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The Return of the Native
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Book III, Chapter 4:
An Hour of Bliss and Many Hours of Sadness
 

The next day was gloomy enough at Blooms-End. Yeobright remained in his study, sitting over the open books; but the work of those hours was miserably scant. Determined that there should be nothing in his conduct towards his mother resembling sullenness, he had occasionally spoken to her on passing matters, and would take no notice of the brevity of her replies. With the same resolve to keep up a show of conversation he said, about seven o'clock in the evening, "There's an eclipse of the moon tonight. I am going out to see it." And, putting on his overcoat, he left her.

The low moon was not as yet visible from the front of the house, and Yeobright climbed out of the valley until he stood in the full flood of her light. But even now he walked on, and his steps were in the direction of Rainbarrow.

In half an hour he stood at the top. The sky was clear from verge to verge, and the moon flung her rays over the whole heath, but without sensibly lighting it, except where paths and water-courses had laid bare the white flints and glistening quartz sand, which made streaks upon the general shade. After standing awhile he stooped and felt the heather. It was dry, and he flung himself down upon the barrow, his face towards the moon, which depicted a small image of herself in each of his eyes.

He had often come up here without stating his purpose to his mother; but this was the first time that he had been ostensibly frank as to his purpose while really concealing it. It was a moral situation which, three months earlier, he could hardly have credited of himself. In returning to labour in this sequestered spot he had anticipated an escape from the chafing of social necessities; yet behold they were here also. More than ever he longed to be in some world where personal ambition was not the only recognized form of progress—such, perhaps, as might have been the case at some time or other in the silvery globe then shining upon him. His eye travelled over the length and breadth of that distant country—over the Bay of Rainbows, the sombre Sea of Crises, the Ocean of Storms, the Lake of Dreams, the vast Walled Plains, and the wondrous Ring Mountains—till he almost felt himself to be voyaging bodily through its wild scenes, standing on its hollow hills, traversing its deserts, descending its vales and old sea bottoms, or mounting to the edges of its craters.

While he watched the far-removed landscape a tawny stain grew into being on the lower verge—the eclipse had begun. This marked a preconcerted moment—for the remote celestial phenomenon had been pressed into sublunary service as a lover's signal. Yeobright's mind flew back to earth at the sight; he arose, shook himself and listened. Minute after minute passed by, perhaps ten minutes passed, and the shadow on the moon perceptibly widened. He heard a rustling on his left hand, a cloaked figure with an upturned face appeared at the base of the Barrow, and Clym descended. In a moment the figure was in his arms, and his lips upon hers.

"My Eustacia!"

"Clym, dearest!"

Such a situation had less than three months brought forth.

They remained long without a single utterance, for no language could reach the level of their condition—words were as the rusty implements of a by-gone barbarous epoch, and only to be occasionally tolerated.

"I began to wonder why you did not come," said Yeobright, when she had withdrawn a little from his embrace.

"You said ten minutes after the first mark of shade on the edge of the moon, and that's what it is now."

"Well, let us only think that here we are."

Then, holding each other's hand, they were again silent, and the shadow on the moon's disc grew a little larger.

"Has it seemed long since you last saw me?" she asked.

"It has seemed sad."

"And not long? That's because you occupy yourself, and so blind yourself to my absence. To me, who can do nothing, it has been like living under stagnant water."

"I would rather bear tediousness, dear, than have time made short by such means as have shortened mine."

"In what way is that? You have been thinking you wished you did not love me."

"How can a man wish that, and yet love on? No, Eustacia."

"Men can, women cannot."

"Well, whatever I may have thought, one thing is certain—I do love you—past all compass and description. I love you to oppressiveness—I, who have never before felt more than a pleasant passing fancy for any woman I have ever seen. Let me look right into your moonlit face and dwell on every line and curve in it! Only a few hairbreadths make the difference between this face and faces I have seen many times before I knew you; yet what a difference—the difference between everything and nothing at all. One touch on that mouth again! there, and there, and there. Your eyes seem heavy, Eustacia."

"No, it is my general way of looking. I think it arises from my feeling sometimes an agonizing pity for myself that I ever was born."

