США.The Return of the Native

Thomas Hardy

The Return of the Native   


The date at which the following events are assumed to have occurred may be set down
as between 1840 and 1850, when the old watering place herein called “Budmouth” still
retained sufficient afterglow from its Georgian gaiety and prestige to lend it an
absorbing attractiveness to the romantic and imaginative soul of a lonely dweller

 Under the general name of “Egdon Heath,” which has been given to the sombre
scene of the story, are united or typified heaths of various real names, to the number of
at least a dozen; these being virtually one in character and aspect, though their original
unity, or partial unity, is now somewhat disguised by intrusive strips and slices brought
under the plough with varying degrees of success, or planted to woodland.

It is pleasant to dream that some spot in the extensive tract whose southwestern quarter
is here described, may be the heath of that traditionary King of Wessex—Lear.

July, 1895.

“To sorrow I bade good morrow,
And thought to leave her far away behind;
But cheerly, cheerly,
She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me, and so kind.
I would deceive her,
And so leave her,
But ah! she is so constant and so kind.”

Book One
The Three Women

1A Face on Which TimeMakes but Little Impression

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.
Overhead the hollow stretch of whitish cloud shutting out the sky was as a tent which
had the whole heath for its floor.

 The heaven being spread with this pallid screen and the earth with the darkest
vegetation, their meeting-line at the horizon was clearly marked. In such contrast the
heath wore the appearance of an installment of night which had taken up its place
before its astronomical hour was come: darkness had to a great extent arrived hereon,
while day stood distinct in the sky. Looking upwards, a furze-cutter would have been
inclined to continue work; looking down, he would have decided to finish his faggot
and go home. The distant rims of the world and of the firmament seemed to be a
division in time no less than a division in matter. The face of the heath by its mere
complexion added half an hour to evening; it could in like manner retard the dawn,
sadden noon, anticipate the frowning of storms scarcely generated, and intensify the
opacity of a moonless midnight to a cause of shaking and dread.

 In fact, precisely at this transitional point of its nightly roll into darkness the great
and particular glory of the Egdon waste began, and nobody could be said to understand
the heath who had not been there at such a time. It could best be felt when it could not
clearly be seen, its complete effect and explanation lying in this and the succeeding
hours before the next dawn; then, and only then, did it tell its true tale. The spot was,
indeed, a near relation of night, and when night showed itself an apparent tendency to
gravitate together could be perceived in its shades and the scene. The sombre stretch of
rounds and hollows seemed to rise and meet the evening gloom in pure sympathy, the
heath exhaling darkness as rapidly as the heavens precipitated it. And so the obscurity
in the air and the obscurity in the land closed together in a black fraternization towards
which each advanced halfway.

 The place became full of a watchful intentness now; for when other things sank
blooding to sleep the heath appeared slowly to awake and listen. Every night its Titanic
form seemed to await something; but it had waited thus, unmoved, during so many
centuries, through the crises of so many things, that it could only be imagined to await
one last crisis—the final overthrow.

 It was a spot which returned upon the memory of those who loved it with an aspect
of peculiar and kindly congruity. Smiling champaigns of flowers and fruit hardly do
this, for they are permanently harmonious only with an existence of better reputation
as to its issues than the present. Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath to
evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its
admonitions, grand in its simplicity. The qualifications which frequently invest the
facade of a prison with far more dignity than is found in the facade of a palace double
its size lent to this heath a sublimity in which spots renowned for beauty of the
accepted kind are utterly wanting. Fair prospects wed happily with fair times; but alas,
if times be not fair! Men have oftener suffered from, the mockery of a place too
smiling for their reason than from the oppression of surroundings oversadly tinged.
Haggard Egdon appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct, to a more recently learnt
emotion, than that which responds to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.

 Indeed, it is a question if the exclusive reign of this orthodox beauty is not
approaching its last quarter. The new Vale of Tempe may be a gaunt waste in Thule;
human souls may find themselves in closer and closer harmony with external things
wearing a sombreness distasteful to our race when it was young. The time seems near,
if it has not actually arrived, when the chastened sublimity of a moor, a sea, or a
mountain will be all of nature that is absolutely in keeping with the moods of the more
thinking among mankind. And ultimately, to the commonest tourist, spots like Iceland
may become what the vineyards and myrtle gardens of South Europe are to him now;
and Heidelberg and Baden be passed unheeded as he hastens from the Alps to the sand
dunes of Scheveningen.

