The Return of the Native 4; 0507

5–The Journey across the Heath

Thursday, the thirty-first of August, was one of a series of days during
which snug houses were stifling, and when cool draughts were treats;
when cracks appeared in clayey gardens, and were called “earthquakes” by
apprehensive children; when loose spokes were discovered in the wheels
of carts and carriages; and when stinging insects haunted the air, the
earth, and every drop of water that was to be found.

In Mrs. Yeobright’s garden large-leaved plants of a tender kind flagged
by ten o’clock in the morning; rhubarb bent downward at eleven; and even
stiff cabbages were limp by noon.

It was about eleven o’clock on this day that Mrs. Yeobright started
across the heath towards her son’s house, to do her best in getting
reconciled with him and Eustacia, in conformity with her words to the
reddleman. She had hoped to be well advanced in her walk before the heat
of the day was at its highest, but after setting out she found that this
was not to be done. The sun had branded the whole heath with its mark,
even the purple heath-flowers having put on a brownness under the dry
blazes of the few preceding days. Every valley was filled with air like
that of a kiln, and the clean quartz sand of the winter water-courses,
which formed summer paths, had undergone a species of incineration since
the drought had set in.

In cool, fresh weather Mrs. Yeobright would have found no inconvenience
in walking to Alderworth, but the present torrid attack made the journey
a heavy undertaking for a woman past middle age; and at the end of the
third mile she wished that she had hired Fairway to drive her a portion
at least of the distance. But from the point at which she had arrived it
was as easy to reach Clym’s house as to get home again. So she went on,
the air around her pulsating silently, and oppressing the earth with
lassitude. She looked at the sky overhead, and saw that the sapphirine
hue of the zenith in spring and early summer had been replaced by a
metallic violet.

Occasionally she came to a spot where independent worlds of ephemerons
were passing their time in mad carousal, some in the air, some on the
hot ground and vegetation, some in the tepid and stringy water of a
nearly dried pool. All the shallower ponds had decreased to a vaporous
mud amid which the maggoty shapes of innumerable obscure creatures could
be indistinctly seen, heaving and wallowing with enjoyment. Being a
woman not disinclined to philosophize she sometimes sat down under her
umbrella to rest and to watch their happiness, for a certain hopefulness
as to the result of her visit gave ease to her mind, and between
important thoughts left it free to dwell on any infinitesimal matter
which caught her eyes.

Mrs. Yeobright had never before been to her son’s house, and its exact
position was unknown to her. She tried one ascending path and another,
and found that they led her astray. Retracing her steps, she came again
to an open level, where she perceived at a distance a man at work. She
went towards him and inquired the way.

The labourer pointed out the direction, and added, “Do you see that
furze-cutter, ma’am, going up that footpath yond?”

Mrs. Yeobright strained her eyes, and at last said that she did perceive
him.

“Well, if you follow him you can make no mistake. He’s going to the same
place, ma’am.”

She followed the figure indicated. He appeared of a russet hue, not more
distinguishable from the scene around him than the green caterpillar
from the leaf it feeds on. His progress when actually walking was more
rapid than Mrs. Yeobright’s; but she was enabled to keep at an equable
distance from him by his habit of stopping whenever he came to a brake
of brambles, where he paused awhile. On coming in her turn to each of
these spots she found half a dozen long limp brambles which he had cut
from the bush during his halt and laid out straight beside the path.
They were evidently intended for furze-faggot bonds which he meant to
collect on his return.

The silent being who thus occupied himself seemed to be of no more
account in life than an insect. He appeared as a mere parasite of
the heath, fretting its surface in his daily labour as a moth frets a
garment, entirely engrossed with its products, having no knowledge of
anything in the world but fern, furze, heath, lichens, and moss.

The furze-cutter was so absorbed in the business of his journey that he
never turned his head; and his leather-legged and gauntleted form at
length became to her as nothing more than a moving handpost to show her
the way. Suddenly she was attracted to his individuality by observing
peculiarities in his walk. It was a gait she had seen somewhere before;
and the gait revealed the man to her, as the gait of Ahimaaz in the
distant plain made him known to the watchman of the king. “His walk
is exactly as my husband’s used to be,” she said; and then the thought
burst upon her that the furze-cutter was her son.

She was scarcely able to familiarize herself with this strange reality.
She had been told that Clym was in the habit of cutting furze, but she
had supposed that he occupied himself with the labour only at odd times,
by way of useful pastime; yet she now beheld him as a furze-cutter and
nothing more–wearing the regulation dress of the craft, and thinking
the regulation thoughts, to judge by his motions. Planning a dozen hasty
schemes for at once preserving him and Eustacia from this mode of life,
she throbbingly followed the way, and saw him enter his own door.

At one side of Clym’s house was a knoll, and on the top of the knoll a
clump of fir trees so highly thrust up into the sky that their foliage
from a distance appeared as a black spot in the air above the crown
of the hill. On reaching this place Mrs. Yeobright felt distressingly
agitated, weary, and unwell. She ascended, and sat down under their
shade to recover herself, and to consider how best to break the ground
with Eustacia, so as not to irritate a woman underneath whose apparent
indolence lurked passions even stronger and more active than her own.

The trees beneath which she sat were singularly battered, rude, and
wild, and for a few minutes Mrs. Yeobright dismissed thoughts of her own
storm-broken and exhausted state to contemplate theirs. Not a bough in
the nine trees which composed the group but was splintered, lopped,
and distorted by the fierce weather that there held them at its mercy
whenever it prevailed. Some were blasted and split as if by lightning,
black stains as from fire marking their sides, while the ground at their
feet was strewn with dead fir-needles and heaps of cones blown down in
the gales of past years. The place was called the Devil’s Bellows, and
it was only necessary to come there on a March or November night to
discover the forcible reasons for that name. On the present heated
afternoon, when no perceptible wind was blowing, the trees kept up a
perpetual moan which one could hardly believe to be caused by the air.

Here she sat for twenty minutes or more ere she could summon resolution
to go down to the door, her courage being lowered to zero by her
physical lassitude. To any other person than a mother it might have
seemed a little humiliating that she, the elder of the two women, should
be the first to make advances. But Mrs. Yeobright had well considered
all that, and she only thought how best to make her visit appear to
Eustacia not abject but wise.