"You don't feel it now?"

"No. Yet I know that we shall not love like this always. Nothing can ensure the continuance of love. It will evaporate like a spirit, and so I feel full of fears."

"You need not."

"Ah, you don't know. You have seen more than I, and have been into cities and among people that I have only heard of, and have lived more years than I; but yet I am older at this than you. I loved another man once, and now I love you."

"In God's mercy don't talk so, Eustacia!"

"But I do not think I shall be the one who wearies first. It will, I fear, end in this way: your mother will find out that you meet me, and she will influence you against me!"

"That can never be. She knows of these meetings already."

"And she speaks against me?"

"I will not say."

"There, go away! Obey her. I shall ruin you. It is foolish of you to meet me like this. Kiss me, and go away forever. Forever—do you hear?—forever!"

"Not I."

"It is your only chance. Many a man's love has been a curse to him."

"You are desperate, full of fancies, and wilful; and you misunderstand. I have an additional reason for seeing you tonight besides love of you. For though, unlike you, I feel our affection may be eternal. I feel with you in this, that our present mode of existence cannot last."

"Oh! 'tis your mother. Yes, that's it! I knew it."

"Never mind what it is. Believe this, I cannot let myself lose you. I must have you always with me. This very evening I do not like to let you go. There is only one cure for this anxiety, dearest—you must be my wife."

She started—then endeavoured to say calmly, "Cynics say that cures the anxiety by curing the love."

"But you must answer me. Shall I claim you some day—I don't mean at once?"

"I must think," Eustacia murmured. "At present speak of Paris to me. Is there any place like it on earth?"

"It is very beautiful. But will you be mine?"

"I will be nobody else's in the world—does that satisfy you?"

"Yes, for the present."

"Now tell me of the Tuileries, and the Louvre," she continued evasively.

"I hate talking of Paris! Well, I remember one sunny room in the Louvre which would make a fitting place for you to live in—the Galerie d'Apollon. Its windows are mainly east; and in the early morning, when the sun is bright, the whole apartment is in a perfect blaze of splendour. The rays bristle and dart from the encrustations of gilding to the magnificent inlaid coffers, from the coffers to the gold and silver plate, from the plate to the jewels and precious stones, from these to the enamels, till there is a perfect network of light which quite dazzles the eye. But now, about our marriage——"

"And Versailles—the King's Gallery is some such gorgeous room, is it not?"

"Yes. But what's the use of talking of gorgeous rooms? By the way, the Little Trianon would suit us beautifully to live in, and you might walk in the gardens in the moonlight and think you were in some English shrubbery; It is laid out in English fashion."

"I should hate to think that!"

"Then you could keep to the lawn in front of the Grand Palace. All about there you would doubtless feel in a world of historical romance."

He went on, since it was all new to her, and described Fontainebleau, St. Cloud, the Bois, and many other familiar haunts of the Parisians; till she said—

"When used you to go to these places?"

"On Sundays."

"Ah, yes. I dislike English Sundays. How I should chime in with their manners over there! Dear Clym, you'll go back again?"

Clym shook his head, and looked at the eclipse.

"If you'll go back again I'll—be something," she said tenderly, putting her head near his breast. "If you'll agree I'll give my promise, without making you wait a minute longer."

"How extraordinary that you and my mother should be of one mind about this!" said Yeobright. "I have vowed not to go back, Eustacia. It is not the place I dislike; it is the occupation."

"But you can go in some other capacity."

"No. Besides, it would interfere with my scheme. Don't press that, Eustacia. Will you marry me?"

"I cannot tell."

"Now—never mind Paris; it is no better than other spots. Promise, sweet!"

"You will never adhere to your education plan, I am quite sure; and then it will be all right for me; and so I promise to be yours for ever and ever."

Clym brought her face towards his by a gentle pressure of the hand, and kissed her.

"Ah! but you don't know what you have got in me," she said. "Sometimes I think there is not that in Eustacia Vye which will make a good homespun wife. Well, let it go—see how our time is slipping, slipping, slipping!" She pointed towards the half-eclipsed moon.

