Part 2 out of 10
"As a matter of justice it is almost due to me," said Wildeve.
"Think what I have gone through to win her consent;
the insult that it is to any man to have the banns
forbidden--the double insult to a man unlucky enough to be
cursed with sensitiveness, and blue demons, and Heaven
knows what, as I am. I can never forget those banns.
A harsher man would rejoice now in the power I have of
turning upon your aunt by going no further in the business."
She looked wistfully at him with her sorrowful eyes as he said
those words, and her aspect showed that more than one person
in the room could deplore the possession of sensitiveness.
Seeing that she was really suffering he seemed disturbed
and added, "This is merely a reflection you know.
I have not the least intention to refuse to complete
the marriage, Tamsie mine--I could not bear it."
"You could not, I know!" said the fair girl, brightening.
"You, who cannot bear the sight of pain in even an insect,
or any disagreeable sound, or unpleasant smell even,
will not long cause pain to me and mine."
"I will not, if I can help it."
"Your hand upon it, Damon."
He carelessly gave her his hand.
"Ah, by my crown, what's that?" he said suddenly.
There fell upon their ears the sound of numerous
voices singing in front of the house. Among these,
two made themselves prominent by their peculiarity: one
was a very strong bass, the other a wheezy thin piping.
Thomasin recognized them as belonging to Timothy Fairway
and Grandfer Cantle respectively.
"What does it mean--it is not skimmity-riding, I hope?"
she said, with a frightened gaze at Wildeve.
"Of course not; no, it is that the heath-folk have come
to sing to us a welcome. This is intolerable!" He began
pacing about, the men outside singing cheerily--
"He told' her that she' was the joy' of his life', And if'
she'd con-sent' he would make her his wife'; She could'
not refuse' him; to church' so they went', Young Will
was forgot', and young Sue' was content'; And then'
was she kiss'd' and set down' on his knee', No man'
in the world' was so lov'-ing as he'!"
Mrs. Yeobright burst in from the outer room.
"Thomasin, Thomasin!" she said, looking indignantly at Wildeve;
"here's a pretty exposure! Let us escape at once. Come!"
It was, however, too late to get away by the passage.
A rugged knocking had begun upon the door of the front room.
Wildeve, who had gone to the window, came back.
"Stop!" he said imperiously, putting his hand upon
Mrs. Yeobright's arm. "We are regularly besieged.
There are fifty of them out there if there's one.
You stay in this room with Thomasin; I'll go out and
face them. You must stay now, for my sake, till they
are gone, so that it may seem as if all was right.
Come, Tamsie dear, don't go making a scene--we must marry
after this; that you can see as well as I. Sit still,
that's all--and don't speak much. I'll manage them.
He pressed the agitated girl into a seat, returned to the
outer room and opened the door. Immediately outside,
in the passage, appeared Grandfer Cantle singing in
concert with those still standing in front of the house.
He came into the room and nodded abstractedly to Wildeve,
his lips still parted, and his features excruciatingly
strained in the emission of the chorus. This being ended,
he said heartily, "Here's welcome to the new-made couple,
and God bless 'em!"
"Thank you," said Wildeve, with dry resentment, his face
as gloomy as a thunderstorm.
At the Grandfer's heels now came the rest of the group,
which included Fairway, Christian, Sam the turf-cutter,
Humphrey, and a dozen others. All smiled upon Wildeve,
and upon his tables and chairs likewise, from a general
sense of friendliness towards the articles as well
as towards their owner.
"We be not here afore Mrs. Yeobright after all,"
said Fairway, recognizing the matron's bonnet through
the glass partition which divided the public apartment
they had entered from the room where the women sat.
"We struck down across, d'ye see, Mr. Wildeve, and she
went round by the path."
"And I see the young bride's little head!" said Grandfer,
peeping in the same direction, and discerning Thomasin,
who was waiting beside her aunt in a miserable and awkward way.
"Not quite settled in yet--well, well, there's plenty
Wildeve made no reply; and probably feeling that the sooner
he treated them the sooner they would go, he produced
a stone jar, which threw a warm halo over matters at once.
"That's a drop of the right sort, I can see,"
said Grandfer Cantle, with the air of a man too well-
mannered to show any hurry to taste it.
"Yes," said Wildeve, "'tis some old mead. I hope you
will like it."
"O ay!" replied the guests, in the hearty tones natural
when the words demanded by politeness coincide with those
of deepest feeling. "There isn't a prettier drink under the sun."
"I'll take my oath there isn't," added Grandfer Cantle.
"All that can be said against mead is that 'tis
rather heady, and apt to lie about a man a good while.
But tomorrow's Sunday, thank God."
"I feel'd for all the world like some bold soldier after
I had had some once," said Christian.
"You shall feel so again," said Wildeve, with condescension,
"Cups or glasses, gentlemen?"
"Well, if you don't mind, we'll have the beaker, and pass
'en round; 'tis better than heling it out in dribbles."
"Jown the slippery glasses," said Grandfer Cantle.
"What's the good of a thing that you can't put down in
the ashes to warm, hey, neighbours; that's what I ask?"
"Right, Grandfer," said Sam; and the mead then circulated.
"Well," said Timothy Fairway, feeling demands upon his praise
in some form or other, "'tis a worthy thing to be married,
Mr. Wildeve; and the woman you've got is a dimant,
so says I. Yes," he continued, to Grandfer Cantle,
raising his voice so as to be heard through the partition,
"her father (inclining his head towards the inner room)
was as good a feller as ever lived. He always had his
great indignation ready against anything underhand."
"Is that very dangerous?" said Christian.
"And there were few in these parts that were upsides with him,"
said Sam. "Whenever a club walked he'd play the clarinet
in the band that marched before 'em as if he'd never
touched anything but a clarinet all his life. And then,
when they got to church door he'd throw down the clarinet,
mount the gallery, snatch up the bass viol, and rozum
away as if he'd never played anything but a bass viol.
Folk would say--folk that knowed what a true stave
was--'Surely, surely that's never the same man that I saw
handling the clarinet so masterly by now!"
"I can mind it," said the furze-cutter. "'Twas a wonderful
thing that one body could hold it all and never mix
"There was Kingsbere church likewise," Fairway recommenced,
as one opening a new vein of the same mine of interest.
Wildeve breathed the breath of one intolerably bored,
and glanced through the partition at the prisoners.
"He used to walk over there of a Sunday afternoon to visit
his old acquaintance Andrew Brown, the first clarinet there;
a good man enough, but rather screechy in his music,
if you can mind?"
"And neighbour Yeobright would take Andrey's place for some
part of the service, to let Andrey have a bit of a nap,
as any friend would naturally do."
"As any friend would," said Grandfer Cantle, the other
listeners expressing the same accord by the shorter way
of nodding their heads.
"No sooner was Andrey asleep and the first whiff
of neighbour Yeobright's wind had got inside Andrey's
clarinet than everyone in church feeled in a moment
there was a great soul among 'em. All heads would turn,
and they'd say, 'Ah, I thought 'twas he!' One Sunday I
can well mind--a bass viol day that time, and Yeobright
had brought his own. 'Twas the Hundred-and-thirty-third
to 'Lydia'; and when they'd come to 'Ran down his
beard and o'er his robes its costly moisture shed,'
neighbour Yeobright, who had just warmed to his work,
drove his bow into them strings that glorious grand
that he e'en a'most sawed the bass viol into two pieces.
Every winder in church rattled as if 'twere a thunderstorm.
Old Pa'son Williams lifted his hands in his great holy
surplice as natural as if he'd been in common clothes,
and seemed to say hisself, 'O for such a man in our parish!'
But not a soul in Kingsbere could hold a candle to Yeobright."
"Was it quite safe when the winder shook?" Christian inquired.
He received no answer, all for the moment sitting
rapt in admiration of the performance described.
As with Farinelli's singing before the princesses,
Sheridan's renowned Begum Speech, and other such examples,
the fortunate condition of its being for ever lost to
the world invested the deceased Mr. Yeobright's tour
de force on that memorable afternoon with a cumulative
glory which comparative criticism, had that been possible,
might considerably have shorn down.
"He was the last you'd have expected to drop off
in the prime of life," said Humphrey.
"Ah, well; he was looking for the earth some months
afore he went. At that time women used to run for
smocks and gown-pieces at Greenhill Fair, and my wife
that is now, being a long-legged slittering maid,
hardly husband-high, went with the rest of the maidens,
for 'a was a good, runner afore she got so heavy.
When she came home I said--we were then just beginning
to walk together--'What have ye got, my honey?'
'I've won--well, I've won--a gown-piece,' says she,
her colours coming up in a moment. 'Tis a smock for a crown,
I thought; and so it turned out. Ay, when I think what
she'll say to me now without a mossel of red in her face,
it do seem strange that 'a wouldn't say such a little thing
then....However, then she went on, and that's what made
me bring up the story. Well, whatever clothes I've won,
white or figured, for eyes to see or for eyes not to see'
('a could do a pretty stroke of modesty in those days),
'I'd sooner have lost it than have seen what I have.
