The next morning Henchard went to the Town Hall below Lucetta's house, t_ttend Petty Sessions, being still a magistrate for the year by virtue of hi_ate position as Mayor. In passing he looked up at her windows, but nothing o_er was to be seen.
Henchard as a Justice of the Peace may at first seem to be an even greate_ncongruity than Shallow and Silence themselves. But his rough and read_erceptions, his sledge-hammer directness, had often served him better tha_ice legal knowledge in despatching such simple business as fell to his hand_n this Court. To-day Dr. Chalkfield, the Mayor for the year, being absent,
the corn-merchant took the big chair, his eyes still abstractedly stretchin_ut of the window to the ashlar front of High-Place Hall.
There was one case only, and the offender stood before him. She was an ol_oman of mottled countenance, attired in a shawl of that nameless tertiary hu_hich comes, but cannot be made—a hue neither tawny, russet, hazel, nor ash; _ticky black bonnet that seemed to have been worn in the country of th_salmist where the clouds drop fatness; and an apron that had been white i_ime so comparatively recent as still to contrast visibly with the rest of he_lothes. The steeped aspect of the woman as a whole showed her to be no nativ_f the country-side or even of a country-town.
She looked cursorily at Henchard and the second magistrate, and Henchar_ooked at her, with a momentary pause, as if she had reminded him indistinctl_f somebody or something which passed from his mind as quickly as it had come.
"Well, and what has she been doing?" he said, looking down at the charg_heet.
"She is charged, sir, with the offence of disorderly female and nuisance,"
"Where did she do that?" said the other magistrate.
"By the church, sir, of all the horrible places in the world!—I caught her i_he act, your worship."
"Stand back then," said Henchard, "and let's hear what you've got to say."
Stubberd was sworn in, the magistrate's clerk dipped his pen, Henchard bein_o note-taker himself, and the constable began—
"Hearing a' illegal noise I went down the street at twenty-five minutes pas_leven P.M. on the night of the fifth instinct, Hannah Dominy. When I had—
"Don't go so fast, Stubberd," said the clerk.
The constable waited, with his eyes on the clerk's pen, till the latte_topped scratching and said, "yes." Stubberd continued: "When I had proceede_o the spot I saw defendant at another spot, namely, the gutter." He paused,
watching the point of the clerk's pen again.
"Gutter, yes, Stubberd."
"Spot measuring twelve feet nine inches or thereabouts from where I—" Stil_areful not to outrun the clerk's penmanship Stubberd pulled up again; fo_aving got his evidence by heart it was immaterial to him whereabouts he brok_ff.
"I object to that," spoke up the old woman, "'spot measuring twelve feet nin_r thereabouts from where I,' is not sound testimony!"
The magistrates consulted, and the second one said that the bench was o_pinion that twelve feet nine inches from a man on his oath was admissible.
Stubberd, with a suppressed gaze of victorious rectitude at the old woman,
continued: "Was standing myself. She was wambling about quite dangerous to th_horoughfare and when I approached to draw near she committed the nuisance,
and insulted me."
"'Insulted me.'… Yes, what did she say?"
"She said, 'Put away that dee lantern,' she says."
"Says she, 'Dost hear, old turmit-head? Put away that dee lantern. I hav_loored fellows a dee sight finer-looking than a dee fool like thee, you so_f a bee, dee me if I haint,' she says.
"I object to that conversation!" interposed the old woman. "I was not capabl_nough to hear what I said, and what is said out of my hearing is no_vidence."
There was another stoppage for consultation, a book was referred to, an_inally Stubberd was allowed to go on again. The truth was that the old woma_ad appeared in court so many more times than the magistrates themselves, tha_hey were obliged to keep a sharp look-out upon their procedure. However, whe_tubberd had rambled on a little further Henchard broke out impatiently,
"Come—we don't want to hear any more of them cust dees and bees! Say the word_ut like a man, and don't be so modest, Stubberd; or else leave it alone!"
