The Return of the Native (02 of 10)

Uploaded by The16thCavern on 18.10.2012

Chapter 5 — Perplexity among Honest People
Thomasin looked as if quite overcome by her aunt's change of manner.
"It means just what it seems to mean: I am—not married," she replied
faintly. "Excuse me—for humiliating you, Aunt, by this mishap—I am
sorry for it. But I cannot help it."
"Me? Think of yourself first."
"It was nobody's fault. When we got there the parson wouldn't marry us
because of some trifling irregularity in the license."
"What irregularity?"
"I don't know. Mr. Wildeve can explain. I did not think when I went away
this morning that I should come back like this." It being dark, Thomasin
allowed her emotion to escape her by the silent way of tears, which
could roll down her cheek unseen.
"I could almost say that it serves you right—if I did not feel that
you don't deserve it," continued Mrs. Yeobright, who, possessing two
distinct moods in close contiguity, a gentle mood and an angry, flew
from one to the other without the least warning. "Remember, Thomasin,
this business was none of my seeking; from the very first, when you
began to feel foolish about that man, I warned you he would not make you
happy. I felt it so strongly that I did what I would never have believed
myself capable of doing—stood up in the church, and made myself the
public talk for weeks. But having once consented, I don't submit to
these fancies without good reason. Marry him you must after this."
"Do you think I wish to do otherwise for one moment?" said Thomasin,
with a heavy sigh. "I know how wrong it was of me to love him, but don't
pain me by talking like that, Aunt! You would not have had me stay there
with him, would you?—and your house is the only home I have to return
to. He says we can be married in a day or two."
"I wish he had never seen you."
"Very well; then I will be the miserablest woman in the world, and not
let him see me again. No, I won't have him!"
"It is too late to speak so. Come with me. I am going to the inn to see
if he has returned. Of course I shall get to the bottom of this story
at once. Mr. Wildeve must not suppose he can play tricks upon me, or any
belonging to me."
"It was not that. The license was wrong, and he couldn't get another the
same day. He will tell you in a moment how it was, if he comes."
"Why didn't he bring you back?"
"That was me!" again sobbed Thomasin. "When I found we could not be
married I didn't like to come back with him, and I was very ill. Then
I saw Diggory Venn, and was glad to get him to take me home. I cannot
explain it any better, and you must be angry with me if you will."
"I shall see about that," said Mrs. Yeobright; and they turned towards
the inn, known in the neighbourhood as the Quiet Woman, the sign of
which represented the figure of a matron carrying her head under her
arm, beneath which gruesome design was written the couplet so well known
to frequenters of the inn:—
(1) The inn which really bore this sign and legend stood
some miles to the northwest of the present scene, wherein
the house more immediately referred to is now no longer an
inn; and the surroundings are much changed. But another inn,
some of whose features are also embodied in this
description, the RED LION at Winfrith, still remains as a
haven for the wayfarer (1912).
The front of the house was towards the heath and Rainbarrow, whose dark
shape seemed to threaten it from the sky. Upon the door was a neglected
brass plate, bearing the unexpected inscription, "Mr. Wildeve,
Engineer"—a useless yet cherished relic from the time when he had been
started in that profession in an office at Budmouth by those who had
hoped much from him, and had been disappointed. The garden was at the
back, and behind this ran a still deep stream, forming the margin of the
heath in that direction, meadow-land appearing beyond the stream.
But the thick obscurity permitted only skylines to be visible of any
scene at present. The water at the back of the house could be
heard, idly spinning whirpools in its creep between the rows of dry
feather-headed reeds which formed a stockade along each bank. Their
presence was denoted by sounds as of a congregation praying humbly,
produced by their rubbing against each other in the slow wind.
The window, whence the candlelight had shone up the vale to the eyes
of the bonfire group, was uncurtained, but the sill lay too high for a
pedestrian on the outside to look over it into the room. A vast shadow,
in which could be dimly traced portions of a masculine contour, blotted
half the ceiling.
"He seems to be at home," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"Must I come in, too, Aunt?" asked Thomasin faintly. "I suppose not; it
would be wrong."
"You must come, certainly—to confront him, so that he may make no false
representations to me. We shall not be five minutes in the house, and
then we'll walk home."
Entering the open passage, she tapped at the door of the private
parlour, unfastened it, and looked in.
The back and shoulders of a man came between Mrs. Yeobright's eyes and
the fire. Wildeve, whose form it was, immediately turned, arose, and
advanced to meet his visitors.
He was quite a young man, and of the two properties, form and motion,
the latter first attracted the eye in him. The grace of his movement
was singular—it was the pantomimic expression of a lady-killing career.
Next came into notice the more material qualities, among which was a
profuse crop of hair impending over the top of his face, lending to his
forehead the high-cornered outline of an early Gothic shield; and a neck
which was smooth and round as a cylinder. The lower half of his figure
was of light build. Altogether he was one in whom no man would have seen
anything to admire, and in whom no woman would have seen anything to
He discerned the young girl's form in the passage, and said, "Thomasin,
then, has reached home. How could you leave me in that way, darling?"
And turning to Mrs. Yeobright—"It was useless to argue with her. She
would go, and go alone."
"But what's the meaning of it all?" demanded Mrs. Yeobright haughtily.
"Take a seat," said Wildeve, placing chairs for the two women. "Well,
it was a very stupid mistake, but such mistakes will happen. The license
was useless at Anglebury. It was made out for Budmouth, but as I didn't
read it I wasn't aware of that."
"But you had been staying at Anglebury?"
"No. I had been at Budmouth—till two days ago—and that was where I
had intended to take her; but when I came to fetch her we decided upon
Anglebury, forgetting that a new license would be necessary. There was
not time to get to Budmouth afterwards."
"I think you are very much to blame," said Mrs. Yeobright.
"It was quite my fault we chose Anglebury," Thomasin pleaded. "I
proposed it because I was not known there."
"I know so well that I am to blame that you need not remind me of it,"
replied Wildeve shortly.
"Such things don't happen for nothing," said the aunt. "It is a great
slight to me and my family; and when it gets known there will be a
very unpleasant time for us. How can she look her friends in the face
tomorrow? It is a very great injury, and one I cannot easily forgive. It
may even reflect on her character."
"Nonsense," said Wildeve.
