Part 1 out of 10
The Return of the Native
by Thomas Hardy
The date at which the following events are assumed to
have occurred may be set down as between 1840 and 1850,
when the old watering place herein called "Budmouth" still
retained sufficient afterglow from its Georgian gaiety
and prestige to lend it an absorbing attractiveness to
the romantic and imaginative soul of a lonely dweller inland.
Under the general name of "Egdon Heath," which has been
given to the sombre scene of the story, are united
or typified heaths of various real names, to the number
of at least a dozen; these being virtually one in character
and aspect, though their original unity, or partial unity,
is now somewhat disguised by intrusive strips and slices
brought under the plough with varying degrees of success,
or planted to woodland.
It is pleasant to dream that some spot in the extensive
tract whose southwestern quarter is here described,
may be the heath of that traditionary King of Wessex--Lear.
I bade good morrow,
And thought to leave her far away behind;
But cheerly, cheerly,
She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me, and so kind.
I would deceive her,
And so leave her,
But ah! she is so constant and so kind."
THE THREE WOMEN
1 - A Face on Which Time Makes but Little Impression
A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time
of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known
as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment.
Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting
out the sky was as a tent which had the whole heath
for its floor.
The heaven being spread with this pallid screen and the
earth with the darkest vegetation, their meeting-line
at the horizon was clearly marked. In such contrast
the heath wore the appearance of an instalment of night
which had taken up its place before its astronomical hour
was come: darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon,
while day stood distinct in the sky. Looking upwards,
a furze-cutter would have been inclined to continue work;
looking down, he would have decided to finish his
faggot and go home. The distant rims of the world
and of the firmament seemed to be a division in time no
less than a division in matter. The face of the heath
by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening;
it could in like manner retard the dawn, sadden noon,
anticipate the frowning of storms scarcely generated,
and intensify the opacity of a moonless midnight to a cause
of shaking and dread.
In fact, precisely at this transitional point of its
nightly roll into darkness the great and particular glory
of the Egdon waste began, and nobody could be said to
understand the heath who had not been there at such a time.
It could best be felt when it could not clearly be seen,
its complete effect and explanation lying in this and the
succeeding hours before the next dawn; then, and only then,
did it tell its true tale. The spot was, indeed, a near
relation of night, and when night showed itself an apparent
tendency to gravitate together could be perceived in its
shades and the scene. The sombre stretch of rounds
and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom
in pure sympathy, the heath exhaling darkness as rapidly
as the heavens precipitated it. And so the obscurity
in the air and the obscurity in the land closed together
in a black fraternization towards which each advanced halfway.
The place became full of a watchful intentness now;
for when other things sank blooding to sleep the heath
appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night
its Titanic form seemed to await something; but it
had waited thus, unmoved, during so many centuries,
through the crises of so many things, that it could only
be imagined to await one last crisis--the final overthrow.
It was a spot which returned upon the memory of those who
loved it with an aspect of peculiar and kindly congruity.
Smiling champaigns of flowers and fruit hardly do this,
for they are permanently harmonious only with an existence
of better reputation as to its issues than the present.
Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath
to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive
without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in
its simplicity. The qualifications which frequently
invest the facade of a prison with far more dignity
than is found in the facade of a palace double its size
lent to this heath a sublimity in which spots renowned
for beauty of the accepted kind are utterly wanting.
Fair prospects wed happily with fair times; but alas,
if times be not fair! Men have oftener suffered from,
the mockery of a place too smiling for their reason than
from the oppression of surroundings oversadly tinged.
Haggard Egdon appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct,
to a more recently learnt emotion, than that which responds
to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.
Indeed, it is a question if the exclusive reign of this
orthodox beauty is not approaching its last quarter.
The new Vale of Tempe may be a gaunt waste in Thule;
human souls may find themselves in closer and closer harmony
with external things wearing a sombreness distasteful
to our race when it was young. The time seems near,
if it has not actually arrived, when the chastened
sublimity of a moor, a sea, or a mountain will be all
of nature that is absolutely in keeping with the moods
of the more thinking among mankind. And ultimately,
to the commonest tourist, spots like Iceland may become
what the vineyards and myrtle gardens of South Europe
are to him now; and Heidelberg and Baden be passed
unheeded as he hastens from the Alps to the sand dunes
The most thoroughgoing ascetic could feel that he had
a natural right to wander on Egdon--he was keeping within
the line of legitimate indulgence when he laid himself
open to influences such as these. Colours and beauties
so far subdued were, at least, the birthright of all.
Only in summer days of highest feather did its mood
touch the level of gaiety. Intensity was more usually
reached by way of the solemn than by way of the brilliant,
and such a sort of intensity was often arrived at during
winter darkness, tempests, and mists. Then Egdon was aroused
to reciprocity; for the storm was its lover, and the wind
its friend. Then it became the home of strange phantoms;
and it was found to be the hitherto unrecognized original
of those wild regions of obscurity which are vaguely felt
to be compassing us about in midnight dreams of flight
and disaster, and are never thought of after the dream
till revived by scenes like this.
It was at present a place perfectly accordant with
man's nature--neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly;
neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame; but, like man,
slighted and enduring; and withal singularly colossal
and mysterious in its swarthy monotony. As with some
persons who have long lived apart, solitude seemed
to look out of its countenance. It had a lonely face,
suggesting tragical possibilities.
This obscure, obsolete, superseded country figures in Domesday.
Its condition is recorded therein as that of heathy, furzy,
briary wilderness--"Bruaria." Then follows the length
and breadth in leagues; and, though some uncertainty exists
as to the exact extent of this ancient lineal measure,
it appears from the figures that the area of Egdon
down to the present day has but little diminished.
"Turbaria Bruaria"--the right of cutting heath-turf--occurs
in charters relating to the district. "Overgrown with
heth and mosse," says Leland of the same dark sweep of country.
Here at least were intelligible facts regarding
landscape--far-reaching proofs productive of genuine
satisfaction. The untameable, Ishmaelitish thing that Egdon
now was it always had been. Civilization was its enemy;
and ever since the beginning of vegetation its soil
had worn the same antique brown dress, the natural
and invariable garment of the particular formation.
In its venerable one coat lay a certain vein of satire
on human vanity in clothes. A person on a heath in
raiment of modern cut and colours has more or less an
anomalous look. We seem to want the oldest and simplest
human clothing where the clothing of the earth is so primitive.
To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley
of Egdon, between afternoon and night, as now, where the
eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits
and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole
circumference of its glance, and to know that everything
around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as
unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind
adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New.
The great inviolate place had an ancient permanence which
the sea cannot claim. Who can say of a particular sea
that it is old? Distilled by the sun, kneaded by the moon,
it is renewed in a year, in a day, or in an hour.
The sea changed, the fields changed, the rivers,
the villages, and the people changed, yet Egdon remained.
Those surfaces were neither so steep as to be destructible
by weather, nor so flat as to be the victims of floods
and deposits. With the exception of an aged highway,
and a still more aged barrow presently to be referred
to--themselves almost crystallized to natural products
by long continuance--even the trifling irregularities
were not caused by pickaxe, plough, or spade, but remained
as the very finger-touches of the last geological change.
The above-mentioned highway traversed the lower levels
of the heath, from one horizon to another. In many
portions of its course it overlaid an old vicinal way,
which branched from the great Western road of the Romans,
the Via Iceniana, or Ikenild Street, hard by.
On the evening under consideration it would have been
noticed that, though the gloom had increased sufficiently
to confuse the minor features of the heath, the white
surface of the road remained almost as clear as ever.
2 - Humanity Appears upon the Scene, Hand in Hand with Trouble
Along the road walked an old man. He was white-headed
as a mountain, bowed in the shoulders, and faded
in general aspect. He wore a glazed hat, an ancient
boat-cloak, and shoes; his brass buttons bearing an
anchor upon their face. In his hand was a silver-headed
walking stick, which he used as a veritable third leg,
perseveringly dotting the ground with its point at every
few inches' interval. One would have said that he had been,
in his day, a naval officer of some sort or other.
Before him stretched the long, laborious road, dry, empty,
and white. It was quite open to the heath on each side,
and bisected that vast dark surface like the parting-line
on a head of black hair, diminishing and bending away
on the furthest horizon.
The old man frequently stretched his eyes ahead to gaze
over the tract that he had yet to traverse. At length
he discerned, a long distance in front of him, a moving spot,
which appeared to be a vehicle, and it proved to be going
the same way as that in which he himself was journeying.
It was the single atom of life that the scene contained,
and it only served to render the general loneliness
more evident. Its rate of advance was slow, and the old
man gained upon it sensibly.
When he drew nearer he perceived it to be a spring van,
ordinary in shape, but singular in colour, this being a
lurid red. The driver walked beside it; and, like his van,
he was completely red. One dye of that tincture covered
his clothes, the cap upon his head, his boots, his face,
and his hands. He was not temporarily overlaid with
the colour; it permeated him.
