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CHAPTER 35.


As Donald stated, Lucetta had retired early to her room
because of fatigue. She had, however, not gone to rest, but
sat in the bedside chair reading and thinking over the
events of the day. At the ringing of the door-bell by
Henchard she wondered who it should be that would call at
that comparatively late hour. The dining-room was almost
under her bed-room; she could hear that somebody was
admitted there, and presently the indistinct murmur of a
person reading became audible.

The usual time for Donald's arrival upstairs came and
passed, yet still the reading and conversation went on.
This was very singular. She could think of nothing but that
some extraordinary crime had been committed, and that the
visitor, whoever he might be, was reading an account of it
from a special edition of the Casterbridge Chronicle.
At last she left the room, and descended the stairs. The
dining-room door was ajar, and in the silence of the resting
household the voice and the words were recognizable before
she reached the lower flight. She stood transfixed. Her
own words greeted her in Henchard's voice, like spirits from
the grave.

Lucetta leant upon the banister with her cheek against the
smooth hand-rail, as if she would make a friend of it in her
misery. Rigid in this position, more and more words fell
successively upon her ear. But what amazed her most was the
tone of her husband. He spoke merely in the accents of a
man who made a present of his time.

"One word," he was saying, as the crackling of paper denoted
that Henchard was unfolding yet another sheet. "Is it quite
fair to this young woman's memory to read at such length to
a stranger what was intended for your eye alone?"

"Well, yes," said Henchard. "By not giving her name I make
it an example of all womankind, and not a scandal to one."

"If I were you I would destroy them," said Farfrae, giving
more thought to the letters than he had hitherto done. "As
another man's wife it would injure the woman if it were
known.

"No, I shall not destroy them," murmured Henchard, putting
the letters away. Then he arose, and Lucetta heard no more.

She went back to her bedroom in a semi-paralyzed state. For
very fear she could not undress, but sat on the edge of the
bed, waiting. Would Henchard let out the secret in his
parting words? Her suspense was terrible. Had she confessed
all to Donald in their early acquaintance he might possibly
have got over it, and married her just the same--unlikely as
it had once seemed; but for her or any one else to tell him
now would be fatal.

The door slammed; she could hear her husband bolting it.
After looking round in his customary way he came leisurely
up the stairs. The spark in her eyes well-nigh went out
when he appeared round the bedroom door. Her gaze hung
doubtful for a moment, then to her joyous amazement she saw
that he looked at her with the rallying smile of one who had
just been relieved of a scene that was irksome. She could
hold out no longer, and sobbed hysterically.

When he had restored her Farfrae naturally enough spoke of
Henchard. "Of all men he was the least desirable as a
visitor," he said; "but it is my belief that he's just a bit
crazed. He has been reading to me a long lot of letters
relating to his past life; and I could do no less than
indulge him by listening.

This was sufficient. Henchard, then, had not told.
Henchard's last words to Farfrae, in short, as he stood on
the doorstep, had been these: "Well--I'm obliged to 'ee for
listening. I may tell more about her some day."

Finding this, she was much perplexed as to Henchard's
motives in opening the matter at all; for in such cases we
attribute to an enemy a power of consistent action which we
never find in ourselves or in our friends; and forget that
abortive efforts from want of heart are as possible to
revenge as to generosity.

Next morning Lucetta remained in bed, meditating how to
parry this incipient attack. The bold stroke of telling
Donald the truth, dimly conceived, was yet too bold; for she
dreaded lest in doing so he, like the rest of the world,
should believe that the episode was rather her fault than
her misfortune. She decided to employ persuasion--not with
Donald but with the enemy himself. It seemed the only
practicable weapon left her as a woman. Having laid her
plan she rose, and wrote to him who kept her on these
tenterhooks:--

"I overheard your interview with my husband last night, and
saw the drift of your revenge. The very thought of it
crushes me! Have pity on a distressed woman! If you could
see me you would relent. You do not know how anxiety has
told upon me lately. I will be at the Ring at the time you
leave work--just before the sun goes down. Please come that
way. I cannot rest till I have seen you face to face, and
heard from your mouth that you will carry this horse-play no
further."

