Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman
Author: Hardy, Thomas
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



E-text transcribed by Steve Menyhert,
proof-read by Meredith Ricker and John Hamm,
and revised by Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.


Tess of the d’Urbervilles


A Pure Woman



Faithfully presented by


Thomas Hardy


     ... Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed
     Shall lodge thee.—W. Shakespeare.


Contents


 Phase the First: The Maiden
 Chapter I
 Chapter II
 Chapter III
 Chapter IV
 Chapter V
 Chapter VI
 Chapter VII
 Chapter VIII
 Chapter IX
 Chapter X
 Chapter XI

 Phase the Second: Maiden No More
 Chapter XII
 Chapter XIII
 Chapter XIV
 Chapter XV

 Phase the Third: The Rally
 Chapter XVI
 Chapter XVII
 Chapter XVIII
 Chapter XIX
 Chapter XX
 Chapter XXI
 Chapter XXII
 Chapter XXIII
 Chapter XXIV

 Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
 Chapter XXV
 Chapter XXVI
 Chapter XXVII
 Chapter XXVIII
 Chapter XXIX
 Chapter XXX
 Chapter XXXI
 Chapter XXXII
 Chapter XXXIII
 Chapter XXXIV

 Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
 Chapter XXXV
 Chapter XXXVI
 Chapter XXXVII
 Chapter XXXVIII
 Chapter XXXIX
 Chapter XL
 Chapter XLI
 Chapter XLII
 Chapter XLIII
 Chapter XLIV

 Phase the Sixth: The Convert
 Chapter XLV
 Chapter XLVI
 Chapter XLVII
 Chapter XLVIII
 Chapter XLIX
 Chapter L
 Chapter LI
 Chapter LII

 Phase the Seventh: Fulfilment
 Chapter LIII
 Chapter LIV
 Chapter LV
 Chapter LVI
 Chapter LVII
 Chapter LVIII
 Chapter LIX


Explanatory Note to the First Edition

The main portion of the following story appeared—with slight
modifications—in the _Graphic_ newspaper; other chapters, more
especially addressed to adult readers, in the _Fortnightly Review_ and
the _National Observer_, as episodic sketches. My thanks are tendered
to the editors and proprietors of those periodicals for enabling me now
to piece the trunk and limbs of the novel together, and print it
complete, as originally written two years ago.

I will just add that the story is sent out in all sincerity of purpose,
as an attempt to give artistic form to a true sequence of things; and
in respect of the book’s opinions and sentiments, I would ask any too
genteel reader, who cannot endure to have said what everybody nowadays
thinks and feels, to remember a well-worn sentence of St. Jerome’s: If
an offense come out of the truth, better it is that the offense come
than that the truth be concealed.

T.H.


_November_ 1891.

Author’s Preface to the Fifth and Later Editions

This novel being one wherein the great campaign of the heroine begins
after an event in her experience which has usually been treated as
fatal to her part of protagonist, or at least as the virtual ending of
her enterprises and hopes, it was quite contrary to avowed conventions
that the public should welcome the book and agree with me in holding
that there was something more to be said in fiction than had been said
about the shaded side of a well-known catastrophe. But the responsive
spirit in which _Tess of the d’Urbervilles_ has been received by the
readers of England and America would seem to prove that the plan of
laying down a story on the lines of tacit opinion, instead of making it
to square with the merely vocal formulae of society, is not altogether
a wrong one, even when exemplified in so unequal and partial an
achievement as the present. For this responsiveness I cannot refrain
from expressing my thanks; and my regret is that, in a world where one
so often hungers in vain for friendship, where even not to be wilfully
misunderstood is felt as a kindness, I shall never meet in person these
appreciative readers, male and female, and shake them by the hand.

I include amongst them the reviewers—by far the majority—who have so
generously welcomed the tale. Their words show that they, like the
others, have only too largely repaired my defects of narration by their
own imaginative intuition.

Nevertheless, though the novel was intended to be neither didactic nor
aggressive, but in the scenic parts to be representative simply and in
the contemplative to be oftener charged with impressions than with
convictions, there have been objectors both to the matter and to the
rendering.

The more austere of these maintain a conscientious difference of
opinion concerning, among other things, subjects fit for art, and
reveal an inability to associate the idea of the sub-title adjective
with any but the artificial and derivative meaning which has resulted
to it from the ordinances of civilization. They ignore the meaning of
the word in Nature, together with all aesthetic claims upon it, not to
mention the spiritual interpretation afforded by the finest side of
their own Christianity. Others dissent on grounds which are
intrinsically no more than an assertion that the novel embodies the
views of life prevalent at the end of the nineteenth century, and not
those of an earlier and simpler generation—an assertion which I can
only hope may be well founded. Let me repeat that a novel is an
impression, not an argument; and there the matter must rest; as one is
reminded by a passage which occurs in the letters of Schiller to Goethe
on judges of this class: “They are those who seek only their own ideas
in a representation, and prize that which should be as higher than what
is. The cause of the dispute, therefore, lies in the very first
principles, and it would be utterly impossible to come to an
understanding with them.” And again: “As soon as I observe that any
one, when judging of poetical representations, considers anything more
important than the inner Necessity and Truth, I have done with him.”

In the introductory words to the first edition I suggested the possible
advent of the genteel person who would not be able to endure something
or other in these pages. That person duly appeared among the aforesaid
objectors. In one case he felt upset that it was not possible for him
to read the book through three times, owing to my not having made that
critical effort which “alone can prove the salvation of such an one.”
In another, he objected to such vulgar articles as the Devil’s
pitchfork, a lodging-house carving-knife, and a shame-bought parasol,
appearing in a respectable story. In another place he was a gentleman
who turned Christian for half-an-hour the better to express his grief
that a disrespectful phrase about the Immortals should have been used;
though the same innate gentility compelled him to excuse the author in
words of pity that one cannot be too thankful for: “He does but give us
of his best.” I can assure this great critic that to exclaim
illogically against the gods, singular or plural, is not such an
original sin of mine as he seems to imagine. True, it may have some
local originality; though if Shakespeare were an authority on history,
which perhaps he is not, I could show that the sin was introduced into
Wessex as early as the Heptarchy itself. Says Glo’ster in _Lear_,
otherwise Ina, king of that country:

    As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
    They kill us for their sport.

The remaining two or three manipulators of Tess were of the
predetermined sort whom most writers and readers would gladly forget;
professed literary boxers, who put on their convictions for the
occasion; modern “Hammers of Heretics”; sworn Discouragers, ever on the
watch to prevent the tentative half-success from becoming the whole
success later on; who pervert plain meanings, and grow personal under
the name of practising the great historical method. However, they may
have causes to advance, privileges to guard, traditions to keep going;
some of which a mere tale-teller, who writes down how the things of the
world strike him, without any ulterior intentions whatever, has
overlooked, and may by pure inadvertence have run foul of when in the
least aggressive mood. Perhaps some passing perception, the outcome of
a dream hour, would, if generally acted on, cause such an assailant
considerable inconvenience with respect to position, interests, family,
servant, ox, ass, neighbour, or neighbour’s wife. He therefore
valiantly hides his personality behind a publisher’s shutters, and
cries “Shame!” So densely is the world with any shifting of positions,
even the best warranted advance, galls somebody’s kibe. Such shiftings
often begin in sentiment, and such sentiment sometimes begins in a
novel.

_July_ 1892.

The foregoing remarks were written during the early career of this
story, when a spirited public and private criticism of its points was
still fresh to the feelings. The pages are allowed to stand for what
they are worth, as something once said; but probably they would not
have been written now. Even in the first short time which has elapsed
since the book was first published, some of the critics who have
provoked the reply have “gone down into silence,” as if to remind one
of the infinite unimportance of both their say and mine.

_January_ 1895.

The present edition of this novel contains a few pages that have never
appeared in any previous edition. When the detached episodes were
collected as stated in the preface of 1891, these pages were
overlooked, though they were in the original manuscript. They occur in
Chapter X.

Respecting the sub-title, to which allusion was made above, I may add
that it was appended at the last moment, after reading the final
proofs, as being the estimate left in a candid mind of the heroine’s
character—an estimate that nobody would be likely to dispute. It was
disputed more than anything else in the book. _Melius fuerat non
scibere._ But there it stands.

The novel was first published complete, in three volumes, in November,
1891.

T.H.

_March_ 1912.


Phase the First:

The Maiden


I

On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking
homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale
of Blakemore, or Blackmoor. The pair of legs that carried him were
rickety, and there was a bias in his gait which inclined him somewhat
to the left of a straight line. He occasionally gave a smart nod, as if
in confirmation of some opinion, though he was not thinking of anything
in particular. An empty egg-basket was slung upon his arm, the nap of
his hat was ruffled, a patch being quite worn away at its brim where
his thumb came in taking it off. Presently he was met by an elderly
parson astride on a gray mare, who, as he rode, hummed a wandering
tune.

“Good night t’ee,” said the man with the basket.

“Good night, Sir John,” said the parson.

The pedestrian, after another pace or two, halted, and turned round.

“Now, sir, begging your pardon; we met last market-day on this road
about this time, and I said ‘Good night,’ and you made reply ‘_Good
night, Sir John_,’ as now.”

“I did,” said the parson.

“And once before that—near a month ago.”

“I may have.”

“Then what might your meaning be in calling me ‘Sir John’ these
different times, when I be plain Jack Durbeyfield, the haggler?”

The parson rode a step or two nearer.

“It was only my whim,” he said; and, after a moment’s hesitation: “It
was on account of a discovery I made some little time ago, whilst I was
hunting up pedigrees for the new county history. I am Parson Tringham,
the antiquary, of Stagfoot Lane. Don’t you really know, Durbeyfield,
that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly
family of the d’Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan
d’Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William
the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?”

“Never heard it before, sir!”

“Well it’s true. Throw up your chin a moment, so that I may catch the
profile of your face better. Yes, that’s the d’Urberville nose and
chin—a little debased. Your ancestor was one of the twelve knights who
assisted the Lord of Estremavilla in Normandy in his conquest of
Glamorganshire. Branches of your family held manors over all this part
of England; their names appear in the Pipe Rolls in the time of King
Stephen. In the reign of King John one of them was rich enough to give
a manor to the Knights Hospitallers; and in Edward the Second’s time
your forefather Brian was summoned to Westminster to attend the great
Council there. You declined a little in Oliver Cromwell’s time, but to
no serious extent, and in Charles the Second’s reign you were made
Knights of the Royal Oak for your loyalty. Aye, there have been
generations of Sir Johns among you, and if knighthood were hereditary,
like a baronetcy, as it practically was in old times, when men were
knighted from father to son, you would be Sir John now.”

“Ye don’t say so!”

“In short,” concluded the parson, decisively smacking his leg with his
switch, “there’s hardly such another family in England.”

“Daze my eyes, and isn’t there?” said Durbeyfield. “And here have I
been knocking about, year after year, from pillar to post, as if I was
no more than the commonest feller in the parish.... And how long hev
this news about me been knowed, Pa’son Tringham?”

The clergyman explained that, as far as he was aware, it had quite died
out of knowledge, and could hardly be said to be known at all. His own
investigations had begun on a day in the preceding spring when, having
been engaged in tracing the vicissitudes of the d’Urberville family, he
had observed Durbeyfield’s name on his waggon, and had thereupon been
led to make inquiries about his father and grandfather till he had no
doubt on the subject.

“At first I resolved not to disturb you with such a useless piece of
information,” said he. “However, our impulses are too strong for our
judgement sometimes. I thought you might perhaps know something of it
all the while.”

“Well, I have heard once or twice, ’tis true, that my family had seen
better days afore they came to Blackmoor. But I took no notice o’t,
thinking it to mean that we had once kept two horses where we now keep
only one. I’ve got a wold silver spoon, and a wold graven seal at home,
too; but, Lord, what’s a spoon and seal?... And to think that I and
these noble d’Urbervilles were one flesh all the time. ’Twas said that
my gr’t-granfer had secrets, and didn’t care to talk of where he came
from.... And where do we raise our smoke, now, parson, if I may make so
bold; I mean, where do we d’Urbervilles live?”

“You don’t live anywhere. You are extinct—as a county family.”

“That’s bad.”

“Yes—what the mendacious family chronicles call extinct in the male
line—that is, gone down—gone under.”

“Then where do we lie?”

“At Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill: rows and rows of you in your vaults, with
your effigies under Purbeck-marble canopies.”

“And where be our family mansions and estates?”

“You haven’t any.”

“Oh? No lands neither?”

“None; though you once had ’em in abundance, as I said, for your family
consisted of numerous branches. In this county there was a seat of
yours at Kingsbere, and another at Sherton, and another in Millpond,
and another at Lullstead, and another at Wellbridge.”

“And shall we ever come into our own again?”

“Ah—that I can’t tell!”

“And what had I better do about it, sir?” asked Durbeyfield, after a
pause.

“Oh—nothing, nothing; except chasten yourself with the thought of ‘how
are the mighty fallen.’ It is a fact of some interest to the local
historian and genealogist, nothing more. There are several families
among the cottagers of this county of almost equal lustre. Good night.”

“But you’ll turn back and have a quart of beer wi’ me on the strength
o’t, Pa’son Tringham? There’s a very pretty brew in tap at The Pure
Drop—though, to be sure, not so good as at Rolliver’s.”

“No, thank you—not this evening, Durbeyfield. You’ve had enough
already.” Concluding thus, the parson rode on his way, with doubts as
to his discretion in retailing this curious bit of lore.

When he was gone, Durbeyfield walked a few steps in a profound reverie,
and then sat down upon the grassy bank by the roadside, depositing his
basket before him. In a few minutes a youth appeared in the distance,
walking in the same direction as that which had been pursued by
Durbeyfield. The latter, on seeing him, held up his hand, and the lad
quickened his pace and came near.

“Boy, take up that basket! I want ’ee to go on an errand for me.”

The lath-like stripling frowned. “Who be you, then, John Durbeyfield,
to order me about and call me ‘boy’? You know my name as well as I know
yours!”

“Do you, do you? That’s the secret—that’s the secret! Now obey my
orders, and take the message I’m going to charge ’ee wi’... Well, Fred,
I don’t mind telling you that the secret is that I’m one of a noble
race—it has been just found out by me this present afternoon, p.m.” And
as he made the announcement, Durbeyfield, declining from his sitting
position, luxuriously stretched himself out upon the bank among the
daisies.

The lad stood before Durbeyfield, and contemplated his length from
crown to toe.

“Sir John d’Urberville—that’s who I am,” continued the prostrate man.
“That is if knights were baronets—which they be. ’Tis recorded in
history all about me. Dost know of such a place, lad, as
Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill?”

“Ees. I’ve been there to Greenhill Fair.”

“Well, under the church of that city there lie—”

“’Tisn’t a city, the place I mean; leastwise ’twaddn’ when I was
there—’twas a little one-eyed, blinking sort o’ place.”

“Never you mind the place, boy, that’s not the question before us.
Under the church of that there parish lie my ancestors—hundreds of
’em—in coats of mail and jewels, in gr’t lead coffins weighing tons and
tons. There’s not a man in the county o’ South-Wessex that’s got
grander and nobler skillentons in his family than I.”

“Oh?”

“Now take up that basket, and goo on to Marlott, and when you’ve come
to The Pure Drop Inn, tell ’em to send a horse and carriage to me
immed’ately, to carry me hwome. And in the bottom o’ the carriage they
be to put a noggin o’ rum in a small bottle, and chalk it up to my
account. And when you’ve done that goo on to my house with the basket,
and tell my wife to put away that washing, because she needn’t finish
it, and wait till I come hwome, as I’ve news to tell her.”

As the lad stood in a dubious attitude, Durbeyfield put his hand in his
pocket, and produced a shilling, one of the chronically few that he
possessed.

“Here’s for your labour, lad.”

This made a difference in the young man’s estimate of the position.

“Yes, Sir John. Thank ’ee. Anything else I can do for ’ee, Sir John?”

“Tell ’em at hwome that I should like for supper,—well, lamb’s fry if
they can get it; and if they can’t, black-pot; and if they can’t get
that, well chitterlings will do.”

“Yes, Sir John.”

The boy took up the basket, and as he set out the notes of a brass band
were heard from the direction of the village.

“What’s that?” said Durbeyfield. “Not on account o’ I?”

“’Tis the women’s club-walking, Sir John. Why, your da’ter is one o’
the members.”

“To be sure—I’d quite forgot it in my thoughts of greater things! Well,
vamp on to Marlott, will ye, and order that carriage, and maybe I’ll
drive round and inspect the club.”

The lad departed, and Durbeyfield lay waiting on the grass and daisies
in the evening sun. Not a soul passed that way for a long while, and
the faint notes of the band were the only human sounds audible within
the rim of blue hills.


II

The village of Marlott lay amid the north-eastern undulations of the
beautiful Vale of Blakemore, or Blackmoor, aforesaid, an engirdled and
secluded region, for the most part untrodden as yet by tourist or
landscape-painter, though within a four hours’ journey from London.

It is a vale whose acquaintance is best made by viewing it from the
summits of the hills that surround it—except perhaps during the
droughts of summer. An unguided ramble into its recesses in bad weather
is apt to engender dissatisfaction with its narrow, tortuous, and miry
ways.

This fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are
never brown and the springs never dry, is bounded on the south by the
bold chalk ridge that embraces the prominences of Hambledon Hill,
Bulbarrow, Nettlecombe-Tout, Dogbury, High Stoy, and Bubb Down. The
traveller from the coast, who, after plodding northward for a score of
miles over calcareous downs and corn-lands, suddenly reaches the verge
of one of these escarpments, is surprised and delighted to behold,
extended like a map beneath him, a country differing absolutely from
that which he has passed through. Behind him the hills are open, the
sun blazes down upon fields so large as to give an unenclosed character
to the landscape, the lanes are white, the hedges low and plashed, the
atmosphere colourless. Here, in the valley, the world seems to be
constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale; the fields are mere
paddocks, so reduced that from this height their hedgerows appear a
network of dark green threads overspreading the paler green of the
grass. The atmosphere beneath is languorous, and is so tinged with
azure that what artists call the middle distance partakes also of that
hue, while the horizon beyond is of the deepest ultramarine. Arable
lands are few and limited; with but slight exceptions the prospect is a
broad rich mass of grass and trees, mantling minor hills and dales
within the major. Such is the Vale of Blackmoor.

The district is of historic, no less than of topographical interest.
The Vale was known in former times as the Forest of White Hart, from a
curious legend of King Henry III’s reign, in which the killing by a
certain Thomas de la Lynd of a beautiful white hart which the king had
run down and spared, was made the occasion of a heavy fine. In those
days, and till comparatively recent times, the country was densely
wooded. Even now, traces of its earlier condition are to be found in
the old oak copses and irregular belts of timber that yet survive upon
its slopes, and the hollow-trunked trees that shade so many of its
pastures.

The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain.
Many, however, linger only in a metamorphosed or disguised form. The
May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon under
notice, in the guise of the club revel, or “club-walking,” as it was
there called.

It was an interesting event to the younger inhabitants of Marlott,
though its real interest was not observed by the participators in the
ceremony. Its singularity lay less in the retention of a custom of
walking in procession and dancing on each anniversary than in the
members being solely women. In men’s clubs such celebrations were,
though expiring, less uncommon; but either the natural shyness of the
softer sex, or a sarcastic attitude on the part of male relatives, had
denuded such women’s clubs as remained (if any other did) or this their
glory and consummation. The club of Marlott alone lived to uphold the
local Cerealia. It had walked for hundreds of years, if not as
benefit-club, as votive sisterhood of some sort; and it walked still.

The banded ones were all dressed in white gowns—a gay survival from Old
Style days, when cheerfulness and May-time were synonyms—days before
the habit of taking long views had reduced emotions to a monotonous
average. Their first exhibition of themselves was in a processional
march of two and two round the parish. Ideal and real clashed slightly
as the sun lit up their figures against the green hedges and
creeper-laced house-fronts; for, though the whole troop wore white
garments, no two whites were alike among them. Some approached pure
blanching; some had a bluish pallor; some worn by the older characters
(which had possibly lain by folded for many a year) inclined to a
cadaverous tint, and to a Georgian style.

In addition to the distinction of a white frock, every woman and girl
carried in her right hand a peeled willow wand, and in her left a bunch
of white flowers. The peeling of the former, and the selection of the
latter, had been an operation of personal care.

There were a few middle-aged and even elderly women in the train, their
silver-wiry hair and wrinkled faces, scourged by time and trouble,
having almost a grotesque, certainly a pathetic, appearance in such a
jaunty situation. In a true view, perhaps, there was more to be
gathered and told of each anxious and experienced one, to whom the
years were drawing nigh when she should say, “I have no pleasure in
them,” than of her juvenile comrades. But let the elder be passed over
here for those under whose bodices the life throbbed quick and warm.

The young girls formed, indeed, the majority of the band, and their
heads of luxuriant hair reflected in the sunshine every tone of gold,
and black, and brown. Some had beautiful eyes, others a beautiful nose,
others a beautiful mouth and figure: few, if any, had all. A difficulty
of arranging their lips in this crude exposure to public scrutiny, an
inability to balance their heads, and to dissociate self-consciousness
from their features, was apparent in them, and showed that they were
genuine country girls, unaccustomed to many eyes.

And as each and all of them were warmed without by the sun, so each had
a private little sun for her soul to bask in; some dream, some
affection, some hobby, at least some remote and distant hope which,
though perhaps starving to nothing, still lived on, as hopes will. They
were all cheerful, and many of them merry.

They came round by The Pure Drop Inn, and were turning out of the high
road to pass through a wicket-gate into the meadows, when one of the
women said—

“The Load-a-Lord! Why, Tess Durbeyfield, if there isn’t thy father
riding hwome in a carriage!”

A young member of the band turned her head at the exclamation. She was
a fine and handsome girl—not handsomer than some others, possibly—but
her mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes added eloquence to
colour and shape. She wore a red ribbon in her hair, and was the only
one of the white company who could boast of such a pronounced
adornment. As she looked round Durbeyfield was seen moving along the
road in a chaise belonging to The Pure Drop, driven by a frizzle-headed
brawny damsel with her gown-sleeves rolled above her elbows. This was
the cheerful servant of that establishment, who, in her part of
factotum, turned groom and ostler at times. Durbeyfield, leaning back,
and with his eyes closed luxuriously, was waving his hand above his
head, and singing in a slow recitative—

“I’ve-got-a-gr’t-family-vault-at-Kingsbere—and
knighted-forefathers-in-lead-coffins-there!”

The clubbists tittered, except the girl called Tess—in whom a slow heat
seemed to rise at the sense that her father was making himself foolish
in their eyes.

“He’s tired, that’s all,” she said hastily, “and he has got a lift
home, because our own horse has to rest to-day.”

“Bless thy simplicity, Tess,” said her companions. “He’s got his
market-nitch. Haw-haw!”

“Look here; I won’t walk another inch with you, if you say any jokes
about him!” Tess cried, and the colour upon her cheeks spread over her
face and neck. In a moment her eyes grew moist, and her glance drooped
to the ground. Perceiving that they had really pained her they said no
more, and order again prevailed. Tess’s pride would not allow her to
turn her head again, to learn what her father’s meaning was, if he had
any; and thus she moved on with the whole body to the enclosure where
there was to be dancing on the green. By the time the spot was reached
she had recovered her equanimity, and tapped her neighbour with her
wand and talked as usual.

Tess Durbeyfield at this time of her life was a mere vessel of emotion
untinctured by experience. The dialect was on her tongue to some
extent, despite the village school: the characteristic intonation of
that dialect for this district being the voicing approximately rendered
by the syllable UR, probably as rich an utterance as any to be found in
human speech. The pouted-up deep red mouth to which this syllable was
native had hardly as yet settled into its definite shape, and her lower
lip had a way of thrusting the middle of her top one upward, when they
closed together after a word.

Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along
to-day, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes
see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her
eyes; and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now
and then.

Yet few knew, and still fewer considered this. A small minority, mainly
strangers, would look long at her in casually passing by, and grow
momentarily fascinated by her freshness, and wonder if they would ever
see her again: but to almost everybody she was a fine and picturesque
country girl, and no more.

Nothing was seen or heard further of Durbeyfield in his triumphal
chariot under the conduct of the ostleress, and the club having entered
the allotted space, dancing began. As there were no men in the company,
the girls danced at first with each other, but when the hour for the
close of labour drew on, the masculine inhabitants of the village,
together with other idlers and pedestrians, gathered round the spot,
and appeared inclined to negotiate for a partner.

Among these on-lookers were three young men of a superior class,
carrying small knapsacks strapped to their shoulders, and stout sticks
in their hands. Their general likeness to each other, and their
consecutive ages, would almost have suggested that they might be, what
in fact they were, brothers. The eldest wore the white tie, high
waistcoat, and thin-brimmed hat of the regulation curate; the second
was the normal undergraduate; the appearance of the third and youngest
would hardly have been sufficient to characterize him; there was an
uncribbed, uncabined aspect in his eyes and attire, implying that he
had hardly as yet found the entrance to his professional groove. That
he was a desultory tentative student of something and everything might
only have been predicted of him.

These three brethren told casual acquaintance that they were spending
their Whitsun holidays in a walking tour through the Vale of Blackmoor,
their course being south-westerly from the town of Shaston on the
north-east.

They leant over the gate by the highway, and inquired as to the meaning
of the dance and the white-frocked maids. The two elder of the brothers
were plainly not intending to linger more than a moment, but the
spectacle of a bevy of girls dancing without male partners seemed to
amuse the third, and make him in no hurry to move on. He unstrapped his
knapsack, put it, with his stick, on the hedge-bank, and opened the
gate.

“What are you going to do, Angel?” asked the eldest.

“I am inclined to go and have a fling with them. Why not all of us—just
for a minute or two—it will not detain us long?”

“No—no; nonsense!” said the first. “Dancing in public with a troop of
country hoydens—suppose we should be seen! Come along, or it will be
dark before we get to Stourcastle, and there’s no place we can sleep at
nearer than that; besides, we must get through another chapter of _A
Counterblast to Agnosticism_ before we turn in, now I have taken the
trouble to bring the book.”

“All right—I’ll overtake you and Cuthbert in five minutes; don’t stop;
I give my word that I will, Felix.”

The two elder reluctantly left him and walked on, taking their
brother’s knapsack to relieve him in following, and the youngest
entered the field.

“This is a thousand pities,” he said gallantly, to two or three of the
girls nearest him, as soon as there was a pause in the dance. “Where
are your partners, my dears?”

“They’ve not left off work yet,” answered one of the boldest. “They’ll
be here by and by. Till then, will you be one, sir?”

“Certainly. But what’s one among so many!”

“Better than none. ’Tis melancholy work facing and footing it to one of
your own sort, and no clipsing and colling at all. Now, pick and
choose.”

“’Ssh—don’t be so for’ard!” said a shyer girl.

The young man, thus invited, glanced them over, and attempted some
discrimination; but, as the group were all so new to him, he could not
very well exercise it. He took almost the first that came to hand,
which was not the speaker, as she had expected; nor did it happen to be
Tess Durbeyfield. Pedigree, ancestral skeletons, monumental record, the
d’Urberville lineaments, did not help Tess in her life’s battle as yet,
even to the extent of attracting to her a dancing-partner over the
heads of the commonest peasantry. So much for Norman blood unaided by
Victorian lucre.

The name of the eclipsing girl, whatever it was, has not been handed
down; but she was envied by all as the first who enjoyed the luxury of
a masculine partner that evening. Yet such was the force of example
that the village young men, who had not hastened to enter the gate
while no intruder was in the way, now dropped in quickly, and soon the
couples became leavened with rustic youth to a marked extent, till at
length the plainest woman in the club was no longer compelled to foot
it on the masculine side of the figure.

The church clock struck, when suddenly the student said that he must
leave—he had been forgetting himself—he had to join his companions. As
he fell out of the dance his eyes lighted on Tess Durbeyfield, whose
own large orbs wore, to tell the truth, the faintest aspect of reproach
that he had not chosen her. He, too, was sorry then that, owing to her
backwardness, he had not observed her; and with that in his mind he
left the pasture.

On account of his long delay he started in a flying-run down the lane
westward, and had soon passed the hollow and mounted the next rise. He
had not yet overtaken his brothers, but he paused to get breath, and
looked back. He could see the white figures of the girls in the green
enclosure whirling about as they had whirled when he was among them.
They seemed to have quite forgotten him already.

All of them, except, perhaps, one. This white shape stood apart by the
hedge alone. From her position he knew it to be the pretty maiden with
whom he had not danced. Trifling as the matter was, he yet
instinctively felt that she was hurt by his oversight. He wished that
he had asked her; he wished that he had inquired her name. She was so
modest, so expressive, she had looked so soft in her thin white gown
that he felt he had acted stupidly.

However, it could not be helped, and turning, and bending himself to a
rapid walk, he dismissed the subject from his mind.


III

As for Tess Durbeyfield, she did not so easily dislodge the incident
from her consideration. She had no spirit to dance again for a long
time, though she might have had plenty of partners; but ah! they did
not speak so nicely as the strange young man had done. It was not till
the rays of the sun had absorbed the young stranger’s retreating figure
on the hill that she shook off her temporary sadness and answered her
would-be partner in the affirmative.

She remained with her comrades till dusk, and participated with a
certain zest in the dancing; though, being heart-whole as yet, she
enjoyed treading a measure purely for its own sake; little divining
when she saw “the soft torments, the bitter sweets, the pleasing pains,
and the agreeable distresses” of those girls who had been wooed and
won, what she herself was capable of in that kind. The struggles and
wrangles of the lads for her hand in a jig were an amusement to her—no
more; and when they became fierce she rebuked them.

She might have stayed even later, but the incident of her father’s odd
appearance and manner returned upon the girl’s mind to make her
anxious, and wondering what had become of him she dropped away from the
dancers and bent her steps towards the end of the village at which the
parental cottage lay.

While yet many score yards off, other rhythmic sounds than those she
had quitted became audible to her; sounds that she knew well—so well.
They were a regular series of thumpings from the interior of the house,
occasioned by the violent rocking of a cradle upon a stone floor, to
which movement a feminine voice kept time by singing, in a vigorous
gallopade, the favourite ditty of “The Spotted Cow”—

    I saw her lie do′-own in yon′-der green gro′-ove;
    Come, love!′ and I'll tell′ you where!′

The cradle-rocking and the song would cease simultaneously for a
moment, and an exclamation at highest vocal pitch would take the place
of the melody.

“God bless thy diment eyes! And thy waxen cheeks! And thy cherry mouth!
And thy Cubit’s thighs! And every bit o’ thy blessed body!”

After this invocation the rocking and the singing would recommence, and
the “Spotted Cow” proceed as before. So matters stood when Tess opened
the door and paused upon the mat within it, surveying the scene.

The interior, in spite of the melody, struck upon the girl’s senses
with an unspeakable dreariness. From the holiday gaieties of the
field—the white gowns, the nosegays, the willow-wands, the whirling
movements on the green, the flash of gentle sentiment towards the
stranger—to the yellow melancholy of this one-candled spectacle, what a
step! Besides the jar of contrast there came to her a chill
self-reproach that she had not returned sooner, to help her mother in
these domesticities, instead of indulging herself out-of-doors.

There stood her mother amid the group of children, as Tess had left
her, hanging over the Monday washing-tub, which had now, as always,
lingered on to the end of the week. Out of that tub had come the day
before—Tess felt it with a dreadful sting of remorse—the very white
frock upon her back which she had so carelessly greened about the skirt
on the damping grass—which had been wrung up and ironed by her mother’s
own hands.

As usual, Mrs Durbeyfield was balanced on one foot beside the tub, the
other being engaged in the aforesaid business of rocking her youngest
child. The cradle-rockers had done hard duty for so many years, under
the weight of so many children, on that flagstone floor, that they were
worn nearly flat, in consequence of which a huge jerk accompanied each
swing of the cot, flinging the baby from side to side like a weaver’s
shuttle, as Mrs Durbeyfield, excited by her song, trod the rocker with
all the spring that was left in her after a long day’s seething in the
suds.

Nick-knock, nick-knock, went the cradle; the candle-flame stretched
itself tall, and began jigging up and down; the water dribbled from the
matron’s elbows, and the song galloped on to the end of the verse, Mrs
Durbeyfield regarding her daughter the while. Even now, when burdened
with a young family, Joan Durbeyfield was a passionate lover of tune.
No ditty floated into Blackmoor Vale from the outer world but Tess’s
mother caught up its notation in a week.

There still faintly beamed from the woman’s features something of the
freshness, and even the prettiness, of her youth; rendering it probable
that the personal charms which Tess could boast of were in main part
her mother’s gift, and therefore unknightly, unhistorical.

“I’ll rock the cradle for ’ee, mother,” said the daughter gently. “Or
I’ll take off my best frock and help you wring up? I thought you had
finished long ago.”

Her mother bore Tess no ill-will for leaving the housework to her
single-handed efforts for so long; indeed, Joan seldom upbraided her
thereon at any time, feeling but slightly the lack of Tess’s assistance
whilst her instinctive plan for relieving herself of her labours lay in
postponing them. To-night, however, she was even in a blither mood than
usual. There was a dreaminess, a pre-occupation, an exaltation, in the
maternal look which the girl could not understand.

“Well, I’m glad you’ve come,” her mother said, as soon as the last note
had passed out of her. “I want to go and fetch your father; but what’s
more’n that, I want to tell ’ee what have happened. Y’ll be fess
enough, my poppet, when th’st know!” (Mrs Durbeyfield habitually spoke
the dialect; her daughter, who had passed the Sixth Standard in the
National School under a London-trained mistress, spoke two languages:
the dialect at home, more or less; ordinary English abroad and to
persons of quality.)

“Since I’ve been away?” Tess asked.

“Ay!”

“Had it anything to do with father’s making such a mommet of himself in
thik carriage this afternoon? Why did ’er? I felt inclined to sink into
the ground with shame!”

“That wer all a part of the larry! We’ve been found to be the greatest
gentlefolk in the whole county—reaching all back long before Oliver
Grumble’s time—to the days of the Pagan Turks—with monuments, and
vaults, and crests, and ’scutcheons, and the Lord knows what all. In
Saint Charles’s days we was made Knights o’ the Royal Oak, our real
name being d’Urberville!... Don’t that make your bosom plim? ’Twas on
this account that your father rode home in the vlee; not because he’d
been drinking, as people supposed.”

“I’m glad of that. Will it do us any good, mother?”

“O yes! ’Tis thoughted that great things may come o’t. No doubt a
mampus of volk of our own rank will be down here in their carriages as
soon as ’tis known. Your father learnt it on his way hwome from
Shaston, and he has been telling me the whole pedigree of the matter.”

“Where is father now?” asked Tess suddenly.

Her mother gave irrelevant information by way of answer: “He called to
see the doctor to-day in Shaston. It is not consumption at all, it
seems. It is fat round his heart, ’a says. There, it is like this.”
Joan Durbeyfield, as she spoke, curved a sodden thumb and forefinger to
the shape of the letter C, and used the other forefinger as a pointer.
“‘At the present moment,’ he says to your father, ‘your heart is
enclosed all round there, and all round there; this space is still
open,’ ’a says. ‘As soon as it do meet, so,’”—Mrs Durbeyfield closed
her fingers into a circle complete—“‘off you will go like a shadder, Mr
Durbeyfield,’ ’a says. ‘You mid last ten years; you mid go off in ten
months, or ten days.’”

Tess looked alarmed. Her father possibly to go behind the eternal cloud
so soon, notwithstanding this sudden greatness!

“But where _is_ father?” she asked again.

Her mother put on a deprecating look. “Now don’t you be bursting out
angry! The poor man—he felt so rafted after his uplifting by the
pa’son’s news—that he went up to Rolliver’s half an hour ago. He do
want to get up his strength for his journey to-morrow with that load of
beehives, which must be delivered, family or no. He’ll have to start
shortly after twelve to-night, as the distance is so long.”

“Get up his strength!” said Tess impetuously, the tears welling to her
eyes. “O my God! Go to a public-house to get up his strength! And you
as well agreed as he, mother!”

Her rebuke and her mood seemed to fill the whole room, and to impart a
cowed look to the furniture, and candle, and children playing about,
and to her mother’s face.

“No,” said the latter touchily, “I be not agreed. I have been waiting
for ’ee to bide and keep house while I go fetch him.”

“I’ll go.”

“O no, Tess. You see, it would be no use.”

Tess did not expostulate. She knew what her mother’s objection meant.
Mrs Durbeyfield’s jacket and bonnet were already hanging slily upon a
chair by her side, in readiness for this contemplated jaunt, the reason
for which the matron deplored more than its necessity.

“And take the _Compleat Fortune-Teller_ to the outhouse,” Joan
continued, rapidly wiping her hands, and donning the garments.

The _Compleat Fortune-Teller_ was an old thick volume, which lay on a
table at her elbow, so worn by pocketing that the margins had reached
the edge of the type. Tess took it up, and her mother started.

This going to hunt up her shiftless husband at the inn was one of Mrs
Durbeyfield’s still extant enjoyments in the muck and muddle of rearing
children. To discover him at Rolliver’s, to sit there for an hour or
two by his side and dismiss all thought and care of the children during
the interval, made her happy. A sort of halo, an occidental glow, came
over life then. Troubles and other realities took on themselves a
metaphysical impalpability, sinking to mere mental phenomena for serene
contemplation, and no longer stood as pressing concretions which chafed
body and soul. The youngsters, not immediately within sight, seemed
rather bright and desirable appurtenances than otherwise; the incidents
of daily life were not without humorousness and jollity in their aspect
there. She felt a little as she had used to feel when she sat by her
now wedded husband in the same spot during his wooing, shutting her
eyes to his defects of character, and regarding him only in his ideal
presentation as lover.

Tess, being left alone with the younger children, went first to the
outhouse with the fortune-telling book, and stuffed it into the thatch.
A curious fetishistic fear of this grimy volume on the part of her
mother prevented her ever allowing it to stay in the house all night,
and hither it was brought back whenever it had been consulted. Between
the mother, with her fast-perishing lumber of superstitions, folk-lore,
dialect, and orally transmitted ballads, and the daughter, with her
trained National teachings and Standard knowledge under an infinitely
Revised Code, there was a gap of two hundred years as ordinarily
understood. When they were together the Jacobean and the Victorian ages
were juxtaposed.

Returning along the garden path Tess mused on what the mother could
have wished to ascertain from the book on this particular day. She
guessed the recent ancestral discovery to bear upon it, but did not
divine that it solely concerned herself. Dismissing this, however, she
busied herself with sprinkling the linen dried during the day-time, in
company with her nine-year-old brother Abraham, and her sister
Eliza-Louisa of twelve and a half, called “’Liza-Lu,” the youngest ones
being put to bed. There was an interval of four years and more between
Tess and the next of the family, the two who had filled the gap having
died in their infancy, and this lent her a deputy-maternal attitude
when she was alone with her juniors. Next in juvenility to Abraham came
two more girls, Hope and Modesty; then a boy of three, and then the
baby, who had just completed his first year.

All these young souls were passengers in the Durbeyfield ship—entirely
dependent on the judgement of the two Durbeyfield adults for their
pleasures, their necessities, their health, even their existence. If
the heads of the Durbeyfield household chose to sail into difficulty,
disaster, starvation, disease, degradation, death, thither were these
half-dozen little captives under hatches compelled to sail with
them—six helpless creatures, who had never been asked if they wished
for life on any terms, much less if they wished for it on such hard
conditions as were involved in being of the shiftless house of
Durbeyfield. Some people would like to know whence the poet whose
philosophy is in these days deemed as profound and trustworthy as his
song is breezy and pure, gets his authority for speaking of “Nature’s
holy plan.”

It grew later, and neither father nor mother reappeared. Tess looked
out of the door, and took a mental journey through Marlott. The village
was shutting its eyes. Candles and lamps were being put out everywhere:
she could inwardly behold the extinguisher and the extended hand.

Her mother’s fetching simply meant one more to fetch. Tess began to
perceive that a man in indifferent health, who proposed to start on a
journey before one in the morning, ought not to be at an inn at this
late hour celebrating his ancient blood.

“Abraham,” she said to her little brother, “do you put on your hat—you
bain’t afraid?—and go up to Rolliver’s, and see what has gone wi’
father and mother.”

The boy jumped promptly from his seat, and opened the door, and the
night swallowed him up. Half an hour passed yet again; neither man,
woman, nor child returned. Abraham, like his parents, seemed to have
been limed and caught by the ensnaring inn.

“I must go myself,” she said.

’Liza-Lu then went to bed, and Tess, locking them all in, started on
her way up the dark and crooked lane or street not made for hasty
progress; a street laid out before inches of land had value, and when
one-handed clocks sufficiently subdivided the day.


IV

Rolliver’s inn, the single alehouse at this end of the long and broken
village, could only boast of an off-licence; hence, as nobody could
legally drink on the premises, the amount of overt accommodation for
consumers was strictly limited to a little board about six inches wide
and two yards long, fixed to the garden palings by pieces of wire, so
as to form a ledge. On this board thirsty strangers deposited their
cups as they stood in the road and drank, and threw the dregs on the
dusty ground to the pattern of Polynesia, and wished they could have a
restful seat inside.

Thus the strangers. But there were also local customers who felt the
same wish; and where there’s a will there’s a way.

In a large bedroom upstairs, the window of which was thickly curtained
with a great woollen shawl lately discarded by the landlady, Mrs
Rolliver, were gathered on this evening nearly a dozen persons, all
seeking beatitude; all old inhabitants of the nearer end of Marlott,
and frequenters of this retreat. Not only did the distance to the The
Pure Drop, the fully-licensed tavern at the further part of the
dispersed village, render its accommodation practically unavailable for
dwellers at this end; but the far more serious question, the quality of
the liquor, confirmed the prevalent opinion that it was better to drink
with Rolliver in a corner of the housetop than with the other landlord
in a wide house.

A gaunt four-post bedstead which stood in the room afforded
sitting-space for several persons gathered round three of its sides; a
couple more men had elevated themselves on a chest of drawers; another
rested on the oak-carved “cwoffer”; two on the wash-stand; another on
the stool; and thus all were, somehow, seated at their ease. The stage
of mental comfort to which they had arrived at this hour was one
wherein their souls expanded beyond their skins, and spread their
personalities warmly through the room. In this process the chamber and
its furniture grew more and more dignified and luxurious; the shawl
hanging at the window took upon itself the richness of tapestry; the
brass handles of the chest of drawers were as golden knockers; and the
carved bedposts seemed to have some kinship with the magnificent
pillars of Solomon’s temple.

Mrs Durbeyfield, having quickly walked hitherward after parting from
Tess, opened the front door, crossed the downstairs room, which was in
deep gloom, and then unfastened the stair-door like one whose fingers
knew the tricks of the latches well. Her ascent of the crooked
staircase was a slower process, and her face, as it rose into the light
above the last stair, encountered the gaze of all the party assembled
in the bedroom.

“—Being a few private friends I’ve asked in to keep up club-walking at
my own expense,” the landlady exclaimed at the sound of footsteps, as
glibly as a child repeating the Catechism, while she peered over the
stairs. “Oh, ’tis you, Mrs Durbeyfield—Lard—how you frightened me!—I
thought it might be some gaffer sent by Gover’ment.”

Mrs Durbeyfield was welcomed with glances and nods by the remainder of
the conclave, and turned to where her husband sat. He was humming
absently to himself, in a low tone: “I be as good as some folks here
and there! I’ve got a great family vault at Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill,
and finer skillentons than any man in Wessex!”

“I’ve something to tell ’ee that’s come into my head about that—a grand
projick!” whispered his cheerful wife. “Here, John, don’t ’ee see me?”
She nudged him, while he, looking through her as through a window-pane,
went on with his recitative.

“Hush! Don’t ’ee sing so loud, my good man,” said the landlady; “in
case any member of the Gover’ment should be passing, and take away my
licends.”

“He’s told ’ee what’s happened to us, I suppose?” asked Mrs
Durbeyfield.

“Yes—in a way. D’ye think there’s any money hanging by it?”

“Ah, that’s the secret,” said Joan Durbeyfield sagely. “However, ’tis
well to be kin to a coach, even if you don’t ride in ’en.” She dropped
her public voice, and continued in a low tone to her husband: “I’ve
been thinking since you brought the news that there’s a great rich lady
out by Trantridge, on the edge o’ The Chase, of the name of
d’Urberville.”

“Hey—what’s that?” said Sir John.

She repeated the information. “That lady must be our relation,” she
said. “And my projick is to send Tess to claim kin.”

“There _is_ a lady of the name, now you mention it,” said Durbeyfield.
“Pa’son Tringham didn’t think of that. But she’s nothing beside we—a
junior branch of us, no doubt, hailing long since King Norman’s day.”

While this question was being discussed neither of the pair noticed, in
their preoccupation, that little Abraham had crept into the room, and
was awaiting an opportunity of asking them to return.

“She is rich, and she’d be sure to take notice o’ the maid,” continued
Mrs Durbeyfield; “and ’twill be a very good thing. I don’t see why two
branches o’ one family should not be on visiting terms.”

“Yes; and we’ll all claim kin!” said Abraham brightly from under the
bedstead. “And we’ll all go and see her when Tess has gone to live with
her; and we’ll ride in her coach and wear black clothes!”

“How do you come here, child? What nonsense be ye talking! Go away, and
play on the stairs till father and mother be ready!... Well, Tess ought
to go to this other member of our family. She’d be sure to win the
lady—Tess would; and likely enough ’twould lead to some noble gentleman
marrying her. In short, I know it.”

“How?”

“I tried her fate in the _Fortune-Teller_, and it brought out that very
thing!... You should ha’ seen how pretty she looked to-day; her skin is
as sumple as a duchess’.”

“What says the maid herself to going?”

“I’ve not asked her. She don’t know there is any such lady-relation
yet. But it would certainly put her in the way of a grand marriage, and
she won’t say nay to going.”

“Tess is queer.”

“But she’s tractable at bottom. Leave her to me.”

Though this conversation had been private, sufficient of its import
reached the understandings of those around to suggest to them that the
Durbeyfields had weightier concerns to talk of now than common folks
had, and that Tess, their pretty eldest daughter, had fine prospects in
store.

“Tess is a fine figure o’ fun, as I said to myself to-day when I zeed
her vamping round parish with the rest,” observed one of the elderly
boozers in an undertone. “But Joan Durbeyfield must mind that she don’t
get green malt in floor.” It was a local phrase which had a peculiar
meaning, and there was no reply.

The conversation became inclusive, and presently other footsteps were
heard crossing the room below.

“—Being a few private friends asked in to-night to keep up club-walking
at my own expense.” The landlady had rapidly re-used the formula she
kept on hand for intruders before she recognized that the newcomer was
Tess.

Even to her mother’s gaze the girl’s young features looked sadly out of
place amid the alcoholic vapours which floated here as no unsuitable
medium for wrinkled middle-age; and hardly was a reproachful flash from
Tess’s dark eyes needed to make her father and mother rise from their
seats, hastily finish their ale, and descend the stairs behind her, Mrs
Rolliver’s caution following their footsteps.

“No noise, please, if ye’ll be so good, my dears; or I mid lose my
licends, and be summons’d, and I don’t know what all! ’Night t’ye!”

They went home together, Tess holding one arm of her father, and Mrs
Durbeyfield the other. He had, in truth, drunk very little—not a fourth
of the quantity which a systematic tippler could carry to church on a
Sunday afternoon without a hitch in his eastings or genuflections; but
the weakness of Sir John’s constitution made mountains of his petty
sins in this kind. On reaching the fresh air he was sufficiently
unsteady to incline the row of three at one moment as if they were
marching to London, and at another as if they were marching to
Bath—which produced a comical effect, frequent enough in families on
nocturnal homegoings; and, like most comical effects, not quite so
comic after all. The two women valiantly disguised these forced
excursions and countermarches as well as they could from Durbeyfield,
their cause, and from Abraham, and from themselves; and so they
approached by degrees their own door, the head of the family bursting
suddenly into his former refrain as he drew near, as if to fortify his
soul at sight of the smallness of his present residence—

“I’ve got a fam—ily vault at Kingsbere!”

“Hush—don’t be so silly, Jacky,” said his wife. “Yours is not the only
family that was of ’count in wold days. Look at the Anktells, and
Horseys, and the Tringhams themselves—gone to seed a’most as much as
you—though you was bigger folks than they, that’s true. Thank God, I
was never of no family, and have nothing to be ashamed of in that way!”

“Don’t you be so sure o’ that. From your nater ’tis my belief you’ve
disgraced yourselves more than any o’ us, and was kings and queens
outright at one time.”

Tess turned the subject by saying what was far more prominent in her
own mind at the moment than thoughts of her ancestry—“I am afraid
father won’t be able to take the journey with the beehives to-morrow so
early.”

“I? I shall be all right in an hour or two,” said Durbeyfield.

It was eleven o’clock before the family were all in bed, and two
o’clock next morning was the latest hour for starting with the beehives
if they were to be delivered to the retailers in Casterbridge before
the Saturday market began, the way thither lying by bad roads over a
distance of between twenty and thirty miles, and the horse and waggon
being of the slowest. At half-past one Mrs Durbeyfield came into the
large bedroom where Tess and all her little brothers and sisters slept.

“The poor man can’t go,” she said to her eldest daughter, whose great
eyes had opened the moment her mother’s hand touched the door.

Tess sat up in bed, lost in a vague interspace between a dream and this
information.

“But somebody must go,” she replied. “It is late for the hives already.
Swarming will soon be over for the year; and it we put off taking ’em
till next week’s market the call for ’em will be past, and they’ll be
thrown on our hands.”

Mrs Durbeyfield looked unequal to the emergency. “Some young feller,
perhaps, would go? One of them who were so much after dancing with ’ee
yesterday,” she presently suggested.

“O no—I wouldn’t have it for the world!” declared Tess proudly. “And
letting everybody know the reason—such a thing to be ashamed of! I
think _I_ could go if Abraham could go with me to kip me company.”

Her mother at length agreed to this arrangement. Little Abraham was
aroused from his deep sleep in a corner of the same apartment, and made
to put on his clothes while still mentally in the other world.
Meanwhile Tess had hastily dressed herself; and the twain, lighting a
lantern, went out to the stable. The rickety little waggon was already
laden, and the girl led out the horse, Prince, only a degree less
rickety than the vehicle.

The poor creature looked wonderingly round at the night, at the
lantern, at their two figures, as if he could not believe that at that
hour, when every living thing was intended to be in shelter and at
rest, he was called upon to go out and labour. They put a stock of
candle-ends into the lantern, hung the latter to the off-side of the
load, and directed the horse onward, walking at his shoulder at first
during the uphill parts of the way, in order not to overload an animal
of so little vigour. To cheer themselves as well as they could, they
made an artificial morning with the lantern, some bread and butter, and
their own conversation, the real morning being far from come. Abraham,
as he more fully awoke (for he had moved in a sort of trance so far),
began to talk of the strange shapes assumed by the various dark objects
against the sky; of this tree that looked like a raging tiger springing
from a lair; of that which resembled a giant’s head.

When they had passed the little town of Stourcastle, dumbly somnolent
under its thick brown thatch, they reached higher ground. Still higher,
on their left, the elevation called Bulbarrow, or Bealbarrow, well-nigh
the highest in South Wessex, swelled into the sky, engirdled by its
earthen trenches. From hereabout the long road was fairly level for
some distance onward. They mounted in front of the waggon, and Abraham
grew reflective.

“Tess!” he said in a preparatory tone, after a silence.

“Yes, Abraham.”

“Bain’t you glad that we’ve become gentlefolk?”

“Not particular glad.”

“But you be glad that you ’m going to marry a gentleman?”

“What?” said Tess, lifting her face.

“That our great relation will help ’ee to marry a gentleman.”

“I? Our great relation? We have no such relation. What has put that
into your head?”

“I heard ’em talking about it up at Rolliver’s when I went to find
father. There’s a rich lady of our family out at Trantridge, and mother
said that if you claimed kin with the lady, she’d put ’ee in the way of
marrying a gentleman.”

His sister became abruptly still, and lapsed into a pondering silence.
Abraham talked on, rather for the pleasure of utterance than for
audition, so that his sister’s abstraction was of no account. He leant
back against the hives, and with upturned face made observations on the
stars, whose cold pulses were beating amid the black hollows above, in
serene dissociation from these two wisps of human life. He asked how
far away those twinklers were, and whether God was on the other side of
them. But ever and anon his childish prattle recurred to what impressed
his imagination even more deeply than the wonders of creation. If Tess
were made rich by marrying a gentleman, would she have money enough to
buy a spyglass so large that it would draw the stars as near to her as
Nettlecombe-Tout?

The renewed subject, which seemed to have impregnated the whole family,
filled Tess with impatience.

“Never mind that now!” she exclaimed.

“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”

“Yes.”

“All like ours?”

“I don’t know; but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the
apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound—a few
blighted.”

“Which do we live on—a splendid one or a blighted one?”

“A blighted one.”

“’Tis very unlucky that we didn’t pitch on a sound one, when there were
so many more of ’em!”

“Yes.”

“Is it like that _really_, Tess?” said Abraham, turning to her much
impressed, on reconsideration of this rare information. “How would it
have been if we had pitched on a sound one?”

“Well, father wouldn’t have coughed and creeped about as he does, and
wouldn’t have got too tipsy to go on this journey; and mother wouldn’t
have been always washing, and never getting finished.”

“And you would have been a rich lady ready-made, and not have had to be
made rich by marrying a gentleman?”

“O Aby, don’t—don’t talk of that any more!”

Left to his reflections Abraham soon grew drowsy. Tess was not skilful
in the management of a horse, but she thought that she could take upon
herself the entire conduct of the load for the present and allow
Abraham to go to sleep if he wished to do so. She made him a sort of
nest in front of the hives, in such a manner that he could not fall,
and, taking the reins into her own hands, jogged on as before.

Prince required but slight attention, lacking energy for superfluous
movements of any sort. With no longer a companion to distract her, Tess
fell more deeply into reverie than ever, her back leaning against the
hives. The mute procession past her shoulders of trees and hedges
became attached to fantastic scenes outside reality, and the occasional
heave of the wind became the sigh of some immense sad soul,
conterminous with the universe in space, and with history in time.

Then, examining the mesh of events in her own life, she seemed to see
the vanity of her father’s pride; the gentlemanly suitor awaiting
herself in her mother’s fancy; to see him as a grimacing personage,
laughing at her poverty and her shrouded knightly ancestry. Everything
grew more and more extravagant, and she no longer knew how time passed.
A sudden jerk shook her in her seat, and Tess awoke from the sleep into
which she, too, had fallen.

They were a long way further on than when she had lost consciousness,
and the waggon had stopped. A hollow groan, unlike anything she had
ever heard in her life, came from the front, followed by a shout of
“Hoi there!”

The lantern hanging at her waggon had gone out, but another was shining
in her face—much brighter than her own had been. Something terrible had
happened. The harness was entangled with an object which blocked the
way.

In consternation Tess jumped down, and discovered the dreadful truth.
The groan had proceeded from her father’s poor horse Prince. The
morning mail-cart, with its two noiseless wheels, speeding along these
lanes like an arrow, as it always did, had driven into her slow and
unlighted equipage. The pointed shaft of the cart had entered the
breast of the unhappy Prince like a sword, and from the wound his
life’s blood was spouting in a stream, and falling with a hiss into the
road.

In her despair Tess sprang forward and put her hand upon the hole, with
the only result that she became splashed from face to skirt with the
crimson drops. Then she stood helplessly looking on. Prince also stood
firm and motionless as long as he could; till he suddenly sank down in
a heap.

By this time the mail-cart man had joined her, and began dragging and
unharnessing the hot form of Prince. But he was already dead, and,
seeing that nothing more could be done immediately, the mail-cart man
returned to his own animal, which was uninjured.

“You was on the wrong side,” he said. “I am bound to go on with the
mail-bags, so that the best thing for you to do is bide here with your
load. I’ll send somebody to help you as soon as I can. It is getting
daylight, and you have nothing to fear.”

He mounted and sped on his way; while Tess stood and waited. The
atmosphere turned pale, the birds shook themselves in the hedges,
arose, and twittered; the lane showed all its white features, and Tess
showed hers, still whiter. The huge pool of blood in front of her was
already assuming the iridescence of coagulation; and when the sun rose
a hundred prismatic hues were reflected from it. Prince lay alongside,
still and stark; his eyes half open, the hole in his chest looking
scarcely large enough to have let out all that had animated him.

“’Tis all my doing—all mine!” the girl cried, gazing at the spectacle.
“No excuse for me—none. What will mother and father live on now? Aby,
Aby!” She shook the child, who had slept soundly through the whole
disaster. “We can’t go on with our load—Prince is killed!”

When Abraham realized all, the furrows of fifty years were extemporized
on his young face.

“Why, I danced and laughed only yesterday!” she went on to herself. “To
think that I was such a fool!”

“’Tis because we be on a blighted star, and not a sound one, isn’t it,
Tess?” murmured Abraham through his tears.

In silence they waited through an interval which seemed endless. At
length a sound, and an approaching object, proved to them that the
driver of the mail-car had been as good as his word. A farmer’s man
from near Stourcastle came up, leading a strong cob. He was harnessed
to the waggon of beehives in the place of Prince, and the load taken on
towards Casterbridge.

The evening of the same day saw the empty waggon reach again the spot
of the accident. Prince had lain there in the ditch since the morning;
but the place of the blood-pool was still visible in the middle of the
road, though scratched and scraped over by passing vehicles. All that
was left of Prince was now hoisted into the waggon he had formerly
hauled, and with his hoofs in the air, and his shoes shining in the
setting sunlight, he retraced the eight or nine miles to Marlott.

Tess had gone back earlier. How to break the news was more than she
could think. It was a relief to her tongue to find from the faces of
her parents that they already knew of their loss, though this did not
lessen the self-reproach which she continued to heap upon herself for
her negligence.

But the very shiftlessness of the household rendered the misfortune a
less terrifying one to them than it would have been to a thriving
family, though in the present case it meant ruin, and in the other it
would only have meant inconvenience. In the Durbeyfield countenances
there was nothing of the red wrath that would have burnt upon the girl
from parents more ambitious for her welfare. Nobody blamed Tess as she
blamed herself.

When it was discovered that the knacker and tanner would give only a
very few shillings for Prince’s carcase because of his decrepitude,
Durbeyfield rose to the occasion.

“No,” said he stoically, “I won’t sell his old body. When we
d’Urbervilles was knights in the land, we didn’t sell our chargers for
cat’s meat. Let ’em keep their shillings! He’ve served me well in his
lifetime, and I won’t part from him now.”

He worked harder the next day in digging a grave for Prince in the
garden than he had worked for months to grow a crop for his family.
When the hole was ready, Durbeyfield and his wife tied a rope round the
horse and dragged him up the path towards it, the children following in
funeral train. Abraham and ’Liza-Lu sobbed, Hope and Modesty discharged
their griefs in loud blares which echoed from the walls; and when
Prince was tumbled in they gathered round the grave. The bread-winner
had been taken away from them; what would they do?

“Is he gone to heaven?” asked Abraham, between the sobs.

Then Durbeyfield began to shovel in the earth, and the children cried
anew. All except Tess. Her face was dry and pale, as though she
regarded herself in the light of a murderess.


V

The haggling business, which had mainly depended on the horse, became
disorganized forthwith. Distress, if not penury, loomed in the
distance. Durbeyfield was what was locally called a slack-twisted
fellow; he had good strength to work at times; but the times could not
be relied on to coincide with the hours of requirement; and, having
been unaccustomed to the regular toil of the day-labourer, he was not
particularly persistent when they did so coincide.

Tess, meanwhile, as the one who had dragged her parents into this
quagmire, was silently wondering what she could do to help them out of
it; and then her mother broached her scheme.

“We must take the ups wi’ the downs, Tess,” said she; “and never could
your high blood have been found out at a more called-for moment. You
must try your friends. Do ye know that there is a very rich Mrs
d’Urberville living on the outskirts o’ The Chase, who must be our
relation? You must go to her and claim kin, and ask for some help in
our trouble.”

“I shouldn’t care to do that,” says Tess. “If there is such a lady,
’twould be enough for us if she were friendly—not to expect her to give
us help.”

“You could win her round to do anything, my dear. Besides, perhaps
there’s more in it than you know of. I’ve heard what I’ve heard,
good-now.”

The oppressive sense of the harm she had done led Tess to be more
deferential than she might otherwise have been to the maternal wish;
but she could not understand why her mother should find such
satisfaction in contemplating an enterprise of, to her, such doubtful
profit. Her mother might have made inquiries, and have discovered that
this Mrs d’Urberville was a lady of unequalled virtues and charity. But
Tess’s pride made the part of poor relation one of particular distaste
to her.

“I’d rather try to get work,” she murmured.

“Durbeyfield, you can settle it,” said his wife, turning to where he
sat in the background. “If you say she ought to go, she will go.”

“I don’t like my children going and making themselves beholden to
strange kin,” murmured he. “I’m the head of the noblest branch o’ the
family, and I ought to live up to it.”

His reasons for staying away were worse to Tess than her own objections
to going. “Well, as I killed the horse, mother,” she said mournfully,
“I suppose I ought to do something. I don’t mind going and seeing her,
but you must leave it to me about asking for help. And don’t go
thinking about her making a match for me—it is silly.”

“Very well said, Tess!” observed her father sententiously.

“Who said I had such a thought?” asked Joan.

“I fancy it is in your mind, mother. But I’ll go.”

Rising early next day she walked to the hill-town called Shaston, and
there took advantage of a van which twice in the week ran from Shaston
eastward to Chaseborough, passing near Trantridge, the parish in which
the vague and mysterious Mrs d’Urberville had her residence.

Tess Durbeyfield’s route on this memorable morning lay amid the
north-eastern undulations of the Vale in which she had been born, and
in which her life had unfolded. The Vale of Blackmoor was to her the
world, and its inhabitants the races thereof. From the gates and stiles
of Marlott she had looked down its length in the wondering days of
infancy, and what had been mystery to her then was not much less than
mystery to her now. She had seen daily from her chamber-window towers,
villages, faint white mansions; above all, the town of Shaston standing
majestically on its height; its windows shining like lamps in the
evening sun. She had hardly ever visited the place, only a small tract
even of the Vale and its environs being known to her by close
inspection. Much less had she been far outside the valley. Every
contour of the surrounding hills was as personal to her as that of her
relatives’ faces; but for what lay beyond, her judgment was dependent
on the teaching of the village school, where she had held a leading
place at the time of her leaving, a year or two before this date.

In those early days she had been much loved by others of her own sex
and age, and had used to be seen about the village as one of three—all
nearly of the same year—walking home from school side by side; Tess the
middle one—in a pink print pinafore, of a finely reticulated pattern,
worn over a stuff frock that had lost its original colour for a
nondescript tertiary—marching on upon long stalky legs, in tight
stockings which had little ladder-like holes at the knees, torn by
kneeling in the roads and banks in search of vegetable and mineral
treasures; her then earth-coloured hair hanging like pot-hooks; the
arms of the two outside girls resting round the waist of Tess; her arms
on the shoulders of the two supporters.

As Tess grew older, and began to see how matters stood, she felt quite
a Malthusian towards her mother for thoughtlessly giving her so many
little sisters and brothers, when it was such a trouble to nurse and
provide for them. Her mother’s intelligence was that of a happy child:
Joan Durbeyfield was simply an additional one, and that not the eldest,
to her own long family of waiters on Providence.

However, Tess became humanely beneficent towards the small ones, and to
help them as much as possible she used, as soon as she left school, to
lend a hand at haymaking or harvesting on neighbouring farms; or, by
preference, at milking or butter-making processes, which she had learnt
when her father had owned cows; and being deft-fingered it was a kind
of work in which she excelled.

Every day seemed to throw upon her young shoulders more of the family
burdens, and that Tess should be the representative of the Durbeyfields
at the d’Urberville mansion came as a thing of course. In this instance
it must be admitted that the Durbeyfields were putting their fairest
side outward.

She alighted from the van at Trantridge Cross, and ascended on foot a
hill in the direction of the district known as The Chase, on the
borders of which, as she had been informed, Mrs d’Urberville’s seat,
The Slopes, would be found. It was not a manorial home in the ordinary
sense, with fields, and pastures, and a grumbling farmer, out of whom
the owner had to squeeze an income for himself and his family by hook
or by crook. It was more, far more; a country-house built for enjoyment
pure and simple, with not an acre of troublesome land attached to it
beyond what was required for residential purposes, and for a little
fancy farm kept in hand by the owner, and tended by a bailiff.

The crimson brick lodge came first in sight, up to its eaves in dense
evergreens. Tess thought this was the mansion itself till, passing
through the side wicket with some trepidation, and onward to a point at
which the drive took a turn, the house proper stood in full view. It
was of recent erection—indeed almost new—and of the same rich red
colour that formed such a contrast with the evergreens of the lodge.
Far behind the corner of the house—which rose like a geranium bloom
against the subdued colours around—stretched the soft azure landscape
of The Chase—a truly venerable tract of forest land, one of the few
remaining woodlands in England of undoubted primaeval date, wherein
Druidical mistletoe was still found on aged oaks, and where enormous
yew-trees, not planted by the hand of man grew as they had grown when
they were pollarded for bows. All this sylvan antiquity, however,
though visible from The Slopes, was outside the immediate boundaries of
the estate.

Everything on this snug property was bright, thriving, and well kept;
acres of glass-houses stretched down the inclines to the copses at
their feet. Everything looked like money—like the last coin issued from
the Mint. The stables, partly screened by Austrian pines and evergreen
oaks, and fitted with every late appliance, were as dignified as
Chapels-of-Ease. On the extensive lawn stood an ornamental tent, its
door being towards her.

Simple Tess Durbeyfield stood at gaze, in a half-alarmed attitude, on
the edge of the gravel sweep. Her feet had brought her onward to this
point before she had quite realized where she was; and now all was
contrary to her expectation.

“I thought we were an old family; but this is all new!” she said, in
her artlessness. She wished that she had not fallen in so readily with
her mother’s plans for “claiming kin,” and had endeavoured to gain
assistance nearer home.

The d’Urbervilles—or Stoke-d’Urbervilles, as they at first called
themselves—who owned all this, were a somewhat unusual family to find
in such an old-fashioned part of the country. Parson Tringham had
spoken truly when he said that our shambling John Durbeyfield was the
only really lineal representative of the old d’Urberville family
existing in the county, or near it; he might have added, what he knew
very well, that the Stoke-d’Urbervilles were no more d’Urbervilles of
the true tree then he was himself. Yet it must be admitted that this
family formed a very good stock whereon to regraft a name which sadly
wanted such renovation.

When old Mr Simon Stoke, latterly deceased, had made his fortune as an
honest merchant (some said money-lender) in the North, he decided to
settle as a county man in the South of England, out of hail of his
business district; and in doing this he felt the necessity of
recommencing with a name that would not too readily identify him with
the smart tradesman of the past, and that would be less commonplace
than the original bald, stark words. Conning for an hour in the British
Museum the pages of works devoted to extinct, half-extinct, obscured,
and ruined families appertaining to the quarter of England in which he
proposed to settle, he considered that _d’Urberville_ looked and
sounded as well as any of them: and d’Urberville accordingly was
annexed to his own name for himself and his heirs eternally. Yet he was
not an extravagant-minded man in this, and in constructing his family
tree on the new basis was duly reasonable in framing his
inter-marriages and aristocratic links, never inserting a single title
above a rank of strict moderation.

Of this work of imagination poor Tess and her parents were naturally in
ignorance—much to their discomfiture; indeed, the very possibility of
such annexations was unknown to them; who supposed that, though to be
well-favoured might be the gift of fortune, a family name came by
nature.

Tess still stood hesitating like a bather about to make his plunge,
hardly knowing whether to retreat or to persevere, when a figure came
forth from the dark triangular door of the tent. It was that of a tall
young man, smoking.

He had an almost swarthy complexion, with full lips, badly moulded,
though red and smooth, above which was a well-groomed black moustache
with curled points, though his age could not be more than three- or
four-and-twenty. Despite the touches of barbarism in his contours,
there was a singular force in the gentleman’s face, and in his bold
rolling eye.

“Well, my Beauty, what can I do for you?” said he, coming forward. And
perceiving that she stood quite confounded: “Never mind me. I am Mr
d’Urberville. Have you come to see me or my mother?”

This embodiment of a d’Urberville and a namesake differed even more
from what Tess had expected than the house and grounds had differed.
She had dreamed of an aged and dignified face, the sublimation of all
the d’Urberville lineaments, furrowed with incarnate memories
representing in hieroglyphic the centuries of her family’s and
England’s history. But she screwed herself up to the work in hand,
since she could not get out of it, and answered—

“I came to see your mother, sir.”

“I am afraid you cannot see her—she is an invalid,” replied the present
representative of the spurious house; for this was Mr Alec, the only
son of the lately deceased gentleman. “Cannot I answer your purpose?
What is the business you wish to see her about?”

“It isn’t business—it is—I can hardly say what!”

“Pleasure?”

“Oh no. Why, sir, if I tell you, it will seem—”

Tess’s sense of a certain ludicrousness in her errand was now so strong
that, notwithstanding her awe of him, and her general discomfort at
being here, her rosy lips curved towards a smile, much to the
attraction of the swarthy Alexander.

“It is so very foolish,” she stammered; “I fear I can’t tell you!”

“Never mind; I like foolish things. Try again, my dear,” said he
kindly.

“Mother asked me to come,” Tess continued; “and, indeed, I was in the
mind to do so myself likewise. But I did not think it would be like
this. I came, sir, to tell you that we are of the same family as you.”

“Ho! Poor relations?”

“Yes.”

“Stokes?”

“No; d’Urbervilles.”

“Ay, ay; I mean d’Urbervilles.”

“Our names are worn away to Durbeyfield; but we have several proofs
that we are d’Urbervilles. Antiquarians hold we are,—and—and we have an
old seal, marked with a ramping lion on a shield, and a castle over
him. And we have a very old silver spoon, round in the bowl like a
little ladle, and marked with the same castle. But it is so worn that
mother uses it to stir the pea-soup.”

“A castle argent is certainly my crest,” said he blandly. “And my arms
a lion rampant.”

“And so mother said we ought to make ourselves beknown to you—as we’ve
lost our horse by a bad accident, and are the oldest branch o’ the
family.”

“Very kind of your mother, I’m sure. And I, for one, don’t regret her
step.” Alec looked at Tess as he spoke, in a way that made her blush a
little. “And so, my pretty girl, you’ve come on a friendly visit to us,
as relations?”

“I suppose I have,” faltered Tess, looking uncomfortable again.

“Well—there’s no harm in it. Where do you live? What are you?”

She gave him brief particulars; and responding to further inquiries
told him that she was intending to go back by the same carrier who had
brought her.

“It is a long while before he returns past Trantridge Cross. Supposing
we walk round the grounds to pass the time, my pretty Coz?”

Tess wished to abridge her visit as much as possible; but the young man
was pressing, and she consented to accompany him. He conducted her
about the lawns, and flower-beds, and conservatories; and thence to the
fruit-garden and greenhouses, where he asked her if she liked
strawberries.

“Yes,” said Tess, “when they come.”

“They are already here.” D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the
fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently,
selecting a specially fine product of the “British Queen” variety, he
stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.

“No—no!” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her
lips. “I would rather take it in my own hand.”

“Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips
and took it in.

They had spent some time wandering desultorily thus, Tess eating in a
half-pleased, half-reluctant state whatever d’Urberville offered her.
When she could consume no more of the strawberries he filled her little
basket with them; and then the two passed round to the rose-trees,
whence he gathered blossoms and gave her to put in her bosom. She
obeyed like one in a dream, and when she could affix no more he himself
tucked a bud or two into her hat, and heaped her basket with others in
the prodigality of his bounty. At last, looking at his watch, he said,
“Now, by the time you have had something to eat, it will be time for
you to leave, if you want to catch the carrier to Shaston. Come here,
and I’ll see what grub I can find.”

Stoke d’Urberville took her back to the lawn and into the tent, where
he left her, soon reappearing with a basket of light luncheon, which he
put before her himself. It was evidently the gentleman’s wish not to be
disturbed in this pleasant _tête-à-tête_ by the servantry.

“Do you mind my smoking?” he asked.

“Oh, not at all, sir.”

He watched her pretty and unconscious munching through the skeins of
smoke that pervaded the tent, and Tess Durbeyfield did not divine, as
she innocently looked down at the roses in her bosom, that there behind
the blue narcotic haze was potentially the “tragic mischief” of her
drama—one who stood fair to be the blood-red ray in the spectrum of her
young life. She had an attribute which amounted to a disadvantage just
now; and it was this that caused Alec d’Urberville’s eyes to rivet
themselves upon her. It was a luxuriance of aspect, a fulness of
growth, which made her appear more of a woman than she really was. She
had inherited the feature from her mother without the quality it
denoted. It had troubled her mind occasionally, till her companions had
said that it was a fault which time would cure.

She soon had finished her lunch. “Now I am going home, sir,” she said,
rising.

“And what do they call you?” he asked, as he accompanied her along the
drive till they were out of sight of the house.

“Tess Durbeyfield, down at Marlott.”

“And you say your people have lost their horse?”

“I—killed him!” she answered, her eyes filling with tears as she gave
particulars of Prince’s death. “And I don’t know what to do for father
on account of it!”

“I must think if I cannot do something. My mother must find a berth for
you. But, Tess, no nonsense about ‘d’Urberville’;—‘Durbeyfield’ only,
you know—quite another name.”

“I wish for no better, sir,” said she with something of dignity.

For a moment—only for a moment—when they were in the turning of the
drive, between the tall rhododendrons and conifers, before the lodge
became visible, he inclined his face towards her as if—but, no: he
thought better of it, and let her go.

Thus the thing began. Had she perceived this meeting’s import she might
have asked why she was doomed to be seen and coveted that day by the
wrong man, and not by some other man, the right and desired one in all
respects—as nearly as humanity can supply the right and desired; yet to
him who amongst her acquaintance might have approximated to this kind,
she was but a transient impression, half forgotten.

In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things the call
seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the
hour for loving. Nature does not often say “See!” to her poor creature
at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing; or reply “Here!” to a
body’s cry of “Where?” till the hide-and-seek has become an irksome,
outworn game. We may wonder whether at the acme and summit of the human
progress these anachronisms will be corrected by a finer intuition, a
closer interaction of the social machinery than that which now jolts us
round and along; but such completeness is not to be prophesied, or even
conceived as possible. Enough that in the present case, as in millions,
it was not the two halves of a perfect whole that confronted each other
at the perfect moment; a missing counterpart wandered independently
about the earth waiting in crass obtuseness till the late time came.
Out of which maladroit delay sprang anxieties, disappointments, shocks,
catastrophes, and passing-strange destinies.

When d’Urberville got back to the tent he sat down astride on a chair,
reflecting, with a pleased gleam in his face. Then he broke into a loud
laugh.

“Well, I’m damned! What a funny thing! Ha-ha-ha! And what a crumby
girl!”


VI

Tess went down the hill to Trantridge Cross, and inattentively waited
to take her seat in the van returning from Chaseborough to Shaston. She
did not know what the other occupants said to her as she entered,
though she answered them; and when they had started anew she rode along
with an inward and not an outward eye.

One among her fellow-travellers addressed her more pointedly than any
had spoken before: “Why, you be quite a posy! And such roses in early
June!”

Then she became aware of the spectacle she presented to their surprised
vision: roses at her breasts; roses in her hat; roses and strawberries
in her basket to the brim. She blushed, and said confusedly that the
flowers had been given to her. When the passengers were not looking she
stealthily removed the more prominent blooms from her hat and placed
them in the basket, where she covered them with her handkerchief. Then
she fell to reflecting again, and in looking downwards a thorn of the
rose remaining in her breast accidentally pricked her chin. Like all
the cottagers in Blackmoor Vale, Tess was steeped in fancies and
prefigurative superstitions; she thought this an ill omen—the first she
had noticed that day.

The van travelled only so far as Shaston, and there were several miles
of pedestrian descent from that mountain-town into the vale to Marlott.
Her mother had advised her to stay here for the night, at the house of
a cottage-woman they knew, if she should feel too tired to come on; and
this Tess did, not descending to her home till the following afternoon.

When she entered the house she perceived in a moment from her mother’s
triumphant manner that something had occurred in the interim.

“Oh yes; I know all about it! I told ’ee it would be all right, and now
’tis proved!”

“Since I’ve been away? What has?” said Tess rather wearily.

Her mother surveyed the girl up and down with arch approval, and went
on banteringly: “So you’ve brought ’em round!”

“How do you know, mother?”

“I’ve had a letter.”

Tess then remembered that there would have been time for this.

“They say—Mrs d’Urberville says—that she wants you to look after a
little fowl-farm which is her hobby. But this is only her artful way of
getting ’ee there without raising your hopes. She’s going to own ’ee as
kin—that’s the meaning o’t.”

“But I didn’t see her.”

“You zid somebody, I suppose?”

“I saw her son.”

“And did he own ’ee?”

“Well—he called me Coz.”

“An’ I knew it! Jacky—he called her Coz!” cried Joan to her husband.
“Well, he spoke to his mother, of course, and she do want ’ee there.”

“But I don’t know that I am apt at tending fowls,” said the dubious
Tess.

“Then I don’t know who is apt. You’ve be’n born in the business, and
brought up in it. They that be born in a business always know more
about it than any ’prentice. Besides, that’s only just a show of
something for you to do, that you midn’t feel beholden.”

“I don’t altogether think I ought to go,” said Tess thoughtfully. “Who
wrote the letter? Will you let me look at it?”

“Mrs d’Urberville wrote it. Here it is.”

The letter was in the third person, and briefly informed Mrs
Durbeyfield that her daughter’s services would be useful to that lady
in the management of her poultry-farm, that a comfortable room would be
provided for her if she could come, and that the wages would be on a
liberal scale if they liked her.

“Oh—that’s all!” said Tess.

“You couldn’t expect her to throw her arms round ’ee, an’ to kiss and
to coll ’ee all at once.”

Tess looked out of the window.

“I would rather stay here with father and you,” she said.

“But why?”

“I’d rather not tell you why, mother; indeed, I don’t quite know why.”

A week afterwards she came in one evening from an unavailing search for
some light occupation in the immediate neighbourhood. Her idea had been
to get together sufficient money during the summer to purchase another
horse. Hardly had she crossed the threshold before one of the children
danced across the room, saying, “The gentleman’s been here!”

Her mother hastened to explain, smiles breaking from every inch of her
person. Mrs d’Urberville’s son had called on horseback, having been
riding by chance in the direction of Marlott. He had wished to know,
finally, in the name of his mother, if Tess could really come to manage
the old lady’s fowl-farm or not; the lad who had hitherto superintended
the birds having proved untrustworthy. “Mr d’Urberville says you must
be a good girl if you are at all as you appear; he knows you must be
worth your weight in gold. He is very much interested in ’ee—truth to
tell.”

Tess seemed for the moment really pleased to hear that she had won such
high opinion from a stranger when, in her own esteem, she had sunk so
low.

“It is very good of him to think that,” she murmured; “and if I was
quite sure how it would be living there, I would go any-when.”

“He is a mighty handsome man!”

“I don’t think so,” said Tess coldly.

“Well, there’s your chance, whether or no; and I’m sure he wears a
beautiful diamond ring!”

“Yes,” said little Abraham, brightly, from the window-bench; “and I
seed it! and it did twinkle when he put his hand up to his mistarshers.
Mother, why did our grand relation keep on putting his hand up to his
mistarshers?”

“Hark at that child!” cried Mrs Durbeyfield, with parenthetic
admiration.

“Perhaps to show his diamond ring,” murmured Sir John, dreamily, from
his chair.

“I’ll think it over,” said Tess, leaving the room.

“Well, she’s made a conquest o’ the younger branch of us, straight
off,” continued the matron to her husband, “and she’s a fool if she
don’t follow it up.”

“I don’t quite like my children going away from home,” said the
haggler. “As the head of the family, the rest ought to come to me.”

“But do let her go, Jacky,” coaxed his poor witless wife. “He’s struck
wi’ her—you can see that. He called her Coz! He’ll marry her, most
likely, and make a lady of her; and then she’ll be what her forefathers
was.”

John Durbeyfield had more conceit than energy or health, and this
supposition was pleasant to him.

“Well, perhaps that’s what young Mr d’Urberville means,” he admitted;
“and sure enough he mid have serious thoughts about improving his blood
by linking on to the old line. Tess, the little rogue! And have she
really paid ’em a visit to such an end as this?”

Meanwhile Tess was walking thoughtfully among the gooseberry-bushes in
the garden, and over Prince’s grave. When she came in her mother
pursued her advantage.

“Well, what be you going to do?” she asked.

“I wish I had seen Mrs d’Urberville,” said Tess.

“I think you mid as well settle it. Then you’ll see her soon enough.”

Her father coughed in his chair.

“I don’t know what to say!” answered the girl restlessly. “It is for
you to decide. I killed the old horse, and I suppose I ought to do
something to get ye a new one. But—but—I don’t quite like Mr
d’Urberville being there!”

The children, who had made use of this idea of Tess being taken up by
their wealthy kinsfolk (which they imagined the other family to be) as
a species of dolorifuge after the death of the horse, began to cry at
Tess’s reluctance, and teased and reproached her for hesitating.

“Tess won’t go-o-o and be made a la-a-dy of!—no, she says she
wo-o-on’t!” they wailed, with square mouths. “And we shan’t have a nice
new horse, and lots o’ golden money to buy fairlings! And Tess won’t
look pretty in her best cloze no mo-o-ore!”

Her mother chimed in to the same tune: a certain way she had of making
her labours in the house seem heavier than they were by prolonging them
indefinitely, also weighed in the argument. Her father alone preserved
an attitude of neutrality.

“I will go,” said Tess at last.

Her mother could not repress her consciousness of the nuptial vision
conjured up by the girl’s consent.

“That’s right! For such a pretty maid as ’tis, this is a fine chance!”

Tess smiled crossly.

“I hope it is a chance for earning money. It is no other kind of
chance. You had better say nothing of that silly sort about parish.”

Mrs Durbeyfield did not promise. She was not quite sure that she did
not feel proud enough, after the visitor’s remarks, to say a good deal.

Thus it was arranged; and the young girl wrote, agreeing to be ready to
set out on any day on which she might be required. She was duly
informed that Mrs d’Urberville was glad of her decision, and that a
spring-cart should be sent to meet her and her luggage at the top of
the Vale on the day after the morrow, when she must hold herself
prepared to start. Mrs d’Urberville’s handwriting seemed rather
masculine.

“A cart?” murmured Joan Durbeyfield doubtingly. “It might have been a
carriage for her own kin!”

Having at last taken her course Tess was less restless and abstracted,
going about her business with some self-assurance in the thought of
acquiring another horse for her father by an occupation which would not
be onerous. She had hoped to be a teacher at the school, but the fates
seemed to decide otherwise. Being mentally older than her mother she
did not regard Mrs Durbeyfield’s matrimonial hopes for her in a serious
aspect for a moment. The light-minded woman had been discovering good
matches for her daughter almost from the year of her birth.


VII

On the morning appointed for her departure Tess was awake before
dawn—at the marginal minute of the dark when the grove is still mute,
save for one prophetic bird who sings with a clear-voiced conviction
that he at least knows the correct time of day, the rest preserving
silence as if equally convinced that he is mistaken. She remained
upstairs packing till breakfast-time, and then came down in her
ordinary week-day clothes, her Sunday apparel being carefully folded in
her box.

Her mother expostulated. “You will never set out to see your folks
without dressing up more the dand than that?”

“But I am going to work!” said Tess.

“Well, yes,” said Mrs Durbeyfield; and in a private tone, “at first
there mid be a little pretence o’t.... But I think it will be wiser of
’ee to put your best side outward,” she added.

“Very well; I suppose you know best,” replied Tess with calm
abandonment.

And to please her parent the girl put herself quite in Joan’s hands,
saying serenely—“Do what you like with me, mother.”

Mrs Durbeyfield was only too delighted at this tractability. First she
fetched a great basin, and washed Tess’s hair with such thoroughness
that when dried and brushed it looked twice as much as at other times.
She tied it with a broader pink ribbon than usual. Then she put upon
her the white frock that Tess had worn at the club-walking, the airy
fulness of which, supplementing her enlarged _coiffure_, imparted to
her developing figure an amplitude which belied her age, and might
cause her to be estimated as a woman when she was not much more than a
child.

“I declare there’s a hole in my stocking-heel!” said Tess.

“Never mind holes in your stockings—they don’t speak! When I was a
maid, so long as I had a pretty bonnet the devil might ha’ found me in
heels.”

Her mother’s pride in the girl’s appearance led her to step back, like
a painter from his easel, and survey her work as a whole.

“You must zee yourself!” she cried. “It is much better than you was
t’other day.”

As the looking-glass was only large enough to reflect a very small
portion of Tess’s person at one time, Mrs Durbeyfield hung a black
cloak outside the casement, and so made a large reflector of the panes,
as it is the wont of bedecking cottagers to do. After this she went
downstairs to her husband, who was sitting in the lower room.

“I’ll tell ’ee what ’tis, Durbeyfield,” said she exultingly; “he’ll
never have the heart not to love her. But whatever you do, don’t zay
too much to Tess of his fancy for her, and this chance she has got. She
is such an odd maid that it mid zet her against him, or against going
there, even now. If all goes well, I shall certainly be for making some
return to pa’son at Stagfoot Lane for telling us—dear, good man!”

However, as the moment for the girl’s setting out drew nigh, when the
first excitement of the dressing had passed off, a slight misgiving
found place in Joan Durbeyfield’s mind. It prompted the matron to say
that she would walk a little way—as far as to the point where the
acclivity from the valley began its first steep ascent to the outer
world. At the top Tess was going to be met with the spring-cart sent by
the Stoke-d’Urbervilles, and her box had already been wheeled ahead
towards this summit by a lad with trucks, to be in readiness.

Seeing their mother put on her bonnet, the younger children clamoured
to go with her.

“I do want to walk a little-ways wi’ Sissy, now she’s going to marry
our gentleman-cousin, and wear fine cloze!”

“Now,” said Tess, flushing and turning quickly, “I’ll hear no more o’
that! Mother, how could you ever put such stuff into their heads?”

“Going to work, my dears, for our rich relation, and help get enough
money for a new horse,” said Mrs Durbeyfield pacifically.

