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Chapter 3

  • The highroad into the village of Weydon-Priors was again carpeted with dust.
  • The trees had put on as of yore their aspect of dingy green, and where th_enchard family of three had once walked along, two persons not unconnecte_ith the family walked now.
  • The scene in its broad aspect had so much of its previous character, even t_he voices and rattle from the neighbouring village down, that it might fo_hat matter have been the afternoon following the previously recorded episode.
  • Change was only to be observed in details; but here it was obvious that a lon_rocession of years had passed by. One of the two who walked the road was sh_ho had figured as the young wife of Henchard on the previous occasion; no_er face had lost much of its rotundity; her skin had undergone a textura_hange; and though her hair had not lost colour it was considerably thinne_han heretofore. She was dressed in the mourning clothes of a widow. He_ompanion, also in black, appeared as a well-formed young woman abou_ighteen, completely possessed of that ephemeral precious essence youth, whic_s itself beauty, irrespective of complexion or contour.
  • A glance was sufficient to inform the eye that this was Susan Henchard'_rown-up daughter. While life's middle summer had set its hardening mark o_he mother's face, her former spring-like specialities were transferred s_exterously by Time to the second figure, her child, that the absence o_ertain facts within her mother's knowledge from the girl's mind would hav_eemed for the moment, to one reflecting on those facts, to be a curiou_mperfection in Nature's powers of continuity.
  • They walked with joined hands, and it could be perceived that this was the ac_f simple affection. The daughter carried in her outer hand a withy basket o_ld-fashioned make; the mother a blue bundle, which contrasted oddly with he_lack stuff gown.
  • Reaching the outskirts of the village they pursued the same track as formerly,
  • and ascended to the fair. Here, too it was evident that the years had told.
  • Certain mechanical improvements might have been noticed in the roundabouts an_igh-fliers, machines for testing rustic strength and weight, and in th_rections devoted to shooting for nuts. But the real business of the fair ha_onsiderably dwindled. The new periodical great markets of neighbouring town_ere beginning to interfere seriously with the trade carried on here fo_enturies. The pens for sheep, the tie-ropes for horses, were about half a_ong as they had been. The stalls of tailors, hosiers, coopers, linen-drapers,
  • and other such trades had almost disappeared, and the vehicles were far les_umerous. The mother and daughter threaded the crowd for some little distance,
  • and then stood still.
  • "Why did we hinder our time by coming in here? I thought you wished to ge_nward?" said the maiden.
  • "Yes, my dear Elizabeth-Jane," explained the other. "But I had a fancy fo_ooking up here."
  • "Why?"
  • "It was here I first met with Newson—on such a day as this."
  • "First met with father here? Yes, you have told me so before. And now he'_rowned and gone from us!" As she spoke the girl drew a card from her pocke_nd looked at it with a sigh. It was edged with black, and inscribed within _esign resembling a mural tablet were the words, "In affectionate memory o_ichard Newson, mariner, who was unfortunately lost at sea, in the month o_ovember 184—, aged forty-one years."
  • "And it was here," continued her mother, with more hesitation, "that I las_aw the relation we are going to look for—Mr. Michael Henchard."
  • "What is his exact kin to us, mother? I have never clearly had it told me."
  • "He is, or was—for he may be dead—a connection by marriage," said her mothe_eliberately.
  • "That's exactly what you have said a score of times before!" replied the youn_oman, looking about her inattentively. "He's not a near relation, I suppose?"
  • "Not by any means."
  • "He was a hay-trusser, wasn't he, when you last heard of him?
  • "He was."
  • "I suppose he never knew me?" the girl innocently continued.
  • Mrs. Henchard paused for a moment, and answered un-easily, "Of course not,
  • Elizabeth-Jane. But come this way." She moved on to another part of the field.
  • "It is not much use inquiring here for anybody, I should think," the daughte_bserved, as she gazed round about. "People at fairs change like the leaves o_rees; and I daresay you are the only one here to-day who was here all thos_ears ago."
  • "I am not so sure of that," said Mrs. Newson, as she now called herself,
  • keenly eyeing something under a green bank a little way off. "See there."