"You are too mournful."

"No. Only I dread to think of anything beyond the present. What is, we know. We are together now, and it is unknown how long we shall be so; the unknown always fills my mind with terrible possibilities, even when I may reasonably expect it to be cheerful....Clym, the eclipsed moonlight shines upon your face with a strange foreign colour, and shows its shape as if it were cut out in gold. That means that you should be doing better things than this."

"You are ambitious, Eustacia—no, not exactly ambitious, luxurious. I ought to be of the same vein, to make you happy, I suppose. And yet, far from that, I could live and die in a hermitage here, with proper work to do."

There was that in his tone which implied distrust of his position as a solicitous lover, a doubt if he were acting fairly towards one whose tastes touched his own only at rare and infrequent points. She saw his meaning, and whispered, in a low, full accent of eager assurance "Don't mistake me, Clym—though I should like Paris, I love you for yourself alone. To be your wife and live in Paris would be heaven to me; but I would rather live with you in a hermitage here than not be yours at all. It is gain to me either way, and very great gain. There's my too candid confession."

"Spoken like a woman. And now I must soon leave you. I'll walk with you towards your house."

"But must you go home yet?" she asked. "Yes, the sand has nearly slipped away, I see, and the eclipse is creeping on more and more. Don't go yet! Stop till the hour has run itself out; then I will not press you any more. You will go home and sleep well; I keep sighing in my sleep! Do you ever dream of me?"

"I cannot recollect a clear dream of you."

"I see your face in every scene of my dreams, and hear your voice in every sound. I wish I did not. It is too much what I feel. They say such love never lasts. But it must! And yet once, I remember, I saw an officer of the Hussars ride down the street at Budmouth, and though he was a total stranger and never spoke to me, I loved him till I thought I should really die of love—but I didn't die, and at last I left off caring for him. How terrible it would be if a time should come when I could not love you, my Clym!"

"Please don't say such reckless things. When we see such a time at hand we will say, 'I have outlived my faith and purpose,' and die. There, the hour has expired—now let us walk on."

Hand in hand they went along the path towards Mistover. When they were near the house he said, "It is too late for me to see your grandfather tonight. Do you think he will object to it?"

"I will speak to him. I am so accustomed to be my own mistress that it did not occur to me that we should have to ask him."

Then they lingeringly separated, and Clym descended towards Blooms-End.

And as he walked further and further from the charmed atmosphere of his Olympian girl his face grew sad with a new sort of sadness. A perception of the dilemma in which his love had placed him came back in full force. In spite of Eustacia's apparent willingness to wait through the period of an unpromising engagement, till he should be established in his new pursuit, he could not but perceive at moments that she loved him rather as a visitant from a gay world to which she rightly belonged than as a man with a purpose opposed to that recent past of his which so interested her. It meant that, though she made no conditions as to his return to the French capital, this was what she secretly longed for in the event of marriage; and it robbed him of many an otherwise pleasant hour. Along with that came the widening breach between himself and his mother. Whenever any little occurrence had brought into more prominence than usual the disappointment that he was causing her it had sent him on lone and moody walks; or he was kept awake a great part of the night by the turmoil of spirit which such a recognition created. If Mrs. Yeobright could only have been led to see what a sound and worthy purpose this purpose of his was and how little it was being affected by his devotions to Eustacia, how differently would she regard him!

Thus as his sight grew accustomed to the first blinding halo kindled about him by love and beauty, Yeobright began to perceive what a strait he was in. Sometimes he wished that he had never known Eustacia, immediately to retract the wish as brutal. Three antagonistic growths had to be kept alive: his mother's trust in him, his plan for becoming a teacher, and Eustacia's happiness. His fervid nature could not afford to relinquish one of these, though two of the three were as many as he could hope to preserve. Though his love was as chaste as that of Petrarch for his Laura, it had made fetters of what previously was only a difficulty. A position which was not too simple when he stood whole-hearted had become indescribably complicated by the addition of Eustacia. Just when his mother was beginning to tolerate one scheme he had introduced another still bitterer than the first, and the combination was more than she could bear.

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