Monday, November 5, 2007


The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy - I

The Return of the Native
by Thomas Hardy
The date at which the following events are assumed to
have occurred may be set down as between 1840 and 1850,
when the old watering place herein called "Budmouth" still
retained sufficient afterglow from its Georgian gaiety
and prestige to lend it an absorbing attractiveness to
the romantic and imaginative soul of a lonely dweller inland.
Under the general name of "Egdon Heath," which has been
given to the sombre scene of the story, are united
or typified heaths of various real names, to the number
of at least a dozen; these being virtually one in character
and aspect, though their original unity, or partial unity,
is now somewhat disguised by intrusive strips and slices
brought under the plough with varying degrees of success,
or planted to woodland.
It is pleasant to dream that some spot in the extensive
tract whose southwestern quarter is here described,
may be the heath of that traditionary King of Wessex--Lear.
July, 1895.
"To sorrow
I bade good morrow,
And thought to leave her far away behind;
But cheerly, cheerly,
She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me, and so kind.
I would deceive her,
And so leave her,
But ah! she is so constant and so kind."
book one
1 - A Face on Which Time Makes but Little Impression
A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time
of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known
as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment.
Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting
out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath
for its floor.
The heaven being spread with this pallid screen and the
earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line
at the horizon was clearly marked. In such contrast
the heath wore the appearance of an instalment of night
which had taken up its place before its astronomical hour
was come: darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon,
while day stood distinct in the sky. Looking upwards,
a furze-cutter would have been inclined to continue work;
looking down, he would have decided to finish his
faggot and go home. The distant rims of the world
and of the firmament seemed to be a division in time no
less than a division in matter. The face of the heath
by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening;
it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden noon,
anticipate the frowning of storms scarcely generated,
and intensify the opacity of a moonless midnight to a cause
of shaking and dread.
In fact, precisely at this transitional point of its
nightly roll into darkness the great and particular glory
of the Egdon waste began, and nobody could be said to
understand the heath who had not been there at such a time.
It could best be felt when it could not clearly be seen,
its complete effect and explanation lying in this and the
succeeding hours before the next dawn; then, and only then,
did it tell its true tale. The spot was, indeed, a near
relation of night, and when night showed itself an apparent
tendency to gravitate together could be perceived in its
shades and the scene. The sombre stretch of rounds
and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom
in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as rapidly
as the heavens precipitated it. And so the obscurity
in the air and the obscurity in the land closed together
in a black fraternization towards which each advanced halfway.
The place became full of a watchful intentness now;
for when other things sank blooding to sleep the heath
appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night
its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it
had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries,
through the crises of so many things, that it could only
be imagined to await one last crisis--the final overthrow.
It was a spot which returned upon the memory of those who
loved it with an aspect of peculiar and kindly congruity.
Smiling champaigns of flowers and fruit hardly do this,
for they are permanently harmonious only with an existence
of better reputation as to its issues than the present.
Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath
to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive
without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in
its simplicity. The qualifications which frequently
invest the facade of a prison with far more dignity
than is found in the facade of a palace double its size
lent to this heath a sublimity in which spots renowned
for beauty of the accepted kind are utterly wanting.
Fair prospects wed happily with fair times; but alas,
if times be not fair! Men have oftener suffered from,
the mockery of a place too smiling for their reason than
from the oppression of surroundings oversadly tinged.
Haggard Egdon appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct,
to a more recently learnt emotion, than that which responds
to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.
Indeed, it is a question if the exclusive reign of this
orthodox beauty is not approaching its last quarter.
The new Vale of Tempe may be a gaunt waste in Thule;
human souls may find themselves in closer and closer harmony
with external things wearing a sombreness distasteful
to our race when it was young. The time seems near,
if it has not actually arrived, when the chastened
sublimity of a moor, a sea, or a mountain will be all
of nature that is absolutely in keeping with the moods
of the more thinking among mankind. And ultimately,
to the commonest tourist, spots like Iceland may become
what the vineyards and myrtle gardens of South Europe
are to him now; and Heidelberg and Baden be passed
unheeded as he hastens from the Alps to the sand dunes
of Scheveningen.
The most thoroughgoing ascetic could feel that he had
a natural right to wander on Egdon--he was keeping within
the line of legitimate indulgence when he laid himself
open to influences such as these. Colours and beauties
so far subdued were, at least, the birthright of all.
Only in summer days of highest feather did its mood
touch the level of gaiety. Intensity was more usually
reached by way of the solemn than by way of the brilliant,
and such a sort of intensity was often arrived at during
winter darkness, tempests, and mists. Then Egdon was aroused
to reciprocity; for the storm was its lover, and the wind
its friend. Then it became the home of strange phantoms;
and it was found to be the hitherto unrecognized original
of those wild regions of obscurity which are vaguely felt
to be compassing us about in midnight dreams of flight
and disaster, and are never thought of after the dream
till revived by scenes like this.
It was at present a place perfectly accordant with
man's nature--neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly;
neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame; but, like man,
slighted and enduring; and withal singularly colossal
and mysterious in its swarthy monotony. As with some
persons who have long lived apart, solitude seemed
to look out of its countenance. It had a lonely face,
suggesting tragical possibilities.
This obscure, obsolete, superseded country figures in Domesday.
Its condition is recorded therein as that of heathy, furzy,
briary wilderness--"Bruaria." Then follows the length
and breadth in leagues; and, though some uncertainty exists
as to the exact extent of this ancient lineal measure,
it appears from the figures that the area of Egdon
down to the present day has but little diminished.
"Turbaria Bruaria"--the right of cutting heath-turf--occurs
in charters relating to the district. "Overgrown with
heth and mosse," says Leland of the same dark sweep of country.
Here at least were intelligible facts regarding
landscape--far-reaching proofs productive of genuine
satisfaction. The untameable, Ishmaelitish thing that Egdon
now was it always had been. Civilization was its enemy;
and ever since the beginning of vegetation its soil
had worn the same antique brown dress, the natural
and invariable garment of the particular formation.
In its venerable one coat lay a certain vein of satire
on human vanity in clothes. A person on a heath in
raiment of modern cut and colours has more or less an
anomalous look. We seem to want the oldest and simplest
human clothing where the clothing of the earth is so primitive.
To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley
of Egdon, between afternoon and night, as now, where the
eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits
and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole
circumference of its glance, and to know that everything
around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as
unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind
adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New.
The great inviolate place had an ancient permanence which
the sea cannot claim. Who can say of a particular sea
that it is old? Distilled by the sun, kneaded by the moon,
it is renewed in a year, in a day, or in an hour.
The sea changed, the fields changed, the rivers,
the villages, and the people changed, yet Egdon remained.
Those surfaces were neither so steep as to be destructible
by weather, nor so flat as to be the victims of floods
and deposits. With the exception of an aged highway,
and a still more aged barrow presently to be referred
to--themselves almost crystallized to natural products
by long continuance--even the trifling irregularities
were not caused by pickaxe, plough, or spade, but remained
as the very finger-touches of the last geological change.
The above-mentioned highway traversed the lower levels
of the heath, from one horizon to another. In many
portions of its course it overlaid an old vicinal way,
which branched from the great Western road of the Romans,
the Via Iceniana, or Ikenild Street, hard by.
On the evening under consideration it would have been
noticed that, though the gloom had increased sufficiently
to confuse the minor features of the heath, the white
surface of the road remained almost as clear as ever.
2 - Humanity Appears upon the Scene, Hand in Hand with Trouble
Along the road walked an old man. He was white-headed
as a mountain, bowed in the shoulders, and faded
in general aspect. He wore a glazed hat, an ancient
boat-cloak, and shoes; his brass buttons bearing an
anchor upon their face. In his hand was a silver-headed
walking stick, which he used as a veritable third leg,
perseveringly dotting the ground with its point at every
few inches' interval. One would have said that he had been,
in his day, a naval officer of some sort or other.
Before him stretched the long, laborious road, dry, empty,
and white. It was quite open to the heath on each side,
and bisected that vast dark surface like the parting-line
on a head of black hair, diminishing and bending away
on the furthest horizon.
The old man frequently stretched his eyes ahead to gaze
over the tract that he had yet to traverse. At length
he discerned, a long distance in front of him, a moving spot,
which appeared to be a vehicle, and it proved to be going
the same way as that in which he himself was journeying.
It was the single atom of life that the scene contained,
and it only served to render the general loneliness
more evident. Its rate of advance was slow, and the old
man gained upon it sensibly.
When he drew nearer he perceived it to be a spring van,
ordinary in shape, but singular in colour, this being a
lurid red. The driver walked beside it; and, like his van,
he was completely red. One dye of that tincture covered
his clothes, the cap upon his head, his boots, his face,
and his hands. He was not temporarily overlaid with
the colour; it permeated him.
The old man knew the meaning of this. The traveller
with the cart was a reddleman--a person whose vocation
it was to supply farmers with redding for their sheep.
He was one of a class rapidly becoming extinct in Wessex,
filling at present in the rural world the place which,
during the last century, the dodo occupied in the world
of animals. He is a curious, interesting, and nearly
perished link between obsolete forms of life and those which
generally prevail.
The decayed officer, by degrees, came up alongside his
fellow-wayfarer, and wished him good evening. The reddleman
turned his head, and replied in sad and occupied tones.
He was young, and his face, if not exactly handsome,
approached so near to handsome that nobody would have
contradicted an assertion that it really was so in its
natural colour. His eye, which glared so strangely
through his stain, was in itself attractive--keen
as that of a bird of prey, and blue as autumn mist.
He had neither whisker nor moustache, which allowed the soft
curves of the lower part of his face to be apparent.
His lips were thin, and though, as it seemed, compressed
by thought, there was a pleasant twitch at their corners
now and then. He was clothed throughout in a tight-fitting
suit of corduroy, excellent in quality, not much worn,
and well-chosen for its purpose, but deprived of its
original colour by his trade. It showed to advantage the
good shape of his figure. A certain well-to-do air about
the man suggested that he was not poor for his degree.
The natural query of an observer would have been,
Why should such a promising being as this have hidden
his prepossessing exterior by adopting that singular occupation?
After replying to the old man's greeting he showed no
inclination to continue in talk, although they still
walked side by side, for the elder traveller seemed
to desire company. There were no sounds but that of the
booming wind upon the stretch of tawny herbage around them,
the crackling wheels, the tread of the men, and the
footsteps of the two shaggy ponies which drew the van.
They were small, hardy animals, of a breed between Galloway
and Exmoor, and were known as "heath-croppers" here.
Now, as they thus pursued their way, the reddleman occasionally
left his companion's side, and, stepping behind the van,
looked into its interior through a small window. The look
was always anxious. He would then return to the old man,
who made another remark about the state of the country
and so on, to which the reddleman again abstractedly
replied, and then again they would lapse into silence.
The silence conveyed to neither any sense of awkwardness;
in these lonely places wayfarers, after a first greeting,
frequently plod on for miles without speech; contiguity amounts
to a tacit conversation where, otherwise than in cities,
such contiguity can be put an end to on the merest inclination,
and where not to put an end to it is intercourse in itself.
Possibly these two might not have spoken again till their parting,
had it not been for the reddleman's visits to his van.
When he returned from his fifth time of looking in the old
man said, "You have something inside there besides your load?"
"Somebody who wants looking after?"
Not long after this a faint cry sounded from the interior.
The reddleman hastened to the back, looked in, and came
away again.
"You have a child there, my man?"
"No, sir, I have a woman."
"The deuce you have! Why did she cry out?"
"Oh, she has fallen asleep, and not being used to traveling,
she's uneasy, and keeps dreaming."
"A young woman?"
"Yes, a young woman."
"That would have interested me forty years ago.
Perhaps she's your wife?"
"My wife!" said the other bitterly. "She's above mating
with such as I. But there's no reason why I should tell
you about that."
"That's true. And there's no reason why you should not.
What harm can I do to you or to her?"
The reddleman looked in the old man's face. "Well, sir,"
he said at last, "I knew her before today, though perhaps
it would have been better if I had not. But she's
nothing to me, and I am nothing to her; and she wouldn't
have been in my van if any better carriage had been there
to take her."
"Where, may I ask?"
"At Anglebury."
"I know the town well. What was she doing there?"
"Oh, not much--to gossip about. However, she's tired to death now,
and not at all well, and that's what makes her so restless.
She dropped off into a nap about an hour ago, and 'twill do her good."
"A nice-looking girl, no doubt?"
"You would say so."
The other traveller turned his eyes with interest
towards the van window, and, without withdrawing them,
said, "I presume I might look in upon her?"
"No," said the reddleman abruptly. "It is getting too
dark for you to see much of her; and, more than that,
I have no right to allow you. Thank God she sleeps so well,
I hope she won't wake till she's home."
"Who is she? One of the neighbourhood?"
"'Tis no matter who, excuse me."
"It is not that girl of Blooms-End, who has been talked
about more or less lately? If so, I know her; and I can
guess what has happened."
"'Tis no matter....Now, sir, I am sorry to say that we
shall soon have to part company. My ponies are tired,
and I have further to go, and I am going to rest them
under this bank for an hour."
The elder traveller nodded his head indifferently,
and the reddleman turned his horses and van in upon
the turf, saying, "Good night." The old man replied,
and proceeded on his way as before.
The reddleman watched his form as it diminished to a
speck on the road and became absorbed in the thickening
films of night. He then took some hay from a truss
which was slung up under the van, and, throwing a portion
of it in front of the horses, made a pad of the rest,
which he laid on the ground beside his vehicle.
Upon this he sat down, leaning his back against the wheel.
From the interior a low soft breathing came to his ear.
It appeared to satisfy him, and he musingly surveyed
the scene, as if considering the next step that he
should take.
To do things musingly, and by small degrees, seemed, indeed,
to be a duty in the Egdon valleys at this transitional hour,
for there was that in the condition of the heath itself
which resembled protracted and halting dubiousness.
It was the quality of the repose appertaining to the scene.
This was not the repose of actual stagnation, but the
apparent repose of incredible slowness. A condition
of healthy life so nearly resembling the torpor of death
is a noticeable thing of its sort; to exhibit the inertness
of the desert, and at the same time to be exercising powers
akin to those of the meadow, and even of the forest,
awakened in those who thought of it the attentiveness
usually engendered by understatement and reserve.
The scene before the reddleman's eyes was a gradual series
of ascents from the level of the road backward into the
heart of the heath. It embraced hillocks, pits, ridges,
acclivities, one behind the other, till all was finished
by a high hill cutting against the still light sky.
The traveller's eye hovered about these things for a time,
and finally settled upon one noteworthy object up there.
It was a barrow. This bossy projection of earth above
its natural level occupied the loftiest ground of the
loneliest height that the heath contained. Although from
the vale it appeared but as a wart on an Atlantean brow,
its actual bulk was great. It formed the pole and axis
of this heathery world.
As the resting man looked at the barrow he became aware
that its summit, hitherto the highest object in the whole
prospect round, was surmounted by something higher. It rose
from the semiglobular mound like a spike from a helmet.
The first instinct of an imaginative stranger might have
been to suppose it the person of one of the Celts who
built the barrow, so far had all of modern date withdrawn
from the scene. It seemed a sort of last man among them,
musing for a moment before dropping into eternal night
with the rest of his race.
There the form stood, motionless as the hill beneath.
Above the plain rose the hill, above the hill rose
the barrow, and above the barrow rose the figure.
Above the figure was nothing that could be mapped elsewhere
than on a celestial globe.
Such a perfect, delicate, and necessary finish did
the figure give to the dark pile of hills that it seemed
to be the only obvious justification of their outline.
Without it, there was the dome without the lantern; with it
the architectural demands of the mass were satisfied.
The scene was strangely homogeneous, in that the vale,
the upland, the barrow, and the figure above it amounted
only to unity. Looking at this or that member of the group
was not observing a complete thing, but a fraction of
a thing.
The form was so much like an organic part of the
entire motionless structure that to see it move would
have impressed the mind as a strange phenomenon.
Immobility being the chief characteristic of that whole
which the person formed portion of, the discontinuance
of immobility in any quarter suggested confusion.
Yet that is what happened. The figure perceptibly gave
up its fixity, shifted a step or two, and turned round.
As if alarmed, it descended on the right side of the barrow,
with the glide of a water-drop down a bud, and then vanished.
The movement had been sufficient to show more clearly
the characteristics of the figure, and that it was a
The reason of her sudden displacement now appeared.
With her dropping out of sight on the right side, a newcomer,
bearing a burden, protruded into the sky on the left side,
ascended the tumulus, and deposited the burden on the top.
A second followed, then a third, a fourth, a fifth,
and ultimately the whole barrow was peopled with
burdened figures.
The only intelligible meaning in this sky-backed pantomime
of silhouettes was that the woman had no relation to the forms
who had taken her place, was sedulously avoiding these,
and had come thither for another object than theirs.
The imagination of the observer clung by preference
to that vanished, solitary figure, as to something
more interesting, more important, more likely to have a
history worth knowing than these newcomers, and unconsciously
regarded them as intruders. But they remained,
and established themselves; and the lonely person who hitherto
had been queen of the solitude did not at present seem likely
to return.
3 - The Custom of the Country
Had a looker-on been posted in the immediate vicinity
of the barrow, he would have learned that these persons
were boys and men of the neighbouring hamlets.
Each, as he ascended the barrow, had been heavily laden
with furze faggots, carried upon the shoulder by means
of a long stake sharpened at each end for impaling them
easily--two in front and two behind. They came from
a part of the heath a quarter of a mile to the rear,
where furze almost exclusively prevailed as a product.
Every individual was so involved in furze by his method
of carrying the faggots that he appeared like a bush on
legs till he had thrown them down. The party had marched
in trail, like a travelling flock of sheep; that is to say,
the strongest first, the weak and young behind.
The loads were all laid together, and a pyramid of furze
thirty feet in circumference now occupied the crown
of the tumulus, which was known as Rainbarrow for many
miles round. Some made themselves busy with matches,
and in selecting the driest tufts of furze, others in
loosening the bramble bonds which held the faggots together.
Others, again, while this was in progress, lifted their
eyes and swept the vast expanse of country commanded
by their position, now lying nearly obliterated by shade.
In the valleys of the heath nothing save its own wild
face was visible at any time of day; but this spot
commanded a horizon enclosing a tract of far extent,
and in many cases lying beyond the heath country.
None of its features could be seen now, but the whole
made itself felt as a vague stretch of remoteness.
While the men and lads were building the pile,
a change took place in the mass of shade which denoted
the distant landscape. Red suns and tufts of fire one
by one began to arise, flecking the whole country round.
They were the bonfires of other parishes and hamlets
that were engaged in the same sort of commemoration.
Some were distant, and stood in a dense atmosphere,
so that bundles of pale straw-like beams radiated around
them in the shape of a fan. Some were large and near,
glowing scarlet-red from the shade, like wounds in a black hide.
Some were Maenades, with winy faces and blown hair.
These tinctured the silent bosom of the clouds above
them and lit up their ephemeral caves, which seemed
thenceforth to become scalding caldrons. Perhaps as many
as thirty bonfires could be counted within the whole
bounds of the district; and as the hour may be told on
a clock-face when the figures themselves are invisible,
so did the men recognize the locality of each fire by its
angle and direction, though nothing of the scenery could
be viewed.
The first tall flame from Rainbarrow sprang into the sky,
attracting all eyes that had been fixed on the distant
conflagrations back to their own attempt in the same kind.
The cheerful blaze streaked the inner surface of the human
circle--now increased by other stragglers, male and female--with
its own gold livery, and even overlaid the dark turf
around with a lively luminousness, which softened off into
obscurity where the barrow rounded downwards out of sight.
It showed the barrow to be the segment of a globe,
as perfect as on the day when it was thrown up, even the
little ditch remaining from which the earth was dug.
Not a plough had ever disturbed a grain of that stubborn soil.
In the heath's barrenness to the farmer lay its fertility
to the historian. There had been no obliteration,
because there had been no tending.
It seemed as if the bonfire-makers were standing in some
radiant upper story of the world, detached from and
independent of the dark stretches below. The heath down
there was now a vast abyss, and no longer a continuation
of what they stood on; for their eyes, adapted to the blaze,
could see nothing of the deeps beyond its influence.
Occasionally, it is true, a more vigorous flare than usual
from their faggots sent darting lights like aides-de-camp
down the inclines to some distant bush, pool, or patch
of white sand, kindling these to replies of the same colour,
till all was lost in darkness again. Then the whole black
phenomenon beneath represented Limbo as viewed from the brink
by the sublime Florentine in his vision, and the muttered
articulations of the wind in the hollows were as complaints
and petitions from the "souls of mighty worth" suspended therein.
It was as if these men and boys had suddenly dived into
past ages, and fetched therefrom an hour and deed which had
before been familiar with this spot. The ashes of the
original British pyre which blazed from that summit lay
fresh and undisturbed in the barrow beneath their tread.
The flames from funeral piles long ago kindled there had
shone down upon the lowlands as these were shining now.
Festival fires to Thor and Woden had followed on the same
ground and duly had their day. Indeed, it is pretty
well known that such blazes as this the heathmen were now
enjoying are rather the lineal descendants from jumbled
Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies than the invention
of popular feeling about Gunpowder Plot.
Moreover to light a fire is the instinctive and resistant
act of man when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is
sounded throughout Nature. It indicates a spontaneous,
Promethean rebelliousness against that fiat that this
recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness,
misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods
of the earth say, Let there be light.
The brilliant lights and sooty shades which struggled
upon the skin and clothes of the persons standing round
caused their lineaments and general contours to be drawn
with Dureresque vigour and dash. Yet the permanent moral
expression of each face it was impossible to discover,
for as the nimble flames towered, nodded, and swooped
through the surrounding air, the blots of shade and flakes
of light upon the countenances of the group changed shape
and position endlessly. All was unstable; quivering as leaves,
evanescent as lightning. Shadowy eye-sockets, deep
as those of a death's head, suddenly turned into pits of
lustre: a lantern-jaw was cavernous, then it was shining;
wrinkles were emphasized to ravines, or obliterated
entirely by a changed ray. Nostrils were dark wells;
sinews in old necks were gilt mouldings; things with no
particular polish on them were glazed; bright objects,
such as the tip of a furze-hook one of the men carried,
were as glass; eyeballs glowed like little lanterns.
Those whom Nature had depicted as merely quaint
became grotesque, the grotesque became preternatural;
for all was in extremity.
Hence it may be that the face of an old man, who had like
others been called to the heights by the rising flames,
was not really the mere nose and chin that it appeared
to be, but an appreciable quantity of human countenance.
He stood complacently sunning himself in the heat.
With a speaker, or stake, he tossed the outlying scraps of fuel
into the conflagration, looking at the midst of the pile,
occasionally lifting his eyes to measure the height
of the flame, or to follow the great sparks which rose
with it and sailed away into darkness. The beaming sight,
and the penetrating warmth, seemed to breed in him a
cumulative cheerfulness, which soon amounted to delight.
With his stick in his hand he began to jig a private minuet,
a bunch of copper seals shining and swinging like a
pendulum from under his waistcoat: he also began to sing,
in the voice of a bee up a flue--
"The king' call'd down' his no-bles all',
By one', by two', by three';
Earl Mar'-shal, I'll' go shrive'-the queen',
And thou' shalt wend' with me'.
"A boon', a boon', quoth Earl' Mar-shal',
And fell' on his bend'-ded knee',
That what'-so-e'er' the queen' shall say',
No harm' there-of' may be'."
Want of breath prevented a continuance of the song;
and the breakdown attracted the attention of a firmstanding
man of middle age, who kept each corner of his
crescent-shaped mouth rigorously drawn back into his cheek,
as if to do away with any suspicion of mirthfulness
which might erroneously have attached to him.
"A fair stave, Grandfer Cantle; but I am afeard 'tis too
much for the mouldy weasand of such a old man as you,"
he said to the wrinkled reveller. "Dostn't wish th'
wast three sixes again, Grandfer, as you was when you first
learnt to sing it?"
"Hey?" said Grandfer Cantle, stopping in his dance.
"Dostn't wish wast young again, I say? There's a hole
in thy poor bellows nowadays seemingly."
"But there's good art in me? If I couldn't make
a little wind go a long ways I should seem no younger
than the most aged man, should I, Timothy?"
"And how about the new-married folks down there at the
Quiet Woman Inn?" the other inquired, pointing towards
a dim light in the direction of the distant highway,
but considerably apart from where the reddleman was at
that moment resting. "What's the rights of the matter
about 'em? You ought to know, being an understanding man."
"But a little rakish, hey? I own to it. Master Cantle
is that, or he's nothing. Yet 'tis a gay fault,
neigbbour Fairway, that age will cure."
"I heard that they were coming home tonight. By this
time they must have come. What besides?"
"The next thing is for us to go and wish 'em joy,
I suppose?"
"Well, no."
"No? Now, I thought we must. I must, or 'twould be
very unlike me--the first in every spree that's going!
"Do thou' put on' a fri'-ar's coat',
And I'll' put on' a-no'-ther,
And we' will to' Queen Ele'anor go',
Like Fri'ar and' his bro'ther.
I met Mis'ess Yeobright, the young bride's aunt,
last night, and she told me that her son Clym was coming
home a' Christmas. Wonderful clever, 'a believe--ah, I
should like to have all that's under that young man's hair.
Well, then, I spoke to her in my well-known merry way,
and she said, 'O that what's shaped so venerable should
talk like a fool!'--that's what she said to me. I don't
care for her, be jowned if I do, and so I told her.
'Be jowned if I care for 'ee,' I said. I had her there--hey?"
"I rather think she had you," said Fairway.
"No," said Grandfer Cantle, his countenance slightly flagging.
"'Tisn't so bad as that with me?"
"Seemingly 'tis, however, is it because of the wedding
that Clym is coming home a' Christmas--to make a new
arrangement because his mother is now left in the house alone?"
"Yes, yes--that's it. But, Timothy, hearken to me,"
said the Grandfer earnestly. "Though known as such a joker,
I be an understanding man if you catch me serious, and I am
serious now. I can tell 'ee lots about the married couple.
Yes, this morning at six o'clock they went up the country
to do the job, and neither vell nor mark have been seen
of 'em since, though I reckon that this afternoon has
brought 'em home again man and woman--wife, that is.
Isn't it spoke like a man, Timothy, and wasn't Mis'ess
Yeobright wrong about me?"
"Yes, it will do. I didn't know the two had walked
together since last fall, when her aunt forbad the banns.
How long has this new set-to been in mangling then? Do
you know, Humphrey?"
"Yes, how long?" said Grandfer Cantle smartly,
likewise turning to Humphrey. "I ask that question."
"Ever since her aunt altered her mind, and said she might have
the man after all," replied Humphrey, without removing his
eyes from the fire. He was a somewhat solemn young fellow,
and carried the hook and leather gloves of a furze-cutter,
his legs, by reason of that occupation, being sheathed
in bulging leggings as stiff as the Philistine's greaves
of brass. "That's why they went away to be married,
I count. You see, after kicking up such a nunny-watch
and forbidding the banns 'twould have made Mis'ess
Yeobright seem foolish-like to have a banging wedding
in the same parish all as if she'd never gainsaid it."
"Exactly--seem foolish-like; and that's very bad for the
poor things that be so, though I only guess as much,
to be sure," said Grandfer Cantle, still strenuously
preserving a sensible bearing and mien.
"Ah, well, I was at church that day," said Fairway,
"which was a very curious thing to happen."
"If 'twasn't my name's Simple," said the
Grandfer emphatically. "I ha'n't been there to-year;
and now the winter is a-coming on I won't say I shall."
"I ha'n't been these three years," said Humphrey;
"for I'm so dead sleepy of a Sunday; and 'tis so terrible
far to get there; and when you do get there 'tis such
a mortal poor chance that you'll be chose for up above,
when so many bain't, that I bide at home and don't go
at all."
"I not only happened to be there," said Fairway,
with a fresh collection of emphasis, "but I was sitting
in the same pew as Mis'ess Yeobright. And though you
may not see it as such, it fairly made my blood run
cold to hear her. Yes, it is a curious thing; but it
made my blood run cold, for I was close at her elbow."
The speaker looked round upon the bystanders, now drawing
closer to hear him, with his lips gathered tighter than
ever in the rigorousness of his descriptive moderation.
"'Tis a serious job to have things happen to 'ee there,"
said a woman behind.
"'Ye are to declare it,' was the parson's words,"
Fairway continued. "And then up stood a woman at my
side--a-touching of me. 'Well, be damned if there isn't Mis'ess
Yeobright a-standing up,' I said to myself. Yes, neighbours,
though I was in the temple of prayer that's what I said.
'Tis against my conscience to curse and swear in company,
and I hope any woman here will overlook it. Still what
I did say I did say, and 'twould be a lie if I didn't own it."
"So 'twould, neighbour Fairway."
"'Be damned if there isn't Mis'ess Yeobright a-standing up,'
I said," the narrator repeated, giving out the bad word
with the same passionless severity of face as before,
which proved how entirely necessity and not gusto had to
do with the iteration. "And the next thing I heard was,
'I forbid the banns,' from her. 'I'll speak to you
after the service,' said the parson, in quite a homely
way--yes, turning all at once into a common man no holier
than you or I. Ah, her face was pale! Maybe you can
call to mind that monument in Weatherbury church--the
cross-legged soldier that have had his arm knocked away
by the schoolchildren? Well, he would about have matched
that woman's face, when she said, 'I forbid the banns.'"
The audience cleared their throats and tossed a few stalks
into the fire, not because these deeds were urgent,
but to give themselves time to weigh the moral of the story.
"I'm sure when I heard they'd been forbid I felt as glad
as if anybody had gied me sixpence," said an earnest
voice--that of Olly Dowden, a woman who lived by making
heath brooms, or besoms. Her nature was to be civil
to enemies as well as to friends, and grateful to all
the world for letting her remain alive.
"And now the maid have married him just the same,"
said Humphrey.
"After that Mis'ess Yeobright came round and was
quite agreeable," Fairway resumed, with an unheeding air,
to show that his words were no appendage to Humphrey's,
but the result of independent reflection.
"Supposing they were ashamed, I don't see why they shouldn't
have done it here-right," said a wide-spread woman whose
stays creaked like shoes whenever she stooped or turned.
"'Tis well to call the neighbours together and to hae
a good racket once now and then; and it may as well be
when there's a wedding as at tide-times. I don't care
for close ways."
"Ah, now, you'd hardly believe it, but I don't care
for gay weddings," said Timothy Fairway, his eyes again
travelling round. "I hardly blame Thomasin Yeobright and
neighbour Wildeve for doing it quiet, if I must own it.
A wedding at home means five and six-handed reels by the hour;
and they do a man's legs no good when he's over forty."
"True. Once at the woman's house you can hardly say nay
to being one in a jig, knowing all the time that you
be expected to make yourself worth your victuals."
"You be bound to dance at Christmas because 'tis the time o'
year; you must dance at weddings because 'tis the time o' life.
At christenings folk will even smuggle in a reel or two,
if 'tis no further on than the first or second chiel.
And this is not naming the songs you've got to sing....For
my part I like a good hearty funeral as well as anything.
You've as splendid victuals and drink as at other parties,
and even better. And it don't wear your legs to stumps
in talking over a poor fellow's ways as it do to stand up
in hornpipes."
"Nine folks out of ten would own 'twas going too far
to dance then, I suppose?" suggested Grandfer Cantle.
"'Tis the only sort of party a staid man can feel safe
at after the mug have been round a few times."
"Well, I can't understand a quiet ladylike little body like
Tamsin Yeobright caring to be married in such a mean way,"
said Susan Nunsuch, the wide woman, who preferred the
original subject. "'Tis worse than the poorest do.
And I shouldn't have cared about the man, though some
may say he's good-looking."
"To give him his due he's a clever, learned fellow in his
way--a'most as clever as Clym Yeobright used to be.
He was brought up to better things than keeping the
Quiet Woman. An engineer--that's what the man was,
as we know; but he threw away his chance, and so 'a took
a public house to live. His learning was no use to him
at all."
"Very often the case," said Olly, the besom-maker. "And yet
how people do strive after it and get it! The class of folk
that couldn't use to make a round O to save their bones from
the pit can write their names now without a sputter of the pen,
oftentimes without a single blot--what do I say?--why,
almost without a desk to lean their stomachs and elbows upon."
"True--'tis amazing what a polish the world have been
brought to," said Humphrey.
"Why, afore I went a soldier in the Bang-up Locals (as
we was called), in the year four," chimed in Grandfer
Cantle brightly, "I didn't know no more what the world
was like than the commonest man among ye. And now,
jown it all, I won't say what I bain't fit for, hey?"
"Couldst sign the book, no doubt," said Fairway, "if wast
young enough to join hands with a woman again, like Wildeve
and Mis'ess Tamsin, which is more than Humph there could do,
for he follows his father in learning. Ah, Humph, well I
can mind when I was married how I zid thy father's mark
staring me in the face as I went to put down my name.
He and your mother were the couple married just afore we
were and there stood they father's cross with arms stretched
out like a great banging scarecrow. What a terrible
black cross that was--thy father's very likeness in en!
To save my soul I couldn't help laughing when I zid en,
though all the time I was as hot as dog-days, what with
the marrying, and what with the woman a-hanging to me,
and what with Jack Changley and a lot more chaps grinning
at me through church window. But the next moment a
strawmote would have knocked me down, for I called to mind
that if thy father and mother had had high words once,
they'd been at it twenty times since they'd been man
and wife, and I zid myself as the next poor stunpoll
to get into the same mess....Ah--well, what a day 'twas!"
"Wildeve is older than Tamsin Yeobright by a good-few summers.
A pretty maid too she is. A young woman with a home
must be a fool to tear her smock for a man like that."
The speaker, a peat- or turf-cutter, who had newly
joined the group, carried across his shoulder
the singular heart-shaped spade of large dimensions
used in that species of labour, and its well-whetted
edge gleamed like a silver bow in the beams of the fire.
"A hundred maidens would have had him if he'd asked 'em,"
said the wide woman.
"Didst ever know a man, neighbour, that no woman at all
would marry?" inquired Humphrey.
"I never did," said the turf-cutter.
"Nor I," said another.
"Nor I," said Grandfer Cantle.
"Well, now, I did once," said Timothy Fairway, adding more
firmness to one of his legs. "I did know of such a man.
But only once, mind." He gave his throat a thorough rake round,
as if it were the duty of every person not to be mistaken
through thickness of voice. "Yes, I knew of such a man,"
he said.
"And what ghastly gallicrow might the poor fellow have
been like, Master Fairway?" asked the turf-cutter.
"Well, 'a was neither a deaf man, nor a dumb man,
nor a blind man. What 'a was I don't say."
"Is he known in these parts?" said Olly Dowden.
"Hardly," said Timothy; "but I name no name....Come,
keep the fire up there, youngsters."
"Whatever is Christian Cantle's teeth a-chattering for?"
said a boy from amid the smoke and shades on the other side
of the blaze. "Be ye a-cold, Christian?"
A thin jibbering voice was heard to reply, "No, not at all."
"Come forward, Christian, and show yourself. I didn't
know you were here," said Fairway, with a humane look
across towards that quarter.
Thus requested, a faltering man, with reedy hair,
no shoulders, and a great quantity of wrist and ankle
beyond his clothes, advanced a step or two by his own will,
and was pushed by the will of others half a dozen steps more.
He was Grandfer Cantle's youngest son.
"What be ye quaking for, Christian?" said the turfcutter
"I'm the man."
"What man?"
"The man no woman will marry."
"The deuce you be!" said Timothy Fairway, enlarging his
gaze to cover Christian's whole surface and a great
deal more, Grandfer Cantle meanwhile staring as a hen
stares at the duck she has hatched.
"Yes, I be he; and it makes me afeard," said Christian.
"D'ye think 'twill hurt me? I shall always say I don't care,
and swear to it, though I do care all the while."
"Well, be damned if this isn't the queerest start ever
I know'd," said Mr. Fairway. "I didn't mean you at all.
There's another in the country, then! Why did ye reveal
yer misfortune, Christian?"
"'Twas to be if 'twas, I suppose. I can't help it,
can I?" He turned upon them his painfully circular eyes,
surrounded by concentric lines like targets.
"No, that's true. But 'tis a melancholy thing,
and my blood ran cold when you spoke, for I felt there
were two poor fellows where I had thought only one.
'Tis a sad thing for ye, Christian. How'st know the women
won't hae thee?"
"I've asked 'em."
"Sure I should never have thought you had the face.
Well, and what did the last one say to ye? Nothing
that can't be got over, perhaps, after all?"
"'Get out of my sight, you slack-twisted, slim-looking
maphrotight fool,' was the woman's words to me."
"Not encouraging, I own," said Fairway. "'Get out of
my sight, you slack-twisted, slim-looking maphrotight fool,'
is rather a hard way of saying No. But even that might
be overcome by time and patience, so as to let a few
grey hairs show themselves in the hussy's head.
How old be you, Christian?"
"Thirty-one last tatie-digging, Mister Fairway."
"Not a boy--not a boy. Still there's hope yet."
"That's my age by baptism, because that's put down in the
great book of the Judgment that they keep in church vestry;
but Mother told me I was born some time afore I was christened."
"But she couldn't tell when, to save her life,
except that there was no moon."
"No moon--that's bad. Hey, neighbours, that's bad for him!"
"Yes, 'tis bad," said Grandfer Cantle, shaking his head.
"Mother know'd 'twas no moon, for she asked another
woman that had an almanac, as she did whenever a boy
was born to her, because of the saying, 'No moon,
no man,' which made her afeard every man-child she had.
Do ye really think it serious, Mister Fairway, that there
was no moon?"
"Yes. 'No moon, no man.' 'Tis one of the truest sayings
ever spit out. The boy never comes to anything that's
born at new moon. A bad job for thee, Christian, that you
should have showed your nose then of all days in the month."
"I suppose the moon was terrible full when you were born?"
said Christian, with a look of hopeless admiration
at Fairway.
"Well, 'a was not new," Mr. Fairway replied, with a
disinterested gaze.
"I'd sooner go without drink at Lammas-tide than be
a man of no moon," continued Christian, in the same
shattered recitative. "'Tis said I be only the rames
of a man, and no good for my race at all; and I suppose
that's the cause o't."
"Ay," said Grandfer Cantle, somewhat subdued in spirit;
"and yet his mother cried for scores of hours when 'a
was a boy, for fear he should outgrow hisself and go for
a soldier."
"Well, there's many just as bad as he." said Fairway.
"Wethers must live their time as well as other sheep,
poor soul."
"So perhaps I shall rub on? Ought I to be afeared o'
nights, Master Fairway?"
"You'll have to lie alone all your life; and 'tis not to
married couples but to single sleepers that a ghost shows
himself when 'a do come. One has been seen lately, too.
A very strange one."
"No--don't talk about it if 'tis agreeable of ye not to!
'Twill make my skin crawl when I think of it in bed alone.
But you will--ah, you will, I know, Timothy; and I shall
dream all night o't! A very strange one? What sort of
a spirit did ye mean when ye said, a very strange one,
Timothy?--no, no--don't tell me."
"I don't half believe in spirits myself. But I think
it ghostly enough--what I was told. 'Twas a little boy
that zid it."
"What was it like?--no, don't--"
"A red one. Yes, most ghosts be white; but this
is as if it had been dipped in blood."
Christian drew a deep breath without letting it expand
his body, and Humphrey said, "Where has it been seen?"
"Not exactly here; but in this same heth. But 'tisn't
a thing to talk about. What do ye say," continued Fairway
in brisker tones, and turning upon them as if the idea
had not been Grandfer Cantle's--"what do you say to giving
the new man and wife a bit of a song tonight afore we
go to bed--being their wedding-day? When folks are just
married 'tis as well to look glad o't, since looking
sorry won't unjoin 'em. I am no drinker, as we know,
but when the womenfolk and youngsters have gone home we
can drop down across to the Quiet Woman, and strike up
a ballet in front of the married folks' door. 'Twill please
the young wife, and that's what I should like to do,
for many's the skinful I've had at her hands when she
lived with her aunt at Blooms-End."
"Hey? And so we will!" said Grandfer Cantle, turning so
briskly that his copper seals swung extravagantly.
"I'm as dry as a kex with biding up here in the wind,
and I haven't seen the colour of drink since nammettime
today. 'Tis said that the last brew at the Woman
is very pretty drinking. And, neighbours, if we should be
a little late in the finishing, why, tomorrow's Sunday,
and we can sleep it off?"
"Grandfer Cantle! you take things very careless
for an old man," said the wide woman.
"I take things careless; I do--too careless to please the
women! Klk! I'll sing the 'Jovial Crew,' or any other song,
when a weak old man would cry his eyes out. Jown it;
I am up for anything.
"The king' look'd o'-ver his left' shoul-der',
And a grim' look look'-ed hee',
Earl Mar'-shal, he said', but for' my oath'
Or hang'-ed thou' shouldst bee'."
"Well, that's what we'll do," said Fairway. "We'll give
'em a song, an' it please the Lord. What's the good of
Thomasin's cousin Clym a-coming home after the deed's done?
He should have come afore, if so be he wanted to stop it,
and marry her himself."
"Perhaps he's coming to bide with his mother a little time,
as she must feel lonely now the maid's gone."
"Now, 'tis very odd, but I never feel lonely--no, not at all,"
said Grandfer Cantle. "I am as brave in the nighttime
as a' admiral!"
The bonfire was by this time beginning to sink low,
for the fuel had not been of that substantial sort which can
support a blaze long. Most of the other fires within the wide
horizon were also dwindling weak. Attentive observation
of their brightness, colour, and length of existence
would have revealed the quality of the material burnt,
and through that, to some extent the natural produce
of the district in which each bonfire was situate.
The clear, kingly effulgence that had characterized the
majority expressed a heath and furze country like their own,
which in one direction extended an unlimited number of miles;
the rapid flares and extinctions at other points of the
compass showed the lightest of fuel--straw, beanstalks,
and the usual waste from arable land. The most enduring
of all--steady unaltering eyes like Planets--signified wood,
such as hazel-branches, thorn-faggots, and stout billets.
Fires of the last-mentioned materials were rare, and though
comparatively small in magnitude beside the transient blazes,
now began to get the best of them by mere long continuance.
The great ones had perished, but these remained.
They occupied the remotest visible positions--sky-backed
summits rising out of rich coppice and plantation districts
to the north, where the soil was different, and heath
foreign and strange.
Save one; and this was the nearest of any, the moon of the
whole shining throng. It lay in a direction precisely
opposite to that of the little window in the vale below.
Its nearness was such that, notwithstanding its
actual smallness, its glow infinitely transcended theirs.
This quiet eye had attracted attention from time to time;
and when their own fire had become sunken and dim it
attracted more; some even of the wood fires more recently
lighted had reached their decline, but no change was
perceptible here.
"To be sure, how near that fire is!" said Fairway.
"Seemingly. I can see a fellow of some sort walking round it.
Little and good must be said of that fire, surely."
"I can throw a stone there," said the boy.
"And so can I!" said Grandfer Cantle.
"No, no, you can't, my sonnies. That fire is not much
less than a mile off, for all that 'a seems so near."
"'Tis in the heath, but no furze," said the turf-cutter.
"'Tis cleft-wood, that's what 'tis," said Timothy Fairway.
"Nothing would burn like that except clean timber. And 'tis
on the knap afore the old captain's house at Mistover.
Such a queer mortal as that man is! To have a little
fire inside your own bank and ditch, that nobody else
may enjoy it or come anigh it! And what a zany an old chap
must be, to light a bonfire when there's no youngsters
to please."
"Cap'n Vye has been for a long walk today, and is quite
tired out," said Grandfer Cantle, "so 'tisn't likely
to be he."
"And he would hardly afford good fuel like that,"
said the wide woman.
"Then it must be his granddaughter," said Fairway.
"Not that a body of her age can want a fire much."
"She is very strange in her ways, living up there by herself,
and such things please her," said Susan.
"She's a well-favoured maid enough," said Humphrey the
furze-cutter, "especially when she's got one of her dandy gowns on."
"That's true," said Fairway. "Well, let her bonfire burn
an't will. Ours is well-nigh out by the look o't."
"How dark 'tis now the fire's gone down!" said Christian Cantle,
looking behind him with his hare eyes. "Don't ye think we'd
better get home-along, neighbours? The heth isn't haunted,
I know; but we'd better get home....Ah, what was that?"
"Only the wind," said the turf-cutter.
"I don't think Fifth-of-Novembers ought to be kept up
by night except in towns. It should be by day in outstep,
ill-accounted places like this!"
"Nonsense, Christian. Lift up your spirits like a man! Susy,
dear, you and I will have a jig--hey, my honey?--before
'tis quite too dark to see how well-favoured you be still,
though so many summers have passed since your husband,
a son of a witch, snapped you up from me."
This was addressed to Susan Nunsuch; and the next
circumstance of which the beholders were conscious
was a vision of the matron's broad form whisking off
towards the space whereon the fire had been kindled.
She was lifted bodily by Mr. Fairway's arm, which had
been flung round her waist before she had become aware
of his intention. The site of the fire was now merely
a circle of ashes flecked with red embers and sparks,
the furze having burnt completely away. Once within
the circle he whirled her round and round in a dance.
She was a woman noisily constructed; in addition to her
enclosing framework of whalebone and lath, she wore
pattens summer and winter, in wet weather and in dry,
to preserve her boots from wear; and when Fairway began
to jump about with her, the clicking of the pattens,
the creaking of the stays, and her screams of surprise,
formed a very audible concert.
"I'll crack thy numskull for thee, you mandy chap!"
said Mrs. Nunsuch, as she helplessly danced round with him,
her feet playing like drumsticks among the sparks.
"My ankles were all in a fever before, from walking
through that prickly furze, and now you must make 'em
worse with these vlankers!"
The vagary of Timothy Fairway was infectious. The turf-cutter
seized old Olly Dowden, and, somewhat more gently,
poussetted with her likewise. The young men were not slow
to imitate the example of their elders, and seized the maids;
Grandfer Cantle and his stick jigged in the form of a
three-legged object among the rest; and in half a minute
all that could be seen on Rainbarrow was a whirling
of dark shapes amid a boiling confusion of sparks,
which leapt around the dancers as high as their waists.
The chief noises were women's shrill cries, men's laughter,
Susan's stays and pattens, Olly Dowden's "heu-heu-heu!"
and the strumming of the wind upon the furze-bushes, which
formed a kind of tune to the demoniac measure they trod.
Christian alone stood aloof, uneasily rocking himself
as he murmured, "They ought not to do it--how the vlankers
do fly! 'tis tempting the Wicked one, 'tis."
"What was that?" said one of the lads, stopping.
"Ah--where?" said Christian, hastily closing up to the rest.
The dancers all lessened their speed.
"'Twas behind you, Christian, that I heard it--down here."
"Yes--'tis behind me!" Christian said. "Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John, bless the bed that I lie on; four angels guard--"
"Hold your tongue. What is it?" said Fairway.
"Hoi-i-i-i!" cried a voice from the darkness.
"Halloo-o-o-o!" said Fairway.
"Is there any cart track up across here to Mis'ess
Yeobright's, of Blooms-End?" came to them in the same voice,
as a long, slim indistinct figure approached the barrow.
"Ought we not to run home as hard as we can, neighbours,
as 'tis getting late?" said Christian. "Not run away
from one another, you know; run close together, I mean."
"Scrape up a few stray locks of furze, and make a blaze,
so that we can see who the man is," said Fairway.
When the flame arose it revealed a young man in tight
raiment, and red from top to toe. "Is there a track
across here to Mis'ess Yeobright's house?" he repeated.
"Ay--keep along the path down there."
"I mean a way two horses and a van can travel over?"
"Well, yes; you can get up the vale below here with time.
The track is rough, but if you've got a light your horses
may pick along wi' care. Have ye brought your cart far up,
neighbour reddleman?"
"I've left it in the bottom, about half a mile back,
I stepped on in front to make sure of the way, as 'tis
night-time, and I han't been here for so long."
"Oh, well you can get up," said Fairway. "What a turn it
did give me when I saw him!" he added to the whole group,
the reddleman included. "Lord's sake, I thought,
whatever fiery mommet is this come to trouble us? No
slight to your looks, reddleman, for ye bain't bad-looking
in the groundwork, though the finish is queer. My meaning
is just to say how curious I felt. I half thought it
'twas the devil or the red ghost the boy told of."
"It gied me a turn likewise," said Susan Nunsuch, "for I
had a dream last night of a death's head."
"Don't ye talk o't no more," said Christian. "If he had
a handkerchief over his head he'd look for all the world
like the Devil in the picture of the Temptation."
"Well, thank you for telling me," said the young reddleman,
smiling faintly. "And good night t'ye all."
He withdrew from their sight down the barrow.
"I fancy I've seen that young man's face before,"
said Humphrey. "But where, or how, or what his name is,
I don't know."
The reddleman had not been gone more than a few
minutes when another person approached the partially
revived bonfire. It proved to be a well-known and
respected widow of the neighbourhood, of a standing which
can only be expressed by the word genteel. Her face,
encompassed by the blackness of the receding heath,
showed whitely, and with-out half-lights, like a cameo.
She was a woman of middle-age, with well-formed features
of the type usually found where perspicacity is the chief
quality enthroned within. At moments she seemed to be
regarding issues from a Nebo denied to others around.
She had something of an estranged mien; the solitude
exhaled from the heath was concentrated in this face that
had risen from it. The air with which she looked at the
heathmen betokened a certain unconcern at their presence,
or at what might be their opinions of her for walking in
that lonely spot at such an hour, thus indirectly implying
that in some respect or other they were not up to her level.
The explanation lay in the fact that though her husband
had been a small farmer she herself was a curate's daughter,
who had once dreamt of doing better things.
Persons with any weight of character carry, like planets,
their atmospheres along with them in their orbits;
and the matron who entered now upon the scene could,
and usually did, bring her own tone into a company.
Her normal manner among the heathfolk had that reticence
which results from the consciousness of superior
communicative power. But the effect of coming into
society and light after lonely wandering in darkness
is a sociability in the comer above its usual pitch,
expressed in the features even more than in words.
"Why, 'tis Mis'ess Yeobright," said Fairway. "Mis'ess Yeobright,
not ten minutes ago a man was here asking for you--a reddleman."
"What did he want?" said she.
"He didn't tell us."
"Something to sell, I suppose; what it can be I am
at a loss to understand."
"I am glad to hear that your son Mr. Clym is coming home
at Christmas, ma'am," said Sam, the turf-cutter. "What
a dog he used to be for bonfires!"
"Yes. I believe he is coming," she said.
"He must be a fine fellow by this time," said Fairway.
"He is a man now," she replied quietly.
"'Tis very lonesome for 'ee in the heth tonight,
mis'ess," said Christian, coming from the seclusion he
had hitherto maintained. "Mind you don't get lost.
Egdon Heth is a bad place to get lost in, and the winds
do huffle queerer tonight than ever I heard 'em afore.
Them that know Egdon best have been pixy-led here at times."
"Is that you, Christian?" said Mrs. Yeobright.
"What made you hide away from me?"
"'Twas that I didn't know you in this light, mis'ess;
and being a man of the mournfullest make, I was scared
a little, that's all. Oftentimes if you could see
how terrible down I get in my mind, 'twould make
'ee quite nervous for fear I should die by my hand."
"You don't take after your father," said Mrs. Yeobright,
looking towards the fire, where Grandfer Cantle, with some
want of originality, was dancing by himself among the sparks,
as the others had done before.
"Now, Grandfer," said Timothy Fairway, "we are ashamed
of ye. A reverent old patriarch man as you be--seventy
if a day--to go hornpiping like that by yourself!"
"A harrowing old man, Mis'ess Yeobright,"
said Christian despondingly. "I wouldn't
live with him a week, so playward as he is, if I could get away."
"'Twould be more seemly in ye to stand still and welcome
Mis'ess Yeobright, and you the venerablest here,
Grandfer Cantle," said the besom-woman.
"Faith, and so it would," said the reveller checking
himself repentantly. "I've such a bad memory,
Mis'ess Yeobright, that I forget how I'm looked up to
by the rest of 'em. My spirits must be wonderful good,
you'll say? But not always. 'Tis a weight upon a man
to be looked up to as commander, and I often feel it."
"I am sorry to stop the talk," said Mrs. Yeobright. "But I must
be leaving you now. I was passing down the Anglebury Road,
towards my niece's new home, who is returning tonight with
her husband; and seeing the bonfire and hearing Olly's voice
among the rest I came up here to learn what was going on.
I should like her to walk with me, as her way is mine."
"Ay, sure, ma'am, I'm just thinking of moving," said Olly.
"Why, you'll be safe to meet the reddleman that I told ye of,"
said Fairway. "He's only gone back to get his van.
We heard that your niece and her husband were coming
straight home as soon as they were married, and we are
going down there shortly, to give 'em a song o' welcome."
"Thank you indeed," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"But we shall take a shorter cut through the furze than you
can go with long clothes; so we won't trouble you to wait."
"Very well--are you ready, Olly?"
"Yes, ma'am. And there's a light shining from your
niece's window, see. It will help to keep us in the path."
She indicated the faint light at the bottom of the valley
which Fairway had pointed out; and the two women descended
the tumulus.
4 - The Halt on the Turnpike Road
Down, downward they went, and yet further down--their
descent at each step seeming to outmeasure their advance.
Their skirts were scratched noisily by the furze,
their shoulders brushed by the ferns, which, though dead
and dry, stood erect as when alive, no sufficient winter
weather having as yet arrived to beat them down.
Their Tartarean situation might by some have been called
an imprudent one for two unattended women. But these
shaggy recesses were at all seasons a familiar surrounding
to Olly and Mrs. Yeobright; and the addition of darkness
lends no frightfulness to the face of a friend.
"And so Tamsin has married him at last," said Olly,
when the incline had become so much less steep that their
foot-steps no longer required undivided attention.
Mrs. Yeobright answered slowly, "Yes; at last."
"How you will miss her--living with 'ee as a daughter,
as she always have."
"I do miss her."
Olly, though without the tact to perceive when remarks
were untimely, was saved by her very simplicity from
rendering them offensive. Questions that would have
been resented in others she could ask with impunity.
This accounted for Mrs. Yeobright's acquiescence in the
revival of an evidently sore subject.
"I was quite strook to hear you'd agreed to it,
ma'am, that I was," continued the besom-maker.
"You were not more struck by it than I should have been
last year this time, Olly. There are a good many sides
to that wedding. I could not tell you all of them,
even if I tried."
"I felt myself that he was hardly solid-going enough
to mate with your family. Keeping an inn--what is it?
But 'a's clever, that's true, and they say he was an
engineering gentleman once, but has come down by being
too outwardly given."
"I saw that, upon the whole, it would be better she
should marry where she wished."
"Poor little thing, her feelings got the better of her,
no doubt. 'Tis nature. Well, they may call him what they
will--he've several acres of heth-ground broke up here,
besides the public house, and the heth-croppers, and his
manners be quite like a gentleman's. And what's done cannot
be undone."
"It cannot," said Mrs. Yeobright. "See, here's
the wagon-track at last. Now we shall get along better."
The wedding subject was no further dwelt upon;
and soon a faint diverging path was reached, where they
parted company, Olly first begging her companion to remind
Mr. Wildeve that he had not sent her sick husband the
bottle of wine promised on the occasion of his marriage.
The besom-maker turned to the left towards her own house,
behind a spur of the hill, and Mrs. Yeobright followed
the straight track, which further on joined the highway by
the Quiet Woman Inn, whither she supposed her niece to have
returned with Wildeve from their wedding at Anglebury that day.
She first reached Wildeve's Patch, as it was called,
a plot of land redeemed from the heath, and after long
and laborious years brought into cultivation. The man who
had discovered that it could be tilled died of the labour;
the man who succeeded him in possession ruined himself
in fertilizing it. Wildeve came like Amerigo Vespucci,
and received the honours due to those who had gone before.
When Mrs. Yeobright had drawn near to the inn,
and was about to enter, she saw a horse and vehicle
some two hundred yards beyond it, coming towards her,
a man walking alongside with a lantern in his hand.
It was soon evident that this was the reddleman who had
inquired for her. Instead of entering the inn at once,
she walked by it and towards the van.
The conveyance came close, and the man was about to pass
her with little notice, when she turned to him and said,
"I think you have been inquiring for me? I am Mrs. Yeobright
of Blooms-End."
The reddleman started, and held up his finger.
He stopped the horses, and beckoned to her to withdraw
with him a few yards aside, which she did, wondering.
"You don't know me, ma'am, I suppose?" he said.
"I do not," said she. "Why, yes, I do! You are young
Venn--your father was a dairyman somewhere here?"
"Yes; and I knew your niece, Miss Tamsin, a little.
I have something bad to tell you."
"About her--no! She has just come home, I believe,
with her husband. They arranged to return this
afternoon--to the inn beyond here."
"She's not there."
"How do you know?"
"Because she's here. She's in my van," he added slowly.
"What new trouble has come?" murmured Mrs. Yeobright,
putting her hand over her eyes.
"I can't explain much, ma'am. All I know is that, as I
was going along the road this morning, about a mile out
of Anglebury, I heard something trotting after me like a doe,
and looking round there she was, white as death itself.
'Oh, Diggory Venn!' she said, 'I thought 'twas you--will
you help me? I am in trouble.'"
"How did she know your Christian name?" said Mrs. Yeobright
"I had met her as a lad before I went away in this trade.
She asked then if she might ride, and then down she fell
in a faint. I picked her up and put her in, and there
she has been ever since. She has cried a good deal,
but she has hardly spoke; all she has told me being
that she was to have been married this morning.
I tried to get her to eat something, but she couldn't;
and at last she fell asleep."
"Let me see her at once," said Mrs. Yeobright,
hastening towards the van.
The reddleman followed with the lantern, and, stepping
up first, assisted Mrs. Yeobright to mount beside him.
On the door being opened she perceived at the end
of the van an extemporized couch, around which was hung
apparently all the drapery that the reddleman possessed,
to keep the occupant of the little couch from contact
with the red materials of his trade. A young girl
lay thereon, covered with a cloak. She was asleep,
and the light of the lantern fell upon her features.
