Thomas Hardy.

The return of the native (Volume 1) online

. (page 6 of 12)
Online LibraryThomas HardyThe return of the native (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

waited. In a few moments a splash was
audible from the pond outside. Had the
child been there he would have said that a


second frog had jumped in ; but by most
people the sound would have been likened
to the fall of a stone into the water. Eustacia
stepped upon the bank.

' Yes ? ' she said, and held her breath.

Thereupon the contour of a man became
dimly visible against the low-reaching sky
over the valley, beyond the outer margin of
the pool. He came round it, and leapt upon
the bank beside her. She laughed low. It
was the third utterance which the girl had
indulged in to-night. The first, when she
stood upon Blackbarrow, had expressed
anxiety ; the second, on the ridge, had ex-
pressed impatience ; the present was one of
triumphant pleasure. She let her joyous
eyes rest upon him without speaking, as
upon some wondrous thing she had created
out of chaos.

' I have come,' said the man, who was
no other than Wildeve. ' You give me no
peace. Why do you not leave me alone ?
I have seen your bonfire all the evening.'


The words were not without emotion, and
retained their level tone as If by a careful
equipoise between Imminent extremes.

At this unexpectedly repressing manner
in her lover the girl seemed to repress her-
self also. ' Of course you have seen m}-
fire/ she answered w^Ith languid calmness,
artificially maintained. Why shouldn't I
have a bonfire on the fifth of November,
like other denizens of the heath ? '

' I knew it was meant for me.'

' How did you know It ? I have had no
word with you since you — you chose her,
and walked about with her, and deserted me
entirely, as if I had never been yours.'

' Eustacia ! could I forget that last
autumn at this same day of the month and
at this same place you lighted exactly such
a fire as a signal for me to come and see
you ? Why should there have been a bon-
fire again by Captain Drew's house if not
for the same purpose ? '

'Yes, yes — I own it,' she cried under her



breath, with a drowsy fervour of manner
and tone which was quite pecuHar to her.
' Don't begin speaking to me as you did,
Damon ; you will drive me to say words I
would not wish to say to you. I had given
you up, and resolved not to think of you
any more ; and then I heard the news, and
I came out and got the fire ready because
I thought you had been faithful to me.*

' What have you heard to make you think
that ? ' said Wildeve, astonished.

' That you did not marry her,' she mur-
mured exultingly. * And I knew it was
because you loved me best, and couldn't
do it. . . . Damon, you have been cruel to
me to go away, and I have said I would
never forgive you. I do not think I can
forgive you entirely, even now — it is too
much for a woman of any spirit to quite

' If I had known you wished to call me
up here only to reproach me, I wouldn't have


' But I don't mind it, and I do forgive
you now that you have not married her, and
have come back to me ! '

' Who told you that I had not married
her ? '

' My grandfather. He took a long walk
to-day, and as he was coming home he over-
took some person who told him of a broken-
off w^edding : he thought it might be )'Ours ;
and I knew it was.'

* Does anybody else know ? '

' I suppose not. Now, Damon, do you
see why I lit my signal fire ? You did not
think I would have lit it if I had imagined
you to have become the husband of this
woman. It is insulting my pride to suppose
that.' \\ ildeve was silent : it was evident
that he had supposed as much.

* Did you indeed think I believed you
were married ? ' she again demanded earnestly.
' Then you wronged me ; and upon my Hfe
and heart I can hardly bear to recognise
that )ou have such ill thoughts of me !



Damon, you are not worthy of me : I see
it, and yet I love you. Never mind : let it
go — I must bear your mean opinion as best
I may. ... It is true, is it not,' she added,
with ill-concealed anxiety, on his making no
demonstration, ' that you could not bring
yourself to give me up, and are still going
to love me best of all ? '

' Yes ; or whv should I have come ? ' he
said, touchily. ' Not that fidelity will be
any great merit in me after your kind speech
about my unworthiness, which should have
been said by myself if by anybody, and
comes with an ill grace from you. How-
ever, the curse of inflammability is upon
me, and I must live under it, and take any
snub from a w^oman. It has brought me
down from engineering to innkeeping : what
lower stage it has in store for me I have
yet to learn.' He continued to look upon
her gloomily.

