The Return of the Native HTML version

BOOK II: The Arrival
1 - Tidings of the Comer
On the fine days at this time of the year, and earlier, certain ephemeral
operations were apt to disturb, in their trifling way, the majestic calm of Egdon
Heath. They were activities which, beside those of a town, a village, or even a
farm, would have appeared as the ferment of stagnation merely, a creeping of
the flesh of somnolence. But here, away from comparisons, shut in by the stable
hills, among which mere walking had the novelty of pageantry, and where any
man could imagine himself to be Adam without the least difficulty, they attracted
the attention of every bird within eyeshot, every reptile not yet asleep, and set the
surrounding rabbits curiously watching from hillocks at a safe distance.
The performance was that of bringing together and building into a stack the furze
faggots which Humphrey had been cutting for the captain's use during the
foregoing fine days. The stack was at the end of the dwelling, and the men
engaged in building it were Humphrey and Sam, the old man looking on.
It was a fine and quiet afternoon, about three o'clock; but the winter solstice
having stealthily come on, the lowness of the sun caused the hour to seem later
than it actually was, there being little here to remind an inhabitant that he must
unlearn his summer experience of the sky as a dial. In the course of many days
and weeks sunrise had advanced its quarters from northeast to southeast,
sunset had receded from northwest to southwest; but Egdon had hardly heeded
the change.
Eustacia was indoors in the dining-room, which was really more like a kitchen,
having a stone floor and a gaping chimney-corner. The air was still, and while
she lingered a moment here alone sounds of voices in conversation came to her
ears directly down the chimney. She entered the recess, and, listening, looked up
the old irregular shaft, with its cavernous hollows, where the smoke blundered
about on its way to the square bit of sky at the top, from which the daylight struck
down with a pallid glare upon the tatters of soot draping the flue as seaweed
drapes a rocky fissure.
She remembered: the furze-stack was not far from the chimney, and the voices
were those of the workers.
Her grandfather joined in the conversation. "That lad ought never to have left
home. His father's occupation would have suited him best, and the boy should
have followed on. I don't believe in these new moves in families. My father was a
sailor, so was I, and so should my son have been if I had had one."