A fair, sweet, and honest country face was revealed,
reposing in a nest of wavy chestnut hair. It was between
pretty and beautiful. Though her eyes were closed,
one could easily imagine the light necessarily shining in them
as the culmination of the luminous workmanship around.
The groundwork of the face was hopefulness; but over it
now I ay like a foreign substance a film of anxiety
and grief. The grief had been there so shortly as to
have abstracted nothing of the bloom, and had as yet but
given a dignity to what it might eventually undermine.
The scarlet of her lips had not had time to abate,
and just now it appeared still more intense by the absence
of the neighbouring and more transient colour of her cheek.
The lips frequently parted, with a murmur of words.
She seemed to belong rightly to a madrigal--to require
viewing through rhyme and harmony.
One thing at least was obvious: she was not made to be
looked at thus. The reddleman had appeared conscious
of as much, and, while Mrs. Yeobright looked in upon her,
he cast his eyes aside with a delicacy which well became him.
The sleeper apparently thought so too, for the next moment
she opened her own.
The lips then parted with something of anticipation,
something more of doubt; and her several thoughts and fractions
of thoughts, as signalled by the changes on her face,
were exhibited by the light to the utmost nicety.
An ingenuous, transparent life was disclosed, as if the
flow of her existence could be seen passing within her.
She understood the scene in a moment.
"O yes, it is I, Aunt," she cried. "I know how frightened
you are, and how you cannot believe it; but all the same,
it is I who have come home like this!"
"Tamsin, Tamsin!" said Mrs. Yeobright, stooping over
the young woman and kissing her. "O my dear girl!"
Thomasin was now on the verge of a sob, but by an unexpected
self-command she uttered no sound. With a gentle panting
breath she sat upright.
"I did not expect to see you in this state, any more
than you me," she went on quickly. "Where am I, Aunt?"
"Nearly home, my dear. In Egdon Bottom. What dreadful
thing is it?"
"I'll tell you in a moment. So near, are we? Then I
will get out and walk. I want to go home by the path."
"But this kind man who has done so much will, I am sure,
take you right on to my house?" said the aunt, turning to
the reddleman, who had withdrawn from the front of the van
on the awakening of the girl, and stood in the road.
"Why should you think it necessary to ask me? I will,
of course," said he.
"He is indeed kind," murmured Thomasin. "I was once
acquainted with him, Aunt, and when I saw him today I thought
I should prefer his van to any conveyance of a stranger.
But I'll walk now. Reddleman, stop the horses, please."
The man regarded her with tender reluctance, but stopped
Aunt and niece then descended from the van, Mrs. Yeobright
saying to its owner, "I quite recognize you now.
What made you change from the nice business your father
left you?"
"Well, I did," he said, and looked at Thomasin,
who blushed a little. "Then you'll not be wanting
me any more tonight, ma'am?"
Mrs. Yeobright glanced around at the dark sky, at the hills,
at the perishing bonfires, and at the lighted window
of the inn they had neared. "I think not," she said,
"since Thomasin wishes to walk. We can soon run up
the path and reach home--we know it well."
And after a few further words they parted, the reddleman
moving onwards with his van, and the two women remaining
standing in the road. As soon as the vehicle and its
driver had withdrawn so far as to be beyond all possible
reach of her voice, Mrs. Yeobright turned to her niece.
"Now, Thomasin," she said sternly, "what's the meaning
of this disgraceful performance?"
5 - Perplexity among Honest People
Thomasin looked as if quite overcome by her aunt's change
of manner. "It means just what it seems to mean: I
am--not married," she replied faintly. "Excuse me--for
humiliating you, Aunt, by this mishap--I am sorry for it.
But I cannot help it."
"Me? Think of yourself first."
"It was nobody's fault. When we got there the parson
wouldn't marry us because of some trifling irregularity
in the license."
"What irregularity?"
"I don't know. Mr. Wildeve can explain. I did not think
when I went away this morning that I should come back
like this." It being dark, Thomasin allowed her emotion
to escape her by the silent way of tears, which could
roll down her cheek unseen.
"I could almost say that it serves you right--if I did not
feel that you don't deserve it," continued Mrs. Yeobright,
who, possessing two distinct moods in close contiguity,
a gentle mood and an angry, flew from one to the other
without the least warning. "Remember, Thomasin,
this business was none of my seeking; from the very first,
when you began to feel foolish about that man, I warned
you he would not make you happy. I felt it so strongly
that I did what I would never have believed myself
capable of doing--stood up in the church, and made myself
the public talk for weeks. But having once consented,
I don't submit to these fancies without good reason.
Marry him you must after this."
"Do you think I wish to do otherwise for one moment?"
said Thomasin, with a heavy sigh. "I know how wrong
it was of me to love him, but don't pain me by talking
like that, Aunt! You would not have had me stay there
with him, would you?--and your house is the only home I
have to return to. He says we can be married in a day
or two."
"I wish he had never seen you."
"Very well; then I will be the miserablest woman in the world,
and not let him see me again. No, I won't have him!"
"It is too late to speak so. Come with me. I am
going to the inn to see if he has returned. Of course
I shall get to the bottom of this story at once.
Mr. Wildeve must not suppose he can play tricks upon me,
or any belonging to me."
"It was not that. The license was wrong, and he couldn't
get another the same day. He will tell you in a moment
how it was, if he comes."
"Why didn't he bring you back?"
"That was me!" again sobbed Thomasin. "When I found we
could not be married I didn't like to come back with him,
and I was very ill. Then I saw Diggory Venn, and was glad
to get him to take me home. I cannot explain it any better,
and you must be angry with me if you will."
"I shall see about that," said Mrs. Yeobright; and they
turned towards the inn, known in the neighbourhood
as the Quiet Woman, the sign of which represented
the figure of a matron carrying her head under her arm,
beneath which gruesome design was written the couplet
so well known to frequenters of the inn:--
[1] The inn which really bore this sign and legend
stood some miles to the northwest of the present scene,
wherein the house more immediately referred to is now no
longer an inn; and the surroundings are much changed.
But another inn, some of whose features are also embodied
in this description, the RED LION at Winfrith,
still remains as a haven for the wayfarer (1912).
The front of the house was towards the heath and Rainbarrow,
whose dark shape seemed to threaten it from the sky.
Upon the door was a neglected brass plate, bearing the
unexpected inscription, "Mr. Wildeve, Engineer"--a useless
yet cherished relic from the time when he had been started
in that profession in an office at Budmouth by those who
had hoped much from him, and had been disappointed.
The garden was at the back, and behind this ran a still
deep stream, forming the margin of the heath in that direction,
meadow-land appearing beyond the stream.
But the thick obscurity permitted only skylines to be
visible of any scene at present. The water at the back
of the house could be heard, idly spinning whirpools
in its creep between the rows of dry feather-headed reeds
which formed a stockade along each bank. Their presence
was denoted by sounds as of a congregation praying humbly,
produced by their rubbing against each other in the slow wind.
The window, whence the candlelight had shone up the vale
to the eyes of the bonfire group, was uncurtained,
but the sill lay too high for a pedestrian on the outside
to look over it into the room. A vast shadow, in which
could be dimly traced portions of a masculine contour,
blotted half the ceiling.
"He seems to be at home," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"Must I come in, too, Aunt?" asked Thomasin faintly.
"I suppose not; it would be wrong."
"You must come, certainly--to confront him, so that he
may make no false representations to me. We shall not
be five minutes in the house, and then we'll walk home."
Entering the open passage, she tapped at the door
of the private parlour, unfastened it, and looked in.
The back and shoulders of a man came between Mrs. Yeobright's
eyes and the fire. Wildeve, whose form it was,
immediately turned, arose, and advanced to meet his visitors.
He was quite a young man, and of the two properties,
form and motion, the latter first attracted the eye
in him. The grace of his movement was singular--it
was the pantomimic expression of a lady-killing career.
Next came into notice the more material qualities,
among which was a profuse crop of hair impending
over the top of his face, lending to his forehead
the high-cornered outline of an early Gothic shield;
and a neck which was smooth and round as a cylinder.
The lower half of his figure was of light build.
Altogether he was one in whom no man would have seen
anything to admire, and in whom no woman would have seen
anything to dislike.
He discerned the young girl's form in the passage,
and said, "Thomasin, then, has reached home.
How could you leave me in that way, darling?" And turning
to Mrs. Yeobright--"It was useless to argue with her.
She would go, and go alone."
"But what's the meaning of it all?" demanded Mrs. Yeobright haughtily.
"Take a seat," said Wildeve, placing chairs for the two women.
"Well, it was a very stupid mistake, but such mistakes
will happen. The license was useless at Anglebury.
It was made out for Budmouth, but as I didn't read it I
wasn't aware of that."
"But you had been staying at Anglebury?"
"No. I had been at Budmouth--till two days ago--and
that was where I had intended to take her; but when
I came to fetch her we decided upon Anglebury,
forgetting that a new license would be necessary.
There was not time to get to Budmouth afterwards."
"I think you are very much to blame," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"It was quite my fault we chose Anglebury," Thomasin pleaded.
"I proposed it because I was not known there."
"I know so well that I am to blame that you need not
remind me of it," replied Wildeve shortly.
"Such things don't happen for nothing," said the aunt.
"It is a great slight to me and my family; and when it
gets known there will be a very unpleasant time for us.
How can she look her friends in the face tomorrow? It
is a very great injury, and one I cannot easily forgive.
It may even reflect on her character."
"Nonsense," said Wildeve.
Thomasin's large eyes had flown from the face of one
to the face of the other during this discussion, and she
now said anxiously, "Will you allow me, Aunt, to talk it
over alone with Damon for five minutes? Will you, Damon?"
"Certainly, dear," said Wildeve, "if your aunt will excuse us."
He led her into an adjoining room, leaving Mrs. Yeobright
by the fire.
As soon as they were alone, and the door closed,
Thomasin said, turning up her pale, tearful face
to him, "It is killing me, this, Damon! I did not mean
to part from you in anger at Anglebury this morning;
but I was frightened and hardly knew what I said.
I've not let Aunt know how much I suffered today; and it
is so hard to command my face and voice, and to smile
as if it were a slight thing to me; but I try to do so,
that she may not be still more indignant with you.
I know you could not help it, dear, whatever Aunt
may think."
"She is very unpleasant."
"Yes," Thomasin murmured, "and I suppose I seem
so now....Damon, what do you mean to do about me?"
"Do about you?"
"Yes. Those who don't like you whisper things which at
moments make me doubt you. We mean to marry, I suppose,
don't we?"
"Of course we do. We have only to go to Budmouth on Monday,
and we marry at once."
"Then do let us go!--O Damon, what you make me say!"
She hid her face in her handkerchief. "Here am I asking
you to marry me, when by rights you ought to be on your
knees imploring me, your cruel mistress, not to refuse you,
and saying it would break your heart if I did.
I used to think it would be pretty and sweet like that;
but how different!"
"Yes, real life is never at all like that."
"But I don't care personally if it never takes place,"
she added with a little dignity; "no, I can live without you.
It is Aunt I think of. She is so proud, and thinks
so much of her family respectability, that she will be
cut down with mortification if this story should get
abroad before--it is done. My cousin Clym, too, will be
much wounded."
"Then he will be very unreasonable. In fact, you are
all rather unreasonable."
Thomasin coloured a little, and not with love. But whatever
the momentary feeling which caused that flush in her,
it went as it came, and she humbly said, "I never mean
to be, if I can help it. I merely feel that you have
my aunt to some extent in your power at last."
"As a matter of justice it is almost due to me," said Wildeve.
"Think what I have gone through to win her consent;
the insult that it is to any man to have the banns
forbidden--the double insult to a man unlucky enough to be
cursed with sensitiveness, and blue demons, and Heaven
knows what, as I am. I can never forget those banns.
A harsher man would rejoice now in the power I have of
turning upon your aunt by going no further in the business."
She looked wistfully at him with her sorrowful eyes as he said
those words, and her aspect showed that more than one person
in the room could deplore the possession of sensitiveness.
Seeing that she was really suffering he seemed disturbed
and added, "This is merely a reflection you know.
I have not the least intention to refuse to complete
the marriage, Tamsie mine--I could not bear it."
"You could not, I know!" said the fair girl, brightening.
"You, who cannot bear the sight of pain in even an insect,
or any disagreeable sound, or unpleasant smell even,
will not long cause pain to me and mine."
"I will not, if I can help it."
"Your hand upon it, Damon."
He carelessly gave her his hand.
"Ah, by my crown, what's that?" he said suddenly.
There fell upon their ears the sound of numerous
voices singing in front of the house. Among these,
two made themselves prominent by their peculiarity: one
was a very strong bass, the other a wheezy thin piping.
Thomasin recognized them as belonging to Timothy Fairway
and Grandfer Cantle respectively.
"What does it mean--it is not skimmity-riding, I hope?"
she said, with a frightened gaze at Wildeve.
"Of course not; no, it is that the heath-folk have come
to sing to us a welcome. This is intolerable!" He began
pacing about, the men outside singing cheerily--
"He told' her that she' was the joy' of his life', And if'
she'd con-sent' he would make her his wife'; She could'
not refuse' him; to church' so they went', Young Will
was forgot', and young Sue' was content'; And then'
was she kiss'd' and set down' on his knee', No man'
in the world' was so lov'-ing as he'!"
Mrs. Yeobright burst in from the outer room.
"Thomasin, Thomasin!" she said, looking indignantly at Wildeve;
"here's a pretty exposure! Let us escape at once. Come!"
It was, however, too late to get away by the passage.
A rugged knocking had begun upon the door of the front room.
Wildeve, who had gone to the window, came back.
"Stop!" he said imperiously, putting his hand upon
Mrs. Yeobright's arm. "We are regularly besieged.
There are fifty of them out there if there's one.
You stay in this room with Thomasin; I'll go out and
face them. You must stay now, for my sake, till they
are gone, so that it may seem as if all was right.
Come, Tamsie dear, don't go making a scene--we must marry
after this; that you can see as well as I. Sit still,
that's all--and don't speak much. I'll manage them.
Blundering fools!"
He pressed the agitated girl into a seat, returned to the
outer room and opened the door. Immediately outside,
in the passage, appeared Grandfer Cantle singing in
concert with those still standing in front of the house.
He came into the room and nodded abstractedly to Wildeve,
his lips still parted, and his features excruciatingly
strained in the emission of the chorus. This being ended,
he said heartily, "Here's welcome to the new-made couple,
and God bless 'em!"
"Thank you," said Wildeve, with dry resentment, his face
as gloomy as a thunderstorm.
At the Grandfer's heels now came the rest of the group,
which included Fairway, Christian, Sam the turf-cutter,
Humphrey, and a dozen others. All smiled upon Wildeve,
and upon his tables and chairs likewise, from a general
sense of friendliness towards the articles as well
as towards their owner.
"We be not here afore Mrs. Yeobright after all,"
said Fairway, recognizing the matron's bonnet through
the glass partition which divided the public apartment
they had entered from the room where the women sat.
"We struck down across, d'ye see, Mr. Wildeve, and she
went round by the path."
"And I see the young bride's little head!" said Grandfer,
peeping in the same direction, and discerning Thomasin,
who was waiting beside her aunt in a miserable and awkward way.
"Not quite settled in yet--well, well, there's plenty
of time."
Wildeve made no reply; and probably feeling that the sooner
he treated them the sooner they would go, he produced
a stone jar, which threw a warm halo over matters at once.
"That's a drop of the right sort, I can see,"
said Grandfer Cantle, with the air of a man too wellmannered
to show any hurry to taste it.
"Yes," said Wildeve, "'tis some old mead. I hope you
will like it."
"O ay!" replied the guests, in the hearty tones natural
when the words demanded by politeness coincide with those
of deepest feeling. "There isn't a prettier drink under the sun."
"I'll take my oath there isn't," added Grandfer Cantle.
"All that can be said against mead is that 'tis
rather heady, and apt to lie about a man a good while.
But tomorrow's Sunday, thank God."
"I feel'd for all the world like some bold soldier after
I had had some once," said Christian.
"You shall feel so again," said Wildeve, with condescension,
"Cups or glasses, gentlemen?"
"Well, if you don't mind, we'll have the beaker, and pass
'en round; 'tis better than heling it out in dribbles."
"Jown the slippery glasses," said Grandfer Cantle.
"What's the good of a thing that you can't put down in
the ashes to warm, hey, neighbours; that's what I ask?"
"Right, Grandfer," said Sam; and the mead then circulated.
"Well," said Timothy Fairway, feeling demands upon his praise
in some form or other, "'tis a worthy thing to be married,
Mr. Wildeve; and the woman you've got is a dimant,
so says I. Yes," he continued, to Grandfer Cantle,
raising his voice so as to be heard through the partition,
"her father (inclining his head towards the inner room)
was as good a feller as ever lived. He always had his
great indignation ready against anything underhand."
"Is that very dangerous?" said Christian.
"And there were few in these parts that were upsides with him,"
said Sam. "Whenever a club walked he'd play the clarinet
in the band that marched before 'em as if he'd never
touched anything but a clarinet all his life. And then,
when they got to church door he'd throw down the clarinet,
mount the gallery, snatch up the bass viol, and rozum
away as if he'd never played anything but a bass viol.
Folk would say--folk that knowed what a true stave
was--'Surely, surely that's never the same man that I saw
handling the clarinet so masterly by now!"
"I can mind it," said the furze-cutter. "'Twas a wonderful
thing that one body could hold it all and never mix
the fingering."
"There was Kingsbere church likewise," Fairway recommenced,
as one opening a new vein of the same mine of interest.
Wildeve breathed the breath of one intolerably bored,
and glanced through the partition at the prisoners.
"He used to walk over there of a Sunday afternoon to visit
his old acquaintance Andrew Brown, the first clarinet there;
a good man enough, but rather screechy in his music,
if you can mind?"
"'A was."
"And neighbour Yeobright would take Andrey's place for some
part of the service, to let Andrey have a bit of a nap,
as any friend would naturally do."
"As any friend would," said Grandfer Cantle, the other
listeners expressing the same accord by the shorter way
of nodding their heads.
"No sooner was Andrey asleep and the first whiff
of neighbour Yeobright's wind had got inside Andrey's
clarinet than everyone in church feeled in a moment
there was a great soul among 'em. All heads would turn,
and they'd say, 'Ah, I thought 'twas he!' One Sunday I
can well mind--a bass viol day that time, and Yeobright
had brought his own. 'Twas the Hundred-and-thirty-third
to 'Lydia'; and when they'd come to 'Ran down his
beard and o'er his robes its costly moisture shed,'
neighbour Yeobright, who had just warmed to his work,
drove his bow into them strings that glorious grand
that he e'en a'most sawed the bass viol into two pieces.
Every winder in church rattled as if 'twere a thunderstorm.
Old Pa'son Williams lifted his hands in his great holy
surplice as natural as if he'd been in common clothes,
and seemed to say hisself, 'O for such a man in our parish!'
But not a soul in Kingsbere could hold a candle to Yeobright."
"Was it quite safe when the winder shook?" Christian inquired.
He received no answer, all for the moment sitting
rapt in admiration of the performance described.
As with Farinelli's singing before the princesses,
Sheridan's renowned Begum Speech, and other such examples,
the fortunate condition of its being for ever lost to
the world invested the deceased Mr. Yeobright's tour
de force on that memorable afternoon with a cumulative
glory which comparative criticism, had that been possible,
might considerably have shorn down.
"He was the last you'd have expected to drop off
in the prime of life," said Humphrey.
"Ah, well; he was looking for the earth some months
afore he went. At that time women used to run for
smocks and gown-pieces at Greenhill Fair, and my wife
that is now, being a long-legged slittering maid,
hardly husband-high, went with the rest of the maidens,
for 'a was a good, runner afore she got so heavy.
When she came home I said--we were then just beginning
to walk together--'What have ye got, my honey?'
'I've won--well, I've won--a gown-piece,' says she,
her colours coming up in a moment. 'Tis a smock for a crown,
I thought; and so it turned out. Ay, when I think what
she'll say to me now without a mossel of red in her face,
it do seem strange that 'a wouldn't say such a little thing
then....However, then she went on, and that's what made
me bring up the story. Well, whatever clothes I've won,
white or figured, for eyes to see or for eyes not to see'
('a could do a pretty stroke of modesty in those days),
'I'd sooner have lost it than have seen what I have.
Poor Mr. Yeobright was took bad directly he reached the
fair ground, and was forced to go home again.' That was
the last time he ever went out of the parish."
"'A faltered on from one day to another, and then we
heard he was gone."
"D'ye think he had great pain when 'a died?" said Christian.
"O no--quite different. Nor any pain of mind.
He was lucky enough to be God A'mighty's own man."
"And other folk--d'ye think 'twill be much pain to 'em,
Mister Fairway?"
"That depends on whether they be afeard."
"I bain't afeard at all, I thank God!" said Christian strenuously.
"I'm glad I bain't, for then 'twon't pain me....I
don't think I be afeard--or if I be I can't help it,
and I don't deserve to suffer. I wish I was not afeard at all!"
There was a solemn silence, and looking from the window,
which was unshuttered and unblinded, Timothy said,
"Well, what a fess little bonfire that one is, out by
Cap'n Vye's! 'Tis burning just the same now as ever,
upon my life."
All glances went through the window, and nobody noticed
that Wildeve disguised a brief, telltale look.
Far away up the sombre valley of heath, and to the
right of Rainbarrow, could indeed be seen the light,
small, but steady and persistent as before.
"It was lighted before ours was," Fairway continued;
"and yet every one in the country round is out afore
"Perhaps there's meaning in it!" murmured Christian.
"How meaning?" said Wildeve sharply.
Christian was too scattered to reply, and Timothy helped him.
"He means, sir, that the lonesome dark-eyed creature
up there that some say is a witch--ever I should call
a fine young woman such a name--is always up to some odd
conceit or other; and so perhaps 'tis she."
"I'd be very glad to ask her in wedlock, if she'd hae me
and take the risk of her wild dark eyes ill-wishing me,"
said Grandfer Cantle staunchly.
"Don't ye say it, Father!" implored Christian.
"Well, be dazed if he who do marry the maid won't hae
an uncommon picture for his best parlour," said Fairway
in a liquid tone, placing down the cup of mead at the end
of a good pull.
"And a partner as deep as the North Star," said Sam,
taking up the cup and finishing the little that remained.
"Well, really, now I think we must be moving," said Humphrey,
observing the emptiness of the vessel.
"But we'll gie 'em another song?" said Grandfer Cantle.
"I'm as full of notes as a bird!"
"Thank you, Grandfer," said Wildeve. "But we will not
trouble you now. Some other day must do for that--when
I have a party."
"Be jown'd if I don't learn ten new songs for't, or I
won't learn a line!" said Grandfer Cantle. "And you may
be sure I won't disappoint ye by biding away, Mr. Wildeve."
"I quite believe you," said that gentleman.
All then took their leave, wishing their entertainer long
life and happiness as a married man, with recapitulations
which occupied some time. Wildeve attended them to the door,
beyond which the deep-dyed upward stretch of heath stood
awaiting them, an amplitude of darkness reigning from their
feet almost to the zenith, where a definite form first
became visible in the lowering forehead of Rainbarrow.
Diving into the dense obscurity in a line headed by Sam
the turf-cutter, they pursued their trackless way home.
When the scratching of the furze against their leggings
had fainted upon the ear, Wildeve returned to the room
where he had left Thomasin and her aunt. The women
were gone.
They could only have left the house in one way,
by the back window; and this was open.
Wildeve laughed to himself, remained a moment thinking,
and idly returned to the front room. Here his glance fell
upon a bottle of wine which stood on the mantelpiece.
"Ah--old Dowden!" he murmured; and going to the kitchen
door shouted, "Is anybody here who can take something to
old Dowden?"
There was no reply. The room was empty, the lad who acted
as his factotum having gone to bed. Wildeve came back
put on his hat, took the bottle, and left the house,
turning the key in the door, for there was no guest at
the inn tonight. As soon as he was on the road the little
bonfire on Mistover Knap again met his eye.
"Still waiting, are you, my lady?" he murmured.
However, he did not proceed that way just then;
but leaving the hill to the left of him, he stumbled
over a rutted road that brought him to a cottage which,
like all other habitations on the heath at this hour,
was only saved from being visible by a faint shine from its
bedroom window. This house was the home of Olly Dowden,
the besom-maker, and he entered.
The lower room was in darkness; but by feeling his way he
found a table, whereon he placed the bottle, and a minute
later emerged again upon the heath. He stood and looked
northeast at the undying little fire--high up above him,
though not so high as Rainbarrow.
We have been told what happens when a woman deliberates;
and the epigram is not always terminable with woman,
provided that one be in the case, and that a fair one.
Wildeve stood, and stood longer, and breathed perplexedly,
and then said to himself with resignation, "Yes--by Heaven,
I must go to her, I suppose!"
Instead of turning in the direction of home he pressed
on rapidly by a path under Rainbarrow towards what was
evidently a signal light.
6 - The Figure against the Sky
When the whole Egdon concourse had left the site
of the bonfire to its accustomed loneliness, a closely
wrapped female figure approached the barrow from that
quarter of the heath in which the little fire lay.
Had the reddleman been watching he might have recognized
her as the woman who had first stood there so singularly,
and vanished at the approach of strangers. She ascended
to her old position at the top, where the red coals
of the perishing fire greeted her like living eyes
in the corpse of day. There she stood still around her
stretching the vast night atmosphere, whose incomplete
darkness in comparison with the total darkness of the heath
below it might have represented a venial beside a mortal sin.
That she was tall and straight in build, that she was
lady-like in her movements, was all that could be learnt
of her just now, her form being wrapped in a shawl folded in
the old cornerwise fashion, and her head in a large kerchief,
a protection not superfluous at this hour and place.
Her back was towards the wind, which blew from the northwest;
but whether she had avoided that aspect because of the
chilly gusts which played about her exceptional position,
or because her interest lay in the southeast, did not
at first appear.
Her reason for standing so dead still as the pivot
of this circle of heath-country was just as obscure.
Her extraordinary fixity, her conspicuous loneliness,
her heedlessness of night, betokened among other things
an utter absence of fear. A tract of country unaltered
from that sinister condition which made Caesar anxious every
year to get clear of its glooms before the autumnal equinox,
a kind of landscape and weather which leads travellers from
the South to describe our island as Homer's Cimmerian land,
was not, on the face of it, friendly to women.
It might reasonably have been supposed that she was listening
to the wind, which rose somewhat as the night advanced,
and laid hold of the attention. The wind, indeed, seemed made
for the scene, as the scene seemed made for the hour.
Part of its tone was quite special; what was heard there
could be heard nowhere else. Gusts in innumerable series
followed each other from the northwest, and when each one
of them raced past the sound of its progress resolved
into three. Treble, tenor, and bass notes were to be
found therein. The general ricochet of the whole over
pits and prominences had the gravest pitch of the chime.
Next there could be heard the baritone buzz of a holly tree.
Below these in force, above them in pitch, a dwindled voice
strove hard at a husky tune, which was the peculiar local
sound alluded to. Thinner and less immediately traceable
than the other two, it was far more impressive than either.
In it lay what may be called the linguistic peculiarity
of the heath; and being audible nowhere on earth off a heath,
it afforded a shadow of reason for the woman's tenseness,
which continued as unbroken as ever.
Throughout the blowing of these plaintive November winds
that note bore a great resemblance to the ruins of human
song which remain to the throat of fourscore and ten.
It was a worn whisper, dry and papery, and it brushed
so distinctly across the ear that, by the accustomed,
the material minutiae in which it originated could
be realized as by touch. It was the united products
of infinitesimal vegetable causes, and these were neither
stems, leaves, fruit, blades, prickles, lichen, nor moss.
They were the mummied heathbells of the past summer,
originally tender and purple, now washed colourless by
Michaelmas rains, and dried to dead skins by October suns.
So low was an individual sound from these that a
combination of hundreds only just emerged from silence,
and the myriads of the whole declivity reached the woman's
ear but as a shrivelled and intermittent recitative.
Yet scarcely a single accent among the many afloat tonight
could have such power to impress a listener with thoughts
of its origin. One inwardly saw the infinity of those
combined multitudes; and perceived that each of the tiny
trumpets was seized on entered, scoured and emerged from
by the wind as thoroughly as if it were as vast as a crater.
"The spirit moved them." A meaning of the phrase forced itself
upon the attention; and an emotional listener's fetichistic
mood might have ended in one of more advanced quality.
It was not, after all, that the left-hand expanse of old
blooms spoke, or the right-hand, or those of the slope
in front; but it was the single person of something
else speaking through each at once.
Suddenly, on the barrow, there mingled with all this wild
rhetoric of night a sound which modulated so naturally
into the rest that its beginning and ending were hardly
to be distinguished. The bluffs, and the bushes,
and the heather-bells had broken silence; at last, so did
the woman; and her articulation was but as another phrase
of the same discourse as theirs. Thrown out on the winds
it became twined in with them, and with them it flew away.
What she uttered was a lengthened sighing, apparently at
something in her mind which had led to her presence here.
There was a spasmodic abandonment about it as if,
in allowing herself to utter the sound. the woman's
brain had authorized what it could not regulate.
One point was evident in this; that she had been existing
in a suppressed state, and not in one of languor,
or stagnation.
Far away down the valley the faint shine from the window
of the inn still lasted on; and a few additional
moments proved that the window, or what was within it,
had more to do with the woman's sigh than had either
her own actions or the scene immediately around.
She lifted her left hand, which held a closed telescope.
This she rapidly extended, as if she were well accustomed
to the operation, and raising it to her eye directed it
towards the light beaming from the inn.
The handkerchief which had hooded her head was now a
little thrown back, her face being somewhat elevated.
A profile was visible against the dull monochrome of
cloud around her; and it was as though side shadows from
the features of Sappho and Mrs. Siddons had converged
upwards from the tomb to form an image like neither but
suggesting both. This, however, was mere superficiality.
In respect of character a face may make certain admissions
by its outline; but it fully confesses only in its changes.
So much is this the case that what is called the play of the
features often helps more in understanding a man or woman
than the earnest labours of all the other members together.
Thus the night revealed little of her whose form it was embracing,
for the mobile parts of her countenance could not be seen.
At last she gave up her spying attitude, closed the telescope,
and turned to the decaying embers. From these no appreciable
beams now radiated, except when a more than usually
smart gust brushed over their faces and raised a fitful
glow which came and went like the blush of a girl.
She stooped over the silent circle, and selecting from the
brands a piece of stick which bore the largest live coal
at its end, brought it to where she had been standing before.
She held the brand to the ground, blowing the red coal
with her mouth at the same time; till it faintly illuminated
the sod, and revealed a small object, which turned out
to be an hourglass, though she wore a watch. She blew
long enough to show that the sand had all slipped through.
"Ah!" she said, as if surprised.
The light raised by her breath had been very fitful,
and a momentary irradiation of flesh was all that it had
disclosed of her face. That consisted of two matchless
lips and a cheek only, her head being still enveloped.
She threw away the stick, took the glass in her hand,
the telescope under her arm, and moved on.
Along the ridge ran a faint foot-track, which the
lady followed. Those who knew it well called it a path;
and, while a mere visitor would have passed it unnoticed
even by day, the regular haunters of the heath were at no
loss for it at midnight. The whole secret of following
these incipient paths, when there was not light enough
in the atmosphere to show a turnpike road, lay in the
development of the sense of touch in the feet, which comes
with years of night-rambling in little-trodden spots.
To a walker practised in such places a difference between
impact on maiden herbage, and on the crippled stalks
of a slight footway, is perceptible through the thickest boot or shoe.
The solitary figure who walked this beat took no notice
of the windy tune still played on the dead heathbells.
She did not turn her head to look at a group of dark
creatures further on, who fled from her presence as she
skirted a ravine where they fed. They were about a score
of the small wild ponies known as heath-croppers. They
roamed at large on the undulations of Egdon, but in numbers
too few to detract much from the solitude.
The pedestrian noticed nothing just now, and a clue
to her abstraction was afforded by a trivial incident.
A bramble caught hold of her skirt, and checked her progress.
Instead of putting it off and hastening along, she yielded
herself up to the pull, and stood passively still.
When she began to extricate herself it was by turning
round and round, and so unwinding the prickly switch.
She was in a desponding reverie.
Her course was in the direction of the small undying fire
which had drawn the attention of the men on Rainbarrow
and of Wildeve in the valley below. A faint illumination
from its rays began to glow upon her face, and the fire
soon revealed itself to be lit, not on the level ground,
but on a salient corner or redan of earth, at the junction
of two converging bank fences. Outside was a ditch,
dry except immediately under the fire, where there was
a large pool, bearded all round by heather and rushes.
In the smooth water of the pool the fire appeared
upside down.
The banks meeting behind were bare of a hedge,
save such as was formed by disconnected tufts of furze,
standing upon stems along the top, like impaled heads
above a city wall. A white mast, fitted up with spars
and other nautical tackle, could be seen rising against
the dark clouds whenever the flames played brightly enough
to reach it. Altogether the scene had much the appearance
of a fortification upon which had been kindled a beacon fire.
Nobody was visible; but ever and anon a whitish something
moved above the bank from behind, and vanished again.
This was a small human hand, in the act of lifting pieces
of fuel into the fire, but for all that could be seen the hand,
like that which troubled Belshazzar, was there alone.
Occasionally an ember rolled off the bank, and dropped
with a hiss into the pool.
At one side of the pool rough steps built of clods enabled
everyone who wished to do so to mount the bank; which the
woman did. Within was a paddock in an uncultivated state,
though bearing evidence of having once been tilled;
but the heath and fern had insidiously crept in,
and were reasserting their old supremacy. Further ahead
were dimly visible an irregular dwelling-house, garden,
and outbuildings, backed by a clump of firs.
The young lady--for youth had revealed its presence in her
buoyant bound up the bank--walked along the top instead
of descending inside, and came to the corner where the fire
was burning. One reason for the permanence of the blaze
was now manifest: the fuel consisted of hard pieces
of wood, cleft and sawn--the knotty boles of old thorn
trees which grew in twos and threes about the hillsides.
A yet unconsumed pile of these lay in the inner angle
of the bank; and from this corner the upturned face of a
little boy greeted her eves. He was dilatorily throwing
up a piece of wood into the fire every now and then,
a business which seemed to have engaged him a considerable
part of the evening, for his face was somewhat weary.
"I am glad you have come, Miss Eustacia," he said,
with a sigh of relief. "I don't like biding by myself."
"Nonsense. I have only been a little way for a walk.
I have been gone only twenty minutes."
"It seemed long," murmured the sad boy. "And you have
been so many times."
"Why, I thought you would be pleased to have a bonfire.
Are you not much obliged to me for making you one?"
"Yes; but there's nobody here to play wi' me."
"I suppose nobody has come while I've been away?"
"Nobody except your grandfather--he looked out of doors
once for 'ee. I told him you were walking round upon
the hill to look at the other bonfires."
"A good boy."
"I think I hear him coming again, miss."
An old man came into the remoter light of the fire from
the direction of the homestead. He was the same who had
overtaken the reddleman on the road that afternoon.
He looked wistfully to the top of the bank at the woman
who stood there, and his teeth, which were quite unimpaired,
showed like parian from his parted lips.
"When are you coming indoors, Eustacia?" he asked.
"'Tis almost bedtime. I've been home these two hours,
and am tired out. Surely 'tis somewhat childish of you to stay
out playing at bonfires so long, and wasting such fuel.
My precious thorn roots, the rarest of all firing,
that I laid by on purpose for Christmas--you have burnt 'em
nearly all!"
"I promised Johnny a bonfire, and it pleases him not
to let it go out just yet," said Eustacia, in a way
which told at once that she was absolute queen here.
"Grandfather, you go in to bed. I shall follow you soon.
You like the fire, don't you, Johnny?"
The boy looked up doubtfully at her and murmured,
"I don't think I want it any longer."
Her grandfather had turned back again, and did not hear
the boy's reply. As soon as the white-haired man
had vanished she said in a tone of pique to the child,
"Ungrateful little boy, how can you contradict me?
Never shall you have a bonfire again unless you keep it
up now. Come, tell me you like to do things for me,
and don't deny it."
The repressed child said, "Yes, I do, miss," and continued
to stir the fire perfunctorily.
"Stay a little longer and I will give you a crooked six-pence,"
said Eustacia, more gently. "Put in one piece of wood
every two or three minutes, but not too much at once.
I am going to walk along the ridge a little longer,
but I shall keep on coming to you. And if you hear a frog
jump into the pond with a flounce like a stone thrown in,
be sure you run and tell me, because it is a sign of rain."
"Yes, Eustacia."
"Miss Vye, sir."
"Miss Vy--stacia."
"That will do. Now put in one stick more."
The little slave went on feeding the fire as before.
He seemed a mere automaton, galvanized into moving and
speaking by the wayward Eustacia's will. He might have been
the brass statue which Albertus Magnus is said to have
animated just so far as to make it chatter, and move,
and be his servant.
Before going on her walk again the young girl stood
still on the bank for a few instants and listened.
It was to the full as lonely a place as Rainbarrow, though at
rather a lower level; and it was more sheltered from wind
and weather on account of the few firs to the north.
The bank which enclosed the homestead, and protected it
from the lawless state of the world without, was formed
of thick square clods, dug from the ditch on the outside,
and built up with a slight batter or incline, which forms
no slight defense where hedges will not grow because of
the wind and the wilderness, and where wall materials
are unattainable. Otherwise the situation was quite open,
commanding the whole length of the valley which reached
to the river behind Wildeve's house. High above this
to the right, and much nearer thitherward than the Quiet
Woman Inn, the blurred contour of Rainbarrow obstructed
the sky.
After her attentive survey of the wild slopes and hollow
ravines a gesture of impatience escaped Eustacia.
She vented petulant words every now and then, but there
were sighs between her words, and sudden listenings
between her sighs. Descending from her perch she again
sauntered off towards Rainbarrow, though this time she
did not go the whole way.
Twice she reappeared at intervals of a few minutes
and each time she said--
"Not any flounce into the pond yet, little man?"
"No, Miss Eustacia," the child replied.
"Well," she said at last, "I shall soon be going in,
and then I will give you the crooked sixpence, and let you
go home."
"Thank'ee, Miss Eustacia," said the tired stoker,
breathing more easily. And Eustacia again strolled away
from the fire, but this time not towards Rainbarrow.
She skirted the bank and went round to the wicket before
the house, where she stood motionless, looking at the scene.
Fifty yards off rose the corner of the two converging banks,
with the fire upon it; within the bank, lifting up to the
fire one stick at a time, just as before, the figure of
the little child. She idly watched him as he occasionally
climbed up in the nook of the bank and stood beside
the brands. The wind blew the smoke, and the child's hair,
and the corner of his pinafore, all in the same direction;
the breeze died, and the pinafore and hair lay still,
and the smoke went up straight.
While Eustacia looked on from this distance the boy's
form visibly started--he slid down the bank and ran
across towards the white gate.
"Well?" said Eustacia.
"A hopfrog have jumped into the pond. Yes, I heard 'en!"
"Then it is going to rain, and you had better go home.
You will not be afraid?" She spoke hurriedly, as if her
heart had leapt into her throat at the boy's words.
"No, because I shall hae the crooked sixpence."
"Yes. here it is. Now run as fast as you can--not that
way--through the garden here. No other boy in the heath
has had such a bonfire as yours."
The boy, who clearly had had too much of a good thing,
marched away into the shadows with alacrity. When he
was gone Eustacia, leaving her telescope and hourglass
by the gate, brushed forward from the wicket towards
the angle of the bank, under the fire.
Here, screened by the outwork, she waited. In a few
moments a splash was audible from the pond outside.
Had the child been there he would have said that a second
frog had jumped in; but by most people the sound would
have been likened to the fall of a stone into the water.
Eustacia stepped upon the bank.
"Yes?" she said, and held her breath.
Thereupon the contour of a man became dimly visible against
the low-reaching sky over the valley, beyond the outer
margin of the pool. He came round it and leapt upon
the bank beside her. A low laugh escaped her--the third
utterance which the girl had indulged in tonight. The first,
when she stood upon Rainbarrow, had expressed anxiety;
the second, on the ridge, had expressed impatience;
the present was one of triumphant pleasure. She let
her joyous eyes rest upon him without speaking, as upon
some wondrous thing she had created out of chaos.
"I have come," said the man, who was Wildeve.
"You give me no peace. Why do you not leave me alone?
I have seen your bonfire all the evening." The words
were not without emotion, and retained their level tone
as if by a careful equipoise between imminent extremes.
At this unexpectedly repressing manner in her lover
the girl seemed to repress herself also. "Of course you
have seen my fire," she answered with languid calmness,
artificially maintained. "Why shouldn't I have a bonfire
on the Fifth of November, like other denizens of the heath?"
"I knew it was meant for me."
"How did you know it? I have had no word with you
since you--you chose her, and walked about with her,
and deserted me entirely, as if I had never been yours
life and soul so irretrievably!"
"Eustacia! could I forget that last autumn at this same day
of the month and at this same place you lighted exactly
such a fire as a signal for me to come and see you? Why
should there have been a bonfire again by Captain Vye's
house if not for the same purpose?"
"Yes, yes--I own it," she cried under her breath, with a drowsy
fervour of manner and tone which was quite peculiar to her.
"Don't begin speaking to me as you did, Damon; you will
drive me to say words I would not wish to say to you.
I had given you up, and resolved not to think of you any more;
and then I heard the news, and I came out and got the fire
ready because I thought that you had been faithful to me."
"What have you heard to make you think that?"
said Wildeve, astonished.
"That you did not marry her!" she murmured exultingly.
"And I knew it was because you loved me best, and couldn't
do it....Damon, you have been cruel to me to go away,
and I have said I would never forgive you. I do not think
I can forgive you entirely, even now--it is too much for a
woman of any spirit to quite overlook."
"If I had known you wished to call me up here only
to reproach me, I wouldn't have come."
"But I don't mind it, and I do forgive you now that you
have not married her, and have come back to me!"
"Who told you that I had not married her?"
"My grandfather. He took a long walk today, and as he
was coming home he overtook some person who told him
of a broken-off wedding--he thought it might be yours,
and I knew it was."
"Does anybody else know?"
"I suppose not. Now Damon, do you see why I lit my signal
fire? You did not think I would have lit it if I had
imagined you to have become the husband of this woman.
It is insulting my pride to suppose that."
Wildeve was silent; it was evident that he had supposed
as much.
"Did you indeed think I believed you were married?"
she again demanded earnestly. "Then you wronged me;
and upon my life and heart I can hardly bear to recognize
that you have such ill thoughts of me! Damon, you are not
worthy of me--I see it, and yet I love you. Never mind,
let it go--I must bear your mean opinion as best I may....It
is true, is it not," she added with ill-concealed anxiety,
on his making no demonstration, "that you could not bring
yourself to give me up, and are still going to love me best
of all?"
"Yes; or why should I have come?" he said touchily.
"Not that fidelity will be any great merit in me after your
kind speech about my unworthiness, which should have been
said by myself if by anybody, and comes with an ill grace
from you. However, the curse of inflammability is upon me,
and I must live under it, and take any snub from a woman.
It has brought me down from engineering to innkeeping--what
lower stage it has in store for me I have yet to learn."
He continued to look upon her gloomily.
She seized the moment, and throwing back the shawl so
that the firelight shone full upon her face and throat,
said with a smile, "Have you seen anything better than
that in your travels?"
Eustacia was not one to commit herself to such a position
without good ground. He said quietly, "No."
"Not even on the shoulders of Thomasin?"
"Thomasin is a pleasing and innocent woman."
"That's nothing to do with it," she cried with
quick passionateness. "We will leave her out;
there are only you and me now to think of." After a long
look at him she resumed with the old quiescent warmth,
"Must I go on weakly confessing to you things a woman
ought to conceal; and own that no words can express
how gloomy I have been because of that dreadful belief
I held till two hours ago--that you had quite deserted me?"
"I am sorry I caused you that pain."
"But perhaps it is not wholly because of you that I get gloomy,"
she archly added. "It is in my nature to feel like that.
It was born in my blood, I suppose."
"Or else it was coming into this wild heath. I was happy
enough at Budmouth. O the times, O the days at Budmouth!
But Egdon will be brighter again now."
"I hope it will," said Wildeve moodily. "Do you know
the consequence of this recall to me, my old darling? I
shall come to see you again as before, at Rainbarrow."
"Of course you will."
"And yet I declare that until I got here tonight I intended,
after this one good-bye, never to meet you again."
"I don't thank you for that," she said, turning away,
while indignation spread through her like subterranean heat.
"You may come again to Rainbarrow if you like, but you
won't see me; and you may call, but I shall not listen;
and you may tempt me, but I won't give myself to you
any more."
"You have said as much before, sweet; but such natures
as yours don't so easily adhere to their words.
Neither, for the matter of that, do such natures as mine."
"This is the pleasure I have won by my trouble,"
she whispered bitterly. "Why did I try to recall you? Damon,
a strange warring takes place in my mind occasionally.
I think when I become calm after you woundings, 'Do I embrace
a cloud of common fog after all?' You are a chameleon,
and now you are at your worst colour. Go home, or I shall
hate you!"
He looked absently towards Rainbarrow while one might
have counted twenty, and said, as if he did not much mind
all this, "Yes, I will go home. Do you mean to see me again?"
"If you own to me that the wedding is broken off because
you love me best."
"I don't think it would be good policy," said Wildeve, smiling.
"You would get to know the extent of your power too clearly."
"But tell me!"
"You know."
"Where is she now?"
"I don't know. I prefer not to speak of her to you.
I have not yet married her; I have come in obedience to
your call. That is enough."
"I merely lit that fire because I was dull, and thought
I would get a little excitement by calling you up and
triumphing over you as the Witch of Endor called up Samuel.
I determined you should come; and you have come! I have
shown my power. A mile and half hither, and a mile and half
back again to your home--three miles in the dark for me.
Have I not shown my power?"
He shook his head at her. "I know you too well, my Eustacia;
I know you too well. There isn't a note in you which I
don't know; and that hot little bosom couldn't play such
a cold-blooded trick to save its life. I saw a woman
on Rainbarrow at dusk looking down towards my house.
I think I drew out you before you drew out me."
The revived embers of an old passion glowed clearly
in Wildeve now; and he leant forward as if about to put
his face towards her cheek.
"O no," she said, intractably moving to the other side
of the decayed fire. "What did you mean by that?"
"Perhaps I may kiss your hand?"
"No, you may not."
"Then I may shake your hand?"
"Then I wish you good night without caring for either.
Good-bye, good-bye."
She returned no answer, and with the bow of a dancingmaster
he vanished on the other side of the pool as he
had come.
Eustacia sighed--it was no fragile maiden sigh, but a
sigh which shook her like a shiver. Whenever a flash
of reason darted like an electric light upon her lover-
-as it sometimes would--and showed his imperfections,
she shivered thus. But it was over in a second,
and she loved on. She knew that he trifled with her;
but she loved on. She scattered the half-burnt brands,
went indoors immediately, and up to her bedroom without
a light. Amid the rustles which denoted her to be undressing
in the darkness other heavy breaths frequently came;
and the same kind of shudder occasionally moved through
her when, ten minutes later, she lay on her bed asleep.
7 - Queen of Night
Eustacia Vye was the raw material of a divinity. On Olympus
she would have done well with a little preparation.
She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess,
that is, those which make not quite a model woman.
Had it been possible for the earth and mankind to be entirely
in her grasp for a while, she had handled the distaff,
the spindle, and the shears at her own free will, few in
the world would have noticed the change of government.
There would have been the same inequality of lot, the same
heaping up of favours here, of contumely there, the same
generosity before justice, the same perpetual dilemmas,
the same captious alteration of caresses and blows that we
endure now.
She was in person full-limbed and somewhat heavy;
without ruddiness, as without pallor; and soft to the
touch as a cloud. To see her hair was to fancy that a
whole winter did not contain darkness enough to form
its shadow--it closed over her forehead like nightfall
extinguishing the western glow.
Her nerves extended into those tresses, and her temper
could always be softened by stroking them down. When her
hair was brushed she would instantly sink into stillness
and look like the Sphinx. If, in passing under one of
the Egdon banks, any of its thick skeins were caught,
as they sometimes were, by a prickly tuft of the large
Ulex Europoeus--which will act as a sort of hairbrush--she
would go back a few steps, and pass against it a second time.
She had pagan eyes, full of nocturnal mysteries,
and their light, as it came and went, and came again,
was partially hampered by their oppressive lids and lashes;
and of these the under lid was much fuller than it usually
is with English women. This enabled her to indulge
in reverie without seeming to do so--she might have been
believed capable of sleeping without closing them up.
Assuming that the souls of men and women were visible essences,
you could fancy the colour of Eustacia's soul to be flamelike.
The sparks from it that rose into her dark pupils gave
the same impression.
The mouth seemed formed less to speak than to quiver,
less to quiver than to kiss. Some might have added,
less to kiss than to curl. Viewed sideways, the closing-line
of her lips formed, with almost geometric precision,
the curve so well known in the arts of design as the
cima-recta, or ogee. The sight of such a flexible
bend as that on grim Egdon was quite an apparition.
It was felt at once that the mouth did not come over
from Sleswig with a band of Saxon pirates whose lips
met like the two halves of a muffin. One had fancied
that such lip-curves were mostly lurking underground
in the South as fragments of forgotten marbles. So fine
were the lines of her lips that, though full, each corner
of her mouth was as clearly cut as the point of a spear.
This keenness of corner was only blunted when she was
given over to sudden fits of gloom, one of the phases
of the night-side of sentiment which she knew too well
for her years.
Her presence brought memories of such things as Bourbon
roses, rubies, and tropical midnight; her moods recalled
lotus-eaters and the march in Athalie; her motions,
the ebb and flow of the sea; her voice, the viola.
In a dim light, and with a slight rearrangement of her hair,
her general figure might have stood for that of either
of the higher female deities. The new moon behind her head,
an old helmet upon it, a diadem of accidental dewdrops
round her brow, would have been adjuncts sufficient to
strike the note of Artemis, Athena, or Hera respectively,
with as close an approximation to the antique as that
which passes muster on many respected canvases.
But celestial imperiousness, love, wrath, and fervour had
proved to be somewhat thrown away on netherward Egdon.
Her power was limited, and the consciousness of this
limitation had biassed her development. Egdon was
her Hades, and since coming there she had imbibed
much of what was dark in its tone, though inwardly
and eternally unreconciled thereto. Her appearance
accorded well with this smouldering rebelliousness,
and the shady splendour of her beauty was the real
surface of the sad and stifled warmth within her. A true
Tartarean dignity sat upon her brow, and not factitiously
or with marks of constraint, for it had grown in her with years.
Across the upper part of her head she wore a thin
fillet of black velvet, restraining the luxuriance
of her shady hair, in a way which added much to this
class of majesty by irregularly clouding her forehead.
"Nothing can embellish a beautiful face more than
a narrow band drawn over the brow," says Richter.
Some of the neighbouring girls wore coloured ribbon for the
same purpose, and sported metallic ornaments elsewhere;
but if anyone suggested coloured ribbon and metallic
ornaments to Eustacia Vye she laughed and went on.
Why did a woman of this sort live on Egdon Heath? Budmouth
was her native place, a fashionable seaside resort
at that date. She was the daughter of the bandmaster
of a regiment which had been quartered there--a Corfiote
by birth, and a fine musician--who met his future wife
during her trip thither with her father the captain,
a man of good family. The marriage was scarcely in accord
with the old man's wishes, for the bandmaster's pockets
were as light as his occupation. But the musician did
his best; adopted his wife's name, made England permanently
his home, took great trouble with his child's education,
the expenses of which were defrayed by the grandfather,
and throve as the chief local musician till her mother's
death, when he left off thriving, drank, and died also.
The girl was left to the care of her grandfather, who,
since three of his ribs became broken in a shipwreck,
had lived in this airy perch on Egdon, a spot which had
taken his fancy because the house was to be had for
next to nothing, and because a remote blue tinge on the
horizon between the hills, visible from the cottage door,
was traditionally believed to be the English Channel.
She hated the change; she felt like one banished;
but here she was forced to abide.
Thus it happened that in Eustacia's brain were juxtaposed
the strangest assortment of ideas, from old time and from new.
There was no middle distance in her perspective--romantic
recollections of sunny afternoons on an esplanade,
with military bands, officers, and gallants around, stood like
gilded letters upon the dark tablet of surrounding Egdon.
Every bizarre effect that could result from the random
intertwining of watering-place glitter with the grand
solemnity of a heath, was to be found in her. Seeing nothing
of human life now, she imagined all the more of what she had seen.
Where did her dignity come from? By a latent vein
from Alcinous' line, her father hailing from Phaeacia's
isle?--or from Fitzalan and De Vere, her maternal grandfather
having had a cousin in the peerage? Perhaps it was the
gift of Heaven--a happy convergence of natural laws.
Among other things opportunity had of late years been denied
her of learning to be undignified, for she lived lonely.
Isolation on a heath renders vulgarity well-nigh impossible.
It would have been as easy for the heath-ponies, bats,
and snakes to be vulgar as for her. A narrow life
in Budmouth might have completely demeaned her.
The only way to look queenly without realms or hearts
to queen it over is to look as if you had lost them;
and Eustacia did that to a triumph. In the captain's
cottage she could suggest mansions she had never seen.
Perhaps that was because she frequented a vaster mansion
than any of them, the open hills. Like the summer condition
of the place around her, she was an embodiment of the
phrase "a populous solitude"--apparently so listless,
void, and quiet, she was really busy and full.
To be loved to madness--such was her great desire.
Love was to her the one cordial which could drive away
the eating loneliness of her days. And she seemed to long
for the abstraction called passionate love more than for
any particular lover.
She could show a most reproachful look at times, but it
was directed less against human beings than against certain
creatures of her mind, the chief of these being Destiny,
through whose interference she dimly fancied it arose
that love alighted only on gliding youth--that any love
she might win would sink simultaneously with the sand
in the glass. She thought of it with an ever-growing
consciousness of cruelty, which tended to breed actions
of reckless unconventionality, framed to snatch a year's,
a week's, even an hour's passion from anywhere while it
could be won. Through want of it she had sung without
being merry, possessed without enjoying, outshone
without triumphing. Her loneliness deepened her desire.
On Egdon, coldest and meanest kisses were at famine prices,
and where was a mouth matching hers to be found?
Fidelity in love for fidelity's sake had less attraction
for her than for most women; fidelity because of love's grip
had much. A blaze of love, and extinction, was better than
a lantern glimmer of the same which should last long years.
On this head she knew by prevision what most women learn
only by experience--she had mentally walked round love,
told the towers thereof, considered its palaces, and concluded
that love was but a doleful joy. Yet she desired it,
as one in a desert would be thankful for brackish water.
She often repeated her prayers; not at particular times, but,
like the unaffectedly devout, when she desired to pray.
Her prayer was always spontaneous, and often ran thus,
"O deliver my heart from this fearful gloom and loneliness;
send me great love from somewhere, else I shall die."
Her high gods were William the Conqueror, Strafford,
and Napoleon Buonaparte, as they had appeared in the Lady's
History used at the establishment in which she was educated.
Had she been a mother she would have christened her boys
such names as Saul or Sisera in preference to Jacob or David,
neither of whom she admired. At school she had used to side
with the Philistines in several battles, and had wondered
if Pontius Pilate were as handsome as he was frank and fair.
Thus she was a girl of some forwardness of mind, indeed,
weighed in relation to her situation among the very
rearward of thinkers, very original. Her instincts
towards social non-comformity were at the root of this.
In the matter of holidays, her mood was that of horses who,
when turned out to grass, enjoy looking upon their kind
at work on the highway. She only valued rest to herself
when it came in the midst of other people's labour.
Hence she hated Sundays when all was at rest, and often
said they would be the death of her. To see the heathmen
in their Sunday condition, that is, with their hands
in their pockets, their boots newly oiled, and not laced
up (a particularly Sunday sign), walking leisurely among
the turves and furze-faggots they had cut during the week,
and kicking them critically as if their use were unknown,
was a fearful heaviness to her. To relieve the tedium
of this untimely day she would overhaul the cupboards
containing her grandfather's old charts and other rubbish,
humming Saturday-night ballads of the country people the while.
But on Saturday nights she would frequently sing a psalm,
and it was always on a weekday that she read the Bible,
that she might be unoppressed with a sense of doing
her duty.
Such views of life were to some extent the natural
begettings of her situation upon her nature. To dwell
on a heath without studying its meanings was like wedding
a foreigner without learning his tongue. The subtle
beauties of the heath were lost to Eustacia; she only
caught its vapours. An environment which would have made
a contented woman a poet, a suffering woman a devotee,
a pious woman a psalmist, even a giddy woman thoughtful,
made a rebellious woman saturnine.
Eustacia had got beyond the vision of some marriage
of inexpressible glory; yet, though her emotions were
in full vigour, she cared for no meaner union. Thus we
see her in a strange state of isolation. To have lost
the godlike conceit that we may do what we will, and not
to have acquired a homely zest for doing what we can,
shows a grandeur of temper which cannot be objected to in
the abstract, for it denotes a mind that, though disappointed,
forswears compromise. But, if congenial to philosophy,
it is apt to be dangerous to the commonwealth. In a world
where doing means marrying, and the commonwealth is one
of hearts and hands, the same peril attends the condition.
And so we see our Eustacia--for at times she was not
altogether unlovable--arriving at that stage of enlightenment
which feels that nothing is worth while, and filling up
the spare hours of her existence by idealizing Wildeve
for want of a better object. This was the sole reason
of his ascendency: she knew it herself. At moments her
pride rebelled against her passion for him, and she even
had longed to be free. But there was only one circumstance
which could dislodge him, and that was the advent of a greater man.
For the rest, she suffered much from depression of spirits,
and took slow walks to recover them, in which she carried
her grandfather's telescope and her grandmother's
hourglass--the latter because of a peculiar pleasure she
derived from watching a material representation of time's
gradual glide away. She seldom schemed, but when she
did scheme, her plans showed rather the comprehensive
strategy of a general than the small arts called womanish,
though she could utter oracles of Delphian ambiguity
when she did not choose to be direct. In heaven she
will probably sit between the Heloises and the Cleopatras.
