It chanced that on a fine spring morning Henchard and Farfrae met in th_hestnut-walk which ran along the south wall of the town. Each had just com_ut from his early breakfast, and there was not another soul near. Henchar_as reading a letter from Lucetta, sent in answer to a note from him, in whic_he made some excuse for not immediately granting him a second interview tha_e had desired.
Donald had no wish to enter into conversation with his former friend on thei_resent constrained terms; neither would he pass him in scowling silence. H_odded, and Henchard did the same. They receded from each other several pace_hen a voice cried "Farfrae!" It was Henchard's, who stood regarding him.
"Do you remember," said Henchard, as if it were the presence of the though_nd not of the man which made him speak, "do you remember my story of tha_econd woman—who suffered for her thoughtless intimacy with me?"
"I do," said Farfrae.
"Do you remember my telling 'ee how it all began and how it ended?
"Well, I have offered to marry her now that I can; but she won't marry me. No_hat would you think of her—I put it to you?"
"Well, ye owe her nothing more now," said Farfrae heartily.
"It is true," said Henchard, and went on.
That he had looked up from a letter to ask his questions completely shut ou_rom Farfrae's mind all vision of Lucetta as the culprit. Indeed, her presen_osition was so different from that of the young woman of Henchard's story a_f itself to be sufficient to blind him absolutely to her identity. As fo_enchard, he was reassured by Farfrae's words and manner against a suspicio_hich had crossed his mind. They were not those of a conscious rival.
Yet that there was rivalry by some one he was firmly persuaded. He could fee_t in the air around Lucetta, see it in the turn of her pen. There was a_ntagonistic force in exercise, so that when he had tried to hang near her h_eemed standing in a refluent current. That it was not innate caprice he wa_ore and more certain. Her windows gleamed as if they did not want him; he_urtains seem to hang slily, as if they screened an ousting presence. T_iscover whose presence that was—whether really Farfrae's after all, o_nother's—he exerted himself to the utmost to see her again; and at lengt_ucceeded.
At the interview, when she offered him tea, he made it a point to launch _autious inquiry if she knew Mr. Farfrae.
O yes, she knew him, she declared; she could not help knowing almost everybod_n Casterbridge, living in such a gazebo over the centre and arena of th_own.
"Pleasant young fellow," said Henchard.
"Yes," said Lucetta.
"We both know him," said kind Elizabeth-Jane, to relieve her companion'_ivined embarrassment.
There was a knock at the door; literally, three full knocks and a little on_t the end.
"That kind of knock means half-and-half—somebody between gentle and simple,"
said the corn-merchant to himself. "I shouldn't wonder therefore if it is he."
In a few seconds surely enough Donald walked in.
Lucetta was full of little fidgets and flutters, which increased Henchard'_uspicions without affording any special proof of their correctness. He wa_ell-nigh ferocious at the sense of the queer situation in which he stoo_owards this woman. One who had reproached him for deserting her whe_alumniated, who had urged claims upon his consideration on that account, wh_ad lived waiting for him, who at the first decent opportunity had come to as_im to rectify, by making her his, the false position into which she ha_laced herself for his sake; such she had been. And now he sat at her tea- table eager to gain her attention, and in his amatory rage feeling the othe_an present to be a villain, just as any young fool of a lover might feel.
They sat stiffly side by side at the darkening table, like some Tusca_ainting of the two disciples supping at Emmaus. Lucetta, forming the thir_nd haloed figure, was opposite them; Elizabeth-Jane, being out of the game, and out of the group, could observe all from afar, like the evangelist who ha_o write it down: that there were long spaces of taciturnity, when al_xterior circumstances were subdued to the touch of spoons and china, th_lick of a heel on the pavement under the window, the passing of a wheelbarro_r cart, the whistling of the carter, the gush of water into householders'
buckets at the town-pump opposite, the exchange of greetings among thei_eighbours, and the rattle of the yokes by which they carried off thei_vening supply.
"More bread-and-butter?" said Lucetta to Henchard and Farfrae equally, holdin_ut between them a plateful of long slices. Henchard took a slice by one en_nd Donald by the other; each feeling certain he was the man meant; neithe_et go, and the slice came in two.
"Oh—I am so sorry!" cried Lucetta, with a nervous titter. Farfrae tried t_augh; but he was too much in love to see the incident in any but a tragi_ight.
"How ridiculous of all three of them!" said Elizabeth to herself.
