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Chapter 3 : Eustacia Dresses Herself on a Black Morning


A consciousness of a vast impassivity in all which lay
around him took possession even of Yeobright in his wild
walk towards Alderworth. He had once before felt in his own
person this overpowering of the fervid by the inanimate;
but then it had tended to enervate a passion far sweeter
than that which at present pervaded him. It was once
when he stood parting from Eustacia in the moist still
levels beyond the hills.

But dismissing all this he went onward home, and came to
the front of his house. The blinds of Eustacia's bedroom
were still closely drawn, for she was no early riser.
All the life visible was in the shape of a solitary thrush
cracking a small snail upon the door-stone for his breakfast,
and his tapping seemed a loud noise in the general
silence which prevailed; but on going to the door Clym
found it unfastened, the young girl who attended upon
Eustacia being astir in the back part of the premises.
Yeobright entered and went straight to his wife's room.

The noise of his arrival must have aroused her, for when
he opened the door she was standing before the looking
glass in her nightdress, the ends of her hair gathered
into one hand, with which she was coiling the whole mass
round her head, previous to beginning toilette operations.
She was not a woman given to speaking first at a meeting,
and she allowed Clym to walk across in silence,
without turning her head. He came behind her, and she saw
his face in the glass. It was ashy, haggard, and terrible.
Instead of starting towards him in sorrowful surprise,
as even Eustacia, undemonstrative wife as she was, would have
done in days before she burdened herself with a secret,
she remained motionless, looking at him in the glass.
And while she looked the carmine flush with which warmth
and sound sleep had suffused her cheeks and neck dissolved
from view, and the deathlike pallor in his face flew across
into hers. He was close enough to see this, and the sight
instigated his tongue.

"You know what is the matter," he said huskily.
"I see it in your face."

Her hand relinquished the rope of hair and dropped to
her side, and the pile of tresses, no longer supported,
fell from the crown of her head about her shoulders
and over the white nightgown. She made no reply.

"Speak to me," said Yeobright peremptorily.

The blanching process did not cease in her, and her lips
now became as white as her face. She turned to him
and said, "Yes, Clym, I'll speak to you. Why do you
return so early? Can I do anything for you?"

"Yes, you can listen to me. It seems that my wife
is not very well?"

"Why?"

"Your face, my dear; your face. Or perhaps it is
the pale morning light which takes your colour away?
Now I am going to reveal a secret to you. Ha-ha!"

"O, that is ghastly!"

"What?"

"Your laugh."

"There's reason for ghastliness. Eustacia, you have held
my happiness in the hollow of your hand, and like a devil
you have dashed it down!"

She started back from the dressing-table, retreated a few
steps from him, and looked him in the face. "Ah! you
think to frighten me," she said, with a slight laugh.
"Is it worth while? I am undefended, and alone."

"How extraordinary!"

"What do you mean?"

"As there is ample time I will tell you, though you know
well enough. I mean that it is extraordinary that you
should be alone in my absence. Tell me, now, where is
he who was with you on the afternoon of the thirty-
first of August? Under the bed? Up the chimney?"

A shudder overcame her and shook the light fabric of her
nightdress throughout. "I do not remember dates so exactly,"
she said. "I cannot recollect that anybody was with me
besides yourself."

"The day I mean," said Yeobright, his voice growing louder
and harsher, "was the day you shut the door against my
mother and killed her. O, it is too much--too bad!"
He leant over the footpiece of the bedstead for a few moments,
with his back towards her; then rising again--"Tell me,
tell me! tell me--do you hear?" he cried, rushing up to
her and seizing her by the loose folds of her sleeve.

The superstratum of timidity which often overlies those who
are daring and defiant at heart had been passed through,
and the mettlesome substance of the woman was reached.
The red blood inundated her face, previously so pale.

"What are you going to do?" she said in a low voice,
regarding him with a proud smile. "You will not alarm
me by holding on so; but it would be a pity to tear
my sleeve."

Instead of letting go he drew her closer to him. "Tell me
the particulars of--my mother's death," he said in a hard,
panting whisper; "or--I'll--I'll--"

"Clym," she answered slowly, "do you think you dare
do anything to me that I dare not bear? But before you
strike me listen. You will get nothing from me by a blow,
even though it should kill me, as it probably will.
But perhaps you do not wish me to speak--killing may be all
you mean?"

