Part 4 - Tess of the d'Urbervilles Audiobook by Thomas Hardy (Chs 24-31)


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Transcript:
CHAPTER XXIV
Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at a season when the
rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was
impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate.
The ready bosoms existing there were impregnated by their surroundings.
July passed over their heads, and the Thermidorean weather which came in its wake
seemed an effort on the part of Nature to match the state of hearts at Talbothays
Dairy.
The air of the place, so fresh in the spring and early summer, was stagnant and
enervating now.
Its heavy scents weighed upon them, and at mid-day the landscape seemed lying in a
swoon.
Ethiopic scorchings browned the upper slopes of the pastures, but there was still
bright green herbage here where the watercourses purled.
And as Clare was oppressed by the outward heats, so was he burdened inwardly by
waxing fervour of passion for the soft and silent Tess.
The rains having passed, the uplands were dry.
The wheels of the dairyman's spring-cart, as he sped home from market, licked up the
pulverized surface of the highway, and were followed by white ribands of dust, as if
they had set a thin powder-train on fire.
The cows jumped wildly over the five-barred barton-gate, maddened by the gad-fly;
Dairyman Crick kept his shirt-sleeves permanently rolled up from Monday to
Saturday; open windows had no effect in
ventilation without open doors, and in the dairy-garden the blackbirds and thrushes
crept about under the currant-bushes, rather in the manner of quadrupeds than of
winged creatures.
The flies in the kitchen were lazy, teasing, and familiar, crawling about in
the unwonted places, on the floors, into drawers, and over the backs of the
milkmaids' hands.
Conversations were concerning sunstroke; while butter-making, and still more butter-
keeping, was a despair.
They milked entirely in the meads for coolness and convenience, without driving
in the cows.
During the day the animals obsequiously followed the shadow of the smallest tree as
it moved round the stem with the diurnal roll; and when the milkers came they could
hardly stand still for the flies.
On one of these afternoons four or five unmilked cows chanced to stand apart from
the general herd, behind the corner of a hedge, among them being Dumpling and Old
Pretty, who loved Tess's hands above those of any other maid.
When she rose from her stool under a finished cow, Angel Clare, who had been
observing her for some time, asked her if she would take the aforesaid creatures
next.
She silently assented, and with her stool at arm's length, and the pail against her
knee, went round to where they stood.
Soon the sound of Old Pretty's milk fizzing into the pail came through the hedge, and
then Angel felt inclined to go round the corner also, to finish off a hard-yielding
milcher who had strayed there, he being now as capable of this as the dairyman himself.
All the men, and some of the women, when milking, dug their foreheads into the cows
and gazed into the pail.
But a few--mainly the younger ones--rested their heads sideways.
This was Tess Durbeyfield's habit, her temple pressing the milcher's flank, her
eyes fixed on the far end of the meadow with the quiet of one lost in meditation.
She was milking Old Pretty thus, and the sun chancing to be on the milking-side, it
shone flat upon her pink-gowned form and her white curtain-bonnet, and upon her
profile, rendering it keen as a cameo cut from the dun background of the cow.
She did not know that Clare had followed her round, and that he sat under his cow
watching her.
The stillness of her head and features was remarkable: she might have been in a
trance, her eyes open, yet unseeing.
Nothing in the picture moved but Old Pretty's tail and Tess's pink hands, the
latter so gently as to be a rhythmic pulsation only, as if they were obeying a
reflex stimulus, like a beating heart.
How very lovable her face was to him. Yet there was nothing ethereal about it;
all was real vitality, real warmth, real incarnation.
And it was in her mouth that this culminated.
Eyes almost as deep and speaking he had seen before, and cheeks perhaps as fair;
brows as arched, a chin and throat almost as shapely; her mouth he had seen nothing
to equal on the face of the earth.
To a young man with the least fire in him that little upward lift in the middle of
her red top lip was distracting, infatuating, maddening.
He had never before seen a woman's lips and teeth which forced upon his mind with such
persistent iteration the old Elizabethan simile of roses filled with snow.
Perfect, he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand.
But no--they were not perfect.
And it was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the
sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity.
Clare had studied the curves of those lips so many times that he could reproduce them
mentally with ease: and now, as they again confronted him, clothed with colour and
life, they sent an aura over his flesh, a
breeze through his nerves, which well nigh produced a qualm; and actually produced, by
some mysterious physiological process, a prosaic sneeze.
She then became conscious that he was observing her; but she would not show it by
any change of position, though the curious dream-like fixity disappeared, and a close
eye might easily have discerned that the
rosiness of her face deepened, and then faded till only a tinge of it was left.
The influence that had passed into Clare like an excitation from the sky did not die
down.
Resolutions, reticences, prudences, fears, fell back like a defeated battalion.
He jumped up from his seat, and, leaving his pail to be kicked over if the milcher
had such a mind, went quickly towards the desire of his eyes, and, kneeling down
beside her, clasped her in his arms.
Tess was taken completely by surprise, and she yielded to his embrace with
unreflecting inevitableness.
Having seen that it was really her lover who had advanced, and no one else, her lips
parted, and she sank upon him in her momentary joy, with something very like an
ecstatic cry.
He had been on the point of kissing that too tempting mouth, but he checked himself,
for tender conscience' sake. "Forgive me, Tess dear!" he whispered.
"I ought to have asked.
I--did not know what I was doing. I do not mean it as a liberty.
I am devoted to you, Tessy, dearest, in all sincerity!"
Old Pretty by this time had looked round, puzzled; and seeing two people crouching
under her where, by immemorial custom, there should have been only one, lifted her
hind leg crossly.
"She is angry--she doesn't know what we mean--she'll kick over the milk!" exclaimed
Tess, gently striving to free herself, her eyes concerned with the quadruped's
actions, her heart more deeply concerned with herself and Clare.
She slipped up from her seat, and they stood together, his arm still encircling
her.
Tess's eyes, fixed on distance, began to fill.
"Why do you cry, my darling?" he said. "O--I don't know!" she murmured.
As she saw and felt more clearly the position she was in she became agitated and
tried to withdraw.
"Well, I have betrayed my feeling, Tess, at last," said he, with a curious sigh of
desperation, signifying unconsciously that his heart had outrun his judgement.
"That I--love you dearly and truly I need not say.
But I--it shall go no further now--it distresses you--I am as surprised as you
are.
You will not think I have presumed upon your defencelessness--been too quick and
unreflecting, will you?" "N'--I can't tell."
He had allowed her to free herself; and in a minute or two the milking of each was
resumed.
Nobody had beheld the gravitation of the two into one; and when the dairyman came
round by that screened nook a few minutes later, there was not a sign to reveal that
the markedly sundered pair were more to each other than mere acquaintance.
Yet in the interval since Crick's last view of them something had occurred which
changed the pivot of the universe for their two natures; something which, had he known
its quality, the dairyman would have
despised, as a practical man; yet which was based upon a more stubborn and resistless
tendency than a whole heap of so-called practicalities.
A veil had been whisked aside; the tract of each one's outlook was to have a new
horizon thenceforward--for a short time or for a long.
END OF PHASE THE THIRD
>
CHAPTER XXV
Clare, restless, went out into the dusk when evening drew on, she who had won him
having retired to her chamber. The night was as sultry as the day.
There was no coolness after dark unless on the grass.
Roads, garden-paths, the house-fronts, the barton-walls were warm as hearths, and
reflected the noontime temperature into the noctambulist's face.
He sat on the east gate of the dairy-yard, and knew not what to think of himself.
Feeling had indeed smothered judgement that day.
Since the sudden embrace, three hours before, the twain had kept apart.
She seemed stilled, almost alarmed, at what had occurred, while the novelty,
unpremeditation, mastery of circumstance disquieted him--palpitating, contemplative
being that he was.
He could hardly realize their true relations to each other as yet, and what
their mutual bearing should be before third parties thenceforward.
Angel had come as pupil to this dairy in the idea that his temporary existence here
was to be the merest episode in his life, soon passed through and early forgotten; he
had come as to a place from which as from a
screened alcove he could calmly view the absorbing world without, and,
apostrophizing it with Walt Whitman--
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, How curious you are to me!-
- resolve upon a plan for plunging into that world anew.
But behold, the absorbing scene had been imported hither.
What had been the engrossing world had dissolved into an uninteresting outer dumb-
show; while here, in this apparently dim and unimpassioned place, novelty had
volcanically started up, as it had never, for him, started up elsewhere.
Every window of the house being open, Clare could hear across the yard each trivial
sound of the retiring household.
The dairy-house, so humble, so insignificant, so purely to him a place of
constrained sojourn that he had never hitherto deemed it of sufficient importance
to be reconnoitred as an object of any
quality whatever in the landscape; what was it now?
The aged and lichened brick gables breathed forth "Stay!"
The windows smiled, the door coaxed and beckoned, the creeper blushed confederacy.
A personality within it was so far-reaching in her influence as to spread into and make
the bricks, mortar, and whole overhanging sky throb with a burning sensibility.
Whose was this mighty personality?
A milkmaid's. It was amazing, indeed, to find how great a
matter the life of the obscure dairy had become to him.
And though new love was to be held partly responsible for this, it was not solely so.
Many besides Angel have learnt that the magnitude of lives is not as to their
external displacements, but as to their subjective experiences.
The impressionable peasant leads a larger, fuller, more dramatic life than the
pachydermatous king.
Looking at it thus, he found that life was to be seen of the same magnitude here as
elsewhere.
Despite his heterodoxy, faults, and weaknesses, Clare was a man with a
conscience.
Tess was no insignificant creature to toy with and dismiss; but a woman living her
precious life--a life which, to herself who endured or enjoyed it, possessed as great a
dimension as the life of the mightiest to himself.
Upon her sensations the whole world depended to Tess; through her existence all
her fellow-creatures existed, to her.
The universe itself only came into being for Tess on the particular day in the
particular year in which she was born.
This consciousness upon which he had intruded was the single opportunity of
existence ever vouchsafed to Tess by an unsympathetic First Cause--her all; her
every and only chance.
How then should he look upon her as of less consequence than himself; as a pretty
trifle to caress and grow weary of; and not deal in the greatest seriousness with the
affection which he knew that he had
awakened in her--so fervid and so impressionable as she was under her
reserve--in order that it might not agonize and wreck her?
To encounter her daily in the accustomed manner would be to develop what had begun.
Living in such close relations, to meet meant to fall into endearment; flesh and
blood could not resist it; and, having arrived at no conclusion as to the issue of
such a tendency, he decided to hold aloof
for the present from occupations in which they would be mutually engaged.
As yet the harm done was small. But it was not easy to carry out the
resolution never to approach her.
He was driven towards her by every heave of his pulse.
He thought he would go and see his friends. It might be possible to sound them upon
this.
In less than five months his term here would have ended, and after a few
additional months spent upon other farms he would be fully equipped in agricultural
knowledge and in a position to start on his own account.
Would not a farmer want a wife, and should a farmer's wife be a drawing-room wax-
figure, or a woman who understood farming?
Notwithstanding the pleasing answer returned to him by the silence, he resolved
to go his journey.
One morning when they sat down to breakfast at Talbothays Dairy some maid observed that
she had not seen anything of Mr Clare that day.
"O no," said Dairyman Crick.
"Mr Clare has gone hwome to Emminster to spend a few days wi' his kinsfolk."