Poor Mr. Yeobright was took bad directly he reached the
fair ground, and was forced to go home again.' That was
the last time he ever went out of the parish."
"'A faltered on from one day to another, and then we
heard he was gone."
"D'ye think he had great pain when 'a died?" said Christian.
"O no--quite different. Nor any pain of mind.
He was lucky enough to be God A'mighty's own man."
"And other folk--d'ye think 'twill be much pain to 'em,
"That depends on whether they be afeard."
"I bain't afeard at all, I thank God!" said Christian strenuously.
"I'm glad I bain't, for then 'twon't pain me....I
don't think I be afeard--or if I be I can't help it,
and I don't deserve to suffer. I wish I was not afeard at all!"
There was a solemn silence, and looking from the window,
which was unshuttered and unblinded, Timothy said,
"Well, what a fess little bonfire that one is, out by
Cap'n Vye's! 'Tis burning just the same now as ever,
upon my life."
All glances went through the window, and nobody noticed
that Wildeve disguised a brief, telltale look.
Far away up the sombre valley of heath, and to the
right of Rainbarrow, could indeed be seen the light,
small, but steady and persistent as before.
"It was lighted before ours was," Fairway continued;
"and yet every one in the country round is out afore
"Perhaps there's meaning in it!" murmured Christian.
"How meaning?" said Wildeve sharply.
Christian was too scattered to reply, and Timothy helped him.
"He means, sir, that the lonesome dark-eyed creature
up there that some say is a witch--ever I should call
a fine young woman such a name--is always up to some odd
conceit or other; and so perhaps 'tis she."
"I'd be very glad to ask her in wedlock, if she'd hae me
and take the risk of her wild dark eyes ill-wishing me,"
said Grandfer Cantle staunchly.
"Don't ye say it, Father!" implored Christian.
"Well, be dazed if he who do marry the maid won't hae
an uncommon picture for his best parlour," said Fairway
in a liquid tone, placing down the cup of mead at the end
of a good pull.
"And a partner as deep as the North Star," said Sam,
taking up the cup and finishing the little that remained.
"Well, really, now I think we must be moving," said Humphrey,
observing the emptiness of the vessel.
"But we'll gie 'em another song?" said Grandfer Cantle.
"I'm as full of notes as a bird!"
"Thank you, Grandfer," said Wildeve. "But we will not
trouble you now. Some other day must do for that--when
I have a party."
"Be jown'd if I don't learn ten new songs for't, or I
won't learn a line!" said Grandfer Cantle. "And you may
be sure I won't disappoint ye by biding away, Mr. Wildeve."
"I quite believe you," said that gentleman.
All then took their leave, wishing their entertainer long
life and happiness as a married man, with recapitulations
which occupied some time. Wildeve attended them to the door,
beyond which the deep-dyed upward stretch of heath stood
awaiting them, an amplitude of darkness reigning from their
feet almost to the zenith, where a definite form first
became visible in the lowering forehead of Rainbarrow.
Diving into the dense obscurity in a line headed by Sam
the turf-cutter, they pursued their trackless way home.
When the scratching of the furze against their leggings
had fainted upon the ear, Wildeve returned to the room
where he had left Thomasin and her aunt. The women
They could only have left the house in one way,
by the back window; and this was open.
Wildeve laughed to himself, remained a moment thinking,
and idly returned to the front room. Here his glance fell
upon a bottle of wine which stood on the mantelpiece.
"Ah--old Dowden!" he murmured; and going to the kitchen
door shouted, "Is anybody here who can take something to
There was no reply. The room was empty, the lad who acted
as his factotum having gone to bed. Wildeve came back
put on his hat, took the bottle, and left the house,
turning the key in the door, for there was no guest at
the inn tonight. As soon as he was on the road the little
bonfire on Mistover Knap again met his eye.
"Still waiting, are you, my lady?" he murmured.
However, he did not proceed that way just then;
but leaving the hill to the left of him, he stumbled
over a rutted road that brought him to a cottage which,
like all other habitations on the heath at this hour,
was only saved from being visible by a faint shine from its
bedroom window. This house was the home of Olly Dowden,
the besom-maker, and he entered.
The lower room was in darkness; but by feeling his way he
found a table, whereon he placed the bottle, and a minute
later emerged again upon the heath. He stood and looked
northeast at the undying little fire--high up above him,
though not so high as Rainbarrow.
We have been told what happens when a woman deliberates;
and the epigram is not always terminable with woman,
provided that one be in the case, and that a fair one.
Wildeve stood, and stood longer, and breathed perplexedly,
and then said to himself with resignation, "Yes--by Heaven,
I must go to her, I suppose!"
Instead of turning in the direction of home he pressed
on rapidly by a path under Rainbarrow towards what was
evidently a signal light.
6 - The Figure against the Sky
When the whole Egdon concourse had left the site
of the bonfire to its accustomed loneliness, a closely
wrapped female figure approached the barrow from that
quarter of the heath in which the little fire lay.
Had the reddleman been watching he might have recognized
her as the woman who had first stood there so singularly,
and vanished at the approach of strangers. She ascended
to her old position at the top, where the red coals
of the perishing fire greeted her like living eyes
in the corpse of day. There she stood still around her
stretching the vast night atmosphere, whose incomplete
darkness in comparison with the total darkness of the heath
below it might have represented a venial beside a mortal sin.
That she was tall and straight in build, that she was
lady-like in her movements, was all that could be learnt
of her just now, her form being wrapped in a shawl folded in
the old cornerwise fashion, and her head in a large kerchief,
a protection not superfluous at this hour and place.
Her back was towards the wind, which blew from the northwest;
but whether she had avoided that aspect because of the
chilly gusts which played about her exceptional position,
or because her interest lay in the southeast, did not
at first appear.
Her reason for standing so dead still as the pivot
of this circle of heath-country was just as obscure.
Her extraordinary fixity, her conspicuous loneliness,
her heedlessness of night, betokened among other things
an utter absence of fear. A tract of country unaltered
from that sinister condition which made Caesar anxious every
year to get clear of its glooms before the autumnal equinox,
a kind of landscape and weather which leads travellers from
the South to describe our island as Homer's Cimmerian land,
was not, on the face of it, friendly to women.
It might reasonably have been supposed that she was listening
to the wind, which rose somewhat as the night advanced,
and laid hold of the attention. The wind, indeed, seemed made
for the scene, as the scene seemed made for the hour.
Part of its tone was quite special; what was heard there
could be heard nowhere else. Gusts in innumerable series
followed each other from the northwest, and when each one
of them raced past the sound of its progress resolved
into three. Treble, tenor, and bass notes were to be
found therein. The general ricochet of the whole over
pits and prominences had the gravest pitch of the chime.
Next there could be heard the baritone buzz of a holly tree.
Below these in force, above them in pitch, a dwindled voice
strove hard at a husky tune, which was the peculiar local
sound alluded to. Thinner and less immediately traceable
than the other two, it was far more impressive than either.
In it lay what may be called the linguistic peculiarity
of the heath; and being audible nowhere on earth off a heath,
it afforded a shadow of reason for the woman's tenseness,
which continued as unbroken as ever.
Throughout the blowing of these plaintive November winds
that note bore a great resemblance to the ruins of human
song which remain to the throat of fourscore and ten.
It was a worn whisper, dry and papery, and it brushed
so distinctly across the ear that, by the accustomed,
the material minutiae in which it originated could
be realized as by touch. It was the united products
of infinitesimal vegetable causes, and these were neither
stems, leaves, fruit, blades, prickles, lichen, nor moss.
They were the mummied heathbells of the past summer,
originally tender and purple, now washed colourless by
Michaelmas rains, and dried to dead skins by October suns.
So low was an individual sound from these that a
combination of hundreds only just emerged from silence,
and the myriads of the whole declivity reached the woman's
ear but as a shrivelled and intermittent recitative.
Yet scarcely a single accent among the many afloat tonight
could have such power to impress a listener with thoughts
of its origin. One inwardly saw the infinity of those
combined multitudes; and perceived that each of the tiny
trumpets was seized on entered, scoured and emerged from
by the wind as thoroughly as if it were as vast as a crater.
"The spirit moved them." A meaning of the phrase forced itself
upon the attention; and an emotional listener's fetichistic
mood might have ended in one of more advanced quality.
It was not, after all, that the left-hand expanse of old
blooms spoke, or the right-hand, or those of the slope
in front; but it was the single person of something
else speaking through each at once.
Suddenly, on the barrow, there mingled with all this wild
rhetoric of night a sound which modulated so naturally
into the rest that its beginning and ending were hardly
to be distinguished. The bluffs, and the bushes,
and the heather-bells had broken silence; at last, so did
the woman; and her articulation was but as another phrase
of the same discourse as theirs. Thrown out on the winds
it became twined in with them, and with them it flew away.
What she uttered was a lengthened sighing, apparently at
something in her mind which had led to her presence here.
There was a spasmodic abandonment about it as if,
in allowing herself to utter the sound. the woman's
brain had authorized what it could not regulate.