The old man knew the meaning of this. The traveller
with the cart was a reddleman--a person whose vocation
it was to supply farmers with redding for their sheep.
He was one of a class rapidly becoming extinct in Wessex,
filling at present in the rural world the place which,
during the last century, the dodo occupied in the world
of animals. He is a curious, interesting, and nearly
perished link between obsolete forms of life and those which
The decayed officer, by degrees, came up alongside his
fellow-wayfarer, and wished him good evening. The reddleman
turned his head, and replied in sad and occupied tones.
He was young, and his face, if not exactly handsome,
approached so near to handsome that nobody would have
contradicted an assertion that it really was so in its
natural colour. His eye, which glared so strangely
through his stain, was in itself attractive--keen
as that of a bird of prey, and blue as autumn mist.
He had neither whisker nor moustache, which allowed the soft
curves of the lower part of his face to be apparent.
His lips were thin, and though, as it seemed, compressed
by thought, there was a pleasant twitch at their corners
now and then. He was clothed throughout in a tight-fitting
suit of corduroy, excellent in quality, not much worn,
and well-chosen for its purpose, but deprived of its
original colour by his trade. It showed to advantage the
good shape of his figure. A certain well-to-do air about
the man suggested that he was not poor for his degree.
The natural query of an observer would have been,
Why should such a promising being as this have hidden
his prepossessing exterior by adopting that singular occupation?
After replying to the old man's greeting he showed no
inclination to continue in talk, although they still
walked side by side, for the elder traveller seemed
to desire company. There were no sounds but that of the
booming wind upon the stretch of tawny herbage around them,
the crackling wheels, the tread of the men, and the
footsteps of the two shaggy ponies which drew the van.
They were small, hardy animals, of a breed between Galloway
and Exmoor, and were known as "heath-croppers" here.
Now, as they thus pursued their way, the reddleman occasionally
left his companion's side, and, stepping behind the van,
looked into its interior through a small window. The look
was always anxious. He would then return to the old man,
who made another remark about the state of the country
and so on, to which the reddleman again abstractedly
replied, and then again they would lapse into silence.
The silence conveyed to neither any sense of awkwardness;
in these lonely places wayfarers, after a first greeting,
frequently plod on for miles without speech; contiguity amounts
to a tacit conversation where, otherwise than in cities,
such contiguity can be put an end to on the merest inclination,
and where not to put an end to it is intercourse in itself.
Possibly these two might not have spoken again till their parting,
had it not been for the reddleman's visits to his van.
When he returned from his fifth time of looking in the old
man said, "You have something inside there besides your load?"
"Somebody who wants looking after?"
Not long after this a faint cry sounded from the interior.
The reddleman hastened to the back, looked in, and came
"You have a child there, my man?"
"No, sir, I have a woman."
"The deuce you have! Why did she cry out?"
"Oh, she has fallen asleep, and not being used to traveling,
she's uneasy, and keeps dreaming."
"A young woman?"
"Yes, a young woman."
"That would have interested me forty years ago.
Perhaps she's your wife?"
"My wife!" said the other bitterly. "She's above mating
with such as I. But there's no reason why I should tell
you about that."
"That's true. And there's no reason why you should not.
What harm can I do to you or to her?"
The reddleman looked in the old man's face. "Well, sir,"
he said at last, "I knew her before today, though perhaps
it would have been better if I had not. But she's
nothing to me, and I am nothing to her; and she wouldn't
have been in my van if any better carriage had been there
to take her."
"Where, may I ask?"
"I know the town well. What was she doing there?"
"Oh, not much--to gossip about. However, she's tired to death now,
and not at all well, and that's what makes her so restless.
She dropped off into a nap about an hour ago, and 'twill do her good."
"A nice-looking girl, no doubt?"
"You would say so."
The other traveller turned his eyes with interest
towards the van window, and, without withdrawing them,
said, "I presume I might look in upon her?"
"No," said the reddleman abruptly. "It is getting too
dark for you to see much of her; and, more than that,
I have no right to allow you. Thank God she sleeps so well,
I hope she won't wake till she's home."
"Who is she? One of the neighbourhood?"
"'Tis no matter who, excuse me."
"It is not that girl of Blooms-End, who has been talked
about more or less lately? If so, I know her; and I can
guess what has happened."
"'Tis no matter....Now, sir, I am sorry to say that we
shall soon have to part company. My ponies are tired,
and I have further to go, and I am going to rest them
under this bank for an hour."
The elder traveller nodded his head indifferently,
and the reddleman turned his horses and van in upon
the turf, saying, "Good night." The old man replied,
and proceeded on his way as before.
The reddleman watched his form as it diminished to a
speck on the road and became absorbed in the thickening
films of night. He then took some hay from a truss
which was slung up under the van, and, throwing a portion
of it in front of the horses, made a pad of the rest,
which he laid on the ground beside his vehicle.
Upon this he sat down, leaning his back against the wheel.
From the interior a low soft breathing came to his ear.
It appeared to satisfy him, and he musingly surveyed
the scene, as if considering the next step that he
To do things musingly, and by small degrees, seemed, indeed,
to be a duty in the Egdon valleys at this transitional hour,
for there was that in the condition of the heath itself
which resembled protracted and halting dubiousness.
It was the quality of the repose appertaining to the scene.
This was not the repose of actual stagnation, but the
apparent repose of incredible slowness. A condition
of healthy life so nearly resembling the torpor of death
is a noticeable thing of its sort; to exhibit the inertness
of the desert, and at the same time to be exercising powers
akin to those of the meadow, and even of the forest,
awakened in those who thought of it the attentiveness
usually engendered by understatement and reserve.
The scene before the reddleman's eyes was a gradual series
of ascents from the level of the road backward into the
heart of the heath. It embraced hillocks, pits, ridges,
acclivities, one behind the other, till all was finished
by a high hill cutting against the still light sky.
The traveller's eye hovered about these things for a time,
and finally settled upon one noteworthy object up there.
It was a barrow. This bossy projection of earth above
its natural level occupied the loftiest ground of the
loneliest height that the heath contained. Although from
the vale it appeared but as a wart on an Atlantean brow,
its actual bulk was great. It formed the pole and axis
of this heathery world.
As the resting man looked at the barrow he became aware
that its summit, hitherto the highest object in the whole
prospect round, was surmounted by something higher. It rose
from the semiglobular mound like a spike from a helmet.
The first instinct of an imaginative stranger might have
been to suppose it the person of one of the Celts who
built the barrow, so far had all of modern date withdrawn
from the scene. It seemed a sort of last man among them,
musing for a moment before dropping into eternal night
with the rest of his race.
There the form stood, motionless as the hill beneath.
Above the plain rose the hill, above the hill rose
the barrow, and above the barrow rose the figure.
Above the figure was nothing that could be mapped elsewhere
than on a celestial globe.
Such a perfect, delicate, and necessary finish did
the figure give to the dark pile of hills that it seemed
to be the only obvious justification of their outline.
Without it, there was the dome without the lantern; with it
the architectural demands of the mass were satisfied.
The scene was strangely homogeneous, in that the vale,
the upland, the barrow, and the figure above it amounted
only to unity. Looking at this or that member of the group
was not observing a complete thing, but a fraction of
The form was so much like an organic part of the
entire motionless structure that to see it move would
have impressed the mind as a strange phenomenon.
Immobility being the chief characteristic of that whole
which the person formed portion of, the discontinuance
of immobility in any quarter suggested confusion.
Yet that is what happened. The figure perceptibly gave
up its fixity, shifted a step or two, and turned round.
As if alarmed, it descended on the right side of the barrow,
with the glide of a water-drop down a bud, and then vanished.
The movement had been sufficient to show more clearly
the characteristics of the figure, and that it was a
The reason of her sudden displacement now appeared.
With her dropping out of sight on the right side, a newcomer,
bearing a burden, protruded into the sky on the left side,
ascended the tumulus, and deposited the burden on the top.
A second followed, then a third, a fourth, a fifth,
and ultimately the whole barrow was peopled with
The only intelligible meaning in this sky-backed pantomime
of silhouettes was that the woman had no relation to the forms
who had taken her place, was sedulously avoiding these,
and had come thither for another object than theirs.
The imagination of the observer clung by preference
to that vanished, solitary figure, as to something
more interesting, more important, more likely to have a
history worth knowing than these newcomers, and unconsciously
regarded them as intruders. But they remained,
and established themselves; and the lonely person who hitherto
had been queen of the solitude did not at present seem likely
3 - The Custom of the Country
Had a looker-on been posted in the immediate vicinity
of the barrow, he would have learned that these persons
were boys and men of the neighbouring hamlets.
