"Oh — that's right — that's right....It was only that I saw him in the street when we both were there." He was wondering if her embarrassment justified him in a new suspicion — that the long walks which she had latterly been taking, that the new books which had so surprised him, had anything to do with the young man. She did not enlighten him, and lest silence should allow her to shape thoughts unfavourable to their present friendly relations, he diverted the discourse into another channel.
Henchard was, by original make, the last man to act stealthily, for good or for evil. But the solicitus timor of his love — the dependence upon Elizabeth's regard into which he had declined (or, in another sense, to which he had advanced) — denaturalized him. He would often weigh and consider for hours together the meaning of such and such a deed or phrase of hers, when a blunt settling question would formerly have been his first instinct. And now, uneasy at the thought of a passion for Farfrae which should entirely displace her mild filial sympathy with himself, he observed her going and coming more narrowly.
There was nothing secret in Elizabeth-Jane's movements beyond what habitual reserve induced, and it may at once be owned on her account that she was guilty of occasional conversations with Donald when they chanced to meet. Whatever the origin of her walks on the Budmouth Road, her return from those walks was often coincident with Farfrae's emergence from Corn Street for a twenty minutes' blow on that rather windy highway — just to winnow the seeds and chaff out of him before sitting down to tea, as he said. Henchard became aware of this by going to the Ring, and, screened by its enclosure, keeping his eye upon the road till he saw them meet. His face assumed an expression of extreme anguish.
"Of her, too, he means to rob me!" he whispered. "But he has the right. I do not wish to interfere."
The meeting, in truth, was of a very innocent kind, and matters were by no means so far advanced between the young people as Henchard's jealous grief inferred. Could he have heard such conversation as passed he would have been enlightened thus much: —
HE. — "You like walking this way, Miss Henchard — and is it not so?" (uttered in his undulatory accents, and with an appraising, pondering gaze at her).
SHE. — "O yes. I have chosen this road latterly. I have no great reason for it."
HE. — "But that may make a reason for others."
SHE (reddening). — "I don't know that. My reason, however, such as it is, is that I wish to get a glimpse of the sea every day."
HE. — "Is it a secret why?"
SHE ( reluctantly ). — "Yes."
HE (with the pathos of one of his native ballads). — "Ah, I doubt there will be any good in secrets! A secret cast a deep shadow over my life. And well you know what it was."
Elizabeth admitted that she did, but she refrained from confessing why the sea attracted her. She could not herself account for it fully, not knowing the secret possibly to be that, in addition to early marine associations, her blood was a sailor's.
"Thank you for those new books, Mr. Farfrae," she added shyly. "I wonder if I ought to accept so many!"
"Ay! why not? It gives me more pleasure to get them for you, than you to have them!"
They proceeded along the road together till they reached the town, and their paths diverged.
Henchard vowed that he would leave them to their own devices, put nothing in the way of their courses, whatever they might mean. If he were doomed to be bereft of her, so it must be. In the situation which their marriage would create he could see no locus standi for himself at all. Farfrae would never recognize him more than superciliously; his poverty ensured that, no less than his past conduct. And so Elizabeth would grow to be a stranger to him, and the end of his life would be friendless solitude.
With such a possibility impending he could not help watchfulness. Indeed, within certain lines, he had the right to keep an eye upon her as his charge. The meetings seemed to become matters of course with them on special days of the week.
At last full proof was given him. He was standing behind a wall close to the place at which Farfrae encountered her. He heard the young man address her as "Dearest Elizabeth-Jane," and then kiss her, the girl looking quickly round to assure herself that nobody was near.