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Chapter 7 : The Night of the Sixth of November


Having resolved on flight Eustacia at times seemed
anxious that something should happen to thwart her
own intention. The only event that could really change
her position was the appearance of Clym. The glory
which had encircled him as her lover was departed now;
yet some good simple quality of his would occasionally
return to her memory and stir a momentary throb of hope
that he would again present himself before her. But calmly
considered it was not likely that such a severance as
now existed would ever close up--she would have to live
on as a painful object, isolated, and out of place.
She had used to think of the heath alone as an uncongenial
spot to be in; she felt it now of the whole world.

Towards evening on the sixth her determination to go away
again revived. About four o'clock she packed up anew
the few small articles she had brought in her flight
from Alderworth, and also some belonging to her which had
been left here; the whole formed a bundle not too large
to be carried in her hand for a distance of a mile or two.
The scene without grew darker; mud-coloured clouds bellied
downwards from the sky like vast hammocks slung across it,
and with the increase of night a stormy wind arose;
but as yet there was no rain.

Eustacia could not rest indoors, having nothing more to do,
and she wandered to and fro on the hill, not far from the
house she was soon to leave. In these desultory ramblings
she passed the cottage of Susan Nunsuch, a little lower
down than her grandfather's. The door was ajar, and a
riband of bright firelight fell over the ground without.
As Eustacia crossed the firebeams she appeared for an
instant as distinct as a figure in a phantasmagoria--a
creature of light surrounded by an area of darkness;
the moment passed, and she was absorbed in night again.

A woman who was sitting inside the cottage had seen and
recognized her in that momentary irradiation. This was
Susan herself, occupied in preparing a posset for her
little boy, who, often ailing, was now seriously unwell.
Susan dropped the spoon, shook her fist at the vanished figure,
and then proceeded with her work in a musing, absent way.

At eight o'clock, the hour at which Eustacia had promised
to signal Wildeve if ever she signalled at all, she looked
around the premises to learn if the coast was clear,
went to the furze-rick, and pulled thence a long-stemmed
bough of that fuel. This she carried to the corner of
the bank, and, glancing behind to see if the shutters were
all closed, she struck a light, and kindled the furze.
When it was thoroughly ablaze Eustacia took it by the stem
and waved it in the air above her head till it had burned
itself out.

She was gratified, if gratification were possible
to such a mood, by seeing a similar light in the
vicinity of Wildeve's residence a minute or two later.
Having agreed to keep watch at this hour every night,
in case she should require assistance, this promptness
proved how strictly he had held to his word.
Four hours after the present time, that is, at midnight,
he was to be ready to drive her to Budmouth, as prearranged.

Eustacia returned to the house. Supper having been got
over she retired early, and sat in her bedroom waiting for
the time to go by. The night being dark and threatening,
Captain Vye had not strolled out to gossip in any cottage or
to call at the inn, as was sometimes his custom on these long
autumn nights; and he sat sipping grog alone downstairs.
About ten o'clock there was a knock at the door.
When the servant opened it the rays of the candle fell
upon the form of Fairway.

"I was a-forced to go to Lower Mistover tonight,"
he said, "and Mr. Yeobright asked me to leave this here
on my way; but, faith, I put it in the lining of my hat,
and thought no more about it till I got back and was
hasping my gate before going to bed. So I have run back
with it at once."

He handed in a letter and went his way. The girl brought
it to the captain, who found that it was directed
to Eustacia. He turned it over and over, and fancied
that the writing was her husband's, though he could not
be sure. However, he decided to let her have it at once
if possible, and took it upstairs for that purpose;
but on reaching the door of her room and looking
in at the keyhole he found there was no light within,
the fact being that Eustacia, without undressing,
had flung herself upon the bed, to rest and gather a
little strength for her coming journey. Her grandfather
concluded from what he saw that he ought not to disturb her;
and descending again to the parlour he placed the letter
on the mantelpiece to give it to her in the morning.

At eleven o'clock he went to bed himself, smoked for
some time in his bedroom, put out his light at half-
past eleven, and then, as was his invariable custom,
pulled up the blind before getting into bed, that he
might see which way the wind blew on opening his eyes
in the morning, his bedroom window commanding a view
of the flagstaff and vane. Just as he had lain down he
was surprised to observe the white pole of the staff flash
into existence like a streak of phosphorus drawn downwards
across the shade of night without. Only one explanation
met this--a light had been suddenly thrown upon the pole
from the direction of the house. As everybody had retired
to rest the old man felt it necessary to get out of bed,
open the window softly, and look to the right and left.
Eustacia's bedroom was lighted up, and it was the shine
from her window which had lighted the pole. Wondering what
had aroused her, he remained undecided at the window,
and was thinking of fetching the letter to slip it under
her door, when he heard a slight brushing of garments
on the partition dividing his room from the passage.

