eBooks Cube
 
Chapter 8 : Eustacia Hears of Good Fortune, and Beholds Evil


In the meantime Eustacia, left alone in her cottage
at Alderworth, had become considerably depressed by the
posture of affairs. The consequences which might result
from Clym's discovery that his mother had been turned
from his door that day were likely to be disagreeable,
and this was a quality in events which she hated as much
as the dreadful.

To be left to pass the evening by herself was irksome
to her at any time, and this evening it was more irksome
than usual by reason of the excitements of the past hours.
The two visits had stirred her into restlessness.
She was not wrought to any great pitch of uneasiness
by the probability of appearing in an ill light in the
discussion between Clym and his mother, but she was wrought
to vexation, and her slumbering activities were quickened
to the extent of wishing that she had opened the door.
She had certainly believed that Clym was awake,
and the excuse would be an honest one as far as it went;
but nothing could save her from censure in refusing
to answer at the first knock. Yet, instead of blaming
herself for the issue she laid the fault upon the shoulders
of some indistinct, colossal Prince of the World, who had
framed her situation and ruled her lot.

At this time of the year it was pleasanter to walk by
night than by day, and when Clym had been absent about
an hour she suddenly resolved to go out in the direction
of Blooms-End, on the chance of meeting him on his return.
When she reached the garden gate she heard wheels approaching,
and looking round beheld her grandfather coming up in his car.

"I can't stay a minute, thank ye," he answered
to her greeting. "I am driving to East Egdon;
but I came round here just to tell you the news.
Perhaps you have heard--about Mr. Wildeve's fortune?"

"No," said Eustacia blankly.

"Well, he has come into a fortune of eleven thousand
pounds--uncle died in Canada, just after hearing
that all his family, whom he was sending home,
had gone to the bottom in the Cassiopeia; so Wildeve
has come into everything, without in the least expecting it."

Eustacia stood motionless awhile. "How long has he known
of this?" she asked.

"Well, it was known to him this morning early, for I knew
it at ten o'clock, when Charley came back. Now, he is
what I call a lucky man. What a fool you were, Eustacia!"

"In what way?" she said, lifting her eyes in apparent calmness.

"Why, in not sticking to him when you had him."

"Had him, indeed!"

"I did not know there had ever been anything between you
till lately; and, faith, I should have been hot and strong
against it if I had known; but since it seems that there
was some sniffing between ye, why the deuce didn't you
stick to him?"

Eustacia made no reply, but she looked as if she could
say as much upon that subject as he if she chose.

"And how is your poor purblind husband?" continued the
old man. "Not a bad fellow either, as far as he goes."

"He is quite well."

"It is a good thing for his cousin what-d'ye-call-her?
By George, you ought to have been in that galley,
my girl! Now I must drive on. Do you want any assistance?
What's mine is yours, you know."

"Thank you, Grandfather, we are not in want at present,"
she said coldly. "Clym cuts furze, but he does it mostly
as a useful pastime, because he can do nothing else."

"He is paid for his pastime, isn't he? Three shillings
a hundred, I heard."

"Clym has money," she said, colouring, "but he likes
to earn a little."

"Very well; good night." And the captain drove on.

When her grandfather was gone Eustacia went on her
way mechanically; but her thoughts were no longer concerning
her mother-in-law and Clym. Wildeve, notwithstanding his
complaints against his fate, had been seized upon by destiny
and placed in the sunshine once more. Eleven thousand
pounds! From every Egdon point of view he was a rich man.
In Eustacia's eyes, too, it was an ample sum--one sufficient
to supply those wants of hers which had been stigmatized
by Clym in his more austere moods as vain and luxurious.
Though she was no lover of money she loved what money
could bring; and the new accessories she imagined around
him clothed Wildeve with a great deal of interest.
She recollected now how quietly well-dressed he had been
that morning--he had probably put on his newest suit,
regardless of damage by briars and thorns. And then she
thought of his manner towards herself.

"O I see it, I see it," she said. "How much he wishes
he had me now, that he might give me all I desire!"

In recalling the details of his glances and words--at
the time scarcely regarded--it became plain to her how
greatly they had been dictated by his knowledge of this
new event. "Had he been a man to bear a jilt ill-will he
would have told me of his good fortune in crowing tones;
instead of doing that he mentioned not a word, in deference
to my misfortunes, and merely implied that he loved
me still, as one superior to him."