One point was evident in this; that she had been existing
in a suppressed state, and not in one of languor,
Far away down the valley the faint shine from the window
of the inn still lasted on; and a few additional
moments proved that the window, or what was within it,
had more to do with the woman's sigh than had either
her own actions or the scene immediately around.
She lifted her left hand, which held a closed telescope.
This she rapidly extended, as if she were well accustomed
to the operation, and raising it to her eye directed it
towards the light beaming from the inn.
The handkerchief which had hooded her head was now a
little thrown back, her face being somewhat elevated.
A profile was visible against the dull monochrome of
cloud around her; and it was as though side shadows from
the features of Sappho and Mrs. Siddons had converged
upwards from the tomb to form an image like neither but
suggesting both. This, however, was mere superficiality.
In respect of character a face may make certain admissions
by its outline; but it fully confesses only in its changes.
So much is this the case that what is called the play of the
features often helps more in understanding a man or woman
than the earnest labours of all the other members together.
Thus the night revealed little of her whose form it was embracing,
for the mobile parts of her countenance could not be seen.
At last she gave up her spying attitude, closed the telescope,
and turned to the decaying embers. From these no appreciable
beams now radiated, except when a more than usually
smart gust brushed over their faces and raised a fitful
glow which came and went like the blush of a girl.
She stooped over the silent circle, and selecting from the
brands a piece of stick which bore the largest live coal
at its end, brought it to where she had been standing before.
She held the brand to the ground, blowing the red coal
with her mouth at the same time; till it faintly illuminated
the sod, and revealed a small object, which turned out
to be an hourglass, though she wore a watch. She blew
long enough to show that the sand had all slipped through.
"Ah!" she said, as if surprised.
The light raised by her breath had been very fitful,
and a momentary irradiation of flesh was all that it had
disclosed of her face. That consisted of two matchless
lips and a cheek only, her head being still enveloped.
She threw away the stick, took the glass in her hand,
the telescope under her arm, and moved on.
Along the ridge ran a faint foot-track, which the
lady followed. Those who knew it well called it a path;
and, while a mere visitor would have passed it unnoticed
even by day, the regular haunters of the heath were at no
loss for it at midnight. The whole secret of following
these incipient paths, when there was not light enough
in the atmosphere to show a turnpike road, lay in the
development of the sense of touch in the feet, which comes
with years of night-rambling in little-trodden spots.
To a walker practised in such places a difference between
impact on maiden herbage, and on the crippled stalks
of a slight footway, is perceptible through the thickest boot or shoe.
The solitary figure who walked this beat took no notice
of the windy tune still played on the dead heathbells.
She did not turn her head to look at a group of dark
creatures further on, who fled from her presence as she
skirted a ravine where they fed. They were about a score
of the small wild ponies known as heath-croppers. They
roamed at large on the undulations of Egdon, but in numbers
too few to detract much from the solitude.
The pedestrian noticed nothing just now, and a clue
to her abstraction was afforded by a trivial incident.
A bramble caught hold of her skirt, and checked her progress.
Instead of putting it off and hastening along, she yielded
herself up to the pull, and stood passively still.
When she began to extricate herself it was by turning
round and round, and so unwinding the prickly switch.
She was in a desponding reverie.
Her course was in the direction of the small undying fire
which had drawn the attention of the men on Rainbarrow
and of Wildeve in the valley below. A faint illumination
from its rays began to glow upon her face, and the fire
soon revealed itself to be lit, not on the level ground,
but on a salient corner or redan of earth, at the junction
of two converging bank fences. Outside was a ditch,
dry except immediately under the fire, where there was
a large pool, bearded all round by heather and rushes.
In the smooth water of the pool the fire appeared
The banks meeting behind were bare of a hedge,
save such as was formed by disconnected tufts of furze,
standing upon stems along the top, like impaled heads
above a city wall. A white mast, fitted up with spars
and other nautical tackle, could be seen rising against
the dark clouds whenever the flames played brightly enough
to reach it. Altogether the scene had much the appearance
of a fortification upon which had been kindled a beacon fire.
Nobody was visible; but ever and anon a whitish something
moved above the bank from behind, and vanished again.
This was a small human hand, in the act of lifting pieces
of fuel into the fire, but for all that could be seen the hand,
like that which troubled Belshazzar, was there alone.
Occasionally an ember rolled off the bank, and dropped
with a hiss into the pool.
At one side of the pool rough steps built of clods enabled
everyone who wished to do so to mount the bank; which the
woman did. Within was a paddock in an uncultivated state,
though bearing evidence of having once been tilled;
but the heath and fern had insidiously crept in,
and were reasserting their old supremacy. Further ahead
were dimly visible an irregular dwelling-house, garden,
and outbuildings, backed by a clump of firs.
The young lady--for youth had revealed its presence in her
buoyant bound up the bank--walked along the top instead
of descending inside, and came to the corner where the fire
was burning. One reason for the permanence of the blaze
was now manifest: the fuel consisted of hard pieces
of wood, cleft and sawn--the knotty boles of old thorn
trees which grew in twos and threes about the hillsides.
A yet unconsumed pile of these lay in the inner angle
of the bank; and from this corner the upturned face of a
little boy greeted her eves. He was dilatorily throwing
up a piece of wood into the fire every now and then,
a business which seemed to have engaged him a considerable
part of the evening, for his face was somewhat weary.
"I am glad you have come, Miss Eustacia," he said,
with a sigh of relief. "I don't like biding by myself."
"Nonsense. I have only been a little way for a walk.
I have been gone only twenty minutes."
"It seemed long," murmured the sad boy. "And you have
been so many times."
"Why, I thought you would be pleased to have a bonfire.
Are you not much obliged to me for making you one?"
"Yes; but there's nobody here to play wi' me."
"I suppose nobody has come while I've been away?"
"Nobody except your grandfather--he looked out of doors
once for 'ee. I told him you were walking round upon
the hill to look at the other bonfires."
"A good boy."
"I think I hear him coming again, miss."
An old man came into the remoter light of the fire from
the direction of the homestead. He was the same who had
overtaken the reddleman on the road that afternoon.
He looked wistfully to the top of the bank at the woman
who stood there, and his teeth, which were quite unimpaired,
showed like parian from his parted lips.
"When are you coming indoors, Eustacia?" he asked.
"'Tis almost bedtime. I've been home these two hours,
and am tired out. Surely 'tis somewhat childish of you to stay
out playing at bonfires so long, and wasting such fuel.
My precious thorn roots, the rarest of all firing,
that I laid by on purpose for Christmas--you have burnt 'em
"I promised Johnny a bonfire, and it pleases him not
to let it go out just yet," said Eustacia, in a way
which told at once that she was absolute queen here.
"Grandfather, you go in to bed. I shall follow you soon.
You like the fire, don't you, Johnny?"
The boy looked up doubtfully at her and murmured,
"I don't think I want it any longer."
Her grandfather had turned back again, and did not hear
the boy's reply. As soon as the white-haired man
had vanished she said in a tone of pique to the child,
"Ungrateful little boy, how can you contradict me?
Never shall you have a bonfire again unless you keep it
up now. Come, tell me you like to do things for me,
and don't deny it."
The repressed child said, "Yes, I do, miss," and continued
to stir the fire perfunctorily.
"Stay a little longer and I will give you a crooked six-pence,"
said Eustacia, more gently. "Put in one piece of wood
every two or three minutes, but not too much at once.
I am going to walk along the ridge a little longer,
but I shall keep on coming to you. And if you hear a frog
jump into the pond with a flounce like a stone thrown in,
be sure you run and tell me, because it is a sign of rain."
"Miss Vye, sir."
"That will do. Now put in one stick more."
The little slave went on feeding the fire as before.
He seemed a mere automaton, galvanized into moving and
speaking by the wayward Eustacia's will. He might have been
the brass statue which Albertus Magnus is said to have
animated just so far as to make it chatter, and move,
and be his servant.
Before going on her walk again the young girl stood
still on the bank for a few instants and listened.
It was to the full as lonely a place as Rainbarrow, though at
rather a lower level; and it was more sheltered from wind
and weather on account of the few firs to the north.
The bank which enclosed the homestead, and protected it
from the lawless state of the world without, was formed
of thick square clods, dug from the ditch on the outside,
and built up with a slight batter or incline, which forms
no slight defense where hedges will not grow because of
the wind and the wilderness, and where wall materials
are unattainable. Otherwise the situation was quite open,
commanding the whole length of the valley which reached
to the river behind Wildeve's house. High above this
to the right, and much nearer thitherward than the Quiet
Woman Inn, the blurred contour of Rainbarrow obstructed
After her attentive survey of the wild slopes and hollow
ravines a gesture of impatience escaped Eustacia.
She vented petulant words every now and then, but there
were sighs between her words, and sudden listenings
between her sighs. Descending from her perch she again
sauntered off towards Rainbarrow, though this time she
did not go the whole way.
Twice she reappeared at intervals of a few minutes
and each time she said--
"Not any flounce into the pond yet, little man?"
