At this date there prevailed in Casterbridge a convivial custom—scarcel_ecognized as such, yet none the less established. On the afternoon of ever_unday a large contingent of the Casterbridge journeymen—steady churchgoer_nd sedate characters—having attended service, filed from the church door_cross the way to the Three Mariners Inn. The rear was usually brought up b_he choir, with their bass-viols, fiddles, and flutes under their arms.
The great point, the point of honour, on these sacred occasions was for eac_an to strictly limit himself to half-a-pint of liquor. This scrupulosity wa_o well understood by the landlord that the whole company was served in cup_f that measure. They were all exactly alike—straight-sided, with two leafles_ime-trees done in eel-brown on the sides—one towards the drinker's lips, th_ther confronting his comrade. To wonder how many of these cups the landlor_ossessed altogether was a favourite exercise of children in the marvellous.
Forty at least might have been seen at these times in the large room, formin_ ring round the margin of the great sixteen-legged oak table, like th_onolithic circle of Stonehenge in its pristine days. Outside and above th_orty cups came a circle of forty smoke-jets from forty clay pipes; outsid_he pipes the countenances of the forty church-goers, supported at the back b_ circle of forty chairs.
The conversation was not the conversation of week-days, but a thing altogethe_iner in point and higher in tone. They invariably discussed the sermon, dissecting it, weighing it, as above or below the average—the general tendenc_eing to regard it as a scientific feat or performance which had no relatio_o their own lives, except as between critics and the thing criticized. Th_ass-viol player and the clerk usually spoke with more authority than the res_n account of their official connection with the preacher.
Now the Three Mariners was the inn chosen by Henchard as the place for closin_is long term of dramless years. He had so timed his entry as to be wel_stablished in the large room by the time the forty church-goers entered t_heir customary cups. The flush upon his face proclaimed at once that the vo_f twenty-one years had lapsed, and the era of recklessness begun anew. He wa_eated on a small table, drawn up to the side of the massive oak boar_eserved for the churchmen, a few of whom nodded to him as they took thei_laces and said, "How be ye, Mr. Henchard? Quite a stranger here."
Henchard did not take the trouble to reply for a few moments, and his eye_ested on his stretched-out legs and boots. "Yes," he said at length; "that'_rue. I've been down in spirit for weeks; some of ye know the cause. I a_etter now, but not quite serene. I want you fellows of the choir to strike u_ tune; and what with that and this brew of Stannidge's, I am in hopes o_etting altogether out of my minor key."
"With all my heart," said the first fiddle. "We've let back our strings, that's true, but we can soon pull 'em up again. Sound A, neighbours, and giv_he man a stave."
"I don't care a curse what the words be," said Henchard. "Hymns, ballets, o_antipole rubbish; the Rogue's March or the cherubim's warble—'tis all th_ame to me if 'tis good harmony, and well put out."
"Well—heh, heh—it may be we can do that, and not a man among us that have sa_n the gallery less than twenty year," said the leader of the band. "As 'ti_unday, neighbours, suppose we raise the Fourth Psa'am, to Samuel Wakely'_une, as improved by me?"
"Hang Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by thee!" said Henchard. "Chuck acros_ne of your psalters—old Wiltshire is the only tune worth singing—the psalm- tune that would make my blood ebb and flow like the sea when I was a stead_hap. I'll find some words to fit en." He took one of the psalters and bega_urning over the leaves.
Chancing to look out of the window at that moment he saw a flock of peopl_assing by, and perceived them to be the congregation of the upper church, no_ust dismissed, their sermon having been a longer one than that the lowe_arish was favoured with. Among the rest of the leading inhabitants walked Mr.
Councillor Farfrae with Lucetta upon his arm, the observed and imitated of al_he smaller tradesmen's womankind. Henchard's mouth changed a little, and h_ontinued to turn over the leaves.
"Now then," he said, "Psalm the Hundred-and-Ninth, to the tune of Wiltshire: verses ten to fifteen. I gi'e ye the words:
"His seed shall orphans be, his wife
A widow plunged in grief;
His vagrant children beg their bread
Where none can give relief.
His ill-got riches shall be made
To usurers a prey;
The fruit of all his toil shall be
By strangers borne away.
None shall be found that to his wants
Their mercy will extend,
Or to his helpless orphan seed
The least assistance lend.
A swift destruction soon shall seize
On his unhappy race;
And the next age his hated name
Shall utterly deface."
"I know the Psa'am—I know the Psa'am!" said the leader hastily; "but I woul_s lief not sing it. 'Twasn't made for singing. We chose it once when th_ipsy stole the pa'son's mare, thinking to please him, but pa'son were quit_pset. Whatever Servant David were thinking about when he made a Psalm tha_obody can sing without disgracing himself, I can't fathom! Now then, th_ourth Psalm, to Samuel Wakely's tune, as improved by me."
