"But you said that she — or as I may say you" — answered Elizabeth, dropping the mask, "were in honour and conscience bound to marry the first?"
Lucetta's blush at being seen through came and went again before she replied anxiously, "You will never breathe this, will you, Elizabeth-Jane?"
"Certainly not, if you say not.
"Then I will tell you that the case is more complicated — worse, in fact — than it seemed in my story. I and the first man were thrown together in a strange way, and felt that we ought to be united, as the world had talked of us. He was a widower, as he supposed. He had not heard of his first wife for many years. But the wife returned, and we parted. She is now dead, and the husband comes paying me addresses again, saying, 'Now we'll complete our purposes.' But, Elizabeth-Jane, all this amounts to a new courtship of me by him; I was absolved from all vows by the return of the other woman."
"Have you not lately renewed your promise?" said the younger with quiet surmise. She had divined Man Number One.
"That was wrung from me by a threat."
"Yes, it was. But I think when any one gets coupled up with a man in the past so unfortunately as you have done she ought to become his wife if she can, even if she were not the sinning party."
Lucetta's countenance lost its sparkle. "He turned out to be a man I should be afraid to marry," she pleaded. "Really afraid! And it was not till after my renewed promise that I knew it."
"Then there is only one course left to honesty. You must remain a single woman."
"But think again! Do consider — — "
"I am certain," interrupted her companion hardily. "I have guessed very well who the man is. My father; and I say it is him or nobody for you."
Any suspicion of impropriety was to Elizabeth-Jane like a red rag to a bull. Her craving for correctness of procedure was, indeed, almost vicious. Owing to her early troubles with regard to her mother a semblance of irregularity had terrors for her which those whose names are safeguarded from suspicion know nothing of. "You ought to marry Mr. Henchard or nobody — certainly not another man!" she went on with a quivering lip in whose movement two passions shared.
"I don't admit that!" said Lucetta passionately.
"Admit it or not, it is true!"
Lucetta covered her eyes with her right hand, as if she could plead no more, holding out her left to Elizabeth-Jane.
"Why, you HAVE married him!" cried the latter, jumping up with pleasure after a glance at Lucetta's fingers. "When did you do it? Why did you not tell me, instead of teasing me like this? How very honourable of you! He did treat my mother badly once, it seems, in a moment of intoxication. And it is true that he is stern sometimes. But you will rule him entirely, I am sure, with your beauty and wealth and accomplishments. You are the woman he will adore, and we shall all three be happy together now!"
"O, my Elizabeth-Jane!" cried Lucetta distressfully. "'Tis somebody else that I have married! I was so desperate — so afraid of being forced to anything else — so afraid of revelations that would quench his love for me, that I resolved to do it offhand, come what might, and purchase a week of happiness at any cost!"
"You — have — married Mr. Farfrae!" cried Elizabeth-Jane, in Nathan tones
Lucetta bowed. She had recovered herself.
"The bells are ringing on that account," she said. "My husband is downstairs. He will live here till a more suitable house is ready for us; and I have told him that I want you to stay with me just as before."
"Let me think of it alone," the girl quickly replied, corking up the turmoil of her feeling with grand control.
"You shall. I am sure we shall be happy together."
Lucetta departed to join Donald below, a vague uneasiness floating over her joy at seeing him quite at home there. Not on account of her friend Elizabeth did she feel it: for of the bearings of Elizabeth-Jane's emotions she had not the least suspicion; but on Henchard's alone.
Now the instant decision of Susan Henchard's daughter was to dwell in that house no more. Apart from her estimate of the propriety of Lucetta's conduct, Farfrae had been so nearly her avowed lover that she felt she could not abide there.
It was still early in the evening when she hastily put on her things and went out. In a few minutes, knowing the ground, she had found a suitable lodging, and arranged to enter it that night. Returning and entering noiselessly she took off her pretty dress and arrayed herself in a plain one, packing up the other to keep as her best; for she would have to be very economical now. She wrote a note to leave for Lucetta, who was closely shut up in the drawing-room with Farfrae; and then Elizabeth-Jane called a man with a wheel-barrow; and seeing her boxes put into it she trotted off down the street to her rooms. They were in the street in which Henchard lived, and almost opposite his door.
Here she sat down and considered the means of subsistence. The little annual sum settled on her by her stepfather would keep body and soul together. A wonderful skill in netting of all sorts — acquired in childhood by making seines in Newson's home — might serve her in good stead; and her studies, which were pursued unremittingly, might serve her in still better.
By this time the marriage that had taken place was known throughout Casterbridge; had been discussed noisily on kerbstones, confidentially behind counters, and jovially at the Three Mariners. Whether Farfrae would sell his business and set up for a gentleman on his wife's money, or whether he would show independence enough to stick to his trade in spite of his brilliant alliance, was a great point of interest.