The captain concluded that Eustacia, feeling wakeful,
had gone for a book, and would have dismissed the matter
as unimportant if he had not also heard her distinctly
weeping as she passed.

"She is thinking of that husband of hers," he said to himself.
"Ah, the silly goose! she had no business to marry him.
I wonder if that letter is really his?"

He arose, threw his boat-cloak round him, opened the door,
and said, "Eustacia!" There was no answer. "Eustacia!" he
repeated louder, "there is a letter on the mantelpiece
for you."

But no response was made to this statement save an imaginary
one from the wind, which seemed to gnaw at the corners of
the house, and the stroke of a few drops of rain upon the windows.

He went on to the landing, and stood waiting nearly
five minutes. Still she did not return. He went back
for a light, and prepared to follow her; but first he looked
into her bedroom. There, on the outside of the quilt,
was the impression of her form, showing that the bed
had not been opened; and, what was more significant,
she had not taken her candlestick downstairs.
He was now thoroughly alarmed; and hastily putting on
his clothes he descended to the front door, which he
himself had bolted and locked. It was now unfastened.
There was no longer any doubt that Eustacia had left
the house at this midnight hour; and whither could
she have gone? To follow her was almost impossible.
Had the dwelling stood in an ordinary road, two persons
setting out, one in each direction, might have made sure
of overtaking her; but it was a hopeless task to seek
for anybody on a heath in the dark, the practicable
directions for flight across it from any point being
as numerous as the meridians radiating from the pole.
Perplexed what to do, he looked into the parlour, and was
vexed to find that the letter still lay there untouched.


At half-past eleven, finding that the house was silent,
Eustacia had lighted her candle, put on some warm
outer wrappings, taken her bag in her hand, and,
extinguishing the light again, descended the staircase.
When she got into the outer air she found that it had begun
to rain, and as she stood pausing at the door it increased,
threatening to come on heavily. But having committed
herself to this line of action there was no retreating
for bad weather. Even the receipt of Clym's letter
would not have stopped her now. The gloom of the night
was funereal; all nature seemed clothed in crape.
The spiky points of the fir trees behind the house rose
into the sky like the turrets and pinnacles of an abbey.
Nothing below the horizon was visible save a light
which was still burning in the cottage of Susan Nunsuch.

Eustacia opened her umbrella and went out from the enclosure
by the steps over the bank, after which she was beyond
all danger of being perceived. Skirting the pool,
she followed the path towards Rainbarrow, occasionally
stumbling over twisted furze roots, tufts of rushes,
or oozing lumps of fleshy fungi, which at this season lay
scattered about the heath like the rotten liver and lungs
of some colossal animal. The moon and stars were closed
up by cloud and rain to the degree of extinction.
It was a night which led the traveller's thoughts
instinctively to dwell on nocturnal scenes of disaster
in the chronicles of the world, on all that is terrible
and dark in history and legend--the last plague of Egypt,
the destruction of Sennacherib's host, the agony in Gethsemane.

Eustacia at length reached Rainbarrow, and stood still there
to think. Never was harmony more perfect than that between
the chaos of her mind and the chaos of the world without.
A sudden recollection had flashed on her this moment--she
had not money enough for undertaking a long journey.
Amid the fluctuating sentiments of the day her
unpractical mind had not dwelt on the necessity of being
well-provided, and now that she thoroughly realized the
conditions she sighed bitterly and ceased to stand erect,
gradually crouching down under the umbrella as if she
were drawn into the Barrow by a hand from beneath.
Could it be that she was to remain a captive still?
Money--she had never felt its value before. Even to
efface herself from the country means were required.
To ask Wildeve for pecuniary aid without allowing him
to accompany her was impossible to a woman with a shadow
of pride left in her; to fly as his mistress--and she
knew that he loved her--was of the nature of humiliation.

Anyone who had stood by now would have pitied her,
not so much on account of her exposure to weather,
and isolation from all of humanity except the mouldered
remains inside the tumulus; but for that other form
of misery which was denoted by the slightly rocking
movement that her feelings imparted to her person.
Extreme unhappiness weighed visibly upon her. Between the
drippings of the rain from her umbrella to her mantle,
from her mantle to the heather, from the heather to the earth,
very similar sounds could be heard coming from her lips;
and the tearfulness of the outer scene was repeated upon
her face. The wings of her soul were broken by the cruel
obstructiveness of all about her; and even had she seen
herself in a promising way of getting to Budmouth,
entering a steamer, and sailing to some opposite port,
she would have been but little more buoyant, so fearfully
malignant were other things. She uttered words aloud.
When a woman in such a situation, neither old, deaf, crazed,
nor whimsical, takes upon herself to sob and soliloquize
aloud there is something grievous the matter.

