Henchard went home. The morning having now fully broke he lit his fire, and sat abstractedly beside it. He had not sat there long when a gentle footstep approached the house and entered the passage, a finger tapping lightly at the door. Henchard's face brightened, for he knew the motions to be Elizabeth's. She came into his room, looking wan and sad.
"Have you heard?" she asked. "Mrs. Farfrae! She is — dead! Yes, indeed — about an hour ago!"
"I know it," said Henchard. "I have but lately come in from there. It is so very good of 'ee, Elizabeth, to come and tell me. You must be so tired out, too, with sitting up. Now do you bide here with me this morning. You can go and rest in the other room; and I will call 'ee when breakfast is ready."
To please him, and herself — for his recent kindliness was winning a surprised gratitude from the lonely girl — she did as he bade her, and lay down on a sort of couch which Henchard had rigged up out of a settle in the adjoining room. She could hear him moving about in his preparations; but her mind ran most strongly on Lucetta, whose death in such fulness of life and amid such cheerful hopes of maternity was appallingly unexpected. Presently she fell asleep.
Meanwhile her stepfather in the outer room had set the breakfast in readiness; but finding that she dozed he would not call her; he waited on, looking into the fire and keeping the kettle boiling with house-wifely care, as if it were an honour to have her in his house. In truth, a great change had come over him with regard to her, and he was developing the dream of a future lit by her filial presence, as though that way alone could happiness lie.
He was disturbed by another knock at the door, and rose to open it, rather deprecating a call from anybody just then. A stoutly built man stood on the doorstep, with an alien, unfamiliar air about his figure and bearing — an air which might have been called colonial by people of cosmopolitan experience. It was the man who had asked the way at Peter's finger. Henchard nodded, and looked inquiry.
"Good morning, good morning," said the stranger with profuse heartiness. "Is it Mr. Henchard I am talking to?"
"My name is Henchard."
"Then I've caught 'ee at home — that's right. Morning's the time for business, says I. Can I have a few words with you?"
"By all means," Henchard answered, showing the way in.
"You may remember me?" said his visitor, seating himself.
Henchard observed him indifferently, and shook his head.
"Well — perhaps you may not. My name is Newson."
Henchard's face and eyes seemed to die. The other did not notice it. "I know the name well," Henchard said at last, looking on the floor.
"I make no doubt of that. Well, the fact is, I've been looking for 'ee this fortnight past. I landed at Havenpool and went through Casterbridge on my way to Falmouth, and when I got there, they told me you had some years before been living at Casterbridge. Back came I again, and by long and by late I got here by coach, ten minutes ago. 'He lives down by the mill,' says they. So here I am. Now — that transaction between us some twenty years agone — 'tis that I've called about. 'Twas a curious business. I was younger then than I am now, and perhaps the less said about it, in one sense, the better."
"Curious business! 'Twas worse than curious. I cannot even allow that I'm the man you met then. I was not in my senses, and a man's senses are himself."
"We were young and thoughtless," said Newson. "However, I've come to mend matters rather than open arguments. Poor Susan — hers was a strange experience."
"She was a warm-hearted, home-spun woman. She was not what they call shrewd or sharp at all — better she had been."
"She was not."
"As you in all likelihood know, she was simple-minded enough to think that the sale was in a way binding. She was as guiltless o' wrong-doing in that particular as a saint in the clouds."
"I know it, I know it. I found it out directly," said Henchard, still with averted eyes. "There lay the sting o't to me. If she had seen it as what it was she would never have left me. Never! But how should she be expected to know? What advantages had she? None. She could write her own name, and no more."