By far the greatest effect of her simple strategy on that day was, as often happens, in a quarter quite outside her view when arranging it. In the first place, her visit sent Wildeve the same evening after dark to Eustacia's house at Mistover.
At this hour the lonely dwelling was closely blinded and shuttered from the chill and darkness without. Wildeve's clandestine plan with her was to take a little gravel in his hand and hold it to the crevice at the top of the window shutter, which was on the outside, so that it should fall with a gentle rustle, resembling that of a mouse, between shutter and glass. This precaution in attracting her attention was to avoid arousing the suspicions of her grandfather.
The soft words, "I hear; wait for me," in Eustacia's voice from within told him that she was alone.
He waited in his customary manner by walking round the enclosure and idling by the pool, for Wildeve was never asked into the house by his proud though condescending mistress. She showed no sign of coming out in a hurry. The time wore on, and he began to grow impatient. In the course of twenty minutes she appeared from round the corner, and advanced as if merely taking an airing.
"You would not have kept me so long had you known what I come about," he said with bitterness. "Still, you are worth waiting for."
"What has happened?" said Eustacia. "I did not know you were in trouble. I too am gloomy enough."
"I am not in trouble," said he. "It is merely that affairs have come to a head, and I must take a clear course."
"What course is that?" she asked with attentive interest.
"And can you forget so soon what I proposed to you the other night? Why, take you from this place, and carry you away with me abroad."
"I have not forgotten. But why have you come so unexpectedly to repeat the question, when you only promised to come next Saturday? I thought I was to have plenty of time to consider."
"Yes, but the situation is different now."
"Explain to me."
"I don't want to explain, for I may pain you."
"But I must know the reason of this hurry."
"It is simply my ardour, dear Eustacia. Everything is smooth now."
"Then why are you so ruffled?"
"I am not aware of it. All is as it should be. Mrs. Yeobright — but she is nothing to us."
"Ah, I knew she had something to do with it! Come, I don't like reserve."
"No — she has nothing. She only says she wishes me to give up Thomasin because another man is anxious to marry her. The woman, now she no longer needs me, actually shows off!" Wildeve's vexation has escaped him in spite of himself.
Eustacia was silent a long while. "You are in the awkward position of an official who is no longer wanted," she said in a changed tone.
"It seems so. But I have not yet seen Thomasin."
"And that irritates you. Don't deny it, Damon. You are actually nettled by this slight from an unexpected quarter."
"And you come to get me because you cannot get her. This is certainly a new position altogether. I am to be a stop-gap."
"Please remember that I proposed the same thing the other day."
Eustacia again remained in a sort of stupefied silence. What curious feeling was this coming over her? Was it really possible that her interest in Wildeve had been so entirely the result of antagonism that the glory and the dream departed from the man with the first sound that he was no longer coveted by her rival? She was, then, secure of him at last. Thomasin no longer required him. What a humiliating victory! He loved her best, she thought; and yet — dared she to murmur such treacherous criticism ever so softly? — what was the man worth whom a woman inferior to herself did not value? The sentiment which lurks more or less in all animate nature — that of not desiring the undesired of others — was lively as a passion in the supersubtle, epicurean heart of Eustacia. Her social superiority over him, which hitherto had scarcely ever impressed her, became unpleasantly insistent, and for the first time she felt that she had stooped in loving him.
"Well, darling, you agree?" said Wildeve.
"If it could be London, or even Budmouth, instead of America," she murmured languidly. "Well, I will think. It is too great a thing for me to decide offhand. I wish I hated the heath less — or loved you more."
"You can be painfully frank. You loved me a month ago warmly enough to go anywhere with me."
"And you loved Thomasin."
"Yes, perhaps that was where the reason lay," he returned, with almost a sneer. "I don't hate her now."
"Exactly. The only thing is that you can no longer get her."
"Come — no taunts, Eustacia, or we shall quarrel. If you don't agree to go with me, and agree shortly, I shall go by myself."
"Or try Thomasin again. Damon, how strange it seems that you could have married her or me indifferently, and only have come to me because I am — cheapest! Yes, yes — it is true. There was a time when I should have exclaimed against a man of that sort, and been quite wild; but it is all past now."
"Will you go, dearest? Come secretly with me to Bristol, marry me, and turn our backs upon this dog-hole of England for ever? Say Yes."
"I want to get away from here at almost any cost," she said with weariness, "but I don't like to go with you. Give me more time to decide."
"I have already," said Wildeve. "Well, I give you one more week."
"A little longer, so that I may tell you decisively. I have to consider so many things. Fancy Thomasin being anxious to get rid of you! I cannot forget it."
"Never mind that. Say Monday week. I will be here precisely at this time."
"Let it be at Rainbarrow," said she. "This is too near home; my grandfather may be walking out."
"Thank you, dear. On Monday week at this time I will be at the Barrow. Till then good-bye."
"Good-bye. No, no, you must not touch me now. Shaking hands is enough till I have made up my mind."
Eustacia watched his shadowy form till it had disappeared. She placed her hand to her forehead and breathed heavily; and then her rich, romantic lips parted under that homely impulse — a yawn. She was immediately angry at having betrayed even to herself the possible evanescence of her passion for him. She could not admit at once that she might have overestimated Wildeve, for to perceive his mediocrity now was to admit her own great folly heretofore. And the discovery that she was the owner of a disposition so purely that of the dog in the manger had something in it which at first made her ashamed.
The fruit of Mrs. Yeobright's diplomacy was indeed remarkable, though not as yet of the kind she had anticipated. It had appreciably influenced Wildeve, but it was influencing Eustacia far more. Her lover was no longer to her an exciting man whom many women strove for, and herself could only retain by striving with them. He was a superfluity.
She went indoors in that peculiar state of misery which is not exactly grief, and which especially attends the dawnings of reason in the latter days of an ill-judged, transient love. To be conscious that the end of the dream is approaching, and yet has not absolutely come, is one of the most wearisome as well as the most curious stages along the course between the beginning of a passion and its end.
Her grandfather had returned, and was busily engaged in pouring some gallons of newly arrived rum into the square bottles of his square cellaret. Whenever these home supplies were exhausted he would go to the Quiet Woman, and, standing with his back to the fire, grog in hand, tell remarkable stories of how he had lived seven years under the waterline of his ship, and other naval wonders, to the natives, who hoped too earnestly for a treat of ale from the teller to exhibit any doubts of his truth.
He had been there this evening. "I suppose you have heard the Egdon news, Eustacia?" he said, without looking up from the bottles. "The men have been talking about it at the Woman as if it were of national importance."
"I have heard none," she said.
"Young Clym Yeobright, as they call him, is coming home next week to spend Christmas with his mother. He is a fine fellow by this time, it seems. I suppose you remember him?"
"I never saw him in my life."
"Ah, true; he left before you came here. I well remember him as a promising boy."
"Where has he been living all these years?"
"In that rookery of pomp and vanity, Paris, I believe."