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Chapter 5 : An Old Move Inadvertently Repeated


Charley's attentions to his former mistress were unbounded.
The only solace to his own trouble lay in his attempts
to relieve hers. Hour after hour he considered her wants;
he thought of her presence there with a sort of gratitude,
and, while uttering imprecations on the cause of
her unhappiness, in some measure blessed the result.
Perhaps she would always remain there, he thought, and then
he would be as happy as he had been before. His dread
was lest she should think fit to return to Alderworth,
and in that dread his eyes, with all the inquisitiveness
of affection, frequently sought her face when she was
not observing him, as he would have watched the head
of a stockdove to learn if it contemplated flight.
Having once really succoured her, and possibly preserved
her from the rashest of acts, he mentally assumed
in addition a guardian's responsibility for her welfare.

For this reason he busily endeavoured to provide her with
pleasant distractions, bringing home curious objects which he
found in the heath, such as white trumpet-shaped mosses,
redheaded lichens, stone arrowheads used by the old tribes
on Egdon, and faceted crystals from the hollows of flints.
These he deposited on the premises in such positions
that she should see them as if by accident.

A week passed, Eustacia never going out of the house.
Then she walked into the enclosed plot and looked
through her grandfather's spyglass, as she had been in
the habit of doing before her marriage. One day she saw,
at a place where the highroad crossed the distant valley,
a heavily laden wagon passing along. It was piled
with household furniture. She looked again and again,
and recognized it to be her own. In the evening her
grandfather came indoors with a rumour that Yeobright
had removed that day from Alderworth to the old house at
Blooms-End.

On another occasion when reconnoitring thus she beheld
two female figures walking in the vale. The day was fine
and clear; and the persons not being more than half a mile
off she could see their every detail with the telescope.
The woman walking in front carried a white bundle in her arms,
from one end of which hung a long appendage of drapery;
and when the walkers turned, so that the sun fell more directly
upon them, Eustacia could see that the object was a baby.
She called Charley, and asked him if he knew who they were,
though she well guessed.

"Mrs. Wildeve and the nurse-girl," said Charley.

"The nurse is carrying the baby?" said Eustacia.

"No, 'tis Mrs. Wildeve carrying that," he answered,
"and the nurse walks behind carrying nothing."

The lad was in good spirits that day, for the Fifth
of November had again come round, and he was planning yet
another scheme to divert her from her too absorbing thoughts.
For two successive years his mistress had seemed
to take pleasure in lighting a bonfire on the bank
overlooking the valley; but this year she had apparently
quite forgotten the day and the customary deed.
He was careful not to remind her, and went on with his
secret preparations for a cheerful surprise, the more
zealously that he had been absent last time and unable
to assist. At every vacant minute he hastened to gather
furze-stumps, thorn-tree roots, and other solid materials
from the adjacent slopes, hiding them from cursory view.

The evening came, and Eustacia was still seemingly
unconscious of the anniversary. She had gone indoors
after her survey through the glass, and had not been
visible since. As soon as it was quite dark Charley
began to build the bonfire, choosing precisely that spot
on the bank which Eustacia had chosen at previous times.

When all the surrounding bonfires had burst into
existence Charley kindled his, and arranged its fuel
so that it should not require tending for some time.
He then went back to the house, and lingered round the
door and windows till she should by some means or other
learn of his achievement and come out to witness it.
But the shutters were closed, the door remained shut,
and no heed whatever seemed to be taken of his performance.
Not liking to call her he went back and replenished the fire,
continuing to do this for more than half an hour.
It was not till his stock of fuel had greatly diminished
that he went to the back door and sent in to beg that
Mrs. Yeobright would open the window-shutters and see
the sight outside.

Eustacia, who had been sitting listlessly in the parlour,
started up at the intelligence and flung open the shutters.
Facing her on the bank blazed the fire, which at once sent
a ruddy glare into the room where she was, and overpowered
the candles.

"Well done, Charley!" said Captain Vye from the chimney-corner.
"But I hope it is not my wood that he's burning....Ah, it
was this time last year that I met with that man Venn,
bringing home Thomasin Yeobright--to be sure it was! Well,
who would have thought that girl's troubles would have
ended so well? What a snipe you were in that matter,
Eustacia! Has your husband written to you yet?"

"No," said Eustacia, looking vaguely through the window
at the fire, which just then so much engaged her mind
that she did not resent her grandfather's blunt opinion.
She could see Charley's form on the bank, shovelling and
stirring the fire; and there flashed upon her imagination
some other form which that fire might call up.

She left the room, put on her garden bonnet and cloak,
and went out. Reaching the bank, she looked over
with a wild curiosity and misgiving, when Charley said
to her, with a pleased sense of himself, "I made it o'
purpose for you, ma'am."

"Thank you," she said hastily. "But I wish you to put
it out now."

"It will soon burn down," said Charley, rather disappointed.
"Is it not a pity to knock it out?"

"I don't know," she musingly answered.

They stood in silence, broken only by the crackling
of the flames, till Charley, perceiving that she did
not want to talk to him, moved reluctantly away.

Eustacia remained within the bank looking at the fire,
intending to go indoors, yet lingering still. Had she
not by her situation been inclined to hold in indifference
all things honoured of the gods and of men she would
probably have come away. But her state was so hopeless
that she could play with it. To have lost is less
disturbing than to wonder if we may possibly have won;
and Eustacia could now, like other people at such a stage,
take a standing-point outside herself, observe herself
as a disinterested spectator, and think what a sport for
Heaven this woman Eustacia was.

