have floored fellows a dee sight finer-looking than a dee fool like
thee, you son of a bee, dee me if I haint,' she says.

"I object to that conversation!" interposed the old woman. "I was not
capable enough to hear what I said, and what is said out of my hearing
is not evidence."

There was another stoppage for consultation, a book was referred to, and
finally Stubberd was allowed to go on again. The truth was that the
old woman had appeared in court so many more times than the magistrates
themselves, that they were obliged to keep a sharp look-out upon their
procedure. However, when Stubberd had rambled on a little further
Henchard broke out impatiently, "Come--we don't want to hear any more of
them cust dees and bees! Say the words out like a man, and don't be so
modest, Stubberd; or else leave it alone!" Turning to the woman, "Now
then, have you any questions to ask him, or anything to say?"

"Yes," she replied with a twinkle in her eye; and the clerk dipped his
pen.

"Twenty years ago or thereabout I was selling of furmity in a tent at
Weydon Fair----"

"'Twenty years ago'--well, that's beginning at the beginning; suppose
you go back to the Creation!" said the clerk, not without satire.

But Henchard stared, and quite forgot what was evidence and what was
not.

"A man and a woman with a little child came into my tent," the woman
continued. "They sat down and had a basin apiece. Ah, Lord's my life! I
was of a more respectable station in the world then than I am now, being
a land smuggler in a large way of business; and I used to season my
furmity with rum for them who asked for't. I did it for the man; and
then he had more and more; till at last he quarrelled with his wife, and
offered to sell her to the highest bidder. A sailor came in and bid five
guineas, and paid the money, and led her away. And the man who sold his
wife in that fashion is the man sitting there in the great big chair."
The speaker concluded by nodding her head at Henchard and folding her
arms.

Everybody looked at Henchard. His face seemed strange, and in tint as if
it had been powdered over with ashes. "We don't want to hear your life
and adventures," said the second magistrate sharply, filling the pause
which followed. "You've been asked if you've anything to say bearing on
the case."

"That bears on the case. It proves that he's no better than I, and has
no right to sit there in judgment upon me."

"'Tis a concocted story," said the clerk. "So hold your tongue!"

"No--'tis true." The words came from Henchard. "'Tis as true as the
light," he said slowly. "And upon my soul it does prove that I'm no
better than she! And to keep out of any temptation to treat her hard for
her revenge, I'll leave her to you."

The sensation in the court was indescribably great. Henchard left the
chair, and came out, passing through a group of people on the steps
and outside that was much larger than usual; for it seemed that the old
furmity dealer had mysteriously hinted to the denizens of the lane in
which she had been lodging since her arrival, that she knew a queer
thing or two about their great local man Mr. Henchard, if she chose to
tell it. This had brought them hither.

"Why are there so many idlers round the Town Hall to-day?" said Lucetta
to her servant when the case was over. She had risen late, and had just
looked out of the window.

"Oh, please, ma'am, 'tis this larry about Mr. Henchard. A woman has
proved that before he became a gentleman he sold his wife for five
guineas in a booth at a fair."

In all the accounts which Henchard had given her of the separation from
his wife Susan for so many years, of his belief in her death, and so on,
he had never clearly explained the actual and immediate cause of that
separation. The story she now heard for the first time.

A gradual misery overspread Lucetta's face as she dwelt upon the promise
wrung from her the night before. At bottom, then, Henchard was this.
How terrible a contingency for a woman who should commit herself to his
care.

During the day she went out to the Ring and to other places, not coming
in till nearly dusk. As soon as she saw Elizabeth-Jane after her return
indoors she told her that she had resolved to go away from home to the
seaside for a few days--to Port-Bredy; Casterbridge was so gloomy.

Elizabeth, seeing that she looked wan and disturbed, encouraged her in
the idea, thinking a change would afford her relief. She could not help
suspecting that the gloom which seemed to have come over Casterbridge
in Lucetta's eyes might be partially owing to the fact that Farfrae was
away from home.

Elizabeth saw her friend depart for Port-Bredy, and took charge of
High-Place Hall till her return. After two or three days of solitude and
incessant rain Henchard called at the house. He seemed disappointed to
hear of Lucetta's absence and though he nodded with outward indifference
he went away handling his beard with a nettled mien.

The next day he called again. "Is she come now?" he asked.

"Yes. She returned this morning," replied his stepdaughter. "But she
is not indoors. She has gone for a walk along the turnpike-road to
Port-Bredy. She will be home by dusk."

After a few words, which only served to reveal his restless impatience,
he left the house again.




29.


At this hour Lucetta was bounding along the road to Port-Bredy just as
Elizabeth had announced. That she had chosen for her afternoon walk the
road along which she had returned to Casterbridge three hours earlier
in a carriage was curious--if anything should be called curious in
concatenations of phenomena wherein each is known to have its accounting
cause. It was the day of the chief market--Saturday--and Farfrae
for once had been missed from his corn-stand in the dealers' room.
Nevertheless, it was known that he would be home that night--"for
Sunday," as Casterbridge expressed it.

Lucetta, in continuing her walk, had at length reached the end of the
ranked trees which bordered the highway in this and other directions out
of the town. This end marked a mile; and here she stopped.

The spot was a vale between two gentle acclivities, and the road,
still adhering to its Roman foundation, stretched onward straight as a
surveyor's line till lost to sight on the most distant ridge. There was
neither hedge nor tree in the prospect now, the road clinging to the
stubby expanse of corn-land like a strip to an undulating garment. Near
her was a barn--the single building of any kind within her horizon.

She strained her eyes up the lessening road, but nothing appeared
thereon--not so much as a speck. She sighed one word--"Donald!" and
turned her face to the town for retreat.

Here the case was different. A single figure was approaching
her--Elizabeth-Jane's.

Lucetta, in spite of her loneliness, seemed a little vexed. Elizabeth's
face, as soon as she recognized her friend, shaped itself into
affectionate lines while yet beyond speaking distance. "I suddenly
thought I would come and meet you," she said, smiling.

Lucetta's reply was taken from her lips by an unexpected diversion. A
by-road on her right hand descended from the fields into the highway
at the point where she stood, and down the track a bull was rambling
uncertainly towards her and Elizabeth, who, facing the other way, did
not observe him.

In the latter quarter of each year cattle were at once the mainstay and
the terror of families about Casterbridge and its neighbourhood, where
breeding was carried on with Abrahamic success. The head of stock
driven into and out of the town at this season to be sold by the local
auctioneer was very large; and all these horned beasts, in travelling to
and fro, sent women and children to shelter as nothing else could do.
In the main the animals would have walked along quietly enough; but the
Casterbridge tradition was that to drive stock it was indispensable that
hideous cries, coupled with Yahoo antics and gestures, should be used,
large sticks flourished, stray dogs called in, and in general everything
done that was likely to infuriate the viciously disposed and terrify the
mild. Nothing was commoner than for a house-holder on going out of his
parlour to find his hall or passage full of little children, nursemaids,
aged women, or a ladies' school, who apologized for their presence by
saying, "A bull passing down street from the sale."

Lucetta and Elizabeth regarded the animal in doubt, he meanwhile drawing
vaguely towards them. It was a large specimen of the breed, in colour
rich dun, though disfigured at present by splotches of mud about
his seamy sides. His horns were thick and tipped with brass; his two
nostrils like the Thames Tunnel as seen in the perspective toys of yore.
Between them, through the gristle of his nose, was a stout copper ring,
welded on, and irremovable as Gurth's collar of brass. To the ring was
attached an ash staff about a yard long, which the bull with the motions
of his head flung about like a flail.

It was not till they observed this dangling stick that the young women
were really alarmed; for it revealed to them that the bull was an old
one, too savage to be driven, which had in some way escaped, the staff
being the means by which the drover controlled him and kept his horns at
arms' length.

They looked round for some shelter or hiding-place, and thought of the
barn hard by. As long as they had kept their eyes on the bull he had
shown some deference in his manner of approach; but no sooner did they
turn their backs to seek the barn than he tossed his head and decided
to thoroughly terrify them. This caused the two helpless girls to run
wildly, whereupon the bull advanced in a deliberate charge.

The barn stood behind a green slimy pond, and it was closed save as to
one of the usual pair of doors facing them, which had been propped open
by a hurdle-stick, and for this opening they made. The interior had been
cleared by a recent bout of threshing except at one end, where there was
a stack of dry clover. Elizabeth-Jane took in the situation. "We must
climb up there," she said.

But before they had even approached it they heard the bull scampering
through the pond without, and in a second he dashed into the barn,
knocking down the hurdle-stake in passing; the heavy door slammed behind
him; and all three were imprisoned in the barn together. The mistaken
creature saw them, and stalked towards the end of the barn into which
they had fled. The girls doubled so adroitly that their pursuer was
against the wall when the fugitives were already half way to the other
end. By the time that his length would allow him to turn and follow them
thither they had crossed over; thus the pursuit went on, the hot air
from his nostrils blowing over them like a sirocco, and not a moment
being attainable by Elizabeth or Lucetta in which to open the door. What
might have happened had their situation continued cannot be said; but
in a few moments a rattling of the door distracted their adversary's
attention, and a man appeared. He ran forward towards the leading-staff,
seized it, and wrenched the animal's head as if he would snap it off.
The wrench was in reality so violent that the thick neck seemed to have
lost its stiffness and to become half-paralyzed, whilst the nose dropped
blood. The premeditated human contrivance of the nose-ring was too
cunning for impulsive brute force, and the creature flinched.

The man was seen in the partial gloom to be large-framed and
unhesitating. He led the bull to the door, and the light revealed
Henchard. He made the bull fast without, and re-entered to the succour
of Lucetta; for he had not perceived Elizabeth, who had climbed on to
the clover-heap. Lucetta was hysterical, and Henchard took her in his
arms and carried her to the door.

"You--have saved me!" she cried, as soon as she could speak.

"I have returned your kindness," he responded tenderly. "You once saved
me."

"How--comes it to be you--you?" she asked, not heeding his reply.

"I came out here to look for you. I have been wanting to tell you
something these two or three days; but you have been away, and I could
not. Perhaps you cannot talk now?"

"Oh--no! Where is Elizabeth?"

"Here am I!" cried the missing one cheerfully; and without waiting for
the ladder to be placed she slid down the face of the clover-stack to
the floor.

Henchard supporting Lucetta on one side, and Elizabeth-Jane on the
other, they went slowly along the rising road. They had reached the top
and were descending again when Lucetta, now much recovered, recollected
that she had dropped her muff in the barn.

"I'll run back," said Elizabeth-Jane. "I don't mind it at all, as I am
not tired as you are." She thereupon hastened down again to the barn,
the others pursuing their way.

Elizabeth soon found the muff, such an article being by no means small
at that time. Coming out she paused to look for a moment at the bull,
now rather to be pitied with his bleeding nose, having perhaps rather
intended a practical joke than a murder. Henchard had secured him by
jamming the staff into the hinge of the barn-door, and wedging it
there with a stake. At length she turned to hasten onward after her
contemplation, when she saw a green-and-black gig approaching from the
contrary direction, the vehicle being driven by Farfrae.

His presence here seemed to explain Lucetta's walk that way. Donald saw
her, drew up, and was hastily made acquainted with what had occurred. At
Elizabeth-Jane mentioning how greatly Lucetta had been jeopardized, he
exhibited an agitation different in kind no less than in intensity
from any she had seen in him before. He became so absorbed in the
circumstance that he scarcely had sufficient knowledge of what he was
doing to think of helping her up beside him.

"She has gone on with Mr. Henchard, you say?" he inquired at last.

"Yes. He is taking her home. They are almost there by this time."

"And you are sure she can get home?"

Elizabeth-Jane was quite sure.

"Your stepfather saved her?"

"Entirely."

Farfrae checked his horse's pace; she guessed why. He was thinking that
it would be best not to intrude on the other two just now. Henchard
had saved Lucetta, and to provoke a possible exhibition of her deeper
affection for himself was as ungenerous as it was unwise.

The immediate subject of their talk being exhausted she felt more
embarrassed at sitting thus beside her past lover; but soon the two
figures of the others were visible at the entrance to the town. The face
of the woman was frequently turned back, but Farfrae did not whip on the
horse. When these reached the town walls Henchard and his companion
had disappeared down the street; Farfrae set down Elizabeth-Jane on her
expressing a particular wish to alight there, and drove round to the
stables at the back of his lodgings.

On this account he entered the house through his garden, and going up to
his apartments found them in a particularly disturbed state, his boxes
being hauled out upon the landing, and his bookcase standing in three
pieces. These phenomena, however, seemed to cause him not the least
surprise. "When will everything be sent up?" he said to the mistress of
the house, who was superintending.

"I am afraid not before eight, sir," said she. "You see we wasn't aware
till this morning that you were going to move, or we could have been
forwarder."

"A--well, never mind, never mind!" said Farfrae cheerily. "Eight o'clock
will do well enough if it be not later. Now, don't ye be standing here
talking, or it will be twelve, I doubt." Thus speaking he went out by
the front door and up the street.

During this interval Henchard and Lucetta had had experiences of
a different kind. After Elizabeth's departure for the muff the
corn-merchant opened himself frankly, holding her hand within his arm,
though she would fain have withdrawn it. "Dear Lucetta, I have been
very, very anxious to see you these two or three days," he said, "ever
since I saw you last! I have thought over the way I got your promise
that night. You said to me, 'If I were a man I should not insist.' That
cut me deep. I felt that there was some truth in it. I don't want to
make you wretched; and to marry me just now would do that as nothing
else could--it is but too plain. Therefore I agree to an indefinite
engagement--to put off all thought of marriage for a year or two."

"But--but--can I do nothing of a different kind?" said Lucetta. "I am
full of gratitude to you--you have saved my life. And your care of me is
like coals of fire on my head! I am a monied person now. Surely I can do
something in return for your goodness--something practical?"

Henchard remained in thought. He had evidently not expected this. "There
is one thing you might do, Lucetta," he said. "But not exactly of that
kind."

"Then of what kind is it?" she asked with renewed misgiving.

"I must tell you a secret to ask it.--You may have heard that I have
been unlucky this year? I did what I have never done before--speculated
rashly; and I lost. That's just put me in a strait.

"And you would wish me to advance some money?"

"No, no!" said Henchard, almost in anger. "I'm not the man to sponge on
a woman, even though she may be so nearly my own as you. No, Lucetta;
what you can do is this and it would save me. My great creditor is
Grower, and it is at his hands I shall suffer if at anybody's; while a
fortnight's forbearance on his part would be enough to allow me to pull
through. This may be got out of him in one way--that you would let it be
known to him that you are my intended--that we are to be quietly married
in the next fortnight.--Now stop, you haven't heard all! Let him have
this story, without, of course, any prejudice to the fact that the
actual engagement between us is to be a long one. Nobody else need know:
you could go with me to Mr. Grower and just let me speak to 'ee before
him as if we were on such terms. We'll ask him to keep it secret. He
will willingly wait then. At the fortnight's end I shall be able to face
him; and I can coolly tell him all is postponed between us for a year
or two. Not a soul in the town need know how you've helped me. Since you
wish to be of use, there's your way."

It being now what the people called the "pinking in" of the day, that
is, the quarter-hour just before dusk, he did not at first observe the
result of his own words upon her.

"If it were anything else," she began, and the dryness of her lips was
represented in her voice.

"But it is such a little thing!" he said, with a deep reproach. "Less
than you have offered--just the beginning of what you have so lately
promised! I could have told him as much myself, but he would not have
believed me."

"It is not because I won't--it is because I absolutely can't," she said,
with rising distress.

"You are provoking!" he burst out. "It is enough to make me force you to
carry out at once what you have promised."

"I cannot!" she insisted desperately.

"Why? When I have only within these few minutes released you from your
promise to do the thing offhand."

"Because--he was a witness!"

"Witness? Of what?

"If I must tell you----. Don't, don't upbraid me!"

"Well! Let's hear what you mean?"

"Witness of my marriage--Mr. Grower was!"

"Marriage?"

"Yes. With Mr. Farfrae. O Michael! I am already his wife. We were
married this week at Port-Bredy. There were reasons against our doing it
here. Mr. Grower was a witness because he happened to be at Port-Bredy
at the time."

Henchard stood as if idiotized. She was so alarmed at his silence that
she murmured something about lending him sufficient money to tide over
the perilous fortnight.

"Married him?" said Henchard at length. "My good--what, married him
whilst--bound to marry me?"

"It was like this," she explained, with tears in her eyes and quavers
in her voice; "don't--don't be cruel! I loved him so much, and I thought
you might tell him of the past--and that grieved me! And then, when I
had promised you, I learnt of the rumour that you had--sold your first
wife at a fair like a horse or cow! How could I keep my promise after
hearing that? I could not risk myself in your hands; it would have been
letting myself down to take your name after such a scandal. But I knew I
should lose Donald if I did not secure him at once--for you would carry
out your threat of telling him of our former acquaintance, as long as
there was a chance of keeping me for yourself by doing so. But you will
not do so now, will you, Michael? for it is too late to separate us."

The notes of St. Peter's bells in full peal had been wafted to them
while he spoke, and now the genial thumping of the town band, renowned
for its unstinted use of the drum-stick, throbbed down the street.

"Then this racket they are making is on account of it, I suppose?" said
he.

"Yes--I think he has told them, or else Mr. Grower has....May I leave
you now? My--he was detained at Port-Bredy to-day, and sent me on a few
hours before him."

"Then it is HIS WIFE'S life I have saved this afternoon."

"Yes--and he will be for ever grateful to you."

"I am much obliged to him....O you false woman!" burst from Henchard.
"You promised me!"

"Yes, yes! But it was under compulsion, and I did not know all your
past----"

"And now I've a mind to punish you as you deserve! One word to this
bran-new husband of how you courted me, and your precious happiness is
blown to atoms!"

"Michael--pity me, and be generous!"

"You don't deserve pity! You did; but you don't now."

"I'll help you to pay off your debt."

"A pensioner of Farfrae's wife--not I! Don't stay with me longer--I
shall say something worse. Go home!"

She disappeared under the trees of the south walk as the band came round
the corner, awaking the echoes of every stock and stone in celebration
of her happiness. Lucetta took no heed, but ran up the back street and
reached her own home unperceived.




30.


Farfrae's words to his landlady had referred to the removal of his boxes
and other effects from his late lodgings to Lucetta's house. The work
was not heavy, but it had been much hindered on account of the frequent
pauses necessitated by exclamations of surprise at the event, of which
the good woman had been briefly informed by letter a few hours earlier.

At the last moment of leaving Port-Bredy, Farfrae, like John Gilpin,
had been detained by important customers, whom, even in the exceptional
circumstances, he was not the man to neglect. Moreover, there was a
convenience in Lucetta arriving first at her house. Nobody there as yet
knew what had happened; and she was best in a position to break the news
to the inmates, and give directions for her husband's accommodation. He
had, therefore, sent on his two-days' bride in a hired brougham, whilst
he went across the country to a certain group of wheat and barley ricks
a few miles off, telling her the hour at which he might be expected
the same evening. This accounted for her trotting out to meet him after
their separation of four hours.

By a strenuous effort, after leaving Henchard she calmed herself in
readiness to receive Donald at High-Place Hall when he came on from his
lodgings. One supreme fact empowered her to this, the sense that, come
what would, she had secured him. Half-an-hour after her arrival he
walked in, and she met him with a relieved gladness, which a month's
perilous absence could not have intensified.

"There is one thing I have not done; and yet it is important," she said
earnestly, when she had finished talking about the adventure with
the bull. "That is, broken the news of our marriage to my dear
Elizabeth-Jane."

"Ah, and you have not?" he said thoughtfully. "I gave her a lift from
the barn homewards; but I did not tell her either; for I thought
she might have heard of it in the town, and was keeping back her
congratulations from shyness, and all that."

"She can hardly have heard of it. But I'll find out; I'll go to her
now. And, Donald, you don't mind her living on with me just the same as
before? She is so quiet and unassuming."

"O no, indeed I don't," Farfrae answered with, perhaps, a faint
awkwardness. "But I wonder if she would care to?"

"O yes!" said Lucetta eagerly. "I am sure she would like to. Besides,
poor thing, she has no other home."

Farfrae looked at her and saw that she did not suspect the secret of
her more reserved friend. He liked her all the better for the blindness.
"Arrange as you like with her by all means," he said. "It is I who have
come to your house, not you to mine."

"I'll run and speak to her," said Lucetta.

When she got upstairs to Elizabeth-Jane's room the latter had taken off
her out-door things, and was resting over a book. Lucetta found in a
moment that she had not yet learnt the news.

"I did not come down to you, Miss Templeman," she said simply. "I was
coming to ask if you had quite recovered from your fright, but I found
you had a visitor. What are the bells ringing for, I wonder? And the
band, too, is playing. Somebody must be married; or else they are
practising for Christmas."

Lucetta uttered a vague "Yes," and seating herself by the other young
woman looked musingly at her. "What a lonely creature you are," she
presently said; "never knowing what's going on, or what people are
talking about everywhere with keen interest. You should get out, and
gossip about as other women do, and then you wouldn't be obliged to ask
me a question of that kind. Well, now, I have something to tell you."

Elizabeth-Jane said she was so glad, and made herself receptive.

"I must go rather a long way back," said Lucetta, the difficulty of
explaining herself satisfactorily to the pondering one beside her
growing more apparent at each syllable. "You remember that trying case
of conscience I told you of some time ago--about the first lover and the
second lover?" She let out in jerky phrases a leading word or two of the
story she had told.

"O yes--I remember the story of YOUR FRIEND," said Elizabeth drily,
regarding the irises of Lucetta's eyes as though to catch their exact
shade. "The two lovers--the old one and the new: how she wanted to marry
the second, but felt she ought to marry the first; so that she neglected
the better course to follow the evil, like the poet Ovid I've just been
construing: 'Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor.'"

"O no; she didn't follow evil exactly!" said Lucetta hastily.

"But you said that she--or as I may say you"--answered Elizabeth,
dropping the mask, "were in honour and conscience bound to marry the
first?"

Lucetta's blush at being seen through came and went again before
she replied anxiously, "You will never breathe this, will you,
Elizabeth-Jane?"

"Certainly not, if you say not.

"Then I will tell you that the case is more complicated--worse, in
fact--than it seemed in my story. I and the first man were thrown
together in a strange way, and felt that we ought to be united, as the
world had talked of us. He was a widower, as he supposed. He had not
heard of his first wife for many years. But the wife returned, and
we parted. She is now dead, and the husband comes paying me addresses
again, saying, 'Now we'll complete our purposes.' But, Elizabeth-Jane,
all this amounts to a new courtship of me by him; I was absolved from
all vows by the return of the other woman."

"Have you not lately renewed your promise?" said the younger with quiet
surmise. She had divined Man Number One.

"That was wrung from me by a threat."

"Yes, it was. But I think when any one gets coupled up with a man in the
past so unfortunately as you have done she ought to become his wife if
she can, even if she were not the sinning party."

Lucetta's countenance lost its sparkle. "He turned out to be a man I
should be afraid to marry," she pleaded. "Really afraid! And it was not
till after my renewed promise that I knew it."

"Then there is only one course left to honesty. You must remain a single
woman."

"But think again! Do consider----"

"I am certain," interrupted her companion hardily. "I have guessed very
well who the man is. My father; and I say it is him or nobody for you."

Any suspicion of impropriety was to Elizabeth-Jane like a red rag to
a bull. Her craving for correctness of procedure was, indeed, almost
vicious. Owing to her early troubles with regard to her mother a
semblance of irregularity had terrors for her which those whose names
are safeguarded from suspicion know nothing of. "You ought to marry
Mr. Henchard or nobody--certainly not another man!" she went on with a
quivering lip in whose movement two passions shared.

"I don't admit that!" said Lucetta passionately.

"Admit it or not, it is true!"

Lucetta covered her eyes with her right hand, as if she could plead no
more, holding out her left to Elizabeth-Jane.

"Why, you HAVE married him!" cried the latter, jumping up with pleasure
after a glance at Lucetta's fingers. "When did you do it? Why did you
not tell me, instead of teasing me like this? How very honourable
of you! He did treat my mother badly once, it seems, in a moment of
intoxication. And it is true that he is stern sometimes. But you
will rule him entirely, I am sure, with your beauty and wealth and
accomplishments. You are the woman he will adore, and we shall all three
be happy together now!"

"O, my Elizabeth-Jane!" cried Lucetta distressfully. "'Tis somebody else
that I have married! I was so desperate--so afraid of being forced to
anything else--so afraid of revelations that would quench his love for
me, that I resolved to do it offhand, come what might, and purchase a
week of happiness at any cost!"

"You--have--married Mr. Farfrae!" cried Elizabeth-Jane, in Nathan tones

Lucetta bowed. She had recovered herself.

"The bells are ringing on that account," she said. "My husband is
downstairs. He will live here till a more suitable house is ready for
us; and I have told him that I want you to stay with me just as before."

