Elizabeth-Jane and her mother had arrived some twenty minutes earlier. Outsid_he house they had stood and considered whether even this homely place, thoug_ecommended as moderate, might not be too serious in its prices for thei_ight pockets. Finally, however, they had found courage to enter, and duly me_tannidge the landlord, a silent man, who drew and carried frothing measure_o this room and to that, shoulder to shoulder with his waiting-maids—_tately slowness, however, entering into his ministrations by contrast wit_heirs, as became one whose service was somewhat optional. It would have bee_ltogether optional but for the orders of the landlady, a person who sat i_he bar, corporeally motionless, but with a flitting eye and quick ear, wit_hich she observed and heard through the open door and hatchway the pressin_eeds of customers whom her husband overlooked though close at hand. Elizabet_nd her mother were passively accepted as sojourners, and shown to a smal_edroom under one of the gables, where they sat down.
The principle of the inn seemed to be to compensate for the antiqu_wkwardness, crookedness, and obscurity of the passages, floors, and windows, by quantities of clean linen spread about everywhere, and this had a dazzlin_ffect upon the travellers.
"'Tis too good for us—we can't meet it!" said the elder woman, looking roun_he apartment with misgiving as soon as they were left alone.
"I fear it is, too," said Elizabeth. "But we must be respectable."
"We must pay our way even before we must be respectable," replied her mother.
"Mr. Henchard is too high for us to make ourselves known to him, I much fear; so we've only our own pockets to depend on."
"I know what I'll do," said Elizabeth-Jane after an interval of waiting, during which their needs seemed quite forgotten under the press of busines_elow. And leaving the room, she descended the stairs and penetrated to th_ar.
If there was one good thing more than another which characterized this single- hearted girl it was a willingness to sacrifice her personal comfort an_ignity to the common weal.
"As you seem busy here to-night, and mother's not well off, might I take ou_art of our accommodation by helping?" she asked of the landlady.
The latter, who remained as fixed in the arm-chair as if she had been melte_nto it when in a liquid state, and could not now be unstuck, looked the gir_p and down inquiringly, with her hands on the chair-arms. Such arrangement_s the one Elizabeth proposed were not uncommon in country villages; but, though Casterbridge was old-fashioned, the custom was well-nigh obsolete here.
The mistress of the house, however, was an easy woman to strangers, and sh_ade no objection. Thereupon Elizabeth, being instructed by nods and motion_rom the taciturn landlord as to where she could find the different things, trotted up and down stairs with materials for her own and her parent's meal.
While she was doing this the wood partition in the centre of the hous_hrilled to its centre with the tugging of a bell-pull upstairs. A bell belo_inkled a note that was feebler in sound than the twanging of wires and crank_hat had produced it.
"'Tis the Scotch gentleman," said the landlady omnisciently; and turning he_yes to Elizabeth, "Now then, can you go and see if his supper is on the tray?
If it is you can take it up to him. The front room over this."
Elizabeth-Jane, though hungry, willingly postponed serving herself awhile, an_pplied to the cook in the kitchen whence she brought forth the tray of suppe_iands, and proceeded with it upstairs to the apartment indicated. Th_ccommodation of the Three Mariners was far from spacious, despite the fai_rea of ground it covered. The room demanded by intrusive beams and rafters, partitions, passages, staircases, disused ovens, settles, and four-posters, left comparatively small quarters for human beings. Moreover, this being at _ime before home-brewing was abandoned by the smaller victuallers, and a hous_n which the twelve-bushel strength was still religiously adhered to by th_andlord in his ale, the quality of the liquor was the chief attraction of th_remises, so that everything had to make way for utensils and operations i_onnection therewith. Thus Elizabeth found that the Scotchman was located in _oom quite close to the small one that had been allotted to herself and he_other.
When she entered nobody was present but the young man himself—the same who_he had seen lingering without the windows of the King's Arms Hotel. He wa_ow idly reading a copy of the local paper, and was hardly conscious of he_ntry, so that she looked at him quite coolly, and saw how his forehead shon_here the light caught it, and how nicely his hair was cut, and the sort o_elvet-pile or down that was on the skin at the back of his neck, and how hi_heek was so truly curved as to be part of a globe, and how clearly drawn wer_he lids and lashes which hid his bent eyes.
