Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy

Part 3 out of 10

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.1 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

seen and heard touching that still-loved one of his.
He uttered a sound which was neither sigh nor sob, but was
even more indicative than either of a troubled mind.

"My Tamsie," he whispered heavily. "What can be done? Yes,
I will see that Eustacia Vye."

10 - A Desperate Attempt at Persuasion

The next morning, at the time when the height of the
sun appeared very insignificant from any part of the
heath as compared with the altitude of Rainbarrow,
and when all the little hills in the lower levels
were like an archipelago in a fog-formed Aegean,
the reddleman came from the brambled nook which he
had adopted as his quarters and ascended the slopes of Mistover Knap.

Though these shaggy hills were apparently so solitary,
several keen round eyes were always ready on such a
wintry morning as this to converge upon a passer-by.
Feathered species sojourned here in hiding which would
have created wonder if found elsewhere. A bustard
haunted the spot, and not many years before this five
and twenty might have been seen in Egdon at one time.
Marsh-harriers looked up from the valley by Wildeve's.
A cream-coloured courser had used to visit this hill,
a bird so rare that not more than a dozen have ever been
seen in England; but a barbarian rested neither night
nor day till he had shot the African truant, and after
that event cream-coloured coursers thought fit to enter
Egdon no more.

A traveller who should walk and observe any of these
visitants as Venn observed them now could feel himself
to be in direct communication with regions unknown to man.
Here in front of him was a wild mallard--just arrived from
the home of the north wind. The creature brought within him
an amplitude of Northern knowledge. Glacial catastrophes,
snowstorm episodes, glittering auroral effects, Polaris in
the zenith, Franklin underfoot--the category of his commonplaces
was wonderful. But the bird, like many other philosophers,
seemed as he looked at the reddleman to think that a present
moment of comfortable reality was worth a decade of memories.

Venn passed on through these towards the house of the
isolated beauty who lived up among them and despised them.
The day was Sunday; but as going to church, except to be
married or buried, was exceptional at Egdon, this made
little difference. He had determined upon the bold stroke
of asking for an interview with Miss Vye--to attack her
position as Thomasin's rival either by art or by storm,
showing therein, somewhat too conspicuously, the want of
gallantry characteristic of a certain astute sort of men,
from clowns to kings. The great Frederick making war
on the beautiful Archduchess, Napoleon refusing terms
to the beautiful Queen of Prussia, were not more dead
to difference of sex than the reddleman was, in his
peculiar way, in planning the displacement of Eustacia.

To call at the captain's cottage was always more or
less an undertaking for the inferior inhabitants.
Though occasionally chatty, his moods were erratic,
and nobody could be certain how he would behave at any
particular moment. Eustacia was reserved, and lived very much
to herself. Except the daughter of one of the cotters,
who was their servant, and a lad who worked in the garden
and stable, scarcely anyone but themselves ever entered
the house. They were the only genteel people of the
district except the Yeobrights, and though far from rich,
they did not feel that necessity for preserving a friendly
face towards every man, bird, and beast which influenced
their poorer neighbours.

When the reddleman entered the garden the old man was
looking through his glass at the stain of blue sea in
the distant landscape, the little anchors on his buttons
twinkling in the sun. He recognized Venn as his companion
on the highway, but made no remark on that circumstance,
merely saying, "Ah, reddleman--you here? Have a glass
of grog?"

Venn declined, on the plea of it being too early, and stated
that his business was with Miss Vye. The captain surveyed
him from cap to waistcoat and from waistcoat to leggings
for a few moments, and finally asked him to go indoors.

Miss Vye was not to be seen by anybody just then;
and the reddleman waited in the window-bench of the kitchen,
his hands hanging across his divergent knees, and his cap
hanging from his hands.

"I suppose the young lady is not up yet?" he presently
said to the servant.

"Not quite yet. Folks never call upon ladies at this
time of day."

"Then I'll step outside," said Venn. "If she is willing
to see me, will she please send out word, and I'll come in."

The reddleman left the house and loitered on the
hill adjoining. A considerable time elapsed, and no
request for his presence was brought. He was beginning
to think that his scheme had failed, when he beheld the
form of Eustacia herself coming leisurely towards him.
A sense of novelty in giving audience to that singular
figure had been sufficient to draw her forth.

She seemed to feel, after a bare look at Diggory Venn,
that the man had come on a strange errand, and that he was
not so mean as she had thought him; for her close approach
did not cause him to writhe uneasily, or shift his feet,
or show any of those little signs which escape an ingenuous
rustic at the advent of the uncommon in womankind.
On his inquiring if he might have a conversation with
her she replied, "Yes, walk beside me," and continued
to move on.

Before they had gone far it occurred to the perspicacious
reddleman that he would have acted more wisely
by appearing less unimpressionable, and he resolved
to correct the error as soon as he could find opportunity.

"I have made so bold, miss, as to step across and tell
you some strange news which has come to my ears about
that man."

"Ah! what man?"

He jerked his elbow to the southeast--the direction
of the Quiet Woman.

Eustacia turned quickly to him. "Do you mean Mr. Wildeve?"

"Yes, there is trouble in a household on account of him,
and I have come to let you know of it, because I believe
you might have power to drive it away."

"I? What is the trouble?"

"It is quite a secret. It is that he may refuse to marry
Thomasin Yeobright after all."

Eustacia, though set inwardly pulsing by his words,
was equal to her part in such a drama as this.
She replied coldly, "I do not wish to listen to this,
and you must not expect me to interfere."

"But, miss, you will hear one word?"

"I cannot. I am not interested in the marriage, and even
if I were I could not compel Mr. Wildeve to do my bidding."

"As the only lady on the heath I think you might," said Venn
with subtle indirectness. "This is how the case stands.
Mr. Wildeve would marry Thomasin at once, and make all
matters smooth, if so be there were not another woman
in the case. This other woman is some person he has
picked up with, and meets on the heath occasionally,
I believe. He will never marry her, and yet through
her he may never marry the woman who loves him dearly.
Now, if you, miss, who have so much sway over us menfolk,
were to insist that he should treat your young neighbour
Tamsin with honourable kindness and give up the other woman,
he would perhaps do it, and save her a good deal of misery."

"Ah, my life!" said Eustacia, with a laugh which unclosed
her lips so that the sun shone into her mouth as into
a tulip, and lent it a similar scarlet fire. "You think
too much of my influence over menfolk indeed, reddleman.
If I had such a power as you imagine I would go straight
and use it for the good of anybody who has been kind
to me--which Thomasin Yeobright has not particularly,
to my knowledge."

"Can it be that you really don't know of it--how much
she had always thought of you?"

"I have never heard a word of it. Although we live
only two miles apart I have never been inside her aunt's
house in my life."

The superciliousness that lurked in her manner told Venn
that thus far he had utterly failed. He inwardly sighed
and felt it necessary to unmask his second argument.

"Well, leaving that out of the question, 'tis in your power,
I assure you, Miss Vye, to do a great deal of good
to another woman."

She shook her head.

"Your comeliness is law with Mr. Wildeve. It is law
with all men who see 'ee. They say, 'This well-
favoured lady coming--what's her name? How handsome!'
Handsomer than Thomasin Yeobright," the reddleman persisted,
saying to himself, "God forgive a rascal for lying!" And she
was handsomer, but the reddleman was far from thinking so.
There was a certain obscurity in Eustacia's beauty,
and Venn's eye was not trained. In her winter dress, as now,
she was like the tiger-beetle, which, when observed in
dull situations, seems to be of the quietest neutral colour,
but under a full illumination blazes with dazzling splendour.

Eustacia could not help replying, though conscious that she
endangered her dignity thereby. "Many women are lovelier
than Thomasin," she said, "so not much attaches to that."

The reddleman suffered the wound and went on: "He is a man
who notices the looks of women, and you could twist him
to your will like withywind, if you only had the mind."

"Surely what she cannot do who has been so much with him
I cannot do living up here away from him."

The reddleman wheeled and looked her in the face.
"Miss Vye!" he said.

"Why do you say that--as if you doubted me?" She spoke faintly,
and her breathing was quick. "The idea of your speaking in
that tone to me!" she added, with a forced smile of hauteur.
"What could have been in your mind to lead you to speak like that?"

"Miss Vye, why should you make believe that you don't know
this man?--I know why, certainly. He is beneath you,
and you are ashamed."

"You are mistaken. What do you mean?"

The reddleman had decided to play the card of truth.
"I was at the meeting by Rainbarrow last night and heard
every word," he said. "The woman that stands between
Wildeve and Thomasin is yourself."

It was a disconcerting lift of the curtain, and the
mortification of Candaules' wife glowed in her.
The moment had arrived when her lip would tremble in spite
of herself, and when the gasp could no longer be kept down.

"I am unwell," she said hurriedly. "No--it is not that--I
am not in a humour to hear you further. Leave me, please."