"Let me think of it alone," the girl quickly replied, corking up the
turmoil of her feeling with grand control.

"You shall. I am sure we shall be happy together."

Lucetta departed to join Donald below, a vague uneasiness floating over
her joy at seeing him quite at home there. Not on account of her friend
Elizabeth did she feel it: for of the bearings of Elizabeth-Jane's
emotions she had not the least suspicion; but on Henchard's alone.

Now the instant decision of Susan Henchard's daughter was to dwell
in that house no more. Apart from her estimate of the propriety of
Lucetta's conduct, Farfrae had been so nearly her avowed lover that she
felt she could not abide there.

It was still early in the evening when she hastily put on her things and
went out. In a few minutes, knowing the ground, she had found a suitable
lodging, and arranged to enter it that night. Returning and entering
noiselessly she took off her pretty dress and arrayed herself in a plain
one, packing up the other to keep as her best; for she would have to
be very economical now. She wrote a note to leave for Lucetta, who
was closely shut up in the drawing-room with Farfrae; and then
Elizabeth-Jane called a man with a wheel-barrow; and seeing her boxes
put into it she trotted off down the street to her rooms. They were in
the street in which Henchard lived, and almost opposite his door.

Here she sat down and considered the means of subsistence. The little
annual sum settled on her by her stepfather would keep body and soul
together. A wonderful skill in netting of all sorts--acquired in
childhood by making seines in Newson's home--might serve her in good
stead; and her studies, which were pursued unremittingly, might serve
her in still better.

By this time the marriage that had taken place was known throughout
Casterbridge; had been discussed noisily on kerbstones, confidentially
behind counters, and jovially at the Three Mariners. Whether Farfrae
would sell his business and set up for a gentleman on his wife's money,
or whether he would show independence enough to stick to his trade in
spite of his brilliant alliance, was a great point of interest.




31.


The retort of the furmity-woman before the magistrates had spread; and
in four-and-twenty hours there was not a person in Casterbridge
who remained unacquainted with the story of Henchard's mad freak at
Weydon-Priors Fair, long years before. The amends he had made in after
life were lost sight of in the dramatic glare of the original act. Had
the incident been well known of old and always, it might by this time
have grown to be lightly regarded as the rather tall wild oat, but
well-nigh the single one, of a young man with whom the steady and mature
(if somewhat headstrong) burgher of to-day had scarcely a point in
common. But the act having lain as dead and buried ever since, the
interspace of years was unperceived; and the black spot of his youth
wore the aspect of a recent crime.

Small as the police-court incident had been in itself, it formed the
edge or turn in the incline of Henchard's fortunes. On that day--almost
at that minute--he passed the ridge of prosperity and honour, and began
to descend rapidly on the other side. It was strange how soon he sank
in esteem. Socially he had received a startling fillip downwards; and,
having already lost commercial buoyancy from rash transactions, the
velocity of his descent in both aspects became accelerated every hour.

He now gazed more at the pavements and less at the house-fronts when he
walked about; more at the feet and leggings of men, and less into the
pupils of their eyes with the blazing regard which formerly had made
them blink.

New events combined to undo him. It had been a bad year for others
besides himself, and the heavy failure of a debtor whom he had trusted
generously completed the overthrow of his tottering credit. And now,
in his desperation, he failed to preserve that strict correspondence
between bulk and sample which is the soul of commerce in grain. For
this, one of his men was mainly to blame; that worthy, in his great
unwisdom, having picked over the sample of an enormous quantity of
second-rate corn which Henchard had in hand, and removed the pinched,
blasted, and smutted grains in great numbers. The produce if
honestly offered would have created no scandal; but the blunder of
misrepresentation, coming at such a moment, dragged Henchard's name into
the ditch.

The details of his failure were of the ordinary kind. One day
Elizabeth-Jane was passing the King's Arms, when she saw people bustling
in and out more than usual where there was no market. A bystander
informed her, with some surprise at her ignorance, that it was a meeting
of the Commissioners under Mr. Henchard's bankruptcy. She felt quite
tearful, and when she heard that he was present in the hotel she wished
to go in and see him, but was advised not to intrude that day.

The room in which debtor and creditors had assembled was a front
one, and Henchard, looking out of the window, had caught sight of
Elizabeth-Jane through the wire blind. His examination had closed, and
the creditors were leaving. The appearance of Elizabeth threw him into a
reverie, till, turning his face from the window, and towering above all
the rest, he called their attention for a moment more. His countenance
had somewhat changed from its flush of prosperity; the black hair and
whiskers were the same as ever, but a film of ash was over the rest.

"Gentlemen," he said, "over and above the assets that we've been talking
about, and that appear on the balance-sheet, there be these. It all
belongs to ye, as much as everything else I've got, and I don't wish to
keep it from you, not I." Saying this, he took his gold watch from
his pocket and laid it on the table; then his purse--the yellow canvas
moneybag, such as was carried by all farmers and dealers--untying it,
and shaking the money out upon the table beside the watch. The latter
he drew back quickly for an instant, to remove the hair-guard made and
given him by Lucetta. "There, now you have all I've got in the world,"
he said. "And I wish for your sakes 'twas more."

The creditors, farmers almost to a man, looked at the watch, and at the
money, and into the street; when Farmer James Everdene of Weatherbury
spoke.

"No, no, Henchard," he said warmly. "We don't want that. 'Tis honourable
in ye; but keep it. What do you say, neighbours--do ye agree?"

"Ay, sure: we don't wish it at all," said Grower, another creditor.

"Let him keep it, of course," murmured another in the background--a
silent, reserved young man named Boldwood; and the rest responded
unanimously.

"Well," said the senior Commissioner, addressing Henchard, "though the
case is a desperate one, I am bound to admit that I have never met a
debtor who behaved more fairly. I've proved the balance-sheet to be as
honestly made out as it could possibly be; we have had no trouble; there
have been no evasions and no concealments. The rashness of dealing which
led to this unhappy situation is obvious enough; but as far as I can see
every attempt has been made to avoid wronging anybody."

Henchard was more affected by this than he cared to let them perceive,
and he turned aside to the window again. A general murmur of agreement
followed the Commissioner's words, and the meeting dispersed. When they
were gone Henchard regarded the watch they had returned to him. "'Tisn't
mine by rights," he said to himself. "Why the devil didn't they take
it?--I don't want what don't belong to me!" Moved by a recollection he
took the watch to the maker's just opposite, sold it there and then for
what the tradesman offered, and went with the proceeds to one among
the smaller of his creditors, a cottager of Durnover in straitened
circumstances, to whom he handed the money.

When everything was ticketed that Henchard had owned, and the auctions
were in progress, there was quite a sympathetic reaction in the town,
which till then for some time past had done nothing but condemn him. Now
that Henchard's whole career was pictured distinctly to his neighbours,
and they could see how admirably he had used his one talent of energy
to create a position of affluence out of absolutely nothing--which
was really all he could show when he came to the town as a journeyman
hay-trusser, with his wimble and knife in his basket--they wondered and
regretted his fall.

Try as she might, Elizabeth could never meet with him. She believed
in him still, though nobody else did; and she wanted to be allowed to
forgive him for his roughness to her, and to help him in his trouble.

She wrote to him; he did not reply. She then went to his house--the
great house she had lived in so happily for a time--with its front
of dun brick, vitrified here and there and its heavy sash-bars--but
Henchard was to be found there no more. The ex-Mayor had left the home
of his prosperity, and gone into Jopp's cottage by the Priory Mill--the
sad purlieu to which he had wandered on the night of his discovery that
she was not his daughter. Thither she went.

Elizabeth thought it odd that he had fixed on this spot to retire to,
but assumed that necessity had no choice. Trees which seemed old enough
to have been planted by the friars still stood around, and the back
hatch of the original mill yet formed a cascade which had raised its
terrific roar for centuries. The cottage itself was built of old
stones from the long dismantled Priory, scraps of tracery, moulded
window-jambs, and arch-labels, being mixed in with the rubble of the
walls.

In this cottage he occupied a couple of rooms, Jopp, whom Henchard
had employed, abused, cajoled, and dismissed by turns, being the
householder. But even here her stepfather could not be seen.

"Not by his daughter?" pleaded Elizabeth.

"By nobody--at present: that's his order," she was informed.

Afterwards she was passing by the corn-stores and hay-barns which had
been the headquarters of his business. She knew that he ruled there
no longer; but it was with amazement that she regarded the familiar
gateway. A smear of decisive lead-coloured paint had been laid on to
obliterate Henchard's name, though its letters dimly loomed through like
ships in a fog. Over these, in fresh white, spread the name of Farfrae.

Abel Whittle was edging his skeleton in at the wicket, and she said,
"Mr. Farfrae is master here?"

"Yaas, Miss Henchet," he said, "Mr. Farfrae have bought the concern and
all of we work-folk with it; and 'tis better for us than 'twas--though
I shouldn't say that to you as a daughter-law. We work harder, but we
bain't made afeard now. It was fear made my few poor hairs so thin! No
busting out, no slamming of doors, no meddling with yer eternal soul and
all that; and though 'tis a shilling a week less I'm the richer man; for
what's all the world if yer mind is always in a larry, Miss Henchet?"

The intelligence was in a general sense true; and Henchard's stores,
which had remained in a paralyzed condition during the settlement of
his bankruptcy, were stirred into activity again when the new tenant had
possession. Thenceforward the full sacks, looped with the shining chain,
went scurrying up and down under the cat-head, hairy arms were thrust
out from the different door-ways, and the grain was hauled in; trusses
of hay were tossed anew in and out of the barns, and the wimbles
creaked; while the scales and steel-yards began to be busy where
guess-work had formerly been the rule.




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.




33.


At this date there prevailed in Casterbridge a convivial
custom--scarcely recognized as such, yet none the less established. On
the afternoon of every Sunday a large contingent of the Casterbridge
journeymen--steady churchgoers and sedate characters--having attended
service, filed from the church doors across the way to the Three
Mariners Inn. The rear was usually brought up by the choir, with their
bass-viols, fiddles, and flutes under their arms.

The great point, the point of honour, on these sacred occasions was
for each man to strictly limit himself to half-a-pint of liquor. This
scrupulosity was so well understood by the landlord that the whole
company was served in cups of that measure. They were all exactly
alike--straight-sided, with two leafless lime-trees done in eel-brown
on the sides--one towards the drinker's lips, the other confronting
his comrade. To wonder how many of these cups the landlord possessed
altogether was a favourite exercise of children in the marvellous. Forty
at least might have been seen at these times in the large room, forming
a ring round the margin of the great sixteen-legged oak table, like the
monolithic circle of Stonehenge in its pristine days. Outside and above
the forty cups came a circle of forty smoke-jets from forty clay pipes;
outside the pipes the countenances of the forty church-goers, supported
at the back by a circle of forty chairs.

The conversation was not the conversation of week-days, but a thing
altogether finer in point and higher in tone. They invariably
discussed the sermon, dissecting it, weighing it, as above or below the
average--the general tendency being to regard it as a scientific feat or
performance which had no relation to their own lives, except as between
critics and the thing criticized. The bass-viol player and the clerk
usually spoke with more authority than the rest on account of their
official connection with the preacher.

Now the Three Mariners was the inn chosen by Henchard as the place for
closing his long term of dramless years. He had so timed his entry as to
be well established in the large room by the time the forty church-goers
entered to their customary cups. The flush upon his face proclaimed
at once that the vow of twenty-one years had lapsed, and the era of
recklessness begun anew. He was seated on a small table, drawn up to the
side of the massive oak board reserved for the churchmen, a few of
whom nodded to him as they took their places 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
eyes rested on his stretched-out legs and boots. "Yes," he said at
length; "that's true. I've been down in spirit for weeks; some of
ye know the cause. I am better now, but not quite serene. I want you
fellows of the choir to strike up a tune; and what with that and this
brew of Stannidge's, I am in hopes of getting 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
give the man a stave."

"I don't care a curse what the words be," said Henchard. "Hymns,
ballets, or rantipole rubbish; the Rogue's March or the cherubim's
warble--'tis all the same 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 sat in the gallery less than twenty year," said the leader of the
band. "As 'tis Sunday, neighbours, suppose we raise the Fourth Psa'am,
to Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by me?"

"Hang Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by thee!" said Henchard. "Chuck
across one 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 steady chap. I'll find some words to fit en." He took
one of the psalters and began turning over the leaves.

Chancing to look out of the window at that moment he saw a flock of
people passing by, and perceived them to be the congregation of the
upper church, now just dismissed, their sermon having been a longer
one than that the lower parish was favoured with. Among the rest of the
leading inhabitants walked Mr. Councillor Farfrae with Lucetta upon his
arm, the observed and imitated of all the smaller tradesmen's womankind.
Henchard's mouth changed a little, and he continued 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
would as lief not sing it. 'Twasn't made for singing. We chose it once
when the gipsy stole the pa'son's mare, thinking to please him, but
pa'son were quite upset. Whatever Servant David were thinking about when
he made a Psalm that nobody can sing without disgracing himself, I can't
fathom! Now then, the Fourth 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 droning crew of ye goes out of this room till that Psalm is
sung!" He slipped off the table, 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
Servant David's words and not ours, perhaps we don't mind for once,
hey?" said one of the terrified choir, looking round upon the rest. So
the instruments were tuned and the comminatory verses sung.

"Thank ye, thank ye," said Henchard in a softened voice, his eyes
growing downcast, and his manner that of a man much moved by the
strains. "Don't you blame David," he went on in low tones, shaking his
head without raising his eyes. "He knew what he was about when he wrote
that!... If I could afford it, be hanged if I wouldn't keep a church
choir at my own expense to play and sing to me at these low, dark times
of my life. But the bitter thing is, that when I was rich I didn't need
what I could have, and now I be poor I can't have what I need!"

While they paused, Lucetta and Farfrae passed again, this time homeward,
it being their custom to take, like others, a short walk out on the
highway and back, 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. "Heaven
forbid!" said the bass-player.

"'Tis the man," repeated Henchard doggedly.

"Then if I'd known," said the performer on the clarionet solemnly,
"that 'twas meant for a living man, nothing should have drawn out of my
wynd-pipe the breath for that Psalm, so help me!

"Nor from mine," said the first singer. "But, thought I, as it was made
so long ago perhaps there isn't much in it, so I'll oblige a neighbour;
for there's nothing to be said against the tune."

"Ah, my boys, you've sung it," said Henchard triumphantly. "As for him,
it was partly by his songs that he got over me, and heaved me out....I
could double him up like that--and yet I don't." He laid the poker
across his knee, bent it as 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
stepfather was, entered the room with a pale and agonized countenance.
The choir and the rest 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
drunk no great quantity as yet he was inclined to acquiesce. She took
his arm, and together they went on. Henchard walked blankly, like a
blind man, repeating to himself 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
for twenty-one years; and now I can drink with a good conscience....If I
don't do for him--well, I am a fearful practical joker when I choose! He
has taken away everything from me, and by heavens, if I meet him I won't
answer for my deeds!"

These half-uttered words alarmed Elizabeth--all the more by reason of
the still determination 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
to caution 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
been seen flitting about the town like two butterflies--or rather like
a bee and a butterfly in league for life. She seemed to take no pleasure
in going anywhere except in her husband's company; and hence when
business would not permit him to waste an afternoon she remained indoors
waiting for the time to pass till his return, her face being visible to
Elizabeth-Jane from her window aloft. The latter, however, did not say
to herself that Farfrae should be thankful for such devotion, but,
full of her reading, she cited Rosalind's exclamation: "Mistress, know
yourself; down on your knees and thank Heaven fasting for a good man's
love."

She kept her eye upon Henchard also. One day he answered her inquiry
for his health by saying that he could not endure Abel Whittle's pitying
eyes upon him while 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 the general position of affairs on Farfrae's premises now that
her stepfather was a workman there. Henchard's threats had alarmed her
so much that she wished to see 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, and at his heels Lucetta. Donald brought his wife forward
without hesitation, it being obvious that he had no suspicion whatever
of any antecedents in common between her and the now journeyman
hay-trusser.

Henchard did not turn his eyes toward either of the pair, keeping them
fixed on 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 triumphing over a fallen rivel, led him to keep away from the
hay-barn where Henchard and his daughter were working, and to go on to
the corn department. Meanwhile Lucetta, never having been informed that
Henchard had entered her husband's service, rambled straight on to the
barn, where she came suddenly upon Henchard, and gave vent to a little
"Oh!" which the happy and busy Donald was too far off to hear. Henchard,
with withering humility of demeanour, touched the brim of his hat to
her as Whittle and the rest had done, to which she breathed 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 glad to see you, ma'am." Lucetta looked embarrassed, and Henchard
continued: "For we humble workmen here feel it a great honour that a
lady should look in and take 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 as you 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 she could be seen leading him away by the outer gates,
so as to avoid passing Henchard again. That she had been taken by
surprise was obvious. The result of this casual rencounter was that the
next morning a note was put into Henchard's hand by the postman.

"Will you," said Lucetta, with as much bitterness as she could put into
a small communication, "will you kindly undertake not to speak to me in
the biting undertones you used to-day, if I walk through the yard at
any time? I bear you no ill-will, and I am only too glad that you should
have employment of my dear husband; but in common fairness treat me as
his wife, and do not try to make me wretched by covert sneers. I have
committed no crime, and done you no injury.

"Poor fool!" said Henchard with fond savagery, holding out the note. "To
know no better than commit herself in writing like this! Why, if I were
to show that 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
rather have died than run the risk of encountering Henchard at such
close quarters a second time. The gulf between them was growing wider
every day. Farfrae was always considerate to his fallen acquaintance;
but it was impossible that he should not, by degrees, cease to regard
the ex-corn-merchant as more than one of his other workmen. Henchard saw
this, and concealed his feelings under a cover of stolidity, fortifying
his heart by drinking more freely at the Three Mariners every evening.

Often did Elizabeth-Jane, in her endeavours to prevent his taking other
liquor, carry tea to him in a little basket at five o'clock. Arriving
one day on 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 floor had a door opening into the air under a
cat-head, from which a chain dangled for hoisting the sacks.

When Elizabeth's head rose through the trap she perceived that the upper
door was open, and that her stepfather and Farfrae stood just within it
in conversation, Farfrae being nearest the dizzy edge, and Henchard
a little way behind. Not to interrupt them she remained on the steps
without raising her head any higher. While waiting thus she saw--or
fancied she saw, for she had a terror of feeling certain--her stepfather
slowly raise his hand to a level behind Farfrae's shoulders, a curious
expression taking possession of his face. The young man was quite
unconscious of the action, which was so indirect that, if Farfrae had
observed it, he might almost have regarded it as an idle outstretching
of the arm. But it would have been possible, by a comparatively light
touch, to push Farfrae off his balance, and send him head over heels
into 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, and went away. Reflecting, she endeavoured to assure herself
that the movement was an idle eccentricity, and no more. Yet, on the
other hand, his subordinate position in an establishment where he once
had been master might be acting on him like an irritant poison; and she
finally resolved to caution Donald.




34.


Next morning, accordingly, she rose at five o'clock and went into the
street. It was not yet light; a dense fog prevailed, and the town was
as silent as it was dark, except that from the rectangular avenues which
framed in the borough there came a chorus of tiny rappings, caused by
the fall of water-drops condensed on the boughs; now it was wafted from
the West Walk, now from the South Walk; and then from both quarters
simultaneously. She moved on to the bottom of Corn Street, and, knowing
his time well, waited only a few minutes before she heard the familiar
bang of his door, and then his quick walk towards her. She met him at
the point where the last tree of the engirding avenue flanked the last
house in the street.

He could hardly discern her till, glancing inquiringly, he said,
"What--Miss Henchard--and are ye up so airly?"

She asked him to pardon her for waylaying him at such an unseemly time.
"But I am anxious to mention something," she said. "And I wished not to
alarm Mrs. Farfrae by calling."

"Yes?" said he, with the cheeriness of a superior. "And what may it be?
It's very kind of ye, I'm sure."

She now felt the difficulty of conveying to his mind the exact aspect
of possibilities in her own. But she somehow began, and introduced
Henchard's name. "I sometimes fear," she said with an effort, "that he
may be betrayed into some attempt to--insult you, sir.

"But we are the best of friends?"

"Or to play some practical joke upon you, sir. Remember that he has been
hardly used."

"But we are quite friendly?"

"Or to do something--that would injure you--hurt you--wound you." Every
word cost her twice its length of pain. And she could see that Farfrae
was still incredulous. Henchard, a poor man in his employ, was not to
Farfrae's view the Henchard who had ruled him. Yet he was not only the
same man, but that man with his sinister qualities, formerly latent,
quickened into life by his buffetings.

Farfrae, happy, and thinking no evil, persisted in making light of her
fears. Thus they parted, and she went homeward, journeymen now being in
the street, waggoners going to the harness-makers for articles left to
be repaired, farm-horses going to the shoeing-smiths, and the sons of
labour showing themselves generally on the move. Elizabeth entered her
lodging unhappily, thinking she had done no good, and only made herself
appear foolish by her weak note of warning.

But Donald Farfrae was one of those men upon whom an incident is never
absolutely lost. He revised impressions from a subsequent point of view,
and the impulsive judgment of the moment was not always his permanent
one. The vision of Elizabeth's earnest face in the rimy dawn came
back to him several times during the day. Knowing the solidity of her
character he did not treat her hints altogether as idle sounds.

But he did not desist from a kindly scheme on Henchard's account that
engaged him just then; and when he met Lawyer Joyce, the town-clerk,
later in the day, he spoke of it as if nothing had occurred to damp it.

"About that little seedsman's shop," he said, "the shop overlooking the
churchyard, which is to let. It is not for myself I want it, but for our
unlucky fellow-townsman Henchard. It would be a new beginning for him,
if a small one; and I have told the Council that I would head a private
subscription among them to set him up in it--that I would be fifty
pounds, if they would make up the other fifty among them."

"Yes, yes; so I've heard; and there's nothing to say against it for that
matter," the town-clerk replied, in his plain, frank way. "But, Farfrae,
others see what you don't. Henchard hates 'ee--ay, hates 'ee; and 'tis
right that you should know it. To my knowledge he was at the Three
Mariners last night, saying in public that about you which a man ought
not to say about another."

"Is that so--ah, is that so?" said Farfrae, looking down. "Why should he
do it?" added the young man bitterly; "what harm have I done him that he
should try to wrong me?"

"God only knows," said Joyce, lifting his eyebrows. "It shows much
long-suffering in you to put up with him, and keep him in your employ."

"But I cannet discharge a man who was once a good friend to me. How can
I forget that when I came here 'twas he enabled me to make a footing for
mysel'? No, no. As long as I've a day's work to offer he shall do it if
he chooses. 'Tis not I who will deny him such a little as that. But I'll
drop the idea of establishing him in a shop till I can think more about
it."

It grieved Farfrae much to give up this scheme. But a damp having
been thrown over it by these and other voices in the air, he went and
countermanded his orders. The then occupier of the shop was in it when
Farfrae spoke to him and feeling it necessary to give some explanation
of his withdrawal from the negotiation Donald mentioned Henchard's name,
and stated that the intentions of the Council had been changed.

The occupier was much disappointed, and straight-way informed Henchard,
as soon as he saw him, that a scheme of the Council for setting him up
in a shop had been knocked on the head by Farfrae. And thus out of error
enmity grew.

When Farfrae got indoors that evening the tea-kettle was singing on the
high hob of the semi-egg-shaped grate. Lucetta, light as a sylph, ran
forward and seized his hands, whereupon Farfrae duly kissed her.

"Oh!" she cried playfully, turning to the window. "See--the blinds are
not drawn down, and the people can look in--what a scandal!"

When the candles were lighted, the curtains drawn, and the twain sat at
tea, she noticed that he looked serious. Without directly inquiring why
she let her eyes linger solicitously on his face.

"Who has called?" he absently asked. "Any folk for me?"

"No," said Lucetta. "What's the matter, Donald?"

"Well--nothing worth talking of," he responded sadly.

"Then, never mind it. You will get through it, Scotchmen are always
lucky."

"No--not always!" he said, shaking his head gloomily as he contemplated
a crumb on the table. "I know many who have not been so! There was
Sandy Macfarlane, who started to America to try his fortune, and he was
drowned; and Archibald Leith, he was murdered! And poor Willie Dunbleeze
and Maitland Macfreeze--they fell into bad courses, and went the way of
all such!"

"Why--you old goosey--I was only speaking in a general sense, of course!
You are always so literal. Now when we have finished tea, sing me
that funny song about high-heeled shoon and siller tags, and the
one-and-forty wooers."

"No, no. I couldna sing to-night! It's Henchard--he hates me; so that I
may not be his friend if I would. I would understand why there should be
a wee bit of envy; but I cannet see a reason for the whole intensity
of what he feels. Now, can you, Lucetta? It is more like old-fashioned
rivalry in love than just a bit of rivalry in trade."

Lucetta had grown somewhat wan. "No," she replied.

"I give him employment--I cannet refuse it. But neither can I blind
myself to the fact that with a man of passions such as his, there is no
safeguard for conduct!"