“Goodbye, father,” said Tess, with a lumpy throat.

“Goodbye, my maid,” said Sir John, raising his head from his breast as
he suspended his nap, induced by a slight excess this morning in honour
of the occasion. “Well, I hope my young friend will like such a comely
sample of his own blood. And tell’n, Tess, that being sunk, quite, from
our former grandeur, I’ll sell him the title—yes, sell it—and at no
onreasonable figure.”

“Not for less than a thousand pound!” cried Lady Durbeyfield.

“Tell’n—I’ll take a thousand pound. Well, I’ll take less, when I come
to think o’t. He’ll adorn it better than a poor lammicken feller like
myself can. Tell’n he shall hae it for a hundred. But I won’t stand
upon trifles—tell’n he shall hae it for fifty—for twenty pound! Yes,
twenty pound—that’s the lowest. Dammy, family honour is family honour,
and I won’t take a penny less!”

Tess’s eyes were too full and her voice too choked to utter the
sentiments that were in her. She turned quickly, and went out.

So the girls and their mother all walked together, a child on each side
of Tess, holding her hand and looking at her meditatively from time to
time, as at one who was about to do great things; her mother just
behind with the smallest; the group forming a picture of honest beauty
flanked by innocence, and backed by simple-souled vanity. They followed
the way till they reached the beginning of the ascent, on the crest of
which the vehicle from Trantridge was to receive her, this limit having
been fixed to save the horse the labour of the last slope. Far away
behind the first hills the cliff-like dwellings of Shaston broke the
line of the ridge. Nobody was visible in the elevated road which
skirted the ascent save the lad whom they had sent on before them,
sitting on the handle of the barrow that contained all Tess’s worldly
possessions.

“Bide here a bit, and the cart will soon come, no doubt,” said Mrs
Durbeyfield. “Yes, I see it yonder!”

It had come—appearing suddenly from behind the forehead of the nearest
upland, and stopping beside the boy with the barrow. Her mother and the
children thereupon decided to go no farther, and bidding them a hasty
goodbye, Tess bent her steps up the hill.

They saw her white shape draw near to the spring-cart, on which her box
was already placed. But before she had quite reached it another vehicle
shot out from a clump of trees on the summit, came round the bend of
the road there, passed the luggage-cart, and halted beside Tess, who
looked up as if in great surprise.

Her mother perceived, for the first time, that the second vehicle was
not a humble conveyance like the first, but a spick-and-span gig or
dog-cart, highly varnished and equipped. The driver was a young man of
three- or four-and-twenty, with a cigar between his teeth; wearing a
dandy cap, drab jacket, breeches of the same hue, white neckcloth,
stick-up collar, and brown driving-gloves—in short, he was the
handsome, horsey young buck who had visited Joan a week or two before
to get her answer about Tess.

Mrs Durbeyfield clapped her hands like a child. Then she looked down,
then stared again. Could she be deceived as to the meaning of this?

“Is dat the gentleman-kinsman who’ll make Sissy a lady?” asked the
youngest child.

Meanwhile the muslined form of Tess could be seen standing still,
undecided, beside this turn-out, whose owner was talking to her. Her
seeming indecision was, in fact, more than indecision: it was
misgiving. She would have preferred the humble cart. The young man
dismounted, and appeared to urge her to ascend. She turned her face
down the hill to her relatives, and regarded the little group.
Something seemed to quicken her to a determination; possibly the
thought that she had killed Prince. She suddenly stepped up; he mounted
beside her, and immediately whipped on the horse. In a moment they had
passed the slow cart with the box, and disappeared behind the shoulder
of the hill.

Directly Tess was out of sight, and the interest of the matter as a
drama was at an end, the little ones’ eyes filled with tears. The
youngest child said, “I wish poor, poor Tess wasn’t gone away to be a
lady!” and, lowering the corners of his lips, burst out crying. The new
point of view was infectious, and the next child did likewise, and then
the next, till the whole three of them wailed loud.

There were tears also in Joan Durbeyfield’s eyes as she turned to go
home. But by the time she had got back to the village she was passively
trusting to the favour of accident. However, in bed that night she
sighed, and her husband asked her what was the matter.

“Oh, I don’t know exactly,” she said. “I was thinking that perhaps it
would ha’ been better if Tess had not gone.”

“Oughtn’t ye to have thought of that before?”

“Well, ’tis a chance for the maid—Still, if ’twere the doing again, I
wouldn’t let her go till I had found out whether the gentleman is
really a good-hearted young man and choice over her as his kinswoman.”

“Yes, you ought, perhaps, to ha’ done that,” snored Sir John.

Joan Durbeyfield always managed to find consolation somewhere: “Well,
as one of the genuine stock, she ought to make her way with ’en, if she
plays her trump card aright. And if he don’t marry her afore he will
after. For that he’s all afire wi’ love for her any eye can see.”

“What’s her trump card? Her d’Urberville blood, you mean?”

“No, stupid; her face—as ’twas mine.”


VIII

Having mounted beside her, Alec d’Urberville drove rapidly along the
crest of the first hill, chatting compliments to Tess as they went, the
cart with her box being left far behind. Rising still, an immense
landscape stretched around them on every side; behind, the green valley
of her birth, before, a gray country of which she knew nothing except
from her first brief visit to Trantridge. Thus they reached the verge
of an incline down which the road stretched in a long straight descent
of nearly a mile.

Ever since the accident with her father’s horse Tess Durbeyfield,
courageous as she naturally was, had been exceedingly timid on wheels;
the least irregularity of motion startled her. She began to get uneasy
at a certain recklessness in her conductor’s driving.

“You will go down slow, sir, I suppose?” she said with attempted
unconcern.

D’Urberville looked round upon her, nipped his cigar with the tips of
his large white centre-teeth, and allowed his lips to smile slowly of
themselves.

“Why, Tess,” he answered, after another whiff or two, “it isn’t a brave
bouncing girl like you who asks that? Why, I always go down at full
gallop. There’s nothing like it for raising your spirits.”

“But perhaps you need not now?”

“Ah,” he said, shaking his head, “there are two to be reckoned with. It
is not me alone. Tib has to be considered, and she has a very queer
temper.”

“Who?”

“Why, this mare. I fancy she looked round at me in a very grim way just
then. Didn’t you notice it?”

“Don’t try to frighten me, sir,” said Tess stiffly.

“Well, I don’t. If any living man can manage this horse I can: I won’t
say any living man can do it—but if such has the power, I am he.”

“Why do you have such a horse?”

“Ah, well may you ask it! It was my fate, I suppose. Tib has killed one
chap; and just after I bought her she nearly killed me. And then, take
my word for it, I nearly killed her. But she’s touchy still, very
touchy; and one’s life is hardly safe behind her sometimes.”

They were just beginning to descend; and it was evident that the horse,
whether of her own will or of his (the latter being the more likely),
knew so well the reckless performance expected of her that she hardly
required a hint from behind.

Down, down, they sped, the wheels humming like a top, the dog-cart
rocking right and left, its axis acquiring a slightly oblique set in
relation to the line of progress; the figure of the horse rising and
falling in undulations before them. Sometimes a wheel was off the
ground, it seemed, for many yards; sometimes a stone was sent spinning
over the hedge, and flinty sparks from the horse’s hoofs outshone the
daylight. The aspect of the straight road enlarged with their advance,
the two banks dividing like a splitting stick; one rushing past at each
shoulder.

The wind blew through Tess’s white muslin to her very skin, and her
washed hair flew out behind. She was determined to show no open fear,
but she clutched d’Urberville’s rein-arm.

“Don’t touch my arm! We shall be thrown out if you do! Hold on round my
waist!”

She grasped his waist, and so they reached the bottom.

“Safe, thank God, in spite of your fooling!” said she, her face on
fire.

“Tess—fie! that’s temper!” said d’Urberville.

“’Tis truth.”

“Well, you need not let go your hold of me so thanklessly the moment
you feel yourself out of danger.”

She had not considered what she had been doing; whether he were man or
woman, stick or stone, in her involuntary hold on him. Recovering her
reserve, she sat without replying, and thus they reached the summit of
another declivity.

“Now then, again!” said d’Urberville.

“No, no!” said Tess. “Show more sense, do, please.”

“But when people find themselves on one of the highest points in the
county, they must get down again,” he retorted.

He loosened rein, and away they went a second time. D’Urberville turned
his face to her as they rocked, and said, in playful raillery: “Now
then, put your arms round my waist again, as you did before, my
Beauty.”

“Never!” said Tess independently, holding on as well as she could
without touching him.

“Let me put one little kiss on those holmberry lips, Tess, or even on
that warmed cheek, and I’ll stop—on my honour, I will!”

Tess, surprised beyond measure, slid farther back still on her seat, at
which he urged the horse anew, and rocked her the more.

“Will nothing else do?” she cried at length, in desperation, her large
eyes staring at him like those of a wild animal. This dressing her up
so prettily by her mother had apparently been to lamentable purpose.

“Nothing, dear Tess,” he replied.

“Oh, I don’t know—very well; I don’t mind!” she panted miserably.

He drew rein, and as they slowed he was on the point of imprinting the
desired salute, when, as if hardly yet aware of her own modesty, she
dodged aside. His arms being occupied with the reins there was left him
no power to prevent her manœuvre.

“Now, damn it—I’ll break both our necks!” swore her capriciously
passionate companion. “So you can go from your word like that, you
young witch, can you?”

“Very well,” said Tess, “I’ll not move since you be so determined! But
I—thought you would be kind to me, and protect me, as my kinsman!”

“Kinsman be hanged! Now!”

“But I don’t want anybody to kiss me, sir!” she implored, a big tear
beginning to roll down her face, and the corners of her mouth trembling
in her attempts not to cry. “And I wouldn’t ha’ come if I had known!”

He was inexorable, and she sat still, and d’Urberville gave her the
kiss of mastery. No sooner had he done so than she flushed with shame,
took out her handkerchief, and wiped the spot on her cheek that had
been touched by his lips. His ardour was nettled at the sight, for the
act on her part had been unconsciously done.

“You are mighty sensitive for a cottage girl!” said the young man.

Tess made no reply to this remark, of which, indeed, she did not quite
comprehend the drift, unheeding the snub she had administered by her
instinctive rub upon her cheek. She had, in fact, undone the kiss, as
far as such a thing was physically possible. With a dim sense that he
was vexed she looked steadily ahead as they trotted on near Melbury
Down and Wingreen, till she saw, to her consternation, that there was
yet another descent to be undergone.

“You shall be made sorry for that!” he resumed, his injured tone still
remaining, as he flourished the whip anew. “Unless, that is, you agree
willingly to let me do it again, and no handkerchief.”

She sighed. “Very well, sir!” she said. “Oh—let me get my hat!”

At the moment of speaking her hat had blown off into the road, their
present speed on the upland being by no means slow. D’Urberville pulled
up, and said he would get it for her, but Tess was down on the other
side.

She turned back and picked up the article.

“You look prettier with it off, upon my soul, if that’s possible,” he
said, contemplating her over the back of the vehicle. “Now then, up
again! What’s the matter?”

The hat was in place and tied, but Tess had not stepped forward.

“No, sir,” she said, revealing the red and ivory of her mouth as her
eye lit in defiant triumph; “not again, if I know it!”

“What—you won’t get up beside me?”

“No; I shall walk.”

“’Tis five or six miles yet to Trantridge.”

“I don’t care if ’tis dozens. Besides, the cart is behind.”

“You artful hussy! Now, tell me—didn’t you make that hat blow off on
purpose? I’ll swear you did!”

Her strategic silence confirmed his suspicion.

Then d’Urberville cursed and swore at her, and called her everything he
could think of for the trick. Turning the horse suddenly he tried to
drive back upon her, and so hem her in between the gig and the hedge.
But he could not do this short of injuring her.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself for using such wicked words!”
cried Tess with spirit, from the top of the hedge into which she had
scrambled. “I don’t like ’ee at all! I hate and detest you! I’ll go
back to mother, I will!”

D’Urberville’s bad temper cleared up at sight of hers; and he laughed
heartily.

“Well, I like you all the better,” he said. “Come, let there be peace.
I’ll never do it any more against your will. My life upon it now!”

Still Tess could not be induced to remount. She did not, however,
object to his keeping his gig alongside her; and in this manner, at a
slow pace, they advanced towards the village of Trantridge. From time
to time d’Urberville exhibited a sort of fierce distress at the sight
of the tramping he had driven her to undertake by his misdemeanour. She
might in truth have safely trusted him now; but he had forfeited her
confidence for the time, and she kept on the ground progressing
thoughtfully, as if wondering whether it would be wiser to return home.
Her resolve, however, had been taken, and it seemed vacillating even to
childishness to abandon it now, unless for graver reasons. How could
she face her parents, get back her box, and disconcert the whole scheme
for the rehabilitation of her family on such sentimental grounds?

A few minutes later the chimneys of The Slopes appeared in view, and in
a snug nook to the right the poultry-farm and cottage of Tess’s
destination.


IX

The community of fowls to which Tess had been appointed as supervisor,
purveyor, nurse, surgeon, and friend made its headquarters in an old
thatched cottage standing in an enclosure that had once been a garden,
but was now a trampled and sanded square. The house was overrun with
ivy, its chimney being enlarged by the boughs of the parasite to the
aspect of a ruined tower. The lower rooms were entirely given over to
the birds, who walked about them with a proprietary air, as though the
place had been built by themselves, and not by certain dusty
copyholders who now lay east and west in the churchyard. The
descendants of these bygone owners felt it almost as a slight to their
family when the house which had so much of their affection, had cost so
much of their forefathers’ money, and had been in their possession for
several generations before the d’Urbervilles came and built here, was
indifferently turned into a fowl-house by Mrs Stoke-d’Urberville as
soon as the property fell into hand according to law. “’Twas good
enough for Christians in grandfather’s time,” they said.

The rooms wherein dozens of infants had wailed at their nursing now
resounded with the tapping of nascent chicks. Distracted hens in coops
occupied spots where formerly stood chairs supporting sedate
agriculturists. The chimney-corner and once-blazing hearth was now
filled with inverted beehives, in which the hens laid their eggs; while
out of doors the plots that each succeeding householder had carefully
shaped with his spade were torn by the cocks in wildest fashion.

The garden in which the cottage stood was surrounded by a wall, and
could only be entered through a door.

When Tess had occupied herself about an hour the next morning in
altering and improving the arrangements, according to her skilled ideas
as the daughter of a professed poulterer, the door in the wall opened
and a servant in white cap and apron entered. She had come from the
manor-house.

“Mrs d’Urberville wants the fowls as usual,” she said; but perceiving
that Tess did not quite understand, she explained, “Mis’ess is a old
lady, and blind.”

“Blind!” said Tess.

Almost before her misgiving at the news could find time to shape itself
she took, under her companion’s direction, two of the most beautiful of
the Hamburghs in her arms, and followed the maid-servant, who had
likewise taken two, to the adjacent mansion, which, though ornate and
imposing, showed traces everywhere on this side that some occupant of
its chambers could bend to the love of dumb creatures—feathers floating
within view of the front, and hen-coops standing on the grass.

In a sitting-room on the ground-floor, ensconced in an armchair with
her back to the light, was the owner and mistress of the estate, a
white-haired woman of not more than sixty, or even less, wearing a
large cap. She had the mobile face frequent in those whose sight has
decayed by stages, has been laboriously striven after, and reluctantly
let go, rather than the stagnant mien apparent in persons long
sightless or born blind. Tess walked up to this lady with her feathered
charges—one sitting on each arm.

“Ah, you are the young woman come to look after my birds?” said Mrs
d’Urberville, recognizing a new footstep. “I hope you will be kind to
them. My bailiff tells me you are quite the proper person. Well, where
are they? Ah, this is Strut! But he is hardly so lively to-day, is he?
He is alarmed at being handled by a stranger, I suppose. And Phena
too—yes, they are a little frightened—aren’t you, dears? But they will
soon get used to you.”

While the old lady had been speaking Tess and the other maid, in
obedience to her gestures, had placed the fowls severally in her lap,
and she had felt them over from head to tail, examining their beaks,
their combs, the manes of the cocks, their wings, and their claws. Her
touch enabled her to recognize them in a moment, and to discover if a
single feather were crippled or draggled. She handled their crops, and
knew what they had eaten, and if too little or too much; her face
enacting a vivid pantomime of the criticisms passing in her mind.

The birds that the two girls had brought in were duly returned to the
yard, and the process was repeated till all the pet cocks and hens had
been submitted to the old woman—Hamburghs, Bantams, Cochins, Brahmas,
Dorkings, and such other sorts as were in fashion just then—her
perception of each visitor being seldom at fault as she received the
bird upon her knees.

It reminded Tess of a Confirmation, in which Mrs d’Urberville was the
bishop, the fowls the young people presented, and herself and the
maid-servant the parson and curate of the parish bringing them up. At
the end of the ceremony Mrs d’Urberville abruptly asked Tess, wrinkling
and twitching her face into undulations, “Can you whistle?”

“Whistle, Ma’am?”

“Yes, whistle tunes.”

Tess could whistle like most other country-girls, though the
accomplishment was one which she did not care to profess in genteel
company. However, she blandly admitted that such was the fact.

“Then you will have to practise it every day. I had a lad who did it
very well, but he has left. I want you to whistle to my bullfinches; as
I cannot see them, I like to hear them, and we teach ’em airs that way.
Tell her where the cages are, Elizabeth. You must begin to-morrow, or
they will go back in their piping. They have been neglected these
several days.”

“Mr d’Urberville whistled to ’em this morning, ma’am,” said Elizabeth.

“He! Pooh!”

The old lady’s face creased into furrows of repugnance, and she made no
further reply.

Thus the reception of Tess by her fancied kinswoman terminated, and the
birds were taken back to their quarters. The girl’s surprise at Mrs
d’Urberville’s manner was not great; for since seeing the size of the
house she had expected no more. But she was far from being aware that
the old lady had never heard a word of the so-called kinship. She
gathered that no great affection flowed between the blind woman and her
son. But in that, too, she was mistaken. Mrs d’Urberville was not the
first mother compelled to love her offspring resentfully, and to be
bitterly fond.

In spite of the unpleasant initiation of the day before, Tess inclined
to the freedom and novelty of her new position in the morning when the
sun shone, now that she was once installed there; and she was curious
to test her powers in the unexpected direction asked of her, so as to
ascertain her chance of retaining her post. As soon as she was alone
within the walled garden she sat herself down on a coop, and seriously
screwed up her mouth for the long-neglected practice. She found her
former ability to have degenerated to the production of a hollow rush
of wind through the lips, and no clear note at all.

She remained fruitlessly blowing and blowing, wondering how she could
have so grown out of the art which had come by nature, till she became
aware of a movement among the ivy-boughs which cloaked the garden-wall
no less then the cottage. Looking that way she beheld a form springing
from the coping to the plot. It was Alec d’Urberville, whom she had not
set eyes on since he had conducted her the day before to the door of
the gardener’s cottage where she had lodgings.

“Upon my honour!” cried he, “there was never before such a beautiful
thing in Nature or Art as you look, ‘Cousin’ Tess (‘Cousin’ had a faint
ring of mockery). I have been watching you from over the wall—sitting
like _Im_-patience on a monument, and pouting up that pretty red mouth
to whistling shape, and whooing and whooing, and privately swearing,
and never being able to produce a note. Why, you are quite cross
because you can’t do it.”

“I may be cross, but I didn’t swear.”

“Ah! I understand why you are trying—those bullies! My mother wants you
to carry on their musical education. How selfish of her! As if
attending to these curst cocks and hens here were not enough work for
any girl. I would flatly refuse, if I were you.”

“But she wants me particularly to do it, and to be ready by to-morrow
morning.”

“Does she? Well then—I’ll give you a lesson or two.”

“Oh no, you won’t!” said Tess, withdrawing towards the door.

“Nonsense; I don’t want to touch you. See—I’ll stand on this side of
the wire-netting, and you can keep on the other; so you may feel quite
safe. Now, look here; you screw up your lips too harshly. There
’tis—so.”

He suited the action to the word, and whistled a line of “Take, O take
those lips away.” But the allusion was lost upon Tess.

“Now try,” said d’Urberville.

She attempted to look reserved; her face put on a sculptural severity.
But he persisted in his demand, and at last, to get rid of him, she did
put up her lips as directed for producing a clear note; laughing
distressfully, however, and then blushing with vexation that she had
laughed.

He encouraged her with “Try again!”

Tess was quite serious, painfully serious by this time; and she
tried—ultimately and unexpectedly emitting a real round sound. The
momentary pleasure of success got the better of her; her eyes enlarged,
and she involuntarily smiled in his face.

“That’s it! Now I have started you—you’ll go on beautifully. There—I
said I would not come near you; and, in spite of such temptation as
never before fell to mortal man, I’ll keep my word.... Tess, do you
think my mother a queer old soul?”

“I don’t know much of her yet, sir.”

“You’ll find her so; she must be, to make you learn to whistle to her
bullfinches. I am rather out of her books just now, but you will be
quite in favour if you treat her live-stock well. Good morning. If you
meet with any difficulties and want help here, don’t go to the bailiff,
come to me.”

It was in the economy of this _régime_ that Tess Durbeyfield had
undertaken to fill a place. Her first day’s experiences were fairly
typical of those which followed through many succeeding days. A
familiarity with Alec d’Urberville’s presence—which that young man
carefully cultivated in her by playful dialogue, and by jestingly
calling her his cousin when they were alone—removed much of her
original shyness of him, without, however, implanting any feeling which
could engender shyness of a new and tenderer kind. But she was more
pliable under his hands than a mere companionship would have made her,
owing to her unavoidable dependence upon his mother, and, through that
lady’s comparative helplessness, upon him.

She soon found that whistling to the bullfinches in Mrs d’Urberville’s
room was no such onerous business when she had regained the art, for
she had caught from her musical mother numerous airs that suited those
songsters admirably. A far more satisfactory time than when she
practised in the garden was this whistling by the cages each morning.
Unrestrained by the young man’s presence she threw up her mouth, put
her lips near the bars, and piped away in easeful grace to the
attentive listeners.

Mrs d’Urberville slept in a large four-post bedstead hung with heavy
damask curtains, and the bullfinches occupied the same apartment, where
they flitted about freely at certain hours, and made little white spots
on the furniture and upholstery. Once while Tess was at the window
where the cages were ranged, giving her lesson as usual, she thought
she heard a rustling behind the bed. The old lady was not present, and
turning round the girl had an impression that the toes of a pair of
boots were visible below the fringe of the curtains. Thereupon her
whistling became so disjointed that the listener, if such there were,
must have discovered her suspicion of his presence. She searched the
curtains every morning after that, but never found anybody within them.
Alec d’Urberville had evidently thought better of his freak to terrify
her by an ambush of that kind.


X

Every village has its idiosyncrasy, its constitution, often its own
code of morality. The levity of some of the younger women in and about
Trantridge was marked, and was perhaps symptomatic of the choice spirit
who ruled The Slopes in that vicinity. The place had also a more
abiding defect; it drank hard. The staple conversation on the farms
around was on the uselessness of saving money; and smock-frocked
arithmeticians, leaning on their ploughs or hoes, would enter into
calculations of great nicety to prove that parish relief was a fuller
provision for a man in his old age than any which could result from
savings out of their wages during a whole lifetime.

The chief pleasure of these philosophers lay in going every Saturday
night, when work was done, to Chaseborough, a decayed market-town two
or three miles distant; and, returning in the small hours of the next
morning, to spend Sunday in sleeping off the dyspeptic effects of the
curious compounds sold to them as beer by the monopolizers of the
once-independent inns.

For a long time Tess did not join in the weekly pilgrimages. But under
pressure from matrons not much older than herself—for a field-man’s
wages being as high at twenty-one as at forty, marriage was early
here—Tess at length consented to go. Her first experience of the
journey afforded her more enjoyment than she had expected, the
hilariousness of the others being quite contagious after her monotonous
attention to the poultry-farm all the week. She went again and again.
Being graceful and interesting, standing moreover on the momentary
threshold of womanhood, her appearance drew down upon her some sly
regards from loungers in the streets of Chaseborough; hence, though
sometimes her journey to the town was made independently, she always
searched for her fellows at nightfall, to have the protection of their
companionship homeward.

This had gone on for a month or two when there came a Saturday in
September, on which a fair and a market coincided; and the pilgrims
from Trantridge sought double delights at the inns on that account.
Tess’s occupations made her late in setting out, so that her comrades
reached the town long before her. It was a fine September evening, just
before sunset, when yellow lights struggle with blue shades in hairlike
lines, and the atmosphere itself forms a prospect without aid from more
solid objects, except the innumerable winged insects that dance in it.
Through this low-lit mistiness Tess walked leisurely along.

She did not discover the coincidence of the market with the fair till
she had reached the place, by which time it was close upon dusk. Her
limited marketing was soon completed; and then as usual she began to
look about for some of the Trantridge cottagers.

At first she could not find them, and she was informed that most of
them had gone to what they called a private little jig at the house of
a hay-trusser and peat-dealer who had transactions with their farm. He
lived in an out-of-the-way nook of the townlet, and in trying to find
her course thither her eyes fell upon Mr d’Urberville standing at a
street corner.

“What—my Beauty? You here so late?” he said.

She told him that she was simply waiting for company homeward.

“I’ll see you again,” said he over her shoulder as she went on down the
back lane.

Approaching the hay-trussers, she could hear the fiddled notes of a
reel proceeding from some building in the rear; but no sound of dancing
was audible—an exceptional state of things for these parts, where as a
rule the stamping drowned the music. The front door being open she
could see straight through the house into the garden at the back as far
as the shades of night would allow; and nobody appearing to her knock,
she traversed the dwelling and went up the path to the outhouse whence
the sound had attracted her.

It was a windowless erection used for storage, and from the open door
there floated into the obscurity a mist of yellow radiance, which at
first Tess thought to be illuminated smoke. But on drawing nearer she
perceived that it was a cloud of dust, lit by candles within the
outhouse, whose beams upon the haze carried forward the outline of the
doorway into the wide night of the garden.

When she came close and looked in she beheld indistinct forms racing up
and down to the figure of the dance, the silence of their footfalls
arising from their being overshoe in “scroff”—that is to say, the
powdery residuum from the storage of peat and other products, the
stirring of which by their turbulent feet created the nebulosity that
involved the scene. Through this floating, fusty _débris_ of peat and
hay, mixed with the perspirations and warmth of the dancers, and
forming together a sort of vegeto-human pollen, the muted fiddles
feebly pushed their notes, in marked contrast to the spirit with which
the measure was trodden out. They coughed as they danced, and laughed
as they coughed. Of the rushing couples there could barely be discerned
more than the high lights—the indistinctness shaping them to satyrs
clasping nymphs—a multiplicity of Pans whirling a multiplicity of
Syrinxes; Lotis attempting to elude Priapus, and always failing.

At intervals a couple would approach the doorway for air, and the haze
no longer veiling their features, the demigods resolved themselves into
the homely personalities of her own next-door neighbours. Could
Trantridge in two or three short hours have metamorphosed itself thus
madly!

Some Sileni of the throng sat on benches and hay-trusses by the wall;
and one of them recognized her.

“The maids don’t think it respectable to dance at The Flower-de-Luce,”
he explained. “They don’t like to let everybody see which be their
fancy-men. Besides, the house sometimes shuts up just when their jints
begin to get greased. So we come here and send out for liquor.”

“But when be any of you going home?” asked Tess with some anxiety.

“Now—a’most directly. This is all but the last jig.”

She waited. The reel drew to a close, and some of the party were in the
mind of starting. But others would not, and another dance was formed.
This surely would end it, thought Tess. But it merged in yet another.
She became restless and uneasy; yet, having waited so long, it was
necessary to wait longer; on account of the fair the roads were dotted
with roving characters of possibly ill intent; and, though not fearful
of measurable dangers, she feared the unknown. Had she been near
Marlott she would have had less dread.

“Don’t ye be nervous, my dear good soul,” expostulated, between his
coughs, a young man with a wet face and his straw hat so far back upon
his head that the brim encircled it like the nimbus of a saint. “What’s
yer hurry? To-morrow is Sunday, thank God, and we can sleep it off in
church-time. Now, have a turn with me?”

She did not abhor dancing, but she was not going to dance here. The
movement grew more passionate: the fiddlers behind the luminous pillar
of cloud now and then varied the air by playing on the wrong side of
the bridge or with the back of the bow. But it did not matter; the
panting shapes spun onwards.

They did not vary their partners if their inclination were to stick to
previous ones. Changing partners simply meant that a satisfactory
choice had not as yet been arrived at by one or other of the pair, and
by this time every couple had been suitably matched. It was then that
the ecstasy and the dream began, in which emotion was the matter of the
universe, and matter but an adventitious intrusion likely to hinder you
from spinning where you wanted to spin.

Suddenly there was a dull thump on the ground: a couple had fallen, and
lay in a mixed heap. The next couple, unable to check its progress,
came toppling over the obstacle. An inner cloud of dust rose around the
prostrate figures amid the general one of the room, in which a
twitching entanglement of arms and legs was discernible.

“You shall catch it for this, my gentleman, when you get home!” burst
in female accents from the human heap—those of the unhappy partner of
the man whose clumsiness had caused the mishap; she happened also to be
his recently married wife, in which assortment there was nothing
unusual at Trantridge as long as any affection remained between wedded
couples; and, indeed, it was not uncustomary in their later lives, to
avoid making odd lots of the single people between whom there might be
a warm understanding.

A loud laugh from behind Tess’s back, in the shade of the garden,
united with the titter within the room. She looked round, and saw the
red coal of a cigar: Alec d’Urberville was standing there alone. He
beckoned to her, and she reluctantly retreated towards him.

“Well, my Beauty, what are you doing here?”

She was so tired after her long day and her walk that she confided her
trouble to him—that she had been waiting ever since he saw her to have
their company home, because the road at night was strange to her. “But
it seems they will never leave off, and I really think I will wait no
longer.”

“Certainly do not. I have only a saddle-horse here to-day; but come to
The Flower-de-Luce, and I’ll hire a trap, and drive you home with me.”

Tess, though flattered, had never quite got over her original mistrust
of him, and, despite their tardiness, she preferred to walk home with
the work-folk. So she answered that she was much obliged to him, but
would not trouble him. “I have said that I will wait for ’em, and they
will expect me to now.”

“Very well, Miss Independence. Please yourself... Then I shall not
hurry... My good Lord, what a kick-up they are having there!”

He had not put himself forward into the light, but some of them had
perceived him, and his presence led to a slight pause and a
consideration of how the time was flying. As soon as he had re-lit a
cigar and walked away the Trantridge people began to collect themselves
from amid those who had come in from other farms, and prepared to leave
in a body. Their bundles and baskets were gathered up, and half an hour
later, when the clock-chime sounded a quarter past eleven, they were
straggling along the lane which led up the hill towards their homes.

It was a three-mile walk, along a dry white road, made whiter to-night
by the light of the moon.

Tess soon perceived as she walked in the flock, sometimes with this
one, sometimes with that, that the fresh night air was producing
staggerings and serpentine courses among the men who had partaken too
freely; some of the more careless women also were wandering in their
gait—to wit, a dark virago, Car Darch, dubbed Queen of Spades, till
lately a favourite of d’Urberville’s; Nancy, her sister, nicknamed the
Queen of Diamonds; and the young married woman who had already tumbled
down. Yet however terrestrial and lumpy their appearance just now to
the mean unglamoured eye, to themselves the case was different. They
followed the road with a sensation that they were soaring along in a
supporting medium, possessed of original and profound thoughts,
themselves and surrounding nature forming an organism of which all the
parts harmoniously and joyously interpenetrated each other. They were
as sublime as the moon and stars above them, and the moon and stars
were as ardent as they.

Tess, however, had undergone such painful experiences of this kind in
her father’s house that the discovery of their condition spoilt the
pleasure she was beginning to feel in the moonlight journey. Yet she
stuck to the party, for reasons above given.

In the open highway they had progressed in scattered order; but now
their route was through a field-gate, and the foremost finding a
difficulty in opening it, they closed up together.

This leading pedestrian was Car the Queen of Spades, who carried a
wicker-basket containing her mother’s groceries, her own draperies, and
other purchases for the week. The basket being large and heavy, Car had
placed it for convenience of porterage on the top of her head, where it
rode on in jeopardized balance as she walked with arms akimbo.

“Well—whatever is that a-creeping down thy back, Car Darch?” said one
of the group suddenly.

All looked at Car. Her gown was a light cotton print, and from the back
of her head a kind of rope could be seen descending to some distance
below her waist, like a Chinaman’s queue.

“’Tis her hair falling down,” said another.

No; it was not her hair: it was a black stream of something oozing from
her basket, and it glistened like a slimy snake in the cold still rays
of the moon.

“’Tis treacle,” said an observant matron.

Treacle it was. Car’s poor old grandmother had a weakness for the sweet
stuff. Honey she had in plenty out of her own hives, but treacle was
what her soul desired, and Car had been about to give her a treat of
surprise. Hastily lowering the basket the dark girl found that the
vessel containing the syrup had been smashed within.

By this time there had arisen a shout of laughter at the extraordinary
appearance of Car’s back, which irritated the dark queen into getting
rid of the disfigurement by the first sudden means available, and
independently of the help of the scoffers. She rushed excitedly into
the field they were about to cross, and flinging herself flat on her
back upon the grass, began to wipe her gown as well as she could by
spinning horizontally on the herbage and dragging herself over it upon
her elbows.

The laughter rang louder; they clung to the gate, to the posts, rested
on their staves, in the weakness engendered by their convulsions at the
spectacle of Car. Our heroine, who had hitherto held her peace, at this
wild moment could not help joining in with the rest.

It was a misfortune—in more ways than one. No sooner did the dark queen
hear the soberer richer note of Tess among those of the other
work-people than a long-smouldering sense of rivalry inflamed her to
madness. She sprang to her feet and closely faced the object of her
dislike.

“How darest th’ laugh at me, hussy!” she cried.

“I couldn’t really help it when t’others did,” apologized Tess, still
tittering.

“Ah, th’st think th’ beest everybody, dostn’t, because th’ beest first
favourite with He just now! But stop a bit, my lady, stop a bit! I’m as
good as two of such! Look here—here’s at ’ee!”

To Tess’s horror the dark queen began stripping off the bodice of her
gown—which for the added reason of its ridiculed condition she was only
too glad to be free of—till she had bared her plump neck, shoulders,
and arms to the moonshine, under which they looked as luminous and
beautiful as some Praxitelean creation, in their possession of the
faultless rotundities of a lusty country-girl. She closed her fists and
squared up at Tess.

“Indeed, then, I shall not fight!” said the latter majestically; “and
if I had known you was of that sort, I wouldn’t have so let myself down
as to come with such a whorage as this is!”

The rather too inclusive speech brought down a torrent of vituperation
from other quarters upon fair Tess’s unlucky head, particularly from
the Queen of Diamonds, who having stood in the relations to
d’Urberville that Car had also been suspected of, united with the
latter against the common enemy. Several other women also chimed in,
with an animus which none of them would have been so fatuous as to show
but for the rollicking evening they had passed. Thereupon, finding Tess
unfairly browbeaten, the husbands and lovers tried to make peace by
defending her; but the result of that attempt was directly to increase
the war.

Tess was indignant and ashamed. She no longer minded the loneliness of
the way and the lateness of the hour; her one object was to get away
from the whole crew as soon as possible. She knew well enough that the
better among them would repent of their passion next day. They were all
now inside the field, and she was edging back to rush off alone when a
horseman emerged almost silently from the corner of the hedge that
screened the road, and Alec d’Urberville looked round upon them.

“What the devil is all this row about, work-folk?” he asked.

The explanation was not readily forthcoming; and, in truth, he did not
require any. Having heard their voices while yet some way off he had
ridden creepingly forward, and learnt enough to satisfy himself.

Tess was standing apart from the rest, near the gate. He bent over
towards her. “Jump up behind me,” he whispered, “and we’ll get shot of
the screaming cats in a jiffy!”

She felt almost ready to faint, so vivid was her sense of the crisis.
At almost any other moment of her life she would have refused such
proffered aid and company, as she had refused them several times
before; and now the loneliness would not of itself have forced her to
do otherwise. But coming as the invitation did at the particular
juncture when fear and indignation at these adversaries could be
transformed by a spring of the foot into a triumph over them, she
abandoned herself to her impulse, climbed the gate, put her toe upon
his instep, and scrambled into the saddle behind him. The pair were
speeding away into the distant gray by the time that the contentious
revellers became aware of what had happened.

The Queen of Spades forgot the stain on her bodice, and stood beside
the Queen of Diamonds and the new-married, staggering young woman—all
with a gaze of fixity in the direction in which the horse’s tramp was
diminishing into silence on the road.

“What be ye looking at?” asked a man who had not observed the incident.

“Ho-ho-ho!” laughed dark Car.

“Hee-hee-hee!” laughed the tippling bride, as she steadied herself on
the arm of her fond husband.

“Heu-heu-heu!” laughed dark Car’s mother, stroking her moustache as she
explained laconically: “Out of the frying-pan into the fire!”

Then these children of the open air, whom even excess of alcohol could
scarce injure permanently, betook themselves to the field-path; and as
they went there moved onward with them, around the shadow of each one’s
head, a circle of opalized light, formed by the moon’s rays upon the
glistening sheet of dew. Each pedestrian could see no halo but his or
her own, which never deserted the head-shadow, whatever its vulgar
unsteadiness might be; but adhered to it, and persistently beautified
it; till the erratic motions seemed an inherent part of the
irradiation, and the fumes of their breathing a component of the
night’s mist; and the spirit of the scene, and of the moonlight, and of
Nature, seemed harmoniously to mingle with the spirit of wine.


XI

The twain cantered along for some time without speech, Tess as she
clung to him still panting in her triumph, yet in other respects
dubious. She had perceived that the horse was not the spirited one he
sometimes rose, and felt no alarm on that score, though her seat was
precarious enough despite her tight hold of him. She begged him to slow
the animal to a walk, which Alec accordingly did.

“Neatly done, was it not, dear Tess?” he said by and by.

“Yes!” said she. “I am sure I ought to be much obliged to you.”

“And are you?”

She did not reply.

“Tess, why do you always dislike my kissing you?”

“I suppose—because I don’t love you.”

“You are quite sure?”

“I am angry with you sometimes!”

“Ah, I half feared as much.” Nevertheless, Alec did not object to that
confession. He knew that anything was better then frigidity. “Why
haven’t you told me when I have made you angry?”

“You know very well why. Because I cannot help myself here.”

“I haven’t offended you often by love-making?”

“You have sometimes.”

“How many times?”

“You know as well as I—too many times.”

“Every time I have tried?”

She was silent, and the horse ambled along for a considerable distance,
till a faint luminous fog, which had hung in the hollows all the
evening, became general and enveloped them. It seemed to hold the
moonlight in suspension, rendering it more pervasive than in clear air.
Whether on this account, or from absent-mindedness, or from sleepiness,
she did not perceive that they had long ago passed the point at which
the lane to Trantridge branched from the highway, and that her
conductor had not taken the Trantridge track.

She was inexpressibly weary. She had risen at five o’clock every
morning of that week, had been on foot the whole of each day, and on
this evening had in addition walked the three miles to Chaseborough,
waited three hours for her neighbours without eating or drinking, her
impatience to start them preventing either; she had then walked a mile
of the way home, and had undergone the excitement of the quarrel, till,
with the slow progress of their steed, it was now nearly one o’clock.
Only once, however, was she overcome by actual drowsiness. In that
moment of oblivion her head sank gently against him.

D’Urberville stopped the horse, withdrew his feet from the stirrups,
turned sideways on the saddle, and enclosed her waist with his arm to
support her.

This immediately put her on the defensive, and with one of those sudden
impulses of reprisal to which she was liable she gave him a little push
from her. In his ticklish position he nearly lost his balance and only
just avoided rolling over into the road, the horse, though a powerful
one, being fortunately the quietest he rode.

“That is devilish unkind!” he said. “I mean no harm—only to keep you
from falling.”

She pondered suspiciously, till, thinking that this might after all be
true, she relented, and said quite humbly, “I beg your pardon, sir.”

“I won’t pardon you unless you show some confidence in me. Good God!”
he burst out, “what am I, to be repulsed so by a mere chit like you?
For near three mortal months have you trifled with my feelings, eluded
me, and snubbed me; and I won’t stand it!”

“I’ll leave you to-morrow, sir.”

“No, you will not leave me to-morrow! Will you, I ask once more, show
your belief in me by letting me clasp you with my arm? Come, between us
two and nobody else, now. We know each other well; and you know that I
love you, and think you the prettiest girl in the world, which you are.
Mayn’t I treat you as a lover?”

She drew a quick pettish breath of objection, writhing uneasily on her
seat, looked far ahead, and murmured, “I don’t know—I wish—how can I
say yes or no when—”

He settled the matter by clasping his arm round her as he desired, and
Tess expressed no further negative. Thus they sidled slowly onward till
it struck her they had been advancing for an unconscionable time—far
longer than was usually occupied by the short journey from
Chaseborough, even at this walking pace, and that they were no longer
on hard road, but in a mere trackway.

“Why, where be we?” she exclaimed.

“Passing by a wood.”

“A wood—what wood? Surely we are quite out of the road?”

“A bit of The Chase—the oldest wood in England. It is a lovely night,
and why should we not prolong our ride a little?”

“How could you be so treacherous!” said Tess, between archness and real
dismay, and getting rid of his arm by pulling open his fingers one by
one, though at the risk of slipping off herself. “Just when I’ve been
putting such trust in you, and obliging you to please you, because I
thought I had wronged you by that push! Please set me down, and let me
walk home.”

“You cannot walk home, darling, even if the air were clear. We are
miles away from Trantridge, if I must tell you, and in this growing fog
you might wander for hours among these trees.”

“Never mind that,” she coaxed. “Put me down, I beg you. I don’t mind
where it is; only let me get down, sir, please!”

“Very well, then, I will—on one condition. Having brought you here to
this out-of-the-way place, I feel myself responsible for your
safe-conduct home, whatever you may yourself feel about it. As to your
getting to Trantridge without assistance, it is quite impossible; for,
to tell the truth, dear, owing to this fog, which so disguises
everything, I don’t quite know where we are myself. Now, if you will
promise to wait beside the horse while I walk through the bushes till I
come to some road or house, and ascertain exactly our whereabouts, I’ll
deposit you here willingly. When I come back I’ll give you full
directions, and if you insist upon walking you may; or you may ride—at
your pleasure.”

She accepted these terms, and slid off on the near side, though not
till he had stolen a cursory kiss. He sprang down on the other side.

“I suppose I must hold the horse?” said she.

“Oh no; it’s not necessary,” replied Alec, patting the panting
creature. “He’s had enough of it for to-night.”

He turned the horse’s head into the bushes, hitched him on to a bough,
and made a sort of couch or nest for her in the deep mass of dead
leaves.

“Now, you sit there,” he said. “The leaves have not got damp as yet.
Just give an eye to the horse—it will be quite sufficient.”

He took a few steps away from her, but, returning, said, “By the bye,
Tess, your father has a new cob to-day. Somebody gave it to him.”

“Somebody? You!”

D’Urberville nodded.

“O how very good of you that is!” she exclaimed, with a painful sense
of the awkwardness of having to thank him just then.

“And the children have some toys.”

“I didn’t know—you ever sent them anything!” she murmured, much moved.
“I almost wish you had not—yes, I almost wish it!”

“Why, dear?”

“It—hampers me so.”

“Tessy—don’t you love me ever so little now?”

“I’m grateful,” she reluctantly admitted. “But I fear I do not—” The
sudden vision of his passion for herself as a factor in this result so
distressed her that, beginning with one slow tear, and then following
with another, she wept outright.

“Don’t cry, dear, dear one! Now sit down here, and wait till I come.”
She passively sat down amid the leaves he had heaped, and shivered
slightly. “Are you cold?” he asked.

“Not very—a little.”

He touched her with his fingers, which sank into her as into down. “You
have only that puffy muslin dress on—how’s that?”

“It’s my best summer one. ’Twas very warm when I started, and I didn’t
know I was going to ride, and that it would be night.”

“Nights grow chilly in September. Let me see.” He pulled off a light
overcoat that he had worn, and put it round her tenderly. “That’s
it—now you’ll feel warmer,” he continued. “Now, my pretty, rest there;
I shall soon be back again.”

Having buttoned the overcoat round her shoulders he plunged into the
webs of vapour which by this time formed veils between the trees. She
could hear the rustling of the branches as he ascended the adjoining
slope, till his movements were no louder than the hopping of a bird,
and finally died away. With the setting of the moon the pale light
lessened, and Tess became invisible as she fell into reverie upon the
leaves where he had left her.

In the meantime Alec d’Urberville had pushed on up the slope to clear
his genuine doubt as to the quarter of The Chase they were in. He had,
in fact, ridden quite at random for over an hour, taking any turning
that came to hand in order to prolong companionship with her, and
giving far more attention to Tess’s moonlit person than to any wayside
object. A little rest for the jaded animal being desirable, he did not
hasten his search for landmarks. A clamber over the hill into the
adjoining vale brought him to the fence of a highway whose contours he
recognized, which settled the question of their whereabouts.
D’Urberville thereupon turned back; but by this time the moon had quite
gone down, and partly on account of the fog The Chase was wrapped in
thick darkness, although morning was not far off. He was obliged to
advance with outstretched hands to avoid contact with the boughs, and
discovered that to hit the exact spot from which he had started was at
first entirely beyond him. Roaming up and down, round and round, he at
length heard a slight movement of the horse close at hand; and the
sleeve of his overcoat unexpectedly caught his foot.

“Tess!” said d’Urberville.

There was no answer. The obscurity was now so great that he could see
absolutely nothing but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which
represented the white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves.
Everything else was blackness alike. D’Urberville stooped; and heard a
gentle regular breathing. He knelt and bent lower, till her breath
warmed his face, and in a moment his cheek was in contact with hers.
She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears.

Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the
primaeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which there poised gentle
roosting birds in their last nap; and about them stole the hopping
rabbits and hares. But, might some say, where was Tess’s guardian
angel? where was the providence of her simple faith? Perhaps, like that
other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he
was pursuing, or he was in a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be
awaked.

Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as
gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been
traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often
the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the
wrong woman the man, many thousand years of analytical philosophy have
failed to explain to our sense of order. One may, indeed, admit the
possibility of a retribution lurking in the present catastrophe.
Doubtless some of Tess d’Urberville’s mailed ancestors rollicking home
from a fray had dealt the same measure even more ruthlessly towards
peasant girls of their time. But though to visit the sins of the
fathers upon the children may be a morality good enough for divinities,
it is scorned by average human nature; and it therefore does not mend
the matter.

As Tess’s own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying
among each other in their fatalistic way: “It was to be.” There lay the
pity of it. An immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine’s
personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from
her mother’s door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm.


End of Phase the First


Phase the Second:

Maiden No More


XII

The basket was heavy and the bundle was large, but she lugged them
along like a person who did not find her especial burden in material
things. Occasionally she stopped to rest in a mechanical way by some
gate or post; and then, giving the baggage another hitch upon her full
round arm, went steadily on again.

It was a Sunday morning in late October, about four months after Tess
Durbeyfield’s arrival at Trantridge, and some few weeks subsequent to
the night ride in The Chase. The time was not long past daybreak, and
the yellow luminosity upon the horizon behind her back lighted the
ridge towards which her face was set—the barrier of the vale wherein
she had of late been a stranger—which she would have to climb over to
reach her birthplace. The ascent was gradual on this side, and the soil
and scenery differed much from those within Blakemore Vale. Even the
character and accent of the two peoples had shades of difference,
despite the amalgamating effects of a roundabout railway; so that,
though less than twenty miles from the place of her sojourn at
Trantridge, her native village had seemed a far-away spot. The
field-folk shut in there traded northward and westward, travelled,
courted, and married northward and westward, thought northward and
westward; those on this side mainly directed their energies and
attention to the east and south.

The incline was the same down which d’Urberville had driven her so
wildly on that day in June. Tess went up the remainder of its length
without stopping, and on reaching the edge of the escarpment gazed over
the familiar green world beyond, now half-veiled in mist. It was always
beautiful from here; it was terribly beautiful to Tess to-day, for
since her eyes last fell upon it she had learnt that the serpent hisses
where the sweet birds sing, and her views of life had been totally
changed for her by the lesson. Verily another girl than the simple one
she had been at home was she who, bowed by thought, stood still here,
and turned to look behind her. She could not bear to look forward into
the Vale.

Ascending by the long white road that Tess herself had just laboured
up, she saw a two-wheeled vehicle, beside which walked a man, who held
up his hand to attract her attention.

She obeyed the signal to wait for him with unspeculative repose, and in
a few minutes man and horse stopped beside her.

“Why did you slip away by stealth like this?” said d’Urberville, with
upbraiding breathlessness; “on a Sunday morning, too, when people were
all in bed! I only discovered it by accident, and I have been driving
like the deuce to overtake you. Just look at the mare. Why go off like
this? You know that nobody wished to hinder your going. And how
unnecessary it has been for you to toil along on foot, and encumber
yourself with this heavy load! I have followed like a madman, simply to
drive you the rest of the distance, if you won’t come back.”

“I shan’t come back,” said she.

“I thought you wouldn’t—I said so! Well, then, put up your basket, and
let me help you on.”

She listlessly placed her basket and bundle within the dog-cart, and
stepped up, and they sat side by side. She had no fear of him now, and
in the cause of her confidence her sorrow lay.

D’Urberville mechanically lit a cigar, and the journey was continued
with broken unemotional conversation on the commonplace objects by the
wayside. He had quite forgotten his struggle to kiss her when, in the
early summer, they had driven in the opposite direction along the same
road. But she had not, and she sat now, like a puppet, replying to his
remarks in monosyllables. After some miles they came in view of the
clump of trees beyond which the village of Marlott stood. It was only
then that her still face showed the least emotion, a tear or two
beginning to trickle down.

“What are you crying for?” he coldly asked.

“I was only thinking that I was born over there,” murmured Tess.

“Well—we must all be born somewhere.”

“I wish I had never been born—there or anywhere else!”

“Pooh! Well, if you didn’t wish to come to Trantridge why did you
come?”

She did not reply.

“You didn’t come for love of me, that I’ll swear.”

“’Tis quite true. If I had gone for love o’ you, if I had ever
sincerely loved you, if I loved you still, I should not so loathe and
hate myself for my weakness as I do now!... My eyes were dazed by you
for a little, and that was all.”

He shrugged his shoulders. She resumed—

“I didn’t understand your meaning till it was too late.”

“That’s what every woman says.”

“How can you dare to use such words!” she cried, turning impetuously
upon him, her eyes flashing as the latent spirit (of which he was to
see more some day) awoke in her. “My God! I could knock you out of the
gig! Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says some
women may feel?”

“Very well,” he said, laughing; “I am sorry to wound you. I did wrong—I
admit it.” He dropped into some little bitterness as he continued:
“Only you needn’t be so everlastingly flinging it in my face. I am
ready to pay to the uttermost farthing. You know you need not work in
the fields or the dairies again. You know you may clothe yourself with
the best, instead of in the bald plain way you have lately affected, as
if you couldn’t get a ribbon more than you earn.”

Her lip lifted slightly, though there was little scorn, as a rule, in
her large and impulsive nature.

“I have said I will not take anything more from you, and I will not—I
cannot! I _should_ be your creature to go on doing that, and I won’t!”

“One would think you were a princess from your manner, in addition to a
true and original d’Urberville—ha! ha! Well, Tess, dear, I can say no
more. I suppose I am a bad fellow—a damn bad fellow. I was born bad,
and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad in all probability. But, upon
my lost soul, I won’t be bad towards you again, Tess. And if certain
circumstances should arise—you understand—in which you are in the least
need, the least difficulty, send me one line, and you shall have by
return whatever you require. I may not be at Trantridge—I am going to
London for a time—I can’t stand the old woman. But all letters will be
forwarded.”

She said that she did not wish him to drive her further, and they
stopped just under the clump of trees. D’Urberville alighted, and
lifted her down bodily in his arms, afterwards placing her articles on
the ground beside her. She bowed to him slightly, her eye just
lingering in his; and then she turned to take the parcels for
departure.

Alec d’Urberville removed his cigar, bent towards her, and said—

“You are not going to turn away like that, dear! Come!”

“If you wish,” she answered indifferently. “See how you’ve mastered
me!”

She thereupon turned round and lifted her face to his, and remained
like a marble term while he imprinted a kiss upon her cheek—half
perfunctorily, half as if zest had not yet quite died out. Her eyes
vaguely rested upon the remotest trees in the lane while the kiss was
given, as though she were nearly unconscious of what he did.

“Now the other side, for old acquaintance’ sake.”

She turned her head in the same passive way, as one might turn at the
request of a sketcher or hairdresser, and he kissed the other side, his
lips touching cheeks that were damp and smoothly chill as the skin of
the mushrooms in the fields around.

“You don’t give me your mouth and kiss me back. You never willingly do
that—you’ll never love me, I fear.”

“I have said so, often. It is true. I have never really and truly loved
you, and I think I never can.” She added mournfully, “Perhaps, of all
things, a lie on this thing would do the most good to me now; but I
have honour enough left, little as ’tis, not to tell that lie. If I did
love you, I may have the best o’ causes for letting you know it. But I
don’t.”

He emitted a laboured breath, as if the scene were getting rather
oppressive to his heart, or to his conscience, or to his gentility.

“Well, you are absurdly melancholy, Tess. I have no reason for
flattering you now, and I can say plainly that you need not be so sad.
You can hold your own for beauty against any woman of these parts,
gentle or simple; I say it to you as a practical man and well-wisher.
If you are wise you will show it to the world more than you do before
it fades... And yet, Tess, will you come back to me! Upon my soul, I
don’t like to let you go like this!”

“Never, never! I made up my mind as soon as I saw—what I ought to have
seen sooner; and I won’t come.”

“Then good morning, my four months’ cousin—good-bye!”

He leapt up lightly, arranged the reins, and was gone between the tall
red-berried hedges.

Tess did not look after him, but slowly wound along the crooked lane.
It was still early, and though the sun’s lower limb was just free of
the hill, his rays, ungenial and peering, addressed the eye rather than
the touch as yet. There was not a human soul near. Sad October and her
sadder self seemed the only two existences haunting that lane.

As she walked, however, some footsteps approached behind her, the
footsteps of a man; and owing to the briskness of his advance he was
close at her heels and had said “Good morning” before she had been long
aware of his propinquity. He appeared to be an artisan of some sort,
and carried a tin pot of red paint in his hand. He asked in a
business-like manner if he should take her basket, which she permitted
him to do, walking beside him.

“It is early to be astir this Sabbath morn!” he said cheerfully.

“Yes,” said Tess.

“When most people are at rest from their week’s work.”

She also assented to this.

“Though I do more real work to-day than all the week besides.”

“Do you?”

“All the week I work for the glory of man, and on Sunday for the glory
of God. That’s more real than the other—hey? I have a little to do here
at this stile.” The man turned, as he spoke, to an opening at the
roadside leading into a pasture. “If you’ll wait a moment,” he added,
“I shall not be long.”

As he had her basket she could not well do otherwise; and she waited,
observing him. He set down her basket and the tin pot, and stirring the
paint with the brush that was in it began painting large square letters
on the middle board of the three composing the stile, placing a comma
after each word, as if to give pause while that word was driven well
home to the reader’s heart—

    THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH, NOT.
        2 Pet. ii. 3.

Against the peaceful landscape, the pale, decaying tints of the copses,
the blue air of the horizon, and the lichened stile-boards, these
staring vermilion words shone forth. They seemed to shout themselves
out and make the atmosphere ring. Some people might have cried “Alas,
poor Theology!” at the hideous defacement—the last grotesque phase of a
creed which had served mankind well in its time. But the words entered
Tess with accusatory horror. It was as if this man had known her recent
history; yet he was a total stranger.

Having finished his text he picked up her basket, and she mechanically
resumed her walk beside him.

“Do you believe what you paint?” she asked in low tones.

“Believe that tex? Do I believe in my own existence!”

“But,” said she tremulously, “suppose your sin was not of your own
seeking?”

He shook his head.

“I cannot split hairs on that burning query,” he said. “I have walked
hundreds of miles this past summer, painting these texes on every wall,
gate, and stile the length and breadth of this district. I leave their
application to the hearts of the people who read ’em.”

“I think they are horrible,” said Tess. “Crushing! Killing!”

“That’s what they are meant to be!” he replied in a trade voice. “But
you should read my hottest ones—them I kips for slums and seaports.
They’d make ye wriggle! Not but what this is a very good tex for rural
districts.... Ah—there’s a nice bit of blank wall up by that barn
standing to waste. I must put one there—one that it will be good for
dangerous young females like yerself to heed. Will ye wait, missy?”

“No,” said she; and taking her basket Tess trudged on. A little way
forward she turned her head. The old gray wall began to advertise a
similar fiery lettering to the first, with a strange and unwonted mien,
as if distressed at duties it had never before been called upon to
perform. It was with a sudden flush that she read and realized what was
to be the inscription he was now halfway through—

    THOU, SHALT, NOT, COMMIT—

Her cheerful friend saw her looking, stopped his brush, and shouted—

“If you want to ask for edification on these things of moment, there’s
a very earnest good man going to preach a charity-sermon to-day in the
parish you are going to—Mr Clare of Emminster. I’m not of his
persuasion now, but he’s a good man, and he’ll expound as well as any
parson I know. ’Twas he began the work in me.”

But Tess did not answer; she throbbingly resumed her walk, her eyes
fixed on the ground. “Pooh—I don’t believe God said such things!” she
murmured contemptuously when her flush had died away.

A plume of smoke soared up suddenly from her father’s chimney, the
sight of which made her heart ache. The aspect of the interior, when
she reached it, made her heart ache more. Her mother, who had just come
downstairs, turned to greet her from the fireplace, where she was
kindling barked-oak twigs under the breakfast kettle. The young
children were still above, as was also her father, it being Sunday
morning, when he felt justified in lying an additional half-hour.

“Well!—my dear Tess!” exclaimed her surprised mother, jumping up and
kissing the girl. “How be ye? I didn’t see you till you was in upon me!
Have you come home to be married?”

“No, I have not come for that, mother.”

“Then for a holiday?”

“Yes—for a holiday; for a long holiday,” said Tess.

“What, isn’t your cousin going to do the handsome thing?”

“He’s not my cousin, and he’s not going to marry me.”

Her mother eyed her narrowly.

“Come, you have not told me all,” she said.

Then Tess went up to her mother, put her face upon Joan’s neck, and
told.

“And yet th’st not got him to marry ’ee!” reiterated her mother. “Any
woman would have done it but you, after that!”

“Perhaps any woman would except me.”

“It would have been something like a story to come back with, if you
had!” continued Mrs Durbeyfield, ready to burst into tears of vexation.
“After all the talk about you and him which has reached us here, who
would have expected it to end like this! Why didn’t ye think of doing
some good for your family instead o’ thinking only of yourself? See how
I’ve got to teave and slave, and your poor weak father with his heart
clogged like a dripping-pan. I did hope for something to come out o’
this! To see what a pretty pair you and he made that day when you drove
away together four months ago! See what he has given us—all, as we
thought, because we were his kin. But if he’s not, it must have been
done because of his love for ’ee. And yet you’ve not got him to marry!”

Get Alec d’Urberville in the mind to marry her! He marry _her_! On
matrimony he had never once said a word. And what if he had? How a
convulsive snatching at social salvation might have impelled her to
answer him she could not say. But her poor foolish mother little knew
her present feeling towards this man. Perhaps it was unusual in the
circumstances, unlucky, unaccountable; but there it was; and this, as
she had said, was what made her detest herself. She had never wholly
cared for him; she did not at all care for him now. She had dreaded
him, winced before him, succumbed to adroit advantages he took of her
helplessness; then, temporarily blinded by his ardent manners, had been
stirred to confused surrender awhile: had suddenly despised and
disliked him, and had run away. That was all. Hate him she did not
quite; but he was dust and ashes to her, and even for her name’s sake
she scarcely wished to marry him.

“You ought to have been more careful if you didn’t mean to get him to
make you his wife!”

“O mother, my mother!” cried the agonized girl, turning passionately
upon her parent as if her poor heart would break. “How could I be
expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago.
Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you
warn me? Ladies know what to fend hands against, because they read
novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’
learning in that way, and you did not help me!”

Her mother was subdued.

“I thought if I spoke of his fond feelings and what they might lead to,
you would be hontish wi’ him and lose your chance,” she murmured,
wiping her eyes with her apron. “Well, we must make the best of it, I
suppose. ’Tis nater, after all, and what do please God!”


XIII

The event of Tess Durbeyfield’s return from the manor of her bogus
kinsfolk was rumoured abroad, if rumour be not too large a word for a
space of a square mile. In the afternoon several young girls of
Marlott, former schoolfellows and acquaintances of Tess, called to see
her, arriving dressed in their best starched and ironed, as became
visitors to a person who had made a transcendent conquest (as they
supposed), and sat round the room looking at her with great curiosity.
For the fact that it was this said thirty-first cousin, Mr
d’Urberville, who had fallen in love with her, a gentleman not
altogether local, whose reputation as a reckless gallant and
heartbreaker was beginning to spread beyond the immediate boundaries of
Trantridge, lent Tess’s supposed position, by its fearsomeness, a far
higher fascination that it would have exercised if unhazardous.

Their interest was so deep that the younger ones whispered when her
back was turned—

“How pretty she is; and how that best frock do set her off! I believe
it cost an immense deal, and that it was a gift from him.”

Tess, who was reaching up to get the tea-things from the
corner-cupboard, did not hear these commentaries. If she had heard
them, she might soon have set her friends right on the matter. But her
mother heard, and Joan’s simple vanity, having been denied the hope of
a dashing marriage, fed itself as well as it could upon the sensation
of a dashing flirtation. Upon the whole she felt gratified, even though
such a limited and evanescent triumph should involve her daughter’s
reputation; it might end in marriage yet, and in the warmth of her
responsiveness to their admiration she invited her visitors to stay to
tea.

Their chatter, their laughter, their good-humoured innuendoes, above
all, their flashes and flickerings of envy, revived Tess’s spirits
also; and, as the evening wore on, she caught the infection of their
excitement, and grew almost gay. The marble hardness left her face, she
moved with something of her old bounding step, and flushed in all her
young beauty.

At moments, in spite of thought, she would reply to their inquiries
with a manner of superiority, as if recognizing that her experiences in
the field of courtship had, indeed, been slightly enviable. But so far
was she from being, in the words of Robert South, “in love with her own
ruin,” that the illusion was transient as lightning; cold reason came
back to mock her spasmodic weakness; the ghastliness of her momentary
pride would convict her, and recall her to reserved listlessness again.

And the despondency of the next morning’s dawn, when it was no longer
Sunday, but Monday; and no best clothes; and the laughing visitors were
gone, and she awoke alone in her old bed, the innocent younger children
breathing softly around her. In place of the excitement of her return,
and the interest it had inspired, she saw before her a long and stony
highway which she had to tread, without aid, and with little sympathy.
Her depression was then terrible, and she could have hidden herself in
a tomb.

In the course of a few weeks Tess revived sufficiently to show herself
so far as was necessary to get to church one Sunday morning. She liked
to hear the chanting—such as it was—and the old Psalms, and to join in
the Morning Hymn. That innate love of melody, which she had inherited
from her ballad-singing mother, gave the simplest music a power over
her which could well-nigh drag her heart out of her bosom at times.

To be as much out of observation as possible for reasons of her own,
and to escape the gallantries of the young men, she set out before the
chiming began, and took a back seat under the gallery, close to the
lumber, where only old men and women came, and where the bier stood on
end among the churchyard tools.

Parishioners dropped in by twos and threes, deposited themselves in
rows before her, rested three-quarters of a minute on their foreheads
as if they were praying, though they were not; then sat up, and looked
around. When the chants came on, one of her favourites happened to be
chosen among the rest—the old double chant “Langdon”—but she did not
know what it was called, though she would much have liked to know. She
thought, without exactly wording the thought, how strange and god-like
was a composer’s power, who from the grave could lead through sequences
of emotion, which he alone had felt at first, a girl like her who had
never heard of his name, and never would have a clue to his
personality.

The people who had turned their heads turned them again as the service
proceeded; and at last observing her, they whispered to each other. She
knew what their whispers were about, grew sick at heart, and felt that
she could come to church no more.

The bedroom which she shared with some of the children formed her
retreat more continually than ever. Here, under her few square yards of
thatch, she watched winds, and snows, and rains, gorgeous sunsets, and
successive moons at their full. So close kept she that at length almost
everybody thought she had gone away.

The only exercise that Tess took at this time was after dark; and it
was then, when out in the woods, that she seemed least solitary. She
knew how to hit to a hair’s-breadth that moment of evening when the
light and the darkness are so evenly balanced that the constraint of
day and the suspense of night neutralize each other, leaving absolute
mental liberty. It is then that the plight of being alive becomes
attenuated to its least possible dimensions. She had no fear of the
shadows; her sole idea seemed to be to shun mankind—or rather that cold
accretion called the world, which, so terrible in the mass, is so
unformidable, even pitiable, in its units.

On these lonely hills and dales her quiescent glide was of a piece with
the element she moved in. Her flexuous and stealthy figure became an
integral part of the scene. At times her whimsical fancy would
intensify natural processes around her till they seemed a part of her
own story. Rather they became a part of it; for the world is only a
psychological phenomenon, and what they seemed they were. The midnight
airs and gusts, moaning amongst the tightly-wrapped buds and bark of
the winter twigs, were formulae of bitter reproach. A wet day was the
expression of irremediable grief at her weakness in the mind of some
vague ethical being whom she could not class definitely as the God of
her childhood, and could not comprehend as any other.

But this encompassment of her own characterization, based on shreds of
convention, peopled by phantoms and voices antipathetic to her, was a
sorry and mistaken creation of Tess’s fancy—a cloud of moral hobgoblins
by which she was terrified without reason. It was they that were out of
harmony with the actual world, not she. Walking among the sleeping
birds in the hedges, watching the skipping rabbits on a moonlit warren,
or standing under a pheasant-laden bough, she looked upon herself as a
figure of Guilt intruding into the haunts of Innocence. But all the
while she was making a distinction where there was no difference.
Feeling herself in antagonism, she was quite in accord. She had been
made to break an accepted social law, but no law known to the
environment in which she fancied herself such an anomaly.


XIV

It was a hazy sunrise in August. The denser nocturnal vapours, attacked
by the warm beams, were dividing and shrinking into isolated fleeces
within hollows and coverts, where they waited till they should be dried
away to nothing.

The sun, on account of the mist, had a curious sentient, personal look,
demanding the masculine pronoun for its adequate expression. His
present aspect, coupled with the lack of all human forms in the scene,
explained the old-time heliolatries in a moment. One could feel that a
saner religion had never prevailed under the sky. The luminary was a
golden-haired, beaming, mild-eyed, God-like creature, gazing down in
the vigour and intentness of youth upon an earth that was brimming with
interest for him.

His light, a little later, broke though chinks of cottage shutters,
throwing stripes like red-hot pokers upon cupboards, chests of drawers,
and other furniture within; and awakening harvesters who were not
already astir.

But of all ruddy things that morning the brightest were two broad arms
of painted wood, which rose from the margin of yellow cornfield hard by
Marlott village. They, with two others below, formed the revolving
Maltese cross of the reaping-machine, which had been brought to the
field on the previous evening to be ready for operations this day. The
paint with which they were smeared, intensified in hue by the sunlight,
imparted to them a look of having been dipped in liquid fire.

The field had already been “opened”; that is to say, a lane a few feet
wide had been hand-cut through the wheat along the whole circumference
of the field for the first passage of the horses and machine.

Two groups, one of men and lads, the other of women, had come down the
lane just at the hour when the shadows of the eastern hedge-top struck
the west hedge midway, so that the heads of the groups were enjoying
sunrise while their feet were still in the dawn. They disappeared from
the lane between the two stone posts which flanked the nearest
field-gate.

Presently there arose from within a ticking like the love-making of the
grasshopper. The machine had begun, and a moving concatenation of three
horses and the aforesaid long rickety machine was visible over the
gate, a driver sitting upon one of the hauling horses, and an attendant
on the seat of the implement. Along one side of the field the whole
wain went, the arms of the mechanical reaper revolving slowly, till it
passed down the hill quite out of sight. In a minute it came up on the
other side of the field at the same equable pace; the glistening brass
star in the forehead of the fore horse first catching the eye as it
rose into view over the stubble, then the bright arms, and then the
whole machine.

The narrow lane of stubble encompassing the field grew wider with each
circuit, and the standing corn was reduced to a smaller area as the
morning wore on. Rabbits, hares, snakes, rats, mice, retreated inwards
as into a fastness, unaware of the ephemeral nature of their refuge,
and of the doom that awaited them later in the day when, their covert
shrinking to a more and more horrible narrowness, they were huddled
together, friends and foes, till the last few yards of upright wheat
fell also under the teeth of the unerring reaper, and they were every
one put to death by the sticks and stones of the harvesters.

The reaping-machine left the fallen corn behind it in little heaps,
each heap being of the quantity for a sheaf; and upon these the active
binders in the rear laid their hands—mainly women, but some of them men
in print shirts, and trousers supported round their waists by leather
straps, rendering useless the two buttons behind, which twinkled and
bristled with sunbeams at every movement of each wearer, as if they
were a pair of eyes in the small of his back.

But those of the other sex were the most interesting of this company of
binders, by reason of the charm which is acquired by woman when she
becomes part and parcel of outdoor nature, and is not merely an object
set down therein as at ordinary times. A field-man is a personality
afield; a field-woman is a portion of the field; she had somehow lost
her own margin, imbibed the essence of her surrounding, and assimilated
herself with it.

The women—or rather girls, for they were mostly young—wore drawn cotton
bonnets with great flapping curtains to keep off the sun, and gloves to
prevent their hands being wounded by the stubble. There was one wearing
a pale pink jacket, another in a cream-coloured tight-sleeved gown,
another in a petticoat as red as the arms of the reaping-machine; and
others, older, in the brown-rough “wropper” or over-all—the
old-established and most appropriate dress of the field-woman, which
the young ones were abandoning. This morning the eye returns
involuntarily to the girl in the pink cotton jacket, she being the most
flexuous and finely-drawn figure of them all. But her bonnet is pulled
so far over her brow that none of her face is disclosed while she
binds, though her complexion may be guessed from a stray twine or two
of dark brown hair which extends below the curtain of her bonnet.
Perhaps one reason why she seduces casual attention is that she never
courts it, though the other women often gaze around them.

Her binding proceeds with clock-like monotony. From the sheaf last
finished she draws a handful of ears, patting their tips with her left
palm to bring them even. Then, stooping low, she moves forward,
gathering the corn with both hands against her knees, and pushing her
left gloved hand under the bundle to meet the right on the other side,
holding the corn in an embrace like that of a lover. She brings the
ends of the bond together, and kneels on the sheaf while she ties it,
beating back her skirts now and then when lifted by the breeze. A bit
of her naked arm is visible between the buff leather of the gauntlet
and the sleeve of her gown; and as the day wears on its feminine
smoothness becomes scarified by the stubble and bleeds.

At intervals she stands up to rest, and to retie her disarranged apron,
or to pull her bonnet straight. Then one can see the oval face of a
handsome young woman with deep dark eyes and long heavy clinging
tresses, which seem to clasp in a beseeching way anything they fall
against. The cheeks are paler, the teeth more regular, the red lips
thinner than is usual in a country-bred girl.

It is Tess Durbeyfield, otherwise d’Urberville, somewhat changed—the
same, but not the same; at the present stage of her existence living as
a stranger and an alien here, though it was no strange land that she
was in. After a long seclusion she had come to a resolve to undertake
outdoor work in her native village, the busiest season of the year in
the agricultural world having arrived, and nothing that she could do
within the house being so remunerative for the time as harvesting in
the fields.

The movements of the other women were more or less similar to Tess’s,
the whole bevy of them drawing together like dancers in a quadrille at
the completion of a sheaf by each, every one placing her sheaf on end
against those of the rest, till a shock, or “stitch” as it was here
called, of ten or a dozen was formed.

They went to breakfast, and came again, and the work proceeded as
before. As the hour of eleven drew near a person watching her might
have noticed that every now and then Tess’s glance flitted wistfully to
the brow of the hill, though she did not pause in her sheafing. On the
verge of the hour the heads of a group of children, of ages ranging
from six to fourteen, rose over the stubbly convexity of the hill.

The face of Tess flushed slightly, but still she did not pause.

The eldest of the comers, a girl who wore a triangular shawl, its
corner draggling on the stubble, carried in her arms what at first
sight seemed to be a doll, but proved to be an infant in long clothes.
Another brought some lunch. The harvesters ceased working, took their
provisions, and sat down against one of the shocks. Here they fell to,
the men plying a stone jar freely, and passing round a cup.

Tess Durbeyfield had been one of the last to suspend her labours. She
sat down at the end of the shock, her face turned somewhat away from
her companions. When she had deposited herself a man in a rabbit-skin
cap, and with a red handkerchief tucked into his belt, held the cup of
ale over the top of the shock for her to drink. But she did not accept
his offer. As soon as her lunch was spread she called up the big girl,
her sister, and took the baby of her, who, glad to be relieved of the
burden, went away to the next shock and joined the other children
playing there. Tess, with a curiously stealthy yet courageous movement,
and with a still rising colour, unfastened her frock and began suckling
the child.

The men who sat nearest considerately turned their faces towards the
other end of the field, some of them beginning to smoke; one, with
absent-minded fondness, regretfully stroking the jar that would no
longer yield a stream. All the women but Tess fell into animated talk,
and adjusted the disarranged knots of their hair.

When the infant had taken its fill, the young mother sat it upright in
her lap, and looking into the far distance, dandled it with a gloomy
indifference that was almost dislike; then all of a sudden she fell to
violently kissing it some dozens of times, as if she could never leave
off, the child crying at the vehemence of an onset which strangely
combined passionateness with contempt.

“She’s fond of that there child, though she mid pretend to hate en, and
say she wishes the baby and her too were in the churchyard,” observed
the woman in the red petticoat.

“She’ll soon leave off saying that,” replied the one in buff. “Lord,
’tis wonderful what a body can get used to o’ that sort in time!”

“A little more than persuading had to do wi’ the coming o’t, I reckon.
There were they that heard a sobbing one night last year in The Chase;
and it mid ha’ gone hard wi’ a certain party if folks had come along.”

“Well, a little more, or a little less, ’twas a thousand pities that it
should have happened to she, of all others. But ’tis always the
comeliest! The plain ones be as safe as churches—hey, Jenny?” The
speaker turned to one of the group who certainly was not ill-defined as
plain.

It was a thousand pities, indeed; it was impossible for even an enemy
to feel otherwise on looking at Tess as she sat there, with her
flower-like mouth and large tender eyes, neither black nor blue nor
grey nor violet; rather all those shades together, and a hundred
others, which could be seen if one looked into their irises—shade
behind shade—tint beyond tint—around pupils that had no bottom; an
almost standard woman, but for the slight incautiousness of character
inherited from her race.

A resolution which had surprised herself had brought her into the
fields this week for the first time during many months. After wearing
and wasting her palpitating heart with every engine of regret that
lonely inexperience could devise, common sense had illuminated her. She
felt that she would do well to be useful again—to taste anew sweet
independence at any price. The past was past; whatever it had been, it
was no more at hand. Whatever its consequences, time would close over
them; they would all in a few years be as if they had never been, and
she herself grassed down and forgotten. Meanwhile the trees were just
as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as
ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief,
nor sickened because of her pain.

She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly—the
thought of the world’s concern at her situation—was founded on an
illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a
structure of sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind
besides, Tess was only a passing thought. Even to friends she was no
more than a frequently passing thought. If she made herself miserable
the livelong night and day it was only this much to them—“Ah, she makes
herself unhappy.” If she tried to be cheerful, to dismiss all care, to
take pleasure in the daylight, the flowers, the baby, she could only be
this idea to them—“Ah, she bears it very well.” Moreover, alone in a
desert island would she have been wretched at what had happened to her?
Not greatly. If she could have been but just created, to discover
herself as a spouseless mother, with no experience of life except as
the parent of a nameless child, would the position have caused her to
despair? No, she would have taken it calmly, and found pleasure
therein. Most of the misery had been generated by her conventional
aspect, and not by her innate sensations.

Whatever Tess’s reasoning, some spirit had induced her to dress herself
up neatly as she had formerly done, and come out into the fields,
harvest-hands being greatly in demand just then. This was why she had
borne herself with dignity, and had looked people calmly in the face at
times, even when holding the baby in her arms.

The harvest-men rose from the shock of corn, and stretched their limbs,
and extinguished their pipes. The horses, which had been unharnessed
and fed, were again attached to the scarlet machine. Tess, having
quickly eaten her own meal, beckoned to her eldest sister to come and
take away the baby, fastened her dress, put on the buff gloves again,
and stooped anew to draw a bond from the last completed sheaf for the
tying of the next.

In the afternoon and evening the proceedings of the morning were
continued, Tess staying on till dusk with the body of harvesters. Then
they all rode home in one of the largest wagons, in the company of a
broad tarnished moon that had risen from the ground to the eastwards,
its face resembling the outworn gold-leaf halo of some worm-eaten
Tuscan saint. Tess’s female companions sang songs, and showed
themselves very sympathetic and glad at her reappearance out of doors,
though they could not refrain from mischievously throwing in a few
verses of the ballad about the maid who went to the merry green wood
and came back a changed state. There are counterpoises and
compensations in life; and the event which had made of her a social
warning had also for the moment made her the most interesting personage
in the village to many. Their friendliness won her still farther away
from herself, their lively spirits were contagious, and she became
almost gay.

But now that her moral sorrows were passing away a fresh one arose on
the natural side of her which knew no social law. When she reached home
it was to learn to her grief that the baby had been suddenly taken ill
since the afternoon. Some such collapse had been probable, so tender
and puny was its frame; but the event came as a shock nevertheless.

The baby’s offence against society in coming into the world was
forgotten by the girl-mother; her soul’s desire was to continue that
offence by preserving the life of the child. However, it soon grew
clear that the hour of emancipation for that little prisoner of the
flesh was to arrive earlier than her worst misgiving had conjectured.
And when she had discovered this she was plunged into a misery which
transcended that of the child’s simple loss. Her baby had not been
baptized.

Tess had drifted into a frame of mind which accepted passively the
consideration that if she should have to burn for what she had done,
burn she must, and there was an end of it. Like all village girls, she
was well grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and had dutifully studied the
histories of Aholah and Aholibah, and knew the inferences to be drawn
therefrom. But when the same question arose with regard to the baby, it
had a very different colour. Her darling was about to die, and no
salvation.

It was nearly bedtime, but she rushed downstairs and asked if she might
send for the parson. The moment happened to be one at which her
father’s sense of the antique nobility of his family was highest, and
his sensitiveness to the smudge which Tess had set upon that nobility
most pronounced, for he had just returned from his weekly booze at
Rolliver’s Inn. No parson should come inside his door, he declared,
prying into his affairs, just then, when, by her shame, it had become
more necessary than ever to hide them. He locked the door and put the
key in his pocket.

The household went to bed, and, distressed beyond measure, Tess retired
also. She was continually waking as she lay, and in the middle of the
night found that the baby was still worse. It was obviously
dying—quietly and painlessly, but none the less surely.

In her misery she rocked herself upon the bed. The clock struck the
solemn hour of one, that hour when fancy stalks outside reason, and
malignant possibilities stand rock-firm as facts. She thought of the
child consigned to the nethermost corner of hell, as its double doom
for lack of baptism and lack of legitimacy; saw the arch-fiend tossing
it with his three-pronged fork, like the one they used for heating the
oven on baking days; to which picture she added many other quaint and
curious details of torment sometimes taught the young in this Christian
country. The lurid presentment so powerfully affected her imagination
in the silence of the sleeping house that her nightgown became damp
with perspiration, and the bedstead shook with each throb of her heart.

The infant’s breathing grew more difficult, and the mother’s mental
tension increased. It was useless to devour the little thing with
kisses; she could stay in bed no longer, and walked feverishly about
the room.

“O merciful God, have pity; have pity upon my poor baby!” she cried.
“Heap as much anger as you want to upon me, and welcome; but pity the
child!”

She leant against the chest of drawers, and murmured incoherent
supplications for a long while, till she suddenly started up.

“Ah! perhaps baby can be saved! Perhaps it will be just the same!”

She spoke so brightly that it seemed as though her face might have
shone in the gloom surrounding her. She lit a candle, and went to a
second and a third bed under the wall, where she awoke her young
sisters and brothers, all of whom occupied the same room. Pulling out
the washing-stand so that she could get behind it, she poured some
water from a jug, and made them kneel around, putting their hands
together with fingers exactly vertical. While the children, scarcely
awake, awe-stricken at her manner, their eyes growing larger and
larger, remained in this position, she took the baby from her bed—a
child’s child—so immature as scarce to seem a sufficient personality to
endow its producer with the maternal title. Tess then stood erect with
the infant on her arm beside the basin; the next sister held the
Prayer-Book open before her, as the clerk at church held it before the
parson; and thus the girl set about baptizing her child.

Her figure looked singularly tall and imposing as she stood in her long
white nightgown, a thick cable of twisted dark hair hanging straight
down her back to her waist. The kindly dimness of the weak candle
abstracted from her form and features the little blemishes which
sunlight might have revealed—the stubble scratches upon her wrists, and
the weariness of her eyes—her high enthusiasm having a transfiguring
effect upon the face which had been her undoing, showing it as a thing
of immaculate beauty, with a touch of dignity which was almost regal.
The little ones kneeling round, their sleepy eyes blinking and red,
awaited her preparations full of a suspended wonder which their
physical heaviness at that hour would not allow to become active.

The most impressed of them said:

“Be you really going to christen him, Tess?”

The girl-mother replied in a grave affirmative.

“What’s his name going to be?”

She had not thought of that, but a name suggested by a phrase in the
book of Genesis came into her head as she proceeded with the baptismal
service, and now she pronounced it:

“SORROW, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and
of the Holy Ghost.”

She sprinkled the water, and there was silence.

“Say ‘Amen,’ children.”

The tiny voices piped in obedient response, “Amen!”

Tess went on:

“We receive this child”—and so forth—“and do sign him with the sign of
the Cross.”

Here she dipped her hand into the basin, and fervently drew an immense
cross upon the baby with her forefinger, continuing with the customary
sentences as to his manfully fighting against sin, the world, and the
devil, and being a faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.
She duly went on with the Lord’s Prayer, the children lisping it after
her in a thin gnat-like wail, till, at the conclusion, raising their
voices to clerk’s pitch, they again piped into silence, “Amen!”

Then their sister, with much augmented confidence in the efficacy of
the sacrament, poured forth from the bottom of her heart the
thanksgiving that follows, uttering it boldly and triumphantly in the
stopt-diapason note which her voice acquired when her heart was in her
speech, and which will never be forgotten by those who knew her. The
ecstasy of faith almost apotheosized her; it set upon her face a
glowing irradiation, and brought a red spot into the middle of each
cheek; while the miniature candle-flame inverted in her eye-pupils
shone like a diamond. The children gazed up at her with more and more
reverence, and no longer had a will for questioning. She did not look
like Sissy to them now, but as a being large, towering, and awful—a
divine personage with whom they had nothing in common.

Poor Sorrow’s campaign against sin, the world, and the devil was doomed
to be of limited brilliancy—luckily perhaps for himself, considering
his beginnings. In the blue of the morning that fragile soldier and
servant breathed his last, and when the other children awoke they cried
bitterly, and begged Sissy to have another pretty baby.

The calmness which had possessed Tess since the christening remained
with her in the infant’s loss. In the daylight, indeed, she felt her
terrors about his soul to have been somewhat exaggerated; whether well
founded or not, she had no uneasiness now, reasoning that if Providence
would not ratify such an act of approximation she, for one, did not
value the kind of heaven lost by the irregularity—either for herself or
for her child.

So passed away Sorrow the Undesired—that intrusive creature, that
bastard gift of shameless Nature, who respects not the social law; a
waif to whom eternal Time had been a matter of days merely, who knew
not that such things as years and centuries ever were; to whom the
cottage interior was the universe, the week’s weather climate, new-born
babyhood human existence, and the instinct to suck human knowledge.

Tess, who mused on the christening a good deal, wondered if it were
doctrinally sufficient to secure a Christian burial for the child.
Nobody could tell this but the parson of the parish, and he was a
new-comer, and did not know her. She went to his house after dusk, and
stood by the gate, but could not summon courage to go in. The
enterprise would have been abandoned if she had not by accident met him
coming homeward as she turned away. In the gloom she did not mind
speaking freely.

“I should like to ask you something, sir.”

He expressed his willingness to listen, and she told the story of the
baby’s illness and the extemporized ordinance. “And now, sir,” she
added earnestly, “can you tell me this—will it be just the same for him
as if you had baptized him?”

Having the natural feelings of a tradesman at finding that a job he
should have been called in for had been unskilfully botched by his
customers among themselves, he was disposed to say no. Yet the dignity
of the girl, the strange tenderness in her voice, combined to affect
his nobler impulses—or rather those that he had left in him after ten
years of endeavour to graft technical belief on actual scepticism. The
man and the ecclesiastic fought within him, and the victory fell to the
man.

“My dear girl,” he said, “it will be just the same.”

“Then will you give him a Christian burial?” she asked quickly.

The Vicar felt himself cornered. Hearing of the baby’s illness, he had
conscientiously gone to the house after nightfall to perform the rite,
and, unaware that the refusal to admit him had come from Tess’s father
and not from Tess, he could not allow the plea of necessity for its
irregular administration.

“Ah—that’s another matter,” he said.

“Another matter—why?” asked Tess, rather warmly.

“Well—I would willingly do so if only we two were concerned. But I must
not—for certain reasons.”

“Just for once, sir!”

“Really I must not.”

“O sir!” She seized his hand as she spoke.

He withdrew it, shaking his head.

“Then I don’t like you!” she burst out, “and I’ll never come to your
church no more!”

“Don’t talk so rashly.”

“Perhaps it will be just the same to him if you don’t?... Will it be
just the same? Don’t for God’s sake speak as saint to sinner, but as
you yourself to me myself—poor me!”