Turning to the woman, "Now then, have you any questions to ask him, o_nything to say?"
"Yes," she replied with a twinkle in her eye; and the clerk dipped his pen.
"Twenty years ago or thereabout I was selling of furmity in a tent at Weydo_air——"
"'Twenty years ago'—well, that's beginning at the beginning; suppose you g_ack to the Creation!" said the clerk, not without satire.
But Henchard stared, and quite forgot what was evidence and what was not.
"A man and a woman with a little child came into my tent," the woma_ontinued. "They sat down and had a basin apiece. Ah, Lord's my life! I was o_ more respectable station in the world then than I am now, being a lan_muggler in a large way of business; and I used to season my furmity with ru_or them who asked for't. I did it for the man; and then he had more and more;
till at last he quarrelled with his wife, and offered to sell her to th_ighest bidder. A sailor came in and bid five guineas, and paid the money, an_ed her away. And the man who sold his wife in that fashion is the man sittin_here in the great big chair." The speaker concluded by nodding her head a_enchard and folding her arms.
Everybody looked at Henchard. His face seemed strange, and in tint as if i_ad been powdered over with ashes. "We don't want to hear your life an_dventures," said the second magistrate sharply, filling the pause whic_ollowed. "You've been asked if you've anything to say bearing on the case."
"That bears on the case. It proves that he's no better than I, and has n_ight to sit there in judgment upon me."
"'Tis a concocted story," said the clerk. "So hold your tongue!"
"No—'tis true." The words came from Henchard. "'Tis as true as the light," h_aid slowly. "And upon my soul it does prove that I'm no better than she! An_o keep out of any temptation to treat her hard for her revenge, I'll leav_er to you."
The sensation in the court was indescribably great. Henchard left the chair,
and came out, passing through a group of people on the steps and outside tha_as much larger than usual; for it seemed that the old furmity dealer ha_ysteriously hinted to the denizens of the lane in which she had been lodgin_ince her arrival, that she knew a queer thing or two about their great loca_an Mr. Henchard, if she chose to tell it. This had brought them hither.
"Why are there so many idlers round the Town Hall to-day?" said Lucetta to he_ervant when the case was over. She had risen late, and had just looked out o_he window.
"Oh, please, ma'am, 'tis this larry about Mr. Henchard. A woman has prove_hat before he became a gentleman he sold his wife for five guineas in a boot_t a fair."
In all the accounts which Henchard had given her of the separation from hi_ife Susan for so many years, of his belief in her death, and so on, he ha_ever clearly explained the actual and immediate cause of that separation. Th_tory she now heard for the first time.
A gradual misery overspread Lucetta's face as she dwelt upon the promise wrun_rom her the night before. At bottom, then, Henchard was this. How terrible _ontingency for a woman who should commit herself to his care.
During the day she went out to the Ring and to other places, not coming i_ill nearly dusk. As soon as she saw Elizabeth-Jane after her return indoor_he told her that she had resolved to go away from home to the seaside for _ew days—to Port-Bredy; Casterbridge was so gloomy.
Elizabeth, seeing that she looked wan and disturbed, encouraged her in th_dea, thinking a change would afford her relief. She could not help suspectin_hat the gloom which seemed to have come over Casterbridge in Lucetta's eye_ight be partially owing to the fact that Farfrae was away from home.
Elizabeth saw her friend depart for Port-Bredy, and took charge of High-Plac_all till her return. After two or three days of solitude and incessant rai_enchard called at the house. He seemed disappointed to hear of Lucetta'_bsence and though he nodded with outward indifference he went away handlin_is beard with a nettled mien.
The next day he called again. "Is she come now?" he asked.
"Yes. She returned this morning," replied his stepdaughter. "But she is no_ndoors. She has gone for a walk along the turnpike-road to Port-Bredy. Sh_ill be home by dusk."
After a few words, which only served to reveal his restless impatience, h_eft the house again.