Clare, restless, went out into the dusk when evening drew on, she who had won him having retired to her chamber.
The night was as sultry as the day. There was no coolness after dark unless on the grass. Roads, garden-paths, the house-fronts, the barton-walls were warm as hearths, and reflected the noontime temperature into the noctambulist’s face.
He sat on the east gate of the dairy-yard, and knew not what to think of himself. Feeling had indeed smothered judgement that day.
Since the sudden embrace, three hours before, the twain had kept apart. She seemed stilled, almost alarmed, at what had occurred, while the novelty, unpremeditation, mastery of circumstance disquieted him—palpitating, contemplative being that he was. He could hardly realize their true relations to each other as yet, and what their mutual bearing should be before third parties thenceforward.
Angel had come as pupil to this dairy in the idea that his temporary existence here was to be the merest episode in his life, soon passed through and early forgotten; he had come as to a place from which as from a screened alcove he could calmly view the absorbing world without, and, apostrophizing it with Walt Whitman—
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes,
How curious you are to me!—
resolve upon a plan for plunging into that world anew. But behold, the absorbing scene had been imported hither. What had been the engrossing world had dissolved into an uninteresting outer dumb-show; while here, in this apparently dim and unimpassioned place, novelty had volcanically started up, as it had never, for him, started up elsewhere.
Every window of the house being open, Clare could hear across the yard each trivial sound of the retiring household. The dairy-house, so humble, so insignificant, so purely to him a place of constrained sojourn that he had never hitherto deemed it of sufficient importance to be reconnoitred as an object of any quality whatever in the landscape; what was it now? The aged and lichened brick gables breathed forth “Stay!” The windows smiled, the door coaxed and beckoned, the creeper blushed confederacy. A personality within it was so far-reaching in her influence as to spread into and make the bricks, mortar, and whole overhanging sky throb with a burning sensibility. Whose was this mighty personality? A milkmaid’s.
It was amazing, indeed, to find how great a matter the life of the obscure dairy had become to him. And though new love was to be held partly responsible for this, it was not solely so. Many besides Angel have learnt that the magnitude of lives is not as to their external displacements, but as to their subjective experiences. The impressionable peasant leads a larger, fuller, more dramatic life than the pachydermatous king. Looking at it thus, he found that life was to be seen of the same magnitude here as elsewhere.
Despite his heterodoxy, faults, and weaknesses, Clare was a man with a conscience. Tess was no insignificant creature to toy with and dismiss; but a woman living her precious life—a life which, to herself who endured or enjoyed it, possessed as great a dimension as the life of the mightiest to himself. Upon her sensations the whole world depended to Tess; through her existence all her fellow-creatures existed, to her. The universe itself only came into being for Tess on the particular day in the particular year in which she was born.
This consciousness upon which he had intruded was the single opportunity of existence ever vouchsafed to Tess by an unsympathetic First Cause—her all; her every and only chance. How then should he look upon her as of less consequence than himself; as a pretty trifle to caress and grow weary of; and not deal in the greatest seriousness with the affection which he knew that he had awakened in her—so fervid and so impressionable as she was under her reserve—in order that it might not agonize and wreck her?
To encounter her daily in the accustomed manner would be to develop what had begun. Living in such close relations, to meet meant to fall into endearment; flesh and blood could not resist it; and, having arrived at no conclusion as to the issue of such a tendency, he decided to hold aloof for the present from occupations in which they would be mutually engaged. As yet the harm done was small.
But it was not easy to carry out the resolution never to approach her. He was driven towards her by every heave of his pulse.
He thought he would go and see his friends. It might be possible to sound them upon this. In less than five months his term here would have ended, and after a few additional months spent upon other farms he would be fully equipped in agricultural knowledge and in a position to start on his own account. Would not a farmer want a wife, and should a farmer’s wife be a drawing-room wax-figure, or a woman who understood farming? Notwithstanding the pleasing answer returned to him by the silence, he resolved to go his journey.
One morning when they sat down to breakfast at Talbothays Dairy some maid observed that she had not seen anything of Mr Clare that day.
“O no,” said Dairyman Crick. “Mr Clare has gone hwome to Emminster to spend a few days wi’ his kinsfolk.”
For four impassioned ones around that table the sunshine of the morning went out at a stroke, and the birds muffled their song. But neither girl by word or gesture revealed her blankness. “He’s getting on towards the end of his time wi’ me,” added the dairyman, with a phlegm which unconsciously was brutal; “and so I suppose he is beginning to see about his plans elsewhere.”
“How much longer is he to bide here?” asked Izz Huett, the only one of the gloom-stricken bevy who could trust her voice with the question.
The others waited for the dairyman’s answer as if their lives hung upon it; Retty, with parted lips, gazing on the tablecloth, Marian with heat added to her redness, Tess throbbing and looking out at the meads.
“Well, I can’t mind the exact day without looking at my memorandum-book,” replied Crick, with the same intolerable unconcern. “And even that may be altered a bit. He’ll bide to get a little practice in the calving out at the straw-yard, for certain. He’ll hang on till the end of the year I should say.”
Four months or so of torturing ecstasy in his society—of “pleasure girdled about with pain”. After that the blackness of unutterable night.
At this moment of the morning Angel Clare was riding along a narrow lane ten miles distant from the breakfasters, in the direction of his father’s Vicarage at Emminster, carrying, as well as he could, a little basket which contained some black-puddings and a bottle of mead, sent by Mrs Crick, with her kind respects, to his parents. The white lane stretched before him, and his eyes were upon it; but they were staring into next year, and not at the lane. He loved her; ought he to marry her? Dared he to marry her? What would his mother and his brothers say? What would he himself say a couple of years after the event? That would depend upon whether the germs of staunch comradeship underlay the temporary emotion, or whether it were a sensuous joy in her form only, with no substratum of everlastingness.
His father’s hill-surrounded little town, the Tudor church-tower of red stone, the clump of trees near the Vicarage, came at last into view beneath him, and he rode down towards the well-known gate. Casting a glance in the direction of the church before entering his home, he beheld standing by the vestry-door a group of girls, of ages between twelve and sixteen, apparently awaiting the arrival of some other one, who in a moment became visible; a figure somewhat older than the school-girls, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and highly-starched cambric morning-gown, with a couple of books in her hand.
Clare knew her well. He could not be sure that she observed him; he hoped she did not, so as to render it unnecessary that he should go and speak to her, blameless creature that she was. An overpowering reluctance to greet her made him decide that she had not seen him. The young lady was Miss Mercy Chant, the only daughter of his father’s neighbour and friend, whom it was his parents’ quiet hope that he might wed some day. She was great at Antinomianism and Bible-classes, and was plainly going to hold a class now. Clare’s mind flew to the impassioned, summer-steeped heathens in the Var Vale, their rosy faces court-patched with cow-droppings; and to one the most impassioned of them all.
It was on the impulse of the moment that he had resolved to trot over to Emminster, and hence had not written to apprise his mother and father, aiming, however, to arrive about the breakfast hour, before they should have gone out to their parish duties. He was a little late, and they had already sat down to the morning meal. The group at the table jumped up to welcome him as soon as he entered. They were his father and mother, his brother the Reverend Felix—curate at a town in the adjoining county, home for the inside of a fortnight—and his other brother, the Reverend Cuthbert, the classical scholar, and Fellow and Dean of his College, down from Cambridge for the long vacation. His mother appeared in a cap and silver spectacles, and his father looked what in fact he was—an earnest, God-fearing man, somewhat gaunt, in years about sixty-five, his pale face lined with thought and purpose. Over their heads hung the picture of Angel’s sister, the eldest of the family, sixteen years his senior, who had married a missionary and gone out to Africa.
Old Mr Clare was a clergyman of a type which, within the last twenty years, has well nigh dropped out of contemporary life. A spiritual descendant in the direct line from Wycliff, Huss, Luther, Calvin; an Evangelical of the Evangelicals, a Conversionist, a man of Apostolic simplicity in life and thought, he had in his raw youth made up his mind once for all in the deeper questions of existence, and admitted no further reasoning on them thenceforward. He was regarded even by those of his own date and school of thinking as extreme; while, on the other hand, those totally opposed to him were unwillingly won to admiration for his thoroughness, and for the remarkable power he showed in dismissing all question as to principles in his energy for applying them. He loved Paul of Tarsus, liked St John, hated St James as much as he dared, and regarded with mixed feelings Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. The New Testament was less a Christiad then a Pauliad to his intelligence—less an argument than an intoxication. His creed of determinism was such that it almost amounted to a vice, and quite amounted, on its negative side, to a renunciative philosophy which had cousinship with that of Schopenhauer and Leopardi. He despised the Canons and Rubric, swore by the Articles, and deemed himself consistent through the whole category—which in a way he might have been. One thing he certainly was—sincere.
To the aesthetic, sensuous, pagan pleasure in natural life and lush womanhood which his son Angel had lately been experiencing in Var Vale, his temper would have been antipathetic in a high degree, had he either by inquiry or imagination been able to apprehend it. Once upon a time Angel had been so unlucky as to say to his father, in a moment of irritation, that it might have resulted far better for mankind if Greece had been the source of the religion of modern civilization, and not Palestine; and his father’s grief was of that blank description which could not realize that there might lurk a thousandth part of a truth, much less a half truth or a whole truth, in such a proposition. He had simply preached austerely at Angel for some time after. But the kindness of his heart was such that he never resented anything for long, and welcomed his son to-day with a smile which was as candidly sweet as a child’s.
Angel sat down, and the place felt like home; yet he did not so much as formerly feel himself one of the family gathered there. Every time that he returned hither he was conscious of this divergence, and since he had last shared in the Vicarage life it had grown even more distinctly foreign to his own than usual. Its transcendental aspirations—still unconsciously based on the geocentric view of things, a zenithal paradise, a nadiral hell—were as foreign to his own as if they had been the dreams of people on another planet. Latterly he had seen only Life, felt only the great passionate pulse of existence, unwarped, uncontorted, untrammelled by those creeds which futilely attempt to check what wisdom would be content to regulate.
On their part they saw a great difference in him, a growing divergence from the Angel Clare of former times. It was chiefly a difference in his manner that they noticed just now, particularly his brothers. He was getting to behave like a farmer; he flung his legs about; the muscles of his face had grown more expressive; his eyes looked as much information as his tongue spoke, and more. The manner of the scholar had nearly disappeared; still more the manner of the drawing-room young man. A prig would have said that he had lost culture, and a prude that he had become coarse. Such was the contagion of domiciliary fellowship with the Talbothays nymphs and swains.
After breakfast he walked with his two brothers, non-evangelical, well-educated, hall-marked young men, correct to their remotest fibre, such unimpeachable models as are turned out yearly by the lathe of a systematic tuition. They were both somewhat short-sighted, and when it was the custom to wear a single eyeglass and string they wore a single eyeglass and string; when it was the custom to wear a double glass they wore a double glass; when it was the custom to wear spectacles they wore spectacles straightway, all without reference to the particular variety of defect in their own vision. When Wordsworth was enthroned they carried pocket copies; and when Shelley was belittled they allowed him to grow dusty on their shelves. When Correggio’s Holy Families were admired, they admired Correggio’s Holy Families; when he was decried in favour of Velasquez, they sedulously followed suit without any personal objection.