How the Vicar reconciled his answer with the strict notions he supposed
himself to hold on these subjects it is beyond a layman’s power to
tell, though not to excuse. Somewhat moved, he said in this case also—

“It will be just the same.”

So the baby was carried in a small deal box, under an ancient woman’s
shawl, to the churchyard that night, and buried by lantern-light, at
the cost of a shilling and a pint of beer to the sexton, in that shabby
corner of God’s allotment where He lets the nettles grow, and where all
unbaptized infants, notorious drunkards, suicides, and others of the
conjecturally damned are laid. In spite of the untoward surroundings,
however, Tess bravely made a little cross of two laths and a piece of
string, and having bound it with flowers, she stuck it up at the head
of the grave one evening when she could enter the churchyard without
being seen, putting at the foot also a bunch of the same flowers in a
little jar of water to keep them alive. What matter was it that on the
outside of the jar the eye of mere observation noted the words
“Keelwell’s Marmalade”? The eye of maternal affection did not see them
in its vision of higher things.


XV

“By experience,” says Roger Ascham, “we find out a short way by a long
wandering.” Not seldom that long wandering unfits us for further
travel, and of what use is our experience to us then? Tess
Durbeyfield’s experience was of this incapacitating kind. At last she
had learned what to do; but who would now accept her doing?

If before going to the d’Urbervilles’ she had vigorously moved under
the guidance of sundry gnomic texts and phrases known to her and to the
world in general, no doubt she would never have been imposed on. But it
had not been in Tess’s power—nor is it in anybody’s power—to feel the
whole truth of golden opinions while it is possible to profit by them.
She—and how many more—might have ironically said to God with Saint
Augustine: “Thou hast counselled a better course than Thou hast
permitted.”

She remained at her father’s house during the winter months, plucking
fowls, or cramming turkeys and geese, or making clothes for her sisters
and brothers out of some finery which d’Urberville had given her, and
she had put by with contempt. Apply to him she would not. But she would
often clasp her hands behind her head and muse when she was supposed to
be working hard.

She philosophically noted dates as they came past in the revolution of
the year; the disastrous night of her undoing at Trantridge with its
dark background of The Chase; also the dates of the baby’s birth and
death; also her own birthday; and every other day individualized by
incidents in which she had taken some share. She suddenly thought one
afternoon, when looking in the glass at her fairness, that there was
yet another date, of greater importance to her than those; that of her
own death, when all these charms would have disappeared; a day which
lay sly and unseen among all the other days of the year, giving no sign
or sound when she annually passed over it; but not the less surely
there. When was it? Why did she not feel the chill of each yearly
encounter with such a cold relation? She had Jeremy Taylor’s thought
that some time in the future those who had known her would say: “It is
the ——th, the day that poor Tess Durbeyfield died”; and there would be
nothing singular to their minds in the statement. Of that day, doomed
to be her terminus in time through all the ages, she did not know the
place in month, week, season or year.

Almost at a leap Tess thus changed from simple girl to complex woman.
Symbols of reflectiveness passed into her face, and a note of tragedy
at times into her voice. Her eyes grew larger and more eloquent. She
became what would have been called a fine creature; her aspect was fair
and arresting; her soul that of a woman whom the turbulent experiences
of the last year or two had quite failed to demoralize. But for the
world’s opinion those experiences would have been simply a liberal
education.

She had held so aloof of late that her trouble, never generally known,
was nearly forgotten in Marlott. But it became evident to her that she
could never be really comfortable again in a place which had seen the
collapse of her family’s attempt to “claim kin”—and, through her, even
closer union—with the rich d’Urbervilles. At least she could not be
comfortable there till long years should have obliterated her keen
consciousness of it. Yet even now Tess felt the pulse of hopeful life
still warm within her; she might be happy in some nook which had no
memories. To escape the past and all that appertained thereto was to
annihilate it, and to do that she would have to get away.

Was once lost always lost really true of chastity? she would ask
herself. She might prove it false if she could veil bygones. The
recuperative power which pervaded organic nature was surely not denied
to maidenhood alone.

She waited a long time without finding opportunity for a new departure.
A particularly fine spring came round, and the stir of germination was
almost audible in the buds; it moved her, as it moved the wild animals,
and made her passionate to go. At last, one day in early May, a letter
reached her from a former friend of her mother’s, to whom she had
addressed inquiries long before—a person whom she had never seen—that a
skilful milkmaid was required at a dairy-house many miles to the
southward, and that the dairyman would be glad to have her for the
summer months.

It was not quite so far off as could have been wished; but it was
probably far enough, her radius of movement and repute having been so
small. To persons of limited spheres, miles are as geographical
degrees, parishes as counties, counties as provinces and kingdoms.

On one point she was resolved: there should be no more d’Urberville
air-castles in the dreams and deeds of her new life. She would be the
dairymaid Tess, and nothing more. Her mother knew Tess’s feeling on
this point so well, though no words had passed between them on the
subject, that she never alluded to the knightly ancestry now.

Yet such is human inconsistency that one of the interests of the new
place to her was the accidental virtues of its lying near her
forefathers’ country (for they were not Blakemore men, though her
mother was Blakemore to the bone). The dairy called Talbothays, for
which she was bound, stood not remotely from some of the former estates
of the d’Urbervilles, near the great family vaults of her granddames
and their powerful husbands. She would be able to look at them, and
think not only that d’Urberville, like Babylon, had fallen, but that
the individual innocence of a humble descendant could lapse as
silently. All the while she wondered if any strange good thing might
come of her being in her ancestral land; and some spirit within her
rose automatically as the sap in the twigs. It was unexpected youth,
surging up anew after its temporary check, and bringing with it hope,
and the invincible instinct towards self-delight.


End of Phase the Second


Phase the Third:

The Rally


XVI

On a thyme-scented, bird-hatching morning in May, between two and three
years after the return from Trantridge—silent, reconstructive years for
Tess Durbeyfield—she left her home for the second time.

Having packed up her luggage so that it could be sent to her later, she
started in a hired trap for the little town of Stourcastle, through
which it was necessary to pass on her journey, now in a direction
almost opposite to that of her first adventuring. On the curve of the
nearest hill she looked back regretfully at Marlott and her father’s
house, although she had been so anxious to get away.

Her kindred dwelling there would probably continue their daily lives as
heretofore, with no great diminution of pleasure in their
consciousness, although she would be far off, and they deprived of her
smile. In a few days the children would engage in their games as
merrily as ever, without the sense of any gap left by her departure.
This leaving of the younger children she had decided to be for the
best; were she to remain they would probably gain less good by her
precepts than harm by her example.

She went through Stourcastle without pausing and onward to a junction
of highways, where she could await a carrier’s van that ran to the
south-west; for the railways which engirdled this interior tract of
country had never yet struck across it. While waiting, however, there
came along a farmer in his spring cart, driving approximately in the
direction that she wished to pursue. Though he was a stranger to her
she accepted his offer of a seat beside him, ignoring that its motive
was a mere tribute to her countenance. He was going to Weatherbury, and
by accompanying him thither she could walk the remainder of the
distance instead of travelling in the van by way of Casterbridge.

Tess did not stop at Weatherbury, after this long drive, further than
to make a slight nondescript meal at noon at a cottage to which the
farmer recommended her. Thence she started on foot, basket in hand, to
reach the wide upland of heath dividing this district from the
low-lying meads of a further valley in which the dairy stood that was
the aim and end of her day’s pilgrimage.

Tess had never before visited this part of the country, and yet she
felt akin to the landscape. Not so very far to the left of her she
could discern a dark patch in the scenery, which inquiry confirmed her
in supposing to be trees marking the environs of Kingsbere—in the
church of which parish the bones of her ancestors—her useless
ancestors—lay entombed.

She had no admiration for them now; she almost hated them for the dance
they had led her; not a thing of all that had been theirs did she
retain but the old seal and spoon. “Pooh—I have as much of mother as
father in me!” she said. “All my prettiness comes from her, and she was
only a dairymaid.”

The journey over the intervening uplands and lowlands of Egdon, when
she reached them, was a more troublesome walk than she had anticipated,
the distance being actually but a few miles. It was two hours, owing to
sundry wrong turnings, ere she found herself on a summit commanding the
long-sought-for vale, the Valley of the Great Dairies, the valley in
which milk and butter grew to rankness, and were produced more
profusely, if less delicately, than at her home—the verdant plain so
well watered by the river Var or Froom.

It was intrinsically different from the Vale of Little Dairies,
Blackmoor Vale, which, save during her disastrous sojourn at
Trantridge, she had exclusively known till now. The world was drawn to
a larger pattern here. The enclosures numbered fifty acres instead of
ten, the farmsteads were more extended, the groups of cattle formed
tribes hereabout; there only families. These myriads of cows stretching
under her eyes from the far east to the far west outnumbered any she
had ever seen at one glance before. The green lea was speckled as
thickly with them as a canvas by Van Alsloot or Sallaert with burghers.
The ripe hue of the red and dun kine absorbed the evening sunlight,
which the white-coated animals returned to the eye in rays almost
dazzling, even at the distant elevation on which she stood.

The bird’s-eye perspective before her was not so luxuriantly beautiful,
perhaps, as that other one which she knew so well; yet it was more
cheering. It lacked the intensely blue atmosphere of the rival vale,
and its heavy soils and scents; the new air was clear, bracing,
ethereal. The river itself, which nourished the grass and cows of these
renowned dairies, flowed not like the streams in Blackmoor. Those were
slow, silent, often turbid; flowing over beds of mud into which the
incautious wader might sink and vanish unawares. The Froom waters were
clear as the pure River of Life shown to the Evangelist, rapid as the
shadow of a cloud, with pebbly shallows that prattled to the sky all
day long. There the water-flower was the lily; the crow-foot here.

Either the change in the quality of the air from heavy to light, or the
sense of being amid new scenes where there were no invidious eyes upon
her, sent up her spirits wonderfully. Her hopes mingled with the
sunshine in an ideal photosphere which surrounded her as she bounded
along against the soft south wind. She heard a pleasant voice in every
breeze, and in every bird’s note seemed to lurk a joy.

Her face had latterly changed with changing states of mind, continually
fluctuating between beauty and ordinariness, according as the thoughts
were gay or grave. One day she was pink and flawless; another pale and
tragical. When she was pink she was feeling less than when pale; her
more perfect beauty accorded with her less elevated mood; her more
intense mood with her less perfect beauty. It was her best face
physically that was now set against the south wind.

The irresistible, universal, automatic tendency to find sweet pleasure
somewhere, which pervades all life, from the meanest to the highest,
had at length mastered Tess. Being even now only a young woman of
twenty, one who mentally and sentimentally had not finished growing, it
was impossible that any event should have left upon her an impression
that was not in time capable of transmutation.

And thus her spirits, and her thankfulness, and her hopes, rose higher
and higher. She tried several ballads, but found them inadequate; till,
recollecting the psalter that her eyes had so often wandered over of a
Sunday morning before she had eaten of the tree of knowledge, she
chanted: “O ye Sun and Moon ... O ye Stars ... ye Green Things upon the
Earth ... ye Fowls of the Air ... Beasts and Cattle ... Children of Men
... bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him forever!”

She suddenly stopped and murmured: “But perhaps I don’t quite know the
Lord as yet.”

And probably the half-unconscious rhapsody was a Fetishistic utterance
in a Monotheistic setting; women whose chief companions are the forms
and forces of outdoor Nature retain in their souls far more of the
Pagan fantasy of their remote forefathers than of the systematized
religion taught their race at later date. However, Tess found at least
approximate expression for her feelings in the old _Benedicite_ that
she had lisped from infancy; and it was enough. Such high contentment
with such a slight initial performance as that of having started
towards a means of independent living was a part of the Durbeyfield
temperament. Tess really wished to walk uprightly, while her father did
nothing of the kind; but she resembled him in being content with
immediate and small achievements, and in having no mind for laborious
effort towards such petty social advancement as could alone be effected
by a family so heavily handicapped as the once powerful d’Urbervilles
were now.

There was, it might be said, the energy of her mother’s unexpended
family, as well as the natural energy of Tess’s years, rekindled after
the experience which had so overwhelmed her for the time. Let the truth
be told—women do as a rule live through such humiliations, and regain
their spirits, and again look about them with an interested eye. While
there’s life there’s hope is a conviction not so entirely unknown to
the “betrayed” as some amiable theorists would have us believe.

Tess Durbeyfield, then, in good heart, and full of zest for life,
descended the Egdon slopes lower and lower towards the dairy of her
pilgrimage.

The marked difference, in the final particular, between the rival vales
now showed itself. The secret of Blackmoor was best discovered from the
heights around; to read aright the valley before her it was necessary
to descend into its midst. When Tess had accomplished this feat she
found herself to be standing on a carpeted level, which stretched to
the east and west as far as the eye could reach.

The river had stolen from the higher tracts and brought in particles to
the vale all this horizontal land; and now, exhausted, aged, and
attenuated, lay serpentining along through the midst of its former
spoils.

Not quite sure of her direction, Tess stood still upon the hemmed
expanse of verdant flatness, like a fly on a billiard-table of
indefinite length, and of no more consequence to the surroundings than
that fly. The sole effect of her presence upon the placid valley so far
had been to excite the mind of a solitary heron, which, after
descending to the ground not far from her path, stood with neck erect,
looking at her.

Suddenly there arose from all parts of the lowland a prolonged and
repeated call—“Waow! waow! waow!”

From the furthest east to the furthest west the cries spread as if by
contagion, accompanied in some cases by the barking of a dog. It was
not the expression of the valley’s consciousness that beautiful Tess
had arrived, but the ordinary announcement of milking-time—half-past
four o’clock, when the dairymen set about getting in the cows.

The red and white herd nearest at hand, which had been phlegmatically
waiting for the call, now trooped towards the steading in the
background, their great bags of milk swinging under them as they
walked. Tess followed slowly in their rear, and entered the barton by
the open gate through which they had entered before her. Long thatched
sheds stretched round the enclosure, their slopes encrusted with vivid
green moss, and their eaves supported by wooden posts rubbed to a
glossy smoothness by the flanks of infinite cows and calves of bygone
years, now passed to an oblivion almost inconceivable in its
profundity. Between the post were ranged the milchers, each exhibiting
herself at the present moment to a whimsical eye in the rear as a
circle on two stalks, down the centre of which a switch moved
pendulum-wise; while the sun, lowering itself behind this patient row,
threw their shadows accurately inwards upon the wall. Thus it threw
shadows of these obscure and homely figures every evening with as much
care over each contour as if it had been the profile of a court beauty
on a palace wall; copied them as diligently as it had copied Olympian
shapes on marble _façades_ long ago, or the outline of Alexander,
Caesar, and the Pharaohs.

They were the less restful cows that were stalled. Those that would
stand still of their own will were milked in the middle of the yard,
where many of such better behaved ones stood waiting now—all prime
milchers, such as were seldom seen out of this valley, and not always
within it; nourished by the succulent feed which the water-meads
supplied at this prime season of the year. Those of them that were
spotted with white reflected the sunshine in dazzling brilliancy, and
the polished brass knobs of their horns glittered with something of
military display. Their large-veined udders hung ponderous as sandbags,
the teats sticking out like the legs of a gipsy’s crock; and as each
animal lingered for her turn to arrive the milk oozed forth and fell in
drops to the ground.


XVII

The dairymaids and men had flocked down from their cottages and out of
the dairy-house with the arrival of the cows from the meads; the maids
walking in pattens, not on account of the weather, but to keep their
shoes above the mulch of the barton. Each girl sat down on her
three-legged stool, her face sideways, her right cheek resting against
the cow, and looked musingly along the animal’s flank at Tess as she
approached. The male milkers, with hat-brims turned down, resting flat
on their foreheads and gazing on the ground, did not observe her.

One of these was a sturdy middle-aged man—whose long white “pinner” was
somewhat finer and cleaner than the wraps of the others, and whose
jacket underneath had a presentable marketing aspect—the
master-dairyman, of whom she was in quest, his double character as a
working milker and butter maker here during six days, and on the
seventh as a man in shining broad-cloth in his family pew at church,
being so marked as to have inspired a rhyme:

    Dairyman Dick
    All the week:
    On Sundays Mister Richard Crick.

Seeing Tess standing at gaze he went across to her.

The majority of dairymen have a cross manner at milking time, but it
happened that Mr Crick was glad to get a new hand—for the days were
busy ones now—and he received her warmly; inquiring for her mother and
the rest of the family—(though this as a matter of form merely, for in
reality he had not been aware of Mrs Durbeyfield’s existence till
apprised of the fact by a brief business-letter about Tess).

“Oh—ay, as a lad I knowed your part o’ the country very well,” he said
terminatively. “Though I’ve never been there since. And a aged woman of
ninety that use to live nigh here, but is dead and gone long ago, told
me that a family of some such name as yours in Blackmoor Vale came
originally from these parts, and that ’twere a old ancient race that
had all but perished off the earth—though the new generations didn’t
know it. But, Lord, I took no notice of the old woman’s ramblings, not
I.”

“Oh no—it is nothing,” said Tess.

Then the talk was of business only.

“You can milk ’em clean, my maidy? I don’t want my cows going azew at
this time o’ year.”

She reassured him on that point, and he surveyed her up and down. She
had been staying indoors a good deal, and her complexion had grown
delicate.

“Quite sure you can stand it? ’Tis comfortable enough here for rough
folk; but we don’t live in a cowcumber frame.”

She declared that she could stand it, and her zest and willingness
seemed to win him over.

“Well, I suppose you’ll want a dish o’ tay, or victuals of some sort,
hey? Not yet? Well, do as ye like about it. But faith, if ’twas I, I
should be as dry as a kex wi’ travelling so far.”

“I’ll begin milking now, to get my hand in,” said Tess.

She drank a little milk as temporary refreshment—to the
surprise—indeed, slight contempt—of Dairyman Crick, to whose mind it
had apparently never occurred that milk was good as a beverage.

“Oh, if ye can swaller that, be it so,” he said indifferently, while
holding up the pail that she sipped from. “’Tis what I hain’t touched
for years—not I. Rot the stuff; it would lie in my innerds like lead.
You can try your hand upon she,” he pursued, nodding to the nearest
cow. “Not but what she do milk rather hard. We’ve hard ones and we’ve
easy ones, like other folks. However, you’ll find out that soon
enough.”

When Tess had changed her bonnet for a hood, and was really on her
stool under the cow, and the milk was squirting from her fists into the
pail, she appeared to feel that she really had laid a new foundation
for her future. The conviction bred serenity, her pulse slowed, and she
was able to look about her.

The milkers formed quite a little battalion of men and maids, the men
operating on the hard-teated animals, the maids on the kindlier
natures. It was a large dairy. There were nearly a hundred milchers
under Crick’s management, all told; and of the herd the master-dairyman
milked six or eight with his own hands, unless away from home. These
were the cows that milked hardest of all; for his journey-milkmen being
more or less casually hired, he would not entrust this half-dozen to
their treatment, lest, from indifference, they should not milk them
fully; nor to the maids, lest they should fail in the same way for lack
of finger-grip; with the result that in course of time the cows would
“go azew”—that is, dry up. It was not the loss for the moment that made
slack milking so serious, but that with the decline of demand there
came decline, and ultimately cessation, of supply.

After Tess had settled down to her cow there was for a time no talk in
the barton, and not a sound interfered with the purr of the milk-jets
into the numerous pails, except a momentary exclamation to one or other
of the beasts requesting her to turn round or stand still. The only
movements were those of the milkers’ hands up and down, and the swing
of the cows’ tails. Thus they all worked on, encompassed by the vast
flat mead which extended to either slope of the valley—a level
landscape compounded of old landscapes long forgotten, and, no doubt,
differing in character very greatly from the landscape they composed
now.

“To my thinking,” said the dairyman, rising suddenly from a cow he had
just finished off, snatching up his three-legged stool in one hand and
the pail in the other, and moving on to the next hard-yielder in his
vicinity, “to my thinking, the cows don’t gie down their milk to-day as
usual. Upon my life, if Winker do begin keeping back like this, she’ll
not be worth going under by midsummer.”

“’Tis because there’s a new hand come among us,” said Jonathan Kail.
“I’ve noticed such things afore.”

“To be sure. It may be so. I didn’t think o’t.”

“I’ve been told that it goes up into their horns at such times,” said a
dairymaid.

“Well, as to going up into their horns,” replied Dairyman Crick
dubiously, as though even witchcraft might be limited by anatomical
possibilities, “I couldn’t say; I certainly could not. But as nott cows
will keep it back as well as the horned ones, I don’t quite agree to
it. Do ye know that riddle about the nott cows, Jonathan? Why do nott
cows give less milk in a year than horned?”

“I don’t!” interposed the milkmaid, “Why do they?”

“Because there bain’t so many of ’em,” said the dairyman. “Howsomever,
these gam’sters do certainly keep back their milk to-day. Folks, we
must lift up a stave or two—that’s the only cure for’t.”

Songs were often resorted to in dairies hereabout as an enticement to
the cows when they showed signs of withholding their usual yield; and
the band of milkers at this request burst into melody—in purely
business-like tones, it is true, and with no great spontaneity; the
result, according to their own belief, being a decided improvement
during the song’s continuance. When they had gone through fourteen or
fifteen verses of a cheerful ballad about a murderer who was afraid to
go to bed in the dark because he saw certain brimstone flames around
him, one of the male milkers said—

“I wish singing on the stoop didn’t use up so much of a man’s wind! You
should get your harp, sir; not but what a fiddle is best.”

Tess, who had given ear to this, thought the words were addressed to
the dairyman, but she was wrong. A reply, in the shape of “Why?” came
as it were out of the belly of a dun cow in the stalls; it had been
spoken by a milker behind the animal, whom she had not hitherto
perceived.

“Oh yes; there’s nothing like a fiddle,” said the dairyman. “Though I
do think that bulls are more moved by a tune than cows—at least that’s
my experience. Once there was an old aged man over at Mellstock—William
Dewy by name—one of the family that used to do a good deal of business
as tranters over there—Jonathan, do ye mind?—I knowed the man by sight
as well as I know my own brother, in a manner of speaking. Well, this
man was a coming home along from a wedding, where he had been playing
his fiddle, one fine moonlight night, and for shortness’ sake he took a
cut across Forty-acres, a field lying that way, where a bull was out to
grass. The bull seed William, and took after him, horns aground, begad;
and though William runned his best, and hadn’t _much_ drink in him
(considering ’twas a wedding, and the folks well off), he found he’d
never reach the fence and get over in time to save himself. Well, as a
last thought, he pulled out his fiddle as he runned, and struck up a
jig, turning to the bull, and backing towards the corner. The bull
softened down, and stood still, looking hard at William Dewy, who
fiddled on and on; till a sort of a smile stole over the bull’s face.
But no sooner did William stop his playing and turn to get over hedge
than the bull would stop his smiling and lower his horns towards the
seat of William’s breeches. Well, William had to turn about and play
on, willy-nilly; and ’twas only three o’clock in the world, and ’a
knowed that nobody would come that way for hours, and he so leery and
tired that ’a didn’t know what to do. When he had scraped till about
four o’clock he felt that he verily would have to give over soon, and
he said to himself, ‘There’s only this last tune between me and eternal
welfare! Heaven save me, or I’m a done man.’ Well, then he called to
mind how he’d seen the cattle kneel o’ Christmas Eves in the dead o’
night. It was not Christmas Eve then, but it came into his head to play
a trick upon the bull. So he broke into the ’Tivity Hymm, just as at
Christmas carol-singing; when, lo and behold, down went the bull on his
bended knees, in his ignorance, just as if ’twere the true ’Tivity
night and hour. As soon as his horned friend were down, William turned,
clinked off like a long-dog, and jumped safe over hedge, before the
praying bull had got on his feet again to take after him. William used
to say that he’d seen a man look a fool a good many times, but never
such a fool as that bull looked when he found his pious feelings had
been played upon, and ’twas not Christmas Eve. Yes, William Dewy, that
was the man’s name; and I can tell you to a foot where’s he a-lying in
Mellstock Churchyard at this very moment—just between the second
yew-tree and the north aisle.”

“It’s a curious story; it carries us back to medieval times, when faith
was a living thing!”

The remark, singular for a dairy-yard, was murmured by the voice behind
the dun cow; but as nobody understood the reference, no notice was
taken, except that the narrator seemed to think it might imply
scepticism as to his tale.

“Well, ’tis quite true, sir, whether or no. I knowed the man well.”

“Oh yes; I have no doubt of it,” said the person behind the dun cow.

Tess’s attention was thus attracted to the dairyman’s interlocutor, of
whom she could see but the merest patch, owing to his burying his head
so persistently in the flank of the milcher. She could not understand
why he should be addressed as “sir” even by the dairyman himself. But
no explanation was discernible; he remained under the cow long enough
to have milked three, uttering a private ejaculation now and then, as
if he could not get on.

“Take it gentle, sir; take it gentle,” said the dairyman. “’Tis knack,
not strength, that does it.”

“So I find,” said the other, standing up at last and stretching his
arms. “I think I have finished her, however, though she made my fingers
ache.”

Tess could then see him at full length. He wore the ordinary white
pinner and leather leggings of a dairy-farmer when milking, and his
boots were clogged with the mulch of the yard; but this was all his
local livery. Beneath it was something educated, reserved, subtle, sad,
differing.

But the details of his aspect were temporarily thrust aside by the
discovery that he was one whom she had seen before. Such vicissitudes
had Tess passed through since that time that for a moment she could not
remember where she had met him; and then it flashed upon her that he
was the pedestrian who had joined in the club-dance at Marlott—the
passing stranger who had come she knew not whence, had danced with
others but not with her, and slightingly left her, and gone on his way
with his friends.

The flood of memories brought back by this revival of an incident
anterior to her troubles produced a momentary dismay lest, recognizing
her also, he should by some means discover her story. But it passed
away when she found no sign of remembrance in him. She saw by degrees
that since their first and only encounter his mobile face had grown
more thoughtful, and had acquired a young man’s shapely moustache and
beard—the latter of the palest straw colour where it began upon his
cheeks, and deepening to a warm brown farther from its root. Under his
linen milking-pinner he wore a dark velveteen jacket, cord breeches and
gaiters, and a starched white shirt. Without the milking-gear nobody
could have guessed what he was. He might with equal probability have
been an eccentric landowner or a gentlemanly ploughman. That he was but
a novice at dairy work she had realized in a moment, from the time he
had spent upon the milking of one cow.

Meanwhile many of the milkmaids had said to one another of the
newcomer, “How pretty she is!” with something of real generosity and
admiration, though with a half hope that the auditors would qualify the
assertion—which, strictly speaking, they might have done, prettiness
being an inexact definition of what struck the eye in Tess. When the
milking was finished for the evening they straggled indoors, where Mrs
Crick, the dairyman’s wife—who was too respectable to go out milking
herself, and wore a hot stuff gown in warm weather because the
dairymaids wore prints—was giving an eye to the leads and things.

Only two or three of the maids, Tess learnt, slept in the dairy-house
besides herself, most of the helpers going to their homes. She saw
nothing at supper-time of the superior milker who had commented on the
story, and asked no questions about him, the remainder of the evening
being occupied in arranging her place in the bed-chamber. It was a
large room over the milk-house, some thirty feet long; the
sleeping-cots of the other three indoor milkmaids being in the same
apartment. They were blooming young women, and, except one, rather
older than herself. By bedtime Tess was thoroughly tired, and fell
asleep immediately.

But one of the girls, who occupied an adjoining bed, was more wakeful
than Tess, and would insist upon relating to the latter various
particulars of the homestead into which she had just entered. The
girl’s whispered words mingled with the shades, and, to Tess’s drowsy
mind, they seemed to be generated by the darkness in which they
floated.

“Mr Angel Clare—he that is learning milking, and that plays the
harp—never says much to us. He is a pa’son’s son, and is too much taken
up wi’ his own thoughts to notice girls. He is the dairyman’s
pupil—learning farming in all its branches. He has learnt sheep-farming
at another place, and he’s now mastering dairy-work.... Yes, he is
quite the gentleman-born. His father is the Reverend Mr Clare at
Emminster—a good many miles from here.”

“Oh—I have heard of him,” said her companion, now awake. “A very
earnest clergyman, is he not?”

“Yes—that he is—the earnestest man in all Wessex, they say—the last of
the old Low Church sort, they tell me—for all about here be what they
call High. All his sons, except our Mr Clare, be made pa’sons too.”

Tess had not at this hour the curiosity to ask why the present Mr Clare
was not made a parson like his brethren, and gradually fell asleep
again, the words of her informant coming to her along with the smell of
the cheeses in the adjoining cheeseloft, and the measured dripping of
the whey from the wrings downstairs.


XVIII

Angel Clare rises out of the past not altogether as a distinct figure,
but as an appreciative voice, a long regard of fixed, abstracted eyes,
and a mobility of mouth somewhat too small and delicately lined for a
man’s, though with an unexpectedly firm close of the lower lip now and
then; enough to do away with any inference of indecision. Nevertheless,
something nebulous, preoccupied, vague, in his bearing and regard,
marked him as one who probably had no very definite aim or concern
about his material future. Yet as a lad people had said of him that he
was one who might do anything if he tried.

He was the youngest son of his father, a poor parson at the other end
of the county, and had arrived at Talbothays Dairy as a six months’
pupil, after going the round of some other farms, his object being to
acquire a practical skill in the various processes of farming, with a
view either to the Colonies or the tenure of a home-farm, as
circumstances might decide.

His entry into the ranks of the agriculturists and breeders was a step
in the young man’s career which had been anticipated neither by himself
nor by others.

Mr Clare the elder, whose first wife had died and left him a daughter,
married a second late in life. This lady had somewhat unexpectedly
brought him three sons, so that between Angel, the youngest, and his
father the Vicar there seemed to be almost a missing generation. Of
these boys the aforesaid Angel, the child of his old age, was the only
son who had not taken a University degree, though he was the single one
of them whose early promise might have done full justice to an
academical training.

Some two or three years before Angel’s appearance at the Marlott dance,
on a day when he had left school and was pursuing his studies at home,
a parcel came to the Vicarage from the local bookseller’s, directed to
the Reverend James Clare. The Vicar having opened it and found it to
contain a book, read a few pages; whereupon he jumped up from his seat
and went straight to the shop with the book under his arm.

“Why has this been sent to my house?” he asked peremptorily, holding up
the volume.

“It was ordered, sir.”

“Not by me, or any one belonging to me, I am happy to say.”

The shopkeeper looked into his order-book.

“Oh, it has been misdirected, sir,” he said. “It was ordered by Mr
Angel Clare, and should have been sent to him.”

Mr Clare winced as if he had been struck. He went home pale and
dejected, and called Angel into his study.

“Look into this book, my boy,” he said. “What do you know about it?”

“I ordered it,” said Angel simply.

“What for?”

“To read.”

“How can you think of reading it?”

“How can I? Why—it is a system of philosophy. There is no more moral,
or even religious, work published.”

“Yes—moral enough; I don’t deny that. But religious!—and for _you_, who
intend to be a minister of the Gospel!”

“Since you have alluded to the matter, father,” said the son, with
anxious thought upon his face, “I should like to say, once for all,
that I should prefer not to take Orders. I fear I could not
conscientiously do so. I love the Church as one loves a parent. I shall
always have the warmest affection for her. There is no institution for
whose history I have a deeper admiration; but I cannot honestly be
ordained her minister, as my brothers are, while she refuses to
liberate her mind from an untenable redemptive theolatry.”

It had never occurred to the straightforward and simple-minded Vicar
that one of his own flesh and blood could come to this! He was
stultified, shocked, paralysed. And if Angel were not going to enter
the Church, what was the use of sending him to Cambridge? The
University as a step to anything but ordination seemed, to this man of
fixed ideas, a preface without a volume. He was a man not merely
religious, but devout; a firm believer—not as the phrase is now
elusively construed by theological thimble-riggers in the Church and
out of it, but in the old and ardent sense of the Evangelical school:
one who could

    Indeed opine
    That the Eternal and Divine
    Did, eighteen centuries ago
    In very truth...

Angel’s father tried argument, persuasion, entreaty.

“No, father; I cannot underwrite Article Four (leave alone the rest),
taking it ‘in the literal and grammatical sense’ as required by the
Declaration; and, therefore, I can’t be a parson in the present state
of affairs,” said Angel. “My whole instinct in matters of religion is
towards reconstruction; to quote your favorite Epistle to the Hebrews,
‘the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are
made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.’”

His father grieved so deeply that it made Angel quite ill to see him.

“What is the good of your mother and me economizing and stinting
ourselves to give you a University education, if it is not to be used
for the honour and glory of God?” his father repeated.

“Why, that it may be used for the honour and glory of man, father.”

Perhaps if Angel had persevered he might have gone to Cambridge like
his brothers. But the Vicar’s view of that seat of learning as a
stepping-stone to Orders alone was quite a family tradition; and so
rooted was the idea in his mind that perseverance began to appear to
the sensitive son akin to an intent to misappropriate a trust, and
wrong the pious heads of the household, who had been and were, as his
father had hinted, compelled to exercise much thrift to carry out this
uniform plan of education for the three young men.

“I will do without Cambridge,” said Angel at last. “I feel that I have
no right to go there in the circumstances.”

The effects of this decisive debate were not long in showing
themselves. He spent years and years in desultory studies,
undertakings, and meditations; he began to evince considerable
indifference to social forms and observances. The material distinctions
of rank and wealth he increasingly despised. Even the “good old family”
(to use a favourite phrase of a late local worthy) had no aroma for him
unless there were good new resolutions in its representatives. As a
balance to these austerities, when he went to live in London to see
what the world was like, and with a view to practising a profession or
business there, he was carried off his head, and nearly entrapped by a
woman much older than himself, though luckily he escaped not greatly
the worse for the experience.

Early association with country solitudes had bred in him an
unconquerable, and almost unreasonable, aversion to modern town life,
and shut him out from such success as he might have aspired to by
following a mundane calling in the impracticability of the spiritual
one. But something had to be done; he had wasted many valuable years;
and having an acquaintance who was starting on a thriving life as a
Colonial farmer, it occurred to Angel that this might be a lead in the
right direction. Farming, either in the Colonies, America, or at
home—farming, at any rate, after becoming well qualified for the
business by a careful apprenticeship—that was a vocation which would
probably afford an independence without the sacrifice of what he valued
even more than a competency—intellectual liberty.

So we find Angel Clare at six-and-twenty here at Talbothays as a
student of kine, and, as there were no houses near at hand in which he
could get a comfortable lodging, a boarder at the dairyman’s.

His room was an immense attic which ran the whole length of the
dairy-house. It could only be reached by a ladder from the cheese-loft,
and had been closed up for a long time till he arrived and selected it
as his retreat. Here Clare had plenty of space, and could often be
heard by the dairy-folk pacing up and down when the household had gone
to rest. A portion was divided off at one end by a curtain, behind
which was his bed, the outer part being furnished as a homely
sitting-room.

At first he lived up above entirely, reading a good deal, and strumming
upon an old harp which he had bought at a sale, saying when in a bitter
humour that he might have to get his living by it in the streets some
day. But he soon preferred to read human nature by taking his meals
downstairs in the general dining-kitchen, with the dairyman and his
wife, and the maids and men, who all together formed a lively assembly;
for though but few milking hands slept in the house, several joined the
family at meals. The longer Clare resided here the less objection had
he to his company, and the more did he like to share quarters with them
in common.

Much to his surprise he took, indeed, a real delight in their
companionship. The conventional farm-folk of his
imagination—personified in the newspaper-press by the pitiable dummy
known as Hodge—were obliterated after a few days’ residence. At close
quarters no Hodge was to be seen. At first, it is true, when Clare’s
intelligence was fresh from a contrasting society, these friends with
whom he now hobnobbed seemed a little strange. Sitting down as a level
member of the dairyman’s household seemed at the outset an undignified
proceeding. The ideas, the modes, the surroundings, appeared
retrogressive and unmeaning. But with living on there, day after day,
the acute sojourner became conscious of a new aspect in the spectacle.
Without any objective change whatever, variety had taken the place of
monotonousness. His host and his host’s household, his men and his
maids, as they became intimately known to Clare, began to differentiate
themselves as in a chemical process. The thought of Pascal’s was
brought home to him: “_A mesure qu’on a plus d’esprit, on trouve qu’il
y a plus d’hommes originaux. Les gens du commun ne trouvent pas de
différence entre les hommes_.” The typical and unvarying Hodge ceased
to exist. He had been disintegrated into a number of varied
fellow-creatures—beings of many minds, beings infinite in difference;
some happy, many serene, a few depressed, one here and there bright
even to genius, some stupid, others wanton, others austere; some mutely
Miltonic, some potentially Cromwellian—into men who had private views
of each other, as he had of his friends; who could applaud or condemn
each other, amuse or sadden themselves by the contemplation of each
other’s foibles or vices; men every one of whom walked in his own
individual way the road to dusty death.

Unexpectedly he began to like the outdoor life for its own sake, and
for what it brought, apart from its bearing on his own proposed career.
Considering his position he became wonderfully free from the chronic
melancholy which is taking hold of the civilized races with the decline
of belief in a beneficent Power. For the first time of late years he
could read as his musings inclined him, without any eye to cramming for
a profession, since the few farming handbooks which he deemed it
desirable to master occupied him but little time.

He grew away from old associations, and saw something new in life and
humanity. Secondarily, he made close acquaintance with phenomena which
he had before known but darkly—the seasons in their moods, morning and
evening, night and noon, winds in their different tempers, trees,
waters and mists, shades and silences, and the voices of inanimate
things.

The early mornings were still sufficiently cool to render a fire
acceptable in the large room wherein they breakfasted; and, by Mrs
Crick’s orders, who held that he was too genteel to mess at their
table, it was Angel Clare’s custom to sit in the yawning chimney-corner
during the meal, his cup-and-saucer and plate being placed on a hinged
flap at his elbow. The light from the long, wide, mullioned window
opposite shone in upon his nook, and, assisted by a secondary light of
cold blue quality which shone down the chimney, enabled him to read
there easily whenever disposed to do so. Between Clare and the window
was the table at which his companions sat, their munching profiles
rising sharp against the panes; while to the side was the milk-house
door, through which were visible the rectangular leads in rows, full to
the brim with the morning’s milk. At the further end the great churn
could be seen revolving, and its slip-slopping heard—the moving power
being discernible through the window in the form of a spiritless horse
walking in a circle and driven by a boy.

For several days after Tess’s arrival Clare, sitting abstractedly
reading from some book, periodical, or piece of music just come by
post, hardly noticed that she was present at table. She talked so
little, and the other maids talked so much, that the babble did not
strike him as possessing a new note, and he was ever in the habit of
neglecting the particulars of an outward scene for the general
impression. One day, however, when he had been conning one of his
music-scores, and by force of imagination was hearing the tune in his
head, he lapsed into listlessness, and the music-sheet rolled to the
hearth. He looked at the fire of logs, with its one flame pirouetting
on the top in a dying dance after the breakfast-cooking and boiling,
and it seemed to jig to his inward tune; also at the two chimney crooks
dangling down from the cotterel, or cross-bar, plumed with soot, which
quivered to the same melody; also at the half-empty kettle whining an
accompaniment. The conversation at the table mixed in with his
phantasmal orchestra till he thought: “What a fluty voice one of those
milkmaids has! I suppose it is the new one.”

Clare looked round upon her, seated with the others.

She was not looking towards him. Indeed, owing to his long silence, his
presence in the room was almost forgotten.

“I don’t know about ghosts,” she was saying; “but I do know that our
souls can be made to go outside our bodies when we are alive.”

The dairyman turned to her with his mouth full, his eyes charged with
serious inquiry, and his great knife and fork (breakfasts were
breakfasts here) planted erect on the table, like the beginning of a
gallows.

“What—really now? And is it so, maidy?” he said.

“A very easy way to feel ’em go,” continued Tess, “is to lie on the
grass at night and look straight up at some big bright star; and, by
fixing your mind upon it, you will soon find that you are hundreds and
hundreds o’ miles away from your body, which you don’t seem to want at
all.”

The dairyman removed his hard gaze from Tess, and fixed it on his wife.

“Now that’s a rum thing, Christianer—hey? To think o’ the miles I’ve
vamped o’ starlight nights these last thirty year, courting, or
trading, or for doctor, or for nurse, and yet never had the least
notion o’ that till now, or feeled my soul rise so much as an inch
above my shirt-collar.”

The general attention being drawn to her, including that of the
dairyman’s pupil, Tess flushed, and remarking evasively that it was
only a fancy, resumed her breakfast.

Clare continued to observe her. She soon finished her eating, and
having a consciousness that Clare was regarding her, began to trace
imaginary patterns on the tablecloth with her forefinger with the
constraint of a domestic animal that perceives itself to be watched.

“What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!” he
said to himself.

And then he seemed to discern in her something that was familiar,
something which carried him back into a joyous and unforeseeing past,
before the necessity of taking thought had made the heavens gray. He
concluded that he had beheld her before; where he could not tell. A
casual encounter during some country ramble it certainly had been, and
he was not greatly curious about it. But the circumstance was
sufficient to lead him to select Tess in preference to the other pretty
milkmaids when he wished to contemplate contiguous womankind.


XIX

In general the cows were milked as they presented themselves, without
fancy or choice. But certain cows will show a fondness for a particular
pair of hands, sometimes carrying this predilection so far as to refuse
to stand at all except to their favourite, the pail of a stranger being
unceremoniously kicked over.

It was Dairyman Crick’s rule to insist on breaking down these
partialities and aversions by constant interchange, since otherwise, in
the event of a milkman or maid going away from the dairy, he was placed
in a difficulty. The maids’ private aims, however, were the reverse of
the dairyman’s rule, the daily selection by each damsel of the eight or
ten cows to which she had grown accustomed rendering the operation on
their willing udders surprisingly easy and effortless.

Tess, like her compeers, soon discovered which of the cows had a
preference for her style of manipulation, and her fingers having become
delicate from the long domiciliary imprisonments to which she had
subjected herself at intervals during the last two or three years, she
would have been glad to meet the milchers’ views in this respect. Out
of the whole ninety-five there were eight in particular—Dumpling,
Fancy, Lofty, Mist, Old Pretty, Young Pretty, Tidy, and Loud—who,
though the teats of one or two were as hard as carrots, gave down to
her with a readiness that made her work on them a mere touch of the
fingers. Knowing, however, the dairyman’s wish, she endeavoured
conscientiously to take the animals just as they came, excepting the
very hard yielders which she could not yet manage.

But she soon found a curious correspondence between the ostensibly
chance position of the cows and her wishes in this matter, till she
felt that their order could not be the result of accident. The
dairyman’s pupil had lent a hand in getting the cows together of late,
and at the fifth or sixth time she turned her eyes, as she rested
against the cow, full of sly inquiry upon him.

“Mr Clare, you have ranged the cows!” she said, blushing; and in making
the accusation, symptoms of a smile gently lifted her upper lip in
spite of her, so as to show the tips of her teeth, the lower lip
remaining severely still.

“Well, it makes no difference,” said he. “You will always be here to
milk them.”

“Do you think so? I _hope_ I shall! But I don’t _know_.”

She was angry with herself afterwards, thinking that he, unaware of her
grave reasons for liking this seclusion, might have mistaken her
meaning. She had spoken so earnestly to him, as if his presence were
somehow a factor in her wish. Her misgiving was such that at dusk, when
the milking was over, she walked in the garden alone, to continue her
regrets that she had disclosed to him her discovery of his
considerateness.

It was a typical summer evening in June, the atmosphere being in such
delicate equilibrium and so transmissive that inanimate objects seemed
endowed with two or three senses, if not five. There was no distinction
between the near and the far, and an auditor felt close to everything
within the horizon. The soundlessness impressed her as a positive
entity rather than as the mere negation of noise. It was broken by the
strumming of strings.

Tess had heard those notes in the attic above her head. Dim, flattened,
constrained by their confinement, they had never appealed to her as
now, when they wandered in the still air with a stark quality like that
of nudity. To speak absolutely, both instrument and execution were
poor; but the relative is all, and as she listened Tess, like a
fascinated bird, could not leave the spot. Far from leaving she drew up
towards the performer, keeping behind the hedge that he might not guess
her presence.

The outskirt of the garden in which Tess found herself had been left
uncultivated for some years, and was now damp and rank with juicy grass
which sent up mists of pollen at a touch; and with tall blooming weeds
emitting offensive smells—weeds whose red and yellow and purple hues
formed a polychrome as dazzling as that of cultivated flowers. She went
stealthily as a cat through this profusion of growth, gathering
cuckoo-spittle on her skirts, cracking snails that were underfoot,
staining her hands with thistle-milk and slug-slime, and rubbing off
upon her naked arms sticky blights which, though snow-white on the
apple-tree trunks, made madder stains on her skin; thus she drew quite
near to Clare, still unobserved of him.

Tess was conscious of neither time nor space. The exaltation which she
had described as being producible at will by gazing at a star came now
without any determination of hers; she undulated upon the thin notes of
the second-hand harp, and their harmonies passed like breezes through
her, bringing tears into her eyes. The floating pollen seemed to be his
notes made visible, and the dampness of the garden the weeping of the
garden’s sensibility. Though near nightfall, the rank-smelling
weed-flowers glowed as if they would not close for intentness, and the
waves of colour mixed with the waves of sound.

The light which still shone was derived mainly from a large hole in the
western bank of cloud; it was like a piece of day left behind by
accident, dusk having closed in elsewhere. He concluded his plaintive
melody, a very simple performance, demanding no great skill; and she
waited, thinking another might be begun. But, tired of playing, he had
desultorily come round the fence, and was rambling up behind her. Tess,
her cheeks on fire, moved away furtively, as if hardly moving at all.

Angel, however, saw her light summer gown, and he spoke; his low tones
reaching her, though he was some distance off.

“What makes you draw off in that way, Tess?” said he. “Are you afraid?”

“Oh no, sir—not of outdoor things; especially just now when the
apple-blooth is falling, and everything is so green.”

“But you have your indoor fears—eh?”

“Well—yes, sir.”

“What of?”

“I couldn’t quite say.”

“The milk turning sour?”

“No.”

“Life in general?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Ah—so have I, very often. This hobble of being alive is rather
serious, don’t you think so?”

“It is—now you put it that way.”

“All the same, I shouldn’t have expected a young girl like you to see
it so just yet. How is it you do?”

She maintained a hesitating silence.

“Come, Tess, tell me in confidence.”

She thought that he meant what were the aspects of things to her, and
replied shyly—

“The trees have inquisitive eyes, haven’t they?—that is, seem as if
they had. And the river says,—‘Why do ye trouble me with your looks?’
And you seem to see numbers of to-morrows just all in a line, the first
of them the biggest and clearest, the others getting smaller and
smaller as they stand farther away; but they all seem very fierce and
cruel and as if they said, ‘I’m coming! Beware of me! Beware of me!’
... But _you_, sir, can raise up dreams with your music, and drive all
such horrid fancies away!”

He was surprised to find this young woman—who though but a milkmaid had
just that touch of rarity about her which might make her the envied of
her housemates—shaping such sad imaginings. She was expressing in her
own native phrases—assisted a little by her Sixth Standard
training—feelings which might almost have been called those of the
age—the ache of modernism. The perception arrested him less when he
reflected that what are called advanced ideas are really in great part
but the latest fashion in definition—a more accurate expression, by
words in _logy_ and _ism_, of sensations which men and women have
vaguely grasped for centuries.

Still, it was strange that they should have come to her while yet so
young; more than strange; it was impressive, interesting, pathetic. Not
guessing the cause, there was nothing to remind him that experience is
as to intensity, and not as to duration. Tess’s passing corporeal
blight had been her mental harvest.

Tess, on her part, could not understand why a man of clerical family
and good education, and above physical want, should look upon it as a
mishap to be alive. For the unhappy pilgrim herself there was very good
reason. But how could this admirable and poetic man ever have descended
into the Valley of Humiliation, have felt with the man of Uz—as she
herself had felt two or three years ago—“My soul chooseth strangling
and death rather than my life. I loathe it; I would not live alway.”

It was true that he was at present out of his class. But she knew that
was only because, like Peter the Great in a shipwright’s yard, he was
studying what he wanted to know. He did not milk cows because he was
obliged to milk cows, but because he was learning to be a rich and
prosperous dairyman, landowner, agriculturist, and breeder of cattle.
He would become an American or Australian Abraham, commanding like a
monarch his flocks and his herds, his spotted and his ring-straked, his
men-servants and his maids. At times, nevertheless, it did seem
unaccountable to her that a decidedly bookish, musical, thinking young
man should have chosen deliberately to be a farmer, and not a
clergyman, like his father and brothers.

Thus, neither having the clue to the other’s secret, they were
respectively puzzled at what each revealed, and awaited new knowledge
of each other’s character and mood without attempting to pry into each
other’s history.

Every day, every hour, brought to him one more little stroke of her
nature, and to her one more of his. Tess was trying to lead a repressed
life, but she little divined the strength of her own vitality.

At first Tess seemed to regard Angel Clare as an intelligence rather
than as a man. As such she compared him with herself; and at every
discovery of the abundance of his illuminations, of the distance
between her own modest mental standpoint and the unmeasurable, Andean
altitude of his, she became quite dejected, disheartened from all
further effort on her own part whatever.

He observed her dejection one day, when he had casually mentioned
something to her about pastoral life in ancient Greece. She was
gathering the buds called “lords and ladies” from the bank while he
spoke.

“Why do you look so woebegone all of a sudden?” he asked.

“Oh, ’tis only—about my own self,” she said, with a frail laugh of
sadness, fitfully beginning to peel “a lady” meanwhile. “Just a sense
of what might have been with me! My life looks as if it had been wasted
for want of chances! When I see what you know, what you have read, and
seen, and thought, I feel what a nothing I am! I’m like the poor Queen
of Sheba who lived in the Bible. There is no more spirit in me.”

“Bless my soul, don’t go troubling about that! Why,” he said with some
enthusiasm, “I should be only too glad, my dear Tess, to help you to
anything in the way of history, or any line of reading you would like
to take up—”

“It is a lady again,” interrupted she, holding out the bud she had
peeled.

“What?”

“I meant that there are always more ladies than lords when you come to
peel them.”

“Never mind about the lords and ladies. Would you like to take up any
course of study—history, for example?”

“Sometimes I feel I don’t want to know anything more about it than I
know already.”

“Why not?”

“Because what’s the use of learning that I am one of a long row
only—finding out that there is set down in some old book somebody just
like me, and to know that I shall only act her part; making me sad,
that’s all. The best is not to remember that your nature and your past
doings have been just like thousands’ and thousands’, and that your
coming life and doings ’ll be like thousands’ and thousands’.”

“What, really, then, you don’t want to learn anything?”

“I shouldn’t mind learning why—why the sun do shine on the just and the
unjust alike,” she answered, with a slight quaver in her voice. “But
that’s what books will not tell me.”

“Tess, fie for such bitterness!” Of course he spoke with a conventional
sense of duty only, for that sort of wondering had not been unknown to
himself in bygone days. And as he looked at the unpracticed mouth and
lips, he thought that such a daughter of the soil could only have
caught up the sentiment by rote. She went on peeling the lords and
ladies till Clare, regarding for a moment the wave-like curl of her
lashes as they dropped with her bent gaze on her soft cheek,
lingeringly went away. When he was gone she stood awhile, thoughtfully
peeling the last bud; and then, awakening from her reverie, flung it
and all the crowd of floral nobility impatiently on the ground, in an
ebullition of displeasure with herself for her _niaiseries_, and with a
quickening warmth in her heart of hearts.

How stupid he must think her! In an access of hunger for his good
opinion she bethought herself of what she had latterly endeavoured to
forget, so unpleasant had been its issues—the identity of her family
with that of the knightly d’Urbervilles. Barren attribute as it was,
disastrous as its discovery had been in many ways to her, perhaps Mr
Clare, as a gentleman and a student of history, would respect her
sufficiently to forget her childish conduct with the lords and ladies
if he knew that those Purbeck-marble and alabaster people in Kingsbere
Church really represented her own lineal forefathers; that she was no
spurious d’Urberville, compounded of money and ambition like those at
Trantridge, but true d’Urberville to the bone.

But, before venturing to make the revelation, dubious Tess indirectly
sounded the dairyman as to its possible effect upon Mr Clare, by asking
the former if Mr Clare had any great respect for old county families
when they had lost all their money and land.

“Mr Clare,” said the dairyman emphatically, “is one of the most
rebellest rozums you ever knowed—not a bit like the rest of his family;
and if there’s one thing that he do hate more than another ’tis the
notion of what’s called a’ old family. He says that it stands to reason
that old families have done their spurt of work in past days, and can’t
have anything left in ’em now. There’s the Billets and the Drenkhards
and the Greys and the St Quintins and the Hardys and the Goulds, who
used to own the lands for miles down this valley; you could buy ’em all
up now for an old song a’most. Why, our little Retty Priddle here, you
know, is one of the Paridelles—the old family that used to own lots o’
the lands out by King’s Hintock, now owned by the Earl o’ Wessex, afore
even he or his was heard of. Well, Mr Clare found this out, and spoke
quite scornful to the poor girl for days. ‘Ah!’ he says to her, ‘you’ll
never make a good dairymaid! All your skill was used up ages ago in
Palestine, and you must lie fallow for a thousand years to git strength
for more deeds!’ A boy came here t’other day asking for a job, and said
his name was Matt, and when we asked him his surname he said he’d never
heard that ’a had any surname, and when we asked why, he said he
supposed his folks hadn’t been ’stablished long enough. ‘Ah! you’re the
very boy I want!’ says Mr Clare, jumping up and shaking hands wi’en;
‘I’ve great hopes of you;’ and gave him half-a-crown. O no! he can’t
stomach old families!”

After hearing this caricature of Clare’s opinion poor Tess was glad
that she had not said a word in a weak moment about her family—even
though it was so unusually old almost to have gone round the circle and
become a new one. Besides, another diary-girl was as good as she, it
seemed, in that respect. She held her tongue about the d’Urberville
vault and the Knight of the Conqueror whose name she bore. The insight
afforded into Clare’s character suggested to her that it was largely
owing to her supposed untraditional newness that she had won interest
in his eyes.


XX

The season developed and matured. Another year’s instalment of flowers,
leaves, nightingales, thrushes, finches, and such ephemeral creatures,
took up their positions where only a year ago others had stood in their
place when these were nothing more than germs and inorganic particles.
Rays from the sunrise drew forth the buds and stretched them into long
stalks, lifted up sap in noiseless streams, opened petals, and sucked
out scents in invisible jets and breathings.

Dairyman Crick’s household of maids and men lived on comfortably,
placidly, even merrily. Their position was perhaps the happiest of all
positions in the social scale, being above the line at which neediness
ends, and below the line at which the _convenances_ begin to cramp
natural feelings, and the stress of threadbare modishness makes too
little of enough.

Thus passed the leafy time when arborescence seems to be the one thing
aimed at out of doors. Tess and Clare unconsciously studied each other,
ever balanced on the edge of a passion, yet apparently keeping out of
it. All the while they were converging, under an irresistible law, as
surely as two streams in one vale.

Tess had never in her recent life been so happy as she was now,
possibly never would be so happy again. She was, for one thing,
physically and mentally suited among these new surroundings. The
sapling which had rooted down to a poisonous stratum on the spot of its
sowing had been transplanted to a deeper soil. Moreover she, and Clare
also, stood as yet on the debatable land between predilection and love;
where no profundities have been reached; no reflections have set in,
awkwardly inquiring, “Whither does this new current tend to carry me?
What does it mean to my future? How does it stand towards my past?”

Tess was the merest stray phenomenon to Angel Clare as yet—a rosy,
warming apparition which had only just acquired the attribute of
persistence in his consciousness. So he allowed his mind to be occupied
with her, deeming his preoccupation to be no more than a philosopher’s
regard of an exceedingly novel, fresh, and interesting specimen of
womankind.

They met continually; they could not help it. They met daily in that
strange and solemn interval, the twilight of the morning, in the violet
or pink dawn; for it was necessary to rise early, so very early, here.
Milking was done betimes; and before the milking came the skimming,
which began at a little past three. It usually fell to the lot of some
one or other of them to wake the rest, the first being aroused by an
alarm-clock; and, as Tess was the latest arrival, and they soon
discovered that she could be depended upon not to sleep through the
alarm as others did, this task was thrust most frequently upon her. No
sooner had the hour of three struck and whizzed, than she left her room
and ran to the dairyman’s door; then up the ladder to Angel’s, calling
him in a loud whisper; then woke her fellow-milkmaids. By the time that
Tess was dressed Clare was downstairs and out in the humid air. The
remaining maids and the dairyman usually gave themselves another turn
on the pillow, and did not appear till a quarter of an hour later.

The gray half-tones of daybreak are not the gray half-tones of the
day’s close, though the degree of their shade may be the same. In the
twilight of the morning, light seems active, darkness passive; in the
twilight of evening it is the darkness which is active and crescent,
and the light which is the drowsy reverse.

Being so often—possibly not always by chance—the first two persons to
get up at the dairy-house, they seemed to themselves the first persons
up of all the world. In these early days of her residence here Tess did
not skim, but went out of doors at once after rising, where he was
generally awaiting her. The spectral, half-compounded, aqueous light
which pervaded the open mead impressed them with a feeling of
isolation, as if they were Adam and Eve. At this dim inceptive stage of
the day Tess seemed to Clare to exhibit a dignified largeness both of
disposition and physique, an almost regnant power, possibly because he
knew that at that preternatural time hardly any woman so well endowed
in person as she was likely to be walking in the open air within the
boundaries of his horizon; very few in all England. Fair women are
usually asleep at mid-summer dawns. She was close at hand, and the rest
were nowhere.

The mixed, singular, luminous gloom in which they walked along together
to the spot where the cows lay often made him think of the Resurrection
hour. He little thought that the Magdalen might be at his side. Whilst
all the landscape was in neutral shade his companion’s face, which was
the focus of his eyes, rising above the mist stratum, seemed to have a
sort of phosphorescence upon it. She looked ghostly, as if she were
merely a soul at large. In reality her face, without appearing to do
so, had caught the cold gleam of day from the north-east; his own face,
though he did not think of it, wore the same aspect to her.

It was then, as has been said, that she impressed him most deeply. She
was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman—a whole
sex condensed into one typical form. He called her Artemis, Demeter,
and other fanciful names half teasingly, which she did not like because
she did not understand them.

“Call me Tess,” she would say askance; and he did.

Then it would grow lighter, and her features would become simply
feminine; they had changed from those of a divinity who could confer
bliss to those of a being who craved it.

At these non-human hours they could get quite close to the waterfowl.
Herons came, with a great bold noise as of opening doors and shutters,
out of the boughs of a plantation which they frequented at the side of
the mead; or, if already on the spot, hardily maintained their standing
in the water as the pair walked by, watching them by moving their heads
round in a slow, horizontal, passionless wheel, like the turn of
puppets by clockwork.

They could then see the faint summer fogs in layers, woolly, level, and
apparently no thicker than counterpanes, spread about the meadows in
detached remnants of small extent. On the gray moisture of the grass
were marks where the cows had lain through the night—dark-green islands
of dry herbage the size of their carcasses, in the general sea of dew.
From each island proceeded a serpentine trail, by which the cow had
rambled away to feed after getting up, at the end of which trail they
found her; the snoring puff from her nostrils, when she recognized
them, making an intenser little fog of her own amid the prevailing one.
Then they drove the animals back to the barton, or sat down to milk
them on the spot, as the case might require.

Or perhaps the summer fog was more general, and the meadows lay like a
white sea, out of which the scattered trees rose like dangerous rocks.
Birds would soar through it into the upper radiance, and hang on the
wing sunning themselves, or alight on the wet rails subdividing the
mead, which now shone like glass rods. Minute diamonds of moisture from
the mist hung, too, upon Tess’s eyelashes, and drops upon her hair,
like seed pearls. When the day grew quite strong and commonplace these
dried off her; moreover, Tess then lost her strange and ethereal
beauty; her teeth, lips, and eyes scintillated in the sunbeams and she
was again the dazzlingly fair dairymaid only, who had to hold her own
against the other women of the world.

About this time they would hear Dairyman Crick’s voice, lecturing the
non-resident milkers for arriving late, and speaking sharply to old
Deborah Fyander for not washing her hands.

“For Heaven’s sake, pop thy hands under the pump, Deb! Upon my soul, if
the London folk only knowed of thee and thy slovenly ways, they’d
swaller their milk and butter more mincing than they do a’ready; and
that’s saying a good deal.”

The milking progressed, till towards the end Tess and Clare, in common
with the rest, could hear the heavy breakfast table dragged out from
the wall in the kitchen by Mrs Crick, this being the invariable
preliminary to each meal; the same horrible scrape accompanying its
return journey when the table had been cleared.


XXI

There was a great stir in the milk-house just after breakfast. The
churn revolved as usual, but the butter would not come. Whenever this
happened the dairy was paralyzed. Squish, squash echoed the milk in the
great cylinder, but never arose the sound they waited for.

Dairyman Crick and his wife, the milkmaids Tess, Marian, Retty Priddle,
Izz Huett, and the married ones from the cottages; also Mr Clare,
Jonathan Kail, old Deborah, and the rest, stood gazing hopelessly at
the churn; and the boy who kept the horse going outside put on
moon-like eyes to show his sense of the situation. Even the melancholy
horse himself seemed to look in at the window in inquiring despair at
each walk round.

“’Tis years since I went to Conjuror Trendle’s son in Egdon—years!”
said the dairyman bitterly. “And he was nothing to what his father had
been. I have said fifty times, if I have said once, that I _don’t_
believe in en; though ’a do cast folks’ waters very true. But I shall
have to go to ’n if he’s alive. O yes, I shall have to go to ’n, if
this sort of thing continnys!”

Even Mr Clare began to feel tragical at the dairyman’s desperation.

“Conjuror Fall, t’other side of Casterbridge, that they used to call
‘Wide-O’, was a very good man when I was a boy,” said Jonathan Kail.
“But he’s rotten as touchwood by now.”

“My grandfather used to go to Conjuror Mynterne, out at Owlscombe, and
a clever man a’ were, so I’ve heard grandf’er say,” continued Mr Crick.
“But there’s no such genuine folk about nowadays!”

Mrs Crick’s mind kept nearer to the matter in hand.

“Perhaps somebody in the house is in love,” she said tentatively. “I’ve
heard tell in my younger days that that will cause it. Why, Crick—that
maid we had years ago, do ye mind, and how the butter didn’t come
then—”

“Ah yes, yes!—but that isn’t the rights o’t. It had nothing to do with
the love-making. I can mind all about it—’twas the damage to the
churn.”

He turned to Clare.

“Jack Dollop, a ’hore’s-bird of a fellow we had here as milker at one
time, sir, courted a young woman over at Mellstock, and deceived her as
he had deceived many afore. But he had another sort o’ woman to reckon
wi’ this time, and it was not the girl herself. One Holy Thursday of
all days in the almanack, we was here as we mid be now, only there was
no churning in hand, when we zid the girl’s mother coming up to the
door, wi’ a great brass-mounted umbrella in her hand that would ha’
felled an ox, and saying ‘Do Jack Dollop work here?—because I want him!
I have a big bone to pick with he, I can assure ’n!’ And some way
behind her mother walked Jack’s young woman, crying bitterly into her
handkercher. ‘O Lard, here’s a time!’ said Jack, looking out o’ winder
at ’em. ‘She’ll murder me! Where shall I get—where shall I—? Don’t tell
her where I be!’ And with that he scrambled into the churn through the
trap-door, and shut himself inside, just as the young woman’s mother
busted into the milk-house. ‘The villain—where is he?’ says she. ‘I’ll
claw his face for’n, let me only catch him!’ Well, she hunted about
everywhere, ballyragging Jack by side and by seam, Jack lying a’most
stifled inside the churn, and the poor maid—or young woman
rather—standing at the door crying her eyes out. I shall never forget
it, never! ’Twould have melted a marble stone! But she couldn’t find
him nowhere at all.”

The dairyman paused, and one or two words of comment came from the
listeners.

Dairyman Crick’s stories often seemed to be ended when they were not
really so, and strangers were betrayed into premature interjections of
finality; though old friends knew better. The narrator went on—

“Well, how the old woman should have had the wit to guess it I could
never tell, but she found out that he was inside that there churn.
Without saying a word she took hold of the winch (it was turned by
handpower then), and round she swung him, and Jack began to flop about
inside. ‘O Lard! stop the churn! let me out!’ says he, popping out his
head. ‘I shall be churned into a pummy!’ (He was a cowardly chap in his
heart, as such men mostly be). ‘Not till ye make amends for ravaging
her virgin innocence!’ says the old woman. ‘Stop the churn you old
witch!’ screams he. ‘You call me old witch, do ye, you deceiver!’ says
she, ‘when ye ought to ha’ been calling me mother-law these last five
months!’ And on went the churn, and Jack’s bones rattled round again.
Well, none of us ventured to interfere; and at last ’a promised to make
it right wi’ her. ‘Yes—I’ll be as good as my word!’ he said. And so it
ended that day.”

While the listeners were smiling their comments there was a quick
movement behind their backs, and they looked round. Tess, pale-faced,
had gone to the door.

“How warm ’tis to-day!” she said, almost inaudibly.

It was warm, and none of them connected her withdrawal with the
reminiscences of the dairyman. He went forward and opened the door for
her, saying with tender raillery—

“Why, maidy” (he frequently, with unconscious irony, gave her this pet
name), “the prettiest milker I’ve got in my dairy; you mustn’t get so
fagged as this at the first breath of summer weather, or we shall be
finely put to for want of ’ee by dog-days, shan’t we, Mr Clare?”

“I was faint—and—I think I am better out o’ doors,” she said
mechanically; and disappeared outside.

Fortunately for her the milk in the revolving churn at that moment
changed its squashing for a decided flick-flack.

“’Tis coming!” cried Mrs Crick, and the attention of all was called off
from Tess.

That fair sufferer soon recovered herself externally; but she remained
much depressed all the afternoon. When the evening milking was done she
did not care to be with the rest of them, and went out of doors,
wandering along she knew not whither. She was wretched—O so wretched—at
the perception that to her companions the dairyman’s story had been
rather a humorous narration than otherwise; none of them but herself
seemed to see the sorrow of it; to a certainty, not one knew how
cruelly it touched the tender place in her experience. The evening sun
was now ugly to her, like a great inflamed wound in the sky. Only a
solitary cracked-voice reed-sparrow greeted her from the bushes by the
river, in a sad, machine-made tone, resembling that of a past friend
whose friendship she had outworn.

In these long June days the milkmaids, and, indeed, most of the
household, went to bed at sunset or sooner, the morning work before
milking being so early and heavy at a time of full pails. Tess usually
accompanied her fellows upstairs. To-night, however, she was the first
to go to their common chamber; and she had dozed when the other girls
came in. She saw them undressing in the orange light of the vanished
sun, which flushed their forms with its colour; she dozed again, but
she was reawakened by their voices, and quietly turned her eyes towards
them.

Neither of her three chamber-companions had got into bed. They were
standing in a group, in their nightgowns, barefooted, at the window,
the last red rays of the west still warming their faces and necks and
the walls around them. All were watching somebody in the garden with
deep interest, their three faces close together: a jovial and round
one, a pale one with dark hair, and a fair one whose tresses were
auburn.

“Don’t push! You can see as well as I,” said Retty, the auburn-haired
and youngest girl, without removing her eyes from the window.

“’Tis no use for you to be in love with him any more than me, Retty
Priddle,” said jolly-faced Marian, the eldest, slily. “His thoughts be
of other cheeks than thine!”

Retty Priddle still looked, and the others looked again.

“There he is again!” cried Izz Huett, the pale girl with dark damp hair
and keenly cut lips.

“You needn’t say anything, Izz,” answered Retty. “For I zid you kissing
his shade.”

_”What_ did you see her doing?” asked Marian.

“Why—he was standing over the whey-tub to let off the whey, and the
shade of his face came upon the wall behind, close to Izz, who was
standing there filling a vat. She put her mouth against the wall and
kissed the shade of his mouth; I zid her, though he didn’t.”

“O Izz Huett!” said Marian.

A rosy spot came into the middle of Izz Huett’s cheek.

“Well, there was no harm in it,” she declared, with attempted coolness.
“And if I be in love wi’en, so is Retty, too; and so be you, Marian,
come to that.”

Marian’s full face could not blush past its chronic pinkness.

“I!” she said. “What a tale! Ah, there he is again! Dear eyes—dear
face—dear Mr Clare!”

“There—you’ve owned it!”

“So have you—so have we all,” said Marian, with the dry frankness of
complete indifference to opinion. “It is silly to pretend otherwise
amongst ourselves, though we need not own it to other folks. I would
just marry ’n to-morrow!”

“So would I—and more,” murmured Izz Huett.

“And I too,” whispered the more timid Retty.

The listener grew warm.

“We can’t all marry him,” said Izz.

“We shan’t, either of us; which is worse still,” said the eldest.
“There he is again!”

They all three blew him a silent kiss.

“Why?” asked Retty quickly.

“Because he likes Tess Durbeyfield best,” said Marian, lowering her
voice. “I have watched him every day, and have found it out.”

There was a reflective silence.

“But she don’t care anything for ’n?” at length breathed Retty.

“Well—I sometimes think that too.”

“But how silly all this is!” said Izz Huett impatiently. “Of course he
won’t marry any one of us, or Tess either—a gentleman’s son, who’s
going to be a great landowner and farmer abroad! More likely to ask us
to come wi’en as farm-hands at so much a year!”

One sighed, and another sighed, and Marian’s plump figure sighed
biggest of all. Somebody in bed hard by sighed too. Tears came into the
eyes of Retty Priddle, the pretty red-haired youngest—the last bud of
the Paridelles, so important in the county annals. They watched
silently a little longer, their three faces still close together as
before, and the triple hues of their hair mingling. But the unconscious
Mr Clare had gone indoors, and they saw him no more; and, the shades
beginning to deepen, they crept into their beds. In a few minutes they
heard him ascend the ladder to his own room. Marian was soon snoring,
but Izz did not drop into forgetfulness for a long time. Retty Priddle
cried herself to sleep.

The deeper-passioned Tess was very far from sleeping even then. This
conversation was another of the bitter pills she had been obliged to
swallow that day. Scarce the least feeling of jealousy arose in her
breast. For that matter she knew herself to have the preference. Being
more finely formed, better educated, and, though the youngest except
Retty, more woman than either, she perceived that only the slightest
ordinary care was necessary for holding her own in Angel Clare’s heart
against these her candid friends. But the grave question was, ought she
to do this? There was, to be sure, hardly a ghost of a chance for
either of them, in a serious sense; but there was, or had been, a
chance of one or the other inspiring him with a passing fancy for her,
and enjoying the pleasure of his attentions while he stayed here. Such
unequal attachments had led to marriage; and she had heard from Mrs
Crick that Mr Clare had one day asked, in a laughing way, what would be
the use of his marrying a fine lady, and all the while ten thousand
acres of Colonial pasture to feed, and cattle to rear, and corn to
reap. A farm-woman would be the only sensible kind of wife for him. But
whether Mr Clare had spoken seriously or not, why should she, who could
never conscientiously allow any man to marry her now, and who had
religiously determined that she never would be tempted to do so, draw
off Mr Clare’s attention from other women, for the brief happiness of
sunning herself in his eyes while he remained at Talbothays?


XXII

They came downstairs yawning next morning; but skimming and milking
were proceeded with as usual, and they went indoors to breakfast.
Dairyman Crick was discovered stamping about the house. He had received
a letter, in which a customer had complained that the butter had a
twang.

“And begad, so ’t have!” said the dairyman, who held in his left hand a
wooden slice on which a lump of butter was stuck. “Yes—taste for
yourself!”

Several of them gathered round him; and Mr Clare tasted, Tess tasted,
also the other indoor milkmaids, one or two of the milking-men, and
last of all Mrs Crick, who came out from the waiting breakfast-table.
There certainly was a twang.

The dairyman, who had thrown himself into abstraction to better realize
the taste, and so divine the particular species of noxious weed to
which it appertained, suddenly exclaimed—

“’Tis garlic! and I thought there wasn’t a blade left in that mead!”

Then all the old hands remembered that a certain dry mead, into which a
few of the cows had been admitted of late, had, in years gone by,
spoilt the butter in the same way. The dairyman had not recognized the
taste at that time, and thought the butter bewitched.

“We must overhaul that mead,” he resumed; “this mustn’t continny!”

All having armed themselves with old pointed knives, they went out
together. As the inimical plant could only be present in very
microscopic dimensions to have escaped ordinary observation, to find it
seemed rather a hopeless attempt in the stretch of rich grass before
them. However, they formed themselves into line, all assisting, owing
to the importance of the search; the dairyman at the upper end with Mr
Clare, who had volunteered to help; then Tess, Marian, Izz Huett, and
Retty; then Bill Lewell, Jonathan, and the married dairywomen—Beck
Knibbs, with her wooly black hair and rolling eyes; and flaxen Frances,
consumptive from the winter damps of the water-meads—who lived in their
respective cottages.

With eyes fixed upon the ground they crept slowly across a strip of the
field, returning a little further down in such a manner that, when they
should have finished, not a single inch of the pasture but would have
fallen under the eye of some one of them. It was a most tedious
business, not more than half a dozen shoots of garlic being
discoverable in the whole field; yet such was the herb’s pungency that
probably one bite of it by one cow had been sufficient to season the
whole dairy’s produce for the day.

Differing one from another in natures and moods so greatly as they did,
they yet formed, bending, a curiously uniform row—automatic, noiseless;
and an alien observer passing down the neighbouring lane might well
have been excused for massing them as “Hodge”. As they crept along,
stooping low to discern the plant, a soft yellow gleam was reflected
from the buttercups into their shaded faces, giving them an elfish,
moonlit aspect, though the sun was pouring upon their backs in all the
strength of noon.

Angel Clare, who communistically stuck to his rule of taking part with
the rest in everything, glanced up now and then. It was not, of course,
by accident that he walked next to Tess.

“Well, how are you?” he murmured.

“Very well, thank you, sir,” she replied demurely.

As they had been discussing a score of personal matters only
half-an-hour before, the introductory style seemed a little
superfluous. But they got no further in speech just then. They crept
and crept, the hem of her petticoat just touching his gaiter, and his
elbow sometimes brushing hers. At last the dairyman, who came next,
could stand it no longer.

“Upon my soul and body, this here stooping do fairly make my back open
and shut!” he exclaimed, straightening himself slowly with an
excruciated look till quite upright. “And you, maidy Tess, you wasn’t
well a day or two ago—this will make your head ache finely! Don’t do
any more, if you feel fainty; leave the rest to finish it.”

Dairyman Crick withdrew, and Tess dropped behind. Mr Clare also stepped
out of line, and began privateering about for the weed. When she found
him near her, her very tension at what she had heard the night before
made her the first to speak.

“Don’t they look pretty?” she said.

“Who?”

“Izzy Huett and Retty.”

Tess had moodily decided that either of these maidens would make a good
farmer’s wife, and that she ought to recommend them, and obscure her
own wretched charms.

“Pretty? Well, yes—they are pretty girls—fresh looking. I have often
thought so.”

“Though, poor dears, prettiness won’t last long!”

“O no, unfortunately.”

“They are excellent dairywomen.”

“Yes: though not better than you.”

“They skim better than I.”

“Do they?”

Clare remained observing them—not without their observing him.

“She is colouring up,” continued Tess heroically.

“Who?”

“Retty Priddle.”

“Oh! Why it that?”

“Because you are looking at her.”

Self-sacrificing as her mood might be, Tess could not well go further
and cry, “Marry one of them, if you really do want a dairywoman and not
a lady; and don’t think of marrying me!” She followed Dairyman Crick,
and had the mournful satisfaction of seeing that Clare remained behind.

From this day she forced herself to take pains to avoid him—never
allowing herself, as formerly, to remain long in his company, even if
their juxtaposition were purely accidental. She gave the other three
every chance.

Tess was woman enough to realize from their avowals to herself that
Angel Clare had the honour of all the dairymaids in his keeping, and
her perception of his care to avoid compromising the happiness of
either in the least degree bred a tender respect in Tess for what she
deemed, rightly or wrongly, the self-controlling sense of duty shown by
him, a quality which she had never expected to find in one of the
opposite sex, and in the absence of which more than one of the simple
hearts who were his house-mates might have gone weeping on her
pilgrimage.


XXIII

The hot weather of July had crept upon them unawares, and the
atmosphere of the flat vale hung heavy as an opiate over the
dairy-folk, the cows, and the trees. Hot steaming rains fell
frequently, making the grass where the cows fed yet more rank, and
hindering the late hay-making in the other meads.

It was Sunday morning; the milking was done; the outdoor milkers had
gone home. Tess and the other three were dressing themselves rapidly,
the whole bevy having agreed to go together to Mellstock Church, which
lay some three or four miles distant from the dairy-house. She had now
been two months at Talbothays, and this was her first excursion.

All the preceding afternoon and night heavy thunderstorms had hissed
down upon the meads, and washed some of the hay into the river; but
this morning the sun shone out all the more brilliantly for the deluge,
and the air was balmy and clear.

The crooked lane leading from their own parish to Mellstock ran along
the lowest levels in a portion of its length, and when the girls
reached the most depressed spot they found that the result of the rain
had been to flood the lane over-shoe to a distance of some fifty yards.
This would have been no serious hindrance on a week-day; they would
have clicked through it in their high pattens and boots quite
unconcerned; but on this day of vanity, this Sun’s-day, when flesh went
forth to coquet with flesh while hypocritically affecting business with
spiritual things; on this occasion for wearing their white stockings
and thin shoes, and their pink, white, and lilac gowns, on which every
mud spot would be visible, the pool was an awkward impediment. They
could hear the church-bell calling—as yet nearly a mile off.

“Who would have expected such a rise in the river in summer-time!” said
Marian, from the top of the roadside bank on which they had climbed,
and were maintaining a precarious footing in the hope of creeping along
its slope till they were past the pool.

“We can’t get there anyhow, without walking right through it, or else
going round the Turnpike way; and that would make us so very late!”
said Retty, pausing hopelessly.

“And I do colour up so hot, walking into church late, and all the
people staring round,” said Marian, “that I hardly cool down again till
we get into the That-it-may-please-Thees.”

While they stood clinging to the bank they heard a splashing round the
bend of the road, and presently appeared Angel Clare, advancing along
the lane towards them through the water.

Four hearts gave a big throb simultaneously.

His aspect was probably as un-Sabbatarian a one as a dogmatic parson’s
son often presented; his attire being his dairy clothes, long wading
boots, a cabbage-leaf inside his hat to keep his head cool, with a
thistle-spud to finish him off. “He’s not going to church,” said
Marian.

“No—I wish he was!” murmured Tess.

Angel, in fact, rightly or wrongly (to adopt the safe phrase of evasive
controversialists), preferred sermons in stones to sermons in churches
and chapels on fine summer days. This morning, moreover, he had gone
out to see if the damage to the hay by the flood was considerable or
not. On his walk he observed the girls from a long distance, though
they had been so occupied with their difficulties of passage as not to
notice him. He knew that the water had risen at that spot, and that it
would quite check their progress. So he had hastened on, with a dim
idea of how he could help them—one of them in particular.

The rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed quartet looked so charming in their light
summer attire, clinging to the roadside bank like pigeons on a
roof-slope, that he stopped a moment to regard them before coming
close. Their gauzy skirts had brushed up from the grass innumerable
flies and butterflies which, unable to escape, remained caged in the
transparent tissue as in an aviary. Angel’s eye at last fell upon Tess,
the hindmost of the four; she, being full of suppressed laughter at
their dilemma, could not help meeting his glance radiantly.

He came beneath them in the water, which did not rise over his long
boots; and stood looking at the entrapped flies and butterflies.

“Are you trying to get to church?” he said to Marian, who was in front,
including the next two in his remark, but avoiding Tess.

“Yes, sir; and ’tis getting late; and my colour do come up so—”

“I’ll carry you through the pool—every Jill of you.”

The whole four flushed as if one heart beat through them.

“I think you can’t, sir,” said Marian.

“It is the only way for you to get past. Stand still. Nonsense—you are
not too heavy! I’d carry you all four together. Now, Marian, attend,”
he continued, “and put your arms round my shoulders, so. Now! Hold on.
That’s well done.”

Marian had lowered herself upon his arm and shoulder as directed, and
Angel strode off with her, his slim figure, as viewed from behind,
looking like the mere stem to the great nosegay suggested by hers. They
disappeared round the curve of the road, and only his sousing footsteps
and the top ribbon of Marian’s bonnet told where they were. In a few
minutes he reappeared. Izz Huett was the next in order upon the bank.

“Here he comes,” she murmured, and they could hear that her lips were
dry with emotion. “And I have to put my arms round his neck and look
into his face as Marian did.”

“There’s nothing in that,” said Tess quickly.

“There’s a time for everything,” continued Izz, unheeding. “A time to
embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; the first is now going
to be mine.”

“Fie—it is Scripture, Izz!”

“Yes,” said Izz, “I’ve always a’ ear at church for pretty verses.”

Angel Clare, to whom three-quarters of this performance was a
commonplace act of kindness, now approached Izz. She quietly and
dreamily lowered herself into his arms, and Angel methodically marched
off with her. When he was heard returning for the third time Retty’s
throbbing heart could be almost seen to shake her. He went up to the
red-haired girl, and while he was seizing her he glanced at Tess. His
lips could not have pronounced more plainly, “It will soon be you and
I.” Her comprehension appeared in her face; she could not help it.
There was an understanding between them.

Poor little Retty, though by far the lightest weight, was the most
troublesome of Clare’s burdens. Marian had been like a sack of meal, a
dead weight of plumpness under which he has literally staggered. Izz
had ridden sensibly and calmly. Retty was a bunch of hysterics.

However, he got through with the disquieted creature, deposited her,
and returned. Tess could see over the hedge the distant three in a
group, standing as he had placed them on the next rising ground. It was
now her turn. She was embarrassed to discover that excitement at the
proximity of Mr Clare’s breath and eyes, which she had contemned in her
companions, was intensified in herself; and as if fearful of betraying
her secret, she paltered with him at the last moment.

“I may be able to clim’ along the bank perhaps—I can clim’ better than
they. You must be so tired, Mr Clare!”

“No, no, Tess,” said he quickly. And almost before she was aware, she
was seated in his arms and resting against his shoulder.

“Three Leahs to get one Rachel,” he whispered.

“They are better women than I,” she replied, magnanimously sticking to
her resolve.

“Not to me,” said Angel.

He saw her grow warm at this; and they went some steps in silence.

“I hope I am not too heavy?” she said timidly.

“O no. You should lift Marian! Such a lump. You are like an undulating
billow warmed by the sun. And all this fluff of muslin about you is the
froth.”

“It is very pretty—if I seem like that to you.”

“Do you know that I have undergone three-quarters of this labour
entirely for the sake of the fourth quarter?”

“No.”

“I did not expect such an event to-day.”

“Nor I... The water came up so sudden.”

That the rise in the water was what she understood him to refer to, the
state of breathing belied. Clare stood still and inclinced his face
towards hers.

“O Tessy!” he exclaimed.

The girl’s cheeks burned to the breeze, and she could not look into his
eyes for her emotion. It reminded Angel that he was somewhat unfairly
taking advantage of an accidental position; and he went no further with
it. No definite words of love had crossed their lips as yet, and
suspension at this point was desirable now. However, he walked slowly,
to make the remainder of the distance as long as possible; but at last
they came to the bend, and the rest of their progress was in full view
of the other three. The dry land was reached, and he set her down.

Her friends were looking with round thoughtful eyes at her and him, and
she could see that they had been talking of her. He hastily bade them
farewell, and splashed back along the stretch of submerged road.

The four moved on together as before, till Marian broke the silence by
saying—

“No—in all truth; we have no chance against her!” She looked joylessly
at Tess.

“What do you mean?” asked the latter.

“He likes ’ee best—the very best! We could see it as he brought ’ee. He
would have kissed ’ee, if you had encouraged him to do it, ever so
little.”

“No, no,” said she.

The gaiety with which they had set out had somehow vanished; and yet
there was no enmity or malice between them. They were generous young
souls; they had been reared in the lonely country nooks where fatalism
is a strong sentiment, and they did not blame her. Such supplanting was
to be.

Tess’s heart ached. There was no concealing from herself the fact that
she loved Angel Clare, perhaps all the more passionately from knowing
that the others had also lost their hearts to him. There is contagion
in this sentiment, especially among women. And yet that same hungry
nature had fought against this, but too feebly, and the natural result
had followed.

“I will never stand in your way, nor in the way of either of you!” she
declared to Retty that night in the bedroom (her tears running down).
“I can’t help this, my dear! I don’t think marrying is in his mind at
all; but if he were ever to ask me I should refuse him, as I should
refuse any man.”

“Oh! would you? Why?” said wondering Retty.

“It cannot be! But I will be plain. Putting myself quite on one side, I
don’t think he will choose either of you.”

“I have never expected it—thought of it!” moaned Retty. “But O! I wish
I was dead!”

The poor child, torn by a feeling which she hardly understood, turned
to the other two girls who came upstairs just then.

“We be friends with her again,” she said to them. “She thinks no more
of his choosing her than we do.”

So the reserve went off, and they were confiding and warm.

“I don’t seem to care what I do now,” said Marian, whose mood was
turned to its lowest bass. “I was going to marry a dairyman at
Stickleford, who’s asked me twice; but—my soul—I would put an end to
myself rather’n be his wife now! Why don’t ye speak, Izz?”

“To confess, then,” murmured Izz, “I made sure to-day that he was going
to kiss me as he held me; and I lay still against his breast, hoping
and hoping, and never moved at all. But he did not. I don’t like biding
here at Talbothays any longer! I shall go hwome.”

The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the hopeless
passion of the girls. They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness
of an emotion thrust on them by cruel Nature’s law—an emotion which
they had neither expected nor desired. The incident of the day had
fanned the flame that was burning the inside of their hearts out, and
the torture was almost more than they could endure. The differences
which distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by this
passion, and each was but portion of one organism called sex. There was
so much frankness and so little jealousy because there was no hope.
Each one was a girl of fair common sense, and she did not delude
herself with any vain conceits, or deny her love, or give herself airs,
in the idea of outshining the others. The full recognition of the
futility of their infatuation, from a social point of view; its
purposeless beginning; its self-bounded outlook; its lack of everything
to justify its existence in the eye of civilization (while lacking
nothing in the eye of Nature); the one fact that it did exist,
ecstasizing them to a killing joy—all this imparted to them a
resignation, a dignity, which a practical and sordid expectation of
winning him as a husband would have destroyed.

