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The Return of the Native
by Thomas Hardy
The original, squashed down to read in about 35 minutes

(London, 1878)

Hardy, son of a stonemason, created in the imaginary county of 'Wessex' a version of the then-disappearing old-time rural West of England. His melodramatic stories, generally of people failing to escape their destiny, are among the most popular novels of all time, 'Tess' alone has been filmed at least seven times. They challenged and often outraged the sexual and religious conventions of his day to the point where one book was solemnly burned by a bishop.

Abridged: GH, based on an earlier abridgement by an unknown editor, possibly Hardy himself.

For more works by Thomas Hardy, see The Index

The Return of the Native

A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment. Only the white surface of the old Roman road remained clear, and along it, beside his wagon van, travelled a strange figure.

He was young, and would have been good-looking, had not his face, his hands, and his clothes been dyed a peculiar red. Diggory Venn was by trade a reddleman, purveying to the farmers of the region the red ocher used for marking their sheep at fair time. From time to time he looked into his van through a small window. Once a cry came from within, a cry from some one uneasy in the sleep of exhaustion. It was a young woman, whom he was bringing from a nearby town to her home on the heath. That morning she had gone away to be married. Now she was returning unmarried. It was chance that made the reddleman the one to help her home. But he himself had loved her and proposed to her two years before. She had refused, and later been courted and won by the local innkeeper, Damon Wildeve, though not without interference. The girl's aunt and guardian, a wise woman and good to her niece, had a few months before forbidden the banns, believing the young man unworthy. Later, seeing the girl's heart was set, she gave way, but would not attend the wedding, to be held in another town. But alas, through pure accident, there was an error in the license, and the minister would not perform the ceremony. The embarrassed girl Thomasin Yeobright was her name hastened in modesty away from her lover and came home in the way we have described.

On the heath Diggory Venn discovered from a neighbour that the aunt had gone that evening to Wildeve's Inn, to welcome the supposedly married couple. There he took Thomasin, and there, unaware of the truth, came a gay party of friendly neighbours to wish the landlord happiness and be treated to a good round of mead.

Wildeve preferred not to break the news, and it was not till the morrow that the facts were known, and many more things rumoured. While the mead was going round, the company gossiped of this and that, and especially of the bonfires kindled that evening on every hillock in England, the lineal descendants from jumbled Druidical rites and Saxon ceremonies rather than the invention of popular feeling about Gunpowder Plot. One fire, they could see through the windows, was burning still, clear and steady.

What they did not notice was Wildeve's excited interest in it. Nor did anyone know that, when all had gone, Wildeve crossed Egdon Heath to that place, and found there another girl wailing for him. None knew, that is, save a little lad whom she had hired to mind the fire, and who, hidden in the night, listened to their talk and learned they had been lovers before Tamsie had come into Wildeve's life. Tonight Eustacia Vye had heard, for word will travel, that Wildeve had not married Tamsie after all, and sure that it was because he really wanted his old love, had signalled to him as she had the year before on the same day, with a bright steady fire.

Half unwillingly, Wildeve had come. The truth was, he did not know which woman he wanted. Not a strong character, yet not definitely weak, he was sentimental to the extreme in preferring that which was denied him to that which was at hand. Eustacia, he thought, had been easy. She had given herself to him; she had loved him; yet she had been difficult, too, turning away from him at unexpected times. Tamsie was pretty and good and innocent. She had to be won, and married, to be had. But she did not possess the fire and power that the dark beautiful Eustacia owned in abundance.

This particular meeting came to no definite conclusion, except an agreement to meet again on Rainbarrow, a nearby tumulus remaining from olden times, and where they had often been before. It was this, and that they had loved before, which the small boy reported to Diggory Venn the reddleman, whom he chanced to meet on his way.

Now Diggory, loving Thomasin so much he was willing to help her marry another if that would make her happy, managed to be on Rainbarrow when next the lovers met. Convinced of the truth through their conversation, he went to Eustacia the following morning to try to persuade her to give up Tamsie's betrothed. She replied haughtily that she would not, and at that moment she desired Wildeve with all her heart.