From her elevated position the exhausted woman could perceive the roof
of the house below, and the garden and the whole enclosure of the
little domicile. And now, at the moment of rising, she saw a second man
approaching the gate. His manner was peculiar, hesitating, and not that
of a person come on business or by invitation. He surveyed the house
with interest, and then walked round and scanned the outer boundary
of the garden, as one might have done had it been the birthplace of
Shakespeare, the prison of Mary Stuart, or the Chateau of Hougomont.
After passing round and again reaching the gate he went in. Mrs.
Yeobright was vexed at this, having reckoned on finding her son and his
wife by themselves; but a moment’s thought showed her that the
presence of an acquaintance would take off the awkwardness of her first
appearance in the house, by confining the talk to general matters until
she had begun to feel comfortable with them. She came down the hill to
the gate, and looked into the hot garden.

There lay the cat asleep on the bare gravel of the path, as if beds,
rugs, and carpets were unendurable. The leaves of the hollyhocks hung
like half-closed umbrellas, the sap almost simmered in the stems, and
foliage with a smooth surface glared like metallic mirrors. A small
apple tree, of the sort called Ratheripe, grew just inside the gate, the
only one which throve in the garden, by reason of the lightness of
the soil; and among the fallen apples on the ground beneath were wasps
rolling drunk with the juice, or creeping about the little caves in each
fruit which they had eaten out before stupefied by its sweetness. By the
door lay Clym’s furze-hook and the last handful of faggot-bonds she had
seen him gather; they had plainly been thrown down there as he entered
the house.

6–A Conjuncture, and Its Result upon the Pedestrian

Wildeve, as has been stated, was determined to visit Eustacia boldly, by
day, and on the easy terms of a relation, since the reddleman had spied
out and spoilt his walks to her by night. The spell that she had thrown
over him in the moonlight dance made it impossible for a man having no
strong puritanic force within him to keep away altogether. He merely
calculated on meeting her and her husband in an ordinary manner,
chatting a little while, and leaving again. Every outward sign was to be
conventional; but the one great fact would be there to satisfy him–he
would see her. He did not even desire Clym’s absence, since it was just
possible that Eustacia might resent any situation which could compromise
her dignity as a wife, whatever the state of her heart towards him.
Women were often so.

He went accordingly; and it happened that the time of his arrival
coincided with that of Mrs. Yeobright’s pause on the hill near the
house. When he had looked round the premises in the manner she had
noticed he went and knocked at the door. There was a few minutes’
interval, and then the key turned in the lock, the door opened, and
Eustacia herself confronted him.

Nobody could have imagined from her bearing now that here stood the
woman who had joined with him in the impassioned dance of the week
before, unless indeed he could have penetrated below the surface and
gauged the real depth of that still stream.

“I hope you reached home safely?” said Wildeve.

“O yes,” she carelessly returned.

“And were you not tired the next day? I feared you might be.”

“I was rather. You need not speak low–nobody will over-hear us. My
small servant is gone on an errand to the village.”

“Then Clym is not at home?”

“Yes, he is.”

“O! I thought that perhaps you had locked the door because you were
alone and were afraid of tramps.”

“No–here is my husband.”

They had been standing in the entry. Closing the front door and turning
the key, as before, she threw open the door of the adjoining room and
asked him to walk in. Wildeve entered, the room appearing to be empty;
but as soon as he had advanced a few steps he started. On the hearthrug
lay Clym asleep. Beside him were the leggings, thick boots, leather
gloves, and sleeve-waistcoat in which he worked.

“You may go in; you will not disturb him,” she said, following behind.
“My reason for fastening the door is that he may not be intruded upon
by any chance comer while lying here, if I should be in the garden or
upstairs.”

“Why is he sleeping there?” said Wildeve in low tones.

“He is very weary. He went out at half-past four this morning, and has
been working ever since. He cuts furze because it is the only thing he
can do that does not put any strain upon his poor eyes.” The contrast
between the sleeper’s appearance and Wildeve’s at this moment was
painfully apparent to Eustacia, Wildeve being elegantly dressed in a new
summer suit and light hat; and she continued: “Ah! you don’t know how
differently he appeared when I first met him, though it is such a little
while ago. His hands were as white and soft as mine; and look at them
now, how rough and brown they are! His complexion is by nature fair, and
that rusty look he has now, all of a colour with his leather clothes, is
caused by the burning of the sun.”

“Why does he go out at all!” Wildeve whispered.

“Because he hates to be idle; though what he earns doesn’t add much to
our exchequer. However, he says that when people are living upon their
capital they must keep down current expenses by turning a penny where
they can.”

“The fates have not been kind to you, Eustacia Yeobright.”

“I have nothing to thank them for.”

“Nor has he–except for their one great gift to him.”

“What’s that?”

Wildeve looked her in the eyes.

Eustacia blushed for the first time that day. “Well, I am a questionable
gift,” she said quietly. “I thought you meant the gift of content–which
he has, and I have not.”

“I can understand content in such a case–though how the outward
situation can attract him puzzles me.”

“That’s because you don’t know him. He’s an enthusiast about ideas, and
careless about outward things. He often reminds me of the Apostle Paul.”

“I am glad to hear that he’s so grand in character as that.”

“Yes; but the worst of it is that though Paul was excellent as a man in
the Bible he would hardly have done in real life.”

Their voices had instinctively dropped lower, though at first they had
taken no particular care to avoid awakening Clym. “Well, if that means
that your marriage is a misfortune to you, you know who is to blame,”
said Wildeve.

“The marriage is no misfortune in itself,” she retorted with some little
petulance. “It is simply the accident which has happened since that has
been the cause of my ruin. I have certainly got thistles for figs in a
worldly sense, but how could I tell what time would bring forth?”

“Sometimes, Eustacia, I think it is a judgment upon you. You rightly
belonged to me, you know; and I had no idea of losing you.”

“No, it was not my fault! Two could not belong to you; and remember
that, before I was aware, you turned aside to another woman. It was
cruel levity in you to do that. I never dreamt of playing such a game on
my side till you began it on yours.”

“I meant nothing by it,” replied Wildeve. “It was a mere interlude. Men
are given to the trick of having a passing fancy for somebody else in
the midst of a permanent love, which reasserts itself afterwards just as
before. On account of your rebellious manner to me I was tempted to go
further than I should have done; and when you still would keep playing
the same tantalizing part I went further still, and married her.”
Turning and looking again at the unconscious form of Clym, he murmured,
“I am afraid that you don’t value your prize, Clym….He ought to be
happier than I in one thing at least. He may know what it is to come
down in the world, and to be afflicted with a great personal calamity;
but he probably doesn’t know what it is to lose the woman he loved.”