For four impassioned ones around that table the sunshine of the morning went out at a
stroke, and the birds muffled their song.
But neither girl by word or gesture revealed her blankness.
"He's getting on towards the end of his time wi' me," added the dairyman, with a
phlegm which unconsciously was brutal; "and so I suppose he is beginning to see about
his plans elsewhere."
"How much longer is he to bide here?" asked Izz Huett, the only one of the gloom-
stricken bevy who could trust her voice with the question.
The others waited for the dairyman's answer as if their lives hung upon it; Retty, with
parted lips, gazing on the tablecloth, Marian with heat added to her redness, Tess
throbbing and looking out at the meads.
"Well, I can't mind the exact day without looking at my memorandum-book," replied
Crick, with the same intolerable unconcern. "And even that may be altered a bit.
He'll bide to get a little practice in the calving out at the straw-yard, for certain.
He'll hang on till the end of the year I should say."
Four months or so of torturing ecstasy in his society--of "pleasure girdled about
with pain". After that the blackness of unutterable
night.
At this moment of the morning Angel Clare was riding along a narrow lane ten miles
distant from the breakfasters, in the direction of his father's Vicarage at
Emminster, carrying, as well as he could,
a little basket which contained some black- puddings and a bottle of mead, sent by Mrs
Crick, with her kind respects, to his parents.
The white lane stretched before him, and his eyes were upon it; but they were
staring into next year, and not at the lane.
He loved her; ought he to marry her?
Dared he to marry her? What would his mother and his brothers say?
What would he himself say a couple of years after the event?
That would depend upon whether the germs of staunch comradeship underlay the temporary
emotion, or whether it were a sensuous joy in her form only, with no substratum of
everlastingness.
His father's hill-surrounded little town, the Tudor church-tower of red stone, the
clump of trees near the Vicarage, came at last into view beneath him, and he rode
down towards the well-known gate.
Casting a glance in the direction of the church before entering his home, he beheld
standing by the vestry-door a group of girls, of ages between twelve and sixteen,
apparently awaiting the arrival of some
other one, who in a moment became visible; a figure somewhat older than the school-
girls, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and highly-starched cambric morning-gown, with
a couple of books in her hand.
Clare knew her well. He could not be sure that she observed him;
he hoped she did not, so as to render it unnecessary that he should go and speak to
her, blameless creature that she was.
An overpowering reluctance to greet her made him decide that she had not seen him.
The young lady was Miss Mercy Chant, the only daughter of his father's neighbour and
friend, whom it was his parents' quiet hope that he might wed some day.
She was great at Antinomianism and Bible- classes, and was plainly going to hold a
class now.
Clare's mind flew to the impassioned, summer-steeped heathens in the Var Vale,
their rosy faces court-patched with cow- droppings; and to one the most impassioned
of them all.
It was on the impulse of the moment that he had resolved to trot over to Emminster, and
hence had not written to apprise his mother and father, aiming, however, to arrive
about the breakfast hour, before they
should have gone out to their parish duties.
He was a little late, and they had already sat down to the morning meal.
The group at the table jumped up to welcome him as soon as he entered.
They were his father and mother, his brother the Reverend Felix--curate at a
town in the adjoining county, home for the inside of a fortnight--and his other
brother, the Reverend Cuthbert, the
classical scholar, and Fellow and Dean of his College, down from Cambridge for the
long vacation.
His mother appeared in a cap and silver spectacles, and his father looked what in
fact he was--an earnest, God-fearing man, somewhat gaunt, in years about sixty-five,
his pale face lined with thought and purpose.
Over their heads hung the picture of Angel's sister, the eldest of the family,
sixteen years his senior, who had married a missionary and gone out to Africa.
Old Mr Clare was a clergyman of a type which, within the last twenty years, has
well nigh dropped out of contemporary life.
A spiritual descendant in the direct line from Wycliff, Huss, Luther, Calvin; an
Evangelical of the Evangelicals, a Conversionist, a man of Apostolic
simplicity in life and thought, he had in
his raw youth made up his mind once for all in the deeper questions of existence, and
admitted no further reasoning on them thenceforward.
He was regarded even by those of his own date and school of thinking as extreme;
while, on the other hand, those totally opposed to him were unwillingly won to
admiration for his thoroughness, and for
the remarkable power he showed in dismissing all question as to principles in
his energy for applying them.
He loved Paul of Tarsus, liked St John, hated St James as much as he dared, and
regarded with mixed feelings Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.
The New Testament was less a Christiad then a Pauliad to his intelligence--less an
argument than an intoxication.
His creed of determinism was such that it almost amounted to a vice, and quite
amounted, on its negative side, to a renunciative philosophy which had
cousinship with that of Schopenhauer and Leopardi.
He despised the Canons and Rubric, swore by the Articles, and deemed himself consistent
through the whole category--which in a way he might have been.
One thing he certainly was--sincere.
To the aesthetic, sensuous, pagan pleasure in natural life and lush womanhood which
his son Angel had lately been experiencing in Var Vale, his temper would have been
antipathetic in a high degree, had he
either by inquiry or imagination been able to apprehend it.
Once upon a time Angel had been so unlucky as to say to his father, in a moment of
irritation, that it might have resulted far better for mankind if Greece had been the
source of the religion of modern
civilization, and not Palestine; and his father's grief was of that blank
description which could not realize that there might lurk a thousandth part of a
truth, much less a half truth or a whole truth, in such a proposition.
He had simply preached austerely at Angel for some time after.
But the kindness of his heart was such that he never resented anything for long, and
welcomed his son to-day with a smile which was as candidly sweet as a child's.
Angel sat down, and the place felt like home; yet he did not so much as formerly
feel himself one of the family gathered there.
Every time that he returned hither he was conscious of this divergence, and since he
had last shared in the Vicarage life it had grown even more distinctly foreign to his
own than usual.
Its transcendental aspirations--still unconsciously based on the geocentric view
of things, a zenithal paradise, a nadiral hell--were as foreign to his own as if they
had been the dreams of people on another planet.
Latterly he had seen only Life, felt only the great passionate pulse of existence,
unwarped, uncontorted, untrammelled by those creeds which futilely attempt to
check what wisdom would be content to regulate.
On their part they saw a great difference in him, a growing divergence from the Angel
Clare of former times.
It was chiefly a difference in his manner that they noticed just now, particularly
his brothers.
He was getting to behave like a farmer; he flung his legs about; the muscles of his
face had grown more expressive; his eyes looked as much information as his tongue
spoke, and more.
The manner of the scholar had nearly disappeared; still more the manner of the
drawing-room young man.
A prig would have said that he had lost culture, and a prude that he had become
coarse.
Such was the contagion of domiciliary fellowship with the Talbothays nymphs and
swains.
After breakfast he walked with his two brothers, non-evangelical, well-educated,
hall-marked young men, correct to their remotest fibre, such unimpeachable models
as are turned out yearly by the lathe of a systematic tuition.
They were both somewhat short-sighted, and when it was the custom to wear a single
eyeglass and string they wore a single eyeglass and string; when it was the custom
to wear a double glass they wore a double
glass; when it was the custom to wear spectacles they wore spectacles
straightway, all without reference to the particular variety of defect in their own
vision.
When Wordsworth was enthroned they carried pocket copies; and when Shelley was
belittled they allowed him to grow dusty on their shelves.
When Correggio's Holy Families were admired, they admired Correggio's Holy
Families; when he was decried in favour of Velasquez, they sedulously followed suit
without any personal objection.
If these two noticed Angel's growing social ineptness, he noticed their growing mental
limitations. Felix seemed to him all Church; Cuthbert
all College.
His Diocesan Synod and Visitations were the mainsprings of the world to the one;
Cambridge to the other.
Each brother candidly recognized that there were a few unimportant score of millions of
outsiders in civilized society, persons who were neither University men nor churchmen;
but they were to be tolerated rather than reckoned with and respected.
They were both dutiful and attentive sons, and were regular in their visits to their
parents.
Felix, though an offshoot from a far more recent point in the devolution of theology
than his father, was less self-sacrificing and disinterested.
More tolerant than his father of a contradictory opinion, in its aspect as a
danger to its holder, he was less ready than his father to pardon it as a slight to
his own teaching.
Cuthbert was, upon the whole, the more liberal-minded, though, with greater
subtlety, he had not so much heart.
As they walked along the hillside Angel's former feeling revived in him--that
whatever their advantages by comparison with himself, neither saw or set forth life
as it really was lived.
Perhaps, as with many men, their opportunities of observation were not so
good as their opportunities of expression.
Neither had an adequate conception of the complicated forces at work outside the
smooth and gentle current in which they and their associates floated.
Neither saw the difference between local truth and universal truth; that what the
inner world said in their clerical and academic hearing was quite a different
thing from what the outer world was thinking.
"I suppose it is farming or nothing for you now, my dear fellow," Felix was saying,
among other things, to his youngest brother, as he looked through his
spectacles at the distant fields with sad austerity.
"And, therefore, we must make the best of it.
But I do entreat you to endeavour to keep as much as possible in touch with moral
ideals.
Farming, of course, means roughing it externally; but high thinking may go with
plain living, nevertheless." "Of course it may," said Angel.
"Was it not proved nineteen hundred years ago--if I may trespass upon your domain a
little?
Why should you think, Felix, that I am likely to drop my high thinking and my
moral ideals?"
"Well, I fancied, from the tone of your letters and our conversation--it may be
fancy only--that you were somehow losing intellectual grasp.
Hasn't it struck you, Cuthbert?"
"Now, Felix," said Angel drily, "we are very good friends, you know; each of us
treading our allotted circles; but if it comes to intellectual grasp, I think you,
as a contented dogmatist, had better leave
mine alone, and inquire what has become of yours."
They returned down the hill to dinner, which was fixed at any time at which their
father's and mother's morning work in the parish usually concluded.
Convenience as regarded afternoon callers was the last thing to enter into the
consideration of unselfish Mr and Mrs Clare; though the three sons were
sufficiently in unison on this matter to
wish that their parents would conform a little to modern notions.
The walk had made them hungry, Angel in particular, who was now an outdoor man,
accustomed to the profuse dapes inemptae of the dairyman's somewhat coarsely-laden
table.
But neither of the old people had arrived, and it was not till the sons were almost
tired of waiting that their parents entered.
The self-denying pair had been occupied in coaxing the appetites of some of their sick
parishioners, whom they, somewhat inconsistently, tried to keep imprisoned in
the flesh, their own appetites being quite forgotten.
The family sat down to table, and a frugal meal of cold viands was deposited before
them.
Angel looked round for Mrs Crick's black- puddings, which he had directed to be
nicely grilled as they did them at the dairy, and of which he wished his father
and mother to appreciate the marvellous herbal savours as highly as he did himself.
"Ah! you are looking for the black- puddings, my dear boy," observed Clare's
mother.
"But I am sure you will not mind doing without them as I am sure your father and I
shall not, when you know the reason.
I suggested to him that we should take Mrs Crick's kind present to the children of the
man who can earn nothing just now because of his attacks of delirium tremens; and he
agreed that it would be a great pleasure to them; so we did."
"Of course," said Angel cheerfully, looking round for the mead.
"I found the mead so extremely alcoholic," continued his mother, "that it was quite
unfit for use as a beverage, but as valuable as rum or brandy in an emergency;
so I have put it in my medicine-closet."
