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Chapter 13

  • 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'
  • were in?"
  • "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;
  • "I'm as clammy as a cockle-snail."