  • The daughter looked in the direction signified. The object pointed out was _ripod of sticks stuck into the earth, from which hung a three-legged crock,
  • kept hot by a smouldering wood fire beneath. Over the pot stooped an old woma_aggard, wrinkled, and almost in rags. She stirred the contents of the po_ith a large spoon, and occasionally croaked in a broken voice, "Good furmit_old here!"
  • It was indeed the former mistress of the furmity tent—once thriving, cleanly,
  • white-aproned, and chinking with money—now tentless, dirty, owning no table_r benches, and having scarce any customers except two small whity-brown boys,
  • who came up and asked for "A ha'p'orth, please—good measure," which she serve_n a couple of chipped yellow basins of commonest clay.
  • "She was here at that time," resumed Mrs. Newson, making a step as if to dra_earer.
  • "Don't speak to her—it isn't respectable!" urged the other.
  • "I will just say a word—you, Elizabeth-Jane, can stay here."
  • The girl was not loth, and turned to some stalls of coloured prints while he_other went forward. The old woman begged for the latter's custom as soon a_he saw her, and responded to Mrs. Henchard-Newson's request for a pennywort_ith more alacrity than she had shown in selling six-pennyworths in he_ounger days. When the soi-disant widow had taken the basin of thin poor slo_hat stood for the rich concoction of the former time, the hag opened a littl_asket behind the fire, and looking up slily, whispered, "Just a thought o'
  • rum in it?—smuggled, you know—say two penn'orth—'twill make it slip down lik_ordial!"
  • Her customer smiled bitterly at this survival of the old trick, and shook he_ead with a meaning the old woman was far from translating. She pretended t_at a little of the furmity with the leaden spoon offered, and as she did s_aid blandly to the hag, "You've seen better days?"
  • "Ah, ma'am—well ye may say it!" responded the old woman, opening the sluice_f her heart forthwith. "I've stood in this fair-ground, maid, wife, an_idow, these nine-and-thirty years, and in that time have known what it was t_o business with the richest stomachs in the land! Ma'am you'd hardly believ_hat I was once the owner of a great pavilion-tent that was the attraction o_he fair. Nobody could come, nobody could go, without having a dish of Mrs.
  • Goodenough's furmity. I knew the clergy's taste, the dandy gent's taste; _new the town's taste, the country's taste. I even knowed the taste of th_oarse shameless females. But Lord's my life—the world's no memory;
  • straightforward dealings don't bring profit—'tis the sly and the underhan_hat get on in these times!"
  • Mrs. Newson glanced round—her daughter was still bending over the distan_talls. "Can you call to mind," she said cautiously to the old woman, "th_ale of a wife by her husband in your tent eighteen years ago to-day?"
  • The hag reflected, and half shook her head. "If it had been a big thing _hould have minded it in a moment," she said. "I can mind every serious figh_' married parties, every murder, every manslaughter, even every pocket-
  • picking—leastwise large ones—that 't has been my lot to witness. But _elling? Was it done quiet-like?"
  • "Well, yes. I think so."
  • The furmity woman half shook her head again. "And yet," she said, "I do. A_ny rate, I can mind a man doing something o' the sort—a man in a cord jacket,
  • with a basket of tools; but, Lord bless ye, we don't gi'e it head-room, w_on't, such as that. The only reason why I can mind the man is that he cam_ack here to the next year's fair, and told me quite private-like that if _oman ever asked for him I was to say he had gon_o—where?—Casterbridge—yes—to Casterbridge, said he. But, Lord's my life, _houldn't ha' thought of it again!"
  • Mrs. Newson would have rewarded the old woman as far as her small mean_fforded had she not discreetly borne in mind that it was by that unscrupulou_erson's liquor her husband had been degraded. She briefly thanked he_nformant, and rejoined Elizabeth, who greeted her with, "Mother, do let's ge_n—it was hardly respectable for you to buy refreshments there. I see none bu_he lowest do."
  • "I have learned what I wanted, however," said her mother quietly. "The las_ime our relative visited this fair he said he was living at Casterbridge. I_s a long, long way from here, and it was many years ago that he said it, bu_here I think we'll go."
  • With this they descended out of the fair, and went onward to the village,
  • where they obtained a night's lodging.