Yet she was fully aware that she enjoyed Wildeve as her lover only because she was bored with an empty life - she had come to the heath from the town, on the death of her parents, to live with her grandfather. She hated the heath, nay, though she walked it day or night in practical respects unafraid, she actually feared it as something utterly depressing and ugly, something that was ruining her life. She wanted love, a splendid romantic love, and she knew Wildeve satisfied her only because there was no greater man to be had. Also, being an epicurean, she had no desire for that which was undesired of others.

And so a few days later, when Wildeve announced to her that Thomasin had another suitor, whom Mrs. Yeobright might prefer to him, he immediately lost colour in Eustacia's eyes and she told him he would have to wait before she could make up her mind about a new proposal he was making - that they two should go to America. The other suitor was Diggory Venn, the reddleman, whom Mrs. Yeobright actually felt to be beneath her Tamsie, though she liked him, and was using only as a bait to tempt Wildeve, whom she did not like, to a speedy marriage.

Going home that night, Eustacia felt that peculiar misery which attends the dawnings of reason in the latter days of an ill-judged, transient love; entering the door, she was greeted by her grandfather.

"You have heard the Egdon news, Eustacia? Clym Yeobright is coming home for Christmas." "Where has he been living all these years?" "In that rookery of pomp and vanity, Paris."

Yes, Clym had lived in Paris. But he did not love it. He was a serious young man, and though his business was the unphilosophical one of a diamond merchant, he found time to read the sociological ethics of his day. And what with the half-consciously imparted solid sense of values received from his mother (Thomasin's aunt) he found himself unhappy in a business that symbolized the cheapest and vainest of all human interests. He wanted to be a teacher - to found a school for the farm boys of his neighbourhood and to hold night classes in his home for their elders. So he had come home bringing all his books and eventually announcing to his startled mother what he planned.

Annoyed at first with his "coming down in the world," Mrs. Yeobright soon realized he was choosing the better part, and was happy. But not for long. It was inevitable that Eustacia Vye, who was not socially acquainted with the Yeobrights, should contrive to meet Clym, and inevitable that he should love her. For was she not beautiful and cultivated, and rarely charming? She was of the stuff from which Greek goddesses, but not model women, are made. Had it been possible for the earth and mankind to be entirely in her grasp for a while, few in the world would have noticed the change in government. There would have been the same inequality of lot, the same heaping up of favours here, of contumely there, the same generosity before justice, the same perpetual dilemmas, the same captious alternation of caresses and blows that we endure now. Hitherto, this celestial imperiousness, love, wrath and fervour had found no scope in Egdon, and this limitation had biased her development. She was idle, unhappy, unreconciled, and at nineteen ready for any way out that might come.

Still, she had too much dignity to be cheap and Wildeve had been her only lover. But now - Clym Yeobright, and over his shoulder as it were, the lights of Paris! She loved him to distraction, for himself and for the future she thought was rising. Oh yes, he had told her of his plans, and she had told him she did not sympathize. Yet, she had added tenderly, marriage to him would be a gain to her whether they stayed or went. If she were only his wife, she secretly thought, she could bend his mind at length, and find herself deliciously happy in Paris.

Wildeve she had gladly sent to Thomasin upon Clym's arrival and those two were now married. The only obstacle to Clym's marriage was the attitude of his mother. She did not know Eustacia personally, but she knew enough about her, and felt from the depths of her soul that this union could bring only sorrow. She pled and argued, and urged, to no avail. Greatly though Clym loved and admired his mother, he was utterly fascinated for the first time in his life by a beautiful woman, and maternal insight meant nothing to him. Was not Eustacia sweet? And being sweet, would she not be his mate in every hoped-for way? So they were married.

Mrs. Yeobright did not attend the wedding, and the young couple and she did not visit each other thereafter. Yes - once the mother came, on an errand which only widened the rift. Through an error made by an unreliable county messenger, Thomasin had come into possession of money sent by Mrs. Yeobright to Clym. Mrs. Yeobright was told, mistakenly, that Tamsie's husband Wildeve had the money, and that he would probably give it to Eustacia. Knowing that Clym did not have it, the mother went to her daughter-in-law and without explanation of the tangle, asked her whether Wildeve had given her some money.

