eBooks Cube
 
Chapter 8 : Rain, Darkness, and Anxious Wanderers


While the effigy of Eustacia was melting to nothing,
and the fair woman herself was standing on Rainbarrow,
her soul in an abyss of desolation seldom plumbed by one
so young, Yeobright sat lonely at Blooms-End. He had
fulfilled his word to Thomasin by sending off Fairway
with the letter to his wife, and now waited with increased
impatience for some sound or signal of her return.
Were Eustacia still at Mistover the very least he expected
was that she would send him back a reply tonight by the
same hand; though, to leave all to her inclination,
he had cautioned Fairway not to ask for an answer.
If one were handed to him he was to bring it immediately;
if not, he was to go straight home without troubling to come
round to Blooms-End again that night.

But secretly Clym had a more pleasing hope. Eustacia might
possibly decline to use her pen--it was rather her way to
work silently--and surprise him by appearing at his door.
How fully her mind was made up to do otherwise he did
not know.

To Clym's regret it began to rain and blow hard as the
evening advanced. The wind rasped and scraped at the
corners of the house, and filliped the eavesdroppings
like peas against the panes. He walked restlessly about
the untenanted rooms, stopping strange noises in windows
and doors by jamming splinters of wood into the casements
and crevices, and pressing together the leadwork of the
quarries where it had become loosened from the glass.
It was one of those nights when cracks in the walls of
old churches widen, when ancient stains on the ceilings
of decayed manor houses are renewed and enlarged from
the size of a man's hand to an area of many feet.
The little gate in the palings before his dwelling
continually opened and clicked together again, but when he
looked out eagerly nobody was there; it was as if invisible
shapes of the dead were passing in on their way to visit him.

Between ten and eleven o'clock, finding that neither
Fairway nor anybody else came to him, he retired
to rest, and despite his anxieties soon fell asleep.
His sleep, however, was not very sound, by reason of
the expectancy he had given way to, and he was easily
awakened by a knocking which began at the door about an
hour after. Clym arose and looked out of the window.
Rain was still falling heavily, the whole expanse of heath
before him emitting a subdued hiss under the downpour.
It was too dark to see anything at all.

"Who's there?" he cried.

Light footsteps shifted their position in the porch,
and he could just distinguish in a plaintive female voice
the words, "O Clym, come down and let me in!"

He flushed hot with agitation. "Surely it is Eustacia!"
he murmured. If so, she had indeed come to him unawares.

He hastily got a light, dressed himself, and went down.
On his flinging open the door the rays of the candle fell
upon a woman closely wrapped up, who at once came forward.

"Thomasin!" he exclaimed in an indescribable tone
of disappointment. "It is Thomasin, and on such a night
as this! O, where is Eustacia?"

Thomasin it was, wet, frightened, and panting.

"Eustacia? I don't know, Clym; but I can think," she said
with much perturbation. "Let me come in and rest--I
will explain this. There is a great trouble brewing--my
husband and Eustacia!"

"What, what?"

"I think my husband is going to leave me or do something
dreadful--I don't know what--Clym, will you go and see?
I have nobody to help me but you; Eustacia has not yet
come home?"

"No."

She went on breathlessly: "Then they are going to run off
together! He came indoors tonight about eight o'clock and
said in an off-hand way, 'Tamsie, I have just found that I
must go a journey.' 'When?' I said. 'Tonight,' he said.
'Where?' I asked him. 'I cannot tell you at present,'
he said; 'I shall be back again tomorrow.' He then went
and busied himself in looking up his things, and took no
notice of me at all. I expected to see him start, but he
did not, and then it came to be ten o'clock, when he said,
'You had better go to bed.' I didn't know what to do,
and I went to bed. I believe he thought I fell asleep,
for half an hour after that he came up and unlocked the oak
chest we keep money in when we have much in the house and
took out a roll of something which I believe was banknotes,
though I was not aware that he had 'em there. These he must
have got from the bank when he went there the other day.
What does he want banknotes for, if he is only going off
for a day? When he had gone down I thought of Eustacia,
and how he had met her the night before--I know he did
meet her, Clym, for I followed him part of the way; but I
did not like to tell you when you called, and so make you
think ill of him, as I did not think it was so serious.
Then I could not stay in bed; I got up and dressed myself,
and when I heard him out in the stable I thought I would come
and tell you. So I came downstairs without any noise and
slipped out."

