The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Book 3: Chapters 5-6

5 — Sharp Words Are Spoken, and a Crisis Ensues

When Yeobright was not with Eustacia he was sitting slavishly over his books; when he was not reading he was meeting her. These meetings were carried on with the greatest secrecy.

One afternoon his mother came home from a morning visit to Thomasin. He could see from a disturbance in the lines of her face that something had happened.

One afternoon his mother came home from a morning visit to Thomasin. He could see from a disturbance in the lines of her face that something had happened.

"I have been told an incomprehensible thing," she said mournfully. "The captain has let out at the Woman that you and Eustacia Vye are engaged to be married."

"We are," said Yeobright. "But it may not be yet for a very long time."

"I should hardly think it WOULD be yet for a very long time! You will take her to Paris, I suppose?" She spoke with weary hopelessness.

"I am not going back to Paris."

"What will you do with a wife, then?"

"Keep a school in Budmouth, as I have told you."

"That's incredible! The place is overrun with schoolmasters. You have no special qualifications. What possible chance is there for such as you?"

"There is no chance of getting rich. But with my system of education, which is as new as it is true, I shall do a great deal of good to my fellow-creatures."

"Dreams, dreams! If there had been any system left to be invented they would have found it out at the universities long before this time."

"Never, Mother. They cannot find it out, because their teachers don't come in contact with the class which demands such a system — that is, those who have had no preliminary training. My plan is one for instilling high knowledge into empty minds without first cramming them with what has to be uncrammed again before true study begins."

"I might have believed you if you had kept yourself free from entanglements; but this woman — if she had been a good girl it would have been bad enough; but being — — "

"She is a good girl."

"So you think. A Corfu bandmaster's daughter! What has her life been? Her surname even is not her true one."

"She is Captain Vye's granddaughter, and her father merely took her mother's name. And she is a lady by instinct."

"They call him 'captain,' but anybody is captain."

"He was in the Royal Navy!"

"No doubt he has been to sea in some tub or other. Why doesn't he look after her? No lady would rove about the heath at all hours of the day and night as she does. But that's not all of it. There was something queer between her and Thomasin's husband at one time — I am as sure of it as that I stand here."

"Eustacia has told me. He did pay her a little attention a year ago; but there's no harm in that. I like her all the better."

"Clym," said his mother with firmness, "I have no proofs against her, unfortunately. But if she makes you a good wife, there has never been a bad one."

"Believe me, you are almost exasperating," said Yeobright vehemently. "And this very day I had intended to arrange a meeting between you. But you give me no peace; you try to thwart my wishes in everything."

"I hate the thought of any son of mine marrying badly! I wish I had never lived to see this; it is too much for me — it is more than I dreamt!" She turned to the window. Her breath was coming quickly, and her lips were pale, parted, and trembling.

"Mother," said Clym, "whatever you do, you will always be dear to me — that you know. But one thing I have a right to say, which is, that at my age I am old enough to know what is best for me."

Mrs. Yeobright remained for some time silent and shaken, as if she could say no more. Then she replied, "Best? Is it best for you to injure your prospects for such a voluptuous, idle woman as that? Don't you see that by the very fact of your choosing her you prove that you do not know what is best for you? You give up your whole thought — you set your whole soul — to please a woman."

"I do. And that woman is you."

"How can you treat me so flippantly!" said his mother, turning again to him with a tearful look. "You are unnatural, Clym, and I did not expect it."

"Very likely," said he cheerlessly. "You did not know the measure you were going to mete me, and therefore did not know the measure that would be returned to you again."

"You answer me; you think only of her. You stick to her in all things."

"That proves her to be worthy. I have never yet supported what is bad. And I do not care only for her. I care for you and for myself, and for anything that is good. When a woman once dislikes another she is merciless!"

"O Clym! please don't go setting down as my fault what is your obstinate wrongheadedness. If you wished to connect yourself with an unworthy person why did you come home here to do it? Why didn't you do it in Paris? — it is more the fashion there. You have come only to distress me, a lonely woman, and shorten my days! I wish that you would bestow your presence where you bestow your love!"

Clym said huskily, "You are my mother. I will say no more — beyond this, that I beg your pardon for having thought this my home. I will no longer inflict myself upon you; I'll go." And he went out with tears in his eyes.

It was a sunny afternoon at the beginning of summer, and the moist hollows of the heath had passed from their brown to their green stage. Yeobright walked to the edge of the basin which extended down from Mistover and Rainbarrow.

By this time he was calm, and he looked over the landscape. In the minor valleys, between the hillocks which diversified the contour of the vale, the fresh young ferns were luxuriantly growing up, ultimately to reach a height of five or six feet. He descended a little way, flung himself down in a spot where a path emerged from one of the small hollows, and waited. Hither it was that he had promised Eustacia to bring his mother this afternoon, that they might meet and be friends. His attempt had utterly failed.

He was in a nest of vivid green. The ferny vegetation round him, though so abundant, was quite uniform — it was a grove of machine-made foliage, a world of green triangles with saw-edges, and not a single flower. The air was warm with a vaporous warmth, and the stillness was unbroken. Lizards, grasshoppers, and ants were the only living things to be beheld. The scene seemed to belong to the ancient world of the carboniferous period, when the forms of plants were few, and of the fern kind; when there was neither bud nor blossom, nothing but a monotonous extent of leafage, amid which no bird sang.

When he had reclined for some considerable time, gloomily pondering, he discerned above the ferns a drawn bonnet of white silk approaching from the left, and Yeobright knew directly that it covered the head of her he loved. His heart awoke from its apathy to a warm excitement, and, jumping to his feet, he said aloud, "I knew she was sure to come."

She vanished in a hollow for a few moments, and then her whole form unfolded itself from the brake.

"Only you here?" she exclaimed, with a disappointed air, whose hollowness was proved by her rising redness and her half-guilty low laugh. "Where is Mrs. Yeobright?"

"She has not come," he replied in a subdued tone.

"I wish I had known that you would be here alone," she said seriously, "and that we were going to have such an idle, pleasant time as this. Pleasure not known beforehand is half wasted; to anticipate it is to double it. I have not thought once today of having you all to myself this afternoon, and the actual moment of a thing is so soon gone."

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