The question meant one thing to the elder woman, quite another to the younger. In violent rage, Eustacia voiced her resentment of the insult. Bitterly Mrs. Yeobright responded, and they parted in unforgiving hate.

Ironically, it so happened that Eustacia had planned that very morning to pay her mother-in-law a friendly visit. Clym, coming later to hear of it, was saddened and worried, but felt this one evil in his life would somehow in time be got rid of. Cheerfully he bestirred himself to get on with his proposed new work, and took to his books. For Eustacia this meant added unhappiness and dejection. Cut off from friendly association with Clym's family, who were almost her only social equals in Egdon, and certain now that he would not go to Paris, she saw only a black world, lightened, to be sure, with Clym's love for her and hers for him.

Daily Clym read and studied, hour after hour, and into the small hours of the night, and as fate would have it, developed an eye-strain, which the surgeon pronounced sufficiently serious to require months of remaining in a darkened room. Eustacia stood by loyally enough, comforting him and reading to him, but her mind was darkly mournful with the thought that he might go blind and thus keep her in the status of a constant sacrifice to his needs, with no tiniest prospect left of escaping this lonely bleak heath for Paris.

Her next immediate hurt came from an unexpected direction. Clym, able now to go abroad in twilight, but not to read, came upon a neighbour cutting turf. "If," said Humphrey in sympathy, yours was low-class work like mine, your condition would not interfere with it." That put an idea into Clym's head. He was too good a philosopher to despise any kind of work, low or high, and being weary of doing nothing, physically strong and having no particular wealth either, he decided to become for the time being a turf-cutter. To Eustacia, the idea was a positive horror, and the more so because her husband was so unreasonably cheerful about what to her cried aloud as social failure. Unmoved by her protests, he got him the necessary tools and went to work. A few days later, Eustacia said to him, "You can sing at your turf-cutting, for me there is nothing but depression. I will lighten my gloom this afternoon by going to dance at the village picnic."

Clym grew painfully jealous. Yet he let her go, and would not come himself. When she arrived at the dancing green, there appeared some promise of delight or satisfaction in her adventure, for she knew no one there. Resignedly she stood on the outskirts, watching others dance. It was the cool of the evening, and would soon be dark. Suddenly she heard her name whispered by a voice over her shoulder, and she flushed to her temples. For it was Wildeve. He murmured, "Do you like dancing as much as ever? Then dance with me.

It was dark, and she wore a veil; there were many strange couples there, and no one would make invidious inquiries. Without pleasure, but welcoming the change, she accepted his offer. Fairly launched, however, into the ceaseless glides and whirls of the dance, her feelings began to change, a new vitality entered her form. Moonlight and motion became an intoxicant. And Wildeve? Signing the marriage register with Thomasin and hearing of Eustacia's marriage had had, for a man of his nature, the single effect of making a return to his first and lost love compulsory. And now she was in his arms. Yet Wildeve was a gentleman. The dance over, he made no moves toward greater intimacy. He inquired after her husband and tenderly commiserated with her over her misfortunes, then accompanied her on her way. They parted when they heard others approaching.

But Venn the reddleman had seen them. Later, he learned from Thomasin that Wildeve was frequently away of evenings, and made it his business to keep an eye on him, and if possible make him remain at home with Thomasin. Watching Wildeve, he discovered that while there was no real intrigue between him and Eustacia, there was the romantic ideal of an intrigue in the man's mind, for he had taken to climbing to her cottage, leaning over the gate, and going away sighing.

With this Venn interfered in a thoroughly practical manner by planning annoyances for Wildeve - tying a cord across his path and causing him to fall, frightening him with buck shot, and rapping loudly on one of the doors when Wildeve at last went so far as to make Eustacia aware of his presence. The enemy knew who was hounding him and was angrily thinking of taking measures.

