The Return of the Native 5; 0104

BOOK FIVE — THE DISCOVERY

1–“Wherefore Is Light Given to Him That Is in Misery”

One evening, about three weeks after the funeral of Mrs. Yeobright, when
the silver face of the moon sent a bundle of beams directly upon the
floor of Clym’s house at Alderworth, a woman came forth from within. She
reclined over the garden gate as if to refresh herself awhile. The pale
lunar touches which make beauties of hags lent divinity to this face,
already beautiful.

She had not long been there when a man came up the road and with some
hesitation said to her, “How is he tonight, ma’am, if you please?”

“He is better, though still very unwell, Humphrey,” replied Eustacia.

“Is he light-headed, ma’am?”

“No. He is quite sensible now.”

“Do he rave about his mother just the same, poor fellow?” continued
Humphrey.

“Just as much, though not quite so wildly,” she said in a low voice.

“It was very unfortunate, ma’am, that the boy Johnny should ever ha’
told him his mother’s dying words, about her being broken-hearted and
cast off by her son. ‘Twas enough to upset any man alive.”

Eustacia made no reply beyond that of a slight catch in her breath, as
of one who fain would speak but could not; and Humphrey, declining her
invitation to come in, went away.

Eustacia turned, entered the house, and ascended to the front bedroom,
where a shaded light was burning. In the bed lay Clym, pale, haggard,
wide awake, tossing to one side and to the other, his eyes lit by a hot
light, as if the fire in their pupils were burning up their substance.

“Is it you, Eustacia?” he said as she sat down.

“Yes, Clym. I have been down to the gate. The moon is shining
beautifully, and there is not a leaf stirring.”

“Shining, is it? What’s the moon to a man like me? Let it shine–let
anything be, so that I never see another day!… Eustacia, I don’t know
where to look–my thoughts go through me like swords. O, if any man
wants to make himself immortal by painting a picture of wretchedness,
let him come here!”

“Why do you say so?”

“I cannot help feeling that I did my best to kill her.”

“No, Clym.”

“Yes, it was so; it is useless to excuse me! My conduct to her was too
hideous–I made no advances; and she could not bring herself to forgive
me. Now she is dead! If I had only shown myself willing to make it up
with her sooner, and we had been friends, and then she had died, it
wouldn’t be so hard to bear. But I never went near her house, so
she never came near mine, and didn’t know how welcome she would have
been–that’s what troubles me. She did not know I was going to her house
that very night, for she was too insensible to understand me. If she had
only come to see me! I longed that she would. But it was not to be.”

There escaped from Eustacia one of those shivering sighs which used to
shake her like a pestilent blast. She had not yet told.

But Yeobright was too deeply absorbed in the ramblings incidental to
his remorseful state to notice her. During his illness he had been
continually talking thus. Despair had been added to his original grief
by the unfortunate disclosure of the boy who had received the last
words of Mrs. Yeobright–words too bitterly uttered in an hour of
misapprehension. Then his distress had overwhelmed him, and he longed
for death as a field labourer longs for the shade. It was the pitiful
sight of a man standing in the very focus of sorrow. He continually
bewailed his tardy journey to his mother’s house, because it was an
error which could never be rectified, and insisted that he must have
been horribly perverted by some fiend not to have thought before that it
was his duty to go to her, since she did not come to him. He would
ask Eustacia to agree with him in his self-condemnation; and when she,
seared inwardly by a secret she dared not tell, declared that she could
not give an opinion, he would say, “That’s because you didn’t know my
mother’s nature. She was always ready to forgive if asked to do so;
but I seemed to her to be as an obstinate child, and that made
her unyielding. Yet not unyielding–she was proud and reserved, no
more….Yes, I can understand why she held out against me so long. She
was waiting for me. I dare say she said a hundred times in her sorrow,
‘What a return he makes for all the sacrifices I have made for him!’ I
never went to her! When I set out to visit her it was too late. To think
of that is nearly intolerable!”

Sometimes his condition had been one of utter remorse, unsoftened by a
single tear of pure sorrow: and then he writhed as he lay, fevered
far more by thought than by physical ills. “If I could only get one
assurance that she did not die in a belief that I was resentful,” he
said one day when in this mood, “it would be better to think of than a
hope of heaven. But that I cannot do.”

“You give yourself up too much to this wearying despair,” said Eustacia.
“Other men’s mothers have died.”

“That doesn’t make the loss of mine less. Yet it is less the loss than
the circumstances of the loss. I sinned against her, and on that account
there is no light for me.”

“She sinned against you, I think.”

“No, she did not. I committed the guilt; and may the whole burden be
upon my head!”

“I think you might consider twice before you say that,” Eustacia
replied. “Single men have, no doubt, a right to curse themselves as much
as they please; but men with wives involve two in the doom they pray
down.”

“I am in too sorry a state to understand what you are refining on,” said
the wretched man. “Day and night shout at me, ‘You have helped to kill
her.’ But in loathing myself I may, I own, be unjust to you, my poor
wife. Forgive me for it, Eustacia, for I scarcely know what I do.”

Eustacia was always anxious to avoid the sight of her husband in such
a state as this, which had become as dreadful to her as the trial scene
was to Judas Iscariot. It brought before her eyes the spectre of a
worn-out woman knocking at a door which she would not open; and she
shrank from contemplating it. Yet it was better for Yeobright himself
when he spoke openly of his sharp regret, for in silence he endured
infinitely more, and would sometimes remain so long in a tense, brooding
mood, consuming himself by the gnawing of his thought, that it was
imperatively necessary to make him talk aloud, that his grief might in
some degree expend itself in the effort.

Eustacia had not been long indoors after her look at the moonlight when
a soft footstep came up to the house, and Thomasin was announced by the
woman downstairs.

“Ah, Thomasin! Thank you for coming tonight,” said Clym when she entered
the room. “Here am I, you see. Such a wretched spectacle am I, that I
shrink from being seen by a single friend, and almost from you.”

“You must not shrink from me, dear Clym,” said Thomasin earnestly, in
that sweet voice of hers which came to a sufferer like fresh air into a
Black Hole. “Nothing in you can ever shock me or drive me away. I have
been here before, but you don’t remember it.”