Thomasin's large eyes had flown from the face of one to the face of
the other during this discussion, and she now said anxiously, "Will you
allow me, Aunt, to talk it over alone with Damon for five minutes? Will
you, Damon?"
"Certainly, dear," said Wildeve, "if your aunt will excuse us." He led
her into an adjoining room, leaving Mrs. Yeobright by the fire.
As soon as they were alone, and the door closed, Thomasin said, turning
up her pale, tearful face to him, "It is killing me, this, Damon! I did
not mean to part from you in anger at Anglebury this morning; but I was
frightened and hardly knew what I said. I've not let Aunt know how much
I suffered today; and it is so hard to command my face and voice, and to
smile as if it were a slight thing to me; but I try to do so, that she
may not be still more indignant with you. I know you could not help it,
dear, whatever Aunt may think."
"She is very unpleasant."
"Yes," Thomasin murmured, "and I suppose I seem so now....Damon, what do
you mean to do about me?"
"Do about you?"
"Yes. Those who don't like you whisper things which at moments make me
doubt you. We mean to marry, I suppose, don't we?"
"Of course we do. We have only to go to Budmouth on Monday, and we marry
at once."
"Then do let us go!—O Damon, what you make me say!" She hid her face in
her handkerchief. "Here am I asking you to marry me, when by rights
you ought to be on your knees imploring me, your cruel mistress, not
to refuse you, and saying it would break your heart if I did. I used to
think it would be pretty and sweet like that; but how different!"
"Yes, real life is never at all like that."
"But I don't care personally if it never takes place," she added with a
little dignity; "no, I can live without you. It is Aunt I think of. She
is so proud, and thinks so much of her family respectability, that she
will be cut down with mortification if this story should get abroad
before—it is done. My cousin Clym, too, will be much wounded."
"Then he will be very unreasonable. In fact, you are all rather
Thomasin coloured a little, and not with love. But whatever the
momentary feeling which caused that flush in her, it went as it came,
and she humbly said, "I never mean to be, if I can help it. I merely
feel that you have my aunt to some extent in your power at last."
"As a matter of justice it is almost due to me," said Wildeve. "Think
what I have gone through to win her consent; the insult that it is to
any man to have the banns forbidden—the double insult to a man unlucky
enough to be cursed with sensitiveness, and blue demons, and Heaven
knows what, as I am. I can never forget those banns. A harsher man would
rejoice now in the power I have of turning upon your aunt by going no
further in the business."
She looked wistfully at him with her sorrowful eyes as he said those
words, and her aspect showed that more than one person in the room could
deplore the possession of sensitiveness. Seeing that she was really
suffering he seemed disturbed and added, "This is merely a reflection
you know. I have not the least intention to refuse to complete the
marriage, Tamsie mine—I could not bear it."
"You could not, I know!" said the fair girl, brightening. "You, who
cannot bear the sight of pain in even an insect, or any disagreeable
sound, or unpleasant smell even, will not long cause pain to me and
"I will not, if I can help it."
"Your hand upon it, Damon."
He carelessly gave her his hand.
"Ah, by my crown, what's that?" he said suddenly.
There fell upon their ears the sound of numerous voices singing in
front of the house. Among these, two made themselves prominent by their
peculiarity: one was a very strong bass, the other a wheezy thin piping.
Thomasin recognized them as belonging to Timothy Fairway and Grandfer
Cantle respectively.
"What does it mean—it is not skimmity-riding, I hope?" she said, with a
frightened gaze at Wildeve.
"Of course not; no, it is that the heath-folk have come to sing to us
a welcome. This is intolerable!" He began pacing about, the men outside
singing cheerily—
"He told' her that she' was the joy' of his life', And if' she'd
con-sent' he would make her his wife'; She could' not refuse' him;
to church' so they went', Young Will was forgot', and young Sue' was
content'; And then' was she kiss'd' and set down' on his knee', No man'
in the world' was so lov'-ing as he'!"
Mrs. Yeobright burst in from the outer room. "Thomasin, Thomasin!" she
said, looking indignantly at Wildeve; "here's a pretty exposure! Let us
escape at once. Come!"
It was, however, too late to get away by the passage. A rugged knocking
had begun upon the door of the front room. Wildeve, who had gone to the
window, came back.
"Stop!" he said imperiously, putting his hand upon Mrs. Yeobright's arm.
"We are regularly besieged. There are fifty of them out there if there's
one. You stay in this room with Thomasin; I'll go out and face them. You
must stay now, for my sake, till they are gone, so that it may seem as
if all was right. Come, Tamsie dear, don't go making a scene—we must
marry after this; that you can see as well as I. Sit still, that's
all—and don't speak much. I'll manage them. Blundering fools!"
He pressed the agitated girl into a seat, returned to the outer room and
opened the door. Immediately outside, in the passage, appeared Grandfer
Cantle singing in concert with those still standing in front of the
house. He came into the room and nodded abstractedly to Wildeve, his
lips still parted, and his features excruciatingly strained in the
emission of the chorus. This being ended, he said heartily, "Here's
welcome to the new-made couple, and God bless 'em!"
"Thank you," said Wildeve, with dry resentment, his face as gloomy as a
At the Grandfer's heels now came the rest of the group, which included
Fairway, Christian, Sam the turf-cutter, Humphrey, and a dozen others.
All smiled upon Wildeve, and upon his tables and chairs likewise, from
a general sense of friendliness towards the articles as well as towards
their owner.
"We be not here afore Mrs. Yeobright after all," said Fairway,
recognizing the matron's bonnet through the glass partition which
divided the public apartment they had entered from the room where the
women sat. "We struck down across, d'ye see, Mr. Wildeve, and she went
round by the path."
"And I see the young bride's little head!" said Grandfer, peeping in the
same direction, and discerning Thomasin, who was waiting beside her aunt
in a miserable and awkward way. "Not quite settled in yet—well, well,
there's plenty of time."
Wildeve made no reply; and probably feeling that the sooner he treated
them the sooner they would go, he produced a stone jar, which threw a
warm halo over matters at once.
"That's a drop of the right sort, I can see," said Grandfer Cantle, with
the air of a man too well-mannered to show any hurry to taste it.
"Yes," said Wildeve, "'tis some old mead. I hope you will like it."
"O ay!" replied the guests, in the hearty tones natural when the words
demanded by politeness coincide with those of deepest feeling. "There
isn't a prettier drink under the sun."