"I must speak, Miss Vye, in spite of paining you.
What I would put before you is this. However it may come
about--whether she is to blame, or you--her case is without
doubt worse than yours. Your giving up Mr. Wildeve will
be a real advantage to you, for how could you marry him?
Now she cannot get off so easily--everybody will blame
her if she loses him. Then I ask you--not because her
right is best, but because her situation is worst--to
give him up to her."

"No--I won't, I won't!" she said impetuously, quite forgetful
of her previous manner towards the reddleman as an underling.
"Nobody has ever been served so! It was going on well--I
will not be beaten down--by an inferior woman like her.
It is very well for you to come and plead for her,
but is she not herself the cause of all her own trouble?
Am I not to show favour to any person I may choose without
asking permission of a parcel of cottagers? She has come
between me and my inclination, and now that she finds
herself rightly punished she gets you to plead for her!"

"Indeed," said Venn earnestly, "she knows nothing whatever
about it. It is only I who ask you to give him up.
It will be better for her and you both. People will say
bad things if they find out that a lady secretly meets
a man who has ill-used another woman."

"I have NOT injured her--he was mine before he was
hers! He came back--because--because he liked me best!"
she said wildly. "But I lose all self-respect in talking
to you. What am I giving way to!"

"I can keep secrets," said Venn gently. "You need not fear.
I am the only man who knows of your meetings with him.
There is but one thing more to speak of, and then I will
be gone. I heard you say to him that you hated living
here--that Egdon Heath was a jail to you."

"I did say so. There is a sort of beauty in the scenery,
I know; but it is a jail to me. The man you mention does
not save me from that feeling, though he lives here.
I should have cared nothing for him had there been a better
person near."

The reddleman looked hopeful; after these words from
her his third attempt seemed promising. "As we have
now opened our minds a bit, miss," he said, "I'll tell
you what I have got to propose. Since I have taken
to the reddle trade I travel a good deal, as you know."

She inclined her head, and swept round so that her eyes
rested in the misty vale beneath them.

"And in my travels I go near Budmouth. Now Budmouth is
a wonderful place--wonderful--a great salt sheening sea
bending into the land like a bow--thousands of gentlepeople
walking up and down--bands of music playing--officers
by sea and officers by land walking among the rest--out
of every ten folks you meet nine of 'em in love."

"I know it," she said disdainfully. "I know Budmouth
better than you. I was born there. My father came to
be a military musician there from abroad. Ah, my soul,
Budmouth! I wish I was there now."

The reddleman was surprised to see how a slow fire could
blaze on occasion. "If you were, miss," he replied,
"in a week's time you would think no more of Wildeve
than of one of those he'th-croppers that we see yond.
Now, I could get you there."

"How?" said Eustacia, with intense curiosity in her
heavy eyes.

"My uncle has been for five and twenty years the trusty
man of a rich widow-lady who has a beautiful house
facing the sea. This lady has become old and lame,
and she wants a young company-keeper to read and sing
to her, but can't get one to her mind to save her life,
though she've advertised in the papers, and tried half
a dozen. She would jump to get you, and Uncle would make
it all easy."

"I should have to work, perhaps?"

"No, not real work--you'd have a little to do, such as reading
and that. You would not be wanted till New Year's Day."

"I knew it meant work," she said, drooping to languor again.

"I confess there would be a trifle to do in the way of
amusing her; but though idle people might call it work,
working people would call it play. Think of the company
and the life you'd lead, miss; the gaiety you'd see,
and the gentleman you'd marry. My uncle is to inquire
for a trustworthy young lady from the country, as she don't
like town girls."

"It is to wear myself out to please her! and I won't go.
O, if I could live in a gay town as a lady should,
and go my own ways, and do my own doings, I'd give
the wrinkled half of my life! Yes, reddleman, that would I."

"Help me to get Thomasin happy, miss, and the chance
shall be yours," urged her companion.

"Chance--'tis no chance," she said proudly. "What can
a poor man like you offer me, indeed?--I am going indoors.
I have nothing more to say. Don't your horses want feeding,
or your reddlebags want mending, or don't you want
to find buyers for your goods, that you stay idling here
like this?"

Venn spoke not another word. With his hands behind him
he turned away, that she might not see the hopeless
disappointment in his face. The mental clearness and power
he had found in this lonely girl had indeed filled his manner
with misgiving even from the first few minutes of close
quarters with her. Her youth and situation had led him
to expect a simplicity quite at the beck of his method.
But a system of inducement which might have carried weaker
country lasses along with it had merely repelled Eustacia.
As a rule, the word Budmouth meant fascination on Egdon.
That Royal port and watering place, if truly mirrored in the
minds of the heathfolk, must have combined, in a charming
and indescribable manner a Carthaginian bustle of building
with Tarentine luxuriousness and Baian health and beauty.
Eustacia felt little less extravagantly about the place;
but she would not sink her independence to get there.

When Diggory Venn had gone quite away, Eustacia walked
to the bank and looked down the wild and picturesque
vale towards the sun, which was also in the direction
of Wildeve's. The mist had now so far collapsed that
the tips of the trees and bushes around his house
could just be discerned, as if boring upwards through
a vast white cobweb which cloaked them from the day.
There was no doubt that her mind was inclined thitherward;
indefinitely, fancifully--twining and untwining about
him as the single object within her horizon on which
dreams might crystallize. The man who had begun by
being merely her amusement, and would never have been
more than her hobby but for his skill in deserting
her at the right moments, was now again her desire.
Cessation in his love-making had revivified her love.
Such feeling as Eustacia had idly given to Wildeve was dammed
into a flood by Thomasin. She had used to tease Wildeve,
but that was before another had favoured him. Often a drop
of irony into an indifferent situation renders the whole piquant.

"I will never give him up--never!" she said impetuously.

The reddleman's hint that rumour might show her to disadvantage
had no permanent terror for Eustacia. She was as unconcerned
at that contingency as a goddess at a lack of linen.
This did not originate in inherent shamelessness,
but in her living too far from the world to feel the impact
of public opinion. Zenobia in the desert could hardly have
cared what was said about her at Rome. As far as social
ethics were concerned Eustacia approached the savage state,
though in emotion she was all the while an epicure.
She had advanced to the secret recesses of sensuousness,
yet had hardly crossed the threshold of conventionality.

11 - The Dishonesty of an Honest Woman

The reddleman had left Eustacia's presence with desponding
views on Thomasin's future happiness; but he was awakened
to the fact that one other channel remained untried
by seeing, as he followed the way to his van, the form
of Mrs. Yeobright slowly walking towards the Quiet Woman.
He went across to her; and could almost perceive in her
anxious face that this journey of hers to Wildeve was
undertaken with the same object as his own to Eustacia.

She did not conceal the fact. "Then," said the reddleman,
"you may as well leave it alone, Mrs. Yeobright."

"I half think so myself," she said. "But nothing else
remains to be done besides pressing the question upon him."

"I should like to say a word first," said Venn firmly.
"Mr. Wildeve is not the only man who has asked Thomasin
to marry him; and why should not another have a chance?
Mrs. Yeobright, I should be glad to marry your niece.
and would have done it any time these last two years.
There, now it is out, and I have never told anybody before
but herself."

Mrs. Yeobright was not demonstrative, but her eyes
involuntarily glanced towards his singular though shapely figure.

"Looks are not everything," said the reddleman,
noticing the glance. "There's many a calling that don't
bring in so much as mine, if it comes to money; and perhaps
I am not so much worse off than Wildeve. There is nobody
so poor as these professional fellows who have failed;
and if you shouldn't like my redness--well, I am not red
by birth, you know; I only took to this business for a freak;
and I might turn my hand to something else in good time."

"I am much obliged to you for your interest in my niece;
but I fear there would be objections. More than that,
she is devoted to this man."

"True; or I shouldn't have done what I have this morning."

"Otherwise there would be no pain in the case, and you
would not see me going to his house now. What was
Thomasin's answer when you told her of your feelings?"

"She wrote that you would object to me; and other things."

"She was in a measure right. You must not take this
unkindly--I merely state it as a truth. You have been
good to her, and we do not forget it. But as she
was unwilling on her own account to be your wife,
that settles the point without my wishes being concerned."

"Yes. But there is a difference between then and now,
ma'am. She is distressed now, and I have thought that if
you were to talk to her about me, and think favourably of
me yourself, there might be a chance of winning her round,
and getting her quite independent of this Wildeve's
backward and forward play, and his not knowing whether
he'll have her or no."

Mrs. Yeobright shook her head. "Thomasin thinks, and I
think with her, that she ought to be Wildeve's wife,
if she means to appear before the world without a slur
upon her name. If they marry soon, everybody will believe
that an accident did really prevent the wedding. If not,
it may cast a shade upon her character--at any rate make
her ridiculous. In short, if it is anyhow possible they
must marry now."

