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Chapter 4 : Rough Coercion Is Employed


Those words of Thomasin, which seemed so little, but meant
so much, remained in the ears of Diggory Venn: "Help me
to keep him home in the evenings."

On this occasion Venn had arrived on Egdon Heath only to cross
to the other side--he had no further connection with the
interests of the Yeobright family, and he had a business of
his own to attend to. Yet he suddenly began to feel himself
drifting into the old track of manoeuvring on Thomasin's account.

He sat in his van and considered. From Thomasin's words and
manner he had plainly gathered that Wildeve neglected her.
For whom could he neglect her if not for Eustacia? Yet it
was scarcely credible that things had come to such a head
as to indicate that Eustacia systematically encouraged him.
Venn resolved to reconnoitre somewhat carefully the lonely
road which led along the vale from Wildeve's dwelling
to Clym's house at Alderworth.

At this time, as has been seen, Wildeve was quite
innocent of any predetermined act of intrigue, and except
at the dance on the green he had not once met Eustacia
since her marriage. But that the spirit of intrigue
was in him had been shown by a recent romantic habit
of his--a habit of going out after dark and strolling
towards Alderworth, there looking at the moon and stars,
looking at Eustacia's house, and walking back at leisure.

Accordingly, when watching on the night after the festival,
the reddleman saw him ascend by the little path,
lean over the front gate of Clym's garden, sigh, and turn
to go back again. It was plain that Wildeve's intrigue
was rather ideal than real. Venn retreated before him
down the hill to a place where the path was merely
a deep groove between the heather; here he mysteriously
bent over the ground for a few minutes, and retired.
When Wildeve came on to that spot his ankle was caught
by something, and he fell headlong.

As soon as he had recovered the power of respiration
he sat up and listened. There was not a sound in the
gloom beyond the spiritless stir of the summer wind.
Feeling about for the obstacle which had flung him down,
he discovered that two tufts of heath had been tied together
across the path, forming a loop, which to a traveller
was certain overthrow. Wildeve pulled off the string
that bound them, and went on with tolerable quickness.
On reaching home he found the cord to be of a reddish colour.
It was just what he had expected.

Although his weaknesses were not specially those akin
to physical fear, this species of coup-de-Jarnac
from one he knew too well troubled the mind of Wildeve.
But his movements were unaltered thereby. A night
or two later he again went along the vale to Alderworth,
taking the precaution of keeping out of any path.
The sense that he was watched, that craft was employed
to circumvent his errant tastes, added piquancy to a journey
so entirely sentimental, so long as the danger was of no
fearful sort. He imagined that Venn and Mrs. Yeobright
were in league, and felt that there was a certain legitimacy
in combating such a coalition.

The heath tonight appeared to be totally deserted;
and Wildeve, after looking over Eustacia's garden gate
for some little time, with a cigar in his mouth, was tempted
by the fascination that emotional smuggling had for his nature
to advance towards the window, which was not quite closed,
the blind being only partly drawn down. He could see
into the room, and Eustacia was sitting there alone.
Wildeve contemplated her for a minute, and then retreating
into the heath beat the ferns lightly, whereupon moths flew
out alarmed. Securing one, he returned to the window,
and holding the moth to the chink, opened his hand.
The moth made towards the candle upon Eustacia's table,
hovered round it two or three times, and flew into
the flame.

Eustacia started up. This had been a well-known signal
in old times when Wildeve had used to come secretly wooing
to Mistover. She at once knew that Wildeve was outside,
but before she could consider what to do her husband
came in from upstairs. Eustacia's face burnt crimson
at the unexpected collision of incidents, and filled it
with an animation that it too frequently lacked.

"You have a very high colour, dearest," said Yeobright,
when he came close enough to see it. "Your appearance
would be no worse if it were always so."

"I am warm," said Eustacia. "I think I will go into
the air for a few minutes."

"Shall I go with you?"

"O no. I am only going to the gate."

She arose, but before she had time to get out of the room
a loud rapping began upon the front door.

"I'll go--I'll go," said Eustacia in an unusually quick
tone for her; and she glanced eagerly towards the window
whence the moth had flown; but nothing appeared there.