To herself she said, on closing up her appeal: "If ever
tears and pleadings have served the weak to fight the
strong, let them do so now!"

With this view she made a toilette which differed from all
she had ever attempted before. To heighten her natural
attraction had hitherto been the unvarying endeavour of her
adult life, and one in which she was no novice. But now she
neglected this, and even proceeded to impair the natural
presentation. Beyond a natural reason for her slightly
drawn look, she had not slept all the previous night, and
this had produced upon her pretty though slightly worn
features the aspect of a countenance ageing prematurely from
extreme sorrow. She selected--as much from want of spirit
as design--her poorest, plainest and longest discarded
attire.

To avoid the contingency of being recognized she veiled
herself, and slipped out of the house quickly. The sun was
resting on the hill like a drop of blood on an eyelid by the
time she had got up the road opposite the amphitheatre,
which she speedily entered. The interior was shadowy, and
emphatic of the absence of every living thing.

She was not disappointed in the fearful hope with which
she awaited him. Henchard came over the top, descended and
Lucetta waited breathlessly. But having reached the arena
she saw a change in his bearing: he stood still at a little
distance from her; she could not think why.

Nor could any one else have known. The truth was that in
appointing this spot, and this hour, for the rendezvous,
Lucetta had unwittingly backed up her entreaty by the
strongest argument she could have used outside words, with
this man of moods, glooms, and superstitions. Her figure in
the midst of the huge enclosure, the unusual plainness of
her dress, her attitude of hope and appeal, so strongly
revived in his soul the memory of another ill-used woman who
had stood there and thus in bygone days, and had now passed
away into her rest, that he was unmanned, and his heart
smote him for having attempted reprisals on one of a sex so
weak. When he approached her, and before she had spoken a
word, her point was half gained.

His manner as he had come down had been one of cynical
carelessness; but he now put away his grim half-smile, and
said in a kindly subdued tone, "Goodnight t'ye. Of course I
in glad to come if you want me."

"O, thank you," she said apprehensively.

"I am sorry to see 'ee looking so ill," he stammered with
unconcealed compunction.

She shook her head. "How can you be sorry," she asked,
"when you deliberately cause it?"

"What!" said Henchard uneasily. "Is it anything I have done
that has pulled you down like that?"

"It is all your doing," she said. "I have no other grief.
My happiness would be secure enough but for your threats. O
Michael! don't wreck me like this! You might think that you
have done enough! When I came here I was a young woman; now
I am rapidly becoming an old one. Neither my husband nor
any other man will regard me with interest long."

Henchard was disarmed. His old feeling of supercilious pity
for womankind in general was intensified by this suppliant
appearing here as the double of the first. Moreover that
thoughtless want of foresight which had led to all her
trouble remained with poor Lucetta still; she had come to
meet him here in this compromising way without
perceiving the risk. Such a woman was very small deer to
hunt; he felt ashamed, lost all zest and desire to humiliate
Lucetta there and then, and no longer envied Farfrae his
bargain. He had married money, but nothing more. Henchard
was anxious to wash his hands of the game.

"Well, what do you want me to do?" he said gently. "I am
sure I shall be very willing. My reading of those letters
was only a sort of practical joke, and I revealed nothing."

"To give me back the letters and any papers you may have
that breathe of matrimony or worse."

"So be it. Every scrap shall be yours....But, between you
and me, Lucetta, he is sure to find out something of the
matter, sooner or later.

"Ah!" she said with eager tremulousness; "but not till I
have proved myself a faithful and deserving wife to him, and
then he may forgive me everything!"

Henchard silently looked at her: he almost envied Farfrae
such love as that, even now. "H'm--I hope so," he said.
"But you shall have the letters without fail. And your
secret shall be kept. I swear it."

"How good you are!--how shall I get them?"

He reflected, and said he would send them the next morning.
"Now don't doubt me," he added. "I can keep my word.



The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Category:
English Classics
Book Review:
Thomas Hardy’s masterpiece "The Mayor of Casterbridge" proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that “character is destiny”, and in writing it Hardy proved that a tragedy can be one of the most enjoyable forms of literature. As in ancient Greek tragedies, the protagonist of
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