"I thought that till half an hour ago. But, after all,
why should her going off with him to Anglebury for a few
hours do her any harm? Anybody who knows how pure she
is will feel any such thought to be quite unjust.
I have been trying this morning to help on this marriage with
Wildeve--yes, I, ma'am--in the belief that I ought to do it,
because she was so wrapped up in him. But I much question
if I was right, after all. However, nothing came of it.
And now I offer myself."

Mrs. Yeobright appeared disinclined to enter further
into the question. "I fear I must go on," she said.
"I do not see that anything else can be done."

And she went on. But though this conversation did
not divert Thomasin's aunt from her purposed interview
with Wildeve, it made a considerable difference in her
mode of conducting that interview. She thanked God
for the weapon which the reddleman had put into her hands.

Wildeve was at home when she reached the inn. He showed
her silently into the parlour, and closed the door.
Mrs. Yeobright began--

"I have thought it my duty to call today. A new proposal
has been made to me, which has rather astonished me.
It will affect Thomasin greatly; and I have decided that it
should at least be mentioned to you."

"Yes? What is it?" he said civilly.

"It is, of course, in reference to her future. You may
not be aware that another man has shown himself anxious to
marry Thomasin. Now, though I have not encouraged him yet,
I cannot conscientiously refuse him a chance any longer.
I don't wish to be short with you; but I must be fair
to him and to her."

"Who is the man?" said Wildeve with surprise.

"One who has been in love with her longer than she
has with you. He proposed to her two years ago.
At that time she refused him."


"He has seen her lately, and has asked me for permission
to pay his addresses to her. She may not refuse him twice."

"What is his name?"

Mrs. Yeobright declined to say. "He is a man Thomasin likes,"
she added, "and one whose constancy she respects at least.
It seems to me that what she refused then she would be glad
to get now. She is much annoyed at her awkward position."

"She never once told me of this old lover."

"The gentlest women are not such fools as to show EVERY card."

"Well, if she wants him I suppose she must have him."

"It is easy enough to say that; but you don't see
the difficulty. He wants her much more than she wants him;
and before I can encourage anything of the sort I must have
a clear understanding from you that you will not interfere
to injure an arrangement which I promote in the belief
that it is for the best. Suppose, when they are engaged,
and everything is smoothly arranged for their marriage,
that you should step between them and renew your suit? You
might not win her back, but you might cause much unhappiness."

"Of course I should do no such thing," said Wildeve "But
they are not engaged yet. How do you know that Thomasin
would accept him?"

"That's a question I have carefully put to myself;
and upon the whole the probabilities are in favour
of her accepting him in time. I flatter myself that I
have some influence over her. She is pliable, and I
can be strong in my recommendations of him."

"And in your disparagement of me at the same time."

"Well, you may depend upon my not praising you,"
she said drily. "And if this seems like manoeuvring,
you must remember that her position is peculiar,
and that she has been hardly used. I shall also be
helped in making the match by her own desire to escape
from the humiliation of her present state; and a woman's
pride in these cases will lead her a very great way.
A little managing may be required to bring her round;
but I am equal to that, provided that you agree to the one
thing indispensable; that is, to make a distinct declaration
that she is to think no more of you as a possible husband.
That will pique her into accepting him."

"I can hardly say that just now, Mrs. Yeobright.
It is so sudden."

"And so my whole plan is interfered with! It is very
inconvenient that you refuse to help my family even to the
small extent of saying distinctly you will have nothing to
do with us."

Wildeve reflected uncomfortably. "I confess I was not
prepared for this," he said. "Of course I'll give
her up if you wish, if it is necessary. But I thought
I might be her husband."

"We have heard that before."

"Now, Mrs. Yeobright, don't let us disagree. Give me
a fair time. I don't want to stand in the way of any
better chance she may have; only I wish you had let me
know earlier. I will write to you or call in a day or two.
Will that suffice?"

"Yes," she replied, "provided you promise not to communicate
with Thomasin without my knowledge."

"I promise that," he said. And the interview then terminated,
Mrs. Yeobright returning homeward as she had come.

By far the greatest effect of her simple strategy
on that day was, as often happens, in a quarter quite
outside her view when arranging it. In the first place,
her visit sent Wildeve the same evening after dark
to Eustacia's house at Mistover.

At this hour the lonely dwelling was closely blinded
and shuttered from the chill and darkness without.
Wildeve's clandestine plan with her was to take a little
gravel in his hand and hold it to the crevice at the
top of the window shutter, which was on the outside,
so that it should fall with a gentle rustle,
resembling that of a mouse, between shutter and glass.
This precaution in attracting her attention was to avoid
arousing the suspicions of her grandfather.

The soft words, "I hear; wait for me," in Eustacia's
voice from within told him that she was alone.

He waited in his customary manner by walking round the
enclosure and idling by the pool, for Wildeve was never asked
into the house by his proud though condescending mistress.
She showed no sign of coming out in a hurry. The time
wore on, and he began to grow impatient. In the course
of twenty minutes she appeared from round the corner,
and advanced as if merely taking an airing.

"You would not have kept me so long had you known what I
come about," he said with bitterness. "Still, you are
worth waiting for."

"What has happened?" said Eustacia. "I did not know you
were in trouble. I too am gloomy enough."

"I am not in trouble," said he. "It is merely that affairs
have come to a head, and I must take a clear course."

"What course is that?" she asked with attentive interest.

"And can you forget so soon what I proposed to you the
other night? Why, take you from this place, and carry
you away with me abroad."

"I have not forgotten. But why have you come so unexpectedly
to repeat the question, when you only promised to come
next Saturday? I thought I was to have plenty of time
to consider."

"Yes, but the situation is different now."

"Explain to me."

"I don't want to explain, for I may pain you."

"But I must know the reason of this hurry."

"It is simply my ardour, dear Eustacia. Everything is
smooth now."

"Then why are you so ruffled?"

"I am not aware of it. All is as it should be.
Mrs. Yeobright--but she is nothing to us."

"Ah, I knew she had something to do with it! Come,
I don't like reserve."

"No--she has nothing. She only says she wishes me to give
up Thomasin because another man is anxious to marry her.
The woman, now she no longer needs me, actually shows off!"
Wildeve's vexation has escaped him in spite of himself.

Eustacia was silent a long while. "You are in the awkward
position of an official who is no longer wanted,"
she said in a changed tone.

"It seems so. But I have not yet seen Thomasin."

"And that irritates you. Don't deny it, Damon. You are
actually nettled by this slight from an unexpected quarter."


"And you come to get me because you cannot get her.
This is certainly a new position altogether. I am to be
a stop-gap."

"Please remember that I proposed the same thing the other day."

Eustacia again remained in a sort of stupefied silence.
What curious feeling was this coming over her? Was it
really possible that her interest in Wildeve had been
so entirely the result of antagonism that the glory
and the dream departed from the man with the first sound
that he was no longer coveted by her rival? She was, then,
secure of him at last. Thomasin no longer required him.
What a humiliating victory! He loved her best, she thought;
and yet--dared she to murmur such treacherous criticism ever
so softly?--what was the man worth whom a woman inferior to
herself did not value? The sentiment which lurks more or less
in all animate nature--that of not desiring the undesired
of others--was lively as a passion in the supersubtle,
epicurean heart of Eustacia. Her social superiority
over him, which hitherto had scarcely ever impressed her,
became unpleasantly insistent, and for the first time
she felt that she had stooped in loving him.

"Well, darling, you agree?" said Wildeve.

"If it could be London, or even Budmouth, instead of America,"
she murmured languidly. "Well, I will think.
It is too great a thing for me to decide offhand.
I wish I hated the heath less--or loved you more."

"You can be painfully frank. You loved me a month ago
warmly enough to go anywhere with me."

"And you loved Thomasin."

"Yes, perhaps that was where the reason lay," he returned,
with almost a sneer. "I don't hate her now."

"Exactly. The only thing is that you can no longer get her."

"Come--no taunts, Eustacia, or we shall quarrel.
If you don't agree to go with me, and agree shortly,
I shall go by myself."

"Or try Thomasin again. Damon, how strange it seems
that you could have married her or me indifferently,
and only have come to me because I am--cheapest! Yes,
yes--it is true. There was a time when I should have
exclaimed against a man of that sort, and been quite wild;
but it is all past now."

"Will you go, dearest? Come secretly with me to Bristol,
marry me, and turn our backs upon this dog-hole of England
for ever? Say Yes."

"I want to get away from here at almost any cost,"
she said with weariness, "but I don't like to go with you.
Give me more time to decide."

"I have already," said Wildeve. "Well, I give you one
more week."

"A little longer, so that I may tell you decisively.
I have to consider so many things. Fancy Thomasin being
anxious to get rid of you! I cannot forget it."

"Never mind that. Say Monday week. I will be here
precisely at this time."

