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Chapter 11

  • The Ring at Casterbridge was merely the local name of one of the finest Roma_mphitheatres, if not the very finest, remaining in Britain.
  • Casterbridge announced old Rome in every street, alley, and precinct. I_ooked Roman, bespoke the art of Rome, concealed dead men of Rome. It wa_mpossible to dig more than a foot or two deep about the town fields an_ardens without coming upon some tall soldier or other of the Empire, who ha_ain there in his silent unobtrusive rest for a space of fifteen hundre_ears. 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 wit_he remains of his spear against his arm, a fibula or brooch of bronze on hi_reast or forehead, an urn at his knees, a jar at his throat, a bottle at hi_outh; and mystified conjecture pouring down upon him from the eyes o_asterbridge street boys and men, who had turned a moment to gaze at th_amiliar spectacle as they passed by.
  • Imaginative inhabitants, who would have felt an unpleasantness at th_iscovery of a comparatively modern skeleton in their gardens, were quit_nmoved by these hoary shapes. They had lived so long ago, their time was s_nlike 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 fo_ven a spirit to pass.
  • The Amphitheatre was a huge circular enclosure, with a notch at opposit_xtremities of its diameter north and south. From its sloping internal form i_ight have been called the spittoon of the Jotuns. It was to Casterbridge wha_he 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 thi_uggestive place could be received. Standing in the middle of the arena a_hat time there by degrees became apparent its real vastness, which a cursor_iew from the summit at noon-day was apt to obscure. Melancholy, impressive,
  • lonely, yet accessible from every part of the town, the historic circle wa_he frequent spot for appointments of a furtive kind. Intrigues were arrange_here; tentative meetings were there experimented after divisions and feuds.
  • But one kind of appointment—in itself the most common of any—seldom had plac_n the Amphitheatre: that of happy lovers.
  • Why, seeing that it was pre-eminently an airy, accessible, and sequestere_pot for interviews, the cheerfullest form of those occurrences never too_indly to the soil of the ruin, would be a curious inquiry. Perhaps it wa_ecause its associations had about them something sinister. Its history prove_hat. Apart from the sanguinary nature of the games originally played therein,
  • such incidents attached to its past as these: that for scores of years th_own-gallows had stood at one corner; that in 1705 a woman who had murdere_er husband was half-strangled and then burnt there in the presence of te_housand spectators. Tradition reports that at a certain stage of the burnin_er heart burst and leapt out of her body, to the terror of them all, and tha_ot one of those ten thousand people ever cared particularly for hot roas_fter that. In addition to these old tragedies, pugilistic encounters almos_o 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 th_nclosure, which few towns-people in the daily round of their lives ever too_he trouble to do. So that, though close to the turnpike-road, crimes might b_erpetrated there unseen at mid-day.
  • Some boys had latterly tried to impart gaiety to the ruin by using the centra_rena as a cricket-ground. But the game usually languished for the aforesai_eason—the dismal privacy which the earthen circle enforced, shutting ou_very appreciative passer's vision, every commendatory remark fro_utsiders—everything, except the sky; and to play at games in suc_ircumstances was like acting to an empty house. Possibly, too, the boys wer_imid, for some old people said that at certain moments in the summer time, i_road daylight, persons sitting with a book or dozing in the arena had, o_ifting their eyes, beheld the slopes lined with a gazing legion of Hadrian'_oldiery as if watching the gladiatorial combat; and had heard the roar o_heir excited voices, that the scene would remain but a moment, like _ightning flash, and then disappear.
  • It was related that there still remained under the south entrance excavate_ells for the reception of the wild animals and athletes who took part in th_ames. The arena was still smooth and circular, as if used for its origina_urpose not so very long ago. The sloping pathways by which spectators ha_scended to their seats were pathways yet. But the whole was grown over wit_rass, which now, at the end of summer, was bearded with withered bents tha_ormed waves under the brush of the wind, returning to the attentive ea_eolian modulations, and detaining for moments the flying globes o_histledown.
  • Henchard had chosen this spot as being the safest from observation which h_ould think of for meeting his long-lost wife, and at the same time as on_asily to be found by a stranger after nightfall. As Mayor of the town, with _eputation to keep up, he could not invite her to come to his house till som_efinite course had been decided on.
  • Just before eight he approached the deserted earth-work and entered by th_outh path which descended over the debris of the former dens. In a fe_oments 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 a_irst—there was no necessity for speech—and the poor woman leant agains_enchard, 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 firs_ords.
  • He felt her bow her head in acknowledgment that she understood. After a minut_r two he again began:
  • "If I had known you were living, Susan! But there was every reason to suppos_ou and the child were dead and gone. I took every possible step to fin_ou—travelled—advertised. My opinion at last was that you had started for som_olony with that man, and had been drowned on your voyage. Why did you kee_ilent like this?"
  • "O Michael! because of him—what other reason could there be? I thought I owe_im faithfulness to the end of one of our lives—foolishly I believed there wa_omething solemn and binding in the bargain; I thought that even in honour _ared not desert him when he had paid so much for me in good faith. I meet yo_ow only as his widow—I consider myself that, and that I have no claim upo_ou. 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 lik_hat!" said Susan, almost crying.
  • "Yes—yes—so it would. It is only that which makes me feel 'ee an innocen_oman. But—to lead me into this!"
  • "What, Michael?" she asked, alarmed.
  • "Why, this difficulty about our living together again, and Elizabeth-Jane. Sh_annot 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 i_ither."
  • "Well—we must talk of a plan for keeping her in her present belief, an_etting matters straight in spite of it. You have heard I am in a large way o_usiness here—that I am Mayor of the town, and churchwarden, and I don't kno_hat 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 yo_wo can return openly to my house as the wife and daughter I once treate_adly, 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 kindl_everity. "I have thought of this plan: that you and Elizabeth take a cottag_n the town as the widow Mrs. Newson and her daughter; that I meet you, cour_ou, and marry you. Elizabeth-Jane coming to my house as my step-daughter. Th_hing is so natural and easy that it is half done in thinking o't. This woul_eave my shady, headstrong, disgraceful life as a young man absolutel_nopened; the secret would be yours and mine only; and I should have th_leasure 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 th_ake of Elizabeth; for myself, if you tell me to leave again to-morro_orning, 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 yo_on't leave again. Think over the plan I have proposed for a few hours; and i_ou can't hit upon a better one we'll adopt it. I have to be away for a day o_wo on business, unfortunately; but during that time you can get lodgings—th_nly ones in the town fit for you are those over the china-shop in Hig_treet—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 t_e 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 an_urs?—that's what makes me most anxious of all."
  • "You would be surprised to find how unlikely she is to dream of the truth. Ho_ould she ever suppose such a thing?"
  • True!
  • "I like the idea of repeating our marriage," said Mrs. Henchard, after _ause. "It seems the only right course, after all this. Now I think I must g_ack to Elizabeth-Jane, and tell her that our kinsman, Mr. Henchard, kindl_ishes 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 wa_ack—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 wif_assed 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 reache_is door he was almost upon the heels of the unconscious woman from whom h_ad just parted. He watched her up the street, and turned into his house.