"What have you heard--O Donald, dearest?" said Lucetta in alarm. The
words on her lips were "anything about me?"--but she did not utter them.
She could not, however, suppress her agitation, and her eyes filled with
tears.

"No, no--it is not so serious as ye fancy," declared Farfrae soothingly;
though he did not know its seriousness so well as she.

"I wish you would do what we have talked of," mournfully remarked
Lucetta. "Give up business, and go away from here. We have plenty of
money, and why should we stay?"

Farfrae seemed seriously disposed to discuss this move, and they talked
thereon till a visitor was announced. Their neighbour Alderman Vatt came
in.

"You've heard, I suppose of poor Doctor Chalkfield's death? Yes--died
this afternoon at five," said Mr. Vatt. Chalkfield was the Councilman who
had succeeded to the Mayoralty in the preceding November.

Farfrae was sorry at the intelligence, and Mr. Vatt continued: "Well, we
know he's been going some days, and as his family is well provided for
we must take it all as it is. Now I have called to ask 'ee this--quite
privately. If I should nominate 'ee to succeed him, and there should be
no particular opposition, will 'ee accept the chair?"

"But there are folk whose turn is before mine; and I'm over young, and
may be thought pushing!" said Farfrae after a pause.

"Not at all. I don't speak for myself only, several have named it. You
won't refuse?"

"We thought of going away," interposed Lucetta, looking at Farfrae
anxiously.

"It was only a fancy," Farfrae murmured. "I wouldna refuse if it is the
wish of a respectable majority in the Council."

"Very well, then, look upon yourself as elected. We have had older men
long enough."

When he was gone Farfrae said musingly, "See now how it's ourselves that
are ruled by the Powers above us! We plan this, but we do that. If they
want to make me Mayor I will stay, and Henchard must rave as he will."

From this evening onward Lucetta was very uneasy. If she had not been
imprudence incarnate she would not have acted as she did when she met
Henchard by accident a day or two later. It was in the bustle of the
market, when no one could readily notice their discourse.

"Michael," said she, "I must again ask you what I asked you months
ago--to return me any letters or papers of mine that you may
have--unless you have destroyed them? You must see how desirable it
is that the time at Jersey should be blotted out, for the good of all
parties."

"Why, bless the woman!--I packed up every scrap of your handwriting to
give you in the coach--but you never appeared."

She explained how the death of her aunt had prevented her taking the
journey on that day. "And what became of the parcel then?" she asked.

He could not say--he would consider. When she was gone he recollected
that he had left a heap of useless papers in his former dining-room
safe--built up in the wall of his old house--now occupied by Farfrae.
The letters might have been amongst them.

A grotesque grin shaped itself on Henchard's face. Had that safe been
opened?

On the very evening which followed this there was a great ringing of
bells in Casterbridge, and the combined brass, wood, catgut, and leather
bands played round the town with more prodigality of percussion-notes
than ever. Farfrae was Mayor--the two-hundredth odd of a series forming
an elective dynasty dating back to the days of Charles I--and the
fair Lucetta was the courted of the town....But, Ah! the worm i' the
bud--Henchard; what he could tell!

He, in the meantime, festering with indignation at some erroneous
intelligence of Farfrae's opposition to the scheme for installing him
in the little seed-shop, was greeted with the news of the municipal
election (which, by reason of Farfrae's comparative youth and his
Scottish nativity--a thing unprecedented in the case--had an interest
far beyond the ordinary). The bell-ringing and the band-playing, loud as
Tamerlane's trumpet, goaded the downfallen Henchard indescribably: the
ousting now seemed to him to be complete.

The next morning he went to the corn-yard as usual, and about eleven
o'clock Donald entered through the green door, with no trace of the
worshipful about him. The yet more emphatic change of places between
him and Henchard which this election had established renewed a slight
embarrassment in the manner of the modest young man; but Henchard
showed the front of one who had overlooked all this; and Farfrae met his
amenities half-way at once.

"I was going to ask you," said Henchard, "about a packet that I
may possibly have left in my old safe in the dining-room." He added
particulars.

"If so, it is there now," said Farfrae. "I have never opened the safe at
all as yet; for I keep ma papers at the bank, to sleep easy o' nights."

"It was not of much consequence--to me," said Henchard. "But I'll call
for it this evening, if you don't mind?"

It was quite late when he fulfilled his promise. He had primed himself
with grog, as he did very frequently now, and a curl of sardonic
humour hung on his lip as he approached the house, as though he were
contemplating some terrible form of amusement. Whatever it was, the
incident of his entry did not diminish its force, this being his first
visit to the house since he had lived there as owner. The ring of the
bell spoke to him like the voice of a familiar drudge who had been
bribed to forsake him; the movements of the doors were revivals of dead
days.

Farfrae invited him into the dining-room, where he at once unlocked
the iron safe built into the wall, HIS, Henchard's safe, made by an
ingenious locksmith under his direction. Farfrae drew thence the parcel,
and other papers, with apologies for not having returned them.

"Never mind," said Henchard drily. "The fact is they are letters
mostly....Yes," he went on, sitting down and unfolding Lucetta's
passionate bundle, "here they be. That ever I should see 'em again! I
hope Mrs. Farfrae is well after her exertions of yesterday?"

"She has felt a bit weary; and has gone to bed airly on that account."

Henchard returned to the letters, sorting them over with interest,
Farfrae being seated at the other end of the dining-table. "You don't
forget, of course," he resumed, "that curious chapter in the history of
my past which I told you of, and that you gave me some assistance in?
These letters are, in fact, related to that unhappy business. Though,
thank God, it is all over now."

"What became of the poor woman?" asked Farfrae.

"Luckily she married, and married well," said Henchard. "So that these
reproaches she poured out on me do not now cause me any twinges, as they
might otherwise have done....Just listen to what an angry woman will
say!"

Farfrae, willing to humour Henchard, though quite uninterested, and
bursting with yawns, gave well-mannered attention.

"'For me,'" Henchard read, "'there is practically no future. A creature
too unconventionally devoted to you--who feels it impossible that she
can be the wife of any other man; and who is yet no more to you than the
first woman you meet in the street--such am I. I quite acquit you of any
intention to wrong me, yet you are the door through which wrong has come
to me. That in the event of your present wife's death you will place me
in her position is a consolation so far as it goes--but how far does it
go? Thus I sit here, forsaken by my few acquaintance, and forsaken by
you!'"

"That's how she went on to me," said Henchard, "acres of words like
that, when what had happened was what I could not cure."

"Yes," said Farfrae absently, "it is the way wi' women." But the
fact was that he knew very little of the sex; yet detecting a sort of
resemblance in style between the effusions of the woman he worshipped
and those of the supposed stranger, he concluded that Aphrodite ever
spoke thus, whosesoever the personality she assumed.

Henchard unfolded another letter, and read it through likewise, stopping
at the subscription as before. "Her name I don't give," he said blandly.
"As I didn't marry her, and another man did, I can scarcely do that in
fairness to her."

"Tr-rue, tr-rue," said Farfrae. "But why didn't you marry her when your
wife Susan died?" Farfrae asked this and the other questions in the
comfortably indifferent tone of one whom the matter very remotely
concerned.

"Ah--well you may ask that!" said Henchard, the new-moon-shaped
grin adumbrating itself again upon his mouth. "In spite of all her
protestations, when I came forward to do so, as in generosity bound, she
was not the woman for me."

"She had already married another--maybe?"

Henchard seemed to think it would be sailing too near the wind to
descend further into particulars, and he answered "Yes."

"The young lady must have had a heart that bore transplanting very
readily!"

"She had, she had," said Henchard emphatically.

He opened a third and fourth letter, and read. This time he approached
the conclusion as if the signature were indeed coming with the rest. But
again he stopped short. The truth was that, as may be divined, he had
quite intended to effect a grand catastrophe at the end of this drama
by reading out the name, he had come to the house with no other thought.
But sitting here in cold blood he could not do it.

Such a wrecking of hearts appalled even him. His quality was such
that he could have annihilated them both in the heat of action; but to
accomplish the deed by oral poison was beyond the nerve of his enmity.




35.


As Donald stated, Lucetta had retired early to her room because of
fatigue. She had, however, not gone to rest, but sat in the bedside
chair reading and thinking over the events of the day. At the ringing of
the door-bell by Henchard she wondered who it should be that would call
at that comparatively late hour. The dining-room was almost under her
bed-room; she could hear that somebody was admitted there, and presently
the indistinct murmur of a person reading became audible.

The usual time for Donald's arrival upstairs came and passed, yet still
the reading and conversation went on. This was very singular. She could
think of nothing but that some extraordinary crime had been committed,
and that the visitor, whoever he might be, was reading an account of it
from a special edition of the Casterbridge Chronicle. At last she left
the room, and descended the stairs. The dining-room door was ajar, and
in the silence of the resting household the voice and the words were
recognizable before she reached the lower flight. She stood transfixed.
Her own words greeted her in Henchard's voice, like spirits from the
grave.

Lucetta leant upon the banister with her cheek against the smooth
hand-rail, as if she would make a friend of it in her misery. Rigid in
this position, more and more words fell successively upon her ear. But
what amazed her most was the tone of her husband. He spoke merely in the
accents of a man who made a present of his time.

"One word," he was saying, as the crackling of paper denoted that
Henchard was unfolding yet another sheet. "Is it quite fair to this
young woman's memory to read at such length to a stranger what was
intended for your eye alone?"

"Well, yes," said Henchard. "By not giving her name I make it an example
of all womankind, and not a scandal to one."

"If I were you I would destroy them," said Farfrae, giving more thought
to the letters than he had hitherto done. "As another man's wife it
would injure the woman if it were known.

"No, I shall not destroy them," murmured Henchard, putting the letters
away. Then he arose, and Lucetta heard no more.

She went back to her bedroom in a semi-paralyzed state. For very fear
she could not undress, but sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. Would
Henchard let out the secret in his parting words? Her suspense was
terrible. Had she confessed all to Donald in their early acquaintance he
might possibly have got over it, and married her just the same--unlikely
as it had once seemed; but for her or any one else to tell him now would
be fatal.

The door slammed; she could hear her husband bolting it. After looking
round in his customary way he came leisurely up the stairs. The spark in
her eyes well-nigh went out when he appeared round the bedroom door. Her
gaze hung doubtful for a moment, then to her joyous amazement she saw
that he looked at her with the rallying smile of one who had just been
relieved of a scene that was irksome. She could hold out no longer, and
sobbed hysterically.

When he had restored her Farfrae naturally enough spoke of Henchard. "Of
all men he was the least desirable as a visitor," he said; "but it is my
belief that he's just a bit crazed. He has been reading to me a long
lot of letters relating to his past life; and I could do no less than
indulge him by listening."

This was sufficient. Henchard, then, had not told. Henchard's last
words to Farfrae, in short, as he stood on the doorstep, had been these:
"Well--I'm obliged to 'ee for listening. I may tell more about her some
day."

Finding this, she was much perplexed as to Henchard's motives in opening
the matter at all; for in such cases we attribute to an enemy a power
of consistent action which we never find in ourselves or in our friends;
and forget that abortive efforts from want of heart are as possible to
revenge as to generosity.

Next morning Lucetta remained in bed, meditating how to parry this
incipient attack. The bold stroke of telling Donald the truth, dimly
conceived, was yet too bold; for she dreaded lest in doing so he, like
the rest of the world, should believe that the episode was rather her
fault than her misfortune. She decided to employ persuasion--not with
Donald but with the enemy himself. It seemed the only practicable weapon
left her as a woman. Having laid her plan she rose, and wrote to him who
kept her on these tenterhooks:--

"I overheard your interview with my husband last night, and saw the
drift of your revenge. The very thought of it crushes me! Have pity on a
distressed woman! If you could see me you would relent. You do not know
how anxiety has told upon me lately. I will be at the Ring at the time
you leave work--just before the sun goes down. Please come that way. I
cannot rest till I have seen you face to face, and heard from your mouth
that you will carry this horse-play no further."

To herself she said, on closing up her appeal: "If ever tears and
pleadings have served the weak to fight the strong, let them do so now!"

With this view she made a toilette which differed from all she had ever
attempted before. To heighten her natural attraction had hitherto been
the unvarying endeavour of her adult life, and one in which she was no
novice. But now she neglected this, and even proceeded to impair the
natural presentation. Beyond a natural reason for her slightly drawn
look, she had not slept all the previous night, and this had produced
upon her pretty though slightly worn features the aspect of a
countenance ageing prematurely from extreme sorrow. She selected--as
much from want of spirit as design--her poorest, plainest and longest
discarded attire.

To avoid the contingency of being recognized she veiled herself, and
slipped out of the house quickly. The sun was resting on the hill like a
drop of blood on an eyelid by the time she had got up the road opposite
the amphitheatre, which she speedily entered. The interior was shadowy,
and emphatic of the absence of every living thing.

She was not disappointed in the fearful hope with which she awaited him.
Henchard came over the top, descended and Lucetta waited breathlessly.
But having reached the arena she saw a change in his bearing: he stood
still at a little distance from her; she could not think why.

Nor could any one else have known. The truth was that in appointing this
spot, and this hour, for the rendezvous, Lucetta had unwittingly backed
up her entreaty by the strongest argument she could have used outside
words, with this man of moods, glooms, and superstitions. Her figure in
the midst of the huge enclosure, the unusual plainness of her dress, her
attitude of hope and appeal, so strongly revived in his soul the memory
of another ill-used woman who had stood there and thus in bygone days,
and had now passed away into her rest, that he was unmanned, and his
heart smote him for having attempted reprisals on one of a sex so weak.
When he approached her, and before she had spoken a word, her point was
half gained.

His manner as he had come down had been one of cynical carelessness; but
he now put away his grim half-smile, and said, in a kindly subdued tone,
"Goodnight t'ye. Of course I'm glad to come if you want me."

"O, thank you," she said apprehensively.

"I am sorry to see 'ee looking so ill," he stammered with unconcealed
compunction.

She shook her head. "How can you be sorry," she asked, "when you
deliberately cause it?"

"What!" said Henchard uneasily. "Is it anything I have done that has
pulled you down like that?"

"It is all your doing," she said. "I have no other grief. My happiness
would be secure enough but for your threats. O Michael! don't wreck me
like this! You might think that you have done enough! When I came here
I was a young woman; now I am rapidly becoming an old one. Neither my
husband nor any other man will regard me with interest long."

Henchard was disarmed. His old feeling of supercilious pity for
womankind in general was intensified by this suppliant appearing here
as the double of the first. Moreover that thoughtless want of foresight
which had led to all her trouble remained with poor Lucetta still; she
had come to meet him here in this compromising way without perceiving
the risk. Such a woman was very small deer to hunt; he felt ashamed,
lost all zest and desire to humiliate Lucetta there and then, and no
longer envied Farfrae his bargain. He had married money, but nothing
more. Henchard was anxious to wash his hands of the game.

"Well, what do you want me to do?" he said gently. "I am sure I shall be
very willing. My reading of those letters was only a sort of practical
joke, and I revealed nothing."

"To give me back the letters and any papers you may have that breathe of
matrimony or worse."

"So be it. Every scrap shall be yours....But, between you and me,
Lucetta, he is sure to find out something of the matter, sooner or
later.

"Ah!" she said with eager tremulousness; "but not till I have proved
myself a faithful and deserving wife to him, and then he may forgive me
everything!"

Henchard silently looked at her: he almost envied Farfrae such love
as that, even now. "H'm--I hope so," he said. "But you shall have the
letters without fail. And your secret shall be kept. I swear it."

"How good you are!--how shall I get them?"

He reflected, and said he would send them the next morning. "Now don't
doubt me," he added. "I can keep my word."




36.


Returning from her appointment Lucetta saw a man waiting by the lamp
nearest to her own door. When she stopped to go in he came and spoke to
her. It was Jopp.

He begged her pardon for addressing her. But he had heard that Mr.
Farfrae had been applied to by a neighbouring corn-merchant to recommend
a working partner; if so he wished to offer himself. He could give good
security, and had stated as much to Mr. Farfrae in a letter; but he
would feel much obliged if Lucetta would say a word in his favour to her
husband.

"It is a thing I know nothing about," said Lucetta coldly.

"But you can testify to my trustworthiness better than anybody, ma'am,"
said Jopp. "I was in Jersey several years, and knew you there by sight."

"Indeed," she replied. "But I knew nothing of you."

"I think, ma'am, that a word or two from you would secure for me what I
covet very much," he persisted.

She steadily refused to have anything to do with the affair, and cutting
him short, because of her anxiety to get indoors before her husband
should miss her, left him on the pavement.

He watched her till she had vanished, and then went home. When he got
there he sat down in the fireless chimney corner looking at the iron
dogs, and the wood laid across them for heating the morning kettle.
A movement upstairs disturbed him, and Henchard came down from his
bedroom, where he seemed to have been rummaging boxes.

"I wish," said Henchard, "you would do me a service, Jopp,
now--to-night, I mean, if you can. Leave this at Mrs. Farfrae's for her.
I should take it myself, of course, but I don't wish to be seen there."

He handed a package in brown paper, sealed. Henchard had been as good
as his word. Immediately on coming indoors he had searched over his few
belongings, and every scrap of Lucetta's writing that he possessed was
here. Jopp indifferently expressed his willingness.

"Well, how have ye got on to-day?" his lodger asked. "Any prospect of an
opening?"

"I am afraid not," said Jopp, who had not told the other of his
application to Farfrae.

"There never will be in Casterbridge," declared Henchard decisively.
"You must roam further afield." He said goodnight to Jopp, and returned
to his own part of the house.

Jopp sat on till his eyes were attracted by the shadow of the
candle-snuff on the wall, and looking at the original he found that it
had formed itself into a head like a red-hot cauliflower. Henchard's
packet next met his gaze. He knew there had been something of the nature
of wooing between Henchard and the now Mrs. Farfrae; and his vague ideas
on the subject narrowed themselves down to these: Henchard had a parcel
belonging to Mrs. Farfrae, and he had reasons for not returning that
parcel to her in person. What could be inside it? So he went on and on
till, animated by resentment at Lucetta's haughtiness, as he thought it,
and curiosity to learn if there were any weak sides to this transaction
with Henchard, he examined the package. The pen and all its relations
being awkward tools in Henchard's hands he had affixed the seals without
an impression, it never occurring to him that the efficacy of such a
fastening depended on this. Jopp was far less of a tyro; he lifted one
of the seals with his penknife, peeped in at the end thus opened, saw
that the bundle consisted of letters; and, having satisfied himself
thus far, sealed up the end again by simply softening the wax with the
candle, and went off with the parcel as requested.

His path was by the river-side at the foot of the town. Coming into
the light at the bridge which stood at the end of High Street he beheld
lounging thereon Mother Cuxsom and Nance Mockridge.

"We be just going down Mixen Lane way, to look into Peter's Finger afore
creeping to bed," said Mrs. Cuxsom. "There's a fiddle and tambourine
going on there. Lord, what's all the world--do ye come along too,
Jopp--'twon't hinder ye five minutes."

Jopp had mostly kept himself out of this company, but present
circumstances made him somewhat more reckless than usual, and without
many words he decided to go to his destination that way.


Though the upper part of Durnover was mainly composed of a curious
congeries of barns and farm-steads, there was a less picturesque side to
the parish. This was Mixen Lane, now in great part pulled down.

Mixen Lane was the Adullam of all the surrounding villages. It was the
hiding-place of those who were in distress, and in debt, and trouble
of every kind. Farm-labourers and other peasants, who combined a little
poaching with their farming, and a little brawling and bibbing with
their poaching, found themselves sooner or later in Mixen Lane. Rural
mechanics too idle to mechanize, rural servants too rebellious to serve,
drifted or were forced into Mixen Lane.

The lane and its surrounding thicket of thatched cottages stretched out
like a spit into the moist and misty lowland. Much that was sad, much
that was low, some things that were baneful, could be seen in
Mixen Lane. Vice ran freely in and out certain of the doors in the
neighbourhood; recklessness dwelt under the roof with the crooked
chimney; shame in some bow-windows; theft (in times of privation) in the
thatched and mud-walled houses by the sallows. Even slaughter had not
been altogether unknown here. In a block of cottages up an alley there
might have been erected an altar to disease in years gone by. Such was
Mixen Lane in the times when Henchard and Farfrae were Mayors.

Yet this mildewed leaf in the sturdy and flourishing Casterbridge plant
lay close to the open country; not a hundred yards from a row of
noble elms, and commanding a view across the moor of airy uplands and
corn-fields, and mansions of the great. A brook divided the moor from
the tenements, and to outward view there was no way across it--no way
to the houses but round about by the road. But under every householder's
stairs there was kept a mysterious plank nine inches wide; which plank
was a secret bridge.

If you, as one of those refugee householders, came in from business
after dark--and this was the business time here--you stealthily crossed
the moor, approached the border of the aforesaid brook, and whistled
opposite the house to which you belonged. A shape thereupon made its
appearance on the other side bearing the bridge on end against the sky;
it was lowered; you crossed, and a hand helped you to land yourself,
together with the pheasants and hares gathered from neighbouring manors.
You sold them slily the next morning, and the day after you stood
before the magistrates with the eyes of all your sympathizing neighbours
concentrated on your back. You disappeared for a time; then you were
again found quietly living in Mixen Lane.

Walking along the lane at dusk the stranger was struck by two or three
peculiar features therein. One was an intermittent rumbling from the
back premises of the inn half-way up; this meant a skittle alley.
Another was the extensive prevalence of whistling in the various
domiciles--a piped note of some kind coming from nearly every open door.
Another was the frequency of white aprons over dingy gowns among the
women around the doorways. A white apron is a suspicious vesture in
situations where spotlessness is difficult; moreover, the industry and
cleanliness which the white apron expressed were belied by the postures
and gaits of the women who wore it--their knuckles being mostly on their
hips (an attitude which lent them the aspect of two-handled mugs), and
their shoulders against door-posts; while there was a curious alacrity
in the turn of each honest woman's head upon her neck and in the twirl
of her honest eyes, at any noise resembling a masculine footfall along
the lane.

Yet amid so much that was bad needy respectability also found a home.
Under some of the roofs abode pure and virtuous souls whose presence
there was due to the iron hand of necessity, and to that alone. Families
from decayed villages--families of that once bulky, but now
nearly extinct, section of village society called "liviers," or
lifeholders--copyholders and others, whose roof-trees had fallen for
some reason or other, compelling them to quit the rural spot that had
been their home for generations--came here, unless they chose to lie
under a hedge by the wayside.

The inn called Peter's Finger was the church of Mixen Lane.

It was centrally situate, as such places should be, and bore about the
same social relation to the Three Mariners as the latter bore to
the King's Arms. At first sight the inn was so respectable as to be
puzzling. The front door was kept shut, and the step was so clean that
evidently but few persons entered over its sanded surface. But at the
corner of the public-house was an alley, a mere slit, dividing it from
the next building. Half-way up the alley was a narrow door, shiny and
paintless from the rub of infinite hands and shoulders. This was the
actual entrance to the inn.

A pedestrian would be seen abstractedly passing along Mixen Lane; and
then, in a moment, he would vanish, causing the gazer to blink like
Ashton at the disappearance of Ravenswood. That abstracted pedestrian
had edged into the slit by the adroit fillip of his person sideways;
from the slit he edged into the tavern by a similar exercise of skill.

The company at the Three Mariners were persons of quality in comparison
with the company which gathered here; though it must be admitted that
the lowest fringe of the Mariner's party touched the crest of Peter's at
points. Waifs and strays of all sorts loitered about here. The landlady
was a virtuous woman who years ago had been unjustly sent to gaol as
an accessory to something or other after the fact. She underwent her
twelvemonth, and had worn a martyr's countenance ever since, except at
times of meeting the constable who apprehended her, when she winked her
eye.

To this house Jopp and his acquaintances had arrived. The settles on
which they sat down were thin and tall, their tops being guyed by pieces
of twine to hooks in the ceiling; for when the guests grew boisterous
the settles would rock and overturn without some such security. The
thunder of bowls echoed from the backyard; swingels hung behind the
blower of the chimney; and ex-poachers and ex-gamekeepers, whom squires
had persecuted without a cause, sat elbowing each other--men who in past
times had met in fights under the moon, till lapse of sentences on the
one part, and loss of favour and expulsion from service on the other,
brought them here together to a common level, where they sat calmly
discussing old times.

"Dost mind how you could jerk a trout ashore with a bramble, and not
ruffle the stream, Charl?" a deposed keeper was saying. "'Twas at that I
caught 'ee once, if you can mind?"

"That I can. But the worst larry for me was that pheasant business
at Yalbury Wood. Your wife swore false that time, Joe--O, by Gad, she
did--there's no denying it."

"How was that?" asked Jopp.