She seized the . moment, and throwing
back the shawl so that the fire-light shone


full upon her face and throat, said, with a
majestic smile, ' Have you ever seen any-
thing better than that in your travels ? '

Eustacia was not one to commit herself
to such a position without good ground. He
said quietly, ' No.'

' Not even on the shoulders of Thom-
asm :

* Thomasin is a pleasing and innocent

' That's nothing to do with it,' she cried
with quick passionateness. * We will leave
her out : there are only you and me now to
think of After a long look at him she
resumed with the old quiescent warmth :
' Must I go on weakly confessing to you
things a woman ought to conceal ; and own
that no words can express how gloomy I
have been because of that dreadful belief
I held till two hours ago — that you had quite
deserted me ? '

' I am sorry I caused you that pain.'

* But perhaps it is not wholly because of


you that I get gloomy,' she archly added.
' It is in my nature to feel like that. It was
born in my blood, I suppose.'

* Hypochondriasis.'

' Or else it was coming into this wild
heath. I was happy enough at Budmouth.
O the times, O the days at Budmouth!
But Egdon will be brighter again now.'

' I hope it will,' said Wildeve, moodily.
' Do you know the consequence of this
recall to me, my old darling? I shall
come to see you again as before, at Black-

' Of course you will.'

' And yet I declare that until I got here
to-night I intended, after this one good-
bye, never to meet you again.'

* I don't thank you for that,' she said,
turning away while an inner indignation
spread through her like subterranean heat.
' You may come again to Blackbarrow if
you like, but you won't see me; and you
may call, but I shall not listen ; and you


may tempt me, but I won't encourage you
any more.'

* You have said as much before, sweet ;
but such natures as yours don't so easily
adhere to their words. Neither, for the
matter of that, do such natures as mine.'

' This Is the pleasure I have won by
my trouble,' she whispered bitterly, half to
herself. ' Why did I try to recall you ?
Damon, a strange warring takes place in
my mind occasionally. I think when I
become calm after your woundings, '* Do
I embrace a cloud of common fog after
all?" You are a chameleon, and now vou
are at your worst colour. Go home, or I
shall hate you!'

He looked absently towards Blackbar-
row while one might have counted twenty,
and said as if he did not much mind all
this : ' Yes, I will go home. Do you mean
to see me again .'^'

' If you own to me that the wedding-
is broken off because you love me best.'


' I don't think it would be good policy/
said Wildeve, smiling. ' You would get to
know the extent of your power too clearly.'

' But tell me!'

' You know.'

' Where is she now ? '

' I don't know. I prefer not to speak
of her to you. I have not yet married
her: I have come in obedience to your
call. That is enough.'

* I merely lit that fire because I was
dull, and thought I would get a little ex-
citement by calling you up and triumphing
over you as the Witch of Endor called up
Samuel. I determined you should come;
and you have come. I have shown my
power. A mile and half hither, and a
mile and half back again to your home —
three miles in the dark for me. Have I
not shown my power?'

He shook his head at her. ' I know
you too well, my Eustacia ; I know you
too well. There isn't a note in you which

THE tiirp:e women. 143

I don't know ; and that hot Httle bosom
couldn't play such a cold-blooded trick to
save its life. I saw a woman on Black-
barrow at dusk, looking down towards my
house. I think I drew out you before you
drew out me.'

The revived embers of an old passion
glowed clearly in Wildeve now^ and he
leant forward as if about to put his face
towards her cheek.

* O no/ she said, intractably moving to
the other side of the decayed fire. ' What
did you mean by that ? '

' Perhaps I may kiss your hand, then ? '

' No, you may not.'

' Then I may shake your hand ? '

' No.'

' Then I wish you good-night without
caring for either. Good-bye, good-bye.'

She returned no answer, and with the
bow of a dancing-master he vanished on
the other side of the pool as he had come.

Eustacia sighed : it was no fragile


maiden sigh, but a sigh which shook her
like a shiver. Whenever a flash of reason
darted Hke an electric light upon her lover
— as it sometimes would — and showed his
imperfections, she shivered thus. But it
was over in a second, and she loved on.
She knew that he trifled with her ; but
she loved on. She scattered the half-
burnt brands, went indoors immediatelv,
and up to her bedroom without a light.
Amid the rustles which denoted her to
be undressing in the darkness other heavy
breaths frequently came ; and the same
kind of shudder occasionally moved through
her when, ten minutes later, she lay on
her bed asleep.




