The highroad into the village of Weydon-Priors was again
carpeted with dust. The trees had put on as of yore their
aspect of dingy green, and where the Henchard family of
three had once walked along, two persons not unconnected
with the family walked now.
The scene in its broad aspect had so much of its previous
character, even to the voices and rattle from the
neighbouring village down, that it might for that matter
have been the afternoon following the previously recorded
episode. Change was only to be observed in details; but
here it was obvious that a long procession of years had
passed by. One of the two who walked the road was she who
had figured as the young wife of Henchard on the previous
occasion; now her face had lost much of its rotundity; her
skin had undergone a textural change; and though her hair
had not lost colour it was considerably thinner than
heretofore. She was dressed in the mourning clothes of a
widow. Her companion, also in black, appeared as a well-
formed young woman about eighteen, completely possessed of
that ephemeral precious essence youth, which is itself
beauty, irrespective of complexion or contour.
A glance was sufficient to inform the eye that this was
Susan Henchard's grown-up daughter. While life's middle
summer had set its hardening mark on the mother's face, her
former spring-like specialities were transferred so
dexterously by Time to the second figure, her child, that
the absence of certain facts within her mother's knowledge
from the girl's mind would have seemed for the moment, to
one reflecting on those facts, to be a curious imperfection
in Nature's powers of continuity.
They walked with joined hands, and it could be perceived
that this was the act of simple affection. The daughter
carried in her outer hand a withy basket of old-fashioned
make; the mother a blue bundle, which contrasted oddly with
her black stuff gown.
Reaching the outskirts of the village they pursued the same
track as formerly, and ascended to the fair. Here, too it
was evident that the years had told. Certain mechanical
improvements might have been noticed in the roundabouts and
high-fliers, machines for testing rustic strength and
weight, and in the erections devoted to shooting for nuts.
But the real business of the fair had considerably dwindled.
The new periodical great markets of neighbouring towns were
beginning to interfere seriously with the trade carried on
here for centuries. The pens for sheep, the tie-ropes for
horses, were about half as long as they had been. The
stalls of tailors, hosiers, coopers, linen-drapers, and
other such trades had almost disappeared, and the vehicles
were far less numerous. The mother and daughter threaded
the crowd for some little distance, and then stood still.
"Why did we hinder our time by coming in here? I thought you
wished to get onward?" said the maiden.
"Yes, my dear Elizabeth-Jane," explained the other. "But I
had a fancy for looking up here."
"It was here I first met with Newson--on such a day as
"First met with father here? Yes, you have told me so
before. And now he's drowned and gone from us!" As she
spoke the girl drew a card from her pocket and looked at it
with a sigh. It was edged with black, and inscribed within
a design resembling a mural tablet were the words, "In
affectionate memory of Richard Newson, mariner, who was
unfortunately lost at sea, in the month of November 184--,
aged forty-one years."
"And it was here," continued her mother, with more
hesitation, "that I last saw the relation we are going to
look for--Mr. Michael Henchard."
"What is his exact kin to us, mother? I have never clearly
had it told me."
"He is, or was--for he may be dead--a connection by
marriage," said her mother deliberately.
"That's exactly what you have said a score of times before!"
replied the young woman, looking about her inattentively.
"He's not a near relation, I suppose?"
"Not by any means."
"He was a hay-trusser, wasn't he, when you last heard of
"I suppose he never knew me?" the girl innocently continued.
Mrs. Henchard paused for a moment, and answered un-easily,
"Of course not, Elizabeth-Jane. But come this way." She
moved on to another part of the field.
"It is not much use inquiring here for anybody, I should
think," the daughter observed, as she gazed round about.
"People at fairs change like the leaves of trees; and I
daresay you are the only one here to-day who was here all
those years ago."
"I am not so sure of that," said Mrs. Newson, as she now
called herself, keenly eyeing something under a green bank a
little way off. "See there."