 The most thoroughgoing ascetic could feel that he had a natural right to wander on
Egdon—he was keeping within the line of legitimate indulgence when he laid himself
open to influences such as these. Colours and beauties so far subdued were, at least,
the birthright of all. Only in summer days of highest feather did its mood touch the
level of gaiety. Intensity was more usually reached by way of the solemn than by way
of the brilliant, and such a sort of intensity was often arrived at during winter darkness,
tempests, and mists. Then Egdon was aroused to reciprocity; for the storm was its
lover, and the wind its friend. Then it became the home of strange phantoms; and it
was found to be the hitherto unrecognized original of those wild regions of obscurity
which are vaguely felt to be compassing us about in midnight dreams of flight and
disaster, and are never thought of after the dream till revived by scenes like this.

 It was at present a place perfectly accordant with man’s nature—neither ghastly,
hateful, nor ugly; neither commonplace, unmeaning, nor tame; but, like man, slighted
and enduring; and withal singularly colossal and mysterious in its swarthy monotony.
As with some persons who have long lived apart, solitude seemed to look out of its
countenance. It had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities.

 This obscure, obsolete, superseded country figures in Domesday. Its condition is
recorded therein as that of heathy, furzy, briary wilderness—“Bruaria.” Then follows
the length and breadth in leagues; and, though some uncertainty exists as to the exact
extent of this ancient lineal measure, it appears from the figures that the area of Egdon
down to the present day has but little diminished. “Turbaria Bruaria”—the right of

cutting heath-turf—occurs in charters relating to the district. “Overgrown with heth
and mosse,” says Leland of the same dark sweep of country.

 Here at least were intelligible facts regarding landscape—far-reaching proofs
productive of genuine satisfaction. The untameable, Ishmaelitish thing that Egdon now
was it always had been. Civilization was its enemy; and ever since the beginning of
vegetation its soil had worn the same antique brown dress, the natural and invariable
garment of the particular formation. In its venerable one coat lay a certain vein of
satire on human vanity in clothes. A person on a heath in raiment of modern cut and
colours has more or less an anomalous look. We seem to want the oldest and simplest
human clothing where the clothing of the earth is so primitive.

 To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley of Egdon, between afternoon
and night, as now, where the eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits
and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole circumference of its glance, and to
know that everything around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as
unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind adrift on change, and harassed
by the irrepressible New. The great inviolate place had an ancient permanence which
the sea cannot claim. Who can say of a particular sea that it is old? Distilled by the sun,
kneaded by the moon, it is renewed in a year, in a day, or in an hour. The sea changed,
the fields changed, the rivers, the villages, and the people changed, yet Egdon
remained. Those surfaces were neither so steep as to be destructible by weather, nor so
flat as to be the victims of floods and deposits. With the exception of an aged highway,
and a still more aged barrow presently to be referred to—themselves almost
crystallized to natural products by long continuance—even the trifling irregularities
were not caused by pickaxe, plough, or spade, but remained as the very finger-touches
of the last geological change.

 The above-mentioned highway traversed the lower levels of the heath, from one
horizon to another. In many portions of its course it overlaid an old vicinal way, which
branched from the great Western road of the Romans, the Via Iceniana, or Ikenild
Street, hard by. On the evening under consideration it would have been noticed that,
though the gloom had increased sufficiently to confuse the minor features of the heath,
the white surface of the road remained almost as clear as ever.

2Humanity Appears Upon the Scene,
Hand in Hand with Trouble

Along the road walked an old man. He was white-headed as a mountain, bowed in the
shoulders, and faded in general aspect. He wore a glazed hat, an ancient boat-cloak,
and shoes; his brass buttons bearing an anchor upon their face. In his hand was a silver-
headed walking stick, which he used as a veritable third leg, perseveringly dotting the
ground with its point at every few inches’ interval. One would have said that he had
been, in his day, a naval officer of some sort or other.

 Before him stretched the long, laborious road, dry, empty, and white. It was quite
open to the heath on each side, and bisected that vast dark surface like the parting-line
on a head of black hair, diminishing and bending away on the furthest horizon.

 The old man frequently stretched his eyes ahead to gaze over the tract that he had
yet to traverse. At length he discerned, a long distance in front of him, a moving spot,
which appeared to be a vehicle, and it proved to be going the same way as that in
which he himself was journeying. It was the single atom of life that the scene
contained, and it only served to render the general loneliness more evident. Its rate of
advance was slow, and the old man gained upon it sensibly.

