Had she watched she would have been surprised. She would have seen that the pedestrian on coming up made straight for the arched doorway: that as he paused with his hand upon the latch the lamplight fell upon the face of Henchard.
But Elizabeth-Jane clung so closely to her nook that she discerned nothing of this. Henchard passed in, as ignorant of her presence as she was ignorant of his identity, and disappeared in the darkness. Elizabeth came out a second time into the alley, and made the best of her way home.
Henchard's chiding, by begetting in her a nervous fear of doing anything definable as unladylike, had operated thus curiously in keeping them unknown to each other at a critical moment. Much might have resulted from recognition — at the least a query on either side in one and the selfsame form: What could he or she possibly be doing there?
Henchard, whatever his business at the lady's house, reached his own home only a few minutes later than Elizabeth-Jane. Her plan was to broach the question of leaving his roof this evening; the events of the day had urged her to the course. But its execution depended upon his mood, and she anxiously awaited his manner towards her. She found that it had changed. He showed no further tendency to be angry; he showed something worse. Absolute indifference had taken the place of irritability; and his coldness was such that it encouraged her to departure, even more than hot temper could have done.
"Father, have you any objection to my going away?" she asked.
"Going away! No — none whatever. Where are you going?"
She thought it undesirable and unnecessary to say anything at present about her destination to one who took so little interest in her. He would know that soon enough. "I have heard of an opportunity of getting more cultivated and finished, and being less idle," she answered, with hesitation. "A chance of a place in a household where I can have advantages of study, and seeing refined life."
"Then make the best of it, in Heaven's name — if you can't get cultivated where you are."
"You don't object?"
"Object — I? Ho — no! Not at all." After a pause he said, "But you won't have enough money for this lively scheme without help, you know? If you like I should be willing to make you an allowance, so that you not be bound to live upon the starvation wages refined folk are likely to pay 'ee."
She thanked him for this offer.
"It had better be done properly," he added after a pause. "A small annuity is what I should like you to have — so as to be independent of me — and so that I may be independent of you. Would that please ye?"
"Then I'll see about it this very day." He seemed relieved to get her off his hands by this arrangement, and as far as they were concerned the matter was settled. She now simply waited to see the lady again.
The day and the hour came; but a drizzling rain fell. Elizabeth-Jane having now changed her orbit from one of gay independence to laborious self-help, thought the weather good enough for such declined glory as hers, if her friend would only face it — a matter of doubt. She went to the boot-room where her pattens had hung ever since her apotheosis; took them down, had their mildewed leathers blacked, and put them on as she had done in old times. Thus mounted, and with cloak and umbrella, she went off to the place of appointment — intending, if the lady were not there, to call at the house.
One side of the churchyard — the side towards the weather — was sheltered by an ancient thatched mud wall whose eaves overhung as much as one or two feet. At the back of the wall was a corn-yard with its granary and barns — the place wherein she had met Farfrae many months earlier. Under the projection of the thatch she saw a figure. The young lady had come.
Her presence so exceptionally substantiated the girl's utmost hopes that she almost feared her good fortune. Fancies find rooms in the strongest minds. Here, in a churchyard old as civilization, in the worst of weathers, was a strange woman of curious fascinations never seen elsewhere: there might be some devilry about her presence. However, Elizabeth went on to the church tower, on whose summit the rope of a flagstaff rattled in the wind; and thus she came to the wall.
The lady had such a cheerful aspect in the drizzle that Elizabeth forgot her fancy. "Well," said the lady, a little of the whiteness of her teeth appearing with the word through the black fleece that protected her face, "have you decided?"
"Yes, quite," said the other eagerly.
"Your father is willing?"
"Then come along."