“Yes, I do; I am not delirious, Thomasin, nor have I been so at all.
Don’t you believe that if they say so. I am only in great misery at what
I have done, and that, with the weakness, makes me seem mad. But it
has not upset my reason. Do you think I should remember all about my
mother’s death if I were out of my mind? No such good luck. Two months
and a half, Thomasin, the last of her life, did my poor mother live
alone, distracted and mourning because of me; yet she was unvisited
by me, though I was living only six miles off. Two months and a
half–seventy-five days did the sun rise and set upon her in that
deserted state which a dog didn’t deserve! Poor people who had nothing
in common with her would have cared for her, and visited her had they
known her sickness and loneliness; but I, who should have been all to
her, stayed away like a cur. If there is any justice in God let Him kill
me now. He has nearly blinded me, but that is not enough. If He would
only strike me with more pain I would believe in Him forever!”

“Hush, hush! O, pray, Clym, don’t, don’t say it!” implored Thomasin,
affrighted into sobs and tears; while Eustacia, at the other side of
the room, though her pale face remained calm, writhed in her chair. Clym
went on without heeding his cousin.

“But I am not worth receiving further proof even of Heaven’s
reprobation. Do you think, Thomasin, that she knew me–that she did not
die in that horrid mistaken notion about my not forgiving her, which I
can’t tell you how she acquired? If you could only assure me of that! Do
you think so, Eustacia? Do speak to me.”

“I think I can assure you that she knew better at last,” said Thomasin.
The pallid Eustacia said nothing.

“Why didn’t she come to my house? I would have taken her in and showed
her how I loved her in spite of all. But she never came; and I didn’t go
to her, and she died on the heath like an animal kicked out, nobody to
help her till it was too late. If you could have seen her, Thomasin, as
I saw her–a poor dying woman, lying in the dark upon the bare ground,
moaning, nobody near, believing she was utterly deserted by all the
world, it would have moved you to anguish, it would have moved a brute.
And this poor woman my mother! No wonder she said to the child, ‘You
have seen a broken-hearted woman.’ What a state she must have been
brought to, to say that! and who can have done it but I? It is too
dreadful to think of, and I wish I could be punished more heavily than I
am. How long was I what they called out of my senses?”

“A week, I think.”

“And then I became calm.”

“Yes, for four days.”

“And now I have left off being calm.”

“But try to be quiet–please do, and you will soon be strong. If you
could remove that impression from your mind–”

“Yes, yes,” he said impatiently. “But I don’t want to get strong. What’s
the use of my getting well? It would be better for me if I die, and it
would certainly be better for Eustacia. Is Eustacia there?”

“Yes.”

“It would be better for you, Eustacia, if I were to die?”

“Don’t press such a question, dear Clym.”

“Well, it really is but a shadowy supposition; for unfortunately I am
going to live. I feel myself getting better. Thomasin, how long are
you going to stay at the inn, now that all this money has come to your
husband?”

“Another month or two, probably; until my illness is over. We cannot get
off till then. I think it will be a month or more.”

“Yes, yes. Of course. Ah, Cousin Tamsie, you will get over your
trouble–one little month will take you through it, and bring something
to console you; but I shall never get over mine, and no consolation will
come!”

“Clym, you are unjust to yourself. Depend upon it, Aunt thought kindly
of you. I know that, if she had lived, you would have been reconciled
with her.”

“But she didn’t come to see me, though I asked her, before I married, if
she would come. Had she come, or had I gone there, she would never have
died saying, ‘I am a broken-hearted woman, cast off by my son.’ My door
has always been open to her–a welcome here has always awaited her. But
that she never came to see.”

“You had better not talk any more now, Clym,” said Eustacia faintly from
the other part of the room, for the scene was growing intolerable to
her.

“Let me talk to you instead for the little time I shall be here,”
Thomasin said soothingly. “Consider what a one-sided way you have of
looking at the matter, Clym. When she said that to the little boy you
had not found her and taken her into your arms; and it might have been
uttered in a moment of bitterness. It was rather like Aunt to say things
in haste. She sometimes used to speak so to me. Though she did not come
I am convinced that she thought of coming to see you. Do you suppose
a man’s mother could live two or three months without one forgiving
thought? She forgave me; and why should she not have forgiven you?”

“You laboured to win her round; I did nothing. I, who was going to teach
people the higher secrets of happiness, did not know how to keep out of
that gross misery which the most untaught are wise enough to avoid.”

“How did you get here tonight, Thomasin?” said Eustacia.

“Damon set me down at the end of the lane. He has driven into East Egdon
on business, and he will come and pick me up by-and-by.”

Accordingly they soon after heard the noise of wheels. Wildeve had come,
and was waiting outside with his horse and gig.

“Send out and tell him I will be down in two minutes,” said Thomasin.

“I will run down myself,” said Eustacia.

She went down. Wildeve had alighted, and was standing before the horse’s
head when Eustacia opened the door. He did not turn for a moment,
thinking the comer Thomasin. Then he looked, startled ever so little,
and said one word: “Well?”

“I have not yet told him,” she replied in a whisper.

“Then don’t do so till he is well–it will be fatal. You are ill
yourself.”

“I am wretched….O Damon,” she said, bursting into tears, “I–I can’t
tell you how unhappy I am! I can hardly bear this. I can tell nobody of
my trouble–nobody knows of it but you.”

“Poor girl!” said Wildeve, visibly affected at her distress, and at
last led on so far as to take her hand. “It is hard, when you have done
nothing to deserve it, that you should have got involved in such a web
as this. You were not made for these sad scenes. I am to blame most. If
I could only have saved you from it all!”

“But, Damon, please pray tell me what I must do? To sit by him hour
after hour, and hear him reproach himself as being the cause of her
death, and to know that I am the sinner, if any human being is at all,
drives me into cold despair. I don’t know what to do. Should I tell him
or should I not tell him? I always am asking myself that. O, I want to
tell him; and yet I am afraid. If he find it out he must surely kill me,
for nothing else will be in proportion to his feelings now. ‘Beware the
fury of a patient man’ sounds day by day in my ears as I watch him.”

“Well, wait till he is better, and trust to chance. And when you tell,
you must only tell part–for his own sake.”

“Which part should I keep back?”