 When he drew nearer he perceived it to be a spring van, ordinary in shape, but
singular in colour, this being a lurid red. The driver walked beside it; and, like his van,
he was completely red. One dye of that tincture covered his clothes, the cap upon his
head, his boots, his face, and his hands. He was not temporarily overlaid with the
colour; it permeated him.

 The old man knew the meaning of this. The traveller with the cart was a
reddleman—a person whose vocation it was to supply farmers with redding for their
sheep. He was one of a class rapidly becoming extinct in Wessex, filling at present in
the rural world the place which, during the last century, the dodo occupied in the world
of animals. He is a curious, interesting, and nearly perished link between obsolete
forms of life and those which generally prevail.

 The decayed officer, by degrees, came up alongside his fellow-wayfarer, and
wished him good evening. The reddleman turned his head, and replied in sad and
occupied tones. He was young, and his face, if not exactly handsome, approached so
near to handsome that nobody would have contradicted an assertion that it really was
so in its natural colour. His eye, which glared so strangely through his stain, was in
itself attractive—keen as that of a bird of prey, and blue as autumn mist. He had
neither whisker nor moustache, which allowed the soft curves of the lower part of his
face to be apparent. His lips were thin, and though, as it seemed, compressed by
thought, there was a pleasant twitch at their corners now and then. He was clothed
throughout in a tight-fitting suit of corduroy, excellent in quality, not much worn, and

well-chosen for its purpose, but deprived of its original colour by his trade. It showed
to advantage the good shape of his figure. A certain well-to-do air about the man
suggested that he was not poor for his degree. The natural query of an observer would
have been, Why should such a promising being as this have hidden his prepossessing
exterior by adopting that singular occupation?

 After replying to the old man’s greeting he showed no inclination to continue in
talk, although they still walked side by side, for the elder traveller seemed to desire
company. There were no sounds but that of the booming wind upon the stretch of
tawny herbage around them, the crackling wheels, the tread of the men, and the
footsteps of the two shaggy ponies which drew the van. They were small, hardy
animals, of a breed between Galloway and Exmoor, and were known as “heath-
croppers” here.

 Now, as they thus pursued their way, the reddleman occasionally left his
companion’s side, and, stepping behind the van, looked into its interior through a small
window. The look was always anxious. He would then return to the old man, who
made another remark about the state of the country and so on, to which the reddleman
again abstractedly replied, and then again they would lapse into silence. The silence
conveyed to neither any sense of awkwardness; in these lonely places wayfarers, after
a first greeting, frequently plod on for miles without speech; contiguity amounts to a
tacit conversation where, otherwise than in cities, such contiguity can be put an end to
on the merest inclination, and where not to put an end to it is intercourse in itself.

 Possibly these two might not have spoken again till their parting, had it not been for
the reddleman’s visits to his van. When he returned from his fifth time of looking in
the old man said, “You have something inside there besides your load?”


 “Somebody who wants looking after?”


 Not long after this a faint cry sounded from the interior. The reddleman hastened to
the back, looked in, and came away again.

 “You have a child there, my man?”

 “No, sir, I have a woman.”

 “The deuce you have! Why did she cry out?”

 “Oh, she has fallen asleep, and not being used to traveling, she’s uneasy, and keeps

 “A young woman?”

 “Yes, a young woman.”

 “That would have interested me forty years ago. Perhaps she’s your wife?”

 “My wife!” said the other bitterly. “She’s above mating with such as I. But there’s
no reason why I should tell you about that.”

 “That’s true. And there’s no reason why you should not. What harm can I do to you
or to her?”

 The reddleman looked in the old man’s face. “Well, sir,” he said at last, “I knew her
before today, though perhaps it would have been better if I had not. But she’s nothing

to me, and I am nothing to her; and she wouldn’t have been in my van if any better
carriage had been there to take her.”

 “Where, may I ask?”

 “At Anglebury.”

 “I know the town well. What was she doing there?”

 “Oh, not much—to gossip about. However, she’s tired to death now, and not at all
well, and that’s what makes her so restless. She dropped off into a nap about an hour
ago, and ‘twill do her good.”

 “A nice-looking girl, no doubt?”

 “You would say so.”

 The other traveller turned his eyes with interest towards the van window, and,
without withdrawing them, said, “I presume I might look in upon her?”

 “No,” said the reddleman abruptly. “It is getting too dark for you to see much of
her; and, more than that, I have no right to allow you. Thank God she sleeps so well, I
hope she won’t wake till she’s home.”

 “Who is she? One of the neighbourhood?”

 “‘Tis no matter who, excuse me.”

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