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Chapter 36

  • Returning from her appointment Lucetta saw a man waiting by the lamp neares_o her own door. When she stopped to go in he came and spoke to her. It wa_opp.
  • He begged her pardon for addressing her. But he had heard that Mr. Farfrae ha_een applied to by a neighbouring corn-merchant to recommend a workin_artner; if so he wished to offer himself. He could give good security, an_ad stated as much to Mr. Farfrae in a letter; but he would feel much oblige_f Lucetta would say a word in his favour to her husband.
  • "It is a thing I know nothing about," said Lucetta coldly.
  • "But you can testify to my trustworthiness better than anybody, ma'am," sai_opp. "I was in Jersey several years, and knew you there by sight."
  • "Indeed," she replied. "But I knew nothing of you."
  • "I think, ma'am, that a word or two from you would secure for me what I cove_ery much," he persisted.
  • She steadily refused to have anything to do with the affair, and cutting hi_hort, because of her anxiety to get indoors before her husband should mis_er, left him on the pavement.
  • He watched her till she had vanished, and then went home. When he got there h_at down in the fireless chimney corner looking at the iron dogs, and the woo_aid across them for heating the morning kettle. A movement upstairs disturbe_im, and Henchard came down from his bedroom, where he seemed to have bee_ummaging boxes.
  • "I wish," said Henchard, "you would do me a service, Jopp, now—to-night, _ean, if you can. Leave this at Mrs. Farfrae's for her. I should take i_yself, of course, but I don't wish to be seen there."
  • He handed a package in brown paper, sealed. Henchard had been as good as hi_ord. Immediately on coming indoors he had searched over his few belongings, and every scrap of Lucetta's writing that he possessed was here. Jop_ndifferently expressed his willingness.
  • "Well, how have ye got on to-day?" his lodger asked. "Any prospect of a_pening?"
  • "I am afraid not," said Jopp, who had not told the other of his application t_arfrae.
  • "There never will be in Casterbridge," declared Henchard decisively. "You mus_oam further afield." He said goodnight to Jopp, and returned to his own par_f the house.
  • Jopp sat on till his eyes were attracted by the shadow of the candle-snuff o_he wall, and looking at the original he found that it had formed itself int_ head like a red-hot cauliflower. Henchard's packet next met his gaze. H_new there had been something of the nature of wooing between Henchard and th_ow Mrs. Farfrae; and his vague ideas on the subject narrowed themselves dow_o these: Henchard had a parcel belonging to Mrs. Farfrae, and he had reason_or not returning that parcel to her in person. What could be inside it? So h_ent on and on till, animated by resentment at Lucetta's haughtiness, as h_hought it, and curiosity to learn if there were any weak sides to thi_ransaction with Henchard, he examined the package. The pen and all it_elations being awkward tools in Henchard's hands he had affixed the seal_ithout an impression, it never occurring to him that the efficacy of such _astening depended on this. Jopp was far less of a tyro; he lifted one of th_eals with his penknife, peeped in at the end thus opened, saw that the bundl_onsisted of letters; and, having satisfied himself thus far, sealed up th_nd again by simply softening the wax with the candle, and went off with th_arcel as requested.
  • His path was by the river-side at the foot of the town. Coming into the ligh_t the bridge which stood at the end of High Street he beheld lounging thereo_other Cuxsom and Nance Mockridge.
  • "We be just going down Mixen Lane way, to look into Peter's finger afor_reeping to bed," said Mrs. Cuxsom. "There's a fiddle and tambourine going o_here. Lord, what's all the world—do ye come along too, Jopp—'twon't hinder y_ive minutes."
  • Jopp had mostly kept himself out of this company, but present circumstance_ade him somewhat more reckless than usual, and without many words he decide_o go to his destination that way.
  • Though the upper part of Durnover was mainly composed of a curious congerie_f barns and farm-steads, there was a less picturesque side to the parish.
  • This was Mixen Lane, now in great part pulled down.
  • Mixen Lane was the Adullam of all the surrounding villages. It was the hiding- place of those who were in distress, and in debt, and trouble of every kind.
  • Farm-labourers and other peasants, who combined a little poaching with thei_arming, and a little brawling and bibbing with their poaching, foun_hemselves sooner or later in Mixen Lane. Rural mechanics too idle t_echanize, rural servants too rebellious to serve, drifted or were forced int_ixen Lane.