"Why--Joe closed wi' me, and we rolled down together, close to his
garden hedge. Hearing the noise, out ran his wife with the oven pyle,
and it being dark under the trees she couldn't see which was uppermost.
'Where beest thee, Joe, under or top?' she screeched. 'O--under, by
Gad!' says he. She then began to rap down upon my skull, back, and ribs
with the pyle till we'd roll over again. 'Where beest now, dear Joe,
under or top?' she'd scream again. By George, 'twas through her I was
took! And then when we got up in hall she sware that the cock pheasant
was one of her rearing, when 'twas not your bird at all, Joe; 'twas
Squire Brown's bird--that's whose 'twas--one that we'd picked off as
we passed his wood, an hour afore. It did hurt my feelings to be so
wronged!... Ah well--'tis over now."

"I might have had 'ee days afore that," said the keeper. "I was within
a few yards of 'ee dozens of times, with a sight more of birds than that
poor one."

"Yes--'tis not our greatest doings that the world gets wind of," said
the furmity-woman, who, lately settled in this purlieu, sat among
the rest. Having travelled a great deal in her time she spoke with
cosmopolitan largeness of idea. It was she who presently asked Jopp what
was the parcel he kept so snugly under his arm.

"Ah, therein lies a grand secret," said Jopp. "It is the passion of
love. To think that a woman should love one man so well, and hate
another so unmercifully."

"Who's the object of your meditation, sir?"

"One that stands high in this town. I'd like to shame her! Upon my life,
'twould be as good as a play to read her love-letters, the proud piece
of silk and wax-work! For 'tis her love-letters that I've got here."

"Love letters? then let's hear 'em, good soul," said Mother Cuxsom.
"Lord, do ye mind, Richard, what fools we used to be when we were
younger? Getting a schoolboy to write ours for us; and giving him a
penny, do ye mind, not to tell other folks what he'd put inside, do ye
mind?"

By this time Jopp had pushed his finger under the seals, and unfastened
the letters, tumbling them over and picking up one here and there at
random, which he read aloud. These passages soon began to uncover the
secret which Lucetta had so earnestly hoped to keep buried, though the
epistles, being allusive only, did not make it altogether plain.

"Mrs. Farfrae wrote that!" said Nance Mockridge. "'Tis a humbling thing
for us, as respectable women, that one of the same sex could do it. And
now she's avowed herself to another man!"

"So much the better for her," said the aged furmity-woman. "Ah, I saved
her from a real bad marriage, and she's never been the one to thank me."

"I say, what a good foundation for a skimmity-ride," said Nance.

"True," said Mrs. Cuxsom, reflecting. "'Tis as good a ground for a
skimmity-ride as ever I knowed; and it ought not to be wasted. The last
one seen in Casterbridge must have been ten years ago, if a day."

At this moment there was a shrill whistle, and the landlady said to the
man who had been called Charl, "'Tis Jim coming in. Would ye go and let
down the bridge for me?"

Without replying Charl and his comrade Joe rose, and receiving a lantern
from her went out at the back door and down the garden-path, which ended
abruptly at the edge of the stream already mentioned. Beyond the stream
was the open moor, from which a clammy breeze smote upon their faces
as they advanced. Taking up the board that had lain in readiness one
of them lowered it across the water, and the instant its further end
touched the ground footsteps entered upon it, and there appeared from
the shade a stalwart man with straps round his knees, a double-barrelled
gun under his arm and some birds slung up behind him. They asked him if
he had had much luck.

"Not much," he said indifferently. "All safe inside?"

Receiving a reply in the affirmative he went on inwards, the others
withdrawing the bridge and beginning to retreat in his rear. Before,
however, they had entered the house a cry of "Ahoy" from the moor led
them to pause.

The cry was repeated. They pushed the lantern into an outhouse, and went
back to the brink of the stream.

"Ahoy--is this the way to Casterbridge?" said some one from the other
side.

"Not in particular," said Charl. "There's a river afore 'ee."

"I don't care--here's for through it!" said the man in the moor. "I've
had travelling enough for to-day."

"Stop a minute, then," said Charl, finding that the man was no enemy.
"Joe, bring the plank and lantern; here's somebody that's lost his
way. You should have kept along the turnpike road, friend, and not have
strook across here."

"I should--as I see now. But I saw a light here, and says I to myself,
that's an outlying house, depend on't."

The plank was now lowered; and the stranger's form shaped itself
from the darkness. He was a middle-aged man, with hair and whiskers
prematurely grey, and a broad and genial face. He had crossed on the
plank without hesitation, and seemed to see nothing odd in the transit.
He thanked them, and walked between them up the garden. "What place is
this?" he asked, when they reached the door.

"A public-house."

"Ah, perhaps it will suit me to put up at. Now then, come in and wet
your whistle at my expense for the lift over you have given me."

They followed him into the inn, where the increased light exhibited him
as one who would stand higher in an estimate by the eye than in one by
the ear. He was dressed with a certain clumsy richness--his coat being
furred, and his head covered by a cap of seal-skin, which, though the
nights were chilly, must have been warm for the daytime, spring being
somewhat advanced. In his hand he carried a small mahogany case,
strapped, and clamped with brass.

Apparently surprised at the kind of company which confronted him through
the kitchen door, he at once abandoned his idea of putting up at the
house; but taking the situation lightly, he called for glasses of the
best, paid for them as he stood in the passage, and turned to proceed on
his way by the front door. This was barred, and while the landlady was
unfastening it the conversation about the skimmington was continued in
the sitting-room, and reached his ears.

"What do they mean by a 'skimmity-ride'?" he asked.

"O, sir!" said the landlady, swinging her long earrings with deprecating
modesty; "'tis a' old foolish thing they do in these parts when a
man's wife is--well, not too particularly his own. But as a respectable
householder I don't encourage it.

"Still, are they going to do it shortly? It is a good sight to see, I
suppose?"

"Well, sir!" she simpered. And then, bursting into naturalness, and
glancing from the corner of her eye, "'Tis the funniest thing under the
sun! And it costs money."

"Ah! I remember hearing of some such thing. Now I shall be in
Casterbridge for two or three weeks to come, and should not mind
seeing the performance. Wait a moment." He turned back, entered the
sitting-room, and said, "Here, good folks; I should like to see the
old custom you are talking of, and I don't mind being something towards
it--take that." He threw a sovereign on the table and returned to the
landlady at the door, of whom, having inquired the way into the town, he
took his leave.

"There were more where that one came from," said Charl when the
sovereign had been taken up and handed to the landlady for safe keeping.
"By George! we ought to have got a few more while we had him here."

"No, no," answered the landlady. "This is a respectable house, thank
God! And I'll have nothing done but what's honourable."

"Well," said Jopp; "now we'll consider the business begun, and will soon
get it in train."

"We will!" said Nance. "A good laugh warms my heart more than a cordial,
and that's the truth on't."

Jopp gathered up the letters, and it being now somewhat late he did
not attempt to call at Farfrae's with them that night. He reached home,
sealed them up as before, and delivered the parcel at its address next
morning. Within an hour its contents were reduced to ashes by Lucetta,
who, poor soul! was inclined to fall down on her knees in thankfulness
that at last no evidence remained of the unlucky episode with Henchard
in her past. For though hers had been rather the laxity of inadvertence
than of intention, that episode, if known, was not the less likely to
operate fatally between herself and her husband.




37.


Such was the state of things when the current affairs of Casterbridge
were interrupted by an event of such magnitude that its influence
reached to the lowest social stratum there, stirring the depths of its
society simultaneously with the preparations for the skimmington. It
was one of those excitements which, when they move a country town, leave
permanent mark upon its chronicles, as a warm summer permanently marks
the ring in the tree-trunk corresponding to its date.

A Royal Personage was about to pass through the borough on his course
further west, to inaugurate an immense engineering work out that way. He
had consented to halt half-an-hour or so in the town, and to receive an
address from the corporation of Casterbridge, which, as a representative
centre of husbandry, wished thus to express its sense of the great
services he had rendered to agricultural science and economics, by his
zealous promotion of designs for placing the art of farming on a more
scientific footing.

Royalty had not been seen in Casterbridge since the days of the third
King George, and then only by candlelight for a few minutes, when that
monarch, on a night-journey, had stopped to change horses at the
King's Arms. The inhabitants therefore decided to make a thorough fete
carillonee of the unwonted occasion. Half-an-hour's pause was not long,
it is true; but much might be done in it by a judicious grouping of
incidents, above all, if the weather were fine.

The address was prepared on parchment by an artist who was handy at
ornamental lettering, 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 the appointed day, to arrange the details of the
procedure. While they were sitting, the door of the Council Chamber
standing open, they heard a heavy footstep coming up the stairs. It
advanced along the passage, and Henchard entered the room, in clothes of
frayed and threadbare shabbiness, the very clothes which he had used to
wear in the primal days when he had sat among them.

"I have a feeling," he said, advancing to the table and laying his hand
upon the green cloth, "that I should like to join ye in this reception
of our illustrious visitor. I suppose I could walk with the rest?"

Embarrassed glances were exchanged by the Council and Grower nearly
ate the end of his quill-pen off, so gnawed he it during the silence.
Farfrae the young Mayor, who by virtue of his office sat in the large
chair, intuitively caught 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
Council are the Council, and as ye are no longer one of the body, there
would be an irregularity 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 see the doings full well, such as they are to be, like the rest of
the spectators."

Henchard did not reply to that very obvious suggestion, and, turning on
his heel, went away.

It had been only a passing fancy of his, but opposition crystallized
it into a determination. "I'll welcome his Royal Highness, or nobody
shall!" he went about saying. "I am not going to be sat upon by Farfrae,
or any of the rest of the 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 from county houses, villages, remote copses, and lonely
uplands, the latter in oiled boots and tilt bonnets, to see the
reception, or if not to see it, at any rate to be near it. There was
hardly a workman in the town who did not put a clean shirt on. Solomon
Longways, Christopher Coney, Buzzford, and the rest of that fraternity,
showed their sense of the occasion by advancing their customary eleven
o'clock pint to half-past ten; from which they found a difficulty in
getting back to the proper hour for several days.

Henchard had determined to do no work that day. He primed himself in
the morning 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 the nerve 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
heavy heart. 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 way through the gay throng to the shop of Woolfrey, the
draper. She waited in the crowd 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 homely construction, formed by tacking one of the small
Union Jacks, which abounded in the town to-day, to the end of a deal
wand--probably the roller from a piece of 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
shorter stood on tiptoe. It was said that the Royal cortege approached.
The railway had stretched out an arm towards Casterbridge at this time,
but had not reached it by several miles as yet; so that the intervening
distance, as well as the remainder of the journey, was to be traversed
by road in the old fashion. People thus waited--the county families
in their carriages, the masses on foot--and watched the far-stretching
London highway to the ringing of bells and chatter of tongues.

From the background Elizabeth-Jane watched the scene. Some seats had
been arranged from which ladies could witness the spectacle, and the
front seat was occupied by Lucetta, the Mayor's wife, just at present.
In the road under her eyes stood Henchard. She appeared so bright and
pretty that, as it seemed, he was experiencing the momentary weakness of
wishing for her notice. But he was far from attractive to a woman's eye,
ruled as that is so largely by the superficies of things. He was not
only a journeyman, unable to appear as he formerly had appeared, but he
disdained to appear as well as he might. Everybody else, from the
Mayor to the washerwoman, shone in new vesture according to means; but
Henchard had doggedly retained the fretted and weather-beaten garments
of bygone years.

Hence, alas, this occurred: Lucetta's eyes slid over him to this side
and to that without anchoring on his features--as gaily dressed women's
eyes will too often do on such occasions. Her manner signified quite
plainly that she meant to know him in public no more.

But she was never tired of watching Donald, as he stood in animated
converse with his friends a few yards off, wearing round his young neck
the official gold chain with great square links, like that round the
Royal unicorn. Every trifling emotion that her husband showed as he
talked had its reflex on her face and lips, which moved in little
duplicates to his. She was living his part rather than her own, and
cared for no one's situation but Farfrae's that day.

At length a man stationed at the furthest turn of the high road, namely,
on the second bridge of which mention has been made, gave a signal, and
the Corporation in their robes proceeded from the front of the Town
Hall to the archway erected at the entrance to the town. The carriages
containing the Royal visitor and his suite arrived at the spot in a
cloud of dust, a procession was formed, and the whole came on to the
Town Hall at a walking pace.

This spot was the centre of interest. There were a few clear yards in
front of the Royal carriage, sanded; and into this space a man stepped
before any one could prevent him. It was Henchard. He had unrolled
his private flag, and removing his hat he staggered to the side of the
slowing vehicle, waving the Union Jack to and fro with his left hand
while he blandly held out his right to the Illustrious Personage.

All the ladies said with bated breath, "O, look there!" and Lucetta was
ready to faint. Elizabeth-Jane peeped through the shoulders of those in
front, saw what it was, and was terrified; and then her interest in the
spectacle as a strange phenomenon got the better of her fear.

Farfrae, with Mayoral authority, immediately rose to the occasion. He
seized Henchard 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 despite his excitement and irritation. For a moment
Henchard stood his ground rigidly; then by an unaccountable impulse gave
way and retired. Farfrae glanced to the ladies' gallery, and saw that
his Calphurnia's cheek was pale.

"Why--it is your husband's old patron!" said Mrs. Blowbody, a lady of
the neighbourhood 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 with the doctor.

"He works for my husband," said Lucetta.

"Oh--is that all? They have been saying to me that it was through him
your husband 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
enabled him to get a footing anywhere, without anybody's help! He would
have been just the same if there had been no Henchard in the world!"

It was partly Lucetta's ignorance of the circumstances of Donald's
arrival which led her to speak thus, partly the sensation that everybody
seemed bent on snubbing her at this triumphant time. The incident had
occupied but a few moments, but it was necessarily witnessed by the
Royal Personage, who, however, with practised tact affected not to have
noticed anything unusual. He alighted, the Mayor advanced, the address
was read; the Illustrious Personage replied, then said a few words to
Farfrae, and shook hands with Lucetta as the Mayor's wife. The ceremony
occupied but a few minutes, and the carriages rattled heavily as
Pharaoh's chariots down Corn Street and out upon the Budmouth Road, in
continuation of the journey coastward.

In the crowd stood Coney, Buzzford, and Longways "Some difference
between him now and when he zung at the Dree Mariners," said the first.
"'Tis wonderful how he could get a lady of her quality to go snacks wi'
en in such quick time."

"True. Yet how folk do worship fine clothes! Now there's a
better-looking woman than she that nobody notices at all, because she's
akin to that hontish fellow Henchard."

"I could worship ye, Buzz, for saying that," remarked Nance Mockridge.
"I do like to see the trimming pulled off such Christmas candles. I am
quite unequal to the part of villain myself, or I'd gi'e all my small
silver to see that lady 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 by the reading of Lucetta's letters at Peter's Finger had
condensed into a scandal, which was spreading like a miasmatic fog
through Mixen Lane, and thence up the back streets of Casterbridge.

The mixed assemblage of idlers known to each other presently fell apart
into two bands by a process of natural selection, the frequenters of
Peter's Finger going 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 to the 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
are getting 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.
"'Tis too rough a joke, and apt to wake riots in towns. We know that
the Scotchman is a right enough man, and that his lady has been a right
enough 'oman since she came here, and if there was anything wrong about
her afore, that's their business, not ours."

Coney reflected. Farfrae was still liked in the community; but it must
be owned that, as the Mayor and man of money, engrossed with affairs and
ambitions, he had lost in the eyes of the poorer inhabitants something
of that wondrous charm which he had had for them as a light-hearted
penniless young man, who sang ditties as readily as the birds in the
trees. Hence the anxiety to keep him from annoyance showed not quite the
ardour that would have animated it in former days.

"Suppose we make inquiration into it, Christopher," continued Longways;
"and if we find there's really anything in it, drop a letter to them
most concerned, 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
ripe the great jocular plot really was. "Yes, to-night," Jopp had said
to the Peter's party at the corner of Mixen Lane. "As a wind-up to the
Royal visit the 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.




38.


The proceedings had been brief--too brief--to Lucetta whom an
intoxicating Weltlust had fairly mastered; but they had brought her a
great triumph nevertheless. The shake of the Royal hand still lingered
in her fingers; and the chit-chat she had overheard, that her husband
might possibly receive the honour of knighthood, though idle to a
degree, seemed not the wildest vision; stranger things had occurred to
men so good and captivating as her Scotchman was.

After the collision with the Mayor, Henchard had withdrawn behind the
ladies' stand; and there he stood, regarding with a stare of abstraction
the spot on the lapel of his coat where Farfrae's hand had seized it.
He put his own hand there, as if he could hardly realize such an outrage
from one whom it had once been his wont to treat with ardent generosity.
While pausing in this half-stupefied state the conversation of Lucetta
with the other ladies reached his ears; and he distinctly heard her deny
him--deny that he had assisted Donald, that he was anything more than a
common journeyman.

He moved on homeward, and met Jopp in the archway to the Bull Stake. "So
you've had a snub," said Jopp.

"And what if I have?" answered Henchard sternly.

"Why, I've had one too, so we are both under the same cold shade." He
briefly related his attempt to win Lucetta's intercession.

Henchard merely heard his story, without taking it deeply in. His own
relation to Farfrae and Lucetta overshadowed all kindred ones. He went
on saying brokenly to himself, "She has supplicated to me in her time;
and now her tongue won't own me nor her eyes see me!... And he--how angry
he looked. He drove me back as if I were a bull breaking fence.... I
took it like a lamb, for I saw it could not be settled there. He can
rub brine on a green wound!... But he shall pay for it, and she shall be
sorry. It must come to a tussle--face to face; and then we'll see how a
coxcomb can front a man!"

Without further reflection the fallen merchant, bent on some wild
purpose, ate a hasty dinner and went forth to find Farfrae. After being
injured by him as a rival, and snubbed by him as a journeyman, the
crowning degradation had been reserved for this day--that he should be
shaken at the collar by him as a vagabond in the face of the whole town.

The crowds had dispersed. But for the green arches which still stood
as they were erected Casterbridge life had resumed its ordinary shape.
Henchard went down Corn Street till he came to Farfrae's house, where he
knocked, and left a message that he would be glad to see his employer at
the granaries as soon as he conveniently could come there. Having done
this he proceeded round to the back and entered the yard.

Nobody was present, for, as he had been aware, the labourers and
carters were enjoying a half-holiday on account of the events of the
morning--though the carters would have to return for a short time later
on, to feed and litter down the horses. He had reached the granary steps
and was about to ascend, when he said to himself aloud, "I'm stronger
than he."

Henchard returned to a shed, where he selected a short piece of rope
from several pieces that were lying about; hitching one end of this to
a nail, he took the other in his right hand and turned himself bodily
round, while keeping his arm against his side; by this contrivance he
pinioned the arm effectively. He now went up the ladders to the top
floor of the corn-stores.

It was empty except of a few sacks, and at the further end was the door
often mentioned, opening under the cathead and chain that hoisted the
sacks. He fixed the door open and looked over the sill. There was a
depth of thirty or forty feet to the ground; here was the spot on which
he had been standing with Farfrae when Elizabeth-Jane had seen him lift
his arm, with many misgivings as to what the movement portended.

He retired a few steps into the loft and waited. From this elevated
perch his eyes could sweep the roofs round about, the upper parts of the
luxurious chestnut trees, now delicate in leaves of a week's age, and
the drooping boughs of the lines; Farfrae's garden and the green door
leading therefrom. In course of time--he could not say how long--that
green door opened and Farfrae came through. He was dressed as if for a
journey. The low light of the nearing evening caught his head and
face when he emerged from the shadow of the wall, warming them to a
complexion of flame-colour. Henchard watched him with his mouth firmly
set, the squareness of his jaw and the verticality of his profile being
unduly marked.

Farfrae came on with one hand in his pocket, and humming a tune in a way
which told that the words were most in his mind. They were those of the
song he had sung when he arrived years before at the Three Mariners, a
poor young man, adventuring for life and fortune, and scarcely knowing
witherward:--

          "And here's a hand, my trusty fiere,
             And gie's a hand o' thine."

Nothing moved Henchard like an old melody. He sank back. "No; I can't do
it!" he gasped. "Why does the infernal fool begin that now!"

At length Farfrae was silent, and Henchard looked out of the loft door.
"Will ye come up here?" he said.

"Ay, man," said Farfrae. "I couldn't see ye. What's wrang?"

A minute later Henchard heard his feet on the lowest ladder. He heard
him land on the first floor, ascend and land on the second, begin the
ascent to the third. And then his head rose through the trap behind.

"What are you doing up here at this time?" he asked, coming forward.
"Why didn't ye take your holiday like the rest of the men?" He spoke in
a tone which had just severity enough in it to show that he remembered
the untoward event of the forenoon, and his conviction that Henchard had
been drinking.

Henchard said nothing; but going back he closed the stair hatchway, and
stamped upon it so that it went tight into its frame; he next turned
to the wondering young man, who by this time observed that one of
Henchard's arms was bound to his side.

"Now," said Henchard quietly, "we stand face to face--man and man. Your
money and your fine wife no longer lift 'ee above me as they did but
now, and my poverty does not press me down."

"What does it all mean?" asked Farfrae simply.

"Wait a bit, my lad. You should ha' thought twice before you affronted
to extremes a man who had nothing to lose. I've stood your rivalry,
which ruined me, and your snubbing, which humbled me; but your hustling,
that disgraced me, I won't stand!"

Farfrae warmed a little at this. "Ye'd no business there," he said.

"As much as any one among ye! What, you forward stripling, tell a man of
my age he'd no business there!" The anger-vein swelled in his forehead
as he spoke.

"You insulted Royalty, Henchard; and 'twas my duty, as the chief
magistrate, to stop you."

"Royalty be damned," said Henchard. "I am as loyal as you, come to
that!"

"I am not here to argue. Wait till you cool doon, wait till you cool;
and you will see things the same way as I do."

"You may be the one to cool first," said Henchard grimly. "Now this
is the case. Here be we, in this four-square loft, to finish out that
little wrestle you began this morning. There's the door, forty foot
above ground. One of us two puts the other out by that door--the master
stays inside. If he likes he may go down afterwards and give the
alarm that the other has fallen out by accident--or he may tell the
truth--that's his business. As the strongest man I've tied one arm to
take no advantage of 'ee. D'ye understand? Then here's at 'ee!"

There was no time for Farfrae to do aught but one thing, to close with
Henchard, for the latter had come on at once. It was a wrestling match,
the object of each being to give his antagonist a back fall; and on
Henchard's part, unquestionably, that it should be through the door.

At the outset Henchard's hold by his only free hand, the right, was on
the left side of Farfrae's collar, which he firmly grappled, the latter
holding Henchard by his collar with the contrary hand. With his right he
endeavoured to get hold of his antagonist's left arm, which, however, he
could not do, so adroitly did Henchard keep it in the rear as he gazed
upon the lowered eyes of his fair and slim antagonist.

Henchard planted the first toe forward, Farfrae crossing him with his;
and thus far the struggle had very much the appearance of the ordinary
wrestling of those parts. Several minutes were passed by them in this
attitude, the pair rocking and writhing like trees in a gale, both
preserving an absolute silence. By this time their breathing could be
heard. Then Farfrae tried to get hold of the other side of Henchard's
collar, which was resisted by the larger man exerting all his force in
a wrenching movement, and this part of the struggle ended by his forcing
Farfrae down on his knees by sheer pressure of one of his muscular arms.
Hampered as he was, however, he could not keep him there, and Farfrae
finding his feet again the struggle proceeded as before.

By a whirl Henchard brought Donald dangerously near the precipice;
seeing his position the Scotchman for the first time locked himself
to his adversary, and all the efforts of that infuriated Prince
of Darkness--as he might have been called from his appearance just
now--were inadequate to lift or loosen Farfrae for a time. By an
extraordinary effort he succeeded at last, though not until they had got
far back again from the fatal door. In doing so Henchard contrived to
turn Farfrae a complete somersault. Had Henchard's other arm been free
it would have been all over with Farfrae then. But again he regained his
feet, wrenching Henchard's arm considerably, and causing him sharp pain,
as could be seen from the twitching of his face. He instantly delivered
the younger man an annihilating turn by the left fore-hip, as it used
to be expressed, and following up his advantage thrust him towards the
door, never loosening his hold till Farfrae's fair head was hanging over
the window-sill, and his arm dangling down outside the wall.

"Now," said Henchard between his gasps, "this is the end of what you
began this morning. Your life is in my hands."

"Then take it, take it!" said Farfrae. "Ye've wished to long enough!"

Henchard looked down upon him in silence, and their eyes met. "O
Farfrae!--that's not true!" he said bitterly. "God is my witness that
no man ever loved another as I did thee at one time....And now--though I
came here to kill 'ee, I cannot hurt thee! Go and give me in charge--do
what you will--I care nothing for what comes of me!"

He withdrew to the back part of the loft, loosened his arm, and flung
himself in a corner upon some sacks, in the abandonment of remorse.
Farfrae regarded him in silence; then went to the hatch and descended
through it. Henchard would fain have recalled him, but his tongue failed
in its task, and the young man's steps died on his ear.

