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Book Three: THE FASCINATION



Chapter 1 : "My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is"


In Clym Yeobright's face could be dimly seen the typical
countenance of the future. Should there be a classic period
to art hereafter, its Pheidias may produce such faces.
The view of life as a thing to be put up with, replacing that
zest for existence which was so intense in early civilizations,
must ultimately enter so thoroughly into the constitution
of the advanced races that its facial expression will become
accepted as a new artistic departure. People already feel
that a man who lives without disturbing a curve of feature,
or setting a mark of mental concern anywhere upon himself,
is too far removed from modern perceptiveness to be a
modern type. Physically beautiful men--the glory of the
race when it was young--are almost an anachronism now;
and we may wonder whether, at some time or other,
physically beautiful women may not be an anachronism likewise.

The truth seems to be that a long line of disillusive
centuries has permanently displaced the Hellenic idea
of life, or whatever it may be called. What the Greeks
only suspected we know well; what their Aeschylus
imagined our nursery children feel. That old-fashioned
revelling in the general situation grows less and less
possible as we uncover the defects of natural laws,
and see the quandary that man is in by their operation.

The lineaments which will get embodied in ideals based
upon this new recognition will probably be akin to
those of Yeobright. The observer's eye was arrested,
not by his face as a picture, but by his face as a page;
not by what it was, but by what it recorded. His features
were attractive in the light of symbols, as sounds
intrinsically common become attractive in language,
and as shapes intrinsically simple become interesting
in writing.

He had been a lad of whom something was expected.
Beyond this all had been chaos. That he would be
successful in an original way, or that he would go to
the dogs in an original way, seemed equally probable.
The only absolute certainty about him was that he would
not stand still in the circumstances amid which he was born.

Hence, when his name was casually mentioned by neighbouring
yeomen, the listener said, "Ah, Clym Yeobright--what is he
doing now?" When the instinctive question about a person is,
What is he doing? it is felt that he will be found to be,
like most of us, doing nothing in particular. There is
an indefinite sense that he must be invading some region
of singularity, good or bad. The devout hope is that he
is doing well. The secret faith is that he is making
a mess of it. Half a dozen comfortable market-men, who
were habitual callers at the Quiet Woman as they passed
by in their carts, were partial to the topic. In fact,
though they were not Egdon men, they could hardly avoid
it while they sucked their long clay tubes and regarded
the heath through the window. Clym had been so inwoven
with the heath in his boyhood that hardly anybody could
look upon it without thinking of him. So the subject
recurred: if he were making a fortune and a name,
so much the better for him; if he were making a tragical
figure in the world, so much the better for a narrative.

The fact was that Yeobright's fame had spread to an awkward
extent before he left home. "It is bad when your fame
outruns your means," said the Spanish Jesuit Gracian.
At the age of six he had asked a Scripture riddle: "Who
was the first man known to wear breeches?" and applause
had resounded from the very verge of the heath. At seven
he painted the Battle of Waterloo with tiger-lily pollen
and black-currant juice, in the absence of water-colours. By
the time he reached twelve he had in this manner been heard
of as artist and scholar for at least two miles round.
An individual whose fame spreads three or four thousand
yards in the time taken by the fame of others similarly
situated to travel six or eight hundred, must of necessity
have something in him. Possibly Clym's fame, like Homer's,
owed something to the accidents of his situation;
nevertheless famous he was.

He grew up and was helped out in life. That waggery
of fate which started Clive as a writing clerk,
Gay as a linen-draper, Keats as a surgeon, and a thousand
others in a thousand other odd ways, banished the wild
and ascetic heath lad to a trade whose sole concern was
with the especial symbols of self-indulgence and vainglory.

The details of this choice of a business for him it is not
necessary to give. At the death of his father a neighbouring
gentleman had kindly undertaken to give the boy a start,
and this assumed the form of sending him to Budmouth.
Yeobright did not wish to go there, but it was the only
feasible opening. Thence he went to London; and thence,
shortly after, to Paris, where he had remained till now.

