The Return of the Native 5 09; 6

9–Sights and Sounds Draw the Wanderers Together

Having seen Eustacia’s signal from the hill at eight o’clock, Wildeve
immediately prepared to assist her in her flight, and, as he hoped,
accompany her. He was somewhat perturbed, and his manner of informing
Thomasin that he was going on a journey was in itself sufficient to
rouse her suspicions. When she had gone to bed he collected the few
articles he would require, and went upstairs to the money-chest, whence
he took a tolerably bountiful sum in notes, which had been advanced
to him on the property he was so soon to have in possession, to defray
expenses incidental to the removal.

He then went to the stable and coach-house to assure himself that the
horse, gig, and harness were in a fit condition for a long drive. Nearly
half an hour was spent thus, and on returning to the house Wildeve had
no thought of Thomasin being anywhere but in bed. He had told the stable
lad not to stay up, leading the boy to understand that his departure
would be at three or four in the morning; for this, though an
exceptional hour, was less strange than midnight, the time actually
agreed on, the packet from Budmouth sailing between one and two.

At last all was quiet, and he had nothing to do but to wait. By no
effort could he shake off the oppression of spirits which he had
experienced ever since his last meeting with Eustacia, but he hoped
there was that in his situation which money could cure. He had persuaded
himself that to act not ungenerously towards his gentle wife by settling
on her the half of his property, and with chivalrous devotion towards
another and greater woman by sharing her fate, was possible. And though
he meant to adhere to Eustacia’s instructions to the letter, to deposit
her where she wished and to leave her, should that be her will, the
spell that she had cast over him intensified, and his heart was beating
fast in the anticipated futility of such commands in the face of a
mutual wish that they should throw in their lot together.

He would not allow himself to dwell long upon these conjectures, maxims,
and hopes, and at twenty minutes to twelve he again went softly to the
stable, harnessed the horse, and lit the lamps; whence, taking the horse
by the head, he led him with the covered car out of the yard to a spot
by the roadside some quarter of a mile below the inn.

Here Wildeve waited, slightly sheltered from the driving rain by a high
bank that had been cast up at this place. Along the surface of the road
where lit by the lamps the loosened gravel and small stones scudded and
clicked together before the wind, which, leaving them in heaps, plunged
into the heath and boomed across the bushes into darkness. Only one
sound rose above this din of weather, and that was the roaring of a
ten-hatch weir to the southward, from a river in the meads which formed
the boundary of the heath in this direction.

He lingered on in perfect stillness till he began to fancy that the
midnight hour must have struck. A very strong doubt had arisen in
his mind if Eustacia would venture down the hill in such weather; yet
knowing her nature he felt that she might. “Poor thing! ’tis like her
ill-luck,” he murmured.

At length he turned to the lamp and looked at his watch. To his surprise
it was nearly a quarter past midnight. He now wished that he had driven
up the circuitous road to Mistover, a plan not adopted because of the
enormous length of the route in proportion to that of the pedestrian’s
path down the open hillside, and the consequent increase of labour for
the horse.

At this moment a footstep approached; but the light of the lamps being
in a different direction the comer was not visible. The step paused,
then came on again.

“Eustacia?” said Wildeve.

The person came forward, and the light fell upon the form of Clym,
glistening with wet, whom Wildeve immediately recognized; but Wildeve,
who stood behind the lamp, was not at once recognized by Yeobright.

He stopped as if in doubt whether this waiting vehicle could have
anything to do with the flight of his wife or not. The sight of
Yeobright at once banished Wildeve’s sober feelings, who saw him again
as the deadly rival from whom Eustacia was to be kept at all hazards.
Hence Wildeve did not speak, in the hope that Clym would pass by without
particular inquiry.

While they both hung thus in hesitation a dull sound became audible
above the storm and wind. Its origin was unmistakable–it was the fall
of a body into the stream in the adjoining mead, apparently at a point
near the weir.

Both started. “Good God! can it be she?” said Clym.

“Why should it be she?” said Wildeve, in his alarm forgetting that he
had hitherto screened himself.

“Ah!–that’s you, you traitor, is it?” cried Yeobright. “Why should it
be she? Because last week she would have put an end to her life if she
had been able. She ought to have been watched! Take one of the lamps and
come with me.”

Yeobright seized the one on his side and hastened on; Wildeve did not
wait to unfasten the other, but followed at once along the meadow track
to the weir, a little in the rear of Clym.

Shadwater Weir had at its foot a large circular pool, fifty feet in
diameter, into which the water flowed through ten huge hatches, raised
and lowered by a winch and cogs in the ordinary manner. The sides of the
pool were of masonry, to prevent the water from washing away the bank;
but the force of the stream in winter was sometimes such as to undermine
the retaining wall and precipitate it into the hole. Clym reached the
hatches, the framework of which was shaken to its foundations by the
velocity of the current. Nothing but the froth of the waves could be
discerned in the pool below. He got upon the plank bridge over the race,
and holding to the rail, that the wind might not blow him off, crossed
to the other side of the river. There he leant over the wall and lowered
the lamp, only to behold the vortex formed at the curl of the returning
current.

Wildeve meanwhile had arrived on the former side, and the light from
Yeobright’s lamp shed a flecked and agitated radiance across the weir
pool, revealing to the ex-engineer the tumbling courses of the currents
from the hatches above. Across this gashed and puckered mirror a dark
body was slowly borne by one of the backward currents.

“O, my darling!” exclaimed Wildeve in an agonized voice; and, without
showing sufficient presence of mind even to throw off his greatcoat, he
leaped into the boiling caldron.

Yeobright could now also discern the floating body, though but
indistinctly; and imagining from Wildeve’s plunge that there was life to
be saved he was about to leap after. Bethinking himself of a wiser plan,
he placed the lamp against a post to make it stand upright, and running
round to the lower part of the pool, where there was no wall, he sprang
in and boldly waded upwards towards the deeper portion. Here he was
taken off his legs, and in swimming was carried round into the centre of
the basin, where he perceived Wildeve struggling.

While these hasty actions were in progress here, Venn and Thomasin had
been toiling through the lower corner of the heath in the direction
of the light. They had not been near enough to the river to hear the
plunge, but they saw the removal of the carriage lamp, and watched its
motion into the mead. As soon as they reached the car and horse Venn
guessed that something new was amiss, and hastened to follow in the
course of the moving light. Venn walked faster than Thomasin, and came
to the weir alone.

The lamp placed against the post by Clym still shone across the
water, and the reddleman observed something floating motionless. Being
encumbered with the infant, he ran back to meet Thomasin.

“Take the baby, please, Mrs. Wildeve,” he said hastily. “Run home with
her, call the stable lad, and make him send down to me any men who may
be living near. Somebody has fallen into the weir.”

Thomasin took the child and ran. When she came to the covered car the
horse, though fresh from the stable, was standing perfectly still, as
if conscious of misfortune. She saw for the first time whose it was. She
nearly fainted, and would have been unable to proceed another step but
that the necessity of preserving the little girl from harm nerved her
to an amazing self-control. In this agony of suspense she entered the
house, put the baby in a place of safety, woke the lad and the female
domestic, and ran out to give the alarm at the nearest cottage.

Diggory, having returned to the brink of the pool, observed that the
small upper hatches or floats were withdrawn. He found one of these
lying upon the grass, and taking it under one arm, and with his lantern
in his hand, entered at the bottom of the pool as Clym had done. As soon
as he began to be in deep water he flung himself across the hatch; thus
supported he was able to keep afloat as long as he chose, holding
the lantern aloft with his disengaged hand. Propelled by his feet, he
steered round and round the pool, ascending each time by one of the back
streams and descending in the middle of the current.

At first he could see nothing. Then amidst the glistening of the
whirlpools and the white clots of foam he distinguished a woman’s bonnet
floating alone. His search was now under the left wall, when something
came to the surface almost close beside him. It was not, as he had
expected, a woman, but a man. The reddleman put the ring of the lantern
between his teeth, seized the floating man by the collar, and, holding
on to the hatch with his remaining arm, struck out into the strongest
race, by which the unconscious man, the hatch, and himself were carried
down the stream. As soon as Venn found his feet dragging over the
pebbles of the shallower part below he secured his footing and waded
towards the brink. There, where the water stood at about the height of
his waist, he flung away the hatch, and attempted to drag forth the man.
This was a matter of great difficulty, and he found as the reason that
the legs of the unfortunate stranger were tightly embraced by the arms
of another man, who had hitherto been entirely beneath the surface.