"Let it be at Rainbarrow," said she. "This is too near home;
my grandfather may be walking out."

"Thank you, dear. On Monday week at this time I will
be at the Barrow. Till then good-bye."

"Good-bye. No, no, you must not touch me now.
Shaking hands is enough till I have made up my mind."

Eustacia watched his shadowy form till it had disappeared.
She placed her hand to her forehead and breathed heavily;
and then her rich, romantic lips parted under that homely
impulse--a yawn. She was immediately angry at having
betrayed even to herself the possible evanescence of her
passion for him. She could not admit at once that she
might have overestimated Wildeve, for to perceive his
mediocrity now was to admit her own great folly heretofore.
And the discovery that she was the owner of a disposition
so purely that of the dog in the manger had something in it
which at first made her ashamed.

The fruit of Mrs. Yeobright's diplomacy was indeed remarkable,
though not as yet of the kind she had anticipated.
It had appreciably influenced Wildeve, but it was
influencing Eustacia far more. Her lover was no longer
to her an exciting man whom many women strove for,
and herself could only retain by striving with them.
He was a superfluity.

She went indoors in that peculiar state of misery which
is not exactly grief, and which especially attends the
dawnings of reason in the latter days of an ill-judged,
transient love. To be conscious that the end of the dream
is approaching, and yet has not absolutely come, is one
of the most wearisome as well as the most curious stages
along the course between the beginning of a passion and its end.

Her grandfather had returned, and was busily engaged in
pouring some gallons of newly arrived rum into the square
bottles of his square cellaret. Whenever these home
supplies were exhausted he would go to the Quiet Woman,
and, standing with his back to the fire, grog in hand,
tell remarkable stories of how he had lived seven years
under the waterline of his ship, and other naval wonders,
to the natives, who hoped too earnestly for a treat
of ale from the teller to exhibit any doubts of his truth.

He had been there this evening. "I suppose you have heard
the Egdon news, Eustacia?" he said, without looking up
from the bottles. "The men have been talking about it
at the Woman as if it were of national importance."

"I have heard none," she said.

"Young Clym Yeobright, as they call him, is coming
home next week to spend Christmas with his mother.
He is a fine fellow by this time, it seems. I suppose
you remember him?"

"I never saw him in my life."

"Ah, true; he left before you came here. I well remember
him as a promising boy."

"Where has he been living all these years?"

"In that rookery of pomp and vanity, Paris, I believe."

book two


1 - Tidings of the Comer

On the fine days at this time of the year, and earlier,
certain ephemeral operations were apt to disturb,
in their trifling way, the majestic calm of Egdon Heath.
They were activities which, beside those of a town, a village,
or even a farm, would have appeared as the ferment of
stagnation merely, a creeping of the flesh of somnolence.
But here, away from comparisons, shut in by the stable hills,
among which mere walking had the novelty of pageantry,
and where any man could imagine himself to be Adam without
the least difficulty, they attracted the attention of
every bird within eyeshot, every reptile not yet asleep,
and set the surrounding rabbits curiously watching from
hillocks at a safe distance.

The performance was that of bringing together and building
into a stack the furze faggots which Humphrey had been
cutting for the captain's use during the foregoing
fine days. The stack was at the end of the dwelling,
and the men engaged in building it were Humphrey and Sam,
the old man looking on.

It was a fine and quiet afternoon, about three o'clock;
but the winter solstice having stealthily come on,
the lowness of the sun caused the hour to seem later
than it actually was, there being little here to remind
an inhabitant that he must unlearn his summer experience
of the sky as a dial. In the course of many days and
weeks sunrise had advanced its quarters from northeast
to southeast, sunset had receded from northwest to southwest;
but Egdon had hardly heeded the change.

Eustacia was indoors in the dining-room, which was really
more like a kitchen, having a stone floor and a gaping
chimney-corner. The air was still, and while she lingered
a moment here alone sounds of voices in conversation
came to her ears directly down the chimney. She entered
the recess, and, listening, looked up the old irregular shaft,
with its cavernous hollows, where the smoke blundered
about on its way to the square bit of sky at the top,
from which the daylight struck down with a pallid glare
upon the tatters of soot draping the flue as seaweed
drapes a rocky fissure.

She remembered: the furze-stack was not far from the chimney,
and the voices were those of the workers.

Her grandfather joined in the conversation. "That lad ought
never to have left home. His father's occupation would
have suited him best, and the boy should have followed on.
I don't believe in these new moves in families.
My father was a sailor, so was I, and so should my son
have been if I had had one."

"The place he's been living at is Paris," said Humphrey,
"and they tell me 'tis where the king's head was cut off
years ago. My poor mother used to tell me about that business.
'Hummy,' she used to say, 'I was a young maid then,
and as I was at home ironing Mother's caps one afternoon
the parson came in and said, "They've cut the king's
head off, Jane; and what 'twill be next God knows."'"

"A good many of us knew as well as He before long,"
said the captain, chuckling. "I lived seven years
under water on account of it in my boyhood--in that
damned surgery of the Triumph, seeing men brought
down to the cockpit with their legs and arms blown to
Jericho....And so the young man has settled in Paris.
Manager to a diamond merchant, or some such thing,
is he not?"

"Yes, sir, that's it. 'Tis a blazing great business
that he belongs to, so I've heard his mother say--like
a king's palace, as far as diments go."

"I can well mind when he left home," said Sam.

"'Tis a good thing for the feller," said Humphrey.
"A sight of times better to be selling diments than nobbling
about here."

"It must cost a good few shillings to deal at such a place."

"A good few indeed, my man," replied the captain.
"Yes, you may make away with a deal of money and be neither
drunkard nor glutton."

"They say, too, that Clym Yeobright is become a real
perusing man, with the strangest notions about things.
There, that's because he went to school early,
such as the school was."

"Strange notions, has he?" said the old man. "Ah, there's
too much of that sending to school in these days! It
only does harm. Every gatepost and barn's door you come
to is sure to have some bad word or other chalked upon
it by the young rascals--a woman can hardly pass for
shame sometimes. If they'd never been taught how to write
they wouldn't have been able to scribble such villainy.
Their fathers couldn't do it, and the country was all
the better for it."

"Now, I should think, Cap'n, that Miss Eustacia had about
as much in her head that comes from books as anybody
about here?"

"Perhaps if Miss Eustacia, too, had less romantic
nonsense in her head it would be better for her,"
said the captain shortly; after which he walked away.

"I say, Sam," observed Humphrey when the old man was gone,
"she and Clym Yeobright would make a very pretty
pigeon-pair--hey? If they wouldn't I'll be dazed! Both
of one mind about niceties for certain, and learned
in print, and always thinking about high doctrine--there
couldn't be a better couple if they were made o' purpose.
Clym's family is as good as hers. His father was a farmer,
that's true; but his mother was a sort of lady, as we know.
Nothing would please me better than to see them two man and wife."

"They'd look very natty, arm-in-crook together,
and their best clothes on, whether or no, if he's
at all the well-favoured fellow he used to be."

"They would, Humphrey. Well, I should like to see the chap
terrible much after so many years. If I knew for certain
when he was coming I'd stroll out three or four miles
to meet him and help carry anything for'n; though I
suppose he's altered from the boy he was. They say he
can talk French as fast as a maid can eat blackberries;
and if so, depend upon it we who have stayed at home
shall seem no more than scroff in his eyes."

"Coming across the water to Budmouth by steamer, isn't he?"

"Yes; but how he's coming from Budmouth I don't know."

"That's a bad trouble about his cousin Thomasin.
I wonder such a nice-notioned fellow as Clym likes to come
home into it. What a nunnywatch we were in, to be sure,
when we heard they weren't married at all, after singing
to 'em as man and wife that night! Be dazed if I should
like a relation of mine to have been made such a fool
of by a man. It makes the family look small."

"Yes. Poor maid, her heart has ached enough about it.
Her health is suffering from it, I hear, for she will
bide entirely indoors. We never see her out now,
scampering over the furze with a face as red as a rose,
as she used to do."

"I've heard she wouldn't have Wildeve now if he asked her."

"You have? 'Tis news to me."

While the furze-gatherers had desultorily conversed
thus Eustacia's face gradually bent to the hearth
in a profound reverie, her toe unconsciously tapping
the dry turf which lay burning at her feet.

The subject of their discourse had been keenly interesting
to her. A young and clever man was coming into that lonely
heath from, of all contrasting places in the world, Paris.
It was like a man coming from heaven. More singular still,
the heathmen had instinctively coupled her and this
man together in their minds as a pair born for each other.

That five minutes of overhearing furnished Eustacia
with visions enough to fill the whole blank afternoon.
Such sudden alternations from mental vacuity do sometimes
occur thus quietly. She could never have believed in
the morning that her colourless inner world would before
night become as animated as water under a microscope,
and that without the arrival of a single visitor.
The words of Sam and Humphrey on the harmony between
the unknown and herself had on her mind the effect of the
invading Bard's prelude in the Castle of Indolence,
at which myriads of imprisoned shapes arose where had
previously appeared the stillness of a void.