"No, Miss Eustacia," the child replied.
"Well," she said at last, "I shall soon be going in,
and then I will give you the crooked sixpence, and let you
"Thank'ee, Miss Eustacia," said the tired stoker,
breathing more easily. And Eustacia again strolled away
from the fire, but this time not towards Rainbarrow.
She skirted the bank and went round to the wicket before
the house, where she stood motionless, looking at the scene.
Fifty yards off rose the corner of the two converging banks,
with the fire upon it; within the bank, lifting up to the
fire one stick at a time, just as before, the figure of
the little child. She idly watched him as he occasionally
climbed up in the nook of the bank and stood beside
the brands. The wind blew the smoke, and the child's hair,
and the corner of his pinafore, all in the same direction;
the breeze died, and the pinafore and hair lay still,
and the smoke went up straight.
While Eustacia looked on from this distance the boy's
form visibly started--he slid down the bank and ran
across towards the white gate.
"Well?" said Eustacia.
"A hopfrog have jumped into the pond. Yes, I heard 'en!"
"Then it is going to rain, and you had better go home.
You will not be afraid?" She spoke hurriedly, as if her
heart had leapt into her throat at the boy's words.
"No, because I shall hae the crooked sixpence."
"Yes. here it is. Now run as fast as you can--not that
way--through the garden here. No other boy in the heath
has had such a bonfire as yours."
The boy, who clearly had had too much of a good thing,
marched away into the shadows with alacrity. When he
was gone Eustacia, leaving her telescope and hourglass
by the gate, brushed forward from the wicket towards
the angle of the bank, under the fire.
Here, screened by the outwork, she waited. In a few
moments a splash was audible from the pond outside.
Had the child been there he would have said that a second
frog had jumped in; but by most people the sound would
have been likened to the fall of a stone into the water.
Eustacia stepped upon the bank.
"Yes?" she said, and held her breath.
Thereupon the contour of a man became dimly visible against
the low-reaching sky over the valley, beyond the outer
margin of the pool. He came round it and leapt upon
the bank beside her. A low laugh escaped her--the third
utterance which the girl had indulged in tonight. The first,
when she stood upon Rainbarrow, had expressed anxiety;
the second, on the ridge, had expressed impatience;
the present was one of triumphant pleasure. She let
her joyous eyes rest upon him without speaking, as upon
some wondrous thing she had created out of chaos.
"I have come," said the man, who was Wildeve.
"You give me no peace. Why do you not leave me alone?
I have seen your bonfire all the evening." The words
were not without emotion, and retained their level tone
as if by a careful equipoise between imminent extremes.
At this unexpectedly repressing manner in her lover
the girl seemed to repress herself also. "Of course you
have seen my fire," she answered with languid calmness,
artificially maintained. "Why shouldn't I have a bonfire
on the Fifth of November, like other denizens of the heath?"
"I knew it was meant for me."
"How did you know it? I have had no word with you
since you--you chose her, and walked about with her,
and deserted me entirely, as if I had never been yours
life and soul so irretrievably!"
"Eustacia! could I forget that last autumn at this same day
of the month and at this same place you lighted exactly
such a fire as a signal for me to come and see you? Why
should there have been a bonfire again by Captain Vye's
house if not for the same purpose?"
"Yes, yes--I own it," she cried under her breath, with a drowsy
fervour of manner and tone which was quite peculiar to her.
"Don't begin speaking to me as you did, Damon; you will
drive me to say words I would not wish to say to you.
I had given you up, and resolved not to think of you any more;
and then I heard the news, and I came out and got the fire
ready because I thought that you had been faithful to me."
"What have you heard to make you think that?"
said Wildeve, astonished.
"That you did not marry her!" she murmured exultingly.
"And I knew it was because you loved me best, and couldn't
do it....Damon, you have been cruel to me to go away,
and I have said I would never forgive you. I do not think
I can forgive you entirely, even now--it is too much for a
woman of any spirit to quite overlook."
"If I had known you wished to call me up here only
to reproach me, I wouldn't have come."
"But I don't mind it, and I do forgive you now that you
have not married her, and have come back to me!"
"Who told you that I had not married her?"
"My grandfather. He took a long walk today, and as he
was coming home he overtook some person who told him
of a broken-off wedding--he thought it might be yours,
and I knew it was."
"Does anybody else know?"
"I suppose not. Now Damon, do you see why I lit my signal
fire? You did not think I would have lit it if I had
imagined you to have become the husband of this woman.
It is insulting my pride to suppose that."
Wildeve was silent; it was evident that he had supposed
"Did you indeed think I believed you were married?"
she again demanded earnestly. "Then you wronged me;
and upon my life and heart I can hardly bear to recognize
that you have such ill thoughts of me! Damon, you are not
worthy of me--I see it, and yet I love you. Never mind,
let it go--I must bear your mean opinion as best I may....It
is true, is it not," she added with ill-concealed anxiety,
on his making no demonstration, "that you could not bring
yourself to give me up, and are still going to love me best
"Yes; or why should I have come?" he said touchily.
"Not that fidelity will be any great merit in me after your
kind speech about my unworthiness, which should have been
said by myself if by anybody, and comes with an ill grace
from you. However, the curse of inflammability is upon me,
and I must live under it, and take any snub from a woman.
It has brought me down from engineering to innkeeping--what
lower stage it has in store for me I have yet to learn."
He continued to look upon her gloomily.
She seized the moment, and throwing back the shawl so
that the firelight shone full upon her face and throat,
said with a smile, "Have you seen anything better than
that in your travels?"
Eustacia was not one to commit herself to such a position
without good ground. He said quietly, "No."
"Not even on the shoulders of Thomasin?"
"Thomasin is a pleasing and innocent woman."
"That's nothing to do with it," she cried with
quick passionateness. "We will leave her out;
there are only you and me now to think of." After a long
look at him she resumed with the old quiescent warmth,
"Must I go on weakly confessing to you things a woman
ought to conceal; and own that no words can express
how gloomy I have been because of that dreadful belief
I held till two hours ago--that you had quite deserted me?"
"I am sorry I caused you that pain."
"But perhaps it is not wholly because of you that I get gloomy,"
she archly added. "It is in my nature to feel like that.
It was born in my blood, I suppose."
"Or else it was coming into this wild heath. I was happy
enough at Budmouth. O the times, O the days at Budmouth!
But Egdon will be brighter again now."
"I hope it will," said Wildeve moodily. "Do you know
the consequence of this recall to me, my old darling? I
shall come to see you again as before, at Rainbarrow."
"Of course you will."
"And yet I declare that until I got here tonight I intended,
after this one good-bye, never to meet you again."
"I don't thank you for that," she said, turning away,
while indignation spread through her like subterranean heat.
"You may come again to Rainbarrow if you like, but you
won't see me; and you may call, but I shall not listen;
and you may tempt me, but I won't give myself to you
"You have said as much before, sweet; but such natures
as yours don't so easily adhere to their words.
Neither, for the matter of that, do such natures as mine."
"This is the pleasure I have won by my trouble,"
she whispered bitterly. "Why did I try to recall you? Damon,
a strange warring takes place in my mind occasionally.
I think when I become calm after you woundings, 'Do I embrace
a cloud of common fog after all?' You are a chameleon,
and now you are at your worst colour. Go home, or I shall
He looked absently towards Rainbarrow while one might
have counted twenty, and said, as if he did not much mind
all this, "Yes, I will go home. Do you mean to see me again?"
"If you own to me that the wedding is broken off because
you love me best."
"I don't think it would be good policy," said Wildeve, smiling.
"You would get to know the extent of your power too clearly."
"But tell me!"
"Where is she now?"
"I don't know. I prefer not to speak of her to you.
I have not yet married her; I have come in obedience to
your call. That is enough."
"I merely lit that fire because I was dull, and thought
I would get a little excitement by calling you up and
triumphing over you as the Witch of Endor called up Samuel.
I determined you should come; and you have come! I have
shown my power. A mile and half hither, and a mile and half
back again to your home--three miles in the dark for me.
Have I not shown my power?"
He shook his head at her. "I know you too well, my Eustacia;
I know you too well. There isn't a note in you which I
don't know; and that hot little bosom couldn't play such
a cold-blooded trick to save its life. I saw a woman
on Rainbarrow at dusk looking down towards my house.
I think I drew out you before you drew out me."
The revived embers of an old passion glowed clearly
in Wildeve now; and he leant forward as if about to put
his face towards her cheek.
"O no," she said, intractably moving to the other side
of the decayed fire. "What did you mean by that?"
"Perhaps I may kiss your hand?"
"No, you may not."
"Then I may shake your hand?"
"Then I wish you good night without caring for either.
She returned no answer, and with the bow of a dancing-
master he vanished on the other side of the pool as he
Eustacia sighed--it was no fragile maiden sigh, but a
sigh which shook her like a shiver. Whenever a flash
of reason darted like an electric light upon her lover-
-as it sometimes would--and showed his imperfections,
she shivered thus. But it was over in a second,
and she loved on. She knew that he trifled with her;
but she loved on. She scattered the half-burnt brands,
went indoors immediately, and up to her bedroom without
a light. Amid the rustles which denoted her to be undressing
in the darkness other heavy breaths frequently came;
and the same kind of shudder occasionally moved through
her when, ten minutes later, she lay on her bed asleep.