If these two noticed Angel’s growing social ineptness, he noticed their growing mental limitations. Felix seemed to him all Church; Cuthbert all College. His Diocesan Synod and Visitations were the mainsprings of the world to the one; Cambridge to the other. Each brother candidly recognized that there were a few unimportant score of millions of outsiders in civilized society, persons who were neither University men nor churchmen; but they were to be tolerated rather than reckoned with and respected.
They were both dutiful and attentive sons, and were regular in their visits to their parents. Felix, though an offshoot from a far more recent point in the devolution of theology than his father, was less self-sacrificing and disinterested. More tolerant than his father of a contradictory opinion, in its aspect as a danger to its holder, he was less ready than his father to pardon it as a slight to his own teaching. Cuthbert was, upon the whole, the more liberal-minded, though, with greater subtlety, he had not so much heart.
As they walked along the hillside Angel’s former feeling revived in him—that whatever their advantages by comparison with himself, neither saw or set forth life as it really was lived. Perhaps, as with many men, their opportunities of observation were not so good as their opportunities of expression. Neither had an adequate conception of the complicated forces at work outside the smooth and gentle current in which they and their associates floated. Neither saw the difference between local truth and universal truth; that what the inner world said in their clerical and academic hearing was quite a different thing from what the outer world was thinking.
“I suppose it is farming or nothing for you now, my dear fellow,” Felix was saying, among other things, to his youngest brother, as he looked through his spectacles at the distant fields with sad austerity. “And, therefore, we must make the best of it. But I do entreat you to endeavour to keep as much as possible in touch with moral ideals. Farming, of course, means roughing it externally; but high thinking may go with plain living, nevertheless.”
“Of course it may,” said Angel. “Was it not proved nineteen hundred years ago—if I may trespass upon your domain a little? Why should you think, Felix, that I am likely to drop my high thinking and my moral ideals?”
“Well, I fancied, from the tone of your letters and our conversation—it may be fancy only—that you were somehow losing intellectual grasp. Hasn’t it struck you, Cuthbert?”
“Now, Felix,” said Angel drily, “we are very good friends, you know; each of us treading our allotted circles; but if it comes to intellectual grasp, I think you, as a contented dogmatist, had better leave mine alone, and inquire what has become of yours.”
They returned down the hill to dinner, which was fixed at any time at which their father’s and mother’s morning work in the parish usually concluded. Convenience as regarded afternoon callers was the last thing to enter into the consideration of unselfish Mr and Mrs Clare; though the three sons were sufficiently in unison on this matter to wish that their parents would conform a little to modern notions.
The walk had made them hungry, Angel in particular, who was now an outdoor man, accustomed to the profuse dapes inemptae of the dairyman’s somewhat coarsely-laden table. But neither of the old people had arrived, and it was not till the sons were almost tired of waiting that their parents entered. The self-denying pair had been occupied in coaxing the appetites of some of their sick parishioners, whom they, somewhat inconsistently, tried to keep imprisoned in the flesh, their own appetites being quite forgotten.
The family sat down to table, and a frugal meal of cold viands was deposited before them. Angel looked round for Mrs Crick’s black-puddings, which he had directed to be nicely grilled as they did them at the dairy, and of which he wished his father and mother to appreciate the marvellous herbal savours as highly as he did himself.
“Ah! you are looking for the black-puddings, my dear boy,” observed Clare’s mother. “But I am sure you will not mind doing without them as I am sure your father and I shall not, when you know the reason. I suggested to him that we should take Mrs Crick’s kind present to the children of the man who can earn nothing just now because of his attacks of delirium tremens; and he agreed that it would be a great pleasure to them; so we did.”
“Of course,” said Angel cheerfully, looking round for the mead.
“I found the mead so extremely alcoholic,” continued his mother, “that it was quite unfit for use as a beverage, but as valuable as rum or brandy in an emergency; so I have put it in my medicine-closet.”
“We never drink spirits at this table, on principle,” added his father.
“But what shall I tell the dairyman’s wife?” said Angel.
“The truth, of course,” said his father.
“I rather wanted to say we enjoyed the mead and the black-puddings very much. She is a kind, jolly sort of body, and is sure to ask me directly I return.”
“You cannot, if we did not,” Mr Clare answered lucidly.
“Ah—no; though that mead was a drop of pretty tipple.”
“A what?” said Cuthbert and Felix both.
“Oh—’tis an expression they use down at Talbothays,” replied Angel, blushing. He felt that his parents were right in their practice if wrong in their want of sentiment, and said no more.
It was not till the evening, after family prayers, that Angel found opportunity of broaching to his father one or two subjects near his heart. He had strung himself up to the purpose while kneeling behind his brothers on the carpet, studying the little nails in the heels of their walking boots. When the service was over they went out of the room with their mother, and Mr Clare and himself were left alone.
The young man first discussed with the elder his plans for the attainment of his position as a farmer on an extensive scale—either in England or in the Colonies. His father then told him that, as he had not been put to the expense of sending Angel up to Cambridge, he had felt it his duty to set by a sum of money every year towards the purchase or lease of land for him some day, that he might not feel himself unduly slighted.
“As far as worldly wealth goes,” continued his father, “you will no doubt stand far superior to your brothers in a few years.”
This considerateness on old Mr Clare’s part led Angel onward to the other and dearer subject. He observed to his father that he was then six-and-twenty, and that when he should start in the farming business he would require eyes in the back of his head to see to all matters—some one would be necessary to superintend the domestic labours of his establishment whilst he was afield. Would it not be well, therefore, for him to marry?
His father seemed to think this idea not unreasonable; and then Angel put the question—
“What kind of wife do you think would be best for me as a thrifty hard-working farmer?”
“A truly Christian woman, who will be a help and a comfort to you in your goings-out and your comings-in. Beyond that, it really matters little. Such an one can be found; indeed, my earnest-minded friend and neighbour, Dr Chant—”
“But ought she not primarily to be able to milk cows, churn good butter, make immense cheeses; know how to sit hens and turkeys and rear chickens, to direct a field of labourers in an emergency, and estimate the value of sheep and calves?”
“Yes; a farmer’s wife; yes, certainly. It would be desirable.” Mr Clare, the elder, had plainly never thought of these points before. “I was going to add,” he said, “that for a pure and saintly woman you will not find one more to your true advantage, and certainly not more to your mother’s mind and my own, than your friend Mercy, whom you used to show a certain interest in. It is true that my neighbour Chant’s daughter had lately caught up the fashion of the younger clergy round about us for decorating the Communion-table—alter, as I was shocked to hear her call it one day—with flowers and other stuff on festival occasions. But her father, who is quite as opposed to such flummery as I, says that can be cured. It is a mere girlish outbreak which, I am sure, will not be permanent.”
“Yes, yes; Mercy is good and devout, I know. But, father, don’t you think that a young woman equally pure and virtuous as Miss Chant, but one who, in place of that lady’s ecclesiastical accomplishments, understands the duties of farm life as well as a farmer himself, would suit me infinitely better?”
His father persisted in his conviction that a knowledge of a farmer’s wife’s duties came second to a Pauline view of humanity; and the impulsive Angel, wishing to honour his father’s feelings and to advance the cause of his heart at the same time, grew specious. He said that fate or Providence had thrown in his way a woman who possessed every qualification to be the helpmate of an agriculturist, and was decidedly of a serious turn of mind. He would not say whether or not she had attached herself to the sound Low Church School of his father; but she would probably be open to conviction on that point; she was a regular church-goer of simple faith; honest-hearted, receptive, intelligent, graceful to a degree, chaste as a vestal, and, in personal appearance, exceptionally beautiful.
“Is she of a family such as you would care to marry into—a lady, in short?” asked his startled mother, who had come softly into the study during the conversation.
“She is not what in common parlance is called a lady,” said Angel, unflinchingly, “for she is a cottager’s daughter, as I am proud to say. But she is a lady, nevertheless—in feeling and nature.”
“Mercy Chant is of a very good family.”
“Pooh!—what’s the advantage of that, mother?” said Angel quickly. “How is family to avail the wife of a man who has to rough it as I have, and shall have to do?”
“Mercy is accomplished. And accomplishments have their charm,” returned his mother, looking at him through her silver spectacles.
“As to external accomplishments, what will be the use of them in the life I am going to lead?—while as to her reading, I can take that in hand. She’ll be apt pupil enough, as you would say if you knew her. She’s brim full of poetry—actualized poetry, if I may use the expression. She lives what paper-poets only write… And she is an unimpeachable Christian, I am sure; perhaps of the very tribe, genus, and species you desire to propagate.”
“O Angel, you are mocking!”
“Mother, I beg pardon. But as she really does attend Church almost every Sunday morning, and is a good Christian girl, I am sure you will tolerate any social shortcomings for the sake of that quality, and feel that I may do worse than choose her.” Angel waxed quite earnest on that rather automatic orthodoxy in his beloved Tess which (never dreaming that it might stand him in such good stead) he had been prone to slight when observing it practised by her and the other milkmaids, because of its obvious unreality amid beliefs essentially naturalistic.
In their sad doubts as to whether their son had himself any right whatever to the title he claimed for the unknown young woman, Mr and Mrs Clare began to feel it as an advantage not to be overlooked that she at least was sound in her views; especially as the conjunction of the pair must have arisen by an act of Providence; for Angel never would have made orthodoxy a condition of his choice. They said finally that it was better not to act in a hurry, but that they would not object to see her.
Angel therefore refrained from declaring more particulars now. He felt that, single-minded and self-sacrificing as his parents were, there yet existed certain latent prejudices of theirs, as middle-class people, which it would require some tact to overcome. For though legally at liberty to do as he chose, and though their daughter-in-law’s qualifications could make no practical difference to their lives, in the probability of her living far away from them, he wished for affection’s sake not to wound their sentiment in the most important decision of his life.
He observed his own inconsistencies in dwelling upon accidents in Tess’s life as if they were vital features. It was for herself that he loved Tess; her soul, her heart, her substance—not for her skill in the dairy, her aptness as his scholar, and certainly not for her simple formal faith-professions. Her unsophisticated open-air existence required no varnish of conventionality to make it palatable to him. He held that education had as yet but little affected the beats of emotion and impulse on which domestic happiness depends. It was probable that, in the lapse of ages, improved systems of moral and intellectual training would appreciably, perhaps considerably, elevate the involuntary and even the unconscious instincts of human nature; but up to the present day, culture, as far as he could see, might be said to have affected only the mental epiderm of those lives which had been brought under its influence. This belief was confirmed by his experience of women, which, having latterly been extended from the cultivated middle-class into the rural community, had taught him how much less was the intrinsic difference between the good and wise woman of one social stratum and the good and wise woman of another social stratum, than between the good and bad, the wise and the foolish, of the same stratum or class.
It was the morning of his departure. His brothers had already left the Vicarage to proceed on a walking tour in the north, whence one was to return to his college, and the other to his curacy. Angel might have accompanied them, but preferred to rejoin his sweetheart at Talbothays. He would have been an awkward member of the party; for, though the most appreciative humanist, the most ideal religionist, even the best-versed Christologist of the three, there was alienation in the standing consciousness that his squareness would not fit the round hole that had been prepared for him. To neither Felix nor Cuthbert had he ventured to mention Tess.