"We never drink spirits at this table, on principle," added his father.
"But what shall I tell the dairyman's wife?" said Angel.
"The truth, of course," said his father.
"I rather wanted to say we enjoyed the mead and the black-puddings very much.
She is a kind, jolly sort of body, and is sure to ask me directly I return."
"You cannot, if we did not," Mr Clare answered lucidly.
"Ah--no; though that mead was a drop of pretty tipple."
"A what?" said Cuthbert and Felix both.
"Oh--'tis an expression they use down at Talbothays," replied Angel, blushing.
He felt that his parents were right in their practice if wrong in their want of
sentiment, and said no more.
>
CHAPTER XXVI
It was not till the evening, after family prayers, that Angel found opportunity of
broaching to his father one or two subjects near his heart.
He had strung himself up to the purpose while kneeling behind his brothers on the
carpet, studying the little nails in the heels of their walking boots.
When the service was over they went out of the room with their mother, and Mr Clare
and himself were left alone.
The young man first discussed with the elder his plans for the attainment of his
position as a farmer on an extensive scale- -either in England or in the Colonies.
His father then told him that, as he had not been put to the expense of sending
Angel up to Cambridge, he had felt it his duty to set by a sum of money every year
towards the purchase or lease of land for
him some day, that he might not feel himself unduly slighted.
"As far as worldly wealth goes," continued his father, "you will no doubt stand far
superior to your brothers in a few years."
This considerateness on old Mr Clare's part led Angel onward to the other and dearer
subject.
He observed to his father that he was then six-and-twenty, and that when he should
start in the farming business he would require eyes in the back of his head to see
to all matters--some one would be necessary
to superintend the domestic labours of his establishment whilst he was afield.
Would it not be well, therefore, for him to marry?
His father seemed to think this idea not unreasonable; and then Angel put the
question--
"What kind of wife do you think would be best for me as a thrifty hard-working
farmer?"
"A truly Christian woman, who will be a help and a comfort to you in your goings-
out and your comings-in. Beyond that, it really matters little.
Such an one can be found; indeed, my earnest-minded friend and neighbour, Dr
Chant--"
"But ought she not primarily to be able to milk cows, churn good butter, make immense
cheeses; know how to sit hens and turkeys and rear chickens, to direct a field of
labourers in an emergency, and estimate the value of sheep and calves?"
"Yes; a farmer's wife; yes, certainly. It would be desirable."
Mr Clare, the elder, had plainly never thought of these points before.
"I was going to add," he said, "that for a pure and saintly woman you will not find
one more to your true advantage, and certainly not more to your mother's mind
and my own, than your friend Mercy, whom you used to show a certain interest in.
It is true that my neighbour Chant's daughter had lately caught up the fashion
of the younger clergy round about us for decorating the Communion-table--altar, as I
was shocked to hear her call it one day--
with flowers and other stuff on festival occasions.
But her father, who is quite as opposed to such flummery as I, says that can be cured.
It is a mere girlish outbreak which, I am sure, will not be permanent."
"Yes, yes; Mercy is good and devout, I know.
But, father, don't you think that a young woman equally pure and virtuous as Miss
Chant, but one who, in place of that lady's ecclesiastical accomplishments, understands
the duties of farm life as well as a farmer himself, would suit me infinitely better?"
His father persisted in his conviction that a knowledge of a farmer's wife's duties
came second to a Pauline view of humanity; and the impulsive Angel, wishing to honour
his father's feelings and to advance the
cause of his heart at the same time, grew specious.
He said that fate or Providence had thrown in his way a woman who possessed every
qualification to be the helpmate of an agriculturist, and was decidedly of a
serious turn of mind.
He would not say whether or not she had attached herself to the sound Low Church
School of his father; but she would probably be open to conviction on that
point; she was a regular church-goer of
simple faith; honest-hearted, receptive, intelligent, graceful to a degree, chaste
as a vestal, and, in personal appearance, exceptionally beautiful.
"Is she of a family such as you would care to marry into--a lady, in short?" asked his
startled mother, who had come softly into the study during the conversation.
"She is not what in common parlance is called a lady," said Angel, unflinchingly,
"for she is a cottager's daughter, as I am proud to say.
But she IS a lady, nevertheless--in feeling and nature."
"Mercy Chant is of a very good family." "Pooh!--what's the advantage of that,
mother?" said Angel quickly.
"How is family to avail the wife of a man who has to rough it as I have, and shall
have to do?" "Mercy is accomplished.
And accomplishments have their charm," returned his mother, looking at him through
her silver spectacles.
"As to external accomplishments, what will be the use of them in the life I am going
to lead?--while as to her reading, I can take that in hand.
She'll be apt pupil enough, as you would say if you knew her.
She's brim full of poetry--actualized poetry, if I may use the expression.
She LIVES what paper-poets only write...
And she is an unimpeachable Christian, I am sure; perhaps of the very tribe, genus, and
species you desire to propagate." "O Angel, you are mocking!"
"Mother, I beg pardon.
But as she really does attend Church almost every Sunday morning, and is a good
Christian girl, I am sure you will tolerate any social shortcomings for the sake of
that quality, and feel that I may do worse than choose her."
Angel waxed quite earnest on that rather automatic orthodoxy in his beloved Tess
which (never dreaming that it might stand him in such good stead) he had been prone
to slight when observing it practised by
her and the other milkmaids, because of its obvious unreality amid beliefs essentially
naturalistic.
In their sad doubts as to whether their son had himself any right whatever to the title
he claimed for the unknown young woman, Mr and Mrs Clare began to feel it as an
advantage not to be overlooked that she at
least was sound in her views; especially as the conjunction of the pair must have
arisen by an act of Providence; for Angel never would have made orthodoxy a condition
of his choice.
They said finally that it was better not to act in a hurry, but that they would not
object to see her. Angel therefore refrained from declaring
more particulars now.
He felt that, single-minded and self- sacrificing as his parents were, there yet
existed certain latent prejudices of theirs, as middle-class people, which it
would require some tact to overcome.
For though legally at liberty to do as he chose, and though their daughter-in-law's
qualifications could make no practical difference to their lives, in the
probability of her living far away from
them, he wished for affection's sake not to wound their sentiment in the most important
decision of his life.
He observed his own inconsistencies in dwelling upon accidents in Tess's life as
if they were vital features.
It was for herself that he loved Tess; her soul, her heart, her substance--not for her
skill in the dairy, her aptness as his scholar, and certainly not for her simple
formal faith-professions.
Her unsophisticated open-air existence required no varnish of conventionality to
make it palatable to him.
He held that education had as yet but little affected the beats of emotion and
impulse on which domestic happiness depends.
It was probable that, in the lapse of ages, improved systems of moral and intellectual
training would appreciably, perhaps considerably, elevate the involuntary and
even the unconscious instincts of human
nature; but up to the present day, culture, as far as he could see, might be said to
have affected only the mental epiderm of those lives which had been brought under
its influence.
This belief was confirmed by his experience of women, which, having latterly been
extended from the cultivated middle-class into the rural community, had taught him
how much less was the intrinsic difference
between the good and wise woman of one social stratum and the good and wise woman
of another social stratum, than between the good and bad, the wise and the foolish, of
the same stratum or class.
It was the morning of his departure. His brothers had already left the Vicarage
to proceed on a walking tour in the north, whence one was to return to his college,
and the other to his curacy.
Angel might have accompanied them, but preferred to rejoin his sweetheart at
Talbothays.
He would have been an awkward member of the party; for, though the most appreciative
humanist, the most ideal religionist, even the best-versed Christologist of the three,
there was alienation in the standing
consciousness that his squareness would not fit the round hole that had been prepared
for him. To neither Felix nor Cuthbert had he
ventured to mention Tess.
His mother made him sandwiches, and his father accompanied him, on his own mare, a
little way along the road.
Having fairly well advanced his own affairs, Angel listened in a willing
silence, as they jogged on together through the shady lanes, to his father's account of
his parish difficulties, and the coldness
of brother clergymen whom he loved, because of his strict interpretations of the New
Testament by the light of what they deemed a pernicious Calvinistic doctrine.
"Pernicious!" said Mr Clare, with genial scorn; and he proceeded to recount
experiences which would show the absurdity of that idea.
He told of wondrous conversions of evil livers of which he had been the instrument,
not only amongst the poor, but amongst the rich and well-to-do; and he also candidly
admitted many failures.
As an instance of the latter, he mentioned the case of a young upstart squire named
d'Urberville, living some forty miles off, in the neighbourhood of Trantridge.
"Not one of the ancient d'Urbervilles of Kingsbere and other places?" asked his son.
"That curiously historic worn-out family with its ghostly legend of the coach-and-
four?"
"O no. The original d'Urbervilles decayed and
disappeared sixty or eighty years ago--at least, I believe so.
This seems to be a new family which had taken the name; for the credit of the
former knightly line I hope they are spurious, I'm sure.
But it is odd to hear you express interest in old families.
I thought you set less store by them even than I."
"You misapprehend me, father; you often do," said Angel with a little impatience.
"Politically I am sceptical as to the virtue of their being old.
Some of the wise even among themselves 'exclaim against their own succession,' as
Hamlet puts it; but lyrically, dramatically, and even historically, I am
tenderly attached to them."
This distinction, though by no means a subtle one, was yet too subtle for Mr Clare
the elder, and he went on with the story he had been about to relate; which was that
after the death of the senior so-called
d'Urberville, the young man developed the most culpable passions, though he had a
blind mother, whose condition should have made him know better.
A knowledge of his career having come to the ears of Mr Clare, when he was in that
part of the country preaching missionary sermons, he boldly took occasion to speak
to the delinquent on his spiritual state.
Though he was a stranger, occupying another's pulpit, he had felt this to be
his duty, and took for his text the words from St Luke: "Thou fool, this night thy
soul shall be required of thee!"
The young man much resented this directness of attack, and in the war of words which
followed when they met he did not scruple publicly to insult Mr Clare, without
respect for his gray hairs.
Angel flushed with distress. "Dear father," he said sadly, "I wish you
would not expose yourself to such gratuitous pain from scoundrels!"
"Pain?" said his father, his rugged face shining in the ardour of self-abnegation.
"The only pain to me was pain on his account, poor, foolish young man.
Do you suppose his incensed words could give me any pain, or even his blows?
'Being reviled we bless; being persecuted we suffer it; being defamed we entreat; we
are made as the filth of the world, and as the offscouring of all things unto this
day.'
Those ancient and noble words to the Corinthians are strictly true at this
present hour." "Not blows, father?
He did not proceed to blows?"
"No, he did not. Though I have borne blows from men in a mad
state of intoxication." "No!"
"A dozen times, my boy.
What then? I have saved them from the guilt of
murdering their own flesh and blood thereby; and they have lived to thank me,
and praise God."
"May this young man do the same!" said Angel fervently.
"But I fear otherwise, from what you say." "We'll hope, nevertheless," said Mr Clare.
"And I continue to pray for him, though on this side of the grave we shall probably
never meet again.
But, after all, one of those poor words of mine may spring up in his heart as a good
seed some day."
Now, as always, Clare's father was sanguine as a child; and though the younger could
not accept his parent's narrow dogma, he revered his practice and recognized the
hero under the pietist.
