The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Chapter 25.

The next phase of the supersession of Henchard in Lucetta’s heart was an experiment in calling on her performed by Farfrae with some apparent trepidation. Conventionally speaking he conversed with both Miss Templeman and her companion; but in fact it was rather that Elizabeth sat invisible in the room. Donald appeared not to see her at all, and answered her wise little remarks with curtly indifferent monosyllables, his looks and faculties hanging on the woman who could boast of a more Protean variety in her phases, moods, opinions, and also principles, than could Elizabeth. Lucetta had persisted in dragging her into the circle; but she had remained like an awkward third point which that circle would not touch.

Susan Henchard’s daughter bore up against the frosty ache of the treatment, as she had borne up under worse things, and contrived as soon as possible to get out of the inharmonious room without being missed. The Scotchman seemed hardly the same Farfrae who had danced with her and walked with her in a delicate poise between love and friendship — that period in the history of a love when alone it can be said to be unalloyed with pain.

She stoically looked from her bedroom window, and contemplated her fate as if it were written on the top of the church-tower hard by. “Yes,” she said at last, bringing down her palm upon the sill with a pat: “HE is the second man of that story she told me!”

All this time Henchard’s smouldering sentiments towards Lucetta had been fanned into higher and higher inflammation by the circumstances of the case. He was discovering that the young woman for whom he once felt a pitying warmth which had been almost chilled out of him by reflection, was, when now qualified with a slight inaccessibility and a more matured beauty, the very being to make him satisfied with life. Day after day proved to him, by her silence, that it was no use to think of bringing her round by holding aloof; so he gave in, and called upon her again, Elizabeth-Jane being absent.

He crossed the room to her with a heavy tread of some awkwardness, his strong, warm gaze upon her — like the sun beside the moon in comparison with Farfrae’s modest look — and with something of a hail-fellow bearing, as, indeed, was not unnatural. But she seemed so transubstantiated by her change of position, and held out her hand to him in such cool friendship, that he became deferential, and sat down with a perceptible loss of power. He understood but little of fashion in dress, yet enough to feel himself inadequate in appearance beside her whom he had hitherto been dreaming of as almost his property. She said something very polite about his being good enough to call. This caused him to recover balance. He looked her oddly in the face, losing his awe.

“Why, of course I have called, Lucetta,” he said. “What does that nonsense mean? You know I couldn’t have helped myself if I had wished — that is, if I had any kindness at all. I’ve called to say that I am ready, as soon as custom will permit, to give you my name in return for your devotion and what you lost by it in thinking too little of yourself and too much of me; to say that you can fix the day or month, with my full consent, whenever in your opinion it would be seemly: you know more of these things than I.”

“It is full early yet,” she said evasively.

“Yes, yes; I suppose it is. But you know, Lucetta, I felt directly my poor ill-used Susan died, and when I could not bear the idea of marrying again, that after what had happened between us it was my duty not to let any unnecessary delay occur before putting things to rights. Still, I wouldn’t call in a hurry, because — well, you can guess how this money you’ve come into made me feel.” His voice slowly fell; he was conscious that in this room his accents and manner wore a roughness not observable in the street. He looked about the room at the novel hangings and ingenious furniture with which she had surrounded herself.

“Upon my life I didn’t know such furniture as this could be bought in Casterbridge,” he said.

“Nor can it be “ said she. “Nor will it till fifty years more of civilization have passed over the town. It took a waggon and four horses to get it here.”

“H’m. It looks as if you were living on capital.”

“O no, I am not.”

“So much the better. But the fact is, your setting up like this makes my beaming towards you rather awkward.”

“Why?”

An answer was not really needed, and he did not furnish one. “Well,” he went on, “there’s nobody in the world I would have wished to see enter into this wealth before you, Lucetta, and nobody, I am sure, who will become it more.” He turned to her with congratulatory admiration so fervid that she shrank somewhat, notwithstanding that she knew him so well.

“I am greatly obliged to you for all that,” said she, rather with an air of speaking ritual. The stint of reciprocal feeling was perceived, and Henchard showed chagrin at once — nobody was more quick to show that than he.

“You may be obliged or not for’t. Though the things I say may not have the polish of what you’ve lately learnt to expect for the first time in your life, they are real, my lady Lucetta.”

“That’s rather a rude way of speaking to me,” pouted Lucetta, with stormy eyes.