They tossed and turned on their little beds, and the cheese-wring
dripped monotonously downstairs.

“B’ you awake, Tess?” whispered one, half-an-hour later.

It was Izz Huett’s voice.

Tess replied in the affirmative, whereupon also Retty and Marian
suddenly flung the bedclothes off them, and sighed—

“So be we!”

“I wonder what she is like—the lady they say his family have looked out
for him!”

“I wonder,” said Izz.

“Some lady looked out for him?” gasped Tess, starting. “I have never
heard o’ that!”

“O yes—’tis whispered; a young lady of his own rank, chosen by his
family; a Doctor of Divinity’s daughter near his father’s parish of
Emminster; he don’t much care for her, they say. But he is sure to
marry her.”

They had heard so very little of this; yet it was enough to build up
wretched dolorous dreams upon, there in the shade of the night. They
pictured all the details of his being won round to consent, of the
wedding preparations, of the bride’s happiness, of her dress and veil,
of her blissful home with him, when oblivion would have fallen upon
themselves as far as he and their love were concerned. Thus they
talked, and ached, and wept till sleep charmed their sorrow away.

After this disclosure Tess nourished no further foolish thought that
there lurked any grave and deliberate import in Clare’s attentions to
her. It was a passing summer love of her face, for love’s own temporary
sake—nothing more. And the thorny crown of this sad conception was that
she whom he really did prefer in a cursory way to the rest, she who
knew herself to be more impassioned in nature, cleverer, more beautiful
than they, was in the eyes of propriety far less worthy of him than the
homelier ones whom he ignored.


XXIV

Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at a
season when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of
fertilization, it was impossible that the most fanciful love should not
grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by
their surroundings.

July passed over their heads, and the Thermidorean weather which came
in its wake seemed an effort on the part of Nature to match the state
of hearts at Talbothays Dairy. The air of the place, so fresh in the
spring and early summer, was stagnant and enervating now. Its heavy
scents weighed upon them, and at mid-day the landscape seemed lying in
a swoon. Ethiopic scorchings browned the upper slopes of the pastures,
but there was still bright green herbage here where the watercourses
purled. And as Clare was oppressed by the outward heats, so was he
burdened inwardly by waxing fervour of passion for the soft and silent
Tess.

The rains having passed, the uplands were dry. The wheels of the
dairyman’s spring-cart, as he sped home from market, licked up the
pulverized surface of the highway, and were followed by white ribands
of dust, as if they had set a thin powder-train on fire. The cows
jumped wildly over the five-barred barton-gate, maddened by the
gad-fly; Dairyman Crick kept his shirt-sleeves permanently rolled up
from Monday to Saturday; open windows had no effect in ventilation
without open doors, and in the dairy-garden the blackbirds and thrushes
crept about under the currant-bushes, rather in the manner of
quadrupeds than of winged creatures. The flies in the kitchen were
lazy, teasing, and familiar, crawling about in the unwonted places, on
the floors, into drawers, and over the backs of the milkmaids’ hands.
Conversations were concerning sunstroke; while butter-making, and still
more butter-keeping, was a despair.

They milked entirely in the meads for coolness and convenience, without
driving in the cows. During the day the animals obsequiously followed
the shadow of the smallest tree as it moved round the stem with the
diurnal roll; and when the milkers came they could hardly stand still
for the flies.

On one of these afternoons four or five unmilked cows chanced to stand
apart from the general herd, behind the corner of a hedge, among them
being Dumpling and Old Pretty, who loved Tess’s hands above those of
any other maid. When she rose from her stool under a finished cow,
Angel Clare, who had been observing her for some time, asked her if she
would take the aforesaid creatures next. She silently assented, and
with her stool at arm’s length, and the pail against her knee, went
round to where they stood. Soon the sound of Old Pretty’s milk fizzing
into the pail came through the hedge, and then Angel felt inclined to
go round the corner also, to finish off a hard-yielding milcher who had
strayed there, he being now as capable of this as the dairyman himself.

All the men, and some of the women, when milking, dug their foreheads
into the cows and gazed into the pail. But a few—mainly the younger
ones—rested their heads sideways. This was Tess Durbeyfield’s habit,
her temple pressing the milcher’s flank, her eyes fixed on the far end
of the meadow with the quiet of one lost in meditation. She was milking
Old Pretty thus, and the sun chancing to be on the milking-side, it
shone flat upon her pink-gowned form and her white curtain-bonnet, and
upon her profile, rendering it keen as a cameo cut from the dun
background of the cow.

She did not know that Clare had followed her round, and that he sat
under his cow watching her. The stillness of her head and features was
remarkable: she might have been in a trance, her eyes open, yet
unseeing. Nothing in the picture moved but Old Pretty’s tail and Tess’s
pink hands, the latter so gently as to be a rhythmic pulsation only, as
if they were obeying a reflex stimulus, like a beating heart.

How very lovable her face was to him. Yet there was nothing ethereal
about it; all was real vitality, real warmth, real incarnation. And it
was in her mouth that this culminated. Eyes almost as deep and speaking
he had seen before, and cheeks perhaps as fair; brows as arched, a chin
and throat almost as shapely; her mouth he had seen nothing to equal on
the face of the earth. To a young man with the least fire in him that
little upward lift in the middle of her red top lip was distracting,
infatuating, maddening. He had never before seen a woman’s lips and
teeth which forced upon his mind with such persistent iteration the old
Elizabethan simile of roses filled with snow. Perfect, he, as a lover,
might have called them off-hand. But no—they were not perfect. And it
was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the
sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity.

Clare had studied the curves of those lips so many times that he could
reproduce them mentally with ease: and now, as they again confronted
him, clothed with colour and life, they sent an _aura_ over his flesh,
a breeze through his nerves, which well nigh produced a qualm; and
actually produced, by some mysterious physiological process, a prosaic
sneeze.

She then became conscious that he was observing her; but she would not
show it by any change of position, though the curious dream-like fixity
disappeared, and a close eye might easily have discerned that the
rosiness of her face deepened, and then faded till only a tinge of it
was left.

The influence that had passed into Clare like an excitation from the
sky did not die down. Resolutions, reticences, prudences, fears, fell
back like a defeated battalion. He jumped up from his seat, and,
leaving his pail to be kicked over if the milcher had such a mind, went
quickly towards the desire of his eyes, and, kneeling down beside her,
clasped her in his arms.

Tess was taken completely by surprise, and she yielded to his embrace
with unreflecting inevitableness. Having seen that it was really her
lover who had advanced, and no one else, her lips parted, and she sank
upon him in her momentary joy, with something very like an ecstatic
cry.

He had been on the point of kissing that too tempting mouth, but he
checked himself, for tender conscience’ sake.

“Forgive me, Tess dear!” he whispered. “I ought to have asked. I—did
not know what I was doing. I do not mean it as a liberty. I am devoted
to you, Tessy, dearest, in all sincerity!”

Old Pretty by this time had looked round, puzzled; and seeing two
people crouching under her where, by immemorial custom, there should
have been only one, lifted her hind leg crossly.

“She is angry—she doesn’t know what we mean—she’ll kick over the milk!”
exclaimed Tess, gently striving to free herself, her eyes concerned
with the quadruped’s actions, her heart more deeply concerned with
herself and Clare.

She slipped up from her seat, and they stood together, his arm still
encircling her. Tess’s eyes, fixed on distance, began to fill.

“Why do you cry, my darling?” he said.

“O—I don’t know!” she murmured.

As she saw and felt more clearly the position she was in she became
agitated and tried to withdraw.

“Well, I have betrayed my feeling, Tess, at last,” said he, with a
curious sigh of desperation, signifying unconsciously that his heart
had outrun his judgement. “That I—love you dearly and truly I need not
say. But I—it shall go no further now—it distresses you—I am as
surprised as you are. You will not think I have presumed upon your
defencelessness—been too quick and unreflecting, will you?”

“N’—I can’t tell.”

He had allowed her to free herself; and in a minute or two the milking
of each was resumed. Nobody had beheld the gravitation of the two into
one; and when the dairyman came round by that screened nook a few
minutes later, there was not a sign to reveal that the markedly
sundered pair were more to each other than mere acquaintance. Yet in
the interval since Crick’s last view of them something had occurred
which changed the pivot of the universe for their two natures;
something which, had he known its quality, the dairyman would have
despised, as a practical man; yet which was based upon a more stubborn
and resistless tendency than a whole heap of so-called practicalities.
A veil had been whisked aside; the tract of each one’s outlook was to
have a new horizon thenceforward—for a short time or for a long.


End of Phase the Third


Phase the Fourth:

The Consequence


XXV

Clare, restless, went out into the dusk when evening drew on, she who
had won him having retired to her chamber.

The night was as sultry as the day. There was no coolness after dark
unless on the grass. Roads, garden-paths, the house-fronts, the
barton-walls were warm as hearths, and reflected the noontime
temperature into the noctambulist’s face.

He sat on the east gate of the dairy-yard, and knew not what to think
of himself. Feeling had indeed smothered judgement that day.

Since the sudden embrace, three hours before, the twain had kept apart.
She seemed stilled, almost alarmed, at what had occurred, while the
novelty, unpremeditation, mastery of circumstance disquieted
him—palpitating, contemplative being that he was. He could hardly
realize their true relations to each other as yet, and what their
mutual bearing should be before third parties thenceforward.

Angel had come as pupil to this dairy in the idea that his temporary
existence here was to be the merest episode in his life, soon passed
through and early forgotten; he had come as to a place from which as
from a screened alcove he could calmly view the absorbing world
without, and, apostrophizing it with Walt Whitman—

    Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes,
    How curious you are to me!—

resolve upon a plan for plunging into that world anew. But behold, the
absorbing scene had been imported hither. What had been the engrossing
world had dissolved into an uninteresting outer dumb-show; while here,
in this apparently dim and unimpassioned place, novelty had
volcanically started up, as it had never, for him, started up
elsewhere.

Every window of the house being open, Clare could hear across the yard
each trivial sound of the retiring household. The dairy-house, so
humble, so insignificant, so purely to him a place of constrained
sojourn that he had never hitherto deemed it of sufficient importance
to be reconnoitred as an object of any quality whatever in the
landscape; what was it now? The aged and lichened brick gables breathed
forth “Stay!” The windows smiled, the door coaxed and beckoned, the
creeper blushed confederacy. A personality within it was so
far-reaching in her influence as to spread into and make the bricks,
mortar, and whole overhanging sky throb with a burning sensibility.
Whose was this mighty personality? A milkmaid’s.

It was amazing, indeed, to find how great a matter the life of the
obscure dairy had become to him. And though new love was to be held
partly responsible for this, it was not solely so. Many besides Angel
have learnt that the magnitude of lives is not as to their external
displacements, but as to their subjective experiences. The
impressionable peasant leads a larger, fuller, more dramatic life than
the pachydermatous king. Looking at it thus, he found that life was to
be seen of the same magnitude here as elsewhere.

Despite his heterodoxy, faults, and weaknesses, Clare was a man with a
conscience. Tess was no insignificant creature to toy with and dismiss;
but a woman living her precious life—a life which, to herself who
endured or enjoyed it, possessed as great a dimension as the life of
the mightiest to himself. Upon her sensations the whole world depended
to Tess; through her existence all her fellow-creatures existed, to
her. The universe itself only came into being for Tess on the
particular day in the particular year in which she was born.

This consciousness upon which he had intruded was the single
opportunity of existence ever vouchsafed to Tess by an unsympathetic
First Cause—her all; her every and only chance. How then should he look
upon her as of less consequence than himself; as a pretty trifle to
caress and grow weary of; and not deal in the greatest seriousness with
the affection which he knew that he had awakened in her—so fervid and
so impressionable as she was under her reserve—in order that it might
not agonize and wreck her?

To encounter her daily in the accustomed manner would be to develop
what had begun. Living in such close relations, to meet meant to fall
into endearment; flesh and blood could not resist it; and, having
arrived at no conclusion as to the issue of such a tendency, he decided
to hold aloof for the present from occupations in which they would be
mutually engaged. As yet the harm done was small.

But it was not easy to carry out the resolution never to approach her.
He was driven towards her by every heave of his pulse.

He thought he would go and see his friends. It might be possible to
sound them upon this. In less than five months his term here would have
ended, and after a few additional months spent upon other farms he
would be fully equipped in agricultural knowledge and in a position to
start on his own account. Would not a farmer want a wife, and should a
farmer’s wife be a drawing-room wax-figure, or a woman who understood
farming? Notwithstanding the pleasing answer returned to him by the
silence, he resolved to go his journey.

One morning when they sat down to breakfast at Talbothays Dairy some
maid observed that she had not seen anything of Mr Clare that day.

“O no,” said Dairyman Crick. “Mr Clare has gone hwome to Emminster to
spend a few days wi’ his kinsfolk.”

For four impassioned ones around that table the sunshine of the morning
went out at a stroke, and the birds muffled their song. But neither
girl by word or gesture revealed her blankness. “He’s getting on
towards the end of his time wi’ me,” added the dairyman, with a phlegm
which unconsciously was brutal; “and so I suppose he is beginning to
see about his plans elsewhere.”

“How much longer is he to bide here?” asked Izz Huett, the only one of
the gloom-stricken bevy who could trust her voice with the question.

The others waited for the dairyman’s answer as if their lives hung upon
it; Retty, with parted lips, gazing on the tablecloth, Marian with heat
added to her redness, Tess throbbing and looking out at the meads.

“Well, I can’t mind the exact day without looking at my
memorandum-book,” replied Crick, with the same intolerable unconcern.
“And even that may be altered a bit. He’ll bide to get a little
practice in the calving out at the straw-yard, for certain. He’ll hang
on till the end of the year I should say.”

Four months or so of torturing ecstasy in his society—of “pleasure
girdled about with pain”. After that the blackness of unutterable
night.

At this moment of the morning Angel Clare was riding along a narrow
lane ten miles distant from the breakfasters, in the direction of his
father’s Vicarage at Emminster, carrying, as well as he could, a little
basket which contained some black-puddings and a bottle of mead, sent
by Mrs Crick, with her kind respects, to his parents. The white lane
stretched before him, and his eyes were upon it; but they were staring
into next year, and not at the lane. He loved her; ought he to marry
her? Dared he to marry her? What would his mother and his brothers say?
What would he himself say a couple of years after the event? That would
depend upon whether the germs of staunch comradeship underlay the
temporary emotion, or whether it were a sensuous joy in her form only,
with no substratum of everlastingness.

His father’s hill-surrounded little town, the Tudor church-tower of red
stone, the clump of trees near the Vicarage, came at last into view
beneath him, and he rode down towards the well-known gate. Casting a
glance in the direction of the church before entering his home, he
beheld standing by the vestry-door a group of girls, of ages between
twelve and sixteen, apparently awaiting the arrival of some other one,
who in a moment became visible; a figure somewhat older than the
school-girls, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and highly-starched cambric
morning-gown, with a couple of books in her hand.

Clare knew her well. He could not be sure that she observed him; he
hoped she did not, so as to render it unnecessary that he should go and
speak to her, blameless creature that she was. An overpowering
reluctance to greet her made him decide that she had not seen him. The
young lady was Miss Mercy Chant, the only daughter of his father’s
neighbour and friend, whom it was his parents’ quiet hope that he might
wed some day. She was great at Antinomianism and Bible-classes, and was
plainly going to hold a class now. Clare’s mind flew to the
impassioned, summer-steeped heathens in the Var Vale, their rosy faces
court-patched with cow-droppings; and to one the most impassioned of
them all.

It was on the impulse of the moment that he had resolved to trot over
to Emminster, and hence had not written to apprise his mother and
father, aiming, however, to arrive about the breakfast hour, before
they should have gone out to their parish duties. He was a little late,
and they had already sat down to the morning meal. The group at the
table jumped up to welcome him as soon as he entered. They were his
father and mother, his brother the Reverend Felix—curate at a town in
the adjoining county, home for the inside of a fortnight—and his other
brother, the Reverend Cuthbert, the classical scholar, and Fellow and
Dean of his College, down from Cambridge for the long vacation. His
mother appeared in a cap and silver spectacles, and his father looked
what in fact he was—an earnest, God-fearing man, somewhat gaunt, in
years about sixty-five, his pale face lined with thought and purpose.
Over their heads hung the picture of Angel’s sister, the eldest of the
family, sixteen years his senior, who had married a missionary and gone
out to Africa.

Old Mr Clare was a clergyman of a type which, within the last twenty
years, has well nigh dropped out of contemporary life. A spiritual
descendant in the direct line from Wycliff, Huss, Luther, Calvin; an
Evangelical of the Evangelicals, a Conversionist, a man of Apostolic
simplicity in life and thought, he had in his raw youth made up his
mind once for all in the deeper questions of existence, and admitted no
further reasoning on them thenceforward. He was regarded even by those
of his own date and school of thinking as extreme; while, on the other
hand, those totally opposed to him were unwillingly won to admiration
for his thoroughness, and for the remarkable power he showed in
dismissing all question as to principles in his energy for applying
them. He loved Paul of Tarsus, liked St John, hated St James as much as
he dared, and regarded with mixed feelings Timothy, Titus, and
Philemon. The New Testament was less a Christiad then a Pauliad to his
intelligence—less an argument than an intoxication. His creed of
determinism was such that it almost amounted to a vice, and quite
amounted, on its negative side, to a renunciative philosophy which had
cousinship with that of Schopenhauer and Leopardi. He despised the
Canons and Rubric, swore by the Articles, and deemed himself consistent
through the whole category—which in a way he might have been. One thing
he certainly was—sincere.

To the aesthetic, sensuous, pagan pleasure in natural life and lush
womanhood which his son Angel had lately been experiencing in Var Vale,
his temper would have been antipathetic in a high degree, had he either
by inquiry or imagination been able to apprehend it. Once upon a time
Angel had been so unlucky as to say to his father, in a moment of
irritation, that it might have resulted far better for mankind if
Greece had been the source of the religion of modern civilization, and
not Palestine; and his father’s grief was of that blank description
which could not realize that there might lurk a thousandth part of a
truth, much less a half truth or a whole truth, in such a proposition.
He had simply preached austerely at Angel for some time after. But the
kindness of his heart was such that he never resented anything for
long, and welcomed his son to-day with a smile which was as candidly
sweet as a child’s.

Angel sat down, and the place felt like home; yet he did not so much as
formerly feel himself one of the family gathered there. Every time that
he returned hither he was conscious of this divergence, and since he
had last shared in the Vicarage life it had grown even more distinctly
foreign to his own than usual. Its transcendental aspirations—still
unconsciously based on the geocentric view of things, a zenithal
paradise, a nadiral hell—were as foreign to his own as if they had been
the dreams of people on another planet. Latterly he had seen only Life,
felt only the great passionate pulse of existence, unwarped,
uncontorted, untrammelled by those creeds which futilely attempt to
check what wisdom would be content to regulate.

On their part they saw a great difference in him, a growing divergence
from the Angel Clare of former times. It was chiefly a difference in
his manner that they noticed just now, particularly his brothers. He
was getting to behave like a farmer; he flung his legs about; the
muscles of his face had grown more expressive; his eyes looked as much
information as his tongue spoke, and more. The manner of the scholar
had nearly disappeared; still more the manner of the drawing-room young
man. A prig would have said that he had lost culture, and a prude that
he had become coarse. Such was the contagion of domiciliary fellowship
with the Talbothays nymphs and swains.

After breakfast he walked with his two brothers, non-evangelical,
well-educated, hall-marked young men, correct to their remotest fibre,
such unimpeachable models as are turned out yearly by the lathe of a
systematic tuition. They were both somewhat short-sighted, and when it
was the custom to wear a single eyeglass and string they wore a single
eyeglass and string; when it was the custom to wear a double glass they
wore a double glass; when it was the custom to wear spectacles they
wore spectacles straightway, all without reference to the particular
variety of defect in their own vision. When Wordsworth was enthroned
they carried pocket copies; and when Shelley was belittled they allowed
him to grow dusty on their shelves. When Correggio’s Holy Families were
admired, they admired Correggio’s Holy Families; when he was decried in
favour of Velasquez, they sedulously followed suit without any personal
objection.

If these two noticed Angel’s growing social ineptness, he noticed their
growing mental limitations. Felix seemed to him all Church; Cuthbert
all College. His Diocesan Synod and Visitations were the mainsprings of
the world to the one; Cambridge to the other. Each brother candidly
recognized that there were a few unimportant score of millions of
outsiders in civilized society, persons who were neither University men
nor churchmen; but they were to be tolerated rather than reckoned with
and respected.

They were both dutiful and attentive sons, and were regular in their
visits to their parents. Felix, though an offshoot from a far more
recent point in the devolution of theology than his father, was less
self-sacrificing and disinterested. More tolerant than his father of a
contradictory opinion, in its aspect as a danger to its holder, he was
less ready than his father to pardon it as a slight to his own
teaching. Cuthbert was, upon the whole, the more liberal-minded,
though, with greater subtlety, he had not so much heart.

As they walked along the hillside Angel’s former feeling revived in
him—that whatever their advantages by comparison with himself, neither
saw or set forth life as it really was lived. Perhaps, as with many
men, their opportunities of observation were not so good as their
opportunities of expression. Neither had an adequate conception of the
complicated forces at work outside the smooth and gentle current in
which they and their associates floated. Neither saw the difference
between local truth and universal truth; that what the inner world said
in their clerical and academic hearing was quite a different thing from
what the outer world was thinking.

“I suppose it is farming or nothing for you now, my dear fellow,” Felix
was saying, among other things, to his youngest brother, as he looked
through his spectacles at the distant fields with sad austerity. “And,
therefore, we must make the best of it. But I do entreat you to
endeavour to keep as much as possible in touch with moral ideals.
Farming, of course, means roughing it externally; but high thinking may
go with plain living, nevertheless.”

“Of course it may,” said Angel. “Was it not proved nineteen hundred
years ago—if I may trespass upon your domain a little? Why should you
think, Felix, that I am likely to drop my high thinking and my moral
ideals?”

“Well, I fancied, from the tone of your letters and our conversation—it
may be fancy only—that you were somehow losing intellectual grasp.
Hasn’t it struck you, Cuthbert?”

“Now, Felix,” said Angel drily, “we are very good friends, you know;
each of us treading our allotted circles; but if it comes to
intellectual grasp, I think you, as a contented dogmatist, had better
leave mine alone, and inquire what has become of yours.”

They returned down the hill to dinner, which was fixed at any time at
which their father’s and mother’s morning work in the parish usually
concluded. Convenience as regarded afternoon callers was the last thing
to enter into the consideration of unselfish Mr and Mrs Clare; though
the three sons were sufficiently in unison on this matter to wish that
their parents would conform a little to modern notions.

The walk had made them hungry, Angel in particular, who was now an
outdoor man, accustomed to the profuse _dapes inemptae_ of the
dairyman’s somewhat coarsely-laden table. But neither of the old people
had arrived, and it was not till the sons were almost tired of waiting
that their parents entered. The self-denying pair had been occupied in
coaxing the appetites of some of their sick parishioners, whom they,
somewhat inconsistently, tried to keep imprisoned in the flesh, their
own appetites being quite forgotten.

The family sat down to table, and a frugal meal of cold viands was
deposited before them. Angel looked round for Mrs Crick’s
black-puddings, which he had directed to be nicely grilled as they did
them at the dairy, and of which he wished his father and mother to
appreciate the marvellous herbal savours as highly as he did himself.

“Ah! you are looking for the black-puddings, my dear boy,” observed
Clare’s mother. “But I am sure you will not mind doing without them as
I am sure your father and I shall not, when you know the reason. I
suggested to him that we should take Mrs Crick’s kind present to the
children of the man who can earn nothing just now because of his
attacks of delirium tremens; and he agreed that it would be a great
pleasure to them; so we did.”

“Of course,” said Angel cheerfully, looking round for the mead.

“I found the mead so extremely alcoholic,” continued his mother, “that
it was quite unfit for use as a beverage, but as valuable as rum or
brandy in an emergency; so I have put it in my medicine-closet.”

“We never drink spirits at this table, on principle,” added his father.

“But what shall I tell the dairyman’s wife?” said Angel.

“The truth, of course,” said his father.

“I rather wanted to say we enjoyed the mead and the black-puddings very
much. She is a kind, jolly sort of body, and is sure to ask me directly
I return.”

“You cannot, if we did not,” Mr Clare answered lucidly.

“Ah—no; though that mead was a drop of pretty tipple.”

“A what?” said Cuthbert and Felix both.

“Oh—’tis an expression they use down at Talbothays,” replied Angel,
blushing. He felt that his parents were right in their practice if
wrong in their want of sentiment, and said no more.


XXVI

It was not till the evening, after family prayers, that Angel found
opportunity of broaching to his father one or two subjects near his
heart. He had strung himself up to the purpose while kneeling behind
his brothers on the carpet, studying the little nails in the heels of
their walking boots. When the service was over they went out of the
room with their mother, and Mr Clare and himself were left alone.

The young man first discussed with the elder his plans for the
attainment of his position as a farmer on an extensive scale—either in
England or in the Colonies. His father then told him that, as he had
not been put to the expense of sending Angel up to Cambridge, he had
felt it his duty to set by a sum of money every year towards the
purchase or lease of land for him some day, that he might not feel
himself unduly slighted.

“As far as worldly wealth goes,” continued his father, “you will no
doubt stand far superior to your brothers in a few years.”

This considerateness on old Mr Clare’s part led Angel onward to the
other and dearer subject. He observed to his father that he was then
six-and-twenty, and that when he should start in the farming business
he would require eyes in the back of his head to see to all
matters—some one would be necessary to superintend the domestic labours
of his establishment whilst he was afield. Would it not be well,
therefore, for him to marry?

His father seemed to think this idea not unreasonable; and then Angel
put the question—

“What kind of wife do you think would be best for me as a thrifty
hard-working farmer?”

“A truly Christian woman, who will be a help and a comfort to you in
your goings-out and your comings-in. Beyond that, it really matters
little. Such an one can be found; indeed, my earnest-minded friend and
neighbour, Dr Chant—”

“But ought she not primarily to be able to milk cows, churn good
butter, make immense cheeses; know how to sit hens and turkeys and rear
chickens, to direct a field of labourers in an emergency, and estimate
the value of sheep and calves?”

“Yes; a farmer’s wife; yes, certainly. It would be desirable.” Mr
Clare, the elder, had plainly never thought of these points before. “I
was going to add,” he said, “that for a pure and saintly woman you will
not find one more to your true advantage, and certainly not more to
your mother’s mind and my own, than your friend Mercy, whom you used to
show a certain interest in. It is true that my neighbour Chant’s
daughter had lately caught up the fashion of the younger clergy round
about us for decorating the Communion-table—alter, as I was shocked to
hear her call it one day—with flowers and other stuff on festival
occasions. But her father, who is quite as opposed to such flummery as
I, says that can be cured. It is a mere girlish outbreak which, I am
sure, will not be permanent.”

“Yes, yes; Mercy is good and devout, I know. But, father, don’t you
think that a young woman equally pure and virtuous as Miss Chant, but
one who, in place of that lady’s ecclesiastical accomplishments,
understands the duties of farm life as well as a farmer himself, would
suit me infinitely better?”

His father persisted in his conviction that a knowledge of a farmer’s
wife’s duties came second to a Pauline view of humanity; and the
impulsive Angel, wishing to honour his father’s feelings and to advance
the cause of his heart at the same time, grew specious. He said that
fate or Providence had thrown in his way a woman who possessed every
qualification to be the helpmate of an agriculturist, and was decidedly
of a serious turn of mind. He would not say whether or not she had
attached herself to the sound Low Church School of his father; but she
would probably be open to conviction on that point; she was a regular
church-goer of simple faith; honest-hearted, receptive, intelligent,
graceful to a degree, chaste as a vestal, and, in personal appearance,
exceptionally beautiful.

“Is she of a family such as you would care to marry into—a lady, in
short?” asked his startled mother, who had come softly into the study
during the conversation.

“She is not what in common parlance is called a lady,” said Angel,
unflinchingly, “for she is a cottager’s daughter, as I am proud to say.
But she _is_ a lady, nevertheless—in feeling and nature.”

“Mercy Chant is of a very good family.”

“Pooh!—what’s the advantage of that, mother?” said Angel quickly. “How
is family to avail the wife of a man who has to rough it as I have, and
shall have to do?”

“Mercy is accomplished. And accomplishments have their charm,” returned
his mother, looking at him through her silver spectacles.

“As to external accomplishments, what will be the use of them in the
life I am going to lead?—while as to her reading, I can take that in
hand. She’ll be apt pupil enough, as you would say if you knew her.
She’s brim full of poetry—actualized poetry, if I may use the
expression. She _lives_ what paper-poets only write... And she is an
unimpeachable Christian, I am sure; perhaps of the very tribe, genus,
and species you desire to propagate.”

“O Angel, you are mocking!”

“Mother, I beg pardon. But as she really does attend Church almost
every Sunday morning, and is a good Christian girl, I am sure you will
tolerate any social shortcomings for the sake of that quality, and feel
that I may do worse than choose her.” Angel waxed quite earnest on that
rather automatic orthodoxy in his beloved Tess which (never dreaming
that it might stand him in such good stead) he had been prone to slight
when observing it practised by her and the other milkmaids, because of
its obvious unreality amid beliefs essentially naturalistic.

In their sad doubts as to whether their son had himself any right
whatever to the title he claimed for the unknown young woman, Mr and
Mrs Clare began to feel it as an advantage not to be overlooked that
she at least was sound in her views; especially as the conjunction of
the pair must have arisen by an act of Providence; for Angel never
would have made orthodoxy a condition of his choice. They said finally
that it was better not to act in a hurry, but that they would not
object to see her.

Angel therefore refrained from declaring more particulars now. He felt
that, single-minded and self-sacrificing as his parents were, there yet
existed certain latent prejudices of theirs, as middle-class people,
which it would require some tact to overcome. For though legally at
liberty to do as he chose, and though their daughter-in-law’s
qualifications could make no practical difference to their lives, in
the probability of her living far away from them, he wished for
affection’s sake not to wound their sentiment in the most important
decision of his life.

He observed his own inconsistencies in dwelling upon accidents in
Tess’s life as if they were vital features. It was for herself that he
loved Tess; her soul, her heart, her substance—not for her skill in the
dairy, her aptness as his scholar, and certainly not for her simple
formal faith-professions. Her unsophisticated open-air existence
required no varnish of conventionality to make it palatable to him. He
held that education had as yet but little affected the beats of emotion
and impulse on which domestic happiness depends. It was probable that,
in the lapse of ages, improved systems of moral and intellectual
training would appreciably, perhaps considerably, elevate the
involuntary and even the unconscious instincts of human nature; but up
to the present day, culture, as far as he could see, might be said to
have affected only the mental epiderm of those lives which had been
brought under its influence. This belief was confirmed by his
experience of women, which, having latterly been extended from the
cultivated middle-class into the rural community, had taught him how
much less was the intrinsic difference between the good and wise woman
of one social stratum and the good and wise woman of another social
stratum, than between the good and bad, the wise and the foolish, of
the same stratum or class.

It was the morning of his departure. His brothers had already left the
Vicarage to proceed on a walking tour in the north, whence one was to
return to his college, and the other to his curacy. Angel might have
accompanied them, but preferred to rejoin his sweetheart at Talbothays.
He would have been an awkward member of the party; for, though the most
appreciative humanist, the most ideal religionist, even the best-versed
Christologist of the three, there was alienation in the standing
consciousness that his squareness would not fit the round hole that had
been prepared for him. To neither Felix nor Cuthbert had he ventured to
mention Tess.

His mother made him sandwiches, and his father accompanied him, on his
own mare, a little way along the road. Having fairly well advanced his
own affairs, Angel listened in a willing silence, as they jogged on
together through the shady lanes, to his father’s account of his parish
difficulties, and the coldness of brother clergymen whom he loved,
because of his strict interpretations of the New Testament by the light
of what they deemed a pernicious Calvinistic doctrine.

“Pernicious!” said Mr Clare, with genial scorn; and he proceeded to
recount experiences which would show the absurdity of that idea. He
told of wondrous conversions of evil livers of which he had been the
instrument, not only amongst the poor, but amongst the rich and
well-to-do; and he also candidly admitted many failures.

As an instance of the latter, he mentioned the case of a young upstart
squire named d’Urberville, living some forty miles off, in the
neighbourhood of Trantridge.

“Not one of the ancient d’Urbervilles of Kingsbere and other places?”
asked his son. “That curiously historic worn-out family with its
ghostly legend of the coach-and-four?”

“O no. The original d’Urbervilles decayed and disappeared sixty or
eighty years ago—at least, I believe so. This seems to be a new family
which had taken the name; for the credit of the former knightly line I
hope they are spurious, I’m sure. But it is odd to hear you express
interest in old families. I thought you set less store by them even
than I.”

“You misapprehend me, father; you often do,” said Angel with a little
impatience. “Politically I am sceptical as to the virtue of their being
old. Some of the wise even among themselves ‘exclaim against their own
succession,’ as Hamlet puts it; but lyrically, dramatically, and even
historically, I am tenderly attached to them.”

This distinction, though by no means a subtle one, was yet too subtle
for Mr Clare the elder, and he went on with the story he had been about
to relate; which was that after the death of the senior so-called
d’Urberville, the young man developed the most culpable passions,
though he had a blind mother, whose condition should have made him know
better. A knowledge of his career having come to the ears of Mr Clare,
when he was in that part of the country preaching missionary sermons,
he boldly took occasion to speak to the delinquent on his spiritual
state. Though he was a stranger, occupying another’s pulpit, he had
felt this to be his duty, and took for his text the words from St Luke:
“Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee!” The young
man much resented this directness of attack, and in the war of words
which followed when they met he did not scruple publicly to insult Mr
Clare, without respect for his gray hairs.

Angel flushed with distress.

“Dear father,” he said sadly, “I wish you would not expose yourself to
such gratuitous pain from scoundrels!”

“Pain?” said his father, his rugged face shining in the ardour of
self-abnegation. “The only pain to me was pain on his account, poor,
foolish young man. Do you suppose his incensed words could give me any
pain, or even his blows? ‘Being reviled we bless; being persecuted we
suffer it; being defamed we entreat; we are made as the filth of the
world, and as the offscouring of all things unto this day.’ Those
ancient and noble words to the Corinthians are strictly true at this
present hour.”

“Not blows, father? He did not proceed to blows?”

“No, he did not. Though I have borne blows from men in a mad state of
intoxication.”

“No!”

“A dozen times, my boy. What then? I have saved them from the guilt of
murdering their own flesh and blood thereby; and they have lived to
thank me, and praise God.”

“May this young man do the same!” said Angel fervently. “But I fear
otherwise, from what you say.”

“We’ll hope, nevertheless,” said Mr Clare. “And I continue to pray for
him, though on this side of the grave we shall probably never meet
again. But, after all, one of those poor words of mine may spring up in
his heart as a good seed some day.”

Now, as always, Clare’s father was sanguine as a child; and though the
younger could not accept his parent’s narrow dogma, he revered his
practice and recognized the hero under the pietist. Perhaps he revered
his father’s practice even more now than ever, seeing that, in the
question of making Tessy his wife, his father had not once thought of
inquiring whether she were well provided or penniless. The same
unworldliness was what had necessitated Angel’s getting a living as a
farmer, and would probably keep his brothers in the position of poor
parsons for the term of their activities; yet Angel admired it none the
less. Indeed, despite his own heterodoxy, Angel often felt that he was
nearer to his father on the human side than was either of his brethren.


XXVII

An up-hill and down-hill ride of twenty-odd miles through a garish
mid-day atmosphere brought him in the afternoon to a detached knoll a
mile or two west of Talbothays, whence he again looked into that green
trough of sappiness and humidity, the valley of the Var or Froom.
Immediately he began to descend from the upland to the fat alluvial
soil below, the atmosphere grew heavier; the languid perfume of the
summer fruits, the mists, the hay, the flowers, formed therein a vast
pool of odour which at this hour seemed to make the animals, the very
bees and butterflies drowsy. Clare was now so familiar with the spot
that he knew the individual cows by their names when, a long distance
off, he saw them dotted about the meads. It was with a sense of luxury
that he recognized his power of viewing life here from its inner side,
in a way that had been quite foreign to him in his student-days; and,
much as he loved his parents, he could not help being aware that to
come here, as now, after an experience of home-life, affected him like
throwing off splints and bandages; even the one customary curb on the
humours of English rural societies being absent in this place,
Talbothays having no resident landlord.

Not a human being was out of doors at the dairy. The denizens were all
enjoying the usual afternoon nap of an hour or so which the exceedingly
early hours kept in summer-time rendered a necessity. At the door the
wood-hooped pails, sodden and bleached by infinite scrubbings, hung
like hats on a stand upon the forked and peeled limb of an oak fixed
there for that purpose; all of them ready and dry for the evening
milking. Angel entered, and went through the silent passages of the
house to the back quarters, where he listened for a moment. Sustained
snores came from the cart-house, where some of the men were lying down;
the grunt and squeal of sweltering pigs arose from the still further
distance. The large-leaved rhubarb and cabbage plants slept too, their
broad limp surfaces hanging in the sun like half-closed umbrellas.

He unbridled and fed his horse, and as he re-entered the house the
clock struck three. Three was the afternoon skimming-hour; and, with
the stroke, Clare heard the creaking of the floor-boards above, and
then the touch of a descending foot on the stairs. It was Tess’s, who
in another moment came down before his eyes.

She had not heard him enter, and hardly realized his presence there.
She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it had
been a snake’s. She had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up
cable of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above the sunburn;
her face was flushed with sleep, and her eyelids hung heavy over their
pupils. The brim-fulness of her nature breathed from her. It was a
moment when a woman’s soul is more incarnate than at any other time;
when the most spiritual beauty bespeaks itself flesh; and sex takes the
outside place in the presentation.

Then those eyes flashed brightly through their filmy heaviness, before
the remainder of her face was well awake. With an oddly compounded look
of gladness, shyness, and surprise, she exclaimed—“O Mr Clare! How you
frightened me—I—”

There had not at first been time for her to think of the changed
relations which his declaration had introduced; but the full sense of
the matter rose up in her face when she encountered Clare’s tender look
as he stepped forward to the bottom stair.

“Dear, darling Tessy!” he whispered, putting his arm round her, and his
face to her flushed cheek. “Don’t, for Heaven’s sake, Mister me any
more. I have hastened back so soon because of you!”

Tess’s excitable heart beat against his by way of reply; and there they
stood upon the red-brick floor of the entry, the sun slanting in by the
window upon his back, as he held her tightly to his breast; upon her
inclining face, upon the blue veins of her temple, upon her naked arm,
and her neck, and into the depths of her hair. Having been lying down
in her clothes she was warm as a sunned cat. At first she would not
look straight up at him, but her eyes soon lifted, and his plumbed the
deepness of the ever-varying pupils, with their radiating fibrils of
blue, and black, and gray, and violet, while she regarded him as Eve at
her second waking might have regarded Adam.

“I’ve got to go a-skimming,” she pleaded, “and I have on’y old Deb to
help me to-day. Mrs Crick is gone to market with Mr Crick, and Retty is
not well, and the others are gone out somewhere, and won’t be home till
milking.”

As they retreated to the milk-house Deborah Fyander appeared on the
stairs.

“I have come back, Deborah,” said Mr Clare, upwards. “So I can help
Tess with the skimming; and, as you are very tired, I am sure, you
needn’t come down till milking-time.”

Possibly the Talbothays milk was not very thoroughly skimmed that
afternoon. Tess was in a dream wherein familiar objects appeared as
having light and shade and position, but no particular outline. Every
time she held the skimmer under the pump to cool it for the work her
hand trembled, the ardour of his affection being so palpable that she
seemed to flinch under it like a plant in too burning a sun.

Then he pressed her again to his side, and when she had done running
her forefinger round the leads to cut off the cream-edge, he cleaned it
in nature’s way; for the unconstrained manners of Talbothays dairy came
convenient now.

“I may as well say it now as later, dearest,” he resumed gently. “I
wish to ask you something of a very practical nature, which I have been
thinking of ever since that day last week in the meads. I shall soon
want to marry, and, being a farmer, you see I shall require for my wife
a woman who knows all about the management of farms. Will you be that
woman, Tessy?”

He put it that way that she might not think he had yielded to an
impulse of which his head would disapprove.

She turned quite careworn. She had bowed to the inevitable result of
proximity, the necessity of loving him; but she had not calculated upon
this sudden corollary, which, indeed, Clare had put before her without
quite meaning himself to do it so soon. With pain that was like the
bitterness of dissolution she murmured the words of her indispensable
and sworn answer as an honourable woman.

“O Mr Clare—I cannot be your wife—I cannot be!”

The sound of her own decision seemed to break Tess’s very heart, and
she bowed her face in her grief.

“But, Tess!” he said, amazed at her reply, and holding her still more
greedily close. “Do you say no? Surely you love me?”

“O yes, yes! And I would rather be yours than anybody’s in the world,”
returned the sweet and honest voice of the distressed girl. “But I
_cannot_ marry you!”

“Tess,” he said, holding her at arm’s length, “you are engaged to marry
some one else!”

“No, no!”

“Then why do you refuse me?”

“I don’t want to marry! I have not thought of doing it. I cannot! I
only want to love you.”

“But why?”

Driven to subterfuge, she stammered—

“Your father is a parson, and your mother wouldn’ like you to marry
such as me. She will want you to marry a lady.”

“Nonsense—I have spoken to them both. That was partly why I went home.”

“I feel I cannot—never, never!” she echoed.

“Is it too sudden to be asked thus, my Pretty?”

“Yes—I did not expect it.”

“If you will let it pass, please, Tessy, I will give you time,” he
said. “It was very abrupt to come home and speak to you all at once.
I’ll not allude to it again for a while.”

She again took up the shining skimmer, held it beneath the pump, and
began anew. But she could not, as at other times, hit the exact
under-surface of the cream with the delicate dexterity required, try as
she might; sometimes she was cutting down into the milk, sometimes in
the air. She could hardly see, her eyes having filled with two blurring
tears drawn forth by a grief which, to this her best friend and dear
advocate, she could never explain.

“I can’t skim—I can’t!” she said, turning away from him.

Not to agitate and hinder her longer, the considerate Clare began
talking in a more general way:

“You quite misapprehend my parents. They are the most simple-mannered
people alive, and quite unambitious. They are two of the few remaining
Evangelical school. Tessy, are you an Evangelical?”

“I don’t know.”

“You go to church very regularly, and our parson here is not very High,
they tell me.”

Tess’s ideas on the views of the parish clergyman, whom she heard every
week, seemed to be rather more vague than Clare’s, who had never heard
him at all.

“I wish I could fix my mind on what I hear there more firmly than I
do,” she remarked as a safe generality. “It is often a great sorrow to
me.”

She spoke so unaffectedly that Angel was sure in his heart that his
father could not object to her on religious grounds, even though she
did not know whether her principles were High, Low or Broad. He himself
knew that, in reality, the confused beliefs which she held, apparently
imbibed in childhood, were, if anything, Tractarian as to phraseology,
and Pantheistic as to essence. Confused or otherwise, to disturb them
was his last desire:

    Leave thou thy sister, when she prays,
    Her early Heaven, her happy views;
    Nor thou with shadow’d hint confuse
    A life that leads melodious days.

He had occasionally thought the counsel less honest than musical; but
he gladly conformed to it now.

He spoke further of the incidents of his visit, of his father’s mode of
life, of his zeal for his principles; she grew serener, and the
undulations disappeared from her skimming; as she finished one lead
after another he followed her, and drew the plugs for letting down the
milk.

“I fancied you looked a little downcast when you came in,” she ventured
to observe, anxious to keep away from the subject of herself.

“Yes—well, my father had been talking a good deal to me of his troubles
and difficulties, and the subject always tends to depress me. He is so
zealous that he gets many snubs and buffetings from people of a
different way of thinking from himself, and I don’t like to hear of
such humiliations to a man of his age, the more particularly as I don’t
think earnestness does any good when carried so far. He has been
telling me of a very unpleasant scene in which he took part quite
recently. He went as the deputy of some missionary society to preach in
the neighbourhood of Trantridge, a place forty miles from here, and
made it his business to expostulate with a lax young cynic he met with
somewhere about there—son of some landowner up that way—and who has a
mother afflicted with blindness. My father addressed himself to the
gentleman point-blank, and there was quite a disturbance. It was very
foolish of my father, I must say, to intrude his conversation upon a
stranger when the probabilities were so obvious that it would be
useless. But whatever he thinks to be his duty, that he’ll do, in
season or out of season; and, of course, he makes many enemies, not
only among the absolutely vicious, but among the easy-going, who hate
being bothered. He says he glories in what happened, and that good may
be done indirectly; but I wish he would not wear himself out now he is
getting old, and would leave such pigs to their wallowing.”

Tess’s look had grown hard and worn, and her ripe mouth tragical; but
she no longer showed any tremulousness. Clare’s revived thoughts of his
father prevented his noticing her particularly; and so they went on
down the white row of liquid rectangles till they had finished and
drained them off, when the other maids returned, and took their pails,
and Deb came to scald out the leads for the new milk. As Tess withdrew
to go afield to the cows he said to her softly—

“And my question, Tessy?”

“O no—no!” replied she with grave hopelessness, as one who had heard
anew the turmoil of her own past in the allusion to Alec d’Urberville.
“It _can’t_ be!”

She went out towards the mead, joining the other milkmaids with a
bound, as if trying to make the open air drive away her sad constraint.
All the girls drew onward to the spot where the cows were grazing in
the farther mead, the bevy advancing with the bold grace of wild
animals—the reckless, unchastened motion of women accustomed to
unlimited space—in which they abandoned themselves to the air as a
swimmer to the wave. It seemed natural enough to him now that Tess was
again in sight to choose a mate from unconstrained Nature, and not from
the abodes of Art.


XXVIII

Her refusal, though unexpected, did not permanently daunt Clare. His
experience of women was great enough for him to be aware that the
negative often meant nothing more than the preface to the affirmative;
and it was little enough for him not to know that in the manner of the
present negative there lay a great exception to the dallyings of
coyness. That she had already permitted him to make love to her he read
as an additional assurance, not fully trowing that in the fields and
pastures to “sigh gratis” is by no means deemed waste; love-making
being here more often accepted inconsiderately and for its own sweet
sake than in the carking, anxious homes of the ambitious, where a
girl’s craving for an establishment paralyzes her healthy thought of a
passion as an end.

“Tess, why did you say ‘no’ in such a positive way?” he asked her in
the course of a few days.

She started.

“Don’t ask me. I told you why—partly. I am not good enough—not worthy
enough.”

“How? Not fine lady enough?”

“Yes—something like that,” murmured she. “Your friends would scorn me.”

“Indeed, you mistake them—my father and mother. As for my brothers, I
don’t care—” He clasped his fingers behind her back to keep her from
slipping away. “Now—you did not mean it, sweet?—I am sure you did not!
You have made me so restless that I cannot read, or play, or do
anything. I am in no hurry, Tess, but I want to know—to hear from your
own warm lips—that you will some day be mine—any time you may choose;
but some day?”

She could only shake her head and look away from him.

Clare regarded her attentively, conned the characters of her face as if
they had been hieroglyphics. The denial seemed real.

“Then I ought not to hold you in this way—ought I? I have no right to
you—no right to seek out where you are, or walk with you! Honestly,
Tess, do you love any other man?”

“How can you ask?” she said, with continued self-suppression.

“I almost know that you do not. But then, why do you repulse me?”

“I don’t repulse you. I like you to—tell me you love me; and you may
always tell me so as you go about with me—and never offend me.”

“But you will not accept me as a husband?”

“Ah—that’s different—it is for your good, indeed, my dearest! O,
believe me, it is only for your sake! I don’t like to give myself the
great happiness o’ promising to be yours in that way—because—because I
am _sure_ I ought not to do it.”

“But you will make me happy!”

“Ah—you think so, but you don’t know!”

At such times as this, apprehending the grounds of her refusal to be
her modest sense of incompetence in matters social and polite, he would
say that she was wonderfully well-informed and versatile—which was
certainly true, her natural quickness and her admiration for him having
led her to pick up his vocabulary, his accent, and fragments of his
knowledge, to a surprising extent. After these tender contests and her
victory she would go away by herself under the remotest cow, if at
milking-time, or into the sedge or into her room, if at a leisure
interval, and mourn silently, not a minute after an apparently
phlegmatic negative.

The struggle was so fearful; her own heart was so strongly on the side
of his—two ardent hearts against one poor little conscience—that she
tried to fortify her resolution by every means in her power. She had
come to Talbothays with a made-up mind. On no account could she agree
to a step which might afterwards cause bitter rueing to her husband for
his blindness in wedding her. And she held that what her conscience had
decided for her when her mind was unbiassed ought not to be overruled
now.

“Why don’t somebody tell him all about me?” she said. “It was only
forty miles off—why hasn’t it reached here? Somebody must know!”

Yet nobody seemed to know; nobody told him.

For two or three days no more was said. She guessed from the sad
countenances of her chamber companions that they regarded her not only
as the favourite, but as the chosen; but they could see for themselves
that she did not put herself in his way.

Tess had never before known a time in which the thread of her life was
so distinctly twisted of two strands, positive pleasure and positive
pain. At the next cheese-making the pair were again left alone
together. The dairyman himself had been lending a hand; but Mr Crick,
as well as his wife, seemed latterly to have acquired a suspicion of
mutual interest between these two; though they walked so circumspectly
that suspicion was but of the faintest. Anyhow, the dairyman left them
to themselves.

They were breaking up the masses of curd before putting them into the
vats. The operation resembled the act of crumbling bread on a large
scale; and amid the immaculate whiteness of the curds Tess
Durbeyfield’s hands showed themselves of the pinkness of the rose.
Angel, who was filling the vats with his handful, suddenly ceased, and
laid his hands flat upon hers. Her sleeves were rolled far above the
elbow, and bending lower he kissed the inside vein of her soft arm.

Although the early September weather was sultry, her arm, from her
dabbling in the curds, was as cold and damp to his mouth as a
new-gathered mushroom, and tasted of the whey. But she was such a sheaf
of susceptibilities that her pulse was accelerated by the touch, her
blood driven to her finger-ends, and the cool arms flushed hot. Then,
as though her heart had said, “Is coyness longer necessary? Truth is
truth between man and woman, as between man and man,” she lifted her
eyes and they beamed devotedly into his, as her lip rose in a tender
half-smile.

“Do you know why I did that, Tess?” he said.

“Because you love me very much!”

“Yes, and as a preliminary to a new entreaty.”

“Not _again_!”

She looked a sudden fear that her resistance might break down under her
own desire.

“O, Tessy!” he went on, “I _cannot_ think why you are so tantalizing.
Why do you disappoint me so? You seem almost like a coquette, upon my
life you do—a coquette of the first urban water! They blow hot and blow
cold, just as you do, and it is the very last sort of thing to expect
to find in a retreat like Talbothays.... And yet, dearest,” he quickly
added, observing how the remark had cut her, “I know you to be the most
honest, spotless creature that ever lived. So how can I suppose you a
flirt? Tess, why don’t you like the idea of being my wife, if you love
me as you seem to do?”

“I have never said I don’t like the idea, and I never could say it;
because—it isn’t true!”

The stress now getting beyond endurance, her lip quivered, and she was
obliged to go away. Clare was so pained and perplexed that he ran after
and caught her in the passage.

“Tell me, tell me!” he said, passionately clasping her, in
forgetfulness of his curdy hands: “do tell me that you won’t belong to
anybody but me!”

“I will, I will tell you!” she exclaimed. “And I will give you a
complete answer, if you will let me go now. I will tell you my
experiences—all about myself—all!”

“Your experiences, dear; yes, certainly; any number.” He expressed
assent in loving satire, looking into her face. “My Tess, no doubt,
almost as many experiences as that wild convolvulus out there on the
garden hedge, that opened itself this morning for the first time. Tell
me anything, but don’t use that wretched expression any more about not
being worthy of me.”

“I will try—not! And I’ll give you my reasons to-morrow—next week.”

“Say on Sunday?”

“Yes, on Sunday.”

At last she got away, and did not stop in her retreat till she was in
the thicket of pollard willows at the lower side of the barton, where
she could be quite unseen. Here Tess flung herself down upon the
rustling undergrowth of spear-grass, as upon a bed, and remained
crouching in palpitating misery broken by momentary shoots of joy,
which her fears about the ending could not altogether suppress.

In reality, she was drifting into acquiescence. Every see-saw of her
breath, every wave of her blood, every pulse singing in her ears, was a
voice that joined with nature in revolt against her scrupulousness.
Reckless, inconsiderate acceptance of him; to close with him at the
altar, revealing nothing, and chancing discovery; to snatch ripe
pleasure before the iron teeth of pain could have time to shut upon
her: that was what love counselled; and in almost a terror of ecstasy
Tess divined that, despite her many months of lonely self-chastisement,
wrestlings, communings, schemes to lead a future of austere isolation,
love’s counsel would prevail.

The afternoon advanced, and still she remained among the willows. She
heard the rattle of taking down the pails from the forked stands; the
“waow-waow!” which accompanied the getting together of the cows. But
she did not go to the milking. They would see her agitation; and the
dairyman, thinking the cause to be love alone, would good-naturedly
tease her; and that harassment could not be borne.

Her lover must have guessed her overwrought state, and invented some
excuse for her non-appearance, for no inquiries were made or calls
given. At half-past six the sun settled down upon the levels with the
aspect of a great forge in the heavens; and presently a monstrous
pumpkin-like moon arose on the other hand. The pollard willows,
tortured out of their natural shape by incessant choppings, became
spiny-haired monsters as they stood up against it. She went in and
upstairs without a light.

It was now Wednesday. Thursday came, and Angel looked thoughtfully at
her from a distance, but intruded in no way upon her. The indoor
milkmaids, Marian and the rest, seemed to guess that something definite
was afoot, for they did not force any remarks upon her in the
bedchamber. Friday passed; Saturday. To-morrow was the day.

“I shall give way—I shall say yes—I shall let myself marry him—I cannot
help it!” she jealously panted, with her hot face to the pillow that
night, on hearing one of the other girls sigh his name in her sleep. “I
can’t bear to let anybody have him but me! Yet it is a wrong to him,
and may kill him when he knows! O my heart—O—O—O!”


XXIX

“Now, who mid ye think I’ve heard news o’ this morning?” said Dairyman
Crick, as he sat down to breakfast next day, with a riddling gaze round
upon the munching men and maids. “Now, just who mid ye think?”

One guessed, and another guessed. Mrs Crick did not guess, because she
knew already.

“Well,” said the dairyman, “’tis that slack-twisted ’hore’s-bird of a
feller, Jack Dollop. He’s lately got married to a widow-woman.”

“Not Jack Dollop? A villain—to think o’ that!” said a milker.

The name entered quickly into Tess Durbeyfield’s consciousness, for it
was the name of the lover who had wronged his sweetheart, and had
afterwards been so roughly used by the young woman’s mother in the
butter-churn.

“And had he married the valiant matron’s daughter, as he promised?”
asked Angel Clare absently, as he turned over the newspaper he was
reading at the little table to which he was always banished by Mrs
Crick, in her sense of his gentility.

“Not he, sir. Never meant to,” replied the dairyman. “As I say, ’tis a
widow-woman, and she had money, it seems—fifty poun’ a year or so; and
that was all he was after. They were married in a great hurry; and then
she told him that by marrying she had lost her fifty poun’ a year. Just
fancy the state o’ my gentleman’s mind at that news! Never such a
cat-and-dog life as they’ve been leading ever since! Serves him well
beright. But onluckily the poor woman gets the worst o’t.”

“Well, the silly body should have told en sooner that the ghost of her
first man would trouble him,” said Mrs Crick.

“Ay, ay,” responded the dairyman indecisively. “Still, you can see
exactly how ’twas. She wanted a home, and didn’t like to run the risk
of losing him. Don’t ye think that was something like it, maidens?”

He glanced towards the row of girls.

“She ought to ha’ told him just before they went to church, when he
could hardly have backed out,” exclaimed Marian.

“Yes, she ought,” agreed Izz.

“She must have seen what he was after, and should ha’ refused him,”
cried Retty spasmodically.

“And what do you say, my dear?” asked the dairyman of Tess.

“I think she ought—to have told him the true state of things—or else
refused him—I don’t know,” replied Tess, the bread-and-butter choking
her.

“Be cust if I’d have done either o’t,” said Beck Knibbs, a married
helper from one of the cottages. “All’s fair in love and war. I’d ha’
married en just as she did, and if he’d said two words to me about not
telling him beforehand anything whatsomdever about my first chap that I
hadn’t chose to tell, I’d ha’ knocked him down wi’ the rolling-pin—a
scram little feller like he! Any woman could do it.”

The laughter which followed this sally was supplemented only by a sorry
smile, for form’s sake, from Tess. What was comedy to them was tragedy
to her; and she could hardly bear their mirth. She soon rose from
table, and, with an impression that Clare would soon follow her, went
along a little wriggling path, now stepping to one side of the
irrigating channels, and now to the other, till she stood by the main
stream of the Var. Men had been cutting the water-weeds higher up the
river, and masses of them were floating past her—moving islands of
green crow-foot, whereon she might almost have ridden; long locks of
which weed had lodged against the piles driven to keep the cows from
crossing.

Yes, there was the pain of it. This question of a woman telling her
story—the heaviest of crosses to herself—seemed but amusement to
others. It was as if people should laugh at martyrdom.

“Tessy!” came from behind her, and Clare sprang across the gully,
alighting beside her feet. “My wife—soon!”

“No, no; I cannot. For your sake, O Mr Clare; for your sake, I say no!”

“Tess!”

“Still I say no!” she repeated.

Not expecting this, he had put his arm lightly round her waist the
moment after speaking, beneath her hanging tail of hair. (The younger
dairymaids, including Tess, breakfasted with their hair loose on Sunday
mornings before building it up extra high for attending church, a style
they could not adopt when milking with their heads against the cows.)
If she had said “Yes” instead of “No” he would have kissed her; it had
evidently been his intention; but her determined negative deterred his
scrupulous heart. Their condition of domiciliary comradeship put her,
as the woman, to such disadvantage by its enforced intercourse, that he
felt it unfair to her to exercise any pressure of blandishment which he
might have honestly employed had she been better able to avoid him. He
released her momentarily-imprisoned waist, and withheld the kiss.

It all turned on that release. What had given her strength to refuse
him this time was solely the tale of the widow told by the dairyman;
and that would have been overcome in another moment. But Angel said no
more; his face was perplexed; he went away.

Day after day they met—somewhat less constantly than before; and thus
two or three weeks went by. The end of September drew near, and she
could see in his eye that he might ask her again.

His plan of procedure was different now—as though he had made up his
mind that her negatives were, after all, only coyness and youth
startled by the novelty of the proposal. The fitful evasiveness of her
manner when the subject was under discussion countenanced the idea. So
he played a more coaxing game; and while never going beyond words, or
attempting the renewal of caresses, he did his utmost orally.

In this way Clare persistently wooed her in undertones like that of the
purling milk—at the cow’s side, at skimmings, at butter-makings, at
cheese-makings, among broody poultry, and among farrowing pigs—as no
milkmaid was ever wooed before by such a man.

Tess knew that she must break down. Neither a religious sense of a
certain moral validity in the previous union nor a conscientious wish
for candour could hold out against it much longer. She loved him so
passionately, and he was so godlike in her eyes; and being, though
untrained, instinctively refined, her nature cried for his tutelary
guidance. And thus, though Tess kept repeating to herself, “I can never
be his wife,” the words were vain. A proof of her weakness lay in the
very utterance of what calm strength would not have taken the trouble
to formulate. Every sound of his voice beginning on the old subject
stirred her with a terrifying bliss, and she coveted the recantation
she feared.

His manner was—what man’s is not?—so much that of one who would love
and cherish and defend her under any conditions, changes, charges, or
revelations, that her gloom lessened as she basked in it. The season
meanwhile was drawing onward to the equinox, and though it was still
fine, the days were much shorter. The dairy had again worked by morning
candlelight for a long time; and a fresh renewal of Clare’s pleading
occurred one morning between three and four.

She had run up in her bedgown to his door to call him as usual; then
had gone back to dress and call the others; and in ten minutes was
walking to the head of the stairs with the candle in her hand. At the
same moment he came down his steps from above in his shirt-sleeves and
put his arm across the stairway.

“Now, Miss Flirt, before you go down,” he said peremptorily. “It is a
fortnight since I spoke, and this won’t do any longer. You _must_ tell
me what you mean, or I shall have to leave this house. My door was ajar
just now, and I saw you. For your own safety I must go. You don’t know.
Well? Is it to be yes at last?”

“I am only just up, Mr Clare, and it is too early to take me to task!”
she pouted. “You need not call me Flirt. ’Tis cruel and untrue. Wait
till by and by. Please wait till by and by! I will really think
seriously about it between now and then. Let me go downstairs!”

She looked a little like what he said she was as, holding the candle
sideways, she tried to smile away the seriousness of her words.

“Call me Angel, then, and not Mr Clare.”

“Angel.”

“Angel dearest—why not?”

“’Twould mean that I agree, wouldn’t it?”

“It would only mean that you love me, even if you cannot marry me; and
you were so good as to own that long ago.”

“Very well, then, ‘Angel dearest’, if I _must_,” she murmured, looking
at her candle, a roguish curl coming upon her mouth, notwithstanding
her suspense.

Clare had resolved never to kiss her until he had obtained her promise;
but somehow, as Tess stood there in her prettily tucked-up milking
gown, her hair carelessly heaped upon her head till there should be
leisure to arrange it when skimming and milking were done, he broke his
resolve, and brought his lips to her cheek for one moment. She passed
downstairs very quickly, never looking back at him or saying another
word. The other maids were already down, and the subject was not
pursued. Except Marian, they all looked wistfully and suspiciously at
the pair, in the sad yellow rays which the morning candles emitted in
contrast with the first cold signals of the dawn without.

When skimming was done—which, as the milk diminished with the approach
of autumn, was a lessening process day by day—Retty and the rest went
out. The lovers followed them.

“Our tremulous lives are so different from theirs, are they not?” he
musingly observed to her, as he regarded the three figures tripping
before him through the frigid pallor of opening day.

“Not so very different, I think,” she said.

“Why do you think that?”

“There are very few women’s lives that are not—tremulous,” Tess
replied, pausing over the new word as if it impressed her. “There’s
more in those three than you think.”

“What is in them?”

“Almost either of ’em,” she began, “would make—perhaps would make—a
properer wife than I. And perhaps they love you as well as I—almost.”

“O, Tessy!”

There were signs that it was an exquisite relief to her to hear the
impatient exclamation, though she had resolved so intrepidly to let
generosity make one bid against herself. That was now done, and she had
not the power to attempt self-immolation a second time then. They were
joined by a milker from one of the cottages, and no more was said on
that which concerned them so deeply. But Tess knew that this day would
decide it.

In the afternoon several of the dairyman’s household and assistants
went down to the meads as usual, a long way from the dairy, where many
of the cows were milked without being driven home. The supply was
getting less as the animals advanced in calf, and the supernumerary
milkers of the lush green season had been dismissed.

The work progressed leisurely. Each pailful was poured into tall cans
that stood in a large spring-waggon which had been brought upon the
scene; and when they were milked, the cows trailed away. Dairyman
Crick, who was there with the rest, his wrapper gleaming miraculously
white against a leaden evening sky, suddenly looked at his heavy watch.

“Why, ’tis later than I thought,” he said. “Begad! We shan’t be soon
enough with this milk at the station, if we don’t mind. There’s no time
to-day to take it home and mix it with the bulk afore sending off. It
must go to station straight from here. Who’ll drive it across?”

Mr Clare volunteered to do so, though it was none of his business,
asking Tess to accompany him. The evening, though sunless, had been
warm and muggy for the season, and Tess had come out with her
milking-hood only, naked-armed and jacketless; certainly not dressed
for a drive. She therefore replied by glancing over her scant
habiliments; but Clare gently urged her. She assented by relinquishing
her pail and stool to the dairyman to take home, and mounted the
spring-waggon beside Clare.


XXX

In the diminishing daylight they went along the level roadway through
the meads, which stretched away into gray miles, and were backed in the
extreme edge of distance by the swarthy and abrupt slopes of Egdon
Heath. On its summit stood clumps and stretches of fir-trees, whose
notched tips appeared like battlemented towers crowning black-fronted
castles of enchantment.

They were so absorbed in the sense of being close to each other that
they did not begin talking for a long while, the silence being broken
only by the clucking of the milk in the tall cans behind them. The lane
they followed was so solitary that the hazel nuts had remained on the
boughs till they slipped from their shells, and the blackberries hung
in heavy clusters. Every now and then Angel would fling the lash of his
whip round one of these, pluck it off, and give it to his companion.

The dull sky soon began to tell its meaning by sending down
herald-drops of rain, and the stagnant air of the day changed into a
fitful breeze which played about their faces. The quick-silvery glaze
on the rivers and pools vanished; from broad mirrors of light they
changed to lustreless sheets of lead, with a surface like a rasp. But
that spectacle did not affect her preoccupation. Her countenance, a
natural carnation slightly embrowned by the season, had deepened its
tinge with the beating of the rain-drops; and her hair, which the
pressure of the cows’ flanks had, as usual, caused to tumble down from
its fastenings and stray beyond the curtain of her calico bonnet, was
made clammy by the moisture till it hardly was better than seaweed.

“I ought not to have come, I suppose,” she murmured, looking at the
sky.

“I am sorry for the rain,” said he. “But how glad I am to have you
here!”

Remote Egdon disappeared by degree behind the liquid gauze. The evening
grew darker, and the roads being crossed by gates, it was not safe to
drive faster than at a walking pace. The air was rather chill.

“I am so afraid you will get cold, with nothing upon your arms and
shoulders,” he said. “Creep close to me, and perhaps the drizzle won’t
hurt you much. I should be sorrier still if I did not think that the
rain might be helping me.”

She imperceptibly crept closer, and he wrapped round them both a large
piece of sail-cloth, which was sometimes used to keep the sun off the
milk-cans. Tess held it from slipping off him as well as herself,
Clare’s hands being occupied.

“Now we are all right again. Ah—no we are not! It runs down into my
neck a little, and it must still more into yours. That’s better. Your
arms are like wet marble, Tess. Wipe them in the cloth. Now, if you
stay quiet, you will not get another drop. Well, dear—about that
question of mine—that long-standing question?”

The only reply that he could hear for a little while was the smack of
the horse’s hoofs on the moistening road, and the cluck of the milk in
the cans behind them.

“Do you remember what you said?”

“I do,” she replied.

“Before we get home, mind.”

“I’ll try.”

He said no more then. As they drove on, the fragment of an old manor
house of Caroline date rose against the sky, and was in due course
passed and left behind.

“That,” he observed, to entertain her, “is an interesting old place—one
of the several seats which belonged to an ancient Norman family
formerly of great influence in this county, the d’Urbervilles. I never
pass one of their residences without thinking of them. There is
something very sad in the extinction of a family of renown, even if it
was fierce, domineering, feudal renown.”

“Yes,” said Tess.

They crept along towards a point in the expanse of shade just at hand
at which a feeble light was beginning to assert its presence, a spot
where, by day, a fitful white streak of steam at intervals upon the
dark green background denoted intermittent moments of contact between
their secluded world and modern life. Modern life stretched out its
steam feeler to this point three or four times a day, touched the
native existences, and quickly withdrew its feeler again, as if what it
touched had been uncongenial.

They reached the feeble light, which came from the smoky lamp of a
little railway station; a poor enough terrestrial star, yet in one
sense of more importance to Talbothays Dairy and mankind than the
celestial ones to which it stood in such humiliating contrast. The cans
of new milk were unladen in the rain, Tess getting a little shelter
from a neighbouring holly tree.

Then there was the hissing of a train, which drew up almost silently
upon the wet rails, and the milk was rapidly swung can by can into the
truck. The light of the engine flashed for a second upon Tess
Durbeyfield’s figure, motionless under the great holly tree. No object
could have looked more foreign to the gleaming cranks and wheels than
this unsophisticated girl, with the round bare arms, the rainy face and
hair, the suspended attitude of a friendly leopard at pause, the print
gown of no date or fashion, and the cotton bonnet drooping on her brow.

She mounted again beside her lover, with a mute obedience
characteristic of impassioned natures at times, and when they had
wrapped themselves up over head and ears in the sailcloth again, they
plunged back into the now thick night. Tess was so receptive that the
few minutes of contact with the whirl of material progress lingered in
her thought.

“Londoners will drink it at their breakfasts to-morrow, won’t they?”
she asked. “Strange people that we have never seen.”

“Yes—I suppose they will. Though not as we send it. When its strength
has been lowered, so that it may not get up into their heads.”

“Noble men and noble women, ambassadors and centurions, ladies and
tradeswomen, and babies who have never seen a cow.”

“Well, yes; perhaps; particularly centurions.”

“Who don’t know anything of us, and where it comes from; or think how
we two drove miles across the moor to-night in the rain that it might
reach ’em in time?”

“We did not drive entirely on account of these precious Londoners; we
drove a little on our own—on account of that anxious matter which you
will, I am sure, set at rest, dear Tess. Now, permit me to put it in
this way. You belong to me already, you know; your heart, I mean. Does
it not?”

“You know as well as I. O yes—yes!”

“Then, if your heart does, why not your hand?”

“My only reason was on account of you—on account of a question. I have
something to tell you—”

“But suppose it to be entirely for my happiness, and my worldly
convenience also?”

“O yes; if it is for your happiness and worldly convenience. But my
life before I came here—I want—”

“Well, it is for my convenience as well as my happiness. If I have a
very large farm, either English or colonial, you will be invaluable as
a wife to me; better than a woman out of the largest mansion in the
country. So please—please, dear Tessy, disabuse your mind of the
feeling that you will stand in my way.”

“But my history. I want you to know it—you must let me tell you—you
will not like me so well!”

“Tell it if you wish to, dearest. This precious history then. Yes, I
was born at so and so, Anno Domini—”

“I was born at Marlott,” she said, catching at his words as a help,
lightly as they were spoken. “And I grew up there. And I was in the
Sixth Standard when I left school, and they said I had great aptness,
and should make a good teacher, so it was settled that I should be one.
But there was trouble in my family; father was not very industrious,
and he drank a little.”

“Yes, yes. Poor child! Nothing new.” He pressed her more closely to his
side.

“And then—there is something very unusual about it—about me. I—I was—”

Tess’s breath quickened.

“Yes, dearest. Never mind.”

“I—I—am not a Durbeyfield, but a d’Urberville—a descendant of the same
family as those that owned the old house we passed. And—we are all gone
to nothing!”

“A d’Urberville!—Indeed! And is that all the trouble, dear Tess?”

“Yes,” she answered faintly.

“Well—why should I love you less after knowing this?”

“I was told by the dairyman that you hated old families.”

He laughed.

“Well, it is true, in one sense. I do hate the aristocratic principle
of blood before everything, and do think that as reasoners the only
pedigrees we ought to respect are those spiritual ones of the wise and
virtuous, without regard to corporal paternity. But I am extremely
interested in this news—you can have no idea how interested I am! Are
you not interested yourself in being one of that well-known line?”

“No. I have thought it sad—especially since coming here, and knowing
that many of the hills and fields I see once belonged to my father’s
people. But other hills and fields belonged to Retty’s people, and
perhaps others to Marian’s, so that I don’t value it particularly.”

“Yes—it is surprising how many of the present tillers of the soil were
once owners of it, and I sometimes wonder that a certain school of
politicians don’t make capital of the circumstance; but they don’t seem
to know it... I wonder that I did not see the resemblance of your name
to d’Urberville, and trace the manifest corruption. And this was the
carking secret!”

She had not told. At the last moment her courage had failed her; she
feared his blame for not telling him sooner; and her instinct of
self-preservation was stronger than her candour.

“Of course,” continued the unwitting Clare, “I should have been glad to
know you to be descended exclusively from the long-suffering, dumb,
unrecorded rank and file of the English nation, and not from the
self-seeking few who made themselves powerful at the expense of the
rest. But I am corrupted away from that by my affection for you, Tess
(he laughed as he spoke), and made selfish likewise. For your own sake
I rejoice in your descent. Society is hopelessly snobbish, and this
fact of your extraction may make an appreciable difference to its
acceptance of you as my wife, after I have made you the well-read woman
that I mean to make you. My mother too, poor soul, will think so much
better of you on account of it. Tess, you must spell your name
correctly—d’Urberville—from this very day.”

“I like the other way rather best.”

“But you _must_, dearest! Good heavens, why dozens of mushroom
millionaires would jump at such a possession! By the bye, there’s one
of that kidney who has taken the name—where have I heard of him?—Up in
the neighbourhood of The Chase, I think. Why, he is the very man who
had that rumpus with my father I told you of. What an odd coincidence!”

“Angel, I think I would rather not take the name! It is unlucky,
perhaps!”

She was agitated.

“Now then, Mistress Teresa d’Urberville, I have you. Take my name, and
so you will escape yours! The secret is out, so why should you any
longer refuse me?”

“If it is _sure_ to make you happy to have me as your wife, and you
feel that you do wish to marry me, _very, very_ much—”

“I do, dearest, of course!”

“I mean, that it is only your wanting me very much, and being hardly
able to keep alive without me, whatever my offences, that would make me
feel I ought to say I will.”

“You will—you do say it, I know! You will be mine for ever and ever.”

He clasped her close and kissed her.

“Yes!”

She had no sooner said it than she burst into a dry hard sobbing, so
violent that it seemed to rend her. Tess was not a hysterical girl by
any means, and he was surprised.

“Why do you cry, dearest?”

“I can’t tell—quite!—I am so glad to think—of being yours, and making
you happy!”

“But this does not seem very much like gladness, my Tessy!”

“I mean—I cry because I have broken down in my vow! I said I would die
unmarried!”

“But, if you love me you would like me to be your husband?”

“Yes, yes, yes! But O, I sometimes wish I had never been born!”

“Now, my dear Tess, if I did not know that you are very much excited,
and very inexperienced, I should say that remark was not very
complimentary. How came you to wish that if you care for me? Do you
care for me? I wish you would prove it in some way.”

“How can I prove it more than I have done?” she cried, in a distraction
of tenderness. “Will this prove it more?”

She clasped his neck, and for the first time Clare learnt what an
impassioned woman’s kisses were like upon the lips of one whom she
loved with all her heart and soul, as Tess loved him.

“There—now do you believe?” she asked, flushed, and wiping her eyes.

“Yes. I never really doubted—never, never!”

So they drove on through the gloom, forming one bundle inside the
sail-cloth, the horse going as he would, and the rain driving against
them. She had consented. She might as well have agreed at first. The
“appetite for joy” which pervades all creation, that tremendous force
which sways humanity to its purpose, as the tide sways the helpless
weed, was not to be controlled by vague lucubrations over the social
rubric.

“I must write to my mother,” she said. “You don’t mind my doing that?”

“Of course not, dear child. You are a child to me, Tess, not to know
how very proper it is to write to your mother at such a time, and how
wrong it would be in me to object. Where does she live?”

“At the same place—Marlott. On the further side of Blackmoor Vale.”

“Ah, then I _have_ seen you before this summer—”

“Yes; at that dance on the green; but you would not dance with me. O, I
hope that is of no ill-omen for us now!”


XXXI

Tess wrote a most touching and urgent letter to her mother the very
next day, and by the end of the week a response to her communication
arrived in Joan Durbeyfield’s wandering last-century hand.

    Dear Tess,

    J write these few lines Hoping they will find you well, as they
    leave me at Present, thank God for it. Dear Tess, we are all glad
    to Hear that you are going really to be married soon. But with
    respect to your question, Tess, J say between ourselves, quite
    private but very strong, that on no account do you say a word of
    your Bygone Trouble to him. J did not tell everything to your
    Father, he being so Proud on account of his Respectability, which,
    perhaps, your Intended is the same. Many a woman—some of the
    Highest in the Land—have had a Trouble in their time; and why
    should you Trumpet yours when others don’t Trumpet theirs? No girl
    would be such a Fool, specially as it is so long ago, and not your
    Fault at all. J shall answer the same if you ask me fifty times.
    Besides, you must bear in mind that, knowing it to be your Childish
    Nature to tell all that’s in your heart—so simple!—J made you
    promise me never to let it out by Word or Deed, having your Welfare
    in my Mind; and you most solemnly did promise it going from this
    Door. J have not named either that Question or your coming marriage
    to your Father, as he would blab it everywhere, poor Simple Man.

    Dear Tess, keep up your Spirits, and we mean to send you a Hogshead
    of Cyder for you Wedding, knowing there is not much in your parts,
    and thin Sour Stuff what there is. So no more at present, and with
    kind love to your Young Man.—From your affectte. Mother,

    J. Durbeyfield


“O mother, mother!” murmured Tess.

She was recognizing how light was the touch of events the most
oppressive upon Mrs Durbeyfield’s elastic spirit. Her mother did not
see life as Tess saw it. That haunting episode of bygone days was to
her mother but a passing accident. But perhaps her mother was right as
to the course to be followed, whatever she might be in her reasons.
Silence seemed, on the face of it, best for her adored one’s happiness:
silence it should be.

Thus steadied by a command from the only person in the world who had
any shadow of right to control her action, Tess grew calmer. The
responsibility was shifted, and her heart was lighter than it had been
for weeks. The days of declining autumn which followed her assent,
beginning with the month of October, formed a season through which she
lived in spiritual altitudes more nearly approaching ecstasy than any
other period of her life.

There was hardly a touch of earth in her love for Clare. To her sublime
trustfulness he was all that goodness could be—knew all that a guide,
philosopher, and friend should know. She thought every line in the
contour of his person the perfection of masculine beauty, his soul the
soul of a saint, his intellect that of a seer. The wisdom of her love
for him, as love, sustained her dignity; she seemed to be wearing a
crown. The compassion of his love for her, as she saw it, made her lift
up her heart to him in devotion. He would sometimes catch her large,
worshipful eyes, that had no bottom to them looking at him from their
depths, as if she saw something immortal before her.

She dismissed the past—trod upon it and put it out, as one treads on a
coal that is smouldering and dangerous.

She had not known that men could be so disinterested, chivalrous,
protective, in their love for women as he. Angel Clare was far from all
that she thought him in this respect; absurdly far, indeed; but he was,
in truth, more spiritual than animal; he had himself well in hand, and
was singularly free from grossness. Though not cold-natured, he was
rather bright than hot—less Byronic than Shelleyan; could love
desperately, but with a love more especially inclined to the
imaginative and ethereal; it was a fastidious emotion which could
jealously guard the loved one against his very self. This amazed and
enraptured Tess, whose slight experiences had been so infelicitous till
now; and in her reaction from indignation against the male sex she
swerved to excess of honour for Clare.

They unaffectedly sought each other’s company; in her honest faith she
did not disguise her desire to be with him. The sum of her instincts on
this matter, if clearly stated, would have been that the elusive
quality of her sex which attracts men in general might be distasteful
to so perfect a man after an avowal of love, since it must in its very
nature carry with it a suspicion of art.

The country custom of unreserved comradeship out of doors during
betrothal was the only custom she knew, and to her it had no
strangeness; though it seemed oddly anticipative to Clare till he saw
how normal a thing she, in common with all the other dairy-folk,
regarded it. Thus, during this October month of wonderful afternoons
they roved along the meads by creeping paths which followed the brinks
of trickling tributary brooks, hopping across by little wooden bridges
to the other side, and back again. They were never out of the sound of
some purling weir, whose buzz accompanied their own murmuring, while
the beams of the sun, almost as horizontal as the mead itself, formed a
pollen of radiance over the landscape. They saw tiny blue fogs in the
shadows of trees and hedges, all the time that there was bright
sunshine elsewhere. The sun was so near the ground, and the sward so
flat, that the shadows of Clare and Tess would stretch a quarter of a
mile ahead of them, like two long fingers pointing afar to where the
green alluvial reaches abutted against the sloping sides of the vale.

Men were at work here and there—for it was the season for “taking up”
the meadows, or digging the little waterways clear for the winter
irrigation, and mending their banks where trodden down by the cows. The
shovelfuls of loam, black as jet, brought there by the river when it
was as wide as the whole valley, were an essence of soils, pounded
champaigns of the past, steeped, refined, and subtilized to
extraordinary richness, out of which came all the fertility of the
mead, and of the cattle grazing there.

Clare hardily kept his arm round her waist in sight of these watermen,
with the air of a man who was accustomed to public dalliance, though
actually as shy as she who, with lips parted and eyes askance on the
labourers, wore the look of a wary animal the while.

“You are not ashamed of owning me as yours before them!” she said
gladly.

“O no!”

“But if it should reach the ears of your friends at Emminster that you
are walking about like this with me, a milkmaid—”

“The most bewitching milkmaid ever seen.”

“They might feel it a hurt to their dignity.”

“My dear girl—a d’Urberville hurt the dignity of a Clare! It is a grand
card to play—that of your belonging to such a family, and I am
reserving it for a grand effect when we are married, and have the
proofs of your descent from Parson Tringham. Apart from that, my future
is to be totally foreign to my family—it will not affect even the
surface of their lives. We shall leave this part of England—perhaps
England itself—and what does it matter how people regard us here? You
will like going, will you not?”

She could answer no more than a bare affirmative, so great was the
emotion aroused in her at the thought of going through the world with
him as his own familiar friend. Her feelings almost filled her ears
like a babble of waves, and surged up to her eyes. She put her hand in
his, and thus they went on, to a place where the reflected sun glared
up from the river, under a bridge, with a molten-metallic glow that
dazzled their eyes, though the sun itself was hidden by the bridge.
They stood still, whereupon little furred and feathered heads popped up
from the smooth surface of the water; but, finding that the disturbing
presences had paused, and not passed by, they disappeared again. Upon
this river-brink they lingered till the fog began to close round
them—which was very early in the evening at this time of the
year—settling on the lashes of her eyes, where it rested like crystals,
and on his brows and hair.

They walked later on Sundays, when it was quite dark. Some of the
dairy-people, who were also out of doors on the first Sunday evening
after their engagement, heard her impulsive speeches, ecstasized to
fragments, though they were too far off to hear the words discoursed;
noted the spasmodic catch in her remarks, broken into syllables by the
leapings of her heart, as she walked leaning on his arm; her contented
pauses, the occasional little laugh upon which her soul seemed to
ride—the laugh of a woman in company with the man she loves and has won
from all other women—unlike anything else in nature. They marked the
buoyancy of her tread, like the skim of a bird which has not quite
alighted.

Her affection for him was now the breath and life of Tess’s being; it
enveloped her as a photosphere, irradiated her into forgetfulness of
her past sorrows, keeping back the gloomy spectres that would persist
in their attempts to touch her—doubt, fear, moodiness, care, shame. She
knew that they were waiting like wolves just outside the circumscribing
light, but she had long spells of power to keep them in hungry
subjection there.

A spiritual forgetfulness co-existed with an intellectual remembrance.
She walked in brightness, but she knew that in the background those
shapes of darkness were always spread. They might be receding, or they
might be approaching, one or the other, a little every day.

One evening Tess and Clare were obliged to sit indoors keeping house,
all the other occupants of the domicile being away. As they talked she
looked thoughtfully up at him, and met his two appreciative eyes.

“I am not worthy of you—no, I am not!” she burst out, jumping up from
her low stool as though appalled at his homage, and the fulness of her
own joy thereat.

Clare, deeming the whole basis of her excitement to be that which was
only the smaller part of it, said—

“I won’t have you speak like it, dear Tess! Distinction does not
consist in the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions, but in
being numbered among those who are true, and honest, and just, and
pure, and lovely, and of good report—as you are, my Tess.”

She struggled with the sob in her throat. How often had that string of
excellences made her young heart ache in church of late years, and how
strange that he should have cited them now.

“Why didn’t you stay and love me when I—was sixteen; living with my
little sisters and brothers, and you danced on the green? O, why didn’t
you, why didn’t you!” she said, impetuously clasping her hands.

Angel began to comfort and reassure her, thinking to himself, truly
enough, what a creature of moods she was, and how careful he would have
to be of her when she depended for her happiness entirely on him.

“Ah—why didn’t I stay!” he said. “That is just what I feel. If I had
only known! But you must not be so bitter in your regret—why should you
be?”

With the woman’s instinct to hide she diverged hastily—

“I should have had four years more of your heart than I can ever have
now. Then I should not have wasted my time as I have done—I should have
had so much longer happiness!”

It was no mature woman with a long dark vista of intrigue behind her
who was tormented thus, but a girl of simple life, not yet one-and
twenty, who had been caught during her days of immaturity like a bird
in a springe. To calm herself the more completely, she rose from her
little stool and left the room, overturning the stool with her skirts
as she went.

He sat on by the cheerful firelight thrown from a bundle of green
ash-sticks laid across the dogs; the sticks snapped pleasantly, and
hissed out bubbles of sap from their ends. When she came back she was
herself again.

“Do you not think you are just a wee bit capricious, fitful, Tess?” he
said, good-humouredly, as he spread a cushion for her on the stool, and
seated himself in the settle beside her. “I wanted to ask you
something, and just then you ran away.”

“Yes, perhaps I am capricious,” she murmured. She suddenly approached
him, and put a hand upon each of his arms. “No, Angel, I am not really
so—by nature, I mean!” The more particularly to assure him that she was
not, she placed herself close to him in the settle, and allowed her
head to find a resting-place against Clare’s shoulder. “What did you
want to ask me—I am sure I will answer it,” she continued humbly.

“Well, you love me, and have agreed to marry me, and hence there
follows a thirdly, ‘When shall the day be?’”

“I like living like this.”

“But I must think of starting in business on my own hook with the new
year, or a little later. And before I get involved in the multifarious
details of my new position, I should like to have secured my partner.”

“But,” she timidly answered, “to talk quite practically, wouldn’t it be
best not to marry till after all that?—Though I can’t bear the thought
o’ your going away and leaving me here!”

“Of course you cannot—and it is not best in this case. I want you to
help me in many ways in making my start. When shall it be? Why not a
fortnight from now?”