Perhaps he revered his father's practice even more now than ever, seeing that, in
the question of making Tessy his wife, his father had not once thought of inquiring
whether she were well provided or penniless.
The same unworldliness was what had necessitated Angel's getting a living as a
farmer, and would probably keep his brothers in the position of poor parsons
for the term of their activities; yet Angel admired it none the less.
Indeed, despite his own heterodoxy, Angel often felt that he was nearer to his father
on the human side than was either of his brethren.
>
CHAPTER XXVII
An up-hill and down-hill ride of twenty-odd miles through a garish mid-day atmosphere
brought him in the afternoon to a detached knoll a mile or two west of Talbothays,
whence he again looked into that green
trough of sappiness and humidity, the valley of the Var or Froom.
Immediately he began to descend from the upland to the fat alluvial soil below, the
atmosphere grew heavier; the languid perfume of the summer fruits, the mists,
the hay, the flowers, formed therein a vast
pool of odour which at this hour seemed to make the animals, the very bees and
butterflies drowsy.
Clare was now so familiar with the spot that he knew the individual cows by their
names when, a long distance off, he saw them dotted about the meads.
It was with a sense of luxury that he recognized his power of viewing life here
from its inner side, in a way that had been quite foreign to him in his student-days;
and, much as he loved his parents, he could
not help being aware that to come here, as now, after an experience of home-life,
affected him like throwing off splints and bandages; even the one customary curb on
the humours of English rural societies
being absent in this place, Talbothays having no resident landlord.
Not a human being was out of doors at the dairy.
The denizens were all enjoying the usual afternoon nap of an hour or so which the
exceedingly early hours kept in summer-time rendered a necessity.
At the door the wood-hooped pails, sodden and bleached by infinite scrubbings, hung
like hats on a stand upon the forked and peeled limb of an oak fixed there for that
purpose; all of them ready and dry for the evening milking.
Angel entered, and went through the silent passages of the house to the back quarters,
where he listened for a moment.
Sustained snores came from the cart-house, where some of the men were lying down; the
grunt and squeal of sweltering pigs arose from the still further distance.
The large-leaved rhubarb and cabbage plants slept too, their broad limp surfaces
hanging in the sun like half-closed umbrellas.
He unbridled and fed his horse, and as he re-entered the house the clock struck
three.
Three was the afternoon skimming-hour; and, with the stroke, Clare heard the creaking
of the floor-boards above, and then the touch of a descending foot on the stairs.
It was Tess's, who in another moment came down before his eyes.
She had not heard him enter, and hardly realized his presence there.
She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it had been a
snake's.
She had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up cable of hair that he could see
its satin delicacy above the sunburn; her face was flushed with sleep, and her
eyelids hung heavy over their pupils.
The brim-fulness of her nature breathed from her.
It was a moment when a woman's soul is more incarnate than at any other time; when the
most spiritual beauty bespeaks itself flesh; and sex takes the outside place in
the presentation.
Then those eyes flashed brightly through their filmy heaviness, before the remainder
of her face was well awake.
With an oddly compounded look of gladness, shyness, and surprise, she exclaimed--"O Mr
Clare! How you frightened me--I--"
There had not at first been time for her to think of the changed relations which his
declaration had introduced; but the full sense of the matter rose up in her face
when she encountered Clare's tender look as he stepped forward to the bottom stair.
"Dear, darling Tessy!" he whispered, putting his arm round her, and his face to
her flushed cheek.
"Don't, for Heaven's sake, Mister me any more.
I have hastened back so soon because of you!"
Tess's excitable heart beat against his by way of reply; and there they stood upon the
red-brick floor of the entry, the sun slanting in by the window upon his back, as
he held her tightly to his breast; upon her
inclining face, upon the blue veins of her temple, upon her naked arm, and her neck,
and into the depths of her hair. Having been lying down in her clothes she
was warm as a sunned cat.
At first she would not look straight up at him, but her eyes soon lifted, and his
plumbed the deepness of the ever-varying pupils, with their radiating fibrils of
blue, and black, and gray, and violet,
while she regarded him as Eve at her second waking might have regarded Adam.
"I've got to go a-skimming," she pleaded, "and I have on'y old Deb to help me to-day.
Mrs Crick is gone to market with Mr Crick, and Retty is not well, and the others are
gone out somewhere, and won't be home till milking."
As they retreated to the milk-house Deborah Fyander appeared on the stairs.
"I have come back, Deborah," said Mr Clare, upwards.
"So I can help Tess with the skimming; and, as you are very tired, I am sure, you
needn't come down till milking-time." Possibly the Talbothays milk was not very
thoroughly skimmed that afternoon.
Tess was in a dream wherein familiar objects appeared as having light and shade
and position, but no particular outline.
Every time she held the skimmer under the pump to cool it for the work her hand
trembled, the ardour of his affection being so palpable that she seemed to flinch under
it like a plant in too burning a sun.
Then he pressed her again to his side, and when she had done running her forefinger
round the leads to cut off the cream-edge, he cleaned it in nature's way; for the
unconstrained manners of Talbothays dairy came convenient now.
"I may as well say it now as later, dearest," he resumed gently.
"I wish to ask you something of a very practical nature, which I have been
thinking of ever since that day last week in the meads.
I shall soon want to marry, and, being a farmer, you see I shall require for my wife
a woman who knows all about the management of farms.
Will you be that woman, Tessy?"
He put it that way that she might not think he had yielded to an impulse of which his
head would disapprove. She turned quite careworn.
She had bowed to the inevitable result of proximity, the necessity of loving him; but
she had not calculated upon this sudden corollary, which, indeed, Clare had put
before her without quite meaning himself to do it so soon.
With pain that was like the bitterness of dissolution she murmured the words of her
indispensable and sworn answer as an honourable woman.
"O Mr Clare--I cannot be your wife--I cannot be!"
The sound of her own decision seemed to break Tess's very heart, and she bowed her
face in her grief.
"But, Tess!" he said, amazed at her reply, and holding her still more greedily close.
"Do you say no? Surely you love me?"
"O yes, yes!
And I would rather be yours than anybody's in the world," returned the sweet and
honest voice of the distressed girl. "But I CANNOT marry you!"
"Tess," he said, holding her at arm's length, "you are engaged to marry some one
else!" "No, no!"
"Then why do you refuse me?"
"I don't want to marry! I have not thought of doing it.
I cannot! I only want to love you."
"But why?"
Driven to subterfuge, she stammered-- "Your father is a parson, and your mother
wouldn' like you to marry such as me. She will want you to marry a lady."
"Nonsense--I have spoken to them both.
That was partly why I went home." "I feel I cannot--never, never!" she
echoed. "Is it too sudden to be asked thus, my
Pretty?"
"Yes--I did not expect it." "If you will let it pass, please, Tessy, I
will give you time," he said. "It was very abrupt to come home and speak
to you all at once.
I'll not allude to it again for a while." She again took up the shining skimmer, held
it beneath the pump, and began anew.
But she could not, as at other times, hit the exact under-surface of the cream with
the delicate dexterity required, try as she might; sometimes she was cutting down into
the milk, sometimes in the air.
She could hardly see, her eyes having filled with two blurring tears drawn forth
by a grief which, to this her best friend and dear advocate, she could never explain.
"I can't skim--I can't!" she said, turning away from him.
Not to agitate and hinder her longer, the considerate Clare began talking in a more
general way:
You quite misapprehend my parents. They are the most simple-mannered people
alive, and quite unambitious. They are two of the few remaining
Evangelical school.
Tessy, are you an Evangelical?" "I don't know."
"You go to church very regularly, and our parson here is not very High, they tell
me."
Tess's ideas on the views of the parish clergyman, whom she heard every week,
seemed to be rather more vague than Clare's, who had never heard him at all.
"I wish I could fix my mind on what I hear there more firmly than I do," she remarked
as a safe generality. "It is often a great sorrow to me."
She spoke so unaffectedly that Angel was sure in his heart that his father could not
object to her on religious grounds, even though she did not know whether her
principles were High, Low or Broad.
He himself knew that, in reality, the confused beliefs which she held, apparently
imbibed in childhood, were, if anything, Tractarian as to phraseology, and
Pantheistic as to essence.
Confused or otherwise, to disturb them was his last desire:
Leave thou thy sister, when she prays, Her early Heaven, her happy views;
Nor thou with shadow'd hint confuse A life that leads melodious days.
He had occasionally thought the counsel less honest than musical; but he gladly
conformed to it now.
He spoke further of the incidents of his visit, of his father's mode of life, of his
zeal for his principles; she grew serener, and the undulations disappeared from her
skimming; as she finished one lead after
another he followed her, and drew the plugs for letting down the milk.
"I fancied you looked a little downcast when you came in," she ventured to observe,
anxious to keep away from the subject of herself.
"Yes--well, my father had been talking a good deal to me of his troubles and
difficulties, and the subject always tends to depress me.
He is so zealous that he gets many snubs and buffetings from people of a different
way of thinking from himself, and I don't like to hear of such humiliations to a man
of his age, the more particularly as I
don't think earnestness does any good when carried so far.
He has been telling me of a very unpleasant scene in which he took part quite recently.
He went as the deputy of some missionary society to preach in the neighbourhood of
Trantridge, a place forty miles from here, and made it his business to expostulate
with a lax young cynic he met with
somewhere about there--son of some landowner up that way--and who has a mother
afflicted with blindness.
My father addressed himself to the gentleman point-blank, and there was quite
a disturbance.
It was very foolish of my father, I must say, to intrude his conversation upon a
stranger when the probabilities were so obvious that it would be useless.
But whatever he thinks to be his duty, that he'll do, in season or out of season; and,
of course, he makes many enemies, not only among the absolutely vicious, but among the
easy-going, who hate being bothered.
He says he glories in what happened, and that good may be done indirectly; but I
wish he would not wear himself out now he is getting old, and would leave such pigs
to their wallowing."
Tess's look had grown hard and worn, and her ripe mouth tragical; but she no longer
showed any tremulousness.
Clare's revived thoughts of his father prevented his noticing her particularly;
and so they went on down the white row of liquid rectangles till they had finished
and drained them off, when the other maids
returned, and took their pails, and Deb came to scald out the leads for the new
milk. As Tess withdrew to go afield to the cows
he said to her softly--
"And my question, Tessy?" "O no--no!" replied she with grave
hopelessness, as one who had heard anew the turmoil of her own past in the allusion to
Alec d'Urberville.
"It CAN'T be!" She went out towards the mead, joining the
other milkmaids with a bound, as if trying to make the open air drive away her sad
constraint.
All the girls drew onward to the spot where the cows were grazing in the farther mead,
the bevy advancing with the bold grace of wild animals--the reckless, unchastened
motion of women accustomed to unlimited
space--in which they abandoned themselves to the air as a swimmer to the wave.
It seemed natural enough to him now that Tess was again in sight to choose a mate
from unconstrained Nature, and not from the abodes of Art.
>
CHAPTER XXVIII
Her refusal, though unexpected, did not permanently daunt Clare.
His experience of women was great enough for him to be aware that the negative often
meant nothing more than the preface to the affirmative; and it was little enough for
him not to know that in the manner of the
present negative there lay a great exception to the dallyings of coyness.