His mother made him sandwiches, and his father accompanied him, on his own mare, a little way along the road. Having fairly well advanced his own affairs, Angel listened in a willing silence, as they jogged on together through the shady lanes, to his father’s account of his parish difficulties, and the coldness of brother clergymen whom he loved, because of his strict interpretations of the New Testament by the light of what they deemed a pernicious Calvinistic doctrine.
“Pernicious!” said Mr Clare, with genial scorn; and he proceeded to recount experiences which would show the absurdity of that idea. He told of wondrous conversions of evil livers of which he had been the instrument, not only amongst the poor, but amongst the rich and well-to-do; and he also candidly admitted many failures.
As an instance of the latter, he mentioned the case of a young upstart squire named d’Urberville, living some forty miles off, in the neighbourhood of Trantridge.
“Not one of the ancient d’Urbervilles of Kingsbere and other places?” asked his son. “That curiously historic worn-out family with its ghostly legend of the coach-and-four?”
“O no. The original d’Urbervilles decayed and disappeared sixty or eighty years ago—at least, I believe so. This seems to be a new family which had taken the name; for the credit of the former knightly line I hope they are spurious, I’m sure. But it is odd to hear you express interest in old families. I thought you set less store by them even than I.”
“You misapprehend me, father; you often do,” said Angel with a little impatience. “Politically I am sceptical as to the virtue of their being old. Some of the wise even among themselves ‘exclaim against their own succession,’ as Hamlet puts it; but lyrically, dramatically, and even historically, I am tenderly attached to them.”
This distinction, though by no means a subtle one, was yet too subtle for Mr Clare the elder, and he went on with the story he had been about to relate; which was that after the death of the senior so-called d’Urberville, the young man developed the most culpable passions, though he had a blind mother, whose condition should have made him know better. A knowledge of his career having come to the ears of Mr Clare, when he was in that part of the country preaching missionary sermons, he boldly took occasion to speak to the delinquent on his spiritual state. Though he was a stranger, occupying another’s pulpit, he had felt this to be his duty, and took for his text the words from St Luke: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee!” The young man much resented this directness of attack, and in the war of words which followed when they met he did not scruple publicly to insult Mr Clare, without respect for his gray hairs.
Angel flushed with distress.
“Dear father,” he said sadly, “I wish you would not expose yourself to such gratuitous pain from scoundrels!”
“Pain?” said his father, his rugged face shining in the ardour of self-abnegation. “The only pain to me was pain on his account, poor, foolish young man. Do you suppose his incensed words could give me any pain, or even his blows? ‘Being reviled we bless; being persecuted we suffer it; being defamed we entreat; we are made as the filth of the world, and as the offscouring of all things unto this day.’ Those ancient and noble words to the Corinthians are strictly true at this present hour.”
“Not blows, father? He did not proceed to blows?”
“No, he did not. Though I have borne blows from men in a mad state of intoxication.”
“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 cannot be your wife—I cannot be!”
The sound of her own decision seemed to break Tess’s very heart, and she bowed her face in her grief.
“But, Tess!” he said, amazed at her reply, and holding her still more greedily close. “Do you say no? Surely you love me?”
“O yes, yes! And I would rather be yours than anybody’s in the world,” returned the sweet and honest voice of the distressed girl. “But I cannot marry you!”
“Tess,” he said, holding her at arm’s length, “you are engaged to marry some one else!”
“Then why do you refuse me?”
“I don’t want to marry! I have not thought of doing it. I cannot! I only want to love you.”
Driven to subterfuge, she stammered—
“Your father is a parson, and your mother wouldn’ like you to marry such as me. She will want you to marry a lady.”
“Nonsense—I have spoken to them both. That was partly why I went home.”
“I feel I cannot—never, never!” she echoed.
“Is it too sudden to be asked thus, my Pretty?”
“Yes—I did not expect it.”
“If you will let it pass, please, Tessy, I will give you time,” he said. “It was very abrupt to come home and speak to you all at once. I’ll not allude to it again for a while.”
She again took up the shining skimmer, held it beneath the pump, and began anew. But she could not, as at other times, hit the exact under-surface of the cream with the delicate dexterity required, try as she might; sometimes she was cutting down into the milk, sometimes in the air. She could hardly see, her eyes having filled with two blurring tears drawn forth by a grief which, to this her best friend and dear advocate, she could never explain.
“I can’t skim—I can’t!” she said, turning away from him.
Not to agitate and hinder her longer, the considerate Clare began talking in a more general way:
“You quite misapprehend my parents. They are the most simple-mannered people alive, and quite unambitious. They are two of the few remaining Evangelical school. Tessy, are you an Evangelical?”
“I don’t know.”
“You go to church very regularly, and our parson here is not very High, they tell me.”
Tess’s ideas on the views of the parish clergyman, whom she heard every week, seemed to be rather more vague than Clare’s, who had never heard him at all.
“I wish I could fix my mind on what I hear there more firmly than I do,” she remarked as a safe generality. “It is often a great sorrow to me.”
She spoke so unaffectedly that Angel was sure in his heart that his father could not object to her on religious grounds, even though she did not know whether her principles were High, Low or Broad. He himself knew that, in reality, the confused beliefs which she held, apparently imbibed in childhood, were, if anything, Tractarian as to phraseology, and Pantheistic as to essence. Confused or otherwise, to disturb them was his last desire:
Leave thou thy sister, when she prays,
Her early Heaven, her happy views;
Nor thou with shadow’d hint confuse
A life that leads melodious days.
He had occasionally thought the counsel less honest than musical; but he gladly conformed to it now.
He spoke further of the incidents of his visit, of his father’s mode of life, of his zeal for his principles; she grew serener, and the undulations disappeared from her skimming; as she finished one lead after another he followed her, and drew the plugs for letting down the milk.
“I fancied you looked a little downcast when you came in,” she ventured to observe, anxious to keep away from the subject of herself.
“Yes—well, my father had been talking a good deal to me of his troubles and difficulties, and the subject always tends to depress me. He is so zealous that he gets many snubs and buffetings from people of a different way of thinking from himself, and I don’t like to hear of such humiliations to a man of his age, the more particularly as I don’t think earnestness does any good when carried so far. He has been telling me of a very unpleasant scene in which he took part quite recently. He went as the deputy of some missionary society to preach in the neighbourhood of Trantridge, a place forty miles from here, and made it his business to expostulate with a lax young cynic he met with somewhere about there—son of some landowner up that way—and who has a mother afflicted with blindness. My father addressed himself to the gentleman point-blank, and there was quite a disturbance. It was very foolish of my father, I must say, to intrude his conversation upon a stranger when the probabilities were so obvious that it would be useless. But whatever he thinks to be his duty, that he’ll do, in season or out of season; and, of course, he makes many enemies, not only among the absolutely vicious, but among the easy-going, who hate being bothered. He says he glories in what happened, and that good may be done indirectly; but I wish he would not wear himself out now he is getting old, and would leave such pigs to their wallowing.”
Tess’s look had grown hard and worn, and her ripe mouth tragical; but she no longer showed any tremulousness. Clare’s revived thoughts of his father prevented his noticing her particularly; and so they went on down the white row of liquid rectangles till they had finished and drained them off, when the other maids returned, and took their pails, and Deb came to scald out the leads for the new milk. As Tess withdrew to go afield to the cows he said to her softly—
“And my question, Tessy?”
“O no—no!” replied she with grave hopelessness, as one who had heard anew the turmoil of her own past in the allusion to Alec d’Urberville. “It can’t be!”
She went out towards the mead, joining the other milkmaids with a bound, as if trying to make the open air drive away her sad constraint. All the girls drew onward to the spot where the cows were grazing in the farther mead, the bevy advancing with the bold grace of wild animals—the reckless, unchastened motion of women accustomed to unlimited space—in which they abandoned themselves to the air as a swimmer to the wave. It seemed natural enough to him now that Tess was again in sight to choose a mate from unconstrained Nature, and not from the abodes of Art.
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 cannot read, or play, or do anything. I am in no hurry, Tess, but I want to know—to hear from your own warm lips—that you will some day be mine—any time you may choose; but some day?”
She could only shake her head and look away from him.
Clare regarded her attentively, conned the characters of her face as if they had been hieroglyphics. The denial seemed real.
“Then I ought not to hold you in this way—ought I? I have no right to you—no right to seek out where you are, or walk with you! Honestly, Tess, do you love any other man?”
“How can you ask?” she said, with continued self-suppression.
“I almost know that you do not. But then, why do you repulse me?”
“I don’t repulse you. I like you to—tell me you love me; and you may always tell me so as you go about with me—and never offend me.”
“But you will not accept me as a husband?”
“Ah—that’s different—it is for your good, indeed, my dearest! O, believe me, it is only for your sake! I don’t like to give myself the great happiness o’ promising to be yours in that way—because—because I am sure I ought not to do it.”
“But you will make me happy!”
“Ah—you think so, but you don’t know!”
At such times as this, apprehending the grounds of her refusal to be her modest sense of incompetence in matters social and polite, he would say that she was wonderfully well-informed and versatile—which was certainly true, her natural quickness and her admiration for him having led her to pick up his vocabulary, his accent, and fragments of his knowledge, to a surprising extent. After these tender contests and her victory she would go away by herself under the remotest cow, if at milking-time, or into the sedge or into her room, if at a leisure interval, and mourn silently, not a minute after an apparently phlegmatic negative.
The struggle was so fearful; her own heart was so strongly on the side of his—two ardent hearts against one poor little conscience—that she tried to fortify her resolution by every means in her power. She had come to Talbothays with a made-up mind. On no account could she agree to a step which might afterwards cause bitter rueing to her husband for his blindness in wedding her. And she held that what her conscience had decided for her when her mind was unbiassed ought not to be overruled now.
“Why don’t somebody tell him all about me?” she said. “It was only forty miles off—why hasn’t it reached here? Somebody must know!”
Yet nobody seemed to know; nobody told him.
For two or three days no more was said. She guessed from the sad countenances of her chamber companions that they regarded her not only as the favourite, but as the chosen; but they could see for themselves that she did not put herself in his way.
Tess had never before known a time in which the thread of her life was so distinctly twisted of two strands, positive pleasure and positive pain. At the next cheese-making the pair were again left alone together. The dairyman himself had been lending a hand; but Mr Crick, as well as his wife, seemed latterly to have acquired a suspicion of mutual interest between these two; though they walked so circumspectly that suspicion was but of the faintest. Anyhow, the dairyman left them to themselves.
They were breaking up the masses of curd before putting them into the vats. The operation resembled the act of crumbling bread on a large scale; and amid the immaculate whiteness of the curds Tess Durbeyfield’s hands showed themselves of the pinkness of the rose. Angel, who was filling the vats with his handful, suddenly ceased, and laid his hands flat upon hers. Her sleeves were rolled far above the elbow, and bending lower he kissed the inside vein of her soft arm.
Although the early September weather was sultry, her arm, from her dabbling in the curds, was as cold and damp to his mouth as a new-gathered mushroom, and tasted of the whey. But she was such a sheaf of susceptibilities that her pulse was accelerated by the touch, her blood driven to her finger-ends, and the cool arms flushed hot. Then, as though her heart had said, “Is coyness longer necessary? Truth is truth between man and woman, as between man and man,” she lifted her eyes and they beamed devotedly into his, as her lip rose in a tender half-smile.