“He is not ungrateful for winning her,” whispered Eustacia, “and in that
respect he is a good man. Many women would go far for such a husband.
But do I desire unreasonably much in wanting what is called life–music,
poetry, passion, war, and all the beating and pulsing that are going on
in the great arteries of the world? That was the shape of my youthful
dream; but I did not get it. Yet I thought I saw the way to it in my
Clym.”

“And you only married him on that account?”

“There you mistake me. I married him because I loved him, but I won’t
say that I didn’t love him partly because I thought I saw a promise of
that life in him.”

“You have dropped into your old mournful key.”

“But I am not going to be depressed,” she cried perversely. “I began a
new system by going to that dance, and I mean to stick to it. Clym can
sing merrily; why should not I?”

Wildeve looked thoughtfully at her. “It is easier to say you will sing
than to do it; though if I could I would encourage you in your attempt.
But as life means nothing to me, without one thing which is now
impossible, you will forgive me for not being able to encourage you.”

“Damon, what is the matter with you, that you speak like that?” she
asked, raising her deep shady eyes to his.

“That’s a thing I shall never tell plainly; and perhaps if I try to tell
you in riddles you will not care to guess them.”

Eustacia remained silent for a minute, and she said, “We are in a
strange relationship today. You mince matters to an uncommon nicety. You
mean, Damon, that you still love me. Well, that gives me sorrow, for I
am not made so entirely happy by my marriage that I am willing to spurn
you for the information, as I ought to do. But we have said too much
about this. Do you mean to wait until my husband is awake?”

“I thought to speak to him; but it is unnecessary, Eustacia, if I offend
you by not forgetting you, you are right to mention it; but do not talk
of spurning.”

She did not reply, and they stood looking musingly at Clym as he slept
on in that profound sleep which is the result of physical labour carried
on in circumstances that wake no nervous fear.

“God, how I envy him that sweet sleep!” said Wildeve. “I have not slept
like that since I was a boy–years and years ago.”

While they thus watched him a click at the gate was audible, and a knock
came to the door. Eustacia went to a window and looked out.

Her countenance changed. First she became crimson, and then the red
subsided till it even partially left her lips.

“Shall I go away?” said Wildeve, standing up.

“I hardly know.”

“Who is it?”

“Mrs. Yeobright. O, what she said to me that day! I cannot understand
this visit–what does she mean? And she suspects that past time of
ours.”

“I am in your hands. If you think she had better not see me here I’ll go
into the next room.”

“Well, yes–go.”

Wildeve at once withdrew; but before he had been half a minute in the
adjoining apartment Eustacia came after him.

“No,” she said, “we won’t have any of this. If she comes in she must see
you–and think if she likes there’s something wrong! But how can I open
the door to her, when she dislikes me–wishes to see not me, but her
son? I won’t open the door!”

Mrs. Yeobright knocked again more loudly.

“Her knocking will, in all likelihood, awaken him,” continued Eustacia,
“and then he will let her in himself. Ah–listen.”

They could hear Clym moving in the other room, as if disturbed by the
knocking, and he uttered the word “Mother.”

“Yes–he is awake–he will go to the door,” she said, with a breath of
relief. “Come this way. I have a bad name with her, and you must not
be seen. Thus I am obliged to act by stealth, not because I do ill, but
because others are pleased to say so.”

By this time she had taken him to the back door, which was open,
disclosing a path leading down the garden. “Now, one word, Damon,” she
remarked as he stepped forth. “This is your first visit here; let it
be your last. We have been hot lovers in our time, but it won’t do now.
Good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” said Wildeve. “I have had all I came for, and I am
satisfied.”

“What was it?”

“A sight of you. Upon my eternal honour I came for no more.”

Wildeve kissed his hand to the beautiful girl he addressed, and passed
into the garden, where she watched him down the path, over the stile at
the end, and into the ferns outside, which brushed his hips as he went
along till he became lost in their thickets. When he had quite gone she
slowly turned, and directed her attention to the interior of the house.

But it was possible that her presence might not be desired by Clym and
his mother at this moment of their first meeting, or that it would be
superfluous. At all events, she was in no hurry to meet Mrs. Yeobright.
She resolved to wait till Clym came to look for her, and glided back
into the garden. Here she idly occupied herself for a few minutes, till
finding no notice was taken of her she retraced her steps through the
house to the front, where she listened for voices in the parlour. But
hearing none she opened the door and went in. To her astonishment Clym
lay precisely as Wildeve and herself had left him, his sleep apparently
unbroken. He had been disturbed and made to dream and murmur by the
knocking, but he had not awakened. Eustacia hastened to the door, and in
spite of her reluctance to open it to a woman who had spoken of her
so bitterly, she unfastened it and looked out. Nobody was to be seen.
There, by the scraper, lay Clym’s hook and the handful of faggot-bonds
he had brought home; in front of her were the empty path, the garden
gate standing slightly ajar; and, beyond, the great valley of purple
heath thrilling silently in the sun. Mrs. Yeobright was gone.

Clym’s mother was at this time following a path which lay hidden from
Eustacia by a shoulder of the hill. Her walk thither from the garden
gate had been hasty and determined, as of a woman who was now no less
anxious to escape from the scene than she had previously been to enter
it. Her eyes were fixed on the ground; within her two sights were
graven–that of Clym’s hook and brambles at the door, and that of a
woman’s face at a window. Her lips trembled, becoming unnaturally thin
as she murmured, “‘Tis too much–Clym, how can he bear to do it! He is
at home; and yet he lets her shut the door against me!”

In her anxiety to get out of the direct view of the house she had
diverged from the straightest path homeward, and while looking about
to regain it she came upon a little boy gathering whortleberries in a
hollow. The boy was Johnny Nunsuch, who had been Eustacia’s stoker
at the bonfire, and, with the tendency of a minute body to gravitate
towards a greater, he began hovering round Mrs. Yeobright as soon as she
appeared, and trotted on beside her without perceptible consciousness of
his act.

Mrs. Yeobright spoke to him as one in a mesmeric sleep. “‘Tis a long way
home, my child, and we shall not get there till evening.”

“I shall,” said her small companion. “I am going to play marnels afore
supper, and we go to supper at six o’clock, because Father comes home.
Does your father come home at six too?”