At this moment his heart bounded to hear footsteps running towards him,
and two men, roused by Thomasin, appeared at the brink above. They ran
to where Venn was, and helped him in lifting out the apparently drowned
persons, separating them, and laying them out upon the grass. Venn
turned the light upon their faces. The one who had been uppermost was
Yeobright; he who had been completely submerged was Wildeve.

“Now we must search the hole again,” said Venn. “A woman is in there
somewhere. Get a pole.”

One of the men went to the footbridge and tore off the handrail. The
reddleman and the two others then entered the water together from below
as before, and with their united force probed the pool forwards to where
it sloped down to its central depth. Venn was not mistaken in supposing
that any person who had sunk for the last time would be washed down to
this point, for when they had examined to about halfway across something
impeded their thrust.

“Pull it forward,” said Venn, and they raked it in with the pole till it
was close to their feet.

Venn vanished under the stream, and came up with an armful of wet
drapery enclosing a woman’s cold form, which was all that remained of
the desperate Eustacia.

When they reached the bank there stood Thomasin, in a stress of grief,
bending over the two unconscious ones who already lay there. The horse
and cart were brought to the nearest point in the road, and it was the
work of a few minutes only to place the three in the vehicle. Venn
led on the horse, supporting Thomasin upon his arm, and the two men
followed, till they reached the inn.

The woman who had been shaken out of her sleep by Thomasin had hastily
dressed herself and lighted a fire, the other servant being left to
snore on in peace at the back of the house. The insensible forms of
Eustacia, Clym, and Wildeve were then brought in and laid on the carpet,
with their feet to the fire, when such restorative processes as could
be thought of were adopted at once, the stableman being in the meantime
sent for a doctor. But there seemed to be not a whiff of life in either
of the bodies. Then Thomasin, whose stupor of grief had been thrust
off awhile by frantic action, applied a bottle of hartshorn to Clym’s
nostrils, having tried it in vain upon the other two. He sighed.

“Clym’s alive!” she exclaimed.

He soon breathed distinctly, and again and again did she attempt to
revive her husband by the same means; but Wildeve gave no sign. There
was too much reason to think that he and Eustacia both were for ever
beyond the reach of stimulating perfumes. Their exertions did not relax
till the doctor arrived, when one by one, the senseless three were taken
upstairs and put into warm beds.

Venn soon felt himself relieved from further attendance, and went to
the door, scarcely able yet to realize the strange catastrophe that
had befallen the family in which he took so great an interest. Thomasin
surely would be broken down by the sudden and overwhelming nature of
this event. No firm and sensible Mrs. Yeobright lived now to support the
gentle girl through the ordeal; and, whatever an unimpassioned spectator
might think of her loss of such a husband as Wildeve, there could be no
doubt that for the moment she was distracted and horrified by the blow.
As for himself, not being privileged to go to her and comfort her, he
saw no reason for waiting longer in a house where he remained only as a
stranger.

He returned across the heath to his van. The fire was not yet out, and
everything remained as he had left it. Venn now bethought himself of
his clothes, which were saturated with water to the weight of lead. He
changed them, spread them before the fire, and lay down to sleep. But
it was more than he could do to rest here while excited by a vivid
imagination of the turmoil they were in at the house he had quitted,
and, blaming himself for coming away, he dressed in another suit,
locked up the door, and again hastened across to the inn. Rain was still
falling heavily when he entered the kitchen. A bright fire was shining
from the hearth, and two women were bustling about, one of whom was Olly
Dowden.

“Well, how is it going on now?” said Venn in a whisper.

“Mr. Yeobright is better; but Mrs. Yeobright and Mr. Wildeve are dead
and cold. The doctor says they were quite gone before they were out of
the water.”

“Ah! I thought as much when I hauled ’em up. And Mrs. Wildeve?”

“She is as well as can be expected. The doctor had her put between
blankets, for she was almost as wet as they that had been in the river,
poor young thing. You don’t seem very dry, reddleman.”

“Oh, ’tis not much. I have changed my things. This is only a little
dampness I’ve got coming through the rain again.”

“Stand by the fire. Mis’ess says you be to have whatever you want, and
she was sorry when she was told that you’d gone away.”

Venn drew near to the fireplace, and looked into the flames in an absent
mood. The steam came from his leggings and ascended the chimney with the
smoke, while he thought of those who were upstairs. Two were corpses,
one had barely escaped the jaws of death, another was sick and a widow.
The last occasion on which he had lingered by that fireplace was when
the raffle was in progress; when Wildeve was alive and well; Thomasin
active and smiling in the next room; Yeobright and Eustacia just made
husband and wife, and Mrs. Yeobright living at Blooms-End. It had seemed
at that time that the then position of affairs was good for at least
twenty years to come. Yet, of all the circle, he himself was the only
one whose situation had not materially changed.

While he ruminated a footstep descended the stairs. It was the nurse,
who brought in her hand a rolled mass of wet paper. The woman was so
engrossed with her occupation that she hardly saw Venn. She took from a
cupboard some pieces of twine, which she strained across the fireplace,
tying the end of each piece to the firedog, previously pulled forward
for the purpose, and, unrolling the wet papers, she began pinning them
one by one to the strings in a manner of clothes on a line.

“What be they?” said Venn.

“Poor master’s banknotes,” she answered. “They were found in his pocket
when they undressed him.”

“Then he was not coming back again for some time?” said Venn.

“That we shall never know,” said she.

Venn was loth to depart, for all on earth that interested him lay under
this roof. As nobody in the house had any more sleep that night, except
the two who slept for ever, there was no reason why he should not
remain. So he retired into the niche of the fireplace where he had used
to sit, and there he continued, watching the steam from the double row
of banknotes as they waved backwards and forwards in the draught of the
chimney till their flaccidity was changed to dry crispness throughout.
Then the woman came and unpinned them, and, folding them together,
carried the handful upstairs. Presently the doctor appeared from above
with the look of a man who could do no more, and, pulling on his gloves,
went out of the house, the trotting of his horse soon dying away upon
the road.

At four o’clock there was a gentle knock at the door. It was from
Charley, who had been sent by Captain Vye to inquire if anything had
been heard of Eustacia. The girl who admitted him looked in his face as
if she did not know what answer to return, and showed him in to where
Venn was seated, saying to the reddleman, “Will you tell him, please?”

Venn told. Charley’s only utterance was a feeble, indistinct sound. He
stood quite still; then he burst out spasmodically, “I shall see her
once more?”

“I dare say you may see her,” said Diggory gravely. “But hadn’t you
better run and tell Captain Vye?”

“Yes, yes. Only I do hope I shall see her just once again.”

“You shall,” said a low voice behind; and starting round they beheld
by the dim light, a thin, pallid, almost spectral form, wrapped in a
blanket, and looking like Lazarus coming from the tomb.

It was Yeobright. Neither Venn nor Charley spoke, and Clym continued,
“You shall see her. There will be time enough to tell the captain when
it gets daylight. You would like to see her too–would you not, Diggory?
She looks very beautiful now.”

Venn assented by rising to his feet, and with Charley he followed Clym
to the foot of the staircase, where he took off his boots; Charley did
the same. They followed Yeobright upstairs to the landing, where there
was a candle burning, which Yeobright took in his hand, and with it led
the way into an adjoining room. Here he went to the bedside and folded
back the sheet.

They stood silently looking upon Eustacia, who, as she lay there still
in death, eclipsed all her living phases. Pallor did not include all
the quality of her complexion, which seemed more than whiteness; it was
almost light. The expression of her finely carved mouth was pleasant,
as if a sense of dignity had just compelled her to leave off speaking.
Eternal rigidity had seized upon it in a momentary transition between
fervour and resignation. Her black hair was looser now than either of
them had ever seen it before, and surrounded her brow like a forest. The
stateliness of look which had been almost too marked for a dweller in a
country domicile had at last found an artistically happy background.

