The Return of the Native/Book 4/Chapter 6
Chapter 6: A Conjuncture, and Its Result upon the Pedestrian
Wildeve, as has been stated, was determined to visit Eustacia boldly, by day, and on the easy terms of a relation, since the reddleman had spied out and spoilt his walks to her by night. The spell that she had thrown over him in the moonlight dance made it impossible for a man having no strong puritanic force within him to keep away altogether. He merely calculated on meeting her and her husband in an ordinary manner, chatting a little while, and leaving again. Every outward sign was to be conventional; but the one great fact would be there to satisfy him--he would see her. He did not even desire Clym's absence, since it was just possible that Eustacia might resent any situation which could compromise her dignity as a wife, whatever the state of her heart towards him. Women were often so.
He went accordingly; and it happened that the time of his arrival coincided with that of Mrs. Yeobright's pause on the hill near the house. When he had looked round the premises in the manner she had noticed he went and knocked at the door. There was a few minutes' interval, and then the key turned in the lock, the door opened, and Eustacia herself confronted him.
Nobody could have imagined from her bearing now that here stood the woman who had joined with him in the impassioned dance of the week before, unless indeed he could have penetrated below the surface and gauged the real depth of that still stream.
"I hope you reached home safely?" said Wildeve.
"O yes," she carelessly returned.
"And were you not tired the next day? I feared you might be."
"I was rather. You need not speak low--nobody will over-hear us. My small servant is gone on an errand to the village."
"Then Clym is not at home?"
"Yes, he is."
"O! I thought that perhaps you had locked the door because you were alone and were afraid of tramps."
"No--here is my husband."
They had been standing in the entry. Closing the front door and turning the key, as before, she threw open the door of the adjoining room and asked him to walk in. Wildeve entered, the room appearing to be empty; but as soon as he had advanced a few steps he started. On the hearthrug lay Clym asleep. Beside him were the leggings, thick boots, leather gloves, and sleeve- waistcoat in which he worked.
"You may go in; you will not disturb him," she said, following behind. "My reason for fastening the door is that he may not be intruded upon by any chance comer while lying here, if I should be in the garden or upstairs."
"Why is he sleeping there?" said Wildeve in low tones.
"He is very weary. He went out at half-past four this morning, and has been working ever since. He cuts furze because it is the only thing he can do that does not put any strain upon his poor eyes." The contrast between the sleeper's appearance and Wildeve's at this moment was painfully apparent to Eustacia, Wildeve being elegantly dressed in a new summer suit and light hat; and she continued: "Ah! you don't know how differently he appeared when I first met him, though it is such a little while ago. His hands were as white and soft as mine; and look at them now, how rough and brown they are! His complexion is by nature fair, and that rusty look he has now, all of a colour with his leather clothes, is caused by the burning of the sun."
"Why does he go out at all!" Wildeve whispered.
"Because he hates to be idle; though what he earns doesn't add much to our exchequer. However, he says that when people are living upon their capital they must keep down current expenses by turning a penny where they can."
"The fates have not been kind to you, Eustacia Yeobright."
"I have nothing to thank them for."
"Nor has he--except for their one great gift to him."
Wildeve looked her in the eyes.
Eustacia blushed for the first time that day. "Well, I am a questionable gift," she said quietly. "I thought you meant the gift of content--which he has, and I have not."
"I can understand content in such a case--though how the outward situation can attract him puzzles me."
"That's because you don't know him. He's an enthusiast about ideas, and careless about outward things. He often reminds me of the Apostle Paul."
"I am glad to hear that he's so grand in character as that."
"Yes; but the worst of it is that though Paul was excellent as a man in the Bible he would hardly have done in real life."
Their voices had instinctively dropped lower, though at first they had taken no particular care to avoid awakening Clym. "Well, if that means that your marriage is a misfortune to you, you know who is to blame," said Wildeve.
"The marriage is no misfortune in itself," she retorted with some little petulance. "It is simply the accident which has happened since that has been the cause of my ruin. I have certainly got thistles for figs in a worldly sense, but how could I tell what time would bring forth?"
"Sometimes, Eustacia, I think it is a judgment upon you. You rightly belonged to me, you know; and I had no idea of losing you."