  • The lane and its surrounding thicket of thatched cottages stretched out like _pit into the moist and misty lowland. Much that was sad, much that was low, some things that were baneful, could be seen in Mixen Lane. Vice ran freely i_nd out certain of the doors in the neighbourhood; recklessness dwelt unde_he roof with the crooked chimney; shame in some bow-windows; theft (in time_f privation) in the thatched and mud-walled houses by the sallows. Eve_laughter had not been altogether unknown here. In a block of cottages up a_lley there might have been erected an altar to disease in years gone by. Suc_as Mixen Lane in the times when Henchard and Farfrae were Mayors.
  • Yet this mildewed leaf in the sturdy and flourishing Casterbridge plant la_lose to the open country; not a hundred yards from a row of noble elms, an_ommanding a view across the moor of airy uplands and corn-fields, an_ansions of the great. A brook divided the moor from the tenements, and t_utward view there was no way across it—no way to the houses but round abou_y the road. But under every householder's stairs there was kept a mysteriou_lank nine inches wide; which plank was a secret bridge.
  • If you, as one of those refugee householders, came in from business afte_ark—and this was the business time here—you stealthily crossed the moor, approached the border of the aforesaid brook, and whistled opposite the hous_o which you belonged. A shape thereupon made its appearance on the other sid_earing the bridge on end against the sky; it was lowered; you crossed, and _and helped you to land yourself, together with the pheasants and hare_athered from neighbouring manors. You sold them slily the next morning, an_he day after you stood before the magistrates with the eyes of all you_ympathizing neighbours concentrated on your back. You disappeared for a time; then you were again found quietly living in Mixen Lane.
  • Walking along the lane at dusk the stranger was struck by two or thre_eculiar features therein. One was an intermittent rumbling from the bac_remises of the inn half-way up; this meant a skittle alley. Another was th_xtensive prevalence of whistling in the various domiciles—a piped note o_ome kind coming from nearly every open door. Another was the frequency o_hite aprons over dingy gowns among the women around the doorways. A whit_pron is a suspicious vesture in situations where spotlessness is difficult; moreover, the industry and cleanliness which the white apron expressed wer_elied by the postures and gaits of the women who wore it—their knuckles bein_ostly on their hips (an attitude which lent them the aspect of two-handle_ugs), and their shoulders against door-posts; while there was a curiou_lacrity in the turn of each honest woman's head upon her neck and in th_wirl of her honest eyes, at any noise resembling a masculine footfall alon_he lane.
  • Yet amid so much that was bad needy respectability also found a home. Unde_ome of the roofs abode pure and virtuous souls whose presence there was du_o the iron hand of necessity, and to that alone. Families from decaye_illages—families of that once bulky, but now nearly extinct, section o_illage society called "liviers," or lifeholders—copyholders and others, whos_oof-trees had fallen for some reason or other, compelling them to quit th_ural spot that had been their home for generations—came here, unless the_hose to lie under a hedge by the wayside.
  • The inn called Peter's finger was the church of Mixen Lane.
  • It was centrally situate, as such places should be, and bore about the sam_ocial relation to the Three Mariners as the latter bore to the King's Arms.
  • At first sight the inn was so respectable as to be puzzling. The front doo_as kept shut, and the step was so clean that evidently but few person_ntered over its sanded surface. But at the corner of the public-house was a_lley, a mere slit, dividing it from the next building. Half-way up the alle_as a narrow door, shiny and paintless from the rub of infinite hands an_houlders. This was the actual entrance to the inn.
  • A pedestrian would be seen abstractedly passing along Mixen Lane; and then, i_ moment, he would vanish, causing the gazer to blink like Ashton at th_isappearance of Ravenswood. That abstracted pedestrian had edged into th_lit by the adroit fillip of his person sideways; from the slit he edged int_he tavern by a similar exercise of skill.
  • The company at the Three Mariners were persons of quality in comparison wit_he company which gathered here; though it must be admitted that the lowes_ringe of the Mariner's party touched the crest of Peter's at points. Waif_nd strays of all sorts loitered about here. The landlady was a virtuous woma_ho years ago had been unjustly sent to gaol as an accessory to something o_ther after the fact. She underwent her twelvemonth, and had worn a martyr'_ountenance ever since, except at times of meeting the constable wh_pprehended her, when she winked her eye.
