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Chapter 28

  • 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,"
  • whispered Stubberd.
  • "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."
  • "Yes."
  • "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.