After this excitement the saluting party returned to their occupation, and the stuffing and sewing were soon afterwards finished, when Fairway harnessed a horse, wrapped up the cumbrous present, and drove off with it in the cart to Venn's house at Stickleford.
Yeobright, having filled the office at the wedding service which naturally fell to his hands, and afterwards returned to the house with the husband and wife, was indisposed to take part in the feasting and dancing that wound up the evening. Thomasin was disappointed.
"I wish I could be there without dashing your spirits," he said. "But I might be too much like the skull at the banquet."
"Well, dear, apart from that, if you would excuse me, I should be glad. I know it seems unkind; but, dear Thomasin, I fear I should not be happy in the company — there, that's the truth of it. I shall always be coming to see you at your new home, you know, so that my absence now will not matter."
"Then I give in. Do whatever will be most comfortable to yourself."
Clym retired to his lodging at the housetop much relieved, and occupied himself during the afternoon in noting down the heads of a sermon, with which he intended to initiate all that really seemed practicable of the scheme that had originally brought him hither, and that he had so long kept in view under various modifications, and through evil and good report. He had tested and weighed his convictions again and again, and saw no reason to alter them, though he had considerably lessened his plan. His eyesight, by long humouring in his native air, had grown stronger, but not sufficiently strong to warrant his attempting his extensive educational project. Yet he did not repine — there was still more than enough of an unambitious sort to tax all his energies and occupy all his hours.
Evening drew on, and sounds of life and movement in the lower part of the domicile became more pronounced, the gate in the palings clicking incessantly. The party was to be an early one, and all the guests were assembled long before it was dark. Yeobright went down the back staircase and into the heath by another path than that in front, intending to walk in the open air till the party was over, when he would return to wish Thomasin and her husband good-bye as they departed. His steps were insensibly bent towards Mistover by the path that he had followed on that terrible morning when he learnt the strange news from Susan's boy.
He did not turn aside to the cottage, but pushed on to an eminence, whence he could see over the whole quarter that had once been Eustacia's home. While he stood observing the darkening scene somebody came up. Clym, seeing him but dimly, would have let him pass silently, had not the pedestrian, who was Charley, recognized the young man and spoken to him.
"Charley, I have not seen you for a length of time," said Yeobright. "Do you often walk this way?"
"No," the lad replied. "I don't often come outside the bank."
"You were not at the Maypole."
"No," said Charley, in the same listless tone. "I don't care for that sort of thing now."
"You rather liked Miss Eustacia, didn't you?" Yeobright gently asked. Eustacia had frequently told him of Charley's romantic attachment.
"Yes, very much. Ah, I wish — "
"I wish, Mr. Yeobright, you could give me something to keep that once belonged to her — if you don't mind."
"I shall be very happy to. It will give me very great pleasure, Charley. Let me think what I have of hers that you would like. But come with me to the house, and I'll see."
They walked towards Blooms-End together. When they reached the front it was dark, and the shutters were closed, so that nothing of the interior could be seen.
"Come round this way," said Clym. "My entrance is at the back for the present."
The two went round and ascended the crooked stair in darkness till Clym's sitting-room on the upper floor was reached, where he lit a candle, Charley entering gently behind. Yeobright searched his desk, and taking out a sheet of tissue-paper unfolded from it two or three undulating locks of raven hair, which fell over the paper like black streams. From these he selected one, wrapped it up, and gave it to the lad, whose eyes had filled with tears. He kissed the packet, put it in his pocket, and said in a voice of emotion, "O, Mr. Clym, how good you are to me!"
"I will go a little way with you," said Clym. And amid the noise of merriment from below they descended. Their path to the front led them close to a little side window, whence the rays of candles streamed across the shrubs. The window, being screened from general observation by the bushes, had been left unblinded, so that a person in this private nook could see all that was going on within the room which contained the wedding guests, except in so far as vision was hindered by the green antiquity of the panes.
"Charley, what are they doing?" said Clym. "My sight is weaker again tonight, and the glass of this window is not good."
Charley wiped his own eyes, which were rather blurred with moisture, and stepped closer to the casement. "Mr. Venn is asking Christian Cantle to sing," he replied, "and Christian is moving about in his chair as if he were much frightened at the question, and his father has struck up a stave instead of him."
"Yes, I can hear the old man's voice," said Clym. "So there's to be no dancing, I suppose. And is Thomasin in the room? I see something moving in front of the candles that resembles her shape, I think."
"Yes. She do seem happy. She is red in the face, and laughing at something Fairway has said to her. O my!"
"What noise was that?" said Clym.
"Mr. Venn is so tall that he knocked his head against the beam in gieing a skip as he passed under. Mrs. Venn has run up quite frightened and now she's put her hand to his head to feel if there's a lump. And now they be all laughing again as if nothing had happened."
"Do any of them seem to care about my not being there?" Clym asked.
"No, not a bit in the world. Now they are all holding up their glasses and drinking somebody's health."
"I wonder if it is mine?"
"No, 'tis Mr. and Mrs. Venn's, because he is making a hearty sort of speech. There — now Mrs. Venn has got up, and is going away to put on her things, I think."
"Well, they haven't concerned themselves about me, and it is quite right they should not. It is all as it should be, and Thomasin at least is happy. We will not stay any longer now, as they will soon be coming out to go home."
He accompanied the lad into the heath on his way home, and, returning alone to the house a quarter of an hour later, found Venn and Thomasin ready to start, all the guests having departed in his absence. The wedded pair took their seats in the four-wheeled dogcart which Venn's head milker and handy man had driven from Stickleford to fetch them in; little Eustacia and the nurse were packed securely upon the open flap behind; and the milker, on an ancient overstepping pony, whose shoes clashed like cymbals at every tread, rode in the rear, in the manner of a body-servant of the last century.
"Now we leave you in absolute possession of your own house again," said Thomasin as she bent down to wish her cousin good night. "It will be rather lonely for you, Clym, after the hubbub we have been making."
"O, that's no inconvenience," said Clym, smiling rather sadly. And then the party drove off and vanished in the night shades, and Yeobright entered the house. The ticking of the clock was the only sound that greeted him, for not a soul remained; Christian, who acted as cook, valet, and gardener to Clym, sleeping at his father's house. Yeobright sat down in one of the vacant chairs, and remained in thought a long time. His mother's old chair was opposite; it had been sat in that evening by those who had scarcely remembered that it ever was hers. But to Clym she was almost a presence there, now as always. Whatever she was in other people's memories, in his she was the sublime saint whose radiance even his tenderness for Eustacia could not obscure. But his heart was heavy, that Mother had NOT crowned him in the day of his espousals and in the day of the gladness of his heart. And events had borne out the accuracy of her judgment, and proved the devotedness of her care. He should have heeded her for Eustacia's sake even more than for his own. "It was all my fault," he whispered. "O, my mother, my mother! would to God that I could live my life again, and endure for you what you endured for me!"