  • To this house Jopp and his acquaintances had arrived. The settles on whic_hey sat down were thin and tall, their tops being guyed by pieces of twine t_ooks in the ceiling; for when the guests grew boisterous the settles woul_ock and overturn without some such security. The thunder of bowls echoed fro_he backyard; swingels hung behind the blower of the chimney; and ex-poacher_nd ex-gamekeepers, whom squires had persecuted without a cause, sat elbowin_ach other—men who in past times had met in fights under the moon, till laps_f sentences on the one part, and loss of favour and expulsion from service o_he other, brought them here together to a common level, where they sat calml_iscussing old times.
  • "Dost mind how you could jerk a trout ashore with a bramble, and not ruffl_he stream, Charl?" a deposed keeper was saying. "'Twas at that I caught 'e_nce, if you can mind?"
  • "That I can. But the worst larry for me was that pheasant business at Yalbur_ood. Your wife swore false that time, Joe—O, by Gad, she did—there's n_enying it."
  • "How was that?" asked Jopp.
  • "Why—Joe closed wi' me, and we rolled down together, close to his garde_edge. Hearing the noise, out ran his wife with the oven pyle, and it bein_ark under the trees she couldn't see which was uppermost. 'Where beest thee, Joe, under or top?' she screeched. 'O—under, by Gad!' says he. She then bega_o rap down upon my skull, back, and ribs with the pyle till we'd roll ove_gain. 'Where beest now, dear Joe, under or top?' she'd scream again. B_eorge, 'twas through her I was took! And then when we got up in hall sh_ware that the cock pheasant was one of her rearing, when 'twas not your bir_t all, Joe; 'twas Squire Brown's bird—that's whose 'twas—one that we'd picke_ff as we passed his wood, an hour afore. It did hurt my feelings to be s_ronged!… Ah well—'tis over now."
  • "I might have had 'ee days afore that," said the keeper. "I was within a fe_ards of 'ee dozens of times, with a sight more of birds than that poor one."
  • "Yes—'tis not our greatest doings that the world gets wind of," said th_urmity-woman, who, lately settled in this purlieu, sat among the rest. Havin_ravelled a great deal in her time she spoke with cosmopolitan largeness o_dea. It was she who presently asked Jopp what was the parcel he kept s_nugly under his arm.
  • "Ah, therein lies a grand secret," said Jopp. "It is the passion of love. T_hink that a woman should love one man so well, and hate another s_nmercifully."
  • "Who's the object of your meditation, sir?"
  • "One that stands high in this town. I'd like to shame her! Upon my life,
  • 'twould be as good as a play to read her love-letters, the proud piece of sil_nd wax-work! For 'tis her love-letters that I've got here."
  • "Love letters? then let's hear 'em, good soul," said Mother Cuxsom. "Lord, d_e mind, Richard, what fools we used to be when we were younger? Getting _choolboy to write ours for us; and giving him a penny, do ye mind, not t_ell other folks what he'd put inside, do ye mind?"
  • By this time Jopp had pushed his finger under the seals, and unfastened th_etters, tumbling them over and picking up one here and there at random, whic_e read aloud. These passages soon began to uncover the secret which Lucett_ad so earnestly hoped to keep buried, though the epistles, being allusiv_nly, did not make it altogether plain.
  • "Mrs. Farfrae wrote that!" said Nance Mockridge. "'Tis a humbling thing fo_s, as respectable women, that one of the same sex could do it. And now she'_vowed herself to another man!"
  • "So much the better for her," said the aged furmity-woman. "Ah, I saved he_rom a real bad marriage, and she's never been the one to thank me."
  • "I say, what a good foundation for a skimmity-ride," said Nance.
  • "True," said Mrs. Cuxsom, reflecting. "'Tis as good a ground for a skimmity- ride as ever I knowed; and it ought not to be wasted. The last one seen i_asterbridge must have been ten years ago, if a day."
  • At this moment there was a shrill whistle, and the landlady said to the ma_ho had been called Charl, "'Tis Jim coming in. Would ye go and let down th_ridge for me?"
  • Without replying Charl and his comrade Joe rose, and receiving a lantern fro_er went out at the back door and down the garden-path, which ended abruptl_t the edge of the stream already mentioned. Beyond the stream was the ope_oor, from which a clammy breeze smote upon their faces as they advanced.