"No, it was not my fault! Two could not belong to you; and remember that, before I was aware, you turned aside to another woman. It was cruel levity in you to do that. I never dreamt of playing such a game on my side till you began it on yours."
"I meant nothing by it," replied Wildeve. "It was a mere interlude. Men are given to the trick of having a passing fancy for somebody else in the midst of a permanent love, which reasserts itself afterwards just as before. On account of your rebellious manner to me I was tempted to go further than I should have done; and when you still would keep playing the same tantalizing part I went further still, and married her." Turning and looking again at the unconscious form of Clym, he murmured, "I am afraid that you don't value your prize, Clym....He ought to be happier than I in one thing at least. He may know what it is to come down in the world, and to be afflicted with a great personal calamity; but he probably doesn't know what it is to lose the woman he loved."
"He is not ungrateful for winning her," whispered Eustacia, "and in that respect he is a good man. Many women would go far for such a husband. But do I desire unreasonably much in wanting what is called life-- music, poetry, passion, war, and all the beating and pulsing that are going on in the great arteries of the world? That was the shape of my youthful dream; but I did not get it. Yet I thought I saw the way to it in my Clym."
"And you only married him on that account?"
"There you mistake me. I married him because I loved him, but I won't say that I didn't love him partly because I thought I saw a promise of that life in him."
"You have dropped into your old mournful key."
"But I am not going to be depressed," she cried perversely. "I began a new system by going to that dance, and I mean to stick to it. Clym can sing merrily; why should not I?"
Wildeve looked thoughtfully at her. "It is easier to say you will sing than to do it; though if I could I would encourage you in your attempt. But as life means nothing to me, without one thing which is now impossible, you will forgive me for not being able to encourage you."
"Damon, what is the matter with you, that you speak like that?" she asked, raising her deep shady eyes to his.
"That's a thing I shall never tell plainly; and perhaps if I try to tell you in riddles you will not care to guess them."
Eustacia remained silent for a minute, and she said, "We are in a strange relationship today. You mince matters to an uncommon nicety. You mean, Damon, that you still love me. Well, that gives me sorrow, for I am not made so entirely happy by my marriage that I am willing to spurn you for the information, as I ought to do. But we have said too much about this. Do you mean to wait until my husband is awake?"
"I thought to speak to him; but it is unnecessary, Eustacia, if I offend you by not forgetting you, you are right to mention it; but do not talk of spurning."
She did not reply, and they stood looking musingly at Clym as he slept on in that profound sleep which is the result of physical labour carried on in circumstances that wake no nervous fear.
"God, how I envy him that sweet sleep!" said Wildeve. "I have not slept like that since I was a boy--years and years ago."
While they thus watched him a click at the gate was audible, and a knock came to the door. Eustacia went to a window and looked out.
Her countenance changed. First she became crimson, and then the red subsided till it even partially left her lips.
"Shall I go away?" said Wildeve, standing up.
"I hardly know."
"Who is it?"
"Mrs. Yeobright. O, what she said to me that day! I cannot understand this visit--what does she mean? And she suspects that past time of ours."
"I am in your hands. If you think she had better not see me here I'll go into the next room."
Wildeve at once withdrew; but before he had been half a minute in the adjoining apartment Eustacia came after him.
"No," she said, "we won't have any of this. If she comes in she must see you--and think if she likes there's something wrong! But how can I open the door to her, when she dislikes me--wishes to see not me, but her son? I won't open the door!"
Mrs. Yeobright knocked again more loudly.
"Her knocking will, in all likelihood, awaken him," continued Eustacia, "and then he will let her in himself. Ah--listen."
They could hear Clym moving in the other room, as if disturbed by the knocking, and he uttered the word "Mother."
"Yes--he is awake--he will go to the door," she said, with a breath of relief. "Come this way. I have a bad name with her, and you must not be seen. Thus I am obliged to act by stealth, not because I do ill, but because others are pleased to say so."
By this time she had taken him to the back door, which was open, disclosing a path leading down the garden. "Now, one word, Damon," she remarked as he stepped forth. "This is your first visit here; let it be your last. We have been hot lovers in our time, but it won't do now. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," said Wildeve. "I have had all I came for, and I am satisfied."
