The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Book Four. The Closed Door
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.