EusTACiA Vye was the raw material of a
divinity. On Olympus she would have
done well with a little preparation. She
had the passions and instincts which make
a model goddess, that Is, those which make
not quite a model woman. Had It been
possible for the earth and mankind to be
entirely In her grasp for a while, had she
handled the distaff, the spindle, and the
shears at her own free will, few In the
world would have noticed the chano^e of
government. There would have been the
same inequality of lot, the same heaping
up of favours here, of contumely there,
the same generosity before justice, the
same perpetual dilemmas, the same cap-



tlous alternation of caresses and blows as
we endure now.

She was in person full-limbed and some-
what heavy ; without ruddiness, as without
pallor ; and soft to the touch as a cloud. To
see her hair was to fancy that a whole winter
did not contain darkness enough to form its
shadow. It closed over her forehead like
nightfall extinguishing the western glow.

Her nerves extended into those tresses,
and her temper could always be softened by
stroking them down. When her hair was
brushed she would instantly sink into stillness
and look like the Sphinx. If, in passing under
one of the Egdon banks, any of its thick
skeins were caught, as they sometimes were,
by a prickly tuft of the large Ulex Europseus
— which will act as a sort of hairbrush — she
would go back a few steps, and pass against
it a second time.

She had Pagan eyes, full of nocturnal
mysteries. Their light, as it came and went,
and came again, was partially hampered by


their oppressive lids and lashes ; and of these
the under lid was much fuller than it usually
is with English women. This enabled her to
indulofe in reverie without seemino^ to do so :
she might have been believed capable of
sleeping without closing them up. Assuming
that the souls of men and women were visible
essences, you could fancy the colour of
Eustacia's soul to be flame-like. The sparks
from it that rose into her dark pupils gave the
same impression.

The mouth seemed formed less to speak
than to quiver, less to quiver than to kiss.
Some might have added, less to kiss than to
curl. Viewed sideways, the closing-line of
her lips formed, with almost geometric pre-
cision, the curve so well known in the arts of
design as the cima-recta, or ogee. The
sight of such a flexible bend as that on grim
Egdon was quite an apparition. It was felt
at once that that mouth did not come over
from Sleswig with a band of Saxon pirates
whose lips met like the two halves of a muffin.

L 2


One had fancied that such lip-curves were
mostly lurking underground in the South as
fragments of forgotten marbles. So fine were
the lines of her lips that, though full, each
corner of her mouth was as clearly cut as the
point of a spear. This keenness of corner was
only blunted when she was given over to
sudden fits of gloom, one of the phases of the
night-side of sentiment which she knew too
well for her vears.

Her presence brought memories of Bour-
bon roses, rubies, tropical midnights, and
eclipses of the sun ; her moods recalled lotus-
eaters, the march in ' Athalie ; ' her motions,
the ebb and flow of the sea ; her voice, the
viola. In a dim light, and with a slight re-
arrangement of her hair, her Qreneral fio^ure
might have stood for that of either of the
higher female deities. The new moon be-
hind her head, an old helmet upon it, a dia-
dem of accidental Sewdrops round her brow,
would have been adjuncts sufficient to strike
the note of Artemis, Athena, or Hera respec-


lively, with as close an approximation to the
antique as that which passes muster on many
respected canvases.

But celestial imperiousness, love, wrath,
and fervour had proved to be somewhat
thrown away on netherward Egdon. Her
power was limited, and the consciousness of
this limitation had biassed her development.
Egdon ^was her Hades, and since coming
there she had imbibed much of what was
dark in its tone, though inwardly and eter-
nally unreconciled thereto. Her appearance
accorded well with this smouldering rebel-
liousness, and the shady splendour of her
beauty was the real surface of the sad and
stifled warmth within her. A true Tartarean
dignity sat upon her brow, and not factitiously
or with marks of constraint, for it had grown
in her with years.