Wildeve paused. “That I was in the house at the time,” he said in a low
tone.

“Yes; it must be concealed, seeing what has been whispered. How much
easier are hasty actions than speeches that will excuse them!”

“If he were only to die–” Wildeve murmured.

“Do not think of it! I would not buy hope of immunity by so cowardly
a desire even if I hated him. Now I am going up to him again. Thomasin
bade me tell you she would be down in a few minutes. Good-bye.”

She returned, and Thomasin soon appeared. When she was seated in the gig
with her husband, and the horse was turning to go off, Wildeve lifted
his eyes to the bedroom windows. Looking from one of them he could
discern a pale, tragic face watching him drive away. It was Eustacia’s.

2–A Lurid Light Breaks in upon a Darkened Understanding

Clym’s grief became mitigated by wearing itself out. His strength
returned, and a month after the visit of Thomasin he might have been
seen walking about the garden. Endurance and despair, equanimity and
gloom, the tints of health and the pallor of death, mingled weirdly
in his face. He was now unnaturally silent upon all of the past that
related to his mother; and though Eustacia knew that he was thinking
of it none the less, she was only too glad to escape the topic ever to
bring it up anew. When his mind had been weaker his heart had led him to
speak out; but reason having now somewhat recovered itself he sank into
taciturnity.

One evening when he was thus standing in the garden, abstractedly
spudding up a weed with his stick, a bony figure turned the corner of
the house and came up to him.

“Christian, isn’t it?” said Clym. “I am glad you have found me out. I
shall soon want you to go to Blooms-End and assist me in putting the
house in order. I suppose it is all locked up as I left it?”

“Yes, Mister Clym.”

“Have you dug up the potatoes and other roots?”

“Yes, without a drop o’ rain, thank God. But I was coming to tell ‘ee of
something else which is quite different from what we have lately had in
the family. I am sent by the rich gentleman at the Woman, that we used
to call the landlord, to tell ‘ee that Mrs. Wildeve is doing well of a
girl, which was born punctually at one o’clock at noon, or a few minutes
more or less; and ’tis said that expecting of this increase is what have
kept ’em there since they came into their money.”

“And she is getting on well, you say?”

“Yes, sir. Only Mr. Wildeve is twanky because ’tisn’t a boy–that’s what
they say in the kitchen, but I was not supposed to notice that.”

“Christian, now listen to me.”

“Yes, sure, Mr. Yeobright.”

“Did you see my mother the day before she died?”

“No, I did not.”

Yeobright’s face expressed disappointment.

“But I zeed her the morning of the same day she died.”

Clym’s look lighted up. “That’s nearer still to my meaning,” he said.

“Yes, I know ’twas the same day; for she said, ‘I be going to see him,
Christian; so I shall not want any vegetables brought in for dinner.'”

“See whom?”

“See you. She was going to your house, you understand.”

Yeobright regarded Christian with intense surprise. “Why did you never
mention this?” he said. “Are you sure it was my house she was coming
to?”

“O yes. I didn’t mention it because I’ve never zeed you lately. And as
she didn’t get there it was all nought, and nothing to tell.”

“And I have been wondering why she should have walked in the heath on
that hot day! Well, did she say what she was coming for? It is a thing,
Christian, I am very anxious to know.”

“Yes, Mister Clym. She didn’t say it to me, though I think she did to
one here and there.”

“Do you know one person to whom she spoke of it?”

“There is one man, please, sir, but I hope you won’t mention my name
to him, as I have seen him in strange places, particular in dreams. One
night last summer he glared at me like Famine and Sword, and it made
me feel so low that I didn’t comb out my few hairs for two days. He was
standing, as it might be, Mister Yeobright, in the middle of the path to
Mistover, and your mother came up, looking as pale–”

“Yes, when was that?”

“Last summer, in my dream.”

“Pooh! Who’s the man?”

“Diggory, the reddleman. He called upon her and sat with her the evening
before she set out to see you. I hadn’t gone home from work when he came
up to the gate.”

“I must see Venn–I wish I had known it before,” said Clym anxiously. “I
wonder why he has not come to tell me?”

“He went out of Egdon Heath the next day, so would not be likely to know
you wanted him.”

“Christian,” said Clym, “you must go and find Venn. I am otherwise
engaged, or I would go myself. Find him at once, and tell him I want to
speak to him.”

“I am a good hand at hunting up folk by day,” said Christian, looking
dubiously round at the declining light; “but as to night-time, never is
such a bad hand as I, Mister Yeobright.”

“Search the heath when you will, so that you bring him soon. Bring him
tomorrow, if you can.”

Christian then departed. The morrow came, but no Venn. In the evening
Christian arrived, looking very weary. He had been searching all day,
and had heard nothing of the reddleman.

“Inquire as much as you can tomorrow without neglecting your work,” said
Yeobright. “Don’t come again till you have found him.”

The next day Yeobright set out for the old house at Blooms-End, which,
with the garden, was now his own. His severe illness had hindered all
preparations for his removal thither; but it had become necessary that
he should go and overlook its contents, as administrator to his mother’s
little property; for which purpose he decided to pass the next night on
the premises.

He journeyed onward, not quickly or decisively, but in the slow walk
of one who has been awakened from a stupefying sleep. It was early
afternoon when he reached the valley. The expression of the place, the
tone of the hour, were precisely those of many such occasions in days
gone by; and these antecedent similarities fostered the illusion that
she, who was there no longer, would come out to welcome him. The garden
gate was locked and the shutters were closed, just as he himself had
left them on the evening after the funeral. He unlocked the gate, and
found that a spider had already constructed a large web, tying the door
to the lintel, on the supposition that it was never to be opened again.
When he had entered the house and flung back the shutters he set about
his task of overhauling the cupboards and closets, burning papers, and
considering how best to arrange the place for Eustacia’s reception,
until such time as he might be in a position to carry out his
long-delayed scheme, should that time ever arrive.

As he surveyed the rooms he felt strongly disinclined for the
alterations which would have to be made in the time-honoured furnishing
of his parents and grandparents, to suit Eustacia’s modern ideas. The
gaunt oak-cased clock, with the picture of the Ascension on the
door panel and the Miraculous Draught of Fishes on the base; his
grandmother’s corner cupboard with the glass door, through which the
spotted china was visible; the dumb-waiter; the wooden tea trays; the
hanging fountain with the brass tap–whither would these venerable
articles have to be banished?

