At first Miss Newson's budding beauty was not regarded with much interest b_nybody in Casterbridge. Donald Farfrae's gaze, it is true, was now attracte_y the Mayor's so-called step-daughter, but he was only one. The truth is tha_he was but a poor illustrative instance of the prophet Baruch's sl_efinition: "The virgin that loveth to go gay."
When she walked abroad she seemed to be occupied with an inner chamber o_deas, and to have slight need for visible objects. She formed curiou_esolves on checking gay fancies in the matter of clothes, because it wa_nconsistent with her past life to blossom gaudily the moment she had becom_ossessed of money. But nothing is more insidious than the evolution of wishe_rom mere fancies, and of wants from mere wishes. Henchard gave Elizabeth-Jan_ box of delicately-tinted gloves one spring day. She wanted to wear them t_how her appreciation of his kindness, but she had no bonnet that woul_armonize. As an artistic indulgence she thought she would have such a bonnet.
When she had a bonnet that would go with the gloves she had no dress tha_ould go with the bonnet. It was now absolutely necessary to finish; sh_rdered the requisite article, and found that she had no sunshade to go wit_he dress. In for a penny in for a pound; she bought the sunshade, and th_hole structure was at last complete.
Everybody was attracted, and some said that her bygone simplicity was the ar_hat conceals art, the "delicate imposition" of Rochefoucauld; she ha_roduced an effect, a contrast, and it had been done on purpose. As a matte_f fact this was not true, but it had its result; for as soon as Casterbridg_hought her artful it thought her worth notice. "It is the first time in m_ife that I have been so much admired," she said to herself; "though perhap_t is by those whose admiration is not worth having."
But Donald Farfrae admired her, too; and altogether the time was an excitin_ne; sex had never before asserted itself in her so strongly, for in forme_ays she had perhaps been too impersonally human to be distinctively feminine.
After an unprecedented success one day she came indoors, went upstairs, an_eant upon her bed face downwards quite forgetting the possible creasing an_amage. "Good Heaven," she whispered, "can it be? Here am I setting up as th_own beauty!"
When she had thought it over, her usual fear of exaggerating appearance_ngendered a deep sadness. "There is something wrong in all this," she mused.
"If they only knew what an unfinished girl I am—that I can't talk Italian, o_se globes, or show any of the accomplishments they learn at boarding schools, how they would despise me! Better sell all this finery and buy myself grammar- books and dictionaries and a history of all the philosophies!"
She looked from the window and saw Henchard and Farfrae in the hay-yar_alking, with that impetuous cordiality on the Mayor's part, and genia_odesty on the younger man's, that was now so generally observable in thei_ntercourse. Friendship between man and man; what a rugged strength there wa_n it, as evinced by these two. And yet the seed that was to lift th_oundation of this friendship was at that moment taking root in a chink of it_tructure.
It was about six o'clock; the men were dropping off homeward one by one. Th_ast to leave was a round-shouldered, blinking young man of nineteen o_wenty, whose mouth fell ajar on the slightest provocation, seemingly becaus_here was no chin to support it. Henchard called aloud to him as he went ou_f the gate, "Here—Abel Whittle!"
Whittle turned, and ran back a few steps. "Yes, sir," he said, in breathles_eprecation, as if he knew what was coming next.
"Once more—be in time to-morrow morning. You see what's to be done, and yo_ear what I say, and you know I'm not going to be trifled with any longer."
"Yes, sir." Then Abel Whittle left, and Henchard and Farfrae; and Elizabet_aw no more of them.
Now there was good reason for this command on Henchard's part. Poor Abel, a_e was called, had an inveterate habit of over-sleeping himself and comin_ate to his work. His anxious will was to be among the earliest; but if hi_omrades omitted to pull the string that he always tied round his great to_nd left hanging out the window for that purpose, his will was as wind. He di_ot arrive in time.
As he was often second hand at the hay-weighing, or at the crane which lifte_he sacks, or was one of those who had to accompany the waggons into th_ountry to fetch away stacks that had been purchased, this affliction o_bel's was productive of much inconvenience. For two mornings in the presen_eek he had kept the others waiting nearly an hour; hence Henchard's threat.
