The cottage which Michael Henchard hired for his wife Susan under her name o_ewson—in pursuance of their plan—was in the upper or western part of th_own, near the Roman wall, and the avenue which overshadowed it. The evenin_un seemed to shine more yellowly there than anywhere else thi_utumn—stretching its rays, as the hours grew later, under the lowest sycamor_oughs, and steeping the ground-floor of the dwelling, with its gree_hutters, in a substratum of radiance which the foliage screened from th_pper parts. Beneath these sycamores on the town walls could be seen from th_itting-room the tumuli and earth forts of the distant uplands; making i_ltogether 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 t_ea. During the entertainment Elizabeth was carefully hoodwinked by the ver_eneral tone of the conversation that prevailed—a proceeding which seemed t_fford some humour to Henchard, though his wife was not particularly happy i_t. The visit was repeated again and again with business-like determination b_he Mayor, who seemed to have schooled himself into a course of stric_echanical rightness towards this woman of prior claim, at any expense to th_ater one and to his own sentiments.
One afternoon the daughter was not indoors when Henchard came, and he sai_rily, "This is a very good opportunity for me to ask you to name the happ_ay, Susan."
The poor woman smiled faintly; she did not enjoy pleasantries on a situatio_nto which she had entered solely for the sake of her girl's reputation. Sh_iked them so little, indeed, that there was room for wonder why she ha_ountenanced deception at all, and had not bravely let the girl know he_istory. 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 givin_rouble—when I did not expect any such thing!" And she looked at him and a_is dress as a man of affluence, and at the furniture he had provided for th_oom—ornate and lavish to her eyes.
"Not at all," said Henchard, in rough benignity. "This is only a cottage—i_osts me next to nothing. And as to taking up my time"—here his red and blac_isage kindled with satisfaction—"I've a splendid fellow to superintend m_usiness now—a man whose like I've never been able to lay hands on before. _hall soon be able to leave everything to him, and have more time to call m_wn than I've had for these last twenty years."
Henchard's visits here grew so frequent and so regular that it soon becam_hispered, and then openly discussed in Casterbridge that the masterful,
coercive Mayor of the town was raptured and enervated by the genteel wido_rs. Newson. His well-known haughty indifference to the society of womankind,
his silent avoidance of converse with the sex, contributed a piquancy to wha_ould otherwise have been an unromantic matter enough. That such a poo_ragile woman should be his choice was inexplicable, except on the ground tha_he 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 pal_hat the boys called her "The Ghost." Sometimes Henchard overheard thi_pithet when they passed together along the Walks—as the avenues on the wall_ere named—at which his face would darken with an expression o_estructiveness towards the speakers ominous to see; but he said nothing.
He pressed on the preparations for his union, or rather reunion, with thi_ale creature in a dogged, unflinching spirit which did credit to hi_onscientiousness. Nobody would have conceived from his outward demeanour tha_here was no amatory fire or pulse of romance acting as stimulant to th_ustle going on in his gaunt, great house; nothing but three larg_esolves—one, to make amends to his neglected Susan, another, to provide _omfortable home for Elizabeth-Jane under his paternal eye; and a third, t_astigate himself with the thorns which these restitutory acts brought i_heir train; among them the lowering of his dignity in public opinion b_arrying so comparatively humble a woman.
Susan Henchard entered a carriage for the first time in her life when sh_tepped into the plain brougham which drew up at the door on the wedding-da_o take her and Elizabeth-Jane to church. It was a windless morning of war_ovember rain, which floated down like meal, and lay in a powdery form on th_ap of hats and coats. Few people had gathered round the church door thoug_hey were well packed within. The Scotchman, who assisted as groomsman, was o_ourse the only one present, beyond the chief actors, who knew the tru_ituation of the contracting parties. He, however, was too inexperienced, to_houghtful, too judicial, too strongly conscious of the serious side of th_usiness, to enter into the scene in its dramatic aspect. That required th_pecial genius of Christopher Coney, Solomon Longways, Buzzford, and thei_ellows. But they knew nothing of the secret; though, as the time for comin_ut of church drew on, they gathered on the pavement adjoining, and expounde_he subject according to their lights.
"'Tis five-and-forty years since I had my settlement in this here town," sai_oney; "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 wa_ddressed to a woman who stood behind his shoulder—the same who had exhibite_enchard's bad bread in public when Elizabeth and her mother entere_asterbridge.
"Be cust if I'd marry any such as he, or thee either," replied that lady. "A_or thee, Christopher, we know what ye be, and the less said the better. An_s 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 i_aid 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 th_miling countenance of the fat woman who had asked for another song at th_hree 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 woma_f your tonnage have not."
"I have not. Nor another to beat me… .Ah, yes, Cuxsom's gone, and so shal_eather 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 b_he Agricultural Society for having begot the greatest number of health_hildren 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 a_ellstock, do ye mind?—at old Dame Ledlow's, farmer Shinar's aunt, do y_ind?—she we used to call Toad-skin, because her face were so yaller an_reckled, 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'_houlder with her finger-tip, while her eyes twinkled between the crevices o_heir lids—"canst mind the sherry-wine, and the zilver-snuffers, and how Joa_ummett was took bad when we were coming home, and Jack Griggs was forced t_arry her through the mud; and how 'a let her fall in Dairyman Sweet-apple'_ow-barton, and we had to clane her gown wi' grass—never such a mess as a'
"Ay—that I do—hee-hee, such doggery as there was in them ancient days, to b_ure! Ah, the miles I used to walk then; and now I can hardly step over _urrow!"
Their reminiscences were cut short by the appearance of the reunite_air—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 _eetotaller," said Nance Mockridge. "She'll wish her cake dough afore she'_one 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 choic_s wide as the ocean sea I wouldn't wish for a better man. A poor twankin_oman 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 fro_ere; and what wi' that, and this moist weather, 'tis scarce worth one's whil_o begin any work o' consequence to-day. I'm in such a low key with drinkin_othing but small table ninepenny this last week or two that I shall call an_arm 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;