Wildeve's silence that day on what had happened to him was
just the kind of behaviour calculated to make an impression
on such a woman. Those delicate touches of good taste were,
in fact, one of the strong points in his demeanour towards
the other sex. The peculiarity of Wildeve was that,
while at one time passionate, upbraiding, and resentful
towards a woman, at another he would treat her with such
unparalleled grace as to make previous neglect appear
as no discourtesy, injury as no insult, interference as a
delicate attention, and the ruin of her honour as excess
of chivalry. This man, whose admiration today Eustacia
had disregarded, whose good wishes she had scarcely
taken the trouble to accept, whom she had shown out of
the house by the back door, was the possessor of eleven
thousand pounds--a man of fair professional education,
and one who had served his articles with a civil engineer.

So intent was Eustacia upon Wildeve's fortunes that she
forgot how much closer to her own course were those of Clym;
and instead of walking on to meet him at once she sat
down upon a stone. She was disturbed in her reverie by a
voice behind, and turning her head beheld the old lover
and fortunate inheritor of wealth immediately beside her.

She remained sitting, though the fluctuation in her look
might have told any man who knew her so well as Wildeve
that she was thinking of him.

"How did you come here?" she said in her clear low tone.
"I thought you were at home."

"I went on to the village after leaving your garden;
and now I have come back again--that's all. Which way
are you walking, may I ask?"

She waved her hand in the direction of Blooms-End. "I
am going to meet my husband. I think I may possibly
have got into trouble whilst you were with me today."

"How could that be?"

"By not letting in Mrs. Yeobright."

"I hope that visit of mine did you no harm."

"None. It was not your fault," she said quietly.

By this time she had risen; and they involuntarily sauntered
on together, without speaking, for two or three minutes;
when Eustacia broke silence by saying, "I assume I must
congratulate you."

"On what? O yes; on my eleven thousand pounds,
you mean. Well, since I didn't get something else,
I must be content with getting that."

"You seem very indifferent about it. Why didn't you
tell me today when you came?" she said in the tone
of a neglected person. "I heard of it quite by accident."

"I did mean to tell you," said Wildeve. "But I--well,
I will speak frankly--I did not like to mention it
when I saw, Eustacia, that your star was not high.
The sight of a man lying wearied out with hard work,
as your husband lay, made me feel that to brag of my own
fortune to you would be greatly out of place. Yet, as you
stood there beside him, I could not help feeling too
that in many respects he was a richer man than I."

At this Eustacia said, with slumbering mischievousness,
"What, would you exchange with him--your fortune for me?"

"I certainly would," said Wildeve.

"As we are imagining what is impossible and absurd,
suppose we change the subject?"

"Very well; and I will tell you of my plans for the future,
if you care to hear them. I shall permanently invest
nine thousand pounds, keep one thousand as ready money,
and with the remaining thousand travel for a year or so."

"Travel? What a bright idea! Where will you go to?"

"From here to Paris, where I shall pass the winter and spring.
Then I shall go to Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Palestine,
before the hot weather comes on. In the summer I shall
go to America; and then, by a plan not yet settled,
I shall go to Australia and round to India. By that time
I shall have begun to have had enough of it. Then I shall
probably come back to Paris again, and there I shall stay
as long as I can afford to."

"Back to Paris again," she murmured in a voice that was
nearly a sigh. She had never once told Wildeve of the
Parisian desires which Clym's description had sown in her;
yet here was he involuntarily in a position to gratify them.
"You think a good deal of Paris?" she added.

"Yes. In my opinion it is the central beauty-spot
of the world."

"And in mine! And Thomasin will go with you?"

"Yes, if she cares to. She may prefer to stay at home."

"So you will be going about, and I shall be staying here!"

"I suppose you will. But we know whose fault that is."

"I am not blaming you," she said quickly.

"Oh, I thought you were. If ever you SHOULD be inclined
to blame me, think of a certain evening by Rainbarrow,
when you promised to meet me and did not. You sent me
a letter; and my heart ached to read that as I hope
yours never will. That was one point of divergence.
I then did something in haste....But she is a good woman,
and I will say no more."

"I know that the blame was on my side that time,"
said Eustacia. "But it had not always been so.
However, it is my misfortune to be too sudden in feeling.
O, Damon, don't reproach me any more--I can't bear that."

They went on silently for a distance of two or three miles,
when Eustacia said suddenly, "Haven't you come out of
your way, Mr. Wildeve?"