Each, as he ascended the barrow, had been heavily laden
with furze faggots, carried upon the shoulder by means
of a long stake sharpened at each end for impaling them
easily--two in front and two behind. They came from
a part of the heath a quarter of a mile to the rear,
where furze almost exclusively prevailed as a product.
Every individual was so involved in furze by his method
of carrying the faggots that he appeared like a bush on
legs till he had thrown them down. The party had marched
in trail, like a travelling flock of sheep; that is to say,
the strongest first, the weak and young behind.
The loads were all laid together, and a pyramid of furze
thirty feet in circumference now occupied the crown
of the tumulus, which was known as Rainbarrow for many
miles round. Some made themselves busy with matches,
and in selecting the driest tufts of furze, others in
loosening the bramble bonds which held the faggots together.
Others, again, while this was in progress, lifted their
eyes and swept the vast expanse of country commanded
by their position, now lying nearly obliterated by shade.
In the valleys of the heath nothing save its own wild
face was visible at any time of day; but this spot
commanded a horizon enclosing a tract of far extent,
and in many cases lying beyond the heath country.
None of its features could be seen now, but the whole
made itself felt as a vague stretch of remoteness.
While the men and lads were building the pile,
a change took place in the mass of shade which denoted
the distant landscape. Red suns and tufts of fire one
by one began to arise, flecking the whole country round.
They were the bonfires of other parishes and hamlets
that were engaged in the same sort of commemoration.
Some were distant, and stood in a dense atmosphere,
so that bundles of pale straw-like beams radiated around
them in the shape of a fan. Some were large and near,
glowing scarlet-red from the shade, like wounds in a black hide.
Some were Maenades, with winy faces and blown hair.
These tinctured the silent bosom of the clouds above
them and lit up their ephemeral caves, which seemed
thenceforth to become scalding caldrons. Perhaps as many
as thirty bonfires could be counted within the whole
bounds of the district; and as the hour may be told on
a clock-face when the figures themselves are invisible,
so did the men recognize the locality of each fire by its
angle and direction, though nothing of the scenery could
The first tall flame from Rainbarrow sprang into the sky,
attracting all eyes that had been fixed on the distant
conflagrations back to their own attempt in the same kind.
The cheerful blaze streaked the inner surface of the human
circle--now increased by other stragglers, male and female--with
its own gold livery, and even overlaid the dark turf
around with a lively luminousness, which softened off into
obscurity where the barrow rounded downwards out of sight.
It showed the barrow to be the segment of a globe,
as perfect as on the day when it was thrown up, even the
little ditch remaining from which the earth was dug.
Not a plough had ever disturbed a grain of that stubborn soil.
In the heath's barrenness to the farmer lay its fertility
to the historian. There had been no obliteration,
because there had been no tending.
It seemed as if the bonfire-makers were standing in some
radiant upper story of the world, detached from and
independent of the dark stretches below. The heath down
there was now a vast abyss, and no longer a continuation
of what they stood on; for their eyes, adapted to the blaze,
could see nothing of the deeps beyond its influence.
Occasionally, it is true, a more vigorous flare than usual
from their faggots sent darting lights like aides-de-camp
down the inclines to some distant bush, pool, or patch
of white sand, kindling these to replies of the same colour,
till all was lost in darkness again. Then the whole black
phenomenon beneath represented Limbo as viewed from the brink
by the sublime Florentine in his vision, and the muttered
articulations of the wind in the hollows were as complaints
and petitions from the "souls of mighty worth" suspended therein.
It was as if these men and boys had suddenly dived into
past ages, and fetched therefrom an hour and deed which had
before been familiar with this spot. The ashes of the
original British pyre which blazed from that summit lay
fresh and undisturbed in the barrow beneath their tread.
The flames from funeral piles long ago kindled there had
shone down upon the lowlands as these were shining now.
Festival fires to Thor and Woden had followed on the same
ground and duly had their day. Indeed, it is pretty
well known that such blazes as this the heathmen were now
enjoying are rather the lineal descendants from jumbled
Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies than the invention
of popular feeling about Gunpowder Plot.
Moreover to light a fire is the instinctive and resistant
act of man when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is
sounded throughout Nature. It indicates a spontaneous,
Promethean rebelliousness against that fiat that this
recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness,
misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods
of the earth say, Let there be light.
The brilliant lights and sooty shades which struggled
upon the skin and clothes of the persons standing round
caused their lineaments and general contours to be drawn
with Dureresque vigour and dash. Yet the permanent moral
expression of each face it was impossible to discover,
for as the nimble flames towered, nodded, and swooped
through the surrounding air, the blots of shade and flakes
of light upon the countenances of the group changed shape
and position endlessly. All was unstable; quivering as leaves,
evanescent as lightning. Shadowy eye-sockets, deep
as those of a death's head, suddenly turned into pits of
lustre: a lantern-jaw was cavernous, then it was shining;
wrinkles were emphasized to ravines, or obliterated
entirely by a changed ray. Nostrils were dark wells;
sinews in old necks were gilt mouldings; things with no
particular polish on them were glazed; bright objects,
such as the tip of a furze-hook one of the men carried,
were as glass; eyeballs glowed like little lanterns.
Those whom Nature had depicted as merely quaint
became grotesque, the grotesque became preternatural;
for all was in extremity.
Hence it may be that the face of an old man, who had like
others been called to the heights by the rising flames,
was not really the mere nose and chin that it appeared
to be, but an appreciable quantity of human countenance.
He stood complacently sunning himself in the heat.
With a speaker, or stake, he tossed the outlying scraps of fuel
into the conflagration, looking at the midst of the pile,
occasionally lifting his eyes to measure the height
of the flame, or to follow the great sparks which rose
with it and sailed away into darkness. The beaming sight,
and the penetrating warmth, seemed to breed in him a
cumulative cheerfulness, which soon amounted to delight.
With his stick in his hand he began to jig a private minuet,
a bunch of copper seals shining and swinging like a
pendulum from under his waistcoat: he also began to sing,
in the voice of a bee up a flue--
"The king' call'd down' his no-bles all',
By one', by two', by three';
Earl Mar'-shal, I'll' go shrive'-the queen',
And thou' shalt wend' with me'.
"A boon', a boon', quoth Earl' Mar-shal',
And fell' on his bend'-ded knee',
That what'-so-e'er' the queen' shall say',
No harm' there-of' may be'."
Want of breath prevented a continuance of the song;
and the breakdown attracted the attention of a firm-
standing man of middle age, who kept each corner of his
crescent-shaped mouth rigorously drawn back into his cheek,
as if to do away with any suspicion of mirthfulness
which might erroneously have attached to him.
"A fair stave, Grandfer Cantle; but I am afeard 'tis too
much for the mouldy weasand of such a old man as you,"
he said to the wrinkled reveller. "Dostn't wish th'
wast three sixes again, Grandfer, as you was when you first
learnt to sing it?"
"Hey?" said Grandfer Cantle, stopping in his dance.
"Dostn't wish wast young again, I say? There's a hole
in thy poor bellows nowadays seemingly."
"But there's good art in me? If I couldn't make
a little wind go a long ways I should seem no younger
than the most aged man, should I, Timothy?"
"And how about the new-married folks down there at the
Quiet Woman Inn?" the other inquired, pointing towards
a dim light in the direction of the distant highway,
but considerably apart from where the reddleman was at
that moment resting. "What's the rights of the matter
about 'em? You ought to know, being an understanding man."
"But a little rakish, hey? I own to it. Master Cantle
is that, or he's nothing. Yet 'tis a gay fault,
neigbbour Fairway, that age will cure."
"I heard that they were coming home tonight. By this
time they must have come. What besides?"
"The next thing is for us to go and wish 'em joy,
"No? Now, I thought we must. I must, or 'twould be
very unlike me--the first in every spree that's going!
"Do thou' put on' a fri'-ar's coat',
And I'll' put on' a-no'-ther,
And we' will to' Queen Ele'anor go',
Like Fri'ar and' his bro'ther.
I met Mis'ess Yeobright, the young bride's aunt,
last night, and she told me that her son Clym was coming
home a' Christmas. Wonderful clever, 'a believe--ah, I
should like to have all that's under that young man's hair.
Well, then, I spoke to her in my well-known merry way,
and she said, 'O that what's shaped so venerable should
talk like a fool!'--that's what she said to me. I don't
care for her, be jowned if I do, and so I told her.
'Be jowned if I care for 'ee,' I said. I had her there--hey?"
"I rather think she had you," said Fairway.
"No," said Grandfer Cantle, his countenance slightly flagging.
"'Tisn't so bad as that with me?"
"Seemingly 'tis, however, is it because of the wedding
that Clym is coming home a' Christmas--to make a new
arrangement because his mother is now left in the house alone?"
"Yes, yes--that's it. But, Timothy, hearken to me,"
said the Grandfer earnestly. "Though known as such a joker,
I be an understanding man if you catch me serious, and I am
serious now. I can tell 'ee lots about the married couple.