“No,” she said, becoming grave: “I have so many things to think of
first.”

“But—”

He drew her gently nearer to him.

The reality of marriage was startling when it loomed so near. Before
discussion of the question had proceeded further there walked round the
corner of the settle into the full firelight of the apartment Mr
Dairyman Crick, Mrs Crick, and two of the milkmaids.

Tess sprang like an elastic ball from his side to her feet, while her
face flushed and her eyes shone in the firelight.

“I knew how it would be if I sat so close to him!” she cried, with
vexation. “I said to myself, they are sure to come and catch us! But I
wasn’t really sitting on his knee, though it might ha’ seemed as if I
was almost!”

“Well—if so be you hadn’t told us, I am sure we shouldn’t ha’ noticed
that ye had been sitting anywhere at all in this light,” replied the
dairyman. He continued to his wife, with the stolid mien of a man who
understood nothing of the emotions relating to matrimony—“Now,
Christianer, that shows that folks should never fancy other folks be
supposing things when they bain’t. O no, I should never ha’ thought a
word of where she was a sitting to, if she hadn’t told me—not I.”

“We are going to be married soon,” said Clare, with improvised phlegm.

“Ah—and be ye! Well, I am truly glad to hear it, sir. I’ve thought you
mid do such a thing for some time. She’s too good for a dairymaid—I
said so the very first day I zid her—and a prize for any man; and
what’s more, a wonderful woman for a gentleman-farmer’s wife; he won’t
be at the mercy of his baily wi’ her at his side.”

Somehow Tess disappeared. She had been even more struck with the look
of the girls who followed Crick than abashed by Crick’s blunt praise.

After supper, when she reached her bedroom, they were all present. A
light was burning, and each damsel was sitting up whitely in her bed,
awaiting Tess, the whole like a row of avenging ghosts.

But she saw in a few moments that there was no malice in their mood.
They could scarcely feel as a loss what they had never expected to
have. Their condition was objective, contemplative.

“He’s going to marry her!” murmured Retty, never taking eyes off Tess.
“How her face do show it!”

“You _be_ going to marry him?” asked Marian.

“Yes,” said Tess.

“When?”

“Some day.”

They thought that this was evasiveness only.

“_Yes_—going to _marry_ him—a gentleman!” repeated Izz Huett.

And by a sort of fascination the three girls, one after another, crept
out of their beds, and came and stood barefooted round Tess. Retty put
her hands upon Tess’s shoulders, as if to realize her friend’s
corporeality after such a miracle, and the other two laid their arms
round her waist, all looking into her face.

“How it do seem! Almost more than I can think of!” said Izz Huett.

Marian kissed Tess. “Yes,” she murmured as she withdrew her lips.

“Was that because of love for her, or because other lips have touched
there by now?” continued Izz drily to Marian.

“I wasn’t thinking o’ that,” said Marian simply. “I was on’y feeling
all the strangeness o’t—that she is to be his wife, and nobody else. I
don’t say nay to it, nor either of us, because we did not think of
it—only loved him. Still, nobody else is to marry’n in the world—no
fine lady, nobody in silks and satins; but she who do live like we.”

“Are you sure you don’t dislike me for it?” said Tess in a low voice.

They hung about her in their white nightgowns before replying, as if
they considered their answer might lie in her look.

“I don’t know—I don’t know,” murmured Retty Priddle. “I want to hate
’ee; but I cannot!”

“That’s how I feel,” echoed Izz and Marian. “I can’t hate her. Somehow
she hinders me!”

“He ought to marry one of you,” murmured Tess.

“Why?”

“You are all better than I.”

“We better than you?” said the girls in a low, slow whisper. “No, no,
dear Tess!”

“You are!” she contradicted impetuously. And suddenly tearing away from
their clinging arms she burst into a hysterical fit of tears, bowing
herself on the chest of drawers and repeating incessantly, “O yes, yes,
yes!”

Having once given way she could not stop her weeping.

“He ought to have had one of you!” she cried. “I think I ought to make
him even now! You would be better for him than—I don’t know what I’m
saying! O! O!”

They went up to her and clasped her round, but still her sobs tore her.

“Get some water,” said Marian, “She’s upset by us, poor thing, poor
thing!”

They gently led her back to the side of her bed, where they kissed her
warmly.

“You are best for’n,” said Marian. “More ladylike, and a better scholar
than we, especially since he had taught ’ee so much. But even you ought
to be proud. You _be_ proud, I’m sure!”

“Yes, I am,” she said; “and I am ashamed at so breaking down.”

When they were all in bed, and the light was out, Marian whispered
across to her—

“You will think of us when you be his wife, Tess, and of how we told
’ee that we loved him, and how we tried not to hate you, and did not
hate you, and could not hate you, because you were his choice, and we
never hoped to be chose by him.”

They were not aware that, at these words, salt, stinging tears trickled
down upon Tess’s pillow anew, and how she resolved, with a bursting
heart, to tell all her history to Angel Clare, despite her mother’s
command—to let him for whom she lived and breathed despise her if he
would, and her mother regard her as a fool, rather then preserve a
silence which might be deemed a treachery to him, and which somehow
seemed a wrong to these.


XXXII

This penitential mood kept her from naming the wedding-day. The
beginning of November found its date still in abeyance, though he asked
her at the most tempting times. But Tess’s desire seemed to be for a
perpetual betrothal in which everything should remain as it was then.

The meads were changing now; but it was still warm enough in early
afternoons before milking to idle there awhile, and the state of
dairy-work at this time of year allowed a spare hour for idling.
Looking over the damp sod in the direction of the sun, a glistening
ripple of gossamer webs was visible to their eyes under the luminary,
like the track of moonlight on the sea. Gnats, knowing nothing of their
brief glorification, wandered across the shimmer of this pathway,
irradiated as if they bore fire within them, then passed out of its
line, and were quite extinct. In the presence of these things he would
remind her that the date was still the question.

Or he would ask her at night, when he accompanied her on some mission
invented by Mrs Crick to give him the opportunity. This was mostly a
journey to the farmhouse on the slopes above the vale, to inquire how
the advanced cows were getting on in the straw-barton to which they
were relegated. For it was a time of the year that brought great
changes to the world of kine. Batches of the animals were sent away
daily to this lying-in hospital, where they lived on straw till their
calves were born, after which event, and as soon as the calf could
walk, mother and offspring were driven back to the dairy. In the
interval which elapsed before the calves were sold there was, of
course, little milking to be done, but as soon as the calf had been
taken away the milkmaids would have to set to work as usual.

Returning from one of these dark walks they reached a great
gravel-cliff immediately over the levels, where they stood still and
listened. The water was now high in the streams, squirting through the
weirs, and tinkling under culverts; the smallest gullies were all full;
there was no taking short cuts anywhere, and foot-passengers were
compelled to follow the permanent ways. From the whole extent of the
invisible vale came a multitudinous intonation; it forced upon their
fancy that a great city lay below them, and that the murmur was the
vociferation of its populace.

“It seems like tens of thousands of them,” said Tess; “holding
public-meetings in their market-places, arguing, preaching,
quarrelling, sobbing, groaning, praying, and cursing.”

Clare was not particularly heeding.

“Did Crick speak to you to-day, dear, about his not wanting much
assistance during the winter months?”

“No.”

“The cows are going dry rapidly.”

“Yes. Six or seven went to the straw-barton yesterday, and three the
day before, making nearly twenty in the straw already. Ah—is it that
the farmer don’t want my help for the calving? O, I am not wanted here
any more! And I have tried so hard to—”

“Crick didn’t exactly say that he would no longer require you. But,
knowing what our relations were, he said in the most good-natured and
respectful manner possible that he supposed on my leaving at Christmas
I should take you with me, and on my asking what he would do without
you he merely observed that, as a matter of fact, it was a time of year
when he could do with a very little female help. I am afraid I was
sinner enough to feel rather glad that he was in this way forcing your
hand.”

“I don’t think you ought to have felt glad, Angel. Because ’tis always
mournful not to be wanted, even if at the same time ’tis convenient.”

“Well, it is convenient—you have admitted that.” He put his finger upon
her cheek. “Ah!” he said.

“What?”

“I feel the red rising up at her having been caught! But why should I
trifle so! We will not trifle—life is too serious.”

“It is. Perhaps I saw that before you did.”

She was seeing it then. To decline to marry him after all—in obedience
to her emotion of last night—and leave the dairy, meant to go to some
strange place, not a dairy; for milkmaids were not in request now
calving-time was coming on; to go to some arable farm where no divine
being like Angel Clare was. She hated the thought, and she hated more
the thought of going home.

“So that, seriously, dearest Tess,” he continued, “since you will
probably have to leave at Christmas, it is in every way desirable and
convenient that I should carry you off then as my property. Besides, if
you were not the most uncalculating girl in the world you would know
that we could not go on like this for ever.”

“I wish we could. That it would always be summer and autumn, and you
always courting me, and always thinking as much of me as you have done
through the past summer-time!”

“I always shall.”

“O, I know you will!” she cried, with a sudden fervour of faith in him.
“Angel, I will fix the day when I will become yours for always!”

Thus at last it was arranged between them, during that dark walk home,
amid the myriads of liquid voices on the right and left.

When they reached the dairy Mr and Mrs Crick were promptly told—with
injunctions of secrecy; for each of the lovers was desirous that the
marriage should be kept as private as possible. The dairyman, though he
had thought of dismissing her soon, now made a great concern about
losing her. What should he do about his skimming? Who would make the
ornamental butter-pats for the Anglebury and Sandbourne ladies? Mrs
Crick congratulated Tess on the shilly-shallying having at last come to
an end, and said that directly she set eyes on Tess she divined that
she was to be the chosen one of somebody who was no common outdoor man;
Tess had looked so superior as she walked across the barton on that
afternoon of her arrival; that she was of a good family she could have
sworn. In point of fact Mrs Crick did remember thinking that Tess was
graceful and good-looking as she approached; but the superiority might
have been a growth of the imagination aided by subsequent knowledge.

Tess was now carried along upon the wings of the hours, without the
sense of a will. The word had been given; the number of the day written
down. Her naturally bright intelligence had begun to admit the
fatalistic convictions common to field-folk and those who associate
more extensively with natural phenomena than with their
fellow-creatures; and she accordingly drifted into that passive
responsiveness to all things her lover suggested, characteristic of the
frame of mind.

But she wrote anew to her mother, ostensibly to notify the wedding-day;
really to again implore her advice. It was a gentleman who had chosen
her, which perhaps her mother had not sufficiently considered. A
post-nuptial explanation, which might be accepted with a light heart by
a rougher man, might not be received with the same feeling by him. But
this communication brought no reply from Mrs Durbeyfield.

Despite Angel Clare’s plausible representation to himself and to Tess
of the practical need for their immediate marriage, there was in truth
an element of precipitancy in the step, as became apparent at a later
date. He loved her dearly, though perhaps rather ideally and fancifully
than with the impassioned thoroughness of her feeling for him. He had
entertained no notion, when doomed as he had thought to an
unintellectual bucolic life, that such charms as he beheld in this
idyllic creature would be found behind the scenes. Unsophistication was
a thing to talk of; but he had not known how it really struck one until
he came here. Yet he was very far from seeing his future track clearly,
and it might be a year or two before he would be able to consider
himself fairly started in life. The secret lay in the tinge of
recklessness imparted to his career and character by the sense that he
had been made to miss his true destiny through the prejudices of his
family.

“Don’t you think ’twould have been better for us to wait till you were
quite settled in your midland farm?” she once asked timidly. (A midland
farm was the idea just then.)

“To tell the truth, my Tess, I don’t like you to be left anywhere away
from my protection and sympathy.”

The reason was a good one, so far as it went. His influence over her
had been so marked that she had caught his manner and habits, his
speech and phrases, his likings and his aversions. And to leave her in
farmland would be to let her slip back again out of accord with him. He
wished to have her under his charge for another reason. His parents had
naturally desired to see her once at least before he carried her off to
a distant settlement, English or colonial; and as no opinion of theirs
was to be allowed to change his intention, he judged that a couple of
months’ life with him in lodgings whilst seeking for an advantageous
opening would be of some social assistance to her at what she might
feel to be a trying ordeal—her presentation to his mother at the
Vicarage.

Next, he wished to see a little of the working of a flour-mill, having
an idea that he might combine the use of one with corn-growing. The
proprietor of a large old water-mill at Wellbridge—once the mill of an
Abbey—had offered him the inspection of his time-honoured mode of
procedure, and a hand in the operations for a few days, whenever he
should choose to come. Clare paid a visit to the place, some few miles
distant, one day at this time, to inquire particulars, and returned to
Talbothays in the evening. She found him determined to spend a short
time at the Wellbridge flour-mills. And what had determined him? Less
the opportunity of an insight into grinding and bolting than the casual
fact that lodgings were to be obtained in that very farmhouse which,
before its mutilation, had been the mansion of a branch of the
d’Urberville family. This was always how Clare settled practical
questions; by a sentiment which had nothing to do with them. They
decided to go immediately after the wedding, and remain for a
fortnight, instead of journeying to towns and inns.

“Then we will start off to examine some farms on the other side of
London that I have heard of,” he said, “and by March or April we will
pay a visit to my father and mother.”

Questions of procedure such as these arose and passed, and the day, the
incredible day, on which she was to become his, loomed large in the
near future. The thirty-first of December, New Year’s Eve, was the
date. His wife, she said to herself. Could it ever be? Their two selves
together, nothing to divide them, every incident shared by them; why
not? And yet why?

One Sunday morning Izz Huett returned from church, and spoke privately
to Tess.

“You was not called home this morning.”

“What?”

“It should ha’ been the first time of asking to-day,” she answered,
looking quietly at Tess. “You meant to be married New Year’s Eve,
deary?”

The other returned a quick affirmative.

“And there must be three times of asking. And now there be only two
Sundays left between.”

Tess felt her cheek paling; Izz was right; of course there must be
three. Perhaps he had forgotten! If so, there must be a week’s
postponement, and that was unlucky. How could she remind her lover? She
who had been so backward was suddenly fired with impatience and alarm
lest she should lose her dear prize.

A natural incident relieved her anxiety. Izz mentioned the omission of
the banns to Mrs Crick, and Mrs Crick assumed a matron’s privilege of
speaking to Angel on the point.

“Have ye forgot ’em, Mr Clare? The banns, I mean.”

“No, I have not forgot ’em,” says Clare.

As soon as he caught Tess alone he assured her:

“Don’t let them tease you about the banns. A licence will be quieter
for us, and I have decided on a licence without consulting you. So if
you go to church on Sunday morning you will not hear your own name, if
you wished to.”

“I didn’t wish to hear it, dearest,” she said proudly.

But to know that things were in train was an immense relief to Tess
notwithstanding, who had well-nigh feared that somebody would stand up
and forbid the banns on the ground of her history. How events were
favouring her!

“I don’t quite feel easy,” she said to herself. “All this good fortune
may be scourged out of me afterwards by a lot of ill. That’s how Heaven
mostly does. I wish I could have had common banns!”

But everything went smoothly. She wondered whether he would like her to
be married in her present best white frock, or if she ought to buy a
new one. The question was set at rest by his forethought, disclosed by
the arrival of some large packages addressed to her. Inside them she
found a whole stock of clothing, from bonnet to shoes, including a
perfect morning costume, such as would well suit the simple wedding
they planned. He entered the house shortly after the arrival of the
packages, and heard her upstairs undoing them.

A minute later she came down with a flush on her face and tears in her
eyes.

“How thoughtful you’ve been!” she murmured, her cheek upon his
shoulder. “Even to the gloves and handkerchief! My own love—how good,
how kind!”

“No, no, Tess; just an order to a tradeswoman in London—nothing more.”

And to divert her from thinking too highly of him, he told her to go
upstairs, and take her time, and see if it all fitted; and, if not, to
get the village sempstress to make a few alterations.

She did return upstairs, and put on the gown. Alone, she stood for a
moment before the glass looking at the effect of her silk attire; and
then there came into her head her mother’s ballad of the mystic robe—

    That never would become that wife
    That had once done amiss,

which Mrs Durbeyfield had used to sing to her as a child, so blithely
and so archly, her foot on the cradle, which she rocked to the tune.
Suppose this robe should betray her by changing colour, as her robe had
betrayed Queen Guinevere. Since she had been at the dairy she had not
once thought of the lines till now.


XXXIII

Angel felt that he would like to spend a day with her before the
wedding, somewhere away from the dairy, as a last jaunt in her company
while there were yet mere lover and mistress; a romantic day, in
circumstances that would never be repeated; with that other and greater
day beaming close ahead of them. During the preceding week, therefore,
he suggested making a few purchases in the nearest town, and they
started together.

Clare’s life at the dairy had been that of a recluse in respect the
world of his own class. For months he had never gone near a town, and,
requiring no vehicle, had never kept one, hiring the dairyman’s cob or
gig if he rode or drove. They went in the gig that day.

And then for the first time in their lives they shopped as partners in
one concern. It was Christmas Eve, with its loads a holly and
mistletoe, and the town was very full of strangers who had come in from
all parts of the country on account of the day. Tess paid the penalty
of walking about with happiness superadded to beauty on her countenance
by being much stared at as she moved amid them on his arm.

In the evening they returned to the inn at which they had put up, and
Tess waited in the entry while Angel went to see the horse and gig
brought to the door. The general sitting-room was full of guests, who
were continually going in and out. As the door opened and shut each
time for the passage of these, the light within the parlour fell full
upon Tess’s face. Two men came out and passed by her among the rest.
One of them had stared her up and down in surprise, and she fancied he
was a Trantridge man, though that village lay so many miles off that
Trantridge folk were rarities here.

“A comely maid that,” said the other.

“True, comely enough. But unless I make a great mistake—” And he
negatived the remainder of the definition forthwith.

Clare had just returned from the stable-yard, and, confronting the man
on the threshold, heard the words, and saw the shrinking of Tess. The
insult to her stung him to the quick, and before he had considered
anything at all he struck the man on the chin with the full force of
his fist, sending him staggering backwards into the passage.

The man recovered himself, and seemed inclined to come on, and Clare,
stepping outside the door, put himself in a posture of defence. But his
opponent began to think better of the matter. He looked anew at Tess as
he passed her, and said to Clare—

“I beg pardon, sir; ’twas a complete mistake. I thought she was another
woman, forty miles from here.”

Clare, feeling then that he had been too hasty, and that he was,
moreover, to blame for leaving her standing in an inn-passage, did what
he usually did in such cases, gave the man five shillings to plaster
the blow; and thus they parted, bidding each other a pacific good
night. As soon as Clare had taken the reins from the ostler, and the
young couple had driven off, the two men went in the other direction.

“And was it a mistake?” said the second one.

“Not a bit of it. But I didn’t want to hurt the gentleman’s
feelings—not I.”

In the meantime the lovers were driving onward.

“Could we put off our wedding till a little later?” Tess asked in a dry
dull voice. “I mean if we wished?”

“No, my love. Calm yourself. Do you mean that the fellow may have time
to summon me for assault?” he asked good-humouredly.

“No—I only meant—if it should have to be put off.”

What she meant was not very clear, and he directed her to dismiss such
fancies from her mind, which she obediently did as well as she could.
But she was grave, very grave, all the way home; till she thought, “We
shall go away, a very long distance, hundreds of miles from these
parts, and such as this can never happen again, and no ghost of the
past reach there.”

They parted tenderly that night on the landing, and Clare ascended to
his attic. Tess sat up getting on with some little requisites, lest the
few remaining days should not afford sufficient time. While she sat she
heard a noise in Angel’s room overhead, a sound of thumping and
struggling. Everybody else in the house was asleep, and in her anxiety
lest Clare should be ill she ran up and knocked at his door, and asked
him what was the matter.

“Oh, nothing, dear,” he said from within. “I am so sorry I disturbed
you! But the reason is rather an amusing one: I fell asleep and dreamt
that I was fighting that fellow again who insulted you, and the noise
you heard was my pummelling away with my fists at my portmanteau, which
I pulled out to-day for packing. I am occasionally liable to these
freaks in my sleep. Go to bed and think of it no more.”

This was the last drachm required to turn the scale of her indecision.
Declare the past to him by word of mouth she could not; but there was
another way. She sat down and wrote on the four pages of a note-sheet a
succinct narrative of those events of three or four years ago, put it
into an envelope, and directed it to Clare. Then, lest the flesh should
again be weak, she crept upstairs without any shoes and slipped the
note under his door.

Her night was a broken one, as it well might be, and she listened for
the first faint noise overhead. It came, as usual; he descended, as
usual. She descended. He met her at the bottom of the stairs and kissed
her. Surely it was as warmly as ever!

He looked a little disturbed and worn, she thought. But he said not a
word to her about her revelation, even when they were alone. Could he
have had it? Unless he began the subject she felt that she could say
nothing. So the day passed, and it was evident that whatever he thought
he meant to keep to himself. Yet he was frank and affectionate as
before. Could it be that her doubts were childish? that he forgave her;
that he loved her for what she was, just as she was, and smiled at her
disquiet as at a foolish nightmare? Had he really received her note?
She glanced into his room, and could see nothing of it. It might be
that he forgave her. But even if he had not received it she had a
sudden enthusiastic trust that he surely would forgive her.

Every morning and night he was the same, and thus New Year’s Eve
broke—the wedding day.

The lovers did not rise at milking-time, having through the whole of
this last week of their sojourn at the dairy been accorded something of
the position of guests, Tess being honoured with a room of her own.
When they arrived downstairs at breakfast-time they were surprised to
see what effects had been produced in the large kitchen for their glory
since they had last beheld it. At some unnatural hour of the morning
the dairyman had caused the yawning chimney-corner to be whitened, and
the brick hearth reddened, and a blazing yellow damask blower to be
hung across the arch in place of the old grimy blue cotton one with a
black sprig pattern which had formerly done duty there. This renovated
aspect of what was the focus indeed of the room on a full winter
morning threw a smiling demeanour over the whole apartment.

“I was determined to do summat in honour o’t”, said the dairyman. “And
as you wouldn’t hear of my gieing a rattling good randy wi’ fiddles and
bass-viols complete, as we should ha’ done in old times, this was all I
could think o’ as a noiseless thing.”

Tess’s friends lived so far off that none could conveniently have been
present at the ceremony, even had any been asked; but as a fact nobody
was invited from Marlott. As for Angel’s family, he had written and
duly informed them of the time, and assured them that he would be glad
to see one at least of them there for the day if he would like to come.
His brothers had not replied at all, seeming to be indignant with him;
while his father and mother had written a rather sad letter, deploring
his precipitancy in rushing into marriage, but making the best of the
matter by saying that, though a dairywoman was the last daughter-in-law
they could have expected, their son had arrived at an age which he
might be supposed to be the best judge.

This coolness in his relations distressed Clare less than it would have
done had he been without the grand card with which he meant to surprise
them ere long. To produce Tess, fresh from the dairy, as a d’Urberville
and a lady, he had felt to be temerarious and risky; hence he had
concealed her lineage till such time as, familiarized with worldly ways
by a few months’ travel and reading with him, he could take her on a
visit to his parents and impart the knowledge while triumphantly
producing her as worthy of such an ancient line. It was a pretty
lover’s dream, if no more. Perhaps Tess’s lineage had more value for
himself than for anybody in the world beside.

Her perception that Angel’s bearing towards her still remained in no
whit altered by her own communication rendered Tess guiltily doubtful
if he could have received it. She rose from breakfast before he had
finished, and hastened upstairs. It had occurred to her to look once
more into the queer gaunt room which had been Clare’s den, or rather
eyrie, for so long, and climbing the ladder she stood at the open door
of the apartment, regarding and pondering. She stooped to the threshold
of the doorway, where she had pushed in the note two or three days
earlier in such excitement. The carpet reached close to the sill, and
under the edge of the carpet she discerned the faint white margin of
the envelope containing her letter to him, which he obviously had never
seen, owing to her having in her haste thrust it beneath the carpet as
well as beneath the door.

With a feeling of faintness she withdrew the letter. There it
was—sealed up, just as it had left her hands. The mountain had not yet
been removed. She could not let him read it now, the house being in
full bustle of preparation; and descending to her own room she
destroyed the letter there.

She was so pale when he saw her again that he felt quite anxious. The
incident of the misplaced letter she had jumped at as if it prevented a
confession; but she knew in her conscience that it need not; there was
still time. Yet everything was in a stir; there was coming and going;
all had to dress, the dairyman and Mrs Crick having been asked to
accompany them as witnesses; and reflection or deliberate talk was
well-nigh impossible. The only minute Tess could get to be alone with
Clare was when they met upon the landing.

“I am so anxious to talk to you—I want to confess all my faults and
blunders!” she said with attempted lightness.

“No, no—we can’t have faults talked of—you must be deemed perfect
to-day at least, my Sweet!” he cried. “We shall have plenty of time,
hereafter, I hope, to talk over our failings. I will confess mine at
the same time.”

“But it would be better for me to do it now, I think, so that you could
not say—”

“Well, my quixotic one, you shall tell me anything—say, as soon as we
are settled in our lodging; not now. I, too, will tell you my faults
then. But do not let us spoil the day with them; they will be excellent
matter for a dull time.”

“Then you don’t wish me to, dearest?”

“I do not, Tessy, really.”

The hurry of dressing and starting left no time for more than this.
Those words of his seemed to reassure her on further reflection. She
was whirled onward through the next couple of critical hours by the
mastering tide of her devotion to him, which closed up further
meditation. Her one desire, so long resisted, to make herself his, to
call him her lord, her own—then, if necessary, to die—had at last
lifted her up from her plodding reflective pathway. In dressing, she
moved about in a mental cloud of many-coloured idealities, which
eclipsed all sinister contingencies by its brightness.

The church was a long way off, and they were obliged to drive,
particularly as it was winter. A closed carriage was ordered from a
roadside inn, a vehicle which had been kept there ever since the old
days of post-chaise travelling. It had stout wheel-spokes and heavy
felloes, a great curved bed, immense straps and springs, and a pole
like a battering-ram. The postilion was a venerable “boy” of sixty—a
martyr to rheumatic gout, the result of excessive exposure in youth,
counter-acted by strong liquors—who had stood at inn-doors doing
nothing for the whole five-and-twenty years that had elapsed since he
had no longer been required to ride professionally, as if expecting the
old times to come back again. He had a permanent running wound on the
outside of his right leg, originated by the constant bruisings of
aristocratic carriage-poles during the many years that he had been in
regular employ at the King’s Arms, Casterbridge.

Inside this cumbrous and creaking structure, and behind this decayed
conductor, the _partie carrée_ took their seats—the bride and
bridegroom and Mr and Mrs Crick. Angel would have liked one at least of
his brothers to be present as groomsman, but their silence after his
gentle hint to that effect by letter had signified that they did not
care to come. They disapproved of the marriage, and could not be
expected to countenance it. Perhaps it was as well that they could not
be present. They were not worldly young fellows, but fraternizing with
dairy-folk would have struck unpleasantly upon their biased niceness,
apart from their views of the match.

Upheld by the momentum of the time, Tess knew nothing of this, did not
see anything, did not know the road they were taking to the church. She
knew that Angel was close to her; all the rest was a luminous mist. She
was a sort of celestial person, who owed her being to poetry—one of
those classical divinities Clare was accustomed to talk to her about
when they took their walks together.

The marriage being by licence there were only a dozen or so of people
in the church; had there been a thousand they would have produced no
more effect upon her. They were at stellar distances from her present
world. In the ecstatic solemnity with which she swore her faith to him
the ordinary sensibilities of sex seemed a flippancy. At a pause in the
service, while they were kneeling together, she unconsciously inclined
herself towards him, so that her shoulder touched his arm; she had been
frightened by a passing thought, and the movement had been automatic,
to assure herself that he was really there, and to fortify her belief
that his fidelity would be proof against all things.

Clare knew that she loved him—every curve of her form showed that—but
he did not know at that time the full depth of her devotion, its
single-mindedness, its meekness; what long-suffering it guaranteed,
what honesty, what endurance, what good faith.

As they came out of church the ringers swung the bells off their rests,
and a modest peal of three notes broke forth—that limited amount of
expression having been deemed sufficient by the church builders for the
joys of such a small parish. Passing by the tower with her husband on
the path to the gate she could feel the vibrant air humming round them
from the louvred belfry in the circle of sound, and it matched the
highly-charged mental atmosphere in which she was living.

This condition of mind, wherein she felt glorified by an irradiation
not her own, like the angel whom St John saw in the sun, lasted till
the sound of the church bells had died away, and the emotions of the
wedding-service had calmed down. Her eyes could dwell upon details more
clearly now, and Mr and Mrs Crick having directed their own gig to be
sent for them, to leave the carriage to the young couple, she observed
the build and character of that conveyance for the first time. Sitting
in silence she regarded it long.

“I fancy you seem oppressed, Tessy,” said Clare.

“Yes,” she answered, putting her hand to her brow. “I tremble at many
things. It is all so serious, Angel. Among other things I seem to have
seen this carriage before, to be very well acquainted with it. It is
very odd—I must have seen it in a dream.”

“Oh—you have heard the legend of the d’Urberville Coach—that well-known
superstition of this county about your family when they were very
popular here; and this lumbering old thing reminds you of it.”

“I have never heard of it to my knowledge,” said she. “What is the
legend—may I know it?”

“Well—I would rather not tell it in detail just now. A certain
d’Urberville of the sixteenth or seventeenth century committed a
dreadful crime in his family coach; and since that time members of the
family see or hear the old coach whenever—— But I’ll tell you another
day—it is rather gloomy. Evidently some dim knowledge of it has been
brought back to your mind by the sight of this venerable caravan.”

“I don’t remember hearing it before,” she murmured. “Is it when we are
going to die, Angel, that members of my family see it, or is it when we
have committed a crime?”

“Now, Tess!”

He silenced her by a kiss.

By the time they reached home she was contrite and spiritless. She was
Mrs Angel Clare, indeed, but had she any moral right to the name? Was
she not more truly Mrs Alexander d’Urberville? Could intensity of love
justify what might be considered in upright souls as culpable
reticence? She knew not what was expected of women in such cases; and
she had no counsellor.

However, when she found herself alone in her room for a few minutes—the
last day this on which she was ever to enter it—she knelt down and
prayed. She tried to pray to God, but it was her husband who really had
her supplication. Her idolatry of this man was such that she herself
almost feared it to be ill-omened. She was conscious of the notion
expressed by Friar Laurence: “These violent delights have violent
ends.” It might be too desperate for human conditions—too rank, to
wild, too deadly.

“O my love, why do I love you so!” she whispered there alone; “for she
you love is not my real self, but one in my image; the one I might have
been!”

Afternoon came, and with it the hour for departure. They had decided to
fulfil the plan of going for a few days to the lodgings in the old
farmhouse near Wellbridge Mill, at which he meant to reside during his
investigation of flour processes. At two o’clock there was nothing left
to do but to start. All the servantry of the dairy were standing in the
red-brick entry to see them go out, the dairyman and his wife following
to the door. Tess saw her three chamber-mates in a row against the
wall, pensively inclining their heads. She had much questioned if they
would appear at the parting moment; but there they were, stoical and
staunch to the last. She knew why the delicate Retty looked so fragile,
and Izz so tragically sorrowful, and Marian so blank; and she forgot
her own dogging shadow for a moment in contemplating theirs.

She impulsively whispered to him—

“Will you kiss ’em all, once, poor things, for the first and last
time?”

Clare had not the least objection to such a farewell formality—which
was all that it was to him—and as he passed them he kissed them in
succession where they stood, saying “Goodbye” to each as he did so.
When they reached the door Tess femininely glanced back to discern the
effect of that kiss of charity; there was no triumph in her glance, as
there might have been. If there had it would have disappeared when she
saw how moved the girls all were. The kiss had obviously done harm by
awakening feelings they were trying to subdue.

Of all this Clare was unconscious. Passing on to the wicket-gate he
shook hands with the dairyman and his wife, and expressed his last
thanks to them for their attentions; after which there was a moment of
silence before they had moved off. It was interrupted by the crowing of
a cock. The white one with the rose comb had come and settled on the
palings in front of the house, within a few yards of them, and his
notes thrilled their ears through, dwindling away like echoes down a
valley of rocks.

“Oh?” said Mrs Crick. “An afternoon crow!”

Two men were standing by the yard gate, holding it open.

“That’s bad,” one murmured to the other, not thinking that the words
could be heard by the group at the door-wicket.

The cock crew again—straight towards Clare.

“Well!” said the dairyman.

“I don’t like to hear him!” said Tess to her husband. “Tell the man to
drive on. Goodbye, goodbye!”

The cock crew again.

“Hoosh! Just you be off, sir, or I’ll twist your neck!” said the
dairyman with some irritation, turning to the bird and driving him
away. And to his wife as they went indoors: “Now, to think o’ that just
to-day! I’ve not heard his crow of an afternoon all the year afore.”

“It only means a change in the weather,” said she; “not what you think:
’tis impossible!”


XXXIV

They drove by the level road along the valley to a distance of a few
miles, and, reaching Wellbridge, turned away from the village to the
left, and over the great Elizabethan bridge which gives the place half
its name. Immediately behind it stood the house wherein they had
engaged lodgings, whose exterior features are so well known to all
travellers through the Froom Valley; once portion of a fine manorial
residence, and the property and seat of a d’Urberville, but since its
partial demolition a farmhouse.

“Welcome to one of your ancestral mansions!” said Clare as he handed
her down. But he regretted the pleasantry; it was too near a satire.

On entering they found that, though they had only engaged a couple of
rooms, the farmer had taken advantage of their proposed presence during
the coming days to pay a New Year’s visit to some friends, leaving a
woman from a neighbouring cottage to minister to their few wants. The
absoluteness of possession pleased them, and they realized it as the
first moment of their experience under their own exclusive roof-tree.

But he found that the mouldy old habitation somewhat depressed his
bride. When the carriage was gone they ascended the stairs to wash
their hands, the charwoman showing the way. On the landing Tess stopped
and started.

“What’s the matter?” said he.

“Those horrid women!” she answered with a smile. “How they frightened
me.”

He looked up, and perceived two life-size portraits on panels built
into the masonry. As all visitors to the mansion are aware, these
paintings represent women of middle age, of a date some two hundred
years ago, whose lineaments once seen can never be forgotten. The long
pointed features, narrow eye, and smirk of the one, so suggestive of
merciless treachery; the bill-hook nose, large teeth, and bold eye of
the other suggesting arrogance to the point of ferocity, haunt the
beholder afterwards in his dreams.

“Whose portraits are those?” asked Clare of the charwoman.

“I have been told by old folk that they were ladies of the d’Urberville
family, the ancient lords of this manor,” she said, “Owing to their
being builded into the wall they can’t be moved away.”

The unpleasantness of the matter was that, in addition to their effect
upon Tess, her fine features were unquestionably traceable in these
exaggerated forms. He said nothing of this, however, and, regretting
that he had gone out of his way to choose the house for their bridal
time, went on into the adjoining room. The place having been rather
hastily prepared for them, they washed their hands in one basin. Clare
touched hers under the water.

“Which are my fingers and which are yours?” he said, looking up. “They
are very much mixed.”

“They are all yours,” said she, very prettily, and endeavoured to be
gayer than she was. He had not been displeased with her thoughtfulness
on such an occasion; it was what every sensible woman would show: but
Tess knew that she had been thoughtful to excess, and struggled against
it.

The sun was so low on that short last afternoon of the year that it
shone in through a small opening and formed a golden staff which
stretched across to her skirt, where it made a spot like a paint-mark
set upon her. They went into the ancient parlour to tea, and here they
shared their first common meal alone. Such was their childishness, or
rather his, that he found it interesting to use the same
bread-and-butter plate as herself, and to brush crumbs from her lips
with his own. He wondered a little that she did not enter into these
frivolities with his own zest.

Looking at her silently for a long time; “She is a dear dear Tess,” he
thought to himself, as one deciding on the true construction of a
difficult passage. “Do I realize solemnly enough how utterly and
irretrievably this little womanly thing is the creature of my good or
bad faith and fortune? I think not. I think I could not, unless I were
a woman myself. What I am in worldly estate, she is. What I become, she
must become. What I cannot be, she cannot be. And shall I ever neglect
her, or hurt her, or even forget to consider her? God forbid such a
crime!”

They sat on over the tea-table waiting for their luggage, which the
dairyman had promised to send before it grew dark. But evening began to
close in, and the luggage did not arrive, and they had brought nothing
more than they stood in. With the departure of the sun the calm mood of
the winter day changed. Out of doors there began noises as of silk
smartly rubbed; the restful dead leaves of the preceding autumn were
stirred to irritated resurrection, and whirled about unwillingly, and
tapped against the shutters. It soon began to rain.

“That cock knew the weather was going to change,” said Clare.

The woman who had attended upon them had gone home for the night, but
she had placed candles upon the table, and now they lit them. Each
candle-flame drew towards the fireplace.

“These old houses are so draughty,” continued Angel, looking at the
flames, and at the grease guttering down the sides. “I wonder where
that luggage is. We haven’t even a brush and comb.”

“I don’t know,” she answered, absent-minded.

“Tess, you are not a bit cheerful this evening—not at all as you used
to be. Those harridans on the panels upstairs have unsettled you. I am
sorry I brought you here. I wonder if you really love me, after all?”

He knew that she did, and the words had no serious intent; but she was
surcharged with emotion, and winced like a wounded animal. Though she
tried not to shed tears, she could not help showing one or two.

“I did not mean it!” said he, sorry. “You are worried at not having
your things, I know. I cannot think why old Jonathan has not come with
them. Why, it is seven o’clock? Ah, there he is!”

A knock had come to the door, and, there being nobody else to answer
it, Clare went out. He returned to the room with a small package in his
hand.

“It is not Jonathan, after all,” he said.

“How vexing!” said Tess.

The packet had been brought by a special messenger, who had arrived at
Talbothays from Emminster Vicarage immediately after the departure of
the married couple, and had followed them hither, being under
injunction to deliver it into nobody’s hands but theirs. Clare brought
it to the light. It was less than a foot long, sewed up in canvas,
sealed in red wax with his father’s seal, and directed in his father’s
hand to “Mrs Angel Clare.”

“It is a little wedding-present for you, Tess,” said he, handing it to
her. “How thoughtful they are!”

Tess looked a little flustered as she took it.

“I think I would rather have you open it, dearest,” said she, turning
over the parcel. “I don’t like to break those great seals; they look so
serious. Please open it for me!”

He undid the parcel. Inside was a case of morocco leather, on the top
of which lay a note and a key.

The note was for Clare, in the following words:

    My dear son,—

    Possibly you have forgotten that on the death of your godmother,
    Mrs Pitney, when you were a lad, she—vain, kind woman that she
    was—left to me a portion of the contents of her jewel-case in trust
    for your wife, if you should ever have one, as a mark of her
    affection for you and whomsoever you should choose. This trust I
    have fulfilled, and the diamonds have been locked up at my banker’s
    ever since. Though I feel it to be a somewhat incongruous act in
    the circumstances, I am, as you will see, bound to hand over the
    articles to the woman to whom the use of them for her lifetime will
    now rightly belong, and they are therefore promptly sent. They
    become, I believe, heirlooms, strictly speaking, according to the
    terms of your godmother’s will. The precise words of the clause
    that refers to this matter are enclosed.


“I do remember,” said Clare; “but I had quite forgotten.”

Unlocking the case, they found it to contain a necklace, with pendant,
bracelets, and ear-rings; and also some other small ornaments.

Tess seemed afraid to touch them at first, but her eyes sparkled for a
moment as much as the stones when Clare spread out the set.

“Are they mine?” she asked incredulously.

“They are, certainly,” said he.

He looked into the fire. He remembered how, when he was a lad of
fifteen, his godmother, the Squire’s wife—the only rich person with
whom he had ever come in contact—had pinned her faith to his success;
had prophesied a wondrous career for him. There had seemed nothing at
all out of keeping with such a conjectured career in the storing up of
these showy ornaments for his wife and the wives of her descendants.
They gleamed somewhat ironically now. “Yet why?” he asked himself. It
was but a question of vanity throughout; and if that were admitted into
one side of the equation it should be admitted into the other. His wife
was a d’Urberville: whom could they become better than her?

Suddenly he said with enthusiasm—

“Tess, put them on—put them on!” And he turned from the fire to help
her.

But as if by magic she had already donned them—necklace, ear-rings,
bracelets, and all.

“But the gown isn’t right, Tess,” said Clare. “It ought to be a low one
for a set of brilliants like that.”

“Ought it?” said Tess.

“Yes,” said he.

He suggested to her how to tuck in the upper edge of her bodice, so as
to make it roughly approximate to the cut for evening wear; and when
she had done this, and the pendant to the necklace hung isolated amid
the whiteness of her throat, as it was designed to do, he stepped back
to survey her.

“My heavens,” said Clare, “how beautiful you are!”

As everybody knows, fine feathers make fine birds; a peasant girl but
very moderately prepossessing to the casual observer in her simple
condition and attire will bloom as an amazing beauty if clothed as a
woman of fashion with the aids that Art can render; while the beauty of
the midnight crush would often cut but a sorry figure if placed inside
the field-woman’s wrapper upon a monotonous acreage of turnips on a
dull day. He had never till now estimated the artistic excellence of
Tess’s limbs and features.

“If you were only to appear in a ball-room!” he said. “But no—no,
dearest; I think I love you best in the wing-bonnet and
cotton-frock—yes, better than in this, well as you support these
dignities.”

Tess’s sense of her striking appearance had given her a flush of
excitement, which was yet not happiness.

“I’ll take them off,” she said, “in case Jonathan should see me. They
are not fit for me, are they? They must be sold, I suppose?”

“Let them stay a few minutes longer. Sell them? Never. It would be a
breach of faith.”

Influenced by a second thought she readily obeyed. She had something to
tell, and there might be help in these. She sat down with the jewels
upon her; and they again indulged in conjectures as to where Jonathan
could possibly be with their baggage. The ale they had poured out for
his consumption when he came had gone flat with long standing.

Shortly after this they began supper, which was already laid on a
side-table. Ere they had finished there was a jerk in the fire-smoke,
the rising skein of which bulged out into the room, as if some giant
had laid his hand on the chimney-top for a moment. It had been caused
by the opening of the outer door. A heavy step was now heard in the
passage, and Angel went out.

“I couldn’ make nobody hear at all by knocking,” apologized Jonathan
Kail, for it was he at last; “and as’t was raining out I opened the
door. I’ve brought the things, sir.”

“I am very glad to see them. But you are very late.”

“Well, yes, sir.”

There was something subdued in Jonathan Kail’s tone which had not been
there in the day, and lines of concern were ploughed upon his forehead
in addition to the lines of years. He continued—

“We’ve all been gallied at the dairy at what might ha’ been a most
terrible affliction since you and your Mis’ess—so to name her now—left
us this a’ternoon. Perhaps you ha’nt forgot the cock’s afternoon crow?”

“Dear me;—what—”

“Well, some says it do mane one thing, and some another; but what’s
happened is that poor little Retty Priddle hev tried to drown herself.”

“No! Really! Why, she bade us goodbye with the rest—”

“Yes. Well, sir, when you and your Mis’ess—so to name what she lawful
is—when you two drove away, as I say, Retty and Marian put on their
bonnets and went out; and as there is not much doing now, being New
Year’s Eve, and folks mops and brooms from what’s inside ’em, nobody
took much notice. They went on to Lew-Everard, where they had summut to
drink, and then on they vamped to Dree-armed Cross, and there they
seemed to have parted, Retty striking across the water-meads as if for
home, and Marian going on to the next village, where there’s another
public-house. Nothing more was zeed or heard o’ Retty till the
waterman, on his way home, noticed something by the Great Pool; ’twas
her bonnet and shawl packed up. In the water he found her. He and
another man brought her home, thinking ’a was dead; but she fetched
round by degrees.”

Angel, suddenly recollecting that Tess was overhearing this gloomy
tale, went to shut the door between the passage and the ante-room to
the inner parlour where she was; but his wife, flinging a shawl round
her, had come to the outer room and was listening to the man’s
narrative, her eyes resting absently on the luggage and the drops of
rain glistening upon it.

“And, more than this, there’s Marian; she’s been found dead drunk by
the withy-bed—a girl who hev never been known to touch anything before
except shilling ale; though, to be sure, ’a was always a good
trencher-woman, as her face showed. It seems as if the maids had all
gone out o’ their minds!”

“And Izz?” asked Tess.

“Izz is about house as usual; but ’a do say ’a can guess how it
happened; and she seems to be very low in mind about it, poor maid, as
well she mid be. And so you see, sir, as all this happened just when we
was packing your few traps and your Mis’ess’s night-rail and dressing
things into the cart, why, it belated me.”

“Yes. Well, Jonathan, will you get the trunks upstairs, and drink a cup
of ale, and hasten back as soon as you can, in case you should be
wanted?”

Tess had gone back to the inner parlour, and sat down by the fire,
looking wistfully into it. She heard Jonathan Kail’s heavy footsteps up
and down the stairs till he had done placing the luggage, and heard him
express his thanks for the ale her husband took out to him, and for the
gratuity he received. Jonathan’s footsteps then died from the door, and
his cart creaked away.

Angel slid forward the massive oak bar which secured the door, and
coming in to where she sat over the hearth, pressed her cheeks between
his hands from behind. He expected her to jump up gaily and unpack the
toilet-gear that she had been so anxious about, but as she did not rise
he sat down with her in the firelight, the candles on the supper-table
being too thin and glimmering to interfere with its glow.

“I am so sorry you should have heard this sad story about the girls,”
he said. “Still, don’t let it depress you. Retty was naturally morbid,
you know.”

“Without the least cause,” said Tess. “While they who have cause to be,
hide it, and pretend they are not.”

This incident had turned the scale for her. They were simple and
innocent girls on whom the unhappiness of unrequited love had fallen;
they had deserved better at the hands of Fate. She had deserved
worse—yet she was the chosen one. It was wicked of her to take all
without paying. She would pay to the uttermost farthing; she would
tell, there and then. This final determination she came to when she
looked into the fire, he holding her hand.

A steady glare from the now flameless embers painted the sides and back
of the fireplace with its colour, and the well-polished andirons, and
the old brass tongs that would not meet. The underside of the
mantel-shelf was flushed with the high-coloured light, and the legs of
the table nearest the fire. Tess’s face and neck reflected the same
warmth, which each gem turned into an Aldebaran or a Sirius—a
constellation of white, red, and green flashes, that interchanged their
hues with her every pulsation.

“Do you remember what we said to each other this morning about telling
our faults?” he asked abruptly, finding that she still remained
immovable. “We spoke lightly perhaps, and you may well have done so.
But for me it was no light promise. I want to make a confession to you,
Love.”

This, from him, so unexpectedly apposite, had the effect upon her of a
Providential interposition.

“You have to confess something?” she said quickly, and even with
gladness and relief.

“You did not expect it? Ah—you thought too highly of me. Now listen.
Put your head there, because I want you to forgive me, and not to be
indignant with me for not telling you before, as perhaps I ought to
have done.”

How strange it was! He seemed to be her double. She did not speak, and
Clare went on—

“I did not mention it because I was afraid of endangering my chance of
you, darling, the great prize of my life—my Fellowship I call you. My
brother’s Fellowship was won at his college, mine at Talbothays Dairy.
Well, I would not risk it. I was going to tell you a month ago—at the
time you agreed to be mine, but I could not; I thought it might
frighten you away from me. I put it off; then I thought I would tell
you yesterday, to give you a chance at least of escaping me. But I did
not. And I did not this morning, when you proposed our confessing our
faults on the landing—the sinner that I was! But I must, now I see you
sitting there so solemnly. I wonder if you will forgive me?”

“O yes! I am sure that—”

“Well, I hope so. But wait a minute. You don’t know. To begin at the
beginning. Though I imagine my poor father fears that I am one of the
eternally lost for my doctrines, I am of course, a believer in good
morals, Tess, as much as you. I used to wish to be a teacher of men,
and it was a great disappointment to me when I found I could not enter
the Church. I admired spotlessness, even though I could lay no claim to
it, and hated impurity, as I hope I do now. Whatever one may think of
plenary inspiration, one must heartily subscribe to these words of
Paul: ‘Be thou an example—in word, in conversation, in charity, in
spirit, in faith, in purity.’ It is the only safeguard for us poor
human beings. ‘_Integer vitae_,’ says a Roman poet, who is strange
company for St Paul—

    The man of upright life, from frailties free,
    Stands not in need of Moorish spear or bow.

“Well, a certain place is paved with good intentions, and having felt
all that so strongly, you will see what a terrible remorse it bred in
me when, in the midst of my fine aims for other people, I myself fell.”

He then told her of that time of his life to which allusion has been
made when, tossed about by doubts and difficulties in London, like a
cork on the waves, he plunged into eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation
with a stranger.

“Happily I awoke almost immediately to a sense of my folly,” he
continued. “I would have no more to say to her, and I came home. I have
never repeated the offence. But I felt I should like to treat you with
perfect frankness and honour, and I could not do so without telling
this. Do you forgive me?”

She pressed his hand tightly for an answer.

“Then we will dismiss it at once and for ever!—too painful as it is for
the occasion—and talk of something lighter.”

“O, Angel—I am almost glad—because now _you_ can forgive _me_! I have
not made my confession. I have a confession, too—remember, I said so.”

“Ah, to be sure! Now then for it, wicked little one.”

“Perhaps, although you smile, it is as serious as yours, or more so.”

“It can hardly be more serious, dearest.”

“It cannot—O no, it cannot!” She jumped up joyfully at the hope. “No,
it cannot be more serious, certainly,” she cried, “because ’tis just
the same! I will tell you now.”

She sat down again.

Their hands were still joined. The ashes under the grate were lit by
the fire vertically, like a torrid waste. Imagination might have beheld
a Last Day luridness in this red-coaled glow, which fell on his face
and hand, and on hers, peering into the loose hair about her brow, and
firing the delicate skin underneath. A large shadow of her shape rose
upon the wall and ceiling. She bent forward, at which each diamond on
her neck gave a sinister wink like a toad’s; and pressing her forehead
against his temple she entered on her story of her acquaintance with
Alec d’Urberville and its results, murmuring the words without
flinching, and with her eyelids drooping down.


End of Phase the Fourth


Phase the Fifth:

The Woman Pays


XXXV

Her narrative ended; even its re-assertions and secondary explanations
were done. Tess’s voice throughout had hardly risen higher than its
opening tone; there had been no exculpatory phrase of any kind, and she
had not wept.

But the complexion even of external things seemed to suffer
transmutation as her announcement progressed. The fire in the grate
looked impish—demoniacally funny, as if it did not care in the least
about her strait. The fender grinned idly, as if it too did not care.
The light from the water-bottle was merely engaged in a chromatic
problem. All material objects around announced their irresponsibility
with terrible iteration. And yet nothing had changed since the moments
when he had been kissing her; or rather, nothing in the substance of
things. But the essence of things had changed.

When she ceased, the auricular impressions from their previous
endearments seemed to hustle away into the corner of their brains,
repeating themselves as echoes from a time of supremely purblind
foolishness.

Clare performed the irrelevant act of stirring the fire; the
intelligence had not even yet got to the bottom of him. After stirring
the embers he rose to his feet; all the force of her disclosure had
imparted itself now. His face had withered. In the strenuousness of his
concentration he treadled fitfully on the floor. He could not, by any
contrivance, think closely enough; that was the meaning of his vague
movement. When he spoke it was in the most inadequate, commonplace
voice of the many varied tones she had heard from him.

“Tess!”

“Yes, dearest.”

“Am I to believe this? From your manner I am to take it as true. O you
cannot be out of your mind! You ought to be! Yet you are not... My
wife, my Tess—nothing in you warrants such a supposition as that?”

“I am not out of my mind,” she said.

“And yet—” He looked vacantly at her, to resume with dazed senses: “Why
didn’t you tell me before? Ah, yes, you would have told me, in a
way—but I hindered you, I remember!”

These and other of his words were nothing but the perfunctory babble of
the surface while the depths remained paralyzed. He turned away, and
bent over a chair. Tess followed him to the middle of the room, where
he was, and stood there staring at him with eyes that did not weep.
Presently she slid down upon her knees beside his foot, and from this
position she crouched in a heap.

“In the name of our love, forgive me!” she whispered with a dry mouth.
“I have forgiven you for the same!”

And, as he did not answer, she said again—

“Forgive me as you are forgiven! _I_ forgive _you_, Angel.”

“You—yes, you do.”

“But you do not forgive me?”

“O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person;
now you are another. My God—how can forgiveness meet such a
grotesque—prestidigitation as that!”

He paused, contemplating this definition; then suddenly broke into
horrible laughter—as unnatural and ghastly as a laugh in hell.

“Don’t—don’t! It kills me quite, that!” she shrieked. “O have mercy
upon me—have mercy!”

He did not answer; and, sickly white, she jumped up.

“Angel, Angel! what do you mean by that laugh?” she cried out. “Do you
know what this is to me?”

He shook his head.

“I have been hoping, longing, praying, to make you happy! I have
thought what joy it will be to do it, what an unworthy wife I shall be
if I do not! That’s what I have felt, Angel!”

“I know that.”

“I thought, Angel, that you loved me—me, my very self! If it is I you
do love, O how can it be that you look and speak so? It frightens me!
Having begun to love you, I love you for ever—in all changes, in all
disgraces, because you are yourself. I ask no more. Then how can you, O
my own husband, stop loving me?”

“I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.”

“But who?”

“Another woman in your shape.”

She perceived in his words the realization of her own apprehensive
foreboding in former times. He looked upon her as a species of
imposter; a guilty woman in the guise of an innocent one. Terror was
upon her white face as she saw it; her cheek was flaccid, and her mouth
had almost the aspect of a round little hole. The horrible sense of his
view of her so deadened her that she staggered, and he stepped forward,
thinking she was going to fall.

“Sit down, sit down,” he said gently. “You are ill; and it is natural
that you should be.”

She did sit down, without knowing where she was, that strained look
still upon her face, and her eyes such as to make his flesh creep.

“I don’t belong to you any more, then; do I, Angel?” she asked
helplessly. “It is not me, but another woman like me that he loved, he
says.”

The image raised caused her to take pity upon herself as one who was
ill-used. Her eyes filled as she regarded her position further; she
turned round and burst into a flood of self-sympathetic tears.

Clare was relieved at this change, for the effect on her of what had
happened was beginning to be a trouble to him only less than the woe of
the disclosure itself. He waited patiently, apathetically, till the
violence of her grief had worn itself out, and her rush of weeping had
lessened to a catching gasp at intervals.

“Angel,” she said suddenly, in her natural tones, the insane, dry voice
of terror having left her now. “Angel, am I too wicked for you and me
to live together?”

“I have not been able to think what we can do.”

“I shan’t ask you to let me live with you, Angel, because I have no
right to! I shall not write to mother and sisters to say we be married,
as I said I would do; and I shan’t finish the good hussif I cut out and
meant to make while we were in lodgings.”

“Shan’t you?”

“No, I shan’t do anything, unless you order me to; and if you go away
from me I shall not follow ’ee; and if you never speak to me any more I
shall not ask why, unless you tell me I may.”

“And if I order you to do anything?”

“I will obey you like your wretched slave, even if it is to lie down
and die.”

“You are very good. But it strikes me that there is a want of harmony
between your present mood of self-sacrifice and your past mood of
self-preservation.”

These were the first words of antagonism. To fling elaborate sarcasms
at Tess, however, was much like flinging them at a dog or cat. The
charms of their subtlety passed by her unappreciated, and she only
received them as inimical sounds which meant that anger ruled. She
remained mute, not knowing that he was smothering his affection for
her. She hardly observed that a tear descended slowly upon his cheek, a
tear so large that it magnified the pores of the skin over which it
rolled, like the object lens of a microscope. Meanwhile reillumination
as to the terrible and total change that her confession had wrought in
his life, in his universe, returned to him, and he tried desperately to
advance among the new conditions in which he stood. Some consequent
action was necessary; yet what?

“Tess,” he said, as gently as he could speak, “I cannot stay—in this
room—just now. I will walk out a little way.”

He quietly left the room, and the two glasses of wine that he had
poured out for their supper—one for her, one for him—remained on the
table untasted. This was what their _Agape_ had come to. At tea, two or
three hours earlier, they had, in the freakishness of affection, drunk
from one cup.

The closing of the door behind him, gently as it had been pulled to,
roused Tess from her stupor. He was gone; she could not stay. Hastily
flinging her cloak around her she opened the door and followed, putting
out the candles as if she were never coming back. The rain was over and
the night was now clear.

She was soon close at his heels, for Clare walked slowly and without
purpose. His form beside her light gray figure looked black, sinister,
and forbidding, and she felt as sarcasm the touch of the jewels of
which she had been momentarily so proud. Clare turned at hearing her
footsteps, but his recognition of her presence seemed to make no
difference to him, and he went on over the five yawning arches of the
great bridge in front of the house.

The cow and horse tracks in the road were full of water, the rain
having been enough to charge them, but not enough to wash them away.
Across these minute pools the reflected stars flitted in a quick
transit as she passed; she would not have known they were shining
overhead if she had not seen them there—the vastest things of the
universe imaged in objects so mean.

The place to which they had travelled to-day was in the same valley as
Talbothays, but some miles lower down the river; and the surroundings
being open, she kept easily in sight of him. Away from the house the
road wound through the meads, and along these she followed Clare
without any attempt to come up with him or to attract him, but with
dumb and vacant fidelity.

At last, however, her listless walk brought her up alongside him, and
still he said nothing. The cruelty of fooled honesty is often great
after enlightenment, and it was mighty in Clare now. The outdoor air
had apparently taken away from him all tendency to act on impulse; she
knew that he saw her without irradiation—in all her bareness; that Time
was chanting his satiric psalm at her then—

    Behold, when thy face is made bare, he that loved thee shall hate;
    Thy face shall be no more fair at the fall of thy fate. For thy
    life shall fall as a leaf and be shed as the rain; And the veil of
    thine head shall be grief, and the crown shall be pain.

He was still intently thinking, and her companionship had now
insufficient power to break or divert the strain of thought. What a
weak thing her presence must have become to him! She could not help
addressing Clare.

“What have I done—what _have_ I done! I have not told of anything that
interferes with or belies my love for you. You don’t think I planned
it, do you? It is in your own mind what you are angry at, Angel; it is
not in me. O, it is not in me, and I am not that deceitful woman you
think me!”

“H’m—well. Not deceitful, my wife; but not the same. No, not the same.
But do not make me reproach you. I have sworn that I will not; and I
will do everything to avoid it.”

But she went on pleading in her distraction; and perhaps said things
that would have been better left to silence.

“Angel!—Angel! I was a child—a child when it happened! I knew nothing
of men.”

“You were more sinned against than sinning, that I admit.”

“Then will you not forgive me?”

“I do forgive you, but forgiveness is not all.”

“And love me?”

To this question he did not answer.

“O Angel—my mother says that it sometimes happens so!—she knows several
cases where they were worse than I, and the husband has not minded it
much—has got over it at least. And yet the woman had not loved him as I
do you!”

“Don’t, Tess; don’t argue. Different societies, different manners. You
almost make me say you are an unapprehending peasant woman, who have
never been initiated into the proportions of social things. You don’t
know what you say.”

“I am only a peasant by position, not by nature!”

She spoke with an impulse to anger, but it went as it came.

“So much the worse for you. I think that parson who unearthed your
pedigree would have done better if he had held his tongue. I cannot
help associating your decline as a family with this other fact—of your
want of firmness. Decrepit families imply decrepit wills, decrepit
conduct. Heaven, why did you give me a handle for despising you more by
informing me of your descent! Here was I thinking you a new-sprung
child of nature; there were you, the belated seedling of an effete
aristocracy!”

“Lots of families are as bad as mine in that! Retty’s family were once
large landowners, and so were Dairyman Billett’s. And the Debbyhouses,
who now are carters, were once the De Bayeux family. You find such as I
everywhere; ’tis a feature of our county, and I can’t help it.”

“So much the worse for the county.”

She took these reproaches in their bulk simply, not in their
particulars; he did not love her as he had loved her hitherto, and to
all else she was indifferent.

They wandered on again in silence. It was said afterwards that a
cottager of Wellbridge, who went out late that night for a doctor, met
two lovers in the pastures, walking very slowly, without converse, one
behind the other, as in a funeral procession, and the glimpse that he
obtained of their faces seemed to denote that they were anxious and
sad. Returning later, he passed them again in the same field,
progressing just as slowly, and as regardless of the hour and of the
cheerless night as before. It was only on account of his preoccupation
with his own affairs, and the illness in his house, that he did not
bear in mind the curious incident, which, however, he recalled a long
while after.

During the interval of the cottager’s going and coming, she had said to
her husband—

“I don’t see how I can help being the cause of much misery to you all
your life. The river is down there. I can put an end to myself in it. I
am not afraid.”

“I don’t wish to add murder to my other follies,” he said.

“I will leave something to show that I did it myself—on account of my
shame. They will not blame you then.”

“Don’t speak so absurdly—I wish not to hear it. It is nonsense to have
such thoughts in this kind of case, which is rather one for satirical
laughter than for tragedy. You don’t in the least understand the
quality of the mishap. It would be viewed in the light of a joke by
nine-tenths of the world if it were known. Please oblige me by
returning to the house, and going to bed.”

“I will,” said she dutifully.

They had rambled round by a road which led to the well-known ruins of
the Cistercian abbey behind the mill, the latter having, in centuries
past, been attached to the monastic establishment. The mill still
worked on, food being a perennial necessity; the abbey had perished,
creeds being transient. One continually sees the ministration of the
temporary outlasting the ministration of the eternal. Their walk having
been circuitous, they were still not far from the house, and in obeying
his direction she only had to reach the large stone bridge across the
main river and follow the road for a few yards. When she got back,
everything remained as she had left it, the fire being still burning.
She did not stay downstairs for more than a minute, but proceeded to
her chamber, whither the luggage had been taken. Here she sat down on
the edge of the bed, looking blankly around, and presently began to
undress. In removing the light towards the bedstead its rays fell upon
the tester of white dimity; something was hanging beneath it, and she
lifted the candle to see what it was. A bough of mistletoe. Angel had
put it there; she knew that in an instant. This was the explanation of
that mysterious parcel which it had been so difficult to pack and
bring; whose contents he would not explain to her, saying that time
would soon show her the purpose thereof. In his zest and his gaiety he
had hung it there. How foolish and inopportune that mistletoe looked
now.

Having nothing more to fear, having scarce anything to hope, for that
he would relent there seemed no promise whatever, she lay down dully.
When sorrow ceases to be speculative, sleep sees her opportunity. Among
so many happier moods which forbid repose this was a mood which
welcomed it, and in a few minutes the lonely Tess forgot existence,
surrounded by the aromatic stillness of the chamber that had once,
possibly, been the bride-chamber of her own ancestry.

Later on that night Clare also retraced his steps to the house.
Entering softly to the sitting-room he obtained a light, and with the
manner of one who had considered his course he spread his rugs upon the
old horse-hair sofa which stood there, and roughly shaped it to a
sleeping-couch. Before lying down he crept shoeless upstairs, and
listened at the door of her apartment. Her measured breathing told that
she was sleeping profoundly.

“Thank God!” murmured Clare; and yet he was conscious of a pang of
bitterness at the thought—approximately true, though not wholly so—that
having shifted the burden of her life to his shoulders, she was now
reposing without care.

He turned away to descend; then, irresolute, faced round to her door
again. In the act he caught sight of one of the d’Urberville dames,
whose portrait was immediately over the entrance to Tess’s bedchamber.
In the candlelight the painting was more than unpleasant. Sinister
design lurked in the woman’s features, a concentrated purpose of
revenge on the other sex—so it seemed to him then. The Caroline bodice
of the portrait was low—precisely as Tess’s had been when he tucked it
in to show the necklace; and again he experienced the distressing
sensation of a resemblance between them.

The check was sufficient. He resumed his retreat and descended.

His air remained calm and cold, his small compressed mouth indexing his
powers of self-control; his face wearing still that terrible sterile
expression which had spread thereon since her disclosure. It was the
face of a man who was no longer passion’s slave, yet who found no
advantage in his enfranchisement. He was simply regarding the harrowing
contingencies of human experience, the unexpectedness of things.
Nothing so pure, so sweet, so virginal as Tess had seemed possible all
the long while that he had adored her, up to an hour ago; but

    The little less, and what worlds away!

He argued erroneously when he said to himself that her heart was not
indexed in the honest freshness of her face; but Tess had no advocate
to set him right. Could it be possible, he continued, that eyes which
as they gazed never expressed any divergence from what the tongue was
telling, were yet ever seeing another world behind her ostensible one,
discordant and contrasting?

He reclined on his couch in the sitting-room, and extinguished the
light. The night came in, and took up its place there, unconcerned and
indifferent; the night which had already swallowed up his happiness,
and was now digesting it listlessly; and was ready to swallow up the
happiness of a thousand other people with as little disturbance or
change of mien.


XXXVI

Clare arose in the light of a dawn that was ashy and furtive, as though
associated with crime. The fireplace confronted him with its extinct
embers; the spread supper-table, whereon stood the two full glasses of
untasted wine, now flat and filmy; her vacated seat and his own; the
other articles of furniture, with their eternal look of not being able
to help it, their intolerable inquiry what was to be done? From above
there was no sound; but in a few minutes there came a knock at the
door. He remembered that it would be the neighbouring cottager’s wife,
who was to minister to their wants while they remained here.

The presence of a third person in the house would be extremely awkward
just now, and, being already dressed, he opened the window and informed
her that they could manage to shift for themselves that morning. She
had a milk-can in her hand, which he told her to leave at the door.
When the dame had gone away he searched in the back quarters of the
house for fuel, and speedily lit a fire. There was plenty of eggs,
butter, bread, and so on in the larder, and Clare soon had breakfast
laid, his experiences at the dairy having rendered him facile in
domestic preparations. The smoke of the kindled wood rose from the
chimney without like a lotus-headed column; local people who were
passing by saw it, and thought of the newly-married couple, and envied
their happiness.

Angel cast a final glance round, and then going to the foot of the
stairs, called in a conventional voice—

“Breakfast is ready!”

He opened the front door, and took a few steps in the morning air.
When, after a short space, he came back she was already in the
sitting-room mechanically readjusting the breakfast things. As she was
fully attired, and the interval since his calling her had been but two
or three minutes, she must have been dressed or nearly so before he
went to summon her. Her hair was twisted up in a large round mass at
the back of her head, and she had put on one of the new frocks—a pale
blue woollen garment with neck-frillings of white. Her hands and face
appeared to be cold, and she had possibly been sitting dressed in the
bedroom a long time without any fire. The marked civility of Clare’s
tone in calling her seemed to have inspired her, for the moment, with a
new glimmer of hope. But it soon died when she looked at him.

The pair were, in truth, but the ashes of their former fires. To the
hot sorrow of the previous night had succeeded heaviness; it seemed as
if nothing could kindle either of them to fervour of sensation any
more.

He spoke gently to her, and she replied with a like
undemonstrativeness. At last she came up to him, looking in his
sharply-defined face as one who had no consciousness that her own
formed a visible object also.

“Angel!” she said, and paused, touching him with her fingers lightly as
a breeze, as though she could hardly believe to be there in the flesh
the man who was once her lover. Her eyes were bright, her pale cheek
still showed its wonted roundness, though half-dried tears had left
glistening traces thereon; and the usually ripe red mouth was almost as
pale as her cheek. Throbbingly alive as she was still, under the stress
of her mental grief the life beat so brokenly that a little further
pull upon it would cause real illness, dull her characteristic eyes,
and make her mouth thin.

She looked absolutely pure. Nature, in her fantastic trickery, had set
such a seal of maidenhood upon Tess’s countenance that he gazed at her
with a stupefied air.

“Tess! Say it is not true! No, it is not true!”

“It is true.”

“Every word?”

“Every word.”

He looked at her imploringly, as if he would willingly have taken a lie
from her lips, knowing it to be one, and have made of it, by some sort
of sophistry, a valid denial. However, she only repeated—

“It is true.”

“Is he living?” Angel then asked.

“The baby died.”

“But the man?”

“He is alive.”

A last despair passed over Clare’s face.

“Is he in England?”

“Yes.”

He took a few vague steps.

“My position—is this,” he said abruptly. “I thought—any man would have
thought—that by giving up all ambition to win a wife with social
standing, with fortune, with knowledge of the world, I should secure
rustic innocence as surely as I should secure pink cheeks; but—However,
I am no man to reproach you, and I will not.”

Tess felt his position so entirely that the remainder had not been
needed. Therein lay just the distress of it; she saw that he had lost
all round.

“Angel—I should not have let it go on to marriage with you if I had not
known that, after all, there was a last way out of it for you; though I
hoped you would never—”

Her voice grew husky.

“A last way?”

“I mean, to get rid of me. You _can_ get rid of me.”

“How?”

“By divorcing me.”

“Good heavens—how can you be so simple! How can I divorce you?”

“Can’t you—now I have told you? I thought my confession would give you
grounds for that.”

“O Tess—you are too, too—childish—unformed—crude, I suppose! I don’t
know what you are. You don’t understand the law—you don’t understand!”

“What—you cannot?”

“Indeed I cannot.”

A quick shame mixed with the misery upon his listener’s face.

“I thought—I thought,” she whispered. “O, now I see how wicked I seem
to you! Believe me—believe me, on my soul, I never thought but that you
could! I hoped you would not; yet I believed, without a doubt, that you
could cast me off if you were determined, and didn’t love me
at—at—all!”

“You were mistaken,” he said.

“O, then I ought to have done it, to have done it last night! But I
hadn’t the courage. That’s just like me!”

“The courage to do what?”

As she did not answer he took her by the hand.

“What were you thinking of doing?” he inquired.

“Of putting an end to myself.”

“When?”

She writhed under this inquisitorial manner of his. “Last night,” she
answered.

“Where?”

“Under your mistletoe.”

“My good—! How?” he asked sternly.

“I’ll tell you, if you won’t be angry with me!” she said, shrinking.
“It was with the cord of my box. But I could not—do the last thing! I
was afraid that it might cause a scandal to your name.”

The unexpected quality of this confession, wrung from her, and not
volunteered, shook him perceptibly. But he still held her, and, letting
his glance fall from her face downwards, he said, “Now, listen to this.
You must not dare to think of such a horrible thing! How could you! You
will promise me as your husband to attempt that no more.”

“I am ready to promise. I saw how wicked it was.”

“Wicked! The idea was unworthy of you beyond description.”

“But, Angel,” she pleaded, enlarging her eyes in calm unconcern upon
him, “it was thought of entirely on your account—to set you free
without the scandal of the divorce that I thought you would have to
get. I should never have dreamt of doing it on mine. However, to do it
with my own hand is too good for me, after all. It is you, my ruined
husband, who ought to strike the blow. I think I should love you more,
if that were possible, if you could bring yourself to do it, since
there’s no other way of escape for ’ee. I feel I am so utterly
worthless! So very greatly in the way!”

“Ssh!”

“Well, since you say no, I won’t. I have no wish opposed to yours.”

He knew this to be true enough. Since the desperation of the night her
activities had dropped to zero, and there was no further rashness to be
feared.

Tess tried to busy herself again over the breakfast-table with more or
less success, and they sat down both on the same side, so that their
glances did not meet. There was at first something awkward in hearing
each other eat and drink, but this could not be escaped; moreover, the
amount of eating done was small on both sides. Breakfast over, he rose,
and telling her the hour at which he might be expected to dinner, went
off to the miller’s in a mechanical pursuance of the plan of studying
that business, which had been his only practical reason for coming
here.

When he was gone Tess stood at the window, and presently saw his form
crossing the great stone bridge which conducted to the mill premises.
He sank behind it, crossed the railway beyond, and disappeared. Then,
without a sigh, she turned her attention to the room, and began
clearing the table and setting it in order.

The charwoman soon came. Her presence was at first a strain upon Tess,
but afterwards an alleviation. At half-past twelve she left her
assistant alone in the kitchen, and, returning to the sitting-room,
waited for the reappearance of Angel’s form behind the bridge.

About one he showed himself. Her face flushed, although he was a
quarter of a mile off. She ran to the kitchen to get the dinner served
by the time he should enter. He went first to the room where they had
washed their hands together the day before, and as he entered the
sitting-room the dish-covers rose from the dishes as if by his own
motion.

“How punctual!” he said.

“Yes. I saw you coming over the bridge,” said she.

The meal was passed in commonplace talk of what he had been doing
during the morning at the Abbey Mill, of the methods of bolting and the
old-fashioned machinery, which he feared would not enlighten him
greatly on modern improved methods, some of it seeming to have been in
use ever since the days it ground for the monks in the adjoining
conventual buildings—now a heap of ruins. He left the house again in
the course of an hour, coming home at dusk, and occupying himself
through the evening with his papers. She feared she was in the way and,
when the old woman was gone, retired to the kitchen, where she made
herself busy as well as she could for more than an hour.

Clare’s shape appeared at the door. “You must not work like this,” he
said. “You are not my servant; you are my wife.”

She raised her eyes, and brightened somewhat. “I may think myself
that—indeed?” she murmured, in piteous raillery. “You mean in name!
Well, I don’t want to be anything more.”

“You _may_ think so, Tess! You are. What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” she said hastily, with tears in her accents. “I thought
I—because I am not respectable, I mean. I told you I thought I was not
respectable enough long ago—and on that account I didn’t want to marry
you, only—only you urged me!”

She broke into sobs, and turned her back to him. It would almost have
won round any man but Angel Clare. Within the remote depths of his
constitution, so gentle and affectionate as he was in general, there
lay hidden a hard logical deposit, like a vein of metal in a soft loam,
which turned the edge of everything that attempted to traverse it. It
had blocked his acceptance of the Church; it blocked his acceptance of
Tess. Moreover, his affection itself was less fire than radiance, and,
with regard to the other sex, when he ceased to believe he ceased to
follow: contrasting in this with many impressionable natures, who
remain sensuously infatuated with what they intellectually despise. He
waited till her sobbing ceased.

“I wish half the women in England were as respectable as you,” he said,
in an ebullition of bitterness against womankind in general. “It isn’t
a question of respectability, but one of principle!”

He spoke such things as these and more of a kindred sort to her, being
still swayed by the antipathetic wave which warps direct souls with
such persistence when once their vision finds itself mocked by
appearances. There was, it is true, underneath, a back current of
sympathy through which a woman of the world might have conquered him.
But Tess did not think of this; she took everything as her deserts, and
hardly opened her mouth. The firmness of her devotion to him was indeed
almost pitiful; quick-tempered as she naturally was, nothing that he
could say made her unseemly; she sought not her own; was not provoked;
thought no evil of his treatment of her. She might just now have been
Apostolic Charity herself returned to a self-seeking modern world.

This evening, night, and morning were passed precisely as the preceding
ones had been passed. On one, and only one, occasion did she—the
formerly free and independent Tess—venture to make any advances. It was
on the third occasion of his starting after a meal to go out to the
flour-mill. As he was leaving the table he said “Goodbye,” and she
replied in the same words, at the same time inclining her mouth in the
way of his. He did not avail himself of the invitation, saying, as he
turned hastily aside—

“I shall be home punctually.”

Tess shrank into herself as if she had been struck. Often enough had he
tried to reach those lips against her consent—often had he said gaily
that her mouth and breath tasted of the butter and eggs and milk and
honey on which she mainly lived, that he drew sustenance from them, and
other follies of that sort. But he did not care for them now. He
observed her sudden shrinking, and said gently—

“You know, I have to think of a course. It was imperative that we
should stay together a little while, to avoid the scandal to you that
would have resulted from our immediate parting. But you must see it is
only for form’s sake.”

“Yes,” said Tess absently.

He went out, and on his way to the mill stood still, and wished for a
moment that he had responded yet more kindly, and kissed her once at
least.

Thus they lived through this despairing day or two; in the same house,
truly; but more widely apart than before they were lovers. It was
evident to her that he was, as he had said, living with paralyzed
activities in his endeavour to think of a plan of procedure. She was
awe-stricken to discover such determination under such apparent
flexibility. His consistency was, indeed, too cruel. She no longer
expected forgiveness now. More than once she thought of going away from
him during his absence at the mill; but she feared that this, instead
of benefiting him, might be the means of hampering and humiliating him
yet more if it should become known.

Meanwhile Clare was meditating, verily. His thought had been
unsuspended; he was becoming ill with thinking; eaten out with
thinking, withered by thinking; scourged out of all his former
pulsating, flexuous domesticity. He walked about saying to himself,
“What’s to be done—what’s to be done?” and by chance she overheard him.
It caused her to break the reserve about their future which had
hitherto prevailed.

“I suppose—you are not going to live with me—long, are you, Angel?” she
asked, the sunk corners of her mouth betraying how purely mechanical
were the means by which she retained that expression of chastened calm
upon her face.

“I cannot” he said, “without despising myself, and what is worse,
perhaps, despising you. I mean, of course, cannot live with you in the
ordinary sense. At present, whatever I feel, I do not despise you. And,
let me speak plainly, or you may not see all my difficulties. How can
we live together while that man lives?—he being your husband in nature,
and not I. If he were dead it might be different... Besides, that’s not
all the difficulty; it lies in another consideration—one bearing upon
the future of other people than ourselves. Think of years to come, and
children being born to us, and this past matter getting known—for it
must get known. There is not an uttermost part of the earth but
somebody comes from it or goes to it from elsewhere. Well, think of
wretches of our flesh and blood growing up under a taunt which they
will gradually get to feel the full force of with their expanding
years. What an awakening for them! What a prospect! Can you honestly
say ‘Remain’ after contemplating this contingency? Don’t you think we
had better endure the ills we have than fly to others?”

Her eyelids, weighted with trouble, continued drooping as before.

“I cannot say ‘Remain,’” she answered, “I cannot; I had not thought so
far.”

Tess’s feminine hope—shall we confess it?—had been so obstinately
recuperative as to revive in her surreptitious visions of a domiciliary
intimacy continued long enough to break down his coldness even against
his judgement. Though unsophisticated in the usual sense, she was not
incomplete; and it would have denoted deficiency of womanhood if she
had not instinctively known what an argument lies in propinquity.
Nothing else would serve her, she knew, if this failed. It was wrong to
hope in what was of the nature of strategy, she said to herself: yet
that sort of hope she could not extinguish. His last representation had
now been made, and it was, as she said, a new view. She had truly never
thought so far as that, and his lucid picture of possible offspring who
would scorn her was one that brought deadly convictions to an honest
heart which was humanitarian to its centre. Sheer experience had
already taught her that in some circumstances there was one thing
better than to lead a good life, and that was to be saved from leading
any life whatever. Like all who have been previsioned by suffering, she
could, in the words of M. Sully-Prudhomme, hear a penal sentence in the
fiat, “You shall be born,” particularly if addressed to potential issue
of hers.

Yet such is the vulpine slyness of Dame Nature, that, till now, Tess
had been hoodwinked by her love for Clare into forgetting it might
result in vitalizations that would inflict upon others what she had
bewailed as misfortune to herself.

She therefore could not withstand his argument. But with the
self-combating proclivity of the supersensitive, an answer thereto
arose in Clare’s own mind, and he almost feared it. It was based on her
exceptional physical nature; and she might have used it promisingly.
She might have added besides: “On an Australian upland or Texan plain,
who is to know or care about my misfortunes, or to reproach me or you?”
Yet, like the majority of women, she accepted the momentary presentment
as if it were the inevitable. And she may have been right. The
intuitive heart of woman knoweth not only its own bitterness, but its
husband’s, and even if these assumed reproaches were not likely to be
addressed to him or to his by strangers, they might have reached his
ears from his own fastidious brain.

It was the third day of the estrangement. Some might risk the odd
paradox that with more animalism he would have been the nobler man. We
do not say it. Yet Clare’s love was doubtless ethereal to a fault,
imaginative to impracticability. With these natures, corporal presence
is something less appealing than corporal absence; the latter creating
an ideal presence that conveniently drops the defects of the real. She
found that her personality did not plead her cause so forcibly as she
had anticipated. The figurative phrase was true: she was another woman
than the one who had excited his desire.

“I have thought over what you say,” she remarked to him, moving her
forefinger over the tablecloth, her other hand, which bore the ring
that mocked them both, supporting her forehead. “It is quite true, all
of it; it must be. You must go away from me.”

“But what can you do?”

“I can go home.”

Clare had not thought of that.

“Are you sure?” he inquired.

“Quite sure. We ought to part, and we may as well get it past and done.
You once said that I was apt to win men against their better judgement;
and if I am constantly before your eyes I may cause you to change your
plans in opposition to your reason and wish; and afterwards your
repentance and my sorrow will be terrible.”

“And you would like to go home?” he asked.

“I want to leave you, and go home.”

“Then it shall be so.”

Though she did not look up at him, she started. There was a difference
between the proposition and the covenant, which she had felt only too
quickly.

“I feared it would come to this,” she murmured, her countenance meekly
fixed. “I don’t complain, Angel, I—I think it best. What you said has
quite convinced me. Yes, though nobody else should reproach me if we
should stay together, yet somewhen, years hence, you might get angry
with me for any ordinary matter, and knowing what you do of my bygones,
you yourself might be tempted to say words, and they might be
overheard, perhaps by my own children. O, what only hurts me now would
torture and kill me then! I will go—to-morrow.”

“And I shall not stay here. Though I didn’t like to initiate it, I have
seen that it was advisable we should part—at least for a while, till I
can better see the shape that things have taken, and can write to you.”

Tess stole a glance at her husband. He was pale, even tremulous; but,
as before, she was appalled by the determination revealed in the depths
of this gentle being she had married—the will to subdue the grosser to
the subtler emotion, the substance to the conception, the flesh to the
spirit. Propensities, tendencies, habits, were as dead leaves upon the
tyrannous wind of his imaginative ascendency.

He may have observed her look, for he explained—

“I think of people more kindly when I am away from them”; adding
cynically, “God knows; perhaps we will shake down together some day,
for weariness; thousands have done it!”

That day he began to pack up, and she went upstairs and began to pack
also. Both knew that it was in their two minds that they might part the
next morning for ever, despite the gloss of assuaging conjectures
thrown over their proceeding because they were of the sort to whom any
parting which has an air of finality is a torture. He knew, and she
knew, that, though the fascination which each had exercised over the
other—on her part independently of accomplishments—would probably in
the first days of their separation be even more potent than ever, time
must attenuate that effect; the practical arguments against accepting
her as a housemate might pronounce themselves more strongly in the
boreal light of a remoter view. Moreover, when two people are once
parted—have abandoned a common domicile and a common environment—new
growths insensibly bud upward to fill each vacated place; unforeseen
accidents hinder intentions, and old plans are forgotten.


XXXVII

Midnight came and passed silently, for there was nothing to announce it
in the Valley of the Froom.

Not long after one o’clock there was a slight creak in the darkened
farmhouse once the mansion of the d’Urbervilles. Tess, who used the
upper chamber, heard it and awoke. It had come from the corner step of
the staircase, which, as usual, was loosely nailed. She saw the door of
her bedroom open, and the figure of her husband crossed the stream of
moonlight with a curiously careful tread. He was in his shirt and
trousers only, and her first flush of joy died when she perceived that
his eyes were fixed in an unnatural stare on vacancy. When he reached
the middle of the room he stood still and murmured in tones of
indescribable sadness—

“Dead! dead! dead!”

Under the influence of any strongly-disturbing force, Clare would
occasionally walk in his sleep, and even perform strange feats, such as
he had done on the night of their return from market just before their
marriage, when he re-enacted in his bedroom his combat with the man who
had insulted her. Tess saw that continued mental distress had wrought
him into that somnambulistic state now.

Her loyal confidence in him lay so deep down in her heart, that, awake
or asleep, he inspired her with no sort of personal fear. If he had
entered with a pistol in his hand he would scarcely have disturbed her
trust in his protectiveness.

Clare came close, and bent over her. “Dead, dead, dead!” he murmured.

After fixedly regarding her for some moments with the same gaze of
unmeasurable woe, he bent lower, enclosed her in his arms, and rolled
her in the sheet as in a shroud. Then lifting her from the bed with as
much respect as one would show to a dead body, he carried her across
the room, murmuring—

“My poor, poor Tess—my dearest, darling Tess! So sweet, so good, so
true!”

The words of endearment, withheld so severely in his waking hours, were
inexpressibly sweet to her forlorn and hungry heart. If it had been to
save her weary life she would not, by moving or struggling, have put an
end to the position she found herself in. Thus she lay in absolute
stillness, scarcely venturing to breathe, and, wondering what he was
going to do with her, suffered herself to be borne out upon the
landing.

“My wife—dead, dead!” he said.

He paused in his labours for a moment to lean with her against the
banister. Was he going to throw her down? Self-solicitude was near
extinction in her, and in the knowledge that he had planned to depart
on the morrow, possibly for always, she lay in his arms in this
precarious position with a sense rather of luxury than of terror. If
they could only fall together, and both be dashed to pieces, how fit,
how desirable.

However, he did not let her fall, but took advantage of the support of
the handrail to imprint a kiss upon her lips—lips in the day-time
scorned. Then he clasped her with a renewed firmness of hold, and
descended the staircase. The creak of the loose stair did not awaken
him, and they reached the ground-floor safely. Freeing one of his hands
from his grasp of her for a moment, he slid back the door-bar and
passed out, slightly striking his stockinged toe against the edge of
the door. But this he seemed not to mind, and, having room for
extension in the open air, he lifted her against his shoulder, so that
he could carry her with ease, the absence of clothes taking much from
his burden. Thus he bore her off the premises in the direction of the
river a few yards distant.

His ultimate intention, if he had any, she had not yet divined; and she
found herself conjecturing on the matter as a third person might have
done. So easefully had she delivered her whole being up to him that it
pleased her to think he was regarding her as his absolute possession,
to dispose of as he should choose. It was consoling, under the hovering
terror of to-morrow’s separation, to feel that he really recognized her
now as his wife Tess, and did not cast her off, even if in that
recognition he went so far as to arrogate to himself the right of
harming her.

Ah! now she knew what he was dreaming of—that Sunday morning when he
had borne her along through the water with the other dairymaids, who
had loved him nearly as much as she, if that were possible, which Tess
could hardly admit. Clare did not cross the bridge with her, but
proceeding several paces on the same side towards the adjoining mill,
at length stood still on the brink of the river.

