The little articles you gave me in the early part of our friendship are returned by the bearer of this letter. They should rightly have been sent back when I first heard of your engagement to her.
By the time that Wildeve reached her name the blankness with which he had read the first half of the letter intensified to mortification. “I am made a great fool of, one way and another,” he said pettishly. “Do you know what is in this letter?”
The reddleman hummed a tune.
“Can’t you answer me?” asked Wildeve warmly.
“Ru-um-tum-tum,” sang the reddleman.
Wildeve stood looking on the ground beside Venn’s feet, till he allowed his eyes to travel upwards over Diggory’s form, as illuminated by the candle, to his head and face. “Ha-ha! Well, I suppose I deserve it, considering how I have played with them both,” he said at last, as much to himself as to Venn. “But of all the odd things that ever I knew, the oddest is that you should so run counter to your own interests as to bring this to me.”
“Certainly. ’Twas your interest not to do anything which would send me courting Thomasin again, now she has accepted you—or something like it. Mrs. Yeobright says you are to marry her. ’Tisn’t true, then?”
“Good Lord! I heard of this before, but didn’t believe it. When did she say so?”
Wildeve began humming as the reddleman had done.
“I don’t believe it now,” cried Venn.
“Ru-um-tum-tum,” sang Wildeve.
“O Lord—how we can imitate!” said Venn contemptuously. “I’ll have this out. I’ll go straight to her.”
Diggory withdrew with an emphatic step, Wildeve’s eye passing over his form in withering derision, as if he were no more than a heath-cropper. When the reddleman’s figure could no longer be seen, Wildeve himself descended and plunged into the rayless hollow of the vale.
To lose the two women—he who had been the well-beloved of both—was too ironical an issue to be endured. He could only decently save himself by Thomasin; and once he became her husband, Eustacia’s repentance, he thought, would set in for a long and bitter term. It was no wonder that Wildeve, ignorant of the new man at the back of the scene, should have supposed Eustacia to be playing a part. To believe that the letter was not the result of some momentary pique, to infer that she really gave him up to Thomasin, would have required previous knowledge of her transfiguration by that man’s influence. Who was to know that she had grown generous in the greediness of a new passion, that in coveting one cousin she was dealing liberally with another, that in her eagerness to appropriate she gave way?
Full of this resolve to marry in haste, and wring the heart of the proud girl, Wildeve went his way.
Meanwhile Diggory Venn had returned to his van, where he stood looking thoughtfully into the stove. A new vista was opened up to him. But, however promising Mrs. Yeobright’s views of him might be as a candidate for her niece’s hand, one condition was indispensable to the favour of Thomasin herself, and that was a renunciation of his present wild mode of life. In this he saw little difficulty.