The Return of the Native 4; 0104

BOOK FOUR — THE CLOSED DOOR

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.”

“Why?”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“Very much indeed?”

“Yes.”

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.”

“Yes?”

“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 furze-cutter’s wife?”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.”

“How?”

“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.

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