"My way is anywhere tonight. I will go with you as far
as the hill on which we can see Blooms-End, as it
is getting late for you to be alone."

"Don't trouble. I am not obliged to be out at all.
I think I would rather you did not accompany me further.
This sort of thing would have an odd look if known."

"Very well, I will leave you." He took her hand unexpectedly,
and kissed it--for the first time since her marriage.
"What light is that on the hill?" he added, as it were to
hide the caress.

She looked, and saw a flickering firelight proceeding
from the open side of a hovel a little way before them.
The hovel, which she had hitherto always found empty,
seemed to be inhabited now.

"Since you have come so far," said Eustacia, "will you
see me safely past that hut? I thought I should have met
Clym somewhere about here, but as he doesn't appear I
will hasten on and get to Blooms-End before he leaves."

They advanced to the turf-shed, and when they got near it
the firelight and the lantern inside showed distinctly enough
the form of a woman reclining on a bed of fern, a group
of heath men and women standing around her. Eustacia did
not recognize Mrs. Yeobright in the reclining figure,
nor Clym as one of the standers-by till she came close.
Then she quickly pressed her hand up on Wildeve's arm
and signified to him to come back from the open side
of the shed into the shadow.

"It is my husband and his mother," she whispered in an
agitated voice. "What can it mean? Will you step forward
and tell me?"

Wildeve left her side and went to the back wall of the hut.
Presently Eustacia perceived that he was beckoning to her,
and she advanced and joined him.

"It is a serious case," said Wildeve.

From their position they could hear what was proceeding inside.

"I cannot think where she could have been going,"
said Clym to someone. "She had evidently walked a long way,
but even when she was able to speak just now she would
not tell me where. What do you really think of her?"

"There is a great deal to fear," was gravely answered,
in a voice which Eustacia recognized as that of the only
surgeon in the district. "She has suffered somewhat from
the bite of the adder; but it is exhaustion which has
overpowered her. My impression is that her walk must
have been exceptionally long."

"I used to tell her not to overwalk herself this weather,"
said Clym, with distress. "Do you think we did well in
using the adder's fat?"

"Well, it is a very ancient remedy--the old remedy
of the viper-catchers, I believe," replied the doctor.
"It is mentioned as an infallible ointment by Hoffman,
Mead, and I think the Abbe Fontana. Undoubtedly it
was as good a thing as you could do; though I question
if some other oils would not have been equally efficacious."

"Come here, come here!" was then rapidly said in anxious
female tones, and Clym and the doctor could be heard
rushing forward from the back part of the shed to where
Mrs. Yeobright lay.

"Oh, what is it?" whispered Eustacia.

"'Twas Thomasin who spoke," said Wildeve. "Then they
have fetched her. I wonder if I had better go in--yet
it might do harm."

For a long time there was utter silence among the
group within; and it was broken at last by Clym saying,
in an agonized voice, "O Doctor, what does it mean?"

The doctor did not reply at once; ultimately he said,
"She is sinking fast. Her heart was previously affected,
and physical exhaustion has dealt the finishing blow."

Then there was a weeping of women, then waiting,
then hushed exclamations, then a strange gasping sound,
then a painful stillness.

"It is all over," said the doctor.

Further back in the hut the cotters whispered,
"Mrs. Yeobright is dead."

Almost at the same moment the two watchers observed the
form of a small old-fashioned child entering at the open
side of the shed. Susan Nunsuch, whose boy it was,
went forward to the opening and silently beckoned to him
to go back.

"I've got something to tell 'ee, Mother," he cried in a
shrill tone. "That woman asleep there walked along with
me today; and she said I was to say that I had seed her,
and she was a broken-hearted woman and cast off by her son,
and then I came on home."

A confused sob as from a man was heard within,
upon which Eustacia gasped faintly, "That's Clym--I
must go to him--yet dare I do it? No--come away!"

When they had withdrawn from the neighbourhood of
the shed she said huskily, "I am to blame for this.
There is evil in store for me."

"Was she not admitted to your house after all?"
Wildeve inquired.

"No, and that's where it all lies! Oh, what shall I do! I
shall not intrude upon them--I shall go straight home.
Damon, good-bye! I cannot speak to you any more now."

They parted company; and when Eustacia had reached
the next hill she looked back. A melancholy procession
was wending its way by the light of the lantern from
the hut towards Blooms-End. Wildeve was nowhere to be seen.





The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Category:
General Fiction
Nabou.com: the big site