Part 8 out of 11
"No," she murmured, "not more than she."
"Because nobody could love 'ee more than Tess did! ...
She would have laid down her life for 'ee. I could do
Like the prophet on the top of Peor, Izz Huett would
fain have spoken perversely at such a moment, but the
fascination exercised over her rougher nature by Tess's
character compelled her to grace.
Clare was silent; his heart had risen at these
straightforward words from such an unexpected
unimpeachable quarter. In his throat was something as
if a sob had solidified there. His ear repeated, "SHE
WOULD HAVE LAID DOWN HER LIFE FOR 'EE. I COULD DO NO
"Forget our idle talk, Izz," he said, turning the
horse's head suddenly. "I don't know what I've been
saying! I will now drive you back to where your lane
"So much for honesty towards 'ee! O--how can I bear
it--how can I--how can I!"
Izz Huett burst into wild tears, and beat her forehead
as she saw what she had done.
"Do you regret that poor little act of justice to an
absent one? O, Izz, don't spoil it by regret!"
She stilled herself by degrees.
"Very well, sir. Perhaps I didn't know what I was
saying, either, wh--when I agreed to go! I wish--what
"Because I have a loving wife already."
"Yes, yes! You have!"
They reached the corner of the lane which they had
passed half an hour earlier, and she hopped down.
"Izz--please, please forget my momentary levity!" he
cried. "It was so ill-considered, so ill-advised!"
"Forget it? Never, never! O, it was no levity to me!"
He felt how richly he deserved the reproach that the
wounded cry conveyed, and, in a sorrow that was
inexpressible, leapt down and took her hand.
"Well, but, Izz, we'll part friends, anyhow? You don't
know what I've had to bear!"
She was a really generous girl, and allowed no further
bitterness to mar their adieux.
"I forgive 'ee, sir!" she said.
"Now, Izz," he said, while she stood beside him there,
forcing himself to the mentor's part he was far from
feeling; "I want you to tell Marian when you see her
that she is to be a good woman, and not to give way to
folly. Promise that, and tell Retty that there are more
worthy men than I in the world, that for my sake she is
to act wisely and well--remember the words--wisely and
well--for my sake. I send this message to them as a
dying man to the dying; for I shall never see them
again. And you, Izzy, you have saved me by your honest
words about my wife from an incredible impulse towards
folly and treachery. Women may be bad, but they are
not so bad as men in these things! On that one account
I can never forget you. Be always the good and sincere
girl you have hitherto been; and think of me as a
worthless lover, but a faithful friend. Promise."
She gave the promise.
"Heaven bless and keep you, sir. Goodbye!"
He drove on; but no sooner had Izz turned into the
lane, and Clare was out of sight, than she flung
herself down on the bank in a fit of racking anguish;
and it was with a strained unnatural face that she
entered her mother's cottage late that night. Nobody
ever was told how Izz spent the dark hours that
intervened between Angel Clare's parting from her and
her arrival home.
Clare, too, after bidding the girl farewell, was
wrought to aching thoughts and quivering lips. But his
sorrow was not for Izz. That evening he was within a
feather-weight's turn of abandoning his road to the
nearest station, and driving across that elevated
dorsal line of South Wessex which divided him from his
Tess's home. It was neither a contempt for her nature,
nor the probable state of her heart, which deterred
No; it was a sense that, despite her love, as
corroborated by Izz's admission, the facts had not
changed. If he was right at first, he was right now.
And the momentum of the course on which he had embarked
tended to keep him going in it, unless diverted by a
stronger, more sustained force than had played upon him
this afternoon. He could soon come back to her. He
took the train that night for London, and five days
after shook hands in farewell of his brothers at the
port of embarkation.
