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The loads were all laid together, and
a pyramid of furze thirty feet in circumfer-
ence now occupied the crown of the tumu-
lus, which was known as Blackbarrow for
many miles round. Some made themselves
busy with matches, and in selecting the
driest tufts of furze, others in loosening
the bramble bonds which held the faggots
together. Others, again, while this was in
progress, lifted their eyes and swept the
vast expanse of country commanded by their
position, now lying nearly obliterated by
shade. In the valleys of the heath nothing-
save its own wild face was visible at any
time of day ; but this spot commanded a
horizon enclosing a tract of far extent, and
in many cases lying beyond the heath
country. None of its features could be
seen now, but the whole made itself felt as
a vague stretch of remoteness.



THE THREE WOMEN. 29

While the men and lads were building
the pile a change took place in the mass of
shade which denoted the distant landscape.
Red suns and tufts of fire one by one began
to arise, flecking the whole country round.
They were the bonfires of other parishes and
hamlets that were engaged in the same sort
of commemoration. Some were distant, and
stood in a dense atmosphere, so that bundles
of pale straw-like beams radiated around
them in the shape of a fan. Some were large
and near, glowing scarlet-red from the shade,
like wounds in a black hide. Some were
Maenades, with winy faces and blown hair.
These tinctured the silent bosom of the
clouds above them and lit up their ephemeral
caves, which seemed thenceforth to become
scalding caldrons. Perhaps as many as
thirty bonfires could be counted within the
whole bounds of the district ; and as the hour
may be told on a clockface when the figures
themselves are invisible, so did the men re-
cognise the locality of each fire by Its angle



30 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

and direction, though nothing of the scenery
could be viewed.

The first tall flame from Blackbarrow
sprang Into the sky, attracting all eyes that
had been fixed on the distant conflagrations
back to their own attempt in the same kind.
The cheerful blaze streaked the Inner surface
of the human circle — now increased by other
stragglers, male and female — with its own
gold livery, and even overlaid the dark turf
around with a lively lumlnousness, which
softened off into obscurity where the barrow
rounded downwards out of sight. It showed
the barrow to be the segment of a globe, as
perfect as on the day when it was thrown up,
even the little ditch remaining from which
the earth was dug. Not a plough had ever
disturbed a grain of that stubborn soil. In the
heath s barrenness to the farmer lay its fer-
tility to the historian. There had been no ob-
literation because there had been no tending.

It was as if the bonfire-makers were
standing in some radiant upper storey of the



THE THREE WOMEN. 3 1

world, detached from and Independent of the
dark stretches below. The heath down
there was now a vast abyss, and no longer
a continuation of what they stood on ; for
their eyes, adapted to the blaze, could see
nothing of the deeps beyond its influence.
Occasionally, it is true, a more vigorous flare
than usual from their faQ^o-ots sent dartine
lights like aides-de-camp down the inclines
to some distant bush, pool, or patch of white
sand, kindling these to replies of the same
colour, till all was lost in darkness again.
Then the whole black phenomenon beneath
represented Limbo as viewed from the brink
by the sublime Florentine in his vision, and
the muttered articulations of the wind in the
hollows were as complaints and petitions
from the ' souls of mighty worth ' suspended
therein.

It was as if these men and boys had
suddenly dived into past ages and fetched
therefrom an hour and deed which had be-
fore been familiar with this spot. The ashes



32 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

of the original British pyre which blazed
from that summit lay fresh and undisturbed
in the barrow beneath their tread. The
flames from funeral piles long ago kindled
there had shone down upon the lowlands as
these were shining now. Festival fires to
Thor and Woden had followed on the same
ground and duly had their day. Indeed, it
is pretty well known that such blazes as this
the heathmen were now enjoying are rather
the lineal descendants from jumbled Druid-
ical rites and Saxon ceremonies than the
invention of popular feeling about Gun-
powder Plot.

Moreover to light a fire is the instinctive
and resistant act of man when, at the winter
ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout
Nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Prome-
thean rebelliousness against the fiat that this
recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold
darkness, misery and death. Black chaos
comes, and the fettered gods of the earth
say, Let there be light.



