Thomas Hardy.

The return of the native (Volume 1) online

. (page 8 of 12)
Online LibraryThomas HardyThe return of the native (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


leave her as she is. That's always the best
w^ay. There, now I have been unwomanly,
I suppose. When you have left me I am
always angry with myself for things that I
have said to you.'

Wildeve walked a pace or two among the
heather without replying. The pause was
filled up by the intonation of a pollard thorn
a little way to windward, the breezes filter-
ing through its unyielding twigs as through
a strainer. It was as if the night sang dirges
with clenched teeth.

She continued, half-sorrowfully : ' Since



THE THREE \VOMEN. 1 87

meeting you last It has occurred to me once
or twice that perhaps it was not for love of
me you did not marry her. Tell me, Damon :
I'll try to bear it. Had I nothing whatever
to do with the matter ? '

* Do you press me to tell ? '

' Yes, I must know. I see I have been
too ready to believe in my own power.'

* Well, the immediate reason was that the
license would not do for the place, and before
I could get another she ran away. Up to
that point you had nothing to do with it.
Since then her aunt has spoken to me in a
tone which I don't at all like.'

' Yes, yes. I am nothing in it — I am
nothing in it. You only trifle Avith me.
Heaven, what can I, Eustacia Vye, be made
of to think so much of you ! '

' Nonsense ; do not be so passionate. . . .
Eustacia, how we roved among these bushes
last year, when the hot days had got cool,
and the shades of the hills kept us almost
invisible in the hollows ! '



1 88 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

She remained in moody silence till she
said, ' Yes ; and how I used to laugh at you
for daring to look up to me ! But you have
well made me suffer for that since.'

* Yes, you served me cruelly enough until
I thought I had found some one fairer than
you. A blessed find for me, Eustacia.'

' Do you still think you found some-
body fairer } '

* Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.
The scales are balanced so nicely that a
feather would turn them.'

' But don't you really care whether I
meet you or whether I don't ? ' she said
slowly.

' I care a little, but not enough to break
my rest,' replied the young man languidly.
' No, all that's past. I find there are two
flowers where I thought there was only one.
Perhaps there are three, or four, or any
number as good as the first. . . . Mine is a
curious fate. Who would have thouo^ht that
all this could happen to me ? '



THE THREE WOMEN. 1 89

She interrupted with a suppressed fire of
which either love or anger seemed an equally
possible issue, ' Do you love me now ? '

* Who can say ? '

' Tell me ; I will know it*

* I do, and I do not,' said he mischievously.
' That is, I have my times and my seasons.
One moment you are too tall, another mo-
ment you are too do-nothing, another too
melancholy, another too dark, another I
don't know what, except — that you are not
the whole world to me that you used to be,
my dear. But you are a pleasant lady to
know, and nice to meet, and I dare say as
sweet as ever — almost.'

Eustacia was silent, and she turned from
him, till she said. In a voice of suspended
mightiness, ' I am for a walk, and this is my
w^ay.'

* Well, I can do worse than follow you.'

' You know you can't do otherwise, for
all your moods and changes,' she answered
defiantly. ' Say what you will ; try as you



IQO THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

may ; keep away from me all that you can
— you will never forget me. You will love
me all your life long. You would jump to
marry me ! '

' So I would ! ' said Wildeve. ' Such
strange thoughts as I've had from time to
time, Eustacia ; and they come to me this
moment. You hate the heath as much as
ever ; that I know.'

' I do,' she murmured deeply. ' 'Tis my
cross, my misery, and will be my death.'

' I abhor it too,' said he. * How mourn-
fully the wind blows round us now ! '

She did not answ^er. Its tone was indeed
solemn and pervasive. Compound utter-
ances addressed themselves to their senses,
and it was possible to view by ear the
features of the neighbourhood. Acoustic
pictures were returned from the darkened
scenery ; they could hear where the tracts
of heather began and ended ; where the
furze was growing stalky and tall ; where it
had been recently cut ; in what direction the



THE THREE WOMEN. I91

fir-clump lay, and how near was the pit in
which the hollies grew ; for these differing*
features had their voices no less than their
shapes and colours.

' God, how lonely it is ! ' resumed Wildeve.
' What are picturesque ravines and mists to
us who see nothing else ? Why should we
stay here ? Will you go with me to America?
I have kindred in Wisconsin.'

' That wants consideration.'

' It seems impossible to do well here,
unless one were a wild bird or a landscape-
painter. Well ? '

' Give me time,' she softly said, taking his
hand. 'America is so far away. Are you
going to walk with me a little way ? '

As Eustacia uttered the latter words she
retired from the base of the barrow, and
Wildeve followed her, so that the reddleman
could hear no more.

He lifted the turves and arose. Their
black figures sank and disappeared from
against the sky. They were as two horns



192 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

which the sluggish heath had put forth from
its crown, Hke a moHusk, and had now again
drawn In.

The reddleman's walk across the vale,
and over Into the next where his cart lay,
was not sprightly for a slim young fellow of
twenty-four. His spirit was perturbed to
aching. The breezes that blew around his
mouth In that walk carried off in them the
accents of a commination.