"Kill you! Do you expect it?"

"I do."

"Why?"

"No less degree of rage against me will match your previous
grief for her."

"Phew--I shall not kill you," he said contemptuously,
as if under a sudden change of purpose. "I did think of it;
but--I shall not. That would be making a martyr of you,
and sending you to where she is; and I would keep
you away from her till the universe come to an end,
if I could."

"I almost wish you would kill me," said she with gloomy
bitterness. "It is with no strong desire, I assure you,
that I play the part I have lately played on earth.
You are no blessing, my husband."

"You shut the door--you looked out of the window upon
her--you had a man in the house with you--you sent her
away to die. The inhumanity--the treachery--I will not
touch you--stand away from me--and confess every word!"

"Never! I'll hold my tongue like the very death that I
don't mind meeting, even though I can clear myself
of half you believe by speaking. Yes. I will! Who
of any dignity would take the trouble to clear cobwebs
from a wild man's mind after such language as this? No;
let him go on, and think his narrow thoughts, and run
his head into the mire. I have other cares."

"'Tis too much--but I must spare you."

"Poor charity."

"By my wretched soul you sting me, Eustacia! I can keep
it up, and hotly too. Now, then, madam, tell me his name!"

"Never, I am resolved."

"How often does he write to you? Where does he put his
letters--when does he meet you? Ah, his letters! Do you
tell me his name?"

"I do not."

"Then I'll find it myself." His eyes had fallen upon
a small desk that stood near, on which she was accustomed
to write her letters. He went to it. It was locked.

"Unlock this!"

"You have no right to say it. That's mine."

Without another word he seized the desk and dashed
it to the floor. The hinge burst open, and a number
of letters tumbled out.

"Stay!" said Eustacia, stepping before him with more
excitement than she had hitherto shown.

"Come, come! stand away! I must see them."

She looked at the letters as they lay, checked her feeling
and moved indifferently aside; when he gathered them up,
and examined them.

By no stretch of meaning could any but a harmless construction
be placed upon a single one of the letters themselves.
The solitary exception was an empty envelope directed to her,
and the handwriting was Wildeve's. Yeobright held it up.
Eustacia was doggedly silent.

"Can you read, madam? Look at this envelope. Doubtless we
shall find more soon, and what was inside them.
I shall no doubt be gratified by learning in good time
what a well-finished and full-blown adept in a certain
trade my lady is."

"Do you say it to me--do you?" she gasped.

He searched further, but found nothing more. "What was
in this letter?" he said.

"Ask the writer. Am I your hound that you should talk
to me in this way?"

"Do you brave me? do you stand me out, mistress? Answer.
Don't look at me with those eyes if you would bewitch me
again! Sooner than that I die. You refuse to answer?"

"I wouldn't tell you after this, if I were as innocent
as the sweetest babe in heaven!"

"Which you are not."

"Certainly I am not absolutely," she replied. "I have not
done what you suppose; but if to have done no harm at all
is the only innocence recognized, I am beyond forgiveness.
But I require no help from your conscience."

"You can resist, and resist again! Instead of hating
you I could, I think, mourn for and pity you, if you
were contrite, and would confess all. Forgive you I
never can. I don't speak of your lover--I will give you
the benefit of the doubt in that matter, for it only affects
me personally. But the other--had you half-killed me,
had it been that you wilfully took the sight away from
these feeble eyes of mine, I could have forgiven you.
But THAT'S too much for nature!"

"Say no more. I will do without your pity. But I would
have saved you from uttering what you will regret."

"I am going away now. I shall leave you."

"You need not go, as I am going myself. You will keep
just as far away from me by staying here."