Henchard left the house with a ton of conjecture, though without a grain o_roof, that the counterattraction was Farfrae; and therefore he would not mak_p his mind. Yet to Elizabeth-Jane it was plain as the town-pump that Donal_nd Lucetta were incipient lovers. More than once, in spite of her care, Lucetta had been unable to restrain her glance from flitting across int_arfrae's eyes like a bird to its nest. But Henchard was constructed upon to_arge a scale to discern such minutiae as these by an evening light, which t_im were as the notes of an insect that lie above the compass of the huma_ar.
But he was disturbed. And the sense of occult rivalry in suitorship was s_uch superadded to the palpable rivalry of their business lives. To the coars_ateriality of that rivalry it added an inflaming soul.
The thus vitalized antagonism took the form of action by Henchard sending fo_opp, the manager originally displaced by Farfrae's arrival. Henchard ha_requently met this man about the streets, observed that his clothing spoke o_eediness, heard that he lived in Mixen Lane—a back slum of the town, the pi_ller of Casterbridge domiciliation—itself almost a proof that a man ha_eached a stage when he would not stick at trifles.
Jopp came after dark, by the gates of the storeyard, and felt his way throug_he hay and straw to the office where Henchard sat in solitude awaiting him.
"I am again out of a foreman," said the corn-factor. "Are you in a place?"
"Not so much as a beggar's, sir."
"How much do you ask?"
Jopp named his price, which was very moderate.
"When can you come?"
"At this hour and moment, sir," said Jopp, who, standing hands-pocketed at th_treet corner till the sun had faded the shoulders of his coat to scarecro_reen, had regularly watched Henchard in the market-place, measured him, an_earnt him, by virtue of the power which the still man has in his stillness o_nowing the busy one better than he knows himself. Jopp too, had had _onvenient experience; he was the only one in Casterbridge besides Henchar_nd the close-lipped Elizabeth who knew that Lucetta came truly from Jersey, and but proximately from Bath. "I know Jersey too, sir," he said. "Was livin_here when you used to do business that way. O yes—have often seen ye there."
"Indeed! Very good. Then the thing is settled. The testimonials you showed m_hen you first tried for't are sufficient."
That characters deteriorated in time of need possibly did not occur t_enchard. Jopp said, "Thank you," and stood more firmly, in the consciousnes_hat at last he officially belonged to that spot.
"Now," said Henchard, digging his strong eyes into Jopp's face, "one thing i_ecessary to me, as the biggest corn-and-hay dealer in these parts. Th_cotchman, who's taking the town trade so bold into his hands, must be cu_ut. D'ye hear? We two can't live side by side—that's clear and certain."
"I've seen it all," said Jopp.
"By fair competition I mean, of course," Henchard continued. "But as hard, keen, and unflinching as fair—rather more so. By such a desperate bid agains_im for the farmers' custom as will grind him into the ground—starve him out.
I've capital, mind ye, and I can do it."
"I'm all that way of thinking," said the new foreman. Jopp's dislike o_arfrae as the man who had once ursurped his place, while it made him _illing tool, made him, at the same time, commercially as unsafe a colleagu_s Henchard could have chosen.
"I sometimes think," he added, "that he must have some glass that he sees nex_ear in. He has such a knack of making everything bring him fortune."
"He's deep beyond all honest men's discerning, but we must make him shallower.
We'll undersell him, and over-buy him, and so snuff him out."
They then entered into specific details of the process by which this would b_ccomplished, and parted at a late hour.
Elizabeth-Jane heard by accident that Jopp had been engaged by her stepfather.
She was so fully convinced that he was not the right man for the place that, at the risk of making Henchard angry, she expressed her apprehension to hi_hen they met. But it was done to no purpose. Henchard shut up her argumen_ith a sharp rebuff.
The season's weather seemed to favour their scheme. The time was in the year_mmediately before foreign competition had revolutionized the trade in grain; when still, as from the earliest ages, the wheat quotations from month t_onth depended entirely upon the home harvest. A bad harvest, or the prospec_f one, would double the price of corn in a few weeks; and the promise of _ood yield would lower it as rapidly. Prices were like the roads of th_eriod, steep in gradient, reflecting in their phases the local conditions, without engineering, levellings, or averages.
The farmer's income was ruled by the wheat-crop within his own horizon, an_he wheat-crop by the weather. Thus in person, he became a sort of flesh- barometer, with feelers always directed to the sky and wind around him. Th_ocal atmosphere was everything to him; the atmospheres of other countries _atter of indifference. The people, too, who were not farmers, the rura_ultitude, saw in the god of the weather a more important personage than the_o now. Indeed, the feeling of the peasantry in this matter was so intense a_o be almost unrealizable in these equable days. Their impulse was well-nig_o prostrate themselves in lamentation before untimely rains and tempests, which came as the Alastor of those households whose crime it was to be poor.
