Nearly the whole town had gone into the fields. The Casterbridge populace still retained the primitive habit of helping one another in time of need; and thus, though the corn belonged to the farming section of the little community — that inhabiting the Durnover quarter — the remainder was no less interested in the labour of getting it home.
Reaching the top of the lane Henchard crossed the shaded avenue on the walls, slid down the green rampart, and stood amongst the stubble. The "stitches" or shocks rose like tents about the yellow expanse, those in the distance becoming lost in the moonlit hazes.
He had entered at a point removed from the scene of immediate operations; but two others had entered at that place, and he could see them winding among the shocks. They were paying no regard to the direction of their walk, whose vague serpentining soon began to bear down towards Henchard. A meeting promised to be awkward, and he therefore stepped into the hollow of the nearest shock, and sat down.
"You have my leave," Lucetta was saying gaily. "Speak what you like."
"Well, then," replied Farfrae, with the unmistakable inflection of the lover pure, which Henchard had never heard in full resonance of his lips before, "you are sure to be much sought after for your position, wealth, talents, and beauty. But will ye resist the temptation to be one of those ladies with lots of admirers — ay — and be content to have only a homely one?"
"And he the speaker?" said she, laughing. "Very well, sir, what next?"
"Ah! I'm afraid that what I feel will make me forget my manners!"
"Then I hope you'll never have any, if you lack them only for that cause." After some broken words which Henchard lost she added, "Are you sure you won't be jealous?"
Farfrae seemed to assure her that he would not, by taking her hand.
"You are convinced, Donald, that I love nobody else," she presently said. "But I should wish to have my own way in some things."
"In everything! What special thing did you mean?"
"If I wished not to live always in Casterbridge, for instance, upon finding that I should not be happy here?"
Henchard did not hear the reply; he might have done so and much more, but he did not care to play the eavesdropper. They went on towards the scene of activity, where the sheaves were being handed, a dozen a minute, upon the carts and waggons which carried them away.
Lucetta insisted on parting from Farfrae when they drew near the workpeople. He had some business with them, and, though he entreated her to wait a few minutes, she was inexorable, and tripped off homeward alone.
Henchard thereupon left the field and followed her. His state of mind was such that on reaching Lucetta's door he did not knock but opened it, and walked straight up to her sitting-room, expecting to find her there. But the room was empty, and he perceived that in his haste he had somehow passed her on the way hither. He had not to wait many minutes, however, for he soon heard her dress rustling in the hall, followed by a soft closing of the door. In a moment she appeared.
The light was so low that she did not notice Henchard at first. As soon as she saw him she uttered a little cry, almost of terror.
"How can you frighten me so?" she exclaimed, with a flushed face. "It is past ten o'clock, and you have no right to surprise me here at such a time."
"I don't know that I've not the right. At any rate I have the excuse. Is it so necessary that I should stop to think of manners and customs?"
"It is too late for propriety, and might injure me."
"I called an hour ago, and you would not see me, and I thought you were in when I called now. It is you, Lucetta, who are doing wrong. It is not proper in 'ee to throw me over like this. I have a little matter to remind you of, which you seem to forget."
She sank into a chair, and turned pale.
"I don't want to hear it — I don't want to hear it!" she said through her hands, as he, standing close to the edge of her gown, began to allude to the Jersey days.
"But you ought to hear it," said he.
"It came to nothing; and through you. Then why not leave me the freedom that I gained with such sorrow! Had I found that you proposed to marry me for pure love I might have felt bound now. But I soon learnt that you had planned it out of mere charity — almost as an unpleasant duty — because I had nursed you, and compromised myself, and you thought you must repay me. After that I did not care for you so deeply as before."
"Why did you come here to find me, then?"