Yes, this morning at six o'clock they went up the country
to do the job, and neither vell nor mark have been seen
of 'em since, though I reckon that this afternoon has
brought 'em home again man and woman--wife, that is.
Isn't it spoke like a man, Timothy, and wasn't Mis'ess
Yeobright wrong about me?"
"Yes, it will do. I didn't know the two had walked
together since last fall, when her aunt forbad the banns.
How long has this new set-to been in mangling then? Do
you know, Humphrey?"
"Yes, how long?" said Grandfer Cantle smartly,
likewise turning to Humphrey. "I ask that question."
"Ever since her aunt altered her mind, and said she might have
the man after all," replied Humphrey, without removing his
eyes from the fire. He was a somewhat solemn young fellow,
and carried the hook and leather gloves of a furze-cutter,
his legs, by reason of that occupation, being sheathed
in bulging leggings as stiff as the Philistine's greaves
of brass. "That's why they went away to be married,
I count. You see, after kicking up such a nunny-watch
and forbidding the banns 'twould have made Mis'ess
Yeobright seem foolish-like to have a banging wedding
in the same parish all as if she'd never gainsaid it."
"Exactly--seem foolish-like; and that's very bad for the
poor things that be so, though I only guess as much,
to be sure," said Grandfer Cantle, still strenuously
preserving a sensible bearing and mien.
"Ah, well, I was at church that day," said Fairway,
"which was a very curious thing to happen."
"If 'twasn't my name's Simple," said the
Grandfer emphatically. "I ha'n't been there to-year;
and now the winter is a-coming on I won't say I shall."
"I ha'n't been these three years," said Humphrey;
"for I'm so dead sleepy of a Sunday; and 'tis so terrible
far to get there; and when you do get there 'tis such
a mortal poor chance that you'll be chose for up above,
when so many bain't, that I bide at home and don't go
"I not only happened to be there," said Fairway,
with a fresh collection of emphasis, "but I was sitting
in the same pew as Mis'ess Yeobright. And though you
may not see it as such, it fairly made my blood run
cold to hear her. Yes, it is a curious thing; but it
made my blood run cold, for I was close at her elbow."
The speaker looked round upon the bystanders, now drawing
closer to hear him, with his lips gathered tighter than
ever in the rigorousness of his descriptive moderation.
"'Tis a serious job to have things happen to 'ee there,"
said a woman behind.
"'Ye are to declare it,' was the parson's words,"
Fairway continued. "And then up stood a woman at my
side--a-touching of me. 'Well, be damned if there isn't Mis'ess
Yeobright a-standing up,' I said to myself. Yes, neighbours,
though I was in the temple of prayer that's what I said.
'Tis against my conscience to curse and swear in company,
and I hope any woman here will overlook it. Still what
I did say I did say, and 'twould be a lie if I didn't own it."
"So 'twould, neighbour Fairway."
"'Be damned if there isn't Mis'ess Yeobright a-standing up,'
I said," the narrator repeated, giving out the bad word
with the same passionless severity of face as before,
which proved how entirely necessity and not gusto had to
do with the iteration. "And the next thing I heard was,
'I forbid the banns,' from her. 'I'll speak to you
after the service,' said the parson, in quite a homely
way--yes, turning all at once into a common man no holier
than you or I. Ah, her face was pale! Maybe you can
call to mind that monument in Weatherbury church--the
cross-legged soldier that have had his arm knocked away
by the schoolchildren? Well, he would about have matched
that woman's face, when she said, 'I forbid the banns.'"
The audience cleared their throats and tossed a few stalks
into the fire, not because these deeds were urgent,
but to give themselves time to weigh the moral of the story.
"I'm sure when I heard they'd been forbid I felt as glad
as if anybody had gied me sixpence," said an earnest
voice--that of Olly Dowden, a woman who lived by making
heath brooms, or besoms. Her nature was to be civil
to enemies as well as to friends, and grateful to all
the world for letting her remain alive.
"And now the maid have married him just the same,"
"After that Mis'ess Yeobright came round and was
quite agreeable," Fairway resumed, with an unheeding air,
to show that his words were no appendage to Humphrey's,
but the result of independent reflection.
"Supposing they were ashamed, I don't see why they shouldn't
have done it here-right," said a wide-spread woman whose
stays creaked like shoes whenever she stooped or turned.
"'Tis well to call the neighbours together and to hae
a good racket once now and then; and it may as well be
when there's a wedding as at tide-times. I don't care
for close ways."
"Ah, now, you'd hardly believe it, but I don't care
for gay weddings," said Timothy Fairway, his eyes again
travelling round. "I hardly blame Thomasin Yeobright and
neighbour Wildeve for doing it quiet, if I must own it.
A wedding at home means five and six-handed reels by the hour;
and they do a man's legs no good when he's over forty."
"True. Once at the woman's house you can hardly say nay
to being one in a jig, knowing all the time that you
be expected to make yourself worth your victuals."
"You be bound to dance at Christmas because 'tis the time o'
year; you must dance at weddings because 'tis the time o' life.
At christenings folk will even smuggle in a reel or two,
if 'tis no further on than the first or second chiel.
And this is not naming the songs you've got to sing....For
my part I like a good hearty funeral as well as anything.
You've as splendid victuals and drink as at other parties,
and even better. And it don't wear your legs to stumps
in talking over a poor fellow's ways as it do to stand up
"Nine folks out of ten would own 'twas going too far
to dance then, I suppose?" suggested Grandfer Cantle.
"'Tis the only sort of party a staid man can feel safe
at after the mug have been round a few times."
"Well, I can't understand a quiet ladylike little body like
Tamsin Yeobright caring to be married in such a mean way,"
said Susan Nunsuch, the wide woman, who preferred the
original subject. "'Tis worse than the poorest do.
And I shouldn't have cared about the man, though some
may say he's good-looking."
"To give him his due he's a clever, learned fellow in his
way--a'most as clever as Clym Yeobright used to be.
He was brought up to better things than keeping the
Quiet Woman. An engineer--that's what the man was,
as we know; but he threw away his chance, and so 'a took
a public house to live. His learning was no use to him
"Very often the case," said Olly, the besom-maker. "And yet
how people do strive after it and get it! The class of folk
that couldn't use to make a round O to save their bones from
the pit can write their names now without a sputter of the pen,
oftentimes without a single blot--what do I say?--why,
almost without a desk to lean their stomachs and elbows upon."
"True--'tis amazing what a polish the world have been
brought to," said Humphrey.
"Why, afore I went a soldier in the Bang-up Locals (as
we was called), in the year four," chimed in Grandfer
Cantle brightly, "I didn't know no more what the world
was like than the commonest man among ye. And now,
jown it all, I won't say what I bain't fit for, hey?"
"Couldst sign the book, no doubt," said Fairway, "if wast
young enough to join hands with a woman again, like Wildeve
and Mis'ess Tamsin, which is more than Humph there could do,
for he follows his father in learning. Ah, Humph, well I
can mind when I was married how I zid thy father's mark
staring me in the face as I went to put down my name.
He and your mother were the couple married just afore we
were and there stood they father's cross with arms stretched
out like a great banging scarecrow. What a terrible
black cross that was--thy father's very likeness in en!
To save my soul I couldn't help laughing when I zid en,
though all the time I was as hot as dog-days, what with
the marrying, and what with the woman a-hanging to me,
and what with Jack Changley and a lot more chaps grinning
at me through church window. But the next moment a
strawmote would have knocked me down, for I called to mind
that if thy father and mother had had high words once,
they'd been at it twenty times since they'd been man
and wife, and I zid myself as the next poor stunpoll
to get into the same mess....Ah--well, what a day 'twas!"
"Wildeve is older than Tamsin Yeobright by a good-few summers.
A pretty maid too she is. A young woman with a home
must be a fool to tear her smock for a man like that."
The speaker, a peat- or turf-cutter, who had newly
joined the group, carried across his shoulder
the singular heart-shaped spade of large dimensions
used in that species of labour, and its well-whetted
edge gleamed like a silver bow in the beams of the fire.
"A hundred maidens would have had him if he'd asked 'em,"
said the wide woman.
"Didst ever know a man, neighbour, that no woman at all
would marry?" inquired Humphrey.
"I never did," said the turf-cutter.
"Nor I," said another.
"Nor I," said Grandfer Cantle.
"Well, now, I did once," said Timothy Fairway, adding more
firmness to one of his legs. "I did know of such a man.
But only once, mind." He gave his throat a thorough rake round,
as if it were the duty of every person not to be mistaken
through thickness of voice. "Yes, I knew of such a man,"
"And what ghastly gallicrow might the poor fellow have
been like, Master Fairway?" asked the turf-cutter.
"Well, 'a was neither a deaf man, nor a dumb man,
nor a blind man. What 'a was I don't say."
"Is he known in these parts?" said Olly Dowden.