Henchard took his full measure of shame and self-reproach. The scenes of
his first acquaintance with Farfrae rushed back upon him--that time when
the curious mixture of romance and thrift in the young man's composition
so commanded his heart that Farfrae could play upon him as on an
instrument. So thoroughly subdued was he that he remained on the sacks
in a crouching attitude, unusual for a man, and for such a man.
Its womanliness sat tragically on the figure of so stern a piece of
virility. He heard a conversation below, the opening of the coach-house
door, and the putting in of a horse, but took no notice.

Here he stayed till the thin shades thickened to opaque obscurity, and
the loft-door became an oblong of gray light--the only visible shape
around. At length he arose, shook the dust from his clothes wearily,
felt his way to the hatch, and gropingly descended the steps till he
stood in the yard.

"He thought highly of me once," he murmured. "Now he'll hate me and
despise me for ever!"

He became possessed by an overpowering wish to see Farfrae again
that night, and by some desperate pleading to attempt the well-nigh
impossible task of winning pardon for his late mad attack. But as he
walked towards Farfrae's door he recalled the unheeded doings in the
yard while he had lain above in a sort of stupor. Farfrae he remembered
had gone to the stable and put the horse into the gig; while doing so
Whittle had brought him a letter; Farfrae had then said that he would
not go towards Budmouth as he had intended--that he was unexpectedly
summoned to Weatherbury, and meant to call at Mellstock on his way
thither, that place lying but one or two miles out of his course.

He must have come prepared for a journey when he first arrived in the
yard, unsuspecting enmity; and he must have driven off (though in a
changed direction) without saying a word to any one on what had occurred
between themselves.

It would therefore be useless to call at Farfrae's house till very late.

There was no help for it but to wait till his return, though waiting was
almost torture to his restless and self-accusing soul. He walked about
the streets and outskirts of the town, lingering here and there till he
reached the stone bridge of which mention has been made, an accustomed
halting-place with him now. Here he spent a long time, the purl of
waters through the weirs meeting his ear, and the Casterbridge lights
glimmering at no great distance off.

While leaning thus upon the parapet his listless attention was awakened
by sounds of an unaccustomed kind from the town quarter. They were a
confusion of rhythmical noises, to which the streets added yet more
confusion by encumbering them with echoes. His first incurious thought
that the clangour arose from the town band, engaged in an attempt
to round off a memorable day in a burst of evening harmony,
was contradicted by certain peculiarities of reverberation. But
inexplicability did not rouse him to more than a cursory heed; his sense
of degradation was too strong for the admission of foreign ideas; and he
leant against the parapet as before.




39.


When Farfrae descended out of the loft breathless from his encounter
with Henchard, he paused at the bottom to recover himself. He arrived
at the yard with the intention of putting the horse into the gig himself
(all the men having a holiday), and driving to a village on the Budmouth
Road. Despite the fearful struggle he decided still to persevere in his
journey, so as to recover himself before going indoors and meeting the
eyes of Lucetta. He wished to consider his course in a case so serious.

When he was just on the point of driving off Whittle arrived with a note
badly addressed, and bearing the word "immediate" upon the outside. On
opening it he was surprised to see that it was unsigned. It contained
a brief request that he would go to Weatherbury that evening about some
business which he was conducting there. Farfrae knew nothing that could
make it pressing; but as he was bent upon going out he yielded to the
anonymous request, particularly as he had a call to make at Mellstock
which could be included in the same tour. Thereupon he told Whittle of
his change of direction, in words which Henchard had overheard, and set
out on his way. Farfrae had not directed his man to take the message
indoors, and Whittle had not been supposed to do so on his own
responsibility.

Now the anonymous letter was a well-intentioned but clumsy contrivance
of Longways and other of Farfrae's men to get him out of the way for
the evening, in order that the satirical mummery should fall flat, if it
were attempted. By giving open information they would have brought down
upon their heads the vengeance of those among their comrades who enjoyed
these boisterous old games; and therefore the plan of sending a letter
recommended itself by its indirectness.

For poor Lucetta they took no protective measure, believing with the
majority there was some truth in the scandal, which she would have to
bear as she best might.

It was about eight o'clock, and Lucetta was sitting in the drawing-room
alone. Night had set in for more than half an hour, but she had not had
the candles lighted, for when Farfrae was away she preferred waiting for
him by the firelight, and, if it were not too cold, keeping one of the
window-sashes a little way open that the sound of his wheels might reach
her ears early. She was leaning back in the chair, in a more hopeful
mood than she had enjoyed since her marriage. The day had been such
a success, and the temporary uneasiness which Henchard's show of
effrontery had wrought in her disappeared with the quiet disappearance
of Henchard himself under her husband's reproof. The floating evidences
of her absurd passion for him, and its consequences, had been destroyed,
and she really seemed to have no cause for fear.

The reverie in which these and other subjects mingled was disturbed by
a hubbub in the distance, that increased moment by moment. It did not
greatly surprise her, the afternoon having been given up to recreation
by a majority of the populace since the passage of the Royal equipages.
But her attention was at once riveted to the matter by the voice of a
maid-servant next door, who spoke from an upper window across the street
to some other maid even more elevated than she.

"Which way be they going now?" inquired the first with interest.

"I can't be sure for a moment," said the second, "because of the
malter's chimbley. O yes--I can see 'em. Well, I declare, I declare!

"What, what?" from the first, more enthusiastically.

"They are coming up Corn Street after all! They sit back to back!"

"What--two of 'em--are there two figures?"

"Yes. Two images on a donkey, back to back, their elbows tied to one
another's! She's facing the head, and he's facing the tail."

"Is it meant for anybody in particular?"

"Well--it mid be. The man has got on a blue coat and kerseymere
leggings; he has black whiskers, and a reddish face. 'Tis a stuffed
figure, with a falseface."

The din was increasing now--then it lessened a little.

"There--I shan't see, after all!" cried the disappointed first maid.

"They have gone into a back street--that's all," said the one who
occupied the enviable position in the attic. "There--now I have got 'em
all endways nicely!"

"What's the woman like? Just say, and I can tell in a moment if 'tis
meant for one I've in mind."

"My--why--'tis dressed just as SHE dressed when she sat in the front
seat at the time the play-actors came to the Town Hall!"

Lucetta started to her feet, and almost at the instant the door of the
room was quickly and softly opened. Elizabeth-Jane advanced into the
firelight.

"I have come to see you," she said breathlessly. "I did not stop to
knock--forgive me! I see you have not shut your shutters, and the window
is open."

Without waiting for Lucetta's reply she crossed quickly to the window
and pulled out one of the shutters. Lucetta glided to her side. "Let
it be--hush!" she said perempority, in a dry voice, while she seized
Elizabeth-Jane by the hand, and held up her finger. Their intercourse
had been so low and hurried that not a word had been lost of the
conversation without, which had thus proceeded:--

"Her neck is uncovered, and her hair in bands, and her back-comb in
place; she's got on a puce silk, and white stockings, and coloured
shoes."

Again Elizabeth-Jane attempted to close the window, but Lucetta held her
by main force.

"'Tis me!" she said, with a face pale as death. "A procession--a
scandal--an effigy of me, and him!"

The look of Elizabeth betrayed that the latter knew it already.

"Let us shut it out," coaxed Elizabeth-Jane, noting that the rigid
wildness of Lucetta's features was growing yet more rigid and wild with
the meaning of the noise and laughter. "Let us shut it out!"

"It is of no use!" she shrieked. "He will see it, won't he? Donald will
see it! He is just coming home--and it will break his heart--he will
never love me any more--and O, it will kill me--kill me!"

Elizabeth-Jane was frantic now. "O, can't something be done to stop it?"
she cried. "Is there nobody to do it--not one?"

She relinquished Lucetta's hands, and ran to the door. Lucetta herself,
saying recklessly "I will see it!" turned to the window, threw up the
sash, and went out upon the balcony. Elizabeth immediately followed, and
put her arm round her to pull her in. Lucetta's eyes were straight upon
the spectacle of the uncanny revel, now dancing rapidly. The numerous
lights round the two effigies threw them up into lurid distinctness; it
was impossible to mistake the pair for other than the intended victims.

"Come in, come in," implored Elizabeth; "and let me shut the window!"

"She's me--she's me--even to the parasol--my green parasol!" cried
Lucetta with a wild laugh as she stepped in. She stood motionless for
one second--then fell heavily to the floor.

Almost at the instant of her fall the rude music of the skimmington
ceased. The roars of sarcastic laughter went off in ripples, and the
trampling died out like the rustle of a spent wind. Elizabeth was only
indirectly conscious of this; she had rung the bell, and was bending
over Lucetta, who remained convulsed on the carpet in the paroxysms of
an epileptic seizure. She rang again and again, in vain; the probability
being that the servants had all run out of the house to see more of the
Daemonic Sabbath than they could see within.

At last Farfrae's man, who had been agape on the doorstep, came up;
then the cook. The shutters, hastily pushed to by Elizabeth, were quite
closed, a light was obtained, Lucetta carried to her room, and the man
sent off for a doctor. While Elizabeth was undressing her she recovered
consciousness; but as soon as she remembered what had passed the fit
returned.

The doctor arrived with unhoped-for promptitude; he had been standing
at his door, like others, wondering what the uproar meant. As soon as he
saw the unhappy sufferer he said, in answer to Elizabeth's mute appeal,
"This is serious."

"It is a fit," Elizabeth said.

"Yes. But a fit in the present state of her health means mischief. You
must send at once for Mr. Farfrae. Where is he?"

"He has driven into the country, sir," said the parlour-maid; "to some
place on the Budmouth Road. He's likely to be back soon."

"Never mind, he must be sent for, in case he should not hurry." The
doctor returned to the bedside again. The man was despatched, and they
soon heard him clattering out of the yard at the back.

Meanwhile Mr. Benjamin Grower, that prominent burgess of whom mention
has been already made, hearing the din of cleavers, tongs, tambourines,
kits, crouds, humstrums, serpents, rams'-horns, and other historical
kinds of music as he sat indoors in the High Street, had put on his hat
and gone out to learn the cause. He came to the corner above Farfrae's,
and soon guessed the nature of the proceedings; for being a native of
the town he had witnessed such rough jests before. His first move was
to search hither and thither for the constables, there were two in the
town, shrivelled men whom he ultimately found in hiding up an alley yet
more shrivelled than usual, having some not ungrounded fears that they
might be roughly handled if seen.

"What can we two poor lammigers do against such a multitude!"
expostulated Stubberd, in answer to Mr. Grower's chiding. "'Tis tempting
'em to commit felo-de-se upon us, and that would be the death of the
perpetrator; and we wouldn't be the cause of a fellow-creature's death
on no account, not we!"

"Get some help, then! Here, I'll come with you. We'll see what a few
words of authority can do. Quick now; have you got your staves?"

"We didn't want the folk to notice us as law officers, being so
short-handed, sir; so we pushed our Gover'ment staves up this
water-pipe.

"Out with 'em, and come along, for Heaven's sake! Ah, here's Mr.
Blowbody; that's lucky." (Blowbody was the third of the three borough
magistrates.)

"Well, what's the row?" said Blowbody. "Got their names--hey?"

"No. Now," said Grower to one of the constables, "you go with Mr.
Blowbody round by the Old Walk and come up the street; and I'll go with
Stubberd straight forward. By this plan we shall have 'em between us.
Get their names only: no attack or interruption."

Thus they started. But as Stubberd with Mr. Grower advanced into Corn
Street, whence the sounds had proceeded, they were surprised that no
procession could be seen. They passed Farfrae's, and looked to the end
of the street. The lamp flames waved, the Walk trees soughed, a few
loungers stood about with their hands in their pockets. Everything was
as usual.

"Have you seen a motley crowd making a disturbance?" Grower said
magisterially to one of these in a fustian jacket, who smoked a short
pipe and wore straps round his knees.

"Beg yer pardon, sir?" blandly said the person addressed, who was no
other than Charl, of Peter's Finger. Mr. Grower repeated the words.

Charl shook his head to the zero of childlike ignorance. "No; we haven't
seen anything; have we, Joe? And you was here afore I."

Joseph was quite as blank as the other in his reply.

"H'm--that's odd," said Mr. Grower. "Ah--here's a respectable man coming
that I know by sight. Have you," he inquired, addressing the nearing
shape of Jopp, "have you seen any gang of fellows making a devil of a
noise--skimmington riding, or something of the sort?"

"O no--nothing, sir," Jopp replied, as if receiving the most singular
news. "But I've not been far tonight, so perhaps--"

"Oh, 'twas here--just here," said the magistrate.

"Now I've noticed, come to think o't that the wind in the Walk trees
makes a peculiar poetical-like murmur to-night, sir; more than common;
so perhaps 'twas that?" Jopp suggested, as he rearranged his hand in his
greatcoat pocket (where it ingeniously supported a pair of kitchen tongs
and a cow's horn, thrust up under his waistcoat).

"No, no, no--d'ye think I'm a fool? Constable, come this way. They must
have gone into the back street."

Neither in back street nor in front street, however, could the
disturbers be perceived, and Blowbody and the second constable, who
came up at this time, brought similar intelligence. Effigies, donkey,
lanterns, band, all had disappeared like the crew of Comus.

"Now," said Mr. Grower, "there's only one thing more we can do. Get ye
half-a-dozen helpers, and go in a body to Mixen Lane, and into Peter's
finger. I'm much mistaken if you don't find a clue to the perpetrators
there."

The rusty-jointed executors of the law mustered assistance as soon as
they could, and the whole party marched off to the lane of notoriety. It
was no rapid matter to get there at night, not a lamp or glimmer of
any sort offering itself to light the way, except an occasional pale
radiance through some window-curtain, or through the chink of some door
which could not be closed because of the smoky chimney within. At last
they entered the inn boldly, by the till then bolted front-door, after a
prolonged knocking of loudness commensurate with the importance of their
standing.

In the settles of the large room, guyed to the ceiling by cords as
usual for stability, an ordinary group sat drinking and smoking with
statuesque quiet of demeanour. The landlady looked mildly at the
invaders, saying in honest accents, "Good evening, gentlemen; there's
plenty of room. I hope there's nothing amiss?"

They looked round the room. "Surely," said Stubberd to one of the men,
"I saw you by now in Corn Street--Mr. Grower spoke to 'ee?"

The man, who was Charl, shook his head absently. "I've been here this
last hour, hain't I, Nance?" he said to the woman who meditatively
sipped her ale near him.

"Faith, that you have. I came in for my quiet suppertime half-pint, and
you were here then, as well as all the rest."

The other constable was facing the clock-case, where he saw reflected in
the glass a quick motion by the landlady. Turning sharply, he caught her
closing the oven-door.

"Something curious about that oven, ma'am!" he observed advancing,
opening it, and drawing out a tambourine.

"Ah," she said apologetically, "that's what we keep here to use when
there's a little quiet dancing. You see damp weather spoils it, so I put
it there to keep it dry."

The constable nodded knowingly, but what he knew was nothing. Nohow
could anything be elicited from this mute and inoffensive assembly. In
a few minutes the investigators went out, and joining those of their
auxiliaries who had been left at the door they pursued their way
elsewhither.




40.


Long before this time Henchard, weary of his ruminations on the bridge,
had repaired towards the town. When he stood at the bottom of the street
a procession burst upon his view, in the act of turning out of an alley
just above him. The lanterns, horns, and multitude startled him; he saw
the mounted images, and knew what it all meant.

They crossed the way, entered another street, and disappeared. He turned
back a few steps and was lost in grave reflection, finally wending his
way homeward by the obscure river-side path. Unable to rest there he
went to his step-daughter's lodging, and was told that Elizabeth-Jane
had gone to Mr. Farfrae's. Like one acting in obedience to a charm, and
with a nameless apprehension, he followed in the same direction in the
hope of meeting her, the roysterers having vanished. Disappointed in
this he gave the gentlest of pulls to the door-bell, and then learnt
particulars of what had occurred, together with the doctor's imperative
orders that Farfrae should be brought home, and how they had set out to
meet him on the Budmouth Road.

"But he has gone to Mellstock and Weatherbury!" exclaimed Henchard, now
unspeakably grieved. "Not Budmouth way at all."

But, alas! for Henchard; he had lost his good name. They would
not believe him, taking his words but as the frothy utterances of
recklessness. Though Lucetta's life seemed at that moment to depend upon
her husband's return (she being in great mental agony lest he should
never know the unexaggerated truth of her past relations with Henchard),
no messenger was despatched towards Weatherbury. Henchard, in a state of
bitter anxiety and contrition, determined to seek Farfrae himself.

To this end he hastened down the town, ran along the eastern road over
Durnover Moor, up the hill beyond, and thus onward in the moderate
darkness of this spring night till he had reached a second and almost
a third hill about three miles distant. In Yalbury Bottom, or Plain,
at the foot of the hill, he listened. At first nothing, beyond his own
heart-throbs, was to be heard but the slow wind making its moan among
the masses of spruce and larch of Yalbury Wood which clothed the heights
on either hand; but presently there came the sound of light wheels
whetting their felloes against the newly stoned patches of road,
accompanied by the distant glimmer of lights.

He knew it was Farfrae's gig descending the hill from an indescribable
personality in its noise, the vehicle having been his own till bought
by the Scotchman at the sale of his effects. Henchard thereupon retraced
his steps along Yalbury Plain, the gig coming up with him as its driver
slackened speed between two plantations.

It was a point in the highway near which the road to Mellstock branched
off from the homeward direction. By diverging to that village, as he had
intended to do, Farfrae might probably delay his return by a couple of
hours. It soon appeared that his intention was to do so still, the
light swerving towards Cuckoo Lane, the by-road aforesaid. Farfrae's off
gig-lamp flashed in Henchard's face. At the same time Farfrae discerned
his late antagonist.

"Farfrae--Mr. Farfrae!" cried the breathless Henchard, holding up his
hand.

Farfrae allowed the horse to turn several steps into the branch lane
before he pulled up. He then drew rein, and said "Yes?" over his
shoulder, as one would towards a pronounced enemy.

"Come back to Casterbridge at once!" Henchard said. "There's something
wrong at your house--requiring your return. I've run all the way here on
purpose to tell ye."

Farfrae was silent, and at his silence Henchard's soul sank within him.
Why had he not, before this, thought of what was only too obvious? He
who, four hours earlier, had enticed Farfrae into a deadly wrestle stood
now in the darkness of late night-time on a lonely road, inviting him
to come a particular way, where an assailant might have confederates,
instead of going his purposed way, where there might be a better
opportunity of guarding himself from attack. Henchard could almost feel
this view of things in course of passage through Farfrae's mind.

"I have to go to Mellstock," said Farfrae coldly, as he loosened his
reins to move on.

"But," implored Henchard, "the matter is more serious than your business
at Mellstock. It is--your wife! She is ill. I can tell you particulars
as we go along."

The very agitation and abruptness of Henchard increased Farfrae's
suspicion that this was a ruse to decoy him on to the next wood, where
might be effectually compassed what, from policy or want of nerve,
Henchard had failed to do earlier in the day. He started the horse.

"I know what you think," deprecated Henchard running after, almost bowed
down with despair as he perceived the image of unscrupulous villainy
that he assumed in his former friend's eyes. "But I am not what you
think!" he cried hoarsely. "Believe me, Farfrae; I have come entirely on
your own and your wife's account. She is in danger. I know no more; and
they want you to come. Your man has gone the other way in a mistake. O
Farfrae! don't mistrust me--I am a wretched man; but my heart is true to
you still!"

Farfrae, however, did distrust him utterly. He knew his wife was
with child, but he had left her not long ago in perfect health; and
Henchard's treachery was more credible than his story. He had in his
time heard bitter ironies from Henchard's lips, and there might be
ironies now. He quickened the horse's pace, and had soon risen into the
high country lying between there and Mellstock, Henchard's spasmodic run
after him lending yet more substance to his thought of evil purposes.

The gig and its driver lessened against the sky in Henchard's eyes;
his exertions for Farfrae's good had been in vain. Over this repentant
sinner, at least, there was to be no joy in heaven. He cursed himself
like a less scrupulous Job, as a vehement man will do when he loses
self-respect, the last mental prop under poverty. To this he had come
after a time of emotional darkness of which the adjoining woodland shade
afforded inadequate illustration. Presently he began to walk back again
along the way by which he had arrived. Farfrae should at all events have
no reason for delay upon the road by seeing him there when he took his
journey homeward later on.

Arriving at Casterbridge Henchard went again to Farfrae's house to make
inquiries. As soon as the door opened anxious faces confronted his
from the staircase, hall, and landing; and they all said in grievous
disappointment, "O--it is not he!" The manservant, finding his mistake,
had long since returned, and all hopes had centred upon Henchard.

"But haven't you found him?" said the doctor.

"Yes....I cannot tell 'ee!" Henchard replied as he sank down on a chair
within the entrance. "He can't be home for two hours."

"H'm," said the surgeon, returning upstairs.

"How is she?" asked Henchard of Elizabeth, who formed one of the group.

"In great danger, father. Her anxiety to see her husband makes her
fearfully restless. Poor woman--I fear they have killed her!"

Henchard regarded the sympathetic speaker for a few instants as if she
struck him in a new light, then, without further remark, went out of
the door and onward to his lonely cottage. So much for man's rivalry,
he thought. Death was to have the oyster, and Farfrae and himself the
shells. But about Elizabeth-lane; in the midst of his gloom she seemed
to him as a pin-point of light. He had liked the look on her face as she
answered him from the stairs. There had been affection in it, and above
all things what he desired now was affection from anything that was good
and pure. She was not his own, yet, for the first time, he had a faint
dream that he might get to like her as his own,--if she would only
continue to love him.

Jopp was just going to bed when Henchard got home. As the latter entered
the door Jopp said, "This is rather bad about Mrs. Farfrae's illness."

"Yes," said Henchard shortly, though little dreaming of Jopp's
complicity in the night's harlequinade, and raising his eyes just
sufficiently to observe that Jopp's face was lined with anxiety.

"Somebody has called for you," continued Jopp, when Henchard was
shutting himself into his own apartment. "A kind of traveller, or
sea-captain of some sort."

"Oh?--who could he be?"

"He seemed a well-be-doing man--had grey hair and a broadish face; but
he gave no name, and no message."

"Nor do I gi'e him any attention." And, saying this, Henchard closed his
door.


The divergence to Mellstock delayed Farfrae's return very nearly the
two hours of Henchard's estimate. Among the other urgent reasons for his
presence had been the need of his authority to send to Budmouth for a
second physician; and when at length Farfrae did come back he was in
a state bordering on distraction at his misconception of Henchard's
motives.

A messenger was despatched to Budmouth, late as it had grown; the night
wore on, and the other doctor came in the small hours. Lucetta had been
much soothed by Donald's arrival; he seldom or never left her side; and
when, immediately after his entry, she had tried to lisp out to him the
secret which so oppressed her, he checked her feeble words, lest talking
should be dangerous, assuring her there was plenty of time to tell him
everything.

Up to this time he knew nothing of the skimmington-ride. The dangerous
illness and miscarriage of Mrs. Farfrae was soon rumoured through the
town, and an apprehensive guess having been given as to its cause by the
leaders in the exploit, compunction and fear threw a dead silence over
all particulars of their orgie; while those immediately around Lucetta
would not venture to add to her husband's distress by alluding to the
subject.

What, and how much, Farfrae's wife ultimately explained to him of her
past entanglement with Henchard, when they were alone in the solitude of
that sad night, cannot be told. That she informed him of the bare
facts of her peculiar intimacy with the corn-merchant became plain from
Farfrae's own statements. But in respect of her subsequent conduct--her
motive in coming to Casterbridge to unite herself with Henchard--her
assumed justification in abandoning him when she discovered reasons for
fearing him (though in truth her inconsequent passion for another man
at first sight had most to do with that abandonment)--her method of
reconciling to her conscience a marriage with the second when she was
in a measure committed to the first: to what extent she spoke of these
things remained Farfrae's secret alone.

Besides the watchman who called the hours and weather in Casterbridge
that night there walked a figure up and down Corn Street hardly less
frequently. It was Henchard's, whose retiring to rest had proved itself
a futility as soon as attempted; and he gave it up to go hither and
thither, and make inquiries about the patient every now and then.
He called as much on Farfrae's account as on Lucetta's, and on
Elizabeth-Jane's even more than on either's. Shorn one by one of all
other interests, his life seemed centring on the personality of the
stepdaughter whose presence but recently he could not endure. To see her
on each occasion of his inquiry at Lucetta's was a comfort to him.

The last of his calls was made about four o'clock in the morning, in the
steely light of dawn. Lucifer was fading into day across Durnover Moor,
the sparrows were just alighting into the street, and the hens had begun
to cackle from the outhouses. When within a few yards of Farfrae's he
saw the door gently opened, and a servant raise her hand to the knocker,
to untie the piece of cloth which had muffled it. He went across, the
sparrows in his way scarcely flying up from the road-litter, so little
did they believe in human aggression at so early a time.