Something being expected of him, he had not been at home
many days before a great curiosity as to why he stayed
on so long began to arise in the heath. The natural
term of a holiday had passed, yet he still remained.
On the Sunday morning following the week of Thomasin's
marriage a discussion on this subject was in progress
at a hair-cutting before Fairway's house. Here the local
barbering was always done at this hour on this day,
to be followed by the great Sunday wash of the inhabitants
at noon, which in its turn was followed by the great
Sunday dressing an hour later. On Egdon Heath Sunday
proper did not begin till dinner-time, and even then it
was a somewhat battered specimen of the day.

These Sunday-morning hair-cuttings were performed by Fairway;
the victim sitting on a chopping-block in front of the house,
without a coat, and the neighbours gossiping around,
idly observing the locks of hair as they rose upon the wind
after the snip, and flew away out of sight to the four
quarters of the heavens. Summer and winter the scene was
the same, unless the wind were more than usually blusterous,
when the stool was shifted a few feet round the corner.
To complain of cold in sitting out of doors, hatless
and coatless, while Fairway told true stories between
the cuts of the scissors, would have been to pronounce
yourself no man at once. To flinch, exclaim, or move
a muscle of the face at the small stabs under the ear
received from those instruments, or at scarifications
of the neck by the comb, would have been thought a gross
breach of good manners, considering that Fairway did it
all for nothing. A bleeding about the poll on Sunday
afternoons was amply accounted for by the explanation.
"I have had my hair cut, you know."

The conversation on Yeobright had been started by a
distant view of the young man rambling leisurely across
the heath before them.

"A man who is doing well elsewhere wouldn't bide
here two or three weeks for nothing," said Fairway.
"He's got some project in 's head--depend upon that."

"Well, 'a can't keep a diment shop here," said Sam.

"I don't see why he should have had them two heavy boxes
home if he had not been going to bide; and what there
is for him to do here the Lord in heaven knows."

Before many more surmises could be indulged in Yeobright
had come near; and seeing the hair-cutting group he turned
aside to join them. Marching up, and looking critically
at their faces for a moment, he said, without introduction,
"Now, folks, let me guess what you have been talking about."

"Ay, sure, if you will," said Sam.

"About me."

"Now, it is a thing I shouldn't have dreamed of doing,
otherwise," said Fairway in a tone of integrity; "but since
you have named it, Master Yeobright, I'll own that we was
talking about 'ee. We were wondering what could keep you home
here mollyhorning about when you have made such a world-wide
name for yourself in the nick-nack trade--now, that's the truth o't."

"I'll tell you," said Yeobright. with unexpected earnestness.
"I am not sorry to have the opportunity. I've come
home because, all things considered, I can be a trifle less
useless here than anywhere else. But I have only lately
found this out. When I first got away from home I thought
this place was not worth troubling about. I thought our
life here was contemptible. To oil your boots instead
of blacking them, to dust your coat with a switch instead
of a brush--was there ever anything more ridiculous? I said."

"So 'tis; so 'tis!"

"No, no--you are wrong; it isn't."

"Beg your pardon, we thought that was your maning?"

"Well, as my views changed my course became very depressing.
I found that I was trying to be like people who had hardly
anything in common with myself. I was endeavouring
to put off one sort of life for another sort of life,
which was not better than the life I had known before.
It was simply different."

"True; a sight different," said Fairway.

"Yes, Paris must be a taking place," said Humphrey.
"Grand shop-winders, trumpets, and drums; and here be we
out of doors in all winds and weathers--"

"But you mistake me," pleaded Clym. "All this was
very depressing. But not so depressing as something I
next perceived--that my business was the idlest, vainest,
most effeminate business that ever a man could be put to.
That decided me--I would give it up and try to follow
some rational occupation among the people I knew best,
and to whom I could be of most use. I have come home;
and this is how I mean to carry out my plan. I shall
keep a school as near to Egdon as possible, so as to be
able to walk over here and have a night-school in my
mother's house. But I must study a little at first,
to get properly qualified. Now, neighbours, I must go."

And Clym resumed his walk across the heath.

"He'll never carry it out in the world," said Fairway.
"In a few weeks he'll learn to see things otherwise."

"'Tis good-hearted of the young man," said another.
"But, for my part, I think he had better mind his business."





The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Category:
General Fiction
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