8 - Those Who Are Found Where There Is Said to Be Nobody
As soon as the sad little boy had withdrawn from the fire
he clasped the money tight in the palm of his hand,
as if thereby to fortify his courage, and began to run.
There was really little danger in allowing a child to go
home alone on this part of Egdon Heath. The distance to
the boy's house was not more than three-eighths of a mile,
his father's cottage, and one other a few yards further on,
forming part of the small hamlet of Mistover Knap: the
third and only remaining house was that of Captain Vye
and Eustacia, which stood quite away from the small cottages.
and was the loneliest of lonely houses on these thinly
populated slopes.
He ran until he was out of breath, and then, becoming
more courageous, walked leisurely along, singing in an old
voice a little song about a sailor-boy and a fair one,
and bright gold in store. In the middle of this the child
stopped--from a pit under the hill ahead of him shone a light,
whence proceeded a cloud of floating dust and a smacking noise.
Only unusual sights and sounds frightened the boy.
The shrivelled voice of the heath did not alarm him,
for that was familiar. The thornbushes which arose
in his path from time to time were less satisfactory,
for they whistled gloomily, and had a ghastly habit
after dark of putting on the shapes of jumping madmen,
sprawling giants, and hideous cripples. Lights were not
uncommon this evening, but the nature of all of them
was different from this. Discretion rather than terror
prompted the boy to turn back instead of passing the light,
with a view of asking Miss Eustacia Vye to let her servant
accompany him home.
When the boy had reascended to the top of the valley
he found the fire to be still burning on the bank,
though lower than before. Beside it, instead of Eustacia's
solitary form, he saw two persons, the second being a man.
The boy crept along under the bank to ascertain from
the nature of the proceedings if it would be prudent
to interrupt so splendid a creature as Miss Eustacia
on his poor trivial account.
After listening under the bank for some minutes to the talk
he turned in a perplexed and doubting manner and began
to withdraw as silently as he had come. That he did not,
upon the whole, think it advisable to interrupt her
conversation with Wildeve, without being prepared to bear
the whole weight of her displeasure, was obvious.
Here was a Scyllaeo-Charybdean position for a poor boy.
Pausing when again safe from discovery, he finally
decided to face the pit phenomenon as the lesser evil.
With a heavy sigh he retraced the slope, and followed
the path he had followed before.
The light had gone, the rising dust had disappeared--he hoped
for ever. He marched resolutely along, and found nothing
to alarm him till, coming within a few yards of the sandpit,
he heard a slight noise in front, which led him to halt.
The halt was but momentary, for the noise resolved itself
into the steady bites of two animals grazing.
"Two he'th-croppers down here," he said aloud.
"I have never known 'em come down so far afore."
The animals were in the direct line of his path,
but that the child thought little of; he had played
round the fetlocks of horses from his infancy.
On coming nearer, however, the boy was somewhat surprised
to find that the little creatures did not run off,
and that each wore a clog, to prevent his going astray;
this signified that they had been broken in. He could
now see the interior of the pit, which, being in the side
of the hill, had a level entrance. In the innermost
corner the square outline of a van appeared, with its
back towards him. A light came from the interior,
and threw a moving shadow upon the vertical face of gravel
at the further side of the pit into which the vehicle faced.
The child assumed that this was the cart of a gipsy,
and his dread of those wanderers reached but to that
mild pitch which titillates rather than pains.
Only a few inches of mud wall kept him and his family
from being gipsies themselves. He skirted the gravel
pit at a respectful distance, ascended the slope,
and came forward upon the brow, in order to look into
the open door of the van and see the original of the shadow.
The picture alarmed the boy. By a little stove inside
the van sat a figure red from head to heels--the man who
had been Thomasin's friend. He was darning a stocking,
which was red like the rest of him. Moreover, as he
darned he smoked a pipe, the stem and bowl of which were
red also.
At this moment one of the heath-croppers feeding in the
outer shadows was audibly shaking off the clog attached
to its foot. Aroused by the sound, the reddleman laid
down his stocking, lit a lantern which hung beside him,
and came out from the van. In sticking up the candle
he lifted the lantern to his face, and the light shone
into the whites of his eyes and upon his ivory teeth,
which, in contrast with the red surrounding, lent him
a startling aspect enough to the gaze of a juvenile.
The boy knew too well for his peace of mind upon whose lair
he had lighted. Uglier persons than gipsies were known
to cross Egdon at times, and a reddleman was one of them.
"How I wish 'twas only a gipsy!" he murmured.
The man was by this time coming back from the horses.
In his fear of being seen the boy rendered detection certain
by nervous motion. The heather and peat stratum overhung
the brow of the pit in mats, hiding the actual verge.
The boy had stepped beyond the solid ground; the heather
now gave way, and down he rolled over the scarp of grey sand
to the very foot of the man.
The red man opened the lantern and turned it upon
the figure of the prostrate boy.
"Who be ye?" he said.
"Johnny Nunsuch, master!"
"What were you doing up there?"
"I don't know."
"Watching me, I suppose?"
"Yes, master."
"What did you watch me for?"
"Because I was coming home from Miss Vye's bonfire."
"Beest hurt?"
"Why, yes, you be--your hand is bleeding. Come under
my tilt and let me tie it up."
"Please let me look for my sixpence."
"How did you come by that?"
"Miss Vye gied it to me for keeping up her bonfire."
The sixpence was found, and the man went to the van,
the boy behind, almost holding his breath.
The man took a piece of rag from a satchel containing
sewing materials, tore off a strip, which, like everything
else, was tinged red, and proceeded to bind up the wound.
"My eyes have got foggy-like--please may I sit down,
master?" said the boy.
"To be sure, poor chap. 'Tis enough to make you feel fainty.
Sit on that bundle."
The man finished tying up the gash, and the boy said,
"I think I'll go home now, master."
"You are rather afraid of me. Do you know what I be?"
The child surveyed his vermilion figure up and down
with much misgiving and finally said, "Yes."
"Well, what?"
"The reddleman!" he faltered.
"Yes, that's what I be. Though there's more than one.
You little children think there's only one cuckoo, one fox,
one giant, one devil, and one reddleman, when there's lots
of us all."
"Is there? You won't carry me off in your bags, will ye,
master? 'Tis said that the reddleman will sometimes."
"Nonsense. All that reddlemen do is sell reddle.
You see all these bags at the back of my cart? They are
not full of little boys--only full of red stuff."
"Was you born a reddleman?"
"No, I took to it. I should be as white as you if I
were to give up the trade--that is, I should be white
in time--perhaps six months; not at first, because 'tis
grow'd into my skin and won't wash out. Now, you'll never
be afraid of a reddleman again, will ye?"
"No, never. Willy Orchard said he seed a red ghost
here t'other day--perhaps that was you?"
"I was here t'other day."
"Were you making that dusty light I saw by now?"
"Oh yes, I was beating out some bags. And have you had a good
bonfire up there? I saw the light. Why did Miss Vye want
a bonfire so bad that she should give you sixpence to keep it up?"
"I don't know. I was tired, but she made me bide
and keep up the fire just the same, while she kept
going up across Rainbarrow way."
"And how long did that last?"
"Until a hopfrog jumped into the pond."
The reddleman suddenly ceased to talk idly. "A hopfrog?"
he inquired. "Hopfrogs don't jump into ponds this time
of year."
"They do, for I heard one."
"Yes. She told me afore that I should hear'n; and so I did.
They say she's clever and deep, and perhaps she charmed
'en to come."
"And what then?"
"Then I came down here, and I was afeard, and I went back;
but I didn't like to speak to her, because of the gentleman,
and I came on here again."
"A gentleman--ah! What did she say to him, my man?"
"Told him she supposed he had not married the other woman
because he liked his old sweetheart best; and things
like that."
"What did the gentleman say to her, my sonny?"
"He only said he did like her best, and how he was coming
to see her again under Rainbarrow o' nights."
"Ha!" cried the reddleman, slapping his hand against the side
of his van so that the whole fabric shook under the blow.
"That's the secret o't!"
The little boy jumped clean from the stool.
"My man, don't you be afraid," said the dealer in red,
suddenly becoming gentle. "I forgot you were here.
That's only a curious way reddlemen have of going mad
for a moment; but they don't hurt anybody. And what did
the lady say then?"
"I can't mind. Please, Master Reddleman, may I go
home-along now?"
"Ay, to be sure you may. I'll go a bit of ways with you."
He conducted the boy out of the gravel pit and into the path
leading to his mother's cottage. When the little figure
had vanished in the darkness the reddleman returned,
resumed his seat by the fire, and proceeded to darn again.
9 - Love Leads a Shrewd Man into Strategy
Reddlemen of the old school are now but seldom seen.
Since the introduction of railways Wessex farmers have
managed to do without these Mephistophelian visitants,
and the bright pigment so largely used by shepherds in
preparing sheep for the fair is obtained by other routes.
Even those who yet survive are losing the poetry of existence
which characterized them when the pursuit of the trade
meant periodical journeys to the pit whence the material
was dug, a regular camping out from month to month,
except in the depth of winter, a peregrination among farms
which could be counted by the hundred, and in spite of this
Arab existence the preservation of that respectability
which is insured by the never-failing production of a
well-lined purse.
Reddle spreads its lively hues over everything it lights on,
and stamps unmistakably, as with the mark of Cain,
any person who has handled it half an hour.
A child's first sight of a reddleman was an epoch in
his life. That blood-coloured figure was a sublimation
of all the horrid dreams which had afflicted the juvenile
spirit since imagination began. "The reddleman is coming
for you!" had been the formulated threat of Wessex mothers
for many generations. He was successfully supplanted
for a while, at the beginning of the present century,
by Buonaparte; but as process of time rendered the latter
personage stale and ineffective the older phrase resumed
its early prominence. And now the reddleman has in his
turn followed Buonaparte to the land of worn-out bogeys,
and his place is filled by modern inventions.
The reddleman lived like a gipsy; but gipsies he scorned.
He was about as thriving as travelling basket and mat makers;
but he had nothing to do with them. He was more decently
born and brought up than the cattledrovers who passed
and repassed him in his wanderings; but they merely nodded
to him. His stock was more valuable than that of pedlars;
but they did not think so, and passed his cart with eyes
straight ahead. He was such an unnatural colour to look
at that the men of roundabouts and waxwork shows seemed
gentlemen beside him; but he considered them low company,
and remained aloof. Among all these squatters and folks
of the road the reddleman continually found himself; yet he
was not of them. His occupation tended to isolate him,
and isolated he was mostly seen to be.
It was sometimes suggested that reddlemen were criminals
for whose misdeeds other men wrongfully suffered--that in
escaping the law they had not escaped their own consciences,
and had taken to the trade as a lifelong penance.
Else why should they have chosen it? In the present case
such a question would have been particularly apposite.
The reddleman who had entered Egdon that afternoon was
an instance of the pleasing being wasted to form the
ground-work of the singular, when an ugly foundation would
have done just as well for that purpose. The one point
that was forbidding about this reddleman was his colour.
Freed from that he would have been as agreeable a specimen
of rustic manhood as one would often see. A keen observer
might have been inclined to think--which was, indeed,
partly the truth--that he had relinquished his proper station
in life for want of interest in it. Moreover, after looking
at him one would have hazarded the guess that good nature,
and an acuteness as extreme as it could be without
verging on craft, formed the framework of his character.
While he darned the stocking his face became rigid
with thought. Softer expressions followed this, and then
again recurred the tender sadness which had sat upon
him during his drive along the highway that afternoon.
Presently his needle stopped. He laid down the stocking,
arose from his seat, and took a leathern pouch from a hook
in the corner of the van. This contained among other
articles a brown-paper packet, which, to judge from the
hinge-like character of its worn folds, seemed to have
been carefully opened and closed a good many times.
He sat down on a three-legged milking stool that formed
the only seat in the van, and, examining his packet
by the light of a candle, took thence an old letter
and spread it open. The writing had originally been
traced on white paper, but the letter had now assumed
a pale red tinge from the accident of its situation;
and the black strokes of writing thereon looked like the
twigs of a winter hedge against a vermilion sunset.
The letter bore a date some two years previous to that time,
and was signed "Thomasin Yeobright." It ran as follows:--
DEAR DIGGORY VENN,--The question you put when you
overtook me coming home from Pond-close gave me such
a surprise that I am afraid I did not make you exactly
understand what I meant. Of course, if my aunt had
not met me I could have explained all then at once,
but as it was there was no chance. I have been quite
uneasy since, as you know I do not wish to pain you,
yet I fear I shall be doing so now in contradicting
what I seemed to say then. I cannot, Diggory, marry you,
or think of letting you call me your sweetheart.
I could not, indeed, Diggory. I hope you will not
much mind my saying this, and feel in a great pain.
It makes me very sad when I think it may, for I like you
very much, and I always put you next to my cousin Clym
in my mind. There are so many reasons why we cannot
be married that I can hardly name them all in a letter.
I did not in the least expect that you were going to
speak on such a thing when you followed me, because I
had never thought of you in the sense of a lover at all.
You must not becall me for laughing when you spoke;
you mistook when you thought I laughed at you as a
foolish man. I laughed because the idea was so odd,
and not at you at all. The great reason with my own
personal self for not letting you court me is, that I
do not feel the things a woman ought to feel who consents
to walk with you with the meaning of being your wife.
It is not as you think, that I have another in my mind,
for I do not encourage anybody, and never have in my life.
Another reason is my aunt. She would not, I know, agree to it,
even if I wished to have you. She likes you very well,
but she will want me to look a little higher than a small
dairy-farmer, and marry a professional man. I hope you
will not set your heart against me for writing plainly,
but I felt you might try to see me again, and it is better
that we should not meet. I shall always think of you
as a good man, and be anxious for your well-doing. I send
this by Jane Orchard's little maid,--And remain Diggory,
your faithful friend,
To MR. VENN, Dairy-farmer.
Since the arrival of that letter, on a certain autumn
morning long ago, the reddleman and Thomasin had not met
till today. During the interval he had shifted his position
even further from hers than it had originally been,
by adopting the reddle trade; though he was really
in very good circumstances still. Indeed, seeing that
his expenditure was only one-fourth of his income,
he might have been called a prosperous man.
Rejected suitors take to roaming as naturally as unhived bees;
and the business to which he had cynically devoted himself
was in many ways congenial to Venn. But his wanderings,
by mere stress of old emotions, had frequently taken
an Egdon direction, though he never intruded upon her
who attracted him thither. To be in Thomasin's heath,
and near her, yet unseen, was the one ewe-lamb of pleasure
left to him.
Then came the incident of that day, and the reddleman,
still loving her well, was excited by this accidental
service to her at a critical juncture to vow an active
devotion to her cause, instead of, as hitherto, sighing and
holding aloof. After what had happened it was impossible
that he should not doubt the honesty of Wildeve's intentions.
But her hope was apparently centred upon him; and dismissing
his regrets Venn determined to aid her to be happy in
her own chosen way. That this way was, of all others,
the most distressing to himself, was awkward enough;
but the reddleman's love was generous.
His first active step in watching over Thomasin's interests
was taken about seven o'clock the next evening and was
dictated by the news which he had learnt from the sad boy.
That Eustacia was somehow the cause of Wildeve's carelessness
in relation to the marriage had at once been Venn's
conclusion on hearing of the secret meeting between them.
It did not occur to his mind that Eustacia's love signal
to Wildeve was the tender effect upon the deserted beauty
of the intelligence which her grandfather had brought home.
His instinct was to regard her as a conspirator against
rather than as an antecedent obstacle to Thomasin's happiness.
During the day he had been exceedingly anxious to learn
the condition of Thomasin, but he did not venture
to intrude upon a threshold to which he was a stranger,
particularly at such an unpleasant moment as this.
He had occupied his time in moving with his ponies
and load to a new point in the heath, eastward to his
previous station; and here he selected a nook with a
careful eye to shelter from wind and rain, which seemed
to mean that his stay there was to be a comparatively
extended one. After this he returned on foot some part
of the way that he had come; and, it being now dark,
he diverged to the left till he stood behind a holly bush
on the edge of a pit not twenty yards from Rainbarrow.
He watched for a meeting there, but he watched in vain.
Nobody except himself came near the spot that night.
But the loss of his labour produced little effect upon
the reddleman. He had stood in the shoes of Tantalus,
and seemed to look upon a certain mass of disappointment
as the natural preface to all realizations, without which
preface they would give cause for alarm.
The same hour the next evening found him again at the
same place; but Eustacia and Wildeve, the expected trysters,
did not appear.
He pursued precisely the same course yet four nights longer,
and without success. But on the next, being the day-week
of their previous meeting, he saw a female shape floating
along the ridge and the outline of a young man ascending
from the valley. They met in the little ditch encircling
the tumulus--the original excavation from which it
had been thrown up by the ancient British people.
The reddleman, stung with suspicion of wrong to Thomasin,
was aroused to strategy in a moment. He instantly left
the bush and crept forward on his hands and knees.
When he had got as close as he might safely venture without
discovery he found that, owing to a cross-wind, the
conversation of the trysting pair could not be overheard.
Near him, as in divers places about the heath, were areas
strewn with large turves, which lay edgeways and upside
down awaiting removal by Timothy Fairway, previous to
the winter weather. He took two of these as he lay,
and dragged them over him till one covered his head
and shoulders, the other his back and legs. The reddleman
would now have been quite invisible, even by daylight;
the turves, standing upon him with the heather upwards,
looked precisely as if they were growing. He crept
along again, and the turves upon his back crept with him.
Had he approached without any covering the chances
are that he would not have been perceived in the dusk;
approaching thus, it was as though he burrowed underground.
In this manner he came quite close to where the two
were standing.
"Wish to consult me on the matter?" reached his ears
in the rich, impetuous accents of Eustacia Vye.
"Consult me? It is an indignity to me to talk so--I won't
bear it any longer!" She began weeping. "I have loved you,
and have shown you that I loved you, much to my regret;
and yet you can come and say in that frigid way that you
wish to consult with me whether it would not be better
to marry Thomasin. Better--of course it would be.
Marry her--she is nearer to your own position in life than
I am!"
"Yes, yes; that's very well," said Wildeve peremptorily.
"But we must look at things as they are. Whatever blame
may attach to me for having brought it about,
Thomasin's position is at present much worse than yours.
I simply tell you that I am in a strait."
"But you shall not tell me! You must see that it is only
harassing me. Damon, you have not acted well; you have
sunk in my opinion. You have not valued my courtesy--the
courtesy of a lady in loving you--who used to think
of far more ambitious things. But it was Thomasin's fault.
She won you away from me, and she deserves to suffer for it.
Where is she staying now? Not that I care, nor where I
am myself. Ah, if I were dead and gone how glad she would
be! Where is she, I ask?"
"Thomasin is now staying at her aunt's shut up in a bedroom,
and keeping out of everybody's sight," he said indifferently.
"I don't think you care much about her even now,"
said Eustacia with sudden joyousness, "for if you did you
wouldn't talk so coolly about her. Do you talk so coolly
to her about me? Ah, I expect you do! Why did you originally
go away from me? I don't think I can ever forgive you,
except on one condition, that whenever you desert me,
you come back again, sorry that you served me so."
"I never wish to desert you."
"I do not thank you for that. I should hate it to be
all smooth. Indeed, I think I like you to desert me
a little once now and then. Love is the dismallest thing
where the lover is quite honest. O, it is a shame to
say so; but it is true!" She indulged in a little laugh.
"My low spirits begin at the very idea. Don't you offer
me tame love, or away you go!"
"I wish Tamsie were not such a confoundedly good little woman,"
said Wildeve, "so that I could be faithful to you without
injuring a worthy person. It is I who am the sinner
after all; I am not worth the little finger of either of you."
"But you must not sacrifice yourself to her from
any sense of justice," replied Eustacia quickly.
"If you do not love her it is the most merciful thing
in the long run to leave her as she is. That's always
the best way. There, now I have been unwomanly, I suppose.
When you have left me I am always angry with myself
for things that I have said to you."
Wildeve walked a pace or two among the heather without replying.
The pause was filled up by the intonation of a pollard
thorn a little way to windward, the breezes filtering
through its unyielding twigs as through a strainer.
It was as if the night sang dirges with clenched teeth.
She continued, half sorrowfully, "Since meeting you last,
it has occurred to me once or twice that perhaps it
was not for love of me you did not marry her. Tell me,
Damon--I'll try to bear it. Had I nothing whatever to do
with the matter?"
"Do you press me to tell?"
"Yes, I must know. I see I have been too ready to believe
in my own power."
"Well, the immediate reason was that the license would
not do for the place, and before I could get another she
ran away. Up to that point you had nothing to do with it.
Since then her aunt has spoken to me in a tone which I
don't at all like."
"Yes, yes! I am nothing in it--I am nothing in it.
You only trifle with me. Heaven, what can I, Eustacia Vye,
be made of to think so much of you!"
"Nonsense; do not be so passionate....Eustacia, how we
roved among these bushes last year, when the hot days
had got cool, and the shades of the hills kept us almost
invisible in the hollows!"
She remained in moody silence till she said, "Yes; and
how I used to laugh at you for daring to look up to me!
But you have well made me suffer for that since."
"Yes, you served me cruelly enough until I thought I had
found someone fairer than you. A blessed find for me, Eustacia."
"Do you still think you found somebody fairer?"
"Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. The scales are balanced
so nicely that a feather would turn them."
"But don't you really care whether I meet you or whether
I don't?" she said slowly.
"I care a little, but not enough to break my rest,"
replied the young man languidly. "No, all that's past.
I find there are two flowers where I thought there
was only one. Perhaps there are three, or four, or any
number as good as the first....Mine is a curious fate.
Who would have thought that all this could happen
to me?"
She interrupted with a suppressed fire of which either
love or anger seemed an equally possible issue, "Do you
love me now?"
"Who can say?"
"Tell me; I will know it!"
"I do, and I do not," said he mischievously. "That is,
I have my times and my seasons. One moment you are too tall,
another moment you are too do-nothing, another too melancholy,
another too dark, another I don't know what, except--that you
are not the whole world to me that you used to be, my dear.
But you are a pleasant lady to know and nice to meet,
and I dare say as sweet as ever--almost."
Eustacia was silent, and she turned from him, till she said,
in a voice of suspended mightiness, "I am for a walk,
and this is my way."
"Well, I can do worse than follow you."
"You know you can't do otherwise, for all your moods
and changes!" she answered defiantly. "Say what you will;
try as you may; keep away from me all that you can--you
will never forget me. You will love me all your life long.
You would jump to marry me!"
"So I would!" said Wildeve. "Such strange thoughts
as I've had from time to time, Eustacia; and they come
to me this moment. You hate the heath as much as ever;
that I know."
"I do," she murmured deeply. "'Tis my cross, my shame,
and will be my death!"
"I abhor it too," said he. "How mournfully the wind
blows round us now!"
She did not answer. Its tone was indeed solemn and pervasive.
Compound utterances addressed themselves to their senses, and it
was possible to view by ear the features of the neighbourhood.
Acoustic pictures were returned from the darkened scenery;
they could hear where the tracts of heather began and ended;
where the furze was growing stalky and tall; where it had
been recently cut; in what direction the fir-clump lay,
and how near was the pit in which the hollies grew;
for these differing features had their voices no less
than their shapes and colours.
"God, how lonely it is!" resumed Wildeve. "What are
picturesque ravines and mists to us who see nothing else?"
Why should we stay here? Will you go with me to America?
I have kindred in Wisconsin."
"That wants consideration."
"It seems impossible to do well here, unless one were
a wild bird or a landscape-painter. Well?"
"Give me time," she softly said, taking his hand.
"America is so far away. Are you going to walk with me
a little way?"
As Eustacia uttered the latter words she retired from
the base of the barrow, and Wildeve followed her,
so that the reddleman could hear no more.
He lifted the turves and arose. Their black figures sank
and disappeared from against the sky. They were as two
horns which the sluggish heath had put forth from its crown,
like a mollusc, and had now again drawn in.
The reddleman's walk across the vale, and over into the
next where his cart lay, was not sprightly for a slim young
fellow of twenty-four. His spirit was perturbed to aching.
The breezes that blew around his mouth in that walk
carried off upon them the accents of a commination.
He entered the van, where there was a fire in a stove.
Without lighting his candle he sat down at once on
the three-legged stool, and pondered on what he had
seen and heard touching that still-loved one of his.
He uttered a sound which was neither sigh nor sob, but was
even more indicative than either of a troubled mind.
"My Tamsie," he whispered heavily. "What can be done? Yes,
I will see that Eustacia Vye."
10 - A Desperate Attempt at Persuasion
The next morning, at the time when the height of the
sun appeared very insignificant from any part of the
heath as compared with the altitude of Rainbarrow,
and when all the little hills in the lower levels
were like an archipelago in a fog-formed Aegean,
the reddleman came from the brambled nook which he
had adopted as his quarters and ascended the slopes of Mistover Knap.
Though these shaggy hills were apparently so solitary,
several keen round eyes were always ready on such a
wintry morning as this to converge upon a passer-by.
Feathered species sojourned here in hiding which would
have created wonder if found elsewhere. A bustard
haunted the spot, and not many years before this five
and twenty might have been seen in Egdon at one time.
Marsh-harriers looked up from the valley by Wildeve's.
A cream-coloured courser had used to visit this hill,
a bird so rare that not more than a dozen have ever been
seen in England; but a barbarian rested neither night
nor day till he had shot the African truant, and after
that event cream-coloured coursers thought fit to enter
Egdon no more.
A traveller who should walk and observe any of these
visitants as Venn observed them now could feel himself
to be in direct communication with regions unknown to man.
Here in front of him was a wild mallard--just arrived from
the home of the north wind. The creature brought within him
an amplitude of Northern knowledge. Glacial catastrophes,
snowstorm episodes, glittering auroral effects, Polaris in
the zenith, Franklin underfoot--the category of his commonplaces
was wonderful. But the bird, like many other philosophers,
seemed as he looked at the reddleman to think that a present
moment of comfortable reality was worth a decade of memories.
Venn passed on through these towards the house of the
isolated beauty who lived up among them and despised them.
The day was Sunday; but as going to church, except to be
married or buried, was exceptional at Egdon, this made
little difference. He had determined upon the bold stroke
of asking for an interview with Miss Vye--to attack her
position as Thomasin's rival either by art or by storm,
showing therein, somewhat too conspicuously, the want of
gallantry characteristic of a certain astute sort of men,
from clowns to kings. The great Frederick making war
on the beautiful Archduchess, Napoleon refusing terms
to the beautiful Queen of Prussia, were not more dead
to difference of sex than the reddleman was, in his
peculiar way, in planning the displacement of Eustacia.
To call at the captain's cottage was always more or
less an undertaking for the inferior inhabitants.
Though occasionally chatty, his moods were erratic,
and nobody could be certain how he would behave at any
particular moment. Eustacia was reserved, and lived very much
to herself. Except the daughter of one of the cotters,
who was their servant, and a lad who worked in the garden
and stable, scarcely anyone but themselves ever entered
the house. They were the only genteel people of the
district except the Yeobrights, and though far from rich,
they did not feel that necessity for preserving a friendly
face towards every man, bird, and beast which influenced
their poorer neighbours.
When the reddleman entered the garden the old man was
looking through his glass at the stain of blue sea in
the distant landscape, the little anchors on his buttons
twinkling in the sun. He recognized Venn as his companion
on the highway, but made no remark on that circumstance,
merely saying, "Ah, reddleman--you here? Have a glass
of grog?"
Venn declined, on the plea of it being too early, and stated
that his business was with Miss Vye. The captain surveyed
him from cap to waistcoat and from waistcoat to leggings
for a few moments, and finally asked him to go indoors.
Miss Vye was not to be seen by anybody just then;
and the reddleman waited in the window-bench of the kitchen,
his hands hanging across his divergent knees, and his cap
hanging from his hands.
"I suppose the young lady is not up yet?" he presently
said to the servant.
"Not quite yet. Folks never call upon ladies at this
time of day."
"Then I'll step outside," said Venn. "If she is willing
to see me, will she please send out word, and I'll come in."
The reddleman left the house and loitered on the
hill adjoining. A considerable time elapsed, and no
request for his presence was brought. He was beginning
to think that his scheme had failed, when he beheld the
form of Eustacia herself coming leisurely towards him.
A sense of novelty in giving audience to that singular
figure had been sufficient to draw her forth.
She seemed to feel, after a bare look at Diggory Venn,
that the man had come on a strange errand, and that he was
not so mean as she had thought him; for her close approach
did not cause him to writhe uneasily, or shift his feet,
or show any of those little signs which escape an ingenuous
rustic at the advent of the uncommon in womankind.
On his inquiring if he might have a conversation with
her she replied, "Yes, walk beside me," and continued
to move on.
Before they had gone far it occurred to the perspicacious
reddleman that he would have acted more wisely
by appearing less unimpressionable, and he resolved
to correct the error as soon as he could find opportunity.
"I have made so bold, miss, as to step across and tell
you some strange news which has come to my ears about
that man."
"Ah! what man?"
He jerked his elbow to the southeast--the direction
of the Quiet Woman.
Eustacia turned quickly to him. "Do you mean Mr. Wildeve?"
"Yes, there is trouble in a household on account of him,
and I have come to let you know of it, because I believe
you might have power to drive it away."
"I? What is the trouble?"
"It is quite a secret. It is that he may refuse to marry
Thomasin Yeobright after all."
Eustacia, though set inwardly pulsing by his words,
was equal to her part in such a drama as this.
She replied coldly, "I do not wish to listen to this,
and you must not expect me to interfere."
"But, miss, you will hear one word?"
"I cannot. I am not interested in the marriage, and even
if I were I could not compel Mr. Wildeve to do my bidding."
"As the only lady on the heath I think you might," said Venn
with subtle indirectness. "This is how the case stands.
Mr. Wildeve would marry Thomasin at once, and make all
matters smooth, if so be there were not another woman
in the case. This other woman is some person he has
picked up with, and meets on the heath occasionally,
I believe. He will never marry her, and yet through
her he may never marry the woman who loves him dearly.
Now, if you, miss, who have so much sway over us menfolk,
were to insist that he should treat your young neighbour
Tamsin with honourable kindness and give up the other woman,
he would perhaps do it, and save her a good deal of misery."
"Ah, my life!" said Eustacia, with a laugh which unclosed
her lips so that the sun shone into her mouth as into
a tulip, and lent it a similar scarlet fire. "You think
too much of my influence over menfolk indeed, reddleman.
If I had such a power as you imagine I would go straight
and use it for the good of anybody who has been kind
to me--which Thomasin Yeobright has not particularly,
to my knowledge."
"Can it be that you really don't know of it--how much
she had always thought of you?"
"I have never heard a word of it. Although we live
only two miles apart I have never been inside her aunt's
house in my life."
The superciliousness that lurked in her manner told Venn
that thus far he had utterly failed. He inwardly sighed
and felt it necessary to unmask his second argument.
"Well, leaving that out of the question, 'tis in your power,
I assure you, Miss Vye, to do a great deal of good
to another woman."
She shook her head.
"Your comeliness is law with Mr. Wildeve. It is law
with all men who see 'ee. They say, 'This wellfavoured
lady coming--what's her name? How handsome!'
Handsomer than Thomasin Yeobright," the reddleman persisted,
saying to himself, "God forgive a rascal for lying!" And she
was handsomer, but the reddleman was far from thinking so.
There was a certain obscurity in Eustacia's beauty,
and Venn's eye was not trained. In her winter dress, as now,
she was like the tiger-beetle, which, when observed in
dull situations, seems to be of the quietest neutral colour,
but under a full illumination blazes with dazzling splendour.
Eustacia could not help replying, though conscious that she
endangered her dignity thereby. "Many women are lovelier
than Thomasin," she said, "so not much attaches to that."
The reddleman suffered the wound and went on: "He is a man
who notices the looks of women, and you could twist him
to your will like withywind, if you only had the mind."
"Surely what she cannot do who has been so much with him
I cannot do living up here away from him."
The reddleman wheeled and looked her in the face.
"Miss Vye!" he said.
"Why do you say that--as if you doubted me?" She spoke faintly,
and her breathing was quick. "The idea of your speaking in
that tone to me!" she added, with a forced smile of hauteur.
"What could have been in your mind to lead you to speak like that?"
"Miss Vye, why should you make believe that you don't know
this man?--I know why, certainly. He is beneath you,
and you are ashamed."
"You are mistaken. What do you mean?"
The reddleman had decided to play the card of truth.
"I was at the meeting by Rainbarrow last night and heard
every word," he said. "The woman that stands between
Wildeve and Thomasin is yourself."
It was a disconcerting lift of the curtain, and the
mortification of Candaules' wife glowed in her.
The moment had arrived when her lip would tremble in spite
of herself, and when the gasp could no longer be kept down.
"I am unwell," she said hurriedly. "No--it is not that--I
am not in a humour to hear you further. Leave me, please."
"I must speak, Miss Vye, in spite of paining you.
What I would put before you is this. However it may come
about--whether she is to blame, or you--her case is without
doubt worse than yours. Your giving up Mr. Wildeve will
be a real advantage to you, for how could you marry him?
Now she cannot get off so easily--everybody will blame
her if she loses him. Then I ask you--not because her
right is best, but because her situation is worst--to
give him up to her."
"No--I won't, I won't!" she said impetuously, quite forgetful
of her previous manner towards the reddleman as an underling.
"Nobody has ever been served so! It was going on well--I
will not be beaten down--by an inferior woman like her.
It is very well for you to come and plead for her,
but is she not herself the cause of all her own trouble?
Am I not to show favour to any person I may choose without
asking permission of a parcel of cottagers? She has come
between me and my inclination, and now that she finds
herself rightly punished she gets you to plead for her!"
"Indeed," said Venn earnestly, "she knows nothing whatever
about it. It is only I who ask you to give him up.
It will be better for her and you both. People will say
bad things if they find out that a lady secretly meets
a man who has ill-used another woman."
"I have NOT injured her--he was mine before he was
hers! He came back--because--because he liked me best!"
she said wildly. "But I lose all self-respect in talking
to you. What am I giving way to!"
"I can keep secrets," said Venn gently. "You need not fear.
I am the only man who knows of your meetings with him.
There is but one thing more to speak of, and then I will
be gone. I heard you say to him that you hated living
here--that Egdon Heath was a jail to you."
"I did say so. There is a sort of beauty in the scenery,
I know; but it is a jail to me. The man you mention does
not save me from that feeling, though he lives here.
I should have cared nothing for him had there been a better
person near."
The reddleman looked hopeful; after these words from
her his third attempt seemed promising. "As we have
now opened our minds a bit, miss," he said, "I'll tell
you what I have got to propose. Since I have taken
to the reddle trade I travel a good deal, as you know."
She inclined her head, and swept round so that her eyes
rested in the misty vale beneath them.
"And in my travels I go near Budmouth. Now Budmouth is
a wonderful place--wonderful--a great salt sheening sea
bending into the land like a bow--thousands of gentlepeople
walking up and down--bands of music playing--officers
by sea and officers by land walking among the rest--out
of every ten folks you meet nine of 'em in love."
"I know it," she said disdainfully. "I know Budmouth
better than you. I was born there. My father came to
be a military musician there from abroad. Ah, my soul,
Budmouth! I wish I was there now."
The reddleman was surprised to see how a slow fire could
blaze on occasion. "If you were, miss," he replied,
"in a week's time you would think no more of Wildeve
than of one of those he'th-croppers that we see yond.
Now, I could get you there."
"How?" said Eustacia, with intense curiosity in her
heavy eyes.
"My uncle has been for five and twenty years the trusty
man of a rich widow-lady who has a beautiful house
facing the sea. This lady has become old and lame,
and she wants a young company-keeper to read and sing
to her, but can't get one to her mind to save her life,
though she've advertised in the papers, and tried half
a dozen. She would jump to get you, and Uncle would make
it all easy."
"I should have to work, perhaps?"
"No, not real work--you'd have a little to do, such as reading
and that. You would not be wanted till New Year's Day."
"I knew it meant work," she said, drooping to languor again.
"I confess there would be a trifle to do in the way of
amusing her; but though idle people might call it work,
working people would call it play. Think of the company
and the life you'd lead, miss; the gaiety you'd see,
and the gentleman you'd marry. My uncle is to inquire
for a trustworthy young lady from the country, as she don't
like town girls."
"It is to wear myself out to please her! and I won't go.
O, if I could live in a gay town as a lady should,
and go my own ways, and do my own doings, I'd give
the wrinkled half of my life! Yes, reddleman, that would I."
"Help me to get Thomasin happy, miss, and the chance
shall be yours," urged her companion.
"Chance--'tis no chance," she said proudly. "What can
a poor man like you offer me, indeed?--I am going indoors.
I have nothing more to say. Don't your horses want feeding,
or your reddlebags want mending, or don't you want
to find buyers for your goods, that you stay idling here
like this?"
Venn spoke not another word. With his hands behind him
he turned away, that she might not see the hopeless
disappointment in his face. The mental clearness and power
he had found in this lonely girl had indeed filled his manner
with misgiving even from the first few minutes of close
quarters with her. Her youth and situation had led him
to expect a simplicity quite at the beck of his method.
But a system of inducement which might have carried weaker
country lasses along with it had merely repelled Eustacia.
As a rule, the word Budmouth meant fascination on Egdon.
That Royal port and watering place, if truly mirrored in the
minds of the heathfolk, must have combined, in a charming
and indescribable manner a Carthaginian bustle of building
with Tarentine luxuriousness and Baian health and beauty.
Eustacia felt little less extravagantly about the place;
but she would not sink her independence to get there.
When Diggory Venn had gone quite away, Eustacia walked
to the bank and looked down the wild and picturesque
vale towards the sun, which was also in the direction
of Wildeve's. The mist had now so far collapsed that
the tips of the trees and bushes around his house
could just be discerned, as if boring upwards through
a vast white cobweb which cloaked them from the day.
There was no doubt that her mind was inclined thitherward;
indefinitely, fancifully--twining and untwining about
him as the single object within her horizon on which
dreams might crystallize. The man who had begun by
being merely her amusement, and would never have been
more than her hobby but for his skill in deserting
her at the right moments, was now again her desire.
Cessation in his love-making had revivified her love.
Such feeling as Eustacia had idly given to Wildeve was dammed
into a flood by Thomasin. She had used to tease Wildeve,
but that was before another had favoured him. Often a drop
of irony into an indifferent situation renders the whole piquant.
"I will never give him up--never!" she said impetuously.
The reddleman's hint that rumour might show her to disadvantage
had no permanent terror for Eustacia. She was as unconcerned
at that contingency as a goddess at a lack of linen.
This did not originate in inherent shamelessness,
but in her living too far from the world to feel the impact
of public opinion. Zenobia in the desert could hardly have
cared what was said about her at Rome. As far as social
ethics were concerned Eustacia approached the savage state,
though in emotion she was all the while an epicure.
She had advanced to the secret recesses of sensuousness,
yet had hardly crossed the threshold of conventionality.
11 - The Dishonesty of an Honest Woman
The reddleman had left Eustacia's presence with desponding
views on Thomasin's future happiness; but he was awakened
to the fact that one other channel remained untried
by seeing, as he followed the way to his van, the form
of Mrs. Yeobright slowly walking towards the Quiet Woman.
He went across to her; and could almost perceive in her
anxious face that this journey of hers to Wildeve was
undertaken with the same object as his own to Eustacia.
She did not conceal the fact. "Then," said the reddleman,
"you may as well leave it alone, Mrs. Yeobright."
"I half think so myself," she said. "But nothing else
remains to be done besides pressing the question upon him."
"I should like to say a word first," said Venn firmly.
"Mr. Wildeve is not the only man who has asked Thomasin
to marry him; and why should not another have a chance?
Mrs. Yeobright, I should be glad to marry your niece.
and would have done it any time these last two years.
There, now it is out, and I have never told anybody before
but herself."
Mrs. Yeobright was not demonstrative, but her eyes
involuntarily glanced towards his singular though shapely figure.
"Looks are not everything," said the reddleman,
noticing the glance. "There's many a calling that don't
bring in so much as mine, if it comes to money; and perhaps
I am not so much worse off than Wildeve. There is nobody
so poor as these professional fellows who have failed;
and if you shouldn't like my redness--well, I am not red
by birth, you know; I only took to this business for a freak;
and I might turn my hand to something else in good time."
"I am much obliged to you for your interest in my niece;
but I fear there would be objections. More than that,
she is devoted to this man."
"True; or I shouldn't have done what I have this morning."
"Otherwise there would be no pain in the case, and you
would not see me going to his house now. What was
Thomasin's answer when you told her of your feelings?"
"She wrote that you would object to me; and other things."
"She was in a measure right. You must not take this
unkindly--I merely state it as a truth. You have been
good to her, and we do not forget it. But as she
was unwilling on her own account to be your wife,
that settles the point without my wishes being concerned."
"Yes. But there is a difference between then and now,
ma'am. She is distressed now, and I have thought that if
you were to talk to her about me, and think favourably of
me yourself, there might be a chance of winning her round,
and getting her quite independent of this Wildeve's
backward and forward play, and his not knowing whether
he'll have her or no."
Mrs. Yeobright shook her head. "Thomasin thinks, and I
think with her, that she ought to be Wildeve's wife,
if she means to appear before the world without a slur
upon her name. If they marry soon, everybody will believe
that an accident did really prevent the wedding. If not,
it may cast a shade upon her character--at any rate make
her ridiculous. In short, if it is anyhow possible they
must marry now."
"I thought that till half an hour ago. But, after all,
why should her going off with him to Anglebury for a few
hours do her any harm? Anybody who knows how pure she
is will feel any such thought to be quite unjust.
I have been trying this morning to help on this marriage with
Wildeve--yes, I, ma'am--in the belief that I ought to do it,
because she was so wrapped up in him. But I much question
if I was right, after all. However, nothing came of it.
And now I offer myself."
Mrs. Yeobright appeared disinclined to enter further
into the question. "I fear I must go on," she said.
"I do not see that anything else can be done."
And she went on. But though this conversation did
not divert Thomasin's aunt from her purposed interview
with Wildeve, it made a considerable difference in her
mode of conducting that interview. She thanked God
for the weapon which the reddleman had put into her hands.
Wildeve was at home when she reached the inn. He showed
her silently into the parlour, and closed the door.
Mrs. Yeobright began--
"I have thought it my duty to call today. A new proposal
has been made to me, which has rather astonished me.
It will affect Thomasin greatly; and I have decided that it
should at least be mentioned to you."
"Yes? What is it?" he said civilly.
"It is, of course, in reference to her future. You may
not be aware that another man has shown himself anxious to
marry Thomasin. Now, though I have not encouraged him yet,
I cannot conscientiously refuse him a chance any longer.
I don't wish to be short with you; but I must be fair
to him and to her."
"Who is the man?" said Wildeve with surprise.
"One who has been in love with her longer than she
has with you. He proposed to her two years ago.
At that time she refused him."
"He has seen her lately, and has asked me for permission
to pay his addresses to her. She may not refuse him twice."
"What is his name?"
Mrs. Yeobright declined to say. "He is a man Thomasin likes,"
she added, "and one whose constancy she respects at least.
It seems to me that what she refused then she would be glad
to get now. She is much annoyed at her awkward position."
"She never once told me of this old lover."
"The gentlest women are not such fools as to show EVERY card."
"Well, if she wants him I suppose she must have him."
"It is easy enough to say that; but you don't see
the difficulty. He wants her much more than she wants him;
and before I can encourage anything of the sort I must have
a clear understanding from you that you will not interfere
to injure an arrangement which I promote in the belief
that it is for the best. Suppose, when they are engaged,
and everything is smoothly arranged for their marriage,
that you should step between them and renew your suit? You
might not win her back, but you might cause much unhappiness."
"Of course I should do no such thing," said Wildeve "But
they are not engaged yet. How do you know that Thomasin
would accept him?"
"That's a question I have carefully put to myself;
and upon the whole the probabilities are in favour
of her accepting him in time. I flatter myself that I
have some influence over her. She is pliable, and I
can be strong in my recommendations of him."
"And in your disparagement of me at the same time."
"Well, you may depend upon my not praising you,"
she said drily. "And if this seems like manoeuvring,
you must remember that her position is peculiar,
and that she has been hardly used. I shall also be
helped in making the match by her own desire to escape
from the humiliation of her present state; and a woman's
pride in these cases will lead her a very great way.
A little managing may be required to bring her round;
but I am equal to that, provided that you agree to the one
thing indispensable; that is, to make a distinct declaration
that she is to think no more of you as a possible husband.
That will pique her into accepting him."
"I can hardly say that just now, Mrs. Yeobright.
It is so sudden."
"And so my whole plan is interfered with! It is very
inconvenient that you refuse to help my family even to the
small extent of saying distinctly you will have nothing to
do with us."
Wildeve reflected uncomfortably. "I confess I was not
prepared for this," he said. "Of course I'll give
her up if you wish, if it is necessary. But I thought
I might be her husband."
"We have heard that before."
"Now, Mrs. Yeobright, don't let us disagree. Give me
a fair time. I don't want to stand in the way of any
better chance she may have; only I wish you had let me
know earlier. I will write to you or call in a day or two.
Will that suffice?"
"Yes," she replied, "provided you promise not to communicate
with Thomasin without my knowledge."
"I promise that," he said. And the interview then terminated,
Mrs. Yeobright returning homeward as she had come.
By far the greatest effect of her simple strategy
on that day was, as often happens, in a quarter quite
outside her view when arranging it. In the first place,
her visit sent Wildeve the same evening after dark
to Eustacia's house at Mistover.
At this hour the lonely dwelling was closely blinded
and shuttered from the chill and darkness without.
Wildeve's clandestine plan with her was to take a little
gravel in his hand and hold it to the crevice at the
top of the window shutter, which was on the outside,
so that it should fall with a gentle rustle,
resembling that of a mouse, between shutter and glass.
This precaution in attracting her attention was to avoid
arousing the suspicions of her grandfather.
The soft words, "I hear; wait for me," in Eustacia's
voice from within told him that she was alone.
He waited in his customary manner by walking round the
enclosure and idling by the pool, for Wildeve was never asked
into the house by his proud though condescending mistress.
She showed no sign of coming out in a hurry. The time
wore on, and he began to grow impatient. In the course
of twenty minutes she appeared from round the corner,
and advanced as if merely taking an airing.
"You would not have kept me so long had you known what I
come about," he said with bitterness. "Still, you are
worth waiting for."
"What has happened?" said Eustacia. "I did not know you
were in trouble. I too am gloomy enough."
"I am not in trouble," said he. "It is merely that affairs
have come to a head, and I must take a clear course."
"What course is that?" she asked with attentive interest.
"And can you forget so soon what I proposed to you the
other night? Why, take you from this place, and carry
you away with me abroad."
"I have not forgotten. But why have you come so unexpectedly
to repeat the question, when you only promised to come
next Saturday? I thought I was to have plenty of time
to consider."
"Yes, but the situation is different now."
"Explain to me."
"I don't want to explain, for I may pain you."
"But I must know the reason of this hurry."
"It is simply my ardour, dear Eustacia. Everything is
smooth now."
"Then why are you so ruffled?"
"I am not aware of it. All is as it should be.
Mrs. Yeobright--but she is nothing to us."
"Ah, I knew she had something to do with it! Come,
I don't like reserve."
"No--she has nothing. She only says she wishes me to give
up Thomasin because another man is anxious to marry her.
The woman, now she no longer needs me, actually shows off!"
Wildeve's vexation has escaped him in spite of himself.
Eustacia was silent a long while. "You are in the awkward
position of an official who is no longer wanted,"
she said in a changed tone.
"It seems so. But I have not yet seen Thomasin."
"And that irritates you. Don't deny it, Damon. You are
actually nettled by this slight from an unexpected quarter."
"And you come to get me because you cannot get her.
This is certainly a new position altogether. I am to be
a stop-gap."
"Please remember that I proposed the same thing the other day."
Eustacia again remained in a sort of stupefied silence.
What curious feeling was this coming over her? Was it
really possible that her interest in Wildeve had been
so entirely the result of antagonism that the glory
and the dream departed from the man with the first sound
that he was no longer coveted by her rival? She was, then,
secure of him at last. Thomasin no longer required him.
What a humiliating victory! He loved her best, she thought;
and yet--dared she to murmur such treacherous criticism ever
so softly?--what was the man worth whom a woman inferior to
herself did not value? The sentiment which lurks more or less
in all animate nature--that of not desiring the undesired
of others--was lively as a passion in the supersubtle,
epicurean heart of Eustacia. Her social superiority
over him, which hitherto had scarcely ever impressed her,
became unpleasantly insistent, and for the first time
she felt that she had stooped in loving him.
"Well, darling, you agree?" said Wildeve.
"If it could be London, or even Budmouth, instead of America,"
she murmured languidly. "Well, I will think.
It is too great a thing for me to decide offhand.
I wish I hated the heath less--or loved you more."
"You can be painfully frank. You loved me a month ago
warmly enough to go anywhere with me."
"And you loved Thomasin."
"Yes, perhaps that was where the reason lay," he returned,
with almost a sneer. "I don't hate her now."
"Exactly. The only thing is that you can no longer get her."
"Come--no taunts, Eustacia, or we shall quarrel.
If you don't agree to go with me, and agree shortly,
I shall go by myself."
"Or try Thomasin again. Damon, how strange it seems
that you could have married her or me indifferently,
and only have come to me because I am--cheapest! Yes,
yes--it is true. There was a time when I should have
exclaimed against a man of that sort, and been quite wild;
but it is all past now."
"Will you go, dearest? Come secretly with me to Bristol,
marry me, and turn our backs upon this dog-hole of England
for ever? Say Yes."
"I want to get away from here at almost any cost,"
she said with weariness, "but I don't like to go with you.
Give me more time to decide."
"I have already," said Wildeve. "Well, I give you one
more week."
"A little longer, so that I may tell you decisively.
I have to consider so many things. Fancy Thomasin being
anxious to get rid of you! I cannot forget it."
"Never mind that. Say Monday week. I will be here
precisely at this time."
"Let it be at Rainbarrow," said she. "This is too near home;
my grandfather may be walking out."
"Thank you, dear. On Monday week at this time I will
be at the Barrow. Till then good-bye."
"Good-bye. No, no, you must not touch me now.
Shaking hands is enough till I have made up my mind."
Eustacia watched his shadowy form till it had disappeared.
She placed her hand to her forehead and breathed heavily;
and then her rich, romantic lips parted under that homely
impulse--a yawn. She was immediately angry at having
betrayed even to herself the possible evanescence of her
passion for him. She could not admit at once that she
might have overestimated Wildeve, for to perceive his
mediocrity now was to admit her own great folly heretofore.
And the discovery that she was the owner of a disposition
so purely that of the dog in the manger had something in it
which at first made her ashamed.
The fruit of Mrs. Yeobright's diplomacy was indeed remarkable,
though not as yet of the kind she had anticipated.
It had appreciably influenced Wildeve, but it was
influencing Eustacia far more. Her lover was no longer
to her an exciting man whom many women strove for,
and herself could only retain by striving with them.
He was a superfluity.
She went indoors in that peculiar state of misery which
is not exactly grief, and which especially attends the
dawnings of reason in the latter days of an ill-judged,
transient love. To be conscious that the end of the dream
is approaching, and yet has not absolutely come, is one
of the most wearisome as well as the most curious stages
along the course between the beginning of a passion and its end.
Her grandfather had returned, and was busily engaged in
pouring some gallons of newly arrived rum into the square
bottles of his square cellaret. Whenever these home
supplies were exhausted he would go to the Quiet Woman,
and, standing with his back to the fire, grog in hand,
tell remarkable stories of how he had lived seven years
under the waterline of his ship, and other naval wonders,
to the natives, who hoped too earnestly for a treat
of ale from the teller to exhibit any doubts of his truth.
He had been there this evening. "I suppose you have heard
the Egdon news, Eustacia?" he said, without looking up
from the bottles. "The men have been talking about it
at the Woman as if it were of national importance."
"I have heard none," she said.
"Young Clym Yeobright, as they call him, is coming
home next week to spend Christmas with his mother.
He is a fine fellow by this time, it seems. I suppose
you remember him?"
"I never saw him in my life."
"Ah, true; he left before you came here. I well remember
him as a promising boy."
"Where has he been living all these years?"
"In that rookery of pomp and vanity, Paris, I believe."
book two
1 - Tidings of the Comer
On the fine days at this time of the year, and earlier,
certain ephemeral operations were apt to disturb,
in their trifling way, the majestic calm of Egdon Heath.
They were activities which, beside those of a town, a village,
or even a farm, would have appeared as the ferment of
stagnation merely, a creeping of the flesh of somnolence.
But here, away from comparisons, shut in by the stable hills,
among which mere walking had the novelty of pageantry,
and where any man could imagine himself to be Adam without
the least difficulty, they attracted the attention of
every bird within eyeshot, every reptile not yet asleep,
and set the surrounding rabbits curiously watching from
hillocks at a safe distance.
The performance was that of bringing together and building
into a stack the furze faggots which Humphrey had been
cutting for the captain's use during the foregoing
fine days. The stack was at the end of the dwelling,
and the men engaged in building it were Humphrey and Sam,
the old man looking on.
It was a fine and quiet afternoon, about three o'clock;
but the winter solstice having stealthily come on,
the lowness of the sun caused the hour to seem later
than it actually was, there being little here to remind
an inhabitant that he must unlearn his summer experience
of the sky as a dial. In the course of many days and
weeks sunrise had advanced its quarters from northeast
to southeast, sunset had receded from northwest to southwest;
but Egdon had hardly heeded the change.
Eustacia was indoors in the dining-room, which was really
more like a kitchen, having a stone floor and a gaping
chimney-corner. The air was still, and while she lingered
a moment here alone sounds of voices in conversation
came to her ears directly down the chimney. She entered
the recess, and, listening, looked up the old irregular shaft,
with its cavernous hollows, where the smoke blundered
about on its way to the square bit of sky at the top,
from which the daylight struck down with a pallid glare
upon the tatters of soot draping the flue as seaweed
drapes a rocky fissure.
She remembered: the furze-stack was not far from the chimney,
and the voices were those of the workers.
Her grandfather joined in the conversation. "That lad ought
never to have left home. His father's occupation would
have suited him best, and the boy should have followed on.
I don't believe in these new moves in families.
My father was a sailor, so was I, and so should my son
have been if I had had one."
"The place he's been living at is Paris," said Humphrey,
"and they tell me 'tis where the king's head was cut off
years ago. My poor mother used to tell me about that business.
'Hummy,' she used to say, 'I was a young maid then,
and as I was at home ironing Mother's caps one afternoon
the parson came in and said, "They've cut the king's
head off, Jane; and what 'twill be next God knows."'"
"A good many of us knew as well as He before long,"
said the captain, chuckling. "I lived seven years
under water on account of it in my boyhood--in that
damned surgery of the Triumph, seeing men brought
down to the cockpit with their legs and arms blown to
Jericho....And so the young man has settled in Paris.
Manager to a diamond merchant, or some such thing,
is he not?"
"Yes, sir, that's it. 'Tis a blazing great business
that he belongs to, so I've heard his mother say--like
a king's palace, as far as diments go."
"I can well mind when he left home," said Sam.
"'Tis a good thing for the feller," said Humphrey.
"A sight of times better to be selling diments than nobbling
about here."
"It must cost a good few shillings to deal at such a place."
"A good few indeed, my man," replied the captain.
"Yes, you may make away with a deal of money and be neither
drunkard nor glutton."
"They say, too, that Clym Yeobright is become a real
perusing man, with the strangest notions about things.
There, that's because he went to school early,
such as the school was."
"Strange notions, has he?" said the old man. "Ah, there's
too much of that sending to school in these days! It
only does harm. Every gatepost and barn's door you come
to is sure to have some bad word or other chalked upon
it by the young rascals--a woman can hardly pass for
shame sometimes. If they'd never been taught how to write
they wouldn't have been able to scribble such villainy.
Their fathers couldn't do it, and the country was all
the better for it."
"Now, I should think, Cap'n, that Miss Eustacia had about
as much in her head that comes from books as anybody
about here?"
"Perhaps if Miss Eustacia, too, had less romantic
nonsense in her head it would be better for her,"
said the captain shortly; after which he walked away.
"I say, Sam," observed Humphrey when the old man was gone,
"she and Clym Yeobright would make a very pretty
pigeon-pair--hey? If they wouldn't I'll be dazed! Both
of one mind about niceties for certain, and learned
in print, and always thinking about high doctrine--there
couldn't be a better couple if they were made o' purpose.
Clym's family is as good as hers. His father was a farmer,
that's true; but his mother was a sort of lady, as we know.
Nothing would please me better than to see them two man and wife."
"They'd look very natty, arm-in-crook together,
and their best clothes on, whether or no, if he's
at all the well-favoured fellow he used to be."
"They would, Humphrey. Well, I should like to see the chap
terrible much after so many years. If I knew for certain
when he was coming I'd stroll out three or four miles
to meet him and help carry anything for'n; though I
suppose he's altered from the boy he was. They say he
can talk French as fast as a maid can eat blackberries;
and if so, depend upon it we who have stayed at home
shall seem no more than scroff in his eyes."
"Coming across the water to Budmouth by steamer, isn't he?"
"Yes; but how he's coming from Budmouth I don't know."
"That's a bad trouble about his cousin Thomasin.
I wonder such a nice-notioned fellow as Clym likes to come
home into it. What a nunnywatch we were in, to be sure,
when we heard they weren't married at all, after singing
to 'em as man and wife that night! Be dazed if I should
like a relation of mine to have been made such a fool
of by a man. It makes the family look small."
"Yes. Poor maid, her heart has ached enough about it.
Her health is suffering from it, I hear, for she will
bide entirely indoors. We never see her out now,
scampering over the furze with a face as red as a rose,
as she used to do."
"I've heard she wouldn't have Wildeve now if he asked her."
"You have? 'Tis news to me."
While the furze-gatherers had desultorily conversed
thus Eustacia's face gradually bent to the hearth
in a profound reverie, her toe unconsciously tapping
the dry turf which lay burning at her feet.