"Why do you take off that?" said Henchard.

She turned in some surprise at his presence, and did not answer for an
instant or two. Recognizing him, she said, "Because they may knock as
loud as they will; she will never hear it any more."




41.


Henchard went home. The morning having now fully broke he lit his fire,
and sat abstractedly beside it. He had not sat there long when a gentle
footstep approached the house and entered the passage, a finger tapping
lightly at the door. Henchard's face brightened, for he knew the motions
to be Elizabeth's. She came into his room, looking wan and sad.

"Have you heard?" she asked. "Mrs. Farfrae! She is--dead! Yes,
indeed--about an hour ago!"

"I know it," said Henchard. "I have but lately come in from there. It
is so very good of 'ee, Elizabeth, to come and tell me. You must be
so tired out, too, with sitting up. Now do you bide here with me this
morning. You can go and rest in the other room; and I will call 'ee when
breakfast is ready."

To please him, and herself--for his recent kindliness was winning a
surprised gratitude from the lonely girl--she did as he bade her, and
lay down on a sort of couch which Henchard had rigged up out of a
settle in the adjoining room. She could hear him moving about in his
preparations; but her mind ran most strongly on Lucetta, whose death
in such fulness of life and amid such cheerful hopes of maternity was
appallingly unexpected. Presently she fell asleep.

Meanwhile her stepfather in the outer room had set the breakfast in
readiness; but finding that she dozed he would not call her; he
waited on, looking into the fire and keeping the kettle boiling with
house-wifely care, as if it were an honour to have her in his house. In
truth, a great change had come over him with regard to her, and he was
developing the dream of a future lit by her filial presence, as though
that way alone could happiness lie.

He was disturbed by another knock at the door, and rose to open it,
rather deprecating a call from anybody just then. A stoutly built man
stood on the doorstep, with an alien, unfamiliar air about his figure
and bearing--an air which might have been called colonial by people of
cosmopolitan experience. It was the man who had asked the way at Peter's
finger. Henchard nodded, and looked inquiry.

"Good morning, good morning," said the stranger with profuse heartiness.
"Is it Mr. Henchard I am talking to?"

"My name is Henchard."

"Then I've caught 'ee at home--that's right. Morning's the time for
business, says I. Can I have a few words with you?"

"By all means," Henchard answered, showing the way in.

"You may remember me?" said his visitor, seating himself.

Henchard observed him indifferently, and shook his head.

"Well--perhaps you may not. My name is Newson."

Henchard's face and eyes seemed to die. The other did not notice it. "I
know the name well," Henchard said at last, looking on the floor.

"I make no doubt of that. Well, the fact is, I've been looking for 'ee
this fortnight past. I landed at Havenpool and went through Casterbridge
on my way to Falmouth, and when I got there, they told me you had some
years before been living at Casterbridge. Back came I again, and by long
and by late I got here by coach, ten minutes ago. 'He lives down by the
mill,' says they. So here I am. Now--that transaction between us
some twenty years agone--'tis that I've called about. 'Twas a curious
business. I was younger then than I am now, and perhaps the less said
about it, in one sense, the better."

"Curious business! 'Twas worse than curious. I cannot even allow that
I'm the man you met then. I was not in my senses, and a man's senses are
himself."

"We were young and thoughtless," said Newson. "However, I've come to
mend matters rather than open arguments. Poor Susan--hers was a strange
experience."

"She was a warm-hearted, home-spun woman. She was not what they call
shrewd or sharp at all--better she had been."

"She was not."

"As you in all likelihood know, she was simple-minded enough to think
that the sale was in a way binding. She was as guiltless o' wrong-doing
in that particular as a saint in the clouds."

"I know it, I know it. I found it out directly," said Henchard, still
with averted eyes. "There lay the sting o't to me. If she had seen it as
what it was she would never have left me. Never! But how should she be
expected to know? What advantages had she? None. She could write her own
name, and no more."

"Well, it was not in my heart to undeceive her when the deed was done,"
said the sailor of former days. "I thought, and there was not much
vanity in thinking it, that she would be happier with me. She was fairly
happy, and I never would have undeceived her till the day of her
death. Your child died; she had another, and all went well. But a time
came--mind me, a time always does come. A time came--it was some while
after she and I and the child returned from America--when somebody she
had confided her history to, told her my claim to her was a mockery, and
made a jest of her belief in my right. After that she was never happy
with me. She pined and pined, and socked and sighed. She said she must
leave me, and then came the question of our child. Then a man advised
me how to act, and I did it, for I thought it was best. I left her
at Falmouth, and went off to sea. When I got to the other side of
the Atlantic there was a storm, and it was supposed that a lot of
us, including myself, had been washed overboard. I got ashore at
Newfoundland, and then I asked myself what I should do.

"'Since I'm here, here I'll bide,' I thought to myself; ''twill be most
kindness to her, now she's taken against me, to let her believe me lost,
for,' I thought, 'while she supposes us both alive she'll be miserable;
but if she thinks me dead she'll go back to him, and the child will have
a home.' I've never returned to this country till a month ago, and I
found that, as I supposed, she went to you, and my daughter with
her. They told me in Falmouth that Susan was dead. But my
Elizabeth-Jane--where is she?"

"Dead likewise," said Henchard doggedly. "Surely you learnt that too?"

The sailor started up, and took an enervated pace or two down the room.
"Dead!" he said, in a low voice. "Then what's the use of my money to
me?"

Henchard, without answering, shook his head as if that were rather a
question for Newson himself than for him.

"Where is she buried?" the traveller inquired.

"Beside her mother," said Henchard, in the same stolid tones.

"When did she die?"

"A year ago and more," replied the other without hesitation.

The sailor continued standing. Henchard never looked up from the floor.
At last Newson said: "My journey hither has been for nothing! I may as
well go as I came! It has served me right. I'll trouble you no longer."

Henchard heard the retreating footsteps of Newson upon the sanded floor,
the mechanical lifting of the latch, the slow opening and closing of the
door that was natural to a baulked or dejected man; but he did not turn
his head. Newson's shadow passed the window. He was gone.

Then Henchard, scarcely believing the evidence of his senses, rose
from his seat amazed at what he had done. It had been the impulse of a
moment. The regard he had lately acquired for Elizabeth, the new-sprung
hope of his loneliness that she would be to him a daughter of whom he
could feel as proud as of the actual daughter she still believed herself
to be, had been stimulated by the unexpected coming of Newson to a
greedy exclusiveness in relation to her; so that the sudden prospect of
her loss had caused him to speak mad lies like a child, in pure mockery
of consequences. He had expected questions to close in round him, and
unmask his fabrication in five minutes; yet such questioning had not
come. But surely they would come; Newson's departure could be but
momentary; he would learn all by inquiries in the town; and return to
curse him, and carry his last treasure away!

He hastily put on his hat, and went out in the direction that Newson had
taken. Newson's back was soon visible up the road, crossing Bull-stake.
Henchard followed, and saw his visitor stop at the King's Arms, where
the morning coach which had brought him waited half-an-hour for another
coach which crossed there. The coach Newson had come by was now about to
move again. Newson mounted, his luggage was put in, and in a few minutes
the vehicle disappeared with him.

He had not so much as turned his head. It was an act of simple faith
in Henchard's words--faith so simple as to be almost sublime. The young
sailor who had taken Susan Henchard on the spur of the moment and on the
faith of a glance at her face, more than twenty years before, was still
living and acting under the form of the grizzled traveller who had taken
Henchard's words on trust so absolute as to shame him as he stood.

Was Elizabeth-Jane to remain his by virtue of this hardy invention of a
moment? "Perhaps not for long," said he. Newson might converse with his
fellow-travellers, some of whom might be Casterbridge people; and the
trick would be discovered.

This probability threw Henchard into a defensive attitude, and instead
of considering how best to right the wrong, and acquaint Elizabeth's
father with the truth at once, he bethought himself of ways to keep the
position he had accidentally won. Towards the young woman herself his
affection grew more jealously strong with each new hazard to which his
claim to her was exposed.

He watched the distant highway expecting to see Newson return on foot,
enlightened and indignant, to claim his child. But no figure appeared.
Possibly he had spoken to nobody on the coach, but buried his grief in
his own heart.

His grief!--what was it, after all, to that which he, Henchard, would
feel at the loss of her? Newson's affection cooled by years, could not
equal his who had been constantly in her presence. And thus his jealous
soul speciously argued to excuse the separation of father and child.

He returned to the house half expecting that she would have vanished.
No; there she was--just coming out from the inner room, the marks of
sleep upon her eyelids, and exhibiting a generally refreshed air.

"O father!" she said smiling. "I had no sooner lain down than I napped,
though I did not mean to. I wonder I did not dream about poor Mrs.
Farfrae, after thinking of her so; but I did not. How strange it is that
we do not often dream of latest events, absorbing as they may be."

"I am glad you have been able to sleep," he said, taking her hand with
anxious proprietorship--an act which gave her a pleasant surprise.

They sat down to breakfast, and Elizabeth-Jane's thoughts reverted to
Lucetta. Their sadness added charm to a countenance whose beauty had
ever lain in its meditative soberness.

"Father," she said, as soon as she recalled herself to the outspread
meal, "it is so kind of you to get this nice breakfast with your own
hands, and I idly asleep the while."

"I do it every day," he replied. "You have left me; everybody has left
me; how should I live but by my own hands."

"You are very lonely, are you not?"

"Ay, child--to a degree that you know nothing of! It is my own fault.
You are the only one who has been near me for weeks. And you will come
no more."

"Why do you say that? Indeed I will, if you would like to see me."

Henchard signified dubiousness. Though he had so lately hoped that
Elizabeth-Jane might again live in his house as daughter, he would
not ask her to do so now. Newson might return at any moment, and what
Elizabeth would think of him for his deception it were best to bear
apart from her.

When they had breakfasted his stepdaughter still lingered, till the
moment arrived at which Henchard was accustomed to go to his daily work.
Then she arose, and with assurance of coming again soon went up the hill
in the morning sunlight.

"At this moment her heart is as warm towards me as mine is towards her,
she would live with me here in this humble cottage for the asking! Yet
before the evening probably he will have come, and then she will scorn
me!"

This reflection, constantly repeated by Henchard to himself, accompanied
him everywhere through the day. His mood was no longer that of the
rebellious, ironical, reckless misadventurer; but the leaden gloom of
one who has lost all that can make life interesting, or even tolerable.
There would remain nobody for him to be proud of, nobody to fortify him;
for Elizabeth-Jane would soon be but as a stranger, and worse. Susan,
Farfrae, Lucetta, Elizabeth--all had gone from him, one after one,
either by his fault or by his misfortune.

In place of them he had no interest, hobby, or desire. If he could have
summoned music to his aid his existence might even now have been borne;
for with Henchard music was of regal power. The merest trumpet or organ
tone was enough to move him, and high harmonies transubstantiated him.
But hard fate had ordained that he should be unable to call up this
Divine spirit in his need.

The whole land ahead of him was as darkness itself; there was nothing
to come, nothing to wait for. Yet in the natural course of life he might
possibly have to linger on earth another thirty or forty years--scoffed
at; at best pitied.

The thought of it was unendurable.

To the east of Casterbridge lay moors and meadows through which much
water flowed. The wanderer in this direction who should stand still
for a few moments on a quiet night, might hear singular symphonies from
these waters, as from a lampless orchestra, all playing in their sundry
tones from near and far parts of the moor. At a hole in a rotten weir
they executed a recitative; where a tributary brook fell over a stone
breastwork they trilled cheerily; under an arch they performed a
metallic cymballing, and at Durnover Hole they hissed. The spot at
which their instrumentation rose loudest was a place called Ten Hatches,
whence during high springs there proceeded a very fugue of sounds.

The river here was deep and strong at all times, and the hatches on this
account were raised and lowered by cogs and a winch. A patch led
from the second bridge over the highway (so often mentioned) to these
Hatches, crossing the stream at their head by a narrow plank-bridge. But
after night-fall human beings were seldom found going that way, the path
leading only to a deep reach of the stream called Blackwater, and the
passage being dangerous.

Henchard, however, leaving the town by the east road, proceeded to the
second, or stone bridge, and thence struck into this path of solitude,
following its course beside the stream till the dark shapes of the Ten
Hatches cut the sheen thrown upon the river by the weak lustre that
still lingered in the west. In a second or two he stood beside the
weir-hole where the water was at its deepest. He looked backwards and
forwards, and no creature appeared in view. He then took off his coat
and hat, and stood on the brink of the stream with his hands clasped in
front of him.

While his eyes were bent on the water beneath there slowly became
visible a something floating in the circular pool formed by the wash of
centuries; the pool he was intending to make his death-bed. At first
it was indistinct by reason of the shadow from the bank; but it emerged
thence and took shape, which was that of a human body, lying stiff and
stark upon the surface of the stream.

In the circular current imparted by the central flow the form was
brought forward, till it passed under his eyes; and then he perceived
with a sense of horror that it was HIMSELF. Not a man somewhat
resembling him, but one in all respects his counterpart, his actual
double, was floating as if dead in Ten Hatches Hole.

The sense of the supernatural was strong in this unhappy man, and
he turned away as one might have done in the actual presence of an
appalling miracle. He covered his eyes and bowed his head. Without
looking again into the stream he took his coat and hat, and went slowly
away.

Presently he found himself by the door of his own dwelling. To his
surprise Elizabeth-Jane was standing there. She came forward, spoke,
called him "father" just as before. Newson, then, had not even yet
returned.

"I thought you seemed very sad this morning," she said, "so I have come
again to see you. Not that I am anything but sad myself. But everybody
and everything seem against you so, and I know you must be suffering."

How this woman divined things! Yet she had not divined their whole
extremity.

He said to her, "Are miracles still worked, do ye think, Elizabeth? I
am not a read man. I don't know so much as I could wish. I have tried
to peruse and learn all my life; but the more I try to know the more
ignorant I seem."

"I don't quite think there are any miracles nowadays," she said.

"No interference in the case of desperate intentions, for instance?
Well, perhaps not, in a direct way. Perhaps not. But will you come and
walk with me, and I will show 'ee what I mean."

She agreed willingly, and he took her over the highway, and by the
lonely path to Ten Hatches. He walked restlessly, as if some haunting
shade, unseen of her, hovered round him and troubled his glance. She
would gladly have talked of Lucetta, but feared to disturb him. When
they got near the weir he stood still, and asked her to go forward and
look into the pool, and tell him what she saw.

She went, and soon returned to him. "Nothing," she said.

"Go again," said Henchard, "and look narrowly."

She proceeded to the river brink a second time. On her return, after
some delay, she told him that she saw something floating round and round
there; but what it was she could not discern. It seemed to be a bundle
of old clothes.

"Are they like mine?" asked Henchard.

"Well--they are. Dear me--I wonder if--Father, let us go away!"

"Go and look once more; and then we will get home."

She went back, and he could see her stoop till her head was close to the
margin of the pool. She started up, and hastened back to his side.

"Well," said Henchard; "what do you say now?"

"Let us go home."

"But tell me--do--what is it floating there?"

"The effigy," she answered hastily. "They must have thrown it into the
river higher up amongst the willows at Blackwater, to get rid of it in
their alarm at discovery by the magistrates, and it must have floated
down here."

"Ah--to be sure--the image o' me! But where is the other? Why that one
only?... That performance of theirs killed her, but kept me alive!"

Elizabeth-Jane thought and thought of these words "kept me alive," as
they slowly retraced their way to the town, and at length guessed their
meaning. "Father!--I will not leave you alone like this!" she cried.
"May I live with you, and tend upon you as I used to do? I do not mind
your being poor. I would have agreed to come this morning, but you did
not ask me."

"May you come to me?" he cried bitterly. "Elizabeth, don't mock me! If
you only would come!"

"I will," said she.

"How will you forgive all my roughness in former days? You cannot!"

"I have forgotten it. Talk of that no more."

Thus she assured him, and arranged their plans for reunion; and at
length each went home. Then Henchard shaved for the first time during
many days, and put on clean linen, and combed his hair; and was as a man
resuscitated thenceforward.

The next morning the fact turned out to be as Elizabeth-Jane had stated;
the effigy was discovered by a cowherd, and that of Lucetta a little
higher up in the same stream. But as little as possible was said of the
matter, and the figures were privately destroyed.

Despite this natural solution of the mystery Henchard no less regarded
it as an intervention that the figure should have been floating there.
Elizabeth-Jane heard him say, "Who is such a reprobate as I! And yet it
seems that even I be in Somebody's hand!"




42.


But the emotional conviction that he was in Somebody's hand began to die
out of Henchard's breast as time slowly removed into distance the event
which had given that feeling birth. The apparition of Newson haunted
him. He would surely return.

Yet Newson did not arrive. Lucetta had been borne along the churchyard
path; Casterbridge had for the last time turned its regard upon her,
before proceeding to its work as if she had never lived. But Elizabeth
remained undisturbed in the belief of her relationship to Henchard, and
now shared his home. Perhaps, after all, Newson was gone for ever.

In due time the bereaved Farfrae had learnt the, at least, proximate
cause of Lucetta's illness and death, and his first impulse was
naturally enough to wreak vengeance in the name of the law upon the
perpetrators of the mischief. He resolved to wait till the funeral was
over ere he moved in the matter. The time having come he reflected.
Disastrous as the result had been, it was obviously in no way foreseen
or intended by the thoughtless crew who arranged the motley procession.
The tempting prospect of putting to the blush people who stand at the
head of affairs--that supreme and piquant enjoyment of those who writhe
under the heel of the same--had alone animated them, so far as he could
see; for he knew nothing of Jopp's incitements. Other considerations
were also involved. Lucetta had confessed everything to him before her
death, and it was not altogether desirable to make much ado about her
history, alike for her sake, for Henchard's, and for his own. To
regard the event as an untoward accident seemed, to Farfrae, truest
consideration for the dead one's memory, as well as best philosophy.

Henchard and himself mutually forbore to meet. For Elizabeth's sake the
former had fettered his pride sufficiently to accept the small seed and
root business which some of the Town Council, headed by Farfrae, had
purchased to afford him a new opening. Had he been only personally
concerned Henchard, without doubt, would have declined assistance even
remotely brought about by the man whom he had so fiercely assailed. But
the sympathy of the girl seemed necessary to his very existence; and on
her account pride itself wore the garments of humility.

Here they settled themselves; and on each day of their lives Henchard
anticipated her every wish with a watchfulness in which paternal regard
was heightened by a burning jealous dread of rivalry. Yet that Newson
would ever now return to Casterbridge to claim her as a daughter there
was little reason to suppose. He was a wanderer and a stranger, almost
an alien; he had not seen his daughter for several years; his affection
for her could not in the nature of things be keen; other interests would
probably soon obscure his recollections of her, and prevent any such
renewal of inquiry into the past as would lead to a discovery that she
was still a creature of the present. To satisfy his conscience somewhat
Henchard repeated to himself that the lie which had retained for him
the coveted treasure had not been deliberately told to that end, but
had come from him as the last defiant word of a despair which took no
thought of consequences. Furthermore he pleaded within himself that no
Newson could love her as he loved her, or would tend her to his life's
extremity as he was prepared to do cheerfully.

Thus they lived on in the shop overlooking the churchyard, and nothing
occurred to mark their days during the remainder of the year. Going out
but seldom, and never on a marketday, they saw Donald Farfrae only at
rarest intervals, and then mostly as a transitory object in the distance
of the street. Yet he was pursuing his ordinary avocations, smiling
mechanically to fellow-tradesmen, and arguing with bargainers--as
bereaved men do after a while.

Time, "in his own grey style," taught Farfrae how to estimate his
experience of Lucetta--all that it was, and all that it was not. There
are men whose hearts insist upon a dogged fidelity to some image or
cause thrown by chance into their keeping, long after their judgment has
pronounced it no rarity--even the reverse, indeed, and without them the
band of the worthy is incomplete. But Farfrae was not of those. It
was inevitable that the insight, briskness, and rapidity of his nature
should take him out of the dead blank which his loss threw about him. He
could not but perceive that by the death of Lucetta he had exchanged
a looming misery for a simple sorrow. After that revelation of her
history, which must have come sooner or later in any circumstances, it
was hard to believe that life with her would have been productive of
further happiness.

But as a memory, nothwithstanding such conditions, Lucetta's image still
lived on with him, her weaknesses provoking only the gentlest criticism,
and her sufferings attenuating wrath at her concealments to a momentary
spark now and then.

By the end of a year Henchard's little retail seed and grain shop, not
much larger than a cupboard, had developed its trade considerably, and
the stepfather and daughter enjoyed much serenity in the pleasant, sunny
corner in which it stood. The quiet bearing of one who brimmed with an
inner activity characterized Elizabeth-Jane at this period. She took
long walks into the country two or three times a week, mostly in the
direction of Budmouth. Sometimes it occurred to him that when she sat
with him in the evening after those invigorating walks she was civil
rather than affectionate; and he was troubled; one more bitter regret
being added to those he had already experienced at having, by his severe
censorship, frozen up her precious affection when originally offered.

She had her own way in everything now. In going and coming, in buying
and selling, her word was law.

"You have got a new muff, Elizabeth," he said to her one day quite
humbly.

"Yes; I bought it," she said.

He looked at it again as it lay on an adjoining table. The fur was of a
glossy brown, and, though he was no judge of such articles, he thought
it seemed an unusually good one for her to possess.

"Rather costly, I suppose, my dear, was it not?" he hazarded.

"It was rather above my figure," she said quietly. "But it is not
showy."

"O no," said the netted lion, anxious not to pique her in the least.

Some little time after, when the year had advanced into another spring,
he paused opposite her empty bedroom in passing it. He thought of the
time when she had cleared out of his then large and handsome house in
Corn Street, in consequence of his dislike and harshness, and he had
looked into her chamber in just the same way. The present room was much
humbler, but what struck him about it was the abundance of books lying
everywhere. Their number and quality made the meagre furniture that
supported them seem absurdly disproportionate. Some, indeed many, must
have been recently purchased; and though he encouraged her to buy
in reason, he had no notion that she indulged her innate passion so
extensively in proportion to the narrowness of their income. For the
first time he felt a little hurt by what he thought her extravagance,
and resolved to say a word to her about it. But, before he had found
the courage to speak an event happened which set his thoughts flying in
quite another direction.

The busy time of the seed trade was over, and the quiet weeks that
preceded the hay-season had come--setting their special stamp upon
Casterbridge by thronging the market with wood rakes, new waggons in
yellow, green, and red, formidable scythes, and pitchforks of prong
sufficient to skewer up a small family. Henchard, contrary to his wont,
went out one Saturday afternoon towards the market-place from a curious
feeling that he would like to pass a few minutes on the spot of his
former triumphs. Farfrae, to whom he was still a comparative stranger,
stood a few steps below the Corn Exchange door--a usual position with
him at this hour--and he appeared lost in thought about something he was
looking at a little way off.

Henchard's eyes followed Farfrae's, and he saw that the object of his
gaze was no sample-showing farmer, but his own stepdaughter, who had
just come out of a shop over the way. She, on her part, was quite
unconscious of his attention, and in this was less fortunate than those
young women whose very plumes, like those of Juno's bird, are set with
Argus eyes whenever possible admirers are within ken.

Henchard went away, thinking that perhaps there was nothing significant
after all in Farfrae's look at Elizabeth-Jane at that juncture. Yet he
could not forget that the Scotchman had once shown a tender interest
in her, of a fleeting kind. Thereupon promptly came to the surface
that idiosyncrasy of Henchard's which had ruled his courses from the
beginning and had mainly made him what he was. Instead of thinking that
a union between his cherished step-daughter and the energetic thriving
Donald was a thing to be desired for her good and his own, he hated the
very possibility.

Time had been when such instinctive opposition would have taken shape
in action. But he was not now the Henchard of former days. He schooled
himself to accept her will, in this as in other matters, as absolute and
unquestionable. He dreaded lest an antagonistic word should lose for him
such regard as he had regained from her by his devotion, feeling that
to retain this under separation was better than to incur her dislike by
keeping her near.

But the mere thought of such separation fevered his spirit much, and in
the evening he said, with the stillness of suspense: "Have you seen Mr.
Farfrae to-day, Elizabeth?"

Elizabeth-Jane started at the question; and it was with some confusion
that she replied "No."

"Oh--that's right--that's right....It was only that I saw him in the
street when we both were there." He was wondering if her embarrassment
justified him in a new suspicion--that the long walks which she had
latterly been taking, that the new books which had so surprised him, had
anything to do with the young man. She did not enlighten him, and lest
silence should allow her to shape thoughts unfavourable to their present
friendly relations, he diverted the discourse into another channel.

Henchard was, by original make, the last man to act stealthily, for good
or for evil. But the solicitus timor of his love--the dependence upon
Elizabeth's regard into which he had declined (or, in another sense,
to which he had advanced)--denaturalized him. He would often weigh
and consider for hours together the meaning of such and such a deed or
phrase of hers, when a blunt settling question would formerly have been
his first instinct. And now, uneasy at the thought of a passion for
Farfrae which should entirely displace her mild filial sympathy with
himself, he observed her going and coming more narrowly.