She set down the tray, spread his supper, and went away without a word. On he_rrival below the landlady, who was as kind as she was fat and lazy, saw tha_lizabeth-Jane was rather tired, though in her earnestness to be useful sh_as waiving her own needs altogether. Mrs. Stannidge thereupon said with _onsiderate peremptoriness that she and her mother had better take their ow_uppers if they meant to have any.
Elizabeth fetched their simple provisions, as she had fetched the Scotchman's, and went up to the little chamber where she had left her mother, noiselessl_ushing open the door with the edge of the tray. To her surprise her mother, instead of being reclined on the bed where she had left her was in an erec_osition, with lips parted. At Elizabeth's entry she lifted her finger.
The meaning of this was soon apparent. The room allotted to the two women ha_t one time served as a dressing-room to the Scotchman's chamber, as wa_videnced by signs of a door of communication between them—now screwed up an_asted over with the wall paper. But, as is frequently the case with hotels o_ar higher pretensions than the Three Mariners, every word spoken in either o_hese rooms was distinctly audible in the other. Such sounds came through now.
Thus silently conjured Elizabeth deposited the tray, and her mother whispere_s she drew near, "'Tis he."
"Who?" said the girl.
The tremors in Susan Henchard's tone might have led any person but one s_erfectly unsuspicious of the truth as the girl was, to surmise some close_onnection than the admitted simple kinship as a means of accounting for them.
Two men were indeed talking in the adjoining chamber, the young Scotchman an_enchard, who, having entered the inn while Elizabeth-Jane was in the kitche_aiting for the supper, had been deferentially conducted upstairs by hos_tannidge himself. The girl noiselessly laid out their little meal, an_eckoned to her mother to join her, which Mrs. Henchard mechanically did, he_ttention being fixed on the conversation through the door.
"I merely strolled in on my way home to ask you a question about somethin_hat has excited my curiosity," said the Mayor, with careless geniality. "Bu_ see you have not finished supper."
"Ay, but I will be done in a little! Ye needn't go, sir. Take a seat. I'v_lmost done, and it makes no difference at all."
Henchard seemed to take the seat offered, and in a moment he resumed: "Well, first I should ask, did you write this?" A rustling of paper followed.
"Yes, I did," said the Scotchman.
"Then," said Henchard, "I am under the impression that we have met by acciden_hile waiting for the morning to keep an appointment with each other? My nam_s Henchard, ha'n't you replied to an advertisement for a corn-factor'_anager that I put into the paper—ha'n't you come here to see me about it?"
"No," said the Scotchman, with some surprise.
"Surely you are the man," went on Henchard insistingly, "who arranged to com_nd see me? Joshua, Joshua, Jipp—Jopp—what was his name?"
"You're wrong!" said the young man. "My name is Donald Farfrae. It is true _m in the corren trade—but I have replied to no advertisement, and arranged t_ee no one. I am on my way to Bristol—from there to the other side of th_arrld, to try my fortune in the great wheat-growing districts of the West! _ave some inventions useful to the trade, and there is no scope for developin_hem heere."
"To America—well, well," said Henchard, in a tone of disappointment, so stron_s to make itself felt like a damp atmosphere. "And yet I could have sworn yo_ere the man!"
The Scotchman murmured another negative, and there was a silence, til_enchard resumed: "Then I am truly and sincerely obliged to you for the fe_ords you wrote on that paper."
"It was nothing, sir."
"Well, it has a great importance for me just now. This row about my grow_heat, which I declare to Heaven I didn't know to be bad till the people cam_omplaining, has put me to my wits' end. I've some hundreds of quarters of i_n hand; and if your renovating process will make it wholesome, why, you ca_ee what a quag 'twould get me out of. I saw in a moment there might be trut_n it. But I should like to have it proved; and of course you don't care t_ell the steps of the process sufficiently for me to do that, without m_aying ye well for't first."
The young man reflected a moment or two. "I don't know that I have an_bjection," he said. "I'm going to another country, and curing bad corn is no_he line I'll take up there. Yes, I'll tell ye the whole of it—you'll mak_ore out of it heere than I will in a foreign country. Just look heere _inute, sir. I can show ye by a sample in my carpet-bag."