Involved in these imaginings she knew nothing of time.
When she became conscious of externals it was dusk.
The furze-rick was finished; the men had gone home.
Eustacia went upstairs, thinking that she would take
a walk at this her usual time; and she determined
that her walk should be in the direction of Blooms-End,
the birthplace of young Yeobright and the present home
of his mother. She had no reason for walking elsewhere,
and why should she not go that way? The scene of the
daydream is sufficient for a pilgrimage at nineteen.
To look at the palings before the Yeobrights'
house had the dignity of a necessary performance.
Strange that such a piece of idling should have seemed an
important errand.

She put on her bonnet, and, leaving the house, descended the
hill on the side towards Blooms-End, where she walked slowly
along the valley for a distance of a mile and a half.
This brought her to a spot in which the green bottom
of the dale began to widen, the furze bushes to recede yet
further from the path on each side, till they were diminished
to an isolated one here and there by the increasing
fertility of the soil. Beyond the irregular carpet of
grass was a row of white palings, which marked the verge
of the heath in this latitude. They showed upon the dusky
scene that they bordered as distinctly as white lace
on velvet. Behind the white palings was a little garden;
behind the garden an old, irregular, thatched house,
facing the heath, and commanding a full view of the valley.
This was the obscure, removed spot to which was about
to return a man whose latter life had been passed in the
French capital--the centre and vortex of the fashionable world.

2 - The People at Blooms-End Make Ready

All that afternoon the expected arrival of the subject
of Eustacia's ruminations created a bustle of preparation
at Blooms-End. Thomasin had been persuaded by her aunt,
and by an instinctive impulse of loyalty towards her cousin Clym,
to bestir herself on his account with an alacrity unusual
in her during these most sorrowful days of her life.
At the time that Eustacia was listening to the rick-makers'
conversation on Clym's return, Thomasin was climbing into
a loft over her aunt's fuelhouse, where the store-apples
were kept, to search out the best and largest of them
for the coming holiday-time.

The loft was lighted by a semicircular hole,
through which the pigeons crept to their lodgings in the
same high quarters of the premises; and from this hole
the sun shone in a bright yellow patch upon the figure
of the maiden as she knelt and plunged her naked arms
into the soft brown fern, which, from its abundance,
was used on Egdon in packing away stores of all kinds.
The pigeons were flying about her head with the
greatest unconcern, and the face of her aunt was just
visible above the floor of the loft, lit by a few stray
motes of light, as she stood halfway up the ladder,
looking at a spot into which she was not climber enough to venture.

"Now a few russets, Tamsin. He used to like them almost
as well as ribstones."

Thomasin turned and rolled aside the fern from another nook,
where more mellow fruit greeted her with its ripe smell.
Before picking them out she stopped a moment.

"Dear Clym, I wonder how your face looks now?" she said,
gazing abstractedly at the pigeon-hole. which admitted
the sunlight so directly upon her brown hair and transparent
tissues that it almost seemed to shine through her.

"If he could have been dear to you in another way,"
said Mrs. Yeobright from the ladder, "this might have been
a happy meeting."

"Is there any use in saying what can do no good, Aunt?"

"Yes," said her aunt, with some warmth. "To thoroughly
fill the air with the past misfortune, so that other girls
may take warning and keep clear of it."

Thomasin lowered her face to the apples again.
"I am a warning to others, just as thieves and drunkards
and gamblers are," she said in a low voice. "What a
class to belong to! Do I really belong to them? 'Tis
absurd! Yet why, Aunt, does everybody keep on making me
think that I do, by the way they behave towards me? Why
don't people judge me by my acts? Now, look at me as I
kneel here, picking up these apples--do I look like a
lost woman?...I wish all good women were as good as I!"
she added vehemently.

"Strangers don't see you as I do," said Mrs. Yeobright;
"they judge from false report. Well, it is a silly job,
and I am partly to blame."

"How quickly a rash thing can be done!" replied the girl.
Her lips were quivering, and tears so crowded themselves
into her eyes that she could hardly distinguish apples
from fern as she continued industriously searching to hide
her weakness.

"As soon as you have finished getting the apples,"
her aunt said, descending the ladder, "come down,
and we'll go for the holly. There is nobody on the heath
this afternoon, and you need not fear being stared at.
We must get some berries, or Clym will never believe in
our preparations."

Thomasin came down when the apples were collected,
and together they went through the white palings to
the heath beyond. The open hills were airy and clear,
and the remote atmosphere appeared, as it often appears
on a fine winter day, in distinct planes of illumination
independently toned, the rays which lit the nearer tracts
of landscape streaming visibly across those further off;
a stratum of ensaffroned light was imposed on a stratum
of deep blue, and behind these lay still remoter scenes
wrapped in frigid grey.

They reached the place where the hollies grew,
which was in a conical pit, so that the tops of the trees
were not much above the general level of the ground.
Thomasin stepped up into a fork of one of the bushes,
as she had done under happier circumstances on many
similar occasions, and with a small chopper that they
had brought she began to lop off the heavily berried boughs.

"Don't scratch your face," said her aunt, who stood at
the edge of the pit, regarding the girl as she held on amid
the glistening green and scarlet masses of the tree.
"Will you walk with me to meet him this evening?"

"I should like to. Else it would seem as if I had
forgotten him," said Thomasin, tossing out a bough.
"Not that that would matter much; I belong to one man;
nothing can alter that. And that man I must marry,
for my pride's sake."

"I am afraid--" began Mrs. Yeobright.

"Ah, you think, 'That weak girl--how is she going to get
a man to marry her when she chooses?' But let me tell you
one thing, Aunt: Mr. Wildeve is not a profligate man,
any more than I am an improper woman. He has an
unfortunate manner, and doesn't try to make people
like him if they don't wish to do it of their own accord."

"Thomasin," said Mrs. Yeobright quietly, fixing her eye
upon her niece, "do you think you deceive me in your
defence of Mr. Wildeve?"

"How do you mean?"

"I have long had a suspicion that your love for him has
changed its colour since you have found him not to be
the saint you thought him, and that you act a part to me."

"He wished to marry me, and I wish to marry him."

"Now, I put it to you: would you at this present moment
agree to be his wife if that had not happened to entangle
you with him?"

Thomasin looked into the tree and appeared much disturbed.
"Aunt," she said presently, "I have, I think, a right to
refuse to answer that question."

"Yes, you have."

"You may think what you choose. I have never implied
to you by word or deed that I have grown to think otherwise
of him, and I never will. And I shall marry him."

"Well, wait till he repeats his offer. I think he
may do it, now that he knows--something I told him.
I don't for a moment dispute that it is the most proper
thing for you to marry him. Much as I have objected to him
in bygone days, I agree with you now, you may be sure.
It is the only way out of a false position, and a very
galling one."

"What did you tell him?"

"That he was standing in the way of another lover of yours."

"Aunt," said Thomasin, with round eyes, "what DO you mean?"

"Don't be alarmed; it was my duty. I can say no more
about it now, but when it is over I will tell you exactly
what I said, and why I said it."

Thomasin was perforce content.

"And you will keep the secret of my would-be marriage
from Clym for the present?" she next asked.

"I have given my word to. But what is the use of it?
He must soon know what has happened. A mere look
at your face will show him that something is wrong."

Thomasin turned and regarded her aunt from the tree.
"Now, hearken to me," she said, her delicate voice expanding
into firmness by a force which was other than physical.
"Tell him nothing. If he finds out that I am not worthy
to be his cousin, let him. But, since he loved me once,
we will not pain him by telling him my trouble too soon.
The air is full of the story, I know; but gossips will
not dare to speak of it to him for the first few days.
His closeness to me is the very thing that will hinder the tale
from reaching him early. If I am not made safe from sneers
in a week or two I will tell him myself."

The earnestness with which Thomasin spoke prevented
further objections. Her aunt simply said, "Very well.
He should by rights have been told at the time that the
wedding was going to be. He will never forgive you
for your secrecy."

"Yes, he will, when he knows it was because I wished
to spare him, and that I did not expect him home so soon.
And you must not let me stand in the way of your
Christmas party. Putting it off would only make matters worse."

"Of course I shall not. I do not wish to show myself beaten
before all Egdon, and the sport of a man like Wildeve.
We have enough berries now, I think, and we had better
take them home. By the time we have decked the house
with this and hung up the mistletoe, we must think
of starting to meet him."

Thomasin came out of the tree, shook from her hair
and dress the loose berries which had fallen thereon,
and went down the hill with her aunt, each woman
bearing half the gathered boughs. It was now nearly
four o'clock, and the sunlight was leaving the vales.
When the west grew red the two relatives came again
from the house and plunged into the heath in a different
direction from the first, towards a point in the distant
highway along which the expected man was to return.

