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Chapter 26

  • 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?
  • "Yes."
  • "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?"
  • "Without trouble."
  • "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.