He noticed that the flowers in the window had died for want of water,
and he placed them out upon the ledge, that they might be taken away.
While thus engaged he heard footsteps on the gravel without, and
somebody knocked at the door.

Yeobright opened it, and Venn was standing before him.

“Good morning,” said the reddleman. “Is Mrs. Yeobright at home?”

Yeobright looked upon the ground. “Then you have not seen Christian or
any of the Egdon folks?” he said.

“No. I have only just returned after a long stay away. I called here the
day before I left.”

“And you have heard nothing?”

“Nothing.”

“My mother is–dead.”

“Dead!” said Venn mechanically.

“Her home now is where I shouldn’t mind having mine.”

Venn regarded him, and then said, “If I didn’t see your face I could
never believe your words. Have you been ill?”

“I had an illness.”

“Well, the change! When I parted from her a month ago everything seemed
to say that she was going to begin a new life.”

“And what seemed came true.”

“You say right, no doubt. Trouble has taught you a deeper vein of talk
than mine. All I meant was regarding her life here. She has died too
soon.”

“Perhaps through my living too long. I have had a bitter experience on
that score this last month, Diggory. But come in; I have been wanting to
see you.”

He conducted the reddleman into the large room where the dancing had
taken place the previous Christmas, and they sat down in the settle
together. “There’s the cold fireplace, you see,” said Clym. “When that
half-burnt log and those cinders were alight she was alive! Little has
been changed here yet. I can do nothing. My life creeps like a snail.”

“How came she to die?” said Venn.

Yeobright gave him some particulars of her illness and death, and
continued: “After this no kind of pain will ever seem more than an
indisposition to me. I began saying that I wanted to ask you something,
but I stray from subjects like a drunken man. I am anxious to know what
my mother said to you when she last saw you. You talked with her a long
time, I think?”

“I talked with her more than half an hour.”

“About me?”

“Yes. And it must have been on account of what we said that she was on
the heath. Without question she was coming to see you.”

“But why should she come to see me if she felt so bitterly against me?
There’s the mystery.”

“Yet I know she quite forgave ‘ee.”

“But, Diggory–would a woman, who had quite forgiven her son, say,
when she felt herself ill on the way to his house, that she was
broken-hearted because of his ill-usage? Never!”

“What I know is that she didn’t blame you at all. She blamed herself for
what had happened, and only herself. I had it from her own lips.”

“You had it from her lips that I had NOT ill-treated her; and at the
same time another had it from her lips that I HAD ill-treated her? My
mother was no impulsive woman who changed her opinion every hour without
reason. How can it be, Venn, that she should have told such different
stories in close succession?”

“I cannot say. It is certainly odd, when she had forgiven you, and had
forgiven your wife, and was going to see ye on purpose to make friends.”

“If there was one thing wanting to bewilder me it was this
incomprehensible thing!… Diggory, if we, who remain alive, were only
allowed to hold conversation with the dead–just once, a bare minute,
even through a screen of iron bars, as with persons in prison–what we
might learn! How many who now ride smiling would hide their heads! And
this mystery–I should then be at the bottom of it at once. But the
grave has forever shut her in; and how shall it be found out now?”

No reply was returned by his companion, since none could be given; and
when Venn left, a few minutes later, Clym had passed from the dullness
of sorrow to the fluctuation of carking incertitude.

He continued in the same state all the afternoon. A bed was made up for
him in the same house by a neighbour, that he might not have to return
again the next day; and when he retired to rest in the deserted place it
was only to remain awake hour after hour thinking the same thoughts. How
to discover a solution to this riddle of death seemed a query of more
importance than highest problems of the living. There was housed in his
memory a vivid picture of the face of a little boy as he entered the
hovel where Clym’s mother lay. The round eyes, eager gaze, the piping
voice which enunciated the words, had operated like stilettos on his
brain.

A visit to the boy suggested itself as a means of gleaning new
particulars; though it might be quite unproductive. To probe a child’s
mind after the lapse of six weeks, not for facts which the child had
seen and understood, but to get at those which were in their nature
beyond him, did not promise much; yet when every obvious channel is
blocked we grope towards the small and obscure. There was nothing else
left to do; after that he would allow the enigma to drop into the abyss
of undiscoverable things.

It was about daybreak when he had reached this decision, and he at once
arose. He locked up the house and went out into the green patch which
merged in heather further on. In front of the white garden-palings the
path branched into three like a broad arrow. The road to the right
led to the Quiet Woman and its neighbourhood; the middle track led to
Mistover Knap; the left-hand track led over the hill to another part
of Mistover, where the child lived. On inclining into the latter path
Yeobright felt a creeping chilliness, familiar enough to most people,
and probably caused by the unsunned morning air. In after days he
thought of it as a thing of singular significance.

When Yeobright reached the cottage of Susan Nunsuch, the mother of the
boy he sought, he found that the inmates were not yet astir. But in
upland hamlets the transition from a-bed to abroad is surprisingly swift
and easy. There no dense partition of yawns and toilets divides humanity
by night from humanity by day. Yeobright tapped at the upper windowsill,
which he could reach with his walking stick; and in three or four
minutes the woman came down.

It was not till this moment that Clym recollected her to be the person
who had behaved so barbarously to Eustacia. It partly explained the
insuavity with which the woman greeted him. Moreover, the boy had been
ailing again; and Susan now, as ever since the night when he had
been pressed into Eustacia’s service at the bonfire, attributed his
indispositions to Eustacia’s influence as a witch. It was one of those
sentiments which lurk like moles underneath the visible surface of
manners, and may have been kept alive by Eustacia’s entreaty to the
captain, at the time that he had intended to prosecute Susan for the
pricking in church, to let the matter drop; which he accordingly had
done.

Yeobright overcame his repugnance, for Susan had at least borne his
mother no ill-will. He asked kindly for the boy; but her manner did not
improve.

“I wish to see him,” continued Yeobright, with some hesitation, “to ask
him if he remembers anything more of his walk with my mother than what
he has previously told.”

