"That's exactly what you have said a score of times before!" replied the young woman, looking about her inattentively. "He's not a near relation, I suppose?"
"Not by any means."
"He was a hay-trusser, wasn't he, when you last heard of him?"
"I suppose he never knew me?" the girl innocently continued.
Mrs Henchard paused for a moment, and answered uneasily, "Of course not, Elizabeth-Jane. But come this way." She moved on to another part of the field.
"It is not much use inquiring here for anybody, I should think," the daughter observed, as she gazed round about. "People at fairs change like the leaves of trees; and I daresay you are the only one here today who was here all those years ago."
"I am not so sure of that," said Mrs Newson, as she now called herself, keenly eyeing something under a green bank a little way off. "See there."
The daughter looked in the direction signified. The object pointed out was a tripod of sticks stuck into the earth, from which hung a three-legged crock, kept hot by a smouldering wood fire beneath. Over the pot stooped an old woman, haggard, wrinkled, and almost in rags. She stirred the contents of the pot with a large spoon, and occasionally croaked in a broken voice, "Good furmity sold here!"
It was indeed the former mistress of the furmity tent - once thriving, cleanly, white-aproned and chinking with money - now tentless, dirty, owning no tables or benches, and having scarce any customers except two small whity-brown boys, who came up and asked for "A ha'p'orth, please - good measure", which she served in a couple of chipped yellow basins of commonest clay.
"She was here at that time," resumed Mrs Newson, making a step as if to draw nearer.
"Don't speak to her - it isn't respectable!" urged the other.
"I will just say a word - you, Elizabeth-Jane, can stay here."
The girl was not loth, and turned to some stalls of coloured prints while her mother went forward. The old woman begged for the latter's custom as soon as she saw her, and responded to Mrs Henchard- Newson's request for a pennyworth with more alacrity than she had shown in selling sixpennyworth in her younger days. When the soi-disant widow had taken the basin of thin poor slop that stood for the rich concoction of the former time, the hag opened a little basket behind the fire, and looking up slily, whispered, "Just a though o' rum in it? - smuggled, you know - say two penn'orth--'twill make it slip down like cordial!"
Her customer smiled bitterly at this survival of the old trick, and shook her head with a meaning the old woman was far from translating. She pretended to eat a little of the furmity with the leaden spoon offered, and as she did so said blandly to the hag, "You've seen better days?"
"Ah, ma'am - well ye may say it!" responded the old woman, opening the sluices of her heart forthwith. "I've stood in this fairground, maid, wife, and widow, these nine-and-thirty year, and in that time have known what it was to do business with the richest stomachs in the land! Ma'am you'd hardly believe that I was once the owner of a great pavilion-tent that was the attraction of the fair. Nobody could come, nobody could go, without having a dish of Mrs Goodenough's furmity. I knew the clergy's taste, the dandy gent's taste; I knew the town's taste, the country's, taste. I even knowed the taste of the coarse shameless
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