"You had better not at this time of the evening,"
he said. Clym stepped before her into the passage,
and Eustacia waited, her somnolent manner covering her
inner heat and agitation.

She listened, and Clym opened the door. No words were
uttered outside, and presently he closed it and came back,
saying, "Nobody was there. I wonder what that could have meant?"

He was left to wonder during the rest of the evening,
for no explanation offered itself, and Eustacia said nothing,
the additional fact that she knew of only adding more
mystery to the performance.

Meanwhile a little drama had been acted outside which saved
Eustacia from all possibility of compromising herself
that evening at least. Whilst Wildeve had been preparing
his moth-signal another person had come behind him up
to the gate. This man, who carried a gun in his hand,
looked on for a moment at the other's operation by
the window, walked up to the house, knocked at the door,
and then vanished round the corner and over the hedge.

"Damn him!" said Wildeve. "He has been watching me again."

As his signal had been rendered futile by this uproarious
rapping Wildeve withdrew, passed out at the gate, and walked
quickly down the path without thinking of anything except
getting away unnoticed. Halfway down the hill the path
ran near a knot of stunted hollies, which in the general
darkness of the scene stood as the pupil in a black eye.
When Wildeve reached this point a report startled his ear,
and a few spent gunshots fell among the leaves around him.

There was no doubt that he himself was the cause of that
gun's discharge; and he rushed into the clump of hollies,
beating the bushes furiously with his stick; but nobody
was there. This attack was a more serious matter than
the last, and it was some time before Wildeve recovered
his equanimity. A new and most unpleasant system of menace
had begun, and the intent appeared to be to do him grievous
bodily harm. Wildeve had looked upon Venn's first attempt
as a species of horseplay, which the reddleman had indulged
in for want of knowing better; but now the boundary
line was passed which divides the annoying from the perilous.

Had Wildeve known how thoroughly in earnest Venn
had become he might have been still more alarmed.
The reddleman had been almost exasperated by the sight
of Wildeve outside Clym's house, and he was prepared to go
to any lengths short of absolutely shooting him, to terrify
the young innkeeper out of his recalcitrant impulses.
The doubtful legitimacy of such rough coercion did not
disturb the mind of Venn. It troubles few such minds
in such cases, and sometimes this is not to be regretted.
From the impeachment of Strafford to Farmer Lynch's
short way with the scamps of Virginia there have been
many triumphs of justice which are mockeries of law.

About half a mile below Clym's secluded dwelling
lay a hamlet where lived one of the two constables
who preserved the peace in the parish of Alderworth,
and Wildeve went straight to the constable's cottage.
Almost the first thing that he saw on opening the door
was the constable's truncheon hanging to a nail, as if
to assure him that here were the means to his purpose.
On inquiry, however, of the constable's wife he learnt
that the constable was not at home. Wildeve said he
would wait.

The minutes ticked on, and the constable did not arrive.
Wildeve cooled down from his state of high indignation
to a restless dissatisfaction with himself, the scene,
the constable's wife, and the whole set of circumstances.
He arose and left the house. Altogether, the experience
of that evening had had a cooling, not to say a chilling,
effect on misdirected tenderness, and Wildeve was in no mood
to ramble again to Alderworth after nightfall in hope of a
stray glance from Eustacia.

Thus far the reddleman had been tolerably successful in his
rude contrivances for keeping down Wildeve's inclination
to rove in the evening. He had nipped in the bud the
possible meeting between Eustacia and her old lover this
very night. But he had not anticipated that the tendency
of his action would be to divert Wildeve's movement
rather than to stop it. The gambling with the guineas
had not conduced to make him a welcome guest to Clym;
but to call upon his wife's relative was natural, and he
was determined to see Eustacia. It was necessary to choose
some less untoward hour than ten o'clock at night.
"Since it is unsafe to go in the evening," he said,
"I'll go by day."

Meanwhile Venn had left the heath and gone to call upon
Mrs. Yeobright, with whom he had been on friendly terms
since she had learnt what a providential countermove he
had made towards the restitution of the family guineas.
She wondered at the lateness of his call, but had no
objection to see him.

