The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Book Five. The Discovery
6 - Thomasin Argues with Her Cousin, and He Writes a Letter
Yeobright was at this time at Blooms-End, hoping that Eustacia would return to him. The removal of furniture had been accomplished only that day, though Clym had lived in the old house for more than a week. He had spent the time in working about the premises, sweeping leaves from the garden paths, cutting dead stalks from the flower beds, and nailing up creepers which had been displaced by the autumn winds. He took no particular pleasure in these deeds, but they formed a screen between himself and despair. Moreover, it had become a religion with him to preserve in good condition all that had lapsed from his mother's hands to his own.
During these operations he was constantly on the watch for Eustacia. That there should be no mistake about her knowing where to find him he had ordered a notice board to be affixed to the garden gate at Alderworth, signifying in white letters whither he had removed. When a leaf floated to the earth he turned his head, thinking it might be her foot-fall. A bird searching for worms in the mould of the flower-beds sounded like her hand on the latch of the gate; and at dusk, when soft, strange ventriloquisms came from holes in the ground, hollow stalks, curled dead leaves, and other crannies wherein breezes, worms, and insects can work their will, he fancied that they were Eustacia, standing without and breathing wishes of reconciliation.
Up to this hour he had persevered in his resolve not to invite her back. At the same time the severity with which he had treated her lulled the sharpness of his regret for his mother, and awoke some of his old solicitude for his mother's supplanter. Harsh feelings produce harsh usage, and this by reaction quenches the sentiments that gave it birth. The more he reflected the more he softened. But to look upon his wife as innocence in distress was impossible, though he could ask himself whether he had given her quite time enough--if he had not come a little too suddenly upon her on that sombre morning.
Now that the first flush of his anger had paled he was disinclined to ascribe to her more than an indiscreet friendship with Wildeve, for there had not appeared in her manner the signs of dishonour. And this once admitted, an absolutely dark interpretation of her act towards his mother was no longer forced upon him.
On the evening of the fifth November his thoughts of Eustacia were intense. Echoes from those past times when they had exchanged tender words all the day long came like the diffused murmur of a seashore left miles behind. "Surely," he said, "she might have brought herself to communicate with me before now, and confess honestly what Wildeve was to her."
Instead of remaining at home that night he determined to go and see Thomasin and her husband. If he found opportunity he would allude to the cause of the separation between Eustacia and himself, keeping silence, however, on the fact that there was a third person in his house when his mother was turned away. If it proved that Wildeve was innocently there he would doubtless openly mention it. If he were there with unjust intentions Wildeve, being a man of quick feeling, might possibly say something to reveal the extent to which Eustacia was compromised.
But on reaching his cousin's house he found that only Thomasin was at home, Wildeve being at that time on his way towards the bonfire innocently lit by Charley at Mistover. Thomasin then, as always, was glad to see Clym, and took him to inspect the sleeping baby, carefully screening the candlelight from the infant's eyes with her hand.
"Tamsin, have you heard that Eustacia is not with me. now?" he said when they had sat down again.
"No," said Thomasin, alarmed.
"And not that I have left Alderworth?"
"No. I never hear tidings from Alderworth unless you bring them. What is the matter?"
Clym in a disturbed voice related to her his visit to Susan Nunsuch's boy, the revelation he had made, and what had resulted from his charging Eustacia with having wilfully and heartlessly done the deed. He suppressed all mention of Wildeve's presence with her.
"All this, and I not knowing it!" murmured Thomasin in an awestruck tone, "Terrible! What could have made her--O, Eustacia! And when you found it out you went in hot haste to her? Were you too cruel?--or is she really so wicked as she seems?"
"Can a man be too cruel to his mother's enemy?"
"I can fancy so."
"Very well, then--I'll admit that he can. But now what is to be done?"
"Make it up again--if a quarrel so deadly can ever be made up. I almost wish you had not told me. But do try to be reconciled. There are ways, after all, if you both wish to."
"I don't know that we do both wish to make it up," said Clym. "If she had wished it, would she not have sent to me by this time?"
"You seem to wish to, and yet you have not sent to her."
"True; but I have been tossed to and fro in doubt if I ought, after such strong provocation. To see me now, Thomasin, gives you no idea of what I have been; of what depths I have descended to in these few last days. O, it was a bitter shame to shut out my mother like that! Can I ever forget it, or even agree to see her again?"
"She might not have known that anything serious would come of it, and perhaps she did not mean to keep Aunt out altogether."
"She says herself that she did not. But the fact remains that keep her out she did."
"Believe her sorry, and send for her."
"How if she will not come?"
"It will prove her guilty, by showing that it is her habit to nourish enmity. But I do not think that for a moment."
"I will do this. I will wait for a day or two longer-- not longer than two days certainly; and if she does not send to me in that time I will indeed send to her. I thought to have seen Wildeve here tonight. Is he from home?"
Thomasin blushed a little. "No," she said. "He is merely gone out for a walk."
"Why didn't he take you with him? The evening is fine. You want fresh air as well as he."
"Oh, I don't care for going anywhere; besides, there is baby."
"Yes, yes. Well, I have been thinking whether I should not consult your husband about this as well as you," said Clym steadily.