3 - How a Little Sound Produced a Great Dream

Eustacia stood just within the heath, straining her eyes
in the direction of Mrs. Yeobright's house and premises.
No light, sound, or movement was perceptible there.
The evening was chilly; the spot was dark and lonely.
She inferred that the guest had not yet come; and after
lingering ten or fifteen minutes she turned again
towards home.

She had not far retraced her steps when sounds in front
of her betokened the approach of persons in conversation
along the same path. Soon their heads became visible
against the sky. They were walking slowly; and though it
was too dark for much discovery of character from aspect,
the gait of them showed that they were not workers on
the heath. Eustacia stepped a little out of the foot-track
to let them pass. They were two women and a man;
and the voices of the women were those of Mrs. Yeobright
and Thomasin.

They went by her, and at the moment of passing appeared
to discern her dusky form. There came to her ears
in a masculine voice, "Good night!"

She murmured a reply, glided by them, and turned round.
She could not, for a moment, believe that chance,
unrequested, had brought into her presence the soul
of the house she had gone to inspect, the man without
whom her inspection would not have been thought of.

She strained her eyes to see them, but was unable.
Such was her intentness, however, that it seemed
as if her ears were performing the functions of seeing
as well as hearing. This extension of power can almost
be believed in at such moments. The deaf Dr. Kitto was
probably under the influence of a parallel fancy when he
described his body as having become, by long endeavour,
so sensitive to vibrations that he had gained the power
of perceiving by it as by ears.

She could follow every word that the ramblers uttered.
They were talking no secrets. They were merely indulging
in the ordinary vivacious chat of relatives who have long
been parted in person though not in soul. But it was not
to the words that Eustacia listened; she could not even
have recalled, a few minutes later, what the words were.
It was to the alternating voice that gave out about one-tenth
of them--the voice that had wished her good night.
Sometimes this throat uttered Yes, sometimes it uttered No;
sometimes it made inquiries about a time worn denizen
of the place. Once it surprised her notions by remarking
upon the friendliness and geniality written in the faces of
the hills around.

The three voices passed on, and decayed and died out upon her ear.
Thus much had been granted her; and all besides withheld.
No event could have been more exciting. During the greater
part of the afternoon she had been entrancing herself
by imagining the fascination which must attend a man come
direct from beautiful Paris--laden with its atmosphere,
familiar with its charms. And this man had greeted her.

With the departure of the figures the profuse articulations
of the women wasted away from her memory; but the accents
of the other stayed on. Was there anything in the voice
of Mrs. Yeobright's son--for Clym it was--startling as a
sound? No; it was simply comprehensive. All emotional
things were possible to the speaker of that "good night."
Eustacia's imagination supplied the rest--except the solution
to one riddle. What COULD the tastes of that man
be who saw friendliness and geniality in these shaggy hills?

On such occasions as this a thousand ideas pass through
a highly charged woman's head; and they indicate themselves
on her face; but the changes, though actual, are minute.
Eustacia's features went through a rhythmical succession
of them. She glowed; remembering the mendacity
of the imagination, she flagged; then she freshened;
then she fired; then she cooled again. It was a cycle
of aspects, produced by a cycle of visions.

Eustacia entered her own house; she was excited.
Her grandfather was enjoying himself over the fire,
raking about the ashes and exposing the red-hot surface
of the turves, so that their lurid glare irradiated the
chimney-corner with the hues of a furnace.

"Why is it that we are never friendly with the Yeobrights?"
she said, coming forward and stretching her soft hands
over the warmth. "I wish we were. They seem to be very
nice people."

"Be hanged if I know why," said the captain. "I liked
the old man well enough, though he was as rough as a hedge.
But you would never have cared to go there, even if you
might have, I am well sure."

"Why shouldn't I?"

"Your town tastes would find them far too countrified.
They sit in the kitchen, drink mead and elder-wine, and
sand the floor to keep it clean. A sensible way of life;
but how would you like it?"

"I thought Mrs. Yeobright was a ladylike woman?
A curate's daughter, was she not?"

"Yes; but she was obliged to live as her husband did;
and I suppose she has taken kindly to it by this time.
Ah, I recollect that I once accidentally offended her,
and I have never seen her since."

That night was an eventful one to Eustacia's brain,
and one which she hardly ever forgot. She dreamt a dream;
and few human beings, from Nebuchadnezzar to the
Swaffham tinker, ever dreamt a more remarkable one.
Such an elaborately developed, perplexing, exciting dream
was certainly never dreamed by a girl in Eustacia's
situation before. It had as many ramifications
as the Cretan labyrinth, as many fluctuations as the
northern lights, as much colour as a parterre in June,
and was as crowded with figures as a coronation.
To Queen Scheherazade the dream might have seemed not far
removed from commonplace; and to a girl just returned
from all the courts of Europe it might have seemed
not more than interesting. But amid the circumstances
of Eustacia's life it was as wonderful as a dream could be.

There was, however, gradually evolved from its transformation
scenes a less extravagant episode, in which the heath dimly
appeared behind the general brilliancy of the action.
She was dancing to wondrous music, and her partner was
the man in silver armour who had accompanied her through
the previous fantastic changes, the visor of his helmet
being closed. The mazes of the dance were ecstatic.
Soft whispering came into her ear from under the
radiant helmet, and she felt like a woman in Paradise.
Suddenly these two wheeled out from the mass of dancers,
dived into one of the pools of the heath, and came out
somewhere into an iridescent hollow, arched with rainbows.
"It must be here," said the voice by her side, and blushingly
looking up she saw him removing his casque to kiss her.
At that moment there was a cracking noise, and his figure
fell into fragments like a pack of cards.

She cried aloud. "O that I had seen his face!"

Eustacia awoke. The cracking had been that of the window
shutter downstairs, which the maid-servant was opening
to let in the day, now slowly increasing to Nature's
meagre allowance at this sickly time of the year.
"O that I had seen his face!" she said again. "'Twas meant
for Mr. Yeobright!"

When she became cooler she perceived that many of the
phases of the dream had naturally arisen out of the images
and fancies of the day before. But this detracted
little from its interest, which lay in the excellent
fuel it provided for newly kindled fervour. She was
at the modulating point between indifference and love,
at the stage called "having a fancy for." It occurs once
in the history of the most gigantic passions, and it
is a period when they are in the hands of the weakest will.

The perfervid woman was by this time half in love
with a vision. The fantastic nature of her passion,
which lowered her as an intellect, raised her as a soul.
If she had had a little more self-control she would have
attenuated the emotion to nothing by sheer reasoning,
and so have killed it off. If she had had a little less
pride she might have gone and circumambulated the Yeobrights'
premises at Blooms-End at any maidenly sacrifice until she
had seen him. But Eustacia did neither of these things.
She acted as the most exemplary might have acted,
being so influenced; she took an airing twice or thrice a day
upon the Egdon hills, and kept her eyes employed.

The first occasion passed, and he did not come that way.

She promenaded a second time, and was again the sole
wanderer there.

The third time there was a dense fog; she looked around,
but without much hope. Even if he had been walking within
twenty yards of her she could not have seen him.

At the fourth attempt to encounter him it began to rain
in torrents, and she turned back.

The fifth sally was in the afternoon; it was fine,
and she remained out long, walking to the very top of
the valley in which Blooms-End lay. She saw the white
paling about half a mile off; but he did not appear.
It was almost with heart-sickness that she came home
and with a sense of shame at her weakness. She resolved
to look for the man from Paris no more.

But Providence is nothing if not coquettish; and no sooner
had Eustacia formed this resolve than the opportunity
came which, while sought, had been entirely withholden.

4 - Eustacia Is Led on to an Adventure

In the evening of this last day of expectation, which was
the twenty-third of December, Eustacia was at home alone.
She had passed the recent hour in lamenting over a rumour
newly come to her ears--that Yeobright's visit to his
mother was to be of short duration, and would end some
time the next week. "Naturally," she said to herself.
A man in the full swing of his activities in a gay city
could not afford to linger long on Egdon Heath. That she
would behold face to face the owner of the awakening voice
within the limits of such a holiday was most unlikely,
unless she were to haunt the environs of his mother's house
like a robin, to do which was difficult and unseemly.

The customary expedient of provincial girls and men
in such circumstances is churchgoing. In an ordinary
village or country town one can safely calculate that,
either on Christmas day or the Sunday contiguous,
any native home for the holidays, who has not through age
or ennui lost the appetite for seeing and being seen,
will turn up in some pew or other, shining with hope,
self-consciousness, and new clothes. Thus the congregation
on Christmas morning is mostly a Tussaud collection
of celebrities who have been born in the neighbourhood.
Hither the mistress, left neglected at home all the year,
can steal and observe the development of the returned
lover who has forgotten her, and think as she watches
him over her prayer book that he may throb with a
renewed fidelity when novelties have lost their charm.
And hither a comparatively recent settler like Eustacia
may betake herself to scrutinize the person of a native
son who left home before her advent upon the scene,
and consider if the friendship of his parents be worth
cultivating during his next absence in order to secure a
knowledge of him on his next return.