Nobody spoke, till at length Clym covered her and turned aside. “Now
come here,” he said.

They went to a recess in the same room, and there, on a smaller bed,
lay another figure–Wildeve. Less repose was visible in his face than
in Eustacia’s, but the same luminous youthfulness overspread it, and the
least sympathetic observer would have felt at sight of him now that he
was born for a higher destiny than this. The only sign upon him of his
recent struggle for life was in his fingertips, which were worn and
sacrificed in his dying endeavours to obtain a hold on the face of the
weir-wall.

Yeobright’s manner had been so quiet, he had uttered so few syllables
since his reappearance, that Venn imagined him resigned. It was only
when they had left the room and stood upon the landing that the true
state of his mind was apparent. Here he said, with a wild smile,
inclining his head towards the chamber in which Eustacia lay, “She is
the second woman I have killed this year. I was a great cause of my
mother’s death, and I am the chief cause of hers.”

“How?” said Venn.

“I spoke cruel words to her, and she left my house. I did not invite her
back till it was too late. It is I who ought to have drowned myself. It
would have been a charity to the living had the river overwhelmed me and
borne her up. But I cannot die. Those who ought to have lived lie dead;
and here am I alive!”

“But you can’t charge yourself with crimes in that way,” said Venn. “You
may as well say that the parents be the cause of a murder by the child,
for without the parents the child would never have been begot.”

“Yes, Venn, that is very true; but you don’t know all the circumstances.
If it had pleased God to put an end to me it would have been a good
thing for all. But I am getting used to the horror of my existence. They
say that a time comes when men laugh at misery through long acquaintance
with it. Surely that time will soon come to me!”

“Your aim has always been good,” said Venn. “Why should you say such
desperate things?”

“No, they are not desperate. They are only hopeless; and my great regret
is that for what I have done no man or law can punish me!”

BOOK SIX — AFTERCOURSES

1–The Inevitable Movement Onward

The story of the deaths of Eustacia and Wildeve was told throughout
Egdon, and far beyond, for many weeks and months. All the known
incidents of their love were enlarged, distorted, touched up, and
modified, till the original reality bore but a slight resemblance to the
counterfeit presentation by surrounding tongues. Yet, upon the whole,
neither the man nor the woman lost dignity by sudden death. Misfortune
had struck them gracefully, cutting off their erratic histories with a
catastrophic dash, instead of, as with many, attenuating each life to an
uninteresting meagreness, through long years of wrinkles, neglect, and
decay.

On those most nearly concerned the effect was somewhat different.
Strangers who had heard of many such cases now merely heard of one more;
but immediately where a blow falls no previous imaginings amount to
appreciable preparation for it. The very suddenness of her bereavement
dulled, to some extent, Thomasin’s feelings; yet irrationally enough, a
consciousness that the husband she had lost ought to have been a better
man did not lessen her mourning at all. On the contrary, this fact
seemed at first to set off the dead husband in his young wife’s eyes,
and to be the necessary cloud to the rainbow.

But the horrors of the unknown had passed. Vague misgivings about her
future as a deserted wife were at an end. The worst had once been matter
of trembling conjecture; it was now matter of reason only, a limited
badness. Her chief interest, the little Eustacia, still remained. There
was humility in her grief, no defiance in her attitude; and when this is
the case a shaken spirit is apt to be stilled.

Could Thomasin’s mournfulness now and Eustacia’s serenity during life
have been reduced to common measure, they would have touched the same
mark nearly. But Thomasin’s former brightness made shadow of that which
in a sombre atmosphere was light itself.

The spring came and calmed her; the summer came and soothed her; the
autumn arrived, and she began to be comforted, for her little girl
was strong and happy, growing in size and knowledge every day. Outward
events flattered Thomasin not a little. Wildeve had died intestate, and
she and the child were his only relatives. When administration had been
granted, all the debts paid, and the residue of her husband’s uncle’s
property had come into her hands, it was found that the sum waiting to
be invested for her own and the child’s benefit was little less than ten
thousand pounds.

Where should she live? The obvious place was Blooms-End. The old rooms,
it is true, were not much higher than the between-decks of a frigate,
necessitating a sinking in the floor under the new clock-case she
brought from the inn, and the removal of the handsome brass knobs on its
head, before there was height for it to stand; but, such as the rooms
were, there were plenty of them, and the place was endeared to her by
every early recollection. Clym very gladly admitted her as a tenant,
confining his own existence to two rooms at the top of the back
staircase, where he lived on quietly, shut off from Thomasin and the
three servants she had thought fit to indulge in now that she was a
mistress of money, going his own ways, and thinking his own thoughts.

His sorrows had made some change in his outward appearance; and yet the
alteration was chiefly within. It might have been said that he had a
wrinkled mind. He had no enemies, and he could get nobody to reproach
him, which was why he so bitterly reproached himself.

He did sometimes think he had been ill-used by fortune, so far as to say
that to be born is a palpable dilemma, and that instead of men aiming to
advance in life with glory they should calculate how to retreat out
of it without shame. But that he and his had been sarcastically and
pitilessly handled in having such irons thrust into their souls he did
not maintain long. It is usually so, except with the sternest of men.
Human beings, in their generous endeavour to construct a hypothesis that
shall not degrade a First Cause, have always hesitated to conceive a
dominant power of lower moral quality than their own; and, even while
they sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon, invent excuses for the
oppression which prompts their tears.

Thus, though words of solace were vainly uttered in his presence, he
found relief in a direction of his own choosing when left to himself.
For a man of his habits the house and the hundred and twenty pounds a
year which he had inherited from his mother were enough to supply all
worldly needs. Resources do not depend upon gross amounts, but upon the
proportion of spendings to takings.

He frequently walked the heath alone, when the past seized upon him
with its shadowy hand, and held him there to listen to its tale.
His imagination would then people the spot with its ancient
inhabitants–forgotten Celtic tribes trod their tracks about him, and he
could almost live among them, look in their faces, and see them standing
beside the barrows which swelled around, untouched and perfect as at the
time of their erection. Those of the dyed barbarians who had chosen
the cultivable tracts were, in comparison with those who had left their
marks here, as writers on paper beside writers on parchment. Their
records had perished long ago by the plough, while the works of these
remained. Yet they all had lived and died unconscious of the different
fates awaiting their relics. It reminded him that unforeseen factors
operate in the evolution of immortality.

Winter again came round, with its winds, frosts, tame robins, and
sparkling starlight. The year previous Thomasin had hardly been
conscious of the season’s advance; this year she laid her heart open to
external influences of every kind. The life of this sweet cousin, her
baby, and her servants, came to Clym’s senses only in the form of sounds
through a wood partition as he sat over books of exceptionally large
type; but his ear became at last so accustomed to these slight noises
from the other part of the house that he almost could witness the
scenes they signified. A faint beat of half-seconds conjured up Thomasin
rocking the cradle, a wavering hum meant that she was singing the baby
to sleep, a crunching of sand as between millstones raised the picture
of Humphrey’s, Fairway’s, or Sam’s heavy feet crossing the stone floor
of the kitchen; a light boyish step, and a gay tune in a high key,
betokened a visit from Grandfer Cantle; a sudden break-off in the
Grandfer’s utterances implied the application to his lips of a mug of
small beer, a bustling and slamming of doors meant starting to go to
market; for Thomasin, in spite of her added scope of gentility, led a
ludicrously narrow life, to the end that she might save every possible
pound for her little daughter.

One summer day Clym was in the garden, immediately outside the parlour
window, which was as usual open. He was looking at the pot-flowers on
the sill; they had been revived and restored by Thomasin to the state in
which his mother had left them. He heard a slight scream from Thomasin,
who was sitting inside the room.

“O, how you frightened me!” she said to someone who had entered. “I
thought you were the ghost of yourself.”

Clym was curious enough to advance a little further and look in at the
window. To his astonishment there stood within the room Diggory Venn,
no longer a reddleman, but exhibiting the strangely altered hues of
an ordinary Christian countenance, white shirt-front, light flowered
waistcoat, blue-spotted neckerchief, and bottle-green coat. Nothing in
this appearance was at all singular but the fact of its great difference
from what he had formerly been. Red, and all approach to red, was
carefully excluded from every article of clothes upon him; for what is
there that persons just out of harness dread so much as reminders of the
trade which has enriched them?