From the foregoing events of the winter-time let us
press on to an October day, more than eight months
subsequent to the parting of Clare and Tess. We
discover the latter in changed conditions; instead of a
bride with boxes and trunks which others bore, we see
her a lonely woman with a basket and a bundle in her
own porterage, as at an earlier time when she was no
bride; instead of the ample means that were projected
by her husband for her comfort through this
probationary period, she can produce only a flattened
After again leaving Marlott, her home, she had got
through the spring and summer without any great stress
upon her physical powers, the time being mainly spent
in rendering light irregular service at dairy-work near
Port-Bredy to the west of the Blackmoor Valley, equally
remote from her native place and from Talbothays. She
preferred this to living on his allowance. Mentally
she remained in utter stagnation, a condition which the
mechanical occupation rather fostered than checked.
Her consciousness was at that other dairy, at that
other season, in the presence of the tender lover who
had confronted her there--he who, the moment she had
grasped him to keep for her own, had disappeared like a
shape in a vision.
The dairy-work lasted only till the milk began to
lessen, for she had not met with a second regular
engagement as at Talbothays, but had done duty as a
supernumerary only. However, as harvest was now
beginning, she had simply to remove from the pasture to
the stubble to find plenty of further occupation, and
this continued till harvest was done.
Of the five-and-twenty pounds which had remained to her
of Clare's allowance, after deducting the other half of
the fifty as a contribution to her parents for the
trouble and expense to which she had put them, she had
as yet spent but little. But there now followed an
unfortunate interval of wet weather, during which she
was obliged to fall back upon her sovereigns.
She could not bear to let them go. Angel had put them
into her hand, had obtained them bright and new from
his bank for her; his touch had consecrated them to
souvenirs of himself--they appeared to have had as yet
no other history than such as was created by his and
her own experiences--and to disperse them was like
giving away relics. But she had to do it, and one by
one they left her hands.
She had been compelled to send her mother her address
from time to time, but she concealed her circumstances.
When her money had almost gone a letter from her mother
reached her. Joan stated that they were in dreadful
difficulty; the autumn rains had gone through the
thatch of the house, which required entire renewal; but
this could not be done because the previous thatching
had never been paid for. New rafters and a new ceiling
upstairs also were required, which, with the previous
bill, would amount to a sum of twenty pounds. As her
husband was a man of means, and had doubtless returned
by this time, could she not send them the money?
Tess had thirty pounds coming to her almost immediately
from Angel's bankers, and, the case being so
deplorable, as soon as the sum was received she sent
the twenty as requested. Part of the remainder she was
obliged to expend in winter clothing, leaving only a
nominal sum for the whole inclement season at hand.
When the last pound had gone, a remark of Angel's that
whenever she required further resources she was to
apply to his father, remained to be considered.
But the more Tess thought of the step the more
reluctant was she to take it. The same delicacy,
pride, false shame, whatever it may be called, on
Clare's account, which had led her to hide from her own
parents the prolongation of the estrangement, hindered
her owning to his that she was in want after the fair
allowance he had left her. They probably despised her
already; how much more they would despise her in the
character of a mendicant! The consequence was that by
no effort could the parson's daughter-in-law bring
herself to let him know her state.
Her reluctance to communicate with her husband's
parents might, she thought, lessen with the lapse of
time; but with her own the reverse obtained. On her
leaving their house after the short visit subsequent to
her marriage they were under the impression that she
was ultimately going to join her husband; and from that
time to the present she had done nothing to disturb
their belief that she was awaiting his return in
comfort, hoping against hope that his journey to Brazil
would result in a short stay only, after which he would
come to fetch her, or that he would write for her to
join him; in any case that they would soon present a
united front to their families and the world. This
hope she still fostered. To let her parents know that
she was a deserted wife, dependent, now that she had
relieved their necessities, on her own hands for a
living, after the ECLAT of a marriage which was to
nullify the collapse of the first attempt, would be too
The set of brilliants returned to her mind. Where
Clare had deposited them she did not know, and it
mattered little, if it were true that she could only
use and not sell them. Even were they absolutely hers
it would be passing mean to enrich herself by a legal
title to them which was not essentially hers at all.