"I fancy I would not," she quickly answered. "It can do no good."
Her cousin looked her in the face. No doubt Thomasin was ignorant that her husband had any share in the events of that tragic afternoon; but her countenance seemed to signify that she concealed some suspicion or thought of the reputed tender relations between Wildeve and Eustacia in days gone by.
Clym, however, could make nothing of it, and he rose to depart, more in doubt than when he came.
"You will write to her in a day or two?" said the young woman earnestly. "I do so hope the wretched separation may come to an end."
"I will," said Clym; "I don't rejoice in my present state at all."
And he left her and climbed over the hill to Blooms-End. Before going to bed he sat down and wrote the following letter:--
My Dear Eustacia,--I must obey my heart without consulting my reason too closely. Will you come back to me? Do so, and the past shall never be mentioned. I was too severe; but O, Eustacia, the provocation! You don't know, you never will know, what those words of anger cost me which you drew down upon yourself. All that an honest man can promise you I promise now, which is that from me you shall never suffer anything on this score again. After all the vows we have made, Eustacia, I think we had better pass the remainder of our lives in trying to keep them. Come to me, then, even if you reproach me. I have thought of your sufferings that morning on which I parted from you; I know they were genuine, and they are as much as you ought to bear. Our love must still continue. Such hearts as ours would never have been given us but to be concerned with each other. I could not ask you back at first, Eustacia, for I was unable to persuade myself that he who was with you was not there as a lover. But if you will come and explain distracting appearances I do not question that you can show your honesty to me. Why have you not come before? Do you think I will not listen to you? Surely not, when you remember the kisses and vows we exchanged under the summer moon. Return then, and you shall be warmly welcomed. I can no longer think of you to your prejudice--I am but too much absorbed in justifying you.--Your husband as ever,
"There," he said, as he laid it in his desk, "that's a good thing done. If she does not come before tomorrow night I will send it to her."
Meanwhile, at the house he had just left Thomasin sat sighing uneasily. Fidelity to her husband had that evening induced her to conceal all suspicion that Wildeve's interest in Eustacia had not ended with his marriage. But she knew nothing positive; and though Clym was her well-beloved cousin there was one nearer to her still.
When, a little later, Wildeve returned from his walk to Mistover, Thomasin said, "Damon, where have you been? I was getting quite frightened, and thought you had fallen into the river. I dislike being in the house by myself."
"Frightened?" he said, touching her cheek as if she were some domestic animal. "Why, I thought nothing could frighten you. It is that you are getting proud, I am sure, and don't like living here since we have risen above our business. Well, it is a tedious matter, this getting a new house; but I couldn't have set about it sooner, unless our ten thousand pounds had been a hundred thousand, when we could have afforded to despise caution."
"No--I don't mind waiting--I would rather stay here twelve months longer than run any risk with baby. But I don't like your vanishing so in the evenings. There's something on your mind--I know there is, Damon. You go about so gloomily, and look at the heath as if it were somebody's gaol instead of a nice wild place to walk in."
He looked towards her with pitying surprise. "What, do you like Egdon Heath?" he said.
"I like what I was born near to; I admire its grim old face."
"Pooh, my dear. You don't know what you like."
"I am sure I do. There's only one thing unpleasant about Egdon."
"You never take me with you when you walk there. Why do you wander so much in it yourself if you so dislike it?"
The inquiry, though a simple one, was plainly disconcerting, and he sat down before replying. "I don't think you often see me there. Give an instance."
"I will," she answered triumphantly. "When you went out this evening I thought that as baby was asleep I would see where you were going to so mysteriously without telling me. So I ran out and followed behind you. You stopped at the place where the road forks, looked round at the bonfires, and then said, 'Damn it, I'll go!' And you went quickly up the left-hand road. Then I stood and watched you."
Wildeve frowned, afterwards saying, with a forced smile, "Well, what wonderful discovery did you make?"
"There--now you are angry, and we won't talk of this any more." She went across to him, sat on a footstool, and looked up in his face.
"Nonsense!" he said, "that's how you always back out. We will go on with it now we have begun. What did you next see? I particularly want to know."
"Don't be like that, Damon!" she murmured. "I didn't see anything. You vanished out of sight, and then I looked round at the bonfires and came in."
"Perhaps this is not the only time you have dogged my steps. Are you trying to find out something bad about me?"
"Not at all! I have never done such a thing before, and I shouldn't have done it now if words had not sometimes been dropped about you."
"What do you mean?" he impatiently asked.
"They say--they say you used to go to Alderworth in the evenings, and it puts into my mind what I have heard about--"
Wildeve turned angrily and stood up in front of her. "Now," he said, flourishing his hand in the air, "just out with it, madam! I demand to know what remarks you have heard."
"Well, I heard that you used to be very fond of Eustacia--nothing more than that, though dropped in a bit-by-bit way. You ought not to be angry!"
He observed that her eyes were brimming with tears. "Well," he said, "there is nothing new in that, and of course I don't mean to be rough towards you, so you need not cry. Now, don't let us speak of the subject any more."
And no more was said, Thomasin being glad enough of a reason for not mentioning Clym's visit to her that evening, and his story.