7 - Queen of Night
Eustacia Vye was the raw material of a divinity. On Olympus
she would have done well with a little preparation.
She had the passions and instincts which make a model goddess,
that is, those which make not quite a model woman.
Had it been possible for the earth and mankind to be entirely
in her grasp for a while, she had handled the distaff,
the spindle, and the shears at her own free will, few in
the world would have noticed the change of government.
There would have been the same inequality of lot, the same
heaping up of favours here, of contumely there, the same
generosity before justice, the same perpetual dilemmas,
the same captious alteration of caresses and blows that we
She was in person full-limbed and somewhat heavy;
without ruddiness, as without pallor; and soft to the
touch as a cloud. To see her hair was to fancy that a
whole winter did not contain darkness enough to form
its shadow--it closed over her forehead like nightfall
extinguishing the western glow.
Her nerves extended into those tresses, and her temper
could always be softened by stroking them down. When her
hair was brushed she would instantly sink into stillness
and look like the Sphinx. If, in passing under one of
the Egdon banks, any of its thick skeins were caught,
as they sometimes were, by a prickly tuft of the large
Ulex Europoeus--which will act as a sort of hairbrush--she
would go back a few steps, and pass against it a second time.
She had pagan eyes, full of nocturnal mysteries,
and their light, as it came and went, and came again,
was partially hampered by their oppressive lids and lashes;
and of these the under lid was much fuller than it usually
is with English women. This enabled her to indulge
in reverie without seeming to do so--she might have been
believed capable of sleeping without closing them up.
Assuming that the souls of men and women were visible essences,
you could fancy the colour of Eustacia's soul to be flamelike.
The sparks from it that rose into her dark pupils gave
the same impression.
The mouth seemed formed less to speak than to quiver,
less to quiver than to kiss. Some might have added,
less to kiss than to curl. Viewed sideways, the closing-line
of her lips formed, with almost geometric precision,
the curve so well known in the arts of design as the
cima-recta, or ogee. The sight of such a flexible
bend as that on grim Egdon was quite an apparition.
It was felt at once that the mouth did not come over
from Sleswig with a band of Saxon pirates whose lips
met like the two halves of a muffin. One had fancied
that such lip-curves were mostly lurking underground
in the South as fragments of forgotten marbles. So fine
were the lines of her lips that, though full, each corner
of her mouth was as clearly cut as the point of a spear.
This keenness of corner was only blunted when she was
given over to sudden fits of gloom, one of the phases
of the night-side of sentiment which she knew too well
for her years.
Her presence brought memories of such things as Bourbon
roses, rubies, and tropical midnight; her moods recalled
lotus-eaters and the march in Athalie; her motions,
the ebb and flow of the sea; her voice, the viola.
In a dim light, and with a slight rearrangement of her hair,
her general figure might have stood for that of either
of the higher female deities. The new moon behind her head,
an old helmet upon it, a diadem of accidental dewdrops
round her brow, would have been adjuncts sufficient to
strike the note of Artemis, Athena, or Hera respectively,
with as close an approximation to the antique as that
which passes muster on many respected canvases.
But celestial imperiousness, love, wrath, and fervour had
proved to be somewhat thrown away on netherward Egdon.
Her power was limited, and the consciousness of this
limitation had biassed her development. Egdon was
her Hades, and since coming there she had imbibed
much of what was dark in its tone, though inwardly
and eternally unreconciled thereto. Her appearance
accorded well with this smouldering rebelliousness,
and the shady splendour of her beauty was the real
surface of the sad and stifled warmth within her. A true
Tartarean dignity sat upon her brow, and not factitiously
or with marks of constraint, for it had grown in her with years.
Across the upper part of her head she wore a thin
fillet of black velvet, restraining the luxuriance
of her shady hair, in a way which added much to this
class of majesty by irregularly clouding her forehead.
"Nothing can embellish a beautiful face more than
a narrow band drawn over the brow," says Richter.
Some of the neighbouring girls wore coloured ribbon for the
same purpose, and sported metallic ornaments elsewhere;
but if anyone suggested coloured ribbon and metallic
ornaments to Eustacia Vye she laughed and went on.
Why did a woman of this sort live on Egdon Heath? Budmouth
was her native place, a fashionable seaside resort
at that date. She was the daughter of the bandmaster
of a regiment which had been quartered there--a Corfiote
by birth, and a fine musician--who met his future wife
during her trip thither with her father the captain,
a man of good family. The marriage was scarcely in accord
with the old man's wishes, for the bandmaster's pockets
were as light as his occupation. But the musician did
his best; adopted his wife's name, made England permanently
his home, took great trouble with his child's education,
the expenses of which were defrayed by the grandfather,
and throve as the chief local musician till her mother's
death, when he left off thriving, drank, and died also.
The girl was left to the care of her grandfather, who,
since three of his ribs became broken in a shipwreck,
had lived in this airy perch on Egdon, a spot which had
taken his fancy because the house was to be had for
next to nothing, and because a remote blue tinge on the
horizon between the hills, visible from the cottage door,
was traditionally believed to be the English Channel.
She hated the change; she felt like one banished;
but here she was forced to abide.
Thus it happened that in Eustacia's brain were juxtaposed
the strangest assortment of ideas, from old time and from new.
There was no middle distance in her perspective--romantic
recollections of sunny afternoons on an esplanade,
with military bands, officers, and gallants around, stood like
gilded letters upon the dark tablet of surrounding Egdon.
Every bizarre effect that could result from the random
intertwining of watering-place glitter with the grand
solemnity of a heath, was to be found in her. Seeing nothing
of human life now, she imagined all the more of what she had seen.
Where did her dignity come from? By a latent vein
from Alcinous' line, her father hailing from Phaeacia's
isle?--or from Fitzalan and De Vere, her maternal grandfather
having had a cousin in the peerage? Perhaps it was the
gift of Heaven--a happy convergence of natural laws.
Among other things opportunity had of late years been denied
her of learning to be undignified, for she lived lonely.
Isolation on a heath renders vulgarity well-nigh impossible.
It would have been as easy for the heath-ponies, bats,
and snakes to be vulgar as for her. A narrow life
in Budmouth might have completely demeaned her.
The only way to look queenly without realms or hearts
to queen it over is to look as if you had lost them;
and Eustacia did that to a triumph. In the captain's
cottage she could suggest mansions she had never seen.
Perhaps that was because she frequented a vaster mansion
than any of them, the open hills. Like the summer condition
of the place around her, she was an embodiment of the
phrase "a populous solitude"--apparently so listless,
void, and quiet, she was really busy and full.
To be loved to madness--such was her great desire.
Love was to her the one cordial which could drive away
the eating loneliness of her days. And she seemed to long
for the abstraction called passionate love more than for
any particular lover.
She could show a most reproachful look at times, but it
was directed less against human beings than against certain
creatures of her mind, the chief of these being Destiny,
through whose interference she dimly fancied it arose
that love alighted only on gliding youth--that any love
she might win would sink simultaneously with the sand
in the glass. She thought of it with an ever-growing
consciousness of cruelty, which tended to breed actions
of reckless unconventionality, framed to snatch a year's,
a week's, even an hour's passion from anywhere while it
could be won. Through want of it she had sung without
being merry, possessed without enjoying, outshone
without triumphing. Her loneliness deepened her desire.
On Egdon, coldest and meanest kisses were at famine prices,
and where was a mouth matching hers to be found?
Fidelity in love for fidelity's sake had less attraction
for her than for most women; fidelity because of love's grip
had much. A blaze of love, and extinction, was better than
a lantern glimmer of the same which should last long years.
On this head she knew by prevision what most women learn
only by experience--she had mentally walked round love,
told the towers thereof, considered its palaces, and concluded
that love was but a doleful joy. Yet she desired it,
as one in a desert would be thankful for brackish water.
She often repeated her prayers; not at particular times, but,
like the unaffectedly devout, when she desired to pray.
Her prayer was always spontaneous, and often ran thus,
"O deliver my heart from this fearful gloom and loneliness;
send me great love from somewhere, else I shall die."
Her high gods were William the Conqueror, Strafford,
and Napoleon Buonaparte, as they had appeared in the Lady's
History used at the establishment in which she was educated.
Had she been a mother she would have christened her boys
such names as Saul or Sisera in preference to Jacob or David,
neither of whom she admired. At school she had used to side
with the Philistines in several battles, and had wondered
if Pontius Pilate were as handsome as he was frank and fair.
Thus she was a girl of some forwardness of mind, indeed,
weighed in relation to her situation among the very
rearward of thinkers, very original. Her instincts
towards social non-comformity were at the root of this.
In the matter of holidays, her mood was that of horses who,
when turned out to grass, enjoy looking upon their kind
at work on the highway. She only valued rest to herself
when it came in the midst of other people's labour.