"I'll take my oath there isn't," added Grandfer Cantle. "All that can be
said against mead is that 'tis rather heady, and apt to lie about a man
a good while. But tomorrow's Sunday, thank God."
"I feel'd for all the world like some bold soldier after I had had some
once," said Christian.
"You shall feel so again," said Wildeve, with condescension, "Cups or
glasses, gentlemen?"
"Well, if you don't mind, we'll have the beaker, and pass 'en round;
'tis better than heling it out in dribbles."
"Jown the slippery glasses," said Grandfer Cantle. "What's the good of
a thing that you can't put down in the ashes to warm, hey, neighbours;
that's what I ask?"
"Right, Grandfer," said Sam; and the mead then circulated.
"Well," said Timothy Fairway, feeling demands upon his praise in some
form or other, "'tis a worthy thing to be married, Mr. Wildeve; and the
woman you've got is a dimant, so says I. Yes," he continued, to Grandfer
Cantle, raising his voice so as to be heard through the partition, "her
father (inclining his head towards the inner room) was as good a
feller as ever lived. He always had his great indignation ready against
anything underhand."
"Is that very dangerous?" said Christian.
"And there were few in these parts that were upsides with him," said
Sam. "Whenever a club walked he'd play the clarinet in the band that
marched before 'em as if he'd never touched anything but a clarinet all
his life. And then, when they got to church door he'd throw down the
clarinet, mount the gallery, snatch up the bass viol, and rozum away as
if he'd never played anything but a bass viol. Folk would say—folk that
knowed what a true stave was—'Surely, surely that's never the same man
that I saw handling the clarinet so masterly by now!"
"I can mind it," said the furze-cutter. "'Twas a wonderful thing that
one body could hold it all and never mix the fingering."
"There was Kingsbere church likewise," Fairway recommenced, as one
opening a new vein of the same mine of interest.
Wildeve breathed the breath of one intolerably bored, and glanced
through the partition at the prisoners.
"He used to walk over there of a Sunday afternoon to visit his old
acquaintance Andrew Brown, the first clarinet there; a good man enough,
but rather screechy in his music, if you can mind?"
"'A was."
"And neighbour Yeobright would take Andrey's place for some part of
the service, to let Andrey have a bit of a nap, as any friend would
naturally do."
"As any friend would," said Grandfer Cantle, the other listeners
expressing the same accord by the shorter way of nodding their heads.
"No sooner was Andrey asleep and the first whiff of neighbour
Yeobright's wind had got inside Andrey's clarinet than everyone in
church feeled in a moment there was a great soul among 'em. All heads
would turn, and they'd say, 'Ah, I thought 'twas he!' One Sunday I can
well mind—a bass viol day that time, and Yeobright had brought his own.
'Twas the Hundred-and-thirty-third to 'Lydia'; and when they'd come
to 'Ran down his beard and o'er his robes its costly moisture shed,'
neighbour Yeobright, who had just warmed to his work, drove his bow into
them strings that glorious grand that he e'en a'most sawed the bass
viol into two pieces. Every winder in church rattled as if 'twere a
thunderstorm. Old Pa'son Williams lifted his hands in his great holy
surplice as natural as if he'd been in common clothes, and seemed to say
hisself, 'O for such a man in our parish!' But not a soul in Kingsbere
could hold a candle to Yeobright."
"Was it quite safe when the winder shook?" Christian inquired.
He received no answer, all for the moment sitting rapt in admiration
of the performance described. As with Farinelli's singing before the
princesses, Sheridan's renowned Begum Speech, and other such examples,
the fortunate condition of its being for ever lost to the world invested
the deceased Mr. Yeobright's tour de force on that memorable afternoon
with a cumulative glory which comparative criticism, had that been
possible, might considerably have shorn down.
"He was the last you'd have expected to drop off in the prime of life,"
said Humphrey.
"Ah, well; he was looking for the earth some months afore he went. At
that time women used to run for smocks and gown-pieces at Greenhill
Fair, and my wife that is now, being a long-legged slittering maid,
hardly husband-high, went with the rest of the maidens, for 'a was a
good, runner afore she got so heavy. When she came home I said—we were
then just beginning to walk together—'What have ye got, my honey?'
'I've won—well, I've won—a gown-piece,' says she, her colours coming
up in a moment. 'Tis a smock for a crown, I thought; and so it turned
out. Ay, when I think what she'll say to me now without a mossel of red
in her face, it do seem strange that 'a wouldn't say such a little thing
then....However, then she went on, and that's what made me bring up the
story. Well, whatever clothes I've won, white or figured, for eyes to
see or for eyes not to see' ('a could do a pretty stroke of modesty in
those days), 'I'd sooner have lost it than have seen what I have. Poor
Mr. Yeobright was took bad directly he reached the fair ground, and was
forced to go home again.' That was the last time he ever went out of the
"'A faltered on from one day to another, and then we heard he was gone."
"D'ye think he had great pain when 'a died?" said Christian.
"O no—quite different. Nor any pain of mind. He was lucky enough to be
God A'mighty's own man."
"And other folk—d'ye think 'twill be much pain to 'em, Mister Fairway?"
"That depends on whether they be afeard."
"I bain't afeard at all, I thank God!" said Christian strenuously. "I'm
glad I bain't, for then 'twon't pain me....I don't think I be afeard—or
if I be I can't help it, and I don't deserve to suffer. I wish I was not
afeard at all!"
There was a solemn silence, and looking from the window, which was
unshuttered and unblinded, Timothy said, "Well, what a fess little
bonfire that one is, out by Cap'n Vye's! 'Tis burning just the same now
as ever, upon my life."
All glances went through the window, and nobody noticed that Wildeve
disguised a brief, telltale look. Far away up the sombre valley of
heath, and to the right of Rainbarrow, could indeed be seen the light,
small, but steady and persistent as before.
"It was lighted before ours was," Fairway continued; "and yet every one
in the country round is out afore 'n."
"Perhaps there's meaning in it!" murmured Christian.
"How meaning?" said Wildeve sharply.
Christian was too scattered to reply, and Timothy helped him.
"He means, sir, that the lonesome dark-eyed creature up there that some
say is a witch—ever I should call a fine young woman such a name—is
always up to some odd conceit or other; and so perhaps 'tis she."
"I'd be very glad to ask her in wedlock, if she'd hae me and take
the risk of her wild dark eyes ill-wishing me," said Grandfer Cantle
"Don't ye say it, Father!" implored Christian.