She regarded him in a peculiar and criticizing manner. To anybody but a
half-blind man it would have said, “You want another of the knocks which
have already laid you so low.”

She called the boy downstairs, asked Clym to sit down on a stool, and
continued, “Now, Johnny, tell Mr. Yeobright anything you can call to
mind.”

“You have not forgotten how you walked with the poor lady on that hot
day?” said Clym.

“No,” said the boy.

“And what she said to you?”

The boy repeated the exact words he had used on entering the hut.
Yeobright rested his elbow on the table and shaded his face with his
hand; and the mother looked as if she wondered how a man could want more
of what had stung him so deeply.

“She was going to Alderworth when you first met her?”

“No; she was coming away.”

“That can’t be.”

“Yes; she walked along with me. I was coming away, too.”

“Then where did you first see her?”

“At your house.”

“Attend, and speak the truth!” said Clym sternly.

“Yes, sir; at your house was where I seed her first.”

Clym started up, and Susan smiled in an expectant way which did not
embellish her face; it seemed to mean, “Something sinister is coming!”

“What did she do at my house?”

“She went and sat under the trees at the Devil’s Bellows.”

“Good God! this is all news to me!”

“You never told me this before?” said Susan.

“No, Mother; because I didn’t like to tell ‘ee I had been so far. I was
picking blackhearts, and went further than I meant.”

“What did she do then?” said Yeobright.

“Looked at a man who came up and went into your house.”

“That was myself–a furze-cutter, with brambles in his hand.”

“No; ’twas not you. ‘Twas a gentleman. You had gone in afore.”

“Who was he?”

“I don’t know.”

“Now tell me what happened next.”

“The poor lady went and knocked at your door, and the lady with black
hair looked out of the side window at her.”

The boy’s mother turned to Clym and said, “This is something you didn’t
expect?”

Yeobright took no more notice of her than if he had been of stone. “Go
on, go on,” he said hoarsely to the boy.

“And when she saw the young lady look out of the window the old lady
knocked again; and when nobody came she took up the furze-hook and
looked at it, and put it down again, and then she looked at the
faggot-bonds; and then she went away, and walked across to me, and
blowed her breath very hard, like this. We walked on together, she and
I, and I talked to her and she talked to me a bit, but not much, because
she couldn’t blow her breath.”

“O!” murmured Clym, in a low tone, and bowed his head. “Let’s have
more,” he said.

“She couldn’t talk much, and she couldn’t walk; and her face was, O so
queer!”

“How was her face?”

“Like yours is now.”

The woman looked at Yeobright, and beheld him colourless, in a cold
sweat. “Isn’t there meaning in it?” she said stealthily. “What do you
think of her now?”

“Silence!” said Clym fiercely. And, turning to the boy, “And then you
left her to die?”

“No,” said the woman, quickly and angrily. “He did not leave her to die!
She sent him away. Whoever says he forsook her says what’s not true.”

“Trouble no more about that,” answered Clym, with a quivering mouth.
“What he did is a trifle in comparison with what he saw. Door kept
shut, did you say? Kept shut, she looking out of window? Good heart of
God!–what does it mean?”

The child shrank away from the gaze of his questioner.

“He said so,” answered the mother, “and Johnny’s a God-fearing boy and
tells no lies.”

“‘Cast off by my son!’ No, by my best life, dear mother, it is not so!
But by your son’s, your son’s–May all murderesses get the torment they
deserve!”

With these words Yeobright went forth from the little dwelling. The
pupils of his eyes, fixed steadfastly on blankness, were vaguely lit
with an icy shine; his mouth had passed into the phase more or less
imaginatively rendered in studies of Oedipus. The strangest deeds were
possible to his mood. But they were not possible to his situation.
Instead of there being before him the pale face of Eustacia, and a
masculine shape unknown, there was only the imperturbable countenance
of the heath, which, having defied the cataclysmal onsets of centuries,
reduced to insignificance by its seamed and antique features the wildest
turmoil of a single man.

3–Eustacia Dresses Herself on a Black Morning

A consciousness of a vast impassivity in all which lay around him took
possession even of Yeobright in his wild walk towards Alderworth. He had
once before felt in his own person this overpowering of the fervid by
the inanimate; but then it had tended to enervate a passion far sweeter
than that which at present pervaded him. It was once when he stood
parting from Eustacia in the moist still levels beyond the hills.

But dismissing all this he went onward home, and came to the front of
his house. The blinds of Eustacia’s bedroom were still closely drawn,
for she was no early riser. All the life visible was in the shape of
a solitary thrush cracking a small snail upon the door-stone for his
breakfast, and his tapping seemed a loud noise in the general silence
which prevailed; but on going to the door Clym found it unfastened, the
young girl who attended upon Eustacia being astir in the back part of
the premises. Yeobright entered and went straight to his wife’s room.

The noise of his arrival must have aroused her, for when he opened the
door she was standing before the looking glass in her nightdress, the
ends of her hair gathered into one hand, with which she was coiling the
whole mass round her head, previous to beginning toilette operations.
She was not a woman given to speaking first at a meeting, and she
allowed Clym to walk across in silence, without turning her head.
He came behind her, and she saw his face in the glass. It was ashy,
haggard, and terrible. Instead of starting towards him in sorrowful
surprise, as even Eustacia, undemonstrative wife as she was, would have
done in days before she burdened herself with a secret, she remained
motionless, looking at him in the glass. And while she looked the
carmine flush with which warmth and sound sleep had suffused her cheeks
and neck dissolved from view, and the deathlike pallor in his face
flew across into hers. He was close enough to see this, and the sight
instigated his tongue.

“You know what is the matter,” he said huskily. “I see it in your face.”

Her hand relinquished the rope of hair and dropped to her side, and the
pile of tresses, no longer supported, fell from the crown of her head
about her shoulders and over the white nightgown. She made no reply.

“Speak to me,” said Yeobright peremptorily.

The blanching process did not cease in her, and her lips now became as
white as her face. She turned to him and said, “Yes, Clym, I’ll speak to
you. Why do you return so early? Can I do anything for you?”

“Yes, you can listen to me. It seems that my wife is not very well?”

“Why?”