It now remained to be seen what would happen to-morrow.
Six o'clock struck, and there was no Whittle. At half-past six Henchar_ntered the yard; the waggon was horsed that Abel was to accompany; and th_ther man had been waiting twenty minutes. Then Henchard swore, and Whittl_oming up breathless at that instant, the corn-factor turned on him, an_eclared with an oath that this was the last time; that if he were behind onc_ore, by God, he would come and drag him out o' bed.
"There is sommit wrong in my make, your worshipful!" said Abel, "especially i_he inside, whereas my poor dumb brain gets as dead as a clot afore I've sai_y few scrags of prayers. Yes—it came on as a stripling, just afore I'd go_an's wages, whereas I never enjoy my bed at all, for no sooner do I lie dow_han I be asleep, and afore I be awake I be up. I've fretted my gizzard gree_bout it, maister, but what can I do? Now last night, afore I went to bed, _nly had a scantling o' cheese and—"
"I don't want to hear it!" roared Henchard. "To-morrow the waggons must star_t four, and if you're not here, stand clear. I'll mortify thy flesh fo_hee!"
"But let me clear up my points, your worshipful——"
Henchard turned away.
"He asked me and he questioned me, and then 'a wouldn't hear my points!" sai_bel, to the yard in general. "Now, I shall twitch like a moment-hand al_ight to-night for fear o' him!"
The journey to be taken by the waggons next day was a long one into Blackmoo_ale, and at four o'clock lanterns were moving about the yard. But Abel wa_issing. Before either of the other men could run to Abel's and warn hi_enchard appeared in the garden doorway. "Where's Abel Whittle? Not come afte_ll I've said? Now I'll carry out my word, by my blessed fathers—nothing els_ill do him any good! I'm going up that way."
Henchard went off, entered Abel's house, a little cottage in Back Street, th_oor of which was never locked because the inmates had nothing to lose.
Reaching Whittle's bedside the corn-factor shouted a bass note so vigorousl_hat Abel started up instantly, and beholding Henchard standing over him, wa_alvanized into spasmodic movements which had not much relation to getting o_is clothes.
"Out of bed, sir, and off to the granary, or you leave my employ to-day! 'Ti_o teach ye a lesson. March on; never mind your breeches!"
The unhappy Whittle threw on his sleeve waistcoat, and managed to get into hi_oots at the bottom of the stairs, while Henchard thrust his hat over hi_ead. Whittle then trotted on down Back Street, Henchard walking sternl_ehind.
Just at this time Farfrae, who had been to Henchard's house to look for him, came out of the back gate, and saw something white fluttering in the mornin_loom, which he soon perceived to be part of Abel's shirt that showed belo_is waistcoat.
"For maircy's sake, what object's this?" said Farfrae, following Abel into th_ard, Henchard being some way in the rear by this time.
"Ye see, Mr. Farfrae," gibbered Abel with a resigned smile of terror, "he sai_e'd mortify my flesh if so be I didn't get up sooner, and now he's a-doin_n't! Ye see it can't be helped, Mr. Farfrae; things do happen quee_ometimes! Yes—I'll go to Blackmoor Vale half naked as I be, since he d_ommand; but I shall kill myself afterwards; I can't outlive the disgrace, fo_he women-folk will be looking out of their winders at my mortification al_he way along, and laughing me to scorn as a man 'ithout breeches! You kno_ow I feel such things, Maister Farfrae, and how forlorn thoughts get hol_pon me. Yes—I shall do myself harm—I feel it coming on!"
"Get back home, and slip on your breeches, and come to wark like a man! If y_o not, you'll ha'e your death standing there!"
"I'm afeard I mustn't! Mr. Henchard said——"
"I don't care what Mr. Henchard said, nor anybody else! 'Tis simpl_oolishness to do this. Go and dress yourself instantly Whittle."
"Hullo, hullo!" said Henchard, coming up behind. "Who's sending him back?"
All the men looked towards Farfrae.
"I am," said Donald. "I say this joke has been carried far enough."
"And I say it hasn't! Get up in the waggon, Whittle."
"Not if I am manager," said Farfrae. "He either goes home, or I march out o_his yard for good."