"What was it?"
"A sight of you. Upon my eternal honour I came for no more."
Wildeve kissed his hand to the beautiful girl he addressed, and passed into the garden, where she watched him down the path, over the stile at the end, and into the ferns outside, which brushed his hips as he went along till he became lost in their thickets. When he had quite gone she slowly turned, and directed her attention to the interior of the house.
But it was possible that her presence might not be desired by Clym and his mother at this moment of their first meeting, or that it would be superfluous. At all events, she was in no hurry to meet Mrs. Yeobright. She resolved to wait till Clym came to look for her, and glided back into the garden. Here she idly occupied herself for a few minutes, till finding no notice was taken of her she retraced her steps through the house to the front, where she listened for voices in the parlour. But hearing none she opened the door and went in. To her astonishment Clym lay precisely as Wildeve and herself had left him, his sleep apparently unbroken. He had been disturbed and made to dream and murmur by the knocking, but he had not awakened. Eustacia hastened to the door, and in spite of her reluctance to open it to a woman who had spoken of her so bitterly, she unfastened it and looked out. Nobody was to be seen. There, by the scraper, lay Clym's hook and the handful of faggot-bonds he had brought home; in front of her were the empty path, the garden gate standing slightly ajar; and, beyond, the great valley of purple heath thrilling silently in the sun. Mrs. Yeobright was gone.
Clym's mother was at this time following a path which lay hidden from Eustacia by a shoulder of the hill. Her walk thither from the garden gate had been hasty and determined, as of a woman who was now no less anxious to escape from the scene than she had previously been to enter it. Her eyes were fixed on the ground; within her two sights were graven--that of Clym's hook and brambles at the door, and that of a woman's face at a window. Her lips trembled, becoming unnaturally thin as she murmured, "'Tis too much--Clym, how can he bear to do it! He is at home; and yet he lets her shut the door against me!"
In her anxiety to get out of the direct view of the house she had diverged from the straightest path homeward, and while looking about to regain it she came upon a little boy gathering whortleberries in a hollow. The boy was Johnny Nunsuch, who had been Eustacia's stoker at the bonfire, and, with the tendency of a minute body to gravitate towards a greater, he began hovering round Mrs. Yeobright as soon as she appeared, and trotted on beside her without perceptible consciousness of his act.
Mrs. Yeobright spoke to him as one in a mesmeric sleep. "'Tis a long way home, my child, and we shall not get there till evening."
"I shall," said her small companion. "I am going to play marnels afore supper, and we go to supper at six o'clock, because Father comes home. Does your father come home at six too?"
"No, he never comes; nor my son either, nor anybody."
"What have made you so down? Have you seen a ooser?"
"I have seen what's worse--a woman's face looking at me through a windowpane."
"Is that a bad sight?"
"Yes. It is always a bad sight to see a woman looking out at a weary wayfarer and not letting her in."
"Once when I went to Throope Great Pond to catch effets I seed myself looking up at myself, and I was frightened and jumped back like anything."
..."If they had only shown signs of meeting my advances halfway how well it might have been done! But there is no chance. Shut out! She must have set him against me. Can there be beautiful bodies without hearts inside? I think so. I would not have done it against a neighbour's cat on such a fiery day as this!"
"What is it you say?"
"Never again--never! Not even if they send for me!"
"You must be a very curious woman to talk like that."
"O no, not at all," she said, returning to the boy's prattle. "Most people who grow up and have children talk as I do. When you grow up your mother will talk as I do too."
"I hope she won't; because 'tis very bad to talk nonsense."
"Yes, child; it is nonsense, I suppose. Are you not nearly spent with the heat?"
"Yes. But not so much as you be."
"How do you know?"
"Your face is white and wet, and your head is hanging-down-like."
"Ah, I am exhausted from inside."
"Why do you, every time you take a step, go like this?" The child in speaking gave to his motion the jerk and limp of an invalid.
"Because I have a burden which is more than I can bear."