That she had already permitted him to make love to her he read as an additional
assurance, not fully trowing that in the fields and pastures to "sigh gratis" is by
no means deemed waste; love-making being
here more often accepted inconsiderately and for its own sweet sake than in the
carking, anxious homes of the ambitious, where a girl's craving for an establishment
paralyzes her healthy thought of a passion as an end.
"Tess, why did you say 'no' in such a positive way?" he asked her in the course
of a few days.
She started. "Don't ask me.
I told you why--partly. I am not good enough--not worthy enough."
"How?
Not fine lady enough?" "Yes--something like that," murmured she.
"Your friends would scorn me." "Indeed, you mistake them--my father and
mother.
As for my brothers, I don't care--" He clasped his fingers behind her back to keep
her from slipping away. "Now--you did not mean it, sweet?--I am
sure you did not!
You have made me so restless that I cannot read, or play, or do anything.
I am in no hurry, Tess, but I want to know- -to hear from your own warm lips--that you
will some day be mine--any time you may choose; but some day?"
She could only shake her head and look away from him.
Clare regarded her attentively, conned the characters of her face as if they had been
hieroglyphics.
The denial seemed real. "Then I ought not to hold you in this way--
ought I? I have no right to you--no right to seek
out where you are, or walk with you!
Honestly, Tess, do you love any other man?" "How can you ask?" she said, with continued
self-suppression. "I almost know that you do not.
But then, why do you repulse me?"
"I don't repulse you. I like you to--tell me you love me; and you
may always tell me so as you go about with me--and never offend me."
"But you will not accept me as a husband?"
"Ah--that's different--it is for your good, indeed, my dearest!
O, believe me, it is only for your sake!
I don't like to give myself the great happiness o' promising to be yours in that
way--because--because I am SURE I ought not to do it."
"But you will make me happy!"
"Ah--you think so, but you don't know!"
At such times as this, apprehending the grounds of her refusal to be her modest
sense of incompetence in matters social and polite, he would say that she was
wonderfully well-informed and versatile--
which was certainly true, her natural quickness and her admiration for him having
led her to pick up his vocabulary, his accent, and fragments of his knowledge, to
a surprising extent.
After these tender contests and her victory she would go away by herself under the
remotest cow, if at milking-time, or into the sedge or into her room, if at a leisure
interval, and mourn silently, not a minute after an apparently phlegmatic negative.
The struggle was so fearful; her own heart was so strongly on the side of his--two
ardent hearts against one poor little conscience-- that she tried to fortify her
resolution by every means in her power.
She had come to Talbothays with a made-up mind.
On no account could she agree to a step which might afterwards cause bitter rueing
to her husband for his blindness in wedding her.
And she held that what her conscience had decided for her when her mind was unbiassed
ought not to be overruled now. "Why don't somebody tell him all about me?"
she said.
"It was only forty miles off--why hasn't it reached here?
Somebody must know!" Yet nobody seemed to know; nobody told him.
For two or three days no more was said.
She guessed from the sad countenances of her chamber companions that they regarded
her not only as the favourite, but as the chosen; but they could see for themselves
that she did not put herself in his way.
Tess had never before known a time in which the thread of her life was so distinctly
twisted of two strands, positive pleasure and positive pain.
At the next cheese-making the pair were again left alone together.
The dairyman himself had been lending a hand; but Mr Crick, as well as his wife,
seemed latterly to have acquired a suspicion of mutual interest between these
two; though they walked so circumspectly that suspicion was but of the faintest.
Anyhow, the dairyman left them to themselves.
They were breaking up the masses of curd before putting them into the vats.
The operation resembled the act of crumbling bread on a large scale; and amid
the immaculate whiteness of the curds Tess Durbeyfield's hands showed themselves of
the pinkness of the rose.
Angel, who was filling the vats with his handful, suddenly ceased, and laid his
hands flat upon hers.
Her sleeves were rolled far above the elbow, and bending lower he kissed the
inside vein of her soft arm.
Although the early September weather was sultry, her arm, from her dabbling in the
curds, was as cold and damp to his mouth as a new-gathered mushroom, and tasted of the
whey.
But she was such a sheaf of susceptibilities that her pulse was
accelerated by the touch, her blood driven to her finder-ends, and the cool arms
flushed hot.
Then, as though her heart had said, "Is coyness longer necessary?
Truth is truth between man and woman, as between man and man," she lifted her eyes
and they beamed devotedly into his, as her lip rose in a tender half-smile.
"Do you know why I did that, Tess?" he said.
"Because you love me very much!" "Yes, and as a preliminary to a new
entreaty."
"Not AGAIN!" She looked a sudden fear that her
resistance might break down under her own desire.
"O, Tessy!" he went on, "I CANNOT think why you are so tantalizing.
Why do you disappoint me so?
You seem almost like a coquette, upon my life you do--a coquette of the first urban
water!
They blow hot and blow cold, just as you do, and it is the very last sort of thing
to expect to find in a retreat like Talbothays....
And yet, dearest," he quickly added, observing now the remark had cut her, "I
know you to be the most honest, spotless creature that ever lived.
So how can I suppose you a flirt?
Tess, why don't you like the idea of being my wife, if you love me as you seem to do?"
"I have never said I don't like the idea, and I never could say it; because--it isn't
true!"
The stress now getting beyond endurance, her lip quivered, and she was obliged to go
away. Clare was so pained and perplexed that he
ran after and caught her in the passage.
"Tell me, tell me!" he said, passionately clasping her, in forgetfulness of his curdy
hands: "do tell me that you won't belong to anybody but me!"
"I will, I will tell you!" she exclaimed.
"And I will give you a complete answer, if you will let me go now.
I will tell you my experiences--all about myself--all!"
"Your experiences, dear; yes, certainly; any number."
He expressed assent in loving satire, looking into her face.
"My Tess, no doubt, almost as many experiences as that wild convolvulus out
there on the garden hedge, that opened itself this morning for the first time.
Tell me anything, but don't use that wretched expression any more about not
being worthy of me." "I will try--not!
And I'll give you my reasons to-morrow-- next week."
"Say on Sunday?" "Yes, on Sunday."
At last she got away, and did not stop in her retreat till she was in the thicket of
pollard willows at the lower side of the barton, where she could be quite unseen.
Here Tess flung herself down upon the rustling undergrowth of spear-grass, as
upon a bed, and remained crouching in palpitating misery broken by momentary
shoots of joy, which her fears about the ending could not altogether suppress.
In reality, she was drifting into acquiescence.
Every see-saw of her breath, every wave of her blood, every pulse singing in her ears,
was a voice that joined with nature in revolt against her scrupulousness.
Reckless, inconsiderate acceptance of him; to close with him at the altar, revealing
nothing, and chancing discovery; to snatch ripe pleasure before the iron teeth of pain
could have time to shut upon her: that was
what love counselled; and in almost a terror of ecstasy Tess divined that,
despite her many months of lonely self- chastisement, wrestlings, communings,
schemes to lead a future of austere isolation, love's counsel would prevail.
The afternoon advanced, and still she remained among the willows.
She heard the rattle of taking down the pails from the forked stands; the "waow-
waow!" which accompanied the getting together of the cows.
But she did not go to the milking.
They would see her agitation; and the dairyman, thinking the cause to be love
alone, would good-naturedly tease her; and that harassment could not be borne.
Her lover must have guessed her overwrought state, and invented some excuse for her
non-appearance, for no inquiries were made or calls given.
At half-past six the sun settled down upon the levels with the aspect of a great forge
in the heavens; and presently a monstrous pumpkin-like moon arose on the other hand.
The pollard willows, tortured out of their natural shape by incessant choppings,
became spiny-haired monsters as they stood up against it.
She went in and upstairs without a light.
It was now Wednesday. Thursday came, and Angel looked
thoughtfully at her from a distance, but intruded in no way upon her.
The indoor milkmaids, Marian and the rest, seemed to guess that something definite was
afoot, for they did not force any remarks upon her in the bedchamber.
Friday passed; Saturday.
To-morrow was the day.
"I shall give way--I shall say yes--I shall let myself marry him--I cannot help it!"
she jealously panted, with her hot face to the pillow that night, on hearing one of
the other girls sigh his name in her sleep.
"I can't bear to let anybody have him but me!
Yet it is a wrong to him, and may kill him when he knows!
O my heart--O--O--O!"
>
CHAPTER XXIX
"Now, who mid ye think I've heard news o' this morning?" said Dairyman Crick, as he
sat down to breakfast next day, with a riddling gaze round upon the munching men
and maids.
"Now, just who mid ye think?" One guessed, and another guessed.
Mrs Crick did not guess, because she knew already.
"Well," said the dairyman, "'tis that slack-twisted 'hore's-bird of a feller,
Jack Dollop. He's lately got married to a widow-woman."
"Not Jack Dollop?
A villain--to think o' that!" said a milker.
The name entered quickly into Tess Durbeyfield's consciousness, for it was the
name of the lover who had wronged his sweetheart, and had afterwards been so
roughly used by the young woman's mother in the butter-churn.
"And had he married the valiant matron's daughter, as he promised?" asked Angel
Clare absently, as he turned over the newspaper he was reading at the little
table to which he was always banished by Mrs Crick, in her sense of his gentility.
"Not he, sir. Never meant to," replied the dairyman.
"As I say, 'tis a widow-woman, and she had money, it seems--fifty poun' a year or so;
and that was all he was after.
They were married in a great hurry; and then she told him that by marrying she had
lost her fifty poun' a year. Just fancy the state o' my gentleman's mind
at that news!
Never such a cat-and-dog life as they've been leading ever since!
Serves him well beright. But onluckily the poor woman gets the worst
o't."
"Well, the silly body should have told en sooner that the ghost of her first man
would trouble him," said Mrs Crick. "Ay, ay," responded the dairyman
indecisively.
"Still, you can see exactly how 'twas. She wanted a home, and didn't like to run
the risk of losing him. Don't ye think that was something like it,
maidens?"
He glanced towards the row of girls. "She ought to ha' told him just before they
went to church, when he could hardly have backed out," exclaimed Marian.
"Yes, she ought," agreed Izz.
"She must have seen what he was after, and should ha' refused him," cried Retty
spasmodically. "And what do you say, my dear?" asked the
dairyman of Tess.
"I think she ought--to have told him the true state of things--or else refused him--
I don't know," replied Tess, the bread-and- butter choking her.
"Be cust if I'd have done either o't," said Beck Knibbs, a married helper from one of
the cottages. "All's fair in love and war.
I'd ha' married en just as she did, and if he'd said two words to me about not telling
him beforehand anything whatsomdever about my first chap that I hadn't chose to tell,
I'd ha' knocked him down wi' the rolling- pin--a scram little feller like he!
Any woman could do it."
The laughter which followed this sally was supplemented only by a sorry smile, for
form's sake, from Tess. What was comedy to them was tragedy to her;
and she could hardly bear their mirth.
She soon rose from table, and, with an impression that Clare would soon follow
her, went along a little wriggling path, now stepping to one side of the irrigating
channels, and now to the other, till she stood by the main stream of the Var.
Men had been cutting the water-weeds higher up the river, and masses of them were
floating past her--moving islands of green crow-foot, whereon she might almost have
ridden; long locks of which weed had lodged
against the piles driven to keep the cows from crossing.
Yes, there was the pain of it.
This question of a woman telling her story- -the heaviest of crosses to herself--seemed
but amusement to others. It was as if people should laugh at
martyrdom.
