The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Chapter 30.

Farfrae’s words to his landlady had referred to the removal of his boxes and other effects from his late lodgings to Lucetta’s house. The work was not heavy, but it had been much hindered on account of the frequent pauses necessitated by exclamations of surprise at the event, of which the good woman had been briefly informed by letter a few hours earlier.

At the last moment of leaving Port-Bredy, Farfrae, like John Gilpin, had been detained by important customers, whom, even in the exceptional circumstances, he was not the man to neglect. Moreover, there was a convenience in Lucetta arriving first at her house. Nobody there as yet knew what had happened; and she was best in a position to break the news to the inmates, and give directions for her husband’s accommodation. He had, therefore, sent on his two-days’ bride in a hired brougham, whilst he went across the country to a certain group of wheat and barley ricks a few miles off, telling her the hour at which he might be expected the same evening. This accounted for her trotting out to meet him after their separation of four hours.

By a strenuous effort, after leaving Henchard she calmed herself in readiness to receive Donald at High-Place Hall when he came on from his lodgings. One supreme fact empowered her to this, the sense that, come what would, she had secured him. Half-an-hour after her arrival he walked in, and she met him with a relieved gladness, which a month’s perilous absence could not have intensified.

“There is one thing I have not done; and yet it is important,” she said earnestly, when she had finished talking about the adventure with the bull. “That is, broken the news of our marriage to my dear Elizabeth-Jane.”

“Ah, and you have not?” he said thoughtfully. “I gave her a lift from the barn homewards; but I did not tell her either; for I thought she might have heard of it in the town, and was keeping back her congratulations from shyness, and all that.”

“She can hardly have heard of it. But I’ll find out; I’ll go to her now. And, Donald, you don’t mind her living on with me just the same as before? She is so quiet and unassuming.”

“O no, indeed I don’t,” Farfrae answered with, perhaps, a faint awkwardness. “But I wonder if she would care to?”

“O yes!” said Lucetta eagerly. “I am sure she would like to. Besides, poor thing, she has no other home.”

Farfrae looked at her and saw that she did not suspect the secret of her more reserved friend. He liked her all the better for the blindness. “Arrange as you like with her by all means,” he said. “It is I who have come to your house, not you to mine.”

“I’ll run and speak to her,” said Lucetta.

When she got upstairs to Elizabeth-Jane’s room the latter had taken off her out-door things, and was resting over a book. Lucetta found in a moment that she had not yet learnt the news.

“I did not come down to you, Miss Templeman,” she said simply. “I was coming to ask if you had quite recovered from your fright, but I found you had a visitor. What are the bells ringing for, I wonder? And the band, too, is playing. Somebody must be married; or else they are practising for Christmas.”

Lucetta uttered a vague “Yes,” and seating herself by the other young woman looked musingly at her. “What a lonely creature you are,” she presently said; “never knowing what’s going on, or what people are talking about everywhere with keen interest. You should get out, and gossip about as other women do, and then you wouldn’t be obliged to ask me a question of that kind. Well, now, I have something to tell you.

Elizabeth-Jane said she was so glad, and made herself receptive.

“I must go rather a long way back,” said Lucetta, the difficulty of explaining herself satisfactorily to the pondering one beside her growing more apparent at each syllable. “You remember that trying case of conscience I told you of some time ago — about the first lover and the second lover?” She let out in jerky phrases a leading word or two of the story she had told.

“O yes — I remember the story of YOUR FRIEND,” said Elizabeth drily, regarding the irises of Lucetta’s eyes as though to catch their exact shade. “The two lovers — the old one and the new: how she wanted to marry the second, but felt she ought to marry the first; so that she neglected the better course to follow the evil, like the poet Ovid I’ve just been construing: ‘Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor.’”

“O no; she didn’t follow evil exactly!” said Lucetta hastily.

“But you said that she — or as I may say you”— answered Elizabeth, dropping the mask, “were in honour and conscience bound to marry the first?”

Lucetta’s blush at being seen through came and went again before she replied anxiously, “You will never breathe this, will you, Elizabeth-Jane?”

“Certainly not, if you say not.