After midsummer they watched the weather-cocks as men waiting in antechamber_atch the lackey. Sun elated them; quiet rain sobered them; weeks of water_empest stupefied them. That aspect of the sky which they now regard a_isagreeable they then beheld as maleficent.
It was June, and the weather was very unfavourable. Casterbridge, being as i_ere the bell-board on which all the adjacent hamlets and villages sounde_heir notes, was decidedly dull. Instead of new articles in the shop-window_hose that had been rejected in the foregoing summer were brought out again; superseded reap-hooks, badly-shaped rakes, shop-worn leggings, and time- stiffened water-tights reappeared, furbished up as near to new as possible.
Henchard, backed by Jopp, read a disastrous garnering, and resolved to bas_is strategy against Farfrae upon that reading. But before acting h_ished—what so many have wished—that he could know for certain what was a_resent only strong probability. He was superstitious—as such head-stron_atures often are—and he nourished in his mind an idea bearing on the matter; an idea he shrank from disclosing even to Jopp.
In a lonely hamlet a few miles from the town—so lonely that what are calle_onely villages were teeming by comparison—there lived a man of curious reput_s a forecaster or weather-prophet. The way to his house was crooked an_iry—even difficult in the present unpropitious season. One evening when i_as raining so heavily that ivy and laurel resounded like distant musketry, and an out-door man could be excused for shrouding himself to his ears an_yes, such a shrouded figure on foot might have been perceived travelling i_he direction of the hazel-copse which dripped over the prophet's cot. Th_urnpike-road became a lane, the lane a cart-track, the cart-track a bridle- path, the bridle-path a foot-way, the foot-way overgrown. The solitary walke_lipped here and there, and stumbled over the natural springes formed by th_rambles, till at length he reached the house, which, with its garden, wa_urrounded with a high, dense hedge. The cottage, comparatively a large one, had been built of mud by the occupier's own hands, and thatched also b_imself. Here he had always lived, and here it was assumed he would die.
He existed on unseen supplies; for it was an anomalous thing that while ther_as hardly a soul in the neighbourhood but affected to laugh at this man'_ssertions, uttering the formula, "There's nothing in 'em," with ful_ssurance on the surface of their faces, very few of them were unbelievers i_heir secret hearts. Whenever they consulted him they did it "for a fancy."
When they paid him they said, "Just a trifle for Christmas," or "Candlemas,"
as the case might be.
He would have preferred more honesty in his clients, and less sham ridicule; but fundamental belief consoled him for superficial irony. As stated, he wa_nabled to live; people supported him with their backs turned. He wa_ometimes astonished that men could profess so little and believe so much a_is house, when at church they professed so much and believed so little.
Behind his back he was called "Wide-oh," on account of his reputation; to hi_ace "Mr." Fall.
The hedge of his garden formed an arch over the entrance, and a door wa_nserted as in a wall. Outside the door the tall traveller stopped, bandage_is face with a handkerchief as if he were suffering from toothache, and wen_p the path. The window shutters were not closed, and he could see the prophe_ithin, preparing his supper.
In answer to the knock Fall came to the door, candle in hand. The visito_tepped back a little from the light, and said, "Can I speak to 'ee?" i_ignificant tones. The other's invitation to come in was responded to by th_ountry formula, "This will do, thank 'ee," after which the householder had n_lternative but to come out. He placed the candle on the corner of th_resser, took his hat from a nail, and joined the stranger in the porch, shutting the door behind him.
"I've long heard that you can—do things of a sort?" began the other, repressing his individuality as much as he could.
"Maybe so, Mr. Henchard," said the weather-caster.
"Ah—why do you call me that?" asked the visitor with a start.
"Because it's your name. Feeling you'd come I've waited for 'ee; and thinkin_ou might be leery from your walk I laid two supper plates—look ye here." H_hrew open the door and disclosed the supper-table, at which appeared a secon_hair, knife and fork, plate and mug, as he had declared.
Henchard felt like Saul at his reception by Samuel; he remained in silence fo_ few moments, then throwing off the disguise of frigidity which he ha_itherto preserved he said, "Then I have not come in vain… .Now, for instance, can ye charm away warts?"
"Cure the evil?"
"That I've done—with consideration—if they will wear the toad-bag by night a_ell as by day."
"Forecast the weather?"
"With labour and time."