“Not at all!” replied Henchard hotly. “But there, there, I don’t wish to quarrel with ‘ee. I come with an honest proposal for silencing your Jersey enemies, and you ought to be thankful.”

“How can you speak so!” she answered, firing quickly. “Knowing that my only crime was the indulging in a foolish girl’s passion for you with too little regard for correctness, and that I was what I call innocent all the time they called me guilty, you ought not to be so cutting! I suffered enough at that worrying time, when you wrote to tell me of your wife’s return and my consequent dismissal, and if I am a little independent now, surely the privilege is due to me!”

“Yes, it is,” he said. “But it is not by what is, in this life, but by what appears, that you are judged; and I therefore think you ought to accept me — for your own good name’s sake. What is known in your native Jersey may get known here.”

“How you keep on about Jersey! I am English!”

“Yes, yes. Well, what do you say to my proposal?”

For the first time in their acquaintance Lucetta had the move; and yet she was backward. “For the present let things be,” she said with some embarrassment. “Treat me as an acquaintance, and I’ll treat you as one. Time will —” She stopped; and he said nothing to fill the gap for awhile, there being no pressure of half acquaintance to drive them into speech if they were not minded for it.

“That’s the way the wind blows, is it?” he said at last grimly, nodding an affirmative to his own thoughts.

A yellow flood of reflected sunlight filled the room for a few instants. It was produced by the passing of a load of newly trussed hay from the country, in a waggon marked with Farfrae’s name. Beside it rode Farfrae himself on horse-back. Lucetta’s face became — as a woman’s face becomes when the man she loves rises upon her gaze like an apparition.

A turn of the eye by Henchard, a glance from the window, and the secret of her inaccessibility would have been revealed. But Henchard in estimating her tone was looking down so plumb-straight that he did not note the warm consciousness upon Lucetta’s face.

“I shouldn’t have thought it — I shouldn’t have thought it of women!” he said emphatically by-and-by, rising and shaking himself into activity; while Lucetta was so anxious to divert him from any suspicion of the truth that she asked him to be in no hurry. Bringing him some apples she insisted upon paring one for him.

He would not take it. “No, no; such is not for me,” he said drily, and moved to the door. At going out he turned his eye upon her.

“You came to live in Casterbridge entirely on my account,” he said. “Yet now you are here you won’t have anything to say to my offer!”

He had hardly gone down the staircase when she dropped upon the sofa and jumped up again in a fit of desperation. “I WILL love him!” she cried passionately; “as for HIM— he’s hot-tempered and stern, and it would be madness to bind myself to him knowing that. I won’t be a slave to the past — I’ll love where I choose!”

Yet having decided to break away from Henchard one might have supposed her capable of aiming higher than Farfrae. But Lucetta reasoned nothing: she feared hard words from the people with whom she had been earlier associated; she had no relatives left; and with native lightness of heart took kindly to what fate offered.

Elizabeth-Jane, surveying the position of Lucetta between her two lovers from the crystalline sphere of a straightforward mind, did not fail to perceive that her father, as she called him, and Donald Farfrae became more desperately enamoured of her friend every day. On Farfrae’s side it was the unforced passion of youth. On Henchard’s the artificially stimulated coveting of maturer age.

The pain she experienced from the almost absolute obliviousness to her existence that was shown by the pair of them became at times half dissipated by her sense of its humourousness. When Lucetta had pricked her finger they were as deeply concerned as if she were dying; when she herself had been seriously sick or in danger they uttered a conventional word of sympathy at the news, and forgot all about it immediately. But, as regarded Henchard, this perception of hers also caused her some filial grief; she could not help asking what she had done to be neglected so, after the professions of solicitude he had made. As regarded Farfrae, she thought, after honest reflection, that it was quite natural. What was she beside Lucetta? — as one of the “meaner beauties of the night,” when the moon had risen in the skies.

She had learnt the lesson of renunciation, and was as familiar with the wreck of each day’s wishes as with the diurnal setting of the sun. If her earthly career had taught her few book philosophies it had at least well practised her in this. Yet her experience had consisted less in a series of pure disappointments than in a series of substitutions. Continually it had happened that what she had desired had not been granted her, and that what had been granted her she had not desired. So she viewed with an approach to equanimity the new cancelled days when Donald had been her undeclared lover, and wondered what unwished-for thing Heaven might send her in place of him.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:22