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?"
"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?"
"Then come along."
"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?"
"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.
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."
"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.
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
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."
"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."
"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.
"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.
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."
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 new cancelled days when Donald had been her undeclared lover, and wondered what unwished-for thing Heaven might send her in place of him.