Hence she hated Sundays when all was at rest, and often
said they would be the death of her. To see the heathmen
in their Sunday condition, that is, with their hands
in their pockets, their boots newly oiled, and not laced
up (a particularly Sunday sign), walking leisurely among
the turves and furze-faggots they had cut during the week,
and kicking them critically as if their use were unknown,
was a fearful heaviness to her. To relieve the tedium
of this untimely day she would overhaul the cupboards
containing her grandfather's old charts and other rubbish,
humming Saturday-night ballads of the country people the while.
But on Saturday nights she would frequently sing a psalm,
and it was always on a weekday that she read the Bible,
that she might be unoppressed with a sense of doing
Such views of life were to some extent the natural
begettings of her situation upon her nature. To dwell
on a heath without studying its meanings was like wedding
a foreigner without learning his tongue. The subtle
beauties of the heath were lost to Eustacia; she only
caught its vapours. An environment which would have made
a contented woman a poet, a suffering woman a devotee,
a pious woman a psalmist, even a giddy woman thoughtful,
made a rebellious woman saturnine.
Eustacia had got beyond the vision of some marriage
of inexpressible glory; yet, though her emotions were
in full vigour, she cared for no meaner union. Thus we
see her in a strange state of isolation. To have lost
the godlike conceit that we may do what we will, and not
to have acquired a homely zest for doing what we can,
shows a grandeur of temper which cannot be objected to in
the abstract, for it denotes a mind that, though disappointed,
forswears compromise. But, if congenial to philosophy,
it is apt to be dangerous to the commonwealth. In a world
where doing means marrying, and the commonwealth is one
of hearts and hands, the same peril attends the condition.
And so we see our Eustacia--for at times she was not
altogether unlovable--arriving at that stage of enlightenment
which feels that nothing is worth while, and filling up
the spare hours of her existence by idealizing Wildeve
for want of a better object. This was the sole reason
of his ascendency: she knew it herself. At moments her
pride rebelled against her passion for him, and she even
had longed to be free. But there was only one circumstance
which could dislodge him, and that was the advent of a greater man.
For the rest, she suffered much from depression of spirits,
and took slow walks to recover them, in which she carried
her grandfather's telescope and her grandmother's
hourglass--the latter because of a peculiar pleasure she
derived from watching a material representation of time's
gradual glide away. She seldom schemed, but when she
did scheme, her plans showed rather the comprehensive
strategy of a general than the small arts called womanish,
though she could utter oracles of Delphian ambiguity
when she did not choose to be direct. In heaven she
will probably sit between the Heloises and the Cleopatras.
8 - Those Who Are Found Where There Is Said to Be Nobody
As soon as the sad little boy had withdrawn from the fire
he clasped the money tight in the palm of his hand,
as if thereby to fortify his courage, and began to run.
There was really little danger in allowing a child to go
home alone on this part of Egdon Heath. The distance to
the boy's house was not more than three-eighths of a mile,
his father's cottage, and one other a few yards further on,
forming part of the small hamlet of Mistover Knap: the
third and only remaining house was that of Captain Vye
and Eustacia, which stood quite away from the small cottages.
and was the loneliest of lonely houses on these thinly
He ran until he was out of breath, and then, becoming
more courageous, walked leisurely along, singing in an old
voice a little song about a sailor-boy and a fair one,
and bright gold in store. In the middle of this the child
stopped--from a pit under the hill ahead of him shone a light,
whence proceeded a cloud of floating dust and a smacking noise.
Only unusual sights and sounds frightened the boy.
The shrivelled voice of the heath did not alarm him,
for that was familiar. The thornbushes which arose
in his path from time to time were less satisfactory,
for they whistled gloomily, and had a ghastly habit
after dark of putting on the shapes of jumping madmen,
sprawling giants, and hideous cripples. Lights were not
uncommon this evening, but the nature of all of them
was different from this. Discretion rather than terror
prompted the boy to turn back instead of passing the light,
with a view of asking Miss Eustacia Vye to let her servant
accompany him home.
When the boy had reascended to the top of the valley
he found the fire to be still burning on the bank,
though lower than before. Beside it, instead of Eustacia's
solitary form, he saw two persons, the second being a man.
The boy crept along under the bank to ascertain from
the nature of the proceedings if it would be prudent
to interrupt so splendid a creature as Miss Eustacia
on his poor trivial account.
After listening under the bank for some minutes to the talk
he turned in a perplexed and doubting manner and began
to withdraw as silently as he had come. That he did not,
upon the whole, think it advisable to interrupt her
conversation with Wildeve, without being prepared to bear
the whole weight of her displeasure, was obvious.
Here was a Scyllaeo-Charybdean position for a poor boy.
Pausing when again safe from discovery, he finally
decided to face the pit phenomenon as the lesser evil.
With a heavy sigh he retraced the slope, and followed
the path he had followed before.
The light had gone, the rising dust had disappeared--he hoped
for ever. He marched resolutely along, and found nothing
to alarm him till, coming within a few yards of the sandpit,
he heard a slight noise in front, which led him to halt.
The halt was but momentary, for the noise resolved itself
into the steady bites of two animals grazing.
"Two he'th-croppers down here," he said aloud.
"I have never known 'em come down so far afore."
The animals were in the direct line of his path,
but that the child thought little of; he had played
round the fetlocks of horses from his infancy.
On coming nearer, however, the boy was somewhat surprised
to find that the little creatures did not run off,
and that each wore a clog, to prevent his going astray;
this signified that they had been broken in. He could
now see the interior of the pit, which, being in the side
of the hill, had a level entrance. In the innermost
corner the square outline of a van appeared, with its
back towards him. A light came from the interior,
and threw a moving shadow upon the vertical face of gravel
at the further side of the pit into which the vehicle faced.
The child assumed that this was the cart of a gipsy,
and his dread of those wanderers reached but to that
mild pitch which titillates rather than pains.
Only a few inches of mud wall kept him and his family
from being gipsies themselves. He skirted the gravel
pit at a respectful distance, ascended the slope,
and came forward upon the brow, in order to look into
the open door of the van and see the original of the shadow.
The picture alarmed the boy. By a little stove inside
the van sat a figure red from head to heels--the man who
had been Thomasin's friend. He was darning a stocking,
which was red like the rest of him. Moreover, as he
darned he smoked a pipe, the stem and bowl of which were
At this moment one of the heath-croppers feeding in the
outer shadows was audibly shaking off the clog attached
to its foot. Aroused by the sound, the reddleman laid
down his stocking, lit a lantern which hung beside him,
and came out from the van. In sticking up the candle
he lifted the lantern to his face, and the light shone
into the whites of his eyes and upon his ivory teeth,
which, in contrast with the red surrounding, lent him
a startling aspect enough to the gaze of a juvenile.
The boy knew too well for his peace of mind upon whose lair
he had lighted. Uglier persons than gipsies were known
to cross Egdon at times, and a reddleman was one of them.
"How I wish 'twas only a gipsy!" he murmured.
The man was by this time coming back from the horses.
In his fear of being seen the boy rendered detection certain
by nervous motion. The heather and peat stratum overhung
the brow of the pit in mats, hiding the actual verge.
The boy had stepped beyond the solid ground; the heather
now gave way, and down he rolled over the scarp of grey sand
to the very foot of the man.
The red man opened the lantern and turned it upon
the figure of the prostrate boy.
"Who be ye?" he said.
"Johnny Nunsuch, master!"
"What were you doing up there?"
"I don't know."
"Watching me, I suppose?"
"What did you watch me for?"
"Because I was coming home from Miss Vye's bonfire."
"Why, yes, you be--your hand is bleeding. Come under
my tilt and let me tie it up."
"Please let me look for my sixpence."
"How did you come by that?"
"Miss Vye gied it to me for keeping up her bonfire."
The sixpence was found, and the man went to the van,
the boy behind, almost holding his breath.
The man took a piece of rag from a satchel containing
sewing materials, tore off a strip, which, like everything
else, was tinged red, and proceeded to bind up the wound.
"My eyes have got foggy-like--please may I sit down,
master?" said the boy.
"To be sure, poor chap. 'Tis enough to make you feel fainty.
Sit on that bundle."
The man finished tying up the gash, and the boy said,
"I think I'll go home now, master."
"You are rather afraid of me. Do you know what I be?"
The child surveyed his vermilion figure up and down
with much misgiving and finally said, "Yes."
"The reddleman!" he faltered.
"Yes, that's what I be. Though there's more than one.
You little children think there's only one cuckoo, one fox,
one giant, one devil, and one reddleman, when there's lots
of us all."
"Is there? You won't carry me off in your bags, will ye,
master? 'Tis said that the reddleman will sometimes."
"Nonsense. All that reddlemen do is sell reddle.
You see all these bags at the back of my cart? They are
not full of little boys--only full of red stuff."
"Was you born a reddleman?"
"No, I took to it. I should be as white as you if I
were to give up the trade--that is, I should be white
in time--perhaps six months; not at first, because 'tis
grow'd into my skin and won't wash out. Now, you'll never
be afraid of a reddleman again, will ye?"