Henchard looked at him with a face stern and red. But he paused for a moment, and their eyes met. Donald went up to him, for he saw in Henchard's look tha_e began to regret this.
"Come," said Donald quietly, "a man o' your position should ken better, sir!
It is tyrannical and no worthy of you."
"'Tis not tyrannical!" murmured Henchard, like a sullen boy. "It is to mak_im remember!" He presently added, in a tone of one bitterly hurt: "Why di_ou speak to me before them like that, Farfrae? You might have stopped till w_ere alone. Ah—I know why! I've told ye the secret o' my life—fool that I wa_o do't—and you take advantage of me!"
"I had forgot it," said Farfrae simply.
Henchard looked on the ground, said nothing more, and turned away. During th_ay Farfrae learnt from the men that Henchard had kept Abel's old mother i_oals and snuff all the previous winter, which made him less antagonistic t_he corn-factor. But Henchard continued moody and silent, and when one of th_en inquired of him if some oats should be hoisted to an upper floor or not, he said shortly, "Ask Mr. Farfrae. He's master here!"
Morally he was; there could be no doubt of it. Henchard, who had hitherto bee_he most admired man in his circle, was the most admired no longer. One da_he daughters of a deceased farmer in Durnover wanted an opinion of the valu_f their haystack, and sent a messenger to ask Mr. Farfrae to oblige them wit_ne. The messenger, who was a child, met in the yard not Farfrae, bu_enchard.
"Very well," he said. "I'll come."
"But please will Mr. Farfrae come?" said the child.
"I am going that way… .Why Mr. Farfrae?" said Henchard, with the fixed look o_hought. "Why do people always want Mr. Farfrae?"
"I suppose because they like him so—that's what they say."
"Oh—I see—that's what they say—hey? They like him because he's cleverer tha_r. Henchard, and because he knows more; and, in short, Mr. Henchard can'_old a candle to him—hey?"
"Yes—that's just it, sir—some of it."
"Oh, there's more? Of course there's more! What besides? Come, here's _ixpence for a fairing."
"'And he's better tempered, and Henchard's a fool to him,' they say. And whe_ome of the women were a-walking home they said, 'He's a diment—he's a chap o'
wax—he's the best—he's the horse for my money,' says they. And they said,
'He's the most understanding man o' them two by long chalks. I wish he was th_aster instead of Henchard,' they said."
"They'll talk any nonsense," Henchard replied with covered gloom. "Well, yo_an go now. And I am coming to value the hay, d'ye hear?—I." The boy departed, and Henchard murmured, "Wish he were master here, do they?"
He went towards Durnover. On his way he overtook Farfrae. They walked o_ogether, Henchard looking mostly on the ground.
"You're no yoursel' the day?" Donald inquired.
"Yes, I am very well," said Henchard.
"But ye are a bit down—surely ye are down? Why, there's nothing to be angr_bout! 'Tis splendid stuff that we've got from Blackmoor Vale. By the by, th_eople in Durnover want their hay valued."
"Yes. I am going there."
"I'll go with ye."
As Henchard did not reply Donald practised a piece of music sotto voce, till, getting near the bereaved people's door, he stopped himself with—
"Ah, as their father is dead I won't go on with such as that. How could _orget?"
"Do you care so very much about hurting folks' feelings?" observed Henchar_ith a half sneer. "You do, I know—especially mine!"
"I am sorry if I have hurt yours, sir," replied Donald, standing still, with _econd expression of the same sentiment in the regretfulness of his face. "Wh_hould you say it—think it?"
The cloud lifted from Henchard's brow, and as Donald finished the corn- merchant turned to him, regarding his breast rather than his face.
"I have been hearing things that vexed me," he said. "'Twas that made me shor_n my manner—made me overlook what you really are. Now, I don't want to go i_ere about this hay—Farfrae, you can do it better than I. They sent for 'ee, too. I have to attend a meeting of the Town Council at eleven, and 'ti_rawing on for't."
They parted thus in renewed friendship, Donald forbearing to ask Henchard fo_eanings that were not very plain to him. On Henchard's part there was no_gain repose; and yet, whenever he thought of Farfrae, it was with a di_read; and he often regretted that he had told the young man his whole heart, and confided to him the secrets of his life.