“No, he never comes; nor my son either, nor anybody.”

“What have made you so down? Have you seen a ooser?”

“I have seen what’s worse–a woman’s face looking at me through a
windowpane.”

“Is that a bad sight?”

“Yes. It is always a bad sight to see a woman looking out at a weary
wayfarer and not letting her in.”

“Once when I went to Throope Great Pond to catch effets I seed myself
looking up at myself, and I was frightened and jumped back like
anything.”

…”If they had only shown signs of meeting my advances halfway how well
it might have been done! But there is no chance. Shut out! She must have
set him against me. Can there be beautiful bodies without hearts inside?
I think so. I would not have done it against a neighbour’s cat on such a
fiery day as this!”

“What is it you say?”

“Never again–never! Not even if they send for me!”

“You must be a very curious woman to talk like that.”

“O no, not at all,” she said, returning to the boy’s prattle. “Most
people who grow up and have children talk as I do. When you grow up your
mother will talk as I do too.”

“I hope she won’t; because ’tis very bad to talk nonsense.”

“Yes, child; it is nonsense, I suppose. Are you not nearly spent with
the heat?”

“Yes. But not so much as you be.”

“How do you know?”

“Your face is white and wet, and your head is hanging-down-like.”

“Ah, I am exhausted from inside.”

“Why do you, every time you take a step, go like this?” The child in
speaking gave to his motion the jerk and limp of an invalid.

“Because I have a burden which is more than I can bear.”

The little boy remained silently pondering, and they tottered on side
by side until more than a quarter of an hour had elapsed, when Mrs.
Yeobright, whose weakness plainly increased, said to him, “I must sit
down here to rest.”

When she had seated herself he looked long in her face and said, “How
funny you draw your breath–like a lamb when you drive him till he’s
nearly done for. Do you always draw your breath like that?”

“Not always.” Her voice was now so low as to be scarcely above a
whisper.

“You will go to sleep there, I suppose, won’t you? You have shut your
eyes already.”

“No. I shall not sleep much till–another day, and then I hope to have
a long, long one–very long. Now can you tell me if Rimsmoor Pond is dry
this summer?”

“Rimsmoor Pond is, but Oker’s Pool isn’t, because he is deep, and is
never dry–’tis just over there.”

“Is the water clear?”

“Yes, middling–except where the heath-croppers walk into it.”

“Then, take this, and go as fast as you can, and dip me up the clearest
you can find. I am very faint.”

She drew from the small willow reticule that she carried in her hand an
old-fashioned china teacup without a handle; it was one of half a dozen
of the same sort lying in the reticule, which she had preserved ever
since her childhood, and had brought with her today as a small present
for Clym and Eustacia.

The boy started on his errand, and soon came back with the water, such
as it was. Mrs. Yeobright attempted to drink, but it was so warm as to
give her nausea, and she threw it away. Afterwards she still remained
sitting, with her eyes closed.

The boy waited, played near her, caught several of the little brown
butterflies which abounded, and then said as he waited again, “I like
going on better than biding still. Will you soon start again?”

“I don’t know.”

“I wish I might go on by myself,” he resumed, fearing, apparently, that
he was to be pressed into some unpleasant service. “Do you want me any
more, please?”

Mrs. Yeobright made no reply.

“What shall I tell Mother?” the boy continued.

“Tell her you have seen a broken-hearted woman cast off by her son.”

Before quite leaving her he threw upon her face a wistful glance, as if
he had misgivings on the generosity of forsaking her thus. He gazed into
her face in a vague, wondering manner, like that of one examining some
strange old manuscript the key to whose characters is undiscoverable. He
was not so young as to be absolutely without a sense that sympathy
was demanded, he was not old enough to be free from the terror felt
in childhood at beholding misery in adult quarters hither-to deemed
impregnable; and whether she were in a position to cause trouble or to
suffer from it, whether she and her affliction were something to pity or
something to fear, it was beyond him to decide. He lowered his eyes
and went on without another word. Before he had gone half a mile he had
forgotten all about her, except that she was a woman who had sat down to
rest.

Mrs. Yeobright’s exertions, physical and emotional, had well-nigh
prostrated her; but she continued to creep along in short stages with
long breaks between. The sun had now got far to the west of south and
stood directly in her face, like some merciless incendiary, brand in
hand, waiting to consume her. With the departure of the boy all visible
animation disappeared from the landscape, though the intermittent husky
notes of the male grasshoppers from every tuft of furze were enough to
show that amid the prostration of the larger animal species an unseen
insect world was busy in all the fullness of life.

In two hours she reached a slope about three-fourths the whole
distance from Alderworth to her own home, where a little patch of
shepherd’s-thyme intruded upon the path; and she sat down upon the
perfumed mat it formed there. In front of her a colony of ants
had established a thoroughfare across the way, where they toiled a
never-ending and heavy-laden throng. To look down upon them was like
observing a city street from the top of a tower. She remembered
that this bustle of ants had been in progress for years at the same
spot–doubtless those of the old times were the ancestors of these which
walked there now. She leant back to obtain more thorough rest, and the
soft eastern portion of the sky was as great a relief to her eyes as the
thyme was to her head. While she looked a heron arose on that side of
the sky and flew on with his face towards the sun. He had come dripping
wet from some pool in the valleys, and as he flew the edges and lining
of his wings, his thighs and his breast were so caught by the bright
sunbeams that he appeared as if formed of burnished silver. Up in the
zenith where he was seemed a free and happy place, away from all contact
with the earthly ball to which she was pinioned; and she wished that she
could arise uncrushed from its surface and fly as he flew then.

But, being a mother, it was inevitable that she should soon cease to
ruminate upon her own condition. Had the track of her next thought been
marked by a streak in the air, like the path of a meteor, it would have
shown a direction contrary to the heron’s, and have descended to the
eastward upon the roof of Clym’s house.

7–The Tragic Meeting of Two Old Friends

He in the meantime had aroused himself from sleep, sat up, and looked
around. Eustacia was sitting in a chair hard by him, and though she held
a book in her hand she had not looked into it for some time.

“Well, indeed!” said Clym, brushing his eyes with his hands. “How
soundly I have slept! I have had such a tremendous dream, too–one I
shall never forget.”

“I thought you had been dreaming,” said she.