"Well, be dazed if he who do marry the maid won't hae an uncommon
picture for his best parlour," said Fairway in a liquid tone, placing
down the cup of mead at the end of a good pull.
"And a partner as deep as the North Star," said Sam, taking up the cup
and finishing the little that remained. "Well, really, now I think we
must be moving," said Humphrey, observing the emptiness of the vessel.
"But we'll gie 'em another song?" said Grandfer Cantle. "I'm as full of
notes as a bird!"
"Thank you, Grandfer," said Wildeve. "But we will not trouble you now.
Some other day must do for that—when I have a party."
"Be jown'd if I don't learn ten new songs for't, or I won't learn a
line!" said Grandfer Cantle. "And you may be sure I won't disappoint ye
by biding away, Mr. Wildeve."
"I quite believe you," said that gentleman.
All then took their leave, wishing their entertainer long life and
happiness as a married man, with recapitulations which occupied some
time. Wildeve attended them to the door, beyond which the deep-dyed
upward stretch of heath stood awaiting them, an amplitude of darkness
reigning from their feet almost to the zenith, where a definite form
first became visible in the lowering forehead of Rainbarrow. Diving
into the dense obscurity in a line headed by Sam the turf-cutter, they
pursued their trackless way home.
When the scratching of the furze against their leggings had fainted upon
the ear, Wildeve returned to the room where he had left Thomasin and her
aunt. The women were gone.
They could only have left the house in one way, by the back window; and
this was open.
Wildeve laughed to himself, remained a moment thinking, and idly
returned to the front room. Here his glance fell upon a bottle of wine
which stood on the mantelpiece. "Ah—old Dowden!" he murmured; and going
to the kitchen door shouted, "Is anybody here who can take something to
old Dowden?"
There was no reply. The room was empty, the lad who acted as his
factotum having gone to bed. Wildeve came back put on his hat, took the
bottle, and left the house, turning the key in the door, for there was
no guest at the inn tonight. As soon as he was on the road the little
bonfire on Mistover Knap again met his eye.
"Still waiting, are you, my lady?" he murmured.
However, he did not proceed that way just then; but leaving the hill to
the left of him, he stumbled over a rutted road that brought him to a
cottage which, like all other habitations on the heath at this hour, was
only saved from being visible by a faint shine from its bedroom window.
This house was the home of Olly Dowden, the besom-maker, and he entered.
The lower room was in darkness; but by feeling his way he found a table,
whereon he placed the bottle, and a minute later emerged again upon the
heath. He stood and looked northeast at the undying little fire—high up
above him, though not so high as Rainbarrow.
We have been told what happens when a woman deliberates; and the epigram
is not always terminable with woman, provided that one be in the case,
and that a fair one. Wildeve stood, and stood longer, and breathed
perplexedly, and then said to himself with resignation, "Yes—by Heaven,
I must go to her, I suppose!"
Instead of turning in the direction of home he pressed on rapidly by a
path under Rainbarrow towards what was evidently a signal light.
6—The Figure against the Sky
When the whole Egdon concourse had left the site of the bonfire to its
accustomed loneliness, a closely wrapped female figure approached the
barrow from that quarter of the heath in which the little fire lay. Had
the reddleman been watching he might have recognized her as the woman
who had first stood there so singularly, and vanished at the approach
of strangers. She ascended to her old position at the top, where the red
coals of the perishing fire greeted her like living eyes in the corpse
of day. There she stood still around her stretching the vast night
atmosphere, whose incomplete darkness in comparison with the total
darkness of the heath below it might have represented a venial beside a
mortal sin.
That she was tall and straight in build, that she was lady-like in her
movements, was all that could be learnt of her just now, her form being
wrapped in a shawl folded in the old cornerwise fashion, and her head in
a large kerchief, a protection not superfluous at this hour and place.
Her back was towards the wind, which blew from the northwest; but
whether she had avoided that aspect because of the chilly gusts which
played about her exceptional position, or because her interest lay in
the southeast, did not at first appear.
Her reason for standing so dead still as the pivot of this circle
of heath-country was just as obscure. Her extraordinary fixity, her
conspicuous loneliness, her heedlessness of night, betokened among other
things an utter absence of fear. A tract of country unaltered from that
sinister condition which made Caesar anxious every year to get clear of
its glooms before the autumnal equinox, a kind of landscape and weather
which leads travellers from the South to describe our island as Homer's
Cimmerian land, was not, on the face of it, friendly to women.
It might reasonably have been supposed that she was listening to the
wind, which rose somewhat as the night advanced, and laid hold of the
attention. The wind, indeed, seemed made for the scene, as the scene
seemed made for the hour. Part of its tone was quite special; what was
heard there could be heard nowhere else. Gusts in innumerable series
followed each other from the northwest, and when each one of them raced
past the sound of its progress resolved into three. Treble, tenor, and
bass notes were to be found therein. The general ricochet of the whole
over pits and prominences had the gravest pitch of the chime. Next there
could be heard the baritone buzz of a holly tree. Below these in force,
above them in pitch, a dwindled voice strove hard at a husky tune, which
was the peculiar local sound alluded to. Thinner and less immediately
traceable than the other two, it was far more impressive than either. In
it lay what may be called the linguistic peculiarity of the heath; and
being audible nowhere on earth off a heath, it afforded a shadow of
reason for the woman's tenseness, which continued as unbroken as ever.
Throughout the blowing of these plaintive November winds that note
bore a great resemblance to the ruins of human song which remain to the
throat of fourscore and ten. It was a worn whisper, dry and papery, and
it brushed so distinctly across the ear that, by the accustomed, the
material minutiae in which it originated could be realized as by touch.
It was the united products of infinitesimal vegetable causes, and these
were neither stems, leaves, fruit, blades, prickles, lichen, nor moss.
They were the mummied heathbells of the past summer, originally tender
and purple, now washed colourless by Michaelmas rains, and dried to dead
skins by October suns. So low was an individual sound from these that a
combination of hundreds only just emerged from silence, and the myriads
of the whole declivity reached the woman's ear but as a shrivelled and
intermittent recitative. Yet scarcely a single accent among the many
afloat tonight could have such power to impress a listener with
thoughts of its origin. One inwardly saw the infinity of those combined
multitudes; and perceived that each of the tiny trumpets was seized on
entered, scoured and emerged from by the wind as thoroughly as if it
were as vast as a crater.