"Hardly," said Timothy; "but I name no name....Come,
keep the fire up there, youngsters."
"Whatever is Christian Cantle's teeth a-chattering for?"
said a boy from amid the smoke and shades on the other side
of the blaze. "Be ye a-cold, Christian?"
A thin jibbering voice was heard to reply, "No, not at all."
"Come forward, Christian, and show yourself. I didn't
know you were here," said Fairway, with a humane look
across towards that quarter.
Thus requested, a faltering man, with reedy hair,
no shoulders, and a great quantity of wrist and ankle
beyond his clothes, advanced a step or two by his own will,
and was pushed by the will of others half a dozen steps more.
He was Grandfer Cantle's youngest son.
"What be ye quaking for, Christian?" said the turf-
"I'm the man."
"The man no woman will marry."
"The deuce you be!" said Timothy Fairway, enlarging his
gaze to cover Christian's whole surface and a great
deal more, Grandfer Cantle meanwhile staring as a hen
stares at the duck she has hatched.
"Yes, I be he; and it makes me afeard," said Christian.
"D'ye think 'twill hurt me? I shall always say I don't care,
and swear to it, though I do care all the while."
"Well, be damned if this isn't the queerest start ever
I know'd," said Mr. Fairway. "I didn't mean you at all.
There's another in the country, then! Why did ye reveal
yer misfortune, Christian?"
"'Twas to be if 'twas, I suppose. I can't help it,
can I?" He turned upon them his painfully circular eyes,
surrounded by concentric lines like targets.
"No, that's true. But 'tis a melancholy thing,
and my blood ran cold when you spoke, for I felt there
were two poor fellows where I had thought only one.
'Tis a sad thing for ye, Christian. How'st know the women
won't hae thee?"
"I've asked 'em."
"Sure I should never have thought you had the face.
Well, and what did the last one say to ye? Nothing
that can't be got over, perhaps, after all?"
"'Get out of my sight, you slack-twisted, slim-looking
maphrotight fool,' was the woman's words to me."
"Not encouraging, I own," said Fairway. "'Get out of
my sight, you slack-twisted, slim-looking maphrotight fool,'
is rather a hard way of saying No. But even that might
be overcome by time and patience, so as to let a few
grey hairs show themselves in the hussy's head.
How old be you, Christian?"
"Thirty-one last tatie-digging, Mister Fairway."
"Not a boy--not a boy. Still there's hope yet."
"That's my age by baptism, because that's put down in the
great book of the Judgment that they keep in church vestry;
but Mother told me I was born some time afore I was christened."
"But she couldn't tell when, to save her life,
except that there was no moon."
"No moon--that's bad. Hey, neighbours, that's bad for him!"
"Yes, 'tis bad," said Grandfer Cantle, shaking his head.
"Mother know'd 'twas no moon, for she asked another
woman that had an almanac, as she did whenever a boy
was born to her, because of the saying, 'No moon,
no man,' which made her afeard every man-child she had.
Do ye really think it serious, Mister Fairway, that there
was no moon?"
"Yes. 'No moon, no man.' 'Tis one of the truest sayings
ever spit out. The boy never comes to anything that's
born at new moon. A bad job for thee, Christian, that you
should have showed your nose then of all days in the month."
"I suppose the moon was terrible full when you were born?"
said Christian, with a look of hopeless admiration
"Well, 'a was not new," Mr. Fairway replied, with a
"I'd sooner go without drink at Lammas-tide than be
a man of no moon," continued Christian, in the same
shattered recitative. "'Tis said I be only the rames
of a man, and no good for my race at all; and I suppose
that's the cause o't."
"Ay," said Grandfer Cantle, somewhat subdued in spirit;
"and yet his mother cried for scores of hours when 'a
was a boy, for fear he should outgrow hisself and go for
"Well, there's many just as bad as he." said Fairway.
"Wethers must live their time as well as other sheep,
"So perhaps I shall rub on? Ought I to be afeared o'
nights, Master Fairway?"
"You'll have to lie alone all your life; and 'tis not to
married couples but to single sleepers that a ghost shows
himself when 'a do come. One has been seen lately, too.
A very strange one."
"No--don't talk about it if 'tis agreeable of ye not to!
'Twill make my skin crawl when I think of it in bed alone.
But you will--ah, you will, I know, Timothy; and I shall
dream all night o't! A very strange one? What sort of
a spirit did ye mean when ye said, a very strange one,
Timothy?--no, no--don't tell me."
"I don't half believe in spirits myself. But I think
it ghostly enough--what I was told. 'Twas a little boy
that zid it."
"What was it like?--no, don't--"
"A red one. Yes, most ghosts be white; but this
is as if it had been dipped in blood."
Christian drew a deep breath without letting it expand
his body, and Humphrey said, "Where has it been seen?"
"Not exactly here; but in this same heth. But 'tisn't
a thing to talk about. What do ye say," continued Fairway
in brisker tones, and turning upon them as if the idea
had not been Grandfer Cantle's--"what do you say to giving
the new man and wife a bit of a song tonight afore we
go to bed--being their wedding-day? When folks are just
married 'tis as well to look glad o't, since looking
sorry won't unjoin 'em. I am no drinker, as we know,
but when the womenfolk and youngsters have gone home we
can drop down across to the Quiet Woman, and strike up
a ballet in front of the married folks' door. 'Twill please
the young wife, and that's what I should like to do,
for many's the skinful I've had at her hands when she
lived with her aunt at Blooms-End."
"Hey? And so we will!" said Grandfer Cantle, turning so
briskly that his copper seals swung extravagantly.
"I'm as dry as a kex with biding up here in the wind,
and I haven't seen the colour of drink since nammet-
time today. 'Tis said that the last brew at the Woman
is very pretty drinking. And, neighbours, if we should be
a little late in the finishing, why, tomorrow's Sunday,
and we can sleep it off?"
"Grandfer Cantle! you take things very careless
for an old man," said the wide woman.
"I take things careless; I do--too careless to please the
women! Klk! I'll sing the 'Jovial Crew,' or any other song,
when a weak old man would cry his eyes out. Jown it;
I am up for anything.
"The king' look'd o'-ver his left' shoul-der',
And a grim' look look'-ed hee',
Earl Mar'-shal, he said', but for' my oath'
Or hang'-ed thou' shouldst bee'."
"Well, that's what we'll do," said Fairway. "We'll give
'em a song, an' it please the Lord. What's the good of
Thomasin's cousin Clym a-coming home after the deed's done?
He should have come afore, if so be he wanted to stop it,
and marry her himself."
"Perhaps he's coming to bide with his mother a little time,
as she must feel lonely now the maid's gone."
"Now, 'tis very odd, but I never feel lonely--no, not at all,"
said Grandfer Cantle. "I am as brave in the nighttime
as a' admiral!"
The bonfire was by this time beginning to sink low,
for the fuel had not been of that substantial sort which can
support a blaze long. Most of the other fires within the wide
horizon were also dwindling weak. Attentive observation
of their brightness, colour, and length of existence
would have revealed the quality of the material burnt,
and through that, to some extent the natural produce
of the district in which each bonfire was situate.
The clear, kingly effulgence that had characterized the
majority expressed a heath and furze country like their own,
which in one direction extended an unlimited number of miles;
the rapid flares and extinctions at other points of the
compass showed the lightest of fuel--straw, beanstalks,
and the usual waste from arable land. The most enduring
of all--steady unaltering eyes like Planets--signified wood,
such as hazel-branches, thorn-faggots, and stout billets.
Fires of the last-mentioned materials were rare, and though
comparatively small in magnitude beside the transient blazes,
now began to get the best of them by mere long continuance.
The great ones had perished, but these remained.
They occupied the remotest visible positions--sky-backed
summits rising out of rich coppice and plantation districts
to the north, where the soil was different, and heath
foreign and strange.
Save one; and this was the nearest of any, the moon of the
whole shining throng. It lay in a direction precisely
opposite to that of the little window in the vale below.
Its nearness was such that, notwithstanding its
actual smallness, its glow infinitely transcended theirs.
This quiet eye had attracted attention from time to time;
and when their own fire had become sunken and dim it
attracted more; some even of the wood fires more recently
lighted had reached their decline, but no change was
"To be sure, how near that fire is!" said Fairway.
"Seemingly. I can see a fellow of some sort walking round it.
Little and good must be said of that fire, surely."
"I can throw a stone there," said the boy.
"And so can I!" said Grandfer Cantle.
"No, no, you can't, my sonnies. That fire is not much
less than a mile off, for all that 'a seems so near."
"'Tis in the heath, but no furze," said the turf-cutter.
"'Tis cleft-wood, that's what 'tis," said Timothy Fairway.
"Nothing would burn like that except clean timber. And 'tis
on the knap afore the old captain's house at Mistover.