"Then he was not absolutely gone when you left?"

"No. Will you, dear Cousin Clym, go and try to persuade
him not to go? He takes no notice of what I say, and puts
me off with the story of his going on a journey, and will
be home tomorrow, and all that; but I don't believe it.
I think you could influence him."

"I'll go," said Clym. "O, Eustacia!"

Thomasin carried in her arms a large bundle; and having
by this time seated herself she began to unroll it,
when a baby appeared as the kernel to the husks--dry,
warm, and unconscious of travel or rough weather.
Thomasin briefly kissed the baby, and then found
time to begin crying as she said, "I brought baby,
for I was afraid what might happen to her. I suppose
it will be her death, but I couldn't leave her with Rachel!"

Clym hastily put together the logs on the hearth,
raked abroad the embers, which were scarcely yet extinct,
and blew up a flame with the bellows.

"Dry yourself," he said. "I'll go and get some more wood."

"No, no--don't stay for that. I'll make up the fire.
Will you go at once--please will you?"

Yeobright ran upstairs to finish dressing himself.
While he was gone another rapping came to the door.
This time there was no delusion that it might be Eustacia's--the
footsteps just preceding it had been heavy and slow.
Yeobright thinking it might possibly be Fairway with a note
in answer, descended again and opened the door.

"Captain Vye?" he said to a dripping figure.

"Is my granddaughter here?" said the captain.

"No."

"Then where is she?".

"I don't know."

"But you ought to know--you are her husband."

"Only in name apparently," said Clym with rising excitement.
"I believe she means to elope tonight with Wildeve.
I am just going to look to it."

"Well, she has left my house; she left about half an hour ago.
Who's sitting there?"

"My cousin Thomasin."

The captain bowed in a preoccupied way to her.
"I only hope it is no worse than an elopement," he said.

"Worse? What's worse than the worst a wife can do?"

"Well, I have been told a strange tale. Before starting
in search of her I called up Charley, my stable lad.
I missed my pistols the other day."

"Pistols?"

"He said at the time that he took them down to clean.
He has now owned that he took them because he saw Eustacia
looking curiously at them; and she afterwards owned to him
that she was thinking of taking her life, but bound him
to secrecy, and promised never to think of such a thing again.
I hardly suppose she will ever have bravado enough to use
one of them; but it shows what has been lurking in her mind;
and people who think of that sort of thing once think
of it again."

"Where are the pistols?"

"Safely locked up. O no, she won't touch them again.
But there are more ways of letting out life than through
a bullet-hole. What did you quarrel about so bitterly
with her to drive her to all this? You must have treated
her badly indeed. Well, I was always against the marriage,
and I was right."

"Are you going with me?" said Yeobright, paying no
attention to the captain's latter remark. "If so
I can tell you what we quarrelled about as we walk along."

"Where to?"

"To Wildeve's--that was her destination, depend upon it."

Thomasin here broke in, still weeping: "He said he
was only going on a sudden short journey; but if so why
did he want so much money? O, Clym, what do you think
will happen? I am afraid that you, my poor baby,
will soon have no father left to you!"

"I am off now," said Yeobright, stepping into the porch.

"I would fain go with 'ee," said the old man doubtfully.
"But I begin to be afraid that my legs will hardly carry me
there such a night as this. I am not so young as I was.
If they are interrupted in their flight she will be sure to come
back to me, and I ought to be at the house to receive her.
But be it as 'twill I can't walk to the Quiet Woman,
and that's an end on't. I'll go straight home."

"It will perhaps be best," said Clym. "Thomasin, dry
yourself, and be as comfortable as you can."

With this he closed the door upon her, and left the house
in company with Captain Vye, who parted from him outside
the gate, taking the middle path, which led to Mistover.
Clym crossed by the right-hand track towards the inn.

Thomasin, being left alone, took off some of her
wet garments, carried the baby upstairs to Clym's bed,
and then came down to the sitting-room again,
where she made a larger fire, and began drying herself.
The fire soon flared up the chimney, giving the room
an appearance of comfort that was doubled by contrast
with the drumming of the storm without, which snapped
at the windowpanes and breathed into the chimney strange
low utterances that seemed to be the prologue to some tragedy.