Yeobright went round to the door and entered.

“I was so alarmed!” said Thomasin, smiling from one to the other. “I
couldn’t believe that he had got white of his own accord! It seemed
supernatural.”

“I gave up dealing in reddle last Christmas,” said Venn. “It was a
profitable trade, and I found that by that time I had made enough to
take the dairy of fifty cows that my father had in his lifetime. I
always thought of getting to that place again if I changed at all, and
now I am there.”

“How did you manage to become white, Diggory?” Thomasin asked.

“I turned so by degrees, ma’am.”

“You look much better than ever you did before.”

Venn appeared confused; and Thomasin, seeing how inadvertently she had
spoken to a man who might possibly have tender feelings for her still,
blushed a little. Clym saw nothing of this, and added good-humouredly–

“What shall we have to frighten Thomasin’s baby with, now you have
become a human being again?”

“Sit down, Diggory,” said Thomasin, “and stay to tea.”

Venn moved as if he would retire to the kitchen, when Thomasin said with
pleasant pertness as she went on with some sewing, “Of course you must
sit down here. And where does your fifty-cow dairy lie, Mr. Venn?”

“At Stickleford–about two miles to the right of Alderworth, ma’am,
where the meads begin. I have thought that if Mr. Yeobright would like
to pay me a visit sometimes he shouldn’t stay away for want of asking.
I’ll not bide to tea this afternoon, thank’ee, for I’ve got something on
hand that must be settled. ‘Tis Maypole-day tomorrow, and the Shadwater
folk have clubbed with a few of your neighbours here to have a pole just
outside your palings in the heath, as it is a nice green place.” Venn
waved his elbow towards the patch in front of the house. “I have been
talking to Fairway about it,” he continued, “and I said to him that
before we put up the pole it would be as well to ask Mrs. Wildeve.”

“I can say nothing against it,” she answered. “Our property does not
reach an inch further than the white palings.”

“But you might not like to see a lot of folk going crazy round a stick,
under your very nose?”

“I shall have no objection at all.”

Venn soon after went away, and in the evening Yeobright strolled as far
as Fairway’s cottage. It was a lovely May sunset, and the birch trees
which grew on this margin of the vast Egdon wilderness had put on their
new leaves, delicate as butterflies’ wings, and diaphanous as amber.
Beside Fairway’s dwelling was an open space recessed from the road, and
here were now collected all the young people from within a radius of a
couple of miles. The pole lay with one end supported on a trestle,
and women were engaged in wreathing it from the top downwards with
wild-flowers. The instincts of merry England lingered on here with
exceptional vitality, and the symbolic customs which tradition has
attached to each season of the year were yet a reality on Egdon. Indeed,
the impulses of all such outlandish hamlets are pagan still–in these
spots homage to nature, self-adoration, frantic gaieties, fragments of
Teutonic rites to divinities whose names are forgotten, seem in some way
or other to have survived mediaeval doctrine.

Yeobright did not interrupt the preparations, and went home again. The
next morning, when Thomasin withdrew the curtains of her bedroom window,
there stood the Maypole in the middle of the green, its top cutting into
the sky. It had sprung up in the night, or rather early morning, like
Jack’s bean-stalk. She opened the casement to get a better view of the
garlands and posies that adorned it. The sweet perfume of the flowers
had already spread into the surrounding air, which, being free from
every taint, conducted to her lips a full measure of the fragrance
received from the spire of blossom in its midst. At the top of the
pole were crossed hoops decked with small flowers; beneath these came a
milk-white zone of Maybloom; then a zone of bluebells, then of cowslips,
then of lilacs, then of ragged-robins, daffodils, and so on, till the
lowest stage was reached. Thomasin noticed all these, and was delighted
that the May revel was to be so near.

When afternoon came people began to gather on the green, and Yeobright
was interested enough to look out upon them from the open window of
his room. Soon after this Thomasin walked out from the door immediately
below and turned her eyes up to her cousin’s face. She was dressed
more gaily than Yeobright had ever seen her dressed since the time of
Wildeve’s death, eighteen months before; since the day of her marriage
even she had not exhibited herself to such advantage.

“How pretty you look today, Thomasin!” he said. “Is it because of the
Maypole?”

“Not altogether.” And then she blushed and dropped her eyes, which he
did not specially observe, though her manner seemed to him to be rather
peculiar, considering that she was only addressing himself. Could it be
possible that she had put on her summer clothes to please him?

He recalled her conduct towards him throughout the last few weeks, when
they had often been working together in the garden, just as they had
formerly done when they were boy and girl under his mother’s eye. What
if her interest in him were not so entirely that of a relative as it had
formerly been? To Yeobright any possibility of this sort was a serious
matter; and he almost felt troubled at the thought of it. Every pulse of
loverlike feeling which had not been stilled during Eustacia’s lifetime
had gone into the grave with her. His passion for her had occurred too
far on in his manhood to leave fuel enough on hand for another fire
of that sort, as may happen with more boyish loves. Even supposing him
capable of loving again, that love would be a plant of slow and laboured
growth, and in the end only small and sickly, like an autumn-hatched
bird.

He was so distressed by this new complexity that when the enthusiastic
brass band arrived and struck up, which it did about five o’clock, with
apparently wind enough among its members to blow down his house, he
withdrew from his rooms by the back door, went down the garden, through
the gate in the hedge, and away out of sight. He could not bear to
remain in the presence of enjoyment today, though he had tried hard.

Nothing was seen of him for four hours. When he came back by the same
path it was dusk, and the dews were coating every green thing. The
boisterous music had ceased; but, entering the premises as he did from
behind, he could not see if the May party had all gone till he had
passed through Thomasin’s division of the house to the front door.
Thomasin was standing within the porch alone.

She looked at him reproachfully. “You went away just when it began,
Clym,” she said.

“Yes. I felt I could not join in. You went out with them, of course?”

“No, I did not.”

“You appeared to be dressed on purpose.”

“Yes, but I could not go out alone; so many people were there. One is
there now.”

Yeobright strained his eyes across the dark-green patch beyond the
paling, and near the black form of the Maypole he discerned a shadowy
figure, sauntering idly up and down. “Who is it?” he said.

“Mr. Venn,” said Thomasin.

“You might have asked him to come in, I think, Tamsie. He has been very
kind to you first and last.”

“I will now,” she said; and, acting on the impulse, went through the
wicket to where Venn stood under the Maypole.

“It is Mr. Venn, I think?” she inquired.

Venn started as if he had not seen her–artful man that he was–and
said, “Yes.”

“Will you come in?”

“I am afraid that I–”

“I have seen you dancing this evening, and you had the very best of the
girls for your partners. Is it that you won’t come in because you wish
to stand here, and think over the past hours of enjoyment?”

“Well, that’s partly it,” said Mr. Venn, with ostentatious sentiment.
“But the main reason why I am biding here like this is that I want to
wait till the moon rises.”

“To see how pretty the Maypole looks in the moonlight?”

“No. To look for a glove that was dropped by one of the maidens.”

Thomasin was speechless with surprise. That a man who had to walk
some four or five miles to his home should wait here for such a reason
pointed to only one conclusion–the man must be amazingly interested in
that glove’s owner.

“Were you dancing with her, Diggory?” she asked, in a voice which
revealed that he had made himself considerably more interesting to her
by this disclosure.

“No,” he sighed.

“And you will not come in, then?”

“Not tonight, thank you, ma’am.”

“Shall I lend you a lantern to look for the young person’s glove, Mr.
Venn?”

“O no; it is not necessary, Mrs. Wildeve, thank you. The moon will rise
in a few minutes.”

Thomasin went back to the porch. “Is he coming in?” said Clym, who had
been waiting where she had left him.

“He would rather not tonight,” she said, and then passed by him into the
house; whereupon Clym too retired to his own rooms.

When Clym was gone Thomasin crept upstairs in the dark, and, just
listening by the cot, to assure herself that the child was asleep, she
went to the window, gently lifted the corner of the white curtain, and
looked out. Venn was still there. She watched the growth of the faint
radiance appearing in the sky by the eastern hill, till presently
the edge of the moon burst upwards and flooded the valley with light.
Diggory’s form was now distinct on the green; he was moving about in a
bowed attitude, evidently scanning the grass for the precious missing
article, walking in zigzags right and left till he should have passed
over every foot of the ground.

