"Money from Mr. Wildeve? No — never! Madam, what do you mean by that?" Eustacia fired up all too quickly, for her own consciousness of the old attachment between herself and Wildeve led her to jump to the conclusion that Mrs. Yeobright also knew of it, and might have come to accuse her of receiving dishonourable presents from him now.
"I simply ask the question," said Mrs. Yeobright. "I have been — — "
"You ought to have better opinions of me — I feared you were against me from the first!" exclaimed Eustacia.
"No. I was simply for Clym," replied Mrs. Yeobright, with too much emphasis in her earnestness. "It is the instinct of everyone to look after their own."
"How can you imply that he required guarding against me?" cried Eustacia, passionate tears in her eyes. "I have not injured him by marrying him! What sin have I done that you should think so ill of me? You had no right to speak against me to him when I have never wronged you."
"I only did what was fair under the circumstances," said Mrs. Yeobright more softly. "I would rather not have gone into this question at present, but you compel me. I am not ashamed to tell you the honest truth. I was firmly convinced that he ought not to marry you — therefore I tried to dissuade him by all the means in my power. But it is done now, and I have no idea of complaining any more. I am ready to welcome you."
"Ah, yes, it is very well to see things in that business point of view," murmured Eustacia with a smothered fire of feeling. "But why should you think there is anything between me and Mr. Wildeve? I have a spirit as well as you. I am indignant; and so would any woman be. It was a condescension in me to be Clym's wife, and not a manoeuvre, let me remind you; and therefore I will not be treated as a schemer whom it becomes necessary to bear with because she has crept into the family."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Yeobright, vainly endeavouring to control her anger. "I have never heard anything to show that my son's lineage is not as good as the Vyes' — perhaps better. It is amusing to hear you talk of condescension."
"It was condescension, nevertheless," said Eustacia vehemently. "And if I had known then what I know now, that I should be living in this wild heath a month after my marriage, I — I should have thought twice before agreeing."
"It would be better not to say that; it might not sound truthful. I am not aware that any deception was used on his part — I know there was not — whatever might have been the case on the other side."
"This is too exasperating!" answered the younger woman huskily, her face crimsoning, and her eyes darting light. "How can you dare to speak to me like that? I insist upon repeating to you that had I known that my life would from my marriage up to this time have been as it is, I should have said NO. I don't complain. I have never uttered a sound of such a thing to him; but it is true. I hope therefore that in the future you will be silent on my eagerness. If you injure me now you injure yourself."
"Injure you? Do you think I am an evil-disposed person?"
"You injured me before my marriage, and you have now suspected me of secretly favouring another man for money!"
"I could not help what I thought. But I have never spoken of you outside my house."
"You spoke of me within it, to Clym, and you could not do worse."
"I did my duty."
"And I'll do mine."
"A part of which will possibly be to set him against his mother. It is always so. But why should I not bear it as others have borne it before me!"
"I understand you," said Eustacia, breathless with emotion. "You think me capable of every bad thing. Who can be worse than a wife who encourages a lover, and poisons her husband's mind against his relative? Yet that is now the character given to me. Will you not come and drag him out of my hands?"
Mrs. Yeobright gave back heat for heat.
"Don't rage at me, madam! It ill becomes your beauty, and I am not worth the injury you may do it on my account, I assure you. I am only a poor old woman who has lost a son."
"If you had treated me honourably you would have had him still." Eustacia said, while scalding tears trickled from her eyes. "You have brought yourself to folly; you have caused a division which can never be healed!"
"I have done nothing. This audacity from a young woman is more than I can bear."
"It was asked for; you have suspected me, and you have made me speak of my husband in a way I would not have done. You will let him know that I have spoken thus, and it will cause misery between us. Will you go away from me? You are no friend!"
"I will go when I have spoken a word. If anyone says I have come here to question you without good grounds for it, that person speaks untruly. If anyone says that I attempted to stop your marriage by any but honest means, that person, too, does not speak the truth. I have fallen on an evil time; God has been unjust to me in letting you insult me! Probably my son's happiness does not lie on this side of the grave, for he is a foolish man who neglects the advice of his parent. You, Eustacia, stand on the edge of a precipice without knowing it. Only show my son one-half the temper you have shown me today — and you may before long — and you will find that though he is as gentle as a child with you now, he can be as hard as steel!"
The excited mother then withdrew, and Eustacia, panting, stood looking into the pool.