When she had disappeared Charley, with misgiving in his eyes, slowly came from the stable door, and going to another point in the bank he looked over. Eustacia was leaning against it on the outside, her face covered with her hands, and her head pressing the dewy heather which bearded the bank’s outer side. She appeared to be utterly indifferent to the circumstance that her bonnet, hair, and garments were becoming wet and disarranged by the moisture of her cold, harsh pillow. Clearly something was wrong.
Charley had always regarded Eustacia as Eustacia had regarded Clym when she first beheld him—as a romantic and sweet vision, scarcely incarnate. He had been so shut off from her by the dignity of her look and the pride of her speech, except at that one blissful interval when he was allowed to hold her hand, that he had hardly deemed her a woman, wingless and earthly, subject to household conditions and domestic jars. The inner details of her life he had only conjectured. She had been a lovely wonder, predestined to an orbit in which the whole of his own was but a point; and this sight of her leaning like a helpless, despairing creature against a wild wet bank filled him with an amazed horror. He could no longer remain where he was. Leaping over, he came up, touched her with his finger, and said tenderly, “You are poorly, ma’am. What can I do?”
Eustacia started up, and said, “Ah, Charley—you have followed me. You did not think when I left home in the summer that I should come back like this!”
“I did not, dear ma’am. Can I help you now?”
“I am afraid not. I wish I could get into the house. I feel giddy—that’s all.”
“Lean on my arm, ma’am, till we get to the porch, and I will try to open the door.”
He supported her to the porch, and there depositing her on a seat hastened to the back, climbed to a window by the help of a ladder, and descending inside opened the door. Next he assisted her into the room, where there was an old-fashioned horsehair settee as large as a donkey-waggon. She lay down here, and Charley covered her with a cloak he found in the hall.
“Shall I get you something to eat and drink?” he said.
“If you please, Charley. But I suppose there is no fire?”
“I can light it, ma’am.”
He vanished, and she heard a splitting of wood and a blowing of bellows; and presently he returned, saying, “I have lighted a fire in the kitchen, and now I’ll light one here.”
He lit the fire, Eustacia dreamily observing him from her couch. When it was blazing up he said, “Shall I wheel you round in front of it, ma’am, as the morning is chilly?”
“Yes, if you like.”
“Shall I go and bring the victuals now?”
“Yes, do,” she murmured languidly.
When he had gone, and the dull sounds occasionally reached her ears of his movements in the kitchen, she forgot where she was, and had for a moment to consider by an effort what the sounds meant. After an interval which seemed short to her whose thoughts were elsewhere, he came in with a tray on which steamed tea and toast, though it was nearly lunch-time.