While she stood she heard a sound. It was the splash
of a stone in the pond.

Had Eustacia received the stone full in the bosom
her heart could not have given a more decided thump.
She had thought of the possibility of such a signal in
answer to that which had been unwittingly given by Charley;
but she had not expected it yet. How prompt Wildeve
was! Yet how could he think her capable of deliberately
wishing to renew their assignations now? An impulse to
leave the spot, a desire to stay, struggled within her;
and the desire held its own. More than that it did
not do, for she refrained even from ascending the bank
and looking over. She remained motionless, not disturbing
a muscle of her face or raising her eyes; for were she to
turn up her face the fire on the bank would shine upon it,
and Wildeve might be looking down.

There was a second splash into the pond.

Why did he stay so long without advancing and looking
over? Curiosity had its way--she ascended one or two
of the earth-steps in the bank and glanced out.

Wildeve was before her. He had come forward after throwing
the last pebble, and the fire now shone into each of their
faces from the bank stretching breast-high between them.

"I did not light it!" cried Eustacia quickly. "It was
lit without my knowledge. Don't, don't come over to me!"

"Why have you been living here all these days without
telling me? You have left your home. I fear I am something
to blame in this?"

"I did not let in his mother; that's how it is!"

"You do not deserve what you have got, Eustacia; you are
in great misery; I see it in your eyes, your mouth, and all
over you. My poor, poor girl!" He stepped over the bank.
"You are beyond everything unhappy!"

"No, no; not exactly--"

"It has been pushed too far--it is killing you--I do think it!"

Her usually quiet breathing had grown quicker with his words.
"I--I--" she began, and then burst into quivering sobs,
shaken to the very heart by the unexpected voice of pity--a
sentiment whose existence in relation to herself she had
almost forgotten.

This outbreak of weeping took Eustacia herself so much by
surprise that she could not leave off, and she turned aside
from him in some shame, though turning hid nothing from him.
She sobbed on desperately; then the outpour lessened,
and she became quieter. Wildeve had resisted the impulse
to clasp her, and stood without speaking.

"Are you not ashamed of me, who used never to be
a crying animal?" she asked in a weak whisper as she
wiped her eyes. "Why didn't you go away? I wish you
had not seen quite all that; it reveals too much by half."

"You might have wished it, because it makes me
as sad as you," he said with emotion and deference.
"As for revealing--the word is impossible between us two."

"I did not send for you--don't forget it, Damon; I am
in pain, but I did not send for you! As a wife, at least,
I've been straight."

"Never mind--I came. O, Eustacia, forgive me for the harm
I have done you in these two past years! I see more and more
that I have been your ruin."

"Not you. This place I live in."

"Ah, your generosity may naturally make you say that.
But I am the culprit. I should either have done more or
nothing at all."

"In what way?"

"I ought never to have hunted you out, or, having done it,
I ought to have persisted in retaining you.
But of course I have no right to talk of that now.
I will only ask this--can I do anything for you? Is there
anything on the face of the earth that a man can do to
make you happier than you are at present? If there is,
I will do it. You may command me, Eustacia, to the limit
of my influence; and don't forget that I am richer now.
Surely something can be done to save you from this! Such
a rare plant in such a wild place it grieves me to see.
Do you want anything bought? Do you want to go anywhere?
Do you want to escape the place altogether? Only say it,
and I'll do anything to put an end to those tears, which but
for me would never have been at all."

"We are each married to another person," she said faintly;
"and assistance from you would have an evil sound--after--after--"

"Well, there's no preventing slanderers from having
their fill at any time; but you need not be afraid.
Whatever I may feel I promise you on my word of honour never
to speak to you about--or act upon--until you say I may.
I know my duty to Thomasin quite as well as I know my duty
to you as a woman unfairly treated. What shall I assist
you in?"

"In getting away from here."

"Where do you wish to go to?"

"I have a place in my mind. If you could help me as far
as Budmouth I can do all the rest. Steamers sail from
there across the Channel, and so I can get to Paris,
where I want to be. Yes," she pleaded earnestly, "help me
to get to Budmouth harbour without my grandfather's
or my husband's knowledge, and I can do all the rest."

"Will it be safe to leave you there alone?"

"Yes, yes. I know Budmouth well."

"Shall I go with you? I am rich now."

She was silent.

"Say yes, sweet!"

She was silent still.

"Well, let me know when you wish to go. We shall be at
our present house till December; after that we remove
to Casterbridge. Command me in anything till that time."

"I will think of this," she said hurriedly. "Whether I
can honestly make use of you as a friend, or must close
with you as a lover--that is what I must ask myself.
If I wish to go and decide to accept your company I will
signal to you some evening at eight o'clock punctually,
and this will mean that you are to be ready with a horse
and trap at twelve o'clock the same night to drive me to
Budmouth harbour in time for the morning boat."

"I will look out every night at eight, and no signal
shall escape me."

"Now please go away. If I decide on this escape I can
only meet you once more unless--I cannot go without you.
Go--I cannot bear it longer. Go--go!"

Wildeve slowly went up the steps and descended into the
darkness on the other side; and as he walked he glanced back,
till the bank blotted out her form from his further view.





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