Meanwhile her husband's days had been by no means free
from trial. At this moment he was lying ill of fever
in the clay lands near Curitiba in Brazil, having been
drenched with thunder-storms and persecuted by other
hardships, in common with all the English farmers and
farm-labourers who, just at this time, were deluded
into going thither by the promises of the Brazilian
Government, and by the baseless assumption that those
frames which, ploughing and sowing on English uplands,
had resisted all the weathers to whose moods they had
been born, could resist equally well all the weathers
by which they were surprised on Brazilian plains.
To return. Thus it happened that when the last of
Tess's sovereigns had been spent she was unprovided
with others to take their place, while on account of
the season she found it increasingly difficult to get
employment. Not being aware of the rarity of
intelligence, energy, health, and willingness in any
sphere of life, she refrained from seeking an indoor
occupation; fearing towns, large houses, people of
means and social sophistication, and of manners other
than rural. From that direction of gentility Black
Care had come. Society might be better than she
supposed from her slight experience of it. But she had
no proof of this, and her instinct in the circumstances
was to avoid its purlieus.
The small dairies to the west, beyond Port-Bredy, in
which she had served as supernumerary milkmaid during
the spring and summer required no further aid. Room
would probably have been made for her at Talbothays,
if only out of sheer compassion; but comfortable as her
life had been there she could not go back. The
anti-climax would be too intolerable; and her return
might bring reproach upon her idolized husband. She
could not have borne their pity, and their whispered
remarks to one another upon her strange situation;
though she would almost have faced a knowledge of her
circumstances by every individual there, so long as her
story had remained isolated in the mind of each. It
was the interchange of ideas about her that made her
sensitiveness wince. Tess could not account for this
distinction; she simply knew that she felt it.
She was now on her way to an upland farm in the centre
of the county, to which she had been recommended by a
wandering letter which had reached her from Marian.
Marian had somehow heard that Tess was separated from
her husband--probably through Izz Huett--and the
good-natured and now tippling girl, deeming Tess in
trouble, had hastened to notify to her former friend
that she herself had gone to this upland spot after
leaving the dairy, and would like to see her there,
where there was room for other hands, if it was really
true that she worked again as of old.
With the shortening of the days all hope of obtaining
her husband's forgiveness began to leave her; and there
was something of the habitude of the wild animal in the
unreflecting instinct with which she rambled on--
disconnecting herself by littles from her eventful past
at every step, obliterating her identity, giving no
thought to accidents or contingencies which might make
a quick discovery of her whereabouts by others of
importance to her own happiness, if not to theirs.
Among the difficulties of her lonely position not the
least was the attention she excited by her appearance,
a certain bearing of distinction, which she had caught
from Clare, being superadded to her natural
attractiveness. Whilst the clothes lasted which had
been prepared for her marriage, these casual glances of
interest caused her no inconvenience, but as soon as
she was compelled to don the wrapper of a fieldwoman,
rude words were addressed to her more than once; but
nothing occurred to cause her bodily fear till a
particular November afternoon.
She had preferred the country west of the River Brit to
the upland farm for which she was now bound, because,
for one thing, it was nearer to the home of her
husband's father; and to hover about that region
unrecognized, with the notion that she might decide to
call at the Vicarage some day, gave her pleasure. But
having once decided to try the higher and drier levels,
she pressed back eastward, marching afoot towards the
village of Chalk-Newton, where she meant to pass the
The lane was long and unvaried, and, owing to the rapid
shortening of the days, dusk came upon her before she
was aware. She had reached the top of a hill down
which the lane stretched its serpentine length in
glimpses, when she heard footsteps behind her back,
and in a few moments she was overtaken by a man.
He stepped up alongside Tess and said--
"Goodnight, my pretty maid": to which she civilly
The light still remaining in the sky lit up her face,
though the landscape was nearly dark. The man turned
and stared hard at her.
"Why, surely, it is the young wench who was at
Trantridge awhile--young Squire d'Urberville's friend?
I was there at that time, though I don't live there
She recognized in him the well-to-do boor whom Angel
had knocked down at the inn for addressing her
coarsely. A spasm of anguish shot through her, and she
returned him no answer.