“Then I will tell you that the case is more complicated — worse, in fact — than it seemed in my story. I and the first man were thrown together in a strange way, and felt that we ought to be united, as the world had talked of us. He was a widower, as he supposed. He had not heard of his first wife for many years. But the wife returned, and we parted. She is now dead, and the husband comes paying me addresses again, saying, ‘Now we’ll complete our purposes.’ But, Elizabeth-Jane, all this amounts to a new courtship of me by him; I was absolved from all vows by the return of the other woman.”

“Have you not lately renewed your promise?” said the younger with quiet surmise. She had divined Man Number One.

“That was wrung from me by a threat.”

“Yes, it was. But I think when any one gets coupled up with a man in the past so unfortunately as you have done she ought to become his wife if she can, even if she were not the sinning party.”

Lucetta’s countenance lost its sparkle. “He turned out to be a man I should be afraid to marry,” she pleaded. “Really afraid! And it was not till after my renewed promise that I knew it.”

“Then there is only one course left to honesty. You must remain a single woman.”

“But think again! Do consider ——”

“I am certain,” interrupted her companion hardily. “I have guessed very well who the man is. My father; and I say it is him or nobody for you.”

Any suspicion of impropriety was to Elizabeth-Jane like a red rag to a bull. Her craving for correctness of procedure was, indeed, almost vicious. Owing to her early troubles with regard to her mother a semblance of irregularity had terrors for her which those whose names are safeguarded from suspicion know nothing of. “You ought to marry Mr. Henchard or nobody — certainly not another man!” she went on with a quivering lip in whose movement two passions shared.

“I don’t admit that!” said Lucetta passionately.

“Admit it or not, it is true!”

Lucetta covered her eyes with her right hand, as if she could plead no more, holding out her left to Elizabeth-Jane.

“Why, you HAVE married him!” cried the latter, jumping up with pleasure after a glance at Lucetta’s fingers. “When did you do it? Why did you not tell me, instead of teasing me like this? How very honourable of you! He did treat my mother badly once, it seems, in a moment of intoxication. And it is true that he is stern sometimes. But you will rule him entirely, I am sure, with your beauty and wealth and accomplishments. You are the woman he will adore, and we shall all three be happy together now!”

“O, my Elizabeth-Jane!” cried Lucetta distressfully. “’Tis somebody else that I have married! I was so desperate — so afraid of being forced to anything else — so afraid of revelations that would quench his love for me, that I resolved to do it offhand, come what might, and purchase a week of happiness at any cost!”

“You — have — married Mr. Farfrae!” cried Elizabeth-Jane, in Nathan tones

Lucetta bowed. She had recovered herself.

“The bells are ringing on that account,” she said. “My husband is downstairs. He will live here till a more suitable house is ready for us; and I have told him that I want you to stay with me just as before.”

“Let me think of it alone,” the girl quickly replied, corking up the turmoil of her feeling with grand control.

“You shall. I am sure we shall be happy together.”

Lucetta departed to join Donald below, a vague uneasiness floating over her joy at seeing him quite at home there. Not on account of her friend Elizabeth did she feel it: for of the bearings of Elizabeth-Jane’s emotions she had not the least suspicion; but on Henchard’s alone.

Now the instant decision of Susan Henchard’s daughter was to dwell in that house no more. Apart from her estimate of the propriety of Lucetta’s conduct, Farfrae had been so nearly her avowed lover that she felt she could not abide there.

It was still early in the evening when she hastily put on her things and went out. In a few minutes, knowing the ground, she had found a suitable lodging, and arranged to enter it that night. Returning and entering noiselessly she took off her pretty dress and arrayed herself in a plain one, packing up the other to keep as her best; for she would have to be very economical now. She wrote a note to leave for Lucetta, who was closely shut up in the drawing-room with Farfrae; and then Elizabeth-Jane called a man with a wheel-barrow; and seeing her boxes put into it she trotted off down the street to her rooms. They were in the street in which Henchard lived, and almost opposite his door.

Here she sat down and considered the means of subsistence. The little annual sum settled on her by her stepfather would keep body and soul together. A wonderful skill in netting of all sorts — acquired in childhood by making seines in Newson’s home — might serve her in good stead; and her studies, which were pursued unremittingly, might serve her in still better.

By this time the marriage that had taken place was known throughout Casterbridge; had been discussed noisily on kerbstones, confidentially behind counters, and jovially at the Three Mariners. Whether Farfrae would sell his business and set up for a gentleman on his wife’s money, or whether he would show independence enough to stick to his trade in spite of his brilliant alliance, was a great point of interest.

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