"No, never. Willy Orchard said he seed a red ghost
here t'other day--perhaps that was you?"
"I was here t'other day."
"Were you making that dusty light I saw by now?"
"Oh yes, I was beating out some bags. And have you had a good
bonfire up there? I saw the light. Why did Miss Vye want
a bonfire so bad that she should give you sixpence to keep it up?"
"I don't know. I was tired, but she made me bide
and keep up the fire just the same, while she kept
going up across Rainbarrow way."
"And how long did that last?"
"Until a hopfrog jumped into the pond."
The reddleman suddenly ceased to talk idly. "A hopfrog?"
he inquired. "Hopfrogs don't jump into ponds this time
"They do, for I heard one."
"Yes. She told me afore that I should hear'n; and so I did.
They say she's clever and deep, and perhaps she charmed
'en to come."
"And what then?"
"Then I came down here, and I was afeard, and I went back;
but I didn't like to speak to her, because of the gentleman,
and I came on here again."
"A gentleman--ah! What did she say to him, my man?"
"Told him she supposed he had not married the other woman
because he liked his old sweetheart best; and things
"What did the gentleman say to her, my sonny?"
"He only said he did like her best, and how he was coming
to see her again under Rainbarrow o' nights."
"Ha!" cried the reddleman, slapping his hand against the side
of his van so that the whole fabric shook under the blow.
"That's the secret o't!"
The little boy jumped clean from the stool.
"My man, don't you be afraid," said the dealer in red,
suddenly becoming gentle. "I forgot you were here.
That's only a curious way reddlemen have of going mad
for a moment; but they don't hurt anybody. And what did
the lady say then?"
"I can't mind. Please, Master Reddleman, may I go
"Ay, to be sure you may. I'll go a bit of ways with you."
He conducted the boy out of the gravel pit and into the path
leading to his mother's cottage. When the little figure
had vanished in the darkness the reddleman returned,
resumed his seat by the fire, and proceeded to darn again.
9 - Love Leads a Shrewd Man into Strategy
Reddlemen of the old school are now but seldom seen.
Since the introduction of railways Wessex farmers have
managed to do without these Mephistophelian visitants,
and the bright pigment so largely used by shepherds in
preparing sheep for the fair is obtained by other routes.
Even those who yet survive are losing the poetry of existence
which characterized them when the pursuit of the trade
meant periodical journeys to the pit whence the material
was dug, a regular camping out from month to month,
except in the depth of winter, a peregrination among farms
which could be counted by the hundred, and in spite of this
Arab existence the preservation of that respectability
which is insured by the never-failing production of a
Reddle spreads its lively hues over everything it lights on,
and stamps unmistakably, as with the mark of Cain,
any person who has handled it half an hour.
A child's first sight of a reddleman was an epoch in
his life. That blood-coloured figure was a sublimation
of all the horrid dreams which had afflicted the juvenile
spirit since imagination began. "The reddleman is coming
for you!" had been the formulated threat of Wessex mothers
for many generations. He was successfully supplanted
for a while, at the beginning of the present century,
by Buonaparte; but as process of time rendered the latter
personage stale and ineffective the older phrase resumed
its early prominence. And now the reddleman has in his
turn followed Buonaparte to the land of worn-out bogeys,
and his place is filled by modern inventions.
The reddleman lived like a gipsy; but gipsies he scorned.
He was about as thriving as travelling basket and mat makers;
but he had nothing to do with them. He was more decently
born and brought up than the cattledrovers who passed
and repassed him in his wanderings; but they merely nodded
to him. His stock was more valuable than that of pedlars;
but they did not think so, and passed his cart with eyes
straight ahead. He was such an unnatural colour to look
at that the men of roundabouts and waxwork shows seemed
gentlemen beside him; but he considered them low company,
and remained aloof. Among all these squatters and folks
of the road the reddleman continually found himself; yet he
was not of them. His occupation tended to isolate him,
and isolated he was mostly seen to be.
It was sometimes suggested that reddlemen were criminals
for whose misdeeds other men wrongfully suffered--that in
escaping the law they had not escaped their own consciences,
and had taken to the trade as a lifelong penance.
Else why should they have chosen it? In the present case
such a question would have been particularly apposite.
The reddleman who had entered Egdon that afternoon was
an instance of the pleasing being wasted to form the
ground-work of the singular, when an ugly foundation would
have done just as well for that purpose. The one point
that was forbidding about this reddleman was his colour.
Freed from that he would have been as agreeable a specimen
of rustic manhood as one would often see. A keen observer
might have been inclined to think--which was, indeed,
partly the truth--that he had relinquished his proper station
in life for want of interest in it. Moreover, after looking
at him one would have hazarded the guess that good nature,
and an acuteness as extreme as it could be without
verging on craft, formed the framework of his character.
While he darned the stocking his face became rigid
with thought. Softer expressions followed this, and then
again recurred the tender sadness which had sat upon
him during his drive along the highway that afternoon.
Presently his needle stopped. He laid down the stocking,
arose from his seat, and took a leathern pouch from a hook
in the corner of the van. This contained among other
articles a brown-paper packet, which, to judge from the
hinge-like character of its worn folds, seemed to have
been carefully opened and closed a good many times.
He sat down on a three-legged milking stool that formed
the only seat in the van, and, examining his packet
by the light of a candle, took thence an old letter
and spread it open. The writing had originally been
traced on white paper, but the letter had now assumed
a pale red tinge from the accident of its situation;
and the black strokes of writing thereon looked like the
twigs of a winter hedge against a vermilion sunset.
The letter bore a date some two years previous to that time,
and was signed "Thomasin Yeobright." It ran as follows:--
DEAR DIGGORY VENN,--The question you put when you
overtook me coming home from Pond-close gave me such
a surprise that I am afraid I did not make you exactly
understand what I meant. Of course, if my aunt had
not met me I could have explained all then at once,
but as it was there was no chance. I have been quite
uneasy since, as you know I do not wish to pain you,
yet I fear I shall be doing so now in contradicting
what I seemed to say then. I cannot, Diggory, marry you,
or think of letting you call me your sweetheart.
I could not, indeed, Diggory. I hope you will not
much mind my saying this, and feel in a great pain.
It makes me very sad when I think it may, for I like you
very much, and I always put you next to my cousin Clym
in my mind. There are so many reasons why we cannot
be married that I can hardly name them all in a letter.
I did not in the least expect that you were going to
speak on such a thing when you followed me, because I
had never thought of you in the sense of a lover at all.
You must not becall me for laughing when you spoke;
you mistook when you thought I laughed at you as a
foolish man. I laughed because the idea was so odd,
and not at you at all. The great reason with my own
personal self for not letting you court me is, that I
do not feel the things a woman ought to feel who consents
to walk with you with the meaning of being your wife.
It is not as you think, that I have another in my mind,
for I do not encourage anybody, and never have in my life.
Another reason is my aunt. She would not, I know, agree to it,
even if I wished to have you. She likes you very well,
but she will want me to look a little higher than a small
dairy-farmer, and marry a professional man. I hope you
will not set your heart against me for writing plainly,
but I felt you might try to see me again, and it is better
that we should not meet. I shall always think of you
as a good man, and be anxious for your well-doing. I send
this by Jane Orchard's little maid,--And remain Diggory,
your faithful friend,
To MR. VENN, Dairy-farmer.
Since the arrival of that letter, on a certain autumn
morning long ago, the reddleman and Thomasin had not met
till today. During the interval he had shifted his position
even further from hers than it had originally been,
by adopting the reddle trade; though he was really
in very good circumstances still. Indeed, seeing that
his expenditure was only one-fourth of his income,
he might have been called a prosperous man.
Rejected suitors take to roaming as naturally as unhived bees;
and the business to which he had cynically devoted himself
was in many ways congenial to Venn. But his wanderings,
by mere stress of old emotions, had frequently taken
an Egdon direction, though he never intruded upon her
who attracted him thither. To be in Thomasin's heath,
and near her, yet unseen, was the one ewe-lamb of pleasure
left to him.
Then came the incident of that day, and the reddleman,
still loving her well, was excited by this accidental
service to her at a critical juncture to vow an active
devotion to her cause, instead of, as hitherto, sighing and
holding aloof. After what had happened it was impossible
that he should not doubt the honesty of Wildeve's intentions.
But her hope was apparently centred upon him; and dismissing
his regrets Venn determined to aid her to be happy in
her own chosen way. That this way was, of all others,
the most distressing to himself, was awkward enough;
but the reddleman's love was generous.
His first active step in watching over Thomasin's interests
was taken about seven o'clock the next evening and was
dictated by the news which he had learnt from the sad boy.
That Eustacia was somehow the cause of Wildeve's carelessness
in relation to the marriage had at once been Venn's
conclusion on hearing of the secret meeting between them.
It did not occur to his mind that Eustacia's love signal
to Wildeve was the tender effect upon the deserted beauty
of the intelligence which her grandfather had brought home.