The daughter looked in the direction signified. The object
pointed out was a tripod of sticks stuck into the earth,
from which hung a three-legged crock, kept hot by a
smouldering wood fire beneath. Over the pot stooped an old
woman haggard, wrinkled, and almost in rags. She stirred
the contents of the pot with a large spoon, and occasionally
croaked in a broken voice, "Good furmity sold here!"
It was indeed the former mistress of the furmity tent--once
thriving, cleanly, white-aproned, and chinking with money--
now tentless, dirty, owning no tables or benches, and having
scarce any customers except two small whity-brown boys, who
came up and asked for "A ha'p'orth, please--good measure,"
which she served in a couple of chipped yellow basins of
"She was here at that time," resumed Mrs. Newson, making a
step as if to draw nearer.
"Don't speak to her--it isn't respectable!" urged the other.
"I will just say a word--you, Elizabeth-Jane, can stay
The girl was not loth, and turned to some stalls of coloured
prints while her mother went forward. The old woman begged
for the latter's custom as soon as she saw her, and
responded to Mrs. Henchard-Newson's request for a penny-
worth with more alacrity than she had shown in selling six-
pennyworths in her younger days. When the soi-disant
widow had taken the basin of thin poor slop that stood for
the rich concoction of the former time, the hag opened a
little basket behind the fire, and looking up slily,
whispered, "Just a thought o' rum in it?--smuggled, you
know--say two penn'orth--'twill make it slip down like
Her customer smiled bitterly at this survival of the old
trick, and shook her head with a meaning the old woman was
far from translating. She pretended to eat a little of the
furmity with the leaden spoon offered, and as she did so
said blandly to the hag, "You've seen better days?"
"Ah, ma'am--well ye may say it!" responded the old woman,
opening the sluices of her heart forthwith. "I've stood in
this fair-ground, maid, wife, and widow, these nine-and-
thirty years, and in that time have known what it was to do
business with the richest stomachs in the land! Ma'am you'd
hardly believe that I was once the owner of a great
pavilion-tent that was the attraction of the fair. Nobody
could come, nobody could go, without having a dish of Mrs.
Goodenough's furmity. I knew the clergy's taste, the dandy
gent's taste; I knew the town's taste, the country's taste.
I even knowed the taste of the coarse shameless females.
But Lord's my life--the world's no memory; straightforward
dealings don't bring profit--'tis the sly and the underhand
that get on in these times!"
Mrs. Newson glanced round--her daughter was still bending
over the distant stalls. "Can you call to mind," she said
cautiously to the old woman, "the sale of a wife by her
husband in your tent eighteen years ago to-day?"
The hag reflected, and half shook her head. "If it had been
a big thing I should have minded it in a moment," she said.
"I can mind every serious fight o' married parties, every
murder, every manslaughter, even every pocket-picking--
leastwise large ones--that 't has been my lot to witness.
But a selling? Was it done quiet-like?"
"Well, yes. I think so."
The furmity woman half shook her head again. "And yet," she
said, "I do. At any rate, I can mind a man doing something
o' the sort--a man in a cord jacket, with a basket of tools;
but, Lord bless ye, we don't gi'e it head-room, we don't,
such as that. The only reason why I can mind the man is
that he came back here to the next year's fair, and told me
quite private-like that if a woman ever asked for him I was
to say he had gone to--where?--Casterbridge--yes--to
Casterbridge, said he. But, Lord's my life, I shouldn't ha'
thought of it again!"
Mrs. Newson would have rewarded the old woman as far as her
small means afforded had she not discreetly borne in mind
that it was by that unscrupulous person's liquor her husband
had been degraded. She briefly thanked her informant, and
rejoined Elizabeth, who greeted her with, "Mother, do let's
get on--it was hardly respectable for you to buy
refreshments there. I see none but the lowest do."
"I have learned what I wanted, however," said her mother
quietly. "The last time our relative visited this fair he
said he was living at Casterbridge. It is a long, long way
from here, and it was many years ago that he said it, but
there I think we'll go."
With this they descended out of the fair, and went onward to
the village, where they obtained a night's lodging.