“Do you know why I did that, Tess?” he said.
“Because you love me very much!”
“Yes, and as a preliminary to a new entreaty.”
She looked a sudden fear that her resistance might break down under her own desire.
“O, Tessy!” he went on, “I cannot think why you are so tantalizing. Why do you disappoint me so? You seem almost like a coquette, upon my life you do—a coquette of the first urban water! They blow hot and blow cold, just as you do, and it is the very last sort of thing to expect to find in a retreat like Talbothays…. And yet, dearest,” he quickly added, observing how the remark had cut her, “I know you to be the most honest, spotless creature that ever lived. So how can I suppose you a flirt? Tess, why don’t you like the idea of being my wife, if you love me as you seem to do?”
“I have never said I don’t like the idea, and I never could say it; because—it isn’t true!”
The stress now getting beyond endurance, her lip quivered, and she was obliged to go away. Clare was so pained and perplexed that he ran after and caught her in the passage.
“Tell me, tell me!” he said, passionately clasping her, in forgetfulness of his curdy hands: “do tell me that you won’t belong to anybody but me!”
“I will, I will tell you!” she exclaimed. “And I will give you a complete answer, if you will let me go now. I will tell you my experiences—all about myself—all!”
“Your experiences, dear; yes, certainly; any number.” He expressed assent in loving satire, looking into her face. “My Tess, no doubt, almost as many experiences as that wild convolvulus out there on the garden hedge, that opened itself this morning for the first time. Tell me anything, but don’t use that wretched expression any more about not being worthy of me.”
“I will try—not! And I’ll give you my reasons to-morrow—next week.”
“Say on Sunday?”
“Yes, on Sunday.”
At last she got away, and did not stop in her retreat till she was in the thicket of pollard willows at the lower side of the barton, where she could be quite unseen. Here Tess flung herself down upon the rustling undergrowth of spear-grass, as upon a bed, and remained crouching in palpitating misery broken by momentary shoots of joy, which her fears about the ending could not altogether suppress.
In reality, she was drifting into acquiescence. Every see-saw of her breath, every wave of her blood, every pulse singing in her ears, was a voice that joined with nature in revolt against her scrupulousness. Reckless, inconsiderate acceptance of him; to close with him at the altar, revealing nothing, and chancing discovery; to snatch ripe pleasure before the iron teeth of pain could have time to shut upon her: that was what love counselled; and in almost a terror of ecstasy Tess divined that, despite her many months of lonely self-chastisement, wrestlings, communings, schemes to lead a future of austere isolation, love’s counsel would prevail.
The afternoon advanced, and still she remained among the willows. She heard the rattle of taking down the pails from the forked stands; the “waow-waow!” which accompanied the getting together of the cows. But she did not go to the milking. They would see her agitation; and the dairyman, thinking the cause to be love alone, would good-naturedly tease her; and that harassment could not be borne.
Her lover must have guessed her overwrought state, and invented some excuse for her non-appearance, for no inquiries were made or calls given. At half-past six the sun settled down upon the levels with the aspect of a great forge in the heavens; and presently a monstrous pumpkin-like moon arose on the other hand. The pollard willows, tortured out of their natural shape by incessant choppings, became spiny-haired monsters as they stood up against it. She went in and upstairs without a light.
It was now Wednesday. Thursday came, and Angel looked thoughtfully at her from a distance, but intruded in no way upon her. The indoor milkmaids, Marian and the rest, seemed to guess that something definite was afoot, for they did not force any remarks upon her in the bedchamber. Friday passed; Saturday. To-morrow was the day.
“I shall give way—I shall say yes—I shall let myself marry him—I cannot help it!” she jealously panted, with her hot face to the pillow that night, on hearing one of the other girls sigh his name in her sleep. “I can’t bear to let anybody have him but me! Yet it is a wrong to him, and may kill him when he knows! O my heart—O—O—O!”
“Now, who mid ye think I’ve heard news o’ this morning?” said Dairyman Crick, as he sat down to breakfast next day, with a riddling gaze round upon the munching men and maids. “Now, just who mid ye think?”
One guessed, and another guessed. Mrs Crick did not guess, because she knew already.
“Well,” said the dairyman, “’tis that slack-twisted ’hore’s-bird of a feller, Jack Dollop. He’s lately got married to a widow-woman.”
“Not Jack Dollop? A villain—to think o’ that!” said a milker.
The name entered quickly into Tess Durbeyfield’s consciousness, for it was the name of the lover who had wronged his sweetheart, and had afterwards been so roughly used by the young woman’s mother in the butter-churn.
“And had he married the valiant matron’s daughter, as he promised?” asked Angel Clare absently, as he turned over the newspaper he was reading at the little table to which he was always banished by Mrs Crick, in her sense of his gentility.
“Not he, sir. Never meant to,” replied the dairyman. “As I say, ’tis a widow-woman, and she had money, it seems—fifty poun’ a year or so; and that was all he was after. They were married in a great hurry; and then she told him that by marrying she had lost her fifty poun’ a year. Just fancy the state o’ my gentleman’s mind at that news! Never such a cat-and-dog life as they’ve been leading ever since! Serves him well beright. But onluckily the poor woman gets the worst o’t.”
“Well, the silly body should have told en sooner that the ghost of her first man would trouble him,” said Mrs Crick.
“Ay, ay,” responded the dairyman indecisively. “Still, you can see exactly how ’twas. She wanted a home, and didn’t like to run the risk of losing him. Don’t ye think that was something like it, maidens?”
He glanced towards the row of girls.
“She ought to ha’ told him just before they went to church, when he could hardly have backed out,” exclaimed Marian.
“Yes, she ought,” agreed Izz.
“She must have seen what he was after, and should ha’ refused him,” cried Retty spasmodically.
“And what do you say, my dear?” asked the dairyman of Tess.
“I think she ought—to have told him the true state of things—or else refused him—I don’t know,” replied Tess, the bread-and-butter choking her.
“Be cust if I’d have done either o’t,” said Beck Knibbs, a married helper from one of the cottages. “All’s fair in love and war. I’d ha’ married en just as she did, and if he’d said two words to me about not telling him beforehand anything whatsomdever about my first chap that I hadn’t chose to tell, I’d ha’ knocked him down wi’ the rolling-pin—a scram little feller like he! Any woman could do it.”
The laughter which followed this sally was supplemented only by a sorry smile, for form’s sake, from Tess. What was comedy to them was tragedy to her; and she could hardly bear their mirth. She soon rose from table, and, with an impression that Clare would soon follow her, went along a little wriggling path, now stepping to one side of the irrigating channels, and now to the other, till she stood by the main stream of the Var. Men had been cutting the water-weeds higher up the river, and masses of them were floating past her—moving islands of green crow-foot, whereon she might almost have ridden; long locks of which weed had lodged against the piles driven to keep the cows from crossing.
Yes, there was the pain of it. This question of a woman telling her story—the heaviest of crosses to herself—seemed but amusement to others. It was as if people should laugh at martyrdom.
“Tessy!” came from behind her, and Clare sprang across the gully, alighting beside her feet. “My wife—soon!”
“No, no; I cannot. For your sake, O Mr Clare; for your sake, I say no!”
“Still I say no!” she repeated.
Not expecting this, he had put his arm lightly round her waist the moment after speaking, beneath her hanging tail of hair. (The younger dairymaids, including Tess, breakfasted with their hair loose on Sunday mornings before building it up extra high for attending church, a style they could not adopt when milking with their heads against the cows.) If she had said “Yes” instead of “No” he would have kissed her; it had evidently been his intention; but her determined negative deterred his scrupulous heart. Their condition of domiciliary comradeship put her, as the woman, to such disadvantage by its enforced intercourse, that he felt it unfair to her to exercise any pressure of blandishment which he might have honestly employed had she been better able to avoid him. He released her momentarily-imprisoned waist, and withheld the kiss.
It all turned on that release. What had given her strength to refuse him this time was solely the tale of the widow told by the dairyman; and that would have been overcome in another moment. But Angel said no more; his face was perplexed; he went away.
Day after day they met—somewhat less constantly than before; and thus two or three weeks went by. The end of September drew near, and she could see in his eye that he might ask her again.
His plan of procedure was different now—as though he had made up his mind that her negatives were, after all, only coyness and youth startled by the novelty of the proposal. The fitful evasiveness of her manner when the subject was under discussion countenanced the idea. So he played a more coaxing game; and while never going beyond words, or attempting the renewal of caresses, he did his utmost orally.
In this way Clare persistently wooed her in undertones like that of the purling milk—at the cow’s side, at skimmings, at butter-makings, at cheese-makings, among broody poultry, and among farrowing pigs—as no milkmaid was ever wooed before by such a man.
Tess knew that she must break down. Neither a religious sense of a certain moral validity in the previous union nor a conscientious wish for candour could hold out against it much longer. She loved him so passionately, and he was so godlike in her eyes; and being, though untrained, instinctively refined, her nature cried for his tutelary guidance. And thus, though Tess kept repeating to herself, “I can never be his wife,” the words were vain. A proof of her weakness lay in the very utterance of what calm strength would not have taken the trouble to formulate. Every sound of his voice beginning on the old subject stirred her with a terrifying bliss, and she coveted the recantation she feared.
His manner was—what man’s is not?—so much that of one who would love and cherish and defend her under any conditions, changes, charges, or revelations, that her gloom lessened as she basked in it. The season meanwhile was drawing onward to the equinox, and though it was still fine, the days were much shorter. The dairy had again worked by morning candlelight for a long time; and a fresh renewal of Clare’s pleading occurred one morning between three and four.
She had run up in her bedgown to his door to call him as usual; then had gone back to dress and call the others; and in ten minutes was walking to the head of the stairs with the candle in her hand. At the same moment he came down his steps from above in his shirt-sleeves and put his arm across the stairway.
“Now, Miss Flirt, before you go down,” he said peremptorily. “It is a fortnight since I spoke, and this won’t do any longer. You must tell me what you mean, or I shall have to leave this house. My door was ajar just now, and I saw you. For your own safety I must go. You don’t know. Well? Is it to be yes at last?”
“I am only just up, Mr Clare, and it is too early to take me to task!” she pouted. “You need not call me Flirt. ’Tis cruel and untrue. Wait till by and by. Please wait till by and by! I will really think seriously about it between now and then. Let me go downstairs!”
She looked a little like what he said she was as, holding the candle sideways, she tried to smile away the seriousness of her words.
“Call me Angel, then, and not Mr Clare.”
“Angel dearest—why not?”
“’Twould mean that I agree, wouldn’t it?”
“It would only mean that you love me, even if you cannot marry me; and you were so good as to own that long ago.”
“Very well, then, ‘Angel dearest’, if I must,” she murmured, looking at her candle, a roguish curl coming upon her mouth, notwithstanding her suspense.