Its waters, in creeping down these miles of meadowland, frequently
divided, serpentining in purposeless curves, looping themselves around
little islands that had no name, returning and re-embodying themselves
as a broad main stream further on. Opposite the spot to which he had
brought her was such a general confluence, and the river was
proportionately voluminous and deep. Across it was a narrow
foot-bridge; but now the autumn flood had washed the handrail away,
leaving the bare plank only, which, lying a few inches above the
speeding current, formed a giddy pathway for even steady heads; and
Tess had noticed from the window of the house in the day-time young men
walking across upon it as a feat in balancing. Her husband had possibly
observed the same performance; anyhow, he now mounted the plank, and,
sliding one foot forward, advanced along it.

Was he going to drown her? Probably he was. The spot was lonely, the
river deep and wide enough to make such a purpose easy of
accomplishment. He might drown her if he would; it would be better than
parting to-morrow to lead severed lives.

The swift stream raced and gyrated under them, tossing, distorting, and
splitting the moon’s reflected face. Spots of froth travelled past, and
intercepted weeds waved behind the piles. If they could both fall
together into the current now, their arms would be so tightly clasped
together that they could not be saved; they would go out of the world
almost painlessly, and there would be no more reproach to her, or to
him for marrying her. His last half-hour with her would have been a
loving one, while if they lived till he awoke, his day-time aversion
would return, and this hour would remain to be contemplated only as a
transient dream.

The impulse stirred in her, yet she dared not indulge it, to make a
movement that would have precipitated them both into the gulf. How she
valued her own life had been proved; but his—she had no right to tamper
with it. He reached the other side with her in safety.

Here they were within a plantation which formed the Abbey grounds, and
taking a new hold of her he went onward a few steps till they reached
the ruined choir of the Abbey-church. Against the north wall was the
empty stone coffin of an abbot, in which every tourist with a turn for
grim humour was accustomed to stretch himself. In this Clare carefully
laid Tess. Having kissed her lips a second time he breathed deeply, as
if a greatly desired end were attained. Clare then lay down on the
ground alongside, when he immediately fell into the deep dead slumber
of exhaustion, and remained motionless as a log. The spurt of mental
excitement which had produced the effort was now over.

Tess sat up in the coffin. The night, though dry and mild for the
season, was more than sufficiently cold to make it dangerous for him to
remain here long, in his half-clothed state. If he were left to himself
he would in all probability stay there till the morning, and be chilled
to certain death. She had heard of such deaths after sleep-walking. But
how could she dare to awaken him, and let him know what he had been
doing, when it would mortify him to discover his folly in respect of
her? Tess, however, stepping out of her stone confine, shook him
slightly, but was unable to arouse him without being violent. It was
indispensable to do something, for she was beginning to shiver, the
sheet being but a poor protection. Her excitement had in a measure kept
her warm during the few minutes’ adventure; but that beatific interval
was over.

It suddenly occurred to her to try persuasion; and accordingly she
whispered in his ear, with as much firmness and decision as she could
summon—

“Let us walk on, darling,” at the same time taking him suggestively by
the arm. To her relief, he unresistingly acquiesced; her words had
apparently thrown him back into his dream, which thenceforward seemed
to enter on a new phase, wherein he fancied she had risen as a spirit,
and was leading him to Heaven. Thus she conducted him by the arm to the
stone bridge in front of their residence, crossing which they stood at
the manor-house door. Tess’s feet were quite bare, and the stones hurt
her, and chilled her to the bone; but Clare was in his woollen
stockings and appeared to feel no discomfort.

There was no further difficulty. She induced him to lie down on his own
sofa bed, and covered him up warmly, lighting a temporary fire of wood,
to dry any dampness out of him. The noise of these attentions she
thought might awaken him, and secretly wished that they might. But the
exhaustion of his mind and body was such that he remained undisturbed.

As soon as they met the next morning Tess divined that Angel knew
little or nothing of how far she had been concerned in the night’s
excursion, though, as regarded himself, he may have been aware that he
had not lain still. In truth, he had awakened that morning from a sleep
deep as annihilation; and during those first few moments in which the
brain, like a Samson shaking himself, is trying its strength, he had
some dim notion of an unusual nocturnal proceeding. But the realities
of his situation soon displaced conjecture on the other subject.

He waited in expectancy to discern some mental pointing; he knew that
if any intention of his, concluded over-night, did not vanish in the
light of morning, it stood on a basis approximating to one of pure
reason, even if initiated by impulse of feeling; that it was so far,
therefore, to be trusted. He thus beheld in the pale morning light the
resolve to separate from her; not as a hot and indignant instinct, but
denuded of the passionateness which had made it scorch and burn;
standing in its bones; nothing but a skeleton, but none the less there.
Clare no longer hesitated.

At breakfast, and while they were packing the few remaining articles,
he showed his weariness from the night’s effort so unmistakeably that
Tess was on the point of revealing all that had happened; but the
reflection that it would anger him, grieve him, stultify him, to know
that he had instinctively manifested a fondness for her of which his
common-sense did not approve, that his inclination had compromised his
dignity when reason slept, again deterred her. It was too much like
laughing at a man when sober for his erratic deeds during intoxication.

It just crossed her mind, too, that he might have a faint recollection
of his tender vagary, and was disinclined to allude to it from a
conviction that she would take amatory advantage of the opportunity it
gave her of appealing to him anew not to go.

He had ordered by letter a vehicle from the nearest town, and soon
after breakfast it arrived. She saw in it the beginning of the end—the
temporary end, at least, for the revelation of his tenderness by the
incident of the night raised dreams of a possible future with him. The
luggage was put on the top, and the man drove them off, the miller and
the old waiting-woman expressing some surprise at their precipitate
departure, which Clare attributed to his discovery that the mill-work
was not of the modern kind which he wished to investigate, a statement
that was true so far as it went. Beyond this there was nothing in the
manner of their leaving to suggest a _fiasco_, or that they were not
going together to visit friends.

Their route lay near the dairy from which they had started with such
solemn joy in each other a few days back, and as Clare wished to wind
up his business with Mr Crick, Tess could hardly avoid paying Mrs Crick
a call at the same time, unless she would excite suspicion of their
unhappy state.

To make the call as unobtrusive as possible, they left the carriage by
the wicket leading down from the high road to the dairy-house, and
descended the track on foot, side by side. The withy-bed had been cut,
and they could see over the stumps the spot to which Clare had followed
her when he pressed her to be his wife; to the left the enclosure in
which she had been fascinated by his harp; and far away behind the
cow-stalls the mead which had been the scene of their first embrace.
The gold of the summer picture was now gray, the colours mean, the rich
soil mud, and the river cold.

Over the barton-gate the dairyman saw them, and came forward, throwing
into his face the kind of jocularity deemed appropriate in Talbothays
and its vicinity on the re-appearance of the newly-married. Then Mrs
Crick emerged from the house, and several others of their old
acquaintance, though Marian and Retty did not seem to be there.

Tess valiantly bore their sly attacks and friendly humours, which
affected her far otherwise than they supposed. In the tacit agreement
of husband and wife to keep their estrangement a secret they behaved as
would have been ordinary. And then, although she would rather there had
been no word spoken on the subject, Tess had to hear in detail the
story of Marian and Retty. The later had gone home to her father’s, and
Marian had left to look for employment elsewhere. They feared she would
come to no good.

To dissipate the sadness of this recital Tess went and bade all her
favourite cows goodbye, touching each of them with her hand, and as she
and Clare stood side by side at leaving, as if united body and soul,
there would have been something peculiarly sorry in their aspect to one
who should have seen it truly; two limbs of one life, as they outwardly
were, his arm touching hers, her skirts touching him, facing one way,
as against all the dairy facing the other, speaking in their adieux as
“we”, and yet sundered like the poles. Perhaps something unusually
stiff and embarrassed in their attitude, some awkwardness in acting up
to their profession of unity, different from the natural shyness of
young couples, may have been apparent, for when they were gone Mrs
Crick said to her husband—

“How onnatural the brightness of her eyes did seem, and how they stood
like waxen images and talked as if they were in a dream! Didn’t it
strike ’ee that ’twas so? Tess had always sommat strange in her, and
she’s not now quite like the proud young bride of a well-be-doing man.”

They re-entered the vehicle, and were driven along the roads towards
Weatherbury and Stagfoot Lane, till they reached the Lane inn, where
Clare dismissed the fly and man. They rested here a while, and entering
the Vale were next driven onward towards her home by a stranger who did
not know their relations. At a midway point, when Nuttlebury had been
passed, and where there were cross-roads, Clare stopped the conveyance
and said to Tess that if she meant to return to her mother’s house it
was here that he would leave her. As they could not talk with freedom
in the driver’s presence he asked her to accompany him for a few steps
on foot along one of the branch roads; she assented, and directing the
man to wait a few minutes they strolled away.

“Now, let us understand each other,” he said gently. “There is no anger
between us, though there is that which I cannot endure at present. I
will try to bring myself to endure it. I will let you know where I go
to as soon as I know myself. And if I can bring myself to bear it—if it
is desirable, possible—I will come to you. But until I come to you it
will be better that you should not try to come to me.”

The severity of the decree seemed deadly to Tess; she saw his view of
her clearly enough; he could regard her in no other light than that of
one who had practised gross deceit upon him. Yet could a woman who had
done even what she had done deserve all this? But she could contest the
point with him no further. She simply repeated after him his own words.

“Until you come to me I must not try to come to you?”

“Just so.”

“May I write to you?”

“O yes—if you are ill, or want anything at all. I hope that will not be
the case; so that it may happen that I write first to you.”

“I agree to the conditions, Angel; because you know best what my
punishment ought to be; only—only—don’t make it more than I can bear!”

That was all she said on the matter. If Tess had been artful, had she
made a scene, fainted, wept hysterically, in that lonely lane,
notwithstanding the fury of fastidiousness with which he was possessed,
he would probably not have withstood her. But her mood of
long-suffering made his way easy for him, and she herself was his best
advocate. Pride, too, entered into her submission—which perhaps was a
symptom of that reckless acquiescence in chance too apparent in the
whole d’Urberville family—and the many effective chords which she could
have stirred by an appeal were left untouched.

The remainder of their discourse was on practical matters only. He now
handed her a packet containing a fairly good sum of money, which he had
obtained from his bankers for the purpose. The brilliants, the interest
in which seemed to be Tess’s for her life only (if he understood the
wording of the will), he advised her to let him send to a bank for
safety; and to this she readily agreed.

These things arranged, he walked with Tess back to the carriage, and
handed her in. The coachman was paid and told where to drive her.
Taking next his own bag and umbrella—the sole articles he had brought
with him hitherwards—he bade her goodbye; and they parted there and
then.

The fly moved creepingly up a hill, and Clare watched it go with an
unpremeditated hope that Tess would look out of the window for one
moment. But that she never thought of doing, would not have ventured to
do, lying in a half-dead faint inside. Thus he beheld her recede, and
in the anguish of his heart quoted a line from a poet, with peculiar
emendations of his own—

    God’s _not_ in his heaven: All’s _wrong_ with the world!

When Tess had passed over the crest of the hill he turned to go his own
way, and hardly knew that he loved her still.


XXXVIII

As she drove on through Blackmoor Vale, and the landscape of her youth
began to open around her, Tess aroused herself from her stupor. Her
first thought was how would she be able to face her parents?

She reached a turnpike-gate which stood upon the highway to the
village. It was thrown open by a stranger, not by the old man who had
kept it for many years, and to whom she had been known; he had probably
left on New Year’s Day, the date when such changes were made. Having
received no intelligence lately from her home, she asked the
turnpike-keeper for news.

“Oh—nothing, miss,” he answered. “Marlott is Marlott still. Folks have
died and that. John Durbeyfield, too, hev had a daughter married this
week to a gentleman-farmer; not from John’s own house, you know; they
was married elsewhere; the gentleman being of that high standing that
John’s own folk was not considered well-be-doing enough to have any
part in it, the bridegroom seeming not to know how’t have been
discovered that John is a old and ancient nobleman himself by blood,
with family skillentons in their own vaults to this day, but done out
of his property in the time o’ the Romans. However, Sir John, as we
call ’n now, kept up the wedding-day as well as he could, and stood
treat to everybody in the parish; and John’s wife sung songs at The
Pure Drop till past eleven o’clock.”

Hearing this, Tess felt so sick at heart that she could not decide to
go home publicly in the fly with her luggage and belongings. She asked
the turnpike-keeper if she might deposit her things at his house for a
while, and, on his offering no objection, she dismissed her carriage,
and went on to the village alone by a back lane.

At sight of her father’s chimney she asked herself how she could
possibly enter the house? Inside that cottage her relations were calmly
supposing her far away on a wedding-tour with a comparatively rich man,
who was to conduct her to bouncing prosperity; while here she was,
friendless, creeping up to the old door quite by herself, with no
better place to go to in the world.

She did not reach the house unobserved. Just by the garden-hedge she
was met by a girl who knew her—one of the two or three with whom she
had been intimate at school. After making a few inquiries as to how
Tess came there, her friend, unheeding her tragic look, interrupted
with—

“But where’s thy gentleman, Tess?”

Tess hastily explained that he had been called away on business, and,
leaving her interlocutor, clambered over the garden-hedge, and thus
made her way to the house.

As she went up the garden-path she heard her mother singing by the back
door, coming in sight of which she perceived Mrs Durbeyfield on the
doorstep in the act of wringing a sheet. Having performed this without
observing Tess, she went indoors, and her daughter followed her.

The washing-tub stood in the same old place on the same old
quarter-hogshead, and her mother, having thrown the sheet aside, was
about to plunge her arms in anew.

“Why—Tess!—my chil’—I thought you was married!—married really and truly
this time—we sent the cider—”

“Yes, mother; so I am.”

“Going to be?”

“No—I am married.”

“Married! Then where’s thy husband?”

“Oh, he’s gone away for a time.”

“Gone away! When was you married, then? The day you said?”

“Yes, Tuesday, mother.”

“And now ’tis on’y Saturday, and he gone away?”

“Yes, he’s gone.”

“What’s the meaning o’ that? ’Nation seize such husbands as you seem to
get, say I!”

“Mother!” Tess went across to Joan Durbeyfield, laid her face upon the
matron’s bosom, and burst into sobs. “I don’t know how to tell ’ee,
mother! You said to me, and wrote to me, that I was not to tell him.
But I did tell him—I couldn’t help it—and he went away!”

“O you little fool—you little fool!” burst out Mrs Durbeyfield,
splashing Tess and herself in her agitation. “My good God! that ever I
should ha’ lived to say it, but I say it again, you little fool!”

Tess was convulsed with weeping, the tension of so many days having
relaxed at last.

“I know it—I know—I know!” she gasped through her sobs. “But, O my
mother, I could not help it! He was so good—and I felt the wickedness
of trying to blind him as to what had happened! If—if—it were to be
done again—I should do the same. I could not—I dared not—so sin—against
him!”

“But you sinned enough to marry him first!”

“Yes, yes; that’s where my misery do lie! But I thought he could get
rid o’ me by law if he were determined not to overlook it. And O, if
you knew—if you could only half know how I loved him—how anxious I was
to have him—and how wrung I was between caring so much for him and my
wish to be fair to him!”

Tess was so shaken that she could get no further, and sank, a helpless
thing, into a chair.

“Well, well; what’s done can’t be undone! I’m sure I don’t know why
children o’ my bringing forth should all be bigger simpletons than
other people’s—not to know better than to blab such a thing as that,
when he couldn’t ha’ found it out till too late!” Here Mrs Durbeyfield
began shedding tears on her own account as a mother to be pitied. “What
your father will say I don’t know,” she continued; “for he’s been
talking about the wedding up at Rolliver’s and The Pure Drop every day
since, and about his family getting back to their rightful position
through you—poor silly man!—and now you’ve made this mess of it! The
Lord-a-Lord!”

As if to bring matters to a focus, Tess’s father was heard approaching
at that moment. He did not, however, enter immediately, and Mrs
Durbeyfield said that she would break the bad news to him herself, Tess
keeping out of sight for the present. After her first burst of
disappointment Joan began to take the mishap as she had taken Tess’s
original trouble, as she would have taken a wet holiday or failure in
the potato-crop; as a thing which had come upon them irrespective of
desert or folly; a chance external impingement to be borne with; not a
lesson.

Tess retreated upstairs and beheld casually that the beds had been
shifted, and new arrangements made. Her old bed had been adapted for
two younger children. There was no place here for her now.

The room below being unceiled she could hear most of what went on
there. Presently her father entered, apparently carrying in a live hen.
He was a foot-haggler now, having been obliged to sell his second
horse, and he travelled with his basket on his arm. The hen had been
carried about this morning as it was often carried, to show people that
he was in his work, though it had lain, with its legs tied, under the
table at Rolliver’s for more than an hour.

“We’ve just had up a story about—” Durbeyfield began, and thereupon
related in detail to his wife a discussion which had arisen at the inn
about the clergy, originated by the fact of his daughter having married
into a clerical family. “They was formerly styled ‘sir’, like my own
ancestry,” he said, “though nowadays their true style, strictly
speaking, is ‘clerk’ only.” As Tess had wished that no great publicity
should be given to the event, he had mentioned no particulars. He hoped
she would remove that prohibition soon. He proposed that the couple
should take Tess’s own name, d’Urberville, as uncorrupted. It was
better than her husbands’s. He asked if any letter had come from her
that day.

Then Mrs Durbeyfield informed him that no letter had come, but Tess
unfortunately had come herself.

When at length the collapse was explained to him, a sullen
mortification, not usual with Durbeyfield, overpowered the influence of
the cheering glass. Yet the intrinsic quality of the event moved his
touchy sensitiveness less than its conjectured effect upon the minds of
others.

“To think, now, that this was to be the end o’t!” said Sir John. “And I
with a family vault under that there church of Kingsbere as big as
Squire Jollard’s ale-cellar, and my folk lying there in sixes and
sevens, as genuine county bones and marrow as any recorded in history.
And now to be sure what they fellers at Rolliver’s and The Pure Drop
will say to me! How they’ll squint and glane, and say, ‘This is yer
mighty match is it; this is yer getting back to the true level of yer
forefathers in King Norman’s time!’ I feel this is too much, Joan; I
shall put an end to myself, title and all—I can bear it no longer!...
But she can make him keep her if he’s married her?”

“Why, yes. But she won’t think o’ doing that.”

“D’ye think he really have married her?—or is it like the first—”

Poor Tess, who had heard as far as this, could not bear to hear more.
The perception that her word could be doubted even here, in her own
parental house, set her mind against the spot as nothing else could
have done. How unexpected were the attacks of destiny! And if her
father doubted her a little, would not neighbours and acquaintance
doubt her much? O, she could not live long at home!

A few days, accordingly, were all that she allowed herself here, at the
end of which time she received a short note from Clare, informing her
that he had gone to the North of England to look at a farm. In her
craving for the lustre of her true position as his wife, and to hide
from her parents the vast extent of the division between them, she made
use of this letter as her reason for again departing, leaving them
under the impression that she was setting out to join him. Still
further to screen her husband from any imputation of unkindness to her,
she took twenty-five of the fifty pounds Clare had given her, and
handed the sum over to her mother, as if the wife of a man like Angel
Clare could well afford it, saying that it was a slight return for the
trouble and humiliation she had brought upon them in years past. With
this assertion of her dignity she bade them farewell; and after that
there were lively doings in the Durbeyfield household for some time on
the strength of Tess’s bounty, her mother saying, and, indeed,
believing, that the rupture which had arisen between the young husband
and wife had adjusted itself under their strong feeling that they could
not live apart from each other.


XXXIX

It was three weeks after the marriage that Clare found himself
descending the hill which led to the well-known parsonage of his
father. With his downward course the tower of the church rose into the
evening sky in a manner of inquiry as to why he had come; and no living
person in the twilighted town seemed to notice him, still less to
expect him. He was arriving like a ghost, and the sound of his own
footsteps was almost an encumbrance to be got rid of.

The picture of life had changed for him. Before this time he had known
it but speculatively; now he thought he knew it as a practical man;
though perhaps he did not, even yet. Nevertheless humanity stood before
him no longer in the pensive sweetness of Italian art, but in the
staring and ghastly attitudes of a Wiertz Museum, and with the leer of
a study by Van Beers.

His conduct during these first weeks had been desultory beyond
description. After mechanically attempting to pursue his agricultural
plans as though nothing unusual had happened, in the manner recommended
by the great and wise men of all ages, he concluded that very few of
those great and wise men had ever gone so far outside themselves as to
test the feasibility of their counsel. “This is the chief thing: be not
perturbed,” said the Pagan moralist. That was just Clare’s own opinion.
But he was perturbed. “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it
be afraid,” said the Nazarene. Clare chimed in cordially; but his heart
was troubled all the same. How he would have liked to confront those
two great thinkers, and earnestly appeal to them as fellow-man to
fellow-men, and ask them to tell him their method!

His mood transmuted itself into a dogged indifference till at length he
fancied he was looking on his own existence with the passive interest
of an outsider.

He was embittered by the conviction that all this desolation had been
brought about by the accident of her being a d’Urberville. When he
found that Tess came of that exhausted ancient line, and was not of the
new tribes from below, as he had fondly dreamed, why had he not
stoically abandoned her in fidelity to his principles? This was what he
had got by apostasy, and his punishment was deserved.

Then he became weary and anxious, and his anxiety increased. He
wondered if he had treated her unfairly. He ate without knowing that he
ate, and drank without tasting. As the hours dropped past, as the
motive of each act in the long series of bygone days presented itself
to his view, he perceived how intimately the notion of having Tess as a
dear possession was mixed up with all his schemes and words and ways.

In going hither and thither he observed in the outskirts of a small
town a red-and-blue placard setting forth the great advantages of the
Empire of Brazil as a field for the emigrating agriculturist. Land was
offered there on exceptionally advantageous terms. Brazil somewhat
attracted him as a new idea. Tess could eventually join him there, and
perhaps in that country of contrasting scenes and notions and habits
the conventions would not be so operative which made life with her seem
impracticable to him here. In brief he was strongly inclined to try
Brazil, especially as the season for going thither was just at hand.

With this view he was returning to Emminster to disclose his plan to
his parents, and to make the best explanation he could make of arriving
without Tess, short of revealing what had actually separated them. As
he reached the door the new moon shone upon his face, just as the old
one had done in the small hours of that morning when he had carried his
wife in his arms across the river to the graveyard of the monks; but
his face was thinner now.

Clare had given his parents no warning of his visit, and his arrival
stirred the atmosphere of the Vicarage as the dive of the kingfisher
stirs a quiet pool. His father and mother were both in the
drawing-room, but neither of his brothers was now at home. Angel
entered, and closed the door quietly behind him.

“But—where’s your wife, dear Angel?” cried his mother. “How you
surprise us!”

“She is at her mother’s—temporarily. I have come home rather in a hurry
because I’ve decided to go to Brazil.”

“Brazil! Why they are all Roman Catholics there surely!”

“Are they? I hadn’t thought of that.”

But even the novelty and painfulness of his going to a Papistical land
could not displace for long Mr and Mrs Clare’s natural interest in
their son’s marriage.

“We had your brief note three weeks ago announcing that it had taken
place,” said Mrs Clare, “and your father sent your godmother’s gift to
her, as you know. Of course it was best that none of us should be
present, especially as you preferred to marry her from the dairy, and
not at her home, wherever that may be. It would have embarrassed you,
and given us no pleasure. Your bothers felt that very strongly. Now it
is done we do not complain, particularly if she suits you for the
business you have chosen to follow instead of the ministry of the
Gospel.... Yet I wish I could have seen her first, Angel, or have known
a little more about her. We sent her no present of our own, not knowing
what would best give her pleasure, but you must suppose it only
delayed. Angel, there is no irritation in my mind or your father’s
against you for this marriage; but we have thought it much better to
reserve our liking for your wife till we could see her. And now you
have not brought her. It seems strange. What has happened?”

He replied that it had been thought best by them that she should go to
her parents’ home for the present, whilst he came there.

“I don’t mind telling you, dear mother,” he said, “that I always meant
to keep her away from this house till I should feel she could come with
credit to you. But this idea of Brazil is quite a recent one. If I do
go it will be unadvisable for me to take her on this my first journey.
She will remain at her mother’s till I come back.”

“And I shall not see her before you start?”

He was afraid they would not. His original plan had been, as he had
said, to refrain from bringing her there for some little while—not to
wound their prejudices—feelings—in any way; and for other reasons he
had adhered to it. He would have to visit home in the course of a year,
if he went out at once; and it would be possible for them to see her
before he started a second time—with her.

A hastily prepared supper was brought in, and Clare made further
exposition of his plans. His mother’s disappointment at not seeing the
bride still remained with her. Clare’s late enthusiasm for Tess had
infected her through her maternal sympathies, till she had almost
fancied that a good thing could come out of Nazareth—a charming woman
out of Talbothays Dairy. She watched her son as he ate.

“Cannot you describe her? I am sure she is very pretty, Angel.”

“Of that there can be no question!” he said, with a zest which covered
its bitterness.

“And that she is pure and virtuous goes without question?”

“Pure and virtuous, of course, she is.”

“I can see her quite distinctly. You said the other day that she was
fine in figure; roundly built; had deep red lips like Cupid’s bow; dark
eyelashes and brows, an immense rope of hair like a ship’s cable; and
large eyes violety-bluey-blackish.”

“I did, mother.”

“I quite see her. And living in such seclusion she naturally had scarce
ever seen any young man from the world without till she saw you.”

“Scarcely.”

“You were her first love?”

“Of course.”

“There are worse wives than these simple, rosy-mouthed, robust girls of
the farm. Certainly I could have wished—well, since my son is to be an
agriculturist, it is perhaps but proper that his wife should have been
accustomed to an outdoor life.”

His father was less inquisitive; but when the time came for the chapter
from the Bible which was always read before evening prayers, the Vicar
observed to Mrs Clare—

“I think, since Angel has come, that it will be more appropriate to
read the thirty-first of Proverbs than the chapter which we should have
had in the usual course of our reading?”

“Yes, certainly,” said Mrs Clare. “The words of King Lemuel” (she could
cite chapter and verse as well as her husband). “My dear son, your
father has decided to read us the chapter in Proverbs in praise of a
virtuous wife. We shall not need to be reminded to apply the words to
the absent one. May Heaven shield her in all her ways!”

A lump rose in Clare’s throat. The portable lectern was taken out from
the corner and set in the middle of the fireplace, the two old servants
came in, and Angel’s father began to read at the tenth verse of the
aforesaid chapter—

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. She
riseth while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household. She
girdeth her loins with strength and strengtheneth her arms. She
perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth not out by
night. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not
the bread of idleness. Her children arise up and call her blessed; her
husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously,
but thou excellest them all.”

When prayers were over, his mother said—

“I could not help thinking how very aptly that chapter your dear father
read applied, in some of its particulars, to the woman you have chosen.
The perfect woman, you see, was a working woman; not an idler; not a
fine lady; but one who used her hands and her head and her heart for
the good of others. ‘Her children arise up and call her blessed; her
husband also, and he praiseth her. Many daughters have done virtuously,
but she excelleth them all.’ Well, I wish I could have seen her, Angel.
Since she is pure and chaste, she would have been refined enough for
me.”

Clare could bear this no longer. His eyes were full of tears, which
seemed like drops of molten lead. He bade a quick good night to these
sincere and simple souls whom he loved so well; who knew neither the
world, the flesh, nor the devil in their own hearts, only as something
vague and external to themselves. He went to his own chamber.

His mother followed him, and tapped at his door. Clare opened it to
discover her standing without, with anxious eyes.

“Angel,” she asked, “is there something wrong that you go away so soon?
I am quite sure you are not yourself.”

“I am not, quite, mother,” said he.

“About her? Now, my son, I know it is that—I know it is about her! Have
you quarrelled in these three weeks?”

“We have not exactly quarrelled,” he said. “But we have had a
difference—”

“Angel—is she a young woman whose history will bear investigation?”

With a mother’s instinct Mrs Clare had put her finger on the kind of
trouble that would cause such a disquiet as seemed to agitate her son.

“She is spotless!” he replied; and felt that if it had sent him to
eternal hell there and then he would have told that lie.

“Then never mind the rest. After all, there are few purer things in
nature then an unsullied country maid. Any crudeness of manner which
may offend your more educated sense at first, will, I am sure,
disappear under the influence or your companionship and tuition.”

Such terrible sarcasm of blind magnanimity brought home to Clare the
secondary perception that he had utterly wrecked his career by this
marriage, which had not been among his early thoughts after the
disclosure. True, on his own account he cared very little about his
career; but he had wished to make it at least a respectable one on
account of his parents and brothers. And now as he looked into the
candle its flame dumbly expressed to him that it was made to shine on
sensible people, and that it abhorred lighting the face of a dupe and a
failure.

When his agitation had cooled he would be at moments incensed with his
poor wife for causing a situation in which he was obliged to practise
deception on his parents. He almost talked to her in his anger, as if
she had been in the room. And then her cooing voice, plaintive in
expostulation, disturbed the darkness, the velvet touch of her lips
passed over his brow, and he could distinguish in the air the warmth of
her breath.

This night the woman of his belittling deprecations was thinking how
great and good her husband was. But over them both there hung a deeper
shade than the shade which Angel Clare perceived, namely, the shade of
his own limitations. With all his attempted independence of judgement
this advanced and well-meaning young man, a sample product of the last
five-and-twenty years, was yet the slave to custom and conventionality
when surprised back into his early teachings. No prophet had told him,
and he was not prophet enough to tell himself, that essentially this
young wife of his was as deserving of the praise of King Lemuel as any
other woman endowed with the same dislike of evil, her moral value
having to be reckoned not by achievement but by tendency. Moreover, the
figure near at hand suffers on such occasion, because it shows up its
sorriness without shade; while vague figures afar off are honoured, in
that their distance makes artistic virtues of their stains. In
considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was, and forgot
that the defective can be more than the entire.


XL

At breakfast Brazil was the topic, and all endeavoured to take a
hopeful view of Clare’s proposed experiment with that country’s soil,
notwithstanding the discouraging reports of some farm-labourers who had
emigrated thither and returned home within the twelve months. After
breakfast Clare went into the little town to wind up such trifling
matters as he was concerned with there, and to get from the local bank
all the money he possessed. On his way back he encountered Miss Mercy
Chant by the church, from whose walls she seemed to be a sort of
emanation. She was carrying an armful of Bibles for her class, and such
was her view of life that events which produced heartache in others
wrought beatific smiles upon her—an enviable result, although, in the
opinion of Angel, it was obtained by a curiously unnatural sacrifice of
humanity to mysticism.

She had learnt that he was about to leave England, and observed what an
excellent and promising scheme it seemed to be.

“Yes; it is a likely scheme enough in a commercial sense, no doubt,” he
replied. “But, my dear Mercy, it snaps the continuity of existence.
Perhaps a cloister would be preferable.”

“A cloister! O, Angel Clare!”

“Well?”

“Why, you wicked man, a cloister implies a monk, and a monk Roman
Catholicism.”

“And Roman Catholicism sin, and sin damnation. Thou art in a parlous
state, Angel Clare.”

“_I_ glory in my Protestantism!” she said severely.

Then Clare, thrown by sheer misery into one of the demoniacal moods in
which a man does despite to his true principles, called her close to
him, and fiendishly whispered in her ear the most heterodox ideas he
could think of. His momentary laughter at the horror which appeared on
her fair face ceased when it merged in pain and anxiety for his
welfare.

“Dear Mercy,” he said, “you must forgive me. I think I am going crazy!”

She thought that he was; and thus the interview ended, and Clare
re-entered the Vicarage. With the local banker he deposited the jewels
till happier days should arise. He also paid into the bank thirty
pounds—to be sent to Tess in a few months, as she might require; and
wrote to her at her parents’ home in Blackmoor Vale to inform her of
what he had done. This amount, with the sum he had already placed in
her hands—about fifty pounds—he hoped would be amply sufficient for her
wants just at present, particularly as in an emergency she had been
directed to apply to his father.

He deemed it best not to put his parents into communication with her by
informing them of her address; and, being unaware of what had really
happened to estrange the two, neither his father nor his mother
suggested that he should do so. During the day he left the parsonage,
for what he had to complete he wished to get done quickly.

As the last duty before leaving this part of England it was necessary
for him to call at the Wellbridge farmhouse, in which he had spent with
Tess the first three days of their marriage, the trifle of rent having
to be paid, the key given up of the rooms they had occupied, and two or
three small articles fetched away that they had left behind. It was
under this roof that the deepest shadow ever thrown upon his life had
stretched its gloom over him. Yet when he had unlocked the door of the
sitting-room and looked into it, the memory which returned first upon
him was that of their happy arrival on a similar afternoon, the first
fresh sense of sharing a habitation conjointly, the first meal
together, the chatting by the fire with joined hands.

The farmer and his wife were in the field at the moment of his visit,
and Clare was in the rooms alone for some time. Inwardly swollen with a
renewal of sentiment that he had not quite reckoned with, he went
upstairs to her chamber, which had never been his. The bed was smooth
as she had made it with her own hands on the morning of leaving. The
mistletoe hung under the tester just as he had placed it. Having been
there three or four weeks it was turning colour, and the leaves and
berries were wrinkled. Angel took it down and crushed it into the
grate. Standing there, he for the first time doubted whether his course
in this conjecture had been a wise, much less a generous, one. But had
he not been cruelly blinded? In the incoherent multitude of his
emotions he knelt down at the bedside wet-eyed. “O Tess! If you had
only told me sooner, I would have forgiven you!” he mourned.

Hearing a footstep below, he rose and went to the top of the stairs. At
the bottom of the flight he saw a woman standing, and on her turning up
her face recognized the pale, dark-eyed Izz Huett.

“Mr Clare,” she said, “I’ve called to see you and Mrs Clare, and to
inquire if ye be well. I thought you might be back here again.”

This was a girl whose secret he had guessed, but who had not yet
guessed his; an honest girl who loved him—one who would have made as
good, or nearly as good, a practical farmer’s wife as Tess.

“I am here alone,” he said; “we are not living here now.” Explaining
why he had come, he asked, “Which way are you going home, Izz?”

“I have no home at Talbothays Dairy now, sir,” she said.

“Why is that?”

Izz looked down.

“It was so dismal there that I left! I am staying out this way.” She
pointed in a contrary direction, the direction in which he was
journeying.

“Well—are you going there now? I can take you if you wish for a lift.”

Her olive complexion grew richer in hue.

“Thank ’ee, Mr Clare,” she said.

He soon found the farmer, and settled the account for his rent and the
few other items which had to be considered by reason of the sudden
abandonment of the lodgings. On Clare’s return to his horse and gig,
Izz jumped up beside him.

“I am going to leave England, Izz,” he said, as they drove on. “Going
to Brazil.”

“And do Mrs Clare like the notion of such a journey?” she asked.

“She is not going at present—say for a year or so. I am going out to
reconnoitre—to see what life there is like.”

They sped along eastward for some considerable distance, Izz making no
observation.

“How are the others?” he inquired. “How is Retty?”

“She was in a sort of nervous state when I zid her last; and so thin
and hollow-cheeked that ’a do seem in a decline. Nobody will ever fall
in love wi’ her any more,” said Izz absently.

“And Marian?”

Izz lowered her voice.

“Marian drinks.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes. The dairyman has got rid of her.”

“And you!”

“I don’t drink, and I bain’t in a decline. But—I am no great things at
singing afore breakfast now!”

“How is that? Do you remember how neatly you used to turn ‘’Twas down
in Cupid’s Gardens’ and ‘The Tailor’s Breeches’ at morning milking?”

“Ah, yes! When you first came, sir, that was. Not when you had been
there a bit.”

“Why was that falling-off?”

Her black eyes flashed up to his face for one moment by way of answer.

“Izz!—how weak of you—for such as I!” he said, and fell into reverie.
“Then—suppose I had asked _you_ to marry me?”

“If you had I should have said ‘Yes’, and you would have married a
woman who loved ’ee!”

“Really!”

“Down to the ground!” she whispered vehemently. “O my God! did you
never guess it till now!”

By-and-by they reached a branch road to a village.

“I must get down. I live out there,” said Izz abruptly, never having
spoken since her avowal.

Clare slowed the horse. He was incensed against his fate, bitterly
disposed towards social ordinances; for they had cooped him up in a
corner, out of which there was no legitimate pathway. Why not be
revenged on society by shaping his future domesticities loosely,
instead of kissing the pedagogic rod of convention in this ensnaring
manner?

“I am going to Brazil alone, Izz,” said he. “I have separated from my
wife for personal, not voyaging, reasons. I may never live with her
again. I may not be able to love you; but—will you go with me instead
of her?”

“You truly wish me to go?”

“I do. I have been badly used enough to wish for relief. And you at
least love me disinterestedly.”

“Yes—I will go,” said Izz, after a pause.

“You will? You know what it means, Izz?”

“It means that I shall live with you for the time you are over
there—that’s good enough for me.”

“Remember, you are not to trust me in morals now. But I ought to remind
you that it will be wrong-doing in the eyes of civilization—Western
civilization, that is to say.”

“I don’t mind that; no woman do when it comes to agony-point, and
there’s no other way!”

“Then don’t get down, but sit where you are.”

He drove past the cross-roads, one mile, two miles, without showing any
signs of affection.

“You love me very, very much, Izz?” he suddenly asked.

“I do—I have said I do! I loved you all the time we was at the dairy
together!”

“More than Tess?”

She shook her head.

“No,” she murmured, “not more than she.”

“How’s that?”

“Because nobody could love ’ee more than Tess did!... She would have
laid down her life for ’ee. I could do no more.”

Like the prophet on the top of Peor, Izz Huett would fain have spoken
perversely at such a moment, but the fascination exercised over her
rougher nature by Tess’s character compelled her to grace.

Clare was silent; his heart had risen at these straightforward words
from such an unexpected unimpeachable quarter. In his throat was
something as if a sob had solidified there. His ears repeated, “_She
would have laid down her life for ’ee. I could do no more!_”

“Forget our idle talk, Izz,” he said, turning the horse’s head
suddenly. “I don’t know what I’ve been saying! I will now drive you
back to where your lane branches off.”

“So much for honesty towards ’ee! O—how can I bear it—how can I—how can
I!”

Izz Huett burst into wild tears, and beat her forehead as she saw what
she had done.

“Do you regret that poor little act of justice to an absent one? O,
Izz, don’t spoil it by regret!”

She stilled herself by degrees.

“Very well, sir. Perhaps I didn’t know what I was saying, either,
wh—when I agreed to go! I wish—what cannot be!”

“Because I have a loving wife already.”

“Yes, yes! You have!”

They reached the corner of the lane which they had passed half an hour
earlier, and she hopped down.

“Izz—please, please forget my momentary levity!” he cried. “It was so
ill-considered, so ill-advised!”

“Forget it? Never, never! O, it was no levity to me!”

He felt how richly he deserved the reproach that the wounded cry
conveyed, and, in a sorrow that was inexpressible, leapt down and took
her hand.

“Well, but, Izz, we’ll part friends, anyhow? You don’t know what I’ve
had to bear!”

She was a really generous girl, and allowed no further bitterness to
mar their adieux.

“I forgive ’ee, sir!” she said.

“Now, Izz,” he said, while she stood beside him there, forcing himself
to the mentor’s part he was far from feeling; “I want you to tell
Marian when you see her that she is to be a good woman, and not to give
way to folly. Promise that, and tell Retty that there are more worthy
men than I in the world, that for my sake she is to act wisely and
well—remember the words—wisely and well—for my sake. I send this
message to them as a dying man to the dying; for I shall never see them
again. And you, Izzy, you have saved me by your honest words about my
wife from an incredible impulse towards folly and treachery. Women may
be bad, but they are not so bad as men in these things! On that one
account I can never forget you. Be always the good and sincere girl you
have hitherto been; and think of me as a worthless lover, but a
faithful friend. Promise.”

She gave the promise.

“Heaven bless and keep you, sir. Goodbye!”

He drove on; but no sooner had Izz turned into the lane, and Clare was
out of sight, than she flung herself down on the bank in a fit of
racking anguish; and it was with a strained unnatural face that she
entered her mother’s cottage late that night. Nobody ever was told how
Izz spent the dark hours that intervened between Angel Clare’s parting
from her and her arrival home.

Clare, too, after bidding the girl farewell, was wrought to aching
thoughts and quivering lips. But his sorrow was not for Izz. That
evening he was within a feather-weight’s turn of abandoning his road to
the nearest station, and driving across that elevated dorsal line of
South Wessex which divided him from his Tess’s home. It was neither a
contempt for her nature, nor the probable state of her heart, which
deterred him.

No; it was a sense that, despite her love, as corroborated by Izz’s
admission, the facts had not changed. If he was right at first, he was
right now. And the momentum of the course on which he had embarked
tended to keep him going in it, unless diverted by a stronger, more
sustained force than had played upon him this afternoon. He could soon
come back to her. He took the train that night for London, and five
days after shook hands in farewell of his brothers at the port of
embarkation.


XLI

From the foregoing events of the winter-time let us press on to an
October day, more than eight months subsequent to the parting of Clare
and Tess. We discover the latter in changed conditions; instead of a
bride with boxes and trunks which others bore, we see her a lonely
woman with a basket and a bundle in her own porterage, as at an earlier
time when she was no bride; instead of the ample means that were
projected by her husband for her comfort through this probationary
period, she can produce only a flattened purse.

After again leaving Marlott, her home, she had got through the spring
and summer without any great stress upon her physical powers, the time
being mainly spent in rendering light irregular service at dairy-work
near Port-Bredy to the west of the Blackmoor Valley, equally remote
from her native place and from Talbothays. She preferred this to living
on his allowance. Mentally she remained in utter stagnation, a
condition which the mechanical occupation rather fostered than checked.
Her consciousness was at that other dairy, at that other season, in the
presence of the tender lover who had confronted her there—he who, the
moment she had grasped him to keep for her own, had disappeared like a
shape in a vision.

The dairy-work lasted only till the milk began to lessen, for she had
not met with a second regular engagement as at Talbothays, but had done
duty as a supernumerary only. However, as harvest was now beginning,
she had simply to remove from the pasture to the stubble to find plenty
of further occupation, and this continued till harvest was done.

Of the five-and-twenty pounds which had remained to her of Clare’s
allowance, after deducting the other half of the fifty as a
contribution to her parents for the trouble and expense to which she
had put them, she had as yet spent but little. But there now followed
an unfortunate interval of wet weather, during which she was obliged to
fall back upon her sovereigns.

She could not bear to let them go. Angel had put them into her hand,
had obtained them bright and new from his bank for her; his touch had
consecrated them to souvenirs of himself—they appeared to have had as
yet no other history than such as was created by his and her own
experiences—and to disperse them was like giving away relics. But she
had to do it, and one by one they left her hands.

She had been compelled to send her mother her address from time to
time, but she concealed her circumstances. When her money had almost
gone a letter from her mother reached her. Joan stated that they were
in dreadful difficulty; the autumn rains had gone through the thatch of
the house, which required entire renewal; but this could not be done
because the previous thatching had never been paid for. New rafters and
a new ceiling upstairs also were required, which, with the previous
bill, would amount to a sum of twenty pounds. As her husband was a man
of means, and had doubtless returned by this time, could she not send
them the money?

Tess had thirty pounds coming to her almost immediately from Angel’s
bankers, and, the case being so deplorable, as soon as the sum was
received she sent the twenty as requested. Part of the remainder she
was obliged to expend in winter clothing, leaving only a nominal sum
for the whole inclement season at hand. When the last pound had gone, a
remark of Angel’s that whenever she required further resources she was
to apply to his father, remained to be considered.

But the more Tess thought of the step, the more reluctant was she to
take it. The same delicacy, pride, false shame, whatever it may be
called, on Clare’s account, which had led her to hide from her own
parents the prolongation of the estrangement, hindered her owning to
his that she was in want after the fair allowance he had left her. They
probably despised her already; how much more they would despise her in
the character of a mendicant! The consequence was that by no effort
could the parson’s daughter-in-law bring herself to let him know her
state.

Her reluctance to communicate with her husband’s parents might, she
thought, lessen with the lapse of time; but with her own the reverse
obtained. On her leaving their house after the short visit subsequent
to her marriage they were under the impression that she was ultimately
going to join her husband; and from that time to the present she had
done nothing to disturb their belief that she was awaiting his return
in comfort, hoping against hope that his journey to Brazil would result
in a short stay only, after which he would come to fetch her, or that
he would write for her to join him; in any case that they would soon
present a united front to their families and the world. This hope she
still fostered. To let her parents know that she was a deserted wife,
dependent, now that she had relieved their necessities, on her own
hands for a living, after the _éclat_ of a marriage which was to
nullify the collapse of the first attempt, would be too much indeed.

The set of brilliants returned to her mind. Where Clare had deposited
them she did not know, and it mattered little, if it were true that she
could only use and not sell them. Even were they absolutely hers it
would be passing mean to enrich herself by a legal title to them which
was not essentially hers at all.

Meanwhile her husband’s days had been by no means free from trial. At
this moment he was lying ill of fever in the clay lands near Curitiba
in Brazil, having been drenched with thunder-storms and persecuted by
other hardships, in common with all the English farmers and
farm-labourers who, just at this time, were deluded into going thither
by the promises of the Brazilian Government, and by the baseless
assumption that those frames which, ploughing and sowing on English
uplands, had resisted all the weathers to whose moods they had been
born, could resist equally well all the weathers by which they were
surprised on Brazilian plains.

To return. Thus it happened that when the last of Tess’s sovereigns had
been spent she was unprovided with others to take their place, while on
account of the season she found it increasingly difficult to get
employment. Not being aware of the rarity of intelligence, energy,
health, and willingness in any sphere of life, she refrained from
seeking an indoor occupation; fearing towns, large houses, people of
means and social sophistication, and of manners other than rural. From
that direction of gentility Black Care had come. Society might be
better than she supposed from her slight experience of it. But she had
no proof of this, and her instinct in the circumstances was to avoid
its purlieus.

The small dairies to the west, beyond Port-Bredy, in which she had
served as supernumerary milkmaid during the spring and summer required
no further aid. Room would probably have been made for her at
Talbothays, if only out of sheer compassion; but comfortable as her
life had been there, she could not go back. The anti-climax would be
too intolerable; and her return might bring reproach upon her idolized
husband. She could not have borne their pity, and their whispered
remarks to one another upon her strange situation; though she would
almost have faced a knowledge of her circumstances by every individual
there, so long as her story had remained isolated in the mind of each.
It was the interchange of ideas about her that made her sensitiveness
wince. Tess could not account for this distinction; she simply knew
that she felt it.

She was now on her way to an upland farm in the centre of the county,
to which she had been recommended by a wandering letter which had
reached her from Marian. Marian had somehow heard that Tess was
separated from her husband—probably through Izz Huett—and the
good-natured and now tippling girl, deeming Tess in trouble, had
hastened to notify to her former friend that she herself had gone to
this upland spot after leaving the dairy, and would like to see her
there, where there was room for other hands, if it was really true that
she worked again as of old.

With the shortening of the days all hope of obtaining her husband’s
forgiveness began to leave her; and there was something of the habitude
of the wild animal in the unreflecting instinct with which she rambled
on—disconnecting herself by littles from her eventful past at every
step, obliterating her identity, giving no thought to accidents or
contingencies which might make a quick discovery of her whereabouts by
others of importance to her own happiness, if not to theirs.

Among the difficulties of her lonely position not the least was the
attention she excited by her appearance, a certain bearing of
distinction, which she had caught from Clare, being superadded to her
natural attractiveness. Whilst the clothes lasted which had been
prepared for her marriage, these casual glances of interest caused her
no inconvenience, but as soon as she was compelled to don the wrapper
of a fieldwoman, rude words were addressed to her more than once; but
nothing occurred to cause her bodily fear till a particular November
afternoon.

She had preferred the country west of the River Brit to the upland farm
for which she was now bound, because, for one thing, it was nearer to
the home of her husband’s father; and to hover about that region
unrecognized, with the notion that she might decide to call at the
Vicarage some day, gave her pleasure. But having once decided to try
the higher and drier levels, she pressed back eastward, marching afoot
towards the village of Chalk-Newton, where she meant to pass the night.

The lane was long and unvaried, and, owing to the rapid shortening of
the days, dusk came upon her before she was aware. She had reached the
top of a hill down which the lane stretched its serpentine length in
glimpses, when she heard footsteps behind her back, and in a few
moments she was overtaken by a man. He stepped up alongside Tess and
said—

“Good night, my pretty maid”: to which she civilly replied.

The light still remaining in the sky lit up her face, though the
landscape was nearly dark. The man turned and stared hard at her.

“Why, surely, it is the young wench who was at Trantridge awhile—young
Squire d’Urberville’s friend? I was there at that time, though I don’t
live there now.”

She recognized in him the well-to-do boor whom Angel had knocked down
at the inn for addressing her coarsely. A spasm of anguish shot through
her, and she returned him no answer.

“Be honest enough to own it, and that what I said in the town was true,
though your fancy-man was so up about it—hey, my sly one? You ought to
beg my pardon for that blow of his, considering.”

Still no answer came from Tess. There seemed only one escape for her
hunted soul. She suddenly took to her heels with the speed of the wind,
and, without looking behind her, ran along the road till she came to a
gate which opened directly into a plantation. Into this she plunged,
and did not pause till she was deep enough in its shade to be safe
against any possibility of discovery.

Under foot the leaves were dry, and the foliage of some holly bushes
which grew among the deciduous trees was dense enough to keep off
draughts. She scraped together the dead leaves till she had formed them
into a large heap, making a sort of nest in the middle. Into this Tess
crept.

Such sleep as she got was naturally fitful; she fancied she heard
strange noises, but persuaded herself that they were caused by the
breeze. She thought of her husband in some vague warm clime on the
other side of the globe, while she was here in the cold. Was there
another such a wretched being as she in the world? Tess asked herself;
and, thinking of her wasted life, said, “All is vanity.” She repeated
the words mechanically, till she reflected that this was a most
inadequate thought for modern days. Solomon had thought as far as that
more than two thousand years ago; she herself, though not in the van of
thinkers, had got much further. If all were only vanity, who would mind
it? All was, alas, worse than vanity—injustice, punishment, exaction,
death. The wife of Angel Clare put her hand to her brow, and felt its
curve, and the edges of her eye-sockets perceptible under the soft
skin, and thought as she did so that a time would come when that bone
would be bare. “I wish it were now,” she said.

In the midst of these whimsical fancies she heard a new strange sound
among the leaves. It might be the wind; yet there was scarcely any
wind. Sometimes it was a palpitation, sometimes a flutter; sometimes it
was a sort of gasp or gurgle. Soon she was certain that the noises came
from wild creatures of some kind, the more so when, originating in the
boughs overhead, they were followed by the fall of a heavy body upon
the ground. Had she been ensconced here under other and more pleasant
conditions she would have become alarmed; but, outside humanity, she
had at present no fear.

Day at length broke in the sky. When it had been day aloft for some
little while it became day in the wood.

Directly the assuring and prosaic light of the world’s active hours had
grown strong, she crept from under her hillock of leaves, and looked
around boldly. Then she perceived what had been going on to disturb
her. The plantation wherein she had taken shelter ran down at this spot
into a peak, which ended it hitherward, outside the hedge being arable
ground. Under the trees several pheasants lay about, their rich plumage
dabbled with blood; some were dead, some feebly twitching a wing, some
staring up at the sky, some pulsating quickly, some contorted, some
stretched out—all of them writhing in agony, except the fortunate ones
whose tortures had ended during the night by the inability of nature to
bear more.

Tess guessed at once the meaning of this. The birds had been driven
down into this corner the day before by some shooting-party; and while
those that had dropped dead under the shot, or had died before
nightfall, had been searched for and carried off, many badly wounded
birds had escaped and hidden themselves away, or risen among the thick
boughs, where they had maintained their position till they grew weaker
with loss of blood in the night-time, when they had fallen one by one
as she had heard them.

She had occasionally caught glimpses of these men in girlhood, looking
over hedges, or peeping through bushes, and pointing their guns,
strangely accoutred, a bloodthirsty light in their eyes. She had been
told that, rough and brutal as they seemed just then, they were not
like this all the year round, but were, in fact, quite civil persons
save during certain weeks of autumn and winter, when, like the
inhabitants of the Malay Peninsula, they ran amuck, and made it their
purpose to destroy life—in this case harmless feathered creatures,
brought into being by artificial means solely to gratify these
propensities—at once so unmannerly and so unchivalrous towards their
weaker fellows in Nature’s teeming family.

With the impulse of a soul who could feel for kindred sufferers as much
as for herself, Tess’s first thought was to put the still living birds
out of their torture, and to this end with her own hands she broke the
necks of as many as she could find, leaving them to lie where she had
found them till the game-keepers should come—as they probably would
come—to look for them a second time.

“Poor darlings—to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in
the sight o’ such misery as yours!” she exclaimed, her tears running
down as she killed the birds tenderly. “And not a twinge of bodily pain
about me! I be not mangled, and I be not bleeding, and I have two hands
to feed and clothe me.” She was ashamed of herself for her gloom of the
night, based on nothing more tangible than a sense of condemnation
under an arbitrary law of society which had no foundation in Nature.


XLII

It was now broad day, and she started again, emerging cautiously upon
the highway. But there was no need for caution; not a soul was at hand,
and Tess went onward with fortitude, her recollection of the birds’
silent endurance of their night of agony impressing upon her the
relativity of sorrows and the tolerable nature of her own, if she could
once rise high enough to despise opinion. But that she could not do so
long as it was held by Clare.

She reached Chalk-Newton, and breakfasted at an inn, where several
young men were troublesomely complimentary to her good looks. Somehow
she felt hopeful, for was it not possible that her husband also might
say these same things to her even yet? She was bound to take care of
herself on the chance of it, and keep off these casual lovers. To this
end Tess resolved to run no further risks from her appearance. As soon
as she got out of the village she entered a thicket and took from her
basket one of the oldest field-gowns, which she had never put on even
at the dairy—never since she had worked among the stubble at Marlott.
She also, by a felicitous thought, took a handkerchief from her bundle
and tied it round her face under her bonnet, covering her chin and half
her cheeks and temples, as if she were suffering from toothache. Then
with her little scissors, by the aid of a pocket looking-glass, she
mercilessly nipped her eyebrows off, and thus insured against
aggressive admiration, she went on her uneven way.

“What a mommet of a maid!” said the next man who met her to a
companion.

Tears came into her eyes for very pity of herself as she heard him.

“But I don’t care!” she said. “O no—I don’t care! I’ll always be ugly
now, because Angel is not here, and I have nobody to take care of me.
My husband that was is gone away, and never will love me any more; but
I love him just the same, and hate all other men, and like to make ’em
think scornfully of me!”

Thus Tess walks on; a figure which is part of the landscape; a
fieldwoman pure and simple, in winter guise; a gray serge cape, a red
woollen cravat, a stuff skirt covered by a whitey-brown rough wrapper,
and buff-leather gloves. Every thread of that old attire has become
faded and thin under the stroke of raindrops, the burn of sunbeams, and
the stress of winds. There is no sign of young passion in her now—

    The maiden’s mouth is cold
    . . . . .
    Fold over simple fold
    Binding her head.

Inside this exterior, over which the eye might have roved as over a
thing scarcely percipient, almost inorganic, there was the record of a
pulsing life which had learnt too well, for its years, of the dust and
ashes of things, of the cruelty of lust and the fragility of love.

Next day the weather was bad, but she trudged on, the honesty,
directness, and impartiality of elemental enmity disconcerting her but
little. Her object being a winter’s occupation and a winter’s home,
there was no time to lose. Her experience of short hirings had been
such that she was determined to accept no more.

Thus she went forward from farm to farm in the direction of the place
whence Marian had written to her, which she determined to make use of
as a last shift only, its rumoured stringencies being the reverse of
tempting. First she inquired for the lighter kinds of employment, and,
as acceptance in any variety of these grew hopeless, applied next for
the less light, till, beginning with the dairy and poultry tendance
that she liked best, she ended with the heavy and course pursuits which
she liked least—work on arable land: work of such roughness, indeed, as
she would never have deliberately voluteered for.

Towards the second evening she reached the irregular chalk table-land
or plateau, bosomed with semi-globular tumuli—as if Cybele the
Many-breasted were supinely extended there—which stretched between the
valley of her birth and the valley of her love.

Here the air was dry and cold, and the long cart-roads were blown white
and dusty within a few hours after rain. There were few trees, or none,
those that would have grown in the hedges being mercilessly plashed
down with the quickset by the tenant-farmers, the natural enemies of
tree, bush, and brake. In the middle distance ahead of her she could
see the summits of Bulbarrow and of Nettlecombe Tout, and they seemed
friendly. They had a low and unassuming aspect from this upland, though
as approached on the other side from Blackmoor in her childhood they
were as lofty bastions against the sky. Southerly, at many miles’
distance, and over the hills and ridges coastward, she could discern a
surface like polished steel: it was the English Channel at a point far
out towards France.

Before her, in a slight depression, were the remains of a village. She
had, in fact, reached Flintcomb-Ash, the place of Marian’s sojourn.
There seemed to be no help for it; hither she was doomed to come. The
stubborn soil around her showed plainly enough that the kind of labour
in demand here was of the roughest kind; but it was time to rest from
searching, and she resolved to stay, particularly as it began to rain.
At the entrance to the village was a cottage whose gable jutted into
the road, and before applying for a lodging she stood under its
shelter, and watched the evening close in.

“Who would think I was Mrs Angel Clare!” she said.

The wall felt warm to her back and shoulders, and she found that
immediately within the gable was the cottage fireplace, the heat of
which came through the bricks. She warmed her hands upon them, and also
put her cheek—red and moist with the drizzle—against their comforting
surface. The wall seemed to be the only friend she had. She had so
little wish to leave it that she could have stayed there all night.

Tess could hear the occupants of the cottage—gathered together after
their day’s labour—talking to each other within, and the rattle of
their supper-plates was also audible. But in the village-street she had
seen no soul as yet. The solitude was at last broken by the approach of
one feminine figure, who, though the evening was cold, wore the print
gown and the tilt-bonnet of summer time. Tess instinctively thought it
might be Marian, and when she came near enough to be distinguishable in
the gloom, surely enough it was she. Marian was even stouter and redder
in the face than formerly, and decidedly shabbier in attire. At any
previous period of her existence Tess would hardly have cared to renew
the acquaintance in such conditions; but her loneliness was excessive,
and she responded readily to Marian’s greeting.

Marian was quite respectful in her inquiries, but seemed much moved by
the fact that Tess should still continue in no better condition than at
first; though she had dimly heard of the separation.

“Tess—Mrs Clare—the dear wife of dear he! And is it really so bad as
this, my child? Why is your cwomely face tied up in such a way? Anybody
been beating ’ee? Not _he_?”

“No, no, no! I merely did it not to be clipsed or colled, Marian.”

She pulled off in disgust a bandage which could suggest such wild
thoughts.

“And you’ve got no collar on” (Tess had been accustomed to wear a
little white collar at the dairy).

“I know it, Marian.”

“You’ve lost it travelling.”

“I’ve not lost it. The truth is, I don’t care anything about my looks;
and so I didn’t put it on.”

“And you don’t wear your wedding-ring?”

“Yes, I do; but not in public. I wear it round my neck on a ribbon. I
don’t wish people to think who I am by marriage, or that I am married
at all; it would be so awkward while I lead my present life.”

Marian paused.

“But you _be_ a gentleman’s wife; and it seems hardly fair that you
should live like this!”

“O yes it is, quite fair; though I am very unhappy.”

“Well, well. _He_ married you—and you can be unhappy!”

“Wives are unhappy sometimes; from no fault of their husbands—from
their own.”

“You’ve no faults, deary; that I’m sure of. And he’s none. So it must
be something outside ye both.”

“Marian, dear Marian, will you do me a good turn without asking
questions? My husband has gone abroad, and somehow I have overrun my
allowance, so that I have to fall back upon my old work for a time. Do
not call me Mrs Clare, but Tess, as before. Do they want a hand here?”

“O yes; they’ll take one always, because few care to come. ’Tis a
starve-acre place. Corn and swedes are all they grow. Though I be here
myself, I feel ’tis a pity for such as you to come.”

“But you used to be as good a dairywoman as I.”

“Yes; but I’ve got out o’ that since I took to drink. Lord, that’s the
only comfort I’ve got now! If you engage, you’ll be set swede-hacking.
That’s what I be doing; but you won’t like it.”

“O—anything! Will you speak for me?”

“You will do better by speaking for yourself.”

“Very well. Now, Marian, remember—nothing about _him_ if I get the
place. I don’t wish to bring his name down to the dirt.”

Marian, who was really a trustworthy girl though of coarser grain than
Tess, promised anything she asked.

“This is pay-night,” she said, “and if you were to come with me you
would know at once. I be real sorry that you are not happy; but ’tis
because he’s away, I know. You couldn’t be unhappy if he were here,
even if he gie’d ye no money—even if he used you like a drudge.”

“That’s true; I could not!”

They walked on together and soon reached the farmhouse, which was
almost sublime in its dreariness. There was not a tree within sight;
there was not, at this season, a green pasture—nothing but fallow and
turnips everywhere, in large fields divided by hedges plashed to
unrelieved levels.

Tess waited outside the door of the farmhouse till the group of
workfolk had received their wages, and then Marian introduced her. The
farmer himself, it appeared, was not at home, but his wife, who
represented him this evening, made no objection to hiring Tess, on her
agreeing to remain till Old Lady-Day. Female field-labour was seldom
offered now, and its cheapness made it profitable for tasks which women
could perform as readily as men.

Having signed the agreement, there was nothing more for Tess to do at
present than to get a lodging, and she found one in the house at whose
gable-wall she had warmed herself. It was a poor subsistence that she
had ensured, but it would afford a shelter for the winter at any rate.

That night she wrote to inform her parents of her new address, in case
a letter should arrive at Marlott from her husband. But she did not
tell them of the sorriness of her situation: it might have brought
reproach upon him.


XLIII

There was no exaggeration in Marian’s definition of Flintcomb-Ash farm
as a starve-acre place. The single fat thing on the soil was Marian
herself; and she was an importation. Of the three classes of village,
the village cared for by its lord, the village cared for by itself, and
the village uncared for either by itself or by its lord (in other
words, the village of a resident squire’s tenantry, the village of free
or copy-holders, and the absentee-owner’s village, farmed with the
land) this place, Flintcomb-Ash, was the third.

But Tess set to work. Patience, that blending of moral courage with
physical timidity, was now no longer a minor feature in Mrs Angel
Clare; and it sustained her.

The swede-field in which she and her companion were set hacking was a
stretch of a hundred odd acres in one patch, on the highest ground of
the farm, rising above stony lanchets or lynchets—the outcrop of
siliceous veins in the chalk formation, composed of myriads of loose
white flints in bulbous, cusped, and phallic shapes. The upper half of
each turnip had been eaten off by the live-stock, and it was the
business of the two women to grub up the lower or earthy half of the
root with a hooked fork called a hacker, that it might be eaten also.
Every leaf of the vegetable having already been consumed, the whole
field was in colour a desolate drab; it was a complexion without
features, as if a face, from chin to brow, should be only an expanse of
skin. The sky wore, in another colour, the same likeness; a white
vacuity of countenance with the lineaments gone. So these two upper and
nether visages confronted each other all day long, the white face
looking down on the brown face, and the brown face looking up at the
white face, without anything standing between them but the two girls
crawling over the surface of the former like flies.

Nobody came near them, and their movements showed a mechanical
regularity; their forms standing enshrouded in Hessian
“wroppers”—sleeved brown pinafores, tied behind to the bottom, to keep
their gowns from blowing about—scant skirts revealing boots that
reached high up the ankles, and yellow sheepskin gloves with gauntlets.
The pensive character which the curtained hood lent to their bent heads
would have reminded the observer of some early Italian conception of
the two Marys.

They worked on hour after hour, unconscious of the forlorn aspect they
bore in the landscape, not thinking of the justice or injustice of
their lot. Even in such a position as theirs it was possible to exist
in a dream. In the afternoon the rain came on again, and Marian said
that they need not work any more. But if they did not work they would
not be paid; so they worked on. It was so high a situation, this field,
that the rain had no occasion to fall, but raced along horizontally
upon the yelling wind, sticking into them like glass splinters till
they were wet through. Tess had not known till now what was really
meant by that. There are degrees of dampness, and a very little is
called being wet through in common talk. But to stand working slowly in
a field, and feel the creep of rain-water, first in legs and shoulders,
then on hips and head, then at back, front, and sides, and yet to work
on till the leaden light diminishes and marks that the sun is down,
demands a distinct modicum of stoicism, even of valour.

Yet they did not feel the wetness so much as might be supposed. They
were both young, and they were talking of the time when they lived and
loved together at Talbothays Dairy, that happy green tract of land
where summer had been liberal in her gifts; in substance to all,
emotionally to these. Tess would fain not have conversed with Marian of
the man who was legally, if not actually, her husband; but the
irresistible fascination of the subject betrayed her into reciprocating
Marian’s remarks. And thus, as has been said, though the damp curtains
of their bonnets flapped smartly into their faces, and their wrappers
clung about them to wearisomeness, they lived all this afternoon in
memories of green, sunny, romantic Talbothays.

“You can see a gleam of a hill within a few miles o’ Froom Valley from
here when ’tis fine,” said Marian.

“Ah! Can you?” said Tess, awake to the new value of this locality.

So the two forces were at work here as everywhere, the inherent will to
enjoy, and the circumstantial will against enjoyment. Marian’s will had
a method of assisting itself by taking from her pocket as the afternoon
wore on a pint bottle corked with white rag, from which she invited
Tess to drink. Tess’s unassisted power of dreaming, however, being
enough for her sublimation at present, she declined except the merest
sip, and then Marian took a pull from the spirits.

“I’ve got used to it,” she said, “and can’t leave it off now. ’Tis my
only comfort—You see I lost him: you didn’t; and you can do without it
perhaps.”

Tess thought her loss as great as Marian’s, but upheld by the dignity
of being Angel’s wife, in the letter at least, she accepted Marian’s
differentiation.

Amid this scene Tess slaved in the morning frosts and in the afternoon
rains. When it was not swede-grubbing it was swede-trimming, in which
process they sliced off the earth and the fibres with a bill-hook
before storing the roots for future use. At this occupation they could
shelter themselves by a thatched hurdle if it rained; but if it was
frosty even their thick leather gloves could not prevent the frozen
masses they handled from biting their fingers. Still Tess hoped. She
had a conviction that sooner or later the magnanimity which she
persisted in reckoning as a chief ingredient of Clare’s character would
lead him to rejoin her.

Marian, primed to a humorous mood, would discover the queer-shaped
flints aforesaid, and shriek with laughter, Tess remaining severely
obtuse. They often looked across the country to where the Var or Froom
was known to stretch, even though they might not be able to see it;
and, fixing their eyes on the cloaking gray mist, imagined the old
times they had spent out there.

“Ah,” said Marian, “how I should like another or two of our old set to
come here! Then we could bring up Talbothays every day here afield, and
talk of he, and of what nice times we had there, and o’ the old things
we used to know, and make it all come back a’most, in seeming!”
Marian’s eyes softened, and her voice grew vague as the visions
returned. “I’ll write to Izz Huett,” she said. “She’s biding at home
doing nothing now, I know, and I’ll tell her we be here, and ask her to
come; and perhaps Retty is well enough now.”

Tess had nothing to say against the proposal, and the next she heard of
this plan for importing old Talbothays’ joys was two or three days
later, when Marian informed her that Izz had replied to her inquiry,
and had promised to come if she could.

There had not been such a winter for years. It came on in stealthy and
measured glides, like the moves of a chess-player. One morning the few
lonely trees and the thorns of the hedgerows appeared as if they had
put off a vegetable for an animal integument. Every twig was covered
with a white nap as of fur grown from the rind during the night, giving
it four times its usual stoutness; the whole bush or tree forming a
staring sketch in white lines on the mournful gray of the sky and
horizon. Cobwebs revealed their presence on sheds and walls where none
had ever been observed till brought out into visibility by the
crystallizing atmosphere, hanging like loops of white worsted from
salient points of the out-houses, posts, and gates.

After this season of congealed dampness came a spell of dry frost, when
strange birds from behind the North Pole began to arrive silently on
the upland of Flintcomb-Ash; gaunt spectral creatures with tragical
eyes—eyes which had witnessed scenes of cataclysmal horror in
inaccessible polar regions of a magnitude such as no human being had
ever conceived, in curdling temperatures that no man could endure;
which had beheld the crash of icebergs and the slide of snow-hills by
the shooting light of the Aurora; been half blinded by the whirl of
colossal storms and terraqueous distortions; and retained the
expression of feature that such scenes had engendered. These nameless
birds came quite near to Tess and Marian, but of all they had seen
which humanity would never see, they brought no account. The
traveller’s ambition to tell was not theirs, and, with dumb
impassivity, they dismissed experiences which they did not value for
the immediate incidents of this homely upland—the trivial movements of
the two girls in disturbing the clods with their hackers so as to
uncover something or other that these visitants relished as food.

Then one day a peculiar quality invaded the air of this open country.
There came a moisture which was not of rain, and a cold which was not
of frost. It chilled the eyeballs of the twain, made their brows ache,
penetrated to their skeletons, affecting the surface of the body less
than its core. They knew that it meant snow, and in the night the snow
came. Tess, who continued to live at the cottage with the warm gable
that cheered any lonely pedestrian who paused beside it, awoke in the
night, and heard above the thatch noises which seemed to signify that
the roof had turned itself into a gymnasium of all the winds. When she
lit her lamp to get up in the morning she found that the snow had blown
through a chink in the casement, forming a white cone of the finest
powder against the inside, and had also come down the chimney, so that
it lay sole-deep upon the floor, on which her shoes left tracks when
she moved about. Without, the storm drove so fast as to create a
snow-mist in the kitchen; but as yet it was too dark out-of-doors to
see anything.

Tess knew that it was impossible to go on with the swedes; and by the
time she had finished breakfast beside the solitary little lamp, Marian
arrived to tell her that they were to join the rest of the women at
reed-drawing in the barn till the weather changed. As soon, therefore,
as the uniform cloak of darkness without began to turn to a disordered
medley of grays, they blew out the lamp, wrapped themselves up in their
thickest pinners, tied their woollen cravats round their necks and
across their chests, and started for the barn. The snow had followed
the birds from the polar basin as a white pillar of a cloud, and
individual flakes could not be seen. The blast smelt of icebergs,
arctic seas, whales, and white bears, carrying the snow so that it
licked the land but did not deepen on it. They trudged onwards with
slanted bodies through the flossy fields, keeping as well as they could
in the shelter of hedges, which, however, acted as strainers rather
than screens. The air, afflicted to pallor with the hoary multitudes
that infested it, twisted and spun them eccentrically, suggesting an
achromatic chaos of things. But both the young women were fairly
cheerful; such weather on a dry upland is not in itself dispiriting.

“Ha-ha! the cunning northern birds knew this was coming,” said Marian.
“Depend upon’t, they keep just in front o’t all the way from the North
Star. Your husband, my dear, is, I make no doubt, having scorching
weather all this time. Lord, if he could only see his pretty wife now!
Not that this weather hurts your beauty at all—in fact, it rather does
it good.”

“You mustn’t talk about him to me, Marian,” said Tess severely.

“Well, but—surely you care for ’n! Do you?”

Instead of answering, Tess, with tears in her eyes, impulsively faced
in the direction in which she imagined South America to lie, and,
putting up her lips, blew out a passionate kiss upon the snowy wind.

“Well, well, I know you do. But ’pon my body, it is a rum life for a
married couple! There—I won’t say another word! Well, as for the
weather, it won’t hurt us in the wheat-barn; but reed-drawing is
fearful hard work—worse than swede-hacking. I can stand it because I’m
stout; but you be slimmer than I. I can’t think why maister should have
set ’ee at it.”

They reached the wheat-barn and entered it. One end of the long
structure was full of corn; the middle was where the reed-drawing was
carried on, and there had already been placed in the reed-press the
evening before as many sheaves of wheat as would be sufficient for the
women to draw from during the day.

“Why, here’s Izz!” said Marian.

Izz it was, and she came forward. She had walked all the way from her
mother’s home on the previous afternoon, and, not deeming the distance
so great, had been belated, arriving, however, just before the snow
began, and sleeping at the alehouse. The farmer had agreed with her
mother at market to take her on if she came to-day, and she had been
afraid to disappoint him by delay.

In addition to Tess, Marian, and Izz, there were two women from a
neighbouring village; two Amazonian sisters, whom Tess with a start
remembered as Dark Car, the Queen of Spades, and her junior, the Queen
of Diamonds—those who had tried to fight with her in the midnight
quarrel at Trantridge. They showed no recognition of her, and possibly
had none, for they had been under the influence of liquor on that
occasion, and were only temporary sojourners there as here. They did
all kinds of men’s work by preference, including well-sinking, hedging,
ditching, and excavating, without any sense of fatigue. Noted
reed-drawers were they too, and looked round upon the other three with
some superciliousness.

Putting on their gloves, all set to work in a row in front of the
press, an erection formed of two posts connected by a cross-beam, under
which the sheaves to be drawn from were laid ears outward, the beam
being pegged down by pins in the uprights, and lowered as the sheaves
diminished.

The day hardened in colour, the light coming in at the barndoors
upwards from the snow instead of downwards from the sky. The girls
pulled handful after handful from the press; but by reason of the
presence of the strange women, who were recounting scandals, Marian and
Izz could not at first talk of old times as they wished to do.
Presently they heard the muffled tread of a horse, and the farmer rode
up to the barndoor. When he had dismounted he came close to Tess, and
remained looking musingly at the side of her face. She had not turned
at first, but his fixed attitude led her to look round, when she
perceived that her employer was the native of Trantridge from whom she
had taken flight on the high-road because of his allusion to her
history.

He waited till she had carried the drawn bundles to the pile outside,
when he said, “So you be the young woman who took my civility in such
ill part? Be drowned if I didn’t think you might be as soon as I heard
of your being hired! Well, you thought you had got the better of me the
first time at the inn with your fancy-man, and the second time on the
road, when you bolted; but now I think I’ve got the better of you.” He
concluded with a hard laugh.

Tess, between the Amazons and the farmer, like a bird caught in a
clap-net, returned no answer, continuing to pull the straw. She could
read character sufficiently well to know by this time that she had
nothing to fear from her employer’s gallantry; it was rather the
tyranny induced by his mortification at Clare’s treatment of him. Upon
the whole she preferred that sentiment in man and felt brave enough to
endure it.

“You thought I was in love with ’ee I suppose? Some women are such
fools, to take every look as serious earnest. But there’s nothing like
a winter afield for taking that nonsense out o’ young wenches’ heads;
and you’ve signed and agreed till Lady-Day. Now, are you going to beg
my pardon?”

“I think you ought to beg mine.”

“Very well—as you like. But we’ll see which is master here. Be they all
the sheaves you’ve done to-day?”

“Yes, sir.”

“’Tis a very poor show. Just see what they’ve done over there”
(pointing to the two stalwart women). “The rest, too, have done better
than you.”

“They’ve all practised it before, and I have not. And I thought it made
no difference to you as it is task work, and we are only paid for what
we do.”

“Oh, but it does. I want the barn cleared.”

“I am going to work all the afternoon instead of leaving at two as the
others will do.”

He looked sullenly at her and went away. Tess felt that she could not
have come to a much worse place; but anything was better than
gallantry. When two o’clock arrived the professional reed-drawers
tossed off the last half-pint in their flagon, put down their hooks,
tied their last sheaves, and went away. Marian and Izz would have done
likewise, but on hearing that Tess meant to stay, to make up by longer
hours for her lack of skill, they would not leave her. Looking out at
the snow, which still fell, Marian exclaimed, “Now, we’ve got it all to
ourselves.” And so at last the conversation turned to their old
experiences at the dairy; and, of course, the incidents of their
affection for Angel Clare.

“Izz and Marian,” said Mrs Angel Clare, with a dignity which was
extremely touching, seeing how very little of a wife she was: “I can’t
join in talk with you now, as I used to do, about Mr Clare; you will
see that I cannot; because, although he is gone away from me for the
present, he is my husband.”

Izz was by nature the sauciest and most caustic of all the four girls
who had loved Clare. “He was a very splendid lover, no doubt,” she
said; “but I don’t think he is a too fond husband to go away from you
so soon.”

“He had to go—he was obliged to go, to see about the land over there!”
pleaded Tess.

“He might have tided ’ee over the winter.”

“Ah—that’s owing to an accident—a misunderstanding; and we won’t argue
it,” Tess answered, with tearfulness in her words. “Perhaps there’s a
good deal to be said for him! He did not go away, like some husbands,
without telling me; and I can always find out where he is.”

After this they continued for some long time in a reverie, as they went
on seizing the ears of corn, drawing out the straw, gathering it under
their arms, and cutting off the ears with their bill-hooks, nothing
sounding in the barn but the swish of the straw and the crunch of the
hook. Then Tess suddenly flagged, and sank down upon the heap of
wheat-ears at her feet.

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to stand it!” cried Marian. “It wants
harder flesh than yours for this work.”

Just then the farmer entered. “Oh, that’s how you get on when I am
away,” he said to her.

“But it is my own loss,” she pleaded. “Not yours.”

“I want it finished,” he said doggedly, as he crossed the barn and went
out at the other door.

“Don’t ’ee mind him, there’s a dear,” said Marian. “I’ve worked here
before. Now you go and lie down there, and Izz and I will make up your
number.”

“I don’t like to let you do that. I’m taller than you, too.”

However, she was so overcome that she consented to lie down awhile, and
reclined on a heap of pull-tails—the refuse after the straight straw
had been drawn—thrown up at the further side of the barn. Her
succumbing had been as largely owning to agitation at the re-opening
the subject of her separation from her husband as to the hard work. She
lay in a state of percipience without volition, and the rustle of the
straw and the cutting of the ears by the others had the weight of
bodily touches.

She could hear from her corner, in addition to these noises, the murmur
of their voices. She felt certain that they were continuing the subject
already broached, but their voices were so low that she could not catch
the words. At last Tess grew more and more anxious to know what they
were saying, and, persuading herself that she felt better, she got up
and resumed work.

Then Izz Huett broke down. She had walked more than a dozen miles the
previous evening, had gone to bed at midnight, and had risen again at
five o’clock. Marian alone, thanks to her bottle of liquor and her
stoutness of build, stood the strain upon back and arms without
suffering. Tess urged Izz to leave off, agreeing, as she felt better,
to finish the day without her, and make equal division of the number of
sheaves.

Izz accepted the offer gratefully, and disappeared through the great
door into the snowy track to her lodging. Marian, as was the case every
afternoon at this time on account of the bottle, began to feel in a
romantic vein.

“I should not have thought it of him—never!” she said in a dreamy tone.
“And I loved him so! I didn’t mind his having _you_. But this about Izz
is too bad!”

Tess, in her start at the words, narrowly missed cutting off a finger
with the bill-hook.

“Is it about my husband?” she stammered.

“Well, yes. Izz said, ‘Don’t ’ee tell her’; but I am sure I can’t help
it! It was what he wanted Izz to do. He wanted her to go off to Brazil
with him.”

Tess’s face faded as white as the scene without, and its curves
straightened. “And did Izz refuse to go?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Anyhow he changed his mind.”

“Pooh—then he didn’t mean it! ’Twas just a man’s jest!”

“Yes he did; for he drove her a good-ways towards the station.”

“He didn’t take her!”

They pulled on in silence till Tess, without any premonitory symptoms,
burst out crying.

“There!” said Marian. “Now I wish I hadn’t told ’ee!”

“No. It is a very good thing that you have done! I have been living on
in a thirtover, lackaday way, and have not seen what it may lead to! I
ought to have sent him a letter oftener. He said I could not go to him,
but he didn’t say I was not to write as often as I liked. I won’t dally
like this any longer! I have been very wrong and neglectful in leaving
everything to be done by him!”

The dim light in the barn grew dimmer, and they could see to work no
longer. When Tess had reached home that evening, and had entered into
the privacy of her little white-washed chamber, she began impetuously
writing a letter to Clare. But falling into doubt, she could not finish
it. Afterwards she took the ring from the ribbon on which she wore it
next her heart, and retained it on her finger all night, as if to
fortify herself in the sensation that she was really the wife of this
elusive lover of hers, who could propose that Izz should go with him
abroad, so shortly after he had left her. Knowing that, how could she
write entreaties to him, or show that she cared for him any more?


XLIV

By the disclosure in the barn her thoughts were led anew in the
direction which they had taken more than once of late—to the distant
Emminster Vicarage. It was through her husband’s parents that she had
been charged to send a letter to Clare if she desired; and to write to
them direct if in difficulty. But that sense of her having morally no
claim upon him had always led Tess to suspend her impulse to send these
notes; and to the family at the Vicarage, therefore, as to her own
parents since her marriage, she was virtually non-existent. This
self-effacement in both directions had been quite in consonance with
her independent character of desiring nothing by way of favour or pity
to which she was not entitled on a fair consideration of her deserts.
She had set herself to stand or fall by her qualities, and to waive
such merely technical claims upon a strange family as had been
established for her by the flimsy fact of a member of that family, in a
season of impulse, writing his name in a church-book beside hers.

But now that she was stung to a fever by Izz’s tale, there was a limit
to her powers of renunciation. Why had her husband not written to her?
He had distinctly implied that he would at least let her know of the
locality to which he had journeyed; but he had not sent a line to
notify his address. Was he really indifferent? But was he ill? Was it
for her to make some advance? Surely she might summon the courage of
solicitude, call at the Vicarage for intelligence, and express her
grief at his silence. If Angel’s father were the good man she had heard
him represented to be, he would be able to enter into her heart-starved
situation. Her social hardships she could conceal.

To leave the farm on a week-day was not in her power; Sunday was the
only possible opportunity. Flintcomb-Ash being in the middle of the
cretaceous tableland over which no railway had climbed as yet, it would
be necessary to walk. And the distance being fifteen miles each way she
would have to allow herself a long day for the undertaking by rising
early.

A fortnight later, when the snow had gone, and had been followed by a
hard black frost, she took advantage of the state of the roads to try
the experiment. At four o’clock that Sunday morning she came downstairs
and stepped out into the starlight. The weather was still favourable,
the ground ringing under her feet like an anvil.

Marian and Izz were much interested in her excursion, knowing that the
journey concerned her husband. Their lodgings were in a cottage a
little further along the lane, but they came and assisted Tess in her
departure, and argued that she should dress up in her very prettiest
guise to captivate the hearts of her parents-in-law; though she,
knowing of the austere and Calvinistic tenets of old Mr Clare, was
indifferent, and even doubtful. A year had now elapsed since her sad
marriage, but she had preserved sufficient draperies from the wreck of
her then full wardrobe to clothe her very charmingly as a simple
country girl with no pretensions to recent fashion; a soft gray woollen
gown, with white crape quilling against the pink skin of her face and
neck, and a black velvet jacket and hat.

“’Tis a thousand pities your husband can’t see ’ee now—you do look a
real beauty!” said Izz Huett, regarding Tess as she stood on the
threshold between the steely starlight without and the yellow
candlelight within. Izz spoke with a magnanimous abandonment of herself
to the situation; she could not be—no woman with a heart bigger than a
hazel-nut could be—antagonistic to Tess in her presence, the influence
which she exercised over those of her own sex being of a warmth and
strength quite unusual, curiously overpowering the less worthy feminine
feelings of spite and rivalry.

With a final tug and touch here, and a slight brush there, they let her
go; and she was absorbed into the pearly air of the fore-dawn. They
heard her footsteps tap along the hard road as she stepped out to her
full pace. Even Izz hoped she would win, and, though without any
particular respect for her own virtue, felt glad that she had been
prevented wronging her friend when momentarily tempted by Clare.

It was a year ago, all but a day, that Clare had married Tess, and only
a few days less than a year that he had been absent from her. Still, to
start on a brisk walk, and on such an errand as hers, on a dry clear
wintry morning, through the rarefied air of these chalky hogs’-backs,
was not depressing; and there is no doubt that her dream at starting
was to win the heart of her mother-in-law, tell her whole history to
that lady, enlist her on her side, and so gain back the truant.

In time she reached the edge of the vast escarpment below which
stretched the loamy Vale of Blackmoor, now lying misty and still in the
dawn. Instead of the colourless air of the uplands, the atmosphere down
there was a deep blue. Instead of the great enclosures of a hundred
acres in which she was now accustomed to toil, there were little fields
below her of less than half-a-dozen acres, so numerous that they looked
from this height like the meshes of a net. Here the landscape was
whitey-brown; down there, as in Froom Valley, it was always green. Yet
it was in that vale that her sorrow had taken shape, and she did not
love it as formerly. Beauty to her, as to all who have felt, lay not in
the thing, but in what the thing symbolized.

Keeping the Vale on her right, she steered steadily westward; passing
above the Hintocks, crossing at right-angles the high-road from
Sherton-Abbas to Casterbridge, and skirting Dogbury Hill and High-Stoy,
with the dell between them called “The Devil’s Kitchen”. Still
following the elevated way she reached Cross-in-Hand, where the stone
pillar stands desolate and silent, to mark the site of a miracle, or
murder, or both. Three miles further she cut across the straight and
deserted Roman road called Long-Ash Lane; leaving which as soon as she
reached it she dipped down a hill by a transverse lane into the small
town or village of Evershead, being now about halfway over the
distance. She made a halt here, and breakfasted a second time, heartily
enough—not at the Sow-and-Acorn, for she avoided inns, but at a cottage
by the church.

The second half of her journey was through a more gentle country, by
way of Benvill Lane. But as the mileage lessened between her and the
spot of her pilgrimage, so did Tess’s confidence decrease, and her
enterprise loom out more formidably. She saw her purpose in such
staring lines, and the landscape so faintly, that she was sometimes in
danger of losing her way. However, about noon she paused by a gate on
the edge of the basin in which Emminster and its Vicarage lay.

The square tower, beneath which she knew that at that moment the Vicar
and his congregation were gathered, had a severe look in her eyes. She
wished that she had somehow contrived to come on a week-day. Such a
good man might be prejudiced against a woman who had chosen Sunday,
never realizing the necessities of her case. But it was incumbent upon
her to go on now. She took off the thick boots in which she had walked
thus far, put on her pretty thin ones of patent leather, and, stuffing
the former into the hedge by the gatepost where she might readily find
them again, descended the hill; the freshness of colour she had derived
from the keen air thinning away in spite of her as she drew near the
parsonage.

