Part 7 - Tess of the d'Urbervilles Audiobook by Thomas Hardy (Chs 45-50)

Uploaded by CCProse on 05.10.2011

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