“Yes. It was about my mother. I dreamt that I took you to her house to
make up differences, and when we got there we couldn’t get in, though
she kept on crying to us for help. However, dreams are dreams. What
o’clock is it, Eustacia?”

“Half-past two.”

“So late, is it? I didn’t mean to stay so long. By the time I have had
something to eat it will be after three.”

“Ann is not come back from the village, and I thought I would let you
sleep on till she returned.”

Clym went to the window and looked out. Presently he said, musingly,
“Week after week passes, and yet Mother does not come. I thought I
should have heard something from her long before this.”

Misgiving, regret, fear, resolution, ran their swift course of
expression in Eustacia’s dark eyes. She was face to face with
a monstrous difficulty, and she resolved to get free of it by
postponement.

“I must certainly go to Blooms-End soon,” he continued, “and I think I
had better go alone.” He picked up his leggings and gloves, threw them
down again, and added, “As dinner will be so late today I will not go
back to the heath, but work in the garden till the evening, and then,
when it will be cooler, I will walk to Blooms-End. I am quite sure that
if I make a little advance Mother will be willing to forget all. It will
be rather late before I can get home, as I shall not be able to do the
distance either way in less than an hour and a half. But you will not
mind for one evening, dear? What are you thinking of to make you look so
abstracted?”

“I cannot tell you,” she said heavily. “I wish we didn’t live here,
Clym. The world seems all wrong in this place.”

“Well–if we make it so. I wonder if Thomasin has been to Blooms-End
lately. I hope so. But probably not, as she is, I believe, expecting to
be confined in a month or so. I wish I had thought of that before. Poor
Mother must indeed be very lonely.”

“I don’t like you going tonight.”

“Why not tonight?”

“Something may be said which will terribly injure me.”

“My mother is not vindictive,” said Clym, his colour faintly rising.

“But I wish you would not go,” Eustacia repeated in a low tone. “If you
agree not to go tonight I promise to go by myself to her house tomorrow,
and make it up with her, and wait till you fetch me.”

“Why do you want to do that at this particular time, when at every
previous time that I have proposed it you have refused?”

“I cannot explain further than that I should like to see her alone
before you go,” she answered, with an impatient move of her head, and
looking at him with an anxiety more frequently seen upon those of a
sanguine temperament than upon such as herself.

“Well, it is very odd that just when I had decided to go myself you
should want to do what I proposed long ago. If I wait for you to go
tomorrow another day will be lost; and I know I shall be unable to rest
another night without having been. I want to get this settled, and will.
You must visit her afterwards–it will be all the same.”

“I could even go with you now?”

“You could scarcely walk there and back without a longer rest than I
shall take. No, not tonight, Eustacia.”

“Let it be as you say, then,” she replied in the quiet way of one who,
though willing to ward off evil consequences by a mild effort, would let
events fall out as they might sooner than wrestle hard to direct them.

Clym then went into the garden; and a thoughtful languor stole
over Eustacia for the remainder of the afternoon, which her husband
attributed to the heat of the weather.

In the evening he set out on the journey. Although the heat of summer
was yet intense the days had considerably shortened, and before he had
advanced a mile on his way all the heath purples, browns, and greens
had merged in a uniform dress without airiness or graduation, and broken
only by touches of white where the little heaps of clean quartz sand
showed the entrance to a rabbit burrow, or where the white flints of a
footpath lay like a thread over the slopes. In almost every one of
the isolated and stunted thorns which grew here and there a nighthawk
revealed his presence by whirring like the clack of a mill as long as he
could hold his breath, then stopping, flapping his wings, wheeling round
the bush, alighting, and after a silent interval of listening beginning
to whirr again. At each brushing of Clym’s feet white millermoths
flew into the air just high enough to catch upon their dusty wings the
mellowed light from the west, which now shone across the depressions and
levels of the ground without falling thereon to light them up.

Yeobright walked on amid this quiet scene with a hope that all would
soon be well. Three miles on he came to a spot where a soft perfume was
wafted across his path, and he stood still for a moment to inhale the
familiar scent. It was the place at which, four hours earlier,
his mother had sat down exhausted on the knoll covered with
shepherd’s-thyme. While he stood a sound between a breathing and a moan
suddenly reached his ears.

He looked to where the sound came from; but nothing appeared there save
the verge of the hillock stretching against the sky in an unbroken line.
He moved a few steps in that direction, and now he perceived a recumbent
figure almost close to his feet.

Among the different possibilities as to the person’s individuality there
did not for a moment occur to Yeobright that it might be one of his own
family. Sometimes furze-cutters had been known to sleep out of doors at
these times, to save a long journey homeward and back again; but
Clym remembered the moan and looked closer, and saw that the form was
feminine; and a distress came over him like cold air from a cave. But he
was not absolutely certain that the woman was his mother till he stooped
and beheld her face, pallid, and with closed eyes.

His breath went, as it were, out of his body and the cry of anguish
which would have escaped him died upon his lips. During the momentary
interval that elapsed before he became conscious that something must be
done all sense of time and place left him, and it seemed as if he and
his mother were as when he was a child with her many years ago on this
heath at hours similar to the present. Then he awoke to activity; and
bending yet lower he found that she still breathed, and that her breath
though feeble was regular, except when disturbed by an occasional gasp.

“O, what is it! Mother, are you very ill–you are not dying?” he cried,
pressing his lips to her face. “I am your Clym. How did you come here?
What does it all mean?”

At that moment the chasm in their lives which his love for Eustacia had
caused was not remembered by Yeobright, and to him the present joined
continuously with that friendly past that had been their experience
before the division.

She moved her lips, appeared to know him, but could not speak; and then
Clym strove to consider how best to move her, as it would be necessary
to get her away from the spot before the dews were intense. He was
able-bodied, and his mother was thin. He clasped his arms round her,
lifted her a little, and said, “Does that hurt you?”

She shook her head, and he lifted her up; then, at a slow pace, went
onward with his load. The air was now completely cool; but whenever he
passed over a sandy patch of ground uncarpeted with vegetation there was
reflected from its surface into his face the heat which it had imbibed
during the day. At the beginning of his undertaking he had thought
but little of the distance which yet would have to be traversed before
Blooms-End could be reached; but though he had slept that afternoon he
soon began to feel the weight of his burden. Thus he proceeded, like
Aeneas with his father; the bats circling round his head, nightjars
flapping their wings within a yard of his face, and not a human being
within call.