The subject of their discourse had been keenly interesting
to her. A young and clever man was coming into that lonely
heath from, of all contrasting places in the world, Paris.
It was like a man coming from heaven. More singular still,
the heathmen had instinctively coupled her and this
man together in their minds as a pair born for each other.
That five minutes of overhearing furnished Eustacia
with visions enough to fill the whole blank afternoon.
Such sudden alternations from mental vacuity do sometimes
occur thus quietly. She could never have believed in
the morning that her colourless inner world would before
night become as animated as water under a microscope,
and that without the arrival of a single visitor.
The words of Sam and Humphrey on the harmony between
the unknown and herself had on her mind the effect of the
invading Bard's prelude in the Castle of Indolence,
at which myriads of imprisoned shapes arose where had
previously appeared the stillness of a void.
Involved in these imaginings she knew nothing of time.
When she became conscious of externals it was dusk.
The furze-rick was finished; the men had gone home.
Eustacia went upstairs, thinking that she would take
a walk at this her usual time; and she determined
that her walk should be in the direction of Blooms-End,
the birthplace of young Yeobright and the present home
of his mother. She had no reason for walking elsewhere,
and why should she not go that way? The scene of the
daydream is sufficient for a pilgrimage at nineteen.
To look at the palings before the Yeobrights'
house had the dignity of a necessary performance.
Strange that such a piece of idling should have seemed an
important errand.
She put on her bonnet, and, leaving the house, descended the
hill on the side towards Blooms-End, where she walked slowly
along the valley for a distance of a mile and a half.
This brought her to a spot in which the green bottom
of the dale began to widen, the furze bushes to recede yet
further from the path on each side, till they were diminished
to an isolated one here and there by the increasing
fertility of the soil. Beyond the irregular carpet of
grass was a row of white palings, which marked the verge
of the heath in this latitude. They showed upon the dusky
scene that they bordered as distinctly as white lace
on velvet. Behind the white palings was a little garden;
behind the garden an old, irregular, thatched house,
facing the heath, and commanding a full view of the valley.
This was the obscure, removed spot to which was about
to return a man whose latter life had been passed in the
French capital--the centre and vortex of the fashionable world.
2 - The People at Blooms-End Make Ready
All that afternoon the expected arrival of the subject
of Eustacia's ruminations created a bustle of preparation
at Blooms-End. Thomasin had been persuaded by her aunt,
and by an instinctive impulse of loyalty towards her cousin Clym,
to bestir herself on his account with an alacrity unusual
in her during these most sorrowful days of her life.
At the time that Eustacia was listening to the rick-makers'
conversation on Clym's return, Thomasin was climbing into
a loft over her aunt's fuelhouse, where the store-apples
were kept, to search out the best and largest of them
for the coming holiday-time.
The loft was lighted by a semicircular hole,
through which the pigeons crept to their lodgings in the
same high quarters of the premises; and from this hole
the sun shone in a bright yellow patch upon the figure
of the maiden as she knelt and plunged her naked arms
into the soft brown fern, which, from its abundance,
was used on Egdon in packing away stores of all kinds.
The pigeons were flying about her head with the
greatest unconcern, and the face of her aunt was just
visible above the floor of the loft, lit by a few stray
motes of light, as she stood halfway up the ladder,
looking at a spot into which she was not climber enough to venture.
"Now a few russets, Tamsin. He used to like them almost
as well as ribstones."
Thomasin turned and rolled aside the fern from another nook,
where more mellow fruit greeted her with its ripe smell.
Before picking them out she stopped a moment.
"Dear Clym, I wonder how your face looks now?" she said,
gazing abstractedly at the pigeon-hole. which admitted
the sunlight so directly upon her brown hair and transparent
tissues that it almost seemed to shine through her.
"If he could have been dear to you in another way,"
said Mrs. Yeobright from the ladder, "this might have been
a happy meeting."
"Is there any use in saying what can do no good, Aunt?"
"Yes," said her aunt, with some warmth. "To thoroughly
fill the air with the past misfortune, so that other girls
may take warning and keep clear of it."
Thomasin lowered her face to the apples again.
"I am a warning to others, just as thieves and drunkards
and gamblers are," she said in a low voice. "What a
class to belong to! Do I really belong to them? 'Tis
absurd! Yet why, Aunt, does everybody keep on making me
think that I do, by the way they behave towards me? Why
don't people judge me by my acts? Now, look at me as I
kneel here, picking up these apples--do I look like a
lost woman?...I wish all good women were as good as I!"
she added vehemently.
"Strangers don't see you as I do," said Mrs. Yeobright;
"they judge from false report. Well, it is a silly job,
and I am partly to blame."
"How quickly a rash thing can be done!" replied the girl.
Her lips were quivering, and tears so crowded themselves
into her eyes that she could hardly distinguish apples
from fern as she continued industriously searching to hide
her weakness.
"As soon as you have finished getting the apples,"
her aunt said, descending the ladder, "come down,
and we'll go for the holly. There is nobody on the heath
this afternoon, and you need not fear being stared at.
We must get some berries, or Clym will never believe in
our preparations."
Thomasin came down when the apples were collected,
and together they went through the white palings to
the heath beyond. The open hills were airy and clear,
and the remote atmosphere appeared, as it often appears
on a fine winter day, in distinct planes of illumination
independently toned, the rays which lit the nearer tracts
of landscape streaming visibly across those further off;
a stratum of ensaffroned light was imposed on a stratum
of deep blue, and behind these lay still remoter scenes
wrapped in frigid grey.
They reached the place where the hollies grew,
which was in a conical pit, so that the tops of the trees
were not much above the general level of the ground.
Thomasin stepped up into a fork of one of the bushes,
as she had done under happier circumstances on many
similar occasions, and with a small chopper that they
had brought she began to lop off the heavily berried boughs.
"Don't scratch your face," said her aunt, who stood at
the edge of the pit, regarding the girl as she held on amid
the glistening green and scarlet masses of the tree.
"Will you walk with me to meet him this evening?"
"I should like to. Else it would seem as if I had
forgotten him," said Thomasin, tossing out a bough.
"Not that that would matter much; I belong to one man;
nothing can alter that. And that man I must marry,
for my pride's sake."
"I am afraid--" began Mrs. Yeobright.
"Ah, you think, 'That weak girl--how is she going to get
a man to marry her when she chooses?' But let me tell you
one thing, Aunt: Mr. Wildeve is not a profligate man,
any more than I am an improper woman. He has an
unfortunate manner, and doesn't try to make people
like him if they don't wish to do it of their own accord."
"Thomasin," said Mrs. Yeobright quietly, fixing her eye
upon her niece, "do you think you deceive me in your
defence of Mr. Wildeve?"
"How do you mean?"
"I have long had a suspicion that your love for him has
changed its colour since you have found him not to be
the saint you thought him, and that you act a part to me."
"He wished to marry me, and I wish to marry him."
"Now, I put it to you: would you at this present moment
agree to be his wife if that had not happened to entangle
you with him?"
Thomasin looked into the tree and appeared much disturbed.
"Aunt," she said presently, "I have, I think, a right to
refuse to answer that question."
"Yes, you have."
"You may think what you choose. I have never implied
to you by word or deed that I have grown to think otherwise
of him, and I never will. And I shall marry him."
"Well, wait till he repeats his offer. I think he
may do it, now that he knows--something I told him.
I don't for a moment dispute that it is the most proper
thing for you to marry him. Much as I have objected to him
in bygone days, I agree with you now, you may be sure.
It is the only way out of a false position, and a very
galling one."
"What did you tell him?"
"That he was standing in the way of another lover of yours."
"Aunt," said Thomasin, with round eyes, "what DO you mean?"
"Don't be alarmed; it was my duty. I can say no more
about it now, but when it is over I will tell you exactly
what I said, and why I said it."
Thomasin was perforce content.
"And you will keep the secret of my would-be marriage
from Clym for the present?" she next asked.
"I have given my word to. But what is the use of it?
He must soon know what has happened. A mere look
at your face will show him that something is wrong."
Thomasin turned and regarded her aunt from the tree.
"Now, hearken to me," she said, her delicate voice expanding
into firmness by a force which was other than physical.
"Tell him nothing. If he finds out that I am not worthy
to be his cousin, let him. But, since he loved me once,
we will not pain him by telling him my trouble too soon.
The air is full of the story, I know; but gossips will
not dare to speak of it to him for the first few days.
His closeness to me is the very thing that will hinder the tale
from reaching him early. If I am not made safe from sneers
in a week or two I will tell him myself."
The earnestness with which Thomasin spoke prevented
further objections. Her aunt simply said, "Very well.
He should by rights have been told at the time that the
wedding was going to be. He will never forgive you
for your secrecy."
"Yes, he will, when he knows it was because I wished
to spare him, and that I did not expect him home so soon.
And you must not let me stand in the way of your
Christmas party. Putting it off would only make matters worse."
"Of course I shall not. I do not wish to show myself beaten
before all Egdon, and the sport of a man like Wildeve.
We have enough berries now, I think, and we had better
take them home. By the time we have decked the house
with this and hung up the mistletoe, we must think
of starting to meet him."
Thomasin came out of the tree, shook from her hair
and dress the loose berries which had fallen thereon,
and went down the hill with her aunt, each woman
bearing half the gathered boughs. It was now nearly
four o'clock, and the sunlight was leaving the vales.
When the west grew red the two relatives came again
from the house and plunged into the heath in a different
direction from the first, towards a point in the distant
highway along which the expected man was to return.
3 - How a Little Sound Produced a Great Dream
Eustacia stood just within the heath, straining her eyes
in the direction of Mrs. Yeobright's house and premises.
No light, sound, or movement was perceptible there.
The evening was chilly; the spot was dark and lonely.
She inferred that the guest had not yet come; and after
lingering ten or fifteen minutes she turned again
towards home.
She had not far retraced her steps when sounds in front
of her betokened the approach of persons in conversation
along the same path. Soon their heads became visible
against the sky. They were walking slowly; and though it
was too dark for much discovery of character from aspect,
the gait of them showed that they were not workers on
the heath. Eustacia stepped a little out of the foot-track
to let them pass. They were two women and a man;
and the voices of the women were those of Mrs. Yeobright
and Thomasin.
They went by her, and at the moment of passing appeared
to discern her dusky form. There came to her ears
in a masculine voice, "Good night!"
She murmured a reply, glided by them, and turned round.
She could not, for a moment, believe that chance,
unrequested, had brought into her presence the soul
of the house she had gone to inspect, the man without
whom her inspection would not have been thought of.
She strained her eyes to see them, but was unable.
Such was her intentness, however, that it seemed
as if her ears were performing the functions of seeing
as well as hearing. This extension of power can almost
be believed in at such moments. The deaf Dr. Kitto was
probably under the influence of a parallel fancy when he
described his body as having become, by long endeavour,
so sensitive to vibrations that he had gained the power
of perceiving by it as by ears.
She could follow every word that the ramblers uttered.
They were talking no secrets. They were merely indulging
in the ordinary vivacious chat of relatives who have long
been parted in person though not in soul. But it was not
to the words that Eustacia listened; she could not even
have recalled, a few minutes later, what the words were.
It was to the alternating voice that gave out about one-tenth
of them--the voice that had wished her good night.
Sometimes this throat uttered Yes, sometimes it uttered No;
sometimes it made inquiries about a time worn denizen
of the place. Once it surprised her notions by remarking
upon the friendliness and geniality written in the faces of
the hills around.
The three voices passed on, and decayed and died out upon her ear.
Thus much had been granted her; and all besides withheld.
No event could have been more exciting. During the greater
part of the afternoon she had been entrancing herself
by imagining the fascination which must attend a man come
direct from beautiful Paris--laden with its atmosphere,
familiar with its charms. And this man had greeted her.
With the departure of the figures the profuse articulations
of the women wasted away from her memory; but the accents
of the other stayed on. Was there anything in the voice
of Mrs. Yeobright's son--for Clym it was--startling as a
sound? No; it was simply comprehensive. All emotional
things were possible to the speaker of that "good night."
Eustacia's imagination supplied the rest--except the solution
to one riddle. What COULD the tastes of that man
be who saw friendliness and geniality in these shaggy hills?
On such occasions as this a thousand ideas pass through
a highly charged woman's head; and they indicate themselves
on her face; but the changes, though actual, are minute.
Eustacia's features went through a rhythmical succession
of them. She glowed; remembering the mendacity
of the imagination, she flagged; then she freshened;
then she fired; then she cooled again. It was a cycle
of aspects, produced by a cycle of visions.
Eustacia entered her own house; she was excited.
Her grandfather was enjoying himself over the fire,
raking about the ashes and exposing the red-hot surface
of the turves, so that their lurid glare irradiated the
chimney-corner with the hues of a furnace.
"Why is it that we are never friendly with the Yeobrights?"
she said, coming forward and stretching her soft hands
over the warmth. "I wish we were. They seem to be very
nice people."
"Be hanged if I know why," said the captain. "I liked
the old man well enough, though he was as rough as a hedge.
But you would never have cared to go there, even if you
might have, I am well sure."
"Why shouldn't I?"
"Your town tastes would find them far too countrified.
They sit in the kitchen, drink mead and elder-wine, and
sand the floor to keep it clean. A sensible way of life;
but how would you like it?"
"I thought Mrs. Yeobright was a ladylike woman?
A curate's daughter, was she not?"
"Yes; but she was obliged to live as her husband did;
and I suppose she has taken kindly to it by this time.
Ah, I recollect that I once accidentally offended her,
and I have never seen her since."
That night was an eventful one to Eustacia's brain,
and one which she hardly ever forgot. She dreamt a dream;
and few human beings, from Nebuchadnezzar to the
Swaffham tinker, ever dreamt a more remarkable one.
Such an elaborately developed, perplexing, exciting dream
was certainly never dreamed by a girl in Eustacia's
situation before. It had as many ramifications
as the Cretan labyrinth, as many fluctuations as the
northern lights, as much colour as a parterre in June,
and was as crowded with figures as a coronation.
To Queen Scheherazade the dream might have seemed not far
removed from commonplace; and to a girl just returned
from all the courts of Europe it might have seemed
not more than interesting. But amid the circumstances
of Eustacia's life it was as wonderful as a dream could be.
There was, however, gradually evolved from its transformation
scenes a less extravagant episode, in which the heath dimly
appeared behind the general brilliancy of the action.
She was dancing to wondrous music, and her partner was
the man in silver armour who had accompanied her through
the previous fantastic changes, the visor of his helmet
being closed. The mazes of the dance were ecstatic.
Soft whispering came into her ear from under the
radiant helmet, and she felt like a woman in Paradise.
Suddenly these two wheeled out from the mass of dancers,
dived into one of the pools of the heath, and came out
somewhere into an iridescent hollow, arched with rainbows.
"It must be here," said the voice by her side, and blushingly
looking up she saw him removing his casque to kiss her.
At that moment there was a cracking noise, and his figure
fell into fragments like a pack of cards.
She cried aloud. "O that I had seen his face!"
Eustacia awoke. The cracking had been that of the window
shutter downstairs, which the maid-servant was opening
to let in the day, now slowly increasing to Nature's
meagre allowance at this sickly time of the year.
"O that I had seen his face!" she said again. "'Twas meant
for Mr. Yeobright!"
When she became cooler she perceived that many of the
phases of the dream had naturally arisen out of the images
and fancies of the day before. But this detracted
little from its interest, which lay in the excellent
fuel it provided for newly kindled fervour. She was
at the modulating point between indifference and love,
at the stage called "having a fancy for." It occurs once
in the history of the most gigantic passions, and it
is a period when they are in the hands of the weakest will.
The perfervid woman was by this time half in love
with a vision. The fantastic nature of her passion,
which lowered her as an intellect, raised her as a soul.
If she had had a little more self-control she would have
attenuated the emotion to nothing by sheer reasoning,
and so have killed it off. If she had had a little less
pride she might have gone and circumambulated the Yeobrights'
premises at Blooms-End at any maidenly sacrifice until she
had seen him. But Eustacia did neither of these things.
She acted as the most exemplary might have acted,
being so influenced; she took an airing twice or thrice a day
upon the Egdon hills, and kept her eyes employed.
The first occasion passed, and he did not come that way.
She promenaded a second time, and was again the sole
wanderer there.
The third time there was a dense fog; she looked around,
but without much hope. Even if he had been walking within
twenty yards of her she could not have seen him.
At the fourth attempt to encounter him it began to rain
in torrents, and she turned back.
The fifth sally was in the afternoon; it was fine,
and she remained out long, walking to the very top of
the valley in which Blooms-End lay. She saw the white
paling about half a mile off; but he did not appear.
It was almost with heart-sickness that she came home
and with a sense of shame at her weakness. She resolved
to look for the man from Paris no more.
But Providence is nothing if not coquettish; and no sooner
had Eustacia formed this resolve than the opportunity
came which, while sought, had been entirely withholden.
4 - Eustacia Is Led on to an Adventure
In the evening of this last day of expectation, which was
the twenty-third of December, Eustacia was at home alone.
She had passed the recent hour in lamenting over a rumour
newly come to her ears--that Yeobright's visit to his
mother was to be of short duration, and would end some
time the next week. "Naturally," she said to herself.
A man in the full swing of his activities in a gay city
could not afford to linger long on Egdon Heath. That she
would behold face to face the owner of the awakening voice
within the limits of such a holiday was most unlikely,
unless she were to haunt the environs of his mother's house
like a robin, to do which was difficult and unseemly.
The customary expedient of provincial girls and men
in such circumstances is churchgoing. In an ordinary
village or country town one can safely calculate that,
either on Christmas day or the Sunday contiguous,
any native home for the holidays, who has not through age
or ennui lost the appetite for seeing and being seen,
will turn up in some pew or other, shining with hope,
self-consciousness, and new clothes. Thus the congregation
on Christmas morning is mostly a Tussaud collection
of celebrities who have been born in the neighbourhood.
Hither the mistress, left neglected at home all the year,
can steal and observe the development of the returned
lover who has forgotten her, and think as she watches
him over her prayer book that he may throb with a
renewed fidelity when novelties have lost their charm.
And hither a comparatively recent settler like Eustacia
may betake herself to scrutinize the person of a native
son who left home before her advent upon the scene,
and consider if the friendship of his parents be worth
cultivating during his next absence in order to secure a
knowledge of him on his next return.
But these tender schemes were not feasible among the scattered
inhabitants of Egdon Heath. In name they were parishioners,
but virtually they belonged to no parish at all.
People who came to these few isolated houses to keep
Christmas with their friends remained in their friends'
chimney-corners drinking mead and other comforting liquors
till they left again for good and all. Rain, snow, ice,
mud everywhere around, they did not care to trudge two or three
miles to sit wet-footed and splashed to the nape of their
necks among those who, though in some measure neighbours,
lived close to the church, and entered it clean and dry.
Eustacia knew it was ten to one that Clym Yeobright would
go to no church at all during his few days of leave,
and that it would be a waste of labour for her to go driving
the pony and gig over a bad road in hope to see him there.
It was dusk, and she was sitting by the fire in the dining-room
or hall, which they occupied at this time of the year
in preference to the parlour, because of its large hearth,
constructed for turf-fires, a fuel the captain was partial
to in the winter season. The only visible articles
in the room were those on the window-sill, which showed
their shapes against the low sky, the middle article being
the old hourglass, and the other two a pair of ancient
British urns which had been dug from a barrow near,
and were used as flowerpots for two razor-leaved cactuses.
Somebody knocked at the door. The servant was out;
so was her grandfather. The person, after waiting a minute,
came in and tapped at the door of the room.
"Who's there?" said Eustacia.
"Please, Cap'n Vye, will you let us----"
Eustacia arose and went to the door. "I cannot allow
you to come in so boldly. You should have waited."
"The cap'n said I might come in without any fuss,"
was answered in a lad's pleasant voice.
"Oh, did he?" said Eustacia more gently. "What do
you want, Charley?"
"Please will your grandfather lend us his fuelhouse
to try over our parts in, tonight at seven o'clock?"
"What, are you one of the Egdon mummers for this year?"
"Yes, miss. The cap'n used to let the old mummers
practise here."
"I know it. Yes, you may use the fuelhouse if you like,"
said Eustacia languidly.
The choice of Captain Vye's fuelhouse as the scene
of rehearsal was dictated by the fact that his dwelling
was nearly in the centre of the heath. The fuelhouse
was as roomy as a barn, and was a most desirable place
for such a purpose. The lads who formed the company
of players lived at different scattered points around,
and by meeting in this spot the distances to be traversed
by all the comers would be about equally proportioned.
For mummers and mumming Eustacia had the greatest contempt.
The mummers themselves were not afflicted with any such
feeling for their art, though at the same time they
were not enthusiastic. A traditional pastime is to be
distinguished from a mere revival in no more striking
feature than in this, that while in the revival all is
excitement and fervour, the survival is carried on with
a stolidity and absence of stir which sets one wondering
why a thing that is done so perfunctorily should be kept
up at all. Like Balaam and other unwilling prophets,
the agents seem moved by an inner compulsion to say
and do their allotted parts whether they will or no.
This unweeting manner of performance is the true ring
by which, in this refurbishing age, a fossilized survival
may be known from a spurious reproduction.
The piece was the well-known play of Saint George, and
all who were behind the scenes assisted in the preparations,
including the women of each household. Without the
co-operation of sisters and sweethearts the dresses
were likely to be a failure; but on the other hand,
this class of assistance was not without its drawbacks.
The girls could never be brought to respect tradition
in designing and decorating the armour; they insisted on
attaching loops and bows of silk and velvet in any situation
pleasing to their taste. Gorget, gusset, basinet, cuirass,
gauntlet, sleeve, all alike in the view of these feminine
eyes were practicable spaces whereon to sew scraps of
fluttering colour.
It might be that Joe, who fought on the side of Christendom,
had a sweetheart, and that Jim, who fought on the side
of the Moslem, had one likewise. During the making
of the costumes it would come to the knowledge of Joe's
sweetheart that Jim's was putting brilliant silk scallops
at the bottom of her lover's surcoat, in addition to the
ribbons of the visor, the bars of which, being invariably
formed of coloured strips about half an inch wide
hanging before the face, were mostly of that material.
Joe's sweetheart straight-way placed brilliant silk on the
scallops of the hem in question, and, going a little further,
added ribbon tufts to the shoulder pieces. Jim's, not
to be outdone, would affix bows and rosettes everywhere.
The result was that in the end the Valiant Soldier,
of the Christian army, was distinguished by no peculiarity
of accoutrement from the Turkish Knight; and what was worse,
on a casual view Saint George himself might be mistaken
for his deadly enemy, the Saracen. The guisers themselves,
though inwardly regretting this confusion of persons,
could not afford to offend those by whose assistance they
so largely profited, and the innovations were allowed
to stand.
There was, it is true, a limit to this tendency to uniformity.
The Leech or Doctor preserved his character intact--his
darker habiliments, peculiar hat, and the bottle of
physic slung under his arm, could never be mistaken.
And the same might be said of the conventional figure
of Father Christmas, with his gigantic club, an older man,
who accompanied the band as general protector in long
night journeys from parish to parish, and was bearer
of the purse.
Seven o'clock, the hour of the rehearsal, came round, and in
a short time Eustacia could hear voices in the fuelhouse.
To dissipate in some trifling measure her abiding sense
of the murkiness of human life she went to the "linhay"
or lean-to shed, which formed the root-store of their
dwelling and abutted on the fuelhouse. Here was a small
rough hole in the mud wall, originally made for pigeons,
through which the interior of the next shed could be viewed.
A light came from it now; and Eustacia stepped upon a stool
to look in upon the scene.
On a ledge in the fuelhouse stood three tall rushlights
and by the light of them seven or eight lads were
marching about, haranguing, and confusing each other,
in endeavours to perfect themselves in the play.
Humphrey and Sam, the furze-and turf-cutters, were
there looking on, so also was Timothy Fairway, who leant
against the wall and prompted the boys from memory,
interspersing among the set words remarks and anecdotes
of the superior days when he and others were the Egdon
mummers-elect that these lads were now.
"Well, ye be as well up to it as ever ye will be," he said.
"Not that such mumming would have passed in our time.
Harry as the Saracen should strut a bit more, and John needn't
holler his inside out. Beyond that perhaps you'll do.
Have you got all your clothes ready?"
"We shall by Monday."
"Your first outing will be Monday night, I suppose?"
"Yes. At Mrs. Yeobright's."
"Oh, Mrs. Yeobright's. What makes her want to see ye? I
should think a middle-aged woman was tired of mumming."
"She's got up a bit of a party, because 'tis the first
Christmas that her son Clym has been home for a long time."
"To be sure, to be sure--her party! I am going myself.
I almost forgot it, upon my life."
Eustacia's face flagged. There was to be a party at
the Yeobrights'; she, naturally, had nothing to do with it.
She was a stranger to all such local gatherings, and had
always held them as scarcely appertaining to her sphere.
But had she been going, what an opportunity would have
been afforded her of seeing the man whose influence
was penetrating her like summer sun! To increase that
influence was coveted excitement; to cast it off might be
to regain serenity; to leave it as it stood was tantalizing.
The lads and men prepared to leave the premises, and Eustacia
returned to her fireside. She was immersed in thought,
but not for long. In a few minutes the lad Charley,
who had come to ask permission to use the place,
returned with the key to the kitchen. Eustacia heard him,
and opening the door into the passage said, "Charley, come here."
The lad was surprised. He entered the front room not
without blushing; for he, like many, had felt the power
of this girl's face and form.
She pointed to a seat by the fire, and entered
the other side of the chimney-corner herself.
It could be seen in her face that whatever motive
she might have had in asking the youth indoors would soon appear.
"Which part do you play, Charley--the Turkish Knight,
do you not?" inquired the beauty, looking across the smoke
of the fire to him on the other side.
"Yes, miss, the Turkish Knight," he replied diffidently.
"Is yours a long part?"
"Nine speeches, about."
"Can you repeat them to me? If so I should like to hear them."
The lad smiled into the glowing turf and began--
"Here come I, a Turkish Knight,
Who learnt in Turkish land to fight,"
continuing the discourse throughout the scenes to the
concluding catastrophe of his fall by the hand of Saint George.
Eustacia had occasionally heard the part recited before.
When the lad ended she began, precisely in the same words,
and ranted on without hitch or divergence till she too
reached the end. It was the same thing, yet how different.
Like in form, it had the added softness and finish
of a Raffaelle after Perugino, which, while faithfully
reproducing the original subject, entirely distances the
original art.
Charley's eyes rounded with surprise. "Well, you be
a clever lady!" he said, in admiration. "I've been
three weeks learning mine."
"I have heard it before," she quietly observed.
"Now, would you do anything to please me, Charley?"
"I'd do a good deal, miss."
"Would you let me play your part for one night?"
"Oh, miss! But your woman's gown--you couldn't."
"I can get boy's clothes--at least all that would be wanted
besides the mumming dress. What should I have to give
you to lend me your things, to let me take your place
for an hour or two on Monday night, and on no account
to say a word about who or what I am? You would, of course,
have to excuse yourself from playing that night, and to say
that somebody--a cousin of Miss Vye's--would act for you.
The other mummers have never spoken to me in their lives
so that it would be safe enough; and if it were not,
I should not mind. Now, what must I give you to agree
to this? Half a crown?"
The youth shook his head
"Five shillings?"
He shook his head again. "Money won't do it," he said,
brushing the iron head of the firedog with the hollow
of his hand.
"What will, then, Charley?" said Eustacia in a disappointed tone.
"You know what you forbade me at the Maypoling, miss,"
murmured the lad, without looking at her, and still
stroking the firedog's head.
"Yes," said Eustacia, with a little more hauteur.
"You wanted to join hands with me in the ring, if I recollect?"
"Half an hour of that, and I'll agree, miss."
Eustacia regarded the youth steadfastly. He was three years
younger than herself, but apparently not backward for his age.
"Half an hour of what?" she said, though she guessed what.
"Holding your hand in mine."
She was silent. "Make it a quarter of an hour," she said
"Yes, Miss Eustacia--I will, if I may kiss it too.
A quarter of an hour. And I'll swear to do the best I
can to let you take my place without anybody knowing.
Don't you think somebody might know your tongue, miss?"
"It is possible. But I will put a pebble in my mouth
to make is less likely. Very well; you shall be allowed
to have my hand as soon as you bring the dress and your
sword and staff. I don't want you any longer now."
Charley departed, and Eustacia felt more and more interest
in life. Here was something to do: here was some one
to see, and a charmingly adventurous way to see him.
"Ah," she said to herself, "want of an object to live
for--that's all is the matter with me!"
Eustacia's manner was as a rule of a slumberous sort,
her passions being of the massive rather than the vivacious kind.
But when aroused she would make a dash which, just for
the time, was not unlike the move of a naturally lively person.
On the question of recognition she was somewhat indifferent.
By the acting lads themselves she was not likely to be known.
With the guests who might be assembled she was hardly so secure.
Yet detection, after all, would be no such dreadful thing.
The fact only could be detected, her true motive never.
It would be instantly set down as the passing freak
of a girl whose ways were already considered singular.
That she was doing for an earnest reason what would most
naturally be done in jest was at any rate a safe secret.
The next evening Eustacia stood punctually at the fuelhouse
door, waiting for the dusk which was to bring Charley
with the trappings. Her grandfather was at home tonight,
and she would be unable to ask her confederate indoors.
He appeared on the dark ridge of heathland, like a fly
on a Negro, bearing the articles with him, and came up
breathless with his walk.
"Here are the things," he whispered, placing them upon
the threshold. "And now, Miss Eustacia--"
"The payment. It is quite ready. I am as good as my word."
She leant against the door-post, and gave him her hand.
Charley took it in both his own with a tenderness
beyond description, unless it was like that of a child
holding a captured sparrow.
"Why, there's a glove on it!" he said in a deprecating way.
"I have been walking," she observed.
"But, miss!"
"Well--it is hardly fair." She pulled off the glove,
and gave him her bare hand.
They stood together minute after minute, without
further speech, each looking at the blackening scene,
and each thinking his and her own thoughts.
"I think I won't use it all up tonight," said Charley devotedly,
when six or eight minutes had been passed by him caressing
her hand. "May I have the other few minutes another time?"
"As you like," said she without the least emotion.
"But it must be over in a week. Now, there is only one
thing I want you to do--to wait while I put on the dress,
and then to see if I do my part properly. But let me look
first indoors."
She vanished for a minute or two, and went in.
Her grandfather was safely asleep in his chair. "Now, then,"
she said, on returning, "walk down the garden a little way,
and when I am ready I'll call you."
Charley walked and waited, and presently heard a soft whistle.
He returned to the fuelhouse door.
"Did you whistle, Miss Vye?"
"Yes; come in," reached him in Eustacia's voice from a
back quarter. "I must not strike a light till the door
is shut, or it may be seen shining. Push your hat into the
hole through to the wash-house, if you can feel your way across."
Charley did as commanded, and she struck the light revealing
herself to be changed in sex, brilliant in colours,
and armed from top to toe. Perhaps she quailed a little
under Charley's vigorous gaze, but whether any shyness
at her male attire appeared upon her countenance could
not be seen by reason of the strips of ribbon which used
to cover the face in mumming costumes, representing the
barred visor of the mediaeval helmet.
"It fits pretty well," she said, looking down at the
white overalls, "except that the tunic, or whatever
you call it, is long in the sleeve. The bottom
of the overalls I can turn up inside. Now pay attention."
Eustacia then proceeded in her delivery, striking the
sword against the staff or lance at the minatory phrases,
in the orthodox mumming manner, and strutting up and down.
Charley seasoned his admiration with criticism of the
gentlest kind, for the touch of Eustacia's hand yet
remained with him.
"And now for your excuse to the others," she said.
"Where do you meet before you go to Mrs. Yeobright's?"
"We thought of meeting here, miss, if you have nothing
to say against it. At eight o'clock, so as to get there
by nine."
"Yes. Well, you of course must not appear. I will march
in about five minutes late, ready-dressed, and tell them
that you can't come. I have decided that the best plan
will be for you to be sent somewhere by me, to make
a real thing of the excuse. Our two heath-croppers
are in the habit of straying into the meads, and tomorrow
evening you can go and see if they are gone there.
I'll manage the rest. Now you may leave me."
"Yes, miss. But I think I'll have one minute more
of what I am owed, if you don't mind."
Eustacia gave him her hand as before.
"One minute," she said, and counted on till she reached
seven or eight minutes. Hand and person she then
withdrew to a distance of several feet, and recovered
some of her old dignity. The contract completed,
she raised between them a barrier impenetrable as a wall.
"There, 'tis all gone; and I didn't mean quite all,"
he said, with a sigh.
"You had good measure," said she, turning away.
"Yes, miss. Well, 'tis over, and now I'll get home-along."
5 - Through the Moonlight
The next evening the mummers were assembled in the same spot,
awaiting the entrance of the Turkish Knight.
"Twenty minutes after eight by the Quiet Woman, and Charley
not come."
"Ten minutes past by Blooms-End."
"It wants ten minutes to, by Grandfer Cantle's watch."
"And 'tis five minutes past by the captain's clock."
On Egdon there was no absolute hour of the day. The time
at any moment was a number of varying doctrines professed
by the different hamlets, some of them having originally
grown up from a common root, and then become divided
by secession, some having been alien from the beginning.
West Egdon believed in Blooms-End time, East Egdon
in the time of the Quiet Woman Inn. Grandfer Cantle's
watch had numbered many followers in years gone by,
but since he had grown older faiths were shaken.
Thus, the mummers having gathered hither from scattered
points each came with his own tenets on early and late;
and they waited a little longer as a compromise.
Eustacia had watched the assemblage through the hole;
and seeing that now was the proper moment to enter,
she went from the "linhay" and boldly pulled the bobbin
of the fuelhouse door. Her grandfather was safe at the
Quiet Woman.
"Here's Charley at last! How late you be, Charley."
"'Tis not Charley," said the Turkish Knight from within
his visor. "'Tis a cousin of Miss Vye's, come to take
Charley's place from curiosity. He was obliged to go and
look for the heath-croppers that have got into the meads,
and I agreed to take his place, as he knew he couldn't come
back here again tonight. I know the part as well as he."
Her graceful gait, elegant figure, and dignified manner
in general won the mummers to the opinion that they
had gained by the exchange, if the newcomer were perfect
in his part.
"It don't matter--if you be not too young," said Saint George.
Eustacia's voice had sounded somewhat more juvenile
and fluty than Charley's.
"I know every word of it, I tell you," said Eustacia decisively.
Dash being all that was required to carry her triumphantly through,
she adopted as much as was necessary. "Go ahead, lads,
with the try-over. I'll challenge any of you to find a mistake in me."
The play was hastily rehearsed, whereupon the other mummers
were delighted with the new knight. They extinguished
the candles at half-past eight, and set out upon the heath
in the direction of Mrs. Yeobright's house at Bloom's-End.
There was a slight hoarfrost that night, and the moon,
though not more than half full, threw a spirited and enticing
brightness upon the fantastic figures of the mumming band,
whose plumes and ribbons rustled in their walk like
autumn leaves. Their path was not over Rainbarrow now,
but down a valley which left that ancient elevation
a little to the east. The bottom of the vale was green
to a width of ten yards or thereabouts, and the shining
facets of frost upon the blades of grass seemed to move
on with the shadows of those they surrounded. The masses
of furze and heath to the right and left were dark as ever;
a mere half-moon was powerless to silver such sable
features as theirs.
Half-an-hour of walking and talking brought them to the spot
in the valley where the grass riband widened and led down to
the front of the house. At sight of the place Eustacia who had
felt a few passing doubts during her walk with the youths,
again was glad that the adventure had been undertaken.
She had come out to see a man who might possibly have the
power to deliver her soul from a most deadly oppression.
What was Wildeve? Interesting, but inadequate.
Perhaps she would see a sufficient hero tonight.
As they drew nearer to the front of the house the mummers became
aware that music and dancing were briskly flourishing within.
Every now and then a long low note from the serpent,
which was the chief wind instrument played at these times,
advanced further into the heath than the thin treble part,
and reached their ears alone; and next a more than usual
loud tread from a dancer would come the same way.
With nearer approach these fragmentary sounds became
pieced together, and were found to be the salient points
of the tune called "Nancy's Fancy."
He was there, of course. Who was she that he danced with?
Perhaps some unknown woman, far beneath herself in culture,
was by the most subtle of lures sealing his fate this
very instant. To dance with a man is to concentrate
a twelvemonth's regulation fire upon him in the fragment
of an hour. To pass to courtship without acquaintance,
to pass to marriage without courtship, is a skipping of
terms reserved for those alone who tread this royal road.
She would see how his heart lay by keen observation of
them all.
The enterprising lady followed the mumming company through
the gate in the white paling, and stood before the open porch.
The house was encrusted with heavy thatchings, which dropped
between the upper windows; the front, upon which the
moonbeams directly played, had originally been white;
but a huge pyracanth now darkened the greater portion.
It became at once evident that the dance was proceeding immediately
within the surface of the door, no apartment intervening.
The brushing of skirts and elbows, sometimes the bumping
of shoulders, could be heard against the very panels.
Eustacia, though living within two miles of the place,
had never seen the interior of this quaint old habitation.
Between Captain Vye and the Yeobrights there had never
existed much acquaintance, the former having come as a
stranger and purchased the long-empty house at Mistover
Knap not long before the death of Mrs. Yeobright's husband;
and with that event and the departure of her son
such friendship as had grown up became quite broken off.
"Is there no passage inside the door, then?" asked Eustacia
as they stood within the porch.
"No," said the lad who played the Saracen. "The door
opens right upon the front sitting-room, where the spree's
going on."
"So that we cannot open the door without stopping the dance."
"That's it. Here we must bide till they have done,
for they always bolt the back door after dark."
"They won't be much longer," said Father Christmas.
This assertion, however, was hardly borne out by the event.
Again the instruments ended the tune; again they
recommenced with as much fire and pathos as if it were
the first strain. The air was now that one without
any particular beginning, middle, or end, which perhaps,
among all the dances which throng an inspired fiddler's fancy,
best conveys the idea of the interminable--the celebrated
"Devil's Dream." The fury of personal movement that was
kindled by the fury of the notes could be approximately
imagined by these outsiders under the moon, from the
occasional kicks of toes and heels against the door,
whenever the whirl round had been of more than customary velocity.
The first five minutes of listening was interesting enough
to the mummers. The five minutes extended to ten minutes,
and these to a quarter of an hour; but no signs of ceasing were
audible in the lively "Dream." The bumping against the door,
the laughter, the stamping, were all as vigorous as ever,
and the pleasure in being outside lessened considerably.
"Why does Mrs. Yeobright give parties of this sort?"
Eustacia asked, a little surprised to hear merriment
so pronounced.
"It is not one of her bettermost parlour-parties. She's
asked the plain neighbours and workpeople without drawing
any lines, just to give 'em a good supper and such like.
Her son and she wait upon the folks."
"I see," said Eustacia.
"'Tis the last strain, I think," said Saint George,
with his ear to the panel. "A young man and woman have
just swung into this corner, and he's saying to her,
'Ah, the pity; 'tis over for us this time, my own.'"
"Thank God," said the Turkish Knight, stamping, and taking
from the wall the conventional lance that each of the
mummers carried. Her boots being thinner than those of
the young men, the hoar had damped her feet and made them cold.
"Upon my song 'tis another ten minutes for us,"
said the Valiant Soldier, looking through the keyhole
as the tune modulated into another without stopping.
"Grandfer Cantle is standing in this corner, waiting his turn."
"'Twon't be long; 'tis a six-handed reel," said the Doctor.
"Why not go in, dancing or no? They sent for us,"
said the Saracen.
"Certainly not," said Eustacia authoritatively, as she paced
smartly up and down from door to gate to warm herself.
"We should burst into the middle of them and stop the dance,
and that would be unmannerly."
"He thinks himself somebody because he has had a bit
more schooling than we," said the Doctor.
"You may go to the deuce!" said Eustacia.
There was a whispered conversation between three or four
of them, and one turned to her.
"Will you tell us one thing?" he said, not without gentleness.
"Be you Miss Vye? We think you must be."
"You may think what you like," said Eustacia slowly.
"But honourable lads will not tell tales upon a lady."
"We'll say nothing, miss. That's upon our honour."
"Thank you," she replied.
At this moment the fiddles finished off with a screech,
and the serpent emitted a last note that nearly lifted
the roof. When, from the comparative quiet within,
the mummers judged that the dancers had taken their seats,
Father Christmas advanced, lifted the latch, and put his head
inside the door.
"Ah, the mummers, the mummers!" cried several guests at once.
"Clear a space for the mummers."
Humpbacked Father Christmas then made a complete entry,
swinging his huge club, and in a general way clearing the
stage for the actors proper, while he informed the company
in smart verse that he was come, welcome or welcome not;
concluding his speech with
"Make room, make room, my gallant boys,
And give us space to rhyme;
We've come to show Saint George's play,
Upon this Christmas time."
The guests were now arranging themselves at one end of the room,
the fiddler was mending a string, the serpent-player
was emptying his mouthpiece, and the play began.
First of those outside the Valiant Soldier entered,
in the interest of Saint George--
"Here come I, the Valiant Soldier;
Slasher is my name";
and so on. This speech concluded with a challenge
to the infidel, at the end of which it was Eustacia's
duty to enter as the Turkish Knight. She, with the
rest who were not yet on, had hitherto remained
in the moonlight which streamed under the porch.
With no apparent effort or backwardness she came in, beginning--
"Here come I, a Turkish Knight,
Who learnt in Turkish land to fight;
I'll fight this man with courage bold:
If his blood's hot I'll make it cold!"
During her declamation Eustacia held her head erect,
and spoke as roughly as she could, feeling pretty secure
from observation. But the concentration upon her part
necessary to prevent discovery, the newness of the scene,
the shine of the candles, and the confusing effect upon
her vision of the ribboned visor which hid her features,
left her absolutely unable to perceive who were present
as spectators. On the further side of a table bearing
candles she could faintly discern faces, and that was all.
Meanwhile Jim Starks as the Valiant Soldier had
come forward, and, with a glare upon the Turk, replied--
"If, then, thou art that Turkish Knight,
Draw out thy sword, and let us fight!"
And fight they did; the issue of the combat being that the
Valiant Soldier was slain by a preternaturally inadequate
thrust from Eustacia, Jim, in his ardour for genuine
histrionic art, coming down like a log upon the stone
floor with force enough to dislocate his shoulder.
Then, after more words from the Turkish Knight,
rather too faintly delivered, and statements that he'd
fight Saint George and all his crew, Saint George
himself magnificently entered with the well-known flourish--
"Here come I, Saint George, the valiant man,
With naked sword and spear in hand,
Who fought the dragon and brought him to the slaughter,
And by this won fair Sabra, the King of Egypt's
What mortal man would dare to stand
Before me with my sword in hand?"
This was the lad who had first recognized Eustacia;
and when she now, as the Turk, replied with suitable defiance,
and at once began the combat, the young fellow took especial
care to use his sword as gently as possible. Being wounded,
the Knight fell upon one knee, according to the direction.
The Doctor now entered, restored the Knight by giving him
a draught from the bottle which he carried, and the fight
was again resumed, the Turk sinking by degrees until
quite overcome--dying as hard in this venerable drama
as he is said to do at the present day.
This gradual sinking to the earth was, in fact,
one reason why Eustacia had thought that the part of
the Turkish Knight, though not the shortest, would suit
her best. A direct fall from upright to horizontal,
which was the end of the other fighting characters,
was not an elegant or decorous part for a girl.
But it was easy to die like a Turk, by a dogged decline.
Eustacia was now among the number of the slain, though not
on the floor, for she had managed to sink into a sloping
position against the clock-case, so that her head was
well elevated. The play proceeded between Saint George,
the Saracen, the Doctor, and Father Christmas; and Eustacia,
having no more to do, for the first time found leisure
to observe the scene round, and to search for the form
that had drawn her hither.
6 - The Two Stand Face to Face
The room had been arranged with a view to the dancing,
the large oak table having been moved back till it stood
as a breastwork to the fireplace. At each end, behind,
and in the chimney-corner were grouped the guests,
many of them being warm-faced and panting, among whom
Eustacia cursorily recognized some well-to-do persons
from beyond the heath. Thomasin, as she had expected,
was not visible, and Eustacia recollected that a
light had shone from an upper window when they were
outside--the window, probably, of Thomasin's room.
A nose, chin, hands, knees, and toes projected from the seat
within the chimney opening, which members she found to unite
in the person of Grandfer Cantle, Mrs. Yeobright's occasional
assistant in the garden, and therefore one of the invited.
The smoke went up from an Etna of peat in front of him,
played round the notches of the chimney-crook, struck
against the salt-box, and got lost among the flitches.
Another part of the room soon riveted her gaze.
At the other side of the chimney stood the settle,
which is the necessary supplement to a fire so open
that nothing less than a strong breeze will carry up
the smoke. It is, to the hearths of old-fashioned
cavernous fireplaces, what the east belt of trees is to the
exposed country estate, or the north wall to the garden.
Outside the settle candles gutter, locks of hair wave,
young women shiver, and old men sneeze. Inside is Paradise.
Not a symptom of a draught disturbs the air; the sitters'
backs are as warm as their faces, and songs and old tales
are drawn from the occupants by the comfortable heat,
like fruit from melon plants in a frame.
It was, however, not with those who sat in the settle that
Eustacia was concerned. A face showed itself with marked
distinctness against the dark-tanned wood of the upper part.
The owner, who was leaning against the settle's outer end,
was Clement Yeobright, or Clym, as he was called here;
she knew it could be nobody else. The spectacle constituted
an area of two feet in Rembrandt's intensest manner.
A strange power in the lounger's appearance lay in
the fact that, though his whole figure was visible,
the observer's eye was only aware of his face.
To one of middle age the countenance was that of a young man,
though a youth might hardly have seen any necessity
for the term of immaturity. But it was really one of
those faces which convey less the idea of so many years
as its age than of so much experience as its store.
The number of their years may have adequately summed
up Jared, Mahalaleel, and the rest of the antediluvians,
but the age of a modern man is to be measured by the
intensity of his history.
The face was well shaped, even excellently. But the mind
within was beginning to use it as a mere waste tablet whereon
to trace its idiosyncrasies as they developed themselves.
The beauty here visible would in no long time be ruthlessly
over-run by its parasite, thought, which might just as
well have fed upon a plainer exterior where there was
nothing it could harm. Had Heaven preserved Yeobright
from a wearing habit of meditation, people would have said,
"A handsome man." Had his brain unfolded under sharper
contours they would have said, "A thoughtful man." But an
inner strenuousness was preying upon an outer symmetry,
and they rated his look as singular.
Hence people who began by beholding him ended by perusing him.
His countenance was overlaid with legible meanings.
Without being thought-worn he yet had certain marks
derived from a perception of his surroundings, such as
are not unfrequently found on men at the end of the four
or five years of endeavour which follow the close
of placid pupilage. He already showed that thought
is a disease of flesh, and indirectly bore evidence
that ideal physical beauty is incompatible with emotional
development and a full recognition of the coil of things.
Mental luminousness must be fed with the oil of life,
even though there is already a physical need for it;
and the pitiful sight of two demands on one supply was
just showing itself here.
When standing before certain men the philosopher regrets
that thinkers are but perishable tissue, the artist
that perishable tissue has to think. Thus to deplore,
each from his point of view, the mutually destructive
interdependence of spirit and flesh would have been
instinctive with these in critically observing Yeobright.
As for his look, it was a natural cheerfulness striving
against depression from without, and not quite succeeding.
The look suggested isolation, but it revealed something more.
As is usual with bright natures, the deity that lies
ignominiously chained within an ephemeral human carcase
shone out of him like a ray.
The effect upon Eustacia was palpable. The extraordinary
pitch of excitement that she had reached beforehand would,
indeed, have caused her to be influenced by the most
commonplace man. She was troubled at Yeobright's presence.
The remainder of the play ended--the Saracen's head
was cut off, and Saint George stood as victor.
Nobody commented, any more than they would have commented
on the fact of mushrooms coming in autumn or snowdrops
in spring. They took the piece as phlegmatically as did
the actors themselves. It was a phase of cheerfulness
which was, as a matter of course, to be passed through
every Christmas; and there was no more to be said.
They sang the plaintive chant which follows the play,
during which all the dead men rise to their feet in a silent
and awful manner, like the ghosts of Napoleon's soldiers
in the Midnight Review. Afterwards the door opened,
and Fairway appeared on the threshold, accompanied by
Christian and another. They had been waiting outside
for the conclusion of the play, as the players had waited
for the conclusion of the dance.
"Come in, come in," said Mrs. Yeobright; and Clym went
forward to welcome them. "How is it you are so late?
Grandfer Cantle has been here ever so long, and we thought
you'd have come with him, as you live so near one another."
"Well, I should have come earlier," Mr. Fairway said
and paused to look along the beam of the ceiling for a
nail to hang his hat on; but, finding his accustomed
one to be occupied by the mistletoe, and all the nails
in the walls to be burdened with bunches of holly, he at
last relieved himself of the hat by ticklishly balancing
it between the candle-box and the head of the clock-case.
"I should have come earlier, ma'am," he resumed, with a
more composed air, "but I know what parties be, and how
there's none too much room in folks' houses at such times,
so I thought I wouldn't come till you'd got settled a bit."
"And I thought so too, Mrs. Yeobright," said Christian
earnestly, "but Father there was so eager that he had no
manners at all, and left home almost afore 'twas dark.
I told him 'twas barely decent in a' old man to come
so oversoon; but words be wind."
"Klk! I wasn't going to bide waiting about, till half
the game was over! I'm as light as a kite when anything's
going on!" crowed Grandfer Cantle from the chimneyseat.
Fairway had meanwhile concluded a critical gaze at Yeobright.
"Now, you may not believe it," he said to the rest of the room,
"but I should never have knowed this gentleman if I had
met him anywhere off his own he'th--he's altered so much."
"You too have altered, and for the better, I think Timothy,"
said Yeobright, surveying the firm figure of Fairway.
"Master Yeobright, look me over too. I have altered
for the better, haven't I, hey?" said Grandfer Cantle,
rising and placing himself something above half a foot
from Clym's eye, to induce the most searching criticism.
"To be sure we will," said Fairway, taking the candle and
moving it over the surface of the Grandfer's countenance,
the subject of his scrutiny irradiating himself with light
and pleasant smiles, and giving himself jerks of juvenility.
"You haven't changed much," said Yeobright.
"If there's any difference, Grandfer is younger,"
appended Fairway decisively.
"And yet not my own doing, and I feel no pride in it,"
said the pleased ancient. "But I can't be cured of my vagaries;
them I plead guilty to. Yes, Master Cantle always was that,
as we know. But I am nothing by the side of you,
Mister Clym."
"Nor any o' us," said Humphrey, in a low rich tone
of admiration, not intended to reach anybody's ears.
"Really, there would have been nobody here who could
have stood as decent second to him, or even third,
if I hadn't been a soldier in the Bang-up Locals (as we
was called for our smartness)," said Grandfer Cantle.
"And even as 'tis we all look a little scammish beside him.
But in the year four 'twas said there wasn't a finer figure
in the whole South Wessex than I, as I looked when dashing
past the shop-winders with the rest of our company on
the day we ran out o' Budmouth because it was thoughted
that Boney had landed round the point. There was I,
straight as a young poplar, wi' my firelock, and my bagnet,
and my spatterdashes, and my stock sawing my jaws off,
and my accoutrements sheening like the seven stars! Yes,
neighbours, I was a pretty sight in my soldiering days.
You ought to have seen me in four!"
"'Tis his mother's side where Master Clym's figure comes from,
bless ye," said Timothy. "I know'd her brothers well.
Longer coffins were never made in the whole country
of South Wessex, and 'tis said that poor George's knees
were crumpled up a little e'en as 'twas."
"Coffins, where?" inquired Christian, drawing nearer.
"Have the ghost of one appeared to anybody, Master Fairway?"
"No, no. Don't let your mind so mislead your ears,
Christian; and be a man," said Timothy reproachfully.
"I will." said Christian. "But now I think o't my
shadder last night seemed just the shape of a coffin.
What is it a sign of when your shade's like a coffin,
neighbours? It can't be nothing to be afeared of,
I suppose?"
"Afeared, no!" said the Grandfer. "Faith, I was never
afeard of nothing except Boney, or I shouldn't ha'
been the soldier I was. Yes, 'tis a thousand pities you
didn't see me in four!"
By this time the mummers were preparing to leave;
but Mrs. Yeobright stopped them by asking them to sit
down and have a little supper. To this invitation
Father Christmas, in the name of them all, readily agreed.
Eustacia was happy in the opportunity of staying a little longer.
The cold and frosty night without was doubly frigid to her.
But the lingering was not without its difficulties.
Mrs. Yeobright, for want of room in the larger apartment,
placed a bench for the mummers halfway through the pantry door,
which opened from the sitting-room. Here they seated
themselves in a row, the door being left open--thus they
were still virtually in the same apartment. Mrs. Yeobright
now murmured a few words to her son, who crossed the room
to the pantry door, striking his head against the mistletoe
as he passed, and brought the mummers beef and bread,
cake pastry, mead, and elder-wine, the waiting being
done by him and his mother, that the little maid-servant
might sit as guest. The mummers doffed their helmets,
and began to eat and drink.
"But you will surely have some?" said Clym to the Turkish
Knight, as he stood before that warrior, tray in hand.
She had refused, and still sat covered, only the sparkle
of her eyes being visible between the ribbons which covered her face.
"None, thank you," replied Eustacia.
"He's quite a youngster," said the Saracen apologetically,
"and you must excuse him. He's not one of the old set,
but have jined us because t'other couldn't come."
"But he will take something?" persisted Yeobright.
"Try a glass of mead or elder-wine."
"Yes, you had better try that," said the Saracen.
"It will keep the cold out going home-along."
Though Eustacia could not eat without uncovering her face
she could drink easily enough beneath her disguise.
The elder-wine was accordingly accepted, and the glass
vanished inside the ribbons.
At moments during this performance Eustacia was half
in doubt about the security of her position; yet it
had a fearful joy. A series of attentions paid to her,
and yet not to her but to some imaginary person,
by the first man she had ever been inclined to adore,
complicated her emotions indescribably. She had loved
him partly because he was exceptional in this scene,
partly because she had determined to love him, chiefly
because she was in desperate need of loving somebody
after wearying of Wildeve. Believing that she must love
him in spite of herself, she had been influenced after
the fashion of the second Lord Lyttleton and other persons,
who have dreamed that they were to die on a certain day,
and by stress of a morbid imagination have actually brought
about that event. Once let a maiden admit the possibility
of her being stricken with love for someone at a certain
hour and place, and the thing is as good as done.
Did anything at this moment suggest to Yeobright the sex
of the creature whom that fantastic guise inclosed,
how extended was her scope both in feeling and in making
others feel, and how far her compass transcended that
of her companions in the band? When the disguised Queen
of Love appeared before Aeneas a preternatural perfume
accompanied her presence and betrayed her quality.
If such a mysterious emanation ever was projected by the
emotions of an earthly woman upon their object, it must
have signified Eustacia's presence to Yeobright now.
He looked at her wistfully, then seemed to fall into
a reverie, as if he were forgetting what he observed.
The momentary situation ended, he passed on, and Eustacia
sipped her wine without knowing what she drank.
The man for whom she had pre-determined to nourish
a passion went into the small room, and across it to the
further extremity.
The mummers, as has been stated, were seated on a bench,
one end of which extended into the small apartment,
or pantry, for want of space in the outer room.
Eustacia, partly from shyness, had chosen the midmost seat,
which thus commanded a view of the interior of the pantry
as well as the room containing the guests. When Clym
passed down the pantry her eyes followed him in the gloom
which prevailed there. At the remote end was a door which,
just as he was about to open it for himself, was opened
by somebody within; and light streamed forth.
The person was Thomasin, with a candle, looking anxious,
pale, and interesting. Yeobright appeared glad to see her,
and pressed her hand. "That's right, Tamsie," he said
heartily, as though recalled to himself by the sight
of her, "you have decided to come down. I am glad of it."
"Hush--no, no," she said quickly. "I only came to speak
to you."
"But why not join us?"
"I cannot. At least I would rather not. I am not
well enough, and we shall have plenty of time together
now you are going to be home a good long holiday."
"It isn't nearly so pleasant without you. Are you
really ill?"
"Just a little, my old cousin--here," she said,
playfully sweeping her hand across her heart.
"Ah, Mother should have asked somebody else to be
present tonight, perhaps?"
"O no, indeed. I merely stepped down, Clym, to ask you--"
Here he followed her through the doorway into the private
room beyond, and, the door closing, Eustacia and the
mummer who sat next to her, the only other witness
of the performance, saw and heard no more.
The heat flew to Eustacia's head and cheeks. She instantly
guessed that Clym, having been home only these two or
three days, had not as yet been made acquainted with
Thomasin's painful situation with regard to Wildeve;
and seeing her living there just as she had been living
before he left home, he naturally suspected nothing.
Eustacia felt a wild jealousy of Thomasin on the instant.
Though Thomasin might possibly have tender sentiments
towards another man as yet, how long could they be expected
to last when she was shut up here with this interesting and
travelled cousin of hers? There was no knowing what affection
might not soon break out between the two, so constantly
in each other's society, and not a distracting object near.
Clym's boyish love for her might have languished,
but it might easily be revived again.
Eustacia was nettled by her own contrivances. What a
sheer waste of herself to be dressed thus while another
was shining to advantage! Had she known the full effect
of the encounter she would have moved heaven and earth
to get here in a natural manner. The power of her face
all lost, the charm of her emotions all disguised,
the fascinations of her coquetry denied existence,
nothing but a voice left to her; she had a sense of the
doom of Echo. "Nobody here respects me," she said.
She had overlooked the fact that, in coming as a boy among
other boys, she would be treated as a boy. The slight,
though of her own causing, and self-explanatory, she
was unable to dismiss as unwittingly shown, so sensitive
had the situation made her.
Women have done much for themselves in histrionic dress.