In the meantime Venn went to Mrs. Yeobright, who respected his good sense, and told her the whole story. She had not known of Clym's illness. How slowly news travelled before the era of the machine! Venn begged her to help both Clym and Thomasin by visiting at their respective homes, in spite of her hurt feelings. Her friendly and dignified presence would surely avert too obviously impending tragedies. At length, she assented, and on the morrow actually set forth toward Clym's cottage. She was glad to go. Foolish son and alien woman though she thought them, the marriage was unalterable, and a reconciliation would in a measure lighten her unhappiness.

It was a cruelly hot day. Tender plants wilted in the morning, snug houses were unbearable prisons. Yet at eleven o'clock Mrs. Yeobright believed she could make her journey before the heat was really high. She realized her error when half way there, but now to return was as far as to come and she plodded on. Distressingly agitated, weary and unwell, she sat down to rest on a knoll not far from Clym's house. From there she saw her son in his furzecutter's outfit go home and enter his own door. She could not know that he was planning to go to her house that afternoon! Later another man approached the house, hesitantly as though he had no business there. He finally went in. This turn annoyed her at first, for she had hoped to find her son and his wife alone, but a moment's thought showed her that the presence of a stranger would make matters easier at the start.

She came down the hill and entered the garden. Within the cottage, could she have seen, Clym lay sound asleep on the hearthrug. In the adjoining room, Wildeve and Eustacia were talking. Why had Wildeve come? just to see Eustacia. He had calculated on meeting her and her husband in an ordinary manner, chatting a little while, and leaving. Now he was sympathizing with the wife who had said, "My husband reminds me of the Apostle Paul. He is as grand in character. But the worst of it is, though Paul was excellent as a man in the Bible he would hardly have done in real life. . . . And do I desire unreasonably much in wanting what is called life - music, poetry, passion, war?" There was no flirting between them; Damon, however, made clear that he still loved her. They stood musingly, when a knock came to the door.

Eustacia went to a window and looked out. Her colour changed to red, and from that to extreme paleness. What did this visit mean? Mrs. Yeobright must not see Wildeve. She motioned him to an adjoining apartment. At first she thought she would not open the door, then the knocking came again more loudly. She and Wildeve heard Clym moving in the other room, and he uttered the word "Mother." Relieved that he himself would open the door, she guided Wildeve through the rear to a path down the garden. "One word more, Damon," she said. "This is your first visit here; let it be your last. Our being lovers won't do now. Goodbye." He said he was satisfied, and left her. She walked in the garden for a few minutes, at last gathered courage to go in. To her astonishment, Clym lay as before, and his mother was not there. Eustacia opened the door and looked out. Nobody was to be seen. Poor Mrs. Yeobright was at that moment following a path hidden from Eustacia by the shoulder of a hill. She was walking rapidly. Her eyes saw two things - Clym's turf hook at the door, and a woman's face at a window. "'Tis too much," she was crying. "Clym - how can he do it! He is at home; and yet he lets her shut the door against me."

If she had not hurried away so hastily - had she knocked once morel But anyone would have said it was fate. A little boy - the very one who had tended Eustacia's fire and told the reddleman about her and Wildeve on November 5th - joined her on her path and to him she talked as one in a mesmeric sleep. "I have seen something terrible - a woman's face looking at me through a window pane. . . . Shut out! . . . Tell your mother you have seen a broken-hearted woman cast off by her son." She grew too tired to go on. In a little patch of shepherd's thyme she lay down. The boy, uneasily as though he should not leave her, trotted along home.

In the cottage his mother had left in such anger and sorrow Clym had awakened. To Eustacia, he said, "I dreamed my mother came here. I must go and see her tonight." Worried and miserable, Eustacia begged that he let her go first, on the morrow, and talk with his mother before he saw her. Clym, however, was anxious, and entirely unaware of the day's events, told her he must go that very day.