  • Taking up the board that had lain in readiness one of them lowered it acros_he water, and the instant its further end touched the ground footstep_ntered upon it, and there appeared from the shade a stalwart man with strap_ound his knees, a double-barrelled gun under his arm and some birds slung u_ehind him. They asked him if he had had much luck.
  • "Not much," he said indifferently. "All safe inside?"
  • Receiving a reply in the affirmative he went on inwards, the other_ithdrawing the bridge and beginning to retreat in his rear. Before, however, they had entered the house a cry of "Ahoy" from the moor led them to pause.
  • The cry was repeated. They pushed the lantern into an outhouse, and went bac_o the brink of the stream.
  • "Ahoy—is this the way to Casterbridge?" said some one from the other side.
  • "Not in particular," said Charl. "There's a river afore 'ee."
  • "I don't care—here's for through it!" said the man in the moor. "I've ha_ravelling enough for to-day."
  • "Stop a minute, then," said Charl, finding that the man was no enemy. "Joe, bring the plank and lantern; here's somebody that's lost his way. You shoul_ave kept along the turnpike road, friend, and not have strook across here."
  • "I should—as I see now. But I saw a light here, and says I to myself, that'_n outlying house, depend on't."
  • The plank was now lowered; and the stranger's form shaped itself from th_arkness. He was a middle-aged man, with hair and whiskers prematurely grey, and a broad and genial face. He had crossed on the plank without hesitation, and seemed to see nothing odd in the transit. He thanked them, and walke_etween them up the garden. "What place is this?" he asked, when they reache_he door.
  • "A public-house."
  • "Ah, perhaps it will suit me to put up at. Now then, come in and wet you_histle at my expense for the lift over you have given me."
  • They followed him into the inn, where the increased light exhibited him as on_ho would stand higher in an estimate by the eye than in one by the ear. H_as dressed with a certain clumsy richness—his coat being furred, and his hea_overed by a cap of seal-skin, which, though the nights were chilly, must hav_een warm for the daytime, spring being somewhat advanced. In his hand h_arried a small mahogany case, strapped, and clamped with brass.
  • Apparently surprised at the kind of company which confronted him through th_itchen door, he at once abandoned his idea of putting up at the house; bu_aking the situation lightly, he called for glasses of the best, paid for the_s he stood in the passage, and turned to proceed on his way by the fron_oor. This was barred, and while the landlady was unfastening it th_onversation about the skimmington was continued in the sitting-room, an_eached his ears.
  • "What do they mean by a 'skimmity-ride'?" he asked.
  • "O, sir!" said the landlady, swinging her long earrings with deprecatin_odesty; "'tis a' old foolish thing they do in these parts when a man's wif_s—well, not too particularly his own. But as a respectable householder _on't encourage it.
  • "Still, are they going to do it shortly? It is a good sight to see, _uppose?"
  • "Well, sir!" she simpered. And then, bursting into naturalness, and glancin_rom the corner of her eye, "'Tis the funniest thing under the sun! And i_osts money."
  • "Ah! I remember hearing of some such thing. Now I shall be in Casterbridge fo_wo or three weeks to come, and should not mind seeing the performance. Wait _oment." He turned back, entered the sitting-room, and said, "Here, goo_olks; I should like to see the old custom you are talking of, and I don'_ind being something towards it—take that." He threw a sovereign on the tabl_nd returned to the landlady at the door, of whom, having inquired the wa_nto the town, he took his leave.
  • "There were more where that one came from," said Charl when the sovereign ha_een taken up and handed to the landlady for safe keeping. "By George! w_ught to have got a few more while we had him here."
  • "No, no," answered the landlady. "This is a respectable house, thank God! An_'ll have nothing done but what's honourable."
  • "Well," said Jopp; "now we'll consider the business begun, and will soon ge_t in train."
  • "We will!" said Nance. "A good laugh warms my heart more than a cordial, an_hat's the truth on't."
  • Jopp gathered up the letters, and it being now somewhat late he did no_ttempt to call at Farfrae's with them that night. He reached home, seale_hem up as before, and delivered the parcel at its address next morning.
  • Within an hour its contents were reduced to ashes by Lucetta, who, poor soul!
  • was inclined to fall down on her knees in thankfulness that at last n_vidence remained of the unlucky episode with Henchard in her past. For thoug_ers had been rather the laxity of inadvertence than of intention, tha_pisode, if known, was not the less likely to operate fatally between hersel_nd her husband.