To look far below those who, like a certain fair
personator of Polly Peachum early in the last century,
and another of Lydia Languish early in this, [1] have
won not only love but ducal coronets into the bargain,
whole shoals of them have reached to the initial
satisfaction of getting love almost whence they would.
But the Turkish Knight was denied even the chance of
achieving this by the fluttering ribbons which she dared
not brush aside.
[1] Written in 1877.
Yeobright returned to the room without his cousin.
When within two or three feet of Eustacia he stopped,
as if again arrested by a thought. He was gazing at her.
She looked another way, disconcerted, and wondered how long
this purgatory was to last. After lingering a few seconds he
passed on again.
To court their own discomfiture by love is a common instinct
with certain perfervid women. Conflicting sensations
of love, fear, and shame reduced Eustacia to a state
of the utmost uneasiness. To escape was her great and
immediate desire. The other mummers appeared to be in no
hurry to leave; and murmuring to the lad who sat next to
her that she preferred waiting for them outside the house,
she moved to the door as imperceptibly as possible,
opened it, and slipped out.
The calm, lone scene reassured her. She went forward
to the palings and leant over them, looking at the moon.
She had stood thus but a little time when the door again opened.
Expecting to see the remainder of the band Eustacia turned;
but no--Clym Yeobright came out as softly as she had done,
and closed the door behind him.
He advanced and stood beside her. "I have an odd opinion,"
he said, "and should like to ask you a question. Are you
a woman--or am I wrong?"
"I am a woman."
His eyes lingered on her with great interest. "Do girls
often play as mummers now? They never used to."
"They don't now."
"Why did you?"
"To get excitement and shake off depression," she said
in low tones.
"What depressed you?"
"That's a cause of depression a good many have to put
up with."
A long silence. "And do you find excitement?" asked Clym
at last.
"At this moment, perhaps."
"Then you are vexed at being discovered?"
"Yes; though I thought I might be."
"I would gladly have asked you to our party had I known
you wished to come. Have I ever been acquainted with you
in my youth?"
"Won't you come in again, and stay as long as you like?"
"No. I wish not to be further recognized."
"Well, you are safe with me." After remaining in thought a
minute he added gently, "I will not intrude upon you longer.
It is a strange way of meeting, and I will not ask why
I find a cultivated woman playing such a part as this."
She did not volunteer the reason which he seemed to hope for,
and he wished her good night, going thence round to the
back of the house, where he walked up and down by himself
for some time before re-entering.
Eustacia, warmed with an inner fire, could not wait for
her companions after this. She flung back the ribbons
from her face, opened the gate, and at once struck into
the heath. She did not hasten along. Her grandfather
was in bed at this hour, for she so frequently walked
upon the hills on moonlight nights that he took no notice
of her comings and goings, and, enjoying himself in his
own way, left her to do likewise. A more important
subject than that of getting indoors now engrossed her.
Yeobright, if he had the least curiosity, would infallibly
discover her name. What then? She first felt a sort of
exultation at the way in which the adventure had terminated,
even though at moments between her exultations she was
abashed and blushful. Then this consideration recurred
to chill her: What was the use of her exploit? She was
at present a total stranger to the Yeobright family.
The unreasonable nimbus of romance with which she had
encircled that man might be her misery. How could she
allow herself to become so infatuated with a stranger? And
to fill the cup of her sorrow there would be Thomasin,
living day after day in inflammable proximity to him;
for she had just learnt that, contrary to her first belief,
he was going to stay at home some considerable time.
She reached the wicket at Mistover Knap, but before
opening it she turned and faced the heath once more.
The form of Rainbarrow stood above the hills, and the moon
stood above Rainbarrow. The air was charged with silence
and frost. The scene reminded Eustacia of a circumstance
which till that moment she had totally forgotten.
She had promised to meet Wildeve by the Barrow this very
night at eight, to give a final answer to his pleading
for an elopement.
She herself had fixed the evening and the hour.
He had probably come to the spot, waited there in the cold,
and been greatly disappointed.
"Well, so much the better--it did not hurt him,"
she said serenely. Wildeve had at present the rayless
outline of the sun through smoked glass, and she could
say such things as that with the greatest facility.
She remained deeply pondering; and Thomasin's winning
manner towards her cousin arose again upon Eustacia's mind.
"O that she had been married to Damon before this!"
she said. "And she would if it hadn't been for me! If I
had only known--if I had only known!"
Eustacia once more lifted her deep stormy eyes to
the moonlight, and, sighing that tragic sigh of hers
which was so much like a shudder, entered the shadow
of the roof. She threw off her trappings in the outhouse,
rolled them up, and went indoors to her chamber.
7 - A Coalition between Beauty and Oddness
The old captain's prevailing indifference to his
granddaughter's movements left her free as a bird to follow
her own courses; but it so happened that he did take upon
himself the next morning to ask her why she had walked out so late.
"Only in search of events, Grandfather," she said,
looking out of the window with that drowsy latency of
manner which discovered so much force behind it whenever
the trigger was pressed.
"Search of events--one would think you were one of the
bucks I knew at one-and-twenty."
"It is lonely here."
"So much the better. If I were living in a town my
whole time would be taken up in looking after you.
I fully expected you would have been home when I returned
from the Woman."
"I won't conceal what I did. I wanted an adventure,
and I went with the mummers. I played the part of the
Turkish Knight."
"No, never? Ha, ha! Good gad! I didn't expect it
of you, Eustacia."
"It was my first performance, and it certainly will be
my last. Now I have told you--and remember it is a secret."
"Of course. But, Eustacia, you never did--ha! ha! Dammy,
how 'twould have pleased me forty years ago! But remember,
no more of it, my girl. You may walk on the heath night
or day, as you choose, so that you don't bother me;
but no figuring in breeches again."
"You need have no fear for me, Grandpapa."
Here the conversation ceased, Eustacia's moral training
never exceeding in severity a dialogue of this sort,
which, if it ever became profitable to good works,
would be a result not dear at the price. But her thoughts
soon strayed far from her own personality; and, full of a
passionate and indescribable solicitude for one to whom
she was not even a name, she went forth into the amplitude
of tanned wild around her, restless as Ahasuerus the Jew.
She was about half a mile from her residence when she
beheld a sinister redness arising from a ravine a little
way in advance--dull and lurid like a flame in sunlight
and she guessed it to signify Diggory Venn.
When the farmers who had wished to buy in a new stock
of reddle during the last month had inquired where Venn
was to be found, people replied, "On Egdon Heath."
Day after day the answer was the same. Now, since Egdon
was populated with heath-croppers and furze-cutters rather
than with sheep and shepherds, and the downs where most
of the latter were to be found lay some to the north,
some to the west of Egdon, his reason for camping
about there like Israel in Zin was not apparent.
The position was central and occasionally desirable.
But the sale of reddle was not Diggory's primary object
in remaining on the heath, particularly at so late a period
of the year, when most travellers of his class had gone
into winter quarters.
Eustacia looked at the lonely man. Wildeve had told her
at their last meeting that Venn had been thrust forward
by Mrs. Yeobright as one ready and anxious to take his
place as Thomasin's betrothed. His figure was perfect,
his face young and well outlined, his eye bright,
his intelligence keen, and his position one which he could
readily better if he chose. But in spite of possibilities it
was not likely that Thomasin would accept this Ishmaelitish
creature while she had a cousin like Yeobright at her elbow,
and Wildeve at the same time not absolutely indifferent.
Eustacia was not long in guessing that poor Mrs. Yeobright,
in her anxiety for her niece's future, had mentioned
this lover to stimulate the zeal of the other.
Eustacia was on the side of the Yeobrights now,
and entered into the spirit of the aunt's desire.
"Good morning, miss," said the reddleman, taking off
his cap of hareskin, and apparently bearing her no illwill
from recollection of their last meeting.
"Good morning, reddleman," she said, hardly troubling
to lift her heavily shaded eyes to his. "I did not know
you were so near. Is your van here too?"
Venn moved his elbow towards a hollow in which a dense
brake of purple-stemmed brambles had grown to such vast
dimensions as almost to form a dell. Brambles, though
churlish when handled, are kindly shelter in early winter,
being the latest of the deciduous bushes to lose their leaves.
The roof and chimney of Venn's caravan showed behind
the tracery and tangles of the brake.
"You remain near this part?" she asked with more interest.
"Yes, I have business here."
"Not altogether the selling of reddle?"
"It has nothing to do with that."
"It has to do with Miss Yeobright?"
Her face seemed to ask for an armed peace, and he therefore
said frankly, "Yes, miss; it is on account of her."
"On account of your approaching marriage with her?"
Venn flushed through his stain. "Don't make sport of me,
Miss Vye," he said.
"It isn't true?"
"Certainly not."
She was thus convinced that the reddleman was a mere
pis aller in Mrs. Yeobright's mind; one, moreover,
who had not even been informed of his promotion to
that lowly standing. "It was a mere notion of mine,"
she said quietly; and was about to pass by without
further speech, when, looking round to the right, she saw
a painfully well-known figure serpentining upwards by one
of the little paths which led to the top where she stood.
Owing to the necessary windings of his course his back
was at present towards them. She glanced quickly round;
to escape that man there was only one way. Turning to Venn,
she said, "Would you allow me to rest a few minutes
in your van? The banks are damp for sitting on."
"Certainly, miss; I'll make a place for you."
She followed him behind the dell of brambles to his wheeled
dwelling into which Venn mounted, placing the three-legged
stool just within the door.
"That is the best I can do for you," he said, stepping down
and retiring to the path, where he resumed the smoking
of his pipe as he walked up and down.
Eustacia bounded into the vehicle and sat on the stool,
ensconced from view on the side towards the trackway.
Soon she heard the brushing of other feet than the
reddleman's, a not very friendly "Good day" uttered by
two men in passing each other, and then the dwindling
of the foot-fall of one of them in a direction onwards.
Eustacia stretched her neck forward till she caught
a glimpse of a receding back and shoulders; and she
felt a wretched twinge of misery, she knew not why.
It was the sickening feeling which, if the changed
heart has any generosity at all in its composition,
accompanies the sudden sight of a once-loved one who is
beloved no more.
When Eustacia descended to proceed on her way
the reddleman came near. "That was Mr. Wildeve
who passed, miss," he said slowly, and expressed by
his face that he expected her to feel vexed at having
been sitting unseen.
"Yes, I saw him coming up the hill," replied Eustacia.
"Why should you tell me that?" It was a bold question,
considering the reddleman's knowledge of her past love;
but her undemonstrative manner had power to repress the
opinions of those she treated as remote from her.
"I am glad to hear that you can ask it," said the
reddleman bluntly. "And, now I think of it, it agrees
with what I saw last night."
"Ah--what was that?" Eustacia wished to leave him,
but wished to know.
"Mr. Wildeve stayed at Rainbarrow a long time waiting
for a lady who didn't come."
"You waited too, it seems?"
"Yes, I always do. I was glad to see him disappointed.
He will be there again tonight."
"To be again disappointed. The truth is, reddleman, that that lady,
so far from wishing to stand in the way of Thomasin's
marriage with Mr. Wildeve, would be very glad to promote it."
Venn felt much astonishment at this avowal, though he did
not show it clearly; that exhibition may greet remarks
which are one remove from expectation, but it is usually
withheld in complicated cases of two removes and upwards.
"Indeed, miss," he replied.
"How do you know that Mr. Wildeve will come to Rainbarrow
again tonight?" she asked.
"I heard him say to himself that he would. He's in
a regular temper."
Eustacia looked for a moment what she felt, and she murmured,
lifting her deep dark eyes anxiously to his, "I wish I
knew what to do. I don't want to be uncivil to him;
but I don't wish to see him again; and I have some few
little things to return to him."
"If you choose to send 'em by me, miss, and a note
to tell him that you wish to say no more to him,
I'll take it for you quite privately. That would
be the most straightforward way of letting him know your mind."
"Very well," said Eustacia. "Come towards my house,
and I will bring it out to you."
She went on, and as the path was an infinitely small
parting in the shaggy locks of the heath, the reddleman
followed exactly in her trail. She saw from a distance
that the captain was on the bank sweeping the horizon
with his telescope; and bidding Venn to wait where he
stood she entered the house alone.
In ten minutes she returned with a parcel and a note,
and said, in placing them in his hand, "Why are you so
ready to take these for me?"
"Can you ask that?"
"I suppose you think to serve Thomasin in some way by it.
Are you as anxious as ever to help on her marriage?"
Venn was a little moved. "I would sooner have married
her myself," he said in a low voice. "But what I feel
is that if she cannot be happy without him I will do
my duty in helping her to get him, as a man ought."
Eustacia looked curiously at the singular man who spoke thus.
What a strange sort of love, to be entirely free
from that quality of selfishness which is frequently
the chief constituent of the passion, and sometimes
its only one! The reddleman's disinterestedness was
so well deserving of respect that it overshot respect
by being barely comprehended; and she almost thought it absurd.
"Then we are both of one mind at last," she said.
"Yes," replied Venn gloomily. "But if you would
tell me, miss, why you take such an interest in her,
I should be easier. It is so sudden and strange."
Eustacia appeared at a loss. "I cannot tell you that,
reddleman," she said coldly.
Venn said no more. He pocketed the letter, and,
bowing to Eustacia, went away.
Rainbarrow had again become blended with night when
Wildeve ascended the long acclivity at its base.
On his reaching the top a shape grew up from the earth
immediately behind him. It was that of Eustacia's emissary.
He slapped Wildeve on the shoulder. The feverish young
inn-keeper and ex-engineer started like Satan at the touch
of Ithuriel's spear.
"The meeting is always at eight o'clock, at this place,"
said Venn, "and here we are--we three."
"We three?" said Wildeve, looking quickly round.
"Yes; you, and I, and she. This is she." He held up
the letter and parcel.
Wildeve took them wonderingly. "I don't quite see
what this means," he said. "How do you come here?
There must be some mistake."
"It will be cleared from your mind when you have read
the letter. Lanterns for one." The reddleman struck a light,
kindled an inch of tallow-candle which he had brought,
and sheltered it with his cap.
"Who are you?" said Wildeve, discerning by the candlelight
an obscure rubicundity of person in his companion.
"You are the reddleman I saw on the hill this morning--why,
you are the man who----"
"Please read the letter."
"If you had come from the other one I shouldn't have
been surprised," murmured Wildeve as he opened the letter
and read. His face grew serious.
After some thought I have decided once and for all that we
must hold no further communication. The more I consider
the matter the more I am convinced that there must
be an end to our acquaintance. Had you been uniformly
faithful to me throughout these two years you might
now have some ground for accusing me of heartlessness;
but if you calmly consider what I bore during the period
of your desertion, and how I passively put up with your
courtship of another without once interfering, you will,
I think, own that I have a right to consult my own
feelings when you come back to me again. That these are
not what they were towards you may, perhaps, be a fault
in me, but it is one which you can scarcely reproach
me for when you remember how you left me for Thomasin.
The little articles you gave me in the early part of our
friendship are returned by the bearer of this letter.
They should rightly have been sent back when I first heard
of your engagement to her.
By the time that Wildeve reached her name the blankness
with which he had read the first half of the letter
intensified to mortification. "I am made a great fool of,
one way and another," he said pettishly. "Do you know
what is in this letter?"
The reddleman hummed a tune.
"Can't you answer me?" asked Wildeve warmly.
"Ru-um-tum-tum," sang the reddleman.
Wildeve stood looking on the ground beside Venn's feet,
till he allowed his eyes to travel upwards over Diggory's form,
as illuminated by the candle, to his head and face.
"Ha-ha! Well, I suppose I deserve it, considering how I have
played with them both," he said at last, as much to himself
as to Venn. "But of all the odd things that ever I knew,
the oddest is that you should so run counter to your own
interests as to bring this to me."
"My interests?"
"Certainly. 'Twas your interest not to do anything
which would send me courting Thomasin again, now she
has accepted you--or something like it. Mrs. Yeobright
says you are to marry her. 'Tisn't true, then?"
"Good Lord! I heard of this before, but didn't believe it.
When did she say so?"
Wildeve began humming as the reddleman had done.
"I don't believe it now," cried Venn.
"Ru-um-tum-tum," sang Wildeve.
"O Lord--how we can imitate!" said Venn contemptuously.
"I'll have this out. I'll go straight to her."
Diggory withdrew with an emphatic step, Wildeve's eye
passing over his form in withering derision, as if he
were no more than a heath-cropper. When the reddleman's
figure could no longer be seen, Wildeve himself descended
and plunged into the rayless hollow of the vale.
To lose the two women--he who had been the well-beloved
of both--was too ironical an issue to be endured.
He could only decently save himself by Thomasin;
and once he became her husband, Eustacia's repentance,
he thought, would set in for a long and bitter term.
It was no wonder that Wildeve, ignorant of the new man
at the back of the scene, should have supposed Eustacia
to be playing a part. To believe that the letter was not
the result of some momentary pique, to infer that she really
gave him up to Thomasin, would have required previous
knowledge of her transfiguration by that man's influence.
Who was to know that she had grown generous in the greediness
of a new passion, that in coveting one cousin she was
dealing liberally with another, that in her eagerness to
appropriate she gave way?
Full of this resolve to marry in haste, and wring
the heart of the proud girl, Wildeve went his way.
Meanwhile Diggory Venn had returned to his van,
where he stood looking thoughtfully into the stove.
A new vista was opened up to him. But, however promising
Mrs. Yeobright's views of him might be as a candidate for her
niece's hand, one condition was indispensable to the favour
of Thomasin herself, and that was a renunciation of his
present wild mode of life. In this he saw little difficulty.
He could not afford to wait till the next day before seeing
Thomasin and detailing his plan. He speedily plunged
himself into toilet operations, pulled a suit of cloth
clothes from a box, and in about twenty minutes stood before
the van-lantern as a reddleman in nothing but his face,
the vermilion shades of which were not to be removed in
a day. Closing the door and fastening it with a padlock,
Venn set off towards Blooms-End.
He had reached the white palings and laid his hand
upon the gate when the door of the house opened,
and quickly closed again. A female form had glided in.
At the same time a man, who had seemingly been standing
with the woman in the porch, came forward from the house
till he was face to face with Venn. It was Wildeve again.
"Man alive, you've been quick at it," said Diggory sarcastically.
"And you slow, as you will find," said Wildeve.
"And," lowering his voice, "you may as well go
back again now. I've claimed her, and got her.
Good night, reddleman!" Thereupon Wildeve walked away.
Venn's heart sank within him, though it had not risen
unduly high. He stood leaning over the palings in
an indecisive mood for nearly a quarter of an hour.
Then he went up the garden path, knocked, and asked
for Mrs. Yeobright.
Instead of requesting him to enter she came to the porch.
A discourse was carried on between them in low measured
tones for the space of ten minutes or more. At the end
of the time Mrs. Yeobright went in, and Venn sadly retraced
his steps into the heath. When he had again regained
his van he lit the lantern, and with an apathetic face
at once began to pull off his best clothes, till in the
course of a few minutes he reappeared as the confirmed
and irretrievable reddleman that he had seemed before.
8 - Firmness Is Discovered in a Gentle Heart
On that evening the interior of Blooms-End, though cosy
and comfortable, had been rather silent. Clym Yeobright
was not at home. Since the Christmas party he had gone
on a few days' visit to a friend about ten miles off.
The shadowy form seen by Venn to part from Wildeve
in the porch, and quickly withdraw into the house,
was Thomasin's. On entering she threw down a cloak which
had been carelessly wrapped round her, and came forward
to the light, where Mrs. Yeobright sat at her work-table,
drawn up within the settle, so that part of it projected
into the chimney-corner.
"I don't like your going out after dark alone, Tamsin,"
said her aunt quietly, without looking up from her work.
"I have only been just outside the door."
"Well?" inquired Mrs. Yeobright, struck by a change
in the tone of Thomasin's voice, and observing her.
Thomasin's cheek was flushed to a pitch far beyond
that which it had reached before her troubles, and her
eyes glittered.
"It was HE who knocked," she said.
"I thought as much."
"He wishes the marriage to be at once."
"Indeed! What--is he anxious?" Mrs. Yeobright directed
a searching look upon her niece. "Why did not Mr. Wildeve
come in?"
"He did not wish to. You are not friends with him, he says.
He would like the wedding to be the day after tomorrow,
quite privately; at the church of his parish--not
at ours."
"Oh! And what did you say?"
"I agreed to it," Thomasin answered firmly. "I am a
practical woman now. I don't believe in hearts at all.
I would marry him under any circumstances since--since
Clym's letter."
A letter was lying on Mrs. Yeobright's work-basket, and
at Thomasin's words her aunt reopened it, and silently
read for the tenth time that day:--
What is the meaning of this silly story that people are
circulating about Thomasin and Mr. Wildeve? I should call
such a scandal humiliating if there was the least chance
of its being true. How could such a gross falsehood
have arisen? It is said that one should go abroad
to hear news of home, and I appear to have done it.
Of course I contradict the tale everywhere; but it is
very vexing, and I wonder how it could have originated.
It is too ridiculous that such a girl as Thomasin could
so mortify us as to get jilted on the wedding day.
What has she done?
"Yes," Mrs. Yeobright said sadly, putting down the letter.
"If you think you can marry him, do so. And since Mr. Wildeve
wishes it to be unceremonious, let it be that too.
I can do nothing. It is all in your own hands now.
My power over your welfare came to an end when you left
this house to go with him to Anglebury." She continued,
half in bitterness, "I may almost ask, why do you consult
me in the matter at all? If you had gone and married
him without saying a word to me, I could hardly have
been angry--simply because, poor girl, you can't do a
better thing."
"Don't say that and dishearten me."
"You are right--I will not."
"I do not plead for him, Aunt. Human nature is weak,
and I am not a blind woman to insist that he is perfect.
I did think so, but I don't now. But I know my course,
and you know that I know it. I hope for the best."
"And so do I, and we will both continue to," said Mrs. Yeobright,
rising and kissing her. "Then the wedding, if it comes off,
will be on the morning of the very day Clym comes home?"
"Yes. I decided that it ought to be over before he came.
After that you can look him in the face, and so can I. Our
concealments will matter nothing."
Mrs. Yeobright moved her head in thoughtful assent,
and presently said, "Do you wish me to give you away?
I am willing to undertake that, you know, if you wish,
as I was last time. After once forbidding the banns I
think I can do no less."
"I don't think I will ask you to come," said Thomasin
reluctantly, but with decision. "It would be unpleasant,
I am almost sure. Better let there be only strangers present,
and none of my relations at all. I would rather have it so.
I do not wish to do anything which may touch your credit,
and I feel that I should be uncomfortable if you were there,
after what has passed. I am only your niece, and there
is no necessity why you should concern yourself more about me."
"Well, he has beaten us," her aunt said. "It really
seems as if he had been playing with you in this way
in revenge for my humbling him as I did by standing
up against him at first."
"O no, Aunt," murmured Thomasin.
They said no more on the subject then. Diggory Venn's knock
came soon after; and Mrs. Yeobright, on returning from
her interview with him in the porch, carelessly observed,
"Another lover has come to ask for you."
"Yes, that queer young man Venn."
"Asks to pay his addresses to me?"
"Yes; and I told him he was too late."
Thomasin looked silently into the candle-flame. "Poor Diggory!"
she said, and then aroused herself to other things.
The next day was passed in mere mechanical deeds of preparation,
both the women being anxious to immerse themselves in
these to escape the emotional aspect of the situation.
Some wearing apparel and other articles were collected
anew for Thomasin, and remarks on domestic details were
frequently made, so as to obscure any inner misgivings
about her future as Wildeve's wife.
The appointed morning came. The arrangement with Wildeve
was that he should meet her at the church to guard against
any unpleasant curiosity which might have affected them
had they been seen walking off together in the usual
country way.
Aunt and niece stood together in the bedroom where the bride
was dressing. The sun, where it could catch it, made a
mirror of Thomasin's hair, which she always wore braided.
It was braided according to a calendar system--the more
important the day the more numerous the strands in the braid.
On ordinary working-days she braided it in threes;
on ordinary Sundays in fours; at Maypolings, gipsyings,
and the like, she braided it in fives. Years ago she had
said that when she married she would braid it in sevens.
She had braided it in sevens today.
"I have been thinking that I will wear my blue silk after all,"
she said. "It is my wedding day, even though there may
be something sad about the time. I mean," she added,
anxious to correct any wrong impression, "not sad in itself,
but in its having had great disappointment and trouble
before it."
Mrs. Yeobright breathed in a way which might have been called
a sigh. "I almost wish Clym had been at home," she said.
"Of course you chose the time because of his absence."
"Partly. I have felt that I acted unfairly to him in not
telling him all; but, as it was done not to grieve him,
I thought I would carry out the plan to its end, and tell
the whole story when the sky was clear."
"You are a practical little woman," said Mrs. Yeobright, smiling.
"I wish you and he--no, I don't wish anything. There, it is
nine o'clock," she interrupted, hearing a whizz and a dinging
"I told Damon I would leave at nine," said Thomasin,
hastening out of the room.
Her aunt followed. When Thomasin was going up the little
walk from the door to the wicket-gate, Mrs. Yeobright
looked reluctantly at her, and said, "It is a shame
to let you go alone."
"It is necessary," said Thomasin.
"At any rate," added her aunt with forced cheerfulness, "I shall
call upon you this afternoon, and bring the cake with me.
If Clym has returned by that time he will perhaps come too.
I wish to show Mr. Wildeve that I bear him no ill-will.
Let the past be forgotten. Well, God bless you! There,
I don't believe in old superstitions, but I'll do it."
She threw a slipper at the retreating figure of the girl,
who turned, smiled, and went on again.
A few steps further, and she looked back. "Did you
call me, Aunt?" she tremulously inquired. "Good-bye!"
Moved by an uncontrollable feeling as she looked upon
Mrs. Yeobright's worn, wet face, she ran back, when her
aunt came forward, and they met again. "O--Tamsie," said
the elder, weeping, "I don't like to let you go."
"I--I am--" Thomasin began, giving way likewise.
But, quelling her grief, she said "Good-bye!" again and went on.
Then Mrs. Yeobright saw a little figure wending its way
between the scratching furze-bushes, and diminishing far up
the valley--a pale-blue spot in a vast field of neutral brown,
solitary and undefended except by the power of her own hope.
But the worst feature in the case was one which did
not appear in the landscape; it was the man.
The hour chosen for the ceremony by Thomasin and Wildeve had
been so timed as to enable her to escape the awkwardness of
meeting her cousin Clym, who was returning the same morning.
To own to the partial truth of what he had heard would be
distressing as long as the humiliating position resulting
from the event was unimproved. It was only after a second
and successful journey to the altar that she could lift
up her head and prove the failure of the first attempt
a pure accident.
She had not been gone from Blooms-End more than half
an hour when Yeobright came by the meads from the other
direction and entered the house.
"I had an early breakfast," he said to his mother after
greeting her. "Now I could eat a little more."
They sat down to the repeated meal, and he went on in
a low, anxious voice, apparently imagining that Thomasin
had not yet come downstairs, "What's this I have heard
about Thomasin and Mr. Wildeve?"
"It is true in many points," said Mrs. Yeobright quietly;
"but it is all right now, I hope." She looked at the clock.
"Thomasin is gone to him today."
Clym pushed away his breakfast. "Then there is a scandal
of some sort, and that's what's the matter with Thomasin.
Was it this that made her ill?"
"Yes. Not a scandal--a misfortune. I will tell you all
about it, Clym. You must not be angry, but you must listen,
and you'll find that what we have done has been done
for the best."
She then told him the circumstances. All that he had known
of the affair before he returned from Paris was that there
had existed an attachment between Thomasin and Wildeve,
which his mother had at first discountenanced, but had since,
owing to the arguments of Thomasin, looked upon in a little
more favourable light. When she, therefore, proceeded
to explain all he was greatly surprised and troubled.
"And she determined that the wedding should be over
before you came back," said Mrs. Yeobright, "that there
might be no chance of her meeting you, and having a very
painful time of it. That's why she has gone to him;
they have arranged to be married this morning."
"But I can't understand it," said Yeobright, rising.
"'Tis so unlike her. I can see why you did not write
to me after her unfortunate return home. But why didn't
you let me know when the wedding was going to be--the
first time?"
"Well, I felt vexed with her just then. She seemed to me
to be obstinate; and when I found that you were nothing
in her mind I vowed that she should be nothing in yours.
I felt that she was only my niece after all; I told her she
might marry, but that I should take no interest in it,
and should not bother you about it either."
"It wouldn't have been bothering me. Mother, you did wrong."
"I thought it might disturb you in your business, and that
you might throw up your situation, or injure your prospects
in some way because of it, so I said nothing. Of course,
if they had married at that time in a proper manner,
I should have told you at once."
"Tamsin actually being married while we are sitting here!"
"Yes. Unless some accident happens again, as it did
the first time. It may, considering he's the same man."
"Yes, and I believe it will. Was it right to let her go?
Suppose Wildeve is really a bad fellow?"
"Then he won't come, and she'll come home again."
"You should have looked more into it."
"It is useless to say that," his mother answered with an
impatient look of sorrow. "You don't know how bad it has
been here with us all these weeks, Clym. You don't know
what a mortification anything of that sort is to a woman.
You don't know the sleepless nights we've had in this house,
and the almost bitter words that have passed between us
since that Fifth of November. I hope never to pass seven
such weeks again. Tamsin has not gone outside the door,
and I have been ashamed to look anybody in the face;
and now you blame me for letting her do the only thing that
can be done to set that trouble straight."
"No," he said slowly. "Upon the whole I don't blame you.
But just consider how sudden it seems to me. Here was I,
knowing nothing; and then I am told all at once that Tamsie
is gone to be married. Well, I suppose there was nothing
better to do. Do you know, Mother," he continued after
a moment or two, looking suddenly interested in his own
past history, "I once thought of Tamsin as a sweetheart? Yes,
I did. How odd boys are! And when I came home and saw
her this time she seemed so much more affectionate
than usual, that I was quite reminded of those days,
particularly on the night of the party, when she was unwell.
We had the party just the same--was not that rather cruel
to her?"
"It made no difference. I had arranged to give one, and it
was not worth while to make more gloom than necessary.
To begin by shutting ourselves up and telling you of Tamsin's
misfortunes would have been a poor sort of welcome."
Clym remained thinking. "I almost wish you had not had
that party," he said; "and for other reasons. But I will
tell you in a day or two. We must think of Tamsin now."
They lapsed into silence. "I'll tell you what,"
said Yeobright again, in a tone which showed some slumbering
feeling still. "I don't think it kind to Tamsin to let
her be married like this, and neither of us there to keep
up her spirits or care a bit about her. She hasn't
disgraced herself, or done anything to deserve that.
It is bad enough that the wedding should be so hurried
and unceremonious, without our keeping away from it
in addition. Upon my soul, 'tis almost a shame.
I'll go."
"It is over by this time," said his mother with a sigh;
"unless they were late, or he--"
"Then I shall be soon enough to see them come out.
I don't quite like your keeping me in ignorance, Mother,
after all. Really, I half hope he has failed to meet her!"
"And ruined her character?"
"Nonsense--that wouldn't ruin Thomasin."
He took up his hat and hastily left the house.
Mrs. Yeobright looked rather unhappy, and sat still,
deep in thought. But she was not long left alone.
A few minutes later Clym came back again, and in his company
came Diggory Venn.
"I find there isn't time for me to get there," said Clym.
"Is she married?" Mrs. Yeobright inquired, turning to the
reddleman a face in which a strange strife of wishes,
for and against, was apparent.
Venn bowed. "She is, ma'am."
"How strange it sounds," murmured Clym.
"And he didn't disappoint her this time?" said Mrs. Yeobright.
"He did not. And there is now no slight on her name.
I was hastening ath'art to tell you at once, as I saw you
were not there."
"How came you to be there? How did you know it?"
she asked.
"I have been in that neighbourhood for some time, and I
saw them go in," said the reddleman. "Wildeve came up
to the door, punctual as the clock. I didn't expect
it of him." He did not add, as he might have added,
that how he came to be in that neighbourhood was not
by accident; that, since Wildeve's resumption of his right
to Thomasin, Venn, with the thoroughness which was part
of his character, had determined to see the end of the episode.
"Who was there?" said Mrs. Yeobright.
"Nobody hardly. I stood right out of the way, and she
did not see me." The reddleman spoke huskily, and looked
into the garden.
"Who gave her away?"
"Miss Vye."
"How very remarkable! Miss Vye! It is to be considered
an honour, I suppose?"
"Who's Miss Vye?" said Clym.
"Captain Vye's granddaughter, of Mistover Knap."
"A proud girl from Budmouth," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"One not much to my liking. People say she's a witch,
but of course that's absurd."
The reddleman kept to himself his acquaintance with that
fair personage, and also that Eustacia was there because he
went to fetch her, in accordance with a promise he had given
as soon as he learnt that the marriage was to take place.
He merely said, in continuation of the story----
"I was sitting on the churchyard wall when they came up,
one from one way, the other from the other; and Miss Vye
was walking thereabouts, looking at the headstones.
As soon as they had gone in I went to the door, feeling I
should like to see it, as I knew her so well. I pulled
off my boots because they were so noisy, and went up into
the gallery. I saw then that the parson and clerk were
already there."
"How came Miss Vye to have anything to do with it,
if she was only on a walk that way?"
"Because there was nobody else. She had gone into the church
just before me, not into the gallery. The parson looked
round before beginning, and as she was the only one near he
beckoned to her, and she went up to the rails. After that,
when it came to signing the book, she pushed up her veil
and signed; and Tamsin seemed to thank her for her kindness."
The reddleman told the tale thoughtfully for there
lingered upon his vision the changing colour of Wildeve,
when Eustacia lifted the thick veil which had concealed
her from recognition and looked calmly into his face.
"And then," said Diggory sadly, "I came away, for her
history as Tamsin Yeobright was over."
"I offered to go," said Mrs. Yeobright regretfully.
"But she said it was not necessary."
"Well, it is no matter," said the reddleman. "The thing
is done at last as it was meant to be at first, and God
send her happiness. Now I'll wish you good morning."
He placed his cap on his head and went out.
From that instant of leaving Mrs. Yeobright's door,
the reddleman was seen no more in or about Egdon Heath
for a space of many months. He vanished entirely.
The nook among the brambles where his van had been
standing was as vacant as ever the next morning,
and scarcely a sign remained to show that he had been there,
excepting a few straws, and a little redness on the turf,
which was washed away by the next storm of rain.
The report that Diggory had brought of the wedding,
correct as far as it went, was deficient in one
significant particular, which had escaped him through his
being at some distance back in the church. When Thomasin
was tremblingly engaged in signing her name Wildeve
had flung towards Eustacia a glance that said plainly,
"I have punished you now." She had replied in a low
tone--and he little thought how truly--"You mistake;
it gives me sincerest pleasure to see her your wife today."
book three
1 - "My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is"
In Clym Yeobright's face could be dimly seen the typical
countenance of the future. Should there be a classic period
to art hereafter, its Pheidias may produce such faces.
The view of life as a thing to be put up with, replacing that
zest for existence which was so intense in early civilizations,
must ultimately enter so thoroughly into the constitution
of the advanced races that its facial expression will become
accepted as a new artistic departure. People already feel
that a man who lives without disturbing a curve of feature,
or setting a mark of mental concern anywhere upon himself,
is too far removed from modern perceptiveness to be a
modern type. Physically beautiful men--the glory of the
race when it was young--are almost an anachronism now;
and we may wonder whether, at some time or other,
physically beautiful women may not be an anachronism likewise.
The truth seems to be that a long line of disillusive
centuries has permanently displaced the Hellenic idea
of life, or whatever it may be called. What the Greeks
only suspected we know well; what their Aeschylus
imagined our nursery children feel. That old-fashioned
revelling in the general situation grows less and less
possible as we uncover the defects of natural laws,
and see the quandary that man is in by their operation.
The lineaments which will get embodied in ideals based
upon this new recognition will probably be akin to
those of Yeobright. The observer's eye was arrested,
not by his face as a picture, but by his face as a page;
not by what it was, but by what it recorded. His features
were attractive in the light of symbols, as sounds
intrinsically common become attractive in language,
and as shapes intrinsically simple become interesting
in writing.
He had been a lad of whom something was expected.
Beyond this all had been chaos. That he would be
successful in an original way, or that he would go to
the dogs in an original way, seemed equally probable.
The only absolute certainty about him was that he would
not stand still in the circumstances amid which he was born.
Hence, when his name was casually mentioned by neighbouring
yeomen, the listener said, "Ah, Clym Yeobright--what is he
doing now?" When the instinctive question about a person is,
What is he doing? it is felt that he will be found to be,
like most of us, doing nothing in particular. There is
an indefinite sense that he must be invading some region
of singularity, good or bad. The devout hope is that he
is doing well. The secret faith is that he is making
a mess of it. Half a dozen comfortable market-men, who
were habitual callers at the Quiet Woman as they passed
by in their carts, were partial to the topic. In fact,
though they were not Egdon men, they could hardly avoid
it while they sucked their long clay tubes and regarded
the heath through the window. Clym had been so inwoven
with the heath in his boyhood that hardly anybody could
look upon it without thinking of him. So the subject
recurred: if he were making a fortune and a name,
so much the better for him; if he were making a tragical
figure in the world, so much the better for a narrative.
The fact was that Yeobright's fame had spread to an awkward
extent before he left home. "It is bad when your fame
outruns your means," said the Spanish Jesuit Gracian.
At the age of six he had asked a Scripture riddle: "Who
was the first man known to wear breeches?" and applause
had resounded from the very verge of the heath. At seven
he painted the Battle of Waterloo with tiger-lily pollen
and black-currant juice, in the absence of water-colours. By
the time he reached twelve he had in this manner been heard
of as artist and scholar for at least two miles round.
An individual whose fame spreads three or four thousand
yards in the time taken by the fame of others similarly
situated to travel six or eight hundred, must of necessity
have something in him. Possibly Clym's fame, like Homer's,
owed something to the accidents of his situation;
nevertheless famous he was.
He grew up and was helped out in life. That waggery
of fate which started Clive as a writing clerk,
Gay as a linen-draper, Keats as a surgeon, and a thousand
others in a thousand other odd ways, banished the wild
and ascetic heath lad to a trade whose sole concern was
with the especial symbols of self-indulgence and vainglory.
The details of this choice of a business for him it is not
necessary to give. At the death of his father a neighbouring
gentleman had kindly undertaken to give the boy a start,
and this assumed the form of sending him to Budmouth.
Yeobright did not wish to go there, but it was the only
feasible opening. Thence he went to London; and thence,
shortly after, to Paris, where he had remained till now.
Something being expected of him, he had not been at home
many days before a great curiosity as to why he stayed
on so long began to arise in the heath. The natural
term of a holiday had passed, yet he still remained.
On the Sunday morning following the week of Thomasin's
marriage a discussion on this subject was in progress
at a hair-cutting before Fairway's house. Here the local
barbering was always done at this hour on this day,
to be followed by the great Sunday wash of the inhabitants
at noon, which in its turn was followed by the great
Sunday dressing an hour later. On Egdon Heath Sunday
proper did not begin till dinner-time, and even then it
was a somewhat battered specimen of the day.
These Sunday-morning hair-cuttings were performed by Fairway;
the victim sitting on a chopping-block in front of the house,
without a coat, and the neighbours gossiping around,
idly observing the locks of hair as they rose upon the wind
after the snip, and flew away out of sight to the four
quarters of the heavens. Summer and winter the scene was
the same, unless the wind were more than usually blusterous,
when the stool was shifted a few feet round the corner.
To complain of cold in sitting out of doors, hatless
and coatless, while Fairway told true stories between
the cuts of the scissors, would have been to pronounce
yourself no man at once. To flinch, exclaim, or move
a muscle of the face at the small stabs under the ear
received from those instruments, or at scarifications
of the neck by the comb, would have been thought a gross
breach of good manners, considering that Fairway did it
all for nothing. A bleeding about the poll on Sunday
afternoons was amply accounted for by the explanation.
"I have had my hair cut, you know."
The conversation on Yeobright had been started by a
distant view of the young man rambling leisurely across
the heath before them.
"A man who is doing well elsewhere wouldn't bide
here two or three weeks for nothing," said Fairway.
"He's got some project in 's head--depend upon that."
"Well, 'a can't keep a diment shop here," said Sam.
"I don't see why he should have had them two heavy boxes
home if he had not been going to bide; and what there
is for him to do here the Lord in heaven knows."
Before many more surmises could be indulged in Yeobright
had come near; and seeing the hair-cutting group he turned
aside to join them. Marching up, and looking critically
at their faces for a moment, he said, without introduction,
"Now, folks, let me guess what you have been talking about."
"Ay, sure, if you will," said Sam.
"About me."
"Now, it is a thing I shouldn't have dreamed of doing,
otherwise," said Fairway in a tone of integrity; "but since
you have named it, Master Yeobright, I'll own that we was
talking about 'ee. We were wondering what could keep you home
here mollyhorning about when you have made such a world-wide
name for yourself in the nick-nack trade--now, that's the truth o't."
"I'll tell you," said Yeobright. with unexpected earnestness.
"I am not sorry to have the opportunity. I've come
home because, all things considered, I can be a trifle less
useless here than anywhere else. But I have only lately
found this out. When I first got away from home I thought
this place was not worth troubling about. I thought our
life here was contemptible. To oil your boots instead
of blacking them, to dust your coat with a switch instead
of a brush--was there ever anything more ridiculous? I said."
"So 'tis; so 'tis!"
"No, no--you are wrong; it isn't."
"Beg your pardon, we thought that was your maning?"
"Well, as my views changed my course became very depressing.
I found that I was trying to be like people who had hardly
anything in common with myself. I was endeavouring
to put off one sort of life for another sort of life,
which was not better than the life I had known before.
It was simply different."
"True; a sight different," said Fairway.
"Yes, Paris must be a taking place," said Humphrey.
"Grand shop-winders, trumpets, and drums; and here be we
out of doors in all winds and weathers--"
"But you mistake me," pleaded Clym. "All this was
very depressing. But not so depressing as something I
next perceived--that my business was the idlest, vainest,
most effeminate business that ever a man could be put to.
That decided me--I would give it up and try to follow
some rational occupation among the people I knew best,
and to whom I could be of most use. I have come home;
and this is how I mean to carry out my plan. I shall
keep a school as near to Egdon as possible, so as to be
able to walk over here and have a night-school in my
mother's house. But I must study a little at first,
to get properly qualified. Now, neighbours, I must go."
And Clym resumed his walk across the heath.
"He'll never carry it out in the world," said Fairway.
"In a few weeks he'll learn to see things otherwise."
"'Tis good-hearted of the young man," said another.
"But, for my part, I think he had better mind his business."
2 - The New Course Causes Disappointment
Yeobright loved his kind. He had a conviction that the
want of most men was knowledge of a sort which brings
wisdom rather than affluence. He wished to raise
the class at the expense of individuals rather than
individuals at the expense of the class. What was more,
he was ready at once to be the first unit sacrificed.
In passing from the bucolic to the intellectual life
the intermediate stages are usually two at least,
frequently many more; and one of those stages is almost
sure to be worldly advanced. We can hardly imagine
bucolic placidity quickening to intellectual aims without
imagining social aims as the transitional phase.
Yeobright's local peculiarity was that in striving at high
thinking he still cleaved to plain living--nay, wild and
meagre living in many respects, and brotherliness with clowns.
He was a John the Baptist who took ennoblement rather than
repentance for his text. Mentally he was in a provincial future,
that is, he was in many points abreast with the central
town thinkers of his date. Much of this development he
may have owed to his studious life in Paris, where he
had become acquainted with ethical systems popular at the time.
In consequence of this relatively advanced position,
Yeobright might have been called unfortunate.
The rural world was not ripe for him. A man should
be only partially before his time--to be completely
to the vanward in aspirations is fatal to fame.
Had Philip's warlike son been intellectually so far ahead
as to have attempted civilization without bloodshed,
he would have been twice the godlike hero that he seemed,
but nobody would have heard of an Alexander.
In the interests of renown the forwardness should lie chiefly
in the capacity to handle things. Successful propagandists
have succeeded because the doctrine they bring into form
is that which their listeners have for some time felt
without being able to shape. A man who advocates aesthetic
effort and deprecates social effort is only likely to be
understood by a class to which social effort has become
a stale matter. To argue upon the possibility of culture
before luxury to the bucolic world may be to argue truly,
but it is an attempt to disturb a sequence to which
humanity has been long accustomed. Yeobright preaching
to the Egdon eremites that they might rise to a serene
comprehensiveness without going through the process
of enriching themselves was not unlike arguing to ancient
Chaldeans that in ascending from earth to the pure empyrean
it was not necessary to pass first into the intervening heaven
of ether.
Was Yeobright's mind well-proportioned? No. A well
proportioned mind is one which shows no particular bias;
one of which we may safely say that it will never cause
its owner to be confined as a madman, tortured as a heretic,
or crucified as a blasphemer. Also, on the other hand,
that it will never cause him to be applauded as
a prophet, revered as a priest, or exalted as a king.
Its usual blessings are happiness and mediocrity.
It produces the poetry of Rogers, the paintings of West,
the statecraft of North, the spiritual guidance of Tomline;
enabling its possessors to find their way to wealth,
to wind up well, to step with dignity off the stage,
to die comfortably in their beds, and to get the decent
monument which, in many cases, they deserve. It never
would have allowed Yeobright to do such a ridiculous thing
as throw up his business to benefit his fellow-creatures.
He walked along towards home without attending to paths.
If anyone knew the heath well it was Clym. He was permeated
with its scenes, with its substance, and with its odours.
He might be said to be its product. His eyes had first
opened thereon; with its appearance all the first images ,
of his memory were mingled, his estimate of life had
been coloured by it: his toys had been the flint knives
and arrow-heads which he found there, wondering why
stones should "grow" to such odd shapes; his flowers,
the purple bells and yellow furze: his animal kingdom,
the snakes and croppers; his society, its human haunters.
Take all the varying hates felt by Eustacia Vye towards
the heath, and translate them into loves, and you have the
heart of Clym. He gazed upon the wide prospect as he walked,
and was glad.
To many persons this Egdon was a place which had slipped
out of its century generations ago, to intrude as an
uncouth object into this. It was an obsolete thing,
and few cared to study it. How could this be otherwise
in the days of square fields, plashed hedges,
and meadows watered on a plan so rectangular that on a
fine day they looked like silver gridirons? The farmer,
in his ride, who could smile at artificial grasses,
look with solicitude at the coming corn, and sigh
with sadness at the fly-eaten turnips, bestowed upon
the distant upland of heath nothing better than a frown.
But as for Yeobright, when he looked from the heights
on his way he could not help indulging in a barbarous
satisfaction at observing that, in some of the attempts
at reclamation from the waste, tillage, after holding
on for a year or two, had receded again in despair,
the ferns and furze-tufts stubbornly reasserting themselves.
He descended into the valley, and soon reached his home
at Blooms-End. His mother was snipping dead leaves from
the window-plants. She looked up at him as if she did
not understand the meaning of his long stay with her;
her face had worn that look for several days. He could
perceive that the curiosity which had been shown by the
hair-cutting group amounted in his mother to concern.
But she had asked no question with her lips, even when
the arrival of his trunk suggested that he was not going
to leave her soon. Her silence besought an explanation
of him more loudly than words.
"I am not going back to Paris again, Mother," he said.
"At least, in my old capacity. I have given up the business."
Mrs. Yeobright turned in pained surprise. "I thought
something was amiss, because of the boxes. I wonder you
did not tell me sooner."
"I ought to have done it. But I have been in doubt
whether you would be pleased with my plan. I was not
quite clear on a few points myself. I am going to take
an entirely new course."
"I am astonished, Clym. How can you want to do better
than you've been doing?"
"Very easily. But I shall not do better in the way
you mean; I suppose it will be called doing worse.
But I hate that business of mine, and I want to do some
worthy thing before I die. As a schoolmaster I think
to do it--a school-master to the poor and ignorant,
to teach them what nobody else will."
"After all the trouble that has been taken to give you
a start, and when there is nothing to do but to keep
straight on towards affluence, you say you will be a poor
man's schoolmaster. Your fancies will be your ruin, Clym."
Mrs. Yeobright spoke calmly, but the force of feeling
behind the words was but too apparent to one who knew
her as well as her son did. He did not answer.
There was in his face that hopelessness of being understood
which comes when the objector is constitutionally beyond
the reach of a logic that, even under favouring conditions,
is almost too coarse a vehicle for the subtlety of the argument.
No more was said on the subject till the end of dinner.
His mother then began, as if there had been no interval
since the morning. "It disturbs me, Clym, to find
that you have come home with such thoughts as those.
I hadn't the least idea that you meant to go backward
in the world by your own free choice. Of course,
I have always supposed you were going to push straight on,
as other men do--all who deserve the name--when they have
been put in a good way of doing well."
"I cannot help it," said Clym, in a troubled tone.
"Mother, I hate the flashy business. Talk about men
who deserve the name, can any man deserving the name
waste his time in that effeminate way, when he sees half
the world going to ruin for want of somebody to buckle
to and teach them how to breast the misery they are born
to? I get up every morning and see the whole creation
groaning and travailing in pain, as St. Paul says,
and yet there am I, trafficking in glittering splendours
with wealthy women and titled libertines, and pandering
to the meanest vanities--I, who have health and strength
enough for anything. I have been troubled in my mind
about it all the year, and the end is that I cannot do it
any more."
"Why can't you do it as well as others?"
"I don't know, except that there are many things other
people care for which I don't; and that's partly why I
think I ought to do this. For one thing, my body does
not require much of me. I cannot enjoy delicacies;
good things are wasted upon me. Well, I ought to turn
that defect to advantage, and by being able to do without
what other people require I can spend what such things
cost upon anybody else."
Now, Yeobright, having inherited some of these very
instincts from the woman before him, could not fail
to awaken a reciprocity in her through her feelings,
if not by arguments, disguise it as she might for his good.
She spoke with less assurance. "And yet you might
have been a wealthy man if you had only persevered.
Manager to that large diamond establishment--what better
can a man wish for? What a post of trust and respect!
I suppose you will be like your father; like him,
you are getting weary of doing well."
"No," said her son, "I am not weary of that, though I am
weary of what you mean by it. Mother, what is doing well?"
Mrs. Yeobright was far too thoughtful a woman to be
content with ready definitions, and, like the "What
is wisdom?" of Plato's Socrates, and the "What is truth?"
of Pontius Pilate, Yeobright's burning question received
no answer.
The silence was broken by the clash of the garden gate,
a tap at the door, and its opening. Christian Cantle
appeared in the room in his Sunday clothes.
It was the custom on Egdon to begin the preface to a story
before absolutely entering the house, so as to be well
in for the body of the narrative by the time visitor
and visited stood face to face. Christian had been
saying to them while the door was leaving its latch,
"To think that I, who go from home but once in a while,
and hardly then, should have been there this morning!"
"'Tis news you have brought us, then, Christian?"
said Mrs. Yeobright.
"Ay, sure, about a witch, and ye must overlook my time o'
day; for, says I, 'I must go and tell 'em, though they
won't have half done dinner.' I assure ye it made me shake
like a driven leaf. Do ye think any harm will come o't?"
"This morning at church we was all standing up,
and the pa'son said, 'Let us pray.' 'Well,' thinks I,
'one may as well kneel as stand'; so down I went; and,
more than that, all the rest were as willing to oblige
the man as I. We hadn't been hard at it for more than a
minute when a most terrible screech sounded through church,
as if somebody had just gied up their heart's blood.
All the folk jumped up and then we found that Susan
Nunsuch had pricked Miss Vye with a long stocking-needle,
as she had threatened to do as soon as ever she could
get the young lady to church, where she don't come
very often. She've waited for this chance for weeks,
so as to draw her blood and put an end to the bewitching
of Susan's children that has been carried on so long.
Sue followed her into church, sat next to her, and as soon
as she could find a chance in went the stocking-needle
into my lady's arm."
"Good heaven, how horrid!" said Mrs. Yeobright.
"Sue pricked her that deep that the maid fainted away;
and as I was afeard there might be some tumult among us,
I got behind the bass viol and didn't see no more.
But they carried her out into the air, 'tis said;
but when they looked round for Sue she was gone.
What a scream that girl gied, poor thing! There were the
pa'son in his surplice holding up his hand and saying,
'Sit down, my good people, sit down!' But the deuce a bit
would they sit down. O, and what d'ye think I found out,
Mrs. Yeobright? The pa'son wears a suit of clothes under his
surplice!--I could see his black sleeves when he held up
his arm."
"'Tis a cruel thing," said Yeobright.
"Yes," said his mother.
"The nation ought to look into it," said Christian.
"Here's Humphrey coming, I think."
In came Humphrey. "Well, have ye heard the news?
But I see you have. 'Tis a very strange thing that
whenever one of Egdon folk goes to church some rum job
or other is sure to be doing. The last time one of us
was there was when neighbour Fairway went in the fall;
and that was the day you forbad the banns, Mrs. Yeobright."
"Has this cruelly treated girl been able to walk home?"
said Clym.
"They say she got better, and went home very well.
And now I've told it I must be moving homeward myself."
"And I," said Humphrey. "Truly now we shall see if there's
anything in what folks say about her."
When they were gone into the heath again Yeobright said
quietly to his mother, "Do you think I have turned teacher
too soon?"
"It is right that there should be schoolmasters,
and missionaries, and all such men," she replied.
"But it is right, too, that I should try to lift you out
of this life into something richer, and that you should
not come back again, and be as if I had not tried at all."
Later in the day Sam, the turf-cutter, entered.
"I've come a-borrowing, Mrs. Yeobright. I suppose you
have heard what's been happening to the beauty on the hill?"
"Yes, Sam: half a dozen have been telling us."
"Beauty?" said Clym.
"Yes, tolerably well-favoured," Sam replied. "Lord! all
the country owns that 'tis one of the strangest things
in the world that such a woman should have come to live
up there."
"Dark or fair?"
"Now, though I've seen her twenty times, that's a thing
I cannot call to mind."
"Darker than Tamsin," murmured Mrs. Yeobright.
"A woman who seems to care for nothing at all, as you
may say."
"She is melancholy, then?" inquired Clym.
"She mopes about by herself, and don't mix in with the people."
"Is she a young lady inclined for adventures?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"Doesn't join in with the lads in their games, to get
some sort of excitement in this lonely place?"
"Mumming, for instance?"
"No. Her notions be different. I should rather say her
thoughts were far away from here, with lords and ladies
she'll never know, and mansions she'll never see again."
Observing that Clym appeared singularly interested
Mrs. Yeobright said rather uneasily to Sam, "You see
more in her than most of us do. Miss Vye is to my
mind too idle to be charming. I have never heard
that she is of any use to herself or to other people.
Good girls don't get treated as witches even on Egdon."
"Nonsense--that proves nothing either way," said Yeobright.
"Well, of course I don't understand such niceties,"
said Sam, withdrawing from a possibly unpleasant argument;
"and what she is we must wait for time to tell us.
The business that I have really called about is this,
to borrow the longest and strongest rope you have.
The captain's bucket has dropped into the well,
and they are in want of water; and as all the chaps
are at home today we think we can get it out for him.
We have three cart-ropes already, but they won't reach to
the bottom."
Mrs. Yeobright told him that he might have whatever ropes
he could find in the outhouse, and Sam went out to search.
When he passed by the door Clym joined him, and accompanied
him to the gate.
"Is this young witch-lady going to stay long at Mistover?"
he asked.
"I should say so."
"What a cruel shame to ill-use her, She must have suffered
greatly--more in mind than in body."
"'Twas a graceless trick--such a handsome girl, too.
You ought to see her, Mr. Yeobright, being a young man
come from far, and with a little more to show for your
years than most of us."
"Do you think she would like to teach children?"
said Clym.
Sam shook his head. "Quite a different sort of body
from that, I reckon."
"O, it was merely something which occurred to me.
It would of course be necessary to see her and talk it
over--not an easy thing, by the way, for my family and hers
are not very friendly."
"I'll tell you how you mid see her, Mr. Yeobright,"
said Sam. "We are going to grapple for the bucket at six
o'clock tonight at her house, and you could lend a hand.
There's five or six coming, but the well is deep, and another
might be useful, if you don't mind appearing in that shape.
She's sure to be walking round."
"I'll think of it," said Yeobright; and they parted.
He thought of it a good deal; but nothing more was
said about Eustacia inside the house at that time.
Whether this romantic martyr to superstition and the
melancholy mummer he had conversed with under the full
moon were one and the same person remained as yet a problem.
3 - The First Act in a Timeworn Drama
The afternoon was fine, and Yeobright walked on the heath
for an hour with his mother. When they reached the lofty
ridge which divided the valley of Blooms-End from the
adjoining valley they stood still and looked round.
The Quiet Woman Inn was visible on the low margin of
the heath in one direction, and afar on the other hand
rose Mistover Knap.
"You mean to call on Thomasin?" he inquired.
"Yes. But you need not come this time," said his mother.
"In that case I'll branch off here, Mother. I am going
to Mistover."
Mrs. Yeobright turned to him inquiringly.
"I am going to help them get the bucket out of the
captain's well," he continued. "As it is so very deep
I may be useful. And I should like to see this Miss
Vye--not so much for her good looks as for another reason."
"Must you go?" his mother asked.
"I thought to."
And they parted. "There is no help for it," murmured Clym's
mother gloomily as he withdrew. "They are sure to see
each other. I wish Sam would carry his news to other
houses than mine."
Clym's retreating figure got smaller and smaller
as it rose and fell over the hillocks on his way.
"He is tender-hearted," said Mrs. Yeobright to herself
while she watched him; "otherwise it would matter little.
How he's going on!"
He was, indeed, walking with a will over the furze,
as straight as a line, as if his life depended upon it.
His mother drew a long breath, and, abandoning the visit
to Thomasin, turned back. The evening films began to make
nebulous pictures of the valleys, but the high lands
still were raked by the declining rays of the winter sun,
which glanced on Clym as he walked forward, eyed by every
rabbit and field-fare around, a long shadow advancing in
front of him.
On drawing near to the furze-covered bank and ditch which
fortified the captain's dwelling he could hear voices within,
signifying that operations had been already begun.
