"Witness? Of what?
"If I must tell you — — . Don't, don't upbraid me!"
"Well! Let's hear what you mean?"
"Witness of my marriage — Mr. Grower was!"
"Yes. With Mr. Farfrae. O Michael! I am already his wife. We were married this week at Port-Bredy. There were reasons against our doing it here. Mr. Grower was a witness because he happened to be at Port-Bredy at the time."
Henchard stood as if idiotized. She was so alarmed at his silence that she murmured something about lending him sufficient money to tide over the perilous fortnight.
"Married him?" said Henchard at length. "My good — what, married him whilst — bound to marry me?"
"It was like this," she explained, with tears in her eyes and quavers in her voice; "don't — don't be cruel! I loved him so much, and I thought you might tell him of the past — and that grieved me! And then, when I had promised you, I learnt of the rumour that you had — sold your first wife at a fair like a horse or cow! How could I keep my promise after hearing that? I could not risk myself in your hands; it would have been letting myself down to take your name after such a scandal. But I knew I should lose Donald if I did not secure him at once — for you would carry out your threat of telling him of our former acquaintance, as long as there was a chance of keeping me for yourself by doing so. But you will not do so now, will you, Michael? for it is too late to separate us."
The notes of St. Peter's bells in full peal had been wafted to them while he spoke, and now the genial thumping of the town band, renowned for its unstinted use of the drum-stick, throbbed down the street.
"Then this racket they are making is on account of it, I suppose?" said he.
"Yes — I think he has told them, or else Mr. Grower has....May I leave you now? My — he was detained at Port-Bredy to-day, and sent me on a few hours before him."
"Then it is HIS WIFE'S life I have saved this afternoon."
"Yes — and he will be for ever grateful to you."
"I am much obliged to him....O you false woman!" burst from Henchard. "You promised me!"
"Yes, yes! But it was under compulsion, and I did not know all your past — — "
"And now I've a mind to punish you as you deserve! One word to this bran-new husband of how you courted me, and your precious happiness is blown to atoms!"
"Michael — pity me, and be generous!"
"You don't deserve pity! You did; but you don't now."
"I'll help you to pay off your debt."
"A pensioner of Farfrae's wife — not I! Don't stay with me longer — I shall say something worse. Go home!"
She disappeared under the trees of the south walk as the band came round the corner, awaking the echoes of every stock and stone in celebration of her happiness. Lucetta took no heed, but ran up the back street and reached her own home unperceived.