"The spirit moved them." A meaning of the phrase forced itself upon the
attention; and an emotional listener's fetichistic mood might have
ended in one of more advanced quality. It was not, after all, that the
left-hand expanse of old blooms spoke, or the right-hand, or those
of the slope in front; but it was the single person of something else
speaking through each at once.
Suddenly, on the barrow, there mingled with all this wild rhetoric
of night a sound which modulated so naturally into the rest that its
beginning and ending were hardly to be distinguished. The bluffs, and
the bushes, and the heather-bells had broken silence; at last, so did
the woman; and her articulation was but as another phrase of the same
discourse as theirs. Thrown out on the winds it became twined in with
them, and with them it flew away.
What she uttered was a lengthened sighing, apparently at something
in her mind which had led to her presence here. There was a spasmodic
abandonment about it as if, in allowing herself to utter the sound the
woman's brain had authorized what it could not regulate. One point was
evident in this; that she had been existing in a suppressed state, and
not in one of languor, or stagnation.
Far away down the valley the faint shine from the window of the inn
still lasted on; and a few additional moments proved that the window, or
what was within it, had more to do with the woman's sigh than had either
her own actions or the scene immediately around. She lifted her left
hand, which held a closed telescope. This she rapidly extended, as if
she were well accustomed to the operation, and raising it to her eye
directed it towards the light beaming from the inn.
The handkerchief which had hooded her head was now a little thrown back,
her face being somewhat elevated. A profile was visible against the dull
monochrome of cloud around her; and it was as though side shadows from
the features of Sappho and Mrs. Siddons had converged upwards from the
tomb to form an image like neither but suggesting both. This, however,
was mere superficiality. In respect of character a face may make certain
admissions by its outline; but it fully confesses only in its changes.
So much is this the case that what is called the play of the features
often helps more in understanding a man or woman than the earnest
labours of all the other members together. Thus the night revealed
little of her whose form it was embracing, for the mobile parts of her
countenance could not be seen.
At last she gave up her spying attitude, closed the telescope, and
turned to the decaying embers. From these no appreciable beams now
radiated, except when a more than usually smart gust brushed over their
faces and raised a fitful glow which came and went like the blush of a
girl. She stooped over the silent circle, and selecting from the brands
a piece of stick which bore the largest live coal at its end, brought it
to where she had been standing before.
She held the brand to the ground, blowing the red coal with her mouth at
the same time; till it faintly illuminated the sod, and revealed a small
object, which turned out to be an hourglass, though she wore a watch.
She blew long enough to show that the sand had all slipped through.
"Ah!" she said, as if surprised.
The light raised by her breath had been very fitful, and a momentary
irradiation of flesh was all that it had disclosed of her face. That
consisted of two matchless lips and a cheek only, her head being still
enveloped. She threw away the stick, took the glass in her hand, the
telescope under her arm, and moved on.
Along the ridge ran a faint foot-track, which the lady followed. Those
who knew it well called it a path; and, while a mere visitor would have
passed it unnoticed even by day, the regular haunters of the heath
were at no loss for it at midnight. The whole secret of following these
incipient paths, when there was not light enough in the atmosphere to
show a turnpike road, lay in the development of the sense of touch in
the feet, which comes with years of night-rambling in little-trodden
spots. To a walker practised in such places a difference between impact
on maiden herbage, and on the crippled stalks of a slight footway, is
perceptible through the thickest boot or shoe.
The solitary figure who walked this beat took no notice of the windy
tune still played on the dead heathbells. She did not turn her head to
look at a group of dark creatures further on, who fled from her presence
as she skirted a ravine where they fed. They were about a score of the
small wild ponies known as heath-croppers. They roamed at large on the
undulations of Egdon, but in numbers too few to detract much from the
The pedestrian noticed nothing just now, and a clue to her abstraction
was afforded by a trivial incident. A bramble caught hold of her skirt,
and checked her progress. Instead of putting it off and hastening along,
she yielded herself up to the pull, and stood passively still. When she
began to extricate herself it was by turning round and round, and so
unwinding the prickly switch. She was in a desponding reverie.
Her course was in the direction of the small undying fire which had
drawn the attention of the men on Rainbarrow and of Wildeve in the
valley below. A faint illumination from its rays began to glow upon
her face, and the fire soon revealed itself to be lit, not on the level
ground, but on a salient corner or redan of earth, at the junction of
two converging bank fences. Outside was a ditch, dry except immediately
under the fire, where there was a large pool, bearded all round by
heather and rushes. In the smooth water of the pool the fire appeared
upside down.
The banks meeting behind were bare of a hedge, save such as was formed
by disconnected tufts of furze, standing upon stems along the top, like
impaled heads above a city wall. A white mast, fitted up with spars
and other nautical tackle, could be seen rising against the dark clouds
whenever the flames played brightly enough to reach it. Altogether the
scene had much the appearance of a fortification upon which had been
kindled a beacon fire.
Nobody was visible; but ever and anon a whitish something moved above
the bank from behind, and vanished again. This was a small human hand,
in the act of lifting pieces of fuel into the fire, but for all that
could be seen the hand, like that which troubled Belshazzar, was there
alone. Occasionally an ember rolled off the bank, and dropped with a
hiss into the pool.
At one side of the pool rough steps built of clods enabled everyone who
wished to do so to mount the bank; which the woman did. Within was a
paddock in an uncultivated state, though bearing evidence of having once
been tilled; but the heath and fern had insidiously crept in, and were
reasserting their old supremacy. Further ahead were dimly visible an
irregular dwelling-house, garden, and outbuildings, backed by a clump of
The young lady—for youth had revealed its presence in her buoyant bound
up the bank—walked along the top instead of descending inside, and came
to the corner where the fire was burning. One reason for the permanence
of the blaze was now manifest: the fuel consisted of hard pieces of
wood, cleft and sawn—the knotty boles of old thorn trees which grew in
twos and threes about the hillsides. A yet unconsumed pile of these lay
in the inner angle of the bank; and from this corner the upturned face
of a little boy greeted her eyes. He was dilatorily throwing up a piece
of wood into the fire every now and then, a business which seemed to
have engaged him a considerable part of the evening, for his face was
somewhat weary.