While he was yet nearly a mile from the house his mother exhibited signs
of restlessness under the constraint of being borne along, as if his
arms were irksome to her. He lowered her upon his knees and looked
around. The point they had now reached, though far from any road, was
not more than a mile from the Blooms-End cottages occupied by Fairway,
Sam, Humphrey, and the Cantles. Moreover, fifty yards off stood a hut,
built of clods and covered with thin turves, but now entirely disused.
The simple outline of the lonely shed was visible, and thither he
determined to direct his steps. As soon as he arrived he laid her down
carefully by the entrance, and then ran and cut with his pocketknife
an armful of the dryest fern. Spreading this within the shed, which was
entirely open on one side, he placed his mother thereon; then he ran
with all his might towards the dwelling of Fairway.

Nearly a quarter of an hour had passed, disturbed only by the broken
breathing of the sufferer, when moving figures began to animate the
line between heath and sky. In a few moments Clym arrived with Fairway,
Humphrey, and Susan Nunsuch; Olly Dowden, who had chanced to be at
Fairway’s, Christian and Grandfer Cantle following helter-skelter
behind. They had brought a lantern and matches, water, a pillow, and a
few other articles which had occurred to their minds in the hurry of the
moment. Sam had been despatched back again for brandy, and a boy brought
Fairway’s pony, upon which he rode off to the nearest medical man, with
directions to call at Wildeve’s on his way, and inform Thomasin that her
aunt was unwell.

Sam and the brandy soon arrived, and it was administered by the light of
the lantern; after which she became sufficiently conscious to signify
by signs that something was wrong with her foot. Olly Dowden at length
understood her meaning, and examined the foot indicated. It was swollen
and red. Even as they watched the red began to assume a more livid
colour, in the midst of which appeared a scarlet speck, smaller than a
pea, and it was found to consist of a drop of blood, which rose above
the smooth flesh of her ankle in a hemisphere.

“I know what it is,” cried Sam. “She has been stung by an adder!”

“Yes,” said Clym instantly. “I remember when I was a child seeing just
such a bite. O, my poor mother!”

“It was my father who was bit,” said Sam. “And there’s only one way to
cure it. You must rub the place with the fat of other adders, and the
only way to get that is by frying them. That’s what they did for him.”

“‘Tis an old remedy,” said Clym distrustfully, “and I have doubts about
it. But we can do nothing else till the doctor comes.”

“‘Tis a sure cure,” said Olly Dowden, with emphasis. “I’ve used it when
I used to go out nursing.”

“Then we must pray for daylight, to catch them,” said Clym gloomily.

“I will see what I can do,” said Sam.

He took a green hazel which he had used as a walking stick, split it at
the end, inserted a small pebble, and with the lantern in his hand
went out into the heath. Clym had by this time lit a small fire, and
despatched Susan Nunsuch for a frying pan. Before she had returned Sam
came in with three adders, one briskly coiling and uncoiling in the
cleft of the stick, and the other two hanging dead across it.

“I have only been able to get one alive and fresh as he ought to be,”
said Sam. “These limp ones are two I killed today at work; but as they
don’t die till the sun goes down they can’t be very stale meat.”

The live adder regarded the assembled group with a sinister look in its
small black eye, and the beautiful brown and jet pattern on its back
seemed to intensify with indignation. Mrs. Yeobright saw the creature,
and the creature saw her–she quivered throughout, and averted her eyes.

“Look at that,” murmured Christian Cantle. “Neighbours, how do we know
but that something of the old serpent in God’s garden, that gied the
apple to the young woman with no clothes, lives on in adders and snakes
still? Look at his eye–for all the world like a villainous sort of
black currant. ‘Tis to be hoped he can’t ill-wish us! There’s folks in
heath who’ve been overlooked already. I will never kill another adder as
long as I live.”

“Well, ’tis right to be afeard of things, if folks can’t help it,” said
Grandfer Cantle. “‘Twould have saved me many a brave danger in my time.”

“I fancy I heard something outside the shed,” said Christian. “I wish
troubles would come in the daytime, for then a man could show his
courage, and hardly beg for mercy of the most broomstick old woman he
should see, if he was a brave man, and able to run out of her sight!”

“Even such an ignorant fellow as I should know better than do that,”
said Sam.

“Well, there’s calamities where we least expect it, whether or no.
Neighbours, if Mrs. Yeobright were to die, d’ye think we should be took
up and tried for the manslaughter of a woman?”

“No, they couldn’t bring it in as that,” said Sam, “unless they could
prove we had been poachers at some time of our lives. But she’ll fetch
round.”

“Now, if I had been stung by ten adders I should hardly have lost a
day’s work for’t,” said Grandfer Cantle. “Such is my spirit when I am on
my mettle. But perhaps ’tis natural in a man trained for war. Yes, I’ve
gone through a good deal; but nothing ever came amiss to me after I
joined the Locals in four.” He shook his head and smiled at a mental
picture of himself in uniform. “I was always first in the most
galliantest scrapes in my younger days!”

“I suppose that was because they always used to put the biggest fool
afore,” said Fairway from the fire, beside which he knelt, blowing it
with his breath.

“D’ye think so, Timothy?” said Grandfer Cantle, coming forward to
Fairway’s side with sudden depression in his face. “Then a man may feel
for years that he is good solid company, and be wrong about himself
after all?”

“Never mind that question, Grandfer. Stir your stumps and get some more
sticks. ‘Tis very nonsense of an old man to prattle so when life and
death’s in mangling.”

“Yes, yes,” said Grandfer Cantle, with melancholy conviction. “Well,
this is a bad night altogether for them that have done well in their
time; and if I were ever such a dab at the hautboy or tenor viol, I
shouldn’t have the heart to play tunes upon ’em now.”

Susan now arrived with the frying pan, when the live adder was killed
and the heads of the three taken off. The remainders, being cut into
lengths and split open, were tossed into the pan, which began hissing
and crackling over the fire. Soon a rill of clear oil trickled from the
carcases, whereupon Clym dipped the corner of his handkerchief into the
liquid and anointed the wound.

8–Eustacia Hears of Good Fortune, and Beholds Evil

In the meantime Eustacia, left alone in her cottage at Alderworth,
had become considerably depressed by the posture of affairs. The
consequences which might result from Clym’s discovery that his mother
had been turned from his door that day were likely to be disagreeable,
and this was a quality in events which she hated as much as the
dreadful.