He gave her a full account of Clym's affliction, and of the
state in which he was living; then, referring to Thomasin,
touched gently upon the apparent sadness of her days.
"Now, ma'am, depend upon it," he said, "you couldn't do
a better thing for either of 'em than to make yourself
at home in their houses, even if there should be a little
rebuff at first."

"Both she and my son disobeyed me in marrying;
therefore I have no interest in their households.
Their troubles are of their own making." Mrs. Yeobright
tried to speak severely; but the account of her son's
state had moved her more than she cared to show.

"Your visits would make Wildeve walk straighter than he
is inclined to do, and might prevent unhappiness down
the heath."

"What do you mean?"

"I saw something tonight out there which I didn't like at all.
I wish your son's house and Mr. Wildeve's were a hundred
miles apart instead of four or five."

"Then there WAS an understanding between him
and Clym's wife when he made a fool of Thomasin!"

"We'll hope there's no understanding now."

"And our hope will probably be very vain. O Clym!
O Thomasin!"

"There's no harm done yet. In fact, I've persuaded
Wildeve to mind his own business."

"How?"

"O, not by talking--by a plan of mine called the silent system."

"I hope you'll succeed."

"I shall if you help me by calling and making friends
with your son. You'll have a chance then of using your eyes."

"Well, since it has come to this," said Mrs. Yeobright sadly,
"I will own to you, reddleman, that I thought of going.
I should be much happier if we were reconciled.
The marriage is unalterable, my life may be cut short,
and I should wish to die in peace. He is my only son;
and since sons are made of such stuff I am not sorry
I have no other. As for Thomasin, I never expected
much from her; and she has not disappointed me.
But I forgave her long ago; and I forgive him now.
I'll go."

At this very time of the reddleman's conversation
with Mrs. Yeobright at Blooms-End another conversation
on the same subject was languidly proceeding at Alderworth.

All the day Clym had borne himself as if his mind were too full
of its own matter to allow him to care about outward things,
and his words now showed what had occupied his thoughts.
It was just after the mysterious knocking that he began
the theme. "Since I have been away today, Eustacia,
I have considered that something must be done to heal up
this ghastly breach between my dear mother and myself.
It troubles me."

"What do you propose to do?" said Eustacia abstractedly,
for she could not clear away from her the excitement caused
by Wildeve's recent manoeuvre for an interview.

"You seem to take a very mild interest in what I propose,
little or much," said Clym, with tolerable warmth.

"You mistake me," she answered, reviving at his reproach.
"I am only thinking."

"What of?"

"Partly of that moth whose skeleton is getting burnt up
in the wick of the candle," she said slowly. "But you
know I always take an interest in what you say."

"Very well, dear. Then I think I must go and call upon
her."...He went on with tender feeling: "It is a thing
I am not at all too proud to do, and only a fear
that I might irritate her has kept me away so long.
But I must do something. It is wrong in me to allow
this sort of thing to go on."

"What have you to blame yourself about?"

"She is getting old, and her life is lonely, and I am
her only son."

"She has Thomasin."

"Thomasin is not her daughter; and if she were that
would not excuse me. But this is beside the point.
I have made up my mind to go to her, and all I wish
to ask you is whether you will do your best to help
me--that is, forget the past; and if she shows her
willingness to be reconciled, meet her halfway by welcoming
her to our house, or by accepting a welcome to hers?"

At first Eustacia closed her lips as if she would rather
do anything on the whole globe than what he suggested.
But the lines of her mouth softened with thought, though not
so far as they might have softened, and she said, "I will
put nothing in your way; but after what has passed it,
is asking too much that I go and make advances."

"You never distinctly told me what did pass between you."

"I could not do it then, nor can I now. Sometimes more
bitterness is sown in five minutes than can be got rid
of in a whole life; and that may be the case here."
She paused a few moments, and added, "If you had never
returned to your native place, Clym, what a blessing it
would have been for you!...It has altered the destinies of----"

"Three people."

"Five," Eustacia thought; but she kept that in.





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