"Tessy!" came from behind her, and Clare sprang across the gully, alighting beside
her feet. "My wife--soon!"
"No, no; I cannot.
For your sake, O Mr Clare; for your sake, I say no!"
"Tess!" "Still I say no!" she repeated.
Not expecting this, he had put his arm lightly round her waist the moment after
speaking, beneath her hanging tail of hair.
(The younger dairymaids, including Tess, breakfasted with their hair loose on Sunday
mornings before building it up extra high for attending church, a style they could
not adopt when milking with their heads against the cows.)
If she had said "Yes" instead of "No" he would have kissed her; it had evidently
been his intention; but her determined negative deterred his scrupulous heart.
Their condition of domiciliary comradeship put her, as the woman, to such disadvantage
by its enforced intercourse, that he felt it unfair to her to exercise any pressure
of blandishment which he might have
honestly employed had she been better able to avoid him.
He released her momentarily-imprisoned waist, and withheld the kiss.
It all turned on that release.
What had given her strength to refuse him this time was solely the tale of the widow
told by the dairyman; and that would have been overcome in another moment.
But Angel said no more; his face was perplexed; he went away.
Day after day they met--somewhat less constantly than before; and thus two or
three weeks went by.
The end of September drew near, and she could see in his eye that he might ask her
again.
His plan of procedure was different now--as though he had made up his mind that her
negatives were, after all, only coyness and youth startled by the novelty of the
proposal.
The fitful evasiveness of her manner when the subject was under discussion
countenanced the idea.
So he played a more coaxing game; and while never going beyond words, or attempting the
renewal of caresses, he did his utmost orally.
In this way Clare persistently wooed her in undertones like that of the purling milk--
at the cow's side, at skimmings, at butter- makings, at cheese-makings, among broody
poultry, and among farrowing pigs--as no
milkmaid was ever wooed before by such a man.
Tess knew that she must break down.
Neither a religious sense of a certain moral validity in the previous union nor a
conscientious wish for candour could hold out against it much longer.
She loved him so passionately, and he was so godlike in her eyes; and being, though
untrained, instinctively refined, her nature cried for his tutelary guidance.
And thus, though Tess kept repeating to herself, "I can never be his wife," the
words were vain.
A proof of her weakness lay in the very utterance of what calm strength would not
have taken the trouble to formulate.
Every sound of his voice beginning on the old subject stirred her with a terrifying
bliss, and she coveted the recantation she feared.
His manner was--what man's is not?--so much that of one who would love and cherish and
defend her under any conditions, changes, charges, or revelations, that her gloom
lessened as she basked in it.
The season meanwhile was drawing onward to the equinox, and though it was still fine,
the days were much shorter.
The dairy had again worked by morning candlelight for a long time; and a fresh
renewal of Clare's pleading occurred one morning between three and four.
She had run up in her bedgown to his door to call him as usual; then had gone back to
dress and call the others; and in ten minutes was walking to the head of the
stairs with the candle in her hand.
At the same moment he came down his steps from above in his shirt-sleeves and put his
arm across the stairway. "Now, Miss Flirt, before you go down," he
said peremptorily.
"It is a fortnight since I spoke, and this won't do any longer.
You MUST tell me what you mean, or I shall have to leave this house.
My door was ajar just now, and I saw you.
For your own safety I must go. You don't know.
Well? Is it to be yes at last?"
"I am only just up, Mr Clare, and it is too early to take me to task!" she pouted.
"You need not call me Flirt. 'Tis cruel and untrue.
Wait till by and by.
Please wait till by and by! I will really think seriously about it
between now and then. Let me go downstairs!"
She looked a little like what he said she was as, holding the candle sideways, she
tried to smile away the seriousness of her words.
"Call me Angel, then, and not Mr Clare."
"Angel." "Angel dearest--why not?"
"'Twould mean that I agree, wouldn't it?"
"It would only mean that you love me, even if you cannot marry me; and you were so
good as to own that long ago."
"Very well, then, 'Angel dearest', if I MUST," she murmured, looking at her candle,
a roguish curl coming upon her mouth, notwithstanding her suspense.
Clare had resolved never to kiss her until he had obtained her promise; but somehow,
as Tess stood there in her prettily tucked- up milking gown, her hair carelessly heaped
upon her head till there should be leisure
to arrange it when skimming and milking were done, he broke his resolve, and
brought his lips to her cheek for one moment.
She passed downstairs very quickly, never looking back at him or saying another word.
The other maids were already down, and the subject was not pursued.
Except Marian, they all looked wistfully and suspiciously at the pair, in the sad
yellow rays which the morning candles emitted in contrast with the first cold
signals of the dawn without.
When skimming was done--which, as the milk diminished with the approach of autumn, was
a lessening process day by day--Retty and the rest went out.
The lovers followed them.
"Our tremulous lives are so different from theirs, are they not?" he musingly observed
to her, as he regarded the three figures tripping before him through the frigid
pallor of opening day.
"Not so very different, I think," she said. "Why do you think that?"
"There are very few women's lives that are not--tremulous," Tess replied, pausing over
the new word as if it impressed her.
"There's more in those three than you think."
"What is in them?"
"Almost either of 'em," she began, "would make--perhaps would make--a properer wife
than I. And perhaps they love you as well as I--
almost."
"O, Tessy!"
There were signs that it was an exquisite relief to her to hear the impatient
exclamation, though she had resolved so intrepidly to let generosity make one bid
against herself.
That was now done, and she had not the power to attempt self-immolation a second
time then.
They were joined by a milker from one of the cottages, and no more was said on that
which concerned them so deeply. But Tess knew that this day would decide
it.
In the afternoon several of the dairyman's household and assistants went down to the
meads as usual, a long way from the dairy, where many of the cows were milked without
being driven home.
The supply was getting less as the animals advanced in calf, and the supernumerary
milkers of the lush green season had been dismissed.
The work progressed leisurely.
Each pailful was poured into tall cans that stood in a large spring-waggon which had
been brought upon the scene; and when they were milked, the cows trailed away.
Dairyman Crick, who was there with the rest, his wrapper gleaming miraculously
white against a leaden evening sky, suddenly looked at his heavy watch.
"Why, 'tis later than I thought," he said.
"Begad! We shan't be soon enough with this milk at
the station, if we don't mind. There's no time to-day to take it home and
mix it with the bulk afore sending off.
It must go to station straight from here. Who'll drive it across?"
Mr Clare volunteered to do so, though it was none of his business, asking Tess to
accompany him.
The evening, though sunless, had been warm and muggy for the season, and Tess had come
out with her milking-hood only, naked-armed and jacketless; certainly not dressed for a
drive.
She therefore replied by glancing over her scant habiliments; but Clare gently urged
her.
She assented by relinquishing her pail and stool to the dairyman to take home, and
mounted the spring-waggon beside Clare.
>
CHAPTER XXX
In the diminishing daylight they went along the level roadway through the meads, which
stretched away into gray miles, and were backed in the extreme edge of distance by
the swarthy and abrupt slopes of Egdon Heath.
On its summit stood clumps and stretches of fir-trees, whose notched tips appeared like
battlemented towers crowning black-fronted castles of enchantment.
They were so absorbed in the sense of being close to each other that they did not begin
talking for a long while, the silence being broken only by the clucking of the milk in
the tall cans behind them.
The lane they followed was so solitary that the hazel nuts had remained on the boughs
till they slipped from their shells, and the blackberries hung in heavy clusters.
Every now and then Angel would fling the lash of his whip round one of these, pluck
it off, and give it to his companion.
The dull sky soon began to tell its meaning by sending down herald-drops of rain, and
the stagnant air of the day changed into a fitful breeze which played about their
faces.
The quick-silvery glaze on the rivers and pools vanished; from broad mirrors of light
they changed to lustreless sheets of lead, with a surface like a rasp.
But that spectacle did not affect her preoccupation.
Her countenance, a natural carnation slightly embrowned by the season, had
deepened its tinge with the beating of the rain-drops; and her hair, which the
pressure of the cows' flanks had, as usual,
caused to tumble down from its fastenings and stray beyond the curtain of her calico
bonnet, was made clammy by the moisture, till it hardly was better than seaweed.
"I ought not to have come, I suppose," she murmured, looking at the sky.
"I am sorry for the rain," said he. "But how glad I am to have you here!"
Remote Egdon disappeared by degree behind the liquid gauze.
The evening grew darker, and the roads being crossed by gates, it was not safe to
drive faster than at a walking pace.
The air was rather chill. "I am so afraid you will get cold, with
nothing upon your arms and shoulders," he said.
"Creep close to me, and perhaps the drizzle won't hurt you much.
I should be sorrier still if I did not think that the rain might be helping me."
She imperceptibly crept closer, and he wrapped round them both a large piece of
sail-cloth, which was sometimes used to keep the sun off the milk-cans.
Tess held it from slipping off him as well as herself, Clare's hands being occupied.
"Now we are all right again. Ah--no we are not!
It runs down into my neck a little, and it must still more into yours.
That's better. Your arms are like wet marble, Tess.
Wipe them in the cloth.
Now, if you stay quiet, you will not get another drop.
Well, dear--about that question of mine-- that long-standing question?"
The only reply that he could hear for a little while was the smack of the horse's
hoofs on the moistening road, and the cluck of the milk in the cans behind them.
"Do you remember what you said?"
"I do," she replied. "Before we get home, mind."
"I'll try." He said no more then.
As they drove on, the fragment of an old manor house of Caroline date rose against
the sky, and was in due course passed and left behind.
"That," he observed, to entertain her, "is an interesting old place--one of the
several seats which belonged to an ancient Norman family formerly of great influence
in this county, the d'Urbervilles.
I never pass one of their residences without thinking of them.
There is something very sad in the extinction of a family of renown, even if
it was fierce, domineering, feudal renown."
"Yes," said Tess.
They crept along towards a point in the expanse of shade just at hand at which a
feeble light was beginning to assert its presence, a spot where, by day, a fitful
white streak of steam at intervals upon the
dark green background denoted intermittent moments of contact between their secluded
world and modern life.
Modern life stretched out its steam feeler to this point three or four times a day,
touched the native existences, and quickly withdrew its feeler again, as if what it
touched had been uncongenial.
They reached the feeble light, which came from the smoky lamp of a little railway
station; a poor enough terrestrial star, yet in one sense of more importance to
Talbothays Dairy and mankind than the
celestial ones to which it stood in such humiliating contrast.
The cans of new milk were unladen in the rain, Tess getting a little shelter from a
neighbouring holly tree.
Then there was the hissing of a train, which drew up almost silently upon the wet
rails, and the milk was rapidly swung can by can into the truck.
The light of the engine flashed for a second upon Tess Durbeyfield's figure,
motionless under the great holly tree.
No object could have looked more foreign to the gleaming cranks and wheels than this
unsophisticated girl, with the round bare arms, the rainy face and hair, the
suspended attitude of a friendly leopard at
pause, the print gown of no date or fashion, and the cotton bonnet drooping on
her brow.
She mounted again beside her lover, with a mute obedience characteristic of
impassioned natures at times, and when they had wrapped themselves up over head and
ears in the sailcloth again, they plunged back into the now thick night.
Tess was so receptive that the few minutes of contact with the whirl of material
progress lingered in her thought.