His instinct was to regard her as a conspirator against
rather than as an antecedent obstacle to Thomasin's happiness.
During the day he had been exceedingly anxious to learn
the condition of Thomasin, but he did not venture
to intrude upon a threshold to which he was a stranger,
particularly at such an unpleasant moment as this.
He had occupied his time in moving with his ponies
and load to a new point in the heath, eastward to his
previous station; and here he selected a nook with a
careful eye to shelter from wind and rain, which seemed
to mean that his stay there was to be a comparatively
extended one. After this he returned on foot some part
of the way that he had come; and, it being now dark,
he diverged to the left till he stood behind a holly bush
on the edge of a pit not twenty yards from Rainbarrow.
He watched for a meeting there, but he watched in vain.
Nobody except himself came near the spot that night.
But the loss of his labour produced little effect upon
the reddleman. He had stood in the shoes of Tantalus,
and seemed to look upon a certain mass of disappointment
as the natural preface to all realizations, without which
preface they would give cause for alarm.
The same hour the next evening found him again at the
same place; but Eustacia and Wildeve, the expected trysters,
did not appear.
He pursued precisely the same course yet four nights longer,
and without success. But on the next, being the day-week
of their previous meeting, he saw a female shape floating
along the ridge and the outline of a young man ascending
from the valley. They met in the little ditch encircling
the tumulus--the original excavation from which it
had been thrown up by the ancient British people.
The reddleman, stung with suspicion of wrong to Thomasin,
was aroused to strategy in a moment. He instantly left
the bush and crept forward on his hands and knees.
When he had got as close as he might safely venture without
discovery he found that, owing to a cross-wind, the
conversation of the trysting pair could not be overheard.
Near him, as in divers places about the heath, were areas
strewn with large turves, which lay edgeways and upside
down awaiting removal by Timothy Fairway, previous to
the winter weather. He took two of these as he lay,
and dragged them over him till one covered his head
and shoulders, the other his back and legs. The reddleman
would now have been quite invisible, even by daylight;
the turves, standing upon him with the heather upwards,
looked precisely as if they were growing. He crept
along again, and the turves upon his back crept with him.
Had he approached without any covering the chances
are that he would not have been perceived in the dusk;
approaching thus, it was as though he burrowed underground.
In this manner he came quite close to where the two
"Wish to consult me on the matter?" reached his ears
in the rich, impetuous accents of Eustacia Vye.
"Consult me? It is an indignity to me to talk so--I won't
bear it any longer!" She began weeping. "I have loved you,
and have shown you that I loved you, much to my regret;
and yet you can come and say in that frigid way that you
wish to consult with me whether it would not be better
to marry Thomasin. Better--of course it would be.
Marry her--she is nearer to your own position in life than
"Yes, yes; that's very well," said Wildeve peremptorily.
"But we must look at things as they are. Whatever blame
may attach to me for having brought it about,
Thomasin's position is at present much worse than yours.
I simply tell you that I am in a strait."
"But you shall not tell me! You must see that it is only
harassing me. Damon, you have not acted well; you have
sunk in my opinion. You have not valued my courtesy--the
courtesy of a lady in loving you--who used to think
of far more ambitious things. But it was Thomasin's fault.
She won you away from me, and she deserves to suffer for it.
Where is she staying now? Not that I care, nor where I
am myself. Ah, if I were dead and gone how glad she would
be! Where is she, I ask?"
"Thomasin is now staying at her aunt's shut up in a bedroom,
and keeping out of everybody's sight," he said indifferently.
"I don't think you care much about her even now,"
said Eustacia with sudden joyousness, "for if you did you
wouldn't talk so coolly about her. Do you talk so coolly
to her about me? Ah, I expect you do! Why did you originally
go away from me? I don't think I can ever forgive you,
except on one condition, that whenever you desert me,
you come back again, sorry that you served me so."
"I never wish to desert you."
"I do not thank you for that. I should hate it to be
all smooth. Indeed, I think I like you to desert me
a little once now and then. Love is the dismallest thing
where the lover is quite honest. O, it is a shame to
say so; but it is true!" She indulged in a little laugh.
"My low spirits begin at the very idea. Don't you offer
me tame love, or away you go!"
"I wish Tamsie were not such a confoundedly good little woman,"
said Wildeve, "so that I could be faithful to you without
injuring a worthy person. It is I who am the sinner
after all; I am not worth the little finger of either of you."
"But you must not sacrifice yourself to her from
any sense of justice," replied Eustacia quickly.
"If you do not love her it is the most merciful thing
in the long run to leave her as she is. That's always
the best way. There, now I have been unwomanly, I suppose.
When you have left me I am always angry with myself
for things that I have said to you."
Wildeve walked a pace or two among the heather without replying.
The pause was filled up by the intonation of a pollard
thorn a little way to windward, the breezes filtering
through its unyielding twigs as through a strainer.
It was as if the night sang dirges with clenched teeth.
She continued, half sorrowfully, "Since meeting you last,
it has occurred to me once or twice that perhaps it
was not for love of me you did not marry her. Tell me,
Damon--I'll try to bear it. Had I nothing whatever to do
with the matter?"
"Do you press me to tell?"
"Yes, I must know. I see I have been too ready to believe
in my own power."
"Well, the immediate reason was that the license would
not do for the place, and before I could get another she
ran away. Up to that point you had nothing to do with it.
Since then her aunt has spoken to me in a tone which I
don't at all like."
"Yes, yes! I am nothing in it--I am nothing in it.
You only trifle with me. Heaven, what can I, Eustacia Vye,
be made of to think so much of you!"
"Nonsense; do not be so passionate....Eustacia, how we
roved among these bushes last year, when the hot days
had got cool, and the shades of the hills kept us almost
invisible in the hollows!"
She remained in moody silence till she said, "Yes; and
how I used to laugh at you for daring to look up to me!
But you have well made me suffer for that since."
"Yes, you served me cruelly enough until I thought I had
found someone fairer than you. A blessed find for me, Eustacia."
"Do you still think you found somebody fairer?"
"Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. The scales are balanced
so nicely that a feather would turn them."
"But don't you really care whether I meet you or whether
I don't?" she said slowly.
"I care a little, but not enough to break my rest,"
replied the young man languidly. "No, all that's past.
I find there are two flowers where I thought there
was only one. Perhaps there are three, or four, or any
number as good as the first....Mine is a curious fate.
Who would have thought that all this could happen
She interrupted with a suppressed fire of which either
love or anger seemed an equally possible issue, "Do you
love me now?"
"Who can say?"
"Tell me; I will know it!"
"I do, and I do not," said he mischievously. "That is,
I have my times and my seasons. One moment you are too tall,
another moment you are too do-nothing, another too melancholy,
another too dark, another I don't know what, except--that you
are not the whole world to me that you used to be, my dear.
But you are a pleasant lady to know and nice to meet,
and I dare say as sweet as ever--almost."
Eustacia was silent, and she turned from him, till she said,
in a voice of suspended mightiness, "I am for a walk,
and this is my way."
"Well, I can do worse than follow you."
"You know you can't do otherwise, for all your moods
and changes!" she answered defiantly. "Say what you will;
try as you may; keep away from me all that you can--you
will never forget me. You will love me all your life long.
You would jump to marry me!"
"So I would!" said Wildeve. "Such strange thoughts
as I've had from time to time, Eustacia; and they come
to me this moment. You hate the heath as much as ever;
that I know."
"I do," she murmured deeply. "'Tis my cross, my shame,
and will be my death!"
"I abhor it too," said he. "How mournfully the wind
blows round us now!"
She did not answer. Its tone was indeed solemn and pervasive.
Compound utterances addressed themselves to their senses, and it
was possible to view by ear the features of the neighbourhood.
Acoustic pictures were returned from the darkened scenery;
they could hear where the tracts of heather began and ended;
where the furze was growing stalky and tall; where it had
been recently cut; in what direction the fir-clump lay,
and how near was the pit in which the hollies grew;
for these differing features had their voices no less
than their shapes and colours.
"God, how lonely it is!" resumed Wildeve. "What are
picturesque ravines and mists to us who see nothing else?"
Why should we stay here? Will you go with me to America?
I have kindred in Wisconsin."
"That wants consideration."
"It seems impossible to do well here, unless one were
a wild bird or a landscape-painter. Well?"
"Give me time," she softly said, taking his hand.
"America is so far away. Are you going to walk with me
a little way?"
As Eustacia uttered the latter words she retired from
the base of the barrow, and Wildeve followed her,
so that the reddleman could hear no more.
He lifted the turves and arose. Their black figures sank
and disappeared from against the sky. They were as two
horns which the sluggish heath had put forth from its crown,
like a mollusc, and had now again drawn in.
The reddleman's walk across the vale, and over into the
next where his cart lay, was not sprightly for a slim young
fellow of twenty-four. His spirit was perturbed to aching.
The breezes that blew around his mouth in that walk
carried off upon them the accents of a commination.
He entered the van, where there was a fire in a stove.
Without lighting his candle he sat down at once on
the three-legged stool, and pondered on what he had