"I am glad you have come, Miss Eustacia," he said, with a sigh of
relief. "I don't like biding by myself."
"Nonsense. I have only been a little way for a walk. I have been gone
only twenty minutes."
"It seemed long," murmured the sad boy. "And you have been so many
"Why, I thought you would be pleased to have a bonfire. Are you not much
obliged to me for making you one?"
"Yes; but there's nobody here to play wi' me."
"I suppose nobody has come while I've been away?"
"Nobody except your grandfather—he looked out of doors once for 'ee.
I told him you were walking round upon the hill to look at the other
"A good boy."
"I think I hear him coming again, miss."
An old man came into the remoter light of the fire from the direction
of the homestead. He was the same who had overtaken the reddleman on the
road that afternoon. He looked wistfully to the top of the bank at
the woman who stood there, and his teeth, which were quite unimpaired,
showed like parian from his parted lips.
"When are you coming indoors, Eustacia?" he asked. "'Tis almost bedtime.
I've been home these two hours, and am tired out. Surely 'tis somewhat
childish of you to stay out playing at bonfires so long, and wasting
such fuel. My precious thorn roots, the rarest of all firing, that I
laid by on purpose for Christmas—you have burnt 'em nearly all!"
"I promised Johnny a bonfire, and it pleases him not to let it go out
just yet," said Eustacia, in a way which told at once that she was
absolute queen here. "Grandfather, you go in to bed. I shall follow you
soon. You like the fire, don't you, Johnny?"
The boy looked up doubtfully at her and murmured, "I don't think I want
it any longer."
Her grandfather had turned back again, and did not hear the boy's reply.
As soon as the white-haired man had vanished she said in a tone of pique
to the child, "Ungrateful little boy, how can you contradict me? Never
shall you have a bonfire again unless you keep it up now. Come, tell me
you like to do things for me, and don't deny it."
The repressed child said, "Yes, I do, miss," and continued to stir the
fire perfunctorily.
"Stay a little longer and I will give you a crooked six-pence," said
Eustacia, more gently. "Put in one piece of wood every two or three
minutes, but not too much at once. I am going to walk along the ridge a
little longer, but I shall keep on coming to you. And if you hear a frog
jump into the pond with a flounce like a stone thrown in, be sure you
run and tell me, because it is a sign of rain."
"Yes, Eustacia."
"Miss Vye, sir."
"Miss Vy—stacia."
"That will do. Now put in one stick more."
The little slave went on feeding the fire as before. He seemed a mere
automaton, galvanized into moving and speaking by the wayward Eustacia's
will. He might have been the brass statue which Albertus Magnus is said
to have animated just so far as to make it chatter, and move, and be his
Before going on her walk again the young girl stood still on the bank
for a few instants and listened. It was to the full as lonely a place
as Rainbarrow, though at rather a lower level; and it was more sheltered
from wind and weather on account of the few firs to the north. The bank
which enclosed the homestead, and protected it from the lawless state of
the world without, was formed of thick square clods, dug from the ditch
on the outside, and built up with a slight batter or incline, which
forms no slight defense where hedges will not grow because of the wind
and the wilderness, and where wall materials are unattainable. Otherwise
the situation was quite open, commanding the whole length of the valley
which reached to the river behind Wildeve's house. High above this to
the right, and much nearer thitherward than the Quiet Woman Inn, the
blurred contour of Rainbarrow obstructed the sky.
After her attentive survey of the wild slopes and hollow ravines a
gesture of impatience escaped Eustacia. She vented petulant words
every now and then, but there were sighs between her words, and sudden
listenings between her sighs. Descending from her perch she again
sauntered off towards Rainbarrow, though this time she did not go the
whole way.
Twice she reappeared at intervals of a few minutes and each time she
"Not any flounce into the pond yet, little man?"
"No, Miss Eustacia," the child replied.
"Well," she said at last, "I shall soon be going in, and then I will
give you the crooked sixpence, and let you go home."
"Thank'ee, Miss Eustacia," said the tired stoker, breathing more easily.
And Eustacia again strolled away from the fire, but this time not
towards Rainbarrow. She skirted the bank and went round to the wicket
before the house, where she stood motionless, looking at the scene.
Fifty yards off rose the corner of the two converging banks, with the
fire upon it; within the bank, lifting up to the fire one stick at a
time, just as before, the figure of the little child. She idly watched
him as he occasionally climbed up in the nook of the bank and stood
beside the brands. The wind blew the smoke, and the child's hair, and
the corner of his pinafore, all in the same direction; the breeze died,
and the pinafore and hair lay still, and the smoke went up straight.
While Eustacia looked on from this distance the boy's form visibly
started—he slid down the bank and ran across towards the white gate.
"Well?" said Eustacia.
"A hopfrog have jumped into the pond. Yes, I heard 'en!"
"Then it is going to rain, and you had better go home. You will not be
afraid?" She spoke hurriedly, as if her heart had leapt into her throat
at the boy's words.
"No, because I shall hae the crooked sixpence."
"Yes, here it is. Now run as fast as you can—not that way—through the
garden here. No other boy in the heath has had such a bonfire as yours."
The boy, who clearly had had too much of a good thing, marched away
into the shadows with alacrity. When he was gone Eustacia, leaving her
telescope and hourglass by the gate, brushed forward from the wicket
towards the angle of the bank, under the fire.
Here, screened by the outwork, she 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. A low laugh escaped
her—the third utterance which the girl had indulged in tonight. The
first, when she stood upon Rainbarrow, had expressed anxiety; the
second, on the ridge, had expressed 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 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 herself also. "Of course you have seen my fire," she answered
with 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 life and soul so irretrievably!"
"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 bonfire again by
Captain Vye'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 peculiar 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 that 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 murmured 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 overlook."
"If I had known you wished to call me up here only to reproach me, I
wouldn't have come."
"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 today, and as he was coming home he
overtook some person who told him of a broken-off wedding—he thought it
might be yours, 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."
Wildeve 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 life and heart I can hardly
bear to recognize that you 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 why 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. However, the curse of inflammability
is upon me, and I must live under it, and take any snub from a woman. 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
She seized the moment, and throwing back the shawl so that the firelight
shone full upon her face and throat, said with a smile, "Have you seen
anything 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 Thomasin?"
"Thomasin is a pleasing and innocent woman."
"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
"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."
"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 Rainbarrow."
"Of course you will."