“How very ridiculous!” Thomasin murmured to herself, in a tone which was
intended to be satirical. “To think that a man should be so silly as to
go mooning about like that for a girl’s glove! A respectable dairyman,
too, and a man of money as he is now. What a pity!”

At last Venn appeared to find it; whereupon he stood up and raised it to
his lips. Then placing it in his breastpocket–the nearest receptacle to
a man’s heart permitted by modern raiment–he ascended the valley in a
mathematically direct line towards his distant home in the meadows.

2–Thomasin Walks in a Green Place by the Roman Road

Clym saw little of Thomasin for several days after this; and when they
met she was more silent than usual. At length he asked her what she was
thinking of so intently.

“I am thoroughly perplexed,” she said candidly. “I cannot for my life
think who it is that Diggory Venn is so much in love with. None of the
girls at the Maypole were good enough for him, and yet she must have
been there.”

Clym tried to imagine Venn’s choice for a moment; but ceasing to be
interested in the question he went on again with his gardening.

No clearing up of the mystery was granted her for some time. But one
afternoon Thomasin was upstairs getting ready for a walk, when she had
occasion to come to the landing and call “Rachel.” Rachel was a girl
about thirteen, who carried the baby out for airings; and she came
upstairs at the call.

“Have you seen one of my last new gloves about the house, Rachel?”
inquired Thomasin. “It is the fellow to this one.”

Rachel did not reply.

“Why don’t you answer?” said her mistress.

“I think it is lost, ma’am.”

“Lost? Who lost it? I have never worn them but once.”

Rachel appeared as one dreadfully troubled, and at last began to cry.
“Please, ma’am, on the day of the Maypole I had none to wear, and I seed
yours on the table, and I thought I would borrow ’em. I did not mean to
hurt ’em at all, but one of them got lost. Somebody gave me some money
to buy another pair for you, but I have not been able to go anywhere to
get ’em.”

“Who’s somebody?”

“Mr. Venn.”

“Did he know it was my glove?”

“Yes. I told him.”

Thomasin was so surprised by the explanation that she quite forgot
to lecture the girl, who glided silently away. Thomasin did not move
further than to turn her eyes upon the grass-plat where the Maypole had
stood. She remained thinking, then said to herself that she would not go
out that afternoon, but would work hard at the baby’s unfinished lovely
plaid frock, cut on the cross in the newest fashion. How she managed to
work hard, and yet do no more than she had done at the end of two hours,
would have been a mystery to anyone not aware that the recent incident
was of a kind likely to divert her industry from a manual to a mental
channel.

Next day she went her ways as usual, and continued her custom of walking
in the heath with no other companion than little Eustacia, now of the
age when it is a matter of doubt with such characters whether they are
intended to walk through the world on their hands or on their feet; so
that they get into painful complications by trying both. It was very
pleasant to Thomasin, when she had carried the child to some lonely
place, to give her a little private practice on the green turf and
shepherd’s-thyme, which formed a soft mat to fall headlong upon them
when equilibrium was lost.

Once, when engaged in this system of training, and stooping to remove
bits of stick, fern-stalks, and other such fragments from the child’s
path, that the journey might not be brought to an untimely end by
some insuperable barrier a quarter of an inch high, she was alarmed by
discovering that a man on horseback was almost close beside her, the
soft natural carpet having muffled the horse’s tread. The rider, who was
Venn, waved his hat in the air and bowed gallantly.

“Diggory, give me my glove,” said Thomasin, whose manner it was under
any circumstances to plunge into the midst of a subject which engrossed
her.

Venn immediately dismounted, put his hand in his breastpocket, and
handed the glove.

“Thank you. It was very good of you to take care of it.”

“It is very good of you to say so.”

“O no. I was quite glad to find you had it. Everybody gets so
indifferent that I was surprised to know you thought of me.”

“If you had remembered what I was once you wouldn’t have been
surprised.”

“Ah, no,” she said quickly. “But men of your character are mostly so
independent.”

“What is my character?” he asked.

“I don’t exactly know,” said Thomasin simply, “except it is to cover up
your feelings under a practical manner, and only to show them when you
are alone.”

“Ah, how do you know that?” said Venn strategically.

“Because,” said she, stopping to put the little girl, who had managed to
get herself upside down, right end up again, “because I do.”

“You mustn’t judge by folks in general,” said Venn. “Still I don’t know
much what feelings are nowadays. I have got so mixed up with business
of one sort and t’other that my soft sentiments are gone off in vapour
like. Yes, I am given up body and soul to the making of money. Money is
all my dream.”

“O Diggory, how wicked!” said Thomasin reproachfully, and looking at him
in exact balance between taking his words seriously and judging them as
said to tease her.

“Yes, ’tis rather a rum course,” said Venn, in the bland tone of one
comfortably resigned to sins he could no longer overcome.

“You, who used to be so nice!”

“Well, that’s an argument I rather like, because what a man has once
been he may be again.” Thomasin blushed. “Except that it is rather
harder now,” Venn continued.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because you be richer than you were at that time.”

“O no–not much. I have made it nearly all over to the baby, as it was
my duty to do, except just enough to live on.”

“I am rather glad of that,” said Venn softly, and regarding her from the
corner of his eye, “for it makes it easier for us to be friendly.”

Thomasin blushed again, and, when a few more words had been said of a
not unpleasing kind, Venn mounted his horse and rode on.

This conversation had passed in a hollow of the heath near the old
Roman road, a place much frequented by Thomasin. And it might have been
observed that she did not in future walk that way less often from having
met Venn there now. Whether or not Venn abstained from riding thither
because he had met Thomasin in the same place might easily have been
guessed from her proceedings about two months later in the same year.

3–The Serious Discourse of Clym with His Cousin

Throughout this period Yeobright had more or less pondered on his duty
to his cousin Thomasin. He could not help feeling that it would be a
pitiful waste of sweet material if the tender-natured thing should be
doomed from this early stage of her life onwards to dribble away her
winsome qualities on lonely gorse and fern. But he felt this as an
economist merely, and not as a lover. His passion for Eustacia had been
a sort of conserve of his whole life, and he had nothing more of that
supreme quality left to bestow. So far the obvious thing was not to
entertain any idea of marriage with Thomasin, even to oblige her.

But this was not all. Years ago there had been in his mother’s mind a
great fancy about Thomasin and himself. It had not positively amounted
to a desire, but it had always been a favourite dream. That they
should be man and wife in good time, if the happiness of neither were
endangered thereby, was the fancy in question. So that what course save
one was there now left for any son who reverenced his mother’s memory
as Yeobright did? It is an unfortunate fact that any particular whim of
parents, which might have been dispersed by half an hour’s conversation
during their lives, becomes sublimated by their deaths into a fiat the
most absolute, with such results to conscientious children as those
parents, had they lived, would have been the first to decry.

Had only Yeobright’s own future been involved he would have proposed to
Thomasin with a ready heart. He had nothing to lose by carrying out a
dead mother’s hope. But he dreaded to contemplate Thomasin wedded to the
mere corpse of a lover that he now felt himself to be. He had but three
activities alive in him. One was his almost daily walk to the little
graveyard wherein his mother lay, another, his just as frequent visits
by night to the more distant enclosure which numbered his Eustacia among
its dead; the third was self-preparation for a vocation which alone
seemed likely to satisfy his cravings–that of an itinerant preacher
of the eleventh commandment. It was difficult to believe that Thomasin
would be cheered by a husband with such tendencies as these.

Yet he resolved to ask her, and let her decide for herself. It was even
with a pleasant sense of doing his duty that he went downstairs to her
one evening for this purpose, when the sun was printing on the valley
the same long shadow of the housetop that he had seen lying there times
out of number while his mother lived.

Thomasin was not in her room, and he found her in the front garden. “I
have long been wanting, Thomasin,” he began, “to say something about a
matter that concerns both our futures.”

“And you are going to say it now?” she remarked quickly, colouring as
she met his gaze. “Do stop a minute, Clym, and let me speak first, for
oddly enough, I have been wanting to say something to you.”