"Call her to mind--think of her--what goodness there was
in her--it showed in every line of her face! Most women,
even when but slightly annoyed, show a flicker of evil
in some curl of the mouth or some corner of the cheek;
but as for her, never in her angriest moments was there
anything malicious in her look. She was angered quickly,
but she forgave just as readily, and underneath her pride there
was the meekness of a child. What came of it.?--what cared
you? You hated her just as she was learning to love you.
O! couldn't you see what was best for you, but must
bring a curse upon me, and agony and death upon her,
by doing that cruel deed! What was the fellow's name
who was keeping you company and causing you to add cruelty
to her to your wrong to me? Was it Wildeve? Was it poor
Thomasin's husband? Heaven, what wickedness! Lost your voice,
have you? It is natural after detection of that most noble
trick....Eustacia, didn't any tender thought of your own
mother lead you to think of being gentle to mine at such
a time of weariness? Did not one grain of pity enter your
heart as she turned away? Think what a vast opportunity
was then lost of beginning a forgiving and honest course.
Why did not you kick him out, and let her in, and say I'll
be an honest wife and a noble woman from this hour? Had I
told you to go and quench eternally our last flickering
chance of happiness here you could have done no worse.
Well, she's asleep now; and have you a hundred gallants,
neither they nor you can insult her any more."

"You exaggerate fearfully," she said in a faint,
weary voice; "but I cannot enter into my defence--it
is not worth doing. You are nothing to me in future,
and the past side of the story may as well remain untold.
I have lost all through you, but I have not complained.
Your blunders and misfortunes may have been a sorrow to you,
but they have been a wrong to me. All persons of refinement
have been scared away from me since I sank into the mire
of marriage. Is this your cherishing--to put me into a hut
like this, and keep me like the wife of a hind? You deceived
me--not by words, but by appearances, which are less seen
through than words. But the place will serve as well
as any other--as somewhere to pass from--into my grave."
Her words were smothered in her throat, and her head
drooped down.

"I don't know what you mean by that. Am I the cause of
your sin?" (Eustacia made a trembling motion towards him.)
"What, you can begin to shed tears and offer me your
hand? Good God! can you? No, not I. I'll not commit
the fault of taking that." (The hand she had offered
dropped nervelessly, but the tears continued flowing.)
"Well, yes, I'll take it, if only for the sake of my own
foolish kisses that were wasted there before I knew
what I cherished. How bewitched I was! How could there
be any good in a woman that everybody spoke ill of?"

"O, O, O!" she cried, breaking down at last; and, shaking
with sobs which choked her, she sank upon her knees.
"O, will you have done! O, you are too relentless--there's
a limit to the cruelty of savages! I have held out long--but
you crush me down. I beg for mercy--I cannot bear this
any longer--it is inhuman to go further with this! If I
had--killed your--mother with my own hand--I should not
deserve such a scourging to the bone as this. O, O! God
have mercy upon a miserable woman!...You have beaten me in
this game--I beg you to stay your hand in pity!...I confess
that I--wilfully did not undo the door the first time she
knocked--but--I should have unfastened it the second--
if I had not thought you had gone to do it yourself.
When I found you had not I opened it, but she was gone.
That's the extent of my crime--towards HER. Best natures
commit bad faults sometimes, don't they?--I think they do.
Now I will leave you--for ever and ever!"

"Tell all, and I WILL pity you. Was the man
in the house with you Wildeve?"

"I cannot tell," she said desperately through her sobbing.
"Don't insist further--I cannot tell. I am going from
this house. We cannot both stay here."

"You need not go--I will go. You can stay here."

"No, I will dress, and then I will go."

"Where?"

"Where I came from, or ELSEWHERE."

She hastily dressed herself, Yeobright moodily
walking up and down the room the whole of the time.
At last all her things were on. Her little hands
quivered so violently as she held them to her chin
to fasten her bonnet that she could not tie the strings,
and after a few moments she relinquished the attempt.
Seeing this he moved forward and said, "Let me tie them."

She assented in silence, and lifted her chin. For once
at least in her life she was totally oblivious of the
charm of her attitude. But he was not, and he turned
his eyes aside, that he might not be tempted to softness.

The strings were tied; she turned from him. "Do you
still prefer going away yourself to my leaving you?"
he inquired again.

"I do."

"Very well--let it be. And when you will confess
to the man I may pity you."

She flung her shawl about her and went downstairs,
leaving him standing in the room.


Eustacia had not long been gone when there came a knock
at the door of the bedroom; and Yeobright said, "Well?"

It was the servant; and she replied, "Somebody from
Mrs. Wildeve's have called to tell 'ee that the mis'ess
and the baby are getting on wonderful well, and the baby's
name is to be Eustacia Clementine." And the girl retired.

"What a mockery!" said Clym. "This unhappy marriage
of mine to be perpetuated in that child's name!"





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