"Be honest enough to own it, and that what I said in
the town was true, though your fancy-man was so up
about it--hey, my sly one? You ought to beg my pardon
for that blow of his, considering."
Still no answer came from Tess. There seemed only one
escape for her hunted soul. She suddenly took to her
heels with the speed of the wind, and, without looking
behind her, ran along the road till she came to a gate
which opened directly into a plantation. Into this she
plunged, and did not pause till she was deep enough in
its shade to be safe against any possibility of
Under foot the leaves were dry, and the foliage of some
holly bushes which grew among the deciduous trees was
dense enough to keep off draughts. She scraped
together the dead leaves till she had formed them into
a large heap, making a sort of nest in the middle.
Into this Tess crept.
Such sleep as she got was naturally fitful; she fancied
she heard strange noises, but persuaded herself that
they were caused by the breeze. She thought of her
husband in some vague warm clime on the other side of
the globe, while she was here in the cold. Was there
another such a wretched being as she in the world?
Tess asked herself; and, thinking of her wasted life,
said, "All is vanity." She repeated the words
mechanically, till she reflected that this was a most
inadequate thought for modern days. Solomon had
thought as far as that more than two thousand years
ago; she herself, though not in the van of thinkers,
had got much further. If all were only vanity, who
would mind it? All was, alas, worse than
vanity--injustice, punishment, exaction, death. The
wife of Angel Clare put her hand in her brow, and felt
its curve, and the edges of her eye-sockets perceptible
under the soft skin, and thought as she did so that a
time would come when that bone would be bare. "I wish
it were now," she said.
In the midst of these whimsical fancies she heard a new
strange sound among the leaves. It might be the wind;
yet there was scarcely any wind. Sometimes it was a
palpitation, sometimes a flutter; sometimes it was a
sort of gasp or gurgle. Soon she was certain that the
noises came from wild creatures of some kind, the more
so when, originating in the boughs overhead, they were
followed by the fall of a heavy body upon the ground.
Had she been ensconced here under other and more
pleasant conditions she would have become alarmed; but,
outside humanity, she had at present no fear.
Day at length broke in the sky. When it had been day
aloft for some little while it became day in the wood.
Directly the assuring and prosaic light of the world's
active hours had grown strong she crept from under her
hillock of leaves, and looked around boldly. Then she
perceived what had been going on to disturb her. The
plantation wherein she had taken shelter ran down at
this spot into a peak, which ended it hitherward,
outside the hedge being arable ground. Under the trees
several pheasants lay about, their rich plumage dabbled
with blood; some were dead, some feebly twitching a
wing, some staring up at the sky, some pulsating
quickly, some contorted, some stretched out--all of
them writhing in agony, except the fortunate ones whose
tortures had ended during the night by the inability of
nature to bear more.
Tess guessed at once the meaning of this. The birds
had been driven down into this corner the day before by
some shooting-party; and while those that had dropped
dead under the shot, or had died before nightfall, had
been searched for and carried off, many badly wounded
birds had escaped and hidden themselves away, or risen
among the thick boughs, where they had maintained their
position till they grew weaker with loss of blood in
the night-time, when they had fallen one by one as she
had heard them.
She had occasionally caught glimpses of these men in
girlhood, looking over hedges, or peeping through
bushes, and pointing their guns, strangely accoutred,
a bloodthirsty light in their eyes. She had been told
that, rough and brutal as they seemed just then, they
were not like this all the year round, but were, in
fact, quite civil persons save during certain weeks of
autumn and winter, when, like the inhabitants of the
Malay Peninsula, they ran amuck, and made it their
purpose to destroy life--in this case harmless
feathered creatures, brought into being by artificial
means solely to gratify these propensities--at once so
unmannerly and so unchivalrous towards their weaker
fellows in Nature's teeming family.
