The Return of the Native By Thomas Hardy Book 1: Chapters 4-5

5 — Perplexity among Honest People

Thomasin looked as if quite overcome by her aunt's change of manner. "It means just what it seems to mean: I am — not married," she replied faintly. "Excuse me — for humiliating you, Aunt, by this mishap — I am sorry for it. But I cannot help it."

"Me? Think of yourself first."

5 — Perplexity among Honest People

Thomasin looked as if quite overcome by her aunt's change of manner. "It means just what it seems to mean: I am — not married," she replied faintly. "Excuse me — for humiliating you, Aunt, by this mishap — I am sorry for it. But I cannot help it."

"Me? Think of yourself first."

"It was nobody's fault. When we got there the parson wouldn't marry us because of some trifling irregularity in the license."

"What irregularity?"

"I don't know. Mr. Wildeve can explain. I did not think when I went away this morning that I should come back like this." It being dark, Thomasin allowed her emotion to escape her by the silent way of tears, which could roll down her cheek unseen.

"I could almost say that it serves you right — if I did not feel that you don't deserve it," continued Mrs. Yeobright, who, possessing two distinct moods in close contiguity, a gentle mood and an angry, flew from one to the other without the least warning. "Remember, Thomasin, this business was none of my seeking; from the very first, when you began to feel foolish about that man, I warned you he would not make you happy. I felt it so strongly that I did what I would never have believed myself capable of doing — stood up in the church, and made myself the public talk for weeks. But having once consented, I don't submit to these fancies without good reason. Marry him you must after this."

"Do you think I wish to do otherwise for one moment?" said Thomasin, with a heavy sigh. "I know how wrong it was of me to love him, but don't pain me by talking like that, Aunt! You would not have had me stay there with him, would you? — and your house is the only home I have to return to. He says we can be married in a day or two."

"I wish he had never seen you."

"Very well; then I will be the miserablest woman in the world, and not let him see me again. No, I won't have him!"

"It is too late to speak so. Come with me. I am going to the inn to see if he has returned. Of course I shall get to the bottom of this story at once. Mr. Wildeve must not suppose he can play tricks upon me, or any belonging to me."

"It was not that. The license was wrong, and he couldn't get another the same day. He will tell you in a moment how it was, if he comes."

"Why didn't he bring you back?"

"That was me!" again sobbed Thomasin. "When I found we could not be married I didn't like to come back with him, and I was very ill. Then I saw Diggory Venn, and was glad to get him to take me home. I cannot explain it any better, and you must be angry with me if you will."

"I shall see about that," said Mrs. Yeobright; and they turned towards the inn, known in the neighbourhood as the Quiet Woman, the sign of which represented the figure of a matron carrying her head under her arm, beneath which gruesome design was written the couplet so well known to frequenters of the inn: —


(1) The inn which really bore this sign and legend stood some miles to the northwest of the present scene, wherein the house more immediately referred to is now no longer an inn; and the surroundings are much changed. But another inn, some of whose features are also embodied in this description, the RED LION at Winfrith, still remains as a haven for the wayfarer (1912).

The front of the house was towards the heath and Rainbarrow, whose dark shape seemed to threaten it from the sky. Upon the door was a neglected brass plate, bearing the unexpected inscription, "Mr. Wildeve, Engineer" — a useless yet cherished relic from the time when he had been started in that profession in an office at Budmouth by those who had hoped much from him, and had been disappointed. The garden was at the back, and behind this ran a still deep stream, forming the margin of the heath in that direction, meadow-land appearing beyond the stream.

But the thick obscurity permitted only skylines to be visible of any scene at present. The water at the back of the house could be heard, idly spinning whirpools in its creep between the rows of dry feather-headed reeds which formed a stockade along each bank. Their presence was denoted by sounds as of a congregation praying humbly, produced by their rubbing against each other in the slow wind.

The window, whence the candlelight had shone up the vale to the eyes of the bonfire group, was uncurtained, but the sill lay too high for a pedestrian on the outside to look over it into the room. A vast shadow, in which could be dimly traced portions of a masculine contour, blotted half the ceiling.

"He seems to be at home," said Mrs. Yeobright.

"Must I come in, too, Aunt?" asked Thomasin faintly. "I suppose not; it would be wrong."

"You must come, certainly — to confront him, so that he may make no false representations to me. We shall not be five minutes in the house, and then we'll walk home."

Entering the open passage, she tapped at the door of the private parlour, unfastened it, and looked in.

The back and shoulders of a man came between Mrs. Yeobright's eyes and the fire. Wildeve, whose form it was, immediately turned, arose, and advanced to meet his visitors.

He was quite a young man, and of the two properties, form and motion, the latter first attracted the eye in him. The grace of his movement was singular — it was the pantomimic expression of a lady-killing career. Next came into notice the more material qualities, among which was a profuse crop of hair impending over the top of his face, lending to his forehead the high-cornered outline of an early Gothic shield; and a neck which was smooth and round as a cylinder. The lower half of his figure was of light build. Altogether he was one in whom no man would have seen anything to admire, and in whom no woman would have seen anything to dislike.

He discerned the young girl's form in the passage, and said, "Thomasin, then, has reached home. How could you leave me in that way, darling?" And turning to Mrs. Yeobright — "It was useless to argue with her. She would go, and go alone."

"But what's the meaning of it all?" demanded Mrs. Yeobright haughtily.

"Take a seat," said Wildeve, placing chairs for the two women. "Well, it was a very stupid mistake, but such mistakes will happen. The license was useless at Anglebury. It was made out for Budmouth, but as I didn't read it I wasn't aware of that."

"But you had been staying at Anglebury?"

"No. I had been at Budmouth — till two days ago — and that was where I had intended to take her; but when I came to fetch her we decided upon Anglebury, forgetting that a new license would be necessary. There was not time to get to Budmouth afterwards."

"I think you are very much to blame," said Mrs. Yeobright.

"It was quite my fault we chose Anglebury," Thomasin pleaded. "I proposed it because I was not known there."

"I know so well that I am to blame that you need not remind me of it," replied Wildeve shortly.

"Such things don't happen for nothing," said the aunt. "It is a great slight to me and my family; and when it gets known there will be a very unpleasant time for us. How can she look her friends in the face tomorrow? It is a very great injury, and one I cannot easily forgive. It may even reflect on her character."

"Nonsense," said Wildeve.

Thomasin's large eyes had flown from the face of one to the face of the other during this discussion, and she now said anxiously, "Will you allow me, Aunt, to talk it over alone with Damon for five minutes? Will you, Damon?"

"Certainly, dear," said Wildeve, "if your aunt will excuse us." He led her into an adjoining room, leaving Mrs. Yeobright by the fire.

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