At the side-entrance gate he stopped and looked over.
Half a dozen able-bodied men were standing in a line from the
well-mouth, holding a rope which passed over the well-roller
into the depths below. Fairway, with a piece of smaller
rope round his body, made fast to one of the standards,
to guard against accidents, was leaning over the opening,
his right hand clasping the vertical rope that descended
into the well.
"Now, silence, folks," said Fairway.
The talking ceased, and Fairway gave a circular motion
to the rope, as if he were stirring batter. At the end
of a minute a dull splashing reverberated from the bottom
of the well; the helical twist he had imparted to the rope
had reached the grapnel below.
"Haul!" said Fairway; and the men who held the rope began
to gather it over the wheel.
"I think we've got sommat," said one of the haulers-in.
"Then pull steady," said Fairway.
They gathered up more and more, till a regular dripping
into the well could be heard below. It grew smarter
with the increasing height of the bucket, and presently
a hundred and fifty feet of rope had been pulled in.
Fairway then lit a lantern, tied it to another cord,
and began lowering it into the well beside the first:
Clym came forward and looked down. Strange humid leaves,
which knew nothing of the seasons of the year,
and quaint-natured mosses were revealed on the wellside
as the lantern descended; till its rays fell upon a
confused mass of rope and bucket dangling in the dank,
dark air.
"We've only got en by the edge of the hoop--steady,
for God's sake!" said Fairway.
They pulled with the greatest gentleness, till the wet
bucket appeared about two yards below them, like a dead
friend come to earth again. Three or four hands were
stretched out, then jerk went the rope, whizz went the wheel,
the two foremost haulers fell backward, the beating
of a falling body was heard, receding down the sides
of the well, and a thunderous uproar arose at the bottom.
The bucket was gone again.
"Damn the bucket!" said Fairway.
"Lower again," said Sam.
"I'm as stiff as a ram's horn stooping so long,"
said Fairway, standing up and stretching himself till
his joints creaked.
"Rest a few minutes, Timothy," said Yeobright.
"I'll take your place."
The grapnel was again lowered. Its smart impact upon
the distant water reached their ears like a kiss,
whereupon Yeobright knelt down, and leaning over the well
began dragging the grapnel round and round as Fairway
had done.
"Tie a rope round him--it is dangerous!" cried a soft
and anxious voice somewhere above them.
Everybody turned. The speaker was a woman, gazing down
upon the group from an upper window, whose panes blazed
in the ruddy glare from the west. Her lips were parted
and she appeared for the moment to forget where she was.
The rope was accordingly tied round his waist, and the
work proceeded. At the next haul the weight was not heavy,
and it was discovered that they had only secured a coil
of the rope detached from the bucket. The tangled
mass was thrown into the background. Humphrey took
Yeobright's place, and the grapnel was lowered again.
Yeobright retired to the heap of recovered rope in a
meditative mood. Of the identity between the lady's voice
and that of the melancholy mummer he had not a moment's doubt.
"How thoughtful of her!" he said to himself.
Eustacia, who had reddened when she perceived the effect
of her exclamation upon the group below, was no longer
to be seen at the window, though Yeobright scanned
it wistfully. While he stood there the men at the well
succeeded in getting up the bucket without a mishap.
One of them went to inquire for the captain, to learn
what orders he wished to give for mending the well-tackle.
The captain proved to be away from home, and Eustacia
appeared at the door and came out. She had lapsed into
an easy and dignified calm, far removed from the intensity
of life in her words of solicitude for Clym's safety.
"Will it be possible to draw water here tonight?"
she inquired.
"No, miss; the bottom of the bucket is clean knocked out.
And as we can do no more now we'll leave off, and come
again tomorrow morning."
"No water," she murmured, turning away.
"I can send you up some from Blooms-End," said Clym,
coming forward and raising his hat as the men retired.
Yeobright and Eustacia looked at each other for one instant,
as if each had in mind those few moments during
which a certain moonlight scene was common to both.
With the glance the calm fixity of her features sublimed
itself to an expression of refinement and warmth;
it was like garish noon rising to the dignity of sunset
in a couple of seconds.
"Thank you; it will hardly be necessary," she replied.
"But if you have no water?"
"Well, it is what I call no water," she said, blushing,
and lifting her long-lashed eyelids as if to lift them
were a work requiring consideration. "But my grandfather
calls it water enough. I'll show you what I mean."
She moved away a few yards, and Clym followed. When she
reached the corner of the enclosure, where the steps
were formed for mounting the boundary bank, she sprang up
with a lightness which seemed strange after her listless
movement towards the well. It incidentally showed
that her apparent languor did not arise from lack of force.
Clym ascended behind her, and noticed a circular burnt
patch at the top of the bank. "Ashes?" he said.
"Yes," said Eustacia. "We had a little bonfire here
last Fifth of November, and those are the marks of it."
On that spot had stood the fire she had kindled
to attract Wildeve.
"That's the only kind of water we have," she continued,
tossing a stone into the pool, which lay on the outside
of the bank like the white of an eye without its pupil.
The stone fell with a flounce, but no Wildeve appeared
on the other side, as on a previous occasion there.
"My grandfather says he lived for more than twenty years
at sea on water twice as bad as that," she went on,
"and considers it quite good enough for us here on
an emergency."
"Well, as a matter of fact there are no impurities
in the water of these pools at this time of the year.
It has only just rained into them."
She shook her head. "I am managing to exist in a wilderness,
but I cannot drink from a pond," she said.
Clym looked towards the well, which was now deserted,
the men having gone home. "It is a long way to send
for spring-water," he said, after a silence.
"But since you don't like this in the pond, I'll try
to get you some myself." He went back to the well.
"Yes, I think I could do it by tying on this pail."
"But, since I would not trouble the men to get it,
I cannot in conscience let you."
"I don't mind the trouble at all."
He made fast the pail to the long coil of rope, put it over
the wheel, and allowed it to descend by letting the rope slip
through his hands. Before it had gone far, however, he checked it.
"I must make fast the end first, or we may lose the whole,"
he said to Eustacia, who had drawn near. "Could you hold
this a moment, while I do it--or shall I call your servant?"
"I can hold it," said Eustacia; and he placed the rope
in her hands, going then to search for the end.
"I suppose I may let it slip down?" she inquired.
"I would advise you not to let it go far," said Clym.
"It will get much heavier, you will find."
However, Eustacia had begun to pay out. While he was
tying she cried, "I cannot stop it!"
Clym ran to her side, and found he could only check the
rope by twisting the loose part round the upright post,
when it stopped with a jerk. "Has it hurt you?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Very much?"
"No; I think not." She opened her hands. One of them
was bleeding; the rope had dragged off the skin.
Eustacia wrapped it in her handkerchief.
"You should have let go," said Yeobright. "Why didn't you?"
"You said I was to hold on....This is the second time
I have been wounded today."
"Ah, yes; I have heard of it. I blush for my native Egdon.
Was it a serious injury you received in church, Miss Vye?"
There was such an abundance of sympathy in Clym's tone
that Eustacia slowly drew up her sleeve and disclosed
her round white arm. A bright red spot appeared on its
smooth surface, like a ruby on Parian marble.
"There it is," she said, putting her finger against the spot.
"It was dastardly of the woman," said Clym. "Will not
Captain Vye get her punished?"
"He is gone from home on that very business. I did
not know that I had such a magic reputation."
"And you fainted?" said Clym, looking at the scarlet
little puncture as if he would like to kiss it and make
it well.
"Yes, it frightened me. I had not been to church for
a long time. And now I shall not go again for ever so
long--perhaps never. I cannot face their eyes after this.
Don't you think it dreadfully humiliating? I wished
I was dead for hours after, but I don't mind now."
"I have come to clean away these cobwebs," said Yeobright.
"Would you like to help me--by high-class teaching? We
might benefit them much."
"I don't quite feel anxious to. I have not much love
for my fellow-creatures. Sometimes I quite hate them."
"Still I think that if you were to hear my scheme you might
take an interest in it. There is no use in hating people--if
you hate anything, you should hate what produced them."
"Do you mean Nature? I hate her already. But I shall
be glad to hear your scheme at any time."
The situation had now worked itself out, and the next
natural thing was for them to part. Clym knew this
well enough, and Eustacia made a move of conclusion;
yet he looked at her as if he had one word more to say.
Perhaps if he had not lived in Paris it would never have
been uttered.
"We have met before," he said, regarding her with rather
more interest than was necessary.
"I do not own it," said Eustacia, with a repressed,
still look.
"But I may think what I like."
"You are lonely here."
"I cannot endure the heath, except in its purple season.
The heath is a cruel taskmaster to me."
"Can you say so?" he asked. "To my mind it is most
exhilarating, and strengthening, and soothing. I would
rather live on these hills than anywhere else in the world."
"It is well enough for artists; but I never would learn
to draw."
"And there is a very curious druidical stone just out there."
He threw a pebble in the direction signified. "Do you
often go to see it?"
"I was not even aware there existed any such curious
druidical stone. I am aware that there are boulevards
in Paris."
Yeobright looked thoughtfully on the ground.
"That means much," he said.
"It does indeed," said Eustacia.
"I remember when I had the same longing for town bustle.
Five years of a great city would be a perfect cure
for that."
"Heaven send me such a cure! Now, Mr. Yeobright,
I will go indoors and plaster my wounded hand."
They separated, and Eustacia vanished in the increasing shade.
She seemed full of many things. Her past was a blank,
her life had begun. The effect upon Clym of this
meeting he did not fully discover till some time after.
During his walk home his most intelligible sensation
was that his scheme had somehow become glorified.
A beautiful woman had been intertwined with it.
On reaching the house he went up to the room which was to
be made his study, and occupied himself during the evening
in unpacking his books from the boxes and arranging them
on shelves. From another box he drew a lamp and a can
of oil. He trimmed the lamp, arranged his table,
and said, "Now, I am ready to begin."
He rose early the next morning, read two hours before
breakfast by the light of his lamp--read all the morning,
all the afternoon. Just when the sun was going down his
eyes felt weary, and he leant back in his chair.
His room overlooked the front of the premises and the valley
of the heath beyond. The lowest beams of the winter
sun threw the shadow of the house over the palings,
across the grass margin of the heath, and far up the vale,
where the chimney outlines and those of the surrounding
tree-tops stretched forth in long dark prongs. Having been
seated at work all day, he decided to take a turn upon
the hills before it got dark; and, going out forthwith,
he struck across the heath towards Mistover.
It was an hour and a half later when he again appeared at
the garden gate. The shutters of the house were closed,
and Christian Cantle, who had been wheeling manure about
the garden all day, had gone home. On entering he found
that his mother, after waiting a long time for him,
had finished her meal.
"Where have you been, Clym?" she immediately said.
"Why didn't you tell me that you were going away at
this time?"
"I have been on the heath."
"You'll meet Eustacia Vye if you go up there."
Clym paused a minute. "Yes, I met her this evening,"
he said, as though it were spoken under the sheer necessity
of preserving honesty.
"I wondered if you had."
"It was no appointment."
"No; such meetings never are."
"But you are not angry, Mother?"
"I can hardly say that I am not. Angry? No. But when I
consider the usual nature of the drag which causes men
of promise to disappoint the world I feel uneasy."
"You deserve credit for the feeling, Mother. But I can
assure you that you need not be disturbed by it on my account."
"When I think of you and your new crotchets," said Mrs. Yeobright,
with some emphasis, "I naturally don't feel so comfortable
as I did a twelvemonth ago. It is incredible to me
that a man accustomed to the attractive women of Paris
and elsewhere should be so easily worked upon by a girl
in a heath. You could just as well have walked another way."
"I had been studying all day."
"Well, yes," she added more hopefully, "I have been thinking
that you might get on as a schoolmaster, and rise that way,
since you really are determined to hate the course you
were pursuing."
Yeobright was unwilling to disturb this idea, though his
scheme was far enough removed from one wherein the education
of youth should be made a mere channel of social ascent.
He had no desires of that sort. He had reached the stage
in a young man's life when the grimness of the general
human situation first becomes clear; and the realization
of this causes ambition to halt awhile. In France it
is not uncustomary to commit suicide at this stage;
in England we do much better, or much worse, as the case
may be.
The love between the young man and his mother was
strangely invisible now. Of love it may be said,
the less earthly the less demonstrative. In its absolutely
indestructible form it reaches a profundity in which all
exhibition of itself is painful. It was so with these.
Had conversations between them been overheard,
people would have said, "How cold they are to each other!"
His theory and his wishes about devoting his future
to teaching had made an impression on Mrs. Yeobright.
Indeed, how could it be otherwise when he was a part
of her--when their discourses were as if carried on
between the right and the left hands of the same body?
He had despaired of reaching her by argument; and it
was almost as a discovery to him that he could reach her
by a magnetism which was as superior to words as words are to yells.
Strangely enough he began to feel now that it would
not be so hard to persuade her who was his best friend
that comparative poverty was essentially the higher
course for him, as to reconcile to his feelings the act
of persuading her. From every provident point of view
his mother was so undoubtedly right, that he was not
without a sickness of heart in finding he could shake her.
She had a singular insight into life, considering that she
had never mixed with it. There are instances of persons who,
without clear ideas of the things they criticize have
yet had clear ideas of the relations of those things.
Blacklock, a poet blind from his birth, could describe
visual objects with accuracy; Professor Sanderson,
who was also blind, gave excellent lectures on colour,
and taught others the theory of ideas which they had and
he had not. In the social sphere these gifted ones are
mostly women; they can watch a world which they never saw,
and estimate forces of which they have only heard.
We call it intuition.
What was the great world to Mrs. Yeobright? A multitude whose
tendencies could be perceived, though not its essences.
Communities were seen by her as from a distance;
she saw them as we see the throngs which cover the
canvases of Sallaert, Van Alsloot, and others of that
school--vast masses of beings, jostling, zigzagging,
and processioning in definite directions, but whose features
are indistinguishable by the very comprehensiveness of the view.
One could see that, as far as it had gone, her life was
very complete on its reflective side. The philosophy of
her nature, and its limitation by circumstances, was almost
written in her movements. They had a majestic foundation,
though they were far from being majestic; and they had
a ground-work of assurance, but they were not assured.
As her once elastic walk had become deadened by time,
so had her natural pride of life been hindered in its
blooming by her necessities.
The next slight touch in the shaping of Clym's destiny
occurred a few days after. A barrow was opened on the heath,
and Yeobright attended the operation, remaining away
from his study during several hours. In the afternoon
Christian returned from a journey in the same direction,
and Mrs. Yeobright questioned him.
"They have dug a hole, and they have found things like flowerpots
upside down, Mis'ess Yeobright; and inside these be real
charnel bones. They have carried 'em off to men's houses;
but I shouldn't like to sleep where they will bide.
Dead folks have been known to come and claim their own.
Mr. Yeobright had got one pot of the bones, and was going
to bring 'em home--real skellington bones--but 'twas
ordered otherwise. You'll be relieved to hear that he gave
away his pot and all, on second thoughts; and a blessed thing
for ye, Mis'ess Yeobright, considering the wind o' nights."
"Gave it away?"
"Yes. To Miss Vye. She has a cannibal taste for such
churchyard furniture seemingly."
"Miss Vye was there too?"
"Ay, 'a b'lieve she was."
When Clym came home, which was shortly after, his mother said,
in a curious tone, "The urn you had meant for me you
gave away."
Yeobright made no reply; the current of her feeling
was too pronounced to admit it.
The early weeks of the year passed on. Yeobright certainly
studied at home, but he also walked much abroad,
and the direction of his walk was always towards
some point of a line between Mistover and Rainbarrow.
The month of March arrived, and the heath showed its first
signs of awakening from winter trance. The awakening
was almost feline in its stealthiness. The pool outside
the bank by Eustacia's dwelling, which seemed as dead
and desolate as ever to an observer who moved and made
noises in his observation, would gradually disclose
a state of great animation when silently watched awhile.
A timid animal world had come to life for the season.
Little tadpoles and efts began to bubble up through
the water, and to race along beneath it; toads made noises
like very young ducks, and advanced to the margin in twos
and threes; overhead, bumblebees flew hither and thither
in the thickening light, their drone coming and going
like the sound of a gong.
On an evening such as this Yeobright descended into
the Blooms-End valley from beside that very pool,
where he had been standing with another person quite
silently and quite long enough to hear all this puny stir
of resurrection in nature; yet he had not heard it.
His walk was rapid as he came down, and he went with a
springy trend. Before entering upon his mother's premises
he stopped and breathed. The light which shone forth
on him from the window revealed that his face was flushed
and his eye bright. What it did not show was something
which lingered upon his lips like a seal set there.
The abiding presence of this impress was so real that he
hardly dared to enter the house, for it seemed as if his
mother might say, "What red spot is that glowing upon
your mouth so vividly?"
But he entered soon after. The tea was ready, and he sat
down opposite his mother. She did not speak many words;
and as for him, something had been just done and some
words had been just said on the hill which prevented him
from beginning a desultory chat. His mother's taciturnity
was not without ominousness, but he appeared not to care.
He knew why she said so little, but he could not remove
the cause of her bearing towards him. These half-silent
sittings were far from uncommon with them now. At last
Yeobright made a beginning of what was intended to strike
at the whole root of the matter.
"Five days have we sat like this at meals with scarcely
a word. What's the use of it, Mother?"
"None," said she, in a heart-swollen tone. "But there
is only too good a reason."
"Not when you know all. I have been wanting to speak
about this, and I am glad the subject is begun. The reason,
of course, is Eustacia Vye. Well, I confess I have seen
her lately, and have seen her a good many times."
"Yes, yes; and I know what that amounts to. It troubles
me, Clym. You are wasting your life here; and it is solely
on account of her. If it had not been for that woman
you would never have entertained this teaching scheme at all."
Clym looked hard at his mother. "You know that is not it,"
he said.
"Well, I know you had decided to attempt it before you
saw her; but that would have ended in intentions. It was
very well to talk of, but ridiculous to put in practice.
I fully expected that in the course of a month or two
you would have seen the folly of such self-sacrifice,
and would have been by this time back again to Paris
in some business or other. I can understand objections
to the diamond trade--I really was thinking that it
might be inadequate to the life of a man like you
even though it might have made you a millionaire.
But now I see how mistaken you are about this girl
I doubt if you could be correct about other things."
"How am I mistaken in her?"
"She is lazy and dissatisfied. But that is not all of it.
Supposing her to be as good a woman as any you can find,
which she certainly is not, why do you wish to connect
yourself with anybody at present?"
"Well, there are practical reasons," Clym began, and then
almost broke off under an overpowering sense of the weight
of argument which could be brought against his statement.
"If I take a school an educated woman would be invaluable
as a help to me."
"What! you really mean to marry her?"
"It would be premature to state that plainly. But consider
what obvious advantages there would be in doing it. She----"
"Don't suppose she has any money. She hasn't a farthing."
"She is excellently educated, and would make a good
matron in a boarding-school. I candidly own that I
have modified my views a little, in deference to you;
and it should satisfy you. I no longer adhere to my
intention of giving with my own mouth rudimentary education
to the lowest class. I can do better. I can establish
a good private school for farmers' sons, and without
stopping the school I can manage to pass examinations.
By this means, and by the assistance of a wife like her----"
"Oh, Clym!"
"I shall ultimately, I hope, be at the head of one
of the best schools in the county."
Yeobright had enunciated the word "her" with a fervour which,
in conversation with a mother, was absurdly indiscreet.
Hardly a maternal heart within the four seas could
in such circumstances, have helped being irritated at
that ill-timed betrayal of feeling for a new woman.
"You are blinded, Clym," she said warmly. "It was
a bad day for you when you first set eyes on her.
And your scheme is merely a castle in the air built
on purpose to justify this folly which has seized you,
and to salve your conscience on the irrational situation
you are in."
"Mother, that's not true," he firmly answered.
"Can you maintain that I sit and tell untruths, when all
I wish to do is to save you from sorrow? For shame,
Clym! But it is all through that woman--a hussy!"
Clym reddened like fire and rose. He placed his hand
upon his mother's shoulder and said, in a tone which hung
strangely between entreaty and command, "I won't hear it.
I may be led to answer you in a way which we shall
both regret."
His mother parted her lips to begin some other vehement truth,
but on looking at him she saw that in his face which led her
to leave the words unsaid. Yeobright walked once or twice
across the room, and then suddenly went out of the house.
It was eleven o'clock when he came in, though he had
not been further than the precincts of the garden.
His mother was gone to bed. A light was left burning
on the table, and supper was spread. Without stopping
for any food he secured the doors and went upstairs.
4 - An Hour of Bliss and Many Hours of Sadness
The next day was gloomy enough at Blooms-End. Yeobright
remained in his study, sitting over the open books;
but the work of those hours was miserably scant.
Determined that there should be nothing in his conduct
towards his mother resembling sullenness, he had occasionally
spoken to her on passing matters, and would take no notice
of the brevity of her replies. With the same resolve to keep
up a show of conversation he said, about seven o'clock
in the evening, "There's an eclipse of the moon tonight.
I am going out to see it." And, putting on his overcoat,
he left her.
The low moon was not as yet visible from the front of the house,
and Yeobright climbed out of the valley until he stood
in the full flood of her light. But even now he walked on,
and his steps were in the direction of Rainbarrow.
In half an hour he stood at the top. The sky was clear from
verge to verge, and the moon flung her rays over the whole heath,
but without sensibly lighting it, except where paths and
water-courses had laid bare the white flints and glistening
quartz sand, which made streaks upon the general shade.
After standing awhile he stooped and felt the heather.
It was dry, and he flung himself down upon the barrow,
his face towards the moon, which depicted a small image
of herself in each of his eyes.
He had often come up here without stating his purpose
to his mother; but this was the first time that he had been
ostensibly frank as to his purpose while really concealing it.
It was a moral situation which, three months earlier,
he could hardly have credited of himself. In returning
to labour in this sequestered spot he had anticipated
an escape from the chafing of social necessities;
yet behold they were here also. More than ever he
longed to be in some world where personal ambition was
not the only recognized form of progress--such, perhaps,
as might have been the case at some time or other in the
silvery globe then shining upon him. His eye travelled
over the length and breadth of that distant country--over
the Bay of Rainbows, the sombre Sea of Crises, the Ocean
of Storms, the Lake of Dreams, the vast Walled Plains,
and the wondrous Ring Mountains--till he almost felt
himself to be voyaging bodily through its wild scenes,
standing on its hollow hills, traversing its deserts,
descending its vales and old sea bottoms, or mounting
to the edges of its craters.
While he watched the far-removed landscape a tawny stain
grew into being on the lower verge--the eclipse had begun.
This marked a preconcerted moment--for the remote celestial
phenomenon had been pressed into sublunary service as
a lover's signal. Yeobright's mind flew back to earth
at the sight; he arose, shook himself and listened.
Minute after minute passed by, perhaps ten minutes passed,
and the shadow on the moon perceptibly widened.
He heard a rustling on his left hand, a cloaked figure
with an upturned face appeared at the base of the Barrow,
and Clym descended. In a moment the figure was in his arms,
and his lips upon hers.
"My Eustacia!"
"Clym, dearest!"
Such a situation had less than three months brought forth.
They remained long without a single utterance, for no
language could reach the level of their condition--words
were as the rusty implements of a by-gone barbarous epoch,
and only to be occasionally tolerated.
"I began to wonder why you did not come," said Yeobright,
when she had withdrawn a little from his embrace.
"You said ten minutes after the first mark of shade
on the edge of the moon, and that's what it is now."
"Well, let us only think that here we are."
Then, holding each other's hand, they were again silent,
and the shadow on the moon's disc grew a little larger.
"Has it seemed long since you last saw me?" she asked.
"It has seemed sad."
"And not long? That's because you occupy yourself, and so
blind yourself to my absence. To me, who can do nothing,
it has been like living under stagnant water."
"I would rather bear tediousness, dear, than have time
made short by such means as have shortened mine."
"In what way is that? You have been thinking you wished
you did not love me."
"How can a man wish that, and yet love on? No, Eustacia."
"Men can, women cannot."
"Well, whatever I may have thought, one thing is certain--I
do love you--past all compass and description. I love you
to oppressiveness--I, who have never before felt more than
a pleasant passing fancy for any woman I have ever seen.
Let me look right into your moonlit face and dwell on
every line and curve in it! Only a few hairbreadths make
the difference between this face and faces I have seen
many times before I knew you; yet what a difference--the
difference between everything and nothing at all.
One touch on that mouth again! there, and there, and there.
Your eyes seem heavy, Eustacia."
"No, it is my general way of looking. I think it arises
from my feeling sometimes an agonizing pity for myself
that I ever was born."
"You don't feel it now?"
"No. Yet I know that we shall not love like this always.
Nothing can ensure the continuance of love. It will
evaporate like a spirit, and so I feel full of fears."
"You need not."
"Ah, you don't know. You have seen more than I,
and have been into cities and among people that I have
only heard of, and have lived more years than I; but yet
I am older at this than you. I loved another man once,
and now I love you."
"In God's mercy don't talk so, Eustacia!"
"But I do not think I shall be the one who wearies first.
It will, I fear, end in this way: your mother will find out
that you meet me, and she will influence you against me!"
"That can never be. She knows of these meetings already."
"And she speaks against me?"
"I will not say."
"There, go away! Obey her. I shall ruin you. It is foolish
of you to meet me like this. Kiss me, and go away forever.
Forever--do you hear?--forever!"
"Not I."
"It is your only chance. Many a man's love has been
a curse to him."
"You are desperate, full of fancies, and wilful;
and you misunderstand. I have an additional reason
for seeing you tonight besides love of you. For though,
unlike you, I feel our affection may be eternal.
I feel with you in this, that our present mode of existence
cannot last."
"Oh! 'tis your mother. Yes, that's it! I knew it."
"Never mind what it is. Believe this, I cannot let
myself lose you. I must have you always with me.
This very evening I do not like to let you go.
There is only one cure for this anxiety, dearest--you must
be my wife."
She started--then endeavoured to say calmly, "Cynics say
that cures the anxiety by curing the love."
"But you must answer me. Shall I claim you some day--I
don't mean at once?"
"I must think," Eustacia murmured. "At present speak
of Paris to me. Is there any place like it on earth?"
"It is very beautiful. But will you be mine?"
"I will be nobody else's in the world--does that satisfy you?"
"Yes, for the present."
"Now tell me of the Tuileries, and the Louvre,"
she continued evasively.
"I hate talking of Paris! Well, I remember one sunny room
in the Louvre which would make a fitting place for you to live
in--the Galerie d'Apollon. Its windows are mainly east;
and in the early morning, when the sun is bright,
the whole apartment is in a perfect blaze of splendour.
The rays bristle and dart from the encrustations of gilding
to the magnificent inlaid coffers, from the coffers to
the gold and silver plate, from the plate to the jewels
and precious stones, from these to the enamels, till there
is a perfect network of light which quite dazzles the eye.
But now, about our marriage----"
"And Versailles--the King's Gallery is some such
gorgeous room, is it not?"
"Yes. But what's the use of talking of gorgeous rooms?
By the way, the Little Trianon would suit us beautifully
to live in, and you might walk in the gardens in the
moonlight and think you were in some English shrubbery;
It is laid out in English fashion."
"I should hate to think that!"
"Then you could keep to the lawn in front of the Grand Palace.
All about there you would doubtless feel in a world
of historical romance."
He went on, since it was all new to her, and described
Fontainebleau, St. Cloud, the Bois, and many other
familiar haunts of the Parisians; till she said--
"When used you to go to these places?"
"On Sundays."
"Ah, yes. I dislike English Sundays. How I should chime
in with their manners over there! Dear Clym, you'll go
back again?"
Clym shook his head, and looked at the eclipse.
"If you'll go back again I'll--be something,"
she said tenderly, putting her head near his breast.
"If you'll agree I'll give my promise, without making
you wait a minute longer."
"How extraordinary that you and my mother should be
of one mind about this!" said Yeobright. "I have vowed
not to go back, Eustacia. It is not the place I dislike;
it is the occupation."
"But you can go in some other capacity."
"No. Besides, it would interfere with my scheme.
Don't press that, Eustacia. Will you marry me?"
"I cannot tell."
"Now--never mind Paris; it is no better than other spots.
Promise, sweet!"
"You will never adhere to your education plan, I am
quite sure; and then it will be all right for me;
and so I promise to be yours for ever and ever."
Clym brought her face towards his by a gentle pressure
of the hand, and kissed her.
"Ah! but you don't know what you have got in me," she said.
"Sometimes I think there is not that in Eustacia Vye
which will make a good homespun wife. Well, let it go--see
how our time is slipping, slipping, slipping!" She pointed
towards the half-eclipsed moon.
"You are too mournful."
"No. Only I dread to think of anything beyond the present.
What is, we know. We are together now, and it is unknown
how long we shall be so; the unknown always fills my mind
with terrible possibilities, even when I may reasonably
expect it to be cheerful....Clym, the eclipsed moonlight
shines upon your face with a strange foreign colour,
and shows its shape as if it were cut out in gold.
That means that you should be doing better things
than this."
"You are ambitious, Eustacia--no, not exactly ambitious,
luxurious. I ought to be of the same vein, to make
you happy, I suppose. And yet, far from that, I could
live and die in a hermitage here, with proper work to do."
There was that in his tone which implied distrust of his
position as a solicitous lover, a doubt if he were acting
fairly towards one whose tastes touched his own only
at rare and infrequent points. She saw his meaning,
and whispered, in a low, full accent of eager assurance
"Don't mistake me, Clym--though I should like Paris,
I love you for yourself alone. To be your wife and live
in Paris would be heaven to me; but I would rather live
with you in a hermitage here than not be yours at all.
It is gain to me either way, and very great gain.
There's my too candid confession."
"Spoken like a woman. And now I must soon leave you.
I'll walk with you towards your house."
"But must you go home yet?" she asked. "Yes, the sand has
nearly slipped away, I see, and the eclipse is creeping
on more and more. Don't go yet! Stop till the hour has
run itself out; then I will not press you any more.
You will go home and sleep well; I keep sighing in my
sleep! Do you ever dream of me?"
"I cannot recollect a clear dream of you."
"I see your face in every scene of my dreams, and hear
your voice in every sound. I wish I did not. It is
too much what I feel. They say such love never lasts.
But it must! And yet once, I remember, I saw an officer
of the Hussars ride down the street at Budmouth,
and though he was a total stranger and never spoke to me,
I loved him till I thought I should really die of love--
but I didn't die, and at last I left off caring for him.
How terrible it would be if a time should come when I could
not love you, my Clym!"
"Please don't say such reckless things. When we see such
a time at hand we will say, 'I have outlived my faith
and purpose,' and die. There, the hour has expired--now
let us walk on."
Hand in hand they went along the path towards Mistover.
When they were near the house he said, "It is too late
for me to see your grandfather tonight. Do you think he
will object to it?"
"I will speak to him. I am so accustomed to be my own
mistress that it did not occur to me that we should have
to ask him."
Then they lingeringly separated, and Clym descended
towards Blooms-End.
And as he walked further and further from the charmed
atmosphere of his Olympian girl his face grew sad with
a new sort of sadness. A perception of the dilemma in
which his love had placed him came back in full force.
In spite of Eustacia's apparent willingness to wait
through the period of an unpromising engagement, till he
should be established in his new pursuit, he could not
but perceive at moments that she loved him rather as a
visitant from a gay world to which she rightly belonged
than as a man with a purpose opposed to that recent past
of his which so interested her. It meant that, though she
made no conditions as to his return to the French capital,
this was what she secretly longed for in the event of marriage;
and it robbed him of many an otherwise pleasant hour.
Along with that came the widening breach between himself
and his mother. Whenever any little occurrence had brought
into more prominence than usual the disappointment that he
was causing her it had sent him on lone and moody walks;
or he was kept awake a great part of the night by the
turmoil of spirit which such a recognition created.
If Mrs. Yeobright could only have been led to see what a
sound and worthy purpose this purpose of his was and how
little it was being affected by his devotions to Eustacia,
how differently would she regard him!
Thus as his sight grew accustomed to the first
blinding halo kindled about him by love and beauty,
Yeobright began to perceive what a strait he was in.
Sometimes he wished that he had never known Eustacia,
immediately to retract the wish as brutal. Three antagonistic
growths had to be kept alive: his mother's trust in him,
his plan for becoming a teacher, and Eustacia's happiness.
His fervid nature could not afford to relinquish one
of these, though two of the three were as many as he
could hope to preserve. Though his love was as chaste
as that of Petrarch for his Laura, it had made fetters
of what previously was only a difficulty. A position which
was not too simple when he stood whole-hearted had become
indescribably complicated by the addition of Eustacia.
Just when his mother was beginning to tolerate one scheme
he had introduced another still bitterer than the first,
and the combination was more than she could bear.
5 - Sharp Words Are Spoken, and a Crisis Ensues
When Yeobright was not with Eustacia he was sitting slavishly
over his books; when he was not reading he was meeting her.
These meetings were carried on with the greatest secrecy.
One afternoon his mother came home from a morning visit
to Thomasin. He could see from a disturbance in the lines
of her face that something had happened.
"I have been told an incomprehensible thing,"
she said mournfully. "The captain has let out
at the Woman that you and Eustacia Vye are engaged to be married."
"We are," said Yeobright. "But it may not be yet
for a very long time."
"I should hardly think it WOULD be yet for a very
long time! You will take her to Paris, I suppose?"
She spoke with weary hopelessness.
"I am not going back to Paris."
"What will you do with a wife, then?"
"Keep a school in Budmouth, as I have told you."
"That's incredible! The place is overrun with schoolmasters.
You have no special qualifications. What possible chance
is there for such as you?"
"There is no chance of getting rich. But with my system
of education, which is as new as it is true, I shall
do a great deal of good to my fellow-creatures."
"Dreams, dreams! If there had been any system left to be
invented they would have found it out at the universities
long before this time."
"Never, Mother. They cannot find it out, because their
teachers don't come in contact with the class which
demands such a system--that is, those who have had no
preliminary training. My plan is one for instilling high
knowledge into empty minds without first cramming them
with what has to be uncrammed again before true study begins."
"I might have believed you if you had kept yourself free
from entanglements; but this woman--if she had been
a good girl it would have been bad enough; but being----"
"She is a good girl."
"So you think. A Corfu bandmaster's daughter! What has
her life been? Her surname even is not her true one."
"She is Captain Vye's granddaughter, and her father merely
took her mother's name. And she is a lady by instinct."
"They call him 'captain,' but anybody is captain."
"He was in the Royal Navy!"
"No doubt he has been to sea in some tub or other.
Why doesn't he look after her? No lady would rove about
the heath at all hours of the day and night as she does.
But that's not all of it. There was something queer between
her and Thomasin's husband at one time--I am as sure of it
as that I stand here."
"Eustacia has told me. He did pay her a little
attention a year ago; but there's no harm in that.
I like her all the better."
"Clym," said his mother with firmness, "I have no
proofs against her, unfortunately. But if she makes
you a good wife, there has never been a bad one."
"Believe me, you are almost exasperating,"
said Yeobright vehemently. "And this very day I had
intended to arrange a meeting between you. But you
give me no peace; you try to thwart my wishes in everything."
"I hate the thought of any son of mine marrying badly! I
wish I had never lived to see this; it is too much for
me--it is more than I dreamt!" She turned to the window.
Her breath was coming quickly, and her lips were pale,
parted, and trembling.
"Mother," said Clym, "whatever you do, you will always
be dear to me--that you know. But one thing I have a
right to say, which is, that at my age I am old enough
to know what is best for me."
Mrs. Yeobright remained for some time silent and shaken,
as if she could say no more. Then she replied, "Best? Is it
best for you to injure your prospects for such a voluptuous,
idle woman as that? Don't you see that by the very fact
of your choosing her you prove that you do not know
what is best for you? You give up your whole thought--you
set your whole soul--to please a woman."
"I do. And that woman is you."
"How can you treat me so flippantly!" said his mother,
turning again to him with a tearful look.
"You are unnatural, Clym, and I did not expect it."
"Very likely," said he cheerlessly. "You did not know
the measure you were going to mete me, and therefore did
not know the measure that would be returned to you again."
"You answer me; you think only of her. You stick to her
in all things."
"That proves her to be worthy. I have never yet supported
what is bad. And I do not care only for her. I care
for you and for myself, and for anything that is good.
When a woman once dislikes another she is merciless!"
"O Clym! please don't go setting down as my fault what is
your obstinate wrongheadedness. If you wished to connect
yourself with an unworthy person why did you come home
here to do it? Why didn't you do it in Paris?--it is more
the fashion there. You have come only to distress me,
a lonely woman, and shorten my days! I wish that you
would bestow your presence where you bestow your love!"
Clym said huskily, "You are my mother. I will say no
more--beyond this, that I beg your pardon for having thought
this my home. I will no longer inflict myself upon you;
I'll go." And he went out with tears in his eyes.
It was a sunny afternoon at the beginning of summer,
and the moist hollows of the heath had passed from their
brown to their green stage. Yeobright walked to the edge
of the basin which extended down from Mistover and Rainbarrow.
By this time he was calm, and he looked over the landscape.
In the minor valleys, between the hillocks which
diversified the contour of the vale, the fresh young
ferns were luxuriantly growing up, ultimately to reach
a height of five or six feet. He descended a little way,
flung himself down in a spot where a path emerged from one
of the small hollows, and waited. Hither it was that he
had promised Eustacia to bring his mother this afternoon,
that they might meet and be friends. His attempt had utterly failed.
He was in a nest of vivid green. The ferny vegetation
round him, though so abundant, was quite uniform--it
was a grove of machine-made foliage, a world of green
triangles with saw-edges, and not a single flower.
The air was warm with a vaporous warmth, and the stillness
was unbroken. Lizards, grasshoppers, and ants were
the only living things to be beheld. The scene seemed
to belong to the ancient world of the carboniferous period,
when the forms of plants were few, and of the fern kind;
when there was neither bud nor blossom, nothing but a
monotonous extent of leafage, amid which no bird sang.
When he had reclined for some considerable time,
gloomily pondering, he discerned above the ferns a
drawn bonnet of white silk approaching from the left,
and Yeobright knew directly that it covered the head
of her he loved. His heart awoke from its apathy to a
warm excitement, and, jumping to his feet, he said aloud,
"I knew she was sure to come."
She vanished in a hollow for a few moments, and then
her whole form unfolded itself from the brake.
"Only you here?" she exclaimed, with a disappointed air,
whose hollowness was proved by her rising redness and her
half-guilty low laugh. "Where is Mrs. Yeobright?"
"She has not come," he replied in a subdued tone.
"I wish I had known that you would be here alone,"
she said seriously, "and that we were going to have such
an idle, pleasant time as this. Pleasure not known
beforehand is half wasted; to anticipate it is to double it.
I have not thought once today of having you all to myself
this afternoon, and the actual moment of a thing is so soon gone."
"It is indeed."
"Poor Clym!" she continued, looking tenderly into his face.
"You are sad. Something has happened at your home.
Never mind what is--let us only look at what seems."
"But, darling, what shall we do?" said he.
"Still go on as we do now--just live on from meeting
to meeting, never minding about another day. You, I know,
are always thinking of that--I can see you are. But you
must not--will you, dear Clym?"
"You are just like all women. They are ever content to build
their lives on any incidental position that offers itself;
whilst men would fain make a globe to suit them.
Listen to this, Eustacia. There is a subject I have
determined to put off no longer. Your sentiment on
the wisdom of Carpe diem does not impress me today.
Our present mode of life must shortly be brought to an end."
"It is your mother!"
"It is. I love you none the less in telling you;
it is only right you should know."
"I have feared my bliss," she said, with the merest motion
of her lips. "It has been too intense and consuming."
"There is hope yet. There are forty years of work in me yet,
and why should you despair? I am only at an awkward turning.
I wish people wouldn't be so ready to think that there
is no progress without uniformity."
"Ah--your mind runs off to the philosophical side of it.
Well, these sad and hopeless obstacles are welcome in
one sense, for they enable us to look with indifference
upon the cruel satires that Fate loves to indulge in.
I have heard of people, who, upon coming suddenly
into happiness, have died from anxiety lest they should
not live to enjoy it. I felt myself in that whimsical
state of uneasiness lately; but I shall be spared it now.
Let us walk on."
Clym took the hand which was already bared for him--it
was a favourite way with them to walk bare hand in bare
hand--and led her through the ferns. They formed a very
comely picture of love at full flush, as they walked along
the valley that late afternoon, the sun sloping down on
their right, and throwing their thin spectral shadows,
tall as poplar trees, far out across the furze and fern.
Eustacia went with her head thrown back fancifully,
a certain glad and voluptuous air of triumph pervading her
eyes at having won by her own unaided self a man who was
her perfect complement in attainment, appearance, and age.
On the young man's part, the paleness of face which he had
brought with him from Paris, and the incipient marks of time
and thought, were less perceptible than when he returned,
the healthful and energetic sturdiness which was his by
nature having partially recovered its original proportions.
They wandered onward till they reached the nether
margin of the heath, where it became marshy and merged
in moorland.
"I must part from you here, Clym," said Eustacia.
They stood still and prepared to bid each other farewell.
Everything before them was on a perfect level.
The sun, resting on the horizon line, streamed across
the ground from between copper-coloured and lilac clouds,
stretched out in flats beneath a sky of pale soft green.
All dark objects on the earth that lay towards the sun
were overspread by a purple haze, against which groups
of wailing gnats shone out, rising upwards and dancing about
like sparks of fire.
"O! this leaving you is too hard to bear!"
exclaimed Eustacia in a sudden whisper of anguish.
"Your mother will influence you too much; I shall not be
judged fairly, it will get afloat that I am not a good girl,
and the witch story will be added to make me blacker!"
"They cannot. Nobody dares to speak disrespectfully
of you or of me."
"Oh how I wish I was sure of never losing you--that you
could not be able to desert me anyhow!"
Clym stood silent a moment. His feelings were high,
the moment was passionate, and he cut the knot.
"You shall be sure of me, darling," he said, folding her
in his arms. "We will be married at once."
"O Clym!"
"Do you agree to it?"
"If--if we can."
"We certainly can, both being of full age. And I have
not followed my occupation all these years without having
accumulated money; and if you will agree to live in a tiny
cottage somewhere on the heath, until I take a house in
Budmouth for the school, we can do it at a very little expense."
"How long shall we have to live in the tiny cottage, Clym?"
"About six months. At the end of that time I shall
have finished my reading--yes, we will do it, and this
heart-aching will be over. We shall, of course, live in
absolute seclusion, and our married life will only begin
to outward view when we take the house in Budmouth,
where I have already addressed a letter on the matter.
Would your grandfather allow you?"
"I think he would--on the understanding that it should
not last longer than six months."
"I will guarantee that, if no misfortune happens."
"If no misfortune happens," she repeated slowly.
"Which is not likely. Dearest, fix the exact day."
And then they consulted on the question, and the day
was chosen. It was to be a fortnight from that time.
This was the end of their talk, and Eustacia left him.
Clym watched her as she retired towards the sun.
The luminous rays wrapped her up with her increasing distance,
and the rustle of her dress over the sprouting sedge
and grass died away. As he watched, the dead flat of
the scenery overpowered him, though he was fully alive
to the beauty of that untarnished early summer green
which was worn for the nonce by the poorest blade.
There was something in its oppressive horizontality
which too much reminded him of the arena of life; it gave
him a sense of bare equality with, and no superiority to,
a single living thing under the sun.
Eustacia was now no longer the goddess but the woman to him,
a being to fight for, support, help, be maligned for.
Now that he had reached a cooler moment he would have
preferred a less hasty marriage; but the card was laid,
and he determined to abide by the game. Whether Eustacia
was to add one other to the list of those who love too hotly
to love long and well, the forthcoming event was certainly
a ready way of proving.
6 - Yeobright Goes, and the Breach Is Complete
All that evening smart sounds denoting an active packing up
came from Yeobright's room to the ears of his mother downstairs.
Next morning he departed from the house and again proceeded
across the heath. A long day's march was before him,
his object being to secure a dwelling to which he might
take Eustacia when she became his wife. Such a house,
small, secluded, and with its windows boarded up, he had
casually observed a month earlier, about two miles beyond
the village of East Egdon, and six miles distant altogether;
and thither he directed his steps today.
The weather was far different from that of the evening before.
The yellow and vapoury sunset which had wrapped up
Eustacia from his parting gaze had presaged change.
It was one of those not infrequent days of an English June
which are as wet and boisterous as November. The cold clouds
hastened on in a body, as if painted on a moving slide.
Vapours from other continents arrived upon the wind,
which curled and parted round him as he walked on.
At length Clym reached the margin of a fir and beech
plantation that had been enclosed from heath land in
the year of his birth. Here the trees, laden heavily
with their new and humid leaves, were now suffering
more damage than during the highest winds of winter,
when the boughs are especially disencumbered to do battle
with the storm. The wet young beeches were undergoing
amputations, bruises, cripplings, and harsh lacerations,
from which the wasting sap would bleed for many a day
to come, and which would leave scars visible till the day
of their burning. Each stem was wrenched at the root,
where it moved like a bone in its socket, and at every
onset of the gale convulsive sounds came from the branches,
as if pain were felt. In a neighbouring brake a finch
was trying to sing; but the wind blew under his feathers
till they stood on end, twisted round his little tail,
and made him give up his song.
Yet a few yards to Yeobright's left, on the open heath,
how ineffectively gnashed the storm! Those gusts which
tore the trees merely waved the furze and heather in a
light caress. Egdon was made for such times as these.
Yeobright reached the empty house about midday.
It was almost as lonely as that of Eustacia's grandfather,
but the fact that it stood near a heath was disguised
by a belt of firs which almost enclosed the premises.
He journeyed on about a mile further to the village in which
the owner lived, and, returning with him to the house,
arrangements were completed, and the man undertook that one
room at least should be ready for occupation the next day.
Clym's intention was to live there alone until Eustacia
should join him on their wedding-day.
Then he turned to pursue his way homeward through the
drizzle that had so greatly transformed the scene.
The ferns, among which he had lain in comfort yesterday,
were dripping moisture from every frond, wetting his legs
through as he brushed past; and the fur of the rabbits
leaping before him was clotted into dark locks by the same
watery surrounding.
He reached home damp and weary enough after his tenmile
walk. It had hardly been a propitious beginning,
but he had chosen his course, and would show no swerving.
The evening and the following morning were spent in
concluding arrangements for his departure. To stay at
home a minute longer than necessary after having once
come to his determination would be, he felt, only to give
new pain to his mother by some word, look, or deed.
He had hired a conveyance and sent off his goods
by two o'clock that day. The next step was to get
some furniture, which, after serving for temporary use
in the cottage, would be available for the house at
Budmouth when increased by goods of a better description.
A mart extensive enough for the purpose existed at Anglebury,
some miles beyond the spot chosen for his residence,
and there he resolved to pass the coming night.
It now only remained to wish his mother good-bye. She was
sitting by the window as usual when he came downstairs.
"Mother, I am going to leave you," he said, holding out
his hand.
"I thought you were, by your packing," replied Mrs. Yeobright
in a voice from which every particle of emotion was painfully
"And you will part friends with me?"
"Certainly, Clym."
"I am going to be married on the twenty-fifth."
"I thought you were going to be married."
"And then--and then you must come and see us. You will
understand me better after that, and our situation
will not be so wretched as it is now."
"I do not think it likely I shall come to see you."
"Then it will not be my fault or Eustacia's, Mother.
He kissed her cheek, and departed in great misery, which was
several hours in lessening itself to a controllable level.
The position had been such that nothing more could be
said without, in the first place, breaking down a barrier;
and that was not to be done.
No sooner had Yeobright gone from his mother's house than
her face changed its rigid aspect for one of blank despair.
After a while she wept, and her tears brought some relief.
During the rest of the day she did nothing but walk up and
down the garden path in a state bordering on stupefaction.
Night came, and with it but little rest. The next day,
with an instinct to do something which should reduce
prostration to mournfulness, she went to her son's room,
and with her own hands arranged it in order, for an imaginary
time when he should return again. She gave some attention
to her flowers, but it was perfunctorily bestowed, for they
no longer charmed her.
It was a great relief when, early in the afternoon,
Thomasin paid her an unexpected visit. This was not the first
meeting between the relatives since Thomasin's marriage;
and past blunders having been in a rough way rectified,
they could always greet each other with pleasure and ease.
The oblique band of sunlight which followed her through
the door became the young wife well. It illuminated her
as her presence illuminated the heath. In her movements,
in her gaze, she reminded the beholder of the feathered
creatures who lived around her home. All similes and
allegories concerning her began and ended with birds.
There was as much variety in her motions as in their flight.
When she was musing she was a kestrel, which hangs
in the air by an invisible motion of its wings.
When she was in a high wind her light body was blown
against trees and banks like a heron's. When she was
frightened she darted noiselessly like a kingfisher.
When she was serene she skimmed like a swallow, and that is
how she was moving now.
"You are looking very blithe, upon my word, Tamsie,"
said Mrs. Yeobright, with a sad smile. "How is Damon?"
"He is very well."
"Is he kind to you, Thomasin?" And Mrs. Yeobright observed
her narrowly.
"Pretty fairly."
"Is that honestly said?"
"Yes, Aunt. I would tell you if he were unkind."
She added, blushing, and with hesitation, "He--I don't
know if I ought to complain to you about this, but I am
not quite sure what to do. I want some money, you know,
Aunt--some to buy little things for myself--and he
doesn't give me any. I don't like to ask him; and yet,
perhaps, he doesn't give it me because he doesn't know.
Ought I to mention it to him, Aunt?"
"Of course you ought. Have you never said a word
on the matter?"
"You see, I had some of my own," said Thomasin evasively,
"and I have not wanted any of his until lately. I did
just say something about it last week; but he seems--not
to remember."
"He must be made to remember. You are aware that I have
a little box full of spade-guineas, which your uncle put
into my hands to divide between yourself and Clym whenever
I chose. Perhaps the time has come when it should be done.
They can be turned into sovereigns at any moment."
"I think I should like to have my share--that is, if you
don't mind."
"You shall, if necessary. But it is only proper that
you should first tell your husband distinctly that you
are without any, and see what he will do."
"Very well, I will....Aunt, I have heard about Clym.
I know you are in trouble about him, and that's why I
have come."
Mrs. Yeobright turned away, and her features worked
in her attempt to conceal her feelings. Then she ceased
to make any attempt, and said, weeping, "O Thomasin,
do you think he hates me? How can he bear to grieve me so,
when I have lived only for him through all these years?"
"Hate you--no," said Thomasin soothingly. "It is only
that he loves her too well. Look at it quietly--do.
It is not so very bad of him. Do you know, I thought
it not the worst match he could have made. Miss Vye's
family is a good one on her mother's side; and her father
was a romantic wanderer--a sort of Greek Ulysses."
"It is no use, Thomasin; it is no use. Your intention
is good; but I will not trouble you to argue. I have gone
through the whole that can be said on either side times,
and many times. Clym and I have not parted in anger;
we have parted in a worse way. It is not a passionate
quarrel that would have broken my heart; it is the steady
opposition and persistence in going wrong that he has shown.
O Thomasin, he was so good as a little boy--so tender
and kind!"
"He was, I know."
"I did not think one whom I called mine would grow up
to treat me like this. He spoke to me as if I opposed
him to injure him. As though I could wish him ill!"
"There are worse women in the world than Eustacia Vye."
"There are too many better that's the agony of it.
It was she, Thomasin, and she only, who led your husband
to act as he did--I would swear it!"
"No," said Thomasin eagerly. "It was before he knew me
that he thought of her, and it was nothing but a mere flirtation."
"Very well; we will let it be so. There is little use
in unravelling that now. Sons must be blind if they will.
Why is it that a woman can see from a distance what a man
cannot see close? Clym must do as he will--he is nothing
more to me. And this is maternity--to give one's best
years and best love to ensure the fate of being despised!"
"You are too unyielding. Think how many mothers there
are whose sons have brought them to public shame by real
crimes before you feel so deeply a case like this."
"Thomasin, don't lecture me--I can't have it. It is
the excess above what we expect that makes the force
of the blow, and that may not be greater in their case
than in mine--they may have foreseen the worst....I am
wrongly made, Thomasin," she added, with a mournful smile.
"Some widows can guard against the wounds their children
give them by turning their hearts to another husband
and beginning life again. But I always was a poor, weak,
one-idea'd creature--I had not the compass of heart nor
the enterprise for that. Just as forlorn and stupefied
as I was when my husband's spirit flew away I have sat
ever since--never attempting to mend matters at all.
I was comparatively a young woman then, and I might have
had another family by this time, and have been comforted
by them for the failure of this one son."
"It is more noble in you that you did not."
"The more noble, the less wise."
"Forget it, and be soothed, dear Aunt. And I shall
not leave you alone for long. I shall come and see you
every day."
And for one week Thomasin literally fulfilled her word.
She endeavoured to make light of the wedding; and brought
news of the preparations, and that she was invited
to be present. The next week she was rather unwell,
and did not appear. Nothing had as yet been done about
the guineas, for Thomasin feared to address her husband
again on the subject, and Mrs. Yeobright had insisted
upon this.
One day just before this time Wildeve was standing at
the door of the Quiet Woman. In addition to the upward
path through the heath to Rainbarrow and Mistover,
there was a road which branched from the highway a short
distance below the inn, and ascended to Mistover by a
circuitous and easy incline. This was the only route
on that side for vehicles to the captain's retreat.
A light cart from the nearest town descended the road,
and the lad who was driving pulled up in front of the inn
for something to drink.
"You come from Mistover?" said Wildeve.
"Yes. They are taking in good things up there. Going to
be a wedding." And the driver buried his face in his mug.
Wildeve had not received an inkling of the fact before,
and a sudden expression of pain overspread his face.
He turned for a moment into the passage to hide it.
Then he came back again.
"Do you mean Miss Vye?" he said. "How is it--that she
can be married so soon?"
"By the will of God and a ready young man, I suppose."
"You don't mean Mr. Yeobright?"
"Yes. He has been creeping about with her all the spring."
"I suppose--she was immensely taken with him?"
"She is crazy about him, so their general servant
of all work tells me. And that lad Charley that looks
after the horse is all in a daze about it. The stunpoll
has got fond-like of her."
"Is she lively--is she glad? Going to be married so soon--well!"
"It isn't so very soon."
"No; not so very soon."
Wildeve went indoors to the empty room, a curious heartache
within him. He rested his elbow upon the mantelpiece
and his face upon his hand. When Thomasin entered
the room he did not tell her of what he had heard.
The old longing for Eustacia had reappeared in his
soul--and it was mainly because he had discovered
that it was another man's intention to possess her.
To be yearning for the difficult, to be weary of that offered;
to care for the remote, to dislike the near; it was Wildeve's
nature always. This is the true mark of the man of sentiment.
Though Wildeve's fevered feeling had not been elaborated
to real poetical compass, it was of the standard sort.
His might have been called the Rousseau of Egdon.
7 - The Morning and the Evening of a Day
The wedding morning came. Nobody would have imagined from
appearances that Blooms-End had any interest in Mistover
that day. A solemn stillness prevailed around the house
of Clym's mother, and there was no more animation indoors.
Mrs. Yeobright, who had declined to attend the ceremony,
sat by the breakfast table in the old room which communicated
immediately with the porch, her eyes listlessly directed
towards the open door. It was the room in which,
six months earlier, the merry Christmas party had met,
to which Eustacia came secretly and as a stranger.
The only living thing that entered now was a sparrow;
and seeing no movements to cause alarm, he hopped boldly round
the room, endeavoured to go out by the window, and fluttered
among the pot-flowers. This roused the lonely sitter,
who got up, released the bird, and went to the door.
She was expecting Thomasin, who had written the night
before to state that the time had come when she would wish
to have the money and that she would if possible call
this day.
Yet Thomasin occupied Mrs. Yeobright's thoughts but
slightly as she looked up the valley of the heath,
alive with butterflies, and with grasshoppers whose
husky noises on every side formed a whispered chorus.
A domestic drama, for which the preparations were now
being made a mile or two off, was but little less vividly
present to her eyes than if enacted before her. She tried
to dismiss the vision, and walked about the garden plot;
but her eyes ever and anon sought out the direction of the
parish church to which Mistover belonged, and her excited fancy
clove the hills which divided the building from her eyes.
The morning wore away. Eleven o'clock struck--could
it be that the wedding was then in progress? It must
be so. She went on imagining the scene at the church,
which he had by this time approached with his bride.
She pictured the little group of children by the gate
as the pony carriage drove up in which, as Thomasin
had learnt, they were going to perform the short journey.
Then she saw them enter and proceed to the chancel and kneel;
and the service seemed to go on.
She covered her face with her hands. "O, it is a mistake!"
she groaned. "And he will rue it some day, and think
of me!"
While she remained thus, overcome by her forebodings,
the old clock indoors whizzed forth twelve strokes.
Soon after, faint sounds floated to her ear from afar
over the hills. The breeze came from that quarter,
and it had brought with it the notes of distant bells,
gaily starting off in a peal: one, two, three, four, five.
The ringers at East Egdon were announcing the nuptials of
Eustacia and her son.
"Then it is over," she murmured. "Well, well! and life
too will be over soon. And why should I go on scalding my
face like this? Cry about one thing in life, cry about all;
one thread runs through the whole piece. And yet we say,
'a time to laugh!'"
Towards evening Wildeve came. Since Thomasin's marriage
Mrs. Yeobright had shown him that grim friendliness which
at last arises in all such cases of undesired affinity.
The vision of what ought to have been is thrown aside in
sheer weariness, and browbeaten human endeavour listlessly
makes the best of the fact that is. Wildeve, to do
him justice, had behaved very courteously to his wife's aunt;
and it was with no surprise that she saw him enter now.
"Thomasin has not been able to come, as she promised to do,"
he replied to her inquiry, which had been anxious,
for she knew that her niece was badly in want of money.
"The captain came down last night and personally pressed
her to join them today. So, not to be unpleasant,
she determined to go. They fetched her in the pony-chaise,
and are going to bring her back."
"Then it is done," said Mrs. Yeobright. "Have they gone
to their new home?"
"I don't know. I have had no news from Mistover since
Thomasin left to go."