To be left to pass the evening by herself was irksome to her at any
time, and this evening it was more irksome than usual by reason of
the excitements of the past hours. The two visits had stirred her into
restlessness. She was not wrought to any great pitch of uneasiness by
the probability of appearing in an ill light in the discussion between
Clym and his mother, but she was wrought to vexation, and her slumbering
activities were quickened to the extent of wishing that she had opened
the door. She had certainly believed that Clym was awake, and the excuse
would be an honest one as far as it went; but nothing could save her
from censure in refusing to answer at the first knock. Yet, instead of
blaming herself for the issue she laid the fault upon the shoulders
of some indistinct, colossal Prince of the World, who had framed her
situation and ruled her lot.

At this time of the year it was pleasanter to walk by night than by day,
and when Clym had been absent about an hour she suddenly resolved to go
out in the direction of Blooms-End, on the chance of meeting him on his
return. When she reached the garden gate she heard wheels approaching,
and looking round beheld her grandfather coming up in his car.

“I can’t stay a minute, thank ye,” he answered to her greeting. “I am
driving to East Egdon; but I came round here just to tell you the news.
Perhaps you have heard–about Mr. Wildeve’s fortune?”

“No,” said Eustacia blankly.

“Well, he has come into a fortune of eleven thousand pounds–uncle died
in Canada, just after hearing that all his family, whom he was sending
home, had gone to the bottom in the Cassiopeia; so Wildeve has come into
everything, without in the least expecting it.”

Eustacia stood motionless awhile. “How long has he known of this?” she
asked.

“Well, it was known to him this morning early, for I knew it at ten
o’clock, when Charley came back. Now, he is what I call a lucky man.
What a fool you were, Eustacia!”

“In what way?” she said, lifting her eyes in apparent calmness.

“Why, in not sticking to him when you had him.”

“Had him, indeed!”

“I did not know there had ever been anything between you till lately;
and, faith, I should have been hot and strong against it if I had known;
but since it seems that there was some sniffing between ye, why the
deuce didn’t you stick to him?”

Eustacia made no reply, but she looked as if she could say as much upon
that subject as he if she chose.

“And how is your poor purblind husband?” continued the old man. “Not a
bad fellow either, as far as he goes.”

“He is quite well.”

“It is a good thing for his cousin what-d’ye-call-her? By George, you
ought to have been in that galley, my girl! Now I must drive on. Do you
want any assistance? What’s mine is yours, you know.”

“Thank you, Grandfather, we are not in want at present,” she said
coldly. “Clym cuts furze, but he does it mostly as a useful pastime,
because he can do nothing else.”

“He is paid for his pastime, isn’t he? Three shillings a hundred, I
heard.”

“Clym has money,” she said, colouring, “but he likes to earn a little.”

“Very well; good night.” And the captain drove on.

When her grandfather was gone Eustacia went on her way mechanically;
but her thoughts were no longer concerning her mother-in-law and Clym.
Wildeve, notwithstanding his complaints against his fate, had been
seized upon by destiny and placed in the sunshine once more. Eleven
thousand pounds! From every Egdon point of view he was a rich man. In
Eustacia’s eyes, too, it was an ample sum–one sufficient to supply
those wants of hers which had been stigmatized by Clym in his more
austere moods as vain and luxurious. Though she was no lover of money
she loved what money could bring; and the new accessories she
imagined around him clothed Wildeve with a great deal of interest. She
recollected now how quietly well-dressed he had been that morning–he
had probably put on his newest suit, regardless of damage by briars and
thorns. And then she thought of his manner towards herself.

“O I see it, I see it,” she said. “How much he wishes he had me now,
that he might give me all I desire!”

In recalling the details of his glances and words–at the time scarcely
regarded–it became plain to her how greatly they had been dictated
by his knowledge of this new event. “Had he been a man to bear a jilt
ill-will he would have told me of his good fortune in crowing tones;
instead of doing that he mentioned not a word, in deference to my
misfortunes, and merely implied that he loved me still, as one superior
to him.”

Wildeve’s silence that day on what had happened to him was just the kind
of behaviour calculated to make an impression on such a woman. Those
delicate touches of good taste were, in fact, one of the strong points
in his demeanour towards the other sex. The peculiarity of Wildeve was
that, while at one time passionate, upbraiding, and resentful towards a
woman, at another he would treat her with such unparalleled grace as
to make previous neglect appear as no discourtesy, injury as no insult,
interference as a delicate attention, and the ruin of her honour as
excess of chivalry. This man, whose admiration today Eustacia had
disregarded, whose good wishes she had scarcely taken the trouble to
accept, whom she had shown out of the house by the back door, was
the possessor of eleven thousand pounds–a man of fair professional
education, and one who had served his articles with a civil engineer.

So intent was Eustacia upon Wildeve’s fortunes that she forgot how much
closer to her own course were those of Clym; and instead of walking on
to meet him at once she sat down upon a stone. She was disturbed in her
reverie by a voice behind, and turning her head beheld the old lover and
fortunate inheritor of wealth immediately beside her.

She remained sitting, though the fluctuation in her look might have told
any man who knew her so well as Wildeve that she was thinking of him.

“How did you come here?” she said in her clear low tone. “I thought you
were at home.”

“I went on to the village after leaving your garden; and now I have come
back again–that’s all. Which way are you walking, may I ask?”

She waved her hand in the direction of Blooms-End. “I am going to meet
my husband. I think I may possibly have got into trouble whilst you were
with me today.”

“How could that be?”

“By not letting in Mrs. Yeobright.”

“I hope that visit of mine did you no harm.”

“None. It was not your fault,” she said quietly.

By this time she had risen; and they involuntarily sauntered on
together, without speaking, for two or three minutes; when Eustacia
broke silence by saying, “I assume I must congratulate you.”

“On what? O yes; on my eleven thousand pounds, you mean. Well, since I
didn’t get something else, I must be content with getting that.”

“You seem very indifferent about it. Why didn’t you tell me today when
you came?” she said in the tone of a neglected person. “I heard of it
quite by accident.”

“I did mean to tell you,” said Wildeve. “But I–well, I will speak
frankly–I did not like to mention it when I saw, Eustacia, that your
star was not high. The sight of a man lying wearied out with hard work,
as your husband lay, made me feel that to brag of my own fortune to you
would be greatly out of place. Yet, as you stood there beside him, I
could not help feeling too that in many respects he was a richer man
than I.”