So it happened that in the dark Clym stumbled upon someone groaning with pain in the path between his new home and his old, and bending discovered his mother ill and dying and even now unable to speak. Making her comfortable, he ran for the neighbours and had the surgeon summoned, but it was too late. She looked at Clym as though she knew him, and passed away. In the very moment that followed, a little boy appeared in the light and cried shrilly to his own mother who stood beside the dead, "That woman asleep there walked along with me today; and she said I was to say that I had seed her, and she was a broken-hearted woman and cast off by her son." For Clym it was too much. He drew from the words only their obvious meaning that he had deserted his mother for Eustacia, nevertheless remorse took complete possession of him, he grew light-headed of a fever and for a month was confined to his bed.

Eustacia nursed and comforted him, conscience-struck, miserable, aware that she must some time tell him the truth that at this stage in his illness would kill him. She was doubly sick in her mind, for fate had twisted events so as to send Wildeve a goodly fortune from a deceased uncle; and he would gladly have shared it with Eustacia. After nearly two months, Clym was able to go safely about. By chance, he heard from a neighbour that his mother had been seen going toward his house in the morning that thirty-first of August, and from Venn the reddleman he learned of their conversation on the night previous. There was certainly a mystery about it, and frantic to get the truth, though he had no hint of how terrible it would prove to be, he hit on the idea of talking further to the small boy who had accompanied his mother.

From the child's lips came the awful words: "She was walking away from your house. She said there was no worse thing to see than a woman's face looking out at you through a window pane. . . . And I seed the woman looking, too. And I seed the other man go in after you went in."

Eustacia, twisting her black hair in front of the mirror, heard her husband come in, and without turning saw his face reflected, and knew that he had been told. He named her murderess, described her as a devil who had held his happiness in the hollow of her hand and dashed it down. He cried for the name of the man who had been with her, and Eustacia, timid on the surface but daring and defiant at heart, refused to answer. Why, she thought, should she defend herself? Yet finally she volunteered this much, that she could clear herself of half by speaking, if be were not too much a mad man to believe her? She went out of the house at last.

Walking unsteadily to her grandfather Vye's and there finding a kind of comfort. She had been gone but a few minutes when a messenger came to Clym, saying that Thomasin had been delivered of a baby, to be named Eustacia Clementine. "What a mockery!" said Clym. "This unhappy marriage of mine to be perpetuated in that child's name!" Eustacia, when she lived at home as a maiden had had as a devoted admirer a servant of her grandfather's, a youth, to whom she was a bright and heavenly being. Now that she had come back ill and forlorn, this boy found ways to please her, and she appreciated his tenderness and thanked him. Once he caught her looking too hungrily at her grandfather's pistols, and on the pretext of cleaning them, locked them away. A few days after her return the fifth of November, bonfire day, came round once more, and Charley, knowing she had in other years delighted in the fires, thought to surprise her with a beautiful pile of the best wood.

For half an hour it burned before she saw it, and when she discovered it, she begged him to put it out, relenting, however, when she saw the disappointment in his face, and thinking that if Wildeve had seen it, it was too late now to do anything. He had seen it, and he came. She explained, and he believed her, that the signal was not of her doing. Racked with sobs, she told him how her not letting in Clym's mother was the cause of this worst of her troubles, and in sincere sympathy Wildeve offered to do for her anything she was willing to propose. She suggested that he could help her to Budmouth, from whence she could sail alone to France. It was agreed that if she made up her mind, she would signal him at the stroke of eight, and crossing the heath alone, meet him near his Inn at midnight.

Yeobright, in the meantime, had moved to Bloom’s End, his mother's home, and there he spent his time in physical labour that formed a screen between him and despair; and hoped that Eustacia would return to him. On the evening of November 5th he went to see Thomasin and her husband. Finding his cousin alone, he told her (she had heard no word of it) that he and Eustacia were separated, and why. He suppressed all mention of Wildeve's part in it. Thomasin, feeling he had been unduly cruel to Eustacia, urged him to communicate with her, and at last he agreed to take the first step, and returning home, wrote a letter to Eustacia. In it he begged her to return - he had been too severe - he would listen to whatever she had to say - he himself now was absorbed in nothing but justifying her. Hoping she would come of her own will, he waited a whole day and sent the letter on the evening of the sixth. It came to her grandfather's hand, who, going with it to Eustacia's room, found it dark and thinking she slept, carried the letter below and placed it on the mantelpiece. She would find it in the morning.

