The Return of the Native HTML version

BOOK I: The Three Women
1 - A Face on Which Time Makes 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 instalment 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