Such a queer mortal as that man is! To have a little
fire inside your own bank and ditch, that nobody else
may enjoy it or come anigh it! And what a zany an old chap
must be, to light a bonfire when there's no youngsters
"Cap'n Vye has been for a long walk today, and is quite
tired out," said Grandfer Cantle, "so 'tisn't likely
to be he."
"And he would hardly afford good fuel like that,"
said the wide woman.
"Then it must be his granddaughter," said Fairway.
"Not that a body of her age can want a fire much."
"She is very strange in her ways, living up there by herself,
and such things please her," said Susan.
"She's a well-favoured maid enough," said Humphrey the
furze-cutter, "especially when she's got one of her dandy gowns on."
"That's true," said Fairway. "Well, let her bonfire burn
an't will. Ours is well-nigh out by the look o't."
"How dark 'tis now the fire's gone down!" said Christian Cantle,
looking behind him with his hare eyes. "Don't ye think we'd
better get home-along, neighbours? The heth isn't haunted,
I know; but we'd better get home....Ah, what was that?"
"Only the wind," said the turf-cutter.
"I don't think Fifth-of-Novembers ought to be kept up
by night except in towns. It should be by day in outstep,
ill-accounted places like this!"
"Nonsense, Christian. Lift up your spirits like a man! Susy,
dear, you and I will have a jig--hey, my honey?--before
'tis quite too dark to see how well-favoured you be still,
though so many summers have passed since your husband,
a son of a witch, snapped you up from me."
This was addressed to Susan Nunsuch; and the next
circumstance of which the beholders were conscious
was a vision of the matron's broad form whisking off
towards the space whereon the fire had been kindled.
She was lifted bodily by Mr. Fairway's arm, which had
been flung round her waist before she had become aware
of his intention. The site of the fire was now merely
a circle of ashes flecked with red embers and sparks,
the furze having burnt completely away. Once within
the circle he whirled her round and round in a dance.
She was a woman noisily constructed; in addition to her
enclosing framework of whalebone and lath, she wore
pattens summer and winter, in wet weather and in dry,
to preserve her boots from wear; and when Fairway began
to jump about with her, the clicking of the pattens,
the creaking of the stays, and her screams of surprise,
formed a very audible concert.
"I'll crack thy numskull for thee, you mandy chap!"
said Mrs. Nunsuch, as she helplessly danced round with him,
her feet playing like drumsticks among the sparks.
"My ankles were all in a fever before, from walking
through that prickly furze, and now you must make 'em
worse with these vlankers!"
The vagary of Timothy Fairway was infectious. The turf-cutter
seized old Olly Dowden, and, somewhat more gently,
poussetted with her likewise. The young men were not slow
to imitate the example of their elders, and seized the maids;
Grandfer Cantle and his stick jigged in the form of a
three-legged object among the rest; and in half a minute
all that could be seen on Rainbarrow was a whirling
of dark shapes amid a boiling confusion of sparks,
which leapt around the dancers as high as their waists.
The chief noises were women's shrill cries, men's laughter,
Susan's stays and pattens, Olly Dowden's "heu-heu-heu!"
and the strumming of the wind upon the furze-bushes, which
formed a kind of tune to the demoniac measure they trod.
Christian alone stood aloof, uneasily rocking himself
as he murmured, "They ought not to do it--how the vlankers
do fly! 'tis tempting the Wicked one, 'tis."
"What was that?" said one of the lads, stopping.
"Ah--where?" said Christian, hastily closing up to the rest.
The dancers all lessened their speed.
"'Twas behind you, Christian, that I heard it--down here."
"Yes--'tis behind me!" Christian said. "Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John, bless the bed that I lie on; four angels guard--"
"Hold your tongue. What is it?" said Fairway.
"Hoi-i-i-i!" cried a voice from the darkness.
"Halloo-o-o-o!" said Fairway.
"Is there any cart track up across here to Mis'ess
Yeobright's, of Blooms-End?" came to them in the same voice,
as a long, slim indistinct figure approached the barrow.
"Ought we not to run home as hard as we can, neighbours,
as 'tis getting late?" said Christian. "Not run away
from one another, you know; run close together, I mean."
"Scrape up a few stray locks of furze, and make a blaze,
so that we can see who the man is," said Fairway.
When the flame arose it revealed a young man in tight
raiment, and red from top to toe. "Is there a track
across here to Mis'ess Yeobright's house?" he repeated.
"Ay--keep along the path down there."
"I mean a way two horses and a van can travel over?"
"Well, yes; you can get up the vale below here with time.
The track is rough, but if you've got a light your horses
may pick along wi' care. Have ye brought your cart far up,
"I've left it in the bottom, about half a mile back,
I stepped on in front to make sure of the way, as 'tis
night-time, and I han't been here for so long."
"Oh, well you can get up," said Fairway. "What a turn it
did give me when I saw him!" he added to the whole group,
the reddleman included. "Lord's sake, I thought,
whatever fiery mommet is this come to trouble us? No
slight to your looks, reddleman, for ye bain't bad-looking
in the groundwork, though the finish is queer. My meaning
is just to say how curious I felt. I half thought it
'twas the devil or the red ghost the boy told of."
"It gied me a turn likewise," said Susan Nunsuch, "for I
had a dream last night of a death's head."
"Don't ye talk o't no more," said Christian. "If he had
a handkerchief over his head he'd look for all the world
like the Devil in the picture of the Temptation."
"Well, thank you for telling me," said the young reddleman,
smiling faintly. "And good night t'ye all."
He withdrew from their sight down the barrow.
"I fancy I've seen that young man's face before,"
said Humphrey. "But where, or how, or what his name is,
I don't know."
The reddleman had not been gone more than a few
minutes when another person approached the partially
revived bonfire. It proved to be a well-known and
respected widow of the neighbourhood, of a standing which
can only be expressed by the word genteel. Her face,
encompassed by the blackness of the receding heath,
showed whitely, and with-out half-lights, like a cameo.
She was a woman of middle-age, with well-formed features
of the type usually found where perspicacity is the chief
quality enthroned within. At moments she seemed to be
regarding issues from a Nebo denied to others around.
She had something of an estranged mien; the solitude
exhaled from the heath was concentrated in this face that
had risen from it. The air with which she looked at the
heathmen betokened a certain unconcern at their presence,
or at what might be their opinions of her for walking in
that lonely spot at such an hour, thus indirectly implying
that in some respect or other they were not up to her level.
The explanation lay in the fact that though her husband
had been a small farmer she herself was a curate's daughter,
who had once dreamt of doing better things.
Persons with any weight of character carry, like planets,
their atmospheres along with them in their orbits;
and the matron who entered now upon the scene could,
and usually did, bring her own tone into a company.
Her normal manner among the heathfolk had that reticence
which results from the consciousness of superior
communicative power. But the effect of coming into
society and light after lonely wandering in darkness
is a sociability in the comer above its usual pitch,
expressed in the features even more than in words.
"Why, 'tis Mis'ess Yeobright," said Fairway. "Mis'ess Yeobright,
not ten minutes ago a man was here asking for you--a reddleman."
"What did he want?" said she.
"He didn't tell us."
"Something to sell, I suppose; what it can be I am
at a loss to understand."
"I am glad to hear that your son Mr. Clym is coming home
at Christmas, ma'am," said Sam, the turf-cutter. "What
a dog he used to be for bonfires!"
"Yes. I believe he is coming," she said.
"He must be a fine fellow by this time," said Fairway.
"He is a man now," she replied quietly.
"'Tis very lonesome for 'ee in the heth tonight,
mis'ess," said Christian, coming from the seclusion he
had hitherto maintained. "Mind you don't get lost.
Egdon Heth is a bad place to get lost in, and the winds
do huffle queerer tonight than ever I heard 'em afore.
Them that know Egdon best have been pixy-led here at times."
"Is that you, Christian?" said Mrs. Yeobright.
"What made you hide away from me?"
"'Twas that I didn't know you in this light, mis'ess;
and being a man of the mournfullest make, I was scared
a little, that's all. Oftentimes if you could see
how terrible down I get in my mind, 'twould make
'ee quite nervous for fear I should die by my hand."
"You don't take after your father," said Mrs. Yeobright,
looking towards the fire, where Grandfer Cantle, with some
want of originality, was dancing by himself among the sparks,
as the others had done before.
"Now, Grandfer," said Timothy Fairway, "we are ashamed
of ye. A reverent old patriarch man as you be--seventy
if a day--to go hornpiping like that by yourself!"
"A harrowing old man, Mis'ess Yeobright,"
said Christian despondingly. "I wouldn't
live with him a week, so playward as he is, if I could get away."
"'Twould be more seemly in ye to stand still and welcome
Mis'ess Yeobright, and you the venerablest here,
Grandfer Cantle," said the besom-woman.
"Faith, and so it would," said the reveller checking
himself repentantly. "I've such a bad memory,
Mis'ess Yeobright, that I forget how I'm looked up to
by the rest of 'em. My spirits must be wonderful good,
you'll say? But not always. 'Tis a weight upon a man
to be looked up to as commander, and I often feel it."