Clare had resolved never to kiss her until he had obtained her promise; but somehow, as Tess stood there in her prettily tucked-up milking gown, her hair carelessly heaped upon her head till there should be leisure to arrange it when skimming and milking were done, he broke his resolve, and brought his lips to her cheek for one moment. She passed downstairs very quickly, never looking back at him or saying another word. The other maids were already down, and the subject was not pursued. Except Marian, they all looked wistfully and suspiciously at the pair, in the sad yellow rays which the morning candles emitted in contrast with the first cold signals of the dawn without.
When skimming was done—which, as the milk diminished with the approach of autumn, was a lessening process day by day—Retty and the rest went out. The lovers followed them.
“Our tremulous lives are so different from theirs, are they not?” he musingly observed to her, as he regarded the three figures tripping before him through the frigid pallor of opening day.
“Not so very different, I think,” she said.
“Why do you think that?”
“There are very few women’s lives that are not—tremulous,” Tess replied, pausing over the new word as if it impressed her. “There’s more in those three than you think.”
“What is in them?”
“Almost either of ’em,” she began, “would make—perhaps would make—a properer wife than I. And perhaps they love you as well as I—almost.”
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.”
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 fields belonged to Retty’s people, and perhaps others to Marian’s, so that I don’t value it particularly.”
“Yes—it is surprising how many of the present tillers of the soil were once owners of it, and I sometimes wonder that a certain school of politicians don’t make capital of the circumstance; but they don’t seem to know it… I wonder that I did not see the resemblance of your name to d’Urberville, and trace the manifest corruption. And this was the carking secret!”
She had not told. At the last moment her courage had failed her; she feared his blame for not telling him sooner; and her instinct of self-preservation was stronger than her candour.
“Of course,” continued the unwitting Clare, “I should have been glad to know you to be descended exclusively from the long-suffering, dumb, unrecorded rank and file of the English nation, and not from the self-seeking few who made themselves powerful at the expense of the rest. But I am corrupted away from that by my affection for you, Tess (he laughed as he spoke), and made selfish likewise. For your own sake I rejoice in your descent. Society is hopelessly snobbish, and this fact of your extraction may make an appreciable difference to its acceptance of you as my wife, after I have made you the well-read woman that I mean to make you. My mother too, poor soul, will think so much better of you on account of it. Tess, you must spell your name correctly—d’Urberville—from this very day.”
“I like the other way rather best.”
“But you must, dearest! Good heavens, why dozens of mushroom millionaires would jump at such a possession! By the bye, there’s one of that kidney who has taken the name—where have I heard of him?—Up in the neighbourhood of The Chase, I think. Why, he is the very man who had that rumpus with my father I told you of. What an odd coincidence!”
“Angel, I think I would rather not take the name! It is unlucky, perhaps!”
She was agitated.
“Now then, Mistress Teresa d’Urberville, I have you. Take my name, and so you will escape yours! The secret is out, so why should you any longer refuse me?”
“If it is sure to make you happy to have me as your wife, and you feel that you do wish to marry me, very, very much—”
“I do, dearest, of course!”
“I mean, that it is only your wanting me very much, and being hardly able to keep alive without me, whatever my offences, that would make me feel I ought to say I will.”
“You will—you do say it, I know! You will be mine for ever and ever.”
He clasped her close and kissed her.
She had no sooner said it than she burst into a dry hard sobbing, so violent that it seemed to rend her. Tess was not a hysterical girl by any means, and he was surprised.
“Why do you cry, dearest?”
“I can’t tell—quite!—I am so glad to think—of being yours, and making you happy!”
“But this does not seem very much like gladness, my Tessy!”
“I mean—I cry because I have broken down in my vow! I said I would die unmarried!”
“But, if you love me you would like me to be your husband?”
“Yes, yes, yes! But O, I sometimes wish I had never been born!”
“Now, my dear Tess, if I did not know that you are very much excited, and very inexperienced, I should say that remark was not very complimentary. How came you to wish that if you care for me? Do you care for me? I wish you would prove it in some way.”
“How can I prove it more than I have done?” she cried, in a distraction of tenderness. “Will this prove it more?”
She clasped his neck, and for the first time Clare learnt what an impassioned woman’s kisses were like upon the lips of one whom she loved with all her heart and soul, as Tess loved him.
“There—now do you believe?” she asked, flushed, and wiping her eyes.
“Yes. I never really doubted—never, never!”
So they drove on through the gloom, forming one bundle inside the sail-cloth, the horse going as he would, and the rain driving against them. She had consented. She might as well have agreed at first. The “appetite for joy” which pervades all creation, that tremendous force which sways humanity to its purpose, as the tide sways the helpless weed, was not to be controlled by vague lucubrations over the social rubric.
“I must write to my mother,” she said. “You don’t mind my doing that?”
“Of course not, dear child. You are a child to me, Tess, not to know how very proper it is to write to your mother at such a time, and how wrong it would be in me to object. Where does she live?”
“At the same place—Marlott. On the further side of Blackmoor Vale.”
“Ah, then I have seen you before this summer—”
“Yes; at that dance on the green; but you would not dance with me. O, I hope that is of no ill-omen for us now!”
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,
“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.
“But if it should reach the ears of your friends at Emminster that you are walking about like this with me, a milkmaid—”
“The most bewitching milkmaid ever seen.”
“They might feel it a hurt to their dignity.”
“My dear girl—a d’Urberville hurt the dignity of a Clare! It is a grand card to play—that of your belonging to such a family, and I am reserving it for a grand effect when we are married, and have the proofs of your descent from Parson Tringham. Apart from that, my future is to be totally foreign to my family—it will not affect even the surface of their lives. We shall leave this part of England—perhaps England itself—and what does it matter how people regard us here? You will like going, will you not?”
She could answer no more than a bare affirmative, so great was the emotion aroused in her at the thought of going through the world with him as his own familiar friend. Her feelings almost filled her ears like a babble of waves, and surged up to her eyes. She put her hand in his, and thus they went on, to a place where the reflected sun glared up from the river, under a bridge, with a molten-metallic glow that dazzled their eyes, though the sun itself was hidden by the bridge. They stood still, whereupon little furred and feathered heads popped up from the smooth surface of the water; but, finding that the disturbing presences had paused, and not passed by, they disappeared again. Upon this river-brink they lingered till the fog began to close round them—which was very early in the evening at this time of the year—settling on the lashes of her eyes, where it rested like crystals, and on his brows and hair.
They walked later on Sundays, when it was quite dark. Some of the dairy-people, who were also out of doors on the first Sunday evening after their engagement, heard her impulsive speeches, ecstasized to fragments, though they were too far off to hear the words discoursed; noted the spasmodic catch in her remarks, broken into syllables by the leapings of her heart, as she walked leaning on his arm; her contented pauses, the occasional little laugh upon which her soul seemed to ride—the laugh of a woman in company with the man she loves and has won from all other women—unlike anything else in nature. They marked the buoyancy of her tread, like the skim of a bird which has not quite alighted.
Her affection for him was now the breath and life of Tess’s being; it enveloped her as a photosphere, irradiated her into forgetfulness of her past sorrows, keeping back the gloomy spectres that would persist in their attempts to touch her—doubt, fear, moodiness, care, shame. She knew that they were waiting like wolves just outside the circumscribing light, but she had long spells of power to keep them in hungry subjection there.
A spiritual forgetfulness co-existed with an intellectual remembrance. She walked in brightness, but she knew that in the background those shapes of darkness were always spread. They might be receding, or they might be approaching, one or the other, a little every day.
One evening Tess and Clare were obliged to sit indoors keeping house, all the other occupants of the domicile being away. As they talked she looked thoughtfully up at him, and met his two appreciative eyes.
“I am not worthy of you—no, I am not!” she burst out, jumping up from her low stool as though appalled at his homage, and the fulness of her own joy thereat.
Clare, deeming the whole basis of her excitement to be that which was only the smaller part of it, said—
“I won’t have you speak like it, dear Tess! Distinction does not consist in the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions, but in being numbered among those who are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report—as you are, my Tess.”
She struggled with the sob in her throat. How often had that string of excellences made her young heart ache in church of late years, and how strange that he should have cited them now.
“Why didn’t you stay and love me when I—was sixteen; living with my little sisters and brothers, and you danced on the green? O, why didn’t you, why didn’t you!” she said, impetuously clasping her hands.
Angel began to comfort and reassure her, thinking to himself, truly enough, what a creature of moods she was, and how careful he would have to be of her when she depended for her happiness entirely on him.
“Ah—why didn’t I stay!” he said. “That is just what I feel. If I had only known! But you must not be so bitter in your regret—why should you be?”
With the woman’s instinct to hide she diverged hastily—
“I should have had four years more of your heart than I can ever have now. Then I should not have wasted my time as I have done—I should have had so much longer happiness!”
It was no mature woman with a long dark vista of intrigue behind her who was tormented thus, but a girl of simple life, not yet one-and twenty, who had been caught during her days of immaturity like a bird in a springe. To calm herself the more completely, she rose from her little stool and left the room, overturning the stool with her skirts as she went.
He sat on by the cheerful firelight thrown from a bundle of green ash-sticks laid across the dogs; the sticks snapped pleasantly, and hissed out bubbles of sap from their ends. When she came back she was herself again.
“Do you not think you are just a wee bit capricious, fitful, Tess?” he said, good-humouredly, as he spread a cushion for her on the stool, and seated himself in the settle beside her. “I wanted to ask you something, and just then you ran away.”
“Yes, perhaps I am capricious,” she murmured. She suddenly approached him, and put a hand upon each of his arms. “No, Angel, I am not really so—by nature, I mean!” The more particularly to assure him that she was not, she placed herself close to him in the settle, and allowed her head to find a resting-place against Clare’s shoulder. “What did you want to ask me—I am sure I will answer it,” she continued humbly.
“Well, you love me, and have agreed to marry me, and hence there follows a thirdly, ‘When shall the day be?’”
“I like living like this.”
“But I must think of starting in business on my own hook with the new year, or a little later. And before I get involved in the multifarious details of my new position, I should like to have secured my partner.”
“But,” she timidly answered, “to talk quite practically, wouldn’t it be best not to marry till after all that?—Though I can’t bear the thought o’ your going away and leaving me here!”
“Of course you cannot—and it is not best in this case. I want you to help me in many ways in making my start. When shall it be? Why not a fortnight from now?”
“No,” she said, becoming grave: “I have so many things to think of first.”
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.
They thought that this was evasiveness only.
“Yes—going to marry him—a gentleman!” repeated Izz Huett.
And by a sort of fascination the three girls, one after another, crept out of their beds, and came and stood barefooted round Tess. Retty put her hands upon Tess’s shoulders, as if to realize her friend’s corporeality after such a miracle, and the other two laid their arms round her waist, all looking into her face.
“How it do seem! Almost more than I can think of!” said Izz Huett.
Marian kissed Tess. “Yes,” she murmured as she withdrew her lips.
“Was that because of love for her, or because other lips have touched there by now?” continued Izz drily to Marian.
“I wasn’t thinking o’ that,” said Marian simply. “I was on’y feeling all the strangeness o’t—that she is to be his wife, and nobody else. I don’t say nay to it, nor either of us, because we did not think of it—only loved him. Still, nobody else is to marry’n in the world—no fine lady, nobody in silks and satins; but she who do live like we.”
“Are you sure you don’t dislike me for it?” said Tess in a low voice.
They hung about her in their white nightgowns before replying, as if they considered their answer might lie in her look.