"Can I go, can I go?" she moaned. "He's not GREAT
enough for me to give myself to--he does not suffice
for my desire!...If he had been a Saul or a Bonaparte--
ah! But to break my marriage vow for him--it is too poor
a luxury!...And I have no money to go alone! And if I could,
what comfort to me? I must drag on next year, as I have
dragged on this year, and the year after that as before.
How I have tried and tried to be a splendid woman,
and how destiny has been against me!...I do not deserve
my lot!" she cried in a frenzy of bitter revolt.
"O, the cruelty of putting me into this ill-conceived
world! I was capable of much; but I have been injured
and blighted and crushed by things beyond my control! O,
how hard it is of Heaven to devise such tortures for me,
who have done no harm to Heaven at all!"


The distant light which Eustacia had cursorily observed in
leaving the house came, as she had divined, from the cottage
window of Susan Nunsuch. What Eustacia did not divine
was the occupation of the woman within at that moment.
Susan's sight of her passing figure earlier in the evening,
not five minutes after the sick boy's exclamation,
"Mother, I do feel so bad!" persuaded the matron that an evil
influence was certainly exercised by Eustacia's propinquity.

On this account Susan did not go to bed as soon as the
evening's work was over, as she would have done at
ordinary times. To counteract the malign spell which she
imagined poor Eustacia to be working, the boy's mother
busied herself with a ghastly invention of superstition,
calculated to bring powerlessness, atrophy, and annihilation
on any human being against whom it was directed.
It was a practice well known on Egdon at that date,
and one that is not quite extinct at the present day.

She passed with her candle into an inner room, where,
among other utensils, were two large brown pans,
containing together perhaps a hundredweight of liquid honey,
the produce of the bees during the foregoing summer.
On a shelf over the pans was a smooth and solid yellow
mass of a hemispherical form, consisting of beeswax
from the same take of honey. Susan took down the lump,
and cutting off several thin slices, heaped them in an
iron ladle, with which she returned to the living-room,
and placed the vessel in the hot ashes of the fireplace.
As soon as the wax had softened to the plasticity
of dough she kneaded the pieces together. And now her
face became more intent. She began moulding the wax;
and it was evident from her manner of manipulation that
she was endeavouring to give it some preconceived form.
The form was human.

By warming and kneading, cutting and twisting,
dismembering and re-joining the incipient image she had in
about a quarter of an hour produced a shape which tolerably
well resembled a woman, and was about six inches high.
She laid it on the table to get cold and hard. Meanwhile she
took the candle and went upstairs to where the little boy was lying.

"Did you notice, my dear, what Mrs. Eustacia wore this
afternoon besides the dark dress?"

"A red ribbon round her neck."

"Anything else?"

"No--except sandal-shoes."

"A red ribbon and sandal-shoes," she said to herself.

Mrs. Nunsuch went and searched till she found a fragment
of the narrowest red ribbon, which she took downstairs
and tied round the neck of the image. Then fetching
ink and a quilt from the rickety bureau by the window,
she blackened the feet of the image to the extent presumably
covered by shoes; and on the instep of each foot marked
cross-lines in the shape taken by the sandalstrings
of those days. Finally she tied a bit of black thread
round the upper part of the head, in faint resemblance
to a snood worn for confining the hair.

Susan held the object at arm's length and contemplated
it with a satisfaction in which there was no smile.
To anybody acquainted with the inhabitants of Egdon Heath
the image would have suggested Eustacia Yeobright.

From her workbasket in the window-seat the woman took
a paper of pins, of the old long and yellow sort,
whose heads were disposed to come off at their first usage.
These she began to thrust into the image in all directions,
with apparently excruciating energy. Probably as many
as fifty were thus inserted, some into the head of the
wax model, some into the shoulders, some into the trunk,
some upwards through the soles of the feet, till the figure
was completely permeated with pins.

She turned to the fire. It had been of turf; and though
the high heap of ashes which turf fires produce was
somewhat dark and dead on the outside, upon raking it
abroad with the shovel the inside of the mass showed a glow
of red heat. She took a few pieces of fresh turf from
the chimney-corner and built them together over the glow,
upon which the fire brightened. Seizing with the tongs
the image that she had made of Eustacia, she held it in
the heat, and watched it as it began to waste slowly away.
And while she stood thus engaged there came from between
her lips a murmur of words.

It was a strange jargon--the Lord's Prayer repeated
backwards--the incantation usual in proceedings for obtaining
unhallowed assistance against an enemy. Susan uttered
the lugubrious discourse three times slowly, and when it
was completed the image had considerably diminished.
As the wax dropped into the fire a long flame arose from
the spot, and curling its tongue round the figure ate still
further into its substance. A pin occasionally dropped
with the wax, and the embers heated it red as it lay.





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