"More bread-and-butter?" said Lucetta to Henchard and Farfrae equally, holding out between them a plateful of long slices. Henchard took a slice by one end and Donald by the other; each feeling certain he was the man meant; neither let go, and the slice came in two.
"Oh — I am so sorry!" cried Lucetta, with a nervous titter. Farfrae tried to laugh; but he was too much in love to see the incident in any but a tragic light.
"How ridiculous of all three of them!" said Elizabeth to herself.
Henchard left the house with a ton of conjecture, though without a grain of proof, that the counterattraction was Farfrae; and therefore he would not make up his mind. Yet to Elizabeth-Jane it was plain as the town-pump that Donald and Lucetta were incipient lovers. More than once, in spite of her care, Lucetta had been unable to restrain her glance from flitting across into Farfrae's eyes like a bird to its nest. But Henchard was constructed upon too large a scale to discern such minutiae as these by an evening light, which to him were as the notes of an insect that lie above the compass of the human ear.
But he was disturbed. And the sense of occult rivalry in suitorship was so much superadded to the palpable rivalry of their business lives. To the coarse materiality of that rivalry it added an inflaming soul.
The thus vitalized antagonism took the form of action by Henchard sending for Jopp, the manager originally displaced by Farfrae's arrival. Henchard had frequently met this man about the streets, observed that his clothing spoke of neediness, heard that he lived in Mixen Lane — a back slum of the town, the pis aller of Casterbridge domiciliation — itself almost a proof that a man had reached a stage when he would not stick at trifles.
Jopp came after dark, by the gates of the storeyard, and felt his way through the hay and straw to the office where Henchard sat in solitude awaiting him.
"I am again out of a foreman," said the corn-factor. "Are you in a place?"
"Not so much as a beggar's, sir."
"How much do you ask?"
Jopp named his price, which was very moderate.
"When can you come?"
"At this hour and moment, sir," said Jopp, who, standing hands-pocketed at the street corner till the sun had faded the shoulders of his coat to scarecrow green, had regularly watched Henchard in the market-place, measured him, and learnt him, by virtue of the power which the still man has in his stillness of knowing the busy one better than he knows himself. Jopp too, had had a convenient experience; he was the only one in Casterbridge besides Henchard and the close-lipped Elizabeth who knew that Lucetta came truly from Jersey, and but proximately from Bath. "I know Jersey too, sir," he said. "Was living there when you used to do business that way. O yes — have often seen ye there."
"Indeed! Very good. Then the thing is settled. The testimonials you showed me when you first tried for't are sufficient."
That characters deteriorated in time of need possibly did not occur to Henchard. Jopp said, "Thank you," and stood more firmly, in the consciousness that at last he officially belonged to that spot.
"Now," said Henchard, digging his strong eyes into Jopp's face, "one thing is necessary to me, as the biggest corn-and-hay dealer in these parts. The Scotchman, who's taking the town trade so bold into his hands, must be cut out. D'ye hear? We two can't live side by side — that's clear and certain."
"I've seen it all," said Jopp.
"By fair competition I mean, of course," Henchard continued. "But as hard, keen, and unflinching as fair — rather more so. By such a desperate bid against him for the farmers' custom as will grind him into the ground — starve him out. I've capital, mind ye, and I can do it."
"I'm all that way of thinking," said the new foreman. Jopp's dislike of Farfrae as the man who had once ursurped his place, while it made him a willing tool, made him, at the same time, commercially as unsafe a colleague as Henchard could have chosen.
"I sometimes think," he added, "that he must have some glass that he sees next year in. He has such a knack of making everything bring him fortune."
"He's deep beyond all honest men's discerning, but we must make him shallower. We'll undersell him, and over-buy him, and so snuff him out."
They then entered into specific details of the process by which this would be accomplished, and parted at a late hour.