Tess hoped for some accident that might favour her, but nothing
favoured her. The shrubs on the Vicarage lawn rustled uncomfortably in
the frosty breeze; she could not feel by any stretch of imagination,
dressed to her highest as she was, that the house was the residence of
near relations; and yet nothing essential, in nature or emotion,
divided her from them: in pains, pleasures, thoughts, birth, death, and
after-death, they were the same.

She nerved herself by an effort, entered the swing-gate, and rang the
door-bell. The thing was done; there could be no retreat. No; the thing
was not done. Nobody answered to her ringing. The effort had to be
risen to and made again. She rang a second time, and the agitation of
the act, coupled with her weariness after the fifteen miles’ walk, led
her to support herself while she waited by resting her hand on her hip
and her elbow against the wall of the porch. The wind was so nipping
that the ivy-leaves had become wizened and gray, each tapping
incessantly upon its neighbour with a disquieting stir of her nerves. A
piece of blood-stained paper, caught up from some meat-buyer’s
dust-heap, beat up and down the road without the gate; too flimsy to
rest, too heavy to fly away; and a few straws kept it company.

The second peal had been louder, and still nobody came. Then she walked
out of the porch, opened the gate, and passed through. And though she
looked dubiously at the house-front as if inclined to return, it was
with a breath of relief that she closed the gate. A feeling haunted her
that she might have been recognized (though how she could not tell),
and orders been given not to admit her.

Tess went as far as the corner. She had done all she could do; but
determined not to escape present trepidation at the expense of future
distress, she walked back again quite past the house, looking up at all
the windows.

Ah—the explanation was that they were all at church, every one. She
remembered her husband saying that his father always insisted upon the
household, servants included, going to morning-service, and, as a
consequence, eating cold food when they came home. It was, therefore,
only necessary to wait till the service was over. She would not make
herself conspicuous by waiting on the spot, and she started to get past
the church into the lane. But as she reached the churchyard-gate the
people began pouring out, and Tess found herself in the midst of them.

The Emminster congregation looked at her as only a congregation of
small country-townsfolk walking home at its leisure can look at a woman
out of the common whom it perceives to be a stranger. She quickened her
pace, and ascended the road by which she had come, to find a retreat
between its hedges till the Vicar’s family should have lunched, and it
might be convenient for them to receive her. She soon distanced the
churchgoers, except two youngish men, who, linked arm-in-arm, were
beating up behind her at a quick step.

As they drew nearer she could hear their voices engaged in earnest
discourse, and, with the natural quickness of a woman in her situation,
did not fail to recognize in those noises the quality of her husband’s
tones. The pedestrians were his two brothers. Forgetting all her plans,
Tess’s one dread was lest they should overtake her now, in her
disorganized condition, before she was prepared to confront them; for
though she felt that they could not identify her, she instinctively
dreaded their scrutiny. The more briskly they walked, the more briskly
walked she. They were plainly bent upon taking a short quick stroll
before going indoors to lunch or dinner, to restore warmth to limbs
chilled with sitting through a long service.

Only one person had preceded Tess up the hill—a ladylike young woman,
somewhat interesting, though, perhaps, a trifle _guindée_ and prudish.
Tess had nearly overtaken her when the speed of her brothers-in-law
brought them so nearly behind her back that she could hear every word
of their conversation. They said nothing, however, which particularly
interested her till, observing the young lady still further in front,
one of them remarked, “There is Mercy Chant. Let us overtake her.”

Tess knew the name. It was the woman who had been destined for Angel’s
life-companion by his and her parents, and whom he probably would have
married but for her intrusive self. She would have known as much
without previous information if she had waited a moment, for one of the
brothers proceeded to say: “Ah! poor Angel, poor Angel! I never see
that nice girl without more and more regretting his precipitancy in
throwing himself away upon a dairymaid, or whatever she may be. It is a
queer business, apparently. Whether she has joined him yet or not I
don’t know; but she had not done so some months ago when I heard from
him.”

“I can’t say. He never tells me anything nowadays. His ill-considered
marriage seems to have completed that estrangement from me which was
begun by his extraordinary opinions.”

Tess beat up the long hill still faster; but she could not outwalk them
without exciting notice. At last they outsped her altogether, and
passed her by. The young lady still further ahead heard their footsteps
and turned. Then there was a greeting and a shaking of hands, and the
three went on together.

They soon reached the summit of the hill, and, evidently intending this
point to be the limit of their promenade, slackened pace and turned all
three aside to the gate whereat Tess had paused an hour before that
time to reconnoitre the town before descending into it. During their
discourse one of the clerical brothers probed the hedge carefully with
his umbrella, and dragged something to light.

“Here’s a pair of old boots,” he said. “Thrown away, I suppose, by some
tramp or other.”

“Some imposter who wished to come into the town barefoot, perhaps, and
so excite our sympathies,” said Miss Chant. “Yes, it must have been,
for they are excellent walking-boots—by no means worn out. What a
wicked thing to do! I’ll carry them home for some poor person.”

Cuthbert Clare, who had been the one to find them, picked them up for
her with the crook of his stick; and Tess’s boots were appropriated.

She, who had heard this, walked past under the screen of her woollen
veil till, presently looking back, she perceived that the church party
had left the gate with her boots and retreated down the hill.

Thereupon our heroine resumed her walk. Tears, blinding tears, were
running down her face. She knew that it was all sentiment, all baseless
impressibility, which had caused her to read the scene as her own
condemnation; nevertheless she could not get over it; she could not
contravene in her own defenceless person all those untoward omens. It
was impossible to think of returning to the Vicarage. Angel’s wife felt
almost as if she had been hounded up that hill like a scorned thing by
those—to her—superfine clerics. Innocently as the slight had been
inflicted, it was somewhat unfortunate that she had encountered the
sons and not the father, who, despite his narrowness, was far less
starched and ironed than they, and had to the full the gift of charity.
As she again thought of her dusty boots she almost pitied those
habiliments for the quizzing to which they had been subjected, and felt
how hopeless life was for their owner.

“Ah!” she said, still sighing in pity of herself, “_they_ didn’t know
that I wore those over the roughest part of the road to save these
pretty ones _he_ bought for me—no—they did not know it! And they didn’t
think that _he_ chose the colour o’ my pretty frock—no—how could they?
If they had known perhaps they would not have cared, for they don’t
care much for him, poor thing!”

Then she grieved for the beloved man whose conventional standard of
judgement had caused her all these latter sorrows; and she went her way
without knowing that the greatest misfortune of her life was this
feminine loss of courage at the last and critical moment through her
estimating her father-in-law by his sons. Her present condition was
precisely one which would have enlisted the sympathies of old Mr and
Mrs Clare. Their hearts went out of them at a bound towards extreme
cases, when the subtle mental troubles of the less desperate among
mankind failed to win their interest or regard. In jumping at Publicans
and Sinners they would forget that a word might be said for the worries
of Scribes and Pharisees; and this defect or limitation might have
recommended their own daughter-in-law to them at this moment as a
fairly choice sort of lost person for their love.

Thereupon she began to plod back along the road by which she had come
not altogether full of hope, but full of a conviction that a crisis in
her life was approaching. No crisis, apparently, had supervened; and
there was nothing left for her to do but to continue upon that
starve-acre farm till she could again summon courage to face the
Vicarage. She did, indeed, take sufficient interest in herself to throw
up her veil on this return journey, as if to let the world see that she
could at least exhibit a face such as Mercy Chant could not show. But
it was done with a sorry shake of the head. “It is nothing—it is
nothing!” she said. “Nobody loves it; nobody sees it. Who cares about
the looks of a castaway like me!”

Her journey back was rather a meander than a march. It had no
sprightliness, no purpose; only a tendency. Along the tedious length of
Benvill Lane she began to grow tired, and she leant upon gates and
paused by milestones.

She did not enter any house till, at the seventh or eighth mile, she
descended the steep long hill below which lay the village or townlet of
Evershead, where in the morning she had breakfasted with such
contrasting expectations. The cottage by the church, in which she again
sat down, was almost the first at that end of the village, and while
the woman fetched her some milk from the pantry, Tess, looking down the
street, perceived that the place seemed quite deserted.

“The people are gone to afternoon service, I suppose?” she said.

“No, my dear,” said the old woman. “’Tis too soon for that; the bells
hain’t strook out yet. They be all gone to hear the preaching in yonder
barn. A ranter preaches there between the services—an excellent, fiery,
Christian man, they say. But, Lord, I don’t go to hear’n! What comes in
the regular way over the pulpit is hot enough for I.”

Tess soon went onward into the village, her footsteps echoing against
the houses as though it were a place of the dead. Nearing the central
part, her echoes were intruded on by other sounds; and seeing the barn
not far off the road, she guessed these to be the utterances of the
preacher.

His voice became so distinct in the still clear air that she could soon
catch his sentences, though she was on the closed side of the barn. The
sermon, as might be expected, was of the extremest antinomian type; on
justification by faith, as expounded in the theology of St Paul. This
fixed idea of the rhapsodist was delivered with animated enthusiasm, in
a manner entirely declamatory, for he had plainly no skill as a
dialectician. Although Tess had not heard the beginning of the address,
she learnt what the text had been from its constant iteration—

    “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not
    obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently
    set forth, crucified among you?”

Tess was all the more interested, as she stood listening behind, in
finding that the preacher’s doctrine was a vehement form of the view of
Angel’s father, and her interest intensified when the speaker began to
detail his own spiritual experiences of how he had come by those views.
He had, he said, been the greatest of sinners. He had scoffed; he had
wantonly associated with the reckless and the lewd. But a day of
awakening had come, and, in a human sense, it had been brought about
mainly by the influence of a certain clergyman, whom he had at first
grossly insulted; but whose parting words had sunk into his heart, and
had remained there, till by the grace of Heaven they had worked this
change in him, and made him what they saw him.

But more startling to Tess than the doctrine had been the voice, which,
impossible as it seemed, was precisely that of Alec d’Urberville. Her
face fixed in painful suspense, she came round to the front of the
barn, and passed before it. The low winter sun beamed directly upon the
great double-doored entrance on this side; one of the doors being open,
so that the rays stretched far in over the threshing-floor to the
preacher and his audience, all snugly sheltered from the northern
breeze. The listeners were entirely villagers, among them being the man
whom she had seen carrying the red paint-pot on a former memorable
occasion. But her attention was given to the central figure, who stood
upon some sacks of corn, facing the people and the door. The three
o’clock sun shone full upon him, and the strange enervating conviction
that her seducer confronted her, which had been gaining ground in Tess
ever since she had heard his words distinctly, was at last established
as a fact indeed.


End of Phase the Fifth


Phase the Sixth:

The Convert


XLV

Till this moment she had never seen or heard from d’Urberville since
her departure from Trantridge.

The rencounter came at a heavy moment, one of all moments calculated to
permit its impact with the least emotional shock. But such was
unreasoning memory that, though he stood there openly and palpably a
converted man, who was sorrowing for his past irregularities, a fear
overcame her, paralyzing her movement so that she neither retreated nor
advanced.

To think of what emanated from that countenance when she saw it last,
and to behold it now!... There was the same handsome unpleasantness of
mien, but now he wore neatly trimmed, old-fashioned whiskers, the sable
moustache having disappeared; and his dress was half-clerical, a
modification which had changed his expression sufficiently to abstract
the dandyism from his features, and to hinder for a second her belief
in his identity.

To Tess’s sense there was, just at first, a ghastly _bizarrerie_, a
grim incongruity, in the march of these solemn words of Scripture out
of such a mouth. This too familiar intonation, less than four years
earlier, had brought to her ears expressions of such divergent purpose
that her heart became quite sick at the irony of the contrast.

It was less a reform than a transfiguration. The former curves of
sensuousness were now modulated to lines of devotional passion. The
lip-shapes that had meant seductiveness were now made to express
supplication; the glow on the cheek that yesterday could be translated
as riotousness was evangelized to-day into the splendour of pious
rhetoric; animalism had become fanaticism; Paganism, Paulinism; the
bold rolling eye that had flashed upon her form in the old time with
such mastery now beamed with the rude energy of a theolatry that was
almost ferocious. Those black angularities which his face had used to
put on when his wishes were thwarted now did duty in picturing the
incorrigible backslider who would insist upon turning again to his
wallowing in the mire.

The lineaments, as such, seemed to complain. They had been diverted
from their hereditary connotation to signify impressions for which
Nature did not intend them. Strange that their very elevation was a
misapplication, that to raise seemed to falsify.

Yet could it be so? She would admit the ungenerous sentiment no longer.
D’Urberville was not the first wicked man who had turned away from his
wickedness to save his soul alive, and why should she deem it unnatural
in him? It was but the usage of thought which had been jarred in her at
hearing good new words in bad old notes. The greater the sinner, the
greater the saint; it was not necessary to dive far into Christian
history to discover that.

Such impressions as these moved her vaguely, and without strict
definiteness. As soon as the nerveless pause of her surprise would
allow her to stir, her impulse was to pass on out of his sight. He had
obviously not discerned her yet in her position against the sun.

But the moment that she moved again he recognized her. The effect upon
her old lover was electric, far stronger than the effect of his
presence upon her. His fire, the tumultuous ring of his eloquence,
seemed to go out of him. His lip struggled and trembled under the words
that lay upon it; but deliver them it could not as long as she faced
him. His eyes, after their first glance upon her face, hung confusedly
in every other direction but hers, but came back in a desperate leap
every few seconds. This paralysis lasted, however, but a short time;
for Tess’s energies returned with the atrophy of his, and she walked as
fast as she was able past the barn and onward.

As soon as she could reflect, it appalled her, this change in their
relative platforms. He who had wrought her undoing was now on the side
of the Spirit, while she remained unregenerate. And, as in the legend,
it had resulted that her Cyprian image had suddenly appeared upon his
altar, whereby the fire of the priest had been well nigh extinguished.

She went on without turning her head. Her back seemed to be endowed
with a sensitiveness to ocular beams—even her clothing—so alive was she
to a fancied gaze which might be resting upon her from the outside of
that barn. All the way along to this point her heart had been heavy
with an inactive sorrow; now there was a change in the quality of its
trouble. That hunger for affection too long withheld was for the time
displaced by an almost physical sense of an implacable past which still
engirdled her. It intensified her consciousness of error to a practical
despair; the break of continuity between her earlier and present
existence, which she had hoped for, had not, after all, taken place.
Bygones would never be complete bygones till she was a bygone herself.

Thus absorbed, she recrossed the northern part of Long-Ash Lane at
right angles, and presently saw before her the road ascending whitely
to the upland along whose margin the remainder of her journey lay. Its
dry pale surface stretched severely onward, unbroken by a single
figure, vehicle, or mark, save some occasional brown horse-droppings
which dotted its cold aridity here and there. While slowly breasting
this ascent Tess became conscious of footsteps behind her, and turning
she saw approaching that well-known form—so strangely accoutred as the
Methodist—the one personage in all the world she wished not to
encounter alone on this side of the grave.

There was not much time, however, for thought or elusion, and she
yielded as calmly as she could to the necessity of letting him overtake
her. She saw that he was excited, less by the speed of his walk than by
the feelings within him.

“Tess!” he said.

She slackened speed without looking round.

“Tess!” he repeated. “It is I—Alec d’Urberville.”

She then looked back at him, and he came up.

“I see it is,” she answered coldly.

“Well—is that all? Yet I deserve no more! Of course,” he added, with a
slight laugh, “there is something of the ridiculous to your eyes in
seeing me like this. But—I must put up with that.... I heard you had
gone away; nobody knew where. Tess, you wonder why I have followed
you?”

“I do, rather; and I would that you had not, with all my heart!”

“Yes—you may well say it,” he returned grimly, as they moved onward
together, she with unwilling tread. “But don’t mistake me; I beg this
because you may have been led to do so in noticing—if you did notice
it—how your sudden appearance unnerved me down there. It was but a
momentary faltering; and considering what you have been to me, it was
natural enough. But will helped me through it—though perhaps you think
me a humbug for saying it—and immediately afterwards I felt that of all
persons in the world whom it was my duty and desire to save from the
wrath to come—sneer if you like—the woman whom I had so grievously
wronged was that person. I have come with that sole purpose in
view—nothing more.”

There was the smallest vein of scorn in her words of rejoinder: “Have
you saved yourself? Charity begins at home, they say.”

“_I_ have done nothing!” said he indifferently. “Heaven, as I have been
telling my hearers, has done all. No amount of contempt that you can
pour upon me, Tess, will equal what I have poured upon myself—the old
Adam of my former years! Well, it is a strange story; believe it or
not; but I can tell you the means by which my conversion was brought
about, and I hope you will be interested enough at least to listen.
Have you ever heard the name of the parson of Emminster—you must have
done do?—old Mr Clare; one of the most earnest of his school; one of
the few intense men left in the Church; not so intense as the extreme
wing of Christian believers with which I have thrown in my lot, but
quite an exception among the Established clergy, the younger of whom
are gradually attenuating the true doctrines by their sophistries, till
they are but the shadow of what they were. I only differ from him on
the question of Church and State—the interpretation of the text, ‘Come
out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord’—that’s all. He
is one who, I firmly believe, has been the humble means of saving more
souls in this country than any other man you can name. You have heard
of him?”

“I have,” she said.

“He came to Trantridge two or three years ago to preach on behalf of
some missionary society; and I, wretched fellow that I was, insulted
him when, in his disinterestedness, he tried to reason with me and show
me the way. He did not resent my conduct, he simply said that some day
I should receive the first-fruits of the Spirit—that those who came to
scoff sometimes remained to pray. There was a strange magic in his
words. They sank into my mind. But the loss of my mother hit me most;
and by degrees I was brought to see daylight. Since then my one desire
has been to hand on the true view to others, and that is what I was
trying to do to-day; though it is only lately that I have preached
hereabout. The first months of my ministry have been spent in the North
of England among strangers, where I preferred to make my earliest
clumsy attempts, so as to acquire courage before undergoing that
severest of all tests of one’s sincerity, addressing those who have
known one, and have been one’s companions in the days of darkness. If
you could only know, Tess, the pleasure of having a good slap at
yourself, I am sure—”

“Don’t go on with it!” she cried passionately, as she turned away from
him to a stile by the wayside, on which she bent herself. “I can’t
believe in such sudden things! I feel indignant with you for talking to
me like this, when you know—when you know what harm you’ve done me!
You, and those like you, take your fill of pleasure on earth by making
the life of such as me bitter and black with sorrow; and then it is a
fine thing, when you have had enough of that, to think of securing your
pleasure in heaven by becoming converted! Out upon such—I don’t believe
in you—I hate it!”

“Tess,” he insisted; “don’t speak so! It came to me like a jolly new
idea! And you don’t believe me? What don’t you believe?”

“Your conversion. Your scheme of religion.”

“Why?”

She dropped her voice. “Because a better man than you does not believe
in such.”

“What a woman’s reason! Who is this better man?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“Well,” he declared, a resentment beneath his words seeming ready to
spring out at a moment’s notice, “God forbid that I should say I am a
good man—and you know I don’t say any such thing. I am new to goodness,
truly; but newcomers see furthest sometimes.”

“Yes,” she replied sadly. “But I cannot believe in your conversion to a
new spirit. Such flashes as you feel, Alec, I fear don’t last!”

Thus speaking she turned from the stile over which she had been
leaning, and faced him; whereupon his eyes, falling casually upon the
familiar countenance and form, remained contemplating her. The inferior
man was quiet in him now; but it was surely not extracted, nor even
entirely subdued.

“Don’t look at me like that!” he said abruptly.

Tess, who had been quite unconscious of her action and mien, instantly
withdrew the large dark gaze of her eyes, stammering with a flush, “I
beg your pardon!” And there was revived in her the wretched sentiment
which had often come to her before, that in inhabiting the fleshly
tabernacle with which Nature had endowed her she was somehow doing
wrong.

“No, no! Don’t beg my pardon. But since you wear a veil to hide your
good looks, why don’t you keep it down?”

She pulled down the veil, saying hastily, “It was mostly to keep off
the wind.”

“It may seem harsh of me to dictate like this,” he went on; “but it is
better that I should not look too often on you. It might be dangerous.”

“Ssh!” said Tess.

“Well, women’s faces have had too much power over me already for me not
to fear them! An evangelist has nothing to do with such as they; and it
reminds me of the old times that I would forget!”

After this their conversation dwindled to a casual remark now and then
as they rambled onward, Tess inwardly wondering how far he was going
with her, and not liking to send him back by positive mandate.
Frequently when they came to a gate or stile they found painted thereon
in red or blue letters some text of Scripture, and she asked him if he
knew who had been at the pains to blazon these announcements. He told
her that the man was employed by himself and others who were working
with him in that district, to paint these reminders that no means might
be left untried which might move the hearts of a wicked generation.

At length the road touched the spot called “Cross-in-Hand.” Of all
spots on the bleached and desolate upland this was the most forlorn. It
was so far removed from the charm which is sought in landscape by
artists and view-lovers as to reach a new kind of beauty, a negative
beauty of tragic tone. The place took its name from a stone pillar
which stood there, a strange rude monolith, from a stratum unknown in
any local quarry, on which was roughly carved a human hand. Differing
accounts were given of its history and purport. Some authorities stated
that a devotional cross had once formed the complete erection thereon,
of which the present relic was but the stump; others that the stone as
it stood was entire, and that it had been fixed there to mark a
boundary or place of meeting. Anyhow, whatever the origin of the relic,
there was and is something sinister, or solemn, according to mood, in
the scene amid which it stands; something tending to impress the most
phlegmatic passer-by.

“I think I must leave you now,” he remarked, as they drew near to this
spot. “I have to preach at Abbot’s-Cernel at six this evening, and my
way lies across to the right from here. And you upset me somewhat too,
Tessy—I cannot, will not, say why. I must go away and get strength....
How is it that you speak so fluently now? Who has taught you such good
English?”

“I have learnt things in my troubles,” she said evasively.

“What troubles have you had?”

She told him of the first one—the only one that related to him.

D’Urberville was struck mute. “I knew nothing of this till now!” he
next murmured. “Why didn’t you write to me when you felt your trouble
coming on?”

She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding: “Well—you will
see me again.”

“No,” she answered. “Do not again come near me!”

“I will think. But before we part come here.” He stepped up to the
pillar. “This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but I
fear you at moments—far more than you need fear me at present; and to
lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you
will never tempt me—by your charms or ways.”

“Good God—how can you ask what is so unnecessary! All that is furthest
from my thought!”

“Yes—but swear it.”

Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity; placed her hand
upon the stone and swore.

“I am sorry you are not a believer,” he continued; “that some
unbeliever should have got hold of you and unsettled your mind. But no
more now. At home at least I can pray for you; and I will; and who
knows what may not happen? I’m off. Goodbye!”

He turned to a hunting-gate in the hedge and, without letting his eyes
again rest upon her, leapt over and struck out across the down in the
direction of Abbot’s-Cernel. As he walked his pace showed perturbation,
and by-and-by, as if instigated by a former thought, he drew from his
pocket a small book, between the leaves of which was folded a letter,
worn and soiled, as from much re-reading. D’Urberville opened the
letter. It was dated several months before this time, and was signed by
Parson Clare.

The letter began by expressing the writer’s unfeigned joy at
d’Urberville’s conversion, and thanked him for his kindness in
communicating with the parson on the subject. It expressed Mr Clare’s
warm assurance of forgiveness for d’Urberville’s former conduct and his
interest in the young man’s plans for the future. He, Mr Clare, would
much have liked to see d’Urberville in the Church to whose ministry he
had devoted so many years of his own life, and would have helped him to
enter a theological college to that end; but since his correspondent
had possibly not cared to do this on account of the delay it would have
entailed, he was not the man to insist upon its paramount importance.
Every man must work as he could best work, and in the method towards
which he felt impelled by the Spirit.

D’Urberville read and re-read this letter, and seemed to quiz himself
cynically. He also read some passages from memoranda as he walked till
his face assumed a calm, and apparently the image of Tess no longer
troubled his mind.

She meanwhile had kept along the edge of the hill by which lay her
nearest way home. Within the distance of a mile she met a solitary
shepherd.

“What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?” she asked of
him. “Was it ever a Holy Cross?”

“Cross—no; ’twer not a cross! ’Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It was
put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was tortured
there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The bones lie
underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks
at times.”

She felt the _petite mort_ at this unexpectedly gruesome information,
and left the solitary man behind her. It was dusk when she drew near to
Flintcomb-Ash, and in the lane at the entrance to the hamlet she
approached a girl and her lover without their observing her. They were
talking no secrets, and the clear unconcerned voice of the young woman,
in response to the warmer accents of the man, spread into the chilly
air as the one soothing thing within the dusky horizon, full of a
stagnant obscurity upon which nothing else intruded. For a moment the
voices cheered the heart of Tess, till she reasoned that this interview
had its origin, on one side or the other, in the same attraction which
had been the prelude to her own tribulation. When she came close, the
girl turned serenely and recognized her, the young man walking off in
embarrassment. The woman was Izz Huett, whose interest in Tess’s
excursion immediately superseded her own proceedings. Tess did not
explain very clearly its results, and Izz, who was a girl of tact,
began to speak of her own little affair, a phase of which Tess had just
witnessed.

“He is Amby Seedling, the chap who used to sometimes come and help at
Talbothays,” she explained indifferently. “He actually inquired and
found out that I had come here, and has followed me. He says he’s been
in love wi’ me these two years. But I’ve hardly answered him.”


XLVI

Several days had passed since her futile journey, and Tess was afield.
The dry winter wind still blew, but a screen of thatched hurdles
erected in the eye of the blast kept its force away from her. On the
sheltered side was a turnip-slicing machine, whose bright blue hue of
new paint seemed almost vocal in the otherwise subdued scene. Opposite
its front was a long mound or “grave”, in which the roots had been
preserved since early winter. Tess was standing at the uncovered end,
chopping off with a bill-hook the fibres and earth from each root, and
throwing it after the operation into the slicer. A man was turning the
handle of the machine, and from its trough came the newly-cut swedes,
the fresh smell of whose yellow chips was accompanied by the sounds of
the snuffling wind, the smart swish of the slicing-blades, and the
choppings of the hook in Tess’s leather-gloved hand.

The wide acreage of blank agricultural brownness, apparent where the
swedes had been pulled, was beginning to be striped in wales of darker
brown, gradually broadening to ribands. Along the edge of each of these
something crept upon ten legs, moving without haste and without rest up
and down the whole length of the field; it was two horses and a man,
the plough going between them, turning up the cleared ground for a
spring sowing.

For hours nothing relieved the joyless monotony of things. Then, far
beyond the ploughing-teams, a black speck was seen. It had come from
the corner of a fence, where there was a gap, and its tendency was up
the incline, towards the swede-cutters. From the proportions of a mere
point it advanced to the shape of a ninepin, and was soon perceived to
be a man in black, arriving from the direction of Flintcomb-Ash. The
man at the slicer, having nothing else to do with his eyes, continually
observed the comer, but Tess, who was occupied, did not perceive him
till her companion directed her attention to his approach.

It was not her hard taskmaster, Farmer Groby; it was one in a
semi-clerical costume, who now represented what had once been the
free-and-easy Alec d’Urberville. Not being hot at his preaching there
was less enthusiasm about him now, and the presence of the grinder
seemed to embarrass him. A pale distress was already on Tess’s face,
and she pulled her curtained hood further over it.

D’Urberville came up and said quietly—

“I want to speak to you, Tess.”

“You have refused my last request, not to come near me!” said she.

“Yes, but I have a good reason.”

“Well, tell it.”

“It is more serious than you may think.”

He glanced round to see if he were overheard. They were at some
distance from the man who turned the slicer, and the movement of the
machine, too, sufficiently prevented Alec’s words reaching other ears.
D’Urberville placed himself so as to screen Tess from the labourer,
turning his back to the latter.

“It is this,” he continued, with capricious compunction. “In thinking
of your soul and mine when we last met, I neglected to inquire as to
your worldly condition. You were well dressed, and I did not think of
it. But I see now that it is hard—harder than it used to be when I—knew
you—harder than you deserve. Perhaps a good deal of it is owning to
me!”

She did not answer, and he watched her inquiringly, as, with bent head,
her face completely screened by the hood, she resumed her trimming of
the swedes. By going on with her work she felt better able to keep him
outside her emotions.

“Tess,” he added, with a sigh of discontent,—“yours was the very worst
case I ever was concerned in! I had no idea of what had resulted till
you told me. Scamp that I was to foul that innocent life! The whole
blame was mine—the whole unconventional business of our time at
Trantridge. You, too, the real blood of which I am but the base
imitation, what a blind young thing you were as to possibilities! I say
in all earnestness that it is a shame for parents to bring up their
girls in such dangerous ignorance of the gins and nets that the wicked
may set for them, whether their motive be a good one or the result of
simple indifference.”

Tess still did no more than listen, throwing down one globular root and
taking up another with automatic regularity, the pensive contour of the
mere fieldwoman alone marking her.

“But it is not that I came to say,” d’Urberville went on. “My
circumstances are these. I have lost my mother since you were at
Trantridge, and the place is my own. But I intend to sell it, and
devote myself to missionary work in Africa. A devil of a poor hand I
shall make at the trade, no doubt. However, what I want to ask you is,
will you put it in my power to do my duty—to make the only reparation I
can make for the trick played you: that is, will you be my wife, and go
with me?... I have already obtained this precious document. It was my
old mother’s dying wish.”

He drew a piece of parchment from his pocket, with a slight fumbling of
embarrassment.

“What is it?” said she.

“A marriage licence.”

“O no, sir—no!” she said quickly, starting back.

“You will not? Why is that?”

And as he asked the question a disappointment which was not entirely
the disappointment of thwarted duty crossed d’Urberville’s face. It was
unmistakably a symptom that something of his old passion for her had
been revived; duty and desire ran hand-in-hand.

“Surely,” he began again, in more impetuous tones, and then looked
round at the labourer who turned the slicer.

Tess, too, felt that the argument could not be ended there. Informing
the man that a gentleman had come to see her, with whom she wished to
walk a little way, she moved off with d’Urberville across the
zebra-striped field. When they reached the first newly-ploughed section
he held out his hand to help her over it; but she stepped forward on
the summits of the earth-rolls as if she did not see him.

“You will not marry me, Tess, and make me a self-respecting man?” he
repeated, as soon as they were over the furrows.

“I cannot.”

“But why?”

“You know I have no affection for you.”

“But you would get to feel that in time, perhaps—as soon as you really
could forgive me?”

“Never!”

“Why so positive?”

“I love somebody else.”

The words seemed to astonish him.

“You do?” he cried. “Somebody else? But has not a sense of what is
morally right and proper any weight with you?”

“No, no, no—don’t say that!”

“Anyhow, then, your love for this other man may be only a passing
feeling which you will overcome—”

“No—no.”

“Yes, yes! Why not?”

“I cannot tell you.”

“You must in honour!”

“Well then.... I have married him.”

“Ah!” he exclaimed; and he stopped dead and gazed at her.

“I did not wish to tell—I did not mean to!” she pleaded. “It is a
secret here, or at any rate but dimly known. So will you, _please_ will
you, keep from questioning me? You must remember that we are now
strangers.”

“Strangers—are we? Strangers!”

For a moment a flash of his old irony marked his face; but he
determinedly chastened it down.

“Is that man your husband?” he asked mechanically, denoting by a sign
the labourer who turned the machine.

“That man!” she said proudly. “I should think not!”

“Who, then?”

“Do not ask what I do not wish to tell!” she begged, and flashed her
appeal to him from her upturned face and lash-shadowed eyes.

D’Urberville was disturbed.

“But I only asked for your sake!” he retorted hotly. “Angels of
heaven!—God forgive me for such an expression—I came here, I swear, as
I thought for your good. Tess—don’t look at me so—I cannot stand your
looks! There never were such eyes, surely, before Christianity or
since! There—I won’t lose my head; I dare not. I own that the sight of
you had waked up my love for you, which, I believed, was extinguished
with all such feelings. But I thought that our marriage might be a
sanctification for us both. ‘The unbelieving husband is sanctified by
the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband,’ I
said to myself. But my plan is dashed from me; and I must bear the
disappointment!”

He moodily reflected with his eyes on the ground.

“Married. Married!... Well, that being so,” he added, quite calmly,
tearing the licence slowly into halves and putting them in his pocket;
“that being prevented, I should like to do some good to you and your
husband, whoever he may be. There are many questions that I am tempted
to ask, but I will not do so, of course, in opposition to your wishes.
Though, if I could know your husband, I might more easily benefit him
and you. Is he on this farm?”

“No,” she murmured. “He is far away.”

“Far away? From _you_? What sort of husband can he be?”

“O, do not speak against him! It was through you! He found out—”

“Ah, is it so!... That’s sad, Tess!”

“Yes.”

“But to stay away from you—to leave you to work like this!”

“He does not leave me to work!” she cried, springing to the defence of
the absent one with all her fervour. “He don’t know it! It is by my own
arrangement.”

“Then, does he write?”

“I—I cannot tell you. There are things which are private to ourselves.”

“Of course that means that he does not. You are a deserted wife, my
fair Tess—”

In an impulse he turned suddenly to take her hand; the buff-glove was
on it, and he seized only the rough leather fingers which did not
express the life or shape of those within.

“You must not—you must not!” she cried fearfully, slipping her hand
from the glove as from a pocket, and leaving it in his grasp. “O, will
you go away—for the sake of me and my husband—go, in the name of your
own Christianity!”

“Yes, yes; I will,” he said abruptly, and thrusting the glove back to
her he turned to leave. Facing round, however, he said, “Tess, as God
is my judge, I meant no humbug in taking your hand!”

A pattering of hoofs on the soil of the field, which they had not
noticed in their preoccupation, ceased close behind them; and a voice
reached her ear:

“What the devil are you doing away from your work at this time o’ day?”

Farmer Groby had espied the two figures from the distance, and had
inquisitively ridden across, to learn what was their business in his
field.

“Don’t speak like that to her!” said d’Urberville, his face blackening
with something that was not Christianity.

“Indeed, Mister! And what mid Methodist pa’sons have to do with she?”

“Who is the fellow?” asked d’Urberville, turning to Tess.

She went close up to him.

“Go—I do beg you!” she said.

“What! And leave you to that tyrant? I can see in his face what a churl
he is.”

“He won’t hurt me. _He’s_ not in love with me. I can leave at
Lady-Day.”

“Well, I have no right but to obey, I suppose. But—well, goodbye!”

Her defender, whom she dreaded more than her assailant, having
reluctantly disappeared, the farmer continued his reprimand, which Tess
took with the greatest coolness, that sort of attack being independent
of sex. To have as a master this man of stone, who would have cuffed
her if he had dared, was almost a relief after her former experiences.
She silently walked back towards the summit of the field that was the
scene of her labour, so absorbed in the interview which had just taken
place that she was hardly aware that the nose of Groby’s horse almost
touched her shoulders.

“If so be you make an agreement to work for me till Lady-Day, I’ll see
that you carry it out,” he growled. “’Od rot the women—now ’tis one
thing, and then ’tis another. But I’ll put up with it no longer!”

Knowing very well that he did not harass the other women of the farm as
he harassed her out of spite for the flooring he had once received, she
did for one moment picture what might have been the result if she had
been free to accept the offer just made her of being the monied Alec’s
wife. It would have lifted her completely out of subjection, not only
to her present oppressive employer, but to a whole world who seemed to
despise her. “But no, no!” she said breathlessly; “I could not have
married him now! He is so unpleasant to me.”

That very night she began an appealing letter to Clare, concealing from
him her hardships, and assuring him of her undying affection. Any one
who had been in a position to read between the lines would have seen
that at the back of her great love was some monstrous fear—almost a
desperation—as to some secret contingencies which were not disclosed.
But again she did not finish her effusion; he had asked Izz to go with
him, and perhaps he did not care for her at all. She put the letter in
her box, and wondered if it would ever reach Angel’s hands.

After this her daily tasks were gone through heavily enough, and
brought on the day which was of great import to agriculturists—the day
of the Candlemas Fair. It was at this fair that new engagements were
entered into for the twelve months following the ensuing Lady-Day, and
those of the farming population who thought of changing their places
duly attended at the county-town where the fair was held. Nearly all
the labourers on Flintcomb-Ash farm intended flight, and early in the
morning there was a general exodus in the direction of the town, which
lay at a distance of from ten to a dozen miles over hilly country.
Though Tess also meant to leave at the quarter-day, she was one of the
few who did not go to the fair, having a vaguely-shaped hope that
something would happen to render another outdoor engagement
unnecessary.

It was a peaceful February day, of wonderful softness for the time, and
one would almost have thought that winter was over. She had hardly
finished her dinner when d’Urberville’s figure darkened the window of
the cottage wherein she was a lodger, which she had all to herself
to-day.

Tess jumped up, but her visitor had knocked at the door, and she could
hardly in reason run away. D’Urberville’s knock, his walk up to the
door, had some indescribable quality of difference from his air when
she last saw him. They seemed to be acts of which the doer was ashamed.
She thought that she would not open the door; but, as there was no
sense in that either, she arose, and having lifted the latch stepped
back quickly. He came in, saw her, and flung himself down into a chair
before speaking.

“Tess—I couldn’t help it!” he began desperately, as he wiped his heated
face, which had also a superimposed flush of excitement. “I felt that I
must call at least to ask how you are. I assure you I had not been
thinking of you at all till I saw you that Sunday; now I cannot get rid
of your image, try how I may! It is hard that a good woman should do
harm to a bad man; yet so it is. If you would only pray for me, Tess!”

The suppressed discontent of his manner was almost pitiable, and yet
Tess did not pity him.

“How can I pray for you,” she said, “when I am forbidden to believe
that the great Power who moves the world would alter His plans on my
account?”

“You really think that?”

“Yes. I have been cured of the presumption of thinking otherwise.”

“Cured? By whom?”

“By my husband, if I must tell.”

“Ah—your husband—your husband! How strange it seems! I remember you
hinted something of the sort the other day. What do you really believe
in these matters, Tess?” he asked. “You seem to have no
religion—perhaps owing to me.”

“But I have. Though I don’t believe in anything supernatural.”

D’Urberville looked at her with misgiving.

“Then do you think that the line I take is all wrong?”

“A good deal of it.”

“H’m—and yet I’ve felt so sure about it,” he said uneasily.

“I believe in the _spirit_ of the Sermon on the Mount, and so did my
dear husband.... But I don’t believe—”

Here she gave her negations.

“The fact is,” said d’Urberville drily, “whatever your dear husband
believed you accept, and whatever he rejected you reject, without the
least inquiry or reasoning on your own part. That’s just like you
women. Your mind is enslaved to his.”

“Ah, because he knew everything!” said she, with a triumphant
simplicity of faith in Angel Clare that the most perfect man could
hardly have deserved, much less her husband.

“Yes, but you should not take negative opinions wholesale from another
person like that. A pretty fellow he must be to teach you such
scepticism!”

“He never forced my judgement! He would never argue on the subject with
me! But I looked at it in this way; what he believed, after inquiring
deep into doctrines, was much more likely to be right than what I might
believe, who hadn’t looked into doctrines at all.”

“What used he to say? He must have said something?”

She reflected; and with her acute memory for the letter of Angel
Clare’s remarks, even when she did not comprehend their spirit, she
recalled a merciless polemical syllogism that she had heard him use
when, as it occasionally happened, he indulged in a species of thinking
aloud with her at his side. In delivering it she gave also Clare’s
accent and manner with reverential faithfulness.

“Say that again,” asked d’Urberville, who had listened with the
greatest attention.

She repeated the argument, and d’Urberville thoughtfully murmured the
words after her.

“Anything else?” he presently asked.

“He said at another time something like this”; and she gave another,
which might possibly have been paralleled in many a work of the
pedigree ranging from the _Dictionnaire Philosophique_ to Huxley’s
_Essays_.

“Ah—ha! How do you remember them?”

“I wanted to believe what he believed, though he didn’t wish me to; and
I managed to coax him to tell me a few of his thoughts. I can’t say I
quite understand that one; but I know it is right.”

“H’m. Fancy your being able to teach me what you don’t know yourself!”

He fell into thought.

“And so I threw in my spiritual lot with his,” she resumed. “I didn’t
wish it to be different. What’s good enough for him is good enough for
me.”

“Does he know that you are as big an infidel as he?”

“No—I never told him—if I am an infidel.”

“Well—you are better off to-day that I am, Tess, after all! You don’t
believe that you ought to preach my doctrine, and, therefore, do no
despite to your conscience in abstaining. I do believe I ought to
preach it, but, like the devils, I believe and tremble, for I suddenly
leave off preaching it, and give way to my passion for you.”

“How?”

“Why,” he said aridly; “I have come all the way here to see you to-day!
But I started from home to go to Casterbridge Fair, where I have
undertaken to preach the Word from a waggon at half-past two this
afternoon, and where all the brethren are expecting me this minute.
Here’s the announcement.”

He drew from his breast-pocket a poster whereon was printed the day,
hour, and place of meeting, at which he, d’Urberville, would preach the
Gospel as aforesaid.

“But how can you get there?” said Tess, looking at the clock.

“I cannot get there! I have come here.”

“What, you have really arranged to preach, and—”

“I have arranged to preach, and I shall not be there—by reason of my
burning desire to see a woman whom I once despised!—No, by my word and
truth, I never despised you; if I had I should not love you now! Why I
did not despise you was on account of your being unsmirched in spite of
all; you withdrew yourself from me so quickly and resolutely when you
saw the situation; you did not remain at my pleasure; so there was one
petticoat in the world for whom I had no contempt, and you are she. But
you may well despise me now! I thought I worshipped on the mountains,
but I find I still serve in the groves! Ha! ha!”

“O Alec d’Urberville! what does this mean? What have I done!”

“Done?” he said, with a soulless sneer in the word. “Nothing
intentionally. But you have been the means—the innocent means—of my
backsliding, as they call it. I ask myself, am I, indeed, one of those
‘servants of corruption’ who, ‘after they have escaped the pollutions
of the world, are again entangled therein and overcome’—whose latter
end is worse than their beginning?” He laid his hand on her shoulder.
“Tess, my girl, I was on the way to, at least, social salvation till I
saw you again!” he said freakishly shaking her, as if she were a child.
“And why then have you tempted me? I was firm as a man could be till I
saw those eyes and that mouth again—surely there never was such a
maddening mouth since Eve’s!” His voice sank, and a hot archness shot
from his own black eyes. “You temptress, Tess; you dear damned witch of
Babylon—I could not resist you as soon as I met you again!”

“I couldn’t help your seeing me again!” said Tess, recoiling.

“I know it—I repeat that I do not blame you. But the fact remains. When
I saw you ill-used on the farm that day I was nearly mad to think that
I had no legal right to protect you—that I could not have it; whilst he
who has it seems to neglect you utterly!”

“Don’t speak against him—he is absent!” she cried in much excitement.
“Treat him honourably—he has never wronged you! O leave his wife before
any scandal spreads that may do harm to his honest name!”

“I will—I will,” he said, like a man awakening from a luring dream. “I
have broken my engagement to preach to those poor drunken boobies at
the fair—it is the first time I have played such a practical joke. A
month ago I should have been horrified at such a possibility. I’ll go
away—to swear—and—ah, can I! to keep away.” Then, suddenly: “One clasp,
Tessy—one! Only for old friendship—”

“I am without defence. Alec! A good man’s honour is in my
keeping—think—be ashamed!”

“Pooh! Well, yes—yes!”

He clenched his lips, mortified with himself for his weakness. His eyes
were equally barren of worldly and religious faith. The corpses of
those old fitful passions which had lain inanimate amid the lines of
his face ever since his reformation seemed to wake and come together as
in a resurrection. He went out indeterminately.

Though d’Urberville had declared that this breach of his engagement
to-day was the simple backsliding of a believer, Tess’s words, as
echoed from Angel Clare, had made a deep impression upon him, and
continued to do so after he had left her. He moved on in silence, as if
his energies were benumbed by the hitherto undreamt-of possibility that
his position was untenable. Reason had had nothing to do with his
whimsical conversion, which was perhaps the mere freak of a careless
man in search of a new sensation, and temporarily impressed by his
mother’s death.

The drops of logic Tess had let fall into the sea of his enthusiasm
served to chill its effervescence to stagnation. He said to himself, as
he pondered again and again over the crystallized phrases that she had
handed on to him, “That clever fellow little thought that, by telling
her those things, he might be paving my way back to her!”


XLVII

It is the threshing of the last wheat-rick at Flintcomb-Ash farm. The
dawn of the March morning is singularly inexpressive, and there is
nothing to show where the eastern horizon lies. Against the twilight
rises the trapezoidal top of the stack, which has stood forlornly here
through the washing and bleaching of the wintry weather.

When Izz Huett and Tess arrived at the scene of operations only a
rustling denoted that others had preceded them; to which, as the light
increased, there were presently added the silhouettes of two men on the
summit. They were busily “unhaling” the rick, that is, stripping off
the thatch before beginning to throw down the sheaves; and while this
was in progress Izz and Tess, with the other women-workers, in their
whitey-brown pinners, stood waiting and shivering, Farmer Groby having
insisted upon their being on the spot thus early to get the job over if
possible by the end of the day. Close under the eaves of the stack, and
as yet barely visible, was the red tyrant that the women had come to
serve—a timber-framed construction, with straps and wheels
appertaining—the threshing-machine which, whilst it was going, kept up
a despotic demand upon the endurance of their muscles and nerves.

A little way off there was another indistinct figure; this one black,
with a sustained hiss that spoke of strength very much in reserve. The
long chimney running up beside an ash-tree, and the warmth which
radiated from the spot, explained without the necessity of much
daylight that here was the engine which was to act as the _primum
mobile_ of this little world. By the engine stood a dark, motionless
being, a sooty and grimy embodiment of tallness, in a sort of trance,
with a heap of coals by his side: it was the engine-man. The isolation
of his manner and colour lent him the appearance of a creature from
Tophet, who had strayed into the pellucid smokelessness of this region
of yellow grain and pale soil, with which he had nothing in common, to
amaze and to discompose its aborigines.

What he looked he felt. He was in the agricultural world, but not of
it. He served fire and smoke; these denizens of the fields served
vegetation, weather, frost, and sun. He travelled with his engine from
farm to farm, from county to county, for as yet the steam
threshing-machine was itinerant in this part of Wessex. He spoke in a
strange northern accent; his thoughts being turned inwards upon
himself, his eye on his iron charge, hardly perceiving the scenes
around him, and caring for them not at all: holding only strictly
necessary intercourse with the natives, as if some ancient doom
compelled him to wander here against his will in the service of his
Plutonic master. The long strap which ran from the driving-wheel of his
engine to the red thresher under the rick was the sole tie-line between
agriculture and him.

While they uncovered the sheaves he stood apathetic beside his portable
repository of force, round whose hot blackness the morning air
quivered. He had nothing to do with preparatory labour. His fire was
waiting incandescent, his steam was at high pressure, in a few seconds
he could make the long strap move at an invisible velocity. Beyond its
extent the environment might be corn, straw, or chaos; it was all the
same to him. If any of the autochthonous idlers asked him what he
called himself, he replied shortly, “an engineer.”

The rick was unhaled by full daylight; the men then took their places,
the women mounted, and the work began. Farmer Groby—or, as they called
him, “he”—had arrived ere this, and by his orders Tess was placed on
the platform of the machine, close to the man who fed it, her business
being to untie every sheaf of corn handed on to her by Izz Huett, who
stood next, but on the rick; so that the feeder could seize it and
spread it over the revolving drum, which whisked out every grain in one
moment.

They were soon in full progress, after a preparatory hitch or two,
which rejoiced the hearts of those who hated machinery. The work sped
on till breakfast time, when the thresher was stopped for half an hour;
and on starting again after the meal the whole supplementary strength
of the farm was thrown into the labour of constructing the straw-rick,
which began to grow beside the stack of corn. A hasty lunch was eaten
as they stood, without leaving their positions, and then another couple
of hours brought them near to dinner-time; the inexorable wheel
continuing to spin, and the penetrating hum of the thresher to thrill
to the very marrow all who were near the revolving wire-cage.

The old men on the rising straw-rick talked of the past days when they
had been accustomed to thresh with flails on the oaken barn-floor; when
everything, even to winnowing, was effected by hand-labour, which, to
their thinking, though slow, produced better results. Those, too, on
the corn-rick talked a little; but the perspiring ones at the machine,
including Tess, could not lighten their duties by the exchange of many
words. It was the ceaselessness of the work which tried her so
severely, and began to make her wish that she had never some to
Flintcomb-Ash. The women on the corn-rick—Marian, who was one of them,
in particular—could stop to drink ale or cold tea from the flagon now
and then, or to exchange a few gossiping remarks while they wiped their
faces or cleared the fragments of straw and husk from their clothing;
but for Tess there was no respite; for, as the drum never stopped, the
man who fed it could not stop, and she, who had to supply the man with
untied sheaves, could not stop either, unless Marian changed places
with her, which she sometimes did for half an hour in spite of Groby’s
objections that she was too slow-handed for a feeder.

For some probably economical reason it was usually a woman who was
chosen for this particular duty, and Groby gave as his motive in
selecting Tess that she was one of those who best combined strength
with quickness in untying, and both with staying power, and this may
have been true. The hum of the thresher, which prevented speech,
increased to a raving whenever the supply of corn fell short of the
regular quantity. As Tess and the man who fed could never turn their
heads she did not know that just before the dinner-hour a person had
come silently into the field by the gate, and had been standing under a
second rick watching the scene and Tess in particular. He was dressed
in a tweed suit of fashionable pattern, and he twirled a gay
walking-cane.

“Who is that?” said Izz Huett to Marian. She had at first addressed the
inquiry to Tess, but the latter could not hear it.

“Somebody’s fancy-man, I s’pose,” said Marian laconically.

“I’ll lay a guinea he’s after Tess.”

“O no. ’Tis a ranter pa’son who’s been sniffing after her lately; not a
dandy like this.”

“Well—this is the same man.”

“The same man as the preacher? But he’s quite different!”

“He hev left off his black coat and white neckercher, and hev cut off
his whiskers; but he’s the same man for all that.”

“D’ye really think so? Then I’ll tell her,” said Marian.

“Don’t. She’ll see him soon enough, good-now.”

“Well, I don’t think it at all right for him to join his preaching to
courting a married woman, even though her husband mid be abroad, and
she, in a sense, a widow.”

“Oh—he can do her no harm,” said Izz drily. “Her mind can no more be
heaved from that one place where it do bide than a stooded waggon from
the hole he’s in. Lord love ’ee, neither court-paying, nor preaching,
nor the seven thunders themselves, can wean a woman when ’twould be
better for her that she should be weaned.”

Dinner-time came, and the whirling ceased; whereupon Tess left her
post, her knees trembling so wretchedly with the shaking of the machine
that she could scarcely walk.

“You ought to het a quart o’ drink into ’ee, as I’ve done,” said
Marian. “You wouldn’t look so white then. Why, souls above us, your
face is as if you’d been hagrode!”

It occurred to the good-natured Marian that, as Tess was so tired, her
discovery of her visitor’s presence might have the bad effect of taking
away her appetite; and Marian was thinking of inducing Tess to descend
by a ladder on the further side of the stack when the gentleman came
forward and looked up.

Tess uttered a short little “Oh!” And a moment after she said, quickly,
“I shall eat my dinner here—right on the rick.”

Sometimes, when they were so far from their cottages, they all did
this; but as there was rather a keen wind going to-day, Marian and the
rest descended, and sat under the straw-stack.

The newcomer was, indeed, Alec d’Urberville, the late Evangelist,
despite his changed attire and aspect. It was obvious at a glance that
the original _Weltlust_ had come back; that he had restored himself, as
nearly as a man could do who had grown three or four years older, to
the old jaunty, slapdash guise under which Tess had first known her
admirer, and cousin so-called. Having decided to remain where she was,
Tess sat down among the bundles, out of sight of the ground, and began
her meal; till, by-and-by, she heard footsteps on the ladder, and
immediately after Alec appeared upon the stack—now an oblong and level
platform of sheaves. He strode across them, and sat down opposite of
her without a word.

Tess continued to eat her modest dinner, a slice of thick pancake which
she had brought with her. The other workfolk were by this time all
gathered under the rick, where the loose straw formed a comfortable
retreat.

“I am here again, as you see,” said d’Urberville.

“Why do you trouble me so!” she cried, reproach flashing from her very
finger-ends.

“_I_ trouble _you_? I think I may ask, why do you trouble me?”

“Sure, I don’t trouble you any-when!”

“You say you don’t? But you do! You haunt me. Those very eyes that you
turned upon me with such a bitter flash a moment ago, they come to me
just as you showed them then, in the night and in the day! Tess, ever
since you told me of that child of ours, it is just as if my feelings,
which have been flowing in a strong puritanical stream, had suddenly
found a way open in the direction of you, and had all at once gushed
through. The religious channel is left dry forthwith; and it is you who
have done it!”

She gazed in silence.

“What—you have given up your preaching entirely?” she asked. She had
gathered from Angel sufficient of the incredulity of modern thought to
despise flash enthusiasm; but, as a woman, she was somewhat appalled.

In affected severity d’Urberville continued—

“Entirely. I have broken every engagement since that afternoon I was to
address the drunkards at Casterbridge Fair. The deuce only knows what I
am thought of by the brethren. Ah-ha! The brethren! No doubt they pray
for me—weep for me; for they are kind people in their way. But what do
I care? How could I go on with the thing when I had lost my faith in
it?—it would have been hypocrisy of the basest kind! Among them I
should have stood like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were delivered over
to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. What a grand revenge
you have taken! I saw you innocent, and I deceived you. Four years
after, you find me a Christian enthusiast; you then work upon me,
perhaps to my complete perdition! But Tess, my coz, as I used to call
you, this is only my way of talking, and you must not look so horribly
concerned. Of course you have done nothing except retain your pretty
face and shapely figure. I saw it on the rick before you saw me—that
tight pinafore-thing sets it off, and that wing-bonnet—you field-girls
should never wear those bonnets if you wish to keep out of danger.” He
regarded her silently for a few moments, and with a short cynical laugh
resumed: “I believe that if the bachelor-apostle, whose deputy I
thought I was, had been tempted by such a pretty face, he would have
let go the plough for her sake as I do!”

Tess attempted to expostulate, but at this juncture all her fluency
failed her, and without heeding he added:

“Well, this paradise that you supply is perhaps as good as any other,
after all. But to speak seriously, Tess.” D’Urberville rose and came
nearer, reclining sideways amid the sheaves, and resting upon his
elbow. “Since I last saw you, I have been thinking of what you said
that _he_ said. I have come to the conclusion that there does seem
rather a want of common-sense in these threadbare old propositions; how
I could have been so fired by poor Parson Clare’s enthusiasm, and have
gone so madly to work, transcending even him, I cannot make out! As for
what you said last time, on the strength of your wonderful husband’s
intelligence—whose name you have never told me—about having what they
call an ethical system without any dogma, I don’t see my way to that at
all.”

“Why, you can have the religion of loving-kindness and purity at least,
if you can’t have—what do you call it—dogma.”

“O no! I’m a different sort of fellow from that! If there’s nobody to
say, ‘Do this, and it will be a good thing for you after you are dead;
do that, and if will be a bad thing for you,’ I can’t warm up. Hang it,
I am not going to feel responsible for my deeds and passions if there’s
nobody to be responsible to; and if I were you, my dear, I wouldn’t
either!”

She tried to argue, and tell him that he had mixed in his dull brain
two matters, theology and morals, which in the primitive days of
mankind had been quite distinct. But owing to Angel Clare’s reticence,
to her absolute want of training, and to her being a vessel of emotions
rather than reasons, she could not get on.

“Well, never mind,” he resumed. “Here I am, my love, as in the old
times!”

“Not as then—never as then—’tis different!” she entreated. “And there
was never warmth with me! O why didn’t you keep your faith, if the loss
of it has brought you to speak to me like this!”

“Because you’ve knocked it out of me; so the evil be upon your sweet
head! Your husband little thought how his teaching would recoil upon
him! Ha-ha—I’m awfully glad you have made an apostate of me all the
same! Tess, I am more taken with you than ever, and I pity you too. For
all your closeness, I see you are in a bad way—neglected by one who
ought to cherish you.”

She could not get her morsels of food down her throat; her lips were
dry, and she was ready to choke. The voices and laughs of the workfolk
eating and drinking under the rick came to her as if they were a
quarter of a mile off.

“It is cruelty to me!” she said. “How—how can you treat me to this
talk, if you care ever so little for me?”

“True, true,” he said, wincing a little. “I did not come to reproach
you for my deeds. I came Tess, to say that I don’t like you to be
working like this, and I have come on purpose for you. You say you have
a husband who is not I. Well, perhaps you have; but I’ve never seen
him, and you’ve not told me his name; and altogether he seems rather a
mythological personage. However, even if you have one, I think I am
nearer to you than he is. I, at any rate, try to help you out of
trouble, but he does not, bless his invisible face! The words of the
stern prophet Hosea that I used to read come back to me. Don’t you know
them, Tess?—‘And she shall follow after her lover, but she shall not
overtake him; and she shall seek him, but shall not find him; then
shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was
it better with me than now!’ ... Tess, my trap is waiting just under
the hill, and—darling mine, not his!—you know the rest.”

Her face had been rising to a dull crimson fire while he spoke; but she
did not answer.

“You have been the cause of my backsliding,” he continued, stretching
his arm towards her waist; “you should be willing to share it, and
leave that mule you call husband for ever.”

One of her leather gloves, which she had taken off to eat her
skimmer-cake, lay in her lap, and without the slightest warning she
passionately swung the glove by the gauntlet directly in his face. It
was heavy and thick as a warrior’s, and it struck him flat on the
mouth. Fancy might have regarded the act as the recrudescence of a
trick in which her armed progenitors were not unpractised. Alec
fiercely started up from his reclining position. A scarlet oozing
appeared where her blow had alighted, and in a moment the blood began
dropping from his mouth upon the straw. But he soon controlled himself,
calmly drew his handkerchief from his pocket, and mopped his bleeding
lips.

She too had sprung up, but she sank down again. “Now, punish me!” she
said, turning up her eyes to him with the hopeless defiance of the
sparrow’s gaze before its captor twists its neck. “Whip me, crush me;
you need not mind those people under the rick! I shall not cry out.
Once victim, always victim—that’s the law!”

“O no, no, Tess,” he said blandly. “I can make full allowance for this.
Yet you most unjustly forget one thing, that I would have married you
if you had not put it out of my power to do so. Did I not ask you
flatly to be my wife—hey? Answer me.”

“You did.”

“And you cannot be. But remember one thing!” His voice hardened as his
temper got the better of him with the recollection of his sincerity in
asking her and her present ingratitude, and he stepped across to her
side and held her by the shoulders, so that she shook under his grasp.
“Remember, my lady, I was your master once! I will be your master
again. If you are any man’s wife you are mine!”

The threshers now began to stir below.

“So much for our quarrel,” he said, letting her go. “Now I shall leave
you, and shall come again for your answer during the afternoon. You
don’t know me yet! But I know you.”

She had not spoken again, remaining as if stunned. D’Urberville
retreated over the sheaves, and descended the ladder, while the workers
below rose and stretched their arms, and shook down the beer they had
drunk. Then the threshing-machine started afresh; and amid the renewed
rustle of the straw Tess resumed her position by the buzzing drum as
one in a dream, untying sheaf after sheaf in endless succession.


XLVIII

In the afternoon the farmer made it known that the rick was to be
finished that night, since there was a moon by which they could see to
work, and the man with the engine was engaged for another farm on the
morrow. Hence the twanging and humming and rustling proceeded with even
less intermission than usual.

It was not till “nammet”-time, about three o’clock, that Tess raised
her eyes and gave a momentary glance round. She felt but little
surprise at seeing that Alec d’Urberville had come back, and was
standing under the hedge by the gate. He had seen her lift her eyes,
and waved his hand urbanely to her, while he blew her a kiss. It meant
that their quarrel was over. Tess looked down again, and carefully
abstained from gazing in that direction.

Thus the afternoon dragged on. The wheat-rick shrank lower, and the
straw-rick grew higher, and the corn-sacks were carted away. At six
o’clock the wheat-rick was about shoulder-high from the ground. But the
unthreshed sheaves remaining untouched seemed countless still,
notwithstanding the enormous numbers that had been gulped down by the
insatiable swallower, fed by the man and Tess, through whose two young
hands the greater part of them had passed. And the immense stack of
straw where in the morning there had been nothing, appeared as the
_faeces_ of the same buzzing red glutton. From the west sky a wrathful
shine—all that wild March could afford in the way of sunset—had burst
forth after the cloudy day, flooding the tired and sticky faces of the
threshers, and dyeing them with a coppery light, as also the flapping
garments of the women, which clung to them like dull flames.

A panting ache ran through the rick. The man who fed was weary, and
Tess could see that the red nape of his neck was encrusted with dirt
and husks. She still stood at her post, her flushed and perspiring face
coated with the corndust, and her white bonnet embrowned by it. She was
the only woman whose place was upon the machine so as to be shaken
bodily by its spinning, and the decrease of the stack now separated her
from Marian and Izz, and prevented their changing duties with her as
they had done. The incessant quivering, in which every fibre of her
frame participated, had thrown her into a stupefied reverie in which
her arms worked on independently of her consciousness. She hardly knew
where she was, and did not hear Izz Huett tell her from below that her
hair was tumbling down.

By degrees the freshest among them began to grow cadaverous and
saucer-eyed. Whenever Tess lifted her head she beheld always the great
upgrown straw-stack, with the men in shirt-sleeves upon it, against the
gray north sky; in front of it the long red elevator like a Jacob’s
ladder, on which a perpetual stream of threshed straw ascended, a
yellow river running uphill, and spouting out on the top of the rick.

She knew that Alec d’Urberville was still on the scene, observing her
from some point or other, though she could not say where. There was an
excuse for his remaining, for when the threshed rick drew near its
final sheaves a little ratting was always done, and men unconnected
with the threshing sometimes dropped in for that performance—sporting
characters of all descriptions, gents with terriers and facetious
pipes, roughs with sticks and stones.

But there was another hour’s work before the layer of live rats at the
base of the stack would be reached; and as the evening light in the
direction of the Giant’s Hill by Abbot’s-Cernel dissolved away, the
white-faced moon of the season arose from the horizon that lay towards
Middleton Abbey and Shottsford on the other side. For the last hour or
two Marian had felt uneasy about Tess, whom she could not get near
enough to speak to, the other women having kept up their strength by
drinking ale, and Tess having done without it through traditionary
dread, owing to its results at her home in childhood. But Tess still
kept going: if she could not fill her part she would have to leave; and
this contingency, which she would have regarded with equanimity and
even with relief a month or two earlier, had become a terror since
d’Urberville had begun to hover round her.

The sheaf-pitchers and feeders had now worked the rick so low that
people on the ground could talk to them. To Tess’s surprise Farmer
Groby came up on the machine to her, and said that if she desired to
join her friend he did not wish her to keep on any longer, and would
send somebody else to take her place. The “friend” was d’Urberville,
she knew, and also that this concession had been granted in obedience
to the request of that friend, or enemy. She shook her head and toiled
on.

The time for the rat-catching arrived at last, and the hunt began. The
creatures had crept downwards with the subsidence of the rick till they
were all together at the bottom, and being now uncovered from their
last refuge, they ran across the open ground in all directions, a loud
shriek from the by-this-time half-tipsy Marian informing her companions
that one of the rats had invaded her person—a terror which the rest of
the women had guarded against by various schemes of skirt-tucking and
self-elevation. The rat was at last dislodged, and, amid the barking of
dogs, masculine shouts, feminine screams, oaths, stampings, and
confusion as of Pandemonium, Tess untied her last sheaf; the drum
slowed, the whizzing ceased, and she stepped from the machine to the
ground.

Her lover, who had only looked on at the rat-catching, was promptly at
her side.

“What—after all—my insulting slap, too!” said she in an underbreath.
She was so utterly exhausted that she had not strength to speak louder.

“I should indeed be foolish to feel offended at anything you say or
do,” he answered, in the seductive voice of the Trantridge time. “How
the little limbs tremble! You are as weak as a bled calf, you know you
are; and yet you need have done nothing since I arrived. How could you
be so obstinate? However, I have told the farmer that he has no right
to employ women at steam-threshing. It is not proper work for them; and
on all the better class of farms it has been given up, as he knows very
well. I will walk with you as far as your home.”

“O yes,” she answered with a jaded gait. “Walk wi’ me if you will! I do
bear in mind that you came to marry me before you knew o’ my state.
Perhaps—perhaps you are a little better and kinder than I have been
thinking you were. Whatever is meant as kindness I am grateful for;
whatever is meant in any other way I am angered at. I cannot sense your
meaning sometimes.”

“If I cannot legitimize our former relations at least I can assist you.
And I will do it with much more regard for your feelings than I
formerly showed. My religious mania, or whatever it was, is over. But I
retain a little good nature; I hope I do. Now, Tess, by all that’s
tender and strong between man and woman, trust me! I have enough and
more than enough to put you out of anxiety, both for yourself and your
parents and sisters. I can make them all comfortable if you will only
show confidence in me.”

“Have you seen ’em lately?” she quickly inquired.

“Yes. They didn’t know where you were. It was only by chance that I
found you here.”

The cold moon looked aslant upon Tess’s fagged face between the twigs
of the garden-hedge as she paused outside the cottage which was her
temporary home, d’Urberville pausing beside her.

“Don’t mention my little brothers and sisters—don’t make me break down
quite!” she said. “If you want to help them—God knows they need it—do
it without telling me. But no, no!” she cried. “I will take nothing
from you, either for them or for me!”

He did not accompany her further, since, as she lived with the
household, all was public indoors. No sooner had she herself entered,
laved herself in a washing-tub, and shared supper with the family than
she fell into thought, and withdrawing to the table under the wall, by
the light of her own little lamp wrote in a passionate mood—

    My own Husband,

    Let me call you so—I must—even if it makes you angry to think of
    such an unworthy wife as I. I must cry to you in my trouble—I have
    no one else! I am so exposed to temptation, Angel. I fear to say
    who it is, and I do not like to write about it at all. But I cling
    to you in a way you cannot think! Can you not come to me now, at
    once, before anything terrible happens? O, I know you cannot,
    because you are so far away! I think I must die if you do not come
    soon, or tell me to come to you. The punishment you have measured
    out to me is deserved—I do know that—well deserved—and you are
    right and just to be angry with me. But, Angel, please, please, not
    to be just—only a little kind to me, even if I do not deserve it,
    and come to me! If you would come, I could die in your arms! I
    would be well content to do that if so be you had forgiven me!

    Angel, I live entirely for you. I love you too much to blame you
    for going away, and I know it was necessary you should find a farm.
    Do not think I shall say a word of sting or bitterness. Only come
    back to me. I am desolate without you, my darling, O, so desolate!
    I do not mind having to work: but if you will send me one little
    line, and say, “_I am coming soon_”, I will bide on, Angel—O, so
    cheerfully!

    It has been so much my religion ever since we were married to be
    faithful to you in every thought and look, that even when a man
    speaks a compliment to me before I am aware, it seems wronging you.
    Have you never felt one little bit of what you used to feel when we
    were at the dairy? If you have, how can you keep away from me? I am
    the same woman, Angel, as you fell in love with; yes, the very
    same!—not the one you disliked but never saw. What was the past to
    me as soon as I met you? It was a dead thing altogether. I became
    another woman, filled full of new life from you. How could I be the
    early one? Why do you not see this? Dear, if you would only be a
    little more conceited, and believe in yourself so far as to see
    that you were strong enough to work this change in me, you would
    perhaps be in a mind to come to me, your poor wife.

    How silly I was in my happiness when I thought I could trust you
    always to love me! I ought to have known that such as that was not
    for poor me. But I am sick at heart, not only for old times, but
    for the present. Think—think how it do hurt my heart not to see you
    ever—ever! Ah, if I could only make your dear heart ache one little
    minute of each day as mine does every day and all day long, it
    might lead you to show pity to your poor lonely one.

    People still say that I am rather pretty, Angel (handsome is the
    word they use, since I wish to be truthful). Perhaps I am what they
    say. But I do not value my good looks; I only like to have them
    because they belong to you, my dear, and that there may be at least
    one thing about me worth your having. So much have I felt this,
    that when I met with annoyance on account of the same, I tied up my
    face in a bandage as long as people would believe in it. O Angel, I
    tell you all this not from vanity—you will certainly know I do
    not—but only that you may come to me!

    If you really cannot come to me, will you let me come to you? I am,
    as I say, worried, pressed to do what I will not do. It cannot be
    that I shall yield one inch, yet I am in terror as to what an
    accident might lead to, and I so defenceless on account of my first
    error. I cannot say more about this—it makes me too miserable. But
    if I break down by falling into some fearful snare, my last state
    will be worse than my first. O God, I cannot think of it! Let me
    come at once, or at once come to me!

    I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your servant, if
    I may not as your wife; so that I could only be near you, and get
    glimpses of you, and think of you as mine.

    The daylight has nothing to show me, since you are not here, and I
    don’t like to see the rooks and starlings in the field, because I
    grieve and grieve to miss you who used to see them with me. I long
    for only one thing in heaven or earth or under the earth, to meet
    you, my own dear! Come to me—come to me, and save me from what
    threatens me!—

    Your faithful heartbroken
        Tess


XLIX

The appeal duly found its way to the breakfast-table of the quiet
Vicarage to the westward, in that valley where the air is so soft and
the soil so rich that the effort of growth requires but superficial aid
by comparison with the tillage at Flintcomb-Ash, and where to Tess the
human world seemed so different (though it was much the same). It was
purely for security that she had been requested by Angel to send her
communications through his father, whom he kept pretty well informed of
his changing addresses in the country he had gone to exploit for
himself with a heavy heart.

“Now,” said old Mr Clare to his wife, when he had read the envelope,
“if Angel proposes leaving Rio for a visit home at the end of next
month, as he told us that he hoped to do, I think this may hasten his
plans; for I believe it to be from his wife.” He breathed deeply at the
thought of her; and the letter was redirected to be promptly sent on to
Angel.

“Dear fellow, I hope he will get home safely,” murmured Mrs Clare. “To
my dying day I shall feel that he has been ill-used. You should have
sent him to Cambridge in spite of his want of faith and given him the
same chance as the other boys had. He would have grown out of it under
proper influence, and perhaps would have taken Orders after all. Church
or no Church, it would have been fairer to him.”

This was the only wail with which Mrs Clare ever disturbed her
husband’s peace in respect to their sons. And she did not vent this
often; for she was as considerate as she was devout, and knew that his
mind too was troubled by doubts as to his justice in this matter. Only
too often had she heard him lying awake at night, stifling sighs for
Angel with prayers. But the uncompromising Evangelical did not even now
hold that he would have been justified in giving his son, an
unbeliever, the same academic advantages that he had given to the two
others, when it was possible, if not probable, that those very
advantages might have been used to decry the doctrines which he had
made it his life’s mission and desire to propagate, and the mission of
his ordained sons likewise. To put with one hand a pedestal under the
feet of the two faithful ones, and with the other to exalt the
unfaithful by the same artificial means, he deemed to be alike
inconsistent with his convictions, his position, and his hopes.
Nevertheless, he loved his misnamed Angel, and in secret mourned over
this treatment of him as Abraham might have mourned over the doomed
Isaac while they went up the hill together. His silent self-generated
regrets were far bitterer than the reproaches which his wife rendered
audible.

They blamed themselves for this unlucky marriage. If Angel had never
been destined for a farmer he would never have been thrown with
agricultural girls. They did not distinctly know what had separated him
and his wife, nor the date on which the separation had taken place. At
first they had supposed it must be something of the nature of a serious
aversion. But in his later letters he occasionally alluded to the
intention of coming home to fetch her; from which expressions they
hoped the division might not owe its origin to anything so hopelessly
permanent as that. He had told them that she was with her relatives,
and in their doubts they had decided not to intrude into a situation
which they knew no way of bettering.

The eyes for which Tess’s letter was intended were gazing at this time
on a limitless expanse of country from the back of a mule which was
bearing him from the interior of the South-American Continent towards
the coast. His experiences of this strange land had been sad. The
severe illness from which he had suffered shortly after his arrival had
never wholly left him, and he had by degrees almost decided to
relinquish his hope of farming here, though, as long as the bare
possibility existed of his remaining, he kept this change of view a
secret from his parents.

The crowds of agricultural labourers who had come out to the country in
his wake, dazzled by representations of easy independence, had
suffered, died, and wasted away. He would see mothers from English
farms trudging along with their infants in their arms, when the child
would be stricken with fever and would die; the mother would pause to
dig a hole in the loose earth with her bare hands, would bury the babe
therein with the same natural grave-tools, shed one tear, and again
trudge on.

Angel’s original intention had not been emigration to Brazil but a
northern or eastern farm in his own country. He had come to this place
in a fit of desperation, the Brazil movement among the English
agriculturists having by chance coincided with his desire to escape
from his past existence.

During this time of absence he had mentally aged a dozen years. What
arrested him now as of value in life was less its beauty than its
pathos. Having long discredited the old systems of mysticism, he now
began to discredit the old appraisements of morality. He thought they
wanted readjusting. Who was the moral man? Still more pertinently, who
was the moral woman? The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only
in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history
lay, not among things done, but among things willed.

How, then, about Tess?

Viewing her in these lights, a regret for his hasty judgement began to
oppress him. Did he reject her eternally, or did he not? He could no
longer say that he would always reject her, and not to say that was in
spirit to accept her now.

This growing fondness for her memory coincided in point of time with
her residence at Flintcomb-Ash, but it was before she had felt herself
at liberty to trouble him with a word about her circumstances or her
feelings. He was greatly perplexed; and in his perplexity as to her
motives in withholding intelligence, he did not inquire. Thus her
silence of docility was misinterpreted. How much it really said if he
had understood!—that she adhered with literal exactness to orders which
he had given and forgotten; that despite her natural fearlessness she
asserted no rights, admitted his judgement to be in every respect the
true one, and bent her head dumbly thereto.

In the before-mentioned journey by mules through the interior of the
country, another man rode beside him. Angel’s companion was also an
Englishman, bent on the same errand, though he came from another part
of the island. They were both in a state of mental depression, and they
spoke of home affairs. Confidence begat confidence. With that curious
tendency evinced by men, more especially when in distant lands, to
entrust to strangers details of their lives which they would on no
account mention to friends, Angel admitted to this man as they rode
along the sorrowful facts of his marriage.

The stranger had sojourned in many more lands and among many more
peoples than Angel; to his cosmopolitan mind such deviations from the
social norm, so immense to domesticity, were no more than are the
irregularities of vale and mountain-chain to the whole terrestrial
curve. He viewed the matter in quite a different light from Angel;
thought that what Tess had been was of no importance beside what she
would be, and plainly told Clare that he was wrong in coming away from
her.

The next day they were drenched in a thunder-storm. Angel’s companion
was struck down with fever, and died by the week’s end. Clare waited a
few hours to bury him, and then went on his way.

The cursory remarks of the large-minded stranger, of whom he knew
absolutely nothing beyond a commonplace name, were sublimed by his
death, and influenced Clare more than all the reasoned ethics of the
philosophers. His own parochialism made him ashamed by its contrast.
His inconsistencies rushed upon him in a flood. He had persistently
elevated Hellenic Paganism at the expense of Christianity; yet in that
civilization an illegal surrender was not certain disesteem. Surely
then he might have regarded that abhorrence of the un-intact state,
which he had inherited with the creed of mysticism, as at least open to
correction when the result was due to treachery. A remorse struck into
him. The words of Izz Huett, never quite stilled in his memory, came
back to him. He had asked Izz if she loved him, and she had replied in
the affirmative. Did she love him more than Tess did? No, she had
replied; Tess would lay down her life for him, and she herself could do
no more.

He thought of Tess as she had appeared on the day of the wedding. How
her eyes had lingered upon him; how she had hung upon his words as if
they were a god’s! And during the terrible evening over the hearth,
when her simple soul uncovered itself to his, how pitiful her face had
looked by the rays of the fire, in her inability to realize that his
love and protection could possibly be withdrawn.

Thus from being her critic he grew to be her advocate. Cynical things
he had uttered to himself about her; but no man can be always a cynic
and live; and he withdrew them. The mistake of expressing them had
arisen from his allowing himself to be influenced by general principles
to the disregard of the particular instance.

But the reasoning is somewhat musty; lovers and husbands have gone over
the ground before to-day. Clare had been harsh towards her; there is no
doubt of it. Men are too often harsh with women they love or have
loved; women with men. And yet these harshnesses are tenderness itself
when compared with the universal harshness out of which they grow; the
harshness of the position towards the temperament, of the means towards
the aims, of to-day towards yesterday, of hereafter towards to-day.

The historic interest of her family—that masterful line of
d’Urbervilles—whom he had despised as a spent force, touched his
sentiments now. Why had he not known the difference between the
political value and the imaginative value of these things? In the
latter aspect her d’Urberville descent was a fact of great dimensions;
worthless to economics, it was a most useful ingredient to the dreamer,
to the moralizer on declines and falls. It was a fact that would soon
be forgotten—that bit of distinction in poor Tess’s blood and name, and
oblivion would fall upon her hereditary link with the marble monuments
and leaded skeletons at Kingsbere. So does Time ruthlessly destroy his
own romances. In recalling her face again and again, he thought now
that he could see therein a flash of the dignity which must have graced
her grand-dames; and the vision sent that _aura_ through his veins
which he had formerly felt, and which left behind it a sense of
sickness.

Despite her not inviolate past, what still abode in such a woman as
Tess outvalued the freshness of her fellows. Was not the gleaning of
the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer?

So spoke love renascent, preparing the way for Tess’s devoted
outpouring, which was then just being forwarded to him by his father;
though owing to his distance inland it was to be a long time in
reaching him.

Meanwhile the writer’s expectation that Angel would come in response to
the entreaty was alternately great and small. What lessened it was that
the facts of her life which had led to the parting had not
changed—could never change; and that, if her presence had not
attenuated them, her absence could not. Nevertheless she addressed her
mind to the tender question of what she could do to please him best if
he should arrive. Sighs were expended on the wish that she had taken
more notice of the tunes he played on his harp, that she had inquired
more curiously of him which were his favourite ballads among those the
country-girls sang. She indirectly inquired of Amby Seedling, who had
followed Izz from Talbothays, and by chance Amby remembered that,
amongst the snatches of melody in which they had indulged at the
dairyman’s, to induce the cows to let down their milk, Clare had seemed
to like “Cupid’s Gardens”, “I have parks, I have hounds”, and “The
break o’ the day”; and had seemed not to care for “The Tailor’s
Breeches” and “Such a beauty I did grow”, excellent ditties as they
were.

To perfect the ballads was now her whimsical desire. She practised them
privately at odd moments, especially “The break o’ the day”:

    Arise, arise, arise!
    And pick your love a posy,
    All o’ the sweetest flowers
    That in the garden grow.
    The turtle doves and sma’ birds
    In every bough a-building,
    So early in the May-time
    At the break o’ the day!

It would have melted the heart of a stone to hear her singing these
ditties whenever she worked apart from the rest of the girls in this
cold dry time; the tears running down her cheeks all the while at the
thought that perhaps he would not, after all, come to hear her, and the
simple silly words of the songs resounding in painful mockery of the
aching heart of the singer.

Tess was so wrapt up in this fanciful dream that she seemed not to know
how the season was advancing; that the days had lengthened, that
Lady-Day was at hand, and would soon be followed by Old Lady-Day, the
end of her term here.

But before the quarter-day had quite come, something happened which
made Tess think of far different matters. She was at her lodging as
usual one evening, sitting in the downstairs room with the rest of the
family, when somebody knocked at the door and inquired for Tess.
Through the doorway she saw against the declining light a figure with
the height of a woman and the breadth of a child, a tall, thin, girlish
creature whom she did not recognize in the twilight till the girl said
“Tess!”

“What—is it ’Liza-Lu?” asked Tess, in startled accents. Her sister,
whom a little over a year ago she had left at home as a child, had
sprung up by a sudden shoot to a form of this presentation, of which as
yet Lu seemed herself scarce able to understand the meaning. Her thin
legs, visible below her once-long frock, now short by her growing, and
her uncomfortable hands and arms revealed her youth and inexperience.

“Yes, I have been traipsing about all day, Tess,” said Lu, with
unemotional gravity, “a-trying to find ’ee; and I’m very tired.”

“What is the matter at home?”

“Mother is took very bad, and the doctor says she’s dying, and as
father is not very well neither, and says ’tis wrong for a man of such
a high family as his to slave and drave at common labouring work, we
don’t know what to do.”

Tess stood in reverie a long time before she thought of asking ’Liza-Lu
to come in and sit down. When she had done so, and ’Liza-Lu was having
some tea, she came to a decision. It was imperative that she should go
home. Her agreement did not end till Old Lady-Day, the sixth of April,
but as the interval thereto was not a long one she resolved to run the
risk of starting at once.

To go that night would be a gain of twelve-hours; but her sister was
too tired to undertake such a distance till the morrow. Tess ran down
to where Marian and Izz lived, informed them of what had happened, and
begged them to make the best of her case to the farmer. Returning, she
got Lu a supper, and after that, having tucked the younger into her own
bed, packed up as many of her belongings as would go into a withy
basket, and started, directing Lu to follow her next morning.


L

She plunged into the chilly equinoctial darkness as the clock struck
ten, for her fifteen miles’ walk under the steely stars. In lonely
districts night is a protection rather than a danger to a noiseless
pedestrian, and knowing this, Tess pursued the nearest course along
by-lanes that she would almost have feared in the day-time; but
marauders were wanting now, and spectral fears were driven out of her
mind by thoughts of her mother. Thus she proceeded mile after mile,
ascending and descending till she came to Bulbarrow, and about midnight
looked from that height into the abyss of chaotic shade which was all
that revealed itself of the vale on whose further side she was born.
Having already traversed about five miles on the upland, she had now
some ten or eleven in the lowland before her journey would be finished.
The winding road downwards became just visible to her under the wan
starlight as she followed it, and soon she paced a soil so contrasting
with that above it that the difference was perceptible to the tread and
to the smell. It was the heavy clay land of Blackmoor Vale, and a part
of the Vale to which turnpike-roads had never penetrated. Superstitions
linger longest on these heavy soils. Having once been forest, at this
shadowy time it seemed to assert something of its old character, the
far and the near being blended, and every tree and tall hedge making
the most of its presence. The harts that had been hunted here, the
witches that had been pricked and ducked, the green-spangled fairies
that “whickered” at you as you passed;—the place teemed with beliefs in
them still, and they formed an impish multitude now.

At Nuttlebury she passed the village inn, whose sign creaked in
response to the greeting of her footsteps, which not a human soul heard
but herself. Under the thatched roofs her mind’s eye beheld relaxed
tendons and flaccid muscles, spread out in the darkness beneath
coverlets made of little purple patchwork squares, and undergoing a
bracing process at the hands of sleep for renewed labour on the morrow,
as soon as a hint of pink nebulosity appeared on Hambledon Hill.

At three she turned the last corner of the maze of lanes she had
threaded, and entered Marlott, passing the field in which as a
club-girl she had first seen Angel Clare, when he had not danced with
her; the sense of disappointment remained with her yet. In the
direction of her mother’s house she saw a light. It came from the
bedroom window, and a branch waved in front of it and made it wink at
her. As soon as she could discern the outline of the house—newly
thatched with her money—it had all its old effect upon Tess’s
imagination. Part of her body and life it ever seemed to be; the slope
of its dormers, the finish of its gables, the broken courses of brick
which topped the chimney, all had something in common with her personal
character. A stupefaction had come into these features, to her regard;
it meant the illness of her mother.

She opened the door so softly as to disturb nobody; the lower room was
vacant, but the neighbour who was sitting up with her mother came to
the top of the stairs, and whispered that Mrs Durbeyfield was no
better, though she was sleeping just then. Tess prepared herself a
breakfast, and then took her place as nurse in her mother’s chamber.

In the morning, when she contemplated the children, they had all a
curiously elongated look; although she had been away little more than a
year, their growth was astounding; and the necessity of applying
herself heart and soul to their needs took her out of her own cares.

Her father’s ill-health was the same indefinite kind, and he sat in his
chair as usual. But the day after her arrival he was unusually bright.
He had a rational scheme for living, and Tess asked him what it was.

“I’m thinking of sending round to all the old antiqueerians in this
part of England,” he said, “asking them to subscribe to a fund to
maintain me. I’m sure they’d see it as a romantical, artistical, and
proper thing to do. They spend lots o’ money in keeping up old ruins,
and finding the bones o’ things, and such like; and living remains must
be more interesting to ’em still, if they only knowed of me. Would that
somebody would go round and tell ’em what there is living among ’em,
and they thinking nothing of him! If Pa’son Tringham, who discovered
me, had lived, he’d ha’ done it, I’m sure.”

Tess postponed her arguments on this high project till she had grappled
with pressing matters in hand, which seemed little improved by her
remittances. When indoor necessities had been eased, she turned her
attention to external things. It was now the season for planting and
sowing; many gardens and allotments of the villagers had already
received their spring tillage; but the garden and the allotment of the
Durbeyfields were behindhand. She found, to her dismay, that this was
owing to their having eaten all the seed potatoes,—that last lapse of
the improvident. At the earliest moment she obtained what others she
could procure, and in a few days her father was well enough to see to
the garden, under Tess’s persuasive efforts: while she herself
undertook the allotment-plot which they rented in a field a couple of
hundred yards out of the village.

She liked doing it after the confinement of the sick chamber, where she
was not now required by reason of her mother’s improvement. Violent
motion relieved thought. The plot of ground was in a high, dry, open
enclosure, where there were forty or fifty such pieces, and where
labour was at its briskest when the hired labour of the day had ended.
Digging began usually at six o’clock and extended indefinitely into the
dusk or moonlight. Just now heaps of dead weeds and refuse were burning
on many of the plots, the dry weather favouring their combustion.

One fine day Tess and ’Liza-Lu worked on here with their neighbours
till the last rays of the sun smote flat upon the white pegs that
divided the plots. As soon as twilight succeeded to sunset the flare of
the couch-grass and cabbage-stalk fires began to light up the
allotments fitfully, their outlines appearing and disappearing under
the dense smoke as wafted by the wind. When a fire glowed, banks of
smoke, blown level along the ground, would themselves become
illuminated to an opaque lustre, screening the workpeople from one
another; and the meaning of the “pillar of a cloud”, which was a wall
by day and a light by night, could be understood.

