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 nightt` 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 noticeo`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.'T was 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 you 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 strengtho`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 --'t was a little one-eyed, blinking sorto' 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 countyo' South-Wessex that's got grander and nobler skillentons in his family than I. ”
“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 bottomo' the carriage they be to put a noggino' 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 accounto' I? ”
”` Tis the women's club-walking, Sir John. Why, your da` ter is oneo' 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.
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 -LRB- if any other did -RRB- 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 -LRB- which had possibly lain by folded for many a year -RRB- 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 has 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 ofA 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.
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 bito' 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! ” -LRB- 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. -RRB-
“Since I've been away? ” Tess asked.
“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 Knightso' the Royal Oak, our real name being d'Urberville! ... Don't that make your bosom plim?'T was 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 comeo` 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 letterC, 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.
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 edgeo' 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 noticeo' the maid, ” continued Mrs Durbeyfield; “and` twill be a very good thing. I don't see why two brancheso' 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. ”
“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 figureo' 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!` Nightt` 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 sureo' that. From you nater` tis my belief you've disgraced yourselves more than anyo' 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 -LRB- for he had moved in a sort of trance so far -RRB-, 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? ”
“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! ”
“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.
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 outskirtso' 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 brancho' 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 -LRB- some said money-lender -RRB- 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 can not 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. “Can not 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! ”
“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 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? ”
“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 brancho' 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 can not 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! ”
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 meaningo` 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 conquesto' 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 -LRB- which they imagined the other family to be -RRB- 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 lotso' 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.
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 pretenceo'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 wast` 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 moreo' 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 thinko` 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't was mine. ”
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. ”
“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 -LRB- the latter being the more likely -RRB-, 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 our 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' destination.
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. ”'T was 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 can not 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 -LRB-` Cousin' had a faint ring of mockery -RRB-. 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.
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 debris 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 whent` 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 know 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.
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 can not 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 can not 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! ”
“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.'T was 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 primeval 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.
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 loveo' 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 -LRB- of which he was to see more some day -RRB- 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 can not! 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 besto' 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 --
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 can not 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 --
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.'T was 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 down stairs, 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 insteado' 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 outo' 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 chanceo' 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! ”
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 -LRB- as they supposed -RRB-, 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.
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 too' that sort in time! ”
“A little more than persuading had to do wi' the comingo`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,'t was 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.
“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 -LRB- for they were not Blakemore men, though her mother was Blakemore to the bone -RRB-. 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.
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.
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:
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 -- -LRB- 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 -RRB-.
“Oh -- ay, as a lad I knowed your parto' 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 timeo' 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 disho' tay, or victuals of some sort, hey? Not yet? Well, do as ye like about it. But faith, if't was 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 thinko` 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 -LRB- considering't was a wedding, and the folks well off -RRB-, 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't was 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 kneelo' Christmas Eves in the deado' 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't was not Christmas Eve.ᡖ 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 Reverent 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.
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 can not 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
That the Eternal and Divine
Did, eighteen centuries ago
In very truth…
Angel's father tried argument, persuasion, entreaty.
“No, father; I can not underwrite Article Four -LRB- leave alone the rest -RRB-, 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 can not 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 ” -LRB- to use a favourite phrase of a late local worthy -RRB- 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'ily 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 -LRB- breakfasts were breakfasts here -RRB- 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 hundredso' 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 thinko' the miles I've vampedo' starlight nights these last thirty year, courting, or trading, or for doctor, or for nurse, and yet never had the least notiono' 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.
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? ”
“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.
“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's 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 niaiserie, 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 lotso' the lands out by King's Hintock, now owned by the Earlo' 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 heret` 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.
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 though 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.
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 rightso`t. It had nothing to do with the love-making. I can mind all about it --'t was 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 sorto' 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 outo' 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 -LRB- it was turned by handpower then -RRB-, 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!' -LRB- He was a cowardly chap in his heart, as such men mostly be -RRB-.` 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 ” -LRB- he frequently, with unconscious irony, gave her this pet name -RRB-, “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 outo' 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?
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.
“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.
“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.
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 -LRB- to adopt the safe phrase of evasive controversialists -RRB-, 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? ”
“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 -LRB- her tears running down -RRB-. “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 can not 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. “ButO! 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 -LRB- while lacking nothing in the eye of Nature -RRB-; 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 heardo' 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.
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.
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 can not, 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.
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 -LRB- never dreaming that it might stand him in such good stead -RRB- 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. ”
“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.
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 can not be your wife -- I can not 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 can not 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 can not! 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 can not -- 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.
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.
“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 can not 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 happinesso' 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 finder-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 can not 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 now 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 can not 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! ”
“Now, who mid ye think I've heard newso' 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 thinko' 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 stateo' 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 worsto` 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't was. 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 eithero`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 can not. For your sake,O Mr Clare; for your sake, I say no! ”
“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. -LRB- 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. -RRB- 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 dearest -- why not? ”
”` Twould mean that I agree, wouldn't it? ”
“It would only mean that you love me, even if you can not 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.
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. ”
“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 field 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 -LRB- he laughed as he spoke -RRB-, 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.
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! ButO, 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! ”
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.
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 thoughto' your going away and leaving me here! ”
“Of course you can not -- 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.
“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 thinkingo' that, ” said Marian simply. “I was on'y feeling all the strangenesso`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 can not! ”
“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.
“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.
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? ”
“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.
“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. -LRB-A midland farm was the idea just then. -RRB-
“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. ”
“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.
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;'t was 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 honouro`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 thinko' 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 triumphan