“By all means say on, Tamsie.”

“I suppose nobody can overhear us?” she went on, casting her eyes around
and lowering her voice. “Well, first you will promise me this–that you
won’t be angry and call me anything harsh if you disagree with what I
propose?”

Yeobright promised, and she continued: “What I want is your advice,
for you are my relation–I mean, a sort of guardian to me–aren’t you,
Clym?”

“Well, yes, I suppose I am; a sort of guardian. In fact, I am, of
course,” he said, altogether perplexed as to her drift.

“I am thinking of marrying,” she then observed blandly. “But I shall not
marry unless you assure me that you approve of such a step. Why don’t
you speak?”

“I was taken rather by surprise. But, nevertheless, I am very glad to
hear such news. I shall approve, of course, dear Tamsie. Who can it be?
I am quite at a loss to guess. No I am not–’tis the old doctor!–not
that I mean to call him old, for he is not very old after all. Ah–I
noticed when he attended you last time!”

“No, no,” she said hastily. “‘Tis Mr. Venn.”

Clym’s face suddenly became grave.

“There, now, you don’t like him, and I wish I hadn’t mentioned him!” she
exclaimed almost petulantly. “And I shouldn’t have done it, either, only
he keeps on bothering me so till I don’t know what to do!”

Clym looked at the heath. “I like Venn well enough,” he answered at
last. “He is a very honest and at the same time astute man. He is clever
too, as is proved by his having got you to favour him. But really,
Thomasin, he is not quite–”

“Gentleman enough for me? That is just what I feel. I am sorry now that
I asked you, and I won’t think any more of him. At the same time I must
marry him if I marry anybody–that I WILL say!”

“I don’t see that,” said Clym, carefully concealing every clue to his
own interrupted intention, which she plainly had not guessed. “You might
marry a professional man, or somebody of that sort, by going into the
town to live and forming acquaintances there.”

“I am not fit for town life–so very rural and silly as I always have
been. Do not you yourself notice my countrified ways?”

“Well, when I came home from Paris I did, a little; but I don’t now.”

“That’s because you have got countrified too. O, I couldn’t live in a
street for the world! Egdon is a ridiculous old place; but I have got
used to it, and I couldn’t be happy anywhere else at all.”

“Neither could I,” said Clym.

“Then how could you say that I should marry some town man? I am sure,
say what you will, that I must marry Diggory, if I marry at all. He has
been kinder to me than anybody else, and has helped me in many ways that
I don’t know of!” Thomasin almost pouted now.

“Yes, he has,” said Clym in a neutral tone. “Well, I wish with all my
heart that I could say, marry him. But I cannot forget what my mother
thought on that matter, and it goes rather against me not to respect her
opinion. There is too much reason why we should do the little we can to
respect it now.”

“Very well, then,” sighed Thomasin. “I will say no more.”

“But you are not bound to obey my wishes. I merely say what I think.”

“O no–I don’t want to be rebellious in that way,” she said sadly. “I
had no business to think of him–I ought to have thought of my family.
What dreadfully bad impulses there are in me!” Her lips trembled, and
she turned away to hide a tear.

Clym, though vexed at what seemed her unaccountable taste, was in a
measure relieved to find that at any rate the marriage question in
relation to himself was shelved. Through several succeeding days he saw
her at different times from the window of his room moping disconsolately
about the garden. He was half angry with her for choosing Venn; then he
was grieved at having put himself in the way of Venn’s happiness, who
was, after all, as honest and persevering a young fellow as any on
Egdon, since he had turned over a new leaf. In short, Clym did not know
what to do.

When next they met she said abruptly, “He is much more respectable now
than he was then!”

“Who? O yes–Diggory Venn.”

“Aunt only objected because he was a reddleman.”

“Well, Thomasin, perhaps I don’t know all the particulars of my mother’s
wish. So you had better use your own discretion.”

“You will always feel that I slighted your mother’s memory.”

“No, I will not. I shall think you are convinced that, had she seen
Diggory in his present position, she would have considered him a fitting
husband for you. Now, that’s my real feeling. Don’t consult me any more,
but do as you like, Thomasin. I shall be content.”

It is to be supposed that Thomasin was convinced; for a few days after
this, when Clym strayed into a part of the heath that he had not lately
visited, Humphrey, who was at work there, said to him, “I am glad to see
that Mrs. Wildeve and Venn have made it up again, seemingly.”

“Have they?” said Clym abstractedly.

“Yes; and he do contrive to stumble upon her whenever she walks out on
fine days with the chiel. But, Mr. Yeobright, I can’t help feeling
that your cousin ought to have married you. ‘Tis a pity to make two
chimleycorners where there need be only one. You could get her away from
him now, ’tis my belief, if you were only to set about it.”

“How can I have the conscience to marry after having driven two women to
their deaths? Don’t think such a thing, Humphrey. After my experience
I should consider it too much of a burlesque to go to church and take a
wife. In the words of Job, ‘I have made a covenant with mine eyes; when
then should I think upon a maid?'”

“No, Mr. Clym, don’t fancy that about driving two women to their deaths.
You shouldn’t say it.”

“Well, we’ll leave that out,” said Yeobright. “But anyhow God has set a
mark upon me which wouldn’t look well in a love-making scene. I have two
ideas in my head, and no others. I am going to keep a night-school;
and I am going to turn preacher. What have you got to say to that,
Humphrey?”

“I’ll come and hear ‘ee with all my heart.”

“Thanks. ‘Tis all I wish.”

As Clym descended into the valley Thomasin came down by the other path,
and met him at the gate. “What do you think I have to tell you, Clym?”
she said, looking archly over her shoulder at him.

“I can guess,” he replied.

She scrutinized his face. “Yes, you guess right. It is going to be after
all. He thinks I may as well make up my mind, and I have got to think
so too. It is to be on the twenty-fifth of next month, if you don’t
object.”

“Do what you think right, dear. I am only too glad that you see your way
clear to happiness again. My sex owes you every amends for the treatment
you received in days gone by.”*

* The writer may state here that the original conception of
the story did not design a marriage between Thomasin and
Venn. He was to have retained his isolated and weird
character to the last, and to have disappeared mysteriously
from the heath, nobody knowing whither–Thomasin remaining a
widow. But certain circumstances of serial publication led
to a change of intent.

Readers can therefore choose between the endings, and those with an
austere artistic code can assume the more consistent conclusion to be
the true one.

4–Cheerfulness Again Asserts Itself at Blooms-End, and Clym Finds His
Vocation

Anybody who had passed through Blooms-End about eleven o’clock on the
morning fixed for the wedding would have found that, while Yeobright’s
house was comparatively quiet, sounds denoting great activity came from
the dwelling of his nearest neighbour, Timothy Fairway. It was chiefly
a noise of feet, briskly crunching hither and thither over the sanded
floor within. One man only was visible outside, and he seemed to be
later at an appointment than he had intended to be, for he hastened up
to the door, lifted the latch, and walked in without ceremony.

The scene within was not quite the customary one. Standing about the
room was the little knot of men who formed the chief part of the Egdon
coterie, there being present Fairway himself, Grandfer Cantle, Humphrey,
Christian, and one or two turf-cutters. It was a warm day, and the men
were as a matter of course in their shirtsleeves, except Christian, who
had always a nervous fear of parting with a scrap of his clothing when
in anybody’s house but his own. Across the stout oak table in the middle
of the room was thrown a mass of striped linen, which Grandfer Cantle
held down on one side, and Humphrey on the other, while Fairway rubbed
its surface with a yellow lump, his face being damp and creased with the
effort of the labour.

“Waxing a bed-tick, souls?” said the newcomer.

“Yes, Sam,” said Grandfer Cantle, as a man too busy to waste words.
“Shall I stretch this corner a shade tighter, Timothy?”

Fairway replied, and the waxing went on with unabated vigour. “‘Tis
going to be a good bed, by the look o’t,” continued Sam, after an
interval of silence. “Who may it be for?”

“‘Tis a present for the new folks that’s going to set up housekeeping,”
said Christian, who stood helpless and overcome by the majesty of the
proceedings.

“Ah, to be sure; and a valuable one, ‘a b’lieve.”