But the least part of Thomasin was in the house,
for her heart being at ease about the little girl
upstairs she was mentally following Clym on his journey.
Having indulged in this imaginary peregrination for some
considerable interval, she became impressed with a sense
of the intolerable slowness of time. But she sat on.
The moment then came when she could scarcely sit longer,
and it was like a satire on her patience to remember
that Clym could hardly have reached the inn as yet.
At last she went to the baby's bedside. The child was
sleeping soundly; but her imagination of possibly disastrous
events at her home, the predominance within her of the
unseen over the seen, agitated her beyond endurance.
She could not refrain from going down and opening the door.
The rain still continued, the candlelight falling upon the
nearest drops and making glistening darts of them as they
descended across the throng of invisible ones behind.
To plunge into that medium was to plunge into water
slightly diluted with air. But the difficulty of returning
to her house at this moment made her all the more
desirous of doing so--anything was better than suspense.
"I have come here well enough," she said, "and why
shouldn't I go back again? It is a mistake for me to
be away."

She hastily fetched the infant, wrapped it up, cloaked
herself as before, and shoveling the ashes over the fire,
to prevent accidents, went into the open air. Pausing first
to put the door key in its old place behind the shutter,
she resolutely turned her face to the confronting pile
of firmamental darkness beyond the palings, and stepped into
its midst. But Thomasin's imagination being so actively
engaged elsewhere, the night and the weather had for her
no terror beyond that of their actual discomfort and difficulty.

She was soon ascending Blooms-End valley and traversing
the undulations on the side of the hill. The noise
of the wind over the heath was shrill, and as if it
whistled for joy at finding a night so congenial as this.
Sometimes the path led her to hollows between thickets of
tall and dripping bracken, dead, though not yet prostrate,
which enclosed her like a pool. When they were more than
usually tall she lifted the baby to the top of her head,
that it might be out of the reach of their drenching fronds.
On higher ground, where the wind was brisk and sustained,
the rain flew in a level flight without sensible descent,
so that it was beyond all power to imagine the remoteness
of the point at which it left the bosoms of the clouds.
Here self-defence was impossible, and individual drops
stuck into her like the arrows into Saint Sebastian.
She was enabled to avoid puddles by the nebulous paleness
which signified their presence, though beside anything less
dark than the heath they themselves would have appeared
as blackness.

Yet in spite of all this Thomasin was not sorry that she
had started. To her there were not, as to Eustacia,
demons in the air, and malice in every bush and bough.
The drops which lashed her face were not scorpions,
but prosy rain; Egdon in the mass was no monster whatever,
but impersonal open ground. Her fears of the place
were rational, her dislikes of its worst moods reasonable.
At this time it was in her view a windy, wet place, in which
a person might experience much discomfort, lose the path
without care, and possibly catch cold.

If the path is well known the difficulty at such
times of keeping therein is not altogether great,
from its familiar feel to the feet; but once lost it
is irrecoverable. Owing to her baby, who somewhat impeded
Thomasin's view forward and distracted her mind, she did
at last lose the track. This mishap occurred when she
was descending an open slope about two-thirds home.
Instead of attempting, by wandering hither and thither,
the hopeless task of finding such a mere thread,
she went straight on, trusting for guidance to her general
knowledge of the contours, which was scarcely surpassed
by Clym's or by that of the heath-croppers themselves.

At length Thomasin reached a hollow and began to
discern through the rain a faint blotted radiance,
which presently assumed the oblong form of an open door.
She knew that no house stood hereabouts, and was soon aware
of the nature of the door by its height above the ground.

"Why, it is Diggory Venn's van, surely!" she said.

A certain secluded spot near Rainbarrow was, she knew,
often Venn's chosen centre when staying in this neighbourhood;
and she guessed at once that she had stumbled upon this
mysterious retreat. The question arose in her mind whether
or not she should ask him to guide her into the path.
In her anxiety to reach home she decided that she would
appeal to him, notwithstanding the strangeness of appearing
before his eyes at this place and season. But when,
in pursuance of this resolve, Thomasin reached the van
and looked in she found it to be untenanted; though there
was no doubt that it was the reddleman's. The fire was
burning in the stove, the lantern hung from the nail.
Round the doorway the floor was merely sprinkled with rain,
and not saturated, which told her that the door had not long
been opened.