“Your face, my dear; your face. Or perhaps it is the pale morning light
which takes your colour away? Now I am going to reveal a secret to you.
Ha-ha!”

“O, that is ghastly!”

“What?”

“Your laugh.”

“There’s reason for ghastliness. Eustacia, you have held my happiness in
the hollow of your hand, and like a devil you have dashed it down!”

She started back from the dressing-table, retreated a few steps from
him, and looked him in the face. “Ah! you think to frighten me,” she
said, with a slight laugh. “Is it worth while? I am undefended, and
alone.”

“How extraordinary!”

“What do you mean?”

“As there is ample time I will tell you, though you know well enough.
I mean that it is extraordinary that you should be alone in my absence.
Tell me, now, where is he who was with you on the afternoon of the
thirty-first of August? Under the bed? Up the chimney?”

A shudder overcame her and shook the light fabric of her nightdress
throughout. “I do not remember dates so exactly,” she said. “I cannot
recollect that anybody was with me besides yourself.”

“The day I mean,” said Yeobright, his voice growing louder and harsher,
“was the day you shut the door against my mother and killed her. O, it
is too much–too bad!” He leant over the footpiece of the bedstead for
a few moments, with his back towards her; then rising again–“Tell me,
tell me! tell me–do you hear?” he cried, rushing up to her and seizing
her by the loose folds of her sleeve.

The superstratum of timidity which often overlies those who are daring
and defiant at heart had been passed through, and the mettlesome
substance of the woman was reached. The red blood inundated her face,
previously so pale.

“What are you going to do?” she said in a low voice, regarding him with
a proud smile. “You will not alarm me by holding on so; but it would be
a pity to tear my sleeve.”

Instead of letting go he drew her closer to him. “Tell me the
particulars of–my mother’s death,” he said in a hard, panting whisper;
“or–I’ll–I’ll–”

“Clym,” she answered slowly, “do you think you dare do anything to me
that I dare not bear? But before you strike me listen. You will get
nothing from me by a blow, even though it should kill me, as it probably
will. But perhaps you do not wish me to speak–killing may be all you
mean?”

“Kill you! Do you expect it?”

“I do.”

“Why?”

“No less degree of rage against me will match your previous grief for
her.”

“Phew–I shall not kill you,” he said contemptuously, as if under a
sudden change of purpose. “I did think of it; but–I shall not. That
would be making a martyr of you, and sending you to where she is; and
I would keep you away from her till the universe come to an end, if I
could.”

“I almost wish you would kill me,” said she with gloomy bitterness.
“It is with no strong desire, I assure you, that I play the part I have
lately played on earth. You are no blessing, my husband.”

“You shut the door–you looked out of the window upon her–you had a
man in the house with you–you sent her away to die. The inhumanity–the
treachery–I will not touch you–stand away from me–and confess every
word!”

“Never! I’ll hold my tongue like the very death that I don’t mind
meeting, even though I can clear myself of half you believe by speaking.
Yes. I will! Who of any dignity would take the trouble to clear cobwebs
from a wild man’s mind after such language as this? No; let him go on,
and think his narrow thoughts, and run his head into the mire. I have
other cares.”

“‘Tis too much–but I must spare you.”

“Poor charity.”

“By my wretched soul you sting me, Eustacia! I can keep it up, and hotly
too. Now, then, madam, tell me his name!”

“Never, I am resolved.”

“How often does he write to you? Where does he put his letters–when
does he meet you? Ah, his letters! Do you tell me his name?”

“I do not.”

“Then I’ll find it myself.” His eyes had fallen upon a small desk that
stood near, on which she was accustomed to write her letters. He went to
it. It was locked.

“Unlock this!”

“You have no right to say it. That’s mine.”

Without another word he seized the desk and dashed it to the floor. The
hinge burst open, and a number of letters tumbled out.

“Stay!” said Eustacia, stepping before him with more excitement than she
had hitherto shown.

“Come, come! stand away! I must see them.”

She looked at the letters as they lay, checked her feeling and moved
indifferently aside; when he gathered them up, and examined them.

By no stretch of meaning could any but a harmless construction be placed
upon a single one of the letters themselves. The solitary exception was
an empty envelope directed to her, and the handwriting was Wildeve’s.
Yeobright held it up. Eustacia was doggedly silent.

“Can you read, madam? Look at this envelope. Doubtless we shall find
more soon, and what was inside them. I shall no doubt be gratified by
learning in good time what a well-finished and full-blown adept in a
certain trade my lady is.”

“Do you say it to me–do you?” she gasped.

He searched further, but found nothing more. “What was in this letter?”
he said.

“Ask the writer. Am I your hound that you should talk to me in this
way?”

“Do you brave me? do you stand me out, mistress? Answer. Don’t look at
me with those eyes if you would bewitch me again! Sooner than that I
die. You refuse to answer?”

“I wouldn’t tell you after this, if I were as innocent as the sweetest
babe in heaven!”

“Which you are not.”

“Certainly I am not absolutely,” she replied. “I have not done what
you suppose; but if to have done no harm at all is the only innocence
recognized, I am beyond forgiveness. But I require no help from your
conscience.”

“You can resist, and resist again! Instead of hating you I could, I
think, mourn for and pity you, if you were contrite, and would confess
all. Forgive you I never can. I don’t speak of your lover–I will give
you the benefit of the doubt in that matter, for it only affects me
personally. But the other–had you half-killed me, had it been that you
wilfully took the sight away from these feeble eyes of mine, I could
have forgiven you. But THAT’S too much for nature!”

“Say no more. I will do without your pity. But I would have saved you
from uttering what you will regret.”

“I am going away now. I shall leave you.”

“You need not go, as I am going myself. You will keep just as far away
from me by staying here.”

