When Elizabeth-Jane opened the hinged casement next morning the mellow ai_rought in the feel of imminent autumn almost as distinctly as if she had bee_n the remotest hamlet. Casterbridge was the complement of the rural lif_round, not its urban opposite. Bees and butterflies in the cornfields at th_op of the town, who desired to get to the meads at the bottom, took n_ircuitous course, but flew straight down High Street without any apparen_onsciousness that they were traversing strange latitudes. And in autumn air_pheres of thistledown floated into the same street, lodged upon the sho_ronts, blew into drains, and innumerable tawny and yellow leaves skimme_long the pavement, and stole through people's doorways into their passage_ith a hesitating scratch on the floor, like the skirts of timid visitors.
Hearing voices, one of which was close at hand, she withdrew her head an_lanced from behind the window-curtains. Mr. Henchard—now habited no longer a_ great personage, but as a thriving man of business—was pausing on his way u_he middle of the street, and the Scotchman was looking from the windo_djoining her own. Henchard it appeared, had gone a little way past the in_efore he had noticed his acquaintance of the previous evening. He came back _ew steps, Donald Farfrae opening the window further.
"And you are off soon, I suppose?" said Henchard upwards.
"Yes—almost this moment, sir," said the other. "Maybe I'll walk on till th_oach makes up on me."
"The way ye are going."
"Then shall we walk together to the top o' town?"
"If ye'll wait a minute," said the Scotchman.
In a few minutes the latter emerged, bag in hand. Henchard looked at the ba_s at an enemy. It showed there was no mistake about the young man'_eparture. "Ah, my lad," he said, "you should have been a wise man, and hav_tayed with me."
"Yes, yes—it might have been wiser," said Donald, looking microscopically a_he houses that were furthest off. "It is only telling ye the truth when I sa_y plans are vague."
They had by this time passed on from the precincts of the inn, and Elizabeth- Jane heard no more. She saw that they continued in conversation, Henchar_urning to the other occasionally, and emphasizing some remark with a gesture.
Thus they passed the King's Arms Hotel, the Market House, St. Peter'_hurchyard wall, ascending to the upper end of the long street till they wer_mall as two grains of corn; when they bent suddenly to the right into th_ristol Road, and were out of view.
"He was a good man—and he's gone," she said to herself. "I was nothing to him, and there was no reason why he should have wished me good-bye."
The simple thought, with its latent sense of slight, had moulded itself out o_he following little fact: when the Scotchman came out at the door he had b_ccident glanced up at her; and then he had looked away again without nodding, or smiling, or saying a word.
"You are still thinking, mother," she said, when she turned inwards.
"Yes; I am thinking of Mr. Henchard's sudden liking for that young man. He wa_lways so. Now, surely, if he takes so warmly to people who are not related t_im at all, may he not take as warmly to his own kin?"
While they debated this question a procession of five large waggons went past, laden with hay up to the bedroom windows. They came in from the country, an_he steaming horses had probably been travelling a great part of the night. T_he shaft of each hung a little board, on which was painted in white letters,
"Henchard, corn-factor and hay-merchant." The spectacle renewed his wife'_onviction that, for her daughter's sake, she should strain a point to rejoi_im.
The discussion was continued during breakfast, and the end of it was that Mrs.
Henchard decided, for good or for ill, to send Elizabeth-Jane with a messag_o Henchard, to the effect that his relative Susan, a sailor's widow, was i_he town; leaving it to him to say whether or not he would recognize her. Wha_ad brought her to this determination were chiefly two things. He had bee_escribed as a lonely widower; and he had expressed shame for a pas_ransaction of his life. There was promise in both.
"If he says no," she enjoined, as Elizabeth-Jane stood, bonnet on, ready t_epart; "if he thinks it does not become the good position he has reached t_n the town, to own—to let us call on him as—his distant kinfolk, say, 'Then, sir, we would rather not intrude; we will leave Casterbridge as quietly as w_ave come, and go back to our own country.'… I almost feel that I would rathe_e did say so, as I have not seen him for so many years, and we are so—littl_llied to him!"
"And if he say yes?" inquired the more sanguine one.
"In that case," answered Mrs. Henchard cautiously, "ask him to write me _ote, saying when and how he will see us—or ME."
Elizabeth-Jane went a few steps towards the landing. "And tell him," continue_er mother, "that I fully know I have no claim upon him—that I am glad to fin_e is thriving; that I hope his life may be long and happy—there, go." Thu_ith a half-hearted willingness, a smothered reluctance, did the poo_orgiving woman start her unconscious daughter on this errand.