While she stood uncertainly looking in Thomasin heard
a footstep advancing from the darkness behind her,
and turning, beheld the well-known form in corduroy,
lurid from head to foot, the lantern beams falling upon
him through an intervening gauze of raindrops.

"I thought you went down the slope," he said,
without noticing her face. "How do you come back here again?"

"Diggory?" said Thomasin faintly.

"Who are you?" said Venn, still unperceiving. "And why
were you crying so just now?"

"O, Diggory! don't you know me?" said she. "But of course
you don't, wrapped up like this. What do you mean? I
have not been crying here, and I have not been here before."

Venn then came nearer till he could see the illuminated
side of her form.

"Mrs. Wildeve!" he exclaimed, starting. "What a time
for us to meet! And the baby too! What dreadful thing
can have brought you out on such a night as this?"

She could not immediately answer; and without asking her
permission he hopped into his van, took her by the arm,
and drew her up after him.

"What is it?" he continued when they stood within.

"I have lost my way coming from Blooms-End, and I am
in a great hurry to get home. Please show me as quickly
as you can! It is so silly of me not to know Egdon better,
and I cannot think how I came to lose the path.
Show me quickly, Diggory, please."

"Yes, of course. I will go with 'ee. But you came to me
before this, Mrs. Wildeve?"

"I only came this minute."

"That's strange. I was lying down here asleep about five
minutes ago, with the door shut to keep out the weather,
when the brushing of a woman's clothes over the heath-bushes
just outside woke me up, for I don't sleep heavy,
and at the same time I heard a sobbing or crying from
the same woman. I opened my door and held out my lantern,
and just as far as the light would reach I saw a woman;
she turned her head when the light sheened on her,
and then hurried on downhill. I hung up the lantern,
and was curious enough to pull on my things and dog her
a few steps, but I could see nothing of her any more.
That was where I had been when you came up; and when I saw you
I thought you were the same one."

"Perhaps it was one of the heathfolk going home?"

"No, it couldn't be. 'Tis too late. The noise of her
gown over the he'th was of a whistling sort that nothing
but silk will make."

"It wasn't I, then. My dress is not silk, you see....Are
we anywhere in a line between Mistover and the inn?"

"Well, yes; not far out."

"Ah, I wonder if it was she! Diggory, I must go at once!"

She jumped down from the van before he was aware,
when Venn unhooked the lantern and leaped down after her.
"I'll take the baby, ma'am," he said. "You must be tired
out by the weight."

Thomasin hesitated a moment, and then delivered the baby
into Venn's hands. "Don't squeeze her, Diggory," she said,
"or hurt her little arm; and keep the cloak close over
her like this, so that the rain may not drop in her face."

"I will," said Venn earnestly. "As if I could hurt
anything belonging to you!"

"I only meant accidentally," said Thomasin.

"The baby is dry enough, but you are pretty wet,"
said the reddleman when, in closing the door of his cart
to padlock it, he noticed on the floor a ring of water
drops where her cloak had hung from her.

Thomasin followed him as he wound right and left to avoid
the larger bushes, stopping occasionally and covering
the lantern, while he looked over his shoulder to gain
some idea of the position of Rainbarrow above them,
which it was necessary to keep directly behind their backs
to preserve a proper course.

"You are sure the rain does not fall upon baby?"

"Quite sure. May I ask how old he is, ma'am?"

"He!" said Thomasin reproachfully. "Anybody can see better
than that in a moment. She is nearly two months old.
How far is it now to the inn?"

"A little over a quarter of a mile."

"Will you walk a little faster?"

"I was afraid you could not keep up."

"I am very anxious to get there. Ah, there is a light
from the window!"

"'Tis not from the window. That's a gig-lamp, to the best
of my belief."

"O!" said Thomasin in despair. "I wish I had been there
sooner--give me the baby, Diggory--you can go back now."

"I must go all the way," said Venn. "There is a quag
between us and that light, and you will walk into it up
to your neck unless I take you round."

"But the light is at the inn, and there is no quag
in front of that."

"No, the light is below the inn some two or three hundred yards."

"Never mind," said Thomasin hurriedly. "Go towards
the light, and not towards the inn."

"Yes," answered Venn, swerving round in obedience; and,
after a pause, "I wish you would tell me what this great
trouble is. I think you have proved that I can be trusted."

"There are some things that cannot be--cannot be told to--"
And then her heart rose into her throat, and she could say
no more.





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