"'Od seize your sauce—I tell ye to sing the Hundred-and-Ninth to Wiltshire, and sing it you shall!" roared Henchard. "Not a single one of all the dronin_rew of ye goes out of this room till that Psalm is sung!" He slipped off th_able, seized the poker, and going to the door placed his back against it.
"Now then, go ahead, if you don't wish to have your cust pates broke!"
"Don't 'ee, don't'ee take on so!—As 'tis the Sabbath-day, and 'tis Servan_avid's words and not ours, perhaps we don't mind for once, hey?" said one o_he terrified choir, looking round upon the rest. So the instruments wer_uned and the comminatory verses sung.
"Thank ye, thank ye," said Henchard in a softened voice, his eyes growin_owncast, and his manner that of a man much moved by the strains. "Don't yo_lame David," he went on in low tones, shaking his head without raising hi_yes. "He knew what he was about when he wrote that!… If I could afford it, b_anged if I wouldn't keep a church choir at my own expense to play and sing t_e at these low, dark times of my life. But the bitter thing is, that when _as rich I didn't need what I could have, and now I be poor I can't have wha_ need!"
While they paused, Lucetta and Farfrae passed again, this time homeward, i_eing their custom to take, like others, a short walk out on the highway an_ack, between church and tea-time. "There's the man we've been singing about,"
The players and singers turned their heads and saw his meaning. "Heave_orbid!" said the bass-player.
"'Tis the man," repeated Henchard doggedly.
"Then if I'd known," said the performer on the clarionet solemnly, "that 'twa_eant for a living man, nothing should have drawn out of my wynd-pipe th_reath for that Psalm, so help me!
"Nor from mine," said the first singer. "But, thought I, as it was made s_ong ago perhaps there isn't much in it, so I'll oblige a neighbour; fo_here's nothing to be said against the tune."
"Ah, my boys, you've sung it," said Henchard triumphantly. "As for him, it wa_artly by his songs that he got over me, and heaved me out… .I could doubl_im up like that—and yet I don't." He laid the poker across his knee, bent i_s if it were a twig, flung it down, and came away from the door.
It was at this time that Elizabeth-Jane, having heard where her stepfathe_as, entered the room with a pale and agonized countenance. The choir and th_est of the company moved off, in accordance with their half-pint regulation.
Elizabeth-Jane went up to Henchard, and entreated him to accompany her home.
By this hour the volcanic fires of his nature had burnt down, and having drun_o great quantity as yet he was inclined to acquiesce. She took his arm, an_ogether they went on. Henchard walked blankly, like a blind man, repeating t_imself the last words of the singers—
"And the next age his hated name
Shall utterly deface."
At length he said to her, "I am a man to my word. I have kept my oath fo_wenty-one years; and now I can drink with a good conscience… .If I don't d_or him—well, I am a fearful practical joker when I choose! He has taken awa_verything from me, and by heavens, if I meet him I won't answer for m_eeds!"
These half-uttered words alarmed Elizabeth—all the more by reason of the stil_etermination of Henchard's mien.
"What will you do?" she asked cautiously, while trembling with disquietude, and guessing Henchard's allusion only too well.
Henchard did not answer, and they went on till they had reached his cottage.
"May I come in?" she said.
"No, no; not to-day," said Henchard; and she went away; feeling that t_aution Farfrae was almost her duty, as it was certainly her strong desire.
As on the Sunday, so on the week-days, Farfrae and Lucetta might have bee_een flitting about the town like two butterflies—or rather like a bee and _utterfly in league for life. She seemed to take no pleasure in going anywher_xcept in her husband's company; and hence when business would not permit hi_o waste an afternoon she remained indoors waiting for the time to pass til_is return, her face being visible to Elizabeth-Jane from her window aloft.
The latter, however, did not say to herself that Farfrae should be thankfu_or such devotion, but, full of her reading, she cited Rosalind's exclamation:
"Mistress, know yourself; down on your knees and thank Heaven fasting for _ood man's love."
She kept her eye upon Henchard also. One day he answered her inquiry for hi_ealth by saying that he could not endure Abel Whittle's pitying eyes upon hi_hile they worked together in the yard. "He is such a fool," said Henchard,
"that he can never get out of his mind the time when I was master there."
"I'll come and wimble for you instead of him, if you will allow me," said she.
Her motive on going to the yard was to get an opportunity of observing th_eneral position of affairs on Farfrae's premises now that her stepfather wa_ workman there. Henchard's threats had alarmed her so much that she wished t_ee his behaviour when the two were face to face.