"I am sorry to stop the talk," said Mrs. Yeobright. "But I must
be leaving you now. I was passing down the Anglebury Road,
towards my niece's new home, who is returning tonight with
her husband; and seeing the bonfire and hearing Olly's voice
among the rest I came up here to learn what was going on.
I should like her to walk with me, as her way is mine."
"Ay, sure, ma'am, I'm just thinking of moving," said Olly.
"Why, you'll be safe to meet the reddleman that I told ye of,"
said Fairway. "He's only gone back to get his van.
We heard that your niece and her husband were coming
straight home as soon as they were married, and we are
going down there shortly, to give 'em a song o' welcome."
"Thank you indeed," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"But we shall take a shorter cut through the furze than you
can go with long clothes; so we won't trouble you to wait."
"Very well--are you ready, Olly?"
"Yes, ma'am. And there's a light shining from your
niece's window, see. It will help to keep us in the path."
She indicated the faint light at the bottom of the valley
which Fairway had pointed out; and the two women descended
4 - The Halt on the Turnpike Road
Down, downward they went, and yet further down--their
descent at each step seeming to outmeasure their advance.
Their skirts were scratched noisily by the furze,
their shoulders brushed by the ferns, which, though dead
and dry, stood erect as when alive, no sufficient winter
weather having as yet arrived to beat them down.
Their Tartarean situation might by some have been called
an imprudent one for two unattended women. But these
shaggy recesses were at all seasons a familiar surrounding
to Olly and Mrs. Yeobright; and the addition of darkness
lends no frightfulness to the face of a friend.
"And so Tamsin has married him at last," said Olly,
when the incline had become so much less steep that their
foot-steps no longer required undivided attention.
Mrs. Yeobright answered slowly, "Yes; at last."
"How you will miss her--living with 'ee as a daughter,
as she always have."
"I do miss her."
Olly, though without the tact to perceive when remarks
were untimely, was saved by her very simplicity from
rendering them offensive. Questions that would have
been resented in others she could ask with impunity.
This accounted for Mrs. Yeobright's acquiescence in the
revival of an evidently sore subject.
"I was quite strook to hear you'd agreed to it,
ma'am, that I was," continued the besom-maker.
"You were not more struck by it than I should have been
last year this time, Olly. There are a good many sides
to that wedding. I could not tell you all of them,
even if I tried."
"I felt myself that he was hardly solid-going enough
to mate with your family. Keeping an inn--what is it?
But 'a's clever, that's true, and they say he was an
engineering gentleman once, but has come down by being
too outwardly given."
"I saw that, upon the whole, it would be better she
should marry where she wished."
"Poor little thing, her feelings got the better of her,
no doubt. 'Tis nature. Well, they may call him what they
will--he've several acres of heth-ground broke up here,
besides the public house, and the heth-croppers, and his
manners be quite like a gentleman's. And what's done cannot
"It cannot," said Mrs. Yeobright. "See, here's
the wagon-track at last. Now we shall get along better."
The wedding subject was no further dwelt upon;
and soon a faint diverging path was reached, where they
parted company, Olly first begging her companion to remind
Mr. Wildeve that he had not sent her sick husband the
bottle of wine promised on the occasion of his marriage.
The besom-maker turned to the left towards her own house,
behind a spur of the hill, and Mrs. Yeobright followed
the straight track, which further on joined the highway by
the Quiet Woman Inn, whither she supposed her niece to have
returned with Wildeve from their wedding at Anglebury that day.
She first reached Wildeve's Patch, as it was called,
a plot of land redeemed from the heath, and after long
and laborious years brought into cultivation. The man who
had discovered that it could be tilled died of the labour;
the man who succeeded him in possession ruined himself
in fertilizing it. Wildeve came like Amerigo Vespucci,
and received the honours due to those who had gone before.
When Mrs. Yeobright had drawn near to the inn,
and was about to enter, she saw a horse and vehicle
some two hundred yards beyond it, coming towards her,
a man walking alongside with a lantern in his hand.
It was soon evident that this was the reddleman who had
inquired for her. Instead of entering the inn at once,
she walked by it and towards the van.
The conveyance came close, and the man was about to pass
her with little notice, when she turned to him and said,
"I think you have been inquiring for me? I am Mrs. Yeobright
The reddleman started, and held up his finger.
He stopped the horses, and beckoned to her to withdraw
with him a few yards aside, which she did, wondering.
"You don't know me, ma'am, I suppose?" he said.
"I do not," said she. "Why, yes, I do! You are young
Venn--your father was a dairyman somewhere here?"
"Yes; and I knew your niece, Miss Tamsin, a little.
I have something bad to tell you."
"About her--no! She has just come home, I believe,
with her husband. They arranged to return this
afternoon--to the inn beyond here."
"She's not there."
"How do you know?"
"Because she's here. She's in my van," he added slowly.
"What new trouble has come?" murmured Mrs. Yeobright,
putting her hand over her eyes.
"I can't explain much, ma'am. All I know is that, as I
was going along the road this morning, about a mile out
of Anglebury, I heard something trotting after me like a doe,
and looking round there she was, white as death itself.
'Oh, Diggory Venn!' she said, 'I thought 'twas you--will
you help me? I am in trouble.'"
"How did she know your Christian name?" said Mrs. Yeobright
"I had met her as a lad before I went away in this trade.
She asked then if she might ride, and then down she fell
in a faint. I picked her up and put her in, and there
she has been ever since. She has cried a good deal,
but she has hardly spoke; all she has told me being
that she was to have been married this morning.
I tried to get her to eat something, but she couldn't;
and at last she fell asleep."
"Let me see her at once," said Mrs. Yeobright,
hastening towards the van.
The reddleman followed with the lantern, and, stepping
up first, assisted Mrs. Yeobright to mount beside him.
On the door being opened she perceived at the end
of the van an extemporized couch, around which was hung
apparently all the drapery that the reddleman possessed,
to keep the occupant of the little couch from contact
with the red materials of his trade. A young girl
lay thereon, covered with a cloak. She was asleep,
and the light of the lantern fell upon her features.
A fair, sweet, and honest country face was revealed,
reposing in a nest of wavy chestnut hair. It was between
pretty and beautiful. Though her eyes were closed,
one could easily imagine the light necessarily shining in them
as the culmination of the luminous workmanship around.
The groundwork of the face was hopefulness; but over it
now I ay like a foreign substance a film of anxiety
and grief. The grief had been there so shortly as to
have abstracted nothing of the bloom, and had as yet but
given a dignity to what it might eventually undermine.
The scarlet of her lips had not had time to abate,
and just now it appeared still more intense by the absence
of the neighbouring and more transient colour of her cheek.
The lips frequently parted, with a murmur of words.
She seemed to belong rightly to a madrigal--to require
viewing through rhyme and harmony.
One thing at least was obvious: she was not made to be
looked at thus. The reddleman had appeared conscious
of as much, and, while Mrs. Yeobright looked in upon her,
he cast his eyes aside with a delicacy which well became him.
The sleeper apparently thought so too, for the next moment
she opened her own.
The lips then parted with something of anticipation,
something more of doubt; and her several thoughts and fractions
of thoughts, as signalled by the changes on her face,
were exhibited by the light to the utmost nicety.
An ingenuous, transparent life was disclosed, as if the
flow of her existence could be seen passing within her.
She understood the scene in a moment.
"O yes, it is I, Aunt," she cried. "I know how frightened
you are, and how you cannot believe it; but all the same,
it is I who have come home like this!"
"Tamsin, Tamsin!" said Mrs. Yeobright, stooping over
the young woman and kissing her. "O my dear girl!"
Thomasin was now on the verge of a sob, but by an unexpected
self-command she uttered no sound. With a gentle panting
breath she sat upright.
"I did not expect to see you in this state, any more
than you me," she went on quickly. "Where am I, Aunt?"
"Nearly home, my dear. In Egdon Bottom. What dreadful
thing is it?"
"I'll tell you in a moment. So near, are we? Then I
will get out and walk. I want to go home by the path."
"But this kind man who has done so much will, I am sure,
take you right on to my house?" said the aunt, turning to
the reddleman, who had withdrawn from the front of the van
on the awakening of the girl, and stood in the road.
"Why should you think it necessary to ask me? I will,
of course," said he.
"He is indeed kind," murmured Thomasin. "I was once
acquainted with him, Aunt, and when I saw him today I thought
I should prefer his van to any conveyance of a stranger.
But I'll walk now. Reddleman, stop the horses, please."
The man regarded her with tender reluctance, but stopped
Aunt and niece then descended from the van, Mrs. Yeobright
saying to its owner, "I quite recognize you now.
What made you change from the nice business your father
"Well, I did," he said, and looked at Thomasin,
who blushed a little. "Then you'll not be wanting
me any more tonight, ma'am?"