THE THREE WOMEN. 33

The brilliant lights and sooty shades
which struggled upon the skin and clothes
of the individuals standinof round caused
their lineaments and general contours to be
drawn with Dureresque vigour and dash.
Yet the permanent moral expression of each
face it was impossible to discover, for as
the nimble flames towered, nodded, and
swooped through the surrounding air the
blots of shade and flakes of light upon the
countenances of the group changed shape
and position endlessly, x^ll was unstable ;
quivering as leaves, evanescent as lightning.
Shadowy eye-sockets deep as those of a
death's head suddenly turned into pits of
lustre : a lantern-jaw was cavernous, then it
was shining ; wrinkles were emphasized to
ravines, or obliterated entirely by a changed
ray. Nostrils were dark wells ; sinews in old
necks were gilt mouldings ; things with no
particular polish on them were glazed ; bright
objects, such as the tip of a furze-hook one
of the men carried, were as glass ; eyeballs

VOL. I. D



34 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

flowed like little lanterns. Those whom
Nature had depicted as merely quaint be-
came grotesque, the grotesque became pre-
ternatural ; for all was in extremity.

Hence it may be that the face of an old
man, who had like others been called to the
heights by the rising flames, was not really
the mere nose and chin that it appeared to
be, but an appreciable quantity of human
countenance. He stood complacently sun-
ning himself in the heat. With a speaker,
or stake, he tossed the outlying scraps of fuel
into the conflagration, looking at the midst
of the pile, occasionally lifting his eyes to
measure the height of the flame, or to follow
the great sparks which rose with it and
sailed away into darkness. The beaming
sight, and the penetrating warmth, seemed
to breed in him a cumulative cheerfulness,
which soon amounted to delight. With his
stick in his hand he began to jig a private
minuet, a bunch of copper seals shining and
swinging like a pendulum from under his



THE THREE WOMEN. 35

waistcoat : he also began to sing, in the voice
of a bee up a flue : —

' The king' call'd down' his no'-bles all',
By one', by two', by three' ;
Earl Mar'-shal, I'll' go shrive' the queen',
And thou' sbalt wend' with me'.

A boon', a boon', quoth Earl' Mar-shal',

And fell' on his bend'-ded knee',
That what'-so-e'er' the queen' shall say',

No harm' there -of may be'.'

Want of breath prevented a continuance
of the song; and the breakdown attracted
the attention of a firm-standina- man of middle
age, who kept each corner of his crescent-
shaped mouth rigorously drawn back into his
cheek, as if to do away with any suspicion of
mirthfulness which might erroneously have
attached to him.

* A fair stave, Grandfer Cantle ; but I am
afeard 'tis too much for the mouldy weasand
of such a old man as you,' he said to the
wrinkled reveller. ' Dostn't wish th' wast

D 2



36 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

three sixes again, Grandfer, as you was when
you first learnt to sing It ? '

' Hey ? ' said Grandfer Cantle, stopping
In his dance.

' Dostn't wish wast young again ? I say.
There's a hole in thy poor bellows nowadays
seemingly.'

' But there's eood art In me. If I couldn't
make a little wind go a long ways I should
seem no younger than the most aged man,
should I, Timothy ? '

' And how about the new-married folks
down there at the Oulet Woman Inn ?' the
other inquired, pointing towards a dim light
In the direction of the distant highway, but
considerably to the east of where the reddle-
man was at that moment resting. ' What's
the rights of the matter about 'em ? You
ought to know, being an understanding man.'

' But a little rakish, hey ? I own to It.
Master Cantle is that, or he's nothing. Yet
'tis a gay fault, neighbour Fairway, that age
will cure.'



THE THREE WOMEN. 2)7

* I heard that they were coming home
to-night. By this time they must have come.
What besides } '

' The next thing is for us to go and wish
'em joy, I suppose.'

* Well, no.'

* No ? Now, I thought we must. / must,
or 'twould be very unlike me — the first in
every spree that's going : —

' Do thou' put on' a fri'-ar's coat',

And I'lr put on' a-no'ther,
And we' will to' Queen Ele'-anor go',
Like Fri'-ar and' his bro'-ther.'

* I met Mis'ess Yeobright, the young bride's
aunt, last night, and she told me that her son
Clym was coming home a Christmas. Won-
derful clever, 'a b'lieve — ah, I should like to
have all that's under that young man's hair.
Well, then I spoke to her in my well-known
merry way, and she said, " O that what's
shaped so venerable should talk like a fool ! "
— that's what she said to me. I don't care
for her, be j owned if I do, and so I told her.



38 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

" Be jowned if I care for 'ee," I said. I had
her there — hey ? '

' I rather think she had you,' said Fair-
way.