"And yet I declare that until I got here tonight I intended, after this
one good-bye, never to meet you again."
"I don't thank you for that," she said, turning away, while indignation
spread through her like subterranean heat. "You may come again to
Rainbarrow 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 give myself to 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.
"Why did I try to recall you? Damon, a strange warring takes place in my
mind occasionally. I think when I become calm after you woundings, 'Do
I embrace a cloud of common fog after all?' You are a chameleon, and now
you are at your worst colour. Go home, or I shall hate you!"
He looked absently towards Rainbarrow 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
"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 excitement 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 I don't know; and that hot
little bosom couldn't play such a cold-blooded trick to save its life. I
saw a woman on Rainbarrow 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?"
"No, you may not."
"Then I may shake your hand?"
"Then I wish you good night without caring for either. 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 like 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 immediately, 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.
7—Queen of Night
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, she had handled the distaff, the
spindle, and the shears at her own free will, few in the world would
have noticed the change 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 captious alteration of caresses and blows that we endure now.
She was in person full-limbed and somewhat 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
Europoeus—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, and 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 indulge in
reverie without seeming 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 flamelike. 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
precision, 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 the mouth did
not come over from Sleswig with a band of Saxon pirates whose lips met
like the two halves of a muffin. 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 years.
Her presence brought memories of such things as Bourbon roses, rubies,
and tropical midnight; her moods recalled lotus-eaters and 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 rearrangement of her hair, her general
figure might have stood for that of either of the higher female deities.
The new moon behind her head, an old helmet upon it, a diadem of
accidental dewdrops round her brow, would have been adjuncts sufficient
to strike the note of Artemis, Athena, or Hera respectively, 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 eternally unreconciled thereto. Her
appearance accorded well with this smouldering rebelliousness, 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 Vye she laughed and went on.
Why did a woman of this sort live on Egdon Heath? Budmouth was her
native place, a fashionable seaside resort at that date. She was the
daughter of the bandmaster of a regiment which had been quartered
there—a Corfiote by birth, and a fine musician—who met his future
wife during her trip thither with her father the captain, a man of good
family. The marriage was scarcely in accord with the old man's wishes,
for the bandmaster's pockets were as light as his occupation. But the
musician did his best; adopted his wife's name, made England permanently
his home, took great trouble with his child's education, the expenses
of which were defrayed by the grandfather, and throve as the chief local
musician till her mother's death, when he left off thriving, drank, and
died also. The girl was left to the care of her grandfather, who, since
three of his ribs became broken in a shipwreck, 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 letters 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, was 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 a latent vein from Alcinous' line,
her father hailing from Phaeacia's isle?—or from Fitzalan and De Vere,
her maternal grandfather having had a cousin in the peerage? Perhaps it
was the gift of Heaven—a happy convergence of natural laws. Among other
things opportunity had of late years been denied her of learning to
be undignified, for she lived lonely. Isolation on a heath renders
vulgarity 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 demeaned 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 great 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 consciousness 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, outshone 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 deliver my heart from this fearful
gloom and loneliness; send me great love from somewhere, else I shall
Her high gods were William the Conqueror, 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 girl of some forwardness of mind, indeed, weighed in
relation to her situation among the very rearward of thinkers, very
original. Her instincts towards social non-comformity were at the root
of this. In the matter of holidays, her mood was that of horses who,
when turned out to grass, enjoy looking upon their kind at work on the
highway. 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 grandfather's old charts
and other rubbish, humming 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 weekday that she read the Bible, that she might be
unoppressed with a sense of doing her duty.
Such views of life were to some extent the natural begettings of her
situation upon her nature. To dwell on a heath without studying its
meanings was like wedding a foreigner without learning his tongue. The
subtle beauties of the heath were lost to Eustacia; she only caught its
vapours. An environment which would have made a contented 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 strange 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 denotes a mind
that, though disappointed, forswears compromise. But, if congenial to
philosophy, it is apt to be dangerous to the commonwealth. In a world
where doing means marrying, and the commonwealth is one of hearts and
hands, the same peril attends the condition.
And so we see our Eustacia—for at times she was not altogether
unlovable—arriving at that stage of enlightenment which feels that
nothing is worth while, and filling up the spare hours of her existence
by idealizing 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 was only one circumstance which could dislodge him, and
that was the advent of a greater man.
For the rest, she suffered much from depression of spirits, and took
slow walks to recover them, in which she carried her grandfather's
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 comprehensive 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 Cleopatras.
8—Those Who Are Found Where There Is Said to Be Nobody
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 Mistover Knap: the third and only remaining house was that
of Captain Vye and Eustacia, which stood quite away from the small
cottages and was the loneliest of lonely houses on these thinly
populated slopes.
He ran until he was out of breath, and then, becoming more courageous,
walked leisurely along, singing in an old voice a little song about a
sailor-boy and a fair one, and bright gold in store. In the middle of
this the child stopped—from a pit under the hill ahead of him shone a
light, whence proceeded a cloud of floating dust and a smacking noise.
Only unusual sights and sounds frightened the boy. The shrivelled voice
of the heath did not alarm him, for that was familiar. The thornbushes
which arose in his path from time to time were less satisfactory, for
they whistled gloomily, and had a ghastly habit after dark of putting
on the shapes of jumping madmen, sprawling giants, and hideous cripples.
Lights were not uncommon this evening, but the nature of all of them was
different from this. Discretion rather than terror prompted the boy
to turn back instead of passing the light, with a view of asking Miss
Eustacia Vye to let her servant accompany him home.
When the boy had reascended to the top of the valley he found the fire
to be still burning on the bank, though lower than before. Beside it,
instead of Eustacia's solitary form, he saw two persons, the second
being a man. The boy crept along under the bank to ascertain from
the nature of the proceedings if it would be prudent to interrupt so
splendid a creature as Miss Eustacia on his poor trivial account.
After listening under the bank for some minutes to the talk he turned in
a perplexed and doubting manner and began to withdraw as silently as
he had come. That he did not, upon the whole, think it advisable to
interrupt her conversation with Wildeve, without being prepared to bear
the whole weight of her displeasure, was obvious.
Here was a Scyllaeo-Charybdean position for a poor boy. Pausing when
again safe from discovery, he finally decided to face the pit phenomenon
as the lesser evil. With a heavy sigh he retraced the slope, and
followed the path he had followed before.