It was about ten o'clock, and market-day, when Elizabeth paced up the Hig_treet, in no great hurry; for to herself her position was only that of a poo_elation deputed to hunt up a rich one. The front doors of the private house_ere mostly left open at this warm autumn time, no thought of umbrell_tealers disturbing the minds of the placid burgesses. Hence, through th_ong, straight, entrance passages thus unclosed could be seen, as throug_unnels, the mossy gardens at the back, glowing with nasturtiums, fuchsias, scarlet geraniums, "bloody warriors," snapdragons, and dahlias, this flora_laze being backed by crusted grey stone-work remaining from a yet remote_asterbridge than the venerable one visible in the street. The old-fashione_ronts of these houses, which had older than old-fashioned backs, rose shee_rom the pavement, into which the bow windows protruded like bastions, necessitating a pleasing chassez-dechassez movement to the time-presse_edestrian at every few yards. He was bound also to evolve other Terpsichorea_igures in respect of door-steps, scrapers, cellar-hatches, church buttresses, and the overhanging angles of walls which, originally unobtrusive, had becom_ow-legged and knock-kneed.
In addition to these fixed obstacles which spoke so cheerfully of individua_nrestraint as to boundaries, movables occupied the path and roadway to _erplexing extent. First the vans of the carriers in and out of Casterbridge, who hailed from Mellstock, Weatherbury, The Hintocks, Sherton-Abbas, Kingsbere, Overcombe, and many other towns and villages round. Their owner_ere numerous enough to be regarded as a tribe, and had almost distinctivenes_nough to be regarded as a race. Their vans had just arrived, and were draw_p on each side of the street in close file, so as to form at places a wal_etween the pavement and the roadway. Moreover every shop pitched out half it_ontents upon trestles and boxes on the kerb, extending the display each wee_ little further and further into the roadway, despite the expostulations o_he two feeble old constables, until there remained but a tortuous defile fo_arriages down the centre of the street, which afforded fine opportunities fo_kill with the reins. Over the pavement on the sunny side of the way hun_hopblinds so constructed as to give the passenger's hat a smart buffet of_is head, as from the unseen hands of Cranstoun's Goblin Page, celebrated i_omantic lore.
Horses for sale were tied in rows, their forelegs on the pavement, their hin_egs in the street, in which position they occasionally nipped little boys b_he shoulder who were passing to school. And any inviting recess in front of _ouse that had been modestly kept back from the general line was utilized b_ig-dealers as a pen for their stock.
The yeomen, farmers, dairymen, and townsfolk, who came to transact business i_hese ancient streets, spoke in other ways than by articulation. Not to hea_he words of your interlocutor in metropolitan centres is to know nothing o_is meaning. Here the face, the arms, the hat, the stick, the body throughou_poke equally with the tongue. To express satisfaction the Casterbridg_arket-man added to his utterance a broadening of the cheeks, a crevicing o_he eyes, a throwing back of the shoulders, which was intelligible from th_ther end of the street. If he wondered, though all Henchard's carts an_aggons were rattling past him, you knew it from perceiving the inside of hi_rimson mouth, and a target-like circling of his eyes. Deliberation cause_undry attacks on the moss of adjoining walls with the end of his stick, _hange of his hat from the horizontal to the less so; a sense of tediousnes_nnounced itself in a lowering of the person by spreading the knees to _ozenge-shaped aperture and contorting the arms. Chicanery, subterfuge, ha_ardly a place in the streets of this honest borough to all appearance; and i_as said that the lawyers in the Court House hard by occasionally threw i_trong arguments for the other side out of pure generosity (though apparentl_y mischance) when advancing their own.
Thus Casterbridge was in most respects but the pole, focus, or nerve-knot o_he surrounding country life; differing from the many manufacturing town_hich are as foreign bodies set down, like boulders on a plain, in a gree_orld with which they have nothing in common. Casterbridge lived b_griculture at one remove further from the fountainhead than the adjoinin_illages—no more. The townsfolk understood every fluctuation in the rustic'_ondition, for it affected their receipts as much as the labourer's; the_ntered into the troubles and joys which moved the aristocratic families te_iles round—for the same reason. And even at the dinner-parties of th_rofessional families the subjects of discussion were corn, cattle-disease, sowing and reaping, fencing and planting; while politics were viewed by the_ess from their own standpoint of burgesses with rights and privileges tha_rom the standpoint of their country neighbours.
All the venerable contrivances and confusions which delighted the eye by thei_uaintness, and in a measure reasonableness, in this rare old market-town, were metropolitan novelties to the unpractised eyes of Elizabeth-Jane, fres_rom netting fish-seines in a seaside cottage. Very little inquiry wa_ecessary to guide her footsteps. Henchard's house was one of the best, face_ith dull red-and-grey old brick. The front door was open, and, as in othe_ouses, she could see through the passage to the end of the garden—nearly _uarter of a mile off.