' No,' said Grandfer Cantle, his coun-
tenance sHghtly flagging. ' 'Tisn't so bad as
that with me ? '

* Seemingly 'tis ; however, is it because
of the wedding that Clym is coming home a'
Christmas — to make a new arrangement be-
cause his mother is now left in the house
alone ? '

' Yes, yes — that's it. But, Timothy,
hearken to me,' said the Grandfer, earnestly.
^ Though known as such a joker I be an
understanding man if you catch me serious,
and I am serious now. I can tell 'ee lots
about the married couple. Yes, this morning
at six o'clock they went up the country to do
the job, and neither veil nor mark have been
seen of 'em since, though I reckon that this
afternoon has brought 'em home again, man
and woman — wife, that is. Isn't it spoke like



THE THREE ^YOMEN. 39

a man, Timothy, and wasn't Mis'ess Yeo-
bright wrong about me ? '

' Yes, it wilt do. I didn't know the two
had walked together since last fall, when her
mother forbad the banns. How lonof has
this new set-to been in mano^linof then ? Do
you know^ Humphrey ? '

' Yes, how long ? ' said Grandfer Cantle,
smartly, likewise turning to Humphrey. ' I
ask that question.'

' Ever since her aunt altered her mind,
and said she might hae the man after all,'
replied Humphrey, without removing his
eyes from the fire. He was a somewhat
solemn young fellow, and carried the hook
and leather gloves of a furze-cutter, his legs,
by reason of that occupation, being sheathed
in bulging leggings as stiff as the Philistine's
greaves of brass. ' That's why they went
away to be married, I count. You see, after
kicking up such a nunnywatch and forbidding
the banns 'twould have made Mis'ess Yeo-
bright seem foolish-like to have a banging



40 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

wedding in the same parish all as if she'd
never gainsaid it all.'

' Exactly — seem foolish-like ; and that's
very bad for the poor things that be so,
though I only guess as much, to be sure/
said Grandfer Cantle, still strenuously pre-
serving a sensible bearing and mien.

' Ah, well, I was at church that day,' said
Fairway, ' which was a very curious thing to
happen.'

'If'twasn't my name's Simple,' said the
Grandfer, emphatically. ' I han't been there
to-year ; and now the winter is a coming on
I won't say I shall.'

* I ha n't been these three years,' said
Humphrey; 'for I'm so dead sleepy of a
Sunday ; and 'tis so terrible far to get there ;
and when you do get there 'tis such a mortal
poor chance that you'll be chose for up above,
when so many baint, that I bide at home and
don't go at all.'

' I not only happened to be there,' said
Fairway, with a fresh collection of emphasis.



THE THREE WOMEN. 4 1

'but I was sitting in the same pew as Mis'ess
Yeobright. And though you may not see it
as such, It fairly made my blood run cold to
hear her. Yes, it Is a curious thing ; but it
made my blood run cold, for I was close at
her elbow.' The speaker looked round upon
the bystanders, now drawing closer to hear him,
with his lips gathered tighter than ever In the
rigorousness of his descriptive moderation.

' 'Tis a serious job to have things happen
to ee there,' said a woman behind.

' " Ye are to declare it," were the parson's
words, Fairway continued. * And then up
stood a woman at my side — a touching of
me. "Well, be damned if there isn't Mis'ess
Yeobright a standing up," I said to myself.
Yes, neighbours, though I was in the temple
of prayer that's what I said. 'Tis against
my conscience to curse and swear in com-
pany, and I hope any woman here will over-
look it. Still what I did say I did say, and
'twould be a lie if I didn't own it.'

' So 'twould, neighbour Fairway.'



42 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

' '' Be damned if there Isn't Mis'ess Yeo-
bright a standing up," I said,' the narrator
repeated, giving out the bad word with the
same passionless severity of face as before,
which proved how entirely necessity and not
gusto had to with the iteration. ' And the
next thing I heard was, '' I forbid the banns,"
from her. '' I'll speak to you after the ser-
vice," says the parson, in quite a homely
way — yes, turning all at once into a common
man no holler than you or I. Ah, her face
was pale! Maybe you can call to mind that
monument in church — the cross-legged soldier
that have had his nose knocked away by the
school-children ? Well, he would about have
matched that woman's face, when she said,
'' I forbid the banns." '

The audience cleared their throats and
tossed a few stalks into the fire, not because
these deeds were urgent, but to give them-
selves time to weigh the moral of the story.

' I'm sure when I heard they'd been for-
bid I felt as glad as if anybody had gied



THE THREE WOMEN. 43

me sixpence,' said an earnest voice — that of
Oily Dowden, a woman who lived by making
heath brooms, or besoms. Her nature was
to be civil to enemies as well as to friends,
and grateful to all the world for letting her
remain alive.

' And now the maid have married him
just the same,' said Humphrey.

' After that Mis'ess Yeobright came round
and was quite agreeable,' Fairway resumed,
with an unheeding air, which tended to show
that his words, though apparently an appen-
dage to Humphrey's, were actually the result
of independent reflection.

' Supposing they were ashamed, I don't
see why they shouldn't have done it here-
right,' said a wide-spread woman whose stays
creaked like shoes whenever she stooped or
turned. ' 'Tis well to call the neighbours
toQ^ether and to hae a ofood racket once now
and then ; and it may as well be when there's
a wedding as at tide-times. I don't care for
close ways.'



44 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

'Ah, now, you'd hardly beHeve it, but I
don't care for gay weddings,' said Timothy
Fairway, his eyes again travelling round.
' I hardly blame Thomasin Yeobright and
neighbour Wildeve for doing it quiet, if I
must own it. A wedding at home means
five and six-handed reels by the hour ; and
they do a man's legs no good when he's over
forty.'

' True. Once at the woman's house you
can hardly say nay to being one in a jig,
knowing all the time that you be expected to
make yourself worth your victuals.'

* You be bound to dance at Christmas
because 'tis the time o' year ; you must dance
at weddings because 'tis the time of life. At
christenings folk will even smuggle in a reel
or two, if 'tis no further on than the first or
second chiel. And this is not naming the
songs you've got to sing .... For my part I
like a good hearty funeral as well as any-
thing. You've as splendid victuals and drink
as at other parties, and even better. And it



THE THREE WOMEN. 45

don't wear your legs to stumps in talking
over a poor fellow's ways as it do to stand
up in hornpipes.'

* Nine folks out of ten would own 'twas
going too far to dance then, I suppose ? ' said
Grandfer Cantle, inquiringly.

" * 'Tis the only sort of party a staid man
can feel safe at after the mug have been
round a few times.'

' Well, I can't understand a lady-like little
body like Tamsin Yeobright caring to be
married in such a mean way,' said Susan
Nunsuch, the wide woman, who preferred
the original subject. ' 'Tis worse than the
poorest do. And I shouldn't have cared
about the man, though some may say he's
good-looking.'

' To give him his due he's a clever,
learned fellow in his way — a'most as clever as
Clym Yeobright used to be. He was brought
up to better things than keeping the Quiet
Woman. An engineer — that's what the man
was, as we know ; but he threw away his



46 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

chance, and so 'a took a public-house to live.
His learning was no use to him at all.'

' Very often the case,' said Oily, the
besom-maker. ' And yet how people do
strive after it and get it ! The class of folk
that couldn't use to make a round O to save
their bones from the pit of salvation can
write their names now without a sputter of
the pen, oftentimes without a single blot :
what do I say ? — why, almost without a desk
to lean their stomachs and elbows upon.'

' True : 'tis amazing what a polish the
world have been brought to, as you say,' said
Humphrey.

' Why, afore I went a soldier in the Bang-
up Locals (as we were called), in the year
four,' chimed in Grandfer Cantle, brightly,
' I didn't know no more what the world was
like than the commonest man among ye.
And now, jown it all, I won't say what I baint
fit for, hey ? '

' Coulds't sign the book no doubt,' said
Fairway, ' if wast young enough to join hands



THE THREE WOMEN. 47

with a woman again, like Wilcleve and
Mis'ess Tamsin, which is more than Humph
there could do, for he follows his father in
learning. Ah, Humph, well I can mind
when I was married how I saw thy father's
mark staring me in the face as I went to put
down my name. He and your mother were
the couple married just afore we were, and
there stood thy father's cross with arms
stretched out like a great banging scarecrow.

What a terrible black cross that was thy

father's very likeness in en ! To save my
soul I couldn't help laughing when I saw en,
though all the time I was as hot as dogdays,
what with the marrying, and what with the
woman hanging to me, and what with Jack
Changley and a lot more chaps grinnino- at
me through church window. But the next
moment a strawmote would have knocked me
down, for I called to mind that if thy father
and mother had had high words once, they'd
been at it twenty times since they'd been
man and wife, and I saw myself as the next



48 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

poor stunpoll to get Into the same mess. . . .
Ah — well, what a day 'twas ! '

' Wildeve is older than Tamsin Yeobrlght
by a good-few summers. A pretty maid too
she is. A young woman with a home must
be a fool to tear her smock for a man like
that.'

The speaker, a peat or turf-cutter, who
had newly joined the group, carried across
his shoulder the singular heart-shaped spade
of large dimensions used in that species of
labour ; and its well -whetted edge gleamed
like a silver bow in the beams of the fire.

'A hundred maidens would have had him
if he'd asked 'em,' said the wide woman.

' Dids't ever know a man, neighbour, that
no woman at all would marry ? ' inquired
Humphrey.

' I never did,' said the turf-cutter.

' Nor I,' said another.

' Nor I,' said Grandfer Cantle.

' Well, now, I did once,' said Timothy
Fairway, adding more firmness to one of his



THE THREE WOMEN. 49

leg's. ' I did know of such a man. But only
once, mind.' He gave his throat a thorough
rake round, as if It were the duty of every
person not to be mistaken through thickness
of voice. ' Yes, I knew of such a man,' he
said.

' And what ghastly galllcrow might the
poor fellow have been like, Master Fairway ? *
asked the turf-cutter.

' Well, 'a was neither a deaf man, nor a
dumb man, nor a blind man.'

* Is he known in these parts ? ' said Oily
Dowden.

' Hardly,' said Timothy; 'but I name no
name .... Come, keep the fire up there,
youngsters.'

'Whatever is Christian Cantle's teeth
a-chattering for ? ' said a boy from amid the
smoke and shades on the other side of the
blaze. ' Be ye a-cold. Christian ? '

A thin jibbering voice was heard to reply,
' No not at all.'

* Come forward, Christian, and show your-

VOL. I. E



50 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

self. I didn't know you were here,' said
Fairway, with a humane look across towards
that quarter.

Thus requested, a faltering man, with
reedy hair, no shoulders, and a great quantity
of wrist and ankle beyond his clothes, ad-
vanced a step or two by his own will, and was
pushed by the will of others half-a-dozen steps
more. He was Grandfer Cantle's youngest son.

' What be ye quaking for. Christian ? *
said the turf-cutter, kindly.

' I'm the m.an.'

' What man ? '

* The man no woman will marry.'

' The deuce you be! ' said Timothy Fair-
way,^enlarging his gaze to cover Christian s
whole surface and a great deal more ; Grand-
fer Cantle meanwhile staring as a hen stares
at the duck she has hatched.

* Yes, I be he ; and it makes me afeard,'
said Christian. ' D'ye think 'twill hurt me ?
I shall always say I don't care, and swear
to it, though I do care all the while.'



THE THREE WOMEN. 5 I

' Well, be damned if this isn't the queer-
est start ever I know'd,' said Mr. Fairway.
' I didn't mean you at all. There's another
in the country, then ! Why did ye reveal
yer misfortune. Christian ?'

' 'Twas to be if 'twas, I suppose. I can't
help it, can I ?' He turned upon them his
painfully circular eyes, surrounded by con-
centric lines like targets.

' No, that's true. But 'tis a melancholy
thing, and my blood ran cold when you
spoke, for I felt there were two poor fellows
where I had thought only one. 'Tis a sad
thing for ye. Christian. How'st know the
women won't hae thee ? '

' I've asked 'em.'

' Sure I should never have thought you
had the face. Well, and what did the last
one say to ye ? Nothing that can't be got
over, perhaps, after all ? '

' *' Get out of my sight, you slack
twisted, slim-looking fool," was the woman's
words to me.'

E 2



52 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

' Not encouraging, I own/ said Fairway.
' '' Get out of my sight, you slack-twisted,
slim-looking fool," is rather a hard way of
saying No. But even that might be over-
come by time and patience, so as to let a
few grey hairs show themselves in the hussy's
head. How old be you, Christian ? '

' Thirty-one last tatie-digging, Mister
Fairway.'

' Not a boy — not a boy. Still there's

hope yet.'

' That's my age by baptism, because
that's put down in the great book of the
judgment-day that they keep down in church
vestry ; but mother told me I was born
some time afore I was christened.'

^ Ah!'

* But she couldn't tell when, to save her
life, except that there was no moon.'

' No moon : that's bad. Hey, neigh-
bours, that's bad for him ? '

' Yes, 'tis bad,' said Grandfer Cantle,
shaking his head.



THE THREE WOMEN. 53

' Mother know'd 'twas no moon, for she
asked another woman that had an almanac,
as she did whenever a boy was born to
her, because of the saying, '* No moon,
no man," which made her afeard every
manchild she had. Do ye really think it
serious, Mister Fairway, that there was no
moon ? '

' Yes ; '' No moon, no man." 'Tis one
of the truest sayings ever spit out. The
boy never comes to anything that's born at
new moon. A bad job for thee. Christian,
that you should have showed your nose
then of all days in the month.'

' I suppose the moon was terrible full
when you were born ? ' said Christian, with
a look of hopeless admiration at Fairway.

' Well, 'a was not new,' Mr. Fairway
replied, with a disinterested gaze.

' I'd sooner go without drink at Lammas-
tide than be a man of no moon,' continued


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