The light had gone, the rising dust had disappeared—he hoped for ever.
He marched resolutely along, and found nothing to alarm him till, coming
within a few yards of the sandpit, he heard a slight noise in front,
which led him to halt. The halt was but momentary, for the noise
resolved itself into the steady bites of two animals grazing.
"Two he'th-croppers down here," he said aloud. "I have never known 'em
come down so far afore."
The animals were in the direct line of his path, but that the child
thought little of; he had played round the fetlocks of horses from his
infancy. On coming nearer, however, the boy was somewhat surprised to
find that the little creatures did not run off, and that each wore a
clog, to prevent his going astray; this signified that they had been
broken in. He could now see the interior of the pit, which, being in
the side of the hill, had a level entrance. In the innermost corner the
square outline of a van appeared, with its back towards him. A light
came from the interior, and threw a moving shadow upon the vertical face
of gravel at the further side of the pit into which the vehicle faced.
The child assumed that this was the cart of a gipsy, and his dread of
those wanderers reached but to that mild pitch which titillates rather
than pains. Only a few inches of mud wall kept him and his family from
being gipsies themselves. He skirted the gravel pit at a respectful
distance, ascended the slope, and came forward upon the brow, in order
to look into the open door of the van and see the original of the
The picture alarmed the boy. By a little stove inside the van sat a
figure red from head to heels—the man who had been Thomasin's friend.
He was darning a stocking, which was red like the rest of him. Moreover,
as he darned he smoked a pipe, the stem and bowl of which were red also.
At this moment one of the heath-croppers feeding in the outer shadows
was audibly shaking off the clog attached to its foot. Aroused by the
sound, the reddleman laid down his stocking, lit a lantern which hung
beside him, and came out from the van. In sticking up the candle he
lifted the lantern to his face, and the light shone into the whites
of his eyes and upon his ivory teeth, which, in contrast with the
red surrounding, lent him a startling aspect enough to the gaze of a
juvenile. The boy knew too well for his peace of mind upon whose lair
he had lighted. Uglier persons than gipsies were known to cross Egdon at
times, and a reddleman was one of them.
"How I wish 'twas only a gipsy!" he murmured.
The man was by this time coming back from the horses. In his fear of
being seen the boy rendered detection certain by nervous motion. The
heather and peat stratum overhung the brow of the pit in mats, hiding
the actual verge. The boy had stepped beyond the solid ground; the
heather now gave way, and down he rolled over the scarp of grey sand to
the very foot of the man.
The red man opened the lantern and turned it upon the figure of the
prostrate boy.
"Who be ye?" he said.
"Johnny Nunsuch, master!"
"What were you doing up there?"
"I don't know."
"Watching me, I suppose?"
"Yes, master."
"What did you watch me for?"
"Because I was coming home from Miss Vye's bonfire."
"Beest hurt?"
"Why, yes, you be—your hand is bleeding. Come under my tilt and let me
tie it up."
"Please let me look for my sixpence."
"How did you come by that?"
"Miss Vye gied it to me for keeping up her bonfire."
The sixpence was found, and the man went to the van, the boy behind,
almost holding his breath.
The man took a piece of rag from a satchel containing sewing materials,
tore off a strip, which, like everything else, was tinged red, and
proceeded to bind up the wound.
"My eyes have got foggy-like—please may I sit down, master?" said the
"To be sure, poor chap. 'Tis enough to make you feel fainty. Sit on that
The man finished tying up the gash, and the boy said, "I think I'll go
home now, master."
"You are rather afraid of me. Do you know what I be?"
The child surveyed his vermilion figure up and down with much misgiving
and finally said, "Yes."
"Well, what?"
"The reddleman!" he faltered.
"Yes, that's what I be. Though there's more than one. You little
children think there's only one cuckoo, one fox, one giant, one devil,
and one reddleman, when there's lots of us all."
"Is there? You won't carry me off in your bags, will ye, master? 'Tis
said that the reddleman will sometimes."
"Nonsense. All that reddlemen do is sell reddle. You see all these bags
at the back of my cart? They are not full of little boys—only full of
red stuff."
"Was you born a reddleman?"
"No, I took to it. I should be as white as you if I were to give up the
trade—that is, I should be white in time—perhaps six months; not at
first, because 'tis grow'd into my skin and won't wash out. Now, you'll
never be afraid of a reddleman again, will ye?"
"No, never. Willy Orchard said he seed a red ghost here t'other
day—perhaps that was you?"
"I was here t'other day."
"Were you making that dusty light I saw by now?"
"Oh yes, I was beating out some bags. And have you had a good bonfire up
there? I saw the light. Why did Miss Vye want a bonfire so bad that she
should give you sixpence to keep it up?"
"I don't know. I was tired, but she made me bide and keep up the fire
just the same, while she kept going up across Rainbarrow way."
"And how long did that last?"
"Until a hopfrog jumped into the pond."
The reddleman suddenly ceased to talk idly. "A hopfrog?" he inquired.
"Hopfrogs don't jump into ponds this time of year."
"They do, for I heard one."
"Yes. She told me afore that I should hear'n; and so I did. They say
she's clever and deep, and perhaps she charmed 'en to come."
"And what then?"
"Then I came down here, and I was afeard, and I went back; but I didn't
like to speak to her, because of the gentleman, and I came on here
"A gentleman—ah! What did she say to him, my man?"
"Told him she supposed he had not married the other woman because he
liked his old sweetheart best; and things like that."
"What did the gentleman say to her, my sonny?"
"He only said he did like her best, and how he was coming to see her
again under Rainbarrow o' nights."
"Ha!" cried the reddleman, slapping his hand against the side of his van
so that the whole fabric shook under the blow. "That's the secret o't!"
The little boy jumped clean from the stool.
"My man, don't you be afraid," said the dealer in red, suddenly becoming
gentle. "I forgot you were here. That's only a curious way reddlemen
have of going mad for a moment; but they don't hurt anybody. And what
did the lady say then?"
"I can't mind. Please, Master Reddleman, may I go home-along now?"
"Ay, to be sure you may. I'll go a bit of ways with you."
He conducted the boy out of the gravel pit and into the path leading
to his mother's cottage. When the little figure had vanished in the
darkness the reddleman returned, resumed his seat by the fire, and
proceeded to darn again.
So ends Chapter 8 — Those Who Are Found Where There Is Said to Be Nobody