Across the upper part of her head she
wore a thin fillet of black velvet, restraining
the luxuriance of her shady hair, in a way
which added much to this class of majesty by


irregularly clouding her forehead. ' Nothing
can embellish a beautiful face more than a
narrow band drawn over the brow,' says
RIchter. Some of the neighbouring girls
wore coloured ribbon for the same purpose,
and sported metallic ornaments elsewhere ;
but If anyone suggested coloured ribbon and
metallic ornaments to Eustacia Vyc she
laughed and went on.

Why did a woman of this sort live on
Egfdon Heath ? Budmouth was her native
place, a fashionable seaside resort between
twenty and thirty miles distant. She was the
dauo^hter of the bandmaster of a reorlment
which had been quartered there, who met his
future wife during her trip thither with her
father the Captain. The marriage was
scarcely in accord with the old man's wishes,
for the bandmaster's pockets were as light as
his occupation. But he did his best ; made
Budmouth permanently his home, took great
trouble with his child's education, the ex-
penses of which were defrayed by the grand-


father, and throve as the chief local musician
till her mother's death, when he left off thriv-
ing, drank, and died also. The girl was left
to the care of her grandfather, who, since
three of his ribs became broken in a ship-
wreck, had lived in this airy perch on Egdon,
a spot which had taken his fancy because the
house was to be had for next to nothing, and
because a remote blue tinge on the horizon
between the hills, visible from the cottage
door, was traditionally believed to be the
English Channel. She hated the change ;
she felt like one banished ; but here she was
forced to abide.

Thus it happened that in Eustacia's brain
were juxtaposed the strangest assortment of
ideas, from old time and from new. There
was no middle distance in her perspective :
romantic recollections of sunny afternoons on
an esplanade, with military bands, officers,
and gallants around, stood like gilded uncials
upon the dark tablet of surrounding Egdon.
Every bizarre effect that could result from


the random intertwining of watering-place
glitter with the grand solemnity of a heath,
were to be found In her. Seeing nothing of
human life now, she imagined all the more of
what she had seen.

Where did her dignity come from ? By
no side passage from FItzalan or De Vere.
It was the gift of heaven — a happy conver-
gence of natural laws. Among other things
opportunity had of late years been denied her
of learning to be undignified, for she lived
lonelv. Isolation on a heath renders vul-
garity well nigh Impossible. It would have
been as easy for the heath-ponies, bats, and
snakes to be vulgar as for her. A narrow
life In Budmouth might have completely de-
meaned her.

The only way to look queenly without
realms or hearts to queen it over is to look as
if you had lost them ; and Eustacia did that
to a triumph. In the Captain's cottage she
could suggest mansions she had never seen.
Perhaps that was because she frequented a


vaster mansion than any of them, the open
hills. Like the summer condition of the
place around her, she was an embodiment of
the phrase ' a populous solitude ' — apparently
so listless, void, and quiet, she was really
busy and full.

To be loved to madness — such was her
ofreat desire. Love was to her the one cordial
which could drive away the eating loneliness
of her days. And she seemed to long for the
abstraction called passionate love more than
for any particular lover.

She could show a most reproachful look
at times, but it was directed less against
human beings than against certain creatures
of her mind, the chief of these being Destiny,
through whose interference she dimly fancied
it arose that love alighted only on gliding youth
— that any love she might win would sink
simultaneously with the sand in the glass.
She thought of it with an ever-growing con-
sciousness of cruelty, which tended to breed
actions of reckless unconventionality, framed


to snatch a year's, a week's, even an hour's
passion from anywhere while It could be won.
Through want of It she had sung without
being merry, possessed without enjoying, out-
shone without triumphing. Her loneliness
deepened her desire. On Egdon, coldest
and meanest kisses were at famine prices ;
and where was a mouth matching hers to be
found ?

Fidelity in love for fidelity's sake had less
attraction for her than for most women :
fidelity because of love's grip had much. A
blaze of love, and extinction, was better than
a lantern glimmer of the same which should
last long years. On this head she knew by
prevision what most women learn only by
experience : she had mentally walked round
love, told the towers thereof, considered its
palaces ; and concluded that love was but a
doleful joy. Yet she desired it, as one in
a desert would be thankful for brackish water.

