The lonely inn was not yet closed, though scarcely an individual was there, the business done being chiefly with travellers who passed the inn on long journeys, and these had now gone on their way. Venn went to the public room, called for a mug of ale, and inquired of the maid in an indifferent tone if Mr. Wildeve was at home.
Thomasin sat in an inner room and heard Venn’s voice. When customers were present she seldom showed herself, owing to her inherent dislike for the business; but perceiving that no one else was there tonight she came out.
“He is not at home yet, Diggory,” she said pleasantly. “But I expected him sooner. He has been to East Egdon to buy a horse.”
“Did he wear a light wideawake?”
“Then I saw him at Throope Corner, leading one home,” said Venn drily. “A beauty, with a white face and a mane as black as night. He will soon be here, no doubt.” Rising and looking for a moment at the pure, sweet face of Thomasin, over which a shadow of sadness had passed since the time when he had last seen her, he ventured to add, “Mr. Wildeve seems to be often away at this time.”
“O yes,” cried Thomasin in what was intended to be a tone of gaiety. “Husbands will play the truant, you know. I wish you could tell me of some secret plan that would help me to keep him home at my will in the evenings.”
“I will consider if I know of one,” replied Venn in that same light tone which meant no lightness. And then he bowed in a manner of his own invention and moved to go. Thomasin offered him her hand; and without a sigh, though with food for many, the reddleman went out.
When Wildeve returned, a quarter of an hour later, Thomasin said simply, and in the abashed manner usual with her now, “Where is the horse, Damon?”
“O, I have not bought it, after all. The man asks too much.”
“But somebody saw you at Throope Corner leading it home—a beauty, with a white face and a mane as black as night.”
“Ah!” said Wildeve, fixing his eyes upon her; “who told you that?”
“Venn the reddleman.”
The expression of Wildeve’s face became curiously condensed. “That is a mistake—it must have been some one else,” he said slowly and testily, for he perceived that Venn’s countermoves had begun again.
Rough Coercion Is Employed
Those words of Thomasin, which seemed so little, but meant so much, remained in the ears of Diggory Venn: “Help me to keep him home in the evenings.”