“I don’t know—I don’t know,” murmured Retty Priddle. “I want to hate ’ee; but I cannot!”
“That’s how I feel,” echoed Izz and Marian. “I can’t hate her. Somehow she hinders me!”
“He ought to marry one of you,” murmured Tess.
“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. (A midland farm was the idea just then.)
“To tell the truth, my Tess, I don’t like you to be left anywhere away from my protection and sympathy.”
The reason was a good one, so far as it went. His influence over her had been so marked that she had caught his manner and habits, his speech and phrases, his likings and his aversions. And to leave her in farmland would be to let her slip back again out of accord with him. He wished to have her under his charge for another reason. His parents had naturally desired to see her once at least before he carried her off to a distant settlement, English or colonial; and as no opinion of theirs was to be allowed to change his intention, he judged that a couple of months’ life with him in lodgings whilst seeking for an advantageous opening would be of some social assistance to her at what she might feel to be a trying ordeal—her presentation to his mother at the Vicarage.
Next, he wished to see a little of the working of a flour-mill, having an idea that he might combine the use of one with corn-growing. The proprietor of a large old water-mill at Wellbridge—once the mill of an Abbey—had offered him the inspection of his time-honoured mode of procedure, and a hand in the operations for a few days, whenever he should choose to come. Clare paid a visit to the place, some few miles distant, one day at this time, to inquire particulars, and returned to Talbothays in the evening. She found him determined to spend a short time at the Wellbridge flour-mills. And what had determined him? Less the opportunity of an insight into grinding and bolting than the casual fact that lodgings were to be obtained in that very farmhouse which, before its mutilation, had been the mansion of a branch of the d’Urberville family. This was always how Clare settled practical questions; by a sentiment which had nothing to do with them. They decided to go immediately after the wedding, and remain for a fortnight, instead of journeying to towns and inns.
“Then we will start off to examine some farms on the other side of London that I have heard of,” he said, “and by March or April we will pay a visit to my father and mother.”
Questions of procedure such as these arose and passed, and the day, the incredible day, on which she was to become his, loomed large in the near future. The thirty-first of December, New Year’s Eve, was the date. His wife, she said to herself. Could it ever be? Their two selves together, nothing to divide them, every incident shared by them; why not? And yet why?
One Sunday morning Izz Huett returned from church, and spoke privately to Tess.
“You was not called home this morning.”
“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; ’twas a complete mistake. I thought she was another woman, forty miles from here.”
Clare, feeling then that he had been too hasty, and that he was, moreover, to blame for leaving her standing in an inn-passage, did what he usually did in such cases, gave the man five shillings to plaster the blow; and thus they parted, bidding each other a pacific good night. As soon as Clare had taken the reins from the ostler, and the young couple had driven off, the two men went in the other direction.
“And was it a mistake?” said the second one.
“Not a bit of it. But I didn’t want to hurt the gentleman’s feelings—not I.”
In the meantime the lovers were driving onward.
“Could we put off our wedding till a little later?” Tess asked in a dry dull voice. “I mean if we wished?”
“No, my love. Calm yourself. Do you mean that the fellow may have time to summon me for assault?” he asked good-humouredly.
“No—I only meant—if it should have to be put off.”
What she meant was not very clear, and he directed her to dismiss such fancies from her mind, which she obediently did as well as she could. But she was grave, very grave, all the way home; till she thought, “We shall go away, a very long distance, hundreds of miles from these parts, and such as this can never happen again, and no ghost of the past reach there.”
They parted tenderly that night on the landing, and Clare ascended to his attic. Tess sat up getting on with some little requisites, lest the few remaining days should not afford sufficient time. While she sat she heard a noise in Angel’s room overhead, a sound of thumping and struggling. Everybody else in the house was asleep, and in her anxiety lest Clare should be ill she ran up and knocked at his door, and asked him what was the matter.
“Oh, nothing, dear,” he said from within. “I am so sorry I disturbed you! But the reason is rather an amusing one: I fell asleep and dreamt that I was fighting that fellow again who insulted you, and the noise you heard was my pummelling away with my fists at my portmanteau, which I pulled out to-day for packing. I am occasionally liable to these freaks in my sleep. Go to bed and think of it no more.”
This was the last drachm required to turn the scale of her indecision. Declare the past to him by word of mouth she could not; but there was another way. She sat down and wrote on the four pages of a note-sheet a succinct narrative of those events of three or four years ago, put it into an envelope, and directed it to Clare. Then, lest the flesh should again be weak, she crept upstairs without any shoes and slipped the note under his door.
Her night was a broken one, as it well might be, and she listened for the first faint noise overhead. It came, as usual; he descended, as usual. She descended. He met her at the bottom of the stairs and kissed her. Surely it was as warmly as ever!
He looked a little disturbed and worn, she thought. But he said not a word to her about her revelation, even when they were alone. Could he have had it? Unless he began the subject she felt that she could say nothing. So the day passed, and it was evident that whatever he thought he meant to keep to himself. Yet he was frank and affectionate as before. Could it be that her doubts were childish? that he forgave her; that he loved her for what she was, just as she was, and smiled at her disquiet as at a foolish nightmare? Had he really received her note? She glanced into his room, and could see nothing of it. It might be that he forgave her. But even if he had not received it she had a sudden enthusiastic trust that he surely would forgive her.
Every morning and night he was the same, and thus New Year’s Eve broke—the wedding day.
The lovers did not rise at milking-time, having through the whole of this last week of their sojourn at the dairy been accorded something of the position of guests, Tess being honoured with a room of her own. When they arrived downstairs at breakfast-time they were surprised to see what effects had been produced in the large kitchen for their glory since they had last beheld it. At some unnatural hour of the morning the dairyman had caused the yawning chimney-corner to be whitened, and the brick hearth reddened, and a blazing yellow damask blower to be hung across the arch in place of the old grimy blue cotton one with a black sprig pattern which had formerly done duty there. This renovated aspect of what was the focus indeed of the room on a full winter morning threw a smiling demeanour over the whole apartment.
“I was determined to do summat in honour o’t”, said the dairyman. “And as you wouldn’t hear of my gieing a rattling good randy wi’ fiddles and bass-viols complete, as we should ha’ done in old times, this was all I could think o’ as a noiseless thing.”
Tess’s friends lived so far off that none could conveniently have been present at the ceremony, even had any been asked; but as a fact nobody was invited from Marlott. As for Angel’s family, he had written and duly informed them of the time, and assured them that he would be glad to see one at least of them there for the day if he would like to come. His brothers had not replied at all, seeming to be indignant with him; while his father and mother had written a rather sad letter, deploring his precipitancy in rushing into marriage, but making the best of the matter by saying that, though a dairywoman was the last daughter-in-law they could have expected, their son had arrived at an age which he might be supposed to be the best judge.
This coolness in his relations distressed Clare less than it would have done had he been without the grand card with which he meant to surprise them ere long. To produce Tess, fresh from the dairy, as a d’Urberville and a lady, he had felt to be temerarious and risky; hence he had concealed her lineage till such time as, familiarized with worldly ways by a few months’ travel and reading with him, he could take her on a visit to his parents and impart the knowledge while triumphantly producing her as worthy of such an ancient line. It was a pretty lover’s dream, if no more. Perhaps Tess’s lineage had more value for himself than for anybody in the world beside.
Her perception that Angel’s bearing towards her still remained in no whit altered by her own communication rendered Tess guiltily doubtful if he could have received it. She rose from breakfast before he had finished, and hastened upstairs. It had occurred to her to look once more into the queer gaunt room which had been Clare’s den, or rather eyrie, for so long, and climbing the ladder she stood at the open door of the apartment, regarding and pondering. She stooped to the threshold of the doorway, where she had pushed in the note two or three days earlier in such excitement. The carpet reached close to the sill, and under the edge of the carpet she discerned the faint white margin of the envelope containing her letter to him, which he obviously had never seen, owing to her having in her haste thrust it beneath the carpet as well as beneath the door.
With a feeling of faintness she withdrew the letter. There it was—sealed up, just as it had left her hands. The mountain had not yet been removed. She could not let him read it now, the house being in full bustle of preparation; and descending to her own room she destroyed the letter there.
She was so pale when he saw her again that he felt quite anxious. The incident of the misplaced letter she had jumped at as if it prevented a confession; but she knew in her conscience that it need not; there was still time. Yet everything was in a stir; there was coming and going; all had to dress, the dairyman and Mrs Crick having been asked to accompany them as witnesses; and reflection or deliberate talk was well-nigh impossible. The only minute Tess could get to be alone with Clare was when they met upon the landing.
“I am so anxious to talk to you—I want to confess all my faults and blunders!” she said with attempted lightness.
“No, no—we can’t have faults talked of—you must be deemed perfect to-day at least, my Sweet!” he cried. “We shall have plenty of time, hereafter, I hope, to talk over our failings. I will confess mine at the same time.”
“But it would be better for me to do it now, I think, so that you could not say—”
“Well, my quixotic one, you shall tell me anything—say, as soon as we are settled in our lodging; not now. I, too, will tell you my faults then. But do not let us spoil the day with them; they will be excellent matter for a dull time.”
“Then you don’t wish me to, dearest?”
“I do not, Tessy, really.”
The hurry of dressing and starting left no time for more than this. Those words of his seemed to reassure her on further reflection. She was whirled onward through the next couple of critical hours by the mastering tide of her devotion to him, which closed up further meditation. Her one desire, so long resisted, to make herself his, to call him her lord, her own—then, if necessary, to die—had at last lifted her up from her plodding reflective pathway. In dressing, she moved about in a mental cloud of many-coloured idealities, which eclipsed all sinister contingencies by its brightness.
The church was a long way off, and they were obliged to drive, particularly as it was winter. A closed carriage was ordered from a roadside inn, a vehicle which had been kept there ever since the old days of post-chaise travelling. It had stout wheel-spokes and heavy felloes, a great curved bed, immense straps and springs, and a pole like a battering-ram. The postilion was a venerable “boy” of sixty—a martyr to rheumatic gout, the result of excessive exposure in youth, counter-acted by strong liquors—who had stood at inn-doors doing nothing for the whole five-and-twenty years that had elapsed since he had no longer been required to ride professionally, as if expecting the old times to come back again. He had a permanent running wound on the outside of his right leg, originated by the constant bruisings of aristocratic carriage-poles during the many years that he had been in regular employ at the King’s Arms, Casterbridge.
Inside this cumbrous and creaking structure, and behind this decayed conductor, the partie carrée took their seats—the bride and bridegroom and Mr and Mrs Crick. Angel would have liked one at least of his brothers to be present as groomsman, but their silence after his gentle hint to that effect by letter had signified that they did not care to come. They disapproved of the marriage, and could not be expected to countenance it. Perhaps it was as well that they could not be present. They were not worldly young fellows, but fraternizing with dairy-folk would have struck unpleasantly upon their biased niceness, apart from their views of the match.
Upheld by the momentum of the time, Tess knew nothing of this, did not see anything, did not know the road they were taking to the church. She knew that Angel was close to her; all the rest was a luminous mist. She was a sort of celestial person, who owed her being to poetry—one of those classical divinities Clare was accustomed to talk to her about when they took their walks together.