"Londoners will drink it at their breakfasts to-morrow, won't they?" she
asked. "Strange people that we have never seen."
"Yes--I suppose they will.
Though not as we send it. When its strength has been lowered, so that
it may not get up into their heads."
"Noble men and noble women, ambassadors and centurions, ladies and tradeswomen, and
babies who have never seen a cow." "Well, yes; perhaps; particularly
centurions."
"Who don't know anything of us, and where it comes from; or think how we two drove
miles across the moor to-night in the rain that it might reach 'em in time?"
"We did not drive entirely on account of these precious Londoners; we drove a little
on our own--on account of that anxious matter which you will, I am sure, set at
rest, dear Tess.
Now, permit me to put it in this way. You belong to me already, you know; your
heart, I mean. Does it not?"
"You know as well as I.
O yes--yes!" "Then, if your heart does, why not your
hand?" "My only reason was on account of you--on
account of a question.
I have something to tell you--" "But suppose it to be entirely for my
happiness, and my worldly convenience also?"
"O yes; if it is for your happiness and worldly convenience.
But my life before I came here--I want--" "Well, it is for my convenience as well as
my happiness.
If I have a very large farm, either English or colonial, you will be invaluable as a
wife to me; better than a woman out of the largest mansion in the country.
So please--please, dear Tessy, disabuse your mind of the feeling that you will
stand in my way." "But my history.
I want you to know it--you must let me tell you--you will not like me so well!"
"Tell it if you wish to, dearest. This precious history then.
Yes, I was born at so and so, Anno Domini-- "
"I was born at Marlott," she said, catching at his words as a help, lightly as they
were spoken.
"And I grew up there. And I was in the Sixth Standard when I left
school, and they said I had great aptness, and should make a good teacher, so it was
settled that I should be one.
But there was trouble in my family; father was not very industrious, and he drank a
little." "Yes, yes.
Poor child!
Nothing new." He pressed her more closely to his side.
"And then--there is something very unusual about it--about me.
I--I was--"
Tess's breath quickened. "Yes, dearest.
Never mind."
"I--I--am not a Durbeyfield, but a d'Urberville--a descendant of the same
family as those that owned the old house we passed.
And--we are all gone to nothing!"
"A d'Urberville!--Indeed! And is that all the trouble, dear Tess?"
"Yes," she answered faintly. "Well--why should I love you less after
knowing this?"
"I was told by the dairyman that you hated old families."
He laughed. "Well, it is true, in one sense.
I do hate the aristocratic principle of blood before everything, and do think that
as reasoners the only pedigrees we ought to respect are those spiritual ones of the
wise and virtuous, without regard to corporal paternity.
But I am extremely interested in this news- -you can have no idea how interested I am!
Are you not interested yourself in being one of that well-known line?"
"No.
I have thought it sad--especially since coming here, and knowing that many of the
hills and fields I see once belonged to my father's people.
But other hills and field belonged to Retty's people, and perhaps others to
Marian's, so that I don't value it particularly."
"Yes--it is surprising how many of the present tillers of the soil were once
owners of it, and I sometimes wonder that a certain school of politicians don't make
capital of the circumstance; but they don't seem to know it...
I wonder that I did not see the resemblance of your name to d'Urberville, and trace the
manifest corruption.
And this was the carking secret!" She had not told.
At the last moment her courage had failed her; she feared his blame for not telling
him sooner; and her instinct of self- preservation was stronger than her candour.
"Of course," continued the unwitting Clare, "I should have been glad to know you to be
descended exclusively from the long- suffering, dumb, unrecorded rank and file
of the English nation, and not from the
self-seeking few who made themselves powerful at the expense of the rest.
But I am corrupted away from that by my affection for you, Tess (he laughed as he
spoke), and made selfish likewise.
For your own sake I rejoice in your descent.
Society is hopelessly snobbish, and this fact of your extraction may make an
appreciable difference to its acceptance of you as my wife, after I have made you the
well-read woman that I mean to make you.
My mother too, poor soul, will think so much better of you on account of it.
Tess, you must spell your name correctly-- d'Urberville--from this very day."
"I like the other way rather best."
"But you MUST, dearest! Good heavens, why dozens of mushroom
millionaires would jump at such a possession!
By the bye, there's one of that kidney who has taken the name--where have I heard of
him?--Up in the neighbourhood of The Chase, I think.
Why, he is the very man who had that rumpus with my father I told you of.
What an odd coincidence!" "Angel, I think I would rather not take the
name!
It is unlucky, perhaps!" She was agitated.
"Now then, Mistress Teresa d'Urberville, I have you.
Take my name, and so you will escape yours!
The secret is out, so why should you any longer refuse me?"
"If it is SURE to make you happy to have me as your wife, and you feel that you do wish
to marry me, VERY, VERY much--"
"I do, dearest, of course!"
"I mean, that it is only your wanting me very much, and being hardly able to keep
alive without me, whatever my offences, that would make me feel I ought to say I
will."
"You will--you do say it, I know! You will be mine for ever and ever."
He clasped her close and kissed her. "Yes!"
She had no sooner said it than she burst into a dry hard sobbing, so violent that it
seemed to rend her. Tess was not a hysterical girl by any
means, and he was surprised.
"Why do you cry, dearest?" "I can't tell--quite!--I am so glad to
think--of being yours, and making you happy!"
"But this does not seem very much like gladness, my Tessy!"
"I mean--I cry because I have broken down in my vow!
I said I would die unmarried!"
"But, if you love me you would like me to be your husband?"
"Yes, yes, yes! But O, I sometimes wish I had never been
born!"
"Now, my dear Tess, if I did not know that you are very much excited, and very
inexperienced, I should say that remark was not very complimentary.
How came you to wish that if you care for me?
Do you care for me? I wish you would prove it in some way."
"How can I prove it more than I have done?" she cried, in a distraction of tenderness.
"Will this prove it more?"
She clasped his neck, and for the first time Clare learnt what an impassioned
woman's kisses were like upon the lips of one whom she loved with all her heart and
soul, as Tess loved him.
"There--now do you believe?" she asked, flushed, and wiping her eyes.
"Yes. I never really doubted--never, never!"
So they drove on through the gloom, forming one bundle inside the sail-cloth, the horse
going as he would, and the rain driving against them.
She had consented.
She might as well have agreed at first.
The "appetite for joy" which pervades all creation, that tremendous force which sways
humanity to its purpose, as the tide sways the helpless weed, was not to be controlled
by vague lucubrations over the social rubric.
"I must write to my mother," she said. "You don't mind my doing that?"
"Of course not, dear child.
You are a child to me, Tess, not to know how very proper it is to write to your
mother at such a time, and how wrong it would be in me to object.
Where does she live?"
"At the same place--Marlott. On the further side of Blackmoor Vale."
"Ah, then I HAVE seen you before this summer--"
"Yes; at that dance on the green; but you would not dance with me.
O, I hope that is of no ill-omen for us now!"
>
CHAPTER XXXI
Tess wrote a most touching and urgent letter to her mother the very next day, and
by the end of the week a response to her communication arrived in Joan Durbeyfield's
wandering last-century hand.
DEAR TESS,-- J write these few lines Hoping they will
find you well, as they leave me at Present, thank God for it.
Dear Tess, we are all glad to Hear that you are going really to be married soon.
But with respect to your question, Tess, J say between ourselves, quite private but
very strong, that on no account do you say a word of your Bygone Trouble to him.
J did not tell everything to your Father, he being so Proud on account of his
Respectability, which, perhaps, your Intended is the same.
Many a woman--some of the Highest in the Land--have had a Trouble in their time; and
why should you Trumpet yours when others don't Trumpet theirs?
No girl would be such a Fool, specially as it is so long ago, and not your Fault at
all. J shall answer the same if you ask me fifty
times.
Besides, you must bear in mind that, knowing it to be your Childish Nature to
tell all that's in your heart--so simple!-- J made you promise me never to let it out
by Word or Deed, having your Welfare in my
Mind; and you most solemnly did promise it going from this Door.
J have not named either that Question or your coming marriage to your Father, as he
would blab it everywhere, poor Simple Man.
Dear Tess, keep up your Spirits, and we mean to send you a Hogshead of Cyder for
you Wedding, knowing there is not much in your parts, and thin Sour Stuff what there
is.
So no more at present, and with kind love to your Young Man.--From your affectte.
Mother, J. DURBEYFIELD
"O mother, mother!" murmured Tess.
She was recognizing how light was the touch of events the most oppressive upon Mrs
Durbeyfield's elastic spirit. Her mother did not see life as Tess saw it.
That haunting episode of bygone days was to her mother but a passing accident.
But perhaps her mother was right as to the course to be followed, whatever she might
be in her reasons.
Silence seemed, on the face of it, best for her adored one's happiness: silence it
should be.
Thus steadied by a command from the only person in the world who had any shadow of
right to control her action, Tess grew calmer.
The responsibility was shifted, and her heart was lighter than it had been for
weeks.
The days of declining autumn which followed her assent, beginning with the month of
October, formed a season through which she lived in spiritual altitudes more nearly
approaching ecstasy than any other period of her life.
There was hardly a touch of earth in her love for Clare.
To her sublime trustfulness he was all that goodness could be--knew all that a guide,
philosopher, and friend should know.
She thought every line in the contour of his person the perfection of masculine
beauty, his soul the soul of a saint, his intellect that of a seer.
The wisdom of her love for him, as love, sustained her dignity; she seemed to be
wearing a crown.
The compassion of his love for her, as she saw it, made her lift up her heart to him
in devotion.
He would sometimes catch her large, worshipful eyes, that had no bottom to them
looking at him from their depths, as if she saw something immortal before her.
She dismissed the past--trod upon it and put it out, as one treads on a coal that is
smouldering and dangerous.
She had not known that men could be so disinterested, chivalrous, protective, in
their love for women as he.
Angel Clare was far from all that she thought him in this respect; absurdly far,
indeed; but he was, in truth, more spiritual than animal; he had himself well
in hand, and was singularly free from grossness.
Though not cold-natured, he was rather bright than hot--less Byronic than
Shelleyan; could love desperately, but with a love more especially inclined to the
imaginative and ethereal; it was a
fastidious emotion which could jealously guard the loved one against his very self.
This amazed and enraptured Tess, whose slight experiences had been so infelicitous
till now; and in her reaction from indignation against the male sex she
swerved to excess of honour for Clare.
They unaffectedly sought each other's company; in her honest faith she did not
disguise her desire to be with him.
The sum of her instincts on this matter, if clearly stated, would have been that the
elusive quality of her sex which attracts men in general might be distasteful to so
perfect a man after an avowal of love,
since it must in its very nature carry with it a suspicion of art.
The country custom of unreserved comradeship out of doors during betrothal
was the only custom she knew, and to her it had no strangeness; though it seemed oddly
anticipative to Clare till he saw how
normal a thing she, in common with all the other dairy-folk, regarded it.
Thus, during this October month of wonderful afternoons they roved along the
meads by creeping paths which followed the brinks of trickling tributary brooks,
hopping across by little wooden bridges to the other side, and back again.
They were never out of the sound of some purling weir, whose buzz accompanied their
own murmuring, while the beams of the sun, almost as horizontal as the mead itself,
formed a pollen of radiance over the landscape.
They saw tiny blue fogs in the shadows of trees and hedges, all the time that there
was bright sunshine elsewhere.
The sun was so near the ground, and the sward so flat, that the shadows of Clare
and Tess would stretch a quarter of a mile ahead of them, like two long fingers
pointing afar to where the green alluvial
reaches abutted against the sloping sides of the vale.
Men were at work here and there--for it was the season for "taking up" the meadows, or
digging the little waterways clear for the winter irrigation, and mending their banks
where trodden down by the cows.
The shovelfuls of loam, black as jet, brought there by the river when it was as
wide as the whole valley, were an essence of soils, pounded champaigns of the past,
steeped, refined, and subtilized to
extraordinary richness, out of which came all the fertility of the mead, and of the
cattle grazing there.
Clare hardily kept his arm round her waist in sight of these watermen, with the air of
a man who was accustomed to public dalliance, though actually as shy as she
who, with lips parted and eyes askance on
the labourers, wore the look of a wary animal the while.
"You are not ashamed of owning me as yours before them!" she said gladly.
"O no!"
"But if it should reach the ears of your friends at Emminster that you are walking
about like this with me, a milkmaid--" "The most bewitching milkmaid ever seen."
"They might feel it a hurt to their dignity."
"My dear girl--a d'Urberville hurt the dignity of a Clare!
It is a grand card to play--that of your belonging to such a family, and I am
reserving it for a grand effect when we are married, and have the proofs of your
descent from Parson Tringham.
Apart from that, my future is to be totally foreign to my family--it will not affect
even the surface of their lives.
We shall leave this part of England-- perhaps England itself--and what does it
matter how people regard us here? You will like going, will you not?"
She could answer no more than a bare affirmative, so great was the emotion
aroused in her at the thought of going through the world with him as his own
familiar friend.
Her feelings almost filled her ears like a babble of waves, and surged up to her eyes.
She put her hand in his, and thus they went on, to a place where the reflected sun
glared up from the river, under a bridge, with a molten-metallic glow that dazzled
their eyes, though the sun itself was hidden by the bridge.
They stood still, whereupon little furred and feathered heads popped up from the
smooth surface of the water; but, finding that the disturbing presences had paused,
and not passed by, they disappeared again.
Upon this river-brink they lingered till the fog began to close round them--which
was very early in the evening at this time of the year--settling on the lashes of her
eyes, where it rested like crystals, and on his brows and hair.
They walked later on Sundays, when it was quite dark.
Some of the dairy-people, who were also out of doors on the first Sunday evening after
their engagement, heard her impulsive speeches, ecstasized to fragments, though
they were too far off to hear the words
discoursed; noted the spasmodic catch in her remarks, broken into syllables by the
leapings of her heart, as she walked leaning on his arm; her contented pauses,
the occasional little laugh upon which her
soul seemed to ride--the laugh of a woman in company with the man she loves and has
won from all other women--unlike anything else in nature.
They marked the buoyancy of her tread, like the skim of a bird which has not quite
alighted.
Her affection for him was now the breath and life of Tess's being; it enveloped her
as a photosphere, irradiated her into forgetfulness of her past sorrows, keeping
back the gloomy spectres that would persist
in their attempts to touch her--doubt, fear, moodiness, care, shame.
She knew that they were waiting like wolves just outside the circumscribing light, but
she had long spells of power to keep them in hungry subjection there.
A spiritual forgetfulness co-existed with an intellectual remembrance.
She walked in brightness, but she knew that in the background those shapes of darkness
were always spread.
They might be receding, or they might be approaching, one or the other, a little
every day.
One evening Tess and Clare were obliged to sit indoors keeping house, all the other
occupants of the domicile being away. As they talked she looked thoughtfully up
at him, and met his two appreciative eyes.
"I am not worthy of you--no, I am not!" she burst out, jumping up from her low stool as
though appalled at his homage, and the fulness of her own joy thereat.
Clare, deeming the whole basis of her excitement to be that which was only the
smaller part of it, said-- "I won't have you speak like it, dear Tess!
Distinction does not consist in the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions,
but in being numbered among those who are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and
lovely, and of good report--as you are, my Tess."
She struggled with the sob in her throat.
How often had that string of excellences made her young heart ache in church of late
years, and how strange that he should have cited them now.
"Why didn't you stay and love me when I-- was sixteen; living with my little sisters
and brothers, and you danced on the green? O, why didn't you, why didn't you!" she
said, impetuously clasping her hands.
Angel began to comfort and reassure her, thinking to himself, truly enough, what a
creature of moods she was, and how careful he would have to be of her when she
depended for her happiness entirely on him.
"Ah--why didn't I stay!" he said. "That is just what I feel.
If I had only known! But you must not be so bitter in your
regret--why should you be?"
With the woman's instinct to hide she diverged hastily--
"I should have had four years more of your heart than I can ever have now.
Then I should not have wasted my time as I have done--I should have had so much longer
happiness!"
It was no mature woman with a long dark vista of intrigue behind her who was
tormented thus, but a girl of simple life, not yet one-and twenty, who had been caught
during her days of immaturity like a bird in a springe.
To calm herself the more completely, she rose from her little stool and left the
room, overturning the stool with her skirts as she went.
He sat on by the cheerful firelight thrown from a bundle of green ash-sticks laid
across the dogs; the sticks snapped pleasantly, and hissed out bubbles of sap
from their ends.
When she came back she was herself again.
"Do you not think you are just a wee bit capricious, fitful, Tess?" he said, good-
humouredly, as he spread a cushion for her on the stool, and seated himself in the
settle beside her.
"I wanted to ask you something, and just then you ran away."
"Yes, perhaps I am capricious," she murmured.
She suddenly approached him, and put a hand upon each of his arms.
"No, Angel, I am not really so--by nature, I mean!"
The more particularly to assure him that she was not, she placed herself close to
him in the settle, and allowed her head to find a resting-place against Clare's
shoulder.
"What did you want to ask me--I am sure I will answer it," she continued humbly.
"Well, you love me, and have agreed to marry me, and hence there follows a
thirdly, 'When shall the day be?'"
"I like living like this." "But I must think of starting in business
on my own hook with the new year, or a little later.
And before I get involved in the multifarious details of my new position, I
should like to have secured my partner."
"But," she timidly answered, "to talk quite practically, wouldn't it be best not to
marry till after all that?--Though I can't bear the thought o' your going away and
leaving me here!"
"Of course you cannot--and it is not best in this case.
I want you to help me in many ways in making my start.
When shall it be?
Why not a fortnight from now?" "No," she said, becoming grave: "I have so
many things to think of first." "But--"
He drew her gently nearer to him.
The reality of marriage was startling when it loomed so near.
Before discussion of the question had proceeded further there walked round the
corner of the settle into the full firelight of the apartment Mr Dairyman
Crick, Mrs Crick, and two of the milkmaids.
Tess sprang like an elastic ball from his side to her feet, while her face flushed
and her eyes shone in the firelight. "I knew how it would be if I sat so close
to him!" she cried, with vexation.
"I said to myself, they are sure to come and catch us!
But I wasn't really sitting on his knee, though it might ha' seemed as if I was
almost!"
"Well--if so be you hadn't told us, I am sure we shouldn't ha' noticed that ye had
been sitting anywhere at all in this light," replied the dairyman.
He continued to his wife, with the stolid mien of a man who understood nothing of the
emotions relating to matrimony--"Now, Christianer, that shows that folks should
never fancy other folks be supposing things when they bain't.
O no, I should never ha' thought a word of where she was a sitting to, if she hadn't
told me--not I."
"We are going to be married soon," said Clare, with improvised phlegm.
"Ah--and be ye! Well, I am truly glad to hear it, sir.
I've thought you mid do such a thing for some time.
She's too good for a dairymaid--I said so the very first day I zid her--and a prize
for any man; and what's more, a wonderful woman for a gentleman-farmer's wife; he
won't be at the mercy of his baily wi' her at his side."
Somehow Tess disappeared.
She had been even more struck with the look of the girls who followed Crick than
abashed by Crick's blunt praise. After supper, when she reached her bedroom,
they were all present.
A light was burning, and each damsel was sitting up whitely in her bed, awaiting
Tess, the whole like a row of avenging ghosts.
But she saw in a few moments that there was no malice in their mood.
They could scarcely feel as a loss what they had never expected to have.
Their condition was objective, contemplative.
"He's going to marry her!" murmured Retty, never taking eyes off Tess.
"How her face do show it!"
"You BE going to marry him?" asked Marian. "Yes," said Tess.
"When?" "Some day."
They thought that this was evasiveness only.
"YES--going to MARRY him--a gentleman!" repeated Izz Huett.
And by a sort of fascination the three girls, one after another, crept out of
their beds, and came and stood barefooted round Tess.
Retty put her hands upon Tess's shoulders, as if to realize her friend's corporeality
after such a miracle, and the other two laid their arms round her waist, all
looking into her face.
"How it do seem! Almost more than I can think of!" said Izz
Huett. Marian kissed Tess.
"Yes," she murmured as she withdrew her lips.
"Was that because of love for her, or because other lips have touched there by
now?" continued Izz drily to Marian.
"I wasn't thinking o' that," said Marian simply.
"I was on'y feeling all the strangeness o't--that she is to be his wife, and nobody
else.
I don't say nay to it, nor either of us, because we did not think of it--only loved
him.
Still, nobody else is to marry'n in the world--no fine lady, nobody in silks and
satins; but she who do live like we." "Are you sure you don't dislike me for it?"
said Tess in a low voice.
They hung about her in their white nightgowns before replying, as if they
considered their answer might lie in her look.
"I don't know--I don't know," murmured Retty Priddle.
"I want to hate 'ee; but I cannot!" "That's how I feel," echoed Izz and Marian.
"I can't hate her.
Somehow she hinders me!" "He ought to marry one of you," murmured
Tess. "Why?"
"You are all better than I."
"We better than you?" said the girls in a low, slow whisper.
"No, no, dear Tess!" "You are!" she contradicted impetuously.
And suddenly tearing away from their clinging arms she burst into a hysterical
fit of tears, bowing herself on the chest of drawers and repeating incessantly, "O
yes, yes, yes!"
Having once given way she could not stop her weeping.
"He ought to have had one of you!" she cried.
"I think I ought to make him even now!
You would be better for him than--I don't know what I'm saying!
O! O!" They went up to her and clasped her round,
but still her sobs tore her.
"Get some water," said Marian, "She's upset by us, poor thing, poor thing!"
They gently led her back to the side of her bed, where they kissed her warmly.
"You are best for'n," said Marian.
"More ladylike, and a better scholar than we, especially since he had taught 'ee so
much. But even you ought to be proud.
You BE proud, I'm sure!"
"Yes, I am," she said; "and I am ashamed at so breaking down."
When they were all in bed, and the light was out, Marian whispered across to her--
"You will think of us when you be his wife, Tess, and of how we told 'ee that we loved
him, and how we tried not to hate you, and did not hate you, and could not hate you,
because you were his choice, and we never hoped to be chose by him."
They were not aware that, at these words, salt, stinging tears trickled down upon
Tess's pillow anew, and how she resolved, with a bursting heart, to tell all her
history to Angel Clare, despite her
mother's command--to let him for whom she lived and breathed despise her if he would,
and her mother regard her as a fool, rather then preserve a silence which might be
deemed a treachery to him, and which somehow seemed a wrong to these.
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