He entered the van, where there was a
fire In a stove. Without lighting his candle
he sat down at once on the three-legged stool
and pondered on what he had seen and
heard touching that still loved-one of his.
He uttered a sound v/hich 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.'



193



CHAPTER X.

A DESPERATE ATTEMPT AT PERSUASION.

The next morning, at a time when the height
of the sun appeared very insignificant from
any part of the heath as compared with the
altitude of Blackbarrow, and when all the
little hills in the lower levels were like an
archipelago In a fog-formed ^gean, 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 appa-
rently so solitary, several keen round eyes
were always ready on such a wintry morn-
ing 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

VOL. I. o



194 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

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 com-
munication 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 ampli-
tude of Northern knowledge. Glacial catastro-
phes, snow-storm episodes, glittering auroral
effects, Polaris in the zenith, Franklin under-
foot, — the category of his commonplaces was
wonderful. But the bird, like many other
philosophers, seemed as he looked at the



THE THREE WOMEN. 195

reddleman to think that a present moment
of comfortable reahty was worth a decade of
memories.

Venn passed on through these towards
the house of the isolated beauty w^ho lived
up among them and despised them. The
day was Sunday ; but as going to church,
except to be married or buried, was pheno-
menal 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, some-
what 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
Oueen 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

O 2



196 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

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, w^ho 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 Yeo-
brights, 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 in the distant landscape, the
little anchors on his buttons twinkling in the
sun. He recognised Venn as his companion
on the highw^ay, but made no remark on that
circumstance, merely saying, ' Ah, reddleman
— you here ? Have a glass of grog ? '



THE THREE WOMEN. 1 97

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 leg-
gings for a few moments, and finally asked
him to Q-Q 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 hang-
ing across his divergent knees, and his cap
hanmncr 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, w^ill 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



198 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

form of Eustacia herself coming leisurely to-
wards 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 uncom-
mon in womankind. On his inquiring if he
might have a conversation with her she re-
plied, ' 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 un-
impressionable, and he resolved to correct
the error as soon as he could find oppor-
tunity.

' I have made so bold, miss, as to step



THE thref: women. 199

across and tell you some strange news
which has come to my ears about that
man.'

* Ah ! what man ? '

He jerked his elbow to south-east — 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



200 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

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 indirect-
ness. ' 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 men-folk,
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



THE THREE WOMEN. 20I

my influence over men-folk Indeed, reddle-
man. 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 has always thought of
you ? '

' I have never heard a word of it. Al-
though 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 }'e. They
say, " This well-favoured lady coming —



202 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

what's her name ? How handsome ! " Hand-
somer than Thomasin Yeobright,' the reddle-
man 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



THE THREE WOMEN. 203

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
Blackbarrow last night and heard ever}-
word,' he said. ' The woman that stands be-
tween Wildeve and Thomasin is yourself.'

It was a disconcertinof lift of the curtain,
and the mortification of Candaules' wife
glowed in her. The moment had arrived



204 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

when her Hp would tremble In spite of her-
self, 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 have come about —
whether she is to blame, or you — her case is
without doubt worse than yours. Your giv-
ing 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 im-
petuously, quite forgetful of her previous
manner towards the reddleman as an under-
ling. ' Nobody has ever been served so !
It was eolnof on well — I will not be beaten



THE THREE WOMEN. 205

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 — be-
cause — 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 Vi^nn gently.
' You need not fear. I am the onlv man



206 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

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 w^hat 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 — won-



THE THREE WOMEN. 207

derful — 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 folk 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 was a great musician
there. 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'thcroppers that we see
yond. Now, I could get you there.'

'How?' said Eustacia, with intense cu-
riosity 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



208 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

she wants a young company-keeper to read
and sing to her, but can't get one to her
mind to save her Hfe, though she've adver-
tised 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, droop-
inof to lanofuor attain.

' 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 o^o. Oh, if I could live in Bud-



THE THREE WOMEN. 20C

mouth 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 misoivinof even from
the first few minutes of close quarters with
her. Her youth and situation had led him

VOL. I. p



2IO THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

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 Avord Budmouth
meant fascination on Egdon. That rising
port and watering-place, if truly mirrored in
the minds of the heath-folk, must have com-
bined, in a charming and indescribable man-
ner, a Carthaginian bustle of building with
Tarentine luxuriousness and Balan health
and beauty. Eustacia felt little less extra-
vagantly 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 direc-
tion 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.



THE THREE WOMEN. 2 I I

There was no doubt that her mind was in-
dined thitherward ; indefinitely, fancifully —
twininof and untwinino^ 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 moment, was now her desire. Cessa-
tion in his love-making had made her love.
Such feeling as Eustacia had idly given to
Wildeve was dammed into a flood by Tho-
masin. 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
shov/ 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

P 2



212 THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE.

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 Eus-
tacia 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.



213



CHAPTER XL

THE DISHONESTY OF AN HONEST WOxMAN.

The reddleman had left Eustacla's presence
with desponding views on Thomasin's future


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12

Online LibraryThomas HardyThe return of the native (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 12)