The Return of the Native 2; 0608

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?”

“Life.”

“That’s a cause of depression a good many have to put up with.”

“Yes.”

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?”

“Never.”

“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 ill-will 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 candle-light 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.

TO MR. WILDEVE.

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.

EUSTACIA.

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.”

“No?”

“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 downstairs.

“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.

“True?”

“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.”

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