Mrs. Yeobright glanced around at the dark sky, at the hills,
at the perishing bonfires, and at the lighted window
of the inn they had neared. "I think not," she said,
"since Thomasin wishes to walk. We can soon run up
the path and reach home--we know it well."
And after a few further words they parted, the reddleman
moving onwards with his van, and the two women remaining
standing in the road. As soon as the vehicle and its
driver had withdrawn so far as to be beyond all possible
reach of her voice, Mrs. Yeobright turned to her niece.
"Now, Thomasin," she said sternly, "what's the meaning
of this disgraceful performance?"
5 - Perplexity among Honest People
Thomasin looked as if quite overcome by her aunt's change
of manner. "It means just what it seems to mean: I
am--not married," she replied faintly. "Excuse me--for
humiliating you, Aunt, by this mishap--I am sorry for it.
But I cannot help it."
"Me? Think of yourself first."
"It was nobody's fault. When we got there the parson
wouldn't marry us because of some trifling irregularity
in the license."
"I don't know. Mr. Wildeve can explain. I did not think
when I went away this morning that I should come back
like this." It being dark, Thomasin allowed her emotion
to escape her by the silent way of tears, which could
roll down her cheek unseen.
"I could almost say that it serves you right--if I did not
feel that you don't deserve it," continued Mrs. Yeobright,
who, possessing two distinct moods in close contiguity,
a gentle mood and an angry, flew from one to the other
without the least warning. "Remember, Thomasin,
this business was none of my seeking; from the very first,
when you began to feel foolish about that man, I warned
you he would not make you happy. I felt it so strongly
that I did what I would never have believed myself
capable of doing--stood up in the church, and made myself
the public talk for weeks. But having once consented,
I don't submit to these fancies without good reason.
Marry him you must after this."
"Do you think I wish to do otherwise for one moment?"
said Thomasin, with a heavy sigh. "I know how wrong
it was of me to love him, but don't pain me by talking
like that, Aunt! You would not have had me stay there
with him, would you?--and your house is the only home I
have to return to. He says we can be married in a day
"I wish he had never seen you."
"Very well; then I will be the miserablest woman in the world,
and not let him see me again. No, I won't have him!"
"It is too late to speak so. Come with me. I am
going to the inn to see if he has returned. Of course
I shall get to the bottom of this story at once.
Mr. Wildeve must not suppose he can play tricks upon me,
or any belonging to me."
"It was not that. The license was wrong, and he couldn't
get another the same day. He will tell you in a moment
how it was, if he comes."
"Why didn't he bring you back?"
"That was me!" again sobbed Thomasin. "When I found we
could not be married I didn't like to come back with him,
and I was very ill. Then I saw Diggory Venn, and was glad
to get him to take me home. I cannot explain it any better,
and you must be angry with me if you will."
"I shall see about that," said Mrs. Yeobright; and they
turned towards the inn, known in the neighbourhood
as the Quiet Woman, the sign of which represented
the figure of a matron carrying her head under her arm,
beneath which gruesome design was written the couplet
so well known to frequenters of the inn:--
SINCE THE WOMAN'S QUIET
LET NO MAN BREED A RIOT.
 The inn which really bore this sign and legend
stood some miles to the northwest of the present scene,
wherein the house more immediately referred to is now no
longer an inn; and the surroundings are much changed.
But another inn, some of whose features are also embodied
in this description, the RED LION at Winfrith,
still remains as a haven for the wayfarer (1912).
The front of the house was towards the heath and Rainbarrow,
whose dark shape seemed to threaten it from the sky.
Upon the door was a neglected brass plate, bearing the
unexpected inscription, "Mr. Wildeve, Engineer"--a useless
yet cherished relic from the time when he had been started
in that profession in an office at Budmouth by those who
had hoped much from him, and had been disappointed.
The garden was at the back, and behind this ran a still
deep stream, forming the margin of the heath in that direction,
meadow-land appearing beyond the stream.
But the thick obscurity permitted only skylines to be
visible of any scene at present. The water at the back
of the house could be heard, idly spinning whirpools
in its creep between the rows of dry feather-headed reeds
which formed a stockade along each bank. Their presence
was denoted by sounds as of a congregation praying humbly,
produced by their rubbing against each other in the slow wind.
The window, whence the candlelight had shone up the vale
to the eyes of the bonfire group, was uncurtained,
but the sill lay too high for a pedestrian on the outside
to look over it into the room. A vast shadow, in which
could be dimly traced portions of a masculine contour,
blotted half the ceiling.
"He seems to be at home," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"Must I come in, too, Aunt?" asked Thomasin faintly.
"I suppose not; it would be wrong."
"You must come, certainly--to confront him, so that he
may make no false representations to me. We shall not
be five minutes in the house, and then we'll walk home."
Entering the open passage, she tapped at the door
of the private parlour, unfastened it, and looked in.
The back and shoulders of a man came between Mrs. Yeobright's
eyes and the fire. Wildeve, whose form it was,
immediately turned, arose, and advanced to meet his visitors.
He was quite a young man, and of the two properties,
form and motion, the latter first attracted the eye
in him. The grace of his movement was singular--it
was the pantomimic expression of a lady-killing career.
Next came into notice the more material qualities,
among which was a profuse crop of hair impending
over the top of his face, lending to his forehead
the high-cornered outline of an early Gothic shield;
and a neck which was smooth and round as a cylinder.
The lower half of his figure was of light build.
Altogether he was one in whom no man would have seen
anything to admire, and in whom no woman would have seen
anything to dislike.
He discerned the young girl's form in the passage,
and said, "Thomasin, then, has reached home.
How could you leave me in that way, darling?" And turning
to Mrs. Yeobright--"It was useless to argue with her.
She would go, and go alone."
"But what's the meaning of it all?" demanded Mrs. Yeobright haughtily.
"Take a seat," said Wildeve, placing chairs for the two women.
"Well, it was a very stupid mistake, but such mistakes
will happen. The license was useless at Anglebury.
It was made out for Budmouth, but as I didn't read it I
wasn't aware of that."
"But you had been staying at Anglebury?"
"No. I had been at Budmouth--till two days ago--and
that was where I had intended to take her; but when
I came to fetch her we decided upon Anglebury,
forgetting that a new license would be necessary.
There was not time to get to Budmouth afterwards."
"I think you are very much to blame," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"It was quite my fault we chose Anglebury," Thomasin pleaded.
"I proposed it because I was not known there."
"I know so well that I am to blame that you need not
remind me of it," replied Wildeve shortly.
"Such things don't happen for nothing," said the aunt.
"It is a great slight to me and my family; and when it
gets known there will be a very unpleasant time for us.
How can she look her friends in the face tomorrow? It
is a very great injury, and one I cannot easily forgive.
It may even reflect on her character."
"Nonsense," said Wildeve.
Thomasin's large eyes had flown from the face of one
to the face of the other during this discussion, and she
now said anxiously, "Will you allow me, Aunt, to talk it
over alone with Damon for five minutes? Will you, Damon?"
"Certainly, dear," said Wildeve, "if your aunt will excuse us."
He led her into an adjoining room, leaving Mrs. Yeobright
by the fire.
As soon as they were alone, and the door closed,
Thomasin said, turning up her pale, tearful face
to him, "It is killing me, this, Damon! I did not mean
to part from you in anger at Anglebury this morning;
but I was frightened and hardly knew what I said.
I've not let Aunt know how much I suffered today; and it
is so hard to command my face and voice, and to smile
as if it were a slight thing to me; but I try to do so,
that she may not be still more indignant with you.
I know you could not help it, dear, whatever Aunt
"She is very unpleasant."
"Yes," Thomasin murmured, "and I suppose I seem
so now....Damon, what do you mean to do about me?"
"Do about you?"
"Yes. Those who don't like you whisper things which at
moments make me doubt you. We mean to marry, I suppose,
"Of course we do. We have only to go to Budmouth on Monday,
and we marry at once."
"Then do let us go!--O Damon, what you make me say!"
She hid her face in her handkerchief. "Here am I asking
you to marry me, when by rights you ought to be on your
knees imploring me, your cruel mistress, not to refuse you,
and saying it would break your heart if I did.
I used to think it would be pretty and sweet like that;
but how different!"
"Yes, real life is never at all like that."
"But I don't care personally if it never takes place,"
she added with a little dignity; "no, I can live without you.
It is Aunt I think of. She is so proud, and thinks
so much of her family respectability, that she will be
cut down with mortification if this story should get
abroad before--it is done. My cousin Clym, too, will be
"Then he will be very unreasonable. In fact, you are
all rather unreasonable."
Thomasin coloured a little, and not with love. But whatever
the momentary feeling which caused that flush in her,
it went as it came, and she humbly said, "I never mean
to be, if I can help it. I merely feel that you have
my aunt to some extent in your power at last."