"'Tis five-and-forty years since I had my settlement in this here town," said Coney; "but daze me if I ever see a man wait so long before to take so little! There's a chance even for thee after this, Nance Mockridge." The remark was addressed to a woman who stood behind his shoulder — the same who had exhibited Henchard's bad bread in public when Elizabeth and her mother entered Casterbridge.
"Be cust if I'd marry any such as he, or thee either," replied that lady. "As for thee, Christopher, we know what ye be, and the less said the better. And as for he — well, there — (lowering her voice) 'tis said 'a was a poor parish 'prentice — I wouldn't say it for all the world — but 'a was a poor parish 'prentice, that began life wi' no more belonging to 'en than a carrion crow."
"And now he's worth ever so much a minute," murmured Longways. "When a man is said to be worth so much a minute, he's a man to be considered!"
Turning, he saw a circular disc reticulated with creases, and recognized the smiling countenance of the fat woman who had asked for another song at the Three Mariners. "Well, Mother Cuxsom," he said, "how's this? Here's Mrs. Newson, a mere skellinton, has got another husband to keep her, while a woman of your tonnage have not."
"I have not. Nor another to beat me....Ah, yes, Cuxsom's gone, and so shall leather breeches!"
"Yes; with the blessing of God leather breeches shall go."
"'Tisn't worth my old while to think of another husband," continued Mrs. Cuxsom. "And yet I'll lay my life I'm as respectable born as she."
"True; your mother was a very good woman — I can mind her. She were rewarded by the Agricultural Society for having begot the greatest number of healthy children without parish assistance, and other virtuous marvels."
"'Twas that that kept us so low upon ground — that great hungry family."
"Ay. Where the pigs be many the wash runs thin."
"And dostn't mind how mother would sing, Christopher?" continued Mrs. Cuxsom, kindling at the retrospection; "and how we went with her to the party at Mellstock, do ye mind? — at old Dame Ledlow's, farmer Shinar's aunt, do ye mind? — she we used to call Toad-skin, because her face were so yaller and freckled, do ye mind?"
"I do, hee-hee, I do!" said Christopher Coney.
"And well do I — for I was getting up husband-high at that time — one-half girl, and t'other half woman, as one may say. And canst mind" — she prodded Solomon's shoulder with her finger-tip, while her eyes twinkled between the crevices of their lids — "canst mind the sherry-wine, and the zilver-snuffers, and how Joan Dummett was took bad when we were coming home, and Jack Griggs was forced to carry her through the mud; and how 'a let her fall in Dairyman Sweet-apple's cow-barton, and we had to clane her gown wi' grass — never such a mess as a' were in?"
"Ay — that I do — hee-hee, such doggery as there was in them ancient days, to be sure! Ah, the miles I used to walk then; and now I can hardly step over a furrow!"
Their reminiscences were cut short by the appearance of the reunited pair — Henchard looking round upon the idlers with that ambiguous gaze of his, which at one moment seemed to mean satisfaction, and at another fiery disdain.
"Well — there's a difference between 'em, though he do call himself a teetotaller," said Nance Mockridge. "She'll wish her cake dough afore she's done of him. There's a blue-beardy look about 'en; and 'twill out in time."
"Stuff — he's well enough! Some folk want their luck buttered. If I had a choice as wide as the ocean sea I wouldn't wish for a better man. A poor twanking woman like her — 'tis a godsend for her, and hardly a pair of jumps or night-rail to her name."
The plain little brougham drove off in the mist, and the idlers dispersed. "Well, we hardly know how to look at things in these times!" said Solomon. "There was a man dropped down dead yesterday, not so very many miles from here; and what wi' that, and this moist weather, 'tis scarce worth one's while to begin any work o' consequence to-day. I'm in such a low key with drinking nothing but small table ninepenny this last week or two that I shall call and warm up at the Mar'ners as I pass along."
"I don't know but that I may as well go with 'ee, Solomon," said Christopher; "I'm as clammy as a cockle-snail."