"You did not go with her?" said she, as if there might
be good reasons why.
"I could not," said Wildeve, reddening slightly.
"We could not both leave the house; it was rather
a busy morning, on account of Anglebury Great Market.
I believe you have something to give to Thomasin? If
you like, I will take it."
Mrs. Yeobright hesitated, and wondered if Wildeve knew
what the something was. "Did she tell you of this?"
she inquired.
"Not particularly. She casually dropped a remark about
having arranged to fetch some article or other."
"It is hardly necessary to send it. She can have it
whenever she chooses to come."
"That won't be yet. In the present state of her health
she must not go on walking so much as she has done."
He added, with a faint twang of sarcasm, "What wonderful
thing is it that I cannot be trusted to take?"
"Nothing worth troubling you with."
"One would think you doubted my honesty," he said,
with a laugh, though his colour rose in a quick
resentfulness frequent with him.
"You need think no such thing," said she drily.
"It is simply that I, in common with the rest of the world,
feel that there are certain things which had better be
done by certain people than by others."
"As you like, as you like," said Wildeve laconically.
"It is not worth arguing about. Well, I think I must turn
homeward again, as the inn must not be left long in charge
of the lad and the maid only."
He went his way, his farewell being scarcely so courteous
as his greeting. But Mrs. Yeobright knew him thoroughly
by this time, and took little notice of his manner,
good or bad.
When Wildeve was gone Mrs. Yeobright stood and considered
what would be the best course to adopt with regard to
the guineas, which she had not liked to entrust to Wildeve.
It was hardly credible that Thomasin had told him
to ask for them, when the necessity for them had arisen
from the difficulty of obtaining money at his hands.
At the same time Thomasin really wanted them, and might be
unable to come to Blooms-End for another week at least.
To take or send the money to her at the inn would be impolite,
since Wildeve would pretty surely be present, or would
discover the transaction; and if, as her aunt suspected,
he treated her less kindly than she deserved to be treated,
he might then get the whole sum out of her gentle hands.
But on this particular evening Thomasin was at Mistover,
and anything might be conveyed to her there without the
knowledge of her husband. Upon the whole the opportunity was
worth taking advantage of.
Her son, too, was there, and was now married.
There could be no more proper moment to render him his
share of the money than the present. And the chance
that would be afforded her, by sending him this gift,
of showing how far she was from bearing him ill-will,
cheered the sad mother's heart.
She went upstairs and took from a locked drawer a little box,
out of which she poured a hoard of broad unworn guineas
that had lain there many a year. There were a hundred
in all, and she divided them into two heaps, fifty in each.
Tying up these in small canvas bags, she went down to the
garden and called to Christian Cantle, who was loitering
about in hope of a supper which was not really owed him.
Mrs. Yeobright gave him the moneybags, charged him to go
to Mistover, and on no account to deliver them into any one's
hands save her son's and Thomasin's. On further thought
she deemed it advisable to tell Christian precisely what
the two bags contained, that he might be fully impressed
with their importance. Christian pocketed the moneybags,
promised the greatest carefulness, and set out on his way.
"You need not hurry," said Mrs. Yeobright. "It will
be better not to get there till after dusk, and then
nobody will notice you. Come back here to supper,
if it is not too late."
It was nearly nine o'clock when he began to ascend the vale
towards Mistover; but the long days of summer being at
their climax, the first obscurity of evening had only just
begun to tan the landscape. At this point of his journey
Christian heard voices, and found that they proceeded from
a company of men and women who were traversing a hollow
ahead of him, the tops only of their heads being visible.
He paused and thought of the money he carried. It was almost
too early even for Christian seriously to fear robbery;
nevertheless he took a precaution which ever since his
boyhood he had adopted whenever he carried more than
two or three shillings upon his person--a precaution
somewhat like that of the owner of the Pitt Diamond when
filled with similar misgivings. He took off his boots,
untied the guineas, and emptied the contents of one little
bag into the right boot, and of the other into the left,
spreading them as flatly as possible over the bottom
of each, which was really a spacious coffer by no means
limited to the size of the foot. Pulling them on again
and lacing them to the very top, he proceeded on his way,
more easy in his head than under his soles.
His path converged towards that of the noisy company,
and on coming nearer he found to his relief that they
were several Egdon people whom he knew very well,
while with them walked Fairway, of Blooms-End.
"What! Christian going too?" said Fairway as soon as he
recognized the newcomer. "You've got no young woman nor
wife to your name to gie a gown-piece to, I'm sure."
"What d'ye mean?" said Christian.
"Why, the raffle. The one we go to every year.
Going to the raffle as well as ourselves?"
"Never knew a word o't. Is it like cudgel playing or
other sportful forms of bloodshed? I don't want to go,
thank you, Mister Fairway, and no offence."
"Christian don't know the fun o't, and 'twould be a fine
sight for him," said a buxom woman. "There's no danger
at all, Christian. Every man puts in a shilling apiece,
and one wins a gown-piece for his wife or sweetheart
if he's got one."
"Well, as that's not my fortune there's no meaning in it
to me. But I should like to see the fun, if there's
nothing of the black art in it, and if a man may look
on without cost or getting into any dangerous wrangle?"
"There will be no uproar at all," said Timothy.
"Sure, Christian, if you'd like to come we'll see there's
no harm done."
"And no ba'dy gaieties, I suppose? You see, neighbours,
if so, it would be setting father a bad example, as he
is so light moral'd. But a gown-piece for a shilling,
and no black art--'tis worth looking in to see, and it
wouldn't hinder me half an hour. Yes, I'll come, if you'll
step a little way towards Mistover with me afterwards,
supposing night should have closed in, and nobody else
is going that way?"
One or two promised; and Christian, diverging from his
direct path, turned round to the right with his companions
towards the Quiet Woman.
When they entered the large common room of the inn
they found assembled there about ten men from among
the neighbouring population, and the group was
increased by the new contingent to double that number.
Most of them were sitting round the room in seats divided
by wooden elbows like those of crude cathedral stalls,
which were carved with the initials of many an illustrious
drunkard of former times who had passed his days and his
nights between them, and now lay as an alcoholic cinder
in the nearest churchyard. Among the cups on the long
table before the sitters lay an open parcel of light
drapery--the gown-piece, as it was called--which was
to be raffled for. Wildeve was standing with his back
to the fireplace smoking a cigar; and the promoter of
the raffle, a packman from a distant town, was expatiating
upon the value of the fabric as material for a summer dress.
"Now, gentlemen," he continued, as the newcomers drew up
to the table, "there's five have entered, and we want
four more to make up the number. I think, by the faces
of those gentlemen who have just come in, that they are
shrewd enough to take advantage of this rare opportunity
of beautifying their ladies at a very trifling expense."
Fairway, Sam, and another placed their shillings
on the table, and the man turned to Christian.
"No, sir," said Christian, drawing back, with a quick gaze
of misgiving. "I am only a poor chap come to look on,
an it please ye, sir. I don't so much as know how you
do it. If so be I was sure of getting it I would put
down the shilling; but I couldn't otherwise."
"I think you might almost be sure," said the pedlar.
"In fact, now I look into your face, even if I can't say
you are sure to win, I can say that I never saw anything
look more like winning in my life."
"You'll anyhow have the same chance as the rest of us,"
said Sam.
"And the extra luck of being the last comer," said another.
"And I was born wi' a caul, and perhaps can be no more
ruined than drowned?" Christian added, beginning to give way.
Ultimately Christian laid down his shilling, the raffle began,
and the dice went round. When it came to Christian's turn
he took the box with a trembling hand, shook it fearfully,
and threw a pair-royal. Three of the others had thrown
common low pairs, and all the rest mere points.
"The gentleman looked like winning, as I said," observed the
chapman blandly. "Take it, sir; the article is yours."
"Haw-haw-haw!" said Fairway. "I'm damned if this isn't
the quarest start that ever I knowed!"
"Mine?" asked Christian, with a vacant stare from his
target eyes. "I--I haven't got neither maid, wife,
nor widder belonging to me at all, and I'm afeard it
will make me laughed at to ha'e it, Master Traveller.
What with being curious to join in I never thought of that!
What shall I do wi' a woman's clothes in MY bedroom,
and not lose my decency!"
"Keep 'em, to be sure," said Fairway, "if it is only
for luck. Perhaps 'twill tempt some woman that thy poor
carcase had no power over when standing empty-handed."
"Keep it, certainly," said Wildeve, who had idly watched
the scene from a distance.
The table was then cleared of the articles, and the men
began to drink.
"Well, to be sure!" said Christian, half to himself.
"To think I should have been born so lucky as this,
and not have found it out until now! What curious creatures
these dice be--powerful rulers of us all, and yet at my
command! I am sure I never need be afeared of anything
after this." He handled the dice fondly one by one.
"Why, sir," he said in a confidential whisper to Wildeve,
who was near his left hand, "if I could only use this power
that's in me of multiplying money I might do some good
to a near relation of yours, seeing what I've got about me
of hers--eh?" He tapped one of his money-laden boots upon
the floor.
"What do you mean?" said Wildeve.
"That's a secret. Well, I must be going now." He looked
anxiously towards Fairway.
"Where are you going?" Wildeve asked.
"To Mistover Knap. I have to see Mrs. Thomasin there--
that's all."
"I am going there, too, to fetch Mrs. Wildeve. We can
walk together."
Wildeve became lost in thought, and a look of inward
illumination came into his eyes. It was money for his
wife that Mrs. Yeobright could not trust him with.
"Yet she could trust this fellow," he said to himself.
"Why doesn't that which belongs to the wife belong to the
husband too?"
He called to the pot-boy to bring him his hat, and said,
"Now, Christian, I am ready."
"Mr. Wildeve," said Christian timidly, as he turned to
leave the room, "would you mind lending me them wonderful
little things that carry my luck inside 'em, that I
might practise a bit by myself, you know?" He looked
wistfully at the dice and box lying on the mantlepiece.
"Certainly," said Wildeve carelessly. "They were only cut
out by some lad with his knife, and are worth nothing."
And Christian went back and privately pocketed them.
Wildeve opened the door and looked out. The night was
warm and cloudy. "By Gad! 'tis dark," he continued.
"But I suppose we shall find our way."
"If we should lose the path it might be awkward,"
said Christian. "A lantern is the only shield that will
make it safe for us."
"Let's have a lantern by all means." The stable lantern
was fetched and lighted. Christian took up his gownpiece,
and the two set out to ascend the hill.
Within the room the men fell into chat till their
attention was for a moment drawn to the chimney-corner.
This was large, and, in addition to its proper recess,
contained within its jambs, like many on Egdon,
a receding seat, so that a person might sit there
absolutely unobserved, provided there was no fire to light
him up, as was the case now and throughout the summer.
From the niche a single object protruded into the light
from the candles on the table. It was a clay pipe,
and its colour was reddish. The men had been attracted
to this object by a voice behind the pipe asking for a light.
"Upon my life, it fairly startled me when the man spoke!"
said Fairway, handing a candle. "Oh--'tis the reddleman!
You've kept a quiet tongue, young man."
"Yes, I had nothing to say," observed Venn. In a few
minutes he arose and wished the company good night.
Meanwhile Wildeve and Christian had plunged into the heath.
It was a stagnant, warm, and misty night, full of all the
heavy perfumes of new vegetation not yet dried by hot sun,
and among these particularly the scent of the fern.
The lantern, dangling from Christian's hand, brushed the
feathery fronds in passing by, disturbing moths and
other winged insects, which flew out and alighted upon
its horny panes.
"So you have money to carry to Mrs. Wildeve?"
said Christian's companion, after a silence. "Don't you
think it very odd that it shouldn't be given to me?"
"As man and wife be one flesh, 'twould have been all
the same, I should think," said Christian. "But my strict
documents was, to give the money into Mrs. Wildeve's
hand--and 'tis well to do things right."
"No doubt," said Wildeve. Any person who had known the
circumstances might have perceived that Wildeve was mortified
by the discovery that the matter in transit was money,
and not, as he had supposed when at Blooms-End, some fancy
nick-nack which only interested the two women themselves.
Mrs. Yeobright's refusal implied that his honour was not
considered to be of sufficiently good quality to make
him a safer bearer of his wife's property.
"How very warm it is tonight, Christian!" he said,
panting, when they were nearly under Rainbarrow.
"Let us sit down for a few minutes, for Heaven's sake."
Wildeve flung himself down on the soft ferns;
and Christian, placing the lantern and parcel on
the ground, perched himself in a cramped position hard by,
his knees almost touching his chin. He presently thrust
one hand into his coat-pocket and began shaking it about.
"What are you rattling in there?" said Wildeve.
"Only the dice, sir," said Christian, quickly withdrawing
his hand. "What magical machines these little things be,
Mr. Wildeve! 'Tis a game I should never get tired of.
Would you mind my taking 'em out and looking at 'em for
a minute, to see how they are made? I didn't like to look
close before the other men, for fear they should think it
bad manners in me." Christian took them out and examined
them in the hollow of his hand by the lantern light.
"That these little things should carry such luck,
and such charm, and such a spell, and such power in 'em,
passes all I ever heard or zeed," he went on, with a
fascinated gaze at the dice, which, as is frequently
the case in country places, were made of wood, the points
being burnt upon each face with the end of a wire.
"They are a great deal in a small compass, You think?"
"Yes. Do ye suppose they really be the devil's playthings,
Mr. Wildeve? If so, 'tis no good sign that I be such
a lucky man."
"You ought to win some money, now that you've got them.
Any woman would marry you then. Now is your time,
Christian, and I would recommend you not to let it slip.
Some men are born to luck, some are not. I belong to the
latter class."
"Did you ever know anybody who was born to it besides myself?"
"O yes. I once heard of an Italian, who sat down at a gaming
table with only a louis, (that's a foreign sovereign),
in his pocket. He played on for twenty-four hours,
and won ten thousand pounds, stripping the bank he had
played against. Then there was another man who had lost
a thousand pounds, and went to the broker's next day
to sell stock, that he might pay the debt. The man to
whom he owed the money went with him in a hackney-coach;
and to pass the time they tossed who should pay the fare.
The ruined man won, and the other was tempted to continue
the game, and they played all the way. When the coachman
stopped he was told to drive home again: the whole thousand
pounds had been won back by the man who was going to sell."
"Ha--ha--splendid!" exclaimed Christian. "Go on--go on!"
"Then there was a man of London, who was only a waiter at
White's clubhouse. He began playing first half-crown stakes,
and then higher and higher, till he became very rich,
got an appointment in India, and rose to be Governor
of Madras. His daughter married a member of Parliament,
and the Bishop of Carlisle stood godfather to one of
the children."
"Wonderfull wonderfull"
"And once there was a young man in America who gambled till
he had lost his last dollar. He staked his watch and chain,
and lost as before; staked his umbrella, lost again;
staked his hat, lost again; staked his coat and stood in his
shirt-sleeves, lost again. Began taking off his breeches,
and then a looker-on gave him a trifle for his pluck.
With this he won. Won back his coat, won back his hat,
won back his umbrella, his watch, his money, and went
out of the door a rich man."
"Oh, 'tis too good--it takes away my breath! Mr. Wildeve,
I think I will try another shilling with you, as I am one
of that sort; no danger can come o't, and you can afford
to lose."
"Very well," said Wildeve, rising. Searching about
with the lantern, he found a large flat stone, which he
placed between himself and Christian, and sat down again.
The lantern was opened to give more light, and it's rays
directed upon the stone. Christian put down a shilling,
Wildeve another, and each threw. Christian won.
They played for two, Christian won again.
"Let us try four," said Wildeve. They played for four.
This time the stakes were won by Wildeve.
"Ah, those little accidents will, of course, sometimes happen,
to the luckiest man," he observed.
"And now I have no more money!" explained Christian excitedly.
"And yet, if I could go on, I should get it back again,
and more. I wish this was mine." He struck his boot upon
the ground, so that the guineas chinked within.
"What! you have not put Mrs. Wildeve's money there?"
"Yes. 'Tis for safety. Is it any harm to raffle with a
married lady's money when, if I win, I shall only keep
my winnings, and give her her own all the same; and if
t'other man wins, her money will go to the lawful owner?"
"None at all."
Wildeve had been brooding ever since they started on the mean
estimation in which he was held by his wife's friends;
and it cut his heart severely. As the minutes passed he
had gradually drifted into a revengeful intention without
knowing the precise moment of forming it. This was to
teach Mrs. Yeobright a lesson, as he considered it to be;
in other words, to show her if he could that her niece's
husband was the proper guardian of her niece's money.
"Well, here goes!" said Christian, beginning to unlace
one boot. "I shall dream of it nights and nights,
I suppose; but I shall always swear my flesh don't crawl
when I think o't!"
He thrust his hand into the boot and withdrew one
of poor Thomasin's precious guineas, piping hot.
Wildeve had already placed a sovereign on the stone.
The game was then resumed. Wildeve won first,
and Christian ventured another, winning himself this time.
The game fluctuated, but the average was in Wildeve's favour.
Both men became so absorbed in the game that they took
no heed of anything but the pigmy objects immediately
beneath their eyes, the flat stone, the open lantern,
the dice, and the few illuminated fern-leaves which lay
under the light, were the whole world to them.
At length Christian lost rapidly; and presently,
to his horror, the whole fifty guineas belonging
to Thomasin had been handed over to his adversary.
"I don't care--I don't care!" he moaned, and desperately
set about untying his left boot to get at the other fifty.
"The devil will toss me into the flames on his three-pronged
fork for this night's work, I know! But perhaps I shall
win yet, and then I'll get a wife to sit up with me o'
nights and I won't be afeard, I won't! Here's another for'ee,
my man!" He slapped another guinea down upon the stone,
and the dice-box was rattled again.
Time passed on. Wildeve began to be as excited as
Christian himself. When commencing the game his intention
had been nothing further than a bitter practical joke on
Mrs. Yeobright. To win the money, fairly or otherwise,
and to hand it contemptuously to Thomasin in her
aunt's presence, had been the dim outline of his purpose.
But men are drawn from their intentions even in the course
of carrying them out, and it was extremely doubtful,
by the time the twentieth guinea had been reached,
whether Wildeve was conscious of any other intention
than that of winning for his own personal benefit.
Moreover, he was now no longer gambling for his wife's money,
but for Yeobright's; though of this fact Christian,
in his apprehensiveness, did not inform him till afterwards.
It was nearly eleven o'clock, when, with almost a shriek,
Christian placed Yeobright's last gleaming guinea upon
the stone. In thirty seconds it had gone the way of
its companions.
Christian turned and flung himself on the ferns
in a convulsion of remorse, "O, what shall I do
with my wretched self?" he groaned. "What shall
I do? Will any good Heaven hae mercy upon my wicked soul?"
"Do? Live on just the same."
"I won't live on just the same! I'll die! I say you
are a--a----"
"A man sharper than my neighbour."
"Yes, a man sharper than my neighbour; a regular sharper!"
"Poor chips-in-porridge, you are very unmannerly."
"I don't know about that! And I say you be unmannerly!
You've got money that isn't your own. Half the guineas
are poor Mr. Clym's."
"How's that?"
"Because I had to gie fifty of 'em to him. Mrs. Yeobright
said so."
"Oh?...Well, 'twould have been more graceful of her
to have given them to his wife Eustacia. But they
are in my hands now."
Christian pulled on his boots, and with heavy breathings,
which could be heard to some distance, dragged his
limbs together, arose, and tottered away out of sight.
Wildeve set about shutting the lantern to return to the house,
for he deemed it too late to go to Mistover to meet his wife,
who was to be driven home in the captain's four-wheel.
While he was closing the little horn door a figure rose
from behind a neighbouring bush and came forward into
the lantern light. It was the reddleman approaching.
8 - A New Force Disturbs the Current
Wildeve stared. Venn looked coolly towards Wildeve, and,
without a word being spoken, he deliberately sat himself
down where Christian had been seated, thrust his hand into
his pocket, drew out a sovereign, and laid it on the stone.
"You have been watching us from behind that bush?"
said Wildeve.
The reddleman nodded. "Down with your stake," he said.
"Or haven't you pluck enough to go on?"
Now, gambling is a species of amusement which is much more
easily begun with full pockets than left off with the same;
and though Wildeve in a cooler temper might have prudently
declined this invitation, the excitement of his recent
success carried him completely away. He placed one of
the guineas on a slab beside the reddleman's sovereign.
"Mine is a guinea," he said.
"A guinea that's not your own," said Venn sarcastically.
"It is my own," answered Wildeve haughtily. "It is my
wife's, and what is hers is mine."
"Very well; let's make a beginning." He shook the box,
and threw eight, ten, and nine; the three casts amounted
to twenty-seven.
This encouraged Wildeve. He took the box; and his
three casts amounted to forty-five.
Down went another of the reddleman's sovereigns against
his first one which Wildeve laid. This time Wildeve threw
fifty-one points, but no pair. The reddleman looked grim,
threw a raffle of aces, and pocketed the stakes.
"Here you are again," said Wildeve contemptuously.
"Double the stakes." He laid two of Thomasin's guineas,
and the reddleman his two pounds. Venn won again.
New stakes were laid on the stone, and the gamblers proceeded
as before.
Wildeve was a nervous and excitable man, and the game
was beginning to tell upon his temper. He writhed,
fumed, shifted his seat, and the beating of his heart
was almost audible. Venn sat with lips impassively closed
and eyes reduced to a pair of unimportant twinkles;
he scarcely appeared to breathe. He might have been an Arab,
or an automaton; he would have been like a red sandstone
statue but for the motion of his arm with the dice-box.
The game fluctuated, now in favour of one, now in favour
of the other, without any great advantage on the side
of either. Nearly twenty minutes were passed thus.
The light of the candle had by this time attracted
heath-flies, moths, and other winged creatures of night,
which floated round the lantern, flew into the flame,
or beat about the faces of the two players.
But neither of the men paid much attention to these things,
their eyes being concentrated upon the little flat stone,
which to them was an arena vast and important as a battlefield.
By this time a change had come over the game; the reddleman
won continually. At length sixty guineas--Thomasin's
fifty, and ten of Clym's--had passed into his hands.
Wildeve was reckless, frantic, exasperated.
"'Won back his coat,'" said Venn slily.
Another throw, and the money went the same way.
"'Won back his hat,'" continued Venn.
"Oh, oh!" said Wildeve.
"'Won back his watch, won back his money, and went out
of the door a rich man,'" added Venn sentence by sentence,
as stake after stake passed over to him.
"Five more!" shouted Wildeve, dashing down the money.
"And three casts be hanged--one shall decide."
The red automaton opposite lapsed into silence, nodded,
and followed his example. Wildeve rattled the box,
and threw a pair of sixes and five points. He clapped
his hands; "I have done it this time--hurrah!"
"There are two playing, and only one has thrown,"
said the reddleman, quietly bringing down the box.
The eyes of each were then so intently converged upon
the stone that one could fancy their beams were visible,
like rays in a fog.
Venn lifted the box, and behold a triplet of sixes
was disclosed.
Wildeve was full of fury. While the reddleman was grasping
the stakes Wildeve seized the dice and hurled them, box and all,
into the darkness, uttering a fearful imprecation.
Then he arose and began stamping up and down like a madman.
"It is all over, then?" said Venn.
"No, no!" cried Wildeve. "I mean to have another chance yet.
I must!"
"But, my good man, what have you done with the dice?"
"I threw them away--it was a momentary irritation.
What a fool I am! Here--come and help me to look for
them--we must find them again."
Wildeve snatched up the lantern and began anxiously
prowling among the furze and fern.
"You are not likely to find them there,"
said Venn, following. "What did you do such a crazy
thing as that for? Here's the box. The dice can't be far off."
Wildeve turned the light eagerly upon the spot where Venn
had found the box, and mauled the herbage right and left.
In the course of a few minutes one of the dice was found.
They searched on for some time, but no other was to
be seen.
"Never mind," said Wildeve; "let's play with one."
"Agreed," said Venn.
Down they sat again, and recommenced with single guinea stakes;
and the play went on smartly. But Fortune had unmistakably
fallen in love with the reddleman tonight. He won steadily,
till he was the owner of fourteen more of the gold pieces.
Seventy-nine of the hundred guineas were his, Wildeve
possessing only twenty-one. The aspect of the two opponents
was now singular. Apart from motions, a complete diorama
of the fluctuations of the game went on in their eyes.
A diminutive candle-flame was mirrored in each pupil,
and it would have been possible to distinguish therein
between the moods of hope and the moods of abandonment,
even as regards the reddleman, though his facial muscles
betrayed nothing at all. Wildeve played on with the
recklessness of despair.
"What's that?" he suddenly exclaimed, hearing a rustle;
and they both looked up.
They were surrounded by dusky forms between four and
five feet high, standing a few paces beyond the rays
of the lantern. A moment's inspection revealed that
the encircling figures were heath-croppers, their heads
being all towards the players, at whom they gazed intently.
"Hoosh!" said Wildeve, and the whole forty or fifty animals
at once turned and galloped away. Play was again resumed.
Ten minutes passed away. Then a large death's head moth
advanced from the obscure outer air, wheeled twice round
the lantern, flew straight at the candle, and extinguished
it by the force of the blow. Wildeve had just thrown,
but had not lifted the box to see what he had cast;
and now it was impossible.
"What the infernal!" he shrieked. "Now, what shall we
do? Perhaps I have thrown six--have you any matches?"
"None," said Venn.
"Christian had some--I wonder where he is. Christian!"
But there was no reply to Wildeve's shout, save a mournful
whining from the herons which were nesting lower down
the vale. Both men looked blankly round without rising.
As their eyes grew accustomed to the darkness they
perceived faint greenish points of light among the grass
and fern. These lights dotted the hillside like stars
of a low magnitude.
"Ah--glowworms," said Wildeve. "Wait a minute.
We can continue the game."
Venn sat still, and his companion went hither and thither
till he had gathered thirteen glowworms--as many as he could
find in a space of four or five minutes--upon a fox-glove
leaf which he pulled for the purpose. The reddleman vented
a low humorous laugh when he saw his adversary return
with these. "Determined to go on, then?" he said drily.
"I always am!" said Wildeve angrily. And shaking the
glowworms from the leaf he ranged them with a trembling hand
in a circle on the stone, leaving a space in the middle
for the descent of the dice-box, over which the thirteen
tiny lamps threw a pale phosphoric shine. The game was
again renewed. It happened to be that season of the year
at which glowworms put forth their greatest brilliancy,
and the light they yielded was more than ample for
the purpose, since it is possible on such nights to read
the handwriting of a letter by the light of two or three.
The incongruity between the men's deeds and their
environment was great. Amid the soft juicy vegetation
of the hollow in which they sat, the motionless and the
uninhabited solitude, intruded the chink of guineas,
the rattle of dice, the exclamations of the reckless players.
Wildeve had lifted the box as soon as the lights were obtained,
and the solitary die proclaimed that the game was still
against him.
"I won't play any more--you've been tampering with the dice,"
he shouted.
"How--when they were your own?" said the reddleman.
"We'll change the game: the lowest point shall win
the stake--it may cut off my ill luck. Do you refuse?"
"No--go on," said Venn.
"O, there they are again--damn them!" cried Wildeve,
looking up. The heath-croppers had returned noiselessly,
and were looking on with erect heads just as before,
their timid eyes fixed upon the scene, as if they were
wondering what mankind and candlelight could have to do in
these haunts at this untoward hour.
"What a plague those creatures are--staring at me so!"
he said, and flung a stone, which scattered them;
when the game was continued as before.
Wildeve had now ten guineas left; and each laid five.
Wildeve threw three points; Venn two, and raked in the coins.
The other seized the die, and clenched his teeth upon
it in sheer rage, as if he would bite it in pieces.
"Never give in--here are my last five!" he cried,
throwing them down.
"Hang the glowworms--they are going out. Why don't you burn,
you little fools? Stir them up with a thorn."
He probed the glowworms with a bit of stick, and rolled
them over, till the bright side of their tails was upwards.
"There's light enough. Throw on," said Venn.
Wildeve brought down the box within the shining circle
and looked eagerly. He had thrown ace. "Well done!--I
said it would turn, and it has turned." Venn said nothing;
but his hand shook slightly.
He threw ace also.
"O!" said Wildeve. "Curse me!"
The die smacked the stone a second time. It was ace again.
Venn looked gloomy, threw--the die was seen to be lying
in two pieces, the cleft sides uppermost.
"I've thrown nothing at all," he said.
"Serves me right--I split the die with my teeth.
Here--take your money. Blank is less than one."
"I don't wish it."
"Take it, I say--you've won it!" And Wildeve threw the stakes
against the reddleman's chest. Venn gathered them up,
arose, and withdrew from the hollow, Wildeve sitting stupefied.
When he had come to himself he also arose, and, with the
extinguished lantern in his hand, went towards the highroad.
On reaching it he stood still. The silence of night
pervaded the whole heath except in one direction; and that
was towards Mistover. There he could hear the noise of
light wheels, and presently saw two carriagelamps descending
the hill. Wildeve screened himself under a bush and waited.
The vehicle came on and passed before him. It was a
hired carriage, and behind the coachman were two persons
whom he knew well. There sat Eustacia and Yeobright,
the arm of the latter being round her waist.
They turned the sharp corner at the bottom towards
the temporary home which Clym had hired and furnished,
about five miles to the eastward.
Wildeve forgot the loss of the money at the sight
of his lost love, whose preciousness in his eyes was
increasing in geometrical progression with each new
incident that reminded him of their hopeless division.
Brimming with the subtilized misery that he was capable
of feeling, he followed the opposite way towards the inn.
About the same moment that Wildeve stepped into the
highway Venn also had reached it at a point a hundred
yards further on; and he, hearing the same wheels,
likewise waited till the carriage should come up.
When he saw who sat therein he seemed to be disappointed.
Reflecting a minute or two, during which interval the
carriage rolled on, he crossed the road, and took a short
cut through the furze and heath to a point where the
turnpike road bent round in ascending a hill. He was now
again in front of the carriage, which presently came up
at a walking pace. Venn stepped forward and showed himself.
Eustacia started when the lamp shone upon him, and Clym's
arm was involuntarily withdrawn from her waist. He said,
"What, Diggory? You are having a lonely walk."
"Yes--I beg your pardon for stopping you," said Venn.
"But I am waiting about for Mrs. Wildeve: I have something
to give her from Mrs. Yeobright. Can you tell me if she's
gone home from the party yet?"
"No. But she will be leaving soon. You may possibly meet
her at the corner."
Venn made a farewell obeisance, and walked back to his
former position, where the byroad from Mistover joined
the highway. Here he remained fixed for nearly half an hour,
and then another pair of lights came down the hill.
It was the old-fashioned wheeled nondescript belonging to
the captain, and Thomasin sat in it alone, driven by Charley.
The reddleman came up as they slowly turned the corner.
"I beg pardon for stopping you, Mrs. Wildeve," he said.
"But I have something to give you privately from Mrs. Yeobright."
He handed a small parcel; it consisted of the hundred
guineas he had just won, roughly twisted up in a piece
of paper.
Thomasin recovered from her surprise, and took the packet.
"That's all, ma'am--I wish you good night," he said,
and vanished from her view.
Thus Venn, in his anxiety to rectify matters, had placed
in Thomasin's hands not only the fifty guineas which
rightly belonged to her, but also the fifty intended
for her cousin Clym. His mistake had been based upon
Wildeve's words at the opening of the game, when he
indignantly denied that the guinea was not his own.
It had not been comprehended by the reddleman that at
halfway through the performance the game was continued
with the money of another person; and it was an error
which afterwards helped to cause more misfortune
than treble the loss in money value could have done.
The night was now somewhat advanced; and Venn plunged deeper
into the heath, till he came to a ravine where his van was
standing--a spot not more than two hundred yards from the site
of the gambling bout. He entered this movable home of his,
lit his lantern, and, before closing his door for the night,
stood reflecting on the circumstances of the preceding hours.
While he stood the dawn grew visible in the northeast quarter
of the heavens, which, the clouds having cleared off,
was bright with a soft sheen at this midsummer time,
though it was only between one and two o'clock. Venn,
thoroughly weary, then shut his door and flung himself
down to sleep.
book four
1 - The Rencounter by the Pool
The July sun shone over Egdon and fired its crimson
heather to scarlet. It was the one season of the year,
and the one weather of the season, in which the heath
was gorgeous. This flowering period represented the second
or noontide division in the cycle of those superficial
changes which alone were possible here; it followed
the green or young-fern period, representing the morn,
and preceded the brown period, when the heathbells
and ferns would wear the russet tinges of evening; to be
in turn displaced by the dark hue of the winter period,
representing night.
Clym and Eustacia, in their little house at Alderworth,
beyond East Egdon, were living on with a monotony which
was delightful to them. The heath and changes of weather
were quite blotted out from their eyes for the present.
They were enclosed in a sort of luminous mist, which hid
from them surroundings of any inharmonious colour,
and gave to all things the character of light. When it
rained they were charmed, because they could remain
indoors together all day with such a show of reason;
when it was fine they were charmed, because they could
sit together on the hills. They were like those double
stars which revolve round and round each other, and from
a distance appear to be one. The absolute solitude in
which they lived intensified their reciprocal thoughts;
yet some might have said that it had the disadvantage
of consuming their mutual affections at a fearfully
prodigal rate. Yeobright did not fear for his own part;
but recollection of Eustacia's old speech about the
evanescence of love, now apparently forgotten by her,
sometimes caused him to ask himself a question; and he
recoiled at the thought that the quality of finiteness was
not foreign to Eden.
When three or four weeks had been passed thus,
Yeobright resumed his reading in earnest. To make up
for lost time he studied indefatigably, for he wished
to enter his new profession with the least possible delay.
Now, Eustacia's dream had always been that, once married
to Clym, she would have the power of inducing him to return
to Paris. He had carefully withheld all promise to do so;
but would he be proof against her coaxing and argument?
She had calculated to such a degree on the probability
of success that she had represented Paris, and not Budmouth,
to her grandfather as in all likelihood their future home.
Her hopes were bound up in this dream. In the quiet days
since their marriage, when Yeobright had been poring
over her lips, her eyes, and the lines of her face,
she had mused and mused on the subject, even while in the
act of returning his gaze; and now the sight of the books,
indicating a future which was antagonistic to her dream,
struck her with a positively painful jar. She was hoping for
the time when, as the mistress of some pretty establishment,
however small, near a Parisian Boulevard, she would be
passing her days on the skirts at least of the gay world,
and catching stray wafts from those town pleasures she
was so well fitted to enjoy. Yet Yeobright was as firm
in the contrary intention as if the tendency of marriage
were rather to develop the fantasies of young philanthropy
than to sweep them away.
Her anxiety reached a high pitch; but there was something
in Clym's undeviating manner which made her hesitate
before sounding him on the subject. At this point
in their experience, however, an incident helped her.
It occurred one evening about six weeks after their union,
and arose entirely out of the unconscious misapplication
of Venn of the fifty guineas intended for Yeobright.
A day or two after the receipt of the money Thomasin
had sent a note to her aunt to thank her. She had been
surprised at the largeness of the amount; but as no sum
had ever been mentioned she set that down to her late
uncle's generosity. She had been strictly charged
by her aunt to say nothing to her husband of this gift;
and Wildeve, as was natural enough, had not brought himself
to mention to his wife a single particular of the midnight
scene in the heath. Christian's terror, in like manner,
had tied his tongue on the share he took in that proceeding;
and hoping that by some means or other the money had gone
to its proper destination, he simply asserted as much,
without giving details.
Therefore, when a week or two had passed away, Mrs. Yeobright
began to wonder why she never heard from her son of the
receipt of the present; and to add gloom to her perplexity
came the possibility that resentment might be the cause
of his silence. She could hardly believe as much,
but why did he not write? She questioned Christian,
and the confusion in his answers would at once have led
her to believe that something was wrong, had not one-half
of his story been corroborated by Thomasin's note.
Mrs. Yeobright was in this state of uncertainty when she
was informed one morning that her son's wife was visiting her
grandfather at Mistover. She determined to walk up the hill,
see Eustacia, and ascertain from her daughter-in-law's lips
whether the family guineas, which were to Mrs. Yeobright
what family jewels are to wealthier dowagers, had miscarried or not.
When Christian learnt where she was going his concern
reached its height. At the moment of her departure he could
prevaricate no longer, and, confessing to the gambling,
told her the truth as far as he knew it--that the guineas
had been won by Wildeve.
"What, is he going to keep them?" Mrs. Yeobright cried.
"I hope and trust not!" moaned Christian. "He's a good man,
and perhaps will do right things. He said you ought
to have gied Mr. Clym's share to Eustacia, and that's
perhaps what he'll do himself."
To Mrs. Yeobright, as soon as she could calmly reflect,
there was much likelihood in this, for she could hardly
believe that Wildeve would really appropriate money
belonging to her son. The intermediate course of giving it
to Eustacia was the sort of thing to please Wildeve's fancy.
But it filled the mother with anger none the less.
That Wildeve should have got command of the guineas
after all, and should rearrange the disposal of them,
placing Clym's share in Clym's wife's hands, because she
had been his own sweetheart, and might be so still,
was as irritating a pain as any that Mrs. Yeobright had
ever borne.
She instantly dismissed the wretched Christian from her
employ for his conduct in the affair; but, feeling quite
helpless and unable to do without him, told him afterwards
that he might stay a little longer if he chose.
Then she hastened off to Eustacia, moved by a much less
promising emotion towards her daughter-in-law than she
had felt half an hour earlier, when planning her journey.
At that time it was to inquire in a friendly spirit if there
had been any accidental loss; now it was to ask plainly
if Wildeve had privately given her money which had been
intended as a sacred gift to Clym.
She started at two o'clock, and her meeting with Eustacia
was hastened by the appearance of the young lady beside
the pool and bank which bordered her grandfather's premises,
where she stood surveying the scene, and perhaps thinking
of the romantic enactments it had witnessed in past days.
When Mrs. Yeobright approached, Eustacia surveyed her
with the calm stare of a stranger.
The mother-in-law was the first to speak. "I was coming
to see you," she said.
"Indeed!" said Eustacia with surprise, for Mrs. Yeobright,
much to the girl's mortification, had refused to be present
at the wedding. "I did not at all expect you."
"I was coming on business only," said the visitor,
more coldly than at first. "Will you excuse my asking
this--Have you received a gift from Thomasin's husband?"
"A gift?"
"I mean money!"
"What--I myself?"
"Well, I meant yourself, privately--though I was not going
to put it in that way."
"Money from Mr. Wildeve? No--never! Madam, what do you
mean by that?" Eustacia fired up all too quickly,
for her own consciousness of the old attachment between
herself and Wildeve led her to jump to the conclusion
that Mrs. Yeobright also knew of it, and might have come
to accuse her of receiving dishonourable presents from him now.
"I simply ask the question," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"I have been----"
"You ought to have better opinions of me--I feared you
were against me from the first!" exclaimed Eustacia
"No. I was simply for Clym," replied Mrs. Yeobright,
with too much emphasis in her earnestness. "It is the
instinct of everyone to look after their own."
"How can you imply that he required guarding against me?"
cried Eustacia, passionate tears in her eyes. "I have
not injured him by marrying him! What sin have I done
that you should think so ill of me? You had no right to
speak against me to him when I have never wronged you."
"I only did what was fair under the circumstances,"
said Mrs. Yeobright more softly. "I would rather not have
gone into this question at present, but you compel me.
I am not ashamed to tell you the honest truth. I was firmly
convinced that he ought not to marry you--therefore I
tried to dissuade him by all the means in my power. But it
is done now, and I have no idea of complaining any more.
I am ready to welcome you."
"Ah, yes, it is very well to see things in that business
point of view," murmured Eustacia with a smothered fire
of feeling. "But why should you think there is anything
between me and Mr. Wildeve? I have a spirit as well
as you. I am indignant; and so would any woman be.
It was a condescension in me to be Clym's wife, and not
a manoeuvre, let me remind you; and therefore I will
not be treated as a schemer whom it becomes necessary
to bear with because she has crept into the family."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Yeobright, vainly endeavouring to control
her anger. "I have never heard anything to show that my
son's lineage is not as good as the Vyes'--perhaps better.
It is amusing to hear you talk of condescension."
"It was condescension, nevertheless," said Eustacia vehemently.
"And if I had known then what I know now, that I should
be living in this wild heath a month after my marriage,
I--I should have thought twice before agreeing."
"It would be better not to say that; it might not
sound truthful. I am not aware that any deception
was used on his part--I know there was not--whatever
might have been the case on the other side."
"This is too exasperating!" answered the younger woman huskily,
her face crimsoning, and her eyes darting light.
"How can you dare to speak to me like that? I insist upon
repeating to you that had I known that my life would
from my marriage up to this time have been as it is,
I should have said NO. I don't complain. I have never
uttered a sound of such a thing to him; but it is true.
I hope therefore that in the future you will be silent on
my eagerness. If you injure me now you injure yourself."
"Injure you? Do you think I am an evil-disposed person?"
"You injured me before my marriage, and you have now
suspected me of secretly favouring another man for money!"
"I could not help what I thought. But I have never spoken
of you outside my house."
"You spoke of me within it, to Clym, and you could not
do worse."
"I did my duty."
"And I'll do mine."
"A part of which will possibly be to set him against
his mother. It is always so. But why should I not bear
it as others have borne it before me!"
"I understand you," said Eustacia, breathless with emotion.
"You think me capable of every bad thing. Who can be
worse than a wife who encourages a lover, and poisons
her husband's mind against his relative? Yet that is now
the character given to me. Will you not come and drag
him out of my hands?"
Mrs. Yeobright gave back heat for heat.
"Don't rage at me, madam! It ill becomes your beauty,
and I am not worth the injury you may do it on my account,
I assure you. I am only a poor old woman who has lost
a son."
"If you had treated me honourably you would have had
him still." Eustacia said, while scalding tears trickled
from her eyes. "You have brought yourself to folly;
you have caused a division which can never be healed!"
"I have done nothing. This audacity from a young woman
is more than I can bear."
"It was asked for; you have suspected me, and you have made
me speak of my husband in a way I would not have done.
You will let him know that I have spoken thus, and it will
cause misery between us. Will you go away from me? You
are no friend!"
"I will go when I have spoken a word. If anyone says I
have come here to question you without good grounds for it,
that person speaks untruly. If anyone says that I
attempted to stop your marriage by any but honest means,
that person, too, does not speak the truth. I have fallen
on an evil time; God has been unjust to me in letting
you insult me! Probably my son's happiness does not lie
on this side of the grave, for he is a foolish man
who neglects the advice of his parent. You, Eustacia,
stand on the edge of a precipice without knowing it.
Only show my son one-half the temper you have shown
me today--and you may before long--and you will find
that though he is as gentle as a child with you now,
he can be as hard as steel!"
The excited mother then withdrew, and Eustacia, panting,
stood looking into the pool.
2 - He Is Set upon by Adversities but He Sings a Song
The result of that unpropitious interview was that Eustacia,
instead of passing the afternoon with her grandfather,
hastily returned home to Clym, where she arrived three hours
earlier than she had been expected.
She came indoors with her face flushed, and her eyes
still showing traces of her recent excitement.
Yeobright looked up astonished; he had never seen
her in any way approaching to that state before.
She passed him by, and would have gone upstairs unnoticed,
but Clym was so concerned that he immediately followed her.
"What is the matter, Eustacia?" he said. She was standing
on the hearthrug in the bedroom, looking upon the floor,
her hands clasped in front of her, her bonnet yet unremoved.
For a moment she did not answer; and then she replied
in a low voice--
"I have seen your mother; and I will never see her again!"
A weight fell like a stone upon Clym. That same morning,
when Eustacia had arranged to go and see her grandfather,
Clym had expressed a wish that she would drive down to
Blooms-End and inquire for her mother-in-law, or adopt
any other means she might think fit to bring about
a reconciliation. She had set out gaily; and he had hoped
for much.
"Why is this?" he asked.
"I cannot tell--I cannot remember. I met your mother.
And I will never meet her again."
"What do I know about Mr. Wildeve now? I won't have
wicked opinions passed on me by anybody. O! it was too
humiliating to be asked if I had received any money
from him, or encouraged him, or something of the sort--
I don't exactly know what!"
"How could she have asked you that?"
"She did."
"Then there must have been some meaning in it. What did
my mother say besides?"
"I don't know what she said, except in so far as this,
that we both said words which can never be forgiven!"
"Oh, there must be some misapprehension. Whose fault
was it that her meaning was not made clear?"
"I would rather not say. It may have been the fault of
the circumstances, which were awkward at the very least.
O Clym--I cannot help expressing it--this is an unpleasant
position that you have placed me in. But you must improve
it--yes, say you will--for I hate it all now! Yes,
take me to Paris, and go on with your old occupation,
Clym! I don't mind how humbly we live there at first,
if it can only be Paris, and not Egdon Heath."
"But I have quite given up that idea," said Yeobright,
with surprise. "Surely I never led you to expect such
a thing?"
"I own it. Yet there are thoughts which cannot be kept
out of mind, and that one was mine. Must I not have
a voice in the matter, now I am your wife and the sharer
of your doom?"
"Well, there are things which are placed beyond the pale
of discussion; and I thought this was specially so,
and by mutual agreement."
"Clym, I am unhappy at what I hear," she said in a low voice;
and her eyes drooped, and she turned away.
This indication of an unexpected mine of hope in Eustacia's
bosom disconcerted her husband. It was the first time
that he had confronted the fact of the indirectness
of a woman's movement towards her desire. But his
intention was unshaken, though he loved Eustacia well.
All the effect that her remark had upon him was a resolve
to chain himself more closely than ever to his books,
so as to be the sooner enabled to appeal to substantial
results from another course in arguing against her whim.
Next day the mystery of the guineas was explained.
Thomasin paid them a hurried visit, and Clym's share was
delivered up to him by her own hands. Eustacia was not
present at the time.
"Then this is what my mother meant," exclaimed Clym.
"Thomasin, do you know that they have had a bitter quarrel?"
There was a little more reticence now than formerly in Thomasin's
manner towards her cousin. It is the effect of marriage
to engender in several directions some of the reserve it
annihilates in one. "Your mother told me," she said quietly.
"She came back to my house after seeing Eustacia."
"The worst thing I dreaded has come to pass. Was Mother
much disturbed when she came to you, Thomasin?"
"Very much indeed?"
Clym leant his elbow upon the post of the garden gate,
and covered his eyes with his hand.
"Don't trouble about it, Clym. They may get to be friends."
He shook his head. "Not two people with inflammable
natures like theirs. Well, what must be will be."
"One thing is cheerful in it--the guineas are not lost."
"I would rather have lost them twice over than have had
this happen."
Amid these jarring events Yeobright felt one thing to be
indispensable--that he should speedily make some show
of progress in his scholastic plans. With this view
he read far into the small hours during many nights.
One morning, after a severer strain than usual, he awoke with
a strange sensation in his eyes. The sun was shining directly
upon the window-blind, and at his first glance thitherward
a sharp pain obliged him to close his eyelids quickly.
At every new attempt to look about him the same morbid
sensibility to light was manifested, and excoriating tears
ran down his cheeks. He was obliged to tie a bandage
over his brow while dressing; and during the day it could
not be abandoned. Eustacia was thoroughly alarmed.
On finding that the case was no better the next morning
they decided to send to Anglebury for a surgeon.
Towards evening he arrived, and pronounced the disease
to be acute inflammation induced by Clym's night studies,
continued in spite of a cold previously caught, which had
weakened his eyes for the time.
Fretting with impatience at this interruption to a task he was
so anxious to hasten, Clym was transformed into an invalid.
He was shut up in a room from which all light was excluded,
and his condition would have been one of absolute
misery had not Eustacia read to him by the glimmer of a
shaded lamp. He hoped that the worst would soon be over;
but at the surgeon's third visit he learnt to his dismay
that although he might venture out of doors with shaded
eyes in the course of a month, all thought of pursuing
his work, or of reading print of any description,
would have to be given up for a long time to come.
One week and another week wore on, and nothing
seemed to lighten the gloom of the young couple.
Dreadful imaginings occurred to Eustacia, but she
carefully refrained from uttering them to her husband.
Suppose he should become blind, or, at all events,
never recover sufficient strength of sight to engage
in an occupation which would be congenial to her feelings,
and conduce to her removal from this lonely dwelling among
the hills? That dream of beautiful Paris was not likely
to cohere into substance in the presence of this misfortune.
As day after day passed by, and he got no better,
her mind ran more and more in this mournful groove,
and she would go away from him into the garden and weep
despairing tears.
Yeobright thought he would send for his mother;
and then he thought he would not. Knowledge of his state
could only make her the more unhappy; and the seclusion
of their life was such that she would hardly be likely
to learn the news except through a special messenger.
Endeavouring to take the trouble as philosophically
as possible, he waited on till the third week had arrived,
when he went into the open air for the first time since
the attack. The surgeon visited him again at this stage,
and Clym urged him to express a distinct opinion.
The young man learnt with added surprise that the date at
which he might expect to resume his labours was as uncertain
as ever, his eyes being in that peculiar state which,
though affording him sight enough for walking about,
would not admit of their being strained upon any definite
object without incurring the risk of reproducing ophthalmia
in its acute form.
Clym was very grave at the intelligence, but not despairing.
A quiet firmness, and even cheerfulness, took possession
of him. He was not to be blind; that was enough.
To be doomed to behold the world through smoked glass
for an indefinite period was bad enough, and fatal
to any kind of advance; but Yeobright was an absolute
stoic in the face of mishaps which only affected his
social standing; and, apart from Eustacia, the humblest
walk of life would satisfy him if it could be made to work
in with some form of his culture scheme. To keep a cottage
night-school was one such form; and his affliction did
not master his spirit as it might otherwise have done.
He walked through the warm sun westward into those tracts
of Egdon with which he was best acquainted, being those
lying nearer to his old home. He saw before him in one
of the valleys the gleaming of whetted iron, and advancing,
dimly perceived that the shine came from the tool of a
man who was cutting furze. The worker recognized Clym,
and Yeobright learnt from the voice that the speaker
was Humphrey.
Humphrey expressed his sorrow at Clym's condition,
and added, "Now, if yours was low-class work like mine,
you could go on with it just the same."
"Yes, I could," said Yeobright musingly. "How much
do you get for cutting these faggots?"
"Half-a-crown a hundred, and in these long days I can
live very well on the wages."
During the whole of Yeobright's walk home to Alderworth he
was lost in reflections which were not of an unpleasant kind.
On his coming up to the house Eustacia spoke to him
from the open window, and he went across to her.
"Darling," he said, "I am much happier. And if my mother
were reconciled to me and to you I should, I think,
be happy quite."
"I fear that will never be," she said, looking afar
with her beautiful stormy eyes. "How CAN you say
'I am happier,' and nothing changed?"
"It arises from my having at last discovered something I
can do, and get a living at, in this time of misfortune."
"I am going to be a furze- and turf-cutter."
"No, Clym!" she said, the slight hopefulness previously
apparent in her face going off again, and leaving her
worse than before.
"Surely I shall. Is it not very unwise in us to go
on spending the little money we've got when I can keep
down expenditures by an honest occupation? The outdoor
exercise will do me good, and who knows but that in a few
months I shall be able to go on with my reading again?"
"But my grandfather offers to assist us, if we require assistance."
"We don't require it. If I go furze-cutting we shall
be fairly well off."
"In comparison with slaves, and the Israelites in Egypt,
and such people!" A bitter tear rolled down Eustacia's face,
which he did not see. There had been nonchalance
in his tone, showing her that he felt no absolute grief
at a consummation which to her was a positive horror.
The very next day Yeobright went to Humphrey's cottage,
and borrowed of him leggings, gloves, a whetstone, and a hook,
to use till he should be able to purchase some for himself.
Then he sallied forth with his new fellow-labourer and
old acquaintance, and selecting a spot where the furze grew
thickest he struck the first blow in his adopted calling.
His sight, like the wings in Rasselas, though useless
to him for his grand purpose, sufficed for this strait,
and he found that when a little practice should have hardened
his palms against blistering he would be able to work
with ease.
Day after day he rose with the sun, buckled on his leggings,
and went off to the rendezvous with Humphrey. His custom
was to work from four o'clock in the morning till noon;
then, when the heat of the day was at its highest,
to go home and sleep for an hour or two; afterwards coming
out again and working till dusk at nine.
This man from Paris was now so disguised by his
leather accoutrements, and by the goggles he was obliged
to wear over his eyes, that his closest friend might
have passed by without recognizing him. He was a brown
spot in the midst of an expanse of olive-green gorse,
and nothing more. Though frequently depressed in
spirit when not actually at work, owing to thoughts
of Eustacia's position and his mother's estrangement,
when in the full swing of labour he was cheerfully disposed and calm.
His daily life was of a curious microscopic sort,
his whole world being limited to a circuit of a few
feet from his person. His familiars were creeping and
winged things, and they seemed to enroll him in their band.
Bees hummed around his ears with an intimate air,
and tugged at the heath and furze-flowers at his side
in such numbers as to weigh them down to the sod.
The strange amber-coloured butterflies which Egdon produced,
and which were never seen elsewhere, quivered in the breath
of his lips, alighted upon his bowed back, and sported
with the glittering point of his hook as he flourished
it up and down. Tribes of emerald-green grasshoppers
leaped over his feet, falling awkwardly on their backs,
heads, or hips, like unskilful acrobats, as chance
might rule; or engaged themselves in noisy flirtations
under the fern-fronds with silent ones of homely hue.
Huge flies, ignorant of larders and wire-netting, and
quite in a savage state, buzzed about him without knowing
that he was a man. In and out of the fern-dells snakes
glided in their most brilliant blue and yellow guise,
it being the season immediately following the shedding
of their old skins, when their colours are brightest.
Litters of young rabbits came out from their forms to sun
themselves upon hillocks, the hot beams blazing through
the delicate tissue of each thin-fleshed ear, and firing
it to a blood-red transparency in which the veins could
be seen. None of them feared him. The monotony of his
occupation soothed him, and was in itself a pleasure.
A forced limitation of effort offered a justification
of homely courses to an unambitious man, whose conscience
would hardly have allowed him to remain in such obscurity
while his powers were unimpeded. Hence Yeobright sometimes
sang to himself, and when obliged to accompany Humphrey
in search of brambles for faggot-bonds he would amuse his
companion with sketches of Parisian life and character,
and so while away the time.
On one of these warm afternoons Eustacia walked out alone
in the direction of Yeobright's place of work. He was
busily chopping away at the furze, a long row of faggots
which stretched downward from his position representing
the labour of the day. He did not observe her approach,
and she stood close to him, and heard his undercurrent
of song.
It shocked her. To see him there, a poor afflicted man,
earning money by the sweat of his brow, had at first moved
her to tears; but to hear him sing and not at all rebel
against an occupation which, however satisfactory to himself,
was degrading to her, as an educated lady-wife, wounded
her through. Unconscious of her presence, he still went
on singing:--
"Le point du jour
A nos bosquets rend toute leur parure;
Flore est plus belle a son retour;
L'oiseau reprend doux chant d'amour;
Tout celebre dans la nature
Le point du jour.
"Le point du jour
Cause parfois, cause douleur extreme;
Que l'espace des nuits est court
Pour le berger brulant d'amour,
Force de quitter ce qu'il aime
Au point du jour!"
It was bitterly plain to Eustacia that he did not care much
about social failure; and the proud fair woman bowed her
head and wept in sick despair at thought of the blasting
effect upon her own life of that mood and condition in him.
Then she came forward.
"I would starve rather than do it!" she exclaimed vehemently.
"And you can sing! I will go and live with my grandfather again!"
"Eustacia! I did not see you, though I noticed
something moving," he said gently. He came forward,
pulled off his huge leather glove, and took her hand.
"Why do you speak in such a strange way? It is only a
little old song which struck my fancy when I was in Paris,
and now just applies to my life with you. Has your love
for me all died, then, because my appearance is no longer
that of a fine gentleman?"
"Dearest, you must not question me unpleasantly, or it
may make me not love you."
"Do you believe it possible that I would run the risk
of doing that?"
"Well, you follow out your own ideas, and won't
give in to mine when I wish you to leave off this
shameful labour. Is there anything you dislike in me
that you act so contrarily to my wishes? I am your wife,
and why will you not listen? Yes, I am your wife indeed!"
"I know what that tone means."
"What tone?"
"The tone in which you said, 'Your wife indeed.' It meant,
'Your wife, worse luck.'"
"It is hard in you to probe me with that remark.
A woman may have reason, though she is not without heart,
and if I felt 'worse luck,' it was no ignoble feeling--
it was only too natural. There, you see that at any
rate I do not attempt untruths. Do you remember how,
before we were married, I warned you that I had not good
wifely qualities?"
"You mock me to say that now. On that point at least
the only noble course would be to hold your tongue,
for you are still queen of me, Eustacia, though I may no
longer be king of you."
"You are my husband. Does not that content you?"
"Not unless you are my wife without regret."
"I cannot answer you. I remember saying that I should
be a serious matter on your hands."
"Yes, I saw that."
"Then you were too quick to see! No true lover would
have seen any such thing; you are too severe upon me,
Clym--I won't like your speaking so at all."
"Well, I married you in spite of it, and don't regret
doing so. How cold you seem this afternoon! and yet I
used to think there never was a warmer heart than yours."
"Yes, I fear we are cooling--I see it as well as you,"
she sighed mournfully. "And how madly we loved two months
ago! You were never tired of contemplating me, nor I
of contemplating you. Who could have thought then that by
this time my eyes would not seem so very bright to yours,
nor your lips so very sweet to mine? Two months--is it
possible? Yes, 'tis too true!"
"You sigh, dear, as if you were sorry for it; and that's
a hopeful sign."
"No. I don't sigh for that. There are other things
for me to sigh for, or any other woman in my place."
"That your chances in life are ruined by marrying in haste
an unfortunate man?"
"Why will you force me, Clym, to say bitter things? I
deserve pity as much as you. As much?--I think I deserve
it more. For you can sing! It would be a strange hour
which should catch me singing under such a cloud as this!
Believe me, sweet, I could weep to a degree that would
astonish and confound such an elastic mind as yours.