“Beds be dear to fokes that don’t keep geese, bain’t they, Mister
Fairway?” said Christian, as to an omniscient being.

“Yes,” said the furze-dealer, standing up, giving his forehead a
thorough mopping, and handing the beeswax to Humphrey, who succeeded
at the rubbing forthwith. “Not that this couple be in want of one, but
’twas well to show ’em a bit of friendliness at this great racketing
vagary of their lives. I set up both my own daughters in one when they
was married, and there have been feathers enough for another in the
house the last twelve months. Now then, neighbours, I think we have
laid on enough wax. Grandfer Cantle, you turn the tick the right way
outwards, and then I’ll begin to shake in the feathers.”

When the bed was in proper trim Fairway and Christian brought forward
vast paper bags, stuffed to the full, but light as balloons, and began
to turn the contents of each into the receptacle just prepared. As bag
after bag was emptied, airy tufts of down and feathers floated about the
room in increasing quantity till, through a mishap of Christian’s, who
shook the contents of one bag outside the tick, the atmosphere of the
room became dense with gigantic flakes, which descended upon the workers
like a windless snowstorm.

“I never saw such a clumsy chap as you, Christian,” said Grandfer
Cantle severely. “You might have been the son of a man that’s never been
outside Blooms-End in his life for all the wit you have. Really all the
soldiering and smartness in the world in the father seems to count for
nothing in forming the nater of the son. As far as that chief Christian
is concerned I might as well have stayed at home and seed nothing,
like all the rest of ye here. Though, as far as myself is concerned, a
dashing spirit has counted for sommat, to be sure!”

“Don’t ye let me down so, Father; I feel no bigger than a ninepin after
it. I’ve made but a bruckle hit, I’m afeard.”

“Come, come. Never pitch yerself in such a low key as that, Christian;
you should try more,” said Fairway.

“Yes, you should try more,” echoed the Grandfer with insistence, as
if he had been the first to make the suggestion. “In common conscience
every man ought either to marry or go for a soldier. ‘Tis a scandal to
the nation to do neither one nor t’other. I did both, thank God! Neither
to raise men nor to lay ’em low–that shows a poor do-nothing spirit
indeed.”

“I never had the nerve to stand fire,” faltered Christian. “But as to
marrying, I own I’ve asked here and there, though without much fruit
from it. Yes, there’s some house or other that might have had a man for
a master–such as he is–that’s now ruled by a woman alone. Still it
might have been awkward if I had found her; for, d’ye see, neighbours,
there’d have been nobody left at home to keep down Father’s spirits to
the decent pitch that becomes a old man.”

“And you’ve your work cut out to do that, my son,” said Grandfer Cantle
smartly. “I wish that the dread of infirmities was not so strong in
me!–I’d start the very first thing tomorrow to see the world over
again! But seventy-one, though nothing at home, is a high figure for a
rover….Ay, seventy-one, last Candlemasday. Gad, I’d sooner have it in
guineas than in years!” And the old man sighed.

“Don’t you be mournful, Grandfer,” said Fairway. “Empt some more
feathers into the bed-tick, and keep up yer heart. Though rather lean in
the stalks you be a green-leaved old man still. There’s time enough left
to ye yet to fill whole chronicles.”

“Begad, I’ll go to ’em, Timothy–to the married pair!” said Granfer
Cantle in an encouraged voice, and starting round briskly. “I’ll go to
’em tonight and sing a wedding song, hey? ‘Tis like me to do so, you
know; and they’d see it as such. My ‘Down in Cupid’s Gardens’ was well
liked in four; still, I’ve got others as good, and even better. What do
you say to my

She cal’-led to’ her love’
From the lat’-tice a-bove,
‘O come in’ from the fog-gy fog’-gy dew’.’

‘Twould please ’em well at such a time! Really, now I come to think of
it, I haven’t turned my tongue in my head to the shape of a real good
song since Old Midsummer night, when we had the ‘Barley Mow’ at the
Woman; and ’tis a pity to neglect your strong point where there’s few
that have the compass for such things!”

“So ’tis, so ’tis,” said Fairway. “Now gie the bed a shake down. We’ve
put in seventy pounds of best feathers, and I think that’s as many as
the tick will fairly hold. A bit and a drap wouldn’t be amiss now, I
reckon. Christian, maul down the victuals from corner-cupboard if canst
reach, man, and I’ll draw a drap o’ sommat to wet it with.”

They sat down to a lunch in the midst of their work, feathers around,
above, and below them; the original owners of which occasionally came
to the open door and cackled begrudgingly at sight of such a quantity of
their old clothes.

“Upon my soul I shall be chokt,” said Fairway when, having extracted a
feather from his mouth, he found several others floating on the mug as
it was handed round.

“I’ve swallered several; and one had a tolerable quill,” said Sam
placidly from the corner.

“Hullo–what’s that–wheels I hear coming?” Grandfer Cantle exclaimed,
jumping up and hastening to the door. “Why, ’tis they back again–I
didn’t expect ’em yet this half-hour. To be sure, how quick marrying can
be done when you are in the mind for’t!”

“O yes, it can soon be DONE,” said Fairway, as if something should be
added to make the statement complete.

He arose and followed the Grandfer, and the rest also went to the door.
In a moment an open fly was driven past, in which sat Venn and Mrs.
Venn, Yeobright, and a grand relative of Venn’s who had come from
Budmouth for the occasion. The fly had been hired at the nearest town,
regardless of distance and cost, there being nothing on Egdon Heath, in
Venn’s opinion, dignified enough for such an event when such a woman
as Thomasin was the bride; and the church was too remote for a walking
bridal-party.

As the fly passed the group which had run out from the homestead they
shouted “Hurrah!” and waved their hands; feathers and down floating
from their hair, their sleeves, and the folds of their garments at every
motion, and Grandfer Cantle’s seals dancing merrily in the sunlight as
he twirled himself about. The driver of the fly turned a supercilious
gaze upon them; he even treated the wedded pair themselves with
something like condescension; for in what other state than heathen could
people, rich or poor, exist who were doomed to abide in such a world’s
end as Egdon? Thomasin showed no such superiority to the group at the
door, fluttering her hand as quickly as a bird’s wing towards them, and
asking Diggory, with tears in her eyes, if they ought not to alight and
speak to these kind neighbours. Venn, however, suggested that, as they
were all coming to the house in the evening, this was hardly necessary.

After this excitement the saluting party returned to their occupation,
and the stuffing and sewing were soon afterwards finished, when Fairway
harnessed a horse, wrapped up the cumbrous present, and drove off with
it in the cart to Venn’s house at Stickleford.

Yeobright, having filled the office at the wedding service which
naturally fell to his hands, and afterwards returned to the house with
the husband and wife, was indisposed to take part in the feasting and
dancing that wound up the evening. Thomasin was disappointed.

“I wish I could be there without dashing your spirits,” he said. “But I
might be too much like the skull at the banquet.”

“No, no.”

“Well, dear, apart from that, if you would excuse me, I should be glad.
I know it seems unkind; but, dear Thomasin, I fear I should not be happy
in the company–there, that’s the truth of it. I shall always be coming
to see you at your new home, you know, so that my absence now will not
matter.”

“Then I give in. Do whatever will be most comfortable to yourself.”

Clym retired to his lodging at the housetop much relieved, and occupied
himself during the afternoon in noting down the heads of a sermon, with
which he intended to initiate all that really seemed practicable of the
scheme that had originally brought him hither, and that he had so long
kept in view under various modifications, and through evil and good
report. He had tested and weighed his convictions again and again, and
saw no reason to alter them, though he had considerably lessened his
plan. His eyesight, by long humouring in his native air, had grown
stronger, but not sufficiently strong to warrant his attempting his
extensive educational project. Yet he did not repine–there was still
more than enough of an unambitious sort to tax all his energies and
occupy all his hours.

Evening drew on, and sounds of life and movement in the lower part of
the domicile became more pronounced, the gate in the palings clicking
incessantly. The party was to be an early one, and all the guests
were assembled long before it was dark. Yeobright went down the back
staircase and into the heath by another path than that in front,
intending to walk in the open air till the party was over, when he would
return to wish Thomasin and her husband good-bye as they departed. His
steps were insensibly bent towards Mistover by the path that he had
followed on that terrible morning when he learnt the strange news from
Susan’s boy.