With the impulse of a soul who could feel for kindred
sufferers as much as for herself, Tess's first thought
was to put the still living birds out of their torture,
and to this end with her own hands she broke the necks
of as many as she could find, leaving them to lie where
she had found them till the game-keepers should
come--as they probably would come--to look for them a
"Poor darlings--to suppose myself the most miserable
being on earth in the sight o' such misery as yours!"
she exclaimed, her tears running down as she killed the
birds tenderly. "And not a twinge of bodily pain about
me! I be not mangled, and I be not bleeding, and I
have two hands to feed and clothe me." She was ashamed
of herself for her gloom of the night, based on nothing
more tangible than a sense of condemnation under an
arbitrary law of society which had no foundation in
It was now broad day, and she started again, emerging
cautiously upon the highway. But there was no need for
caution; not a soul was at hand, and Tess went onward
with fortitude, her recollection of the birds' silent
endurance of their night of agony impressing upon her
the relativity of sorrows and the tolerable nature of
her own, if she could once rise high enough to despise
opinion. But that she could not do so long as it was
held by Clare.
She reached Chalk-Newton, and breakfasted at an inn,
where several young men were troublesomely
complimentary to her good looks. Somehow she felt
hopeful, for was it not possible that her husband also
might say these same things to her even yet? She was
bound to take care of herself on the chance of it, and
keep off these casual lovers. To this end Tess
resolved to run no further risks from her appearance.
As soon as she got out of the village she entered a
thicket and took from her basket one of the oldest
field-gowns, which she had never put on even at the
dairy--never since she had worked among the stubble at
Marlott. She also, by a felicitous thought, took a
handkerchief from her bundle and tied it round her face
under her bonnet, covering her chin and half her cheeks
and temples, as if she were suffering from toothache.
Then with her little scissors, by the aid of a pocket
looking-glass, she mercilessly nipped her eyebrows off,
and thus insured against aggressive admiration she went
on her uneven way.
"What a mommet of a maid!" said the next man who met
her to a companion.
Tears came into her eyes for very pity of herself as
she heard him.
"But I don't care!" she said. "O no--I don't care!
I'll always be ugly now, because Angel is not here, and
I have nobody to take care of me. My husband that was
is gone away, and never will love me any more; but I
love him just the same, and hate all other men, and
like to make 'em think scornfully of me!"
Thus Tess walks on; a figure which is part of the
landscape; a fieldwoman pure and simple, in winter
guise; a gray serge cape, a red woollen cravat, a stuff
skirt covered by a whitey-brown rough wrapper, and
buff-leather gloves. Every thread of that old attire
has become faded and thin under the stroke of
raindrops, the burn of sunbeams, and the stress of
winds. There is no sign of young passion in her
The maiden's mouth is cold
. . . . . . . .
Fold over simple fold
Binding her head.
Inside this exterior, over which the eye might have
roved as over a thing scarcely percipient, almost
inorganic, there was the record of a pulsing life which
had learnt too well, for its years, of the dust and
ashes of things, of the cruelty of lust and the
fragility of love.
Next day the weather was bad, but she trudged on, the
honesty, directness, and impartiality of elemental
enmity disconcerting her but little. Her object being
a winter's occupation and a winter's home, there was no
time to lose. Her experience of short hirings had been
such that she was determined to accept no more.
Thus she went forward from farm to farm in the
direction of the place whence Marian had written to
her, which she determined to make use of as a last
shift only, its rumoured stringencies being the reverse
of tempting. First she inquired for the lighter kinds
of employment, and, as acceptance in any variety of
these grew hopeless, applied next for the less light,
till, beginning with the dairy and poultry tendance
that she liked best, she ended with the heavy and
course pursuits which she liked least--work on arable
land: work of such roughness, indeed, as she would
never have deliberately voluteered for.
Towards the second evening she reached the irregular
chalk table-land or plateau, bosomed with semi-globular
tumuli--as if Cybele the Many-breasted were supinely
extended there--which stretched between the valley of
her birth and the valley of her love.
Here the air was dry and cold, and the long cart-roads
were blown white and dusty within a few hours after
rain. There were few trees, or none, those that would
have grown in the hedges being mercilessly plashed down
with the quickset by the tenant-farmers, the natural
enemies of tree, bush, and brake. In the middle
distance ahead of her she could see the summits of
Bulbarrow and of Nettlecombe Tout, and they seemed
friendly. They had a low and unassuming aspect from
this upland, though as approached on the other side
from Blackmoor in her childhood they were as lofty
bastions against the sky. Southerly, at many miles'
distance, and over the hills and ridges coastward, she
could discern a surface like polished steel: it was the
English Channel at a point far out towards France.