"Then take this," said Henchard. "'Tis a crownpiece. Now, what is the harves_ortnight to be? When can I know?'
"I've worked it out already, and you can know at once." (The fact was tha_ive farmers had already been there on the same errand from different parts o_he country.) "By the sun, moon, and stars, by the clouds, the winds, th_rees, and grass, the candle-flame and swallows, the smell of the herbs; likewise by the cats' eyes, the ravens, the leeches, the spiders, and th_ungmixen, the last fortnight in August will be—rain and tempest."
"You are not certain, of course?"
"As one can be in a world where all's unsure. 'Twill be more like living i_evelations this autumn than in England. Shall I sketch it out for 'ee in _cheme?"
"O no, no," said Henchard. "I don't altogether believe in forecasts, come t_econd thoughts on such. But I—"
"You don't—you don't—'tis quite understood," said Wide-oh, without a sound o_corn. "You have given me a crown because you've one too many. But won't yo_oin me at supper, now 'tis waiting and all?"
Henchard would gladly have joined; for the savour of the stew had floated fro_he cottage into the porch with such appetizing distinctness that the meat, the onions, the pepper, and the herbs could be severally recognized by hi_ose. But as sitting down to hob-and-nob there would have seemed to mark hi_oo implicitly as the weather-caster's apostle, he declined, and went his way.
The next Saturday Henchard bought grain to such an enormous extent that ther_as quite a talk about his purchases among his neighbours the lawyer, the win_erchant, and the doctor; also on the next, and on all available days. Whe_is granaries were full to choking all the weather-cocks of Casterbridg_reaked and set their faces in another direction, as if tired of the south- west. The weather changed; the sunlight, which had been like tin for weeks, assumed the hues of topaz. The temperament of the welkin passed from th_hlegmatic to the sanguine; an excellent harvest was almost a certainty; an_s a consequence prices rushed down.
All these transformations, lovely to the outsider, to the wrong-headed corn- dealer were terrible. He was reminded of what he had well known before, that _an might gamble upon the square green areas of fields as readily as upo_hose of a card-room.
Henchard had backed bad weather, and apparently lost. He had mistaken the tur_f the flood for the turn of the ebb. His dealings had been so extensive tha_ettlement could not long be postponed, and to settle he was obliged to sel_ff corn that he had bought only a few weeks before at figures higher by man_hillings a quarter. Much of the corn he had never seen; it had not even bee_oved from the ricks in which it lay stacked miles away. Thus he lost heavily.
In the blaze of an early August day he met Farfrae in the market-place.
Farfrae knew of his dealings (though he did not guess their intended bearin_n himself) and commiserated him; for since their exchange of words in th_outh Walk they had been on stiffly speaking terms. Henchard for the momen_ppeared to resent the sympathy; but he suddenly took a careless turn.
"Ho, no, no!—nothing serious, man!" he cried with fierce gaiety. "These thing_lways happen, don't they? I know it has been said that figures have touche_e tight lately; but is that anything rare? The case is not so bad as fol_ake out perhaps. And dammy, a man must be a fool to mind the common hazard_f trade!"
But he had to enter the Casterbridge Bank that day for reasons which had neve_efore sent him there—and to sit a long time in the partners' room with _onstrained bearing. It was rumoured soon after that much real property a_ell as vast stores of produce, which had stood in Henchard's name in the tow_nd neighbourhood, was actually the possession of his bankers.
Coming down the steps of the bank he encountered Jopp. The gloomy transaction_ust completed within had added fever to the original sting of Farfrae'_ympathy that morning, which Henchard fancied might be a satire disguised s_hat Jopp met with anything but a bland reception. The latter was in the ac_f taking off his hat to wipe his forehead, and saying, "A fine hot day," t_n acquaintance.
"You can wipe and wipe, and say, 'A fine hot day,' can ye!" cried Henchard i_ savage undertone, imprisoning Jopp between himself and the bank wall. "If i_adn't been for your blasted advice it might have been a fine day enough! Wh_id ye let me go on, hey?—when a word of doubt from you or anybody would hav_ade me think twice! For you can never be sure of weather till 'tis past."
"My advice, sir, was to do what you thought best."
"A useful fellow! And the sooner you help somebody else in that way th_etter!" Henchard continued his address to Jopp in similar terms till it ende_n Jopp s dismissal there and then, Henchard turning upon his heel and leavin_im.
"You shall be sorry for this, sir; sorry as a man can be!" said Jopp, standin_ale, and looking after the corn-merchant as he disappeared in the crowd o_arket-men hard by.