“Call her to mind–think of her–what goodness there was in her–it
showed in every line of her face! Most women, even when but slightly
annoyed, show a flicker of evil in some curl of the mouth or some corner
of the cheek; but as for her, never in her angriest moments was there
anything malicious in her look. She was angered quickly, but she forgave
just as readily, and underneath her pride there was the meekness of a
child. What came of it?–what cared you? You hated her just as she was
learning to love you. O! couldn’t you see what was best for you, but
must bring a curse upon me, and agony and death upon her, by doing that
cruel deed! What was the fellow’s name who was keeping you company and
causing you to add cruelty to her to your wrong to me? Was it Wildeve?
Was it poor Thomasin’s husband? Heaven, what wickedness! Lost your
voice, have you? It is natural after detection of that most noble
trick….Eustacia, didn’t any tender thought of your own mother lead you
to think of being gentle to mine at such a time of weariness? Did not
one grain of pity enter your heart as she turned away? Think what a vast
opportunity was then lost of beginning a forgiving and honest course.
Why did not you kick him out, and let her in, and say I’ll be an honest
wife and a noble woman from this hour? Had I told you to go and quench
eternally our last flickering chance of happiness here you could have
done no worse. Well, she’s asleep now; and have you a hundred gallants,
neither they nor you can insult her any more.”

“You exaggerate fearfully,” she said in a faint, weary voice; “but I
cannot enter into my defence–it is not worth doing. You are nothing to
me in future, and the past side of the story may as well remain untold.
I have lost all through you, but I have not complained. Your blunders
and misfortunes may have been a sorrow to you, but they have been a
wrong to me. All persons of refinement have been scared away from me
since I sank into the mire of marriage. Is this your cherishing–to
put me into a hut like this, and keep me like the wife of a hind? You
deceived me–not by words, but by appearances, which are less seen
through than words. But the place will serve as well as any other–as
somewhere to pass from–into my grave.” Her words were smothered in her
throat, and her head drooped down.

“I don’t know what you mean by that. Am I the cause of your sin?”
(Eustacia made a trembling motion towards him.) “What, you can begin to
shed tears and offer me your hand? Good God! can you? No, not I. I’ll
not commit the fault of taking that.” (The hand she had offered dropped
nervelessly, but the tears continued flowing.) “Well, yes, I’ll take
it, if only for the sake of my own foolish kisses that were wasted there
before I knew what I cherished. How bewitched I was! How could there be
any good in a woman that everybody spoke ill of?”

“O, O, O!” she cried, breaking down at last; and, shaking with sobs
which choked her, she sank upon her knees. “O, will you have done! O,
you are too relentless–there’s a limit to the cruelty of savages! I
have held out long–but you crush me down. I beg for mercy–I cannot
bear this any longer–it is inhuman to go further with this! If I
had–killed your–mother with my own hand–I should not deserve such
a scourging to the bone as this. O, O! God have mercy upon a miserable
woman!… You have beaten me in this game–I beg you to stay your hand in
pity!… I confess that I–wilfully did not undo the door the first time
she knocked–but–I should have unfastened it the second–if I had
not thought you had gone to do it yourself. When I found you had not I
opened it, but she was gone. That’s the extent of my crime–towards HER.
Best natures commit bad faults sometimes, don’t they?–I think they do.
Now I will leave you–for ever and ever!”

“Tell all, and I WILL pity you. Was the man in the house with you
Wildeve?”

“I cannot tell,” she said desperately through her sobbing. “Don’t insist
further–I cannot tell. I am going from this house. We cannot both stay
here.”

“You need not go–I will go. You can stay here.”

“No, I will dress, and then I will go.”

“Where?”

“Where I came from, or ELSEWHERE.”

She hastily dressed herself, Yeobright moodily walking up and down the
room the whole of the time. At last all her things were on. Her little
hands quivered so violently as she held them to her chin to fasten her
bonnet that she could not tie the strings, and after a few moments she
relinquished the attempt. Seeing this he moved forward and said, “Let me
tie them.”

She assented in silence, and lifted her chin. For once at least in her
life she was totally oblivious of the charm of her attitude. But he
was not, and he turned his eyes aside, that he might not be tempted to
softness.

The strings were tied; she turned from him. “Do you still prefer going
away yourself to my leaving you?” he inquired again.

“I do.”

“Very well–let it be. And when you will confess to the man I may pity
you.”

She flung her shawl about her and went downstairs, leaving him standing
in the room.

Eustacia had not long been gone when there came a knock at the door of
the bedroom; and Yeobright said, “Well?”

It was the servant; and she replied, “Somebody from Mrs. Wildeve’s
have called to tell ‘ee that the mis’ess and the baby are getting on
wonderful well, and the baby’s name is to be Eustacia Clementine.” And
the girl retired.

“What a mockery!” said Clym. “This unhappy marriage of mine to be
perpetuated in that child’s name!”

4–The Ministrations of a Half-forgotten One

Eustacia’s journey was at first as vague in direction as that of
thistledown on the wind. She did not know what to do. She wished it had
been night instead of morning, that she might at least have borne her
misery without the possibility of being seen. Tracing mile after mile
along between the dying ferns and the wet white spiders’ webs, she at
length turned her steps towards her grandfather’s house. She found the
front door closed and locked. Mechanically she went round to the end
where the stable was, and on looking in at the stable door she saw
Charley standing within.

“Captain Vye is not at home?” she said.

“No, ma’am,” said the lad in a flutter of feeling; “he’s gone to
Weatherbury, and won’t be home till night. And the servant is gone home
for a holiday. So the house is locked up.”

Eustacia’s face was not visible to Charley as she stood at the doorway,
her back being to the sky, and the stable but indifferently lighted; but
the wildness of her manner arrested his attention. She turned and walked
away across the enclosure to the gate, and was hidden by the bank.

When she had disappeared Charley, with misgiving in his eyes, slowly
came from the stable door, and going to another point in the bank he
looked over. Eustacia was leaning against it on the outside, her face
covered with her hands, and her head pressing the dewy heather which
bearded the bank’s outer side. She appeared to be utterly indifferent to
the circumstance that her bonnet, hair, and garments were becoming
wet and disarranged by the moisture of her cold, harsh pillow. Clearly
something was wrong.

Charley had always regarded Eustacia as Eustacia had regarded Clym
when she first beheld him–as a romantic and sweet vision, scarcely
incarnate. He had been so shut off from her by the dignity of her look
and the pride of her speech, except at that one blissful interval when
he was allowed to hold her hand, that he had hardly deemed her a woman,
wingless and earthly, subject to household conditions and domestic jars.
The inner details of her life he had only conjectured. She had been a
lovely wonder, predestined to an orbit in which the whole of his own was
but a point; and this sight of her leaning like a helpless, despairing
creature against a wild wet bank filled him with an amazed horror. He
could no longer remain where he was. Leaping over, he came up, touched
her with his finger, and said tenderly, “You are poorly, ma’am. What can
I do?”