He did not turn aside to the cottage, but pushed on to an eminence,
whence he could see over the whole quarter that had once been Eustacia’s
home. While he stood observing the darkening scene somebody came up.
Clym, seeing him but dimly, would have let him pass silently, had not
the pedestrian, who was Charley, recognized the young man and spoken to
him.

“Charley, I have not seen you for a length of time,” said Yeobright. “Do
you often walk this way?”

“No,” the lad replied. “I don’t often come outside the bank.”

“You were not at the Maypole.”

“No,” said Charley, in the same listless tone. “I don’t care for that
sort of thing now.”

“You rather liked Miss Eustacia, didn’t you?” Yeobright gently asked.
Eustacia had frequently told him of Charley’s romantic attachment.

“Yes, very much. Ah, I wish–”

“Yes?”

“I wish, Mr. Yeobright, you could give me something to keep that once
belonged to her–if you don’t mind.”

“I shall be very happy to. It will give me very great pleasure, Charley.
Let me think what I have of hers that you would like. But come with me
to the house, and I’ll see.”

They walked towards Blooms-End together. When they reached the front it
was dark, and the shutters were closed, so that nothing of the interior
could be seen.

“Come round this way,” said Clym. “My entrance is at the back for the
present.”

The two went round and ascended the crooked stair in darkness till
Clym’s sitting-room on the upper floor was reached, where he lit a
candle, Charley entering gently behind. Yeobright searched his desk,
and taking out a sheet of tissue-paper unfolded from it two or three
undulating locks of raven hair, which fell over the paper like black
streams. From these he selected one, wrapped it up, and gave it to the
lad, whose eyes had filled with tears. He kissed the packet, put it in
his pocket, and said in a voice of emotion, “O, Mr. Clym, how good you
are to me!”

“I will go a little way with you,” said Clym. And amid the noise of
merriment from below they descended. Their path to the front led them
close to a little side window, whence the rays of candles streamed
across the shrubs. The window, being screened from general observation
by the bushes, had been left unblinded, so that a person in this private
nook could see all that was going on within the room which contained
the wedding guests, except in so far as vision was hindered by the green
antiquity of the panes.

“Charley, what are they doing?” said Clym. “My sight is weaker again
tonight, and the glass of this window is not good.”

Charley wiped his own eyes, which were rather blurred with moisture, and
stepped closer to the casement. “Mr. Venn is asking Christian Cantle to
sing,” he replied, “and Christian is moving about in his chair as if
he were much frightened at the question, and his father has struck up a
stave instead of him.”

“Yes, I can hear the old man’s voice,” said Clym. “So there’s to be no
dancing, I suppose. And is Thomasin in the room? I see something moving
in front of the candles that resembles her shape, I think.”

“Yes. She do seem happy. She is red in the face, and laughing at
something Fairway has said to her. O my!”

“What noise was that?” said Clym.

“Mr. Venn is so tall that he knocked his head against the beam in gieing
a skip as he passed under. Mrs. Venn has run up quite frightened and now
she’s put her hand to his head to feel if there’s a lump. And now they
be all laughing again as if nothing had happened.”

“Do any of them seem to care about my not being there?” Clym asked.

“No, not a bit in the world. Now they are all holding up their glasses
and drinking somebody’s health.”

“I wonder if it is mine?”

“No, ’tis Mr. and Mrs. Venn’s, because he is making a hearty sort of
speech. There–now Mrs. Venn has got up, and is going away to put on her
things, I think.”

“Well, they haven’t concerned themselves about me, and it is quite right
they should not. It is all as it should be, and Thomasin at least is
happy. We will not stay any longer now, as they will soon be coming out
to go home.”

He accompanied the lad into the heath on his way home, and, returning
alone to the house a quarter of an hour later, found Venn and Thomasin
ready to start, all the guests having departed in his absence. The
wedded pair took their seats in the four-wheeled dogcart which Venn’s
head milker and handy man had driven from Stickleford to fetch them in;
little Eustacia and the nurse were packed securely upon the open flap
behind; and the milker, on an ancient overstepping pony, whose shoes
clashed like cymbals at every tread, rode in the rear, in the manner of
a body-servant of the last century.

“Now we leave you in absolute possession of your own house again,” said
Thomasin as she bent down to wish her cousin good night. “It will be
rather lonely for you, Clym, after the hubbub we have been making.”

“O, that’s no inconvenience,” said Clym, smiling rather sadly. And then
the party drove off and vanished in the night shades, and Yeobright
entered the house. The ticking of the clock was the only sound that
greeted him, for not a soul remained; Christian, who acted as cook,
valet, and gardener to Clym, sleeping at his father’s house. Yeobright
sat down in one of the vacant chairs, and remained in thought a long
time. His mother’s old chair was opposite; it had been sat in that
evening by those who had scarcely remembered that it ever was hers. But
to Clym she was almost a presence there, now as always. Whatever she
was in other people’s memories, in his she was the sublime saint whose
radiance even his tenderness for Eustacia could not obscure. But his
heart was heavy, that Mother had NOT crowned him in the day of his
espousals and in the day of the gladness of his heart. And events had
borne out the accuracy of her judgment, and proved the devotedness of
her care. He should have heeded her for Eustacia’s sake even more than
for his own. “It was all my fault,” he whispered. “O, my mother, my
mother! would to God that I could live my life again, and endure for you
what you endured for me!”

On the Sunday after this wedding an unusual sight was to be seen on
Rainbarrow. From a distance there simply appeared to be a motionless
figure standing on the top of the tumulus, just as Eustacia had stood on
that lonely summit some two years and a half before. But now it was fine
warm weather, with only a summer breeze blowing, and early afternoon
instead of dull twilight. Those who ascended to the immediate
neighbourhood of the Barrow perceived that the erect form in the centre,
piercing the sky, was not really alone. Round him upon the slopes of the
Barrow a number of heathmen and women were reclining or sitting at their
ease. They listened to the words of the man in their midst, who was
preaching, while they abstractedly pulled heather, stripped ferns, or
tossed pebbles down the slope. This was the first of a series of moral
lectures or Sermons on the Mount, which were to be delivered from the
same place every Sunday afternoon as long as the fine weather lasted.

The commanding elevation of Rainbarrow had been chosen for two reasons:
first, that it occupied a central position among the remote cottages
around; secondly, that the preacher thereon could be seen from all
adjacent points as soon as he arrived at his post, the view of him being
thus a convenient signal to those stragglers who wished to draw near.
The speaker was bareheaded, and the breeze at each waft gently lifted
and lowered his hair, somewhat too thin for a man of his years, these
still numbering less than thirty-three. He wore a shade over his eyes,
and his face was pensive and lined; but, though these bodily features
were marked with decay there was no defect in the tones of his voice,
which were rich, musical, and stirring. He stated that his discourses to
people were to be sometimes secular, and sometimes religious, but never
dogmatic; and that his texts would be taken from all kinds of books.
This afternoon the words were as follows:–

“‘And the king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat
down on his throne, and caused a seat to be set for the king’s mother;
and she sat on his right hand. Then she said, I desire one small
petition of thee; I pray thee say me not nay. And the king said unto
her, Ask, on, my mother: for I will not say thee nay.'”

Yeobright had, in fact, found his vocation in the career of an itinerant
open-air preacher and lecturer on morally unimpeachable subjects; and
from this day he laboured incessantly in that office, speaking not only
in simple language on Rainbarrow and in the hamlets round, but in a more
cultivated strain elsewhere–from the steps and porticoes of town halls,
from market-crosses, from conduits, on esplanades and on wharves, from
the parapets of bridges, in barns and outhouses, and all other such
places in the neighbouring Wessex towns and villages. He left alone
creeds and systems of philosophy, finding enough and more than enough
to occupy his tongue in the opinions and actions common to all good men.
Some believed him, and some believed not; some said that his words were
commonplace, others complained of his want of theological doctrine;
while others again remarked that it was well enough for a man to take to
preaching who could not see to do anything else. But everywhere he was
kindly received, for the story of his life had become generally known.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: