Till this moment she had never seen or heard from d’Urberville since her departure from Trantridge.
The rencounter came at a heavy moment, one of all moments calculated to permit its impact with the least emotional shock. But such was unreasoning memory that, though he stood there openly and palpably a converted man, who was sorrowing for his past irregularities, a fear overcame her, paralyzing her movement so that she neither retreated nor advanced.
To think of what emanated from that countenance when she saw it last, and to behold it now!… There was the same handsome unpleasantness of mien, but now he wore neatly trimmed, old-fashioned whiskers, the sable moustache having disappeared; and his dress was half-clerical, a modification which had changed his expression sufficiently to abstract the dandyism from his features, and to hinder for a second her belief in his identity.
To Tess’s sense there was, just at first, a ghastly bizarrerie, a grim incongruity, in the march of these solemn words of Scripture out of such a mouth. This too familiar intonation, less than four years earlier, had brought to her ears expressions of such divergent purpose that her heart became quite sick at the irony of the contrast.
It was less a reform than a transfiguration. The former curves of sensuousness were now modulated to lines of devotional passion. The lip-shapes that had meant seductiveness were now made to express supplication; the glow on the cheek that yesterday could be translated as riotousness was evangelized to-day into the splendour of pious rhetoric; animalism had become fanaticism; Paganism, Paulinism; the bold rolling eye that had flashed upon her form in the old time with such mastery now beamed with the rude energy of a theolatry that was almost ferocious. Those black angularities which his face had used to put on when his wishes were thwarted now did duty in picturing the incorrigible backslider who would insist upon turning again to his wallowing in the mire.
The lineaments, as such, seemed to complain. They had been diverted from their hereditary connotation to signify impressions for which Nature did not intend them. Strange that their very elevation was a misapplication, that to raise seemed to falsify.
Yet could it be so? She would admit the ungenerous sentiment no longer. D’Urberville was not the first wicked man who had turned away from his wickedness to save his soul alive, and why should she deem it unnatural in him? It was but the usage of thought which had been jarred in her at hearing good new words in bad old notes. The greater the sinner, the greater the saint; it was not necessary to dive far into Christian history to discover that.
Such impressions as these moved her vaguely, and without strict definiteness. As soon as the nerveless pause of her surprise would allow her to stir, her impulse was to pass on out of his sight. He had obviously not discerned her yet in her position against the sun.
But the moment that she moved again he recognized her. The effect upon her old lover was electric, far stronger than the effect of his presence upon her. His fire, the tumultuous ring of his eloquence, seemed to go out of him. His lip struggled and trembled under the words that lay upon it; but deliver them it could not as long as she faced him. His eyes, after their first glance upon her face, hung confusedly in every other direction but hers, but came back in a desperate leap every few seconds. This paralysis lasted, however, but a short time; for Tess’s energies returned with the atrophy of his, and she walked as fast as she was able past the barn and onward.
As soon as she could reflect, it appalled her, this change in their relative platforms. He who had wrought her undoing was now on the side of the Spirit, while she remained unregenerate. And, as in the legend, it had resulted that her Cyprian image had suddenly appeared upon his altar, whereby the fire of the priest had been well nigh extinguished.
She went on without turning her head. Her back seemed to be endowed with a sensitiveness to ocular beams—even her clothing—so alive was she to a fancied gaze which might be resting upon her from the outside of that barn. All the way along to this point her heart had been heavy with an inactive sorrow; now there was a change in the quality of its trouble. That hunger for affection too long withheld was for the time displaced by an almost physical sense of an implacable past which still engirdled her. It intensified her consciousness of error to a practical despair; the break of continuity between her earlier and present existence, which she had hoped for, had not, after all, taken place. Bygones would never be complete bygones till she was a bygone herself.
Thus absorbed, she recrossed the northern part of Long-Ash Lane at right angles, and presently saw before her the road ascending whitely to the upland along whose margin the remainder of her journey lay. Its dry pale surface stretched severely onward, unbroken by a single figure, vehicle, or mark, save some occasional brown horse-droppings which dotted its cold aridity here and there. While slowly breasting this ascent Tess became conscious of footsteps behind her, and turning she saw approaching that well-known form—so strangely accoutred as the Methodist—the one personage in all the world she wished not to encounter alone on this side of the grave.
There was not much time, however, for thought or elusion, and she yielded as calmly as she could to the necessity of letting him overtake her. She saw that he was excited, less by the speed of his walk than by the feelings within him.
“Tess!” he said.
She slackened speed without looking round.
“Tess!” he repeated. “It is I—Alec d’Urberville.”
She then looked back at him, and he came up.
“I see it is,” she answered coldly.
“Well—is that all? Yet I deserve no more! Of course,” he added, with a slight laugh, “there is something of the ridiculous to your eyes in seeing me like this. But—I must put up with that…. I heard you had gone away; nobody knew where. Tess, you wonder why I have followed you?”
“I do, rather; and I would that you had not, with all my heart!”
“Yes—you may well say it,” he returned grimly, as they moved onward together, she with unwilling tread. “But don’t mistake me; I beg this because you may have been led to do so in noticing—if you did notice it—how your sudden appearance unnerved me down there. It was but a momentary faltering; and considering what you have been to me, it was natural enough. But will helped me through it—though perhaps you think me a humbug for saying it—and immediately afterwards I felt that of all persons in the world whom it was my duty and desire to save from the wrath to come—sneer if you like—the woman whom I had so grievously wronged was that person. I have come with that sole purpose in view—nothing more.”
There was the smallest vein of scorn in her words of rejoinder: “Have you saved yourself? Charity begins at home, they say.”
“I have done nothing!” said he indifferently. “Heaven, as I have been telling my hearers, has done all. No amount of contempt that you can pour upon me, Tess, will equal what I have poured upon myself—the old Adam of my former years! Well, it is a strange story; believe it or not; but I can tell you the means by which my conversion was brought about, and I hope you will be interested enough at least to listen. Have you ever heard the name of the parson of Emminster—you must have done do?—old Mr Clare; one of the most earnest of his school; one of the few intense men left in the Church; not so intense as the extreme wing of Christian believers with which I have thrown in my lot, but quite an exception among the Established clergy, the younger of whom are gradually attenuating the true doctrines by their sophistries, till they are but the shadow of what they were. I only differ from him on the question of Church and State—the interpretation of the text, ‘Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord’—that’s all. He is one who, I firmly believe, has been the humble means of saving more souls in this country than any other man you can name. You have heard of him?”
“I have,” she said.
“He came to Trantridge two or three years ago to preach on behalf of some missionary society; and I, wretched fellow that I was, insulted him when, in his disinterestedness, he tried to reason with me and show me the way. He did not resent my conduct, he simply said that some day I should receive the first-fruits of the Spirit—that those who came to scoff sometimes remained to pray. There was a strange magic in his words. They sank into my mind. But the loss of my mother hit me most; and by degrees I was brought to see daylight. Since then my one desire has been to hand on the true view to others, and that is what I was trying to do to-day; though it is only lately that I have preached hereabout. The first months of my ministry have been spent in the North of England among strangers, where I preferred to make my earliest clumsy attempts, so as to acquire courage before undergoing that severest of all tests of one’s sincerity, addressing those who have known one, and have been one’s companions in the days of darkness. If you could only know, Tess, the pleasure of having a good slap at yourself, I am sure—”
“Don’t go on with it!” she cried passionately, as she turned away from him to a stile by the wayside, on which she bent herself. “I can’t believe in such sudden things! I feel indignant with you for talking to me like this, when you know—when you know what harm you’ve done me! You, and those like you, take your fill of pleasure on earth by making the life of such as me bitter and black with sorrow; and then it is a fine thing, when you have had enough of that, to think of securing your pleasure in heaven by becoming converted! Out upon such—I don’t believe in you—I hate it!”
“Tess,” he insisted; “don’t speak so! It came to me like a jolly new idea! And you don’t believe me? What don’t you believe?”
“Your conversion. Your scheme of religion.”
She dropped her voice. “Because a better man than you does not believe in such.”
“What a woman’s reason! Who is this better man?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“Well,” he declared, a resentment beneath his words seeming ready to spring out at a moment’s notice, “God forbid that I should say I am a good man—and you know I don’t say any such thing. I am new to goodness, truly; but newcomers see furthest sometimes.”
“Yes,” she replied sadly. “But I cannot believe in your conversion to a new spirit. Such flashes as you feel, Alec, I fear don’t last!”
Thus speaking she turned from the stile over which she had been leaning, and faced him; whereupon his eyes, falling casually upon the familiar countenance and form, remained contemplating her. The inferior man was quiet in him now; but it was surely not extracted, nor even entirely subdued.
“Don’t look at me like that!” he said abruptly.
Tess, who had been quite unconscious of her action and mien, instantly withdrew the large dark gaze of her eyes, stammering with a flush, “I beg your pardon!” And there was revived in her the wretched sentiment which had often come to her before, that in inhabiting the fleshly tabernacle with which Nature had endowed her she was somehow doing wrong.
“No, no! Don’t beg my pardon. But since you wear a veil to hide your good looks, why don’t you keep it down?”
She pulled down the veil, saying hastily, “It was mostly to keep off the wind.”
“It may seem harsh of me to dictate like this,” he went on; “but it is better that I should not look too often on you. It might be dangerous.”
“Ssh!” said Tess.
“Well, women’s faces have had too much power over me already for me not to fear them! An evangelist has nothing to do with such as they; and it reminds me of the old times that I would forget!”
After this their conversation dwindled to a casual remark now and then as they rambled onward, Tess inwardly wondering how far he was going with her, and not liking to send him back by positive mandate. Frequently when they came to a gate or stile they found painted thereon in red or blue letters some text of Scripture, and she asked him if he knew who had been at the pains to blazon these announcements. He told her that the man was employed by himself and others who were working with him in that district, to paint these reminders that no means might be left untried which might move the hearts of a wicked generation.
At length the road touched the spot called “Cross-in-Hand.” Of all spots on the bleached and desolate upland this was the most forlorn. It was so far removed from the charm which is sought in landscape by artists and view-lovers as to reach a new kind of beauty, a negative beauty of tragic tone. The place took its name from a stone pillar which stood there, a strange rude monolith, from a stratum unknown in any local quarry, on which was roughly carved a human hand. Differing accounts were given of its history and purport. Some authorities stated that a devotional cross had once formed the complete erection thereon, of which the present relic was but the stump; others that the stone as it stood was entire, and that it had been fixed there to mark a boundary or place of meeting. Anyhow, whatever the origin of the relic, there was and is something sinister, or solemn, according to mood, in the scene amid which it stands; something tending to impress the most phlegmatic passer-by.
“I think I must leave you now,” he remarked, as they drew near to this spot. “I have to preach at Abbot’s-Cernel at six this evening, and my way lies across to the right from here. And you upset me somewhat too, Tessy—I cannot, will not, say why. I must go away and get strength…. How is it that you speak so fluently now? Who has taught you such good English?”
“I have learnt things in my troubles,” she said evasively.
“What troubles have you had?”
She told him of the first one—the only one that related to him.
D’Urberville was struck mute. “I knew nothing of this till now!” he next murmured. “Why didn’t you write to me when you felt your trouble coming on?”
She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding: “Well—you will see me again.”
“No,” she answered. “Do not again come near me!”
“I will think. But before we part come here.” He stepped up to the pillar. “This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but I fear you at moments—far more than you need fear me at present; and to lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me—by your charms or ways.”
“Good God—how can you ask what is so unnecessary! All that is furthest from my thought!”
“Yes—but swear it.”
Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity; placed her hand upon the stone and swore.
“I am sorry you are not a believer,” he continued; “that some unbeliever should have got hold of you and unsettled your mind. But no more now. At home at least I can pray for you; and I will; and who knows what may not happen? I’m off. Goodbye!”
He turned to a hunting-gate in the hedge and, without letting his eyes again rest upon her, leapt over and struck out across the down in the direction of Abbot’s-Cernel. As he walked his pace showed perturbation, and by-and-by, as if instigated by a former thought, he drew from his pocket a small book, between the leaves of which was folded a letter, worn and soiled, as from much re-reading. D’Urberville opened the letter. It was dated several months before this time, and was signed by Parson Clare.
The letter began by expressing the writer’s unfeigned joy at d’Urberville’s conversion, and thanked him for his kindness in communicating with the parson on the subject. It expressed Mr Clare’s warm assurance of forgiveness for d’Urberville’s former conduct and his interest in the young man’s plans for the future. He, Mr Clare, would much have liked to see d’Urberville in the Church to whose ministry he had devoted so many years of his own life, and would have helped him to enter a theological college to that end; but since his correspondent had possibly not cared to do this on account of the delay it would have entailed, he was not the man to insist upon its paramount importance. Every man must work as he could best work, and in the method towards which he felt impelled by the Spirit.
D’Urberville read and re-read this letter, and seemed to quiz himself cynically. He also read some passages from memoranda as he walked till his face assumed a calm, and apparently the image of Tess no longer troubled his mind.
She meanwhile had kept along the edge of the hill by which lay her nearest way home. Within the distance of a mile she met a solitary shepherd.
“What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?” she asked of him. “Was it ever a Holy Cross?”
“Cross—no; ’twer not a cross! ’Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It was put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks at times.”
She felt the petite mort at this unexpectedly gruesome information, and left the solitary man behind her. It was dusk when she drew near to Flintcomb-Ash, and in the lane at the entrance to the hamlet she approached a girl and her lover without their observing her. They were talking no secrets, and the clear unconcerned voice of the young woman, in response to the warmer accents of the man, spread into the chilly air as the one soothing thing within the dusky horizon, full of a stagnant obscurity upon which nothing else intruded. For a moment the voices cheered the heart of Tess, till she reasoned that this interview had its origin, on one side or the other, in the same attraction which had been the prelude to her own tribulation. When she came close, the girl turned serenely and recognized her, the young man walking off in embarrassment. The woman was Izz Huett, whose interest in Tess’s excursion immediately superseded her own proceedings. Tess did not explain very clearly its results, and Izz, who was a girl of tact, began to speak of her own little affair, a phase of which Tess had just witnessed.
“He is Amby Seedling, the chap who used to sometimes come and help at Talbothays,” she explained indifferently. “He actually inquired and found out that I had come here, and has followed me. He says he’s been in love wi’ me these two years. But I’ve hardly answered him.”
Several days had passed since her futile journey, and Tess was afield. The dry winter wind still blew, but a screen of thatched hurdles erected in the eye of the blast kept its force away from her. On the sheltered side was a turnip-slicing machine, whose bright blue hue of new paint seemed almost vocal in the otherwise subdued scene. Opposite its front was a long mound or “grave”, in which the roots had been preserved since early winter. Tess was standing at the uncovered end, chopping off with a bill-hook the fibres and earth from each root, and throwing it after the operation into the slicer. A man was turning the handle of the machine, and from its trough came the newly-cut swedes, the fresh smell of whose yellow chips was accompanied by the sounds of the snuffling wind, the smart swish of the slicing-blades, and the choppings of the hook in Tess’s leather-gloved hand.
The wide acreage of blank agricultural brownness, apparent where the swedes had been pulled, was beginning to be striped in wales of darker brown, gradually broadening to ribands. Along the edge of each of these something crept upon ten legs, moving without haste and without rest up and down the whole length of the field; it was two horses and a man, the plough going between them, turning up the cleared ground for a spring sowing.
For hours nothing relieved the joyless monotony of things. Then, far beyond the ploughing-teams, a black speck was seen. It had come from the corner of a fence, where there was a gap, and its tendency was up the incline, towards the swede-cutters. From the proportions of a mere point it advanced to the shape of a ninepin, and was soon perceived to be a man in black, arriving from the direction of Flintcomb-Ash. The man at the slicer, having nothing else to do with his eyes, continually observed the comer, but Tess, who was occupied, did not perceive him till her companion directed her attention to his approach.
It was not her hard taskmaster, Farmer Groby; it was one in a semi-clerical costume, who now represented what had once been the free-and-easy Alec d’Urberville. Not being hot at his preaching there was less enthusiasm about him now, and the presence of the grinder seemed to embarrass him. A pale distress was already on Tess’s face, and she pulled her curtained hood further over it.
D’Urberville came up and said quietly—
“I want to speak to you, Tess.”
“You have refused my last request, not to come near me!” said she.
“Yes, but I have a good reason.”
“Well, tell it.”
“It is more serious than you may think.”
He glanced round to see if he were overheard. They were at some distance from the man who turned the slicer, and the movement of the machine, too, sufficiently prevented Alec’s words reaching other ears. D’Urberville placed himself so as to screen Tess from the labourer, turning his back to the latter.
“It is this,” he continued, with capricious compunction. “In thinking of your soul and mine when we last met, I neglected to inquire as to your worldly condition. You were well dressed, and I did not think of it. But I see now that it is hard—harder than it used to be when I—knew you—harder than you deserve. Perhaps a good deal of it is owning to me!”
She did not answer, and he watched her inquiringly, as, with bent head, her face completely screened by the hood, she resumed her trimming of the swedes. By going on with her work she felt better able to keep him outside her emotions.
“Tess,” he added, with a sigh of discontent,—“yours was the very worst case I ever was concerned in! I had no idea of what had resulted till you told me. Scamp that I was to foul that innocent life! The whole blame was mine—the whole unconventional business of our time at Trantridge. You, too, the real blood of which I am but the base imitation, what a blind young thing you were as to possibilities! I say in all earnestness that it is a shame for parents to bring up their girls in such dangerous ignorance of the gins and nets that the wicked may set for them, whether their motive be a good one or the result of simple indifference.”
Tess still did no more than listen, throwing down one globular root and taking up another with automatic regularity, the pensive contour of the mere fieldwoman alone marking her.
“But it is not that I came to say,” d’Urberville went on. “My circumstances are these. I have lost my mother since you were at Trantridge, and the place is my own. But I intend to sell it, and devote myself to missionary work in Africa. A devil of a poor hand I shall make at the trade, no doubt. However, what I want to ask you is, will you put it in my power to do my duty—to make the only reparation I can make for the trick played you: that is, will you be my wife, and go with me?… I have already obtained this precious document. It was my old mother’s dying wish.”
He drew a piece of parchment from his pocket, with a slight fumbling of embarrassment.
“What is it?” said she.
“A marriage licence.”
“O no, sir—no!” she said quickly, starting back.
“You will not? Why is that?”
And as he asked the question a disappointment which was not entirely the disappointment of thwarted duty crossed d’Urberville’s face. It was unmistakably a symptom that something of his old passion for her had been revived; duty and desire ran hand-in-hand.
“Surely,” he began again, in more impetuous tones, and then looked round at the labourer who turned the slicer.
Tess, too, felt that the argument could not be ended there. Informing the man that a gentleman had come to see her, with whom she wished to walk a little way, she moved off with d’Urberville across the zebra-striped field. When they reached the first newly-ploughed section he held out his hand to help her over it; but she stepped forward on the summits of the earth-rolls as if she did not see him.
“You will not marry me, Tess, and make me a self-respecting man?” he repeated, as soon as they were over the furrows.
“You know I have no affection for you.”
“But you would get to feel that in time, perhaps—as soon as you really could forgive me?”
“Why so positive?”
“I love somebody else.”
The words seemed to astonish him.
“You do?” he cried. “Somebody else? But has not a sense of what is morally right and proper any weight with you?”
“No, no, no—don’t say that!”
“Anyhow, then, your love for this other man may be only a passing feeling which you will overcome—”
“Yes, yes! Why not?”
“I cannot tell you.”
“You must in honour!”
“Well then…. I have married him.”
“Ah!” he exclaimed; and he stopped dead and gazed at her.
“I did not wish to tell—I did not mean to!” she pleaded. “It is a secret here, or at any rate but dimly known. So will you, please will you, keep from questioning me? You must remember that we are now strangers.”
“Strangers—are we? Strangers!”
For a moment a flash of his old irony marked his face; but he determinedly chastened it down.
“Is that man your husband?” he asked mechanically, denoting by a sign the labourer who turned the machine.
“That man!” she said proudly. “I should think not!”
“Do not ask what I do not wish to tell!” she begged, and flashed her appeal to him from her upturned face and lash-shadowed eyes.
D’Urberville was disturbed.
“But I only asked for your sake!” he retorted hotly. “Angels of heaven!—God forgive me for such an expression—I came here, I swear, as I thought for your good. Tess—don’t look at me so—I cannot stand your looks! There never were such eyes, surely, before Christianity or since! There—I won’t lose my head; I dare not. I own that the sight of you had waked up my love for you, which, I believed, was extinguished with all such feelings. But I thought that our marriage might be a sanctification for us both. ‘The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband,’ I said to myself. But my plan is dashed from me; and I must bear the disappointment!”
He moodily reflected with his eyes on the ground.
“Married. Married!… Well, that being so,” he added, quite calmly, tearing the licence slowly into halves and putting them in his pocket; “that being prevented, I should like to do some good to you and your husband, whoever he may be. There are many questions that I am tempted to ask, but I will not do so, of course, in opposition to your wishes. Though, if I could know your husband, I might more easily benefit him and you. Is he on this farm?”
“No,” she murmured. “He is far away.”
“Far away? From you? What sort of husband can he be?”
“O, do not speak against him! It was through you! He found out—”
“Ah, is it so!… That’s sad, Tess!”
“But to stay away from you—to leave you to work like this!”
“He does not leave me to work!” she cried, springing to the defence of the absent one with all her fervour. “He don’t know it! It is by my own arrangement.”
“Then, does he write?”
“I—I cannot tell you. There are things which are private to ourselves.”
“Of course that means that he does not. You are a deserted wife, my fair Tess—”
In an impulse he turned suddenly to take her hand; the buff-glove was on it, and he seized only the rough leather fingers which did not express the life or shape of those within.
“You must not—you must not!” she cried fearfully, slipping her hand from the glove as from a pocket, and leaving it in his grasp. “O, will you go away—for the sake of me and my husband—go, in the name of your own Christianity!”
“Yes, yes; I will,” he said abruptly, and thrusting the glove back to her he turned to leave. Facing round, however, he said, “Tess, as God is my judge, I meant no humbug in taking your hand!”
A pattering of hoofs on the soil of the field, which they had not noticed in their preoccupation, ceased close behind them; and a voice reached her ear:
“What the devil are you doing away from your work at this time o’ day?”
Farmer Groby had espied the two figures from the distance, and had inquisitively ridden across, to learn what was their business in his field.
“Don’t speak like that to her!” said d’Urberville, his face blackening with something that was not Christianity.
“Indeed, Mister! And what mid Methodist pa’sons have to do with she?”
“Who is the fellow?” asked d’Urberville, turning to Tess.
She went close up to him.
“Go—I do beg you!” she said.
“What! And leave you to that tyrant? I can see in his face what a churl he is.”
“He won’t hurt me. He’s not in love with me. I can leave at Lady-Day.”
“Well, I have no right but to obey, I suppose. But—well, goodbye!”
Her defender, whom she dreaded more than her assailant, having reluctantly disappeared, the farmer continued his reprimand, which Tess took with the greatest coolness, that sort of attack being independent of sex. To have as a master this man of stone, who would have cuffed her if he had dared, was almost a relief after her former experiences. She silently walked back towards the summit of the field that was the scene of her labour, so absorbed in the interview which had just taken place that she was hardly aware that the nose of Groby’s horse almost touched her shoulders.
“If so be you make an agreement to work for me till Lady-Day, I’ll see that you carry it out,” he growled. “’Od rot the women—now ’tis one thing, and then ’tis another. But I’ll put up with it no longer!”
Knowing very well that he did not harass the other women of the farm as he harassed her out of spite for the flooring he had once received, she did for one moment picture what might have been the result if she had been free to accept the offer just made her of being the monied Alec’s wife. It would have lifted her completely out of subjection, not only to her present oppressive employer, but to a whole world who seemed to despise her. “But no, no!” she said breathlessly; “I could not have married him now! He is so unpleasant to me.”
That very night she began an appealing letter to Clare, concealing from him her hardships, and assuring him of her undying affection. Any one who had been in a position to read between the lines would have seen that at the back of her great love was some monstrous fear—almost a desperation—as to some secret contingencies which were not disclosed. But again she did not finish her effusion; he had asked Izz to go with him, and perhaps he did not care for her at all. She put the letter in her box, and wondered if it would ever reach Angel’s hands.
After this her daily tasks were gone through heavily enough, and brought on the day which was of great import to agriculturists—the day of the Candlemas Fair. It was at this fair that new engagements were entered into for the twelve months following the ensuing Lady-Day, and those of the farming population who thought of changing their places duly attended at the county-town where the fair was held. Nearly all the labourers on Flintcomb-Ash farm intended flight, and early in the morning there was a general exodus in the direction of the town, which lay at a distance of from ten to a dozen miles over hilly country. Though Tess also meant to leave at the quarter-day, she was one of the few who did not go to the fair, having a vaguely-shaped hope that something would happen to render another outdoor engagement unnecessary.
It was a peaceful February day, of wonderful softness for the time, and one would almost have thought that winter was over. She had hardly finished her dinner when d’Urberville’s figure darkened the window of the cottage wherein she was a lodger, which she had all to herself to-day.
Tess jumped up, but her visitor had knocked at the door, and she could hardly in reason run away. D’Urberville’s knock, his walk up to the door, had some indescribable quality of difference from his air when she last saw him. They seemed to be acts of which the doer was ashamed. She thought that she would not open the door; but, as there was no sense in that either, she arose, and having lifted the latch stepped back quickly. He came in, saw her, and flung himself down into a chair before speaking.
“Tess—I couldn’t help it!” he began desperately, as he wiped his heated face, which had also a superimposed flush of excitement. “I felt that I must call at least to ask how you are. I assure you I had not been thinking of you at all till I saw you that Sunday; now I cannot get rid of your image, try how I may! It is hard that a good woman should do harm to a bad man; yet so it is. If you would only pray for me, Tess!”
The suppressed discontent of his manner was almost pitiable, and yet Tess did not pity him.
“How can I pray for you,” she said, “when I am forbidden to believe that the great Power who moves the world would alter His plans on my account?”
“You really think that?”
“Yes. I have been cured of the presumption of thinking otherwise.”
“Cured? By whom?”
“By my husband, if I must tell.”
“Ah—your husband—your husband! How strange it seems! I remember you hinted something of the sort the other day. What do you really believe in these matters, Tess?” he asked. “You seem to have no religion—perhaps owing to me.”
“But I have. Though I don’t believe in anything supernatural.”
D’Urberville looked at her with misgiving.
“Then do you think that the line I take is all wrong?”
“A good deal of it.”
“H’m—and yet I’ve felt so sure about it,” he said uneasily.
“I believe in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, and so did my dear husband…. But I don’t believe—”
Here she gave her negations.
“The fact is,” said d’Urberville drily, “whatever your dear husband believed you accept, and whatever he rejected you reject, without the least inquiry or reasoning on your own part. That’s just like you women. Your mind is enslaved to his.”
“Ah, because he knew everything!” said she, with a triumphant simplicity of faith in Angel Clare that the most perfect man could hardly have deserved, much less her husband.
“Yes, but you should not take negative opinions wholesale from another person like that. A pretty fellow he must be to teach you such scepticism!”
“He never forced my judgement! He would never argue on the subject with me! But I looked at it in this way; what he believed, after inquiring deep into doctrines, was much more likely to be right than what I might believe, who hadn’t looked into doctrines at all.”
“What used he to say? He must have said something?”
She reflected; and with her acute memory for the letter of Angel Clare’s remarks, even when she did not comprehend their spirit, she recalled a merciless polemical syllogism that she had heard him use when, as it occasionally happened, he indulged in a species of thinking aloud with her at his side. In delivering it she gave also Clare’s accent and manner with reverential faithfulness.
“Say that again,” asked d’Urberville, who had listened with the greatest attention.
She repeated the argument, and d’Urberville thoughtfully murmured the words after her.
“Anything else?” he presently asked.
“He said at another time something like this”; and she gave another, which might possibly have been paralleled in many a work of the pedigree ranging from the Dictionnaire Philosophique to Huxley’s Essays.
“Ah—ha! How do you remember them?”
“I wanted to believe what he believed, though he didn’t wish me to; and I managed to coax him to tell me a few of his thoughts. I can’t say I quite understand that one; but I know it is right.”
“H’m. Fancy your being able to teach me what you don’t know yourself!”
He fell into thought.
“And so I threw in my spiritual lot with his,” she resumed. “I didn’t wish it to be different. What’s good enough for him is good enough for me.”
“Does he know that you are as big an infidel as he?”
“No—I never told him—if I am an infidel.”
“Well—you are better off to-day that I am, Tess, after all! You don’t believe that you ought to preach my doctrine, and, therefore, do no despite to your conscience in abstaining. I do believe I ought to preach it, but, like the devils, I believe and tremble, for I suddenly leave off preaching it, and give way to my passion for you.”
“Why,” he said aridly; “I have come all the way here to see you to-day! But I started from home to go to Casterbridge Fair, where I have undertaken to preach the Word from a waggon at half-past two this afternoon, and where all the brethren are expecting me this minute. Here’s the announcement.”
He drew from his breast-pocket a poster whereon was printed the day, hour, and place of meeting, at which he, d’Urberville, would preach the Gospel as aforesaid.
“But how can you get there?” said Tess, looking at the clock.
“I cannot get there! I have come here.”
“What, you have really arranged to preach, and—”
“I have arranged to preach, and I shall not be there—by reason of my burning desire to see a woman whom I once despised!—No, by my word and truth, I never despised you; if I had I should not love you now! Why I did not despise you was on account of your being unsmirched in spite of all; you withdrew yourself from me so quickly and resolutely when you saw the situation; you did not remain at my pleasure; so there was one petticoat in the world for whom I had no contempt, and you are she. But you may well despise me now! I thought I worshipped on the mountains, but I find I still serve in the groves! Ha! ha!”
“O Alec d’Urberville! what does this mean? What have I done!”
“Done?” he said, with a soulless sneer in the word. “Nothing intentionally. But you have been the means—the innocent means—of my backsliding, as they call it. I ask myself, am I, indeed, one of those ‘servants of corruption’ who, ‘after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, are again entangled therein and overcome’—whose latter end is worse than their beginning?” He laid his hand on her shoulder. “Tess, my girl, I was on the way to, at least, social salvation till I saw you again!” he said freakishly shaking her, as if she were a child. “And why then have you tempted me? I was firm as a man could be till I saw those eyes and that mouth again—surely there never was such a maddening mouth since Eve’s!” His voice sank, and a hot archness shot from his own black eyes. “You temptress, Tess; you dear damned witch of Babylon—I could not resist you as soon as I met you again!”
“I couldn’t help your seeing me again!” said Tess, recoiling.
“I know it—I repeat that I do not blame you. But the fact remains. When I saw you ill-used on the farm that day I was nearly mad to think that I had no legal right to protect you—that I could not have it; whilst he who has it seems to neglect you utterly!”
“Don’t speak against him—he is absent!” she cried in much excitement. “Treat him honourably—he has never wronged you! O leave his wife before any scandal spreads that may do harm to his honest name!”
“I will—I will,” he said, like a man awakening from a luring dream. “I have broken my engagement to preach to those poor drunken boobies at the fair—it is the first time I have played such a practical joke. A month ago I should have been horrified at such a possibility. I’ll go away—to swear—and—ah, can I! to keep away.” Then, suddenly: “One clasp, Tessy—one! Only for old friendship—”
“I am without defence. Alec! A good man’s honour is in my keeping—think—be ashamed!”
“Pooh! Well, yes—yes!”
He clenched his lips, mortified with himself for his weakness. His eyes were equally barren of worldly and religious faith. The corpses of those old fitful passions which had lain inanimate amid the lines of his face ever since his reformation seemed to wake and come together as in a resurrection. He went out indeterminately.
Though d’Urberville had declared that this breach of his engagement to-day was the simple backsliding of a believer, Tess’s words, as echoed from Angel Clare, had made a deep impression upon him, and continued to do so after he had left her. He moved on in silence, as if his energies were benumbed by the hitherto undreamt-of possibility that his position was untenable. Reason had had nothing to do with his whimsical conversion, which was perhaps the mere freak of a careless man in search of a new sensation, and temporarily impressed by his mother’s death.
The drops of logic Tess had let fall into the sea of his enthusiasm served to chill its effervescence to stagnation. He said to himself, as he pondered again and again over the crystallized phrases that she had handed on to him, “That clever fellow little thought that, by telling her those things, he might be paving my way back to her!”
It is the threshing of the last wheat-rick at Flintcomb-Ash farm. The dawn of the March morning is singularly inexpressive, and there is nothing to show where the eastern horizon lies. Against the twilight rises the trapezoidal top of the stack, which has stood forlornly here through the washing and bleaching of the wintry weather.
When Izz Huett and Tess arrived at the scene of operations only a rustling denoted that others had preceded them; to which, as the light increased, there were presently added the silhouettes of two men on the summit. They were busily “unhaling” the rick, that is, stripping off the thatch before beginning to throw down the sheaves; and while this was in progress Izz and Tess, with the other women-workers, in their whitey-brown pinners, stood waiting and shivering, Farmer Groby having insisted upon their being on the spot thus early to get the job over if possible by the end of the day. Close under the eaves of the stack, and as yet barely visible, was the red tyrant that the women had come to serve—a timber-framed construction, with straps and wheels appertaining—the threshing-machine which, whilst it was going, kept up a despotic demand upon the endurance of their muscles and nerves.
A little way off there was another indistinct figure; this one black, with a sustained hiss that spoke of strength very much in reserve. The long chimney running up beside an ash-tree, and the warmth which radiated from the spot, explained without the necessity of much daylight that here was the engine which was to act as the primum mobile of this little world. By the engine stood a dark, motionless being, a sooty and grimy embodiment of tallness, in a sort of trance, with a heap of coals by his side: it was the engine-man. The isolation of his manner and colour lent him the appearance of a creature from Tophet, who had strayed into the pellucid smokelessness of this region of yellow grain and pale soil, with which he had nothing in common, to amaze and to discompose its aborigines.
What he looked he felt. He was in the agricultural world, but not of it. He served fire and smoke; these denizens of the fields served vegetation, weather, frost, and sun. He travelled with his engine from farm to farm, from county to county, for as yet the steam threshing-machine was itinerant in this part of Wessex. He spoke in a strange northern accent; his thoughts being turned inwards upon himself, his eye on his iron charge, hardly perceiving the scenes around him, and caring for them not at all: holding only strictly necessary intercourse with the natives, as if some ancient doom compelled him to wander here against his will in the service of his Plutonic master. The long strap which ran from the driving-wheel of his engine to the red thresher under the rick was the sole tie-line between agriculture and him.
While they uncovered the sheaves he stood apathetic beside his portable repository of force, round whose hot blackness the morning air quivered. He had nothing to do with preparatory labour. His fire was waiting incandescent, his steam was at high pressure, in a few seconds he could make the long strap move at an invisible velocity. Beyond its extent the environment might be corn, straw, or chaos; it was all the same to him. If any of the autochthonous idlers asked him what he called himself, he replied shortly, “an engineer.”
The rick was unhaled by full daylight; the men then took their places, the women mounted, and the work began. Farmer Groby—or, as they called him, “he”—had arrived ere this, and by his orders Tess was placed on the platform of the machine, close to the man who fed it, her business being to untie every sheaf of corn handed on to her by Izz Huett, who stood next, but on the rick; so that the feeder could seize it and spread it over the revolving drum, which whisked out every grain in one moment.
They were soon in full progress, after a preparatory hitch or two, which rejoiced the hearts of those who hated machinery. The work sped on till breakfast time, when the thresher was stopped for half an hour; and on starting again after the meal the whole supplementary strength of the farm was thrown into the labour of constructing the straw-rick, which began to grow beside the stack of corn. A hasty lunch was eaten as they stood, without leaving their positions, and then another couple of hours brought them near to dinner-time; the inexorable wheel continuing to spin, and the penetrating hum of the thresher to thrill to the very marrow all who were near the revolving wire-cage.
The old men on the rising straw-rick talked of the past days when they had been accustomed to thresh with flails on the oaken barn-floor; when everything, even to winnowing, was effected by hand-labour, which, to their thinking, though slow, produced better results. Those, too, on the corn-rick talked a little; but the perspiring ones at the machine, including Tess, could not lighten their duties by the exchange of many words. It was the ceaselessness of the work which tried her so severely, and began to make her wish that she had never some to Flintcomb-Ash. The women on the corn-rick—Marian, who was one of them, in particular—could stop to drink ale or cold tea from the flagon now and then, or to exchange a few gossiping remarks while they wiped their faces or cleared the fragments of straw and husk from their clothing; but for Tess there was no respite; for, as the drum never stopped, the man who fed it could not stop, and she, who had to supply the man with untied sheaves, could not stop either, unless Marian changed places with her, which she sometimes did for half an hour in spite of Groby’s objections that she was too slow-handed for a feeder.
For some probably economical reason it was usually a woman who was chosen for this particular duty, and Groby gave as his motive in selecting Tess that she was one of those who best combined strength with quickness in untying, and both with staying power, and this may have been true. The hum of the thresher, which prevented speech, increased to a raving whenever the supply of corn fell short of the regular quantity. As Tess and the man who fed could never turn their heads she did not know that just before the dinner-hour a person had come silently into the field by the gate, and had been standing under a second rick watching the scene and Tess in particular. He was dressed in a tweed suit of fashionable pattern, and he twirled a gay walking-cane.
“Who is that?” said Izz Huett to Marian. She had at first addressed the inquiry to Tess, but the latter could not hear it.
“Somebody’s fancy-man, I s’pose,” said Marian laconically.
“I’ll lay a guinea he’s after Tess.”
“O no. ’Tis a ranter pa’son who’s been sniffing after her lately; not a dandy like this.”
“Well—this is the same man.”
“The same man as the preacher? But he’s quite different!”
“He hev left off his black coat and white neckercher, and hev cut off his whiskers; but he’s the same man for all that.”
“D’ye really think so? Then I’ll tell her,” said Marian.
“Don’t. She’ll see him soon enough, good-now.”
“Well, I don’t think it at all right for him to join his preaching to courting a married woman, even though her husband mid be abroad, and she, in a sense, a widow.”
“Oh—he can do her no harm,” said Izz drily. “Her mind can no more be heaved from that one place where it do bide than a stooded waggon from the hole he’s in. Lord love ’ee, neither court-paying, nor preaching, nor the seven thunders themselves, can wean a woman when ’twould be better for her that she should be weaned.”
Dinner-time came, and the whirling ceased; whereupon Tess left her post, her knees trembling so wretchedly with the shaking of the machine that she could scarcely walk.
“You ought to het a quart o’ drink into ’ee, as I’ve done,” said Marian. “You wouldn’t look so white then. Why, souls above us, your face is as if you’d been hagrode!”
It occurred to the good-natured Marian that, as Tess was so tired, her discovery of her visitor’s presence might have the bad effect of taking away her appetite; and Marian was thinking of inducing Tess to descend by a ladder on the further side of the stack when the gentleman came forward and looked up.
Tess uttered a short little “Oh!” And a moment after she said, quickly, “I shall eat my dinner here—right on the rick.”
Sometimes, when they were so far from their cottages, they all did this; but as there was rather a keen wind going to-day, Marian and the rest descended, and sat under the straw-stack.
The newcomer was, indeed, Alec d’Urberville, the late Evangelist, despite his changed attire and aspect. It was obvious at a glance that the original Weltlust had come back; that he had restored himself, as nearly as a man could do who had grown three or four years older, to the old jaunty, slapdash guise under which Tess had first known her admirer, and cousin so-called. Having decided to remain where she was, Tess sat down among the bundles, out of sight of the ground, and began her meal; till, by-and-by, she heard footsteps on the ladder, and immediately after Alec appeared upon the stack—now an oblong and level platform of sheaves. He strode across them, and sat down opposite of her without a word.
Tess continued to eat her modest dinner, a slice of thick pancake which she had brought with her. The other workfolk were by this time all gathered under the rick, where the loose straw formed a comfortable retreat.
“I am here again, as you see,” said d’Urberville.
“Why do you trouble me so!” she cried, reproach flashing from her very finger-ends.
“I trouble you? I think I may ask, why do you trouble me?”
“Sure, I don’t trouble you any-when!”
“You say you don’t? But you do! You haunt me. Those very eyes that you turned upon me with such a bitter flash a moment ago, they come to me just as you showed them then, in the night and in the day! Tess, ever since you told me of that child of ours, it is just as if my feelings, which have been flowing in a strong puritanical stream, had suddenly found a way open in the direction of you, and had all at once gushed through. The religious channel is left dry forthwith; and it is you who have done it!”
She gazed in silence.
“What—you have given up your preaching entirely?” she asked. She had gathered from Angel sufficient of the incredulity of modern thought to despise flash enthusiasm; but, as a woman, she was somewhat appalled.
In affected severity d’Urberville continued—
“Entirely. I have broken every engagement since that afternoon I was to address the drunkards at Casterbridge Fair. The deuce only knows what I am thought of by the brethren. Ah-ha! The brethren! No doubt they pray for me—weep for me; for they are kind people in their way. But what do I care? How could I go on with the thing when I had lost my faith in it?—it would have been hypocrisy of the basest kind! Among them I should have stood like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were delivered over to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. What a grand revenge you have taken! I saw you innocent, and I deceived you. Four years after, you find me a Christian enthusiast; you then work upon me, perhaps to my complete perdition! But Tess, my coz, as I used to call you, this is only my way of talking, and you must not look so horribly concerned. Of course you have done nothing except retain your pretty face and shapely figure. I saw it on the rick before you saw me—that tight pinafore-thing sets it off, and that wing-bonnet—you field-girls should never wear those bonnets if you wish to keep out of danger.” He regarded her silently for a few moments, and with a short cynical laugh resumed: “I believe that if the bachelor-apostle, whose deputy I thought I was, had been tempted by such a pretty face, he would have let go the plough for her sake as I do!”
Tess attempted to expostulate, but at this juncture all her fluency failed her, and without heeding he added:
“Well, this paradise that you supply is perhaps as good as any other, after all. But to speak seriously, Tess.” D’Urberville rose and came nearer, reclining sideways amid the sheaves, and resting upon his elbow. “Since I last saw you, I have been thinking of what you said that he said. I have come to the conclusion that there does seem rather a want of common-sense in these threadbare old propositions; how I could have been so fired by poor Parson Clare’s enthusiasm, and have gone so madly to work, transcending even him, I cannot make out! As for what you said last time, on the strength of your wonderful husband’s intelligence—whose name you have never told me—about having what they call an ethical system without any dogma, I don’t see my way to that at all.”
“Why, you can have the religion of loving-kindness and purity at least, if you can’t have—what do you call it—dogma.”
“O no! I’m a different sort of fellow from that! If there’s nobody to say, ‘Do this, and it will be a good thing for you after you are dead; do that, and if will be a bad thing for you,’ I can’t warm up. Hang it, I am not going to feel responsible for my deeds and passions if there’s nobody to be responsible to; and if I were you, my dear, I wouldn’t either!”
She tried to argue, and tell him that he had mixed in his dull brain two matters, theology and morals, which in the primitive days of mankind had been quite distinct. But owing to Angel Clare’s reticence, to her absolute want of training, and to her being a vessel of emotions rather than reasons, she could not get on.
“Well, never mind,” he resumed. “Here I am, my love, as in the old times!”
“Not as then—never as then—’tis different!” she entreated. “And there was never warmth with me! O why didn’t you keep your faith, if the loss of it has brought you to speak to me like this!”
“Because you’ve knocked it out of me; so the evil be upon your sweet head! Your husband little thought how his teaching would recoil upon him! Ha-ha—I’m awfully glad you have made an apostate of me all the same! Tess, I am more taken with you than ever, and I pity you too. For all your closeness, I see you are in a bad way—neglected by one who ought to cherish you.”
She could not get her morsels of food down her throat; her lips were dry, and she was ready to choke. The voices and laughs of the workfolk eating and drinking under the rick came to her as if they were a quarter of a mile off.
“It is cruelty to me!” she said. “How—how can you treat me to this talk, if you care ever so little for me?”
“True, true,” he said, wincing a little. “I did not come to reproach you for my deeds. I came Tess, to say that I don’t like you to be working like this, and I have come on purpose for you. You say you have a husband who is not I. Well, perhaps you have; but I’ve never seen him, and you’ve not told me his name; and altogether he seems rather a mythological personage. However, even if you have one, I think I am nearer to you than he is. I, at any rate, try to help you out of trouble, but he does not, bless his invisible face! The words of the stern prophet Hosea that I used to read come back to me. Don’t you know them, Tess?—‘And she shall follow after her lover, but she shall not overtake him; and she shall seek him, but shall not find him; then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now!’ … Tess, my trap is waiting just under the hill, and—darling mine, not his!—you know the rest.”
Her face had been rising to a dull crimson fire while he spoke; but she did not answer.
“You have been the cause of my backsliding,” he continued, stretching his arm towards her waist; “you should be willing to share it, and leave that mule you call husband for ever.”
One of her leather gloves, which she had taken off to eat her skimmer-cake, lay in her lap, and without the slightest warning she passionately swung the glove by the gauntlet directly in his face. It was heavy and thick as a warrior’s, and it struck him flat on the mouth. Fancy might have regarded the act as the recrudescence of a trick in which her armed progenitors were not unpractised. Alec fiercely started up from his reclining position. A scarlet oozing appeared where her blow had alighted, and in a moment the blood began dropping from his mouth upon the straw. But he soon controlled himself, calmly drew his handkerchief from his pocket, and mopped his bleeding lips.
She too had sprung up, but she sank down again. “Now, punish me!” she said, turning up her eyes to him with the hopeless defiance of the sparrow’s gaze before its captor twists its neck. “Whip me, crush me; you need not mind those people under the rick! I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim—that’s the law!”
“O no, no, Tess,” he said blandly. “I can make full allowance for this. Yet you most unjustly forget one thing, that I would have married you if you had not put it out of my power to do so. Did I not ask you flatly to be my wife—hey? Answer me.”
“And you cannot be. But remember one thing!” His voice hardened as his temper got the better of him with the recollection of his sincerity in asking her and her present ingratitude, and he stepped across to her side and held her by the shoulders, so that she shook under his grasp. “Remember, my lady, I was your master once! I will be your master again. If you are any man’s wife you are mine!”
The threshers now began to stir below.
“So much for our quarrel,” he said, letting her go. “Now I shall leave you, and shall come again for your answer during the afternoon. You don’t know me yet! But I know you.”
She had not spoken again, remaining as if stunned. D’Urberville retreated over the sheaves, and descended the ladder, while the workers below rose and stretched their arms, and shook down the beer they had drunk. Then the threshing-machine started afresh; and amid the renewed rustle of the straw Tess resumed her position by the buzzing drum as one in a dream, untying sheaf after sheaf in endless succession.
In the afternoon the farmer made it known that the rick was to be finished that night, since there was a moon by which they could see to work, and the man with the engine was engaged for another farm on the morrow. Hence the twanging and humming and rustling proceeded with even less intermission than usual.
It was not till “nammet”-time, about three o’clock, that Tess raised her eyes and gave a momentary glance round. She felt but little surprise at seeing that Alec d’Urberville had come back, and was standing under the hedge by the gate. He had seen her lift her eyes, and waved his hand urbanely to her, while he blew her a kiss. It meant that their quarrel was over. Tess looked down again, and carefully abstained from gazing in that direction.
Thus the afternoon dragged on. The wheat-rick shrank lower, and the straw-rick grew higher, and the corn-sacks were carted away. At six o’clock the wheat-rick was about shoulder-high from the ground. But the unthreshed sheaves remaining untouched seemed countless still, notwithstanding the enormous numbers that had been gulped down by the insatiable swallower, fed by the man and Tess, through whose two young hands the greater part of them had passed. And the immense stack of straw where in the morning there had been nothing, appeared as the faeces of the same buzzing red glutton. From the west sky a wrathful shine—all that wild March could afford in the way of sunset—had burst forth after the cloudy day, flooding the tired and sticky faces of the threshers, and dyeing them with a coppery light, as also the flapping garments of the women, which clung to them like dull flames.
A panting ache ran through the rick. The man who fed was weary, and Tess could see that the red nape of his neck was encrusted with dirt and husks. She still stood at her post, her flushed and perspiring face coated with the corndust, and her white bonnet embrowned by it. She was the only woman whose place was upon the machine so as to be shaken bodily by its spinning, and the decrease of the stack now separated her from Marian and Izz, and prevented their changing duties with her as they had done. The incessant quivering, in which every fibre of her frame participated, had thrown her into a stupefied reverie in which her arms worked on independently of her consciousness. She hardly knew where she was, and did not hear Izz Huett tell her from below that her hair was tumbling down.
By degrees the freshest among them began to grow cadaverous and saucer-eyed. Whenever Tess lifted her head she beheld always the great upgrown straw-stack, with the men in shirt-sleeves upon it, against the gray north sky; in front of it the long red elevator like a Jacob’s ladder, on which a perpetual stream of threshed straw ascended, a yellow river running uphill, and spouting out on the top of the rick.
She knew that Alec d’Urberville was still on the scene, observing her from some point or other, though she could not say where. There was an excuse for his remaining, for when the threshed rick drew near its final sheaves a little ratting was always done, and men unconnected with the threshing sometimes dropped in for that performance—sporting characters of all descriptions, gents with terriers and facetious pipes, roughs with sticks and stones.
But there was another hour’s work before the layer of live rats at the base of the stack would be reached; and as the evening light in the direction of the Giant’s Hill by Abbot’s-Cernel dissolved away, the white-faced moon of the season arose from the horizon that lay towards Middleton Abbey and Shottsford on the other side. For the last hour or two Marian had felt uneasy about Tess, whom she could not get near enough to speak to, the other women having kept up their strength by drinking ale, and Tess having done without it through traditionary dread, owing to its results at her home in childhood. But Tess still kept going: if she could not fill her part she would have to leave; and this contingency, which she would have regarded with equanimity and even with relief a month or two earlier, had become a terror since d’Urberville had begun to hover round her.
The sheaf-pitchers and feeders had now worked the rick so low that people on the ground could talk to them. To Tess’s surprise Farmer Groby came up on the machine to her, and said that if she desired to join her friend he did not wish her to keep on any longer, and would send somebody else to take her place. The “friend” was d’Urberville, she knew, and also that this concession had been granted in obedience to the request of that friend, or enemy. She shook her head and toiled on.
The time for the rat-catching arrived at last, and the hunt began. The creatures had crept downwards with the subsidence of the rick till they were all together at the bottom, and being now uncovered from their last refuge, they ran across the open ground in all directions, a loud shriek from the by-this-time half-tipsy Marian informing her companions that one of the rats had invaded her person—a terror which the rest of the women had guarded against by various schemes of skirt-tucking and self-elevation. The rat was at last dislodged, and, amid the barking of dogs, masculine shouts, feminine screams, oaths, stampings, and confusion as of Pandemonium, Tess untied her last sheaf; the drum slowed, the whizzing ceased, and she stepped from the machine to the ground.
Her lover, who had only looked on at the rat-catching, was promptly at her side.
“What—after all—my insulting slap, too!” said she in an underbreath. She was so utterly exhausted that she had not strength to speak louder.
“I should indeed be foolish to feel offended at anything you say or do,” he answered, in the seductive voice of the Trantridge time. “How the little limbs tremble! You are as weak as a bled calf, you know you are; and yet you need have done nothing since I arrived. How could you be so obstinate? However, I have told the farmer that he has no right to employ women at steam-threshing. It is not proper work for them; and on all the better class of farms it has been given up, as he knows very well. I will walk with you as far as your home.”
“O yes,” she answered with a jaded gait. “Walk wi’ me if you will! I do bear in mind that you came to marry me before you knew o’ my state. Perhaps—perhaps you are a little better and kinder than I have been thinking you were. Whatever is meant as kindness I am grateful for; whatever is meant in any other way I am angered at. I cannot sense your meaning sometimes.”
“If I cannot legitimize our former relations at least I can assist you. And I will do it with much more regard for your feelings than I formerly showed. My religious mania, or whatever it was, is over. But I retain a little good nature; I hope I do. Now, Tess, by all that’s tender and strong between man and woman, trust me! I have enough and more than enough to put you out of anxiety, both for yourself and your parents and sisters. I can make them all comfortable if you will only show confidence in me.”
“Have you seen ’em lately?” she quickly inquired.
“Yes. They didn’t know where you were. It was only by chance that I found you here.”
The cold moon looked aslant upon Tess’s fagged face between the twigs of the garden-hedge as she paused outside the cottage which was her temporary home, d’Urberville pausing beside her.
“Don’t mention my little brothers and sisters—don’t make me break down quite!” she said. “If you want to help them—God knows they need it—do it without telling me. But no, no!” she cried. “I will take nothing from you, either for them or for me!”
He did not accompany her further, since, as she lived with the household, all was public indoors. No sooner had she herself entered, laved herself in a washing-tub, and shared supper with the family than she fell into thought, and withdrawing to the table under the wall, by the light of her own little lamp wrote in a passionate mood—
My own Husband,
Let me call you so—I must—even if it makes you angry to think of such an unworthy wife as I. I must cry to you in my trouble—I have no one else! I am so exposed to temptation, Angel. I fear to say who it is, and I do not like to write about it at all. But I cling to you in a way you cannot think! Can you not come to me now, at once, before anything terrible happens? O, I know you cannot, because you are so far away! I think I must die if you do not come soon, or tell me to come to you. The punishment you have measured out to me is deserved—I do know that—well deserved—and you are right and just to be angry with me. But, Angel, please, please, not to be just—only a little kind to me, even if I do not deserve it, and come to me! If you would come, I could die in your arms! I would be well content to do that if so be you had forgiven me!
Angel, I live entirely for you. I love you too much to blame you for going away, and I know it was necessary you should find a farm. Do not think I shall say a word of sting or bitterness. Only come back to me. I am desolate without you, my darling, O, so desolate! I do not mind having to work: but if you will send me one little line, and say, “I am coming soon”, I will bide on, Angel—O, so cheerfully!
It has been so much my religion ever since we were married to be faithful to you in every thought and look, that even when a man speaks a compliment to me before I am aware, it seems wronging you. Have you never felt one little bit of what you used to feel when we were at the dairy? If you have, how can you keep away from me? I am the same woman, Angel, as you fell in love with; yes, the very same!—not the one you disliked but never saw. What was the past to me as soon as I met you? It was a dead thing altogether. I became another woman, filled full of new life from you. How could I be the early one? Why do you not see this? Dear, if you would only be a little more conceited, and believe in yourself so far as to see that you were strong enough to work this change in me, you would perhaps be in a mind to come to me, your poor wife.
How silly I was in my happiness when I thought I could trust you always to love me! I ought to have known that such as that was not for poor me. But I am sick at heart, not only for old times, but for the present. Think—think how it do hurt my heart not to see you ever—ever! Ah, if I could only make your dear heart ache one little minute of each day as mine does every day and all day long, it might lead you to show pity to your poor lonely one.
People still say that I am rather pretty, Angel (handsome is the word they use, since I wish to be truthful). Perhaps I am what they say. But I do not value my good looks; I only like to have them because they belong to you, my dear, and that there may be at least one thing about me worth your having. So much have I felt this, that when I met with annoyance on account of the same, I tied up my face in a bandage as long as people would believe in it. O Angel, I tell you all this not from vanity—you will certainly know I do not—but only that you may come to me!
If you really cannot come to me, will you let me come to you? I am, as I say, worried, pressed to do what I will not do. It cannot be that I shall yield one inch, yet I am in terror as to what an accident might lead to, and I so defenceless on account of my first error. I cannot say more about this—it makes me too miserable. But if I break down by falling into some fearful snare, my last state will be worse than my first. O God, I cannot think of it! Let me come at once, or at once come to me!
I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your servant, if I may not as your wife; so that I could only be near you, and get glimpses of you, and think of you as mine.
The daylight has nothing to show me, since you are not here, and I don’t like to see the rooks and starlings in the field, because I grieve and grieve to miss you who used to see them with me. I long for only one thing in heaven or earth or under the earth, to meet you, my own dear! Come to me—come to me, and save me from what threatens me!—
Your faithful heartbroken
The appeal duly found its way to the breakfast-table of the quiet Vicarage to the westward, in that valley where the air is so soft and the soil so rich that the effort of growth requires but superficial aid by comparison with the tillage at Flintcomb-Ash, and where to Tess the human world seemed so different (though it was much the same). It was purely for security that she had been requested by Angel to send her communications through his father, whom he kept pretty well informed of his changing addresses in the country he had gone to exploit for himself with a heavy heart.
“Now,” said old Mr Clare to his wife, when he had read the envelope, “if Angel proposes leaving Rio for a visit home at the end of next month, as he told us that he hoped to do, I think this may hasten his plans; for I believe it to be from his wife.” He breathed deeply at the thought of her; and the letter was redirected to be promptly sent on to Angel.
“Dear fellow, I hope he will get home safely,” murmured Mrs Clare. “To my dying day I shall feel that he has been ill-used. You should have sent him to Cambridge in spite of his want of faith and given him the same chance as the other boys had. He would have grown out of it under proper influence, and perhaps would have taken Orders after all. Church or no Church, it would have been fairer to him.”
This was the only wail with which Mrs Clare ever disturbed her husband’s peace in respect to their sons. And she did not vent this often; for she was as considerate as she was devout, and knew that his mind too was troubled by doubts as to his justice in this matter. Only too often had she heard him lying awake at night, stifling sighs for Angel with prayers. But the uncompromising Evangelical did not even now hold that he would have been justified in giving his son, an unbeliever, the same academic advantages that he had given to the two others, when it was possible, if not probable, that those very advantages might have been used to decry the doctrines which he had made it his life’s mission and desire to propagate, and the mission of his ordained sons likewise. To put with one hand a pedestal under the feet of the two faithful ones, and with the other to exalt the unfaithful by the same artificial means, he deemed to be alike inconsistent with his convictions, his position, and his hopes. Nevertheless, he loved his misnamed Angel, and in secret mourned over this treatment of him as Abraham might have mourned over the doomed Isaac while they went up the hill together. His silent self-generated regrets were far bitterer than the reproaches which his wife rendered audible.
They blamed themselves for this unlucky marriage. If Angel had never been destined for a farmer he would never have been thrown with agricultural girls. They did not distinctly know what had separated him and his wife, nor the date on which the separation had taken place. At first they had supposed it must be something of the nature of a serious aversion. But in his later letters he occasionally alluded to the intention of coming home to fetch her; from which expressions they hoped the division might not owe its origin to anything so hopelessly permanent as that. He had told them that she was with her relatives, and in their doubts they had decided not to intrude into a situation which they knew no way of bettering.
The eyes for which Tess’s letter was intended were gazing at this time on a limitless expanse of country from the back of a mule which was bearing him from the interior of the South-American Continent towards the coast. His experiences of this strange land had been sad. The severe illness from which he had suffered shortly after his arrival had never wholly left him, and he had by degrees almost decided to relinquish his hope of farming here, though, as long as the bare possibility existed of his remaining, he kept this change of view a secret from his parents.
The crowds of agricultural labourers who had come out to the country in his wake, dazzled by representations of easy independence, had suffered, died, and wasted away. He would see mothers from English farms trudging along with their infants in their arms, when the child would be stricken with fever and would die; the mother would pause to dig a hole in the loose earth with her bare hands, would bury the babe therein with the same natural grave-tools, shed one tear, and again trudge on.
Angel’s original intention had not been emigration to Brazil but a northern or eastern farm in his own country. He had come to this place in a fit of desperation, the Brazil movement among the English agriculturists having by chance coincided with his desire to escape from his past existence.
During this time of absence he had mentally aged a dozen years. What arrested him now as of value in life was less its beauty than its pathos. Having long discredited the old systems of mysticism, he now began to discredit the old appraisements of morality. He thought they wanted readjusting. Who was the moral man? Still more pertinently, who was the moral woman? The beauty or ugliness of a character lay not only in its achievements, but in its aims and impulses; its true history lay, not among things done, but among things willed.
How, then, about Tess?
Viewing her in these lights, a regret for his hasty judgement began to oppress him. Did he reject her eternally, or did he not? He could no longer say that he would always reject her, and not to say that was in spirit to accept her now.
This growing fondness for her memory coincided in point of time with her residence at Flintcomb-Ash, but it was before she had felt herself at liberty to trouble him with a word about her circumstances or her feelings. He was greatly perplexed; and in his perplexity as to her motives in withholding intelligence, he did not inquire. Thus her silence of docility was misinterpreted. How much it really said if he had understood!—that she adhered with literal exactness to orders which he had given and forgotten; that despite her natural fearlessness she asserted no rights, admitted his judgement to be in every respect the true one, and bent her head dumbly thereto.
In the before-mentioned journey by mules through the interior of the country, another man rode beside him. Angel’s companion was also an Englishman, bent on the same errand, though he came from another part of the island. They were both in a state of mental depression, and they spoke of home affairs. Confidence begat confidence. With that curious tendency evinced by men, more especially when in distant lands, to entrust to strangers details of their lives which they would on no account mention to friends, Angel admitted to this man as they rode along the sorrowful facts of his marriage.
The stranger had sojourned in many more lands and among many more peoples than Angel; to his cosmopolitan mind such deviations from the social norm, so immense to domesticity, were no more than are the irregularities of vale and mountain-chain to the whole terrestrial curve. He viewed the matter in quite a different light from Angel; thought that what Tess had been was of no importance beside what she would be, and plainly told Clare that he was wrong in coming away from her.
The next day they were drenched in a thunder-storm. Angel’s companion was struck down with fever, and died by the week’s end. Clare waited a few hours to bury him, and then went on his way.
The cursory remarks of the large-minded stranger, of whom he knew absolutely nothing beyond a commonplace name, were sublimed by his death, and influenced Clare more than all the reasoned ethics of the philosophers. His own parochialism made him ashamed by its contrast. His inconsistencies rushed upon him in a flood. He had persistently elevated Hellenic Paganism at the expense of Christianity; yet in that civilization an illegal surrender was not certain disesteem. Surely then he might have regarded that abhorrence of the un-intact state, which he had inherited with the creed of mysticism, as at least open to correction when the result was due to treachery. A remorse struck into him. The words of Izz Huett, never quite stilled in his memory, came back to him. He had asked Izz if she loved him, and she had replied in the affirmative. Did she love him more than Tess did? No, she had replied; Tess would lay down her life for him, and she herself could do no more.
He thought of Tess as she had appeared on the day of the wedding. How her eyes had lingered upon him; how she had hung upon his words as if they were a god’s! And during the terrible evening over the hearth, when her simple soul uncovered itself to his, how pitiful her face had looked by the rays of the fire, in her inability to realize that his love and protection could possibly be withdrawn.
Thus from being her critic he grew to be her advocate. Cynical things he had uttered to himself about her; but no man can be always a cynic and live; and he withdrew them. The mistake of expressing them had arisen from his allowing himself to be influenced by general principles to the disregard of the particular instance.
But the reasoning is somewhat musty; lovers and husbands have gone over the ground before to-day. Clare had been harsh towards her; there is no doubt of it. Men are too often harsh with women they love or have loved; women with men. And yet these harshnesses are tenderness itself when compared with the universal harshness out of which they grow; the harshness of the position towards the temperament, of the means towards the aims, of to-day towards yesterday, of hereafter towards to-day.
The historic interest of her family—that masterful line of d’Urbervilles—whom he had despised as a spent force, touched his sentiments now. Why had he not known the difference between the political value and the imaginative value of these things? In the latter aspect her d’Urberville descent was a fact of great dimensions; worthless to economics, it was a most useful ingredient to the dreamer, to the moralizer on declines and falls. It was a fact that would soon be forgotten—that bit of distinction in poor Tess’s blood and name, and oblivion would fall upon her hereditary link with the marble monuments and leaded skeletons at Kingsbere. So does Time ruthlessly destroy his own romances. In recalling her face again and again, he thought now that he could see therein a flash of the dignity which must have graced her grand-dames; and the vision sent that aura through his veins which he had formerly felt, and which left behind it a sense of sickness.
Despite her not inviolate past, what still abode in such a woman as Tess outvalued the freshness of her fellows. Was not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer?
So spoke love renascent, preparing the way for Tess’s devoted outpouring, which was then just being forwarded to him by his father; though owing to his distance inland it was to be a long time in reaching him.
Meanwhile the writer’s expectation that Angel would come in response to the entreaty was alternately great and small. What lessened it was that the facts of her life which had led to the parting had not changed—could never change; and that, if her presence had not attenuated them, her absence could not. Nevertheless she addressed her mind to the tender question of what she could do to please him best if he should arrive. Sighs were expended on the wish that she had taken more notice of the tunes he played on his harp, that she had inquired more curiously of him which were his favourite ballads among those the country-girls sang. She indirectly inquired of Amby Seedling, who had followed Izz from Talbothays, and by chance Amby remembered that, amongst the snatches of melody in which they had indulged at the dairyman’s, to induce the cows to let down their milk, Clare had seemed to like “Cupid’s Gardens”, “I have parks, I have hounds”, and “The break o’ the day”; and had seemed not to care for “The Tailor’s Breeches” and “Such a beauty I did grow”, excellent ditties as they were.
To perfect the ballads was now her whimsical desire. She practised them privately at odd moments, especially “The break o’ the day”:
Arise, arise, arise!
And pick your love a posy,
All o’ the sweetest flowers
That in the garden grow.
The turtle doves and sma’ birds
In every bough a-building,
So early in the May-time
At the break o’ the day!
It would have melted the heart of a stone to hear her singing these ditties whenever she worked apart from the rest of the girls in this cold dry time; the tears running down her cheeks all the while at the thought that perhaps he would not, after all, come to hear her, and the simple silly words of the songs resounding in painful mockery of the aching heart of the singer.
Tess was so wrapt up in this fanciful dream that she seemed not to know how the season was advancing; that the days had lengthened, that Lady-Day was at hand, and would soon be followed by Old Lady-Day, the end of her term here.
But before the quarter-day had quite come, something happened which made Tess think of far different matters. She was at her lodging as usual one evening, sitting in the downstairs room with the rest of the family, when somebody knocked at the door and inquired for Tess. Through the doorway she saw against the declining light a figure with the height of a woman and the breadth of a child, a tall, thin, girlish creature whom she did not recognize in the twilight till the girl said “Tess!”
“What—is it ’Liza-Lu?” asked Tess, in startled accents. Her sister, whom a little over a year ago she had left at home as a child, had sprung up by a sudden shoot to a form of this presentation, of which as yet Lu seemed herself scarce able to understand the meaning. Her thin legs, visible below her once-long frock, now short by her growing, and her uncomfortable hands and arms revealed her youth and inexperience.
“Yes, I have been traipsing about all day, Tess,” said Lu, with unemotional gravity, “a-trying to find ’ee; and I’m very tired.”
“What is the matter at home?”
“Mother is took very bad, and the doctor says she’s dying, and as father is not very well neither, and says ’tis wrong for a man of such a high family as his to slave and drave at common labouring work, we don’t know what to do.”
Tess stood in reverie a long time before she thought of asking ’Liza-Lu to come in and sit down. When she had done so, and ’Liza-Lu was having some tea, she came to a decision. It was imperative that she should go home. Her agreement did not end till Old Lady-Day, the sixth of April, but as the interval thereto was not a long one she resolved to run the risk of starting at once.
To go that night would be a gain of twelve-hours; but her sister was too tired to undertake such a distance till the morrow. Tess ran down to where Marian and Izz lived, informed them of what had happened, and begged them to make the best of her case to the farmer. Returning, she got Lu a supper, and after that, having tucked the younger into her own bed, packed up as many of her belongings as would go into a withy basket, and started, directing Lu to follow her next morning.
She plunged into the chilly equinoctial darkness as the clock struck ten, for her fifteen miles’ walk under the steely stars. In lonely districts night is a protection rather than a danger to a noiseless pedestrian, and knowing this, Tess pursued the nearest course along by-lanes that she would almost have feared in the day-time; but marauders were wanting now, and spectral fears were driven out of her mind by thoughts of her mother. Thus she proceeded mile after mile, ascending and descending till she came to Bulbarrow, and about midnight looked from that height into the abyss of chaotic shade which was all that revealed itself of the vale on whose further side she was born. Having already traversed about five miles on the upland, she had now some ten or eleven in the lowland before her journey would be finished. The winding road downwards became just visible to her under the wan starlight as she followed it, and soon she paced a soil so contrasting with that above it that the difference was perceptible to the tread and to the smell. It was the heavy clay land of Blackmoor Vale, and a part of the Vale to which turnpike-roads had never penetrated. Superstitions linger longest on these heavy soils. Having once been forest, at this shadowy time it seemed to assert something of its old character, the far and the near being blended, and every tree and tall hedge making the most of its presence. The harts that had been hunted here, the witches that had been pricked and ducked, the green-spangled fairies that “whickered” at you as you passed;—the place teemed with beliefs in them still, and they formed an impish multitude now.
At Nuttlebury she passed the village inn, whose sign creaked in response to the greeting of her footsteps, which not a human soul heard but herself. Under the thatched roofs her mind’s eye beheld relaxed tendons and flaccid muscles, spread out in the darkness beneath coverlets made of little purple patchwork squares, and undergoing a bracing process at the hands of sleep for renewed labour on the morrow, as soon as a hint of pink nebulosity appeared on Hambledon Hill.
At three she turned the last corner of the maze of lanes she had threaded, and entered Marlott, passing the field in which as a club-girl she had first seen Angel Clare, when he had not danced with her; the sense of disappointment remained with her yet. In the direction of her mother’s house she saw a light. It came from the bedroom window, and a branch waved in front of it and made it wink at her. As soon as she could discern the outline of the house—newly thatched with her money—it had all its old effect upon Tess’s imagination. Part of her body and life it ever seemed to be; the slope of its dormers, the finish of its gables, the broken courses of brick which topped the chimney, all had something in common with her personal character. A stupefaction had come into these features, to her regard; it meant the illness of her mother.
She opened the door so softly as to disturb nobody; the lower room was vacant, but the neighbour who was sitting up with her mother came to the top of the stairs, and whispered that Mrs Durbeyfield was no better, though she was sleeping just then. Tess prepared herself a breakfast, and then took her place as nurse in her mother’s chamber.
In the morning, when she contemplated the children, they had all a curiously elongated look; although she had been away little more than a year, their growth was astounding; and the necessity of applying herself heart and soul to their needs took her out of her own cares.
Her father’s ill-health was the same indefinite kind, and he sat in his chair as usual. But the day after her arrival he was unusually bright. He had a rational scheme for living, and Tess asked him what it was.
“I’m thinking of sending round to all the old antiqueerians in this part of England,” he said, “asking them to subscribe to a fund to maintain me. I’m sure they’d see it as a romantical, artistical, and proper thing to do. They spend lots o’ money in keeping up old ruins, and finding the bones o’ things, and such like; and living remains must be more interesting to ’em still, if they only knowed of me. Would that somebody would go round and tell ’em what there is living among ’em, and they thinking nothing of him! If Pa’son Tringham, who discovered me, had lived, he’d ha’ done it, I’m sure.”
Tess postponed her arguments on this high project till she had grappled with pressing matters in hand, which seemed little improved by her remittances. When indoor necessities had been eased, she turned her attention to external things. It was now the season for planting and sowing; many gardens and allotments of the villagers had already received their spring tillage; but the garden and the allotment of the Durbeyfields were behindhand. She found, to her dismay, that this was owing to their having eaten all the seed potatoes,—that last lapse of the improvident. At the earliest moment she obtained what others she could procure, and in a few days her father was well enough to see to the garden, under Tess’s persuasive efforts: while she herself undertook the allotment-plot which they rented in a field a couple of hundred yards out of the village.
She liked doing it after the confinement of the sick chamber, where she was not now required by reason of her mother’s improvement. Violent motion relieved thought. The plot of ground was in a high, dry, open enclosure, where there were forty or fifty such pieces, and where labour was at its briskest when the hired labour of the day had ended. Digging began usually at six o’clock and extended indefinitely into the dusk or moonlight. Just now heaps of dead weeds and refuse were burning on many of the plots, the dry weather favouring their combustion.
One fine day Tess and ’Liza-Lu worked on here with their neighbours till the last rays of the sun smote flat upon the white pegs that divided the plots. As soon as twilight succeeded to sunset the flare of the couch-grass and cabbage-stalk fires began to light up the allotments fitfully, their outlines appearing and disappearing under the dense smoke as wafted by the wind. When a fire glowed, banks of smoke, blown level along the ground, would themselves become illuminated to an opaque lustre, screening the workpeople from one another; and the meaning of the “pillar of a cloud”, which was a wall by day and a light by night, could be understood.
As evening thickened, some of the gardening men and women gave over for the night, but the greater number remained to get their planting done, Tess being among them, though she sent her sister home. It was on one of the couch-burning plots that she laboured with her fork, its four shining prongs resounding against the stones and dry clods in little clicks. Sometimes she was completely involved in the smoke of her fire; then it would leave her figure free, irradiated by the brassy glare from the heap. She was oddly dressed to-night, and presented a somewhat staring aspect, her attire being a gown bleached by many washings, with a short black jacket over it, the effect of the whole being that of a wedding and funeral guest in one. The women further back wore white aprons, which, with their pale faces, were all that could be seen of them in the gloom, except when at moments they caught a flash from the flames.
Westward, the wiry boughs of the bare thorn hedge which formed the boundary of the field rose against the pale opalescence of the lower sky. Above, Jupiter hung like a full-blown jonquil, so bright as almost to throw a shade. A few small nondescript stars were appearing elsewhere. In the distance a dog barked, and wheels occasionally rattled along the dry road.
Still the prongs continued to click assiduously, for it was not late; and though the air was fresh and keen there was a whisper of spring in it that cheered the workers on. Something in the place, the hours, the crackling fires, the fantastic mysteries of light and shade, made others as well as Tess enjoy being there. Nightfall, which in the frost of winter comes as a fiend and in the warmth of summer as a lover, came as a tranquillizer on this March day.
Nobody looked at his or her companions. The eyes of all were on the soil as its turned surface was revealed by the fires. Hence as Tess stirred the clods and sang her foolish little songs with scarce now a hope that Clare would ever hear them, she did not for a long time notice the person who worked nearest to her—a man in a long smockfrock who, she found, was forking the same plot as herself, and whom she supposed her father had sent there to advance the work. She became more conscious of him when the direction of his digging brought him closer. Sometimes the smoke divided them; then it swerved, and the two were visible to each other but divided from all the rest.
Tess did not speak to her fellow-worker, nor did he speak to her. Nor did she think of him further than to recollect that he had not been there when it was broad daylight, and that she did not know him as any one of the Marlott labourers, which was no wonder, her absences having been so long and frequent of late years. By-and-by he dug so close to her that the fire-beams were reflected as distinctly from the steel prongs of his fork as from her own. On going up to the fire to throw a pitch of dead weeds upon it, she found that he did the same on the other side. The fire flared up, and she beheld the face of d’Urberville.
The unexpectedness of his presence, the grotesqueness of his appearance in a gathered smockfrock, such as was now worn only by the most old-fashioned of the labourers, had a ghastly comicality that chilled her as to its bearing. D’Urberville emitted a low, long laugh.
“If I were inclined to joke, I should say, How much this seems like Paradise!” he remarked whimsically, looking at her with an inclined head.
“What do you say?” she weakly asked.
“A jester might say this is just like Paradise. You are Eve, and I am the old Other One come to tempt you in the disguise of an inferior animal. I used to be quite up in that scene of Milton’s when I was theological. Some of it goes—
‘Empress, the way is ready, and not long,
Beyond a row of myrtles….
… If thou accept
My conduct, I can bring thee thither soon.’
‘Lead then,’ said Eve.
“And so on. My dear Tess, I am only putting this to you as a thing that you might have supposed or said quite untruly, because you think so badly of me.”
“I never said you were Satan, or thought it. I don’t think of you in that way at all. My thoughts of you are quite cold, except when you affront me. What, did you come digging here entirely because of me?”
“Entirely. To see you; nothing more. The smockfrock, which I saw hanging for sale as I came along, was an afterthought, that I mightn’t be noticed. I come to protest against your working like this.”
“But I like doing it—it is for my father.”
“Your engagement at the other place is ended?”
“Where are you going to next? To join your dear husband?”
She could not bear the humiliating reminder.
“O—I don’t know!” she said bitterly. “I have no husband!”
“It is quite true—in the sense you mean. But you have a friend, and I have determined that you shall be comfortable in spite of yourself. When you get down to your house you will see what I have sent there for you.”
“O, Alec, I wish you wouldn’t give me anything at all! I cannot take it from you! I don’t like—it is not right!”
“It is right!” he cried lightly. “I am not going to see a woman whom I feel so tenderly for as I do for you in trouble without trying to help her.”
“But I am very well off! I am only in trouble about—about—not about living at all!”
She turned, and desperately resumed her digging, tears dripping upon the fork-handle and upon the clods.
“About the children—your brothers and sisters,” he resumed. “I’ve been thinking of them.”
Tess’s heart quivered—he was touching her in a weak place. He had divined her chief anxiety. Since returning home her soul had gone out to those children with an affection that was passionate.
“If your mother does not recover, somebody ought to do something for them; since your father will not be able to do much, I suppose?”
“He can with my assistance. He must!”
“And with mine.”
“How damned foolish this is!” burst out d’Urberville. “Why, he thinks we are the same family; and will be quite satisfied!”
“He don’t. I’ve undeceived him.”
“The more fool you!”
D’Urberville in anger retreated from her to the hedge, where he pulled off the long smockfrock which had disguised him; and rolling it up and pushing it into the couch-fire, went away.
Tess could not get on with her digging after this; she felt restless; she wondered if he had gone back to her father’s house; and taking the fork in her hand proceeded homewards.
Some twenty yards from the house she was met by one of her sisters.
“O, Tessy—what do you think! ’Liza-Lu is a-crying, and there’s a lot of folk in the house, and mother is a good deal better, but they think father is dead!”
The child realized the grandeur of the news; but not as yet its sadness, and stood looking at Tess with round-eyed importance till, beholding the effect produced upon her, she said—
“What, Tess, shan’t we talk to father never no more?”
“But father was only a little bit ill!” exclaimed Tess distractedly.
’Liza-Lu came up.
“He dropped down just now, and the doctor who was there for mother said there was no chance for him, because his heart was growed in.”
Yes; the Durbeyfield couple had changed places; the dying one was out of danger, and the indisposed one was dead. The news meant even more than it sounded. Her father’s life had a value apart from his personal achievements, or perhaps it would not have had much. It was the last of the three lives for whose duration the house and premises were held under a lease; and it had long been coveted by the tenant-farmer for his regular labourers, who were stinted in cottage accommodation. Moreover, “liviers” were disapproved of in villages almost as much as little freeholders, because of their independence of manner, and when a lease determined it was never renewed.
Thus the Durbeyfields, once d’Urbervilles, saw descending upon them the destiny which, no doubt, when they were among the Olympians of the county, they had caused to descend many a time, and severely enough, upon the heads of such landless ones as they themselves were now. So do flux and reflux—the rhythm of change—alternate and persist in everything under the sky.
At length it was the eve of Old Lady-Day, and the agricultural world was in a fever of mobility such as only occurs at that particular date of the year. It is a day of fulfilment; agreements for outdoor service during the ensuing year, entered into at Candlemas, are to be now carried out. The labourers—or “work-folk”, as they used to call themselves immemorially till the other word was introduced from without—who wish to remain no longer in old places are removing to the new farms.
These annual migrations from farm to farm were on the increase here. When Tess’s mother was a child the majority of the field-folk about Marlott had remained all their lives on one farm, which had been the home also of their fathers and grandfathers; but latterly the desire for yearly removal had risen to a high pitch. With the younger families it was a pleasant excitement which might possibly be an advantage. The Egypt of one family was the Land of Promise to the family who saw it from a distance, till by residence there it became in turn their Egypt also; and so they changed and changed.
However, all the mutations so increasingly discernible in village life did not originate entirely in the agricultural unrest. A depopulation was also going on. The village had formerly contained, side by side with the argicultural labourers, an interesting and better-informed class, ranking distinctly above the former—the class to which Tess’s father and mother had belonged—and including the carpenter, the smith, the shoemaker, the huckster, together with nondescript workers other than farm-labourers; a set of people who owed a certain stability of aim and conduct to the fact of their being lifeholders like Tess’s father, or copyholders, or occasionally, small freeholders. But as the long holdings fell in, they were seldom again let to similar tenants, and were mostly pulled down, if not absolutely required by the farmer for his hands. Cottagers who were not directly employed on the land were looked upon with disfavour, and the banishment of some starved the trade of others, who were thus obliged to follow. These families, who had formed the backbone of the village life in the past, who were the depositaries of the village traditions, had to seek refuge in the large centres; the process, humorously designated by statisticians as “the tendency of the rural population towards the large towns”, being really the tendency of water to flow uphill when forced by machinery.
The cottage accommodation at Marlott having been in this manner considerably curtailed by demolitions, every house which remained standing was required by the agriculturist for his work-people. Ever since the occurrence of the event which had cast such a shadow over Tess’s life, the Durbeyfield family (whose descent was not credited) had been tacitly looked on as one which would have to go when their lease ended, if only in the interests of morality. It was, indeed, quite true that the household had not been shining examples either of temperance, soberness, or chastity. The father, and even the mother, had got drunk at times, the younger children seldom had gone to church, and the eldest daughter had made queer unions. By some means the village had to be kept pure. So on this, the first Lady-Day on which the Durbeyfields were expellable, the house, being roomy, was required for a carter with a large family; and Widow Joan, her daughters Tess and ’Liza-Lu, the boy Abraham, and the younger children had to go elsewhere.
On the evening preceding their removal it was getting dark betimes by reason of a drizzling rain which blurred the sky. As it was the last night they would spend in the village which had been their home and birthplace, Mrs Durbeyfield, ’Liza-Lu, and Abraham had gone out to bid some friends goodbye, and Tess was keeping house till they should return.
She was kneeling in the window-bench, her face close to the casement, where an outer pane of rain-water was sliding down the inner pane of glass. Her eyes rested on the web of a spider, probably starved long ago, which had been mistakenly placed in a corner where no flies ever came, and shivered in the slight draught through the casement. Tess was reflecting on the position of the household, in which she perceived her own evil influence. Had she not come home, her mother and the children might probably have been allowed to stay on as weekly tenants. But she had been observed almost immediately on her return by some people of scrupulous character and great influence: they had seen her idling in the churchyard, restoring as well as she could with a little trowel a baby’s obliterated grave. By this means they had found that she was living here again; her mother was scolded for “harbouring” her; sharp retorts had ensued from Joan, who had independently offered to leave at once; she had been taken at her word; and here was the result.
“I ought never to have come home,” said Tess to herself, bitterly.
She was so intent upon these thoughts that she hardly at first took note of a man in a white mackintosh whom she saw riding down the street. Possibly it was owing to her face being near to the pane that he saw her so quickly, and directed his horse so close to the cottage-front that his hoofs were almost upon the narrow border for plants growing under the wall. It was not till he touched the window with his riding-crop that she observed him. The rain had nearly ceased, and she opened the casement in obedience to his gesture.
“Didn’t you see me?” asked d’Urberville.
“I was not attending,” she said. “I heard you, I believe, though I fancied it was a carriage and horses. I was in a sort of dream.”
“Ah! you heard the d’Urberville Coach, perhaps. You know the legend, I suppose?”
“No. My—somebody was going to tell it me once, but didn’t.”
“If you are a genuine d’Urberville I ought not to tell you either, I suppose. As for me, I’m a sham one, so it doesn’t matter. It is rather dismal. It is that this sound of a non-existent coach can only be heard by one of d’Urberville blood, and it is held to be of ill-omen to the one who hears it. It has to do with a murder, committed by one of the family, centuries ago.”
“Now you have begun it, finish it.”
“Very well. One of the family is said to have abducted some beautiful woman, who tried to escape from the coach in which he was carrying her off, and in the struggle he killed her—or she killed him—I forget which. Such is one version of the tale… I see that your tubs and buckets are packed. Going away, aren’t you?”
“Yes, to-morrow—Old Lady Day.”
“I heard you were, but could hardly believe it; it seems so sudden. Why is it?”
“Father’s was the last life on the property, and when that dropped we had no further right to stay. Though we might, perhaps, have stayed as weekly tenants—if it had not been for me.”
“What about you?”
“I am not a—proper woman.”
D’Urberville’s face flushed.
“What a blasted shame! Miserable snobs! May their dirty souls be burnt to cinders!” he exclaimed in tones of ironic resentment. “That’s why you are going, is it? Turned out?”
“We are not turned out exactly; but as they said we should have to go soon, it was best to go now everybody was moving, because there are better chances.”
“Where are you going to?”
“Kingsbere. We have taken rooms there. Mother is so foolish about father’s people that she will go there.”
“But your mother’s family are not fit for lodgings, and in a little hole of a town like that. Now why not come to my garden-house at Trantridge? There are hardly any poultry now, since my mother’s death; but there’s the house, as you know it, and the garden. It can be whitewashed in a day, and your mother can live there quite comfortably; and I will put the children to a good school. Really I ought to do something for you!”
“But we have already taken the rooms at Kingsbere!” she declared. “And we can wait there—”
“Wait—what for? For that nice husband, no doubt. Now look here, Tess, I know what men are, and, bearing in mind the grounds of your separation, I am quite positive he will never make it up with you. Now, though I have been your enemy, I am your friend, even if you won’t believe it. Come to this cottage of mine. We’ll get up a regular colony of fowls, and your mother can attend to them excellently; and the children can go to school.”
Tess breathed more and more quickly, and at length she said—
“How do I know that you would do all this? Your views may change—and then—we should be—my mother would be—homeless again.”
“O no—no. I would guarantee you against such as that in writing, if necessary. Think it over.”
Tess shook her head. But d’Urberville persisted; she had seldom seen him so determined; he would not take a negative.
“Please just tell your mother,” he said, in emphatic tones. “It is her business to judge—not yours. I shall get the house swept out and whitened to-morrow morning, and fires lit; and it will be dry by the evening, so that you can come straight there. Now mind, I shall expect you.”
Tess again shook her head, her throat swelling with complicated emotion. She could not look up at d’Urberville.
“I owe you something for the past, you know,” he resumed. “And you cured me, too, of that craze; so I am glad—”
“I would rather you had kept the craze, so that you had kept the practice which went with it!”
“I am glad of this opportunity of repaying you a little. To-morrow I shall expect to hear your mother’s goods unloading… Give me your hand on it now—dear, beautiful Tess!”
With the last sentence he had dropped his voice to a murmur, and put his hand in at the half-open casement. With stormy eyes she pulled the stay-bar quickly, and, in doing so, caught his arm between the casement and the stone mullion.
“Damnation—you are very cruel!” he said, snatching out his arm. “No, no!—I know you didn’t do it on purpose. Well, I shall expect you, or your mother and children at least.”
“I shall not come—I have plenty of money!” she cried.
“At my father-in-law’s, if I ask for it.”
“If you ask for it. But you won’t, Tess; I know you; you’ll never ask for it—you’ll starve first!”
With these words he rode off. Just at the corner of the street he met the man with the paint-pot, who asked him if he had deserted the brethren.
“You go to the devil!” said d’Urberville.
Tess remained where she was a long while, till a sudden rebellious sense of injustice caused the region of her eyes to swell with the rush of hot tears thither. Her husband, Angel Clare himself, had, like others, dealt out hard measure to her; surely he had! She had never before admitted such a thought; but he had surely! Never in her life—she could swear it from the bottom of her soul—had she ever intended to do wrong; yet these hard judgements had come. Whatever her sins, they were not sins of intention, but of inadvertence, and why should she have been punished so persistently?
She passionately seized the first piece of paper that came to hand, and scribbled the following lines:
O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do not deserve it. I have thought it all over carefully, and I can never, never forgive you! You know that I did not intend to wrong you—why have you so wronged me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to forget you. It is all injustice I have received at your hands!
She watched till the postman passed by, ran out to him with her epistle, and then again took her listless place inside the window-panes.
It was just as well to write like that as to write tenderly. How could he give way to entreaty? The facts had not changed: there was no new event to alter his opinion.
It grew darker, the fire-light shining over the room. The two biggest of the younger children had gone out with their mother; the four smallest, their ages ranging from three-and-a-half years to eleven, all in black frocks, were gathered round the hearth babbling their own little subjects. Tess at length joined them, without lighting a candle.
“This is the last night that we shall sleep here, dears, in the house where we were born,” she said quickly. “We ought to think of it, oughtn’t we?”
They all became silent; with the impressibility of their age they were ready to burst into tears at the picture of finality she had conjured up, though all the day hitherto they had been rejoicing in the idea of a new place. Tess changed the subject.
“Sing to me, dears,” she said.
“What shall we sing?”
“Anything you know; I don’t mind.”
There was a momentary pause; it was broken, first, in one little tentative note; then a second voice strengthened it, and a third and a fourth chimed in unison, with words they had learnt at the Sunday-school—
Here we suffer grief and pain,
Here we meet to part again;
In Heaven we part no more.
The four sang on with the phlegmatic passivity of persons who had long ago settled the question, and there being no mistake about it, felt that further thought was not required. With features strained hard to enunciate the syllables they continued to regard the centre of the flickering fire, the notes of the youngest straying over into the pauses of the rest.
Tess turned from them, and went to the window again. Darkness had now fallen without, but she put her face to the pane as though to peer into the gloom. It was really to hide her tears. If she could only believe what the children were singing; if she were only sure, how different all would now be; how confidently she would leave them to Providence and their future kingdom! But, in default of that, it behoved her to do something; to be their Providence; for to Tess, as to not a few millions of others, there was ghastly satire in the poet’s lines—
Not in utter nakedness
But trailing clouds of glory do we come.
To her and her like, birth itself was an ordeal of degrading personal compulsion, whose gratuitousness nothing in the result seemed to justify, and at best could only palliate.
In the shades of the wet road she soon discerned her mother with tall ’Liza-Lu and Abraham. Mrs Durbeyfield’s pattens clicked up to the door, and Tess opened it.
“I see the tracks of a horse outside the window,” said Joan. “Hev somebody called?”
“No,” said Tess.
The children by the fire looked gravely at her, and one murmured—
“Why, Tess, the gentleman a-horseback!”
“He didn’t call,” said Tess. “He spoke to me in passing.”
“Who was the gentleman?” asked the mother. “Your husband?”
“No. He’ll never, never come,” answered Tess in stony hopelessness.
“Then who was it?”
“Oh, you needn’t ask. You’ve seen him before, and so have I.”
“Ah! What did he say?” said Joan curiously.
“I will tell you when we are settled in our lodging at Kingsbere to-morrow—every word.”
It was not her husband, she had said. Yet a consciousness that in a physical sense this man alone was her husband seemed to weigh on her more and more.
During the small hours of the next morning, while it was still dark, dwellers near the highways were conscious of a disturbance of their night’s rest by rumbling noises, intermittently continuing till daylight—noises as certain to recur in this particular first week of the month as the voice of the cuckoo in the third week of the same. They were the preliminaries of the general removal, the passing of the empty waggons and teams to fetch the goods of the migrating families; for it was always by the vehicle of the farmer who required his services that the hired man was conveyed to his destination. That this might be accomplished within the day was the explanation of the reverberation occurring so soon after midnight, the aim of the carters being to reach the door of the outgoing households by six o’clock, when the loading of their movables at once began.
But to Tess and her mother’s household no such anxious farmer sent his team. They were only women; they were not regular labourers; they were not particularly required anywhere; hence they had to hire a waggon at their own expense, and got nothing sent gratuitously.
It was a relief to Tess, when she looked out of the window that morning, to find that though the weather was windy and louring, it did not rain, and that the waggon had come. A wet Lady-Day was a spectre which removing families never forgot; damp furniture, damp bedding, damp clothing accompanied it, and left a train of ills.
Her mother, ’Liza-Lu, and Abraham were also awake, but the younger children were let sleep on. The four breakfasted by the thin light, and the “house-ridding” was taken in hand.
It proceeded with some cheerfulness, a friendly neighbour or two assisting. When the large articles of furniture had been packed in position, a circular nest was made of the beds and bedding, in which Joan Durbeyfield and the young children were to sit through the journey. After loading there was a long delay before the horses were brought, these having been unharnessed during the ridding; but at length, about two o’clock, the whole was under way, the cooking-pot swinging from the axle of the waggon, Mrs Durbeyfield and family at the top, the matron having in her lap, to prevent injury to its works, the head of the clock, which, at any exceptional lurch of the waggon, struck one, or one-and-a-half, in hurt tones. Tess and the next eldest girl walked alongside till they were out of the village.
They had called on a few neighbours that morning and the previous evening, and some came to see them off, all wishing them well, though, in their secret hearts, hardly expecting welfare possible to such a family, harmless as the Durbeyfields were to all except themselves. Soon the equipage began to ascend to higher ground, and the wind grew keener with the change of level and soil.
The day being the sixth of April, the Durbeyfield waggon met many other waggons with families on the summit of the load, which was built on a wellnigh unvarying principle, as peculiar, probably, to the rural labourer as the hexagon to the bee. The groundwork of the arrangement was the family dresser, which, with its shining handles, and finger-marks, and domestic evidences thick upon it, stood importantly in front, over the tails of the shaft-horses, in its erect and natural position, like some Ark of the Covenant that they were bound to carry reverently.
Some of the households were lively, some mournful; some were stopping at the doors of wayside inns; where, in due time, the Durbeyfield menagerie also drew up to bait horses and refresh the travellers.
During the halt Tess’s eyes fell upon a three-pint blue mug, which was ascending and descending through the air to and from the feminine section of a household, sitting on the summit of a load that had also drawn up at a little distance from the same inn. She followed one of the mug’s journeys upward, and perceived it to be clasped by hands whose owner she well knew. Tess went towards the waggon.
“Marian and Izz!” she cried to the girls, for it was they, sitting with the moving family at whose house they had lodged. “Are you house-ridding to-day, like everybody else?”
They were, they said. It had been too rough a life for them at Flintcomb-Ash, and they had come away, almost without notice, leaving Groby to prosecute them if he chose. They told Tess their destination, and Tess told them hers.
Marian leant over the load, and lowered her voice. “Do you know that the gentleman who follows ’ee—you’ll guess who I mean—came to ask for ’ee at Flintcomb after you had gone? We didn’t tell’n where you was, knowing you wouldn’t wish to see him.”
“Ah—but I did see him!” Tess murmured. “He found me.”
“And do he know where you be going?”
“I think so.”
“Husband come back?”
She bade her acquaintance goodbye—for the respective carters had now come out from the inn—and the two waggons resumed their journey in opposite directions; the vehicle whereon sat Marian, Izz, and the ploughman’s family with whom they had thrown in their lot, being brightly painted, and drawn by three powerful horses with shining brass ornaments on their harness; while the waggon on which Mrs Durbeyfield and her family rode was a creaking erection that would scarcely bear the weight of the superincumbent load; one which had known no paint since it was made, and drawn by two horses only. The contrast well marked the difference between being fetched by a thriving farmer and conveying oneself whither no hirer waited one’s coming.
The distance was great—too great for a day’s journey—and it was with the utmost difficulty that the horses performed it. Though they had started so early, it was quite late in the afternoon when they turned the flank of an eminence which formed part of the upland called Greenhill. While the horses stood to stale and breathe themselves Tess looked around. Under the hill, and just ahead of them, was the half-dead townlet of their pilgrimage, Kingsbere, where lay those ancestors of whom her father had spoken and sung to painfulness: Kingsbere, the spot of all spots in the world which could be considered the d’Urbervilles’ home, since they had resided there for full five hundred years.
A man could be seen advancing from the outskirts towards them, and when he beheld the nature of their waggon-load he quickened his steps.
“You be the woman they call Mrs Durbeyfield, I reckon?” he said to Tess’s mother, who had descended to walk the remainder of the way.
She nodded. “Though widow of the late Sir John d’Urberville, poor nobleman, if I cared for my rights; and returning to the domain of his forefathers.”
“Oh? Well, I know nothing about that; but if you be Mrs Durbeyfield, I am sent to tell ’ee that the rooms you wanted be let. We didn’t know that you was coming till we got your letter this morning—when ’twas too late. But no doubt you can get other lodgings somewhere.”
The man had noticed the face of Tess, which had become ash-pale at his intelligence. Her mother looked hopelessly at fault. “What shall we do now, Tess?” she said bitterly. “Here’s a welcome to your ancestors’ lands! However, let’s try further.”
They moved on into the town, and tried with all their might, Tess remaining with the waggon to take care of the children whilst her mother and ’Liza-Lu made inquiries. At the last return of Joan to the vehicle, an hour later, when her search for accommodation had still been fruitless, the driver of the waggon said the goods must be unloaded, as the horses were half-dead, and he was bound to return part of the way at least that night.
“Very well—unload it here,” said Joan recklessly. “I’ll get shelter somewhere.”
The waggon had drawn up under the churchyard wall, in a spot screened from view, and the driver, nothing loth, soon hauled down the poor heap of household goods. This done, she paid him, reducing herself to almost her last shilling thereby, and he moved off and left them, only too glad to get out of further dealings with such a family. It was a dry night, and he guessed that they would come to no harm.
Tess gazed desperately at the pile of furniture. The cold sunlight of this spring evening peered invidiously upon the crocks and kettles, upon the bunches of dried herbs shivering in the breeze, upon the brass handles of the dresser, upon the wicker-cradle they had all been rocked in, and upon the well-rubbed clock-case, all of which gave out the reproachful gleam of indoor articles abandoned to the vicissitudes of a roofless exposure for which they were never made. Round about were deparked hills and slopes—now cut up into little paddocks—and the green foundations that showed where the d’Urberville mansion once had stood; also an outlying stretch of Egdon Heath that had always belonged to the estate. Hard by, the aisle of the church called the d’Urberville Aisle looked on imperturbably.
“Isn’t your family vault your own freehold?” said Tess’s mother, as she returned from a reconnoitre of the church and graveyard. “Why, of course ’tis, and that’s where we will camp, girls, till the place of your ancestors finds us a roof! Now, Tess and ’Liza and Abraham, you help me. We’ll make a nest for these children, and then we’ll have another look round.”
Tess listlessly lent a hand, and in a quarter of an hour the old four-post bedstead was dissociated from the heap of goods, and erected under the south wall of the church, the part of the building known as the d’Urberville Aisle, beneath which the huge vaults lay. Over the tester of the bedstead was a beautiful traceried window, of many lights, its date being the fifteenth century. It was called the d’Urberville Window, and in the upper part could be discerned heraldic emblems like those on Durbeyfield’s old seal and spoon.
Joan drew the curtains round the bed so as to make an excellent tent of it, and put the smaller children inside. “If it comes to the worst we can sleep there too, for one night,” she said. “But let us try further on, and get something for the dears to eat! O, Tess, what’s the use of your playing at marrying gentlemen, if it leaves us like this!”
Accompanied by ’Liza-Lu and the boy, she again ascended the little lane which secluded the church from the townlet. As soon as they got into the street they beheld a man on horseback gazing up and down. “Ah—I’m looking for you!” he said, riding up to them. “This is indeed a family gathering on the historic spot!”
It was Alec d’Urberville. “Where is Tess?” he asked.
Personally Joan had no liking for Alec. She cursorily signified the direction of the church, and went on, d’Urberville saying that he would see them again, in case they should be still unsuccessful in their search for shelter, of which he had just heard. When they had gone, d’Urberville rode to the inn, and shortly after came out on foot.
In the interim Tess, left with the children inside the bedstead, remained talking with them awhile, till, seeing that no more could be done to make them comfortable just then, she walked about the churchyard, now beginning to be embrowned by the shades of nightfall. The door of the church was unfastened, and she entered it for the first time in her life.
Within the window under which the bedstead stood were the tombs of the family, covering in their dates several centuries. They were canopied, altar-shaped, and plain; their carvings being defaced and broken; their brasses torn from the matrices, the rivet-holes remaining like martin-holes in a sandcliff. Of all the reminders that she had ever received that her people were socially extinct, there was none so forcible as this spoliation.
She drew near to a dark stone on which was inscribed:
OSTIUM SEPULCHRI ANTIQUAE FAMILIAE D’URBERVILLE
Tess did not read Church-Latin like a Cardinal, but she knew that this was the door of her ancestral sepulchre, and that the tall knights of whom her father had chanted in his cups lay inside.
She musingly turned to withdraw, passing near an altar-tomb, the oldest of them all, on which was a recumbent figure. In the dusk she had not noticed it before, and would hardly have noticed it now but for an odd fancy that the effigy moved. As soon as she drew close to it she discovered all in a moment that the figure was a living person; and the shock to her sense of not having been alone was so violent that she was quite overcome, and sank down nigh to fainting, not, however, till she had recognized Alec d’Urberville in the form.
He leapt off the slab and supported her.
“I saw you come in,” he said smiling, “and got up there not to interrupt your meditations. A family gathering, is it not, with these old fellows under us here? Listen.”
He stamped with his heel heavily on the floor; whereupon there arose a hollow echo from below.
“That shook them a bit, I’ll warrant!” he continued. “And you thought I was the mere stone reproduction of one of them. But no. The old order changeth. The little finger of the sham d’Urberville can do more for you than the whole dynasty of the real underneath…. Now command me. What shall I do?”
“Go away!” she murmured.
“I will—I’ll look for your mother,” said he blandly. But in passing her he whispered: “Mind this; you’ll be civil yet!”
When he was gone she bent down upon the entrance to the vaults, and said—
“Why am I on the wrong side of this door!”
In the meantime Marian and Izz Huett had journeyed onward with the chattels of the ploughman in the direction of their land of Canaan—the Egypt of some other family who had left it only that morning. But the girls did not for a long time think of where they were going. Their talk was of Angel Clare and Tess, and Tess’s persistent lover, whose connection with her previous history they had partly heard and partly guessed ere this.
“’Tisn’t as though she had never known him afore,” said Marian. “His having won her once makes all the difference in the world. ’Twould be a thousand pities if he were to tole her away again. Mr Clare can never be anything to us, Izz; and why should we grudge him to her, and not try to mend this quarrel? If he could on’y know what straits she’s put to, and what’s hovering round, he might come to take care of his own.”
“Could we let him know?”
They thought of this all the way to their destination; but the bustle of re-establishment in their new place took up all their attention then. But when they were settled, a month later, they heard of Clare’s approaching return, though they had learnt nothing more of Tess. Upon that, agitated anew by their attachment to him, yet honourably disposed to her, Marian uncorked the penny ink-bottle they shared, and a few lines were concocted between the two girls.
Look to your Wife if you do love her as much as she do love you. For she is sore put to by an Enemy in the shape of a Friend. Sir, there is one near her who ought to be Away. A woman should not be try’d beyond her Strength, and continual dropping will wear away a Stone—ay, more—a Diamond.
From Two Well-Wishers
This was addressed to Angel Clare at the only place they had ever heard him to be connected with, Emminster Vicarage; after which they continued in a mood of emotional exaltation at their own generosity, which made them sing in hysterical snatches and weep at the same time.