At eleven o'clock he went to bed himself. A little later he heard her moving down the hall and disturbed by the sound of weeping, called to her. There was no answer. Yes, Eustacia was gone into the night, stealing through bitter wind and sudden furious rain across the heath that she feared and hated to Wildeve. She had made up her mind, signalled him and been answered. But now, thinking miserably of all her circumstances, the dreadful realization came to her that she had no money to live in Paris and could ask none of Wildeve without letting him accompany her, and for this she had no will. The last ray of hope went out from her, she felt the wings of her soul finally broken by the cruel obstructiveness of all about her. Slowly she went on. At this hour Yeobright was sitting wakeful in his house, wishing she would come. He heard light footsteps and a plaintive female voice - surely - it was she! No. In indescribable disappointment he saw it was Thomasin with her baby - Thomasin in despair, telling him she thought her husband was running away from her.

A few moments later old Captain Vye appeared, and told his fears. An elopement, or worse. He had found out about the pistols. Clym left hastily for Wildeve's place, leaving Thomasin behind. For her, however, suspense was worse than recrossing the heath, which to her since she was a very practical person, had no evil meaning, as it did for Eustacia. Indeed, tonight it held a friend, for as she picked her way she suddenly found herself at the encampment of Diggory Venn, who hurried with her. With horse and gig, one of its lamps lit to show the location to Eustacia, Wildeve was waiting two or three hundred yards below the Inn. Over the din of the weather rose the greater noise of the roaring of a tenhatch weir a little beyond where he stood. Would Eustacia come in the storm? "Poor thing! 'tis like her ill-luck," he murmured.

At that moment a footstep approached. "Eustacia?" said Wildeve. But the person came into the light, and he saw it to be Clym. Hidden in the dark, Wildeve hoped his rival, now loitering uncertainly and looking at the gig, would go. While they both hung thus in hesitation a dull sound became audible above the wind. Its origin was unmistakable - it was the fall of a body into the stream adjoining, apparently at a point near the weir. Both men understood. They hastened to the weir, with a lamp from the gig for light, and suddenly Wildeve beheld a dark body slowly borne on one of the backward currents of the weir-pool.

Without showing sufficient presence of mind even to remove his greatcoat, he leaped into the boiling hole. Yeobright sprang into a shallower part of the pool and waded toward the deeper portion, where he perceived Wildeve struggling. It was Venn and Thomasin who discovered them and summoned help. Three unconscious bodies were carried into the Inn, and of these only one ever breathed again. It was Clym.

Late that night, he summoned Venn and the lad Charley to look at the dead. So quiet he was, they thought him resigned. But at last, with a wild smile, he spoke, "She is the second woman I have killed this year. I was a great cause of my mother's death; and I am the chief cause of hers . . . I spoke cruel words to her and she left my house." In vain they reasoned with him. There was only one truth that he could see, and it would have been an easier one to bear, if in the months and years that followed he could have found anyone to agree with him and blame him.

He did sometimes indeed think he had been ill-used by fortune. But that he and his had been sarcastically and pitilessly handled by a wanton universe he could not for long maintain. It is usually so with men. Human beings, in their generous endeavour to construct a hypothesis that shall not degrade a First Cause, have always hesitated to conceive a dominant power of lower moral quality than their own; and, even while they sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon, invent excuses for the oppression which prompts their tears.

For Clym, there was only one thing worth doing now - becoming an itinerant preacher and lecturer on morally unimpeachable subjects; carrying words of common wisdom to all who would hear him, on hillock or in lecture hall, on heath or in town. Men differed in what they thought of his words. But everywhere he was kindly received, for the story of his life had become generally known. Thomasin, who was a practical and normal child of nature, was gradually purged of her grief, as time would never purge Clym of his. When Diggory Venn appeared to her after months of absence as white as other men, and with a substantial farm to which to bring a wife, her heart opened to him and she and little Eustacia Clementine found home.

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