The marriage being by licence there were only a dozen or so of people in the church; had there been a thousand they would have produced no more effect upon her. They were at stellar distances from her present world. In the ecstatic solemnity with which she swore her faith to him the ordinary sensibilities of sex seemed a flippancy. At a pause in the service, while they were kneeling together, she unconsciously inclined herself towards him, so that her shoulder touched his arm; she had been frightened by a passing thought, and the movement had been automatic, to assure herself that he was really there, and to fortify her belief that his fidelity would be proof against all things.
Clare knew that she loved him—every curve of her form showed that—but he did not know at that time the full depth of her devotion, its single-mindedness, its meekness; what long-suffering it guaranteed, what honesty, what endurance, what good faith.
As they came out of church the ringers swung the bells off their rests, and a modest peal of three notes broke forth—that limited amount of expression having been deemed sufficient by the church builders for the joys of such a small parish. Passing by the tower with her husband on the path to the gate she could feel the vibrant air humming round them from the louvred belfry in the circle of sound, and it matched the highly-charged mental atmosphere in which she was living.
This condition of mind, wherein she felt glorified by an irradiation not her own, like the angel whom St John saw in the sun, lasted till the sound of the church bells had died away, and the emotions of the wedding-service had calmed down. Her eyes could dwell upon details more clearly now, and Mr and Mrs Crick having directed their own gig to be sent for them, to leave the carriage to the young couple, she observed the build and character of that conveyance for the first time. Sitting in silence she regarded it long.
“I fancy you seem oppressed, Tessy,” said Clare.
“Yes,” she answered, putting her hand to her brow. “I tremble at many things. It is all so serious, Angel. Among other things I seem to have seen this carriage before, to be very well acquainted with it. It is very odd—I must have seen it in a dream.”
“Oh—you have heard the legend of the d’Urberville Coach—that well-known superstition of this county about your family when they were very popular here; and this lumbering old thing reminds you of it.”
“I have never heard of it to my knowledge,” said she. “What is the legend—may I know it?”
“Well—I would rather not tell it in detail just now. A certain d’Urberville of the sixteenth or seventeenth century committed a dreadful crime in his family coach; and since that time members of the family see or hear the old coach whenever—— But I’ll tell you another day—it is rather gloomy. Evidently some dim knowledge of it has been brought back to your mind by the sight of this venerable caravan.”
“I don’t remember hearing it before,” she murmured. “Is it when we are going to die, Angel, that members of my family see it, or is it when we have committed a crime?”
He silenced her by a kiss.
By the time they reached home she was contrite and spiritless. She was Mrs Angel Clare, indeed, but had she any moral right to the name? Was she not more truly Mrs Alexander d’Urberville? Could intensity of love justify what might be considered in upright souls as culpable reticence? She knew not what was expected of women in such cases; and she had no counsellor.
However, when she found herself alone in her room for a few minutes—the last day this on which she was ever to enter it—she knelt down and prayed. She tried to pray to God, but it was her husband who really had her supplication. Her idolatry of this man was such that she herself almost feared it to be ill-omened. She was conscious of the notion expressed by Friar Laurence: “These violent delights have violent ends.” It might be too desperate for human conditions—too rank, to wild, too deadly.
“O my love, why do I love you so!” she whispered there alone; “for she you love is not my real self, but one in my image; the one I might have been!”
Afternoon came, and with it the hour for departure. They had decided to fulfil the plan of going for a few days to the lodgings in the old farmhouse near Wellbridge Mill, at which he meant to reside during his investigation of flour processes. At two o’clock there was nothing left to do but to start. All the servantry of the dairy were standing in the red-brick entry to see them go out, the dairyman and his wife following to the door. Tess saw her three chamber-mates in a row against the wall, pensively inclining their heads. She had much questioned if they would appear at the parting moment; but there they were, stoical and staunch to the last. She knew why the delicate Retty looked so fragile, and Izz so tragically sorrowful, and Marian so blank; and she forgot her own dogging shadow for a moment in contemplating theirs. She impulsively whispered to him—
“Will you kiss ’em all, once, poor things, for the first and last time?”
Clare had not the least objection to such a farewell formality—which was all that it was to him—and as he passed them he kissed them in succession where they stood, saying “Goodbye” to each as he did so. When they reached the door Tess femininely glanced back to discern the effect of that kiss of charity; there was no triumph in her glance, as there might have been. If there had it would have disappeared when she saw how moved the girls all were. The kiss had obviously done harm by awakening feelings they were trying to subdue.
Of all this Clare was unconscious. Passing on to the wicket-gate he shook hands with the dairyman and his wife, and expressed his last thanks to them for their attentions; after which there was a moment of silence before they had moved off. It was interrupted by the crowing of a cock. The white one with the rose comb had come and settled on the palings in front of the house, within a few yards of them, and his notes thrilled their ears through, dwindling away like echoes down a valley of rocks.
“Oh?” said Mrs Crick. “An afternoon crow!”
Two men were standing by the yard gate, holding it open.
“That’s bad,” one murmured to the other, not thinking that the words could be heard by the group at the door-wicket.
The cock crew again—straight towards Clare.
“Well!” said the dairyman.
“I don’t like to hear him!” said Tess to her husband. “Tell the man to drive on. Goodbye, goodbye!”
The cock crew again.
“Hoosh! Just you be off, sir, or I’ll twist your neck!” said the dairyman with some irritation, turning to the bird and driving him away. And to his wife as they went indoors: “Now, to think o’ that just to-day! I’ve not heard his crow of an afternoon all the year afore.”
“It only means a change in the weather,” said she; “not what you think: ’tis impossible!”
They drove by the level road along the valley to a distance of a few miles, and, reaching Wellbridge, turned away from the village to the left, and over the great Elizabethan bridge which gives the place half its name. Immediately behind it stood the house wherein they had engaged lodgings, whose exterior features are so well known to all travellers through the Froom Valley; once portion of a fine manorial residence, and the property and seat of a d’Urberville, but since its partial demolition a farmhouse.
“Welcome to one of your ancestral mansions!” said Clare as he handed her down. But he regretted the pleasantry; it was too near a satire.
On entering they found that, though they had only engaged a couple of rooms, the farmer had taken advantage of their proposed presence during the coming days to pay a New Year’s visit to some friends, leaving a woman from a neighbouring cottage to minister to their few wants. The absoluteness of possession pleased them, and they realized it as the first moment of their experience under their own exclusive roof-tree.
But he found that the mouldy old habitation somewhat depressed his bride. When the carriage was gone they ascended the stairs to wash their hands, the charwoman showing the way. On the landing Tess stopped and started.
“What’s the matter?” said he.
“Those horrid women!” she answered with a smile. “How they frightened me.”
He looked up, and perceived two life-size portraits on panels built into the masonry. As all visitors to the mansion are aware, these paintings represent women of middle age, of a date some two hundred years ago, whose lineaments once seen can never be forgotten. The long pointed features, narrow eye, and smirk of the one, so suggestive of merciless treachery; the bill-hook nose, large teeth, and bold eye of the other suggesting arrogance to the point of ferocity, haunt the beholder afterwards in his dreams.
“Whose portraits are those?” asked Clare of the charwoman.
“I have been told by old folk that they were ladies of the d’Urberville family, the ancient lords of this manor,” she said, “Owing to their being builded into the wall they can’t be moved away.”
The unpleasantness of the matter was that, in addition to their effect upon Tess, her fine features were unquestionably traceable in these exaggerated forms. He said nothing of this, however, and, regretting that he had gone out of his way to choose the house for their bridal time, went on into the adjoining room. The place having been rather hastily prepared for them, they washed their hands in one basin. Clare touched hers under the water.
“Which are my fingers and which are yours?” he said, looking up. “They are very much mixed.”
“They are all yours,” said she, very prettily, and endeavoured to be gayer than she was. He had not been displeased with her thoughtfulness on such an occasion; it was what every sensible woman would show: but Tess knew that she had been thoughtful to excess, and struggled against it.
The sun was so low on that short last afternoon of the year that it shone in through a small opening and formed a golden staff which stretched across to her skirt, where it made a spot like a paint-mark set upon her. They went into the ancient parlour to tea, and here they shared their first common meal alone. Such was their childishness, or rather his, that he found it interesting to use the same bread-and-butter plate as herself, and to brush crumbs from her lips with his own. He wondered a little that she did not enter into these frivolities with his own zest.
Looking at her silently for a long time; “She is a dear dear Tess,” he thought to himself, as one deciding on the true construction of a difficult passage. “Do I realize solemnly enough how utterly and irretrievably this little womanly thing is the creature of my good or bad faith and fortune? I think not. I think I could not, unless I were a woman myself. What I am in worldly estate, she is. What I become, she must become. What I cannot be, she cannot be. And shall I ever neglect her, or hurt her, or even forget to consider her? God forbid such a crime!”
They sat on over the tea-table waiting for their luggage, which the dairyman had promised to send before it grew dark. But evening began to close in, and the luggage did not arrive, and they had brought nothing more than they stood in. With the departure of the sun the calm mood of the winter day changed. Out of doors there began noises as of silk smartly rubbed; the restful dead leaves of the preceding autumn were stirred to irritated resurrection, and whirled about unwillingly, and tapped against the shutters. It soon began to rain.
“That cock knew the weather was going to change,” said Clare.
The woman who had attended upon them had gone home for the night, but she had placed candles upon the table, and now they lit them. Each candle-flame drew towards the fireplace.
“These old houses are so draughty,” continued Angel, looking at the flames, and at the grease guttering down the sides. “I wonder where that luggage is. We haven’t even a brush and comb.”
“I don’t know,” she answered, absent-minded.
“Tess, you are not a bit cheerful this evening—not at all as you used to be. Those harridans on the panels upstairs have unsettled you. I am sorry I brought you here. I wonder if you really love me, after all?”
He knew that she did, and the words had no serious intent; but she was surcharged with emotion, and winced like a wounded animal. Though she tried not to shed tears, she could not help showing one or two.
“I did not mean it!” said he, sorry. “You are worried at not having your things, I know. I cannot think why old Jonathan has not come with them. Why, it is seven o’clock? Ah, there he is!”
A knock had come to the door, and, there being nobody else to answer it, Clare went out. He returned to the room with a small package in his hand.
“It is not Jonathan, after all,” he said.
“How vexing!” said Tess.
The packet had been brought by a special messenger, who had arrived at Talbothays from Emminster Vicarage immediately after the departure of the married couple, and had followed them hither, being under injunction to deliver it into nobody’s hands but theirs. Clare brought it to the light. It was less than a foot long, sewed up in canvas, sealed in red wax with his father’s seal, and directed in his father’s hand to “Mrs Angel Clare.”
“It is a little wedding-present for you, Tess,” said he, handing it to her. “How thoughtful they are!”
Tess looked a little flustered as she took it.
“I think I would rather have you open it, dearest,” said she, turning over the parcel. “I don’t like to break those great seals; they look so serious. Please open it for me!”
He undid the parcel. Inside was a case of morocco leather, on the top of which lay a note and a key.