The click of a lock followed, and there was a sifting and rustling; then _iscussion about so many ounces to the bushel, and drying, and refrigerating, and so on.
"These few grains will be sufficient to show ye with," came in the youn_ellow's voice; and after a pause, during which some operation seemed to b_ntently watched by them both, he exclaimed, "There, now, do you taste that."
"It's complete!—quite restored, or—well—nearly."
"Quite enough restored to make good seconds out of it," said the Scotchman.
"To fetch it back entirely is impossible; Nature won't stand so much as that, but heere you go a great way towards it. Well, sir, that's the process, _on't value it, for it can be but of little use in countries where the weathe_s more settled than in ours; and I'll be only too glad if it's of service t_ou."
"But hearken to me," pleaded Henchard. "My business you know, is in corn an_n hay, but I was brought up as a hay-trusser simply, and hay is what _nderstand best though I now do more in corn than in the other. If you'l_ccept the place, you shall manage the corn branch entirely, and receive _ommission in addition to salary."
"You're liberal—very liberal, but no, no—I cannet!" the young man stil_eplied, with some distress in his accents.
"So be it!" said Henchard conclusively. "Now—to change the subject—one goo_urn deserves another; don't stay to finish that miserable supper. Come to m_ouse, I can find something better for 'ee than cold ham and ale."
Donald Farfrae was grateful—said he feared he must decline—that he wished t_eave early next day.
"Very well," said Henchard quickly, "please yourself. But I tell you, youn_an, if this holds good for the bulk, as it has done for the sample, you hav_aved my credit, stranger though you be. What shall I pay you for thi_nowledge?"
"Nothing at all, nothing at all. It may not prove necessary to ye to use i_ften, and I don't value it at all. I thought I might just as well let y_now, as you were in a difficulty, and they were harrd upon ye."
Henchard paused. "I shan't soon forget this," he said. "And from a stranger!… I couldn't believe you were not the man I had engaged! Says I to myself, 'H_nows who I am, and recommends himself by this stroke.' And yet it turns out, after all, that you are not the man who answered my advertisement, but _tranger!"
"Ay, ay; that's so," said the young man.
Henchard again suspended his words, and then his voice came thoughtfully:
"Your forehead, Farfrae, is something like my poor brother's—now dead an_one; and the nose, too, isn't unlike his. You must be, what—five foot nine, _eckon? I am six foot one and a half out of my shoes. But what of that? In m_usiness, 'tis true that strength and bustle build up a firm. But judgment an_nowledge are what keep it established. Unluckily, I am bad at science, Farfrae; bad at figures—a rule o' thumb sort of man. You are just th_everse—I can see that. I have been looking for such as you these two year, and yet you are not for me. Well, before I go, let me ask this: Though you ar_ot the young man I thought you were, what's the difference? Can't ye sta_ust the same? Have you really made up your mind about this American notion? _on't mince matters. I feel you would be invaluable to me—that needn't b_aid—and if you will bide and be my manager, I will make it worth your while."
"My plans are fixed," said the young man, in negative tones. "I have formed _cheme, and so we need na say any more about it. But will you not drink wit_e, sir? I find this Casterbridge ale warreming to the stomach."
"No, no; I fain would, but I can't," said Henchard gravely, the scraping o_is chair informing the listeners that he was rising to leave. "When I was _oung man I went in for that sort of thing too strong—far too strong—and wa_ell-nigh ruined by it! I did a deed on account of it which I shall be ashame_f to my dying day. It made such an impression on me that I swore, there an_hen, that I'd drink nothing stronger than tea for as many years as I was ol_hat day. I have kept my oath; and though, Farfrae, I am sometimes that dry i_he dog days that I could drink a quarter-barrel to the pitching, I think o'
my oath, and touch no strong drink at all."
"I'll no' press ye, sir—I'll no' press ye. I respect your vow.
"Well, I shall get a manager somewhere, no doubt," said Henchard, with stron_eeling in his tones. "But it will be long before I see one that would suit m_o well!"
The young man appeared much moved by Henchard's warm convictions of his value.
He was silent till they reached the door. "I wish I could stay—sincerely _ould like to," he replied. "But no—it cannet be! it cannet! I want to see th_arrld."