But these tender schemes were not feasible among the scattered
inhabitants of Egdon Heath. In name they were parishioners,
but virtually they belonged to no parish at all.
People who came to these few isolated houses to keep
Christmas with their friends remained in their friends'
chimney-corners drinking mead and other comforting liquors
till they left again for good and all. Rain, snow, ice,
mud everywhere around, they did not care to trudge two or three
miles to sit wet-footed and splashed to the nape of their
necks among those who, though in some measure neighbours,
lived close to the church, and entered it clean and dry.
Eustacia knew it was ten to one that Clym Yeobright would
go to no church at all during his few days of leave,
and that it would be a waste of labour for her to go driving
the pony and gig over a bad road in hope to see him there.

It was dusk, and she was sitting by the fire in the dining-room
or hall, which they occupied at this time of the year
in preference to the parlour, because of its large hearth,
constructed for turf-fires, a fuel the captain was partial
to in the winter season. The only visible articles
in the room were those on the window-sill, which showed
their shapes against the low sky, the middle article being
the old hourglass, and the other two a pair of ancient
British urns which had been dug from a barrow near,
and were used as flowerpots for two razor-leaved cactuses.
Somebody knocked at the door. The servant was out;
so was her grandfather. The person, after waiting a minute,
came in and tapped at the door of the room.

"Who's there?" said Eustacia.

"Please, Cap'n Vye, will you let us----"

Eustacia arose and went to the door. "I cannot allow
you to come in so boldly. You should have waited."

"The cap'n said I might come in without any fuss,"
was answered in a lad's pleasant voice.

"Oh, did he?" said Eustacia more gently. "What do
you want, Charley?"

"Please will your grandfather lend us his fuelhouse
to try over our parts in, tonight at seven o'clock?"

"What, are you one of the Egdon mummers for this year?"

"Yes, miss. The cap'n used to let the old mummers
practise here."

"I know it. Yes, you may use the fuelhouse if you like,"
said Eustacia languidly.

The choice of Captain Vye's fuelhouse as the scene
of rehearsal was dictated by the fact that his dwelling
was nearly in the centre of the heath. The fuelhouse
was as roomy as a barn, and was a most desirable place
for such a purpose. The lads who formed the company
of players lived at different scattered points around,
and by meeting in this spot the distances to be traversed
by all the comers would be about equally proportioned.

For mummers and mumming Eustacia had the greatest contempt.
The mummers themselves were not afflicted with any such
feeling for their art, though at the same time they
were not enthusiastic. A traditional pastime is to be
distinguished from a mere revival in no more striking
feature than in this, that while in the revival all is
excitement and fervour, the survival is carried on with
a stolidity and absence of stir which sets one wondering
why a thing that is done so perfunctorily should be kept
up at all. Like Balaam and other unwilling prophets,
the agents seem moved by an inner compulsion to say
and do their allotted parts whether they will or no.
This unweeting manner of performance is the true ring
by which, in this refurbishing age, a fossilized survival
may be known from a spurious reproduction.

The piece was the well-known play of Saint George, and
all who were behind the scenes assisted in the preparations,
including the women of each household. Without the
co-operation of sisters and sweethearts the dresses
were likely to be a failure; but on the other hand,
this class of assistance was not without its drawbacks.
The girls could never be brought to respect tradition
in designing and decorating the armour; they insisted on
attaching loops and bows of silk and velvet in any situation
pleasing to their taste. Gorget, gusset, basinet, cuirass,
gauntlet, sleeve, all alike in the view of these feminine
eyes were practicable spaces whereon to sew scraps of
fluttering colour.

It might be that Joe, who fought on the side of Christendom,
had a sweetheart, and that Jim, who fought on the side
of the Moslem, had one likewise. During the making
of the costumes it would come to the knowledge of Joe's
sweetheart that Jim's was putting brilliant silk scallops
at the bottom of her lover's surcoat, in addition to the
ribbons of the visor, the bars of which, being invariably
formed of coloured strips about half an inch wide
hanging before the face, were mostly of that material.
Joe's sweetheart straight-way placed brilliant silk on the
scallops of the hem in question, and, going a little further,
added ribbon tufts to the shoulder pieces. Jim's, not
to be outdone, would affix bows and rosettes everywhere.

The result was that in the end the Valiant Soldier,
of the Christian army, was distinguished by no peculiarity
of accoutrement from the Turkish Knight; and what was worse,
on a casual view Saint George himself might be mistaken
for his deadly enemy, the Saracen. The guisers themselves,
though inwardly regretting this confusion of persons,
could not afford to offend those by whose assistance they
so largely profited, and the innovations were allowed
to stand.

There was, it is true, a limit to this tendency to uniformity.
The Leech or Doctor preserved his character intact--his
darker habiliments, peculiar hat, and the bottle of
physic slung under his arm, could never be mistaken.
And the same might be said of the conventional figure
of Father Christmas, with his gigantic club, an older man,
who accompanied the band as general protector in long
night journeys from parish to parish, and was bearer
of the purse.

Seven o'clock, the hour of the rehearsal, came round, and in
a short time Eustacia could hear voices in the fuelhouse.
To dissipate in some trifling measure her abiding sense
of the murkiness of human life she went to the "linhay"
or lean-to shed, which formed the root-store of their
dwelling and abutted on the fuelhouse. Here was a small
rough hole in the mud wall, originally made for pigeons,
through which the interior of the next shed could be viewed.
A light came from it now; and Eustacia stepped upon a stool
to look in upon the scene.

On a ledge in the fuelhouse stood three tall rushlights
and by the light of them seven or eight lads were
marching about, haranguing, and confusing each other,
in endeavours to perfect themselves in the play.
Humphrey and Sam, the furze-and turf-cutters, were
there looking on, so also was Timothy Fairway, who leant
against the wall and prompted the boys from memory,
interspersing among the set words remarks and anecdotes
of the superior days when he and others were the Egdon
mummers-elect that these lads were now.

"Well, ye be as well up to it as ever ye will be," he said.
"Not that such mumming would have passed in our time.
Harry as the Saracen should strut a bit more, and John needn't
holler his inside out. Beyond that perhaps you'll do.
Have you got all your clothes ready?"

"We shall by Monday."

"Your first outing will be Monday night, I suppose?"

"Yes. At Mrs. Yeobright's."

"Oh, Mrs. Yeobright's. What makes her want to see ye? I
should think a middle-aged woman was tired of mumming."

"She's got up a bit of a party, because 'tis the first
Christmas that her son Clym has been home for a long time."

"To be sure, to be sure--her party! I am going myself.
I almost forgot it, upon my life."

Eustacia's face flagged. There was to be a party at
the Yeobrights'; she, naturally, had nothing to do with it.
She was a stranger to all such local gatherings, and had
always held them as scarcely appertaining to her sphere.
But had she been going, what an opportunity would have
been afforded her of seeing the man whose influence
was penetrating her like summer sun! To increase that
influence was coveted excitement; to cast it off might be
to regain serenity; to leave it as it stood was tantalizing.

The lads and men prepared to leave the premises, and Eustacia
returned to her fireside. She was immersed in thought,
but not for long. In a few minutes the lad Charley,
who had come to ask permission to use the place,
returned with the key to the kitchen. Eustacia heard him,
and opening the door into the passage said, "Charley, come here."

The lad was surprised. He entered the front room not
without blushing; for he, like many, had felt the power
of this girl's face and form.

She pointed to a seat by the fire, and entered
the other side of the chimney-corner herself.
It could be seen in her face that whatever motive
she might have had in asking the youth indoors would soon appear.

"Which part do you play, Charley--the Turkish Knight,
do you not?" inquired the beauty, looking across the smoke
of the fire to him on the other side.

"Yes, miss, the Turkish Knight," he replied diffidently.

"Is yours a long part?"

"Nine speeches, about."

"Can you repeat them to me? If so I should like to hear them."

The lad smiled into the glowing turf and began--

"Here come I, a Turkish Knight,
Who learnt in Turkish land to fight,"

continuing the discourse throughout the scenes to the
concluding catastrophe of his fall by the hand of Saint George.

Eustacia had occasionally heard the part recited before.
When the lad ended she began, precisely in the same words,
and ranted on without hitch or divergence till she too
reached the end. It was the same thing, yet how different.
Like in form, it had the added softness and finish
of a Raffaelle after Perugino, which, while faithfully
reproducing the original subject, entirely distances the
original art.

Charley's eyes rounded with surprise. "Well, you be
a clever lady!" he said, in admiration. "I've been
three weeks learning mine."