For two or three days after her arrival Donald did not make any appearance.
Then one afternoon the green door opened, and through came, first Farfrae, an_t his heels Lucetta. Donald brought his wife forward without hesitation, i_eing obvious that he had no suspicion whatever of any antecedents in commo_etween her and the now journeyman hay-trusser.
Henchard did not turn his eyes toward either of the pair, keeping them fixe_n the bond he twisted, as if that alone absorbed him. A feeling of delicacy, which ever prompted Farfrae to avoid anything that might seem like triumphin_ver a fallen rivel, led him to keep away from the hay-barn where Henchard an_is daughter were working, and to go on to the corn department. Meanwhil_ucetta, never having been informed that Henchard had entered her husband'_ervice, rambled straight on to the barn, where she came suddenly upo_enchard, and gave vent to a little "Oh!" which the happy and busy Donald wa_oo far off to hear. Henchard, with withering humility of demeanour, touche_he brim of his hat to her as Whittle and the rest had done, to which sh_reathed a dead-alive "Good afternoon."
"I beg your pardon, ma'am?" said Henchard, as if he had not heard.
"I said good afternoon," she faltered.
"O yes, good afternoon, ma'am," he replied, touching his hat again. "I am gla_o see you, ma'am." Lucetta looked embarrassed, and Henchard continued: "Fo_e humble workmen here feel it a great honour that a lady should look in an_ake an interest in us."
She glanced at him entreatingly; the sarcasm was too bitter, too unendurable.
"Can you tell me the time, ma'am?" he asked.
"Yes," she said hastily; "half-past four."
"Thank 'ee. An hour and a half longer before we are released from work. Ah, ma'am, we of the lower classes know nothing of the gay leisure that such a_ou enjoy!"
As soon as she could do so Lucetta left him, nodded and smiled to Elizabeth- Jane, and joined her husband at the other end of the enclosure, where sh_ould be seen leading him away by the outer gates, so as to avoid passin_enchard again. That she had been taken by surprise was obvious. The result o_his casual rencounter was that the next morning a note was put int_enchard's hand by the postman.
"Will you," said Lucetta, with as much bitterness as she could put into _mall communication, "will you kindly undertake not to speak to me in th_iting undertones you used to-day, if I walk through the yard at any time? _ear you no ill-will, and I am only too glad that you should have employmen_f my dear husband; but in common fairness treat me as his wife, and do no_ry to make me wretched by covert sneers. I have committed no crime, and don_ou no injury.
"Poor fool!" said Henchard with fond savagery, holding out the note. "To kno_o better than commit herself in writing like this! Why, if I were to sho_hat to her dear husband—pooh!" He threw the letter into the fire.
Lucetta took care not to come again among the hay and corn. She would rathe_ave died than run the risk of encountering Henchard at such close quarters _econd time. The gulf between them was growing wider every day. Farfrae wa_lways considerate to his fallen acquaintance; but it was impossible that h_hould not, by degrees, cease to regard the ex-corn-merchant as more than on_f his other workmen. Henchard saw this, and concealed his feelings under _over of stolidity, fortifying his heart by drinking more freely at the Thre_ariners every evening.
Often did Elizabeth-Jane, in her endeavours to prevent his taking othe_iquor, carry tea to him in a little basket at five o'clock. Arriving one da_n this errand she found her stepfather was measuring up clover-seed and rape- seed in the corn-stores on the top floor, and she ascended to him. Each floo_ad a door opening into the air under a cat-head, from which a chain dangle_or hoisting the sacks.
When Elizabeth's head rose through the trap she perceived that the upper doo_as open, and that her stepfather and Farfrae stood just within it i_onversation, Farfrae being nearest the dizzy edge, and Henchard a little wa_ehind. Not to interrupt them she remained on the steps without raising he_ead any higher. While waiting thus she saw—or fancied she saw, for she had _error of feeling certain—her stepfather slowly raise his hand to a leve_ehind Farfrae's shoulders, a curious expression taking possession of hi_ace. The young man was quite unconscious of the action, which was so indirec_hat, if Farfrae had observed it, he might almost have regarded it as an idl_utstretching of the arm. But it would have been possible, by a comparativel_ight touch, to push Farfrae off his balance, and send him head over heel_nto the air.
Elizabeth felt quite sick at heart on thinking of what this MIGHT have meant.
As soon as they turned she mechanically took the tea to Henchard, left it, an_ent away. Reflecting, she endeavoured to assure herself that the movement wa_n idle eccentricity, and no more. Yet, on the other hand, his subordinat_osition in an establishment where he once had been master might be acting o_im like an irritant poison; and she finally resolved to caution Donald.