Eustacia started up, and said, “Ah, Charley–you have followed me. You
did not think when I left home in the summer that I should come back
like this!”

“I did not, dear ma’am. Can I help you now?”

“I am afraid not. I wish I could get into the house. I feel
giddy–that’s all.”

“Lean on my arm, ma’am, till we get to the porch, and I will try to open
the door.”

He supported her to the porch, and there depositing her on a seat
hastened to the back, climbed to a window by the help of a ladder, and
descending inside opened the door. Next he assisted her into the room,
where there was an old-fashioned horsehair settee as large as a donkey
wagon. She lay down here, and Charley covered her with a cloak he found
in the hall.

“Shall I get you something to eat and drink?” he said.

“If you please, Charley. But I suppose there is no fire?”

“I can light it, ma’am.”

He vanished, and she heard a splitting of wood and a blowing of bellows;
and presently he returned, saying, “I have lighted a fire in the
kitchen, and now I’ll light one here.”

He lit the fire, Eustacia dreamily observing him from her couch. When it
was blazing up he said, “Shall I wheel you round in front of it, ma’am,
as the morning is chilly?”

“Yes, if you like.”

“Shall I go and bring the victuals now?”

“Yes, do,” she murmured languidly.

When he had gone, and the dull sounds occasionally reached her ears of
his movements in the kitchen, she forgot where she was, and had for a
moment to consider by an effort what the sounds meant. After an interval
which seemed short to her whose thoughts were elsewhere, he came in with
a tray on which steamed tea and toast, though it was nearly lunch-time.

“Place it on the table,” she said. “I shall be ready soon.”

He did so, and retired to the door; when, however, he perceived that she
did not move he came back a few steps.

“Let me hold it to you, if you don’t wish to get up,” said Charley. He
brought the tray to the front of the couch, where he knelt down, adding,
“I will hold it for you.”

Eustacia sat up and poured out a cup of tea. “You are very kind to me,
Charley,” she murmured as she sipped.

“Well, I ought to be,” said he diffidently, taking great trouble not
to rest his eyes upon her, though this was their only natural position,
Eustacia being immediately before him. “You have been kind to me.”

“How have I?” said Eustacia.

“You let me hold your hand when you were a maiden at home.”

“Ah, so I did. Why did I do that? My mind is lost–it had to do with the
mumming, had it not?”

“Yes, you wanted to go in my place.”

“I remember. I do indeed remember–too well!”

She again became utterly downcast; and Charley, seeing that she was not
going to eat or drink any more, took away the tray.

Afterwards he occasionally came in to see if the fire was burning, to
ask her if she wanted anything, to tell her that the wind had shifted
from south to west, to ask her if she would like him to gather her some
blackberries; to all which inquiries she replied in the negative or with
indifference.

She remained on the settee some time longer, when she aroused herself
and went upstairs. The room in which she had formerly slept still
remained much as she had left it, and the recollection that this forced
upon her of her own greatly changed and infinitely worsened situation
again set on her face the undetermined and formless misery which it
had worn on her first arrival. She peeped into her grandfather’s room,
through which the fresh autumn air was blowing from the open window. Her
eye was arrested by what was a familiar sight enough, though it broke
upon her now with a new significance.

It was a brace of pistols, hanging near the head of her grandfather’s
bed, which he always kept there loaded, as a precaution against possible
burglars, the house being very lonely. Eustacia regarded them long, as
if they were the page of a book in which she read a new and a strange
matter. Quickly, like one afraid of herself, she returned downstairs and
stood in deep thought.

“If I could only do it!” she said. “It would be doing much good to
myself and all connected with me, and no harm to a single one.”

The idea seemed to gather force within her, and she remained in a fixed
attitude nearly ten minutes, when a certain finality was expressed in
her gaze, and no longer the blankness of indecision.

She turned and went up the second time–softly and stealthily now–and
entered her grandfather’s room, her eyes at once seeking the head of the
bed. The pistols were gone.

The instant quashing of her purpose by their absence affected her brain
as a sudden vacuum affects the body–she nearly fainted. Who had
done this? There was only one person on the premises besides herself.
Eustacia involuntarily turned to the open window which overlooked the
garden as far as the bank that bounded it. On the summit of the latter
stood Charley, sufficiently elevated by its height to see into the room.
His gaze was directed eagerly and solicitously upon her.

She went downstairs to the door and beckoned to him.

“You have taken them away?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Why did you do it?”

“I saw you looking at them too long.”

“What has that to do with it?”

“You have been heart-broken all the morning, as if you did not want to
live.”

“Well?”

“And I could not bear to leave them in your way. There was meaning in
your look at them.”

“Where are they now?”

“Locked up.”

“Where?”

“In the stable.”

“Give them to me.”

“No, ma’am.”

“You refuse?”

“I do. I care too much for you to give ’em up.”

She turned aside, her face for the first time softening from the stony
immobility of the earlier day, and the corners of her mouth resuming
something of that delicacy of cut which was always lost in her moments
of despair. At last she confronted him again.

“Why should I not die if I wish?” she said tremulously. “I have made
a bad bargain with life, and I am weary of it–weary. And now you have
hindered my escape. O, why did you, Charley! What makes death painful
except the thought of others’ grief?–and that is absent in my case, for
not a sigh would follow me!”

“Ah, it is trouble that has done this! I wish in my very soul that he
who brought it about might die and rot, even if ’tis transportation to
say it!”

“Charley, no more of that. What do you mean to do about this you have
seen?”

“Keep it close as night, if you promise not to think of it again.”

“You need not fear. The moment has passed. I promise.” She then went
away, entered the house, and lay down.

Later in the afternoon her grandfather returned. He was about to
question her categorically, but on looking at her he withheld his words.

“Yes, it is too bad to talk of,” she slowly returned in answer to his
glance. “Can my old room be got ready for me tonight, Grandfather? I
shall want to occupy it again.”

He did not ask what it all meant, or why she had left her husband, but
ordered the room to be prepared.

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