At this Eustacia said, with slumbering mischievousness, “What, would you
exchange with him–your fortune for me?”

“I certainly would,” said Wildeve.

“As we are imagining what is impossible and absurd, suppose we change
the subject?”

“Very well; and I will tell you of my plans for the future, if you care
to hear them. I shall permanently invest nine thousand pounds, keep one
thousand as ready money, and with the remaining thousand travel for a
year or so.”

“Travel? What a bright idea! Where will you go to?”

“From here to Paris, where I shall pass the winter and spring. Then I
shall go to Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Palestine, before the hot weather
comes on. In the summer I shall go to America; and then, by a plan not
yet settled, I shall go to Australia and round to India. By that time
I shall have begun to have had enough of it. Then I shall probably come
back to Paris again, and there I shall stay as long as I can afford to.”

“Back to Paris again,” she murmured in a voice that was nearly a sigh.
She had never once told Wildeve of the Parisian desires which Clym’s
description had sown in her; yet here was he involuntarily in a position
to gratify them. “You think a good deal of Paris?” she added.

“Yes. In my opinion it is the central beauty-spot of the world.”

“And in mine! And Thomasin will go with you?”

“Yes, if she cares to. She may prefer to stay at home.”

“So you will be going about, and I shall be staying here!”

“I suppose you will. But we know whose fault that is.”

“I am not blaming you,” she said quickly.

“Oh, I thought you were. If ever you SHOULD be inclined to blame me,
think of a certain evening by Rainbarrow, when you promised to meet me
and did not. You sent me a letter; and my heart ached to read that as
I hope yours never will. That was one point of divergence. I then did
something in haste….But she is a good woman, and I will say no more.”

“I know that the blame was on my side that time,” said Eustacia. “But it
had not always been so. However, it is my misfortune to be too sudden in
feeling. O, Damon, don’t reproach me any more–I can’t bear that.”

They went on silently for a distance of two or three miles, when
Eustacia said suddenly, “Haven’t you come out of your way, Mr. Wildeve?”

“My way is anywhere tonight. I will go with you as far as the hill on
which we can see Blooms-End, as it is getting late for you to be alone.”

“Don’t trouble. I am not obliged to be out at all. I think I would
rather you did not accompany me further. This sort of thing would have
an odd look if known.”

“Very well, I will leave you.” He took her hand unexpectedly, and kissed
it–for the first time since her marriage. “What light is that on the
hill?” he added, as it were to hide the caress.

She looked, and saw a flickering firelight proceeding from the open side
of a hovel a little way before them. The hovel, which she had hitherto
always found empty, seemed to be inhabited now.

“Since you have come so far,” said Eustacia, “will you see me safely
past that hut? I thought I should have met Clym somewhere about here,
but as he doesn’t appear I will hasten on and get to Blooms-End before
he leaves.”

They advanced to the turf-shed, and when they got near it the firelight
and the lantern inside showed distinctly enough the form of a woman
reclining on a bed of fern, a group of heath men and women standing
around her. Eustacia did not recognize Mrs. Yeobright in the reclining
figure, nor Clym as one of the standers-by till she came close. Then
she quickly pressed her hand up on Wildeve’s arm and signified to him to
come back from the open side of the shed into the shadow.

“It is my husband and his mother,” she whispered in an agitated voice.
“What can it mean? Will you step forward and tell me?”

Wildeve left her side and went to the back wall of the hut. Presently
Eustacia perceived that he was beckoning to her, and she advanced and
joined him.

“It is a serious case,” said Wildeve.

From their position they could hear what was proceeding inside.

“I cannot think where she could have been going,” said Clym to someone.
“She had evidently walked a long way, but even when she was able to
speak just now she would not tell me where. What do you really think of
her?”

“There is a great deal to fear,” was gravely answered, in a voice which
Eustacia recognized as that of the only surgeon in the district. “She
has suffered somewhat from the bite of the adder; but it is exhaustion
which has overpowered her. My impression is that her walk must have been
exceptionally long.”

“I used to tell her not to overwalk herself this weather,” said Clym,
with distress. “Do you think we did well in using the adder’s fat?”

“Well, it is a very ancient remedy–the old remedy of the
viper-catchers, I believe,” replied the doctor. “It is mentioned as
an infallible ointment by Hoffman, Mead, and I think the Abbe Fontana.
Undoubtedly it was as good a thing as you could do; though I question if
some other oils would not have been equally efficacious.”

“Come here, come here!” was then rapidly said in anxious female tones,
and Clym and the doctor could be heard rushing forward from the back
part of the shed to where Mrs. Yeobright lay.

“Oh, what is it?” whispered Eustacia.

“‘Twas Thomasin who spoke,” said Wildeve. “Then they have fetched her. I
wonder if I had better go in–yet it might do harm.”

For a long time there was utter silence among the group within; and it
was broken at last by Clym saying, in an agonized voice, “O Doctor, what
does it mean?”

The doctor did not reply at once; ultimately he said, “She is sinking
fast. Her heart was previously affected, and physical exhaustion has
dealt the finishing blow.”

Then there was a weeping of women, then waiting, then hushed
exclamations, then a strange gasping sound, then a painful stillness.

“It is all over,” said the doctor.

Further back in the hut the cotters whispered, “Mrs. Yeobright is dead.”

Almost at the same moment the two watchers observed the form of a
small old-fashioned child entering at the open side of the shed. Susan
Nunsuch, whose boy it was, went forward to the opening and silently
beckoned to him to go back.

“I’ve got something to tell ‘ee, Mother,” he cried in a shrill tone.
“That woman asleep there walked along with me today; and she said I was
to say that I had seed her, and she was a broken-hearted woman and cast
off by her son, and then I came on home.”

A confused sob as from a man was heard within, upon which Eustacia
gasped faintly, “That’s Clym–I must go to him–yet dare I do it?
No–come away!”

When they had withdrawn from the neighbourhood of the shed she said
huskily, “I am to blame for this. There is evil in store for me.”

“Was she not admitted to your house after all?” Wildeve inquired.

“No, and that’s where it all lies! Oh, what shall I do! I shall not
intrude upon them–I shall go straight home. Damon, good-bye! I cannot
speak to you any more now.”

They parted company; and when Eustacia had reached the next hill she
looked back. A melancholy procession was wending its way by the light of
the lantern from the hut towards Blooms-End. Wildeve was nowhere to be
seen.

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