The note was for Clare, in the following words:
My dear son,—
Possibly you have forgotten that on the death of your godmother, Mrs Pitney, when you were a lad, she—vain, kind woman that she was—left to me a portion of the contents of her jewel-case in trust for your wife, if you should ever have one, as a mark of her affection for you and whomsoever you should choose. This trust I have fulfilled, and the diamonds have been locked up at my banker’s ever since. Though I feel it to be a somewhat incongruous act in the circumstances, I am, as you will see, bound to hand over the articles to the woman to whom the use of them for her lifetime will now rightly belong, and they are therefore promptly sent. They become, I believe, heirlooms, strictly speaking, according to the terms of your godmother’s will. The precise words of the clause that refers to this matter are enclosed.
“I do remember,” said Clare; “but I had quite forgotten.”
Unlocking the case, they found it to contain a necklace, with pendant, bracelets, and ear-rings; and also some other small ornaments.
Tess seemed afraid to touch them at first, but her eyes sparkled for a moment as much as the stones when Clare spread out the set.
“Are they mine?” she asked incredulously.
“They are, certainly,” said he.
He looked into the fire. He remembered how, when he was a lad of fifteen, his godmother, the Squire’s wife—the only rich person with whom he had ever come in contact—had pinned her faith to his success; had prophesied a wondrous career for him. There had seemed nothing at all out of keeping with such a conjectured career in the storing up of these showy ornaments for his wife and the wives of her descendants. They gleamed somewhat ironically now. “Yet why?” he asked himself. It was but a question of vanity throughout; and if that were admitted into one side of the equation it should be admitted into the other. His wife was a d’Urberville: whom could they become better than her?
Suddenly he said with enthusiasm—
“Tess, put them on—put them on!” And he turned from the fire to help her.
But as if by magic she had already donned them—necklace, ear-rings, bracelets, and all.
“But the gown isn’t right, Tess,” said Clare. “It ought to be a low one for a set of brilliants like that.”
“Ought it?” said Tess.
“Yes,” said he.
He suggested to her how to tuck in the upper edge of her bodice, so as to make it roughly approximate to the cut for evening wear; and when she had done this, and the pendant to the necklace hung isolated amid the whiteness of her throat, as it was designed to do, he stepped back to survey her.
“My heavens,” said Clare, “how beautiful you are!”
As everybody knows, fine feathers make fine birds; a peasant girl but very moderately prepossessing to the casual observer in her simple condition and attire will bloom as an amazing beauty if clothed as a woman of fashion with the aids that Art can render; while the beauty of the midnight crush would often cut but a sorry figure if placed inside the field-woman’s wrapper upon a monotonous acreage of turnips on a dull day. He had never till now estimated the artistic excellence of Tess’s limbs and features.
“If you were only to appear in a ball-room!” he said. “But no—no, dearest; I think I love you best in the wing-bonnet and cotton-frock—yes, better than in this, well as you support these dignities.”
Tess’s sense of her striking appearance had given her a flush of excitement, which was yet not happiness.
“I’ll take them off,” she said, “in case Jonathan should see me. They are not fit for me, are they? They must be sold, I suppose?”
“Let them stay a few minutes longer. Sell them? Never. It would be a breach of faith.”
Influenced by a second thought she readily obeyed. She had something to tell, and there might be help in these. She sat down with the jewels upon her; and they again indulged in conjectures as to where Jonathan could possibly be with their baggage. The ale they had poured out for his consumption when he came had gone flat with long standing.
Shortly after this they began supper, which was already laid on a side-table. Ere they had finished there was a jerk in the fire-smoke, the rising skein of which bulged out into the room, as if some giant had laid his hand on the chimney-top for a moment. It had been caused by the opening of the outer door. A heavy step was now heard in the passage, and Angel went out.
“I couldn’ make nobody hear at all by knocking,” apologized Jonathan Kail, for it was he at last; “and as’t was raining out I opened the door. I’ve brought the things, sir.”
“I am very glad to see them. But you are very late.”
“Well, yes, sir.”
There was something subdued in Jonathan Kail’s tone which had not been there in the day, and lines of concern were ploughed upon his forehead in addition to the lines of years. He continued—
“We’ve all been gallied at the dairy at what might ha’ been a most terrible affliction since you and your Mis’ess—so to name her now—left us this a’ternoon. Perhaps you ha’nt forgot the cock’s afternoon crow?”
“Well, some says it do mane one thing, and some another; but what’s happened is that poor little Retty Priddle hev tried to drown herself.”
“No! Really! Why, she bade us goodbye with the rest—”
“Yes. Well, sir, when you and your Mis’ess—so to name what she lawful is—when you two drove away, as I say, Retty and Marian put on their bonnets and went out; and as there is not much doing now, being New Year’s Eve, and folks mops and brooms from what’s inside ’em, nobody took much notice. They went on to Lew-Everard, where they had summut to drink, and then on they vamped to Dree-armed Cross, and there they seemed to have parted, Retty striking across the water-meads as if for home, and Marian going on to the next village, where there’s another public-house. Nothing more was zeed or heard o’ Retty till the waterman, on his way home, noticed something by the Great Pool; ’twas her bonnet and shawl packed up. In the water he found her. He and another man brought her home, thinking ’a was dead; but she fetched round by degrees.”
Angel, suddenly recollecting that Tess was overhearing this gloomy tale, went to shut the door between the passage and the ante-room to the inner parlour where she was; but his wife, flinging a shawl round her, had come to the outer room and was listening to the man’s narrative, her eyes resting absently on the luggage and the drops of rain glistening upon it.
“And, more than this, there’s Marian; she’s been found dead drunk by the withy-bed—a girl who hev never been known to touch anything before except shilling ale; though, to be sure, ’a was always a good trencher-woman, as her face showed. It seems as if the maids had all gone out o’ their minds!”
“And Izz?” asked Tess.
“Izz is about house as usual; but ’a do say ’a can guess how it happened; and she seems to be very low in mind about it, poor maid, as well she mid be. And so you see, sir, as all this happened just when we was packing your few traps and your Mis’ess’s night-rail and dressing things into the cart, why, it belated me.”
“Yes. Well, Jonathan, will you get the trunks upstairs, and drink a cup of ale, and hasten back as soon as you can, in case you should be wanted?”
Tess had gone back to the inner parlour, and sat down by the fire, looking wistfully into it. She heard Jonathan Kail’s heavy footsteps up and down the stairs till he had done placing the luggage, and heard him express his thanks for the ale her husband took out to him, and for the gratuity he received. Jonathan’s footsteps then died from the door, and his cart creaked away.
Angel slid forward the massive oak bar which secured the door, and coming in to where she sat over the hearth, pressed her cheeks between his hands from behind. He expected her to jump up gaily and unpack the toilet-gear that she had been so anxious about, but as she did not rise he sat down with her in the firelight, the candles on the supper-table being too thin and glimmering to interfere with its glow.
“I am so sorry you should have heard this sad story about the girls,” he said. “Still, don’t let it depress you. Retty was naturally morbid, you know.”
“Without the least cause,” said Tess. “While they who have cause to be, hide it, and pretend they are not.”
This incident had turned the scale for her. They were simple and innocent girls on whom the unhappiness of unrequited love had fallen; they had deserved better at the hands of Fate. She had deserved worse—yet she was the chosen one. It was wicked of her to take all without paying. She would pay to the uttermost farthing; she would tell, there and then. This final determination she came to when she looked into the fire, he holding her hand.
A steady glare from the now flameless embers painted the sides and back of the fireplace with its colour, and the well-polished andirons, and the old brass tongs that would not meet. The underside of the mantel-shelf was flushed with the high-coloured light, and the legs of the table nearest the fire. Tess’s face and neck reflected the same warmth, which each gem turned into an Aldebaran or a Sirius—a constellation of white, red, and green flashes, that interchanged their hues with her every pulsation.
“Do you remember what we said to each other this morning about telling our faults?” he asked abruptly, finding that she still remained immovable. “We spoke lightly perhaps, and you may well have done so. But for me it was no light promise. I want to make a confession to you, Love.”
This, from him, so unexpectedly apposite, had the effect upon her of a Providential interposition.
“You have to confess something?” she said quickly, and even with gladness and relief.
“You did not expect it? Ah—you thought too highly of me. Now listen. Put your head there, because I want you to forgive me, and not to be indignant with me for not telling you before, as perhaps I ought to have done.”
How strange it was! He seemed to be her double. She did not speak, and Clare went on—
“I did not mention it because I was afraid of endangering my chance of you, darling, the great prize of my life—my Fellowship I call you. My brother’s Fellowship was won at his college, mine at Talbothays Dairy. Well, I would not risk it. I was going to tell you a month ago—at the time you agreed to be mine, but I could not; I thought it might frighten you away from me. I put it off; then I thought I would tell you yesterday, to give you a chance at least of escaping me. But I did not. And I did not this morning, when you proposed our confessing our faults on the landing—the sinner that I was! But I must, now I see you sitting there so solemnly. I wonder if you will forgive me?”
“O yes! I am sure that—”
“Well, I hope so. But wait a minute. You don’t know. To begin at the beginning. Though I imagine my poor father fears that I am one of the eternally lost for my doctrines, I am of course, a believer in good morals, Tess, as much as you. I used to wish to be a teacher of men, and it was a great disappointment to me when I found I could not enter the Church. I admired spotlessness, even though I could lay no claim to it, and hated impurity, as I hope I do now. Whatever one may think of plenary inspiration, one must heartily subscribe to these words of Paul: ‘Be thou an example—in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.’ It is the only safeguard for us poor human beings. ‘Integer vitae,’ says a Roman poet, who is strange company for St Paul—
The man of upright life, from frailties free,
Stands not in need of Moorish spear or bow.
“Well, a certain place is paved with good intentions, and having felt all that so strongly, you will see what a terrible remorse it bred in me when, in the midst of my fine aims for other people, I myself fell.”
He then told her of that time of his life to which allusion has been made when, tossed about by doubts and difficulties in London, like a cork on the waves, he plunged into eight-and-forty hours’ dissipation with a stranger.
“Happily I awoke almost immediately to a sense of my folly,” he continued. “I would have no more to say to her, and I came home. I have never repeated the offence. But I felt I should like to treat you with perfect frankness and honour, and I could not do so without telling this. Do you forgive me?”
She pressed his hand tightly for an answer.
“Then we will dismiss it at once and for ever!—too painful as it is for the occasion—and talk of something lighter.”
“O, Angel—I am almost glad—because now you can forgive me! I have not made my confession. I have a confession, too—remember, I said so.”
“Ah, to be sure! Now then for it, wicked little one.”
“Perhaps, although you smile, it is as serious as yours, or more so.”
“It can hardly be more serious, dearest.”
“It cannot—O no, it cannot!” She jumped up joyfully at the hope. “No, it cannot be more serious, certainly,” she cried, “because ’tis just the same! I will tell you now.”
She sat down again.
Their hands were still joined. The ashes under the grate were lit by the fire vertically, like a torrid waste. Imagination might have beheld a Last Day luridness in this red-coaled glow, which fell on his face and hand, and on hers, peering into the loose hair about her brow, and firing the delicate skin underneath. A large shadow of her shape rose upon the wall and ceiling. She bent forward, at which each diamond on her neck gave a sinister wink like a toad’s; and pressing her forehead against his temple she entered on her story of her acquaintance with Alec d’Urberville and its results, murmuring the words without flinching, and with her eyelids drooping down.