"I thought I ought to marry you for conscience' sake, since you were free, even though I — did not like you so well."
"And why then don't you think so now?"
She was silent. It was only too obvious that conscience had ruled well enough till new love had intervened and usurped that rule. In feeling this she herself forgot for the moment her partially justifying argument — that having discovered Henchard's infirmities of temper, she had some excuse for not risking her happiness in his hands after once escaping them. The only thing she could say was, "I was a poor girl then; and now my circumstances have altered, so I am hardly the same person."
"That's true. And it makes the case awkward for me. But I don't want to touch your money. I am quite willing that every penny of your property shall remain to your personal use. Besides, that argument has nothing in it. The man you are thinking of is no better than I."
"If you were as good as he you would leave me!" she cried passionately.
This unluckily aroused Henchard. "You cannot in honour refuse me," he said. "And unless you give me your promise this very night to be my wife, before a witness, I'll reveal our intimacy — in common fairness to other men!"
A look of resignation settled upon her. Henchard saw its bitterness; and had Lucetta's heart been given to any other man in the world than Farfrae he would probably have had pity upon her at that moment. But the supplanter was the upstart (as Henchard called him) who had mounted into prominence upon his shoulders, and he could bring himself to show no mercy.
Without another word she rang the bell, and directed that Elizabeth-Jane should be fetched from her room. The latter appeared, surprised in the midst of her lucubrations. As soon as she saw Henchard she went across to him dutifully.
"Elizabeth-Jane," he said, taking her hand, "I want you to hear this." And turning to Lucetta: "Will you, or will you not, marry me?
"If you — wish it, I must agree!"
"You say yes?"
No sooner had she given the promise than she fell back in a fainting state.
"What dreadful thing drives her to say this, father, when it is such a pain to her?" asked Elizabeth, kneeling down by Lucetta. "Don't compel her to do anything against her will! I have lived with her, and know that she cannot bear much."
"Don't be a no'thern simpleton!" said Henchard drily. "This promise will leave him free for you, if you want him, won't it?"
At this Lucetta seemed to wake from her swoon with a start.
"Him? Who are you talking about?" she said wildly.
"Nobody, as far as I am concerned," said Elizabeth firmly.
"Oh — well. Then it is my mistake," said Henchard. "But the business is between me and Miss Templeman. She agrees to be my wife."
"But don't dwell on it just now," entreated Elizabeth, holding Lucetta's hand.
"I don't wish to, if she promises," said Henchard.
"I have, I have," groaned Lucetta, her limbs hanging like fluid, from very misery and faintness. "Michael, please don't argue it any more!"
"I will not," he said. And taking up his hat he went away.
Elizabeth-Jane continued to kneel by Lucetta. "What is this?" she said. "You called my father 'Michael' as if you knew him well? And how is it he has got this power over you, that you promise to marry him against your will? Ah — you have many many secrets from me!"
"Perhaps you have some from me," Lucetta murmured with closed eyes, little thinking, however, so unsuspicious was she, that the secret of Elizabeth's heart concerned the young man who had caused this damage to her own.
"I would not — do anything against you at all!" stammered Elizabeth, keeping in all signs of emotion till she was ready to burst. "I cannot understand how my father can command you so; I don't sympathize with him in it at all. I'll go to him and ask him to release you."
"No, no," said Lucetta. "Let it all be."