She often repeated her prayers : not at
particular times, but, like the unaffectedly


devout, when she desired to pray. Her
prayer was always spontaneous, and often
ran thus : ' O deHver my heart from this
fearful eloom and loneliness : send me o^reat
love from somewhere, else I shall die.'

Her hieh eods were William the Con-

o o

queror, Strafford, and Napoleon Buonaparte,
as they had appeared in the Lady's History
used at the establishment in which she was
educated. Had she been a mother she would
have christened her boys such names as Saul
or Sisera in preference to Jacob or David,
neither of whom she admired. At school she
had used to side with the Philistines in several
battles, and had wondered if Pontius Pilate
were as handsome as he was frank and fair.

Thus she was a o^irl of some forwardness
of mind ; indeed, weighed in relation to her
situation among the very rereward of thinkers,
very original. Her instincts towards social
nonconformity were at the root of this. In
the matter of holidays her mood Avas that of
horses who, when turned out to grass, enjoy


looking upon their kind at work on the high-
way. She only valued rest to herself when
it came in the midst of other people's labour.
Hence she hated Sundays when all was at
rest, and often said they would be the death
of her. To see the heathmen in their Sunday
condition, that is, with their hands in their
pockets, their boots newly oiled, and not laced
up (a particularly Sunday sign), walking
leisurely among the turves and furze-faggots
they had cut during the week, and kicking
them critically as if their use were unknown,
was a fearful heaviness to her. To relieve
the tedium of this untimely day she would
overhaul the cupboards containing her grand-
father's old charts and other rubbish, hum-
ming Saturday-night ballads of the country
people the while. But on Saturday nights
she would frequently sing a psalm, and it was
always on a week-day that she read the Bible,
that she might be unoppressed with a sense
of doinof her dutv.

Such views of life were to some extent


the natural begettlngs of her situation upon
her nature. To dwell on a heath without
studying its meanings was like wedding a
foreiofner without learnlno^ his tono^ue. The
subtle beauties of the heath were lost to
Eustacia ; she only caught its vapours. An
environment which would have made a con-
tented woman a poet, a suffering woman a
devotee, a pious woman a psalmist, even a
giddy woman thoughtful, made a rebellious
woman saturnine.

Eustacia had got beyond the vision of
some marriage of Inexpressible glory ; yet,
though her emotions were In full vigour, she
cared for no meaner union. Thus we see
her in a stranofe state of Isolation. To have
lost the godlike conceit that we may do what
we will, and not to have acquired a homely
zest for doing what we can, shows a grandeur
of temper which cannot be objected to in the
abstract, for it connotes a mind that, though
disappointed, forswears retreat. But, if con-
genial to philosophy, It Is apt to be dangerous


to the commonwealth. In a world where
doing means marrying, and the common-
wealth Is one of hearts and hands, the same
peril attends the condition.

And so we see our Eustacia — for she was
not altogether unlovable — arriving at that
staee of enlio-htenment which feels that
nothing Is worth while, and filling up the
spare hours of her existence by idealising
Wildeve for want of a better object. This
was the sole reason of his ascendency : she
knew it herself. At moments her pride
rebelled against her passion for him, and she
even had longed to be free. But there Avas
only one circumstance which could dislodge
him, and that was the advent of a greater

For the rest, she suffered much from
depression of spirits, and took slow walks to
recover them, in which she carried her grand-
fathers telescope and her grandmother's
hourglass — the latter because of a peculiar
pleasure she derived from watching a material


representation of time's gradual glide away.
She seldom schemed, but when she did
scheme, her plans showed rather the compre-
hensive strategy of a general than the small
arts called womanish, though she could utter
oracles of Delphian ambiguity when she did
not choose to be direct. In heaven she will
probably sit between the Heloises and the




As soon as the sad little boy had withdrawn
from the fire he clasped the money tight in
the palm of his hand, as if thereby to fortify
his courage, and began to run. There was
really little danger in allowing a child to
go home alone on this part of Egdon Heath.
The distance to the boy's house was not
more than three-eighths of a mile, his father's
cottage, and one other a few yards further
on, forming part of the small hamlet of
iNIistover Knap : the third and only remain-

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryThomas HardyThe return of the native (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 12)