Even had you felt careless about your own affliction,
you might have refrained from singing out of sheer pity
for mine. God! if I were a man in such a position I would
curse rather than sing."
Yeobright placed his hand upon her arm. "Now, don't
you suppose, my inexperienced girl, that I cannot rebel,
in high Promethean fashion, against the gods and fate
as well as you. I have felt more steam and smoke of
that sort than you have ever heard of. But the more I
see of life the more do I perceive that there is nothing
particularly great in its greatest walks, and therefore
nothing particularly small in mine of furze-cutting.
If I feel that the greatest blessings vouchsafed to us
are not very valuable, how can I feel it to be any great
hardship when they are taken away? So I sing to pass
the time. Have you indeed lost all tenderness for me,
that you begrudge me a few cheerful moments?"
"I have still some tenderness left for you."
"Your words have no longer their old flavour. And so love
dies with good fortune!"
"I cannot listen to this, Clym--it will end bitterly,"
she said in a broken voice. "I will go home."
3 - She Goes Out to Battle against Depression
A few days later, before the month of August has expired,
Eustacia and Yeobright sat together at their early dinner.
Eustacia's manner had become of late almost apathetic.
There was a forlorn look about her beautiful eyes which,
whether she deserved it or not, would have excited
pity in the breast of anyone who had known her during
the full flush of her love for Clym. The feelings of
husband and wife varied, in some measure, inversely with
their positions. Clym, the afflicted man, was cheerful;
and he even tried to comfort her, who had never felt a
moment of physical suffering in her whole life.
"Come, brighten up, dearest; we shall be all right again.
Some day perhaps I shall see as well as ever.
And I solemnly promise that I'll leave off cutting furze
as soon as I have the power to do anything better.
You cannot seriously wish me to stay idling at home
all day?"
"But it is so dreadful--a furze-cutter! and you a man who
have lived about the world, and speak French, and German,
and who are fit for what is so much better than this."
"I suppose when you first saw me and heard about me I
was wrapped in a sort of golden halo to your eyes--a man
who knew glorious things, and had mixed in brilliant
scenes--in short, an adorable, delightful, distracting hero?"
"Yes," she said, sobbing.
"And now I am a poor fellow in brown leather."
"Don't taunt me. But enough of this. I will not be
depressed any more. I am going from home this afternoon,
unless you greatly object. There is to be a village
picnic--a gipsying, they call it--at East Egdon, and I
shall go."
"To dance?"
"Why not? You can sing."
"Well, well, as you will. Must I come to fetch you?"
"If you return soon enough from your work. But do not
inconvenience yourself about it. I know the way home,
and the heath has no terror for me."
"And can you cling to gaiety so eagerly as to walk all
the way to a village festival in search of it?"
"Now, you don't like my going alone! Clym, you are
not jealous?"
"No. But I would come with you if it could give you
any pleasure; though, as things stand, perhaps you
have too much of me already. Still, I somehow wish
that you did not want to go. Yes, perhaps I am jealous;
and who could be jealous with more reason than I,
a half-blind man, over such a woman as you?"
"Don't think like it. Let me go, and don't take all
my spirits away!"
"I would rather lose all my own, my sweet wife. Go and
do whatever you like. Who can forbid your indulgence
in any whim? You have all my heart yet, I believe;
and because you bear with me, who am in truth a drag
upon you, I owe you thanks. Yes, go alone and shine.
As for me, I will stick to my doom. At that kind of
meeting people would shun me. My hook and gloves are like
the St. Lazarus rattle of the leper, warning the world
to get out of the way of a sight that would sadden them."
He kissed her, put on his leggings, and went out.
When he was gone she rested her head upon her hands
and said to herself, "Two wasted lives--his and mine.
And I am come to this! Will it drive me out of my mind?"
She cast about for any possible course which offered
the least improvement on the existing state of things,
and could find none. She imagined how all those Budmouth
ones who should learn what had become of her would say,
"Look at the girl for whom nobody was good enough!"
To Eustacia the situation seemed such a mockery of her hopes
that death appeared the only door of relief if the satire
of Heaven should go much further.
Suddenly she aroused herself and exclaimed, "But I'll shake
it off. Yes, I WILL shake it off! No one shall know
my suffering. I'll be bitterly merry, and ironically gay,
and I'll laugh in derision. And I'll begin by going
to this dance on the green."
She ascended to her bedroom and dressed herself with
scrupulous care. To an onlooker her beauty would have
made her feelings almost seem reasonable. The gloomy
corner into which accident as much as indiscretion
had brought this woman might have led even a moderate
partisan to feel that she had cogent reasons for asking
the Supreme Power by what right a being of such exquisite
finish had been placed in circumstances calculated
to make of her charms a curse rather than a blessing.
It was five in the afternoon when she came out from the
house ready for her walk. There was material enough in the
picture for twenty new conquests. The rebellious sadness
that was rather too apparent when she sat indoors without
a bonnet was cloaked and softened by her outdoor attire,
which always had a sort of nebulousness about it,
devoid of harsh edges anywhere; so that her face looked
from its environment as from a cloud, with no noticeable
lines of demarcation between flesh and clothes. The heat
of the day had scarcely declined as yet, and she went
along the sunny hills at a leisurely pace, there being
ample time for her idle expedition. Tall ferns buried
her in their leafage whenever her path lay through them,
which now formed miniature forests, though not one stem
of them would remain to bud the next year.
The site chosen for the village festivity was one of the
lawnlike oases which were occasionally, yet not often,
met with on the plateaux of the heath district. The brakes
of furze and fern terminated abruptly round the margin,
and the grass was unbroken. A green cattletrack skirted
the spot, without, however, emerging from the screen of fern,
and this path Eustacia followed, in order to reconnoitre
the group before joining it. The lusty notes of the East
Egdon band had directed her unerringly, and she now
beheld the musicians themselves, sitting in a blue wagon
with red wheels scrubbed as bright as new, and arched
with sticks, to which boughs and flowers were tied.
In front of this was the grand central dance of fifteen
or twenty couples, flanked by minor dances of inferior
individuals whose gyrations were not always in strict
keeping with the tune.
The young men wore blue and white rosettes, and with a
flush on their faces footed it to the girls, who, with the
excitement and the exercise, blushed deeper than the pink
of their numerous ribbons. Fair ones with long curls,
fair ones with short curls, fair ones with lovelocks,
fair ones with braids, flew round and round; and a beholder
might well have wondered how such a prepossessing set
of young women of like size, age, and disposition,
could have been collected together where there were only
one or two villages to choose from. In the background
was one happy man dancing by himself, with closed eyes,
totally oblivious of all the rest. A fire was burning under
a pollard thorn a few paces off, over which three kettles
hung in a row. Hard by was a table where elderly dames
prepared tea, but Eustacia looked among them in vain for the
cattle-dealer's wife who had suggested that she should come,
and had promised to obtain a courteous welcome for her.
This unexpected absence of the only local resident whom
Eustacia knew considerably damaged her scheme for an
afternoon of reckless gaiety. Joining in became a matter
of difficulty, notwithstanding that, were she to advance,
cheerful dames would come forward with cups of tea and make
much of her as a stranger of superior grace and knowledge
to themselves. Having watched the company through the
figures of two dances, she decided to walk a little further,
to a cottage where she might get some refreshment,
and then return homeward in the shady time of evening.
This she did, and by the time that she retraced her steps
towards the scene of the gipsying, which it was necessary
to repass on her way to Alderworth, the sun was going down.
The air was now so still that she could hear the band
afar off, and it seemed to be playing with more spirit,
if that were possible, than when she had come away.
On reaching the hill the sun had quite disappeared;
but this made little difference either to Eustacia
or to the revellers, for a round yellow moon was rising
before her, though its rays had not yet outmastered those
from the west. The dance was going on just the same,
but strangers had arrived and formed a ring around the figure,
so that Eustacia could stand among these without a chance
of being recognized.
A whole village-full of sensuous emotion, scattered abroad
all the year long, surged here in a focus for an hour.
The forty hearts of those waving couples were beating as they
had not done since, twelve months before, they had come
together in similar jollity. For the time paganism was
revived in their hearts, the pride of life was all in all,
and they adored none other than themselves.
How many of those impassioned but temporary embraces were
destined to become perpetual was possibly the wonder of
some of those who indulged in them, as well as of Eustacia
who looked on. She began to envy those pirouetters,
to hunger for the hope and happiness which the
fascination of the dance seemed to engender within them.
Desperately fond of dancing herself, one of Eustacia's
expectations of Paris had been the opportunity it might
afford her of indulgence in this favourite pastime.
Unhappily, that expectation was now extinct within her for ever.
Whilst she abstractedly watched them spinning and
fluctuating in the increasing moonlight she suddenly
heard her name whispered by a voice over her shoulder.
Turning in surprise, she beheld at her elbow one whose
presence instantly caused her to flush to the temples.
It was Wildeve. Till this moment he had not met her eye
since the morning of his marriage, when she had been
loitering in the church, and had startled him by lifting
her veil and coming forward to sign the register as witness.
Yet why the sight of him should have instigated that sudden
rush of blood she could not tell.
Before she could speak he whispered, "Do you like dancing
as much as ever?"
"I think I do," she replied in a low voice.
"Will you dance with me?"
"It would be a great change for me; but will it not
seem strange?"
"What strangeness can there be in relations dancing together?"
"Ah--yes, relations. Perhaps none."
"Still, if you don't like to be seen, pull down your veil;
though there is not much risk of being known by this light.
Lots of strangers are here."
She did as he suggested; and the act was a tacit
acknowledgment that she accepted his offer.
Wildeve gave her his arm and took her down on the outside
of the ring to the bottom of the dance, which they entered.
In two minutes more they were involved in the figure
and began working their way upwards to the top.
Till they had advanced halfway thither Eustacia wished
more than once that she had not yielded to his request;
from the middle to the top she felt that, since she had come
out to seek pleasure, she was only doing a natural thing
to obtain it. Fairly launched into the ceaseless glides
and whirls which their new position as top couple opened
up to them, Eustacia's pulses began to move too quickly
for long rumination of any kind.
Through the length of five-and-twenty couples they threaded
their giddy way, and a new vitality entered her form.
The pale ray of evening lent a fascination to the experience.
There is a certain degree and tone of light which tends
to disturb the equilibrium of the senses, and to promote
dangerously the tenderer moods; added to movement,
it drives the emotions to rankness, the reason becoming
sleepy and unperceiving in inverse proportion; and this
light fell now upon these two from the disc of the moon.
All the dancing girls felt the symptoms, but Eustacia most
of all. The grass under their feet became trodden away,
and the hard, beaten surface of the sod, when viewed aslant
towards the moonlight, shone like a polished table.
The air became quite still, the flag above the wagon which held
the musicians clung to the pole, and the players appeared
only in outline against the sky; except when the circular
mouths of the trombone, ophicleide, and French horn gleamed
out like huge eyes from the shade of their figures.
The pretty dresses of the maids lost their subtler day
colours and showed more or less of a misty white.
Eustacia floated round and round on Wildeve's arm,
her face rapt and statuesque; her soul had passed away
from and forgotten her features, which were left empty
and quiescent, as they always are when feeling goes beyond
their register.
How near she was to Wildeve! it was terrible to think of.
She could feel his breathing, and he, of course,
could feel hers. How badly she had treated him! yet,
here they were treading one measure. The enchantment
of the dance surprised her. A clear line of difference
divided like a tangible fence her experience within
this maze of motion from her experience without it.
Her beginning to dance had been like a change of atmosphere;
outside, she had been steeped in arctic frigidity
by comparison with the tropical sensations here.
She had entered the dance from the troubled hours of her
late life as one might enter a brilliant chamber after
a night walk in a wood. Wildeve by himself would have
been merely an agitation; Wildeve added to the dance,
and the moonlight, and the secrecy, began to be a delight.
Whether his personality supplied the greater part of this
sweetly compounded feeling, or whether the dance and the
scene weighed the more therein, was a nice point upon
which Eustacia herself was entirely in a cloud.
People began to say "Who are they?" but no invidious
inquiries were made. Had Eustacia mingled with the
other girls in their ordinary daily walks the case would
have been different: here she was not inconvenienced by
excessive inspection, for all were wrought to their brightest
grace by the occasion. Like the planet Mercury surrounded
by the lustre of sunset, her permanent brilliancy passed
without much notice in the temporary glory of the situation.
As for Wildeve, his feelings are easy to guess.
Obstacles were a ripening sun to his love, and he
was at this moment in a delirium of exquisite misery.
To clasp as his for five minutes what was another man's
through all the rest of the year was a kind of thing he
of all men could appreciate. He had long since begun
to sigh again for Eustacia; indeed, it may be asserted
that signing the marriage register with Thomasin was the
natural signal to his heart to return to its first quarters,
and that the extra complication of Eustacia's marriage
was the one addition required to make that return compulsory.
Thus, for different reasons, what was to the rest an exhilarating
movement was to these two a riding upon the whirlwind.
The dance had come like an irresistible attack upon whatever
sense of social order there was in their minds, to drive
them back into old paths which were now doubly irregular.
Through three dances in succession they spun their way;
and then, fatigued with the incessant motion, Eustacia turned
to quit the circle in which she had already remained too long.
Wildeve led her to a grassy mound a few yards distant,
where she sat down, her partner standing beside her.
From the time that he addressed her at the beginning
of the dance till now they had not exchanged a word.
"The dance and the walking have tired you?" he said tenderly.
"No; not greatly."
"It is strange that we should have met here of all places,
after missing each other so long."
"We have missed because we tried to miss, I suppose."
"Yes. But you began that proceeding--by breaking a promise."
"It is scarcely worth while to talk of that now.
We have formed other ties since then--you no less than I."
"I am sorry to hear that your husband is ill."
"He is not ill--only incapacitated."
"Yes--that is what I mean. I sincerely sympathize
with you in your trouble. Fate has treated you cruelly."
She was silent awhile. "Have you heard that he has
chosen to work as a furze-cutter?" she said in a low,
mournful voice.
"It has been mentioned to me," answered Wildeve hesitatingly.
"But I hardly believed it."
"It is true. What do you think of me as a furzecutter's
"I think the same as ever of you, Eustacia. Nothing of
that sort can degrade you--you ennoble the occupation
of your husband."
"I wish I could feel it."
"Is there any chance of Mr. Yeobright getting better?"
"He thinks so. I doubt it."
"I was quite surprised to hear that he had taken a cottage.
I thought, in common with other people, that he would have
taken you off to a home in Paris immediately after you had
married him. 'What a gay, bright future she has before her!'
I thought. He will, I suppose, return there with you,
if his sight gets strong again?"
Observing that she did not reply he regarded her
more closely. She was almost weeping. Images of a
future never to be enjoyed, the revived sense of her
bitter disappointment, the picture of the neighbour's
suspended ridicule which was raised by Wildeve's words,
had been too much for proud Eustacia's equanimity.
Wildeve could hardly control his own too forward feelings
when he saw her silent perturbation. But he affected
not to notice this, and she soon recovered her calmness.
"You do not intend to walk home by yourself?" he asked.
"O yes," said Eustacia. "What could hurt me on this heath,
who have nothing?"
"By diverging a little I can make my way home the same
as yours. I shall be glad to keep you company as far
as Throope Corner." Seeing that Eustacia sat on in
hesitation he added, "Perhaps you think it unwise to be
seen in the same road with me after the events of last summer?"
"Indeed I think no such thing," she said haughtily.
"I shall accept whose company I choose, for all that may be
said by the miserable inhabitants of Egdon."
"Then let us walk on--if you are ready. Our nearest way
is towards that holly bush with the dark shadow that you
see down there."
Eustacia arose, and walked beside him in the direction
signified, brushing her way over the damping heath and fern,
and followed by the strains of the merrymakers, who still kept
up the dance. The moon had now waxed bright and silvery,
but the heath was proof against such illumination,
and there was to be observed the striking scene of a dark,
rayless tract of country under an atmosphere charged
from its zenith to its extremities with whitest light.
To an eye above them their two faces would have appeared
amid the expanse like two pearls on a table of ebony.
On this account the irregularities of the path were not visible,
and Wildeve occasionally stumbled; whilst Eustacia found
it necessary to perform some graceful feats of balancing
whenever a small tuft of heather or root of furze
protruded itself through the grass of the narrow track
and entangled her feet. At these junctures in her progress
a hand was invariably stretched forward to steady her,
holding her firmly until smooth ground was again reached,
when the hand was again withdrawn to a respectful distance.
They performed the journey for the most part in silence,
and drew near to Throope Corner, a few hundred yards from
which a short path branched away to Eustacia's house.
By degrees they discerned coming towards them a pair of
human figures, apparently of the male sex.
When they came a little nearer Eustacia broke the silence
by saying, "One of those men is my husband. He promised
to come to meet me."
"And the other is my greatest enemy," said Wildeve.
"It looks like Diggory Venn."
"That is the man."
"It is an awkward meeting," said she; "but such is my fortune.
He knows too much about me, unless he could know more,
and so prove to himself that what he now knows counts
for nothing. Well, let it be--you must deliver me up
to them."
"You will think twice before you direct me to do that.
Here is a man who has not forgotten an item in our meetings
at Rainbarrow--he is in company with your husband.
Which of them, seeing us together here, will believe
that our meeting and dancing at the gipsy party was
by chance?"
"Very well," she whispered gloomily. "Leave me before
they come up."
Wildeve bade her a tender farewell, and plunged across
the fern and furze, Eustacia slowly walking on. In two
or three minutes she met her husband and his companion.
"My journey ends here for tonight, reddleman," said Yeobright
as soon as he perceived her. "I turn back with this lady.
Good night."
"Good night, Mr. Yeobright," said Venn. "I hope to see
you better soon."
The moonlight shone directly upon Venn's face as he spoke,
and revealed all its lines to Eustacia. He was looking
suspiciously at her. That Venn's keen eye had discerned
what Yeobright's feeble vision had not--a man in the act
of withdrawing from Eustacia's side--was within the limits
of the probable.
If Eustacia had been able to follow the reddleman she would
soon have found striking confirmation of her thought.
No sooner had Clym given her his arm and led her off
the scene than the reddleman turned back from the beaten
track towards East Egdon, whither he had been strolling
merely to accompany Clym in his walk, Diggory's van
being again in the neighbourhood. Stretching out his
long legs, he crossed the pathless portion of the heath
somewhat in the direction which Wildeve had taken.
Only a man accustomed to nocturnal rambles could at this
hour have descended those shaggy slopes with Venn's
velocity without falling headlong into a pit, or snapping
off his leg by jamming his foot into some rabbit burrow.
But Venn went on without much inconvenience to himself,
and the course of his scamper was towards the Quiet
Woman Inn. This place he reached in about half an hour,
and he was well aware that no person who had been near
Throope Corner when he started could have got down here
before him.
The lonely inn was not yet closed, though scarcely
an individual was there, the business done being chiefly
with travellers who passed the inn on long journeys,
and these had now gone on their way. Venn went to the
public room, called for a mug of ale, and inquired
of the maid in an indifferent tone if Mr. Wildeve was at home.
Thomasin sat in an inner room and heard Venn's voice.
When customers were present she seldom showed herself,
owing to her inherent dislike for the business;
but perceiving that no one else was there tonight she
came out.
"He is not at home yet, Diggory," she said pleasantly.
"But I expected him sooner. He has been to East Egdon
to buy a horse."
"Did he wear a light wideawake?"
"Then I saw him at Throope Corner, leading one home,"
said Venn drily. "A beauty, with a white face and a mane
as black as night. He will soon be here, no doubt."
Rising and looking for a moment at the pure, sweet face
of Thomasin, over which a shadow of sadness had passed
since the time when he had last seen her, he ventured to add,
"Mr. Wildeve seems to be often away at this time."
"O yes," cried Thomasin in what was intended to be a tone
of gaiety. "Husbands will play the truant, you know.
I wish you could tell me of some secret plan that would
help me to keep him home at my will in the evenings."
"I will consider if I know of one," replied Venn in that
same light tone which meant no lightness. And then he
bowed in a manner of his own invention and moved to go.
Thomasin offered him her hand; and without a sigh,
though with food for many, the reddleman went out.
When Wildeve returned, a quarter of an hour later Thomasin
said simply, and in the abashed manner usual with her now,
"Where is the horse, Damon?"
"O, I have not bought it, after all. The man asks too much."
"But somebody saw you at Throope Corner leading it
home--a beauty, with a white face and a mane as black
as night."
"Ah!" said Wildeve, fixing his eyes upon her; "who told
you that?"
"Venn the reddleman."
The expression of Wildeve's face became curiously condensed.
"That is a mistake--it must have been someone else,"
he said slowly and testily, for he perceived that Venn's
countermoves had begun again.
4 - Rough Coercion Is Employed
Those words of Thomasin, which seemed so little, but meant
so much, remained in the ears of Diggory Venn: "Help me
to keep him home in the evenings."
On this occasion Venn had arrived on Egdon Heath only to cross
to the other side--he had no further connection with the
interests of the Yeobright family, and he had a business of
his own to attend to. Yet he suddenly began to feel himself
drifting into the old track of manoeuvring on Thomasin's account.
He sat in his van and considered. From Thomasin's words and
manner he had plainly gathered that Wildeve neglected her.
For whom could he neglect her if not for Eustacia? Yet it
was scarcely credible that things had come to such a head
as to indicate that Eustacia systematically encouraged him.
Venn resolved to reconnoitre somewhat carefully the lonely
road which led along the vale from Wildeve's dwelling
to Clym's house at Alderworth.
At this time, as has been seen, Wildeve was quite
innocent of any predetermined act of intrigue, and except
at the dance on the green he had not once met Eustacia
since her marriage. But that the spirit of intrigue
was in him had been shown by a recent romantic habit
of his--a habit of going out after dark and strolling
towards Alderworth, there looking at the moon and stars,
looking at Eustacia's house, and walking back at leisure.
Accordingly, when watching on the night after the festival,
the reddleman saw him ascend by the little path,
lean over the front gate of Clym's garden, sigh, and turn
to go back again. It was plain that Wildeve's intrigue
was rather ideal than real. Venn retreated before him
down the hill to a place where the path was merely
a deep groove between the heather; here he mysteriously
bent over the ground for a few minutes, and retired.
When Wildeve came on to that spot his ankle was caught
by something, and he fell headlong.
As soon as he had recovered the power of respiration
he sat up and listened. There was not a sound in the
gloom beyond the spiritless stir of the summer wind.
Feeling about for the obstacle which had flung him down,
he discovered that two tufts of heath had been tied together
across the path, forming a loop, which to a traveller
was certain overthrow. Wildeve pulled off the string
that bound them, and went on with tolerable quickness.
On reaching home he found the cord to be of a reddish colour.
It was just what he had expected.
Although his weaknesses were not specially those akin
to physical fear, this species of coup-de-Jarnac
from one he knew too well troubled the mind of Wildeve.
But his movements were unaltered thereby. A night
or two later he again went along the vale to Alderworth,
taking the precaution of keeping out of any path.
The sense that he was watched, that craft was employed
to circumvent his errant tastes, added piquancy to a journey
so entirely sentimental, so long as the danger was of no
fearful sort. He imagined that Venn and Mrs. Yeobright
were in league, and felt that there was a certain legitimacy
in combating such a coalition.
The heath tonight appeared to be totally deserted;
and Wildeve, after looking over Eustacia's garden gate
for some little time, with a cigar in his mouth, was tempted
by the fascination that emotional smuggling had for his nature
to advance towards the window, which was not quite closed,
the blind being only partly drawn down. He could see
into the room, and Eustacia was sitting there alone.
Wildeve contemplated her for a minute, and then retreating
into the heath beat the ferns lightly, whereupon moths flew
out alarmed. Securing one, he returned to the window,
and holding the moth to the chink, opened his hand.
The moth made towards the candle upon Eustacia's table,
hovered round it two or three times, and flew into
the flame.
Eustacia started up. This had been a well-known signal
in old times when Wildeve had used to come secretly wooing
to Mistover. She at once knew that Wildeve was outside,
but before she could consider what to do her husband
came in from upstairs. Eustacia's face burnt crimson
at the unexpected collision of incidents, and filled it
with an animation that it too frequently lacked.
"You have a very high colour, dearest," said Yeobright,
when he came close enough to see it. "Your appearance
would be no worse if it were always so."
"I am warm," said Eustacia. "I think I will go into
the air for a few minutes."
"Shall I go with you?"
"O no. I am only going to the gate."
She arose, but before she had time to get out of the room
a loud rapping began upon the front door.
"I'll go--I'll go," said Eustacia in an unusually quick
tone for her; and she glanced eagerly towards the window
whence the moth had flown; but nothing appeared there.
"You had better not at this time of the evening,"
he said. Clym stepped before her into the passage,
and Eustacia waited, her somnolent manner covering her
inner heat and agitation.
She listened, and Clym opened the door. No words were
uttered outside, and presently he closed it and came back,
saying, "Nobody was there. I wonder what that could have meant?"
He was left to wonder during the rest of the evening,
for no explanation offered itself, and Eustacia said nothing,
the additional fact that she knew of only adding more
mystery to the performance.
Meanwhile a little drama had been acted outside which saved
Eustacia from all possibility of compromising herself
that evening at least. Whilst Wildeve had been preparing
his moth-signal another person had come behind him up
to the gate. This man, who carried a gun in his hand,
looked on for a moment at the other's operation by
the window, walked up to the house, knocked at the door,
and then vanished round the corner and over the hedge.
"Damn him!" said Wildeve. "He has been watching me again."
As his signal had been rendered futile by this uproarious
rapping Wildeve withdrew, passed out at the gate, and walked
quickly down the path without thinking of anything except
getting away unnoticed. Halfway down the hill the path
ran near a knot of stunted hollies, which in the general
darkness of the scene stood as the pupil in a black eye.
When Wildeve reached this point a report startled his ear,
and a few spent gunshots fell among the leaves around him.
There was no doubt that he himself was the cause of that
gun's discharge; and he rushed into the clump of hollies,
beating the bushes furiously with his stick; but nobody
was there. This attack was a more serious matter than
the last, and it was some time before Wildeve recovered
his equanimity. A new and most unpleasant system of menace
had begun, and the intent appeared to be to do him grievous
bodily harm. Wildeve had looked upon Venn's first attempt
as a species of horseplay, which the reddleman had indulged
in for want of knowing better; but now the boundary
line was passed which divides the annoying from the perilous.
Had Wildeve known how thoroughly in earnest Venn
had become he might have been still more alarmed.
The reddleman had been almost exasperated by the sight
of Wildeve outside Clym's house, and he was prepared to go
to any lengths short of absolutely shooting him, to terrify
the young innkeeper out of his recalcitrant impulses.
The doubtful legitimacy of such rough coercion did not
disturb the mind of Venn. It troubles few such minds
in such cases, and sometimes this is not to be regretted.
From the impeachment of Strafford to Farmer Lynch's
short way with the scamps of Virginia there have been
many triumphs of justice which are mockeries of law.
About half a mile below Clym's secluded dwelling
lay a hamlet where lived one of the two constables
who preserved the peace in the parish of Alderworth,
and Wildeve went straight to the constable's cottage.
Almost the first thing that he saw on opening the door
was the constable's truncheon hanging to a nail, as if
to assure him that here were the means to his purpose.
On inquiry, however, of the constable's wife he learnt
that the constable was not at home. Wildeve said he
would wait.
The minutes ticked on, and the constable did not arrive.
Wildeve cooled down from his state of high indignation
to a restless dissatisfaction with himself, the scene,
the constable's wife, and the whole set of circumstances.
He arose and left the house. Altogether, the experience
of that evening had had a cooling, not to say a chilling,
effect on misdirected tenderness, and Wildeve was in no mood
to ramble again to Alderworth after nightfall in hope of a
stray glance from Eustacia.
Thus far the reddleman had been tolerably successful in his
rude contrivances for keeping down Wildeve's inclination
to rove in the evening. He had nipped in the bud the
possible meeting between Eustacia and her old lover this
very night. But he had not anticipated that the tendency
of his action would be to divert Wildeve's movement
rather than to stop it. The gambling with the guineas
had not conduced to make him a welcome guest to Clym;
but to call upon his wife's relative was natural, and he
was determined to see Eustacia. It was necessary to choose
some less untoward hour than ten o'clock at night.
"Since it is unsafe to go in the evening," he said,
"I'll go by day."
Meanwhile Venn had left the heath and gone to call upon
Mrs. Yeobright, with whom he had been on friendly terms
since she had learnt what a providential countermove he
had made towards the restitution of the family guineas.
She wondered at the lateness of his call, but had no
objection to see him.
He gave her a full account of Clym's affliction, and of the
state in which he was living; then, referring to Thomasin,
touched gently upon the apparent sadness of her days.
"Now, ma'am, depend upon it," he said, "you couldn't do
a better thing for either of 'em than to make yourself
at home in their houses, even if there should be a little
rebuff at first."
"Both she and my son disobeyed me in marrying;
therefore I have no interest in their households.
Their troubles are of their own making." Mrs. Yeobright
tried to speak severely; but the account of her son's
state had moved her more than she cared to show.
"Your visits would make Wildeve walk straighter than he
is inclined to do, and might prevent unhappiness down
the heath."
"What do you mean?"
"I saw something tonight out there which I didn't like at all.
I wish your son's house and Mr. Wildeve's were a hundred
miles apart instead of four or five."
"Then there WAS an understanding between him
and Clym's wife when he made a fool of Thomasin!"
"We'll hope there's no understanding now."
"And our hope will probably be very vain. O Clym!
O Thomasin!"
"There's no harm done yet. In fact, I've persuaded
Wildeve to mind his own business."
"O, not by talking--by a plan of mine called the silent system."
"I hope you'll succeed."
"I shall if you help me by calling and making friends
with your son. You'll have a chance then of using your eyes."
"Well, since it has come to this," said Mrs. Yeobright sadly,
"I will own to you, reddleman, that I thought of going.
I should be much happier if we were reconciled.
The marriage is unalterable, my life may be cut short,
and I should wish to die in peace. He is my only son;
and since sons are made of such stuff I am not sorry
I have no other. As for Thomasin, I never expected
much from her; and she has not disappointed me.
But I forgave her long ago; and I forgive him now.
I'll go."
At this very time of the reddleman's conversation
with Mrs. Yeobright at Blooms-End another conversation
on the same subject was languidly proceeding at Alderworth.
All the day Clym had borne himself as if his mind were too full
of its own matter to allow him to care about outward things,
and his words now showed what had occupied his thoughts.
It was just after the mysterious knocking that he began
the theme. "Since I have been away today, Eustacia,
I have considered that something must be done to heal up
this ghastly breach between my dear mother and myself.
It troubles me."
"What do you propose to do?" said Eustacia abstractedly,
for she could not clear away from her the excitement caused
by Wildeve's recent manoeuvre for an interview.
"You seem to take a very mild interest in what I propose,
little or much," said Clym, with tolerable warmth.
"You mistake me," she answered, reviving at his reproach.
"I am only thinking."
"What of?"
"Partly of that moth whose skeleton is getting burnt up
in the wick of the candle," she said slowly. "But you
know I always take an interest in what you say."
"Very well, dear. Then I think I must go and call upon
her."...He went on with tender feeling: "It is a thing
I am not at all too proud to do, and only a fear
that I might irritate her has kept me away so long.
But I must do something. It is wrong in me to allow
this sort of thing to go on."
"What have you to blame yourself about?"
"She is getting old, and her life is lonely, and I am
her only son."
"She has Thomasin."
"Thomasin is not her daughter; and if she were that
would not excuse me. But this is beside the point.
I have made up my mind to go to her, and all I wish
to ask you is whether you will do your best to help
me--that is, forget the past; and if she shows her
willingness to be reconciled, meet her halfway by welcoming
her to our house, or by accepting a welcome to hers?"
At first Eustacia closed her lips as if she would rather
do anything on the whole globe than what he suggested.
But the lines of her mouth softened with thought, though not
so far as they might have softened, and she said, "I will
put nothing in your way; but after what has passed it,
is asking too much that I go and make advances."
"You never distinctly told me what did pass between you."
"I could not do it then, nor can I now. Sometimes more
bitterness is sown in five minutes than can be got rid
of in a whole life; and that may be the case here."
She paused a few moments, and added, "If you had never
returned to your native place, Clym, what a blessing it
would have been for you!...It has altered the destinies of----"
"Three people."
"Five," Eustacia thought; but she kept that in.
5 - The Journey across the Heath
Thursday, the thirty-first of August, was one of a series
of days during which snug houses were stifling, and when cool
draughts were treats; when cracks appeared in clayey gardens,
and were called "earthquakes" by apprehensive children;
when loose spokes were discovered in the wheels of carts
and carriages; and when stinging insects haunted the air,
the earth, and every drop of water that was to be found.
In Mrs. Yeobright's garden large-leaved plants of a
tender kind flagged by ten o'clock in the morning;
rhubarb bent downward at eleven; and even stiff cabbages
were limp by noon.
It was about eleven o'clock on this day that Mrs. Yeobright
started across the heath towards her son's house, to do
her best in getting reconciled with him and Eustacia,
in conformity with her words to the reddleman.
She had hoped to be well advanced in her walk before
the heat of the day was at its highest, but after
setting out she found that this was not to be done.
The sun had branded the whole heath with its mark,
even the purple heath-flowers having put on a brownness
under the dry blazes of the few preceding days.
Every valley was filled with air like that of a kiln,
and the clean quartz sand of the winter water-courses,
which formed summer paths, had undergone a species of
incineration since the drought had set in.
In cool, fresh weather Mrs. Yeobright would have found
no inconvenience in walking to Alderworth, but the present
torrid attack made the journey a heavy undertaking
for a woman past middle age; and at the end of the third
mile she wished that she had hired Fairway to drive
her a portion at least of the distance. But from the
point at which she had arrived it was as easy to reach
Clym's house as to get home again. So she went on,
the air around her pulsating silently, and oppressing
the earth with lassitude. She looked at the sky overhead,
and saw that the sapphirine hue of the zenith in spring
and early summer had been replaced by a metallic violet.
Occasionally she came to a spot where independent worlds
of ephemerons were passing their time in mad carousal,
some in the air, some on the hot ground and vegetation,
some in the tepid and stringy water of a nearly dried pool.
All the shallower ponds had decreased to a vaporous mud
amid which the maggoty shapes of innumerable obscure
creatures could be indistinctly seen, heaving and wallowing
with enjoyment. Being a woman not disinclined to philosophize
she sometimes sat down under her umbrella to rest
and to watch their happiness, for a certain hopefulness
as to the result of her visit gave ease to her mind,
and between important thoughts left it free to dwell
on any infinitesimal matter which caught her eyes.
Mrs. Yeobright had never before been to her son's house,
and its exact position was unknown to her. She tried one
ascending path and another, and found that they led her astray.
Retracing her steps, she came again to an open level,
where she perceived at a distance a man at work.
She went towards him and inquired the way.
The labourer pointed out the direction, and added, "Do you
see that furze-cutter, ma'am, going up that footpath yond?"
Mrs. Yeobright strained her eyes, and at last said
that she did perceive him.
"Well, if you follow him you can make no mistake.
He's going to the same place, ma'am."
She followed the figure indicated. He appeared of a
russet hue, not more distinguishable from the scene around
him than the green caterpillar from the leaf it feeds on.
His progress when actually walking was more rapid than
Mrs. Yeobright's; but she was enabled to keep at an equable
distance from him by his habit of stopping whenever he
came to a brake of brambles, where he paused awhile.
On coming in her turn to each of these spots she found half
a dozen long limp brambles which he had cut from the bush
during his halt and laid out straight beside the path.
They were evidently intended for furze-faggot bonds which he
meant to collect on his return.
The silent being who thus occupied himself seemed
to be of no more account in life than an insect.
He appeared as a mere parasite of the heath, fretting its
surface in his daily labour as a moth frets a garment,
entirely engrossed with its products, having no knowledge
of anything in the world but fern, furze, heath, lichens, and moss.
The furze-cutter was so absorbed in the business of his
journey that he never turned his head; and his leatherlegged
and gauntleted form at length became to her as
nothing more than a moving handpost to show her the way.
Suddenly she was attracted to his individuality by observing
peculiarities in his walk. It was a gait she had seen
somewhere before; and the gait revealed the man to her,
as the gait of Ahimaaz in the distant plain made him known
to the watchman of the king. "His walk is exactly as my
husband's used to be," she said; and then the thought
burst upon her that the furze-cutter was her son.
She was scarcely able to familiarize herself with this
strange reality. She had been told that Clym was in the
habit of cutting furze, but she had supposed that he
occupied himself with the labour only at odd times,
by way of useful pastime; yet she now beheld him as a
furze-cutter and nothing more--wearing the regulation
dress of the craft, and thinking the regulation thoughts,
to judge by his motions. Planning a dozen hasty schemes
for at once preserving him and Eustacia from this mode
of life, she throbbingly followed the way, and saw him
enter his own door.
At one side of Clym's house was a knoll, and on the top
of the knoll a clump of fir trees so highly thrust
up into the sky that their foliage from a distance
appeared as a black spot in the air above the crown
of the hill. On reaching this place Mrs. Yeobright felt
distressingly agitated, weary, and unwell. She ascended,
and sat down under their shade to recover herself,
and to consider how best to break the ground with Eustacia,
so as not to irritate a woman underneath whose apparent
indolence lurked passions even stronger and more active
than her own.
The trees beneath which she sat were singularly battered,
rude, and wild, and for a few minutes Mrs. Yeobright
dismissed thoughts of her own storm-broken and exhausted
state to contemplate theirs. Not a bough in the nine
trees which composed the group but was splintered, lopped,
and distorted by the fierce weather that there held them
at its mercy whenever it prevailed. Some were blasted
and split as if by lightning, black stains as from fire
marking their sides, while the ground at their feet was
strewn with dead fir-needles and heaps of cones blown
down in the gales of past years. The place was called
the Devil's Bellows, and it was only necessary to come
there on a March or November night to discover the forcible
reasons for that name. On the present heated afternoon,
when no perceptible wind was blowing, the trees kept up
a perpetual moan which one could hardly believe to be caused
by the air.
Here she sat for twenty minutes or more ere she could
summon resolution to go down to the door, her courage
being lowered to zero by her physical lassitude.
To any other person than a mother it might have seemed
a little humiliating that she, the elder of the two women,
should be the first to make advances. But Mrs. Yeobright
had well considered all that, and she only thought how best
to make her visit appear to Eustacia not abject but wise.
From her elevated position the exhausted woman could
perceive the roof of the house below, and the garden
and the whole enclosure of the little domicile. And now,
at the moment of rising, she saw a second man approaching
the gate. His manner was peculiar, hesitating, and not
that of a person come on business or by invitation.
He surveyed the house with interest, and then walked round
and scanned the outer boundary of the garden, as one might
have done had it been the birthplace of Shakespeare,
the prison of Mary Stuart, or the Chateau of Hougomont.
After passing round and again reaching the gate he went in.
Mrs. Yeobright was vexed at this, having reckoned on
finding her son and his wife by themselves; but a moment's
thought showed her that the presence of an acquaintance
would take off the awkwardness of her first appearance
in the house, by confining the talk to general matters
until she had begun to feel comfortable with them.
She came down the hill to the gate, and looked into the
hot garden.
There lay the cat asleep on the bare gravel of the path,
as if beds, rugs, and carpets were unendurable. The leaves
of the hollyhocks hung like half-closed umbrellas, the sap
almost simmered in the stems, and foliage with a smooth
surface glared like metallic mirrors. A small apple tree,
of the sort called Ratheripe, grew just inside the gate,
the only one which throve in the garden, by reason of the
lightness of the soil; and among the fallen apples on the
ground beneath were wasps rolling drunk with the juice,
or creeping about the little caves in each fruit which
they had eaten out before stupefied by its sweetness.
By the door lay Clym's furze-hook and the last handful
of faggot-bonds she had seen him gather; they had plainly
been thrown down there as he entered the house.
6 - A Conjuncture, and Its Result upon the Pedestrian
Wildeve, as has been stated, was determined to visit
Eustacia boldly, by day, and on the easy terms of a relation,
since the reddleman had spied out and spoilt his walks
to her by night. The spell that she had thrown over him
in the moonlight dance made it impossible for a man
having no strong puritanic force within him to keep
away altogether. He merely calculated on meeting her and
her husband in an ordinary manner, chatting a little while,
and leaving again. Every outward sign was to be conventional;
but the one great fact would be there to satisfy him--he
would see her. He did not even desire Clym's absence,
since it was just possible that Eustacia might resent any
situation which could compromise her dignity as a wife,
whatever the state of her heart towards him. Women were often so.
He went accordingly; and it happened that the time of his
arrival coincided with that of Mrs. Yeobright's pause on the
hill near the house. When he had looked round the premises
in the manner she had noticed he went and knocked at the door.
There was a few minutes' interval, and then the key turned
in the lock, the door opened, and Eustacia herself confronted him.
Nobody could have imagined from her bearing now that here
stood the woman who had joined with him in the impassioned
dance of the week before, unless indeed he could have
penetrated below the surface and gauged the real depth
of that still stream.
"I hope you reached home safely?" said Wildeve.
"O yes," she carelessly returned.
"And were you not tired the next day? I feared you might be."
"I was rather. You need not speak low--nobody will
over-hear us. My small servant is gone on an errand
to the village."
"Then Clym is not at home?"
"Yes, he is."
"O! I thought that perhaps you had locked the door
because you were alone and were afraid of tramps."
"No--here is my husband."
They had been standing in the entry. Closing the front
door and turning the key, as before, she threw open
the door of the adjoining room and asked him to walk in.
Wildeve entered, the room appearing to be empty;
but as soon as he had advanced a few steps he started.
On the hearthrug lay Clym asleep. Beside him were
the leggings, thick boots, leather gloves, and sleevewaistcoat
in which he worked.
"You may go in; you will not disturb him," she said,
following behind. "My reason for fastening the door
is that he may not be intruded upon by any chance comer
while lying here, if I should be in the garden or upstairs."
"Why is he sleeping there?" said Wildeve in low tones.
"He is very weary. He went out at half-past four
this morning, and has been working ever since. He cuts
furze because it is the only thing he can do that does
not put any strain upon his poor eyes." The contrast
between the sleeper's appearance and Wildeve's at this
moment was painfully apparent to Eustacia, Wildeve being
elegantly dressed in a new summer suit and light hat;
and she continued: "Ah! you don't know how differently he
appeared when I first met him, though it is such a little
while ago. His hands were as white and soft as mine;
and look at them now, how rough and brown they are!
His complexion is by nature fair, and that rusty look
he has now, all of a colour with his leather clothes,
is caused by the burning of the sun."
"Why does he go out at all!" Wildeve whispered.
"Because he hates to be idle; though what he earns
doesn't add much to our exchequer. However, he says
that when people are living upon their capital they must
keep down current expenses by turning a penny where they can."
"The fates have not been kind to you, Eustacia Yeobright."
"I have nothing to thank them for."
"Nor has he--except for their one great gift to him."
"What's that?"
Wildeve looked her in the eyes.
Eustacia blushed for the first time that day.
"Well, I am a questionable gift," she said quietly.
"I thought you meant the gift of content--which he has,
and I have not."
"I can understand content in such a case--though
how the outward situation can attract him puzzles me."
"That's because you don't know him. He's an enthusiast
about ideas, and careless about outward things.
He often reminds me of the Apostle Paul."
"I am glad to hear that he's so grand in character as that."
"Yes; but the worst of it is that though Paul was excellent
as a man in the Bible he would hardly have done in real life."
Their voices had instinctively dropped lower, though at first
they had taken no particular care to avoid awakening Clym.
"Well, if that means that your marriage is a misfortune
to you, you know who is to blame," said Wildeve.
"The marriage is no misfortune in itself," she retorted
with some little petulance. "It is simply the accident
which has happened since that has been the cause of my ruin.
I have certainly got thistles for figs in a worldly sense,
but how could I tell what time would bring forth?"
"Sometimes, Eustacia, I think it is a judgment upon you.
You rightly belonged to me, you know; and I had no idea
of losing you."
"No, it was not my fault! Two could not belong to you;
and remember that, before I was aware, you turned aside
to another woman. It was cruel levity in you to do that.
I never dreamt of playing such a game on my side till you
began it on yours."
"I meant nothing by it," replied Wildeve. "It was a
mere interlude. Men are given to the trick of having a passing
fancy for somebody else in the midst of a permanent love,
which reasserts itself afterwards just as before.
On account of your rebellious manner to me I was tempted
to go further than I should have done; and when you still
would keep playing the same tantalizing part I went
further still, and married her." Turning and looking
again at the unconscious form of Clym, he murmured,
"I am afraid that you don't value your prize, Clym....He
ought to be happier than I in one thing at least.
He may know what it is to come down in the world,
and to be afflicted with a great personal calamity;
but he probably doesn't know what it is to lose the woman
he loved."
"He is not ungrateful for winning her," whispered Eustacia,
"and in that respect he is a good man. Many women
would go far for such a husband. But do I desire
unreasonably much in wanting what is called life--
music, poetry, passion, war, and all the beating
and pulsing that are going on in the great arteries
of the world? That was the shape of my youthful dream;
but I did not get it. Yet I thought I saw the way to it in my Clym."
"And you only married him on that account?"
"There you mistake me. I married him because I loved him,
but I won't say that I didn't love him partly because I
thought I saw a promise of that life in him."
"You have dropped into your old mournful key."
"But I am not going to be depressed," she cried perversely.
"I began a new system by going to that dance, and I mean
to stick to it. Clym can sing merrily; why should not I?"
Wildeve looked thoughtfully at her. "It is easier
to say you will sing than to do it; though if I could I
would encourage you in your attempt. But as life means
nothing to me, without one thing which is now impossible,
you will forgive me for not being able to encourage you."
"Damon, what is the matter with you, that you speak
like that?" she asked, raising her deep shady eyes to his.
"That's a thing I shall never tell plainly; and perhaps if I
try to tell you in riddles you will not care to guess them."
Eustacia remained silent for a minute, and she said,
"We are in a strange relationship today. You mince
matters to an uncommon nicety. You mean, Damon, that you
still love me. Well, that gives me sorrow, for I am not
made so entirely happy by my marriage that I am willing
to spurn you for the information, as I ought to do.
But we have said too much about this. Do you mean to wait
until my husband is awake?"
"I thought to speak to him; but it is unnecessary,
Eustacia, if I offend you by not forgetting you,
you are right to mention it; but do not talk of spurning."
She did not reply, and they stood looking musingly at Clym
as he slept on in that profound sleep which is the result
of physical labour carried on in circumstances that wake
no nervous fear.
"God, how I envy him that sweet sleep!" said Wildeve.
"I have not slept like that since I was a boy--years and
years ago."
While they thus watched him a click at the gate was audible,
and a knock came to the door. Eustacia went to a window
and looked out.
Her countenance changed. First she became crimson,
and then the red subsided till it even partially left
her lips.
"Shall I go away?" said Wildeve, standing up.
"I hardly know."
"Who is it?"
"Mrs. Yeobright. O, what she said to me that day! I
cannot understand this visit--what does she mean? And
she suspects that past time of ours."
"I am in your hands. If you think she had better not see
me here I'll go into the next room."
"Well, yes--go."
Wildeve at once withdrew; but before he had been half
a minute in the adjoining apartment Eustacia came after him.
"No," she said, "we won't have any of this. If she comes
in she must see you--and think if she likes there's
something wrong! But how can I open the door to her,
when she dislikes me--wishes to see not me, but her son?
I won't open the door!"
Mrs. Yeobright knocked again more loudly.
"Her knocking will, in all likelihood, awaken him,"
continued Eustacia, "and then he will let her in himself.
They could hear Clym moving in the other room, as if
disturbed by the knocking, and he uttered the word "Mother."
"Yes--he is awake--he will go to the door,"
she said, with a breath of relief. "Come this way.
I have a bad name with her, and you must not be seen.
Thus I am obliged to act by stealth, not because I do ill,
but because others are pleased to say so."
By this time she had taken him to the back door,
which was open, disclosing a path leading down the garden.
"Now, one word, Damon," she remarked as he stepped forth.
"This is your first visit here; let it be your last.
We have been hot lovers in our time, but it won't do now.
"Good-bye," said Wildeve. "I have had all I came for,
and I am satisfied."
"What was it?"
"A sight of you. Upon my eternal honour I came for no more."
Wildeve kissed his hand to the beautiful girl he addressed,
and passed into the garden, where she watched him down the path,
over the stile at the end, and into the ferns outside,
which brushed his hips as he went along till he became lost
in their thickets. When he had quite gone she slowly turned,
and directed her attention to the interior of the house.
But it was possible that her presence might not be
desired by Clym and his mother at this moment of their
first meeting, or that it would be superfluous.
At all events, she was in no hurry to meet Mrs. Yeobright.
She resolved to wait till Clym came to look for her,
and glided back into the garden. Here she idly occupied
herself for a few minutes, till finding no notice was
taken of her she retraced her steps through the house to
the front, where she listened for voices in the parlour.
But hearing none she opened the door and went in.
To her astonishment Clym lay precisely as Wildeve and herself
had left him, his sleep apparently unbroken. He had been
disturbed and made to dream and murmur by the knocking,
but he had not awakened. Eustacia hastened to the door,
and in spite of her reluctance to open it to a woman who had
spoken of her so bitterly, she unfastened it and looked out.
Nobody was to be seen. There, by the scraper, lay Clym's
hook and the handful of faggot-bonds he had brought home;
in front of her were the empty path, the garden gate standing
slightly ajar; and, beyond, the great valley of purple
heath thrilling silently in the sun. Mrs. Yeobright
was gone.
Clym's mother was at this time following a path which lay
hidden from Eustacia by a shoulder of the hill. Her walk
thither from the garden gate had been hasty and determined,
as of a woman who was now no less anxious to escape from
the scene than she had previously been to enter it.
Her eyes were fixed on the ground; within her two sights
were graven--that of Clym's hook and brambles at the door,
and that of a woman's face at a window. Her lips trembled,
becoming unnaturally thin as she murmured, "'Tis too
much--Clym, how can he bear to do it! He is at home;
and yet he lets her shut the door against me!"
In her anxiety to get out of the direct view of the house
she had diverged from the straightest path homeward,
and while looking about to regain it she came upon
a little boy gathering whortleberries in a hollow.
The boy was Johnny Nunsuch, who had been Eustacia's stoker
at the bonfire, and, with the tendency of a minute body
to gravitate towards a greater, he began hovering round
Mrs. Yeobright as soon as she appeared, and trotted on
beside her without perceptible consciousness of his act.
Mrs. Yeobright spoke to him as one in a mesmeric sleep.
"'Tis a long way home, my child, and we shall not get there
till evening."
"I shall," said her small companion. "I am going to play
marnels afore supper, and we go to supper at six o'clock,
because Father comes home. Does your father come home
at six too?"
"No, he never comes; nor my son either, nor anybody."
"What have made you so down? Have you seen a ooser?"
"I have seen what's worse--a woman's face looking at me
through a windowpane."
"Is that a bad sight?"
"Yes. It is always a bad sight to see a woman looking
out at a weary wayfarer and not letting her in."
"Once when I went to Throope Great Pond to catch effets
I seed myself looking up at myself, and I was frightened
and jumped back like anything."
..."If they had only shown signs of meeting my advances
halfway how well it might have been done! But there is
no chance. Shut out! She must have set him against me.
Can there be beautiful bodies without hearts inside? I
think so. I would not have done it against a neighbour's
cat on such a fiery day as this!"
"What is it you say?"
"Never again--never! Not even if they send for me!"
"You must be a very curious woman to talk like that."
"O no, not at all," she said, returning to the boy's prattle.
"Most people who grow up and have children talk as I do.
When you grow up your mother will talk as I do too."
"I hope she won't; because 'tis very bad to talk nonsense."
"Yes, child; it is nonsense, I suppose. Are you not
nearly spent with the heat?"
"Yes. But not so much as you be."
"How do you know?"
"Your face is white and wet, and your head is hanging-down-like."
"Ah, I am exhausted from inside."
"Why do you, every time you take a step, go like this?"
The child in speaking gave to his motion the jerk and limp
of an invalid.
"Because I have a burden which is more than I can bear."
The little boy remained silently pondering, and they
tottered on side by side until more than a quarter of an
hour had elapsed, when Mrs. Yeobright, whose weakness
plainly increased, said to him, "I must sit down here to rest."
When she had seated herself he looked long in her
face and said, "How funny you draw your breath--like
a lamb when you drive him till he's nearly done for.
Do you always draw your breath like that?"
"Not always." Her voice was now so low as to be scarcely
above a whisper.
"You will go to sleep there, I suppose, won't you? You
have shut your eyes already."
"No. I shall not sleep much till--another day, and then
I hope to have a long, long one--very long. Now can you
tell me if Rimsmoor Pond is dry this summer?"
"Rimsmoor Pond is, but Oker's Pool isn't, because he
is deep, and is never dry--'tis just over there."
"Is the water clear?"
"Yes, middling--except where the heath-croppers walk
into it."
"Then, take this, and go as fast as you can, and dip me
up the clearest you can find. I am very faint."
She drew from the small willow reticule that she carried
in her hand an old-fashioned china teacup without
a handle; it was one of half a dozen of the same sort
lying in the reticule, which she had preserved ever
since her childhood, and had brought with her today
as a small present for Clym and Eustacia.
The boy started on his errand, and soon came back with
the water, such as it was. Mrs. Yeobright attempted
to drink, but it was so warm as to give her nausea, and she
threw it away. Afterwards she still remained sitting,
with her eyes closed.
The boy waited, played near her, caught several of the little
brown butterflies which abounded, and then said as he
waited again, "I like going on better than biding still.
Will you soon start again?"
"I don't know."
"I wish I might go on by myself," he resumed,
fearing, apparently, that he was to be pressed
into some unpleasant service. "Do you want me any more, please?"
Mrs. Yeobright made no reply.
"What shall I tell Mother?" the boy continued.
"Tell her you have seen a broken-hearted woman cast off
by her son."
Before quite leaving her he threw upon her face a
wistful glance, as if he had misgivings on the generosity
of forsaking her thus. He gazed into her face in a vague,
wondering manner, like that of one examining some strange old
manuscript the key to whose characters is undiscoverable.
He was not so young as to be absolutely without a sense
that sympathy was demanded, he was not old enough to be
free from the terror felt in childhood at beholding misery
in adult quarters hither-to deemed impregnable; and whether
she were in a position to cause trouble or to suffer from it,
whether she and her affliction were something to pity
or something to fear, it was beyond him to decide.
He lowered his eyes and went on without another word.
Before he had gone half a mile he had forgotten all about her,
except that she was a woman who had sat down to rest.
Mrs. Yeobright's exertions, physical and emotional,
had well-nigh prostrated her; but she continued to creep
along in short stages with long breaks between. The sun
had now got far to the west of south and stood directly
in her face, like some merciless incendiary, brand in hand,
waiting to consume her. With the departure of the boy
all visible animation disappeared from the landscape,
though the intermittent husky notes of the male grasshoppers
from every tuft of furze were enough to show that amid
the prostration of the larger animal species an unseen
insect world was busy in all the fullness of life.
In two hours she reached a slope about three-fourths the
whole distance from Alderworth to her own home, where a
little patch of shepherd's-thyme intruded upon the path;
and she sat down upon the perfumed mat it formed there.
In front of her a colony of ants had established a
thoroughfare across the way, where they toiled a never-ending
and heavy-laden throng. To look down upon them was
like observing a city street from the top of a tower.
She remembered that this bustle of ants had been in
progress for years at the same spot--doubtless those of
the old times were the ancestors of these which walked
there now. She leant back to obtain more thorough rest,
and the soft eastern portion of the sky was as great
a relief to her eyes as the thyme was to her head.
While she looked a heron arose on that side of the sky
and flew on with his face towards the sun. He had come
dripping wet from some pool in the valleys, and as he
flew the edges and lining of his wings, his thighs
and his breast were so caught by the bright sunbeams
that he appeared as if formed of burnished silver.
Up in the zenith where he was seemed a free and happy place,
away from all contact with the earthly ball to which
she was pinioned; and she wished that she could arise
uncrushed from its surface and fly as he flew then.
But, being a mother, it was inevitable that she should soon
cease to ruminate upon her own condition. Had the track
of her next thought been marked by a streak in the air,
like the path of a meteor, it would have shown a direction
contrary to the heron's, and have descended to the eastward
upon the roof of Clym's house.
7 - The Tragic Meeting of Two Old Friends
He in the meantime had aroused himself from sleep, sat up,
and looked around. Eustacia was sitting in a chair hard
by him, and though she held a book in her hand she had
not looked into it for some time.
"Well, indeed!" said Clym, brushing his eyes with his hands.
"How soundly I have slept! I have had such a tremendous dream,
too--one I shall never forget."
"I thought you had been dreaming," said she.
"Yes. It was about my mother. I dreamt that I took you
to her house to make up differences, and when we got there we
couldn't get in, though she kept on crying to us for help.
However, dreams are dreams. What o'clock is it, Eustacia?"
"Half-past two."
"So late, is it? I didn't mean to stay so long. By the
time I have had something to eat it will be after three."
"Ann is not come back from the village, and I thought I
would let you sleep on till she returned."
Clym went to the window and looked out. Presently he said,
musingly, "Week after week passes, and yet Mother does not come.
I thought I should have heard something from her long before this."
Misgiving, regret, fear, resolution, ran their swift
course of expression in Eustacia's dark eyes.
She was face to face with a monstrous difficulty,
and she resolved to get free of it by postponement.
"I must certainly go to Blooms-End soon," he continued,
"and I think I had better go alone." He picked up his
leggings and gloves, threw them down again, and added,
"As dinner will be so late today I will not go back to
the heath, but work in the garden till the evening, and then,
when it will be cooler, I will walk to Blooms-End.
I am quite sure that if I make a little advance Mother
will be willing to forget all. It will be rather late
before I can get home, as I shall not be able to do the
distance either way in less than an hour and a half.
But you will not mind for one evening, dear? What are you
thinking of to make you look so abstracted?"
"I cannot tell you," she said heavily. "I wish we didn't
live here, Clym. The world seems all wrong in this place."

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