There was nothing secret in Elizabeth-Jane's movements beyond what
habitual reserve induced, and it may at once be owned on her account
that she was guilty of occasional conversations with Donald when they
chanced to meet. Whatever the origin of her walks on the Budmouth
Road, her return from those walks was often coincident with Farfrae's
emergence from Corn Street for a twenty minutes' blow on that rather
windy highway--just to winnow the seeds and chaff out of him before
sitting down to tea, as he said. Henchard became aware of this by going
to the Ring, and, screened by its enclosure, keeping his eye upon the
road till he saw them meet. His face assumed an expression of extreme
anguish.

"Of her, too, he means to rob me!" he whispered. "But he has the right.
I do not wish to interfere."

The meeting, in truth, was of a very innocent kind, and matters were by
no means so far advanced between the young people as Henchard's jealous
grief inferred. Could he have heard such conversation as passed he would
have been enlightened thus much:--

HE.--"You like walking this way, Miss Henchard--and is it not so?"
(uttered in his undulatory accents, and with an appraising, pondering
gaze at her).

SHE.--"O yes. I have chosen this road latterly. I have no great reason
for it."

HE.--"But that may make a reason for others."

SHE (reddening).--"I don't know that. My reason, however, such as it is,
is that I wish to get a glimpse of the sea every day."

HE.--"Is it a secret why?"

SHE ( reluctantly ).--"Yes."

HE (with the pathos of one of his native ballads).--"Ah, I doubt there
will be any good in secrets! A secret cast a deep shadow over my life.
And well you know what it was."

Elizabeth admitted that she did, but she refrained from confessing why
the sea attracted her. She could not herself account for it fully, not
knowing the secret possibly to be that, in addition to early marine
associations, her blood was a sailor's.

"Thank you for those new books, Mr. Farfrae," she added shyly. "I wonder
if I ought to accept so many!"

"Ay! why not? It gives me more pleasure to get them for you, than you to
have them!"

"It cannot."

They proceeded along the road together till they reached the town, and
their paths diverged.

Henchard vowed that he would leave them to their own devices, put
nothing in the way of their courses, whatever they might mean. If he
were doomed to be bereft of her, so it must be. In the situation which
their marriage would create he could see no locus standi for himself
at all. Farfrae would never recognize him more than superciliously; his
poverty ensured that, no less than his past conduct. And so Elizabeth
would grow to be a stranger to him, and the end of his life would be
friendless solitude.

With such a possibility impending he could not help watchfulness.
Indeed, within certain lines, he had the right to keep an eye upon her
as his charge. The meetings seemed to become matters of course with them
on special days of the week.

At last full proof was given him. He was standing behind a wall close
to the place at which Farfrae encountered her. He heard the young man
address her as "Dearest Elizabeth-Jane," and then kiss her, the girl
looking quickly round to assure herself that nobody was near.

When they were gone their way Henchard came out from the wall, and
mournfully followed them to Casterbridge. The chief looming trouble
in this engagement had not decreased. Both Farfrae and Elizabeth-Jane,
unlike the rest of the people, must suppose Elizabeth to be his actual
daughter, from his own assertion while he himself had the same belief;
and though Farfrae must have so far forgiven him as to have no objection
to own him as a father-in-law, intimate they could never be. Thus would
the girl, who was his only friend, be withdrawn from him by degrees
through her husband's influence, and learn to despise him.

Had she lost her heart to any other man in the world than the one he had
rivalled, cursed, wrestled with for life in days before his spirit was
broken, Henchard would have said, "I am content." But content with the
prospect as now depicted was hard to acquire.

There is an outer chamber of the brain in which thoughts unowned,
unsolicited, and of noxious kind, are sometimes allowed to wander for a
moment prior to being sent off whence they came. One of these thoughts
sailed into Henchard's ken now.

Suppose he were to communicate to Farfrae the fact that his betrothed
was not the child of Michael Henchard at all--legally, nobody's child;
how would that correct and leading townsman receive the information?
He might possibly forsake Elizabeth-Jane, and then she would be her
step-sire's own again.

Henchard shuddered, and exclaimed, "God forbid such a thing! Why should
I still be subject to these visitations of the devil, when I try so hard
to keep him away?"




43.


What Henchard saw thus early was, naturally enough, seen at a little
later date by other people. That Mr. Farfrae "walked with that bankrupt
Henchard's step-daughter, of all women," became a common topic in the
town, the simple perambulating term being used hereabout to signify a
wooing; and the nineteen superior young ladies of Casterbridge, who
had each looked upon herself as the only woman capable of making the
merchant Councilman happy, indignantly left off going to the church
Farfrae attended, left off conscious mannerisms, left off putting him in
their prayers at night amongst their blood relations; in short, reverted
to their normal courses.

Perhaps the only inhabitants of the town to whom this looming choice
of the Scotchman's gave unmixed satisfaction were the members of the
philosophic party, which included Longways, Christopher Coney, Billy
Wills, Mr. Buzzford, and the like. The Three Mariners having been, years
before, the house in which they had witnessed the young man and woman's
first and humble appearance on the Casterbridge stage, they took a
kindly interest in their career, not unconnected, perhaps, with visions
of festive treatment at their hands hereafter. Mrs. Stannidge, having
rolled into the large parlour one evening and said that it was a wonder
such a man as Mr. Farfrae, "a pillow of the town," who might have chosen
one of the daughters of the professional men or private residents,
should stoop so low, Coney ventured to disagree with her.

"No, ma'am, no wonder at all. 'Tis she that's a stooping to he--that's
my opinion. A widow man--whose first wife was no credit to him--what is
it for a young perusing woman that's her own mistress and well liked?
But as a neat patching up of things I see much good in it. When a man
have put up a tomb of best marble-stone to the other one, as he've
done, and weeped his fill, and thought it all over, and said to hisself,
'T'other took me in, I knowed this one first; she's a sensible piece for
a partner, and there's no faithful woman in high life now';--well, he
may do worse than not to take her, if she's tender-inclined."

Thus they talked at the Mariners. But we must guard against a too
liberal use of the conventional declaration that a great sensation was
caused by the prospective event, that all the gossips' tongues were set
wagging thereby, and so-on, even though such a declaration might lend
some eclat to the career of our poor only heroine. When all has been
said about busy rumourers, a superficial and temporary thing is the
interest of anybody in affairs which do not directly touch them. It
would be a truer representation to say that Casterbridge (ever excepting
the nineteen young ladies) looked up for a moment at the news, and
withdrawing its attention, went on labouring and victualling, bringing
up its children, and burying its dead, without caring a tittle for
Farfrae's domestic plans.

Not a hint of the matter was thrown out to her stepfather by Elizabeth
herself or by Farfrae either. Reasoning on the cause of their reticence
he concluded that, estimating him by his past, the throbbing pair were
afraid to broach the subject, and looked upon him as an irksome obstacle
whom they would be heartily glad to get out of the way. Embittered as he
was against society, this moody view of himself took deeper and deeper
hold of Henchard, till the daily necessity of facing mankind, and of
them particularly Elizabeth-Jane, became well-nigh more than he could
endure. His health declined; he became morbidly sensitive. He wished he
could escape those who did not want him, and hide his head for ever.

But what if he were mistaken in his views, and there were no necessity
that his own absolute separation from her should be involved in the
incident of her marriage?

He proceeded to draw a picture of the alternative--himself living like a
fangless lion about the back rooms of a house in which his stepdaughter
was mistress, an inoffensive old man, tenderly smiled on by Elizabeth,
and good-naturedly tolerated by her husband. It was terrible to his
pride to think of descending so low; and yet, for the girl's sake
he might put up with anything; even from Farfrae; even snubbings and
masterful tongue-scourgings. The privilege of being in the house she
occupied would almost outweigh the personal humiliation.

Whether this were a dim possibility or the reverse, the courtship--which
it evidently now was--had an absorbing interest for him.

Elizabeth, as has been said, often took her walks on the Budmouth Road,
and Farfrae as often made it convenient to create an accidental meeting
with her there. Two miles out, a quarter of a mile from the highway,
was the prehistoric fort called Mai Dun, of huge dimensions and many
ramparts, within or upon whose enclosures a human being as seen from
the road, was but an insignificant speck. Hitherward Henchard often
resorted, glass in hand, and scanned the hedgeless Via--for it was the
original track laid out by the legions of the Empire--to a distance of
two or three miles, his object being to read the progress of affairs
between Farfrae and his charmer.

One day Henchard was at this spot when a masculine figure came along
the road from Budmouth, and lingered. Applying his telescope to his eye
Henchard expected that Farfrae's features would be disclosed as usual.
But the lenses revealed that today the man was not Elizabeth-Jane's
lover.

It was one clothed as a merchant captain, and as he turned in the
scrutiny of the road he revealed his face. Henchard lived a lifetime the
moment he saw it. The face was Newson's.

Henchard dropped the glass, and for some seconds made no other movement.
Newson waited, and Henchard waited--if that could be called a waiting
which was a transfixture. But Elizabeth-Jane did not come. Something
or other had caused her to neglect her customary walk that day. Perhaps
Farfrae and she had chosen another road for variety's sake. But what did
that amount to? She might be here to-morrow, and in any case Newson, if
bent on a private meeting and a revelation of the truth to her, would
soon make his opportunity.

Then he would tell her not only of his paternity, but of the ruse by
which he had been once sent away. Elizabeth's strict nature would cause
her for the first time to despise her stepfather, would root out his
image as that of an arch-deceiver, and Newson would reign in her heart
in his stead.

But Newson did not see anything of her that morning. Having stood still
awhile he at last retraced his steps, and Henchard felt like a condemned
man who has a few hours' respite. When he reached his own house he found
her there.

"O father!" she said innocently. "I have had a letter--a strange
one--not signed. Somebody has asked me to meet him, either on the
Budmouth Road at noon today, or in the evening at Mr. Farfrae's. He says
he came to see me some time ago, but a trick was played him, so that he
did not see me. I don't understand it; but between you and me I think
Donald is at the bottom of the mystery, and that it is a relation of
his who wants to pass an opinion on his choice. But I did not like to go
till I had seen you. Shall I go?"

Henchard replied heavily, "Yes; go."

The question of his remaining in Casterbridge was for ever disposed of
by this closing in of Newson on the scene. Henchard was not the man to
stand the certainty of condemnation on a matter so near his heart. And
being an old hand at bearing anguish in silence, and haughty withal,
he resolved to make as light as he could of his intentions, while
immediately taking his measures.

He surprised the young woman whom he had looked upon as his all in this
world by saying to her, as if he did not care about her more: "I am
going to leave Casterbridge, Elizabeth-Jane."

"Leave Casterbridge!" she cried, "and leave--me?"

"Yes, this little shop can be managed by you alone as well as by us
both; I don't care about shops and streets and folk--I would rather get
into the country by myself, out of sight, and follow my own ways, and
leave you to yours."

She looked down and her tears fell silently. It seemed to her that this
resolve of his had come on account of her attachment and its probable
result. She showed her devotion to Farfrae, however, by mastering her
emotion and speaking out.

"I am sorry you have decided on this," she said with difficult firmness.
"For I thought it probable--possible--that I might marry Mr. Farfrae
some little time hence, and I did not know that you disapproved of the
step!"

"I approve of anything you desire to do, Izzy," said Henchard huskily.
"If I did not approve it would be no matter! I wish to go away. My
presence might make things awkward in the future, and, in short, it is
best that I go."

Nothing that her affection could urge would induce him to reconsider his
determination; for she could not urge what she did not know--that when
she should learn he was not related to her other than as a step-parent
she would refrain from despising him, and that when she knew what he had
done to keep her in ignorance she would refrain from hating him. It was
his conviction that she would not so refrain; and there existed as yet
neither word nor event which could argue it away.

"Then," she said at last, "you will not be able to come to my wedding;
and that is not as it ought to be."

"I don't want to see it--I don't want to see it!" he exclaimed; adding
more softly, "but think of me sometimes in your future life--you'll do
that, Izzy?--think of me when you are living as the wife of the richest,
the foremost man in the town, and don't let my sins, WHEN YOU KNOW THEM
ALL, cause 'ee to quite forget that though I loved 'ee late I loved 'ee
well."

"It is because of Donald!" she sobbed.

"I don't forbid you to marry him," said Henchard. "Promise not to quite
forget me when----" He meant when Newson should come.

She promised mechanically, in her agitation; and the same evening at
dusk Henchard left the town, to whose development he had been one of
the chief stimulants for many years. During the day he had bought a new
tool-basket, cleaned up his old hay-knife and wimble, set himself up in
fresh leggings, kneenaps and corduroys, and in other ways gone back
to the working clothes of his young manhood, discarding for ever the
shabby-genteel suit of cloth and rusty silk hat that since his decline
had characterized him in the Casterbridge street as a man who had seen
better days.

He went secretly and alone, not a soul of the many who had known him
being aware of his departure. Elizabeth-Jane accompanied him as far as
the second bridge on the highway--for the hour of her appointment with
the unguessed visitor at Farfrae's had not yet arrived--and parted from
him with unfeigned wonder and sorrow, keeping him back a minute or two
before finally letting him go. She watched his form diminish across the
moor, the yellow rush-basket at his back moving up and down with each
tread, and the creases behind his knees coming and going alternately
till she could no longer see them. Though she did not know it Henchard
formed at this moment much the same picture as he had presented when
entering Casterbridge for the first time nearly a quarter of a century
before; except, to be sure, that the serious addition to his years
had considerably lessened the spring to his stride, that his state
of hopelessness had weakened him, and imparted to his shoulders, as
weighted by the basket, a perceptible bend.

He went on till he came to the first milestone, which stood in the bank,
half way up a steep hill. He rested his basket on the top of the stone,
placed his elbows on it, and gave way to a convulsive twitch, which was
worse than a sob, because it was so hard and so dry.

"If I had only got her with me--if I only had!" he said. "Hard work
would be nothing to me then! But that was not to be. I--Cain--go alone
as I deserve--an outcast and a vagabond. But my punishment is not
greater than I can bear!"

He sternly subdued his anguish, shouldered his basket, and went on.

Elizabeth, in the meantime, had breathed him a sigh, recovered her
equanimity, and turned her face to Casterbridge. Before she had reached
the first house she was met in her walk by Donald Farfrae. This was
evidently not their first meeting that day; they joined hands without
ceremony, and Farfrae anxiously asked, "And is he gone--and did you tell
him?--I mean of the other matter--not of ours."

"He is gone; and I told him all I knew of your friend. Donald, who is
he?"

"Well, well, dearie; you will know soon about that. And Mr. Henchard
will hear of it if he does not go far."

"He will go far--he's bent upon getting out of sight and sound!"

She walked beside her lover, and when they reached the Crossways, or
Bow, turned with him into Corn Street instead of going straight on to
her own door. At Farfrae's house they stopped and went in.

Farfrae flung open the door of the ground-floor sitting-room, saying,
"There he is waiting for you," and Elizabeth entered. In the arm-chair
sat the broad-faced genial man who had called on Henchard on a memorable
morning between one and two years before this time, and whom the latter
had seen mount the coach and depart within half-an-hour of his arrival.
It was Richard Newson. The meeting with the light-hearted father from
whom she had been separated half-a-dozen years, as if by death, need
hardly be detailed. It was an affecting one, apart from the question of
paternity. Henchard's departure was in a moment explained. When the
true facts came to be handled the difficulty of restoring her to her
old belief in Newson was not so great as might have seemed likely,
for Henchard's conduct itself was a proof that those facts were true.
Moreover, she had grown up under Newson's paternal care; and even had
Henchard been her father in nature, this father in early domiciliation
might almost have carried the point against him, when the incidents of
her parting with Henchard had a little worn off.

Newson's pride in what she had grown up to be was more than he could
express. He kissed her again and again.

"I've saved you the trouble to come and meet me--ha-ha!" said Newson.
"The fact is that Mr. Farfrae here, he said, 'Come up and stop with me
for a day or two, Captain Newson, and I'll bring her round.' 'Faith,'
says I, 'so I will'; and here I am."

"Well, Henchard is gone," said Farfrae, shutting the door. "He has done
it all voluntarily, and, as I gather from Elizabeth, he has been very
nice with her. I was got rather uneasy; but all is as it should be, and
we will have no more deefficulties at all."

"Now, that's very much as I thought," said Newson, looking into the face
of each by turns. "I said to myself, ay, a hundred times, when I tried
to get a peep at her unknown to herself--'Depend upon it, 'tis best that
I should live on quiet for a few days like this till something turns up
for the better.' I now know you are all right, and what can I wish for
more?"

"Well, Captain Newson, I will be glad to see ye here every day now,
since it can do no harm," said Farfrae. "And what I've been thinking is
that the wedding may as well be kept under my own roof, the house being
large, and you being in lodgings by yourself--so that a great deal of
trouble and expense would be saved ye?--and 'tis a convenience when a
couple's married not to hae far to go to get home!"

"With all my heart," said Captain Newson; "since, as ye say, it can
do no harm, now poor Henchard's gone; though I wouldn't have done it
otherwise, or put myself in his way at all; for I've already in my
lifetime been an intruder into his family quite as far as politeness
can be expected to put up with. But what do the young woman say herself
about it? Elizabeth, my child, come and hearken to what we be talking
about, and not bide staring out o' the window as if ye didn't hear.'

"Donald and you must settle it," murmured Elizabeth, still keeping up a
scrutinizing gaze at some small object in the street.

"Well, then," continued Newson, turning anew to Farfrae with a face
expressing thorough entry into the subject, "that's how we'll have it.
And, Mr. Farfrae, as you provide so much, and houseroom, and all
that, I'll do my part in the drinkables, and see to the rum and
schiedam--maybe a dozen jars will be sufficient?--as many of the folk
will be ladies, and perhaps they won't drink hard enough to make a high
average in the reckoning? But you know best. I've provided for men and
shipmates times enough, but I'm as ignorant as a child how many glasses
of grog a woman, that's not a drinking woman, is expected to consume at
these ceremonies?"

"Oh, none--we'll no want much of that--O no!" said Farfrae, shaking his
head with appalled gravity. "Do you leave all to me."

When they had gone a little further in these particulars Newson, leaning
back in his chair and smiling reflectively at the ceiling, said, "I've
never told ye, or have I, Mr. Farfrae, how Henchard put me off the scent
that time?"

He expressed ignorance of what the Captain alluded to.

"Ah, I thought I hadn't. I resolved that I would not, I remember, not
to hurt the man's name. But now he's gone I can tell ye. Why, I came to
Casterbridge nine or ten months before that day last week that I found
ye out. I had been here twice before then. The first time I passed
through the town on my way westward, not knowing Elizabeth lived here.
Then hearing at some place--I forget where--that a man of the name of
Henchard had been mayor here, I came back, and called at his house one
morning. The old rascal!--he said Elizabeth-Jane had died years ago."

Elizabeth now gave earnest heed to his story.

"Now, it never crossed my mind that the man was selling me a packet,"
continued Newson. "And, if you'll believe me, I was that upset, that
I went back to the coach that had brought me, and took passage onward
without lying in the town half-an-hour. Ha-ha!--'twas a good joke, and
well carried out, and I give the man credit for't!"

Elizabeth-Jane was amazed at the intelligence. "A joke?--O no!" she
cried. "Then he kept you from me, father, all those months, when you
might have been here?"

The father admitted that such was the case.

"He ought not to have done it!" said Farfrae.

Elizabeth sighed. "I said I would never forget him. But O! I think I
ought to forget him now!"

Newson, like a good many rovers and sojourners among strange men and
strange moralities, failed to perceive the enormity of Henchard's crime,
notwithstanding that he himself had been the chief sufferer therefrom.
Indeed, the attack upon the absent culprit waxing serious, he began to
take Henchard's part.

"Well, 'twas not ten words that he said, after all," Newson pleaded.
"And how could he know that I should be such a simpleton as to believe
him? 'Twas as much my fault as his, poor fellow!"

"No," said Elizabeth-Jane firmly, in her revulsion of feeling. "He knew
your disposition--you always were so trusting, father; I've heard my
mother say so hundreds of times--and he did it to wrong you. After
weaning me from you these five years by saying he was my father, he
should not have done this."

Thus they conversed; and there was nobody to set before Elizabeth
any extenuation of the absent one's deceit. Even had he been present
Henchard might scarce have pleaded it, so little did he value himself or
his good name.

"Well, well--never mind--it is all over and past," said Newson
good-naturedly. "Now, about this wedding again."




44.


Meanwhile, the man of their talk had pursued his solitary way eastward
till weariness overtook him, and he looked about for a place of rest.
His heart was so exacerbated at parting from the girl that he could not
face an inn, or even a household of the most humble kind; and entering
a field he lay down under a wheatrick, feeling no want of food. The very
heaviness of his soul caused him to sleep profoundly.

The bright autumn sun shining into his eyes across the stubble awoke him
the next morning early. He opened his basket and ate for his breakfast
what he had packed for his supper; and in doing so overhauled the
remainder of his kit. Although everything he brought necessitated
carriage at his own back, he had secreted among his tools a few of
Elizabeth-Jane's cast-off belongings, in the shape of gloves, shoes, a
scrap of her handwriting, and the like, and in his pocket he carried a
curl of her hair. Having looked at these things he closed them up again,
and went onward.

During five consecutive days Henchard's rush basket rode along upon
his shoulder between the highway hedges, the new yellow of the rushes
catching the eye of an occasional field-labourer as he glanced through
the quickset, together with the wayfarer's hat and head, and down-turned
face, over which the twig shadows moved in endless procession. It now
became apparent that the direction of his journey was Weydon Priors,
which he reached on the afternoon of the sixth day.

The renowned hill whereon the annual fair had been held for so many
generations was now bare of human beings, and almost of aught besides. A
few sheep grazed thereabout, but these ran off when Henchard halted upon
the summit. He deposited his basket upon the turf, and looked about with
sad curiosity; till he discovered the road by which his wife and himself
had entered on the upland so memorable to both, five-and-twenty years
before.

"Yes, we came up that way," he said, after ascertaining his bearings.
"She was carrying the baby, and I was reading a ballet-sheet. Then we
crossed about here--she so sad and weary, and I speaking to her hardly
at all, because of my cursed pride and mortification at being poor.
Then we saw the tent--that must have stood more this way." He walked to
another spot, it was not really where the tent had stood but it seemed
so to him. "Here we went in, and here we sat down. I faced this way.
Then I drank, and committed my crime. It must have been just on that
very pixy-ring that she was standing when she said her last words to me
before going off with him; I can hear their sound now, and the sound of
her sobs: 'O Mike! I've lived with thee all this while, and had nothing
but temper. Now I'm no more to 'ee--I'll try my luck elsewhere.'"

He experienced not only the bitterness of a man who finds, in looking
back upon an ambitious course, that what he has sacrificed in sentiment
was worth as much as what he has gained in substance; but the superadded
bitterness of seeing his very recantation nullified. He had been sorry
for all this long ago; but his attempts to replace ambition by love had
been as fully foiled as his ambition itself. His wronged wife had foiled
them by a fraud so grandly simple as to be almost a virtue. It was an
odd sequence that out of all this tampering with social law came that
flower of Nature, Elizabeth. Part of his wish to wash his hands of
life arose from his perception of its contrarious inconsistencies--of
Nature's jaunty readiness to support unorthodox social principles.

He intended to go on from this place--visited as an act of penance--into
another part of the country altogether. But he could not help thinking
of Elizabeth, and the quarter of the horizon in which she lived. Out of
this it happened that the centrifugal tendency imparted by weariness of
the world was counteracted by the centripetal influence of his love
for his stepdaughter. As a consequence, instead of following a straight
course yet further away from Casterbridge, Henchard gradually, almost
unconsciously, deflected from that right line of his first intention;
till, by degrees, his wandering, like that of the Canadian woodsman,
became part of a circle of which Casterbridge formed the centre. In
ascending any particular hill he ascertained the bearings as nearly as
he could by means of the sun, moon, or stars, and settled in his mind
the exact direction in which Casterbridge and Elizabeth-Jane lay.
Sneering at himself for his weakness he yet every hour--nay, every few
minutes--conjectured her actions for the time being--her sitting down
and rising up, her goings and comings, till thought of Newson's and
Farfrae's counter-influence would pass like a cold blast over a pool,
and efface her image. And then he would say to himself, "O you fool! All
this about a daughter who is no daughter of thine!"

At length he obtained employment at his own occupation of hay-trusser,
work of that sort being in demand at this autumn time. The scene of his
hiring was a pastoral farm near the old western highway, whose course
was the channel of all such communications as passed between the busy
centres of novelty and the remote Wessex boroughs. He had chosen the
neighbourhood of this artery from a sense that, situated here, though at
a distance of fifty miles, he was virtually nearer to her whose welfare
was so dear than he would be at a roadless spot only half as remote.