The little boy remained silently pondering, and they tottered on side by side until more than a quarter of an hour had elapsed, when Mrs. Yeobright, whose weakness plainly increased, said to him, "I must sit down here to rest."
When she had seated herself he looked long in her face and said, "How funny you draw your breath--like a lamb when you drive him till he's nearly done for. Do you always draw your breath like that?"
"Not always." Her voice was now so low as to be scarcely above a whisper.
"You will go to sleep there, I suppose, won't you? You have shut your eyes already."
"No. I shall not sleep much till--another day, and then I hope to have a long, long one--very long. Now can you tell me if Rimsmoor Pond is dry this summer?"
"Rimsmoor Pond is, but Oker's Pool isn't, because he is deep, and is never dry--'tis just over there."
"Is the water clear?"
"Yes, middling--except where the heath-croppers walk into it."
"Then, take this, and go as fast as you can, and dip me up the clearest you can find. I am very faint."
She drew from the small willow reticule that she carried in her hand an old-fashioned china teacup without a handle; it was one of half a dozen of the same sort lying in the reticule, which she had preserved ever since her childhood, and had brought with her today as a small present for Clym and Eustacia.
The boy started on his errand, and soon came back with the water, such as it was. Mrs. Yeobright attempted to drink, but it was so warm as to give her nausea, and she threw it away. Afterwards she still remained sitting, with her eyes closed.
The boy waited, played near her, caught several of the little brown butterflies which abounded, and then said as he waited again, "I like going on better than biding still. Will you soon start again?"
"I don't know."
"I wish I might go on by myself," he resumed, fearing, apparently, that he was to be pressed into some unpleasant service. "Do you want me any more, please?"
Mrs. Yeobright made no reply.
"What shall I tell Mother?" the boy continued.
"Tell her you have seen a broken-hearted woman cast off by her son."
Before quite leaving her he threw upon her face a wistful glance, as if he had misgivings on the generosity of forsaking her thus. He gazed into her face in a vague, wondering manner, like that of one examining some strange old manuscript the key to whose characters is undiscoverable. He was not so young as to be absolutely without a sense that sympathy was demanded, he was not old enough to be free from the terror felt in childhood at beholding misery in adult quarters hither-to deemed impregnable; and whether she were in a position to cause trouble or to suffer from it, whether she and her affliction were something to pity or something to fear, it was beyond him to decide. He lowered his eyes and went on without another word. Before he had gone half a mile he had forgotten all about her, except that she was a woman who had sat down to rest.
Mrs. Yeobright's exertions, physical and emotional, had well-nigh prostrated her; but she continued to creep along in short stages with long breaks between. The sun had now got far to the west of south and stood directly in her face, like some merciless incendiary, brand in hand, waiting to consume her. With the departure of the boy all visible animation disappeared from the landscape, though the intermittent husky notes of the male grasshoppers from every tuft of furze were enough to show that amid the prostration of the larger animal species an unseen insect world was busy in all the fullness of life.
In two hours she reached a slope about three-fourths the whole distance from Alderworth to her own home, where a little patch of shepherd's-thyme intruded upon the path; and she sat down upon the perfumed mat it formed there. In front of her a colony of ants had established a thoroughfare across the way, where they toiled a never-ending and heavy-laden throng. To look down upon them was like observing a city street from the top of a tower. She remembered that this bustle of ants had been in progress for years at the same spot--doubtless those of the old times were the ancestors of these which walked there now. She leant back to obtain more thorough rest, and the soft eastern portion of the sky was as great a relief to her eyes as the thyme was to her head. While she looked a heron arose on that side of the sky and flew on with his face towards the sun. He had come dripping wet from some pool in the valleys, and as he flew the edges and lining of his wings, his thighs and his breast were so caught by the bright sunbeams that he appeared as if formed of burnished silver. Up in the zenith where he was seemed a free and happy place, away from all contact with the earthly ball to which she was pinioned; and she wished that she could arise uncrushed from its surface and fly as he flew then.
But, being a mother, it was inevitable that she should soon cease to ruminate upon her own condition. Had the track of her next thought been marked by a streak in the air, like the path of a meteor, it would have shown a direction contrary to the heron's, and have descended to the eastward upon the roof of Clym's house.