As evening thickened, some of the gardening men and women gave over for
the night, but the greater number remained to get their planting done,
Tess being among them, though she sent her sister home. It was on one
of the couch-burning plots that she laboured with her fork, its four
shining prongs resounding against the stones and dry clods in little
clicks. Sometimes she was completely involved in the smoke of her fire;
then it would leave her figure free, irradiated by the brassy glare
from the heap. She was oddly dressed to-night, and presented a somewhat
staring aspect, her attire being a gown bleached by many washings, with
a short black jacket over it, the effect of the whole being that of a
wedding and funeral guest in one. The women further back wore white
aprons, which, with their pale faces, were all that could be seen of
them in the gloom, except when at moments they caught a flash from the
flames.

Westward, the wiry boughs of the bare thorn hedge which formed the
boundary of the field rose against the pale opalescence of the lower
sky. Above, Jupiter hung like a full-blown jonquil, so bright as almost
to throw a shade. A few small nondescript stars were appearing
elsewhere. In the distance a dog barked, and wheels occasionally
rattled along the dry road.

Still the prongs continued to click assiduously, for it was not late;
and though the air was fresh and keen there was a whisper of spring in
it that cheered the workers on. Something in the place, the hours, the
crackling fires, the fantastic mysteries of light and shade, made
others as well as Tess enjoy being there. Nightfall, which in the frost
of winter comes as a fiend and in the warmth of summer as a lover, came
as a tranquillizer on this March day.

Nobody looked at his or her companions. The eyes of all were on the
soil as its turned surface was revealed by the fires. Hence as Tess
stirred the clods and sang her foolish little songs with scarce now a
hope that Clare would ever hear them, she did not for a long time
notice the person who worked nearest to her—a man in a long smockfrock
who, she found, was forking the same plot as herself, and whom she
supposed her father had sent there to advance the work. She became more
conscious of him when the direction of his digging brought him closer.
Sometimes the smoke divided them; then it swerved, and the two were
visible to each other but divided from all the rest.

Tess did not speak to her fellow-worker, nor did he speak to her. Nor
did she think of him further than to recollect that he had not been
there when it was broad daylight, and that she did not know him as any
one of the Marlott labourers, which was no wonder, her absences having
been so long and frequent of late years. By-and-by he dug so close to
her that the fire-beams were reflected as distinctly from the steel
prongs of his fork as from her own. On going up to the fire to throw a
pitch of dead weeds upon it, she found that he did the same on the
other side. The fire flared up, and she beheld the face of
d’Urberville.

The unexpectedness of his presence, the grotesqueness of his appearance
in a gathered smockfrock, such as was now worn only by the most
old-fashioned of the labourers, had a ghastly comicality that chilled
her as to its bearing. D’Urberville emitted a low, long laugh.

“If I were inclined to joke, I should say, How much this seems like
Paradise!” he remarked whimsically, looking at her with an inclined
head.

“What do you say?” she weakly asked.

“A jester might say this is just like Paradise. You are Eve, and I am
the old Other One come to tempt you in the disguise of an inferior
animal. I used to be quite up in that scene of Milton’s when I was
theological. Some of it goes—

    ‘Empress, the way is ready, and not long,
    Beyond a row of myrtles....
    ... If thou accept
    My conduct, I can bring thee thither soon.’
    ‘Lead then,’ said Eve.

“And so on. My dear Tess, I am only putting this to you as a thing that
you might have supposed or said quite untruly, because you think so
badly of me.”

“I never said you were Satan, or thought it. I don’t think of you in
that way at all. My thoughts of you are quite cold, except when you
affront me. What, did you come digging here entirely because of me?”

“Entirely. To see you; nothing more. The smockfrock, which I saw
hanging for sale as I came along, was an afterthought, that I mightn’t
be noticed. I come to protest against your working like this.”

“But I like doing it—it is for my father.”

“Your engagement at the other place is ended?”

“Yes.”

“Where are you going to next? To join your dear husband?”

She could not bear the humiliating reminder.

“O—I don’t know!” she said bitterly. “I have no husband!”

“It is quite true—in the sense you mean. But you have a friend, and I
have determined that you shall be comfortable in spite of yourself.
When you get down to your house you will see what I have sent there for
you.”

“O, Alec, I wish you wouldn’t give me anything at all! I cannot take it
from you! I don’t like—it is not right!”

“It _is_ right!” he cried lightly. “I am not going to see a woman whom
I feel so tenderly for as I do for you in trouble without trying to
help her.”

“But I am very well off! I am only in trouble about—about—not about
living at all!”

She turned, and desperately resumed her digging, tears dripping upon
the fork-handle and upon the clods.

“About the children—your brothers and sisters,” he resumed. “I’ve been
thinking of them.”

Tess’s heart quivered—he was touching her in a weak place. He had
divined her chief anxiety. Since returning home her soul had gone out
to those children with an affection that was passionate.

“If your mother does not recover, somebody ought to do something for
them; since your father will not be able to do much, I suppose?”

“He can with my assistance. He must!”

“And with mine.”

“No, sir!”

“How damned foolish this is!” burst out d’Urberville. “Why, he thinks
we are the same family; and will be quite satisfied!”

“He don’t. I’ve undeceived him.”

“The more fool you!”

D’Urberville in anger retreated from her to the hedge, where he pulled
off the long smockfrock which had disguised him; and rolling it up and
pushing it into the couch-fire, went away.

Tess could not get on with her digging after this; she felt restless;
she wondered if he had gone back to her father’s house; and taking the
fork in her hand proceeded homewards.

Some twenty yards from the house she was met by one of her sisters.

“O, Tessy—what do you think! ’Liza-Lu is a-crying, and there’s a lot of
folk in the house, and mother is a good deal better, but they think
father is dead!”

The child realized the grandeur of the news; but not as yet its
sadness, and stood looking at Tess with round-eyed importance till,
beholding the effect produced upon her, she said—

“What, Tess, shan’t we talk to father never no more?”

“But father was only a little bit ill!” exclaimed Tess distractedly.

’Liza-Lu came up.

“He dropped down just now, and the doctor who was there for mother said
there was no chance for him, because his heart was growed in.”

Yes; the Durbeyfield couple had changed places; the dying one was out
of danger, and the indisposed one was dead. The news meant even more
than it sounded. Her father’s life had a value apart from his personal
achievements, or perhaps it would not have had much. It was the last of
the three lives for whose duration the house and premises were held
under a lease; and it had long been coveted by the tenant-farmer for
his regular labourers, who were stinted in cottage accommodation.
Moreover, “liviers” were disapproved of in villages almost as much as
little freeholders, because of their independence of manner, and when a
lease determined it was never renewed.

Thus the Durbeyfields, once d’Urbervilles, saw descending upon them the
destiny which, no doubt, when they were among the Olympians of the
county, they had caused to descend many a time, and severely enough,
upon the heads of such landless ones as they themselves were now. So do
flux and reflux—the rhythm of change—alternate and persist in
everything under the sky.


LI

At length it was the eve of Old Lady-Day, and the agricultural world
was in a fever of mobility such as only occurs at that particular date
of the year. It is a day of fulfilment; agreements for outdoor service
during the ensuing year, entered into at Candlemas, are to be now
carried out. The labourers—or “work-folk”, as they used to call
themselves immemorially till the other word was introduced from
without—who wish to remain no longer in old places are removing to the
new farms.

These annual migrations from farm to farm were on the increase here.
When Tess’s mother was a child the majority of the field-folk about
Marlott had remained all their lives on one farm, which had been the
home also of their fathers and grandfathers; but latterly the desire
for yearly removal had risen to a high pitch. With the younger families
it was a pleasant excitement which might possibly be an advantage. The
Egypt of one family was the Land of Promise to the family who saw it
from a distance, till by residence there it became in turn their Egypt
also; and so they changed and changed.

However, all the mutations so increasingly discernible in village life
did not originate entirely in the agricultural unrest. A depopulation
was also going on. The village had formerly contained, side by side
with the argicultural labourers, an interesting and better-informed
class, ranking distinctly above the former—the class to which Tess’s
father and mother had belonged—and including the carpenter, the smith,
the shoemaker, the huckster, together with nondescript workers other
than farm-labourers; a set of people who owed a certain stability of
aim and conduct to the fact of their being lifeholders like Tess’s
father, or copyholders, or occasionally, small freeholders. But as the
long holdings fell in, they were seldom again let to similar tenants,
and were mostly pulled down, if not absolutely required by the farmer
for his hands. Cottagers who were not directly employed on the land
were looked upon with disfavour, and the banishment of some starved the
trade of others, who were thus obliged to follow. These families, who
had formed the backbone of the village life in the past, who were the
depositaries of the village traditions, had to seek refuge in the large
centres; the process, humorously designated by statisticians as “the
tendency of the rural population towards the large towns”, being really
the tendency of water to flow uphill when forced by machinery.

The cottage accommodation at Marlott having been in this manner
considerably curtailed by demolitions, every house which remained
standing was required by the agriculturist for his work-people. Ever
since the occurrence of the event which had cast such a shadow over
Tess’s life, the Durbeyfield family (whose descent was not credited)
had been tacitly looked on as one which would have to go when their
lease ended, if only in the interests of morality. It was, indeed,
quite true that the household had not been shining examples either of
temperance, soberness, or chastity. The father, and even the mother,
had got drunk at times, the younger children seldom had gone to church,
and the eldest daughter had made queer unions. By some means the
village had to be kept pure. So on this, the first Lady-Day on which
the Durbeyfields were expellable, the house, being roomy, was required
for a carter with a large family; and Widow Joan, her daughters Tess
and ’Liza-Lu, the boy Abraham, and the younger children had to go
elsewhere.

On the evening preceding their removal it was getting dark betimes by
reason of a drizzling rain which blurred the sky. As it was the last
night they would spend in the village which had been their home and
birthplace, Mrs Durbeyfield, ’Liza-Lu, and Abraham had gone out to bid
some friends goodbye, and Tess was keeping house till they should
return.

She was kneeling in the window-bench, her face close to the casement,
where an outer pane of rain-water was sliding down the inner pane of
glass. Her eyes rested on the web of a spider, probably starved long
ago, which had been mistakenly placed in a corner where no flies ever
came, and shivered in the slight draught through the casement. Tess was
reflecting on the position of the household, in which she perceived her
own evil influence. Had she not come home, her mother and the children
might probably have been allowed to stay on as weekly tenants. But she
had been observed almost immediately on her return by some people of
scrupulous character and great influence: they had seen her idling in
the churchyard, restoring as well as she could with a little trowel a
baby’s obliterated grave. By this means they had found that she was
living here again; her mother was scolded for “harbouring” her; sharp
retorts had ensued from Joan, who had independently offered to leave at
once; she had been taken at her word; and here was the result.

“I ought never to have come home,” said Tess to herself, bitterly.

She was so intent upon these thoughts that she hardly at first took
note of a man in a white mackintosh whom she saw riding down the
street. Possibly it was owing to her face being near to the pane that
he saw her so quickly, and directed his horse so close to the
cottage-front that his hoofs were almost upon the narrow border for
plants growing under the wall. It was not till he touched the window
with his riding-crop that she observed him. The rain had nearly ceased,
and she opened the casement in obedience to his gesture.

“Didn’t you see me?” asked d’Urberville.

“I was not attending,” she said. “I heard you, I believe, though I
fancied it was a carriage and horses. I was in a sort of dream.”

“Ah! you heard the d’Urberville Coach, perhaps. You know the legend, I
suppose?”

“No. My—somebody was going to tell it me once, but didn’t.”

“If you are a genuine d’Urberville I ought not to tell you either, I
suppose. As for me, I’m a sham one, so it doesn’t matter. It is rather
dismal. It is that this sound of a non-existent coach can only be heard
by one of d’Urberville blood, and it is held to be of ill-omen to the
one who hears it. It has to do with a murder, committed by one of the
family, centuries ago.”

“Now you have begun it, finish it.”

“Very well. One of the family is said to have abducted some beautiful
woman, who tried to escape from the coach in which he was carrying her
off, and in the struggle he killed her—or she killed him—I forget
which. Such is one version of the tale... I see that your tubs and
buckets are packed. Going away, aren’t you?”

“Yes, to-morrow—Old Lady Day.”

“I heard you were, but could hardly believe it; it seems so sudden. Why
is it?”

“Father’s was the last life on the property, and when that dropped we
had no further right to stay. Though we might, perhaps, have stayed as
weekly tenants—if it had not been for me.”

“What about you?”

“I am not a—proper woman.”

D’Urberville’s face flushed.

“What a blasted shame! Miserable snobs! May their dirty souls be burnt
to cinders!” he exclaimed in tones of ironic resentment. “That’s why
you are going, is it? Turned out?”

“We are not turned out exactly; but as they said we should have to go
soon, it was best to go now everybody was moving, because there are
better chances.”

“Where are you going to?”

“Kingsbere. We have taken rooms there. Mother is so foolish about
father’s people that she will go there.”

“But your mother’s family are not fit for lodgings, and in a little
hole of a town like that. Now why not come to my garden-house at
Trantridge? There are hardly any poultry now, since my mother’s death;
but there’s the house, as you know it, and the garden. It can be
whitewashed in a day, and your mother can live there quite comfortably;
and I will put the children to a good school. Really I ought to do
something for you!”

“But we have already taken the rooms at Kingsbere!” she declared. “And
we can wait there—”

“Wait—what for? For that nice husband, no doubt. Now look here, Tess, I
know what men are, and, bearing in mind the _grounds_ of your
separation, I am quite positive he will never make it up with you. Now,
though I have been your enemy, I am your friend, even if you won’t
believe it. Come to this cottage of mine. We’ll get up a regular colony
of fowls, and your mother can attend to them excellently; and the
children can go to school.”

Tess breathed more and more quickly, and at length she said—

“How do I know that you would do all this? Your views may change—and
then—we should be—my mother would be—homeless again.”

“O no—no. I would guarantee you against such as that in writing, if
necessary. Think it over.”

Tess shook her head. But d’Urberville persisted; she had seldom seen
him so determined; he would not take a negative.

“Please just tell your mother,” he said, in emphatic tones. “It is her
business to judge—not yours. I shall get the house swept out and
whitened to-morrow morning, and fires lit; and it will be dry by the
evening, so that you can come straight there. Now mind, I shall expect
you.”

Tess again shook her head, her throat swelling with complicated
emotion. She could not look up at d’Urberville.

“I owe you something for the past, you know,” he resumed. “And you
cured me, too, of that craze; so I am glad—”

“I would rather you had kept the craze, so that you had kept the
practice which went with it!”

“I am glad of this opportunity of repaying you a little. To-morrow I
shall expect to hear your mother’s goods unloading... Give me your hand
on it now—dear, beautiful Tess!”

With the last sentence he had dropped his voice to a murmur, and put
his hand in at the half-open casement. With stormy eyes she pulled the
stay-bar quickly, and, in doing so, caught his arm between the casement
and the stone mullion.

“Damnation—you are very cruel!” he said, snatching out his arm. “No,
no!—I know you didn’t do it on purpose. Well, I shall expect you, or
your mother and children at least.”

“I shall not come—I have plenty of money!” she cried.

“Where?”

“At my father-in-law’s, if I ask for it.”

“_If_ you ask for it. But you won’t, Tess; I know you; you’ll never ask
for it—you’ll starve first!”

With these words he rode off. Just at the corner of the street he met
the man with the paint-pot, who asked him if he had deserted the
brethren.

“You go to the devil!” said d’Urberville.

Tess remained where she was a long while, till a sudden rebellious
sense of injustice caused the region of her eyes to swell with the rush
of hot tears thither. Her husband, Angel Clare himself, had, like
others, dealt out hard measure to her; surely he had! She had never
before admitted such a thought; but he had surely! Never in her
life—she could swear it from the bottom of her soul—had she ever
intended to do wrong; yet these hard judgements had come. Whatever her
sins, they were not sins of intention, but of inadvertence, and why
should she have been punished so persistently?

She passionately seized the first piece of paper that came to hand, and
scribbled the following lines:

    O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do not deserve
    it. I have thought it all over carefully, and I can never, never
    forgive you! You know that I did not intend to wrong you—why have
    you so wronged me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to
    forget you. It is all injustice I have received at your hands!

            T.

She watched till the postman passed by, ran out to him with her
epistle, and then again took her listless place inside the
window-panes.

It was just as well to write like that as to write tenderly. How could
he give way to entreaty? The facts had not changed: there was no new
event to alter his opinion.

It grew darker, the fire-light shining over the room. The two biggest
of the younger children had gone out with their mother; the four
smallest, their ages ranging from three-and-a-half years to eleven, all
in black frocks, were gathered round the hearth babbling their own
little subjects. Tess at length joined them, without lighting a candle.

“This is the last night that we shall sleep here, dears, in the house
where we were born,” she said quickly. “We ought to think of it,
oughtn’t we?”

They all became silent; with the impressibility of their age they were
ready to burst into tears at the picture of finality she had conjured
up, though all the day hitherto they had been rejoicing in the idea of
a new place. Tess changed the subject.

“Sing to me, dears,” she said.

“What shall we sing?”

“Anything you know; I don’t mind.”

There was a momentary pause; it was broken, first, in one little
tentative note; then a second voice strengthened it, and a third and a
fourth chimed in unison, with words they had learnt at the
Sunday-school—

    Here we suffer grief and pain,
    Here we meet to part again;
    In Heaven we part no more.

The four sang on with the phlegmatic passivity of persons who had long
ago settled the question, and there being no mistake about it, felt
that further thought was not required. With features strained hard to
enunciate the syllables they continued to regard the centre of the
flickering fire, the notes of the youngest straying over into the
pauses of the rest.

Tess turned from them, and went to the window again. Darkness had now
fallen without, but she put her face to the pane as though to peer into
the gloom. It was really to hide her tears. If she could only believe
what the children were singing; if she were only sure, how different
all would now be; how confidently she would leave them to Providence
and their future kingdom! But, in default of that, it behoved her to do
something; to be their Providence; for to Tess, as to not a few
millions of others, there was ghastly satire in the poet’s lines—

    Not in utter nakedness
    But trailing clouds of glory do we come.

To her and her like, birth itself was an ordeal of degrading personal
compulsion, whose gratuitousness nothing in the result seemed to
justify, and at best could only palliate.

In the shades of the wet road she soon discerned her mother with tall
’Liza-Lu and Abraham. Mrs Durbeyfield’s pattens clicked up to the door,
and Tess opened it.

“I see the tracks of a horse outside the window,” said Joan. “Hev
somebody called?”

“No,” said Tess.

The children by the fire looked gravely at her, and one murmured—

“Why, Tess, the gentleman a-horseback!”

“He didn’t call,” said Tess. “He spoke to me in passing.”

“Who was the gentleman?” asked the mother. “Your husband?”

“No. He’ll never, never come,” answered Tess in stony hopelessness.

“Then who was it?”

“Oh, you needn’t ask. You’ve seen him before, and so have I.”

“Ah! What did he say?” said Joan curiously.

“I will tell you when we are settled in our lodging at Kingsbere
to-morrow—every word.”

It was not her husband, she had said. Yet a consciousness that in a
physical sense this man alone was her husband seemed to weigh on her
more and more.


LII

During the small hours of the next morning, while it was still dark,
dwellers near the highways were conscious of a disturbance of their
night’s rest by rumbling noises, intermittently continuing till
daylight—noises as certain to recur in this particular first week of
the month as the voice of the cuckoo in the third week of the same.
They were the preliminaries of the general removal, the passing of the
empty waggons and teams to fetch the goods of the migrating families;
for it was always by the vehicle of the farmer who required his
services that the hired man was conveyed to his destination. That this
might be accomplished within the day was the explanation of the
reverberation occurring so soon after midnight, the aim of the carters
being to reach the door of the outgoing households by six o’clock, when
the loading of their movables at once began.

But to Tess and her mother’s household no such anxious farmer sent his
team. They were only women; they were not regular labourers; they were
not particularly required anywhere; hence they had to hire a waggon at
their own expense, and got nothing sent gratuitously.

It was a relief to Tess, when she looked out of the window that
morning, to find that though the weather was windy and louring, it did
not rain, and that the waggon had come. A wet Lady-Day was a spectre
which removing families never forgot; damp furniture, damp bedding,
damp clothing accompanied it, and left a train of ills.

Her mother, ’Liza-Lu, and Abraham were also awake, but the younger
children were let sleep on. The four breakfasted by the thin light, and
the “house-ridding” was taken in hand.

It proceeded with some cheerfulness, a friendly neighbour or two
assisting. When the large articles of furniture had been packed in
position, a circular nest was made of the beds and bedding, in which
Joan Durbeyfield and the young children were to sit through the
journey. After loading there was a long delay before the horses were
brought, these having been unharnessed during the ridding; but at
length, about two o’clock, the whole was under way, the cooking-pot
swinging from the axle of the waggon, Mrs Durbeyfield and family at the
top, the matron having in her lap, to prevent injury to its works, the
head of the clock, which, at any exceptional lurch of the waggon,
struck one, or one-and-a-half, in hurt tones. Tess and the next eldest
girl walked alongside till they were out of the village.

They had called on a few neighbours that morning and the previous
evening, and some came to see them off, all wishing them well, though,
in their secret hearts, hardly expecting welfare possible to such a
family, harmless as the Durbeyfields were to all except themselves.
Soon the equipage began to ascend to higher ground, and the wind grew
keener with the change of level and soil.

The day being the sixth of April, the Durbeyfield waggon met many other
waggons with families on the summit of the load, which was built on a
wellnigh unvarying principle, as peculiar, probably, to the rural
labourer as the hexagon to the bee. The groundwork of the arrangement
was the family dresser, which, with its shining handles, and
finger-marks, and domestic evidences thick upon it, stood importantly
in front, over the tails of the shaft-horses, in its erect and natural
position, like some Ark of the Covenant that they were bound to carry
reverently.

Some of the households were lively, some mournful; some were stopping
at the doors of wayside inns; where, in due time, the Durbeyfield
menagerie also drew up to bait horses and refresh the travellers.

During the halt Tess’s eyes fell upon a three-pint blue mug, which was
ascending and descending through the air to and from the feminine
section of a household, sitting on the summit of a load that had also
drawn up at a little distance from the same inn. She followed one of
the mug’s journeys upward, and perceived it to be clasped by hands
whose owner she well knew. Tess went towards the waggon.

“Marian and Izz!” she cried to the girls, for it was they, sitting with
the moving family at whose house they had lodged. “Are you
house-ridding to-day, like everybody else?”

They were, they said. It had been too rough a life for them at
Flintcomb-Ash, and they had come away, almost without notice, leaving
Groby to prosecute them if he chose. They told Tess their destination,
and Tess told them hers.

Marian leant over the load, and lowered her voice. “Do you know that
the gentleman who follows ’ee—you’ll guess who I mean—came to ask for
’ee at Flintcomb after you had gone? We didn’t tell’n where you was,
knowing you wouldn’t wish to see him.”

“Ah—but I did see him!” Tess murmured. “He found me.”

“And do he know where you be going?”

“I think so.”

“Husband come back?”

“No.”

She bade her acquaintance goodbye—for the respective carters had now
come out from the inn—and the two waggons resumed their journey in
opposite directions; the vehicle whereon sat Marian, Izz, and the
ploughman’s family with whom they had thrown in their lot, being
brightly painted, and drawn by three powerful horses with shining brass
ornaments on their harness; while the waggon on which Mrs Durbeyfield
and her family rode was a creaking erection that would scarcely bear
the weight of the superincumbent load; one which had known no paint
since it was made, and drawn by two horses only. The contrast well
marked the difference between being fetched by a thriving farmer and
conveying oneself whither no hirer waited one’s coming.

The distance was great—too great for a day’s journey—and it was with
the utmost difficulty that the horses performed it. Though they had
started so early, it was quite late in the afternoon when they turned
the flank of an eminence which formed part of the upland called
Greenhill. While the horses stood to stale and breathe themselves Tess
looked around. Under the hill, and just ahead of them, was the
half-dead townlet of their pilgrimage, Kingsbere, where lay those
ancestors of whom her father had spoken and sung to painfulness:
Kingsbere, the spot of all spots in the world which could be considered
the d’Urbervilles’ home, since they had resided there for full five
hundred years.

A man could be seen advancing from the outskirts towards them, and when
he beheld the nature of their waggon-load he quickened his steps.

“You be the woman they call Mrs Durbeyfield, I reckon?” he said to
Tess’s mother, who had descended to walk the remainder of the way.

She nodded. “Though widow of the late Sir John d’Urberville, poor
nobleman, if I cared for my rights; and returning to the domain of his
forefathers.”

“Oh? Well, I know nothing about that; but if you be Mrs Durbeyfield, I
am sent to tell ’ee that the rooms you wanted be let. We didn’t know
that you was coming till we got your letter this morning—when ’twas too
late. But no doubt you can get other lodgings somewhere.”

The man had noticed the face of Tess, which had become ash-pale at his
intelligence. Her mother looked hopelessly at fault. “What shall we do
now, Tess?” she said bitterly. “Here’s a welcome to your ancestors’
lands! However, let’s try further.”

They moved on into the town, and tried with all their might, Tess
remaining with the waggon to take care of the children whilst her
mother and ’Liza-Lu made inquiries. At the last return of Joan to the
vehicle, an hour later, when her search for accommodation had still
been fruitless, the driver of the waggon said the goods must be
unloaded, as the horses were half-dead, and he was bound to return part
of the way at least that night.

“Very well—unload it here,” said Joan recklessly. “I’ll get shelter
somewhere.”

The waggon had drawn up under the churchyard wall, in a spot screened
from view, and the driver, nothing loth, soon hauled down the poor heap
of household goods. This done, she paid him, reducing herself to almost
her last shilling thereby, and he moved off and left them, only too
glad to get out of further dealings with such a family. It was a dry
night, and he guessed that they would come to no harm.

Tess gazed desperately at the pile of furniture. The cold sunlight of
this spring evening peered invidiously upon the crocks and kettles,
upon the bunches of dried herbs shivering in the breeze, upon the brass
handles of the dresser, upon the wicker-cradle they had all been rocked
in, and upon the well-rubbed clock-case, all of which gave out the
reproachful gleam of indoor articles abandoned to the vicissitudes of a
roofless exposure for which they were never made. Round about were
deparked hills and slopes—now cut up into little paddocks—and the green
foundations that showed where the d’Urberville mansion once had stood;
also an outlying stretch of Egdon Heath that had always belonged to the
estate. Hard by, the aisle of the church called the d’Urberville Aisle
looked on imperturbably.

“Isn’t your family vault your own freehold?” said Tess’s mother, as she
returned from a reconnoitre of the church and graveyard. “Why, of
course ’tis, and that’s where we will camp, girls, till the place of
your ancestors finds us a roof! Now, Tess and ’Liza and Abraham, you
help me. We’ll make a nest for these children, and then we’ll have
another look round.”

Tess listlessly lent a hand, and in a quarter of an hour the old
four-post bedstead was dissociated from the heap of goods, and erected
under the south wall of the church, the part of the building known as
the d’Urberville Aisle, beneath which the huge vaults lay. Over the
tester of the bedstead was a beautiful traceried window, of many
lights, its date being the fifteenth century. It was called the
d’Urberville Window, and in the upper part could be discerned heraldic
emblems like those on Durbeyfield’s old seal and spoon.

Joan drew the curtains round the bed so as to make an excellent tent of
it, and put the smaller children inside. “If it comes to the worst we
can sleep there too, for one night,” she said. “But let us try further
on, and get something for the dears to eat! O, Tess, what’s the use of
your playing at marrying gentlemen, if it leaves us like this!”

Accompanied by ’Liza-Lu and the boy, she again ascended the little lane
which secluded the church from the townlet. As soon as they got into
the street they beheld a man on horseback gazing up and down. “Ah—I’m
looking for you!” he said, riding up to them. “This is indeed a family
gathering on the historic spot!”

It was Alec d’Urberville. “Where is Tess?” he asked.

Personally Joan had no liking for Alec. She cursorily signified the
direction of the church, and went on, d’Urberville saying that he would
see them again, in case they should be still unsuccessful in their
search for shelter, of which he had just heard. When they had gone,
d’Urberville rode to the inn, and shortly after came out on foot.

In the interim Tess, left with the children inside the bedstead,
remained talking with them awhile, till, seeing that no more could be
done to make them comfortable just then, she walked about the
churchyard, now beginning to be embrowned by the shades of nightfall.
The door of the church was unfastened, and she entered it for the first
time in her life.

Within the window under which the bedstead stood were the tombs of the
family, covering in their dates several centuries. They were canopied,
altar-shaped, and plain; their carvings being defaced and broken; their
brasses torn from the matrices, the rivet-holes remaining like
martin-holes in a sandcliff. Of all the reminders that she had ever
received that her people were socially extinct, there was none so
forcible as this spoliation.

She drew near to a dark stone on which was inscribed:

    OSTIUM SEPULCHRI ANTIQUAE FAMILIAE D’URBERVILLE

Tess did not read Church-Latin like a Cardinal, but she knew that this
was the door of her ancestral sepulchre, and that the tall knights of
whom her father had chanted in his cups lay inside.

She musingly turned to withdraw, passing near an altar-tomb, the oldest
of them all, on which was a recumbent figure. In the dusk she had not
noticed it before, and would hardly have noticed it now but for an odd
fancy that the effigy moved. As soon as she drew close to it she
discovered all in a moment that the figure was a living person; and the
shock to her sense of not having been alone was so violent that she was
quite overcome, and sank down nigh to fainting, not, however, till she
had recognized Alec d’Urberville in the form.

He leapt off the slab and supported her.

“I saw you come in,” he said smiling, “and got up there not to
interrupt your meditations. A family gathering, is it not, with these
old fellows under us here? Listen.”

He stamped with his heel heavily on the floor; whereupon there arose a
hollow echo from below.

“That shook them a bit, I’ll warrant!” he continued. “And you thought I
was the mere stone reproduction of one of them. But no. The old order
changeth. The little finger of the sham d’Urberville can do more for
you than the whole dynasty of the real underneath.... Now command me.
What shall I do?”

“Go away!” she murmured.

“I will—I’ll look for your mother,” said he blandly. But in passing her
he whispered: “Mind this; you’ll be civil yet!”

When he was gone she bent down upon the entrance to the vaults, and
said—

“Why am I on the wrong side of this door!”

In the meantime Marian and Izz Huett had journeyed onward with the
chattels of the ploughman in the direction of their land of Canaan—the
Egypt of some other family who had left it only that morning. But the
girls did not for a long time think of where they were going. Their
talk was of Angel Clare and Tess, and Tess’s persistent lover, whose
connection with her previous history they had partly heard and partly
guessed ere this.

“’Tisn’t as though she had never known him afore,” said Marian. “His
having won her once makes all the difference in the world. ’Twould be a
thousand pities if he were to tole her away again. Mr Clare can never
be anything to us, Izz; and why should we grudge him to her, and not
try to mend this quarrel? If he could on’y know what straits she’s put
to, and what’s hovering round, he might come to take care of his own.”

“Could we let him know?”

They thought of this all the way to their destination; but the bustle
of re-establishment in their new place took up all their attention
then. But when they were settled, a month later, they heard of Clare’s
approaching return, though they had learnt nothing more of Tess. Upon
that, agitated anew by their attachment to him, yet honourably disposed
to her, Marian uncorked the penny ink-bottle they shared, and a few
lines were concocted between the two girls.

    Honour’d Sir,

    Look to your Wife if you do love her as much as she do love you.
    For she is sore put to by an Enemy in the shape of a Friend. Sir,
    there is one near her who ought to be Away. A woman should not be
    try’d beyond her Strength, and continual dropping will wear away a
    Stone—ay, more—a Diamond.

    From Two Well-Wishers

This was addressed to Angel Clare at the only place they had ever heard
him to be connected with, Emminster Vicarage; after which they
continued in a mood of emotional exaltation at their own generosity,
which made them sing in hysterical snatches and weep at the same time.


End of Phase the Sixth


Phase the Seventh:

Fulfilment


LIII

It was evening at Emminster Vicarage. The two customary candles were
burning under their green shades in the Vicar’s study, but he had not
been sitting there. Occasionally he came in, stirred the small fire
which sufficed for the increasing mildness of the spring, and went out
again; sometimes pausing at the front door, going on to the
drawing-room, then returning again to the front door.

It faced westward, and though gloom prevailed inside, there was still
light enough without to see with distinctness. Mrs Clare, who had been
sitting in the drawing-room, followed him hither.

“Plenty of time yet,” said the Vicar. “He doesn’t reach Chalk-Newton
till six, even if the train should be punctual, and ten miles of
country-road, five of them in Crimmercrock Lane, are not jogged over in
a hurry by our old horse.”

“But he has done it in an hour with us, my dear.”

“Years ago.”

Thus they passed the minutes, each well knowing that this was only
waste of breath, the one essential being simply to wait.

At length there was a slight noise in the lane, and the old pony-chaise
appeared indeed outside the railings. They saw alight therefrom a form
which they affected to recognize, but would actually have passed by in
the street without identifying had he not got out of their carriage at
the particular moment when a particular person was due.

Mrs Clare rushed through the dark passage to the door, and her husband
came more slowly after her.

The new arrival, who was just about to enter, saw their anxious faces
in the doorway and the gleam of the west in their spectacles because
they confronted the last rays of day; but they could only see his shape
against the light.

“O, my boy, my boy—home again at last!” cried Mrs Clare, who cared no
more at that moment for the stains of heterodoxy which had caused all
this separation than for the dust upon his clothes. What woman, indeed,
among the most faithful adherents of the truth, believes the promises
and threats of the Word in the sense in which she believes in her own
children, or would not throw her theology to the wind if weighed
against their happiness? As soon as they reached the room where the
candles were lighted she looked at his face.

“O, it is not Angel—not my son—the Angel who went away!” she cried in
all the irony of sorrow, as she turned herself aside.

His father, too, was shocked to see him, so reduced was that figure
from its former contours by worry and the bad season that Clare had
experienced, in the climate to which he had so rashly hurried in his
first aversion to the mockery of events at home. You could see the
skeleton behind the man, and almost the ghost behind the skeleton. He
matched Crivelli’s dead _Christus_. His sunken eye-pits were of morbid
hue, and the light in his eyes had waned. The angular hollows and lines
of his aged ancestors had succeeded to their reign in his face twenty
years before their time.

“I was ill over there, you know,” he said. “I am all right now.”

As if, however, to falsify this assertion, his legs seemed to give way,
and he suddenly sat down to save himself from falling. It was only a
slight attack of faintness, resulting from the tedious day’s journey,
and the excitement of arrival.

“Has any letter come for me lately?” he asked. “I received the last you
sent on by the merest chance, and after considerable delay through
being inland; or I might have come sooner.”

“It was from your wife, we supposed?”

“It was.”

Only one other had recently come. They had not sent it on to him,
knowing he would start for home so soon.

He hastily opened the letter produced, and was much disturbed to read
in Tess’s handwriting the sentiments expressed in her last hurried
scrawl to him.

    O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do not deserve
    it. I have thought it all over carefully, and I can never, never
    forgive you! You know that I did not intend to wrong you—why have
    you so wronged me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to
    forget you. It is all injustice I have received at your hands!

            T.

“It is quite true!” said Angel, throwing down the letter. “Perhaps she
will never be reconciled to me!”

“Don’t, Angel, be so anxious about a mere child of the soil!” said his
mother.

“Child of the soil! Well, we all are children of the soil. I wish she
were so in the sense you mean; but let me now explain to you what I
have never explained before, that her father is a descendant in the
male line of one of the oldest Norman houses, like a good many others
who lead obscure agricultural lives in our villages, and are dubbed
‘sons of the soil.’”

He soon retired to bed; and the next morning, feeling exceedingly
unwell, he remained in his room pondering. The circumstances amid which
he had left Tess were such that though, while on the south of the
Equator and just in receipt of her loving epistle, it had seemed the
easiest thing in the world to rush back into her arms the moment he
chose to forgive her, now that he had arrived it was not so easy as it
had seemed. She was passionate, and her present letter, showing that
her estimate of him had changed under his delay—too justly changed, he
sadly owned,—made him ask himself if it would be wise to confront her
unannounced in the presence of her parents. Supposing that her love had
indeed turned to dislike during the last weeks of separation, a sudden
meeting might lead to bitter words.

Clare therefore thought it would be best to prepare Tess and her family
by sending a line to Marlott announcing his return, and his hope that
she was still living with them there, as he had arranged for her to do
when he left England. He despatched the inquiry that very day, and
before the week was out there came a short reply from Mrs Durbeyfield
which did not remove his embarrassment, for it bore no address, though
to his surprise it was not written from Marlott.

    Sir,

    J write these few lines to say that my Daughter is away from me at
    present, and J am not sure when she will return, but J will let you
    know as Soon as she do. J do not feel at liberty to tell you Where
    she is temperly biding. J should say that me and my Family have
    left Marlott for some Time.—

    Yours,

    J. Durbeyfield

It was such a relief to Clare to learn that Tess was at least
apparently well that her mother’s stiff reticence as to her whereabouts
did not long distress him. They were all angry with him, evidently. He
would wait till Mrs Durbeyfield could inform him of Tess’s return,
which her letter implied to be soon. He deserved no more. His had been
a love “which alters when it alteration finds”. He had undergone some
strange experiences in his absence; he had seen the virtual Faustina in
the literal Cornelia, a spiritual Lucretia in a corporeal Phryne; he
had thought of the woman taken and set in the midst as one deserving to
be stoned, and of the wife of Uriah being made a queen; and he had
asked himself why he had not judged Tess constructively rather than
biographically, by the will rather than by the deed?

A day or two passed while he waited at his father’s house for the
promised second note from Joan Durbeyfield, and indirectly to recover a
little more strength. The strength showed signs of coming back, but
there was no sign of Joan’s letter. Then he hunted up the old letter
sent on to him in Brazil, which Tess had written from Flintcomb-Ash,
and re-read it. The sentences touched him now as much as when he had
first perused them.

...I must cry to you in my trouble—I have no one else!... I think I
must die if you do not come soon, or tell me to come to you... please,
please, not to be just—only a little kind to me.... If you would come,
I could die in your arms! I would be well content to do that if so be
you had forgiven me!... if you will send me one little line, and say,
_I am coming soon_, I will bide on, Angel—O, so cheerfully!... think
how it do hurt my heart not to see you ever—ever! Ah, if I could only
make your dear heart ache one little minute of each day as mine does
every day and all day long, it might lead you to show pity to your poor
lonely one.... I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your
servant, if I may not as your wife; so that I could only be near you,
and get glimpses of you, and think of you as mine.... I long for only
one thing in heaven or earth or under the earth, to meet you, my own
dear! Come to me—come to me, and save me from what threatens me!


Clare determined that he would no longer believe in her more recent and
severer regard of him, but would go and find her immediately. He asked
his father if she had applied for any money during his absence. His
father returned a negative, and then for the first time it occurred to
Angel that her pride had stood in her way, and that she had suffered
privation. From his remarks his parents now gathered the real reason of
the separation; and their Christianity was such that, reprobates being
their especial care, the tenderness towards Tess which her blood, her
simplicity, even her poverty, had not engendered, was instantly excited
by her sin.

Whilst he was hastily packing together a few articles for his journey
he glanced over a poor plain missive also lately come to hand—the one
from Marian and Izz Huett, beginning—

“Honour’d Sir, Look to your Wife if you do love her as much as she do
love you,” and signed, “From Two Well-Wishers.”


LIV

In a quarter of an hour Clare was leaving the house, whence his mother
watched his thin figure as it disappeared into the street. He had
declined to borrow his father’s old mare, well knowing of its necessity
to the household. He went to the inn, where he hired a trap, and could
hardly wait during the harnessing. In a very few minutes after, he was
driving up the hill out of the town which, three or four months earlier
in the year, Tess had descended with such hopes and ascended with such
shattered purposes.

Benvill Lane soon stretched before him, its hedges and trees purple
with buds; but he was looking at other things, and only recalled
himself to the scene sufficiently to enable him to keep the way. In
something less than an hour-and-a-half he had skirted the south of the
King’s Hintock estates and ascended to the untoward solitude of
Cross-in-Hand, the unholy stone whereon Tess had been compelled by Alec
d’Urberville, in his whim of reformation, to swear the strange oath
that she would never wilfully tempt him again. The pale and blasted
nettle-stems of the preceding year even now lingered nakedly in the
banks, young green nettles of the present spring growing from their
roots.

Thence he went along the verge of the upland overhanging the other
Hintocks, and, turning to the right, plunged into the bracing
calcareous region of Flintcomb-Ash, the address from which she had
written to him in one of the letters, and which he supposed to be the
place of sojourn referred to by her mother. Here, of course, he did not
find her; and what added to his depression was the discovery that no
“Mrs Clare” had ever been heard of by the cottagers or by the farmer
himself, though Tess was remembered well enough by her Christian name.
His name she had obviously never used during their separation, and her
dignified sense of their total severance was shown not much less by
this abstention than by the hardships she had chosen to undergo (of
which he now learnt for the first time) rather than apply to his father
for more funds.

From this place they told him Tess Durbeyfield had gone, without due
notice, to the home of her parents on the other side of Blackmoor, and
it therefore became necessary to find Mrs Durbeyfield. She had told him
she was not now at Marlott, but had been curiously reticent as to her
actual address, and the only course was to go to Marlott and inquire
for it. The farmer who had been so churlish with Tess was quite
smooth-tongued to Clare, and lent him a horse and man to drive him
towards Marlott, the gig he had arrived in being sent back to
Emminster; for the limit of a day’s journey with that horse was
reached.

Clare would not accept the loan of the farmer’s vehicle for a further
distance than to the outskirts of the Vale, and, sending it back with
the man who had driven him, he put up at an inn, and next day entered
on foot the region wherein was the spot of his dear Tess’s birth. It
was as yet too early in the year for much colour to appear in the
gardens and foliage; the so-called spring was but winter overlaid with
a thin coat of greenness, and it was of a parcel with his expectations.

The house in which Tess had passed the years of her childhood was now
inhabited by another family who had never known her. The new residents
were in the garden, taking as much interest in their own doings as if
the homestead had never passed its primal time in conjunction with the
histories of others, beside which the histories of these were but as a
tale told by an idiot. They walked about the garden paths with thoughts
of their own concerns entirely uppermost, bringing their actions at
every moment in jarring collision with the dim ghosts behind them,
talking as though the time when Tess lived there were not one whit
intenser in story than now. Even the spring birds sang over their heads
as if they thought there was nobody missing in particular.

On inquiry of these precious innocents, to whom even the name of their
predecessors was a failing memory, Clare learned that John Durbeyfield
was dead; that his widow and children had left Marlott, declaring that
they were going to live at Kingsbere, but instead of doing so had gone
on to another place they mentioned. By this time Clare abhorred the
house for ceasing to contain Tess, and hastened away from its hated
presence without once looking back.

His way was by the field in which he had first beheld her at the dance.
It was as bad as the house—even worse. He passed on through the
churchyard, where, amongst the new headstones, he saw one of a somewhat
superior design to the rest. The inscription ran thus:

    In memory of John Durbeyfield, rightly d’Urberville, of the once
    powerful family of that Name, and Direct Descendant through an
    illustrious Line from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, one of the Knights of
    the Conqueror. Died March 10th, 18—

    How are the Mighty Fallen.

Some man, apparently the sexton, had observed Clare standing there, and
drew nigh. “Ah, sir, now that’s a man who didn’t want to lie here, but
wished to be carried to Kingsbere, where his ancestors be.”

“And why didn’t they respect his wish?”

“Oh—no money. Bless your soul, sir, why—there, I wouldn’t wish to say
it everywhere, but—even this headstone, for all the flourish wrote upon
en, is not paid for.”

“Ah, who put it up?”

The man told the name of a mason in the village, and, on leaving the
churchyard, Clare called at the mason’s house. He found that the
statement was true, and paid the bill. This done, he turned in the
direction of the migrants.

The distance was too long for a walk, but Clare felt such a strong
desire for isolation that at first he would neither hire a conveyance
nor go to a circuitous line of railway by which he might eventually
reach the place. At Shaston, however, he found he must hire; but the
way was such that he did not enter Joan’s place till about seven
o’clock in the evening, having traversed a distance of over twenty
miles since leaving Marlott.

The village being small he had little difficulty in finding Mrs
Durbeyfield’s tenement, which was a house in a walled garden, remote
from the main road, where she had stowed away her clumsy old furniture
as best she could. It was plain that for some reason or other she had
not wished him to visit her, and he felt his call to be somewhat of an
intrusion. She came to the door herself, and the light from the evening
sky fell upon her face.

This was the first time that Clare had ever met her, but he was too
preoccupied to observe more than that she was still a handsome woman,
in the garb of a respectable widow. He was obliged to explain that he
was Tess’s husband, and his object in coming there, and he did it
awkwardly enough. “I want to see her at once,” he added. “You said you
would write to me again, but you have not done so.”

“Because she’ve not come home,” said Joan.

“Do you know if she is well?”

“I don’t. But you ought to, sir,” said she.

“I admit it. Where is she staying?”

From the beginning of the interview Joan had disclosed her
embarrassment by keeping her hand to the side of her cheek.

“I—don’t know exactly where she is staying,” she answered. “She
was—but—”

“Where was she?”

“Well, she is not there now.”

In her evasiveness she paused again, and the younger children had by
this time crept to the door, where, pulling at his mother’s skirts, the
youngest murmured—

“Is this the gentleman who is going to marry Tess?”

“He has married her,” Joan whispered. “Go inside.”

Clare saw her efforts for reticence, and asked—

“Do you think Tess would wish me to try and find her? If not, of
course—”

“I don’t think she would.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am sure she wouldn’t.”

He was turning away; and then he thought of Tess’s tender letter.

“I am sure she would!” he retorted passionately. “I know her better
than you do.”

“That’s very likely, sir; for I have never really known her.”

“Please tell me her address, Mrs Durbeyfield, in kindness to a lonely
wretched man!” Tess’s mother again restlessly swept her cheek with her
vertical hand, and seeing that he suffered, she at last said, is a low
voice—

“She is at Sandbourne.”

“Ah—where there? Sandbourne has become a large place, they say.”

“I don’t know more particularly than I have said—Sandbourne. For
myself, I was never there.”

It was apparent that Joan spoke the truth in this, and he pressed her
no further.

“Are you in want of anything?” he said gently.

“No, sir,” she replied. “We are fairly well provided for.”

Without entering the house Clare turned away. There was a station three
miles ahead, and paying off his coachman, he walked thither. The last
train to Sandbourne left shortly after, and it bore Clare on its
wheels.


LV

At eleven o’clock that night, having secured a bed at one of the hotels
and telegraphed his address to his father immediately on his arrival,
he walked out into the streets of Sandbourne. It was too late to call
on or inquire for any one, and he reluctantly postponed his purpose
till the morning. But he could not retire to rest just yet.

This fashionable watering-place, with its eastern and its western
stations, its piers, its groves of pines, its promenades, and its
covered gardens, was, to Angel Clare, like a fairy place suddenly
created by the stroke of a wand, and allowed to get a little dusty. An
outlying eastern tract of the enormous Egdon Waste was close at hand,
yet on the very verge of that tawny piece of antiquity such a
glittering novelty as this pleasure city had chosen to spring up.
Within the space of a mile from its outskirts every irregularity of the
soil was prehistoric, every channel an undisturbed British trackway;
not a sod having been turned there since the days of the Cæsars. Yet
the exotic had grown here, suddenly as the prophet’s gourd; and had
drawn hither Tess.

By the midnight lamps he went up and down the winding way of this new
world in an old one, and could discern between the trees and against
the stars the lofty roofs, chimneys, gazebos, and towers of the
numerous fanciful residences of which the place was composed. It was a
city of detached mansions; a Mediterranean lounging-place on the
English Channel; and as seen now by night it seemed even more imposing
than it was.

The sea was near at hand, but not intrusive; it murmured, and he
thought it was the pines; the pines murmured in precisely the same
tones, and he thought they were the sea.

Where could Tess possibly be, a cottage-girl, his young wife, amidst
all this wealth and fashion? The more he pondered, the more was he
puzzled. Were there any cows to milk here? There certainly were no
fields to till. She was most probably engaged to do something in one of
these large houses; and he sauntered along, looking at the
chamber-windows and their lights going out one by one, and wondered
which of them might be hers.

Conjecture was useless, and just after twelve o’clock he entered and
went to bed. Before putting out his light he re-read Tess’s impassioned
letter. Sleep, however, he could not—so near her, yet so far from
her—and he continually lifted the window-blind and regarded the backs
of the opposite houses, and wondered behind which of the sashes she
reposed at that moment.

He might almost as well have sat up all night. In the morning he arose
at seven, and shortly after went out, taking the direction of the chief
post-office. At the door he met an intelligent postman coming out with
letters for the morning delivery.

“Do you know the address of a Mrs Clare?” asked Angel. The postman
shook his head.

Then, remembering that she would have been likely to continue the use
of her maiden name, Clare said—

“Of a Miss Durbeyfield?”

“Durbeyfield?”

This also was strange to the postman addressed.

“There’s visitors coming and going every day, as you know, sir,” he
said; “and without the name of the house ’tis impossible to find ’em.”

One of his comrades hastening out at that moment, the name was repeated
to him.

“I know no name of Durbeyfield; but there is the name of d’Urberville
at The Herons,” said the second.

“That’s it!” cried Clare, pleased to think that she had reverted to the
real pronunciation. “What place is The Herons?”

“A stylish lodging-house. ’Tis all lodging-houses here, bless ’ee.”

Clare received directions how to find the house, and hastened thither,
arriving with the milkman. The Herons, though an ordinary villa, stood
in its own grounds, and was certainly the last place in which one would
have expected to find lodgings, so private was its appearance. If poor
Tess was a servant here, as he feared, she would go to the back-door to
that milkman, and he was inclined to go thither also. However, in his
doubts he turned to the front, and rang.

The hour being early, the landlady herself opened the door. Clare
inquired for Teresa d’Urberville or Durbeyfield.

“Mrs d’Urberville?”

“Yes.”

Tess, then, passed as a married woman, and he felt glad, even though
she had not adopted his name.

“Will you kindly tell her that a relative is anxious to see her?”

“It is rather early. What name shall I give, sir?”

“Angel.”

“Mr Angel?”

“No; Angel. It is my Christian name. She’ll understand.”

“I’ll see if she is awake.”

He was shown into the front room—the dining-room—and looked out through
the spring curtains at the little lawn, and the rhododendrons and other
shrubs upon it. Obviously her position was by no means so bad as he had
feared, and it crossed his mind that she must somehow have claimed and
sold the jewels to attain it. He did not blame her for one moment. Soon
his sharpened ear detected footsteps upon the stairs, at which his
heart thumped so painfully that he could hardly stand firm. “Dear me!
what will she think of me, so altered as I am!” he said to himself; and
the door opened.

Tess appeared on the threshold—not at all as he had expected to see
her—bewilderingly otherwise, indeed. Her great natural beauty was, if
not heightened, rendered more obvious by her attire. She was loosely
wrapped in a cashmere dressing-gown of gray-white, embroidered in
half-mourning tints, and she wore slippers of the same hue. Her neck
rose out of a frill of down, and her well-remembered cable of
dark-brown hair was partially coiled up in a mass at the back of her
head and partly hanging on her shoulder—the evident result of haste.

He had held out his arms, but they had fallen again to his side; for
she had not come forward, remaining still in the opening of the
doorway. Mere yellow skeleton that he was now, he felt the contrast
between them, and thought his appearance distasteful to her.

“Tess!” he said huskily, “can you forgive me for going away? Can’t
you—come to me? How do you get to be—like this?”

“It is too late,” said she, her voice sounding hard through the room,
her eyes shining unnaturally.

“I did not think rightly of you—I did not see you as you were!” he
continued to plead. “I have learnt to since, dearest Tessy mine!”

“Too late, too late!” she said, waving her hand in the impatience of a
person whose tortures cause every instant to seem an hour. “Don’t come
close to me, Angel! No—you must not. Keep away.”

“But don’t you love me, my dear wife, because I have been so pulled
down by illness? You are not so fickle—I am come on purpose for you—my
mother and father will welcome you now!”

“Yes—O, yes, yes! But I say, I say it is too late.”

She seemed to feel like a fugitive in a dream, who tries to move away,
but cannot. “Don’t you know all—don’t you know it? Yet how do you come
here if you do not know?”

“I inquired here and there, and I found the way.”

“I waited and waited for you,” she went on, her tones suddenly resuming
their old fluty pathos. “But you did not come! And I wrote to you, and
you did not come! He kept on saying you would never come any more, and
that I was a foolish woman. He was very kind to me, and to mother, and
to all of us after father’s death. He—”

“I don’t understand.”

“He has won me back to him.”

Clare looked at her keenly, then, gathering her meaning, flagged like
one plague-stricken, and his glance sank; it fell on her hands, which,
once rosy, were now white and more delicate.

She continued—

“He is upstairs. I hate him now, because he told me a lie—that you
would not come again; and you _have_ come! These clothes are what he’s
put upon me: I didn’t care what he did wi’ me! But—will you go away,
Angel, please, and never come any more?”

They stood fixed, their baffled hearts looking out of their eyes with a
joylessness pitiful to see. Both seemed to implore something to shelter
them from reality.

“Ah—it is my fault!” said Clare.

But he could not get on. Speech was as inexpressive as silence. But he
had a vague consciousness of one thing, though it was not clear to him
till later; that his original Tess had spiritually ceased to recognize
the body before him as hers—allowing it to drift, like a corpse upon
the current, in a direction dissociated from its living will.

A few instants passed, and he found that Tess was gone. His face grew
colder and more shrunken as he stood concentrated on the moment, and a
minute or two after, he found himself in the street, walking along he
did not know whither.


LVI

Mrs Brooks, the lady who was the householder at The Herons and owner of
all the handsome furniture, was not a person of an unusually curious
turn of mind. She was too deeply materialized, poor woman, by her long
and enforced bondage to that arithmetical demon Profit-and-Loss, to
retain much curiousity for its own sake, and apart from possible
lodgers’ pockets. Nevertheless, the visit of Angel Clare to her
well-paying tenants, Mr and Mrs d’Urberville, as she deemed them, was
sufficiently exceptional in point of time and manner to reinvigorate
the feminine proclivity which had been stifled down as useless save in
its bearings to the letting trade.

Tess had spoken to her husband from the doorway, without entering the
dining-room, and Mrs Brooks, who stood within the partly-closed door of
her own sitting-room at the back of the passage, could hear fragments
of the conversation—if conversation it could be called—between those
two wretched souls. She heard Tess re-ascend the stairs to the first
floor, and the departure of Clare, and the closing of the front door
behind him. Then the door of the room above was shut, and Mrs Brooks
knew that Tess had re-entered her apartment. As the young lady was not
fully dressed, Mrs Brooks knew that she would not emerge again for some
time.

She accordingly ascended the stairs softly, and stood at the door of
the front room—a drawing-room, connected with the room immediately
behind it (which was a bedroom) by folding-doors in the common manner.
This first floor, containing Mrs Brooks’s best apartments, had been
taken by the week by the d’Urbervilles. The back room was now in
silence; but from the drawing-room there came sounds.

All that she could at first distinguish of them was one syllable,
continually repeated in a low note of moaning, as if it came from a
soul bound to some Ixionian wheel—

“O—O—O!”

Then a silence, then a heavy sigh, and again—

“O—O—O!”

The landlady looked through the keyhole. Only a small space of the room
inside was visible, but within that space came a corner of the
breakfast table, which was already spread for the meal, and also a
chair beside. Over the seat of the chair Tess’s face was bowed, her
posture being a kneeling one in front of it; her hands were clasped
over her head, the skirts of her dressing-gown and the embroidery of
her night-gown flowed upon the floor behind her, and her stockingless
feet, from which the slippers had fallen, protruded upon the carpet. It
was from her lips that came the murmur of unspeakable despair.

Then a man’s voice from the adjoining bedroom—

“What’s the matter?”

She did not answer, but went on, in a tone which was a soliloquy rather
than an exclamation, and a dirge rather than a soliloquy. Mrs Brooks
could only catch a portion:

“And then my dear, dear husband came home to me ... and I did not know
it!... And you had used your cruel persuasion upon me ... you did not
stop using it—no—you did not stop! My little sisters and brothers and
my mother’s needs—they were the things you moved me by ... and you said
my husband would never come back—never; and you taunted me, and said
what a simpleton I was to expect him!... And at last I believed you and
gave way!... And then he came back! Now he is gone. Gone a second time,
and I have lost him now for ever ... and he will not love me the
littlest bit ever any more—only hate me!... O yes, I have lost him
now—again because of—you!” In writhing, with her head on the chair, she
turned her face towards the door, and Mrs Brooks could see the pain
upon it, and that her lips were bleeding from the clench of her teeth
upon them, and that the long lashes of her closed eyes stuck in wet
tags to her cheeks. She continued: “And he is dying—he looks as if he
is dying!... And my sin will kill him and not kill me!... O, you have
torn my life all to pieces ... made me be what I prayed you in pity not
to make me be again!... My own true husband will never, never—O God—I
can’t bear this!—I cannot!”

There were more and sharper words from the man; then a sudden rustle;
she had sprung to her feet. Mrs Brooks, thinking that the speaker was
coming to rush out of the door, hastily retreated down the stairs.

She need not have done so, however, for the door of the sitting-room
was not opened. But Mrs Brooks felt it unsafe to watch on the landing
again, and entered her own parlour below.

She could hear nothing through the floor, although she listened
intently, and thereupon went to the kitchen to finish her interrupted
breakfast. Coming up presently to the front room on the ground floor
she took up some sewing, waiting for her lodgers to ring that she might
take away the breakfast, which she meant to do herself, to discover
what was the matter if possible. Overhead, as she sat, she could now
hear the floorboards slightly creak, as if some one were walking about,
and presently the movement was explained by the rustle of garments
against the banisters, the opening and the closing of the front door,
and the form of Tess passing to the gate on her way into the street.
She was fully dressed now in the walking costume of a well-to-do young
lady in which she had arrived, with the sole addition that over her hat
and black feathers a veil was drawn.

Mrs Brooks had not been able to catch any word of farewell, temporary
or otherwise, between her tenants at the door above. They might have
quarrelled, or Mr d’Urberville might still be asleep, for he was not an
early riser.

She went into the back room, which was more especially her own
apartment, and continued her sewing there. The lady lodger did not
return, nor did the gentleman ring his bell. Mrs Brooks pondered on the
delay, and on what probable relation the visitor who had called so
early bore to the couple upstairs. In reflecting she leant back in her
chair.

As she did so her eyes glanced casually over the ceiling till they were
arrested by a spot in the middle of its white surface which she had
never noticed there before. It was about the size of a wafer when she
first observed it, but it speedily grew as large as the palm of her
hand, and then she could perceive that it was red. The oblong white
ceiling, with this scarlet blot in the midst, had the appearance of a
gigantic ace of hearts.

Mrs Brooks had strange qualms of misgiving. She got upon the table, and
touched the spot in the ceiling with her fingers. It was damp, and she
fancied that it was a blood stain.

Descending from the table, she left the parlour, and went upstairs,
intending to enter the room overhead, which was the bedchamber at the
back of the drawing-room. But, nerveless woman as she had now become,
she could not bring herself to attempt the handle. She listened. The
dead silence within was broken only by a regular beat.

Drip, drip, drip.

Mrs Brooks hastened downstairs, opened the front door, and ran into the
street. A man she knew, one of the workmen employed at an adjoining
villa, was passing by, and she begged him to come in and go upstairs
with her; she feared something had happened to one of her lodgers. The
workman assented, and followed her to the landing.

She opened the door of the drawing-room, and stood back for him to pass
in, entering herself behind him. The room was empty; the breakfast—a
substantial repast of coffee, eggs, and a cold ham—lay spread upon the
table untouched, as when she had taken it up, excepting that the
carving-knife was missing. She asked the man to go through the
folding-doors into the adjoining room.

He opened the doors, entered a step or two, and came back almost
instantly with a rigid face. “My good God, the gentleman in bed is
dead! I think he has been hurt with a knife—a lot of blood has run down
upon the floor!”

The alarm was soon given, and the house which had lately been so quiet
resounded with the tramp of many footsteps, a surgeon among the rest.
The wound was small, but the point of the blade had touched the heart
of the victim, who lay on his back, pale, fixed, dead, as if he had
scarcely moved after the infliction of the blow. In a quarter of an
hour the news that a gentleman who was a temporary visitor to the town
had been stabbed in his bed, spread through every street and villa of
the popular watering-place.


LVII

Meanwhile Angel Clare had walked automatically along the way by which
he had come, and, entering his hotel, sat down over the breakfast,
staring at nothingness. He went on eating and drinking unconsciously
till on a sudden he demanded his bill; having paid which, he took his
dressing-bag in his hand, the only luggage he had brought with him, and
went out.

At the moment of his departure a telegram was handed to him—a few words
from his mother, stating that they were glad to know his address, and
informing him that his brother Cuthbert had proposed to and been
accepted by Mercy Chant.

Clare crumpled up the paper and followed the route to the station;
reaching it, he found that there would be no train leaving for an hour
and more. He sat down to wait, and having waited a quarter of an hour
felt that he could wait there no longer. Broken in heart and numbed, he
had nothing to hurry for; but he wished to get out of a town which had
been the scene of such an experience, and turned to walk to the first
station onward, and let the train pick him up there.

The highway that he followed was open, and at a little distance dipped
into a valley, across which it could be seen running from edge to edge.
He had traversed the greater part of this depression, and was climbing
the western acclivity when, pausing for breath, he unconsciously looked
back. Why he did so he could not say, but something seemed to impel him
to the act. The tape-like surface of the road diminished in his rear as
far as he could see, and as he gazed a moving spot intruded on the
white vacuity of its perspective.

It was a human figure running. Clare waited, with a dim sense that
somebody was trying to overtake him.

The form descending the incline was a woman’s, yet so entirely was his
mind blinded to the idea of his wife’s following him that even when she
came nearer he did not recognize her under the totally changed attire
in which he now beheld her. It was not till she was quite close that he
could believe her to be Tess.

“I saw you—turn away from the station—just before I got there—and I
have been following you all this way!”

She was so pale, so breathless, so quivering in every muscle, that he
did not ask her a single question, but seizing her hand, and pulling it
within his arm, he led her along. To avoid meeting any possible
wayfarers he left the high road and took a footpath under some
fir-trees. When they were deep among the moaning boughs he stopped and
looked at her inquiringly.

“Angel,” she said, as if waiting for this, “do you know what I have
been running after you for? To tell you that I have killed him!” A
pitiful white smile lit her face as she spoke.

“What!” said he, thinking from the strangeness of her manner that she
was in some delirium.

“I have done it—I don’t know how,” she continued. “Still, I owed it to
you, and to myself, Angel. I feared long ago, when I struck him on the
mouth with my glove, that I might do it some day for the trap he set
for me in my simple youth, and his wrong to you through me. He has come
between us and ruined us, and now he can never do it any more. I never
loved him at all, Angel, as I loved you. You know it, don’t you? You
believe it? You didn’t come back to me, and I was obliged to go back to
him. Why did you go away—why did you—when I loved you so? I can’t think
why you did it. But I don’t blame you; only, Angel, will you forgive me
my sin against you, now I have killed him? I thought as I ran along
that you would be sure to forgive me now I have done that. It came to
me as a shining light that I should get you back that way. I could not
bear the loss of you any longer—you don’t know how entirely I was
unable to bear your not loving me! Say you do now, dear, dear husband;
say you do, now I have killed him!”

“I do love you, Tess—O, I do—it is all come back!” he said, tightening
his arms round her with fervid pressure. “But how do you mean—you have
killed him?”

“I mean that I have,” she murmured in a reverie.

“What, bodily? Is he dead?”

“Yes. He heard me crying about you, and he bitterly taunted me; and
called you by a foul name; and then I did it. My heart could not bear
it. He had nagged me about you before. And then I dressed myself and
came away to find you.”

By degrees he was inclined to believe that she had faintly attempted,
at least, what she said she had done; and his horror at her impulse was
mixed with amazement at the strength of her affection for himself, and
at the strangeness of its quality, which had apparently extinguished
her moral sense altogether. Unable to realize the gravity of her
conduct, she seemed at last content; and he looked at her as she lay
upon his shoulder, weeping with happiness, and wondered what obscure
strain in the d’Urberville blood had led to this aberration—if it were
an aberration. There momentarily flashed through his mind that the
family tradition of the coach and murder might have arisen because the
d’Urbervilles had been known to do these things. As well as his
confused and excited ideas could reason, he supposed that in the moment
of mad grief of which she spoke, her mind had lost its balance, and
plunged her into this abyss.

It was very terrible if true; if a temporary hallucination, sad. But,
anyhow, here was this deserted wife of his, this passionately-fond
woman, clinging to him without a suspicion that he would be anything to
her but a protector. He saw that for him to be otherwise was not, in
her mind, within the region of the possible. Tenderness was absolutely
dominant in Clare at last. He kissed her endlessly with his white lips,
and held her hand, and said—

“I will not desert you! I will protect you by every means in my power,
dearest love, whatever you may have done or not have done!”

They then walked on under the trees, Tess turning her head every now
and then to look at him. Worn and unhandsome as he had become, it was
plain that she did not discern the least fault in his appearance. To
her he was, as of old, all that was perfection, personally and
mentally. He was still her Antinous, her Apollo even; his sickly face
was beautiful as the morning to her affectionate regard on this day no
less than when she first beheld him; for was it not the face of the one
man on earth who had loved her purely, and who had believed in her as
pure!

With an instinct as to possibilities, he did not now, as he had
intended, make for the first station beyond the town, but plunged still
farther under the firs, which here abounded for miles. Each clasping
the other round the waist they promenaded over the dry bed of
fir-needles, thrown into a vague intoxicating atmosphere at the
consciousness of being together at last, with no living soul between
them; ignoring that there was a corpse. Thus they proceeded for several
miles till Tess, arousing herself, looked about her, and said, timidly—

“Are we going anywhere in particular?”

“I don’t know, dearest. Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, we might walk a few miles further, and when it is evening find
lodgings somewhere or other—in a lonely cottage, perhaps. Can you walk
well, Tessy?”

“O yes! I could walk for ever and ever with your arm round me!”

Upon the whole it seemed a good thing to do. Thereupon they quickened
their pace, avoiding high roads, and following obscure paths tending
more or less northward. But there was an unpractical vagueness in their
movements throughout the day; neither one of them seemed to consider
any question of effectual escape, disguise, or long concealment. Their
every idea was temporary and unforefending, like the plans of two
children.

At mid-day they drew near to a roadside inn, and Tess would have
entered it with him to get something to eat, but he persuaded her to
remain among the trees and bushes of this half-woodland, half-moorland
part of the country till he should come back. Her clothes were of
recent fashion; even the ivory-handled parasol that she carried was of
a shape unknown in the retired spot to which they had now wandered; and
the cut of such articles would have attracted attention in the settle
of a tavern. He soon returned, with food enough for half-a-dozen people
and two bottles of wine—enough to last them for a day or more, should
any emergency arise.

They sat down upon some dead boughs and shared their meal. Between one
and two o’clock they packed up the remainder and went on again.

“I feel strong enough to walk any distance,” said she.

“I think we may as well steer in a general way towards the interior of
the country, where we can hide for a time, and are less likely to be
looked for than anywhere near the coast,” Clare remarked. “Later on,
when they have forgotten us, we can make for some port.”

She made no reply to this beyond that of grasping him more tightly, and
straight inland they went. Though the season was an English May, the
weather was serenely bright, and during the afternoon it was quite
warm. Through the latter miles of their walk their footpath had taken
them into the depths of the New Forest, and towards evening, turning
the corner of a lane, they perceived behind a brook and bridge a large
board on which was painted in white letters, “This desirable Mansion to
be Let Furnished”; particulars following, with directions to apply to
some London agents. Passing through the gate they could see the house,
an old brick building of regular design and large accommodation.

“I know it,” said Clare. “It is Bramshurst Court. You can see that it
is shut up, and grass is growing on the drive.”

“Some of the windows are open,” said Tess.

“Just to air the rooms, I suppose.”

“All these rooms empty, and we without a roof to our heads!”

“You are getting tired, my Tess!” he said. “We’ll stop soon.” And
kissing her sad mouth, he again led her onwards.

He was growing weary likewise, for they had wandered a dozen or fifteen
miles, and it became necessary to consider what they should do for
rest. They looked from afar at isolated cottages and little inns, and
were inclined to approach one of the latter, when their hearts failed
them, and they sheered off. At length their gait dragged, and they
stood still.

“Could we sleep under the trees?” she asked.

He thought the season insufficiently advanced.

“I have been thinking of that empty mansion we passed,” he said. “Let
us go back towards it again.”

They retraced their steps, but it was half an hour before they stood
without the entrance-gate as earlier. He then requested her to stay
where she was, whilst he went to see who was within.

She sat down among the bushes within the gate, and Clare crept towards
the house. His absence lasted some considerable time, and when he
returned Tess was wildly anxious, not for herself, but for him. He had
found out from a boy that there was only an old woman in charge as
caretaker, and she only came there on fine days, from the hamlet near,
to open and shut the windows. She would come to shut them at sunset.
“Now, we can get in through one of the lower windows, and rest there,”
said he.

Under his escort she went tardily forward to the main front, whose
shuttered windows, like sightless eyeballs, excluded the possibility of
watchers. The door was reached a few steps further, and one of the
windows beside it was open. Clare clambered in, and pulled Tess in
after him.

Except the hall, the rooms were all in darkness, and they ascended the
staircase. Up here also the shutters were tightly closed, the
ventilation being perfunctorily done, for this day at least, by opening
the hall-window in front and an upper window behind. Clare unlatched
the door of a large chamber, felt his way across it, and parted the
shutters to the width of two or three inches. A shaft of dazzling
sunlight glanced into the room, revealing heavy, old-fashioned
furniture, crimson damask hangings, and an enormous four-post bedstead,
along the head of which were carved running figures, apparently
Atalanta’s race.

“Rest at last!” said he, setting down his bag and the parcel of viands.

They remained in great quietness till the caretaker should have come to
shut the windows: as a precaution, putting themselves in total darkness
by barring the shutters as before, lest the woman should open the door
of their chamber for any casual reason. Between six and seven o’clock
she came, but did not approach the wing they were in. They heard her
close the windows, fasten them, lock the door, and go away. Then Clare
again stole a chink of light from the window, and they shared another
meal, till by-and-by they were enveloped in the shades of night which
they had no candle to disperse.


LVIII

The night was strangely solemn and still. In the small hours she
whispered to him the whole story of how he had walked in his sleep with
her in his arms across the Froom stream, at the imminent risk of both
their lives, and laid her down in the stone coffin at the ruined abbey.
He had never known of that till now.

“Why didn’t you tell me next day?” he said. “It might have prevented
much misunderstanding and woe.”

“Don’t think of what’s past!” said she. “I am not going to think
outside of now. Why should we! Who knows what to-morrow has in store?”

But it apparently had no sorrow. The morning was wet and foggy, and
Clare, rightly informed that the caretaker only opened the windows on
fine days, ventured to creep out of their chamber and explore the
house, leaving Tess asleep. There was no food on the premises, but
there was water, and he took advantage of the fog to emerge from the
mansion and fetch tea, bread, and butter from a shop in a little place
two miles beyond, as also a small tin kettle and spirit-lamp, that they
might get fire without smoke. His re-entry awoke her; and they
breakfasted on what he had brought.

They were indisposed to stir abroad, and the day passed, and the night
following, and the next, and next; till, almost without their being
aware, five days had slipped by in absolute seclusion, not a sight or
sound of a human being disturbing their peacefulness, such as it was.
The changes of the weather were their only events, the birds of the New
Forest their only company. By tacit consent they hardly once spoke of
any incident of the past subsequent to their wedding-day. The gloomy
intervening time seemed to sink into chaos, over which the present and
prior times closed as if it never had been. Whenever he suggested that
they should leave their shelter, and go forwards towards Southampton or
London, she showed a strange unwillingness to move.

“Why should we put an end to all that’s sweet and lovely!” she
deprecated. “What must come will come.” And, looking through the
shutter-chink: “All is trouble outside there; inside here content.”

He peeped out also. It was quite true; within was affection, union,
error forgiven: outside was the inexorable.

“And—and,” she said, pressing her cheek against his, “I fear that what
you think of me now may not last. I do not wish to outlive your present
feeling for me. I would rather not. I would rather be dead and buried
when the time comes for you to despise me, so that it may never be
known to me that you despised me.”

“I cannot ever despise you.”

“I also hope that. But considering what my life has been, I cannot see
why any man should, sooner or later, be able to help despising me....
How wickedly mad I was! Yet formerly I never could bear to hurt a fly
or a worm, and the sight of a bird in a cage used often to make me
cry.”

They remained yet another day. In the night the dull sky cleared, and
the result was that the old caretaker at the cottage awoke early. The
brilliant sunrise made her unusually brisk; she decided to open the
contiguous mansion immediately, and to air it thoroughly on such a day.
Thus it occurred that, having arrived and opened the lower rooms before
six o’clock, she ascended to the bedchambers, and was about to turn the
handle of the one wherein they lay. At that moment she fancied she
could hear the breathing of persons within. Her slippers and her
antiquity had rendered her progress a noiseless one so far, and she
made for instant retreat; then, deeming that her hearing might have
deceived her, she turned anew to the door and softly tried the handle.
The lock was out of order, but a piece of furniture had been moved
forward on the inside, which prevented her opening the door more than
an inch or two. A stream of morning light through the shutter-chink
fell upon the faces of the pair, wrapped in profound slumber, Tess’s
lips being parted like a half-opened flower near his cheek. The
caretaker was so struck with their innocent appearance, and with the
elegance of Tess’s gown hanging across a chair, her silk stockings
beside it, the pretty parasol, and the other habits in which she had
arrived because she had none else, that her first indignation at the
effrontery of tramps and vagabonds gave way to a momentary
sentimentality over this genteel elopement, as it seemed. She closed
the door, and withdrew as softly as she had come, to go and consult
with her neighbours on the odd discovery.

Not more than a minute had elapsed after her withdrawal when Tess woke,
and then Clare. Both had a sense that something had disturbed them,
though they could not say what; and the uneasy feeling which it
engendered grew stronger. As soon as he was dressed he narrowly scanned
the lawn through the two or three inches of shutter-chink.

“I think we will leave at once,” said he. “It is a fine day. And I
cannot help fancying somebody is about the house. At any rate, the
woman will be sure to come to-day.”

She passively assented, and putting the room in order, they took up the
few articles that belonged to them, and departed noiselessly. When they
had got into the Forest she turned to take a last look at the house.

“Ah, happy house—goodbye!” she said. “My life can only be a question of
a few weeks. Why should we not have stayed there?”

“Don’t say it, Tess! We shall soon get out of this district altogether.
We’ll continue our course as we’ve begun it, and keep straight north.
Nobody will think of looking for us there. We shall be looked for at
the Wessex ports if we are sought at all. When we are in the north we
will get to a port and away.”

Having thus persuaded her, the plan was pursued, and they kept a
bee-line northward. Their long repose at the manor-house lent them
walking power now; and towards mid-day they found that they were
approaching the steepled city of Melchester, which lay directly in
their way. He decided to rest her in a clump of trees during the
afternoon, and push onward under cover of darkness. At dusk Clare
purchased food as usual, and their night march began, the boundary
between Upper and Mid-Wessex being crossed about eight o’clock.

To walk across country without much regard to roads was not new to
Tess, and she showed her old agility in the performance. The
intercepting city, ancient Melchester, they were obliged to pass
through in order to take advantage of the town bridge for crossing a
large river that obstructed them. It was about midnight when they went
along the deserted streets, lighted fitfully by the few lamps, keeping
off the pavement that it might not echo their footsteps. The graceful
pile of cathedral architecture rose dimly on their left hand, but it
was lost upon them now. Once out of the town they followed the
turnpike-road, which after a few miles plunged across an open plain.

Though the sky was dense with cloud, a diffused light from some
fragment of a moon had hitherto helped them a little. But the moon had
now sunk, the clouds seemed to settle almost on their heads, and the
night grew as dark as a cave. However, they found their way along,
keeping as much on the turf as possible that their tread might not
resound, which it was easy to do, there being no hedge or fence of any
kind. All around was open loneliness and black solitude, over which a
stiff breeze blew.

They had proceeded thus gropingly two or three miles further when on a
sudden Clare became conscious of some vast erection close in his front,
rising sheer from the grass. They had almost struck themselves against
it.

“What monstrous place is this?” said Angel.

“It hums,” said she. “Hearken!”

He listened. The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming
tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp. No other sound
came from it, and lifting his hand and advancing a step or two, Clare
felt the vertical surface of the structure. It seemed to be of solid
stone, without joint or moulding. Carrying his fingers onward he found
that what he had come in contact with was a colossal rectangular
pillar; by stretching out his left hand he could feel a similar one
adjoining. At an indefinite height overhead something made the black
sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the
pillars horizontally. They carefully entered beneath and between; the
surfaces echoed their soft rustle; but they seemed to be still out of
doors. The place was roofless. Tess drew her breath fearfully, and
Angel, perplexed, said—

“What can it be?”

Feeling sideways they encountered another tower-like pillar, square and
uncompromising as the first; beyond it another and another. The place
was all doors and pillars, some connected above by continuous
architraves.

“A very Temple of the Winds,” he said.

The next pillar was isolated; others composed a trilithon; others were
prostrate, their flanks forming a causeway wide enough for a carriage;
and it was soon obvious that they made up a forest of monoliths grouped
upon the grassy expanse of the plain. The couple advanced further into
this pavilion of the night till they stood in its midst.

“It is Stonehenge!” said Clare.

“The heathen temple, you mean?”

“Yes. Older than the centuries; older than the d’Urbervilles! Well,
what shall we do, darling? We may find shelter further on.”

But Tess, really tired by this time, flung herself upon an oblong slab
that lay close at hand, and was sheltered from the wind by a pillar.
Owing to the action of the sun during the preceding day, the stone was
warm and dry, in comforting contrast to the rough and chill grass
around, which had damped her skirts and shoes.

“I don’t want to go any further, Angel,” she said, stretching out her
hand for his. “Can’t we bide here?”

“I fear not. This spot is visible for miles by day, although it does
not seem so now.”

“One of my mother’s people was a shepherd hereabouts, now I think of
it. And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am
at home.”

He knelt down beside her outstretched form, and put his lips upon hers.

“Sleepy are you, dear? I think you are lying on an altar.”

“I like very much to be here,” she murmured. “It is so solemn and
lonely—after my great happiness—with nothing but the sky above my face.
It seems as if there were no folk in the world but we two; and I wish
there were not—except ’Liza-Lu.”

Clare though she might as well rest here till it should get a little
lighter, and he flung his overcoat upon her, and sat down by her side.

“Angel, if anything happens to me, will you watch over ’Liza-Lu for my
sake?” she asked, when they had listened a long time to the wind among
the pillars.

“I will.”

“She is so good and simple and pure. O, Angel—I wish you would marry
her if you lose me, as you will do shortly. O, if you would!”

“If I lose you I lose all! And she is my sister-in-law.”

“That’s nothing, dearest. People marry sister-laws continually about
Marlott; and ’Liza-Lu is so gentle and sweet, and she is growing so
beautiful. O, I could share you with her willingly when we are spirits!
If you would train her and teach her, Angel, and bring her up for your
own self!... She had all the best of me without the bad of me; and if
she were to become yours it would almost seem as if death had not
divided us... Well, I have said it. I won’t mention it again.”

She ceased, and he fell into thought. In the far north-east sky he
could see between the pillars a level streak of light. The uniform
concavity of black cloud was lifting bodily like the lid of a pot,
letting in at the earth’s edge the coming day, against which the
towering monoliths and trilithons began to be blackly defined.

“Did they sacrifice to God here?” asked she.

“No,” said he.

“Who to?”

“I believe to the sun. That lofty stone set away by itself is in the
direction of the sun, which will presently rise behind it.”

“This reminds me, dear,” she said. “You remember you never would
interfere with any belief of mine before we were married? But I knew
your mind all the same, and I thought as you thought—not from any
reasons of my own, but because you thought so. Tell me now, Angel, do
you think we shall meet again after we are dead? I want to know.”

He kissed her to avoid a reply at such a time.

“O, Angel—I fear that means no!” said she, with a suppressed sob. “And
I wanted so to see you again—so much, so much! What—not even you and I,
Angel, who love each other so well?”

Like a greater than himself, to the critical question at the critical
time he did not answer; and they were again silent. In a minute or two
her breathing became more regular, her clasp of his hand relaxed, and
she fell asleep. The band of silver paleness along the east horizon
made even the distant parts of the Great Plain appear dark and near;
and the whole enormous landscape bore that impress of reserve,
taciturnity, and hesitation which is usual just before day. The
eastward pillars and their architraves stood up blackly against the
light, and the great flame-shaped Sun-stone beyond them; and the Stone
of Sacrifice midway. Presently the night wind died out, and the
quivering little pools in the cup-like hollows of the stones lay still.
At the same time something seemed to move on the verge of the dip
eastward—a mere dot. It was the head of a man approaching them from the
hollow beyond the Sun-stone. Clare wished they had gone onward, but in
the circumstances decided to remain quiet. The figure came straight
towards the circle of pillars in which they were.

He heard something behind him, the brush of feet. Turning, he saw over
the prostrate columns another figure; then before he was aware, another
was at hand on the right, under a trilithon, and another on the left.
The dawn shone full on the front of the man westward, and Clare could
discern from this that he was tall, and walked as if trained. They all
closed in with evident purpose. Her story then was true! Springing to
his feet, he looked around for a weapon, loose stone, means of escape,
anything. By this time the nearest man was upon him.

“It is no use, sir,” he said. “There are sixteen of us on the Plain,
and the whole country is reared.”

“Let her finish her sleep!” he implored in a whisper of the men as they
gathered round.

When they saw where she lay, which they had not done till then, they
showed no objection, and stood watching her, as still as the pillars
around. He went to the stone and bent over her, holding one poor little
hand; her breathing now was quick and small, like that of a lesser
creature than a woman. All waited in the growing light, their faces and
hands as if they were silvered, the remainder of their figures dark,
the stones glistening green-gray, the Plain still a mass of shade. Soon
the light was strong, and a ray shone upon her unconscious form,
peering under her eyelids and waking her.

“What is it, Angel?” she said, starting up. “Have they come for me?”

“Yes, dearest,” he said. “They have come.”

“It is as it should be,” she murmured. “Angel, I am almost glad—yes,
glad! This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much. I have had
enough; and now I shall not live for you to despise me!”

She stood up, shook herself, and went forward, neither of the men
having moved.

“I am ready,” she said quietly.


LIX

The city of Wintoncester, that fine old city, aforetime capital of
Wessex, lay amidst its convex and concave downlands in all the
brightness and warmth of a July morning. The gabled brick, tile, and
freestone houses had almost dried off for the season their integument
of lichen, the streams in the meadows were low, and in the sloping High
Street, from the West Gateway to the mediæval cross, and from the
mediæval cross to the bridge, that leisurely dusting and sweeping was
in progress which usually ushers in an old-fashioned market-day.

From the western gate aforesaid the highway, as every Wintoncestrian
knows, ascends a long and regular incline of the exact length of a
measured mile, leaving the houses gradually behind. Up this road from
the precincts of the city two persons were walking rapidly, as if
unconscious of the trying ascent—unconscious through preoccupation and
not through buoyancy. They had emerged upon this road through a narrow,
barred wicket in a high wall a little lower down. They seemed anxious
to get out of the sight of the houses and of their kind, and this road
appeared to offer the quickest means of doing so. Though they were
young, they walked with bowed heads, which gait of grief the sun’s rays
smiled on pitilessly.

One of the pair was Angel Clare, the other a tall budding creature—half
girl, half woman—a spiritualized image of Tess, slighter than she, but
with the same beautiful eyes—Clare’s sister-in-law, ’Liza-Lu. Their
pale faces seemed to have shrunk to half their natural size. They moved
on hand in hand, and never spoke a word, the drooping of their heads
being that of Giotto’s “Two Apostles”.

When they had nearly reached the top of the great West Hill the clocks
in the town struck eight. Each gave a start at the notes, and, walking
onward yet a few steps, they reached the first milestone, standing
whitely on the green margin of the grass, and backed by the down, which
here was open to the road. They entered upon the turf, and, impelled by
a force that seemed to overrule their will, suddenly stood still,
turned, and waited in paralyzed suspense beside the stone.

The prospect from this summit was almost unlimited. In the valley
beneath lay the city they had just left, its more prominent buildings
showing as in an isometric drawing—among them the broad cathedral
tower, with its Norman windows and immense length of aisle and nave,
the spires of St Thomas’s, the pinnacled tower of the College, and,
more to the right, the tower and gables of the ancient hospice, where
to this day the pilgrim may receive his dole of bread and ale. Behind
the city swept the rotund upland of St Catherine’s Hill; further off,
landscape beyond landscape, till the horizon was lost in the radiance
of the sun hanging above it.

Against these far stretches of country rose, in front of the other city
edifices, a large red-brick building, with level gray roofs, and rows
of short barred windows bespeaking captivity, the whole contrasting
greatly by its formalism with the quaint irregularities of the Gothic
erections. It was somewhat disguised from the road in passing it by
yews and evergreen oaks, but it was visible enough up here. The wicket
from which the pair had lately emerged was in the wall of this
structure. From the middle of the building an ugly flat-topped
octagonal tower ascended against the east horizon, and viewed from this
spot, on its shady side and against the light, it seemed the one blot
on the city’s beauty. Yet it was with this blot, and not with the
beauty, that the two gazers were concerned.

Upon the cornice of the tower a tall staff was fixed. Their eyes were
riveted on it. A few minutes after the hour had struck something moved
slowly up the staff, and extended itself upon the breeze. It was a
black flag.

“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Æschylean
phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. And the d’Urberville knights and
dames slept on in their tombs unknowing. The two speechless gazers bent
themselves down to the earth, as if in prayer, and remained thus a long
time, absolutely motionless: the flag continued to wave silently. As
soon as they had strength, they arose, joined hands again, and went on.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home