And thus Henchard found himself again on the precise standing which he
had occupied a quarter of a century before. Externally there was nothing
to hinder his making another start on the upward slope, and by his new
lights achieving higher things than his soul in its half-formed state
had been able to accomplish. But the ingenious machinery contrived
by the Gods for reducing human possibilities of amelioration to a
minimum--which arranges that wisdom to do shall come pari passu with
the departure of zest for doing--stood in the way of all that. He had
no wish to make an arena a second time of a world that had become a mere
painted scene to him.

Very often, as his hay-knife crunched down among the sweet-smelling
grassy stems, he would survey mankind and say to himself: "Here and
everywhere be folk dying before their time like frosted leaves, though
wanted by their families, the country, and the world; while I, an
outcast, an encumberer of the ground, wanted by nobody, and despised by
all, live on against my will!"

He often kept an eager ear upon the conversation of those who passed
along the road--not from a general curiosity by any means--but in the
hope that among these travellers between Casterbridge and London
some would, sooner or later, speak of the former place. The distance,
however, was too great to lend much probability to his desire; and the
highest result of his attention to wayside words was that he did
indeed hear the name "Casterbridge" uttered one day by the driver of
a road-waggon. Henchard ran to the gate of the field he worked in, and
hailed the speaker, who was a stranger.

"Yes--I've come from there, maister," he said, in answer to Henchard's
inquiry. "I trade up and down, ye know; though, what with this
travelling without horses that's getting so common, my work will soon be
done."

"Anything moving in the old place, mid I ask?"

"All the same as usual."

"I've heard that Mr. Farfrae, the late mayor, is thinking of getting
married. Now is that true or not?"

"I couldn't say for the life o' me. O no, I should think not."

"But yes, John--you forget," said a woman inside the waggon-tilt. "What
were them packages we carr'd there at the beginning o' the week? Surely
they said a wedding was coming off soon--on Martin's Day?"

The man declared he remembered nothing about it; and the waggon went on
jangling over the hill.

Henchard was convinced that the woman's memory served her well. The date
was an extremely probable one, there being no reason for delay on either
side. He might, for that matter, write and inquire of Elizabeth; but his
instinct for sequestration had made the course difficult. Yet before he
left her she had said that for him to be absent from her wedding was not
as she wished it to be.

The remembrance would continually revive in him now that it was not
Elizabeth and Farfrae who had driven him away from them, but his own
haughty sense that his presence was no longer desired. He had assumed
the return of Newson without absolute proof that the Captain meant to
return; still less that Elizabeth-Jane would welcome him; and with no
proof whatever that if he did return he would stay. What if he had
been mistaken in his views; if there had been no necessity that his
own absolute separation from her he loved should be involved in these
untoward incidents? To make one more attempt to be near her: to go back,
to see her, to plead his cause before her, to ask forgiveness for his
fraud, to endeavour strenuously to hold his own in her love; it was
worth the risk of repulse, ay, of life itself.

But how to initiate this reversal of all his former resolves without
causing husband and wife to despise him for his inconsistency was a
question which made him tremble and brood.

He cut and cut his trusses two days more, and then he concluded his
hesitancies by a sudden reckless determination to go to the wedding
festivity. Neither writing nor message would be expected of him. She had
regretted his decision to be absent--his unanticipated presence would
fill the little unsatisfied corner that would probably have place in her
just heart without him.

To intrude as little of his personality as possible upon a gay event
with which that personality could show nothing in keeping, he decided
not to make his appearance till evening--when stiffness would have worn
off, and a gentle wish to let bygones be bygones would exercise its sway
in all hearts.

He started on foot, two mornings before St. Martin's-tide, allowing
himself about sixteen miles to perform for each of the three days'
journey, reckoning the wedding-day as one. There were only two towns,
Melchester and Shottsford, of any importance along his course, and at
the latter he stopped on the second night, not only to rest, but to
prepare himself for the next evening.

Possessing no clothes but the working suit he stood in--now stained and
distorted by their two months of hard usage, he entered a shop to make
some purchases which should put him, externally at any rate, a little in
harmony with the prevailing tone of the morrow. A rough yet respectable
coat and hat, a new shirt and neck-cloth, were the chief of these; and
having satisfied himself that in appearance at least he would not now
offend her, he proceeded to the more interesting particular of buying
her some present.

What should that present be? He walked up and down the street, regarding
dubiously the display in the shop windows, from a gloomy sense that what
he might most like to give her would be beyond his miserable pocket.
At length a caged goldfinch met his eye. The cage was a plain and small
one, the shop humble, and on inquiry he concluded he could afford
the modest sum asked. A sheet of newspaper was tied round the little
creature's wire prison, and with the wrapped up cage in his hand
Henchard sought a lodging for the night.

Next day he set out upon the last stage, and was soon within the
district which had been his dealing ground in bygone years. Part of the
distance he travelled by carrier, seating himself in the darkest corner
at the back of that trader's van; and as the other passengers, mainly
women going short journeys, mounted and alighted in front of Henchard,
they talked over much local news, not the least portion of this being
the wedding then in course of celebration at the town they were nearing.
It appeared from their accounts that the town band had been hired for
the evening party, and, lest the convivial instincts of that body
should get the better of their skill, the further step had been taken of
engaging the string band from Budmouth, so that there would be a reserve
of harmony to fall back upon in case of need.

He heard, however, but few particulars beyond those known to him
already, the incident of the deepest interest on the journey being the
soft pealing of the Casterbridge bells, which reached the travellers'
ears while the van paused on the top of Yalbury Hill to have the drag
lowered. The time was just after twelve o'clock.

Those notes were a signal that all had gone well; that there had been
no slip 'twixt cup and lip in this case; that Elizabeth-Jane and Donald
Farfrae were man and wife.

Henchard did not care to ride any further with his chattering companions
after hearing this sound. Indeed, it quite unmanned him; and in
pursuance of his plan of not showing himself in Casterbridge street till
evening, lest he should mortify Farfrae and his bride, he alighted here,
with his bundle and bird-cage, and was soon left as a lonely figure on
the broad white highway.

It was the hill near which he had waited to meet Farfrae, almost two
years earlier, to tell him of the serious illness of his wife Lucetta.
The place was unchanged; the same larches sighed the same notes; but
Farfrae had another wife--and, as Henchard knew, a better one. He only
hoped that Elizabeth-Jane had obtained a better home than had been hers
at the former time.

He passed the remainder of the afternoon in a curious highstrung
condition, unable to do much but think of the approaching meeting with
her, and sadly satirize himself for his emotions thereon, as a Samson
shorn. Such an innovation on Casterbridge customs as a flitting of
bridegroom and bride from the town immediately after the ceremony, was
not likely, but if it should have taken place he would wait till their
return. To assure himself on this point he asked a market-man when near
the borough if the newly-married couple had gone away, and was promptly
informed that they had not; they were at that hour, according to all
accounts, entertaining a houseful of guests at their home in Corn
Street.

Henchard dusted his boots, washed his hands at the riverside, and
proceeded up the town under the feeble lamps. He need have made no
inquiries beforehand, for on drawing near Farfrae's residence it was
plain to the least observant that festivity prevailed within, and that
Donald himself shared it, his voice being distinctly audible in the
street, giving strong expression to a song of his dear native country
that he loved so well as never to have revisited it. Idlers were
standing on the pavement in front; and wishing to escape the notice of
these Henchard passed quickly on to the door.

It was wide open, the hall was lighted extravagantly, and people were
going up and down the stairs. His courage failed him; to enter footsore,
laden, and poorly dressed into the midst of such resplendency was to
bring needless humiliation upon her he loved, if not to court repulse
from her husband. Accordingly he went round into the street at the back
that he knew so well, entered the garden, and came quietly into the
house through the kitchen, temporarily depositing the bird and cage
under a bush outside, to lessen the awkwardness of his arrival.

Solitude and sadness had so emolliated Henchard that he now feared
circumstances he would formerly have scorned, and he began to wish that
he had not taken upon himself to arrive at such a juncture. However,
his progress was made unexpectedly easy by his discovering alone in
the kitchen an elderly woman who seemed to be acting as provisional
housekeeper during the convulsions from which Farfrae's establishment
was just then suffering. She was one of those people whom nothing
surprises, and though to her, a total stranger, his request must have
seemed odd, she willingly volunteered to go up and inform the master and
mistress of the house that "a humble old friend" had come.

On second thought she said that he had better not wait in the kitchen,
but come up into the little back-parlour, which was empty. He thereupon
followed her thither, and she left him. Just as she got across the
landing to the door of the best parlour a dance was struck up, and she
returned to say that she would wait till that was over before announcing
him--Mr. and Mrs. Farfrae having both joined in the figure.

The door of the front room had been taken off its hinges to give more
space, and that of the room Henchard sat in being ajar, he could see
fractional parts of the dancers whenever their gyrations brought them
near the doorway, chiefly in the shape of the skirts of dresses and
streaming curls of hair; together with about three-fifths of the band in
profile, including the restless shadow of a fiddler's elbow, and the tip
of the bass-viol bow.

The gaiety jarred upon Henchard's spirits; and he could not quite
understand why Farfrae, a much-sobered man, and a widower, who had had
his trials, should have cared for it all, notwithstanding the fact that
he was quite a young man still, and quickly kindled to enthusiasm by
dance and song. That the quiet Elizabeth, who had long ago appraised
life at a moderate value, and who knew in spite of her maidenhood that
marriage was as a rule no dancing matter, should have had zest for this
revelry surprised him still more. However, young people could not be
quite old people, he concluded, and custom was omnipotent.

With the progress of the dance the performers spread out somewhat,
and then for the first time he caught a glimpse of the once despised
daughter who had mastered him, and made his heart ache. She was in a
dress of white silk or satin, he was not near enough to say which--snowy
white, without a tinge of milk or cream; and the expression of her face
was one of nervous pleasure rather than of gaiety. Presently Farfrae
came round, his exuberant Scotch movement making him conspicuous in a
moment. The pair were not dancing together, but Henchard could discern
that whenever the chances of the figure made them the partners of a
moment their emotions breathed a much subtler essence than at other
times.

By degrees Henchard became aware that the measure was trod by some one
who out-Farfraed Farfrae in saltatory intenseness. This was strange,
and it was stranger to find that the eclipsing personage was
Elizabeth-Jane's partner. The first time that Henchard saw him he was
sweeping grandly round, his head quivering and low down, his legs in the
form of an X and his back towards the door. The next time he came round
in the other direction, his white waist-coat preceding his face, and his
toes preceding his white waistcoat. That happy face--Henchard's complete
discomfiture lay in it. It was Newson's, who had indeed come and
supplanted him.

Henchard pushed to the door, and for some seconds made no other
movement. He rose to his feet, and stood like a dark ruin, obscured by
"the shade from his own soul up-thrown."

But he was no longer the man to stand these reverses unmoved. His
agitation was great, and he would fain have been gone, but before
he could leave the dance had ended, the housekeeper had informed
Elizabeth-Jane of the stranger who awaited her, and she entered the room
immediately.

"Oh--it is--Mr. Henchard!" she said, starting back.

"What, Elizabeth?" he cried, as she seized her hand. "What do you
say?--Mr. Henchard? Don't, don't scourge me like that! Call me worthless
old Henchard--anything--but don't 'ee be so cold as this! O my maid--I
see you have another--a real father in my place. Then you know all; but
don't give all your thought to him! Do ye save a little room for me!"

She flushed up, and gently drew her hand away. "I could have loved you
always--I would have, gladly," she said. "But how can I when I know you
have deceived me so--so bitterly deceived me! You persuaded me that
my father was not my father--allowed me to live on in ignorance of the
truth for years; and then when he, my warm-hearted real father, came
to find me, cruelly sent him away with a wicked invention of my death,
which nearly broke his heart. O how can I love as I once did a man who
has served us like this!"

Henchard's lips half parted to begin an explanation. But he shut them up
like a vice, and uttered not a sound. How should he, there and then, set
before her with any effect the palliatives of his great faults--that he
had himself been deceived in her identity at first, till informed by
her mother's letter that his own child had died; that, in the second
accusation, his lie had been the last desperate throw of a gamester
who loved her affection better than his own honour? Among the many
hindrances to such a pleading not the least was this, that he did not
sufficiently value himself to lessen his sufferings by strenuous appeal
or elaborate argument.

Waiving, therefore, his privilege of self-defence, he regarded only his
discomposure. "Don't ye distress yourself on my account," he said, with
proud superiority. "I would not wish it--at such a time, too, as this.
I have done wrong in coming to 'ee--I see my error. But it is only for
once, so forgive it. I'll never trouble 'ee again, Elizabeth-Jane--no,
not to my dying day! Good-night. Good-bye!"

Then, before she could collect her thoughts, Henchard went out from her
rooms, and departed from the house by the back way as he had come; and
she saw him no more.




45.


It was about a month after the day which closed as in the last chapter.
Elizabeth-Jane had grown accustomed to the novelty of her situation, and
the only difference between Donald's movements now and formerly was that
he hastened indoors rather more quickly after business hours than he had
been in the habit of doing for some time.

Newson had stayed in Casterbridge three days after the wedding party
(whose gaiety, as might have been surmised, was of his making rather
than of the married couple's), and was stared at and honoured as became
the returned Crusoe of the hour. But whether or not because Casterbridge
was difficult to excite by dramatic returns and disappearances through
having been for centuries an assize town, in which sensational exits
from the world, antipodean absences, and such like, were half-yearly
occurrences, the inhabitants did not altogether lose their equanimity
on his account. On the fourth morning he was discovered disconsolately
climbing a hill, in his craving to get a glimpse of the sea from
somewhere or other. The contiguity of salt water proved to be such a
necessity of his existence that he preferred Budmouth as a place of
residence, notwithstanding the society of his daughter in the other
town. Thither he went, and settled in lodgings in a green-shuttered
cottage which had a bow-window, jutting out sufficiently to afford
glimpses of a vertical strip of blue sea to any one opening the sash,
and leaning forward far enough to look through a narrow lane of tall
intervening houses.

Elizabeth-Jane was standing in the middle of her upstairs parlour,
critically surveying some re-arrangement of articles with her head to
one side, when the housemaid came in with the announcement, "Oh, please
ma'am, we know now how that bird-cage came there."

In exploring her new domain during the first week of residence, gazing
with critical satisfaction on this cheerful room and that, penetrating
cautiously into dark cellars, sallying forth with gingerly tread to
the garden, now leaf-strewn by autumn winds, and thus, like a wise
field-marshal, estimating the capabilities of the site whereon she
was about to open her housekeeping campaign--Mrs. Donald Farfrae had
discovered in a screened corner a new bird-cage, shrouded in newspaper,
and at the bottom of the cage a little ball of feathers--the dead body
of a goldfinch. Nobody could tell her how the bird and cage had come
there, though that the poor little songster had been starved to death
was evident. The sadness of the incident had made an impression on her.
She had not been able to forget it for days, despite Farfrae's tender
banter; and now when the matter had been nearly forgotten it was again
revived.

"Oh, please ma'am, we know how the bird-cage came there. That farmer's
man who called on the evening of the wedding--he was seen wi' it in his
hand as he came up the street; and 'tis thoughted that he put it down
while he came in with his message, and then went away forgetting where
he had left it."

This was enough to set Elizabeth thinking, and in thinking she seized
hold of the idea, at one feminine bound, that the caged bird had been
brought by Henchard for her as a wedding gift and token of repentance.
He had not expressed to her any regrets or excuses for what he had done
in the past; but it was a part of his nature to extenuate nothing, and
live on as one of his own worst accusers. She went out, looked at the
cage, buried the starved little singer, and from that hour her heart
softened towards the self-alienated man.

When her husband came in she told him her solution of the bird-cage
mystery; and begged Donald to help her in finding out, as soon as
possible, whither Henchard had banished himself, that she might make her
peace with him; try to do something to render his life less that of
an outcast, and more tolerable to him. Although Farfrae had never so
passionately liked Henchard as Henchard had liked him, he had, on the
other hand, never so passionately hated in the same direction as his
former friend had done, and he was therefore not the least indisposed to
assist Elizabeth-Jane in her laudable plan.

But it was by no means easy to set about discovering Henchard. He had
apparently sunk into the earth on leaving Mr. and Mrs. Farfrae's door.
Elizabeth-Jane remembered what he had once attempted; and trembled.

But though she did not know it Henchard had become a changed man since
then--as far, that is, as change of emotional basis can justify such
a radical phrase; and she needed not to fear. In a few days Farfrae's
inquiries elicited that Henchard had been seen by one who knew him
walking steadily along the Melchester highway eastward, at twelve
o'clock at night--in other words, retracing his steps on the road by
which he had come.

This was enough; and the next morning Farfrae might have been discovered
driving his gig out of Casterbridge in that direction, Elizabeth-Jane
sitting beside him, wrapped in a thick flat fur--the victorine of the
period--her complexion somewhat richer than formerly, and an incipient
matronly dignity, which the serene Minerva-eyes of one "whose gestures
beamed with mind" made becoming, settling on her face. Having herself
arrived at a promising haven from at least the grosser troubles of her
life, her object was to place Henchard in some similar quietude before
he should sink into that lower stage of existence which was only too
possible to him now.

After driving along the highway for a few miles they made further
inquiries, and learnt of a road-mender, who had been working thereabouts
for weeks, that he had observed such a man at the time mentioned; he had
left the Melchester coachroad at Weatherbury by a forking highway which
skirted the north of Egdon Heath. Into this road they directed the
horse's head, and soon were bowling across that ancient country
whose surface never had been stirred to a finger's depth, save by
the scratchings of rabbits, since brushed by the feet of the earliest
tribes. The tumuli these had left behind, dun and shagged with heather,
jutted roundly into the sky from the uplands, as though they were the
full breasts of Diana Multimammia supinely extended there.

They searched Egdon, but found no Henchard. Farfrae drove onward, and by
the afternoon reached the neighbourhood of some extension of the heath
to the north of Anglebury, a prominent feature of which, in the form of
a blasted clump of firs on a summit of a hill, they soon passed under.
That the road they were following had, up to this point, been Henchard's
track on foot they were pretty certain; but the ramifications which now
began to reveal themselves in the route made further progress in the
right direction a matter of pure guess-work, and Donald strongly advised
his wife to give up the search in person, and trust to other means for
obtaining news of her stepfather. They were now a score of miles at
least from home, but, by resting the horse for a couple of hours at a
village they had just traversed, it would be possible to get back to
Casterbridge that same day, while to go much further afield would reduce
them to the necessity of camping out for the night, "and that will make
a hole in a sovereign," said Farfrae. She pondered the position, and
agreed with him.

He accordingly drew rein, but before reversing their direction paused a
moment and looked vaguely round upon the wide country which the elevated
position disclosed. While they looked a solitary human form came from
under the clump of trees, and crossed ahead of them. The person was some
labourer; his gait was shambling, his regard fixed in front of him as
absolutely as if he wore blinkers; and in his hand he carried a few
sticks. Having crossed the road he descended into a ravine, where a
cottage revealed itself, which he entered.

"If it were not so far away from Casterbridge I should say that must be
poor Whittle. 'Tis just like him," observed Elizabeth-Jane.

"And it may be Whittle, for he's never been to the yard these three
weeks, going away without saying any word at all; and I owing him for
two days' work, without knowing who to pay it to."

The possibility led them to alight, and at least make an inquiry at the
cottage. Farfrae hitched the reins to the gate-post, and they approached
what was of humble dwellings surely the humblest. The walls, built of
kneaded clay originally faced with a trowel, had been worn by years of
rain-washings to a lumpy crumbling surface, channelled and sunken from
its plane, its gray rents held together here and there by a leafy strap
of ivy which could scarcely find substance enough for the purpose. The
rafters were sunken, and the thatch of the roof in ragged holes. Leaves
from the fence had been blown into the corners of the doorway, and lay
there undisturbed. The door was ajar; Farfrae knocked; and he who stood
before them was Whittle, as they had conjectured.

His face showed marks of deep sadness, his eyes lighting on them with an
unfocused gaze; and he still held in his hand the few sticks he had been
out to gather. As soon as he recognized them he started.

"What, Abel Whittle; is it that ye are heere?" said Farfrae.

"Ay, yes sir! You see he was kind-like to mother when she wer here
below, though 'a was rough to me."

"Who are you talking of?"

"O sir--Mr. Henchet! Didn't ye know it? He's just gone--about
half-an-hour ago, by the sun; for I've got no watch to my name."

"Not--dead?" faltered Elizabeth-Jane.

"Yes, ma'am, he's gone! He was kind-like to mother when she wer here
below, sending her the best ship-coal, and hardly any ashes from it at
all; and taties, and such-like that were very needful to her. I seed en
go down street on the night of your worshipful's wedding to the lady at
yer side, and I thought he looked low and faltering. And I followed en
over Grey's Bridge, and he turned and zeed me, and said, 'You go back!'
But I followed, and he turned again, and said, 'Do you hear, sir? Go
back!' But I zeed that he was low, and I followed on still. Then 'a
said, 'Whittle, what do ye follow me for when I've told ye to go back
all these times?' And I said, 'Because, sir, I see things be bad with
'ee, and ye wer kind-like to mother if ye wer rough to me, and I would
fain be kind-like to you.' Then he walked on, and I followed; and he
never complained at me no more. We walked on like that all night; and
in the blue o' the morning, when 'twas hardly day, I looked ahead o' me,
and I zeed that he wambled, and could hardly drag along. By the time we
had got past here, but I had seen that this house was empty as I went
by, and I got him to come back; and I took down the boards from the
windows, and helped him inside. 'What, Whittle,' he said, 'and can ye
really be such a poor fond fool as to care for such a wretch as I!' Then
I went on further, and some neighbourly woodmen lent me a bed, and a
chair, and a few other traps, and we brought 'em here, and made him
as comfortable as we could. But he didn't gain strength, for you see,
ma'am, he couldn't eat--no appetite at all--and he got weaker; and
to-day he died. One of the neighbours have gone to get a man to measure
him."

"Dear me--is that so!" said Farfrae.

As for Elizabeth, she said nothing.

"Upon the head of his bed he pinned a piece of paper, with some writing
upon it," continued Abel Whittle. "But not being a man o' letters, I
can't read writing; so I don't know what it is. I can get it and show
ye."

They stood in silence while he ran into the cottage; returning in a
moment with a crumpled scrap of paper. On it there was pencilled as
follows:--


MICHAEL HENCHARD'S WILL

"That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve
on account of me.
"& that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground.
"& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell.
"& that nobody is wished to see my dead body.
"& that no murners walk behind me at my funeral.
"& that no flours be planted on my grave,
"& that no man remember me.
"To this I put my name.

"MICHAEL HENCHARD"


"What are we to do?" said Donald, when he had handed the paper to her.

She could not answer distinctly. "O Donald!" she cried at last through
her tears, "what bitterness lies there! O I would not have minded so
much if it had not been for my unkindness at that last parting!... But
there's no altering--so it must be."

What Henchard had written in the anguish of his dying was respected as
far as practicable by Elizabeth-Jane, though less from a sense of the
sacredness of last words, as such, than from her independent knowledge
that the man who wrote them meant what he said. She knew the directions
to be a piece of the same stuff that his whole life was made of, and
hence were not to be tampered with to give herself a mournful pleasure,
or her husband credit for large-heartedness.

All was over at last, even her regrets for having misunderstood him on
his last visit, for not having searched him out sooner, though
these were deep and sharp for a good while. From this time forward
Elizabeth-Jane found herself in a latitude of calm weather, kindly and
grateful in itself, and doubly so after the Capharnaum in which some of
her preceding years had been spent. As the lively and sparkling emotions
of her early married live cohered into an equable serenity, the finer
movements of her nature found scope in discovering to the narrow-lived
ones around her the secret (as she had once learnt it) of making limited
opportunities endurable; which she deemed to consist in the cunning
enlargement, by a species of microscopic treatment, of those minute
forms of satisfaction that offer themselves to everybody not in positive
pain; which, thus handled, have much of the same inspiring effect upon
life as wider interests cursorily embraced.

Her teaching had a reflex action upon herself, insomuch that she thought
she could perceive no great personal difference between being respected
in the nether parts of Casterbridge and glorified at the uppermost end
of the social world. Her position was, indeed, to a marked degree one
that, in the common phrase, afforded much to be thankful for. That she
was not demonstratively thankful was no fault of hers. Her experience
had been of a kind to teach her, rightly or wrongly, that the doubtful
honour of a brief transmit through a sorry world hardly called for
effusiveness, even when the path was suddenly irradiated at some
half-way point by daybeams rich as hers. But her strong sense that
neither she nor any human being deserved less than was given, did not
blind her to the fact that there were others receiving less who had
deserved much more. And in being forced to class herself among the
fortunate she did not cease to wonder at the persistence of the
unforeseen, when the one to whom such unbroken tranquility had been
accorded in the adult stage was she whose youth had seemed to teach that
happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.



THE END





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