"I have heard it before," she quietly observed.
"Now, would you do anything to please me, Charley?"

"I'd do a good deal, miss."

"Would you let me play your part for one night?"

"Oh, miss! But your woman's gown--you couldn't."

"I can get boy's clothes--at least all that would be wanted
besides the mumming dress. What should I have to give
you to lend me your things, to let me take your place
for an hour or two on Monday night, and on no account
to say a word about who or what I am? You would, of course,
have to excuse yourself from playing that night, and to say
that somebody--a cousin of Miss Vye's--would act for you.
The other mummers have never spoken to me in their lives
so that it would be safe enough; and if it were not,
I should not mind. Now, what must I give you to agree
to this? Half a crown?"

The youth shook his head

"Five shillings?"

He shook his head again. "Money won't do it," he said,
brushing the iron head of the firedog with the hollow
of his hand.

"What will, then, Charley?" said Eustacia in a disappointed tone.

"You know what you forbade me at the Maypoling, miss,"
murmured the lad, without looking at her, and still
stroking the firedog's head.

"Yes," said Eustacia, with a little more hauteur.
"You wanted to join hands with me in the ring, if I recollect?"

"Half an hour of that, and I'll agree, miss."

Eustacia regarded the youth steadfastly. He was three years
younger than herself, but apparently not backward for his age.
"Half an hour of what?" she said, though she guessed what.

"Holding your hand in mine."

She was silent. "Make it a quarter of an hour," she said

"Yes, Miss Eustacia--I will, if I may kiss it too.
A quarter of an hour. And I'll swear to do the best I
can to let you take my place without anybody knowing.
Don't you think somebody might know your tongue, miss?"

"It is possible. But I will put a pebble in my mouth
to make is less likely. Very well; you shall be allowed
to have my hand as soon as you bring the dress and your
sword and staff. I don't want you any longer now."

Charley departed, and Eustacia felt more and more interest
in life. Here was something to do: here was some one
to see, and a charmingly adventurous way to see him.
"Ah," she said to herself, "want of an object to live
for--that's all is the matter with me!"

Eustacia's manner was as a rule of a slumberous sort,
her passions being of the massive rather than the vivacious kind.
But when aroused she would make a dash which, just for
the time, was not unlike the move of a naturally lively person.

On the question of recognition she was somewhat indifferent.
By the acting lads themselves she was not likely to be known.
With the guests who might be assembled she was hardly so secure.
Yet detection, after all, would be no such dreadful thing.
The fact only could be detected, her true motive never.
It would be instantly set down as the passing freak
of a girl whose ways were already considered singular.
That she was doing for an earnest reason what would most
naturally be done in jest was at any rate a safe secret.

The next evening Eustacia stood punctually at the fuelhouse
door, waiting for the dusk which was to bring Charley
with the trappings. Her grandfather was at home tonight,
and she would be unable to ask her confederate indoors.

He appeared on the dark ridge of heathland, like a fly
on a Negro, bearing the articles with him, and came up
breathless with his walk.

"Here are the things," he whispered, placing them upon
the threshold. "And now, Miss Eustacia--"

"The payment. It is quite ready. I am as good as my word."

She leant against the door-post, and gave him her hand.
Charley took it in both his own with a tenderness
beyond description, unless it was like that of a child
holding a captured sparrow.

"Why, there's a glove on it!" he said in a deprecating way.

"I have been walking," she observed.

"But, miss!"

"Well--it is hardly fair." She pulled off the glove,
and gave him her bare hand.

They stood together minute after minute, without
further speech, each looking at the blackening scene,
and each thinking his and her own thoughts.

"I think I won't use it all up tonight," said Charley devotedly,
when six or eight minutes had been passed by him caressing
her hand. "May I have the other few minutes another time?"

"As you like," said she without the least emotion.
"But it must be over in a week. Now, there is only one
thing I want you to do--to wait while I put on the dress,
and then to see if I do my part properly. But let me look
first indoors."

She vanished for a minute or two, and went in.
Her grandfather was safely asleep in his chair. "Now, then,"
she said, on returning, "walk down the garden a little way,
and when I am ready I'll call you."

Charley walked and waited, and presently heard a soft whistle.
He returned to the fuelhouse door.

"Did you whistle, Miss Vye?"

"Yes; come in," reached him in Eustacia's voice from a
back quarter. "I must not strike a light till the door
is shut, or it may be seen shining. Push your hat into the
hole through to the wash-house, if you can feel your way across."

Charley did as commanded, and she struck the light revealing
herself to be changed in sex, brilliant in colours,
and armed from top to toe. Perhaps she quailed a little
under Charley's vigorous gaze, but whether any shyness
at her male attire appeared upon her countenance could
not be seen by reason of the strips of ribbon which used
to cover the face in mumming costumes, representing the
barred visor of the mediaeval helmet.

"It fits pretty well," she said, looking down at the
white overalls, "except that the tunic, or whatever
you call it, is long in the sleeve. The bottom
of the overalls I can turn up inside. Now pay attention."

Eustacia then proceeded in her delivery, striking the
sword against the staff or lance at the minatory phrases,
in the orthodox mumming manner, and strutting up and down.
Charley seasoned his admiration with criticism of the
gentlest kind, for the touch of Eustacia's hand yet
remained with him.

"And now for your excuse to the others," she said.
"Where do you meet before you go to Mrs. Yeobright's?"

"We thought of meeting here, miss, if you have nothing
to say against it. At eight o'clock, so as to get there
by nine."

"Yes. Well, you of course must not appear. I will march
in about five minutes late, ready-dressed, and tell them
that you can't come. I have decided that the best plan
will be for you to be sent somewhere by me, to make
a real thing of the excuse. Our two heath-croppers
are in the habit of straying into the meads, and tomorrow
evening you can go and see if they are gone there.
I'll manage the rest. Now you may leave me."

"Yes, miss. But I think I'll have one minute more
of what I am owed, if you don't mind."

Eustacia gave him her hand as before.

"One minute," she said, and counted on till she reached
seven or eight minutes. Hand and person she then
withdrew to a distance of several feet, and recovered
some of her old dignity. The contract completed,
she raised between them a barrier impenetrable as a wall.

"There, 'tis all gone; and I didn't mean quite all,"
he said, with a sigh.

"You had good measure," said she, turning away.

"Yes, miss. Well, 'tis over, and now I'll get home-along."

5 - Through the Moonlight

The next evening the mummers were assembled in the same spot,
awaiting the entrance of the Turkish Knight.

"Twenty minutes after eight by the Quiet Woman, and Charley
not come."

"Ten minutes past by Blooms-End."

"It wants ten minutes to, by Grandfer Cantle's watch."

"And 'tis five minutes past by the captain's clock."

On Egdon there was no absolute hour of the day. The time
at any moment was a number of varying doctrines professed
by the different hamlets, some of them having originally
grown up from a common root, and then become divided
by secession, some having been alien from the beginning.
West Egdon believed in Blooms-End time, East Egdon
in the time of the Quiet Woman Inn. Grandfer Cantle's
watch had numbered many followers in years gone by,
but since he had grown older faiths were shaken.
Thus, the mummers having gathered hither from scattered
points each came with his own tenets on early and late;
and they waited a little longer as a compromise.

Eustacia had watched the assemblage through the hole;
and seeing that now was the proper moment to enter,
she went from the "linhay" and boldly pulled the bobbin
of the fuelhouse door. Her grandfather was safe at the
Quiet Woman.

"Here's Charley at last! How late you be, Charley."

"'Tis not Charley," said the Turkish Knight from within
his visor. "'Tis a cousin of Miss Vye's, come to take
Charley's place from curiosity. He was obliged to go and
look for the heath-croppers that have got into the meads,
and I agreed to take his place, as he knew he couldn't come
back here again tonight. I know the part as well as he."

Her graceful gait, elegant figure, and dignified manner
in general won the mummers to the opinion that they
had gained by the exchange, if the newcomer were perfect
in his part.

"It don't matter--if you be not too young," said Saint George.
Eustacia's voice had sounded somewhat more juvenile
and fluty than Charley's.

"I know every word of it, I tell you," said Eustacia decisively.
Dash being all that was required to carry her triumphantly through,
she adopted as much as was necessary. "Go ahead, lads,
with the try-over. I'll challenge any of you to find a mistake in me."

The play was hastily rehearsed, whereupon the other mummers
were delighted with the new knight. They extinguished
the candles at half-past eight, and set out upon the heath
in the direction of Mrs. Yeobright's house at Bloom's-End.

There was a slight hoarfrost that night, and the moon,
though not more than half full, threw a spirited and enticing
brightness upon the fantastic figures of the mumming band,
whose plumes and ribbons rustled in their walk like
autumn leaves. Their path was not over Rainbarrow now,
but down a valley which left that ancient elevation

Book of the day: