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Christian, in the same shattered recitative.
* 'Tis said I be only the rames of a man,



54 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

and no good in the world at all; and. I sup-
pose that's the cause o't'

' Ay,' said Grandfer Cantle, somewhat
subdued in spirit; ' and yet his mother cried
for scores of hours when a was a boy, for
fear he should outgrow himself and go for
a soldier.'

' Well, there's many just as bad as he/
said Fairway. ' Wethers must live their
time as well as other sheep, poor soul.'

' So perhaps I shall rub on? Ought I
to be afeard o' night's, Master Fairway } '

' You'll have to lie alone all your life;
and 'tis not to married couples but to single
sleepers that a ghost shows himself when 'a
do come. One has been seen lately, too,
A very strange one.'

' No — don't talk about it if 'tis agreeable
of ye not to. 'Twill make my skin crawl
when I think of it in bed alone. But you
will — ah, you will, I know, Timothy; and
I shall dream all night o't ! A very strange
one? What sort of a spirit did ye mean



THE THREE WOMEN. 55

when ye said, a very strange one, Timothy ?
— no, no — don t tell me.'

' I don't half believe in spirits myself.
But I think it ghostly enough — what I was
told. 'Twas a little boy that saw it.'

' What was it like ? — no, don't '

' A red one. Yes, most ghosts be
white ; but this is as if it had been dipped
in blood.'

Christian drew a deep breath without
letting it expand his body, and Humphrey
said, ' Where have it been seen ? '

* Not exactly here ; but in this same
heath. But 'tisn't a thing to talk about.
What do ye say,' continued Fairway in
brisker tones, and turning upon them as
if the idea had not been Grandfer Cantle's ;
' what do ye say to giving the new man and
wife a bit of a song to-night afore we go
to bed — being their wedding day ? When
folks are just married 'tis as well to look
glad o't, since looking sorry won't unjoin
'em. I am no drinker, as we know, but



56 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

when the womenfolk and youngsters have
gone home we can drop down across to
the Quiet Woman, and strike up a ballet
in front of the married folks' door. 'Twill
please the young wife, and that's what I
should like to do, for many's the skinful
I've had at her hands when she lived with
her aunt at Blooms-End.'

' Hey ? And so we will ! ' said Grandfer
Cantle, turning so briskly that his copper
seals swung extravagantly. * I'm as dry as
a kex with biding up here in the wind, and
I haven't seen the colour of drink since
nammet-time to-day. 'Tis said that the
last brew at the Woman is very pretty
drinking. And, neighbours, if we should be
a little late in the finishing, why, to-morrow's
Sunday, and we can sleep it off ? '

' Grandfer Cantle ! you take things very
careless for an old man,' said the wide
woman.

' I take things careless ; I do — too care-
less to please the women ! Klk ! I'll sing



THE THREE WOMEN. 5/

the "Jovial Crew," or any other song, when
a weak old man would cry his eyes out.
Jown it ; I am up for anything :

* The king' look'd o'-ver his left' shoul-der',

And a grim' look look'-ed hee',
Earl Mar'-shal, he said', but for' my oath',
Or hang'-ed thou' should'st bee'.'

' Well, that's what we'll do,' said Fairway.
' We'll give 'em a song, an it please the
Lord. What's the good of Thomasin's
cousin Clym acoming home after the deed's
done ? He should have come afore, if so be
he wanted to stop it, and marry her himself

' Perhaps he's coming to bide with his
mother a little time, as she must feel lonely
now the maid's gone.'

' Now, 'tis very odd, but I never feel
lonely — no, not at all,' said Grandfer Cantle.
'I'm as brave in the night-time as an ad-
miral ! '

The bonfire was by this time beginning
to sink low, for the fuel had not been of
that substantial sort which can support a



58 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

blaze long-. Most of the other fires within
the wide horizon were also dwindling weak.
Attentive observation of their brightness,
colour, and length of existence would have
revealed the quality of the material burnt ;
and through that, to some extent, the natural
produce of the district in which each bonfire
was situate. The clear, kingly effulgence
that had characterised the majority expressed
a heath and furze country like their own,
which in one direction extended an unlimited
number of miles : the rapid flares and ex-
tinctions at other points of the compass
showed the lightest of fuel — straw, bean-
stalks, and the usual waste from arable land.
The most enduring of all — steady unaltering
eyes like planets — signified wood, such as
hazel branches, thorn -faggots, and stout billets.
Fires of the last-mentioned materials were
rare, and, though comparatively small in
magnitude beside the transient blazes, now
began to get the best of them by mere long-
continuance. The great ones had perished,



THE THREE WOMEN. 59

but these remained. They occupied the
remotest visible positions — sky-backed sum-
mits rising out of rich coppice and plantation-
districts to the north, where the soil was
different, and heath foreign and strange.

Save one ; and this was the nearest of
any, the moon of the whole shining throng.
It lay in a direction precisely opposite to
that of the little window in the vale below.
Its nearness was such that, notwithstanding
its actual dimension — not one quarter the
probable size of the others — its glow infi-
nitely transcended theirs.

This quiet eye had attracted attention
from time to time ; and when their own fire
had become sunken and dim it attracted
more ; for though some even of the wood
fires more recently lighted had reached their
decline, no change was perceptible here.

' To be sure, how near that fire is,' said
Fairway. ' Seemingly, I can see a fellow
of some sort walking round it. Little and
good must be said of that fire, surely.'



6o THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

' I can throw a stone there,' said a boy.

' And so can I ! ' said Grandfer Cantle.

'No, no, you can't, my sonnies. That
fire is not much less than a mile and half
off, for all that 'a seems so near.'

' 'Tis in the heath, but not furze,' said the
turf-cutter.

' 'Tis cleft-wood, that's what 'tis,' said
Timothy Fairway. ' Nothing would burn
like that except clean timber. And 'tis on
the knap afore the old captain's house at
Mistover. Such a queer mortal as that man
is ! To have a little fire inside your own
bank and ditch, that nobody else may enjoy
it or come anigh it ! And what a zany an
old chap must be, to light a bonfire when
there's no youngsters to please.'

* Cap'n Drew has been for a long walk
to-day, and is quite tired out,' said Grandfer
Cantle, ' so 'tisn't likely to be he.'

' And he would hardly afford good fuel
like that,' said the wide woman.

*Then it must be his grand-daughter,'



THE THREE WOMEN. 6 1

said Fairway. ' Not that a body of her age
can want a fire much.'

* She is very strange in her ways, Hving
up there by herself, and such things please
her/ said Susan.

' She's a well-favoured maid enough,' said
Humphrey the furze-cutter ; ' especially when
she's got one of her dandy gowns on.'

' That's true,' said Fairway. ' Well ; let
her bonfire burn an 'twill. Ours is well-nigh
out by the look o't.'

* How dark 'tis now the fire's eone
down ! ' said Christian Cantle, looking behind
him with his hare eyes. ' Don't ye think
we'd better get home-along, neighbours ?
The heth isn't haunted, I know ; but we'd

better get home Ah, what was

that?'

' Only the wind,' said the turf-cutter.

* I don't think fifth-of- Novembers oueht
to be kept up by night except in towns. It
should be by day in outstep, ill-accounted
places like this ! '



62 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

' Nonsense, Christian. Lift up your
spirits like a man ! Susy, dear, you and I
will have a jig — hey, my honey ? before 'tis
quite too dark to see how well-favoured j^ou
be still, though so many summers have passed
since your husband, a son of a gun, snapped
you up from me.'

This was addressed to Susan Nunsuch ;
and the next circumstance of which the be-
holders were conscious was a vision of the
matron's broad form whisking off towards the
space whereon the fire had been kindled.
She was lifted bodily by Mr. Fairway's arm,
which had been flung round her waist before
she had become aware of his intention. The
site of the fire was now merely a circle of
ashes flecked with red embers and sparks,
the furze having burnt completely away.
Once within the circle he whirled her round
and round in a dance. She was a woman
noisily constructed ; in addition to her en-
closing framework of whalebone and lath,
she wore pattens summer and winter, in wet



THE THREE WOMEN. 63

weather and in dry, to preserve her boots
from wear ; and when Fairway began to
jump about with her, the cHcking of the
pattens, the creaking of the stays, and her
screams of surprise, formed a very audible
concert.

* I'll crack thy numskull for thee, you
mandy chap,' said Mrs. Nunsuch, as she
helplessly danced round with him, her feet
playing like drumsticks among the sparks.
* My ancles were all in a fever afore, from
walking through that prickly furze, and now
you must make 'em worse with these
vlankers ! '

The vagary of Timothy Fairway was in-
fectious. The turf-cutter seized old Oily
Dowden, and, somewhat more gently, pous-
setted with her likewise. The young men
were not slow to imitate the example of their
elders, and seized the maids ; Grandfer
Cantle and his stick jigged in the form of a
three-legged object among the rest ; and in
half a minute all that could be seen on Black-



64 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

barrow was a whirling of dark shapes amid
a boiling confusion of sparks, which leapt
around the dancers as high as their waists.
The chief noises were women's shrill cries,
men's laughter, Susan's stays and pattens,
old Oily Dowden's ' heu-heu-heu ! ' and the
strumming of the wind upon the furze-bushes,
which formed a kind of tune to the demoniac
measure they trod. Christian alone stood
aloof, uneasily rocking himself as he mur-
mured, ' They ought not to do It — how the
vlankers do fly ! 'tis tempting the wicked
one, 'tis.'

' What was that ? ' said one of the lads,
stopping.

* Ah — where ? ' said Christian, hastily
closing up to the rest.

The dancers all lessened their speed.

' 'Twas behind you, Christian, that I
heard It — down there.'

' Yes — .'tis behind me ! ' Christian said.
' Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John ; bless the
bed that I He on ; four angels guard *



THE THREE WOMEN. 65

' Hold your tongue. What is it ? ' said
Fairway.

' Hoi-i-i-i !' cried a voice from the darkness.

' Halloo-0-0-0 ! ' said Fairway.

' Is there any cart-track up across here to
Mis'ess Yeobright's, of Blooms-End ? ' came
to them in the same voice, as a long, slim,
indistinct figure approached the barrow.

' Ought we not to run home as hard as
we can, neighbours, as 'tis getting late ? '
said Christian. ' Not run away from one an-
other, you know ; run close together, I mean.'

' Scrape up a few stray locks of furze, and
make a blaze, so that we can see who the
man is,' said Fairway.

When the flame arose it revealed a young
man in tight raiment, and red from top to
toe. ' Is there a track across here to Mis'ess
Yeobright's house ? ' he repeated.

' Ay — keep along the path down there.'

' I mean a way two horses and a van can
travel over ? '

' Well, yes ; you can get up the vale

VOL. I. F



66 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

below here with time. The track Is rough,
but if you've got a Hght your horses may
pick along wi' care. Have ye brought your
cart far up, neighbour reddleman ? '

' I've left it in the bottom, about half a
mile back. I stepped on in front to make
sure of the way, as 'tis night-time, and I
han't been here for so long.'

' Oh, well, you can get up,' said Fairway.
* What a turn it did give me when I saw
him ! ' he added, to the whole group, the
reddleman included. ' Lord's sake, I thought,
whatever fiery mommet is this come to
trouble us ? No slight to your looks, reddle-
man, for ye baint bad-looking in the ground-
work, though the finish is queer My mean-
ing Is just to say how curious I felt. I half-
thought 'twas the devil or the red s^host the
boy told of.'

' It gled me a turn likewise,' said Susan
Nunsuch, ' for I had a dream last night of a
death's head.'

' Don't ye talk o't no more,' said Chris-



THE THREE WOiMEN. (j^

tian. * If he had a handkerchief over his
head he'd look for all the world like the
Devil in the picture of the Temptation.'

' Well, thank you for telling me,' said
the young reddleman, smiling faintly. ' And
good-night t'ye all.'

He withdrew from their sight down the
barrow.

' I fancy I've seen that young man's face
before,' said Humphrey. ' But where, or how,
or what his name is, I don't know.'

The reddleman had not been gone more
than a few minutes when another person ap-
proached the partially revived bonfire. It
proved to be a well-known and respected
widow of the neio^hbourhood, of a standino-
which can only be expressed by the word
genteel. Her face, encom.passed by the
blackness of the receding heath, showed
whitely, and without half-lights, like a cameo.

She was a woman of middle-age, with
well-formed features of the type usually
found where perspicacity is the prominent

F 2



68 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

quality enthroned within. At moments she
seemed to be regarding issues from a Nebo
denied to others around. She had some-
thing of an estranged mien : the sohtude ex-
haled from the heath was concentrated in
this face that had risen from it. The air
with which she looked at the heathmen be-
tokened a certain unconcern at their pre-
sence, or at what might be their opinions of
her for walking in that lonely spot at such an
hour, thus indirectly implying that in some
respect or other they were not up to her
level. The explanation lay in the fact that
though her husband had been a small farmer
she herself was a curate's daughter, who had
once dreamt of doing better things.

Persons with any weight of character
carry, like planets, their atmospheres along
with them in their orbits ; and the matron
who entered now upon the scene could, and
usually did, bring her own tone into a com-
pany. Her normal manner among the heath-
folk had that reticence which results from



THE THREE WOMEN. 69

the consciousness of superior communicative
power. But the effect of coming into society
and Hght after lonely wandering* in darkness
is a sociability in the comer above its usual
pitch, expressed in the features even more
than in the words.

' Why, 'tis Mis'ess Yeobright,' said Fair-
way. ' Mis'ess Yeobright, not ten minutes
ago a man was here asking for you — a red-
dleman.'

* What did he want ? ' said she.
' He didn't tell us.'

' Something to sell, I suppose ; what it
can be I am at a loss to understand.'

' I am glad to hear that your son Mr.
Clym is coming home at Christmas, ma'am,'
said Sam, the turf-cutter. ' What a dog he
used to be for bonfires ! '

' Yes. I believe he is coming,' she said.

' He must be a fine fellow by this time,'
said Fairwa)\

* He is a man now,' she replied, quietly.

' Tis very lonesome for 'ee in the heth to-



70 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

night, mis'ess,' said Christian, coming from
the seclusion he had hitherto maintained.
* Mind you don't get lost. Egdon Heth is
a bad place to get lost in, and the winds do
huffle queerer to-night than ever I heard 'em
afore. Them that know Egdon best have
been pixy-led here at times.'

' Is that you, Christian ?' said Mrs. Yeo-
bright. ' What made you hide away from
me ?'

' ' Twas that I didn't know you in this
liofht, mis'ess ; and beinof a man of the mourn-
fullest make, I was scared a little, that's all.
Oftentimes if you could see how terrible down
I get in my mind, 'twould make 'ee quite
nervous for fear I should die by my hand.'

' You don't take after your father,' said
Mrs. Yeobright, looking towards the fire,
where Grandfer Cantle, with some want of
originality, was dancing by himself among
the sparks, as the others had done before.

' Now, Grandfer,' said Timothy Fairway,
* we are ashamed of ye. A reverent old pa-



THE THREE WOMEN. yi

triarch man as you be — seventy if a day — to
go hornpiping like that by yourself ! '

' A harrowing old man, Mis'ess Yeo-
bright,' said Christian, despondingly. ' I
wouldn't live with him a week, so playward
as he is, if I could get away.'

* 'T would be more seemly in ye to stand
still and welcome Mis'ess Yeobright, and
you the venerablest here, Grand fer Cantle,
said the besom-woman.

' Faith, and so it would,' said the reveller,
checking himself repentantly. ' iVe such a
bad memory, Mis'ess Yeobright, that I for-
get how I'm looked up to by the rest of 'em.
My spirits must be wonderful good, you'll
say ? But not always. 'Tis a weight upon
a man to be looked up to as commander, and
I often feel it.'

' I am sorry to stop the talk,' said Mrs.
Yeobrio^ht. ' But I must be leaving you
now. I am crossing the heath towards my
niece's new home, who is returning to-niofht
with her husband ; and hearing Olly's voice



72 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

I came up here to ask her if she would soon
be going home ; I should like her to walk
with me, as her way is mine.'

* Ay, sure, ma'am, I'm just thinking of
moving,' said Oily.

* Why, you'll be safe to meet the reddle-
man that I told ye of,' said Fairway. ' He's
only gone back to get his van. We heard
that your niece and her husband were
coming straight home as soon as they were
married, and we are going down there
shortly, to give 'em a song o' welcome.'

' Thank you indeed,' said Mrs. Yeobright.

' But we shall take a shorter cut through
the furze than you can go with long clothes ;
so we won't trouble you to wait.'

' Very well — are you ready. Oily ? '

' Yes, ma'am. And there's alio;ht shininof
from your niece's window, see. It will help
to keep us in the path.'

She indicated the faint light at the bottom
of the valley which Fairway had pointed out ;
and the two women descended the barrow.



7o



CHAPTER IV.

THE HALT ON THE TURNPIKE-ROAD.

Down, downward they went, and yet further
down — their descent at each step seeming
to outmeasure their advance. Their skirts
were scratched noisily by the furze, their
shoulders brushed by the ferns, which, though
dead and dry, stood erect as when alive, no
sufficient winter weather having as yet ar-
rived to beat them down. Their Tartarean
situation might by some have been called an
imprudent one for two unattended women.
But these shaggy recesses were at all seasons
a familiar surrounding to Oily and Mrs. Yeo-
bright ; and the addition of darkness lends
no frightfulness to the face of a friend.

' And so Tamsin has married him at last,'
said Oily, when the incline had become so



74 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

much less steep that their footsteps no longer
required undivided attention.

Mrs. Yeobright answered slowly, ' Yes :
at last'

' How you will miss her — living with ye
as a daughter, as she always have.'

' I do miss her.'

Oily, though without the tact to perceive
when remarks were untimely, was saved by
her very simplicity from rendering them
offensive. Questions that would have been
resented in others she could ask with im-
punity. This accounted for Mrs. Yeobright's
acquiescence in the revival of an evidently
sore subject.

' I was quite strook to hear you'd agreed
to it, ma'am, that I was,' continued the besom -
maker.

' You were not more struck by it
than I should have been last year this time,
Oily! There are a good many sides to that
wedding. I could not tell you all of them,
even if I tried.'



THE THREE \VOMEN. 75

* I felt myself that he was hardly solid-
going enough to mate with your family.
Keeping an inn — what is it ? But 'as clever,
that's true, and they say he was an engineer-
ing gentleman once, but has come down by
being too outwardly given.'

' I saw that, upon the whole, it would be
better she should marry where she wished.'

' Poor little thing, her feelings got the
better of her, no doubt. 'Tis nature. Well,
they may call him what they will — he've
several acres of heth ground broke up here,
besides the public-house, and the heth-crop-
pers, and his manners be quite like a gentle-
man's. And what's done cannot be undone.'

' It cannot,' said Mrs. Yeobright. ' See,
here's the waggon -track at last. Now we
shall get along better.'

The wedding subject was no further dwelt
upon ; and soon a faint diverging path was
reached, where they parted company, Oily
first begging her companion to remind Mr.
Wildeve that he had not sent her sick hus-



76 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

band the bottle of wine promised on the
occasion of his marriage. The besom-maker
turned to the left towards her own house,
behind a spur of the hill, and Mrs. Yeobright
followed the straight track, which further on
joined the highway by the Quiet Woman
Inn, whither she supposed her niece to have
returned with Wildeve from their wedding
at Southerton that day.

She first reached Wildeve's Patch, as it
was called, a plot of land redeemed from the
heath, and after long and laborious years
brought into cultivation. The man who had
discovered that it could be broken up died of
the labour : the man who succeeded him in
possession ruined himself in fertilising it.
Wildeve came like Amerigo Vespucci, and
received the honours due to those who had
gone before.

When Mrs. Yeobright had drawn near to
the inU; and was about to enter, she saw a
horse and vehicle some two hundred yards
beyond it, coming towards her, a man walk-



THE THREE WOMEN. "]"]

ine aloneside with a lantern in his hand. It
was soon evident that this was the reddleman
who had inquired for her. Instead of enter-
ing the inn at once, she walked by it and
towards the van.

The conveyance came close, and the man
was about to pass her with little notice, when
she turned to him and said, ' I think you have
been Inquiring for me ? I am Mrs. Yeobright
of Blooms-End.'

The reddleman started, and held up his
finger. He stopped the horses, and beckoned
to her to withdraw with him a few yards
aside, which she did, wondering.

' You don't know me, ma'am, I suppose ? '
he said.

*I do not,' said she. 'Why, yes, I do!
You are young Venn — your father was a
dairyman somewhere here ? '

'Yes; and I knew your niece. Miss
Tamsin, a little. I have something bad to
tell you.'

' About her — no ? She has just come



yS THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

home, I believe, with her husband. They
arranged to return this afternoon — to the
inn beyond here ? '

' She's not there.'

' How do you know ? '

' Because she's here. She's in my van,'
he added slowly.

' What new trouble has come ? ' murmured
Mrs. Yeobright, putting her hand over her
eyes.

' I can't explain much, ma'am. All I
know is that, as I was going along the road
this morning, about a mile out of Southerton,
I heard something trotting after me like a
doe, and looking round there she was, white
as death itself. " O Diggory Venn ! " she
said, " I thought 'twas you : will you help
me ? I am in trouble." '

' How did she know your Christian name ?'
said Mrs. Yeobright doubtingly.

' I had met her as a lad before I went
away in this trade. She asked then if she
mig-ht ride, and then down she fell in a faint.



THE THREE WOMEN. 79

I picked her up and put her in, and there she
has been ever since. She has cried a good
deal, but she has hardly spoke ; all she has
told me being that she was to have been
married this morning. I tried to get her to
eat something, but she couldn't ; and at last
she fell asleep.'

' Let me see her at once,' said Mrs. Yeo-
bright, hastening towards the van.

The reddleman followed with the lantern,
and, stepping up first, assisted Mrs. Yeobright
to mount beside him. On the door beine
opened she perceived at the end of the van
an extemporised couch, around which was
hung apparently all the drapery that the
reddleman possessed, to keep the occupant
of the little couch from all contact with the
red materials of his trade. A young girl
lay thereon, covered with a cloak. She was
asleep, and the light of the lantern fell upon
her features.

It was a fair, sweet, and honest country
face, reposing in a nest of wavy chestnut



8o THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

hair. It was between pretty and beautiful.
Though her eyes were closed, one could


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