Mr. Henchard was not in the house, but in the store-yard. She was conducte_nto the mossy garden, and through a door in the wall, which was studded wit_usty nails speaking of generations of fruit-trees that had been traine_here. The door opened upon the yard, and here she was left to find him as sh_ould. It was a place flanked by hay-barns, into which tons of fodder, all i_russes, were being packed from the waggons she had seen pass the inn tha_orning. On other sides of the yard were wooden granaries on stone staddles, to which access was given by Flemish ladders, and a store-house several floor_igh. Wherever the doors of these places were open, a closely packed throng o_ursting wheat-sacks could be seen standing inside, with the air of awaiting _amine that would not come.
She wandered about this place, uncomfortably conscious of the impendin_nterview, till she was quite weary of searching; she ventured to inquire of _oy in what quarter Mr. Henchard could be found. He directed her to an offic_hich she had not seen before, and knocking at the door she was answered by _ry of "Come in."
Elizabeth turned the handle; and there stood before her, bending over som_ample-bags on a table, not the corn-merchant, but the young Scotchman Mr.
Farfrae—in the act of pouring some grains of wheat from one hand to the other.
His hat hung on a peg behind him, and the roses of his carpet-bag glowed fro_he corner of the room.
Having toned her feelings and arranged words on her lips for Mr. Henchard, an_or him alone, she was for the moment confounded.
"Yes, what it is?" said the Scotchman, like a man who permanently ruled there.
She said she wanted to see Mr. Henchard.
"Ah, yes; will you wait a minute? He's engaged just now," said the young man, apparently not recognizing her as the girl at the inn. He handed her a chair, bade her sit down and turned to his sample-bags again. While Elizabeth-Jan_its waiting in great amaze at the young man's presence we may briefly explai_ow he came there.
When the two new acquaintances had passed out of sight that morning toward_he Bath and Bristol road they went on silently, except for a fe_ommonplaces, till they had gone down an avenue on the town walls called th_halk Walk, leading to an angle where the North and West escarpments met. Fro_his high corner of the square earthworks a vast extent of country could b_een. A footpath ran steeply down the green slope, conducting from the shad_romenade on the walls to a road at the bottom of the scarp. It was by thi_ath the Scotchman had to descend.
"Well, here's success to 'ee," said Henchard, holding out his right hand an_eaning with his left upon the wicket which protected the descent. In the ac_here was the inelegance of one whose feelings are nipped and wishes defeated.
"I shall often think of this time, and of how you came at the very moment t_hrow a light upon my difficulty."
Still holding the young man's hand he paused, and then added deliberately:
"Now I am not the man to let a cause be lost for want of a word. And before y_re gone for ever I'll speak. Once more, will ye stay? There it is, flat an_lain. You can see that it isn't all selfishness that makes me press 'ee; fo_y business is not quite so scientific as to require an intellect entirely ou_f the common. Others would do for the place without doubt. Some selfishnes_erhaps there is, but there is more; it isn't for me to repeat what. Come bid_ith me—and name your own terms. I'll agree to 'em willingly and 'ithout _ord of gainsaying; for, hang it, Farfrae, I like thee well!"
The young man's hand remained steady in Henchard's for a moment or two. H_ooked over the fertile country that stretched beneath them, then backwar_long the shaded walk reaching to the top of the town. His face flushed.
"I never expected this—I did not!" he said. "It's Providence! Should any on_o against it? No; I'll not go to America; I'll stay and be your man!"
His hand, which had lain lifeless in Henchard's, returned the latter's grasp.
"Done," said Henchard.
"Done," said Donald Farfrae.
The face of Mr. Henchard beamed forth a satisfaction that was almost fierce i_ts strength. "Now you are my friend!" he exclaimed. "Come back to my house; let's clinch it at once by clear terms, so as to be comfortable in our minds."
Farfrae caught up his bag and retraced the North-West Avenue in Henchard'_ompany as he had come. Henchard was all confidence now.
"I am the most distant fellow in the world when I don't care for a man," h_aid. "But when a man takes my fancy he takes it strong. Now I am sure you ca_at another breakfast? You couldn't have eaten much so early, even if they ha_nything at that place to gi'e thee, which they hadn't; so come to my hous_nd we will have a solid, staunch tuck-in, and settle terms in black-and-whit_f you like; though my word's my bond. I can always make a good meal in th_orning. I've got a splendid cold pigeon-pie going just now. You can have som_ome-brewed if you want to, you know."
"It is too airly in the morning for that," said Farfrae with a smile.
"Well, of course, I didn't know. I don't drink it because of my oath, but I a_bliged to brew for my work-people."
Thus talking they returned, and entered Henchard's premises by the back way o_raffic entrance. Here the matter was settled over the breakfast, at whic_enchard heaped the young Scotchman's plate to a prodigal fulness. He woul_ot rest satisfied till Farfrae had written for his luggage from Bristol, an_ispatched the letter to the post-office. When it was done this man of stron_mpulses declared that his new friend should take up his abode in his house—a_east till some suitable lodgings could be found.
He then took Farfrae round and showed him the place, and the stores of grain, and other stock; and finally entered the offices where the younger of them ha_lready been discovered by Elizabeth.