Before her, in a slight depression, were the remains of
a village. She had, in fact, reached Flintcomb-Ash,
the place of Marian's sojourn. There seemed to be no
help for it; hither she was doomed to come. The
stubborn soil around her showed plainly enough that the
kind of labour in demand here was of the roughest kind;
but it was time to rest from searching, and she
resolved to stay, particularly as it began to rain.
At the entrance to the village was a cottage whose gable
jutted into the road, and before applying for a lodging
she stood under its shelter, and watched the evening
"Who would think I was Mrs Angel Clare!" she said.
The wall felt warm to her back and shoulders, and she
found that immediately within the gable was the cottage
fireplace, the heat of which came through the bricks.
She warmed her hands upon them, and also put her
cheek--red and moist with the drizzle--against their
comforting surface. The wall seemed to be the only
friend she had. She had so little wish to leave it
that she could have stayed there all night.
Tess could hear the occupants of the cottage--gathered
together after their day's labour--talking to each
other within, and the rattle of their supper-plates was
also audible. But in the village-street she had seen
no soul as yet. The solitude was at last broken by the
approach of one feminine figure, who, though the
evening was cold, wore the print gown and the
tilt-bonnet of summer time. Tess instinctively thought
it might be Marian, and when she came near enough to be
distinguishable in the gloom surely enough it was she.
Marian was even stouter and redder in the face than
formerly, and decidedly shabbier in attire. At any
previous period of her existence Tess would hardly have
cared to renew the acquaintance in such conditions; but
her loneliness was excessive, and she responded readily
to Marian's greeting.
Marian was quite respectful in her inquiries, but
seemed much moved by the fact that Tess should still
continue in no better condition than at first; though
she had dimly heard of the separation.
"Tess--Mrs Clare--the dear wife of dear he! And is it
really so bad as this, my child? Why is your cwomely
face tied up in such a way? Anybody been beating 'ee?
"No, no, no! I merely did it not to be clipsed or
She pulled off in disgust a bandage which could suggest
such wild thoughts.
"And you've got no collar on" (Tess had been accustomed
to wear a little white collar at the dairy).
"I know it, Marian."
"You've lost it travelling."
"I've not lost it. The truth is, I don't care anything
about my looks; and so I didn't put it on."
"And you don't wear your wedding-ring?"
"Yes, I do; but not in public. I wear it round my neck
on a ribbon. I don't wish people to think who I am by
marriage, or that I am married at all; it would be so
awkward while I lead my present life."
"But you BE a gentleman's wife; and it seems hardly
fair that you should live like this!"
"O yes it is, quite fair; though I am very unhappy."
"Well, well. HE married you--and you can be unhappy!"
"Wives are unhappy sometimes; from no fault of their
husbands--from their own."
"You've no faults, deary; that I'm sure of. And he's
none. So it must be something outside ye both."
"Marian, dear Marian, will you do me a good turn
without asking questions? My husband has gone abroad,
and somehow I have overrun my allowance, so that I have
to fall back upon my old work for a time. Do not call
me Mrs Clare, but Tess, as before. Do they want a hand
"O yes; they'll take one always, because few care to
come. "Tis a starve-acre place. Corn and swedes are
all they grow. Though I be here myself, I feel 'tis a
pity for such as you to come."
"But you used to be as good a dairywoman as I."
"Yes; but I've got out o' that since I took to drink.
Lord, that's the only comfort I've got now! If you
engage, you'll be set swede-hacking. That's what I be
doing; but you won't like it."
"O--anything! Will you speak for me?"
"You will do better by speaking for yourself."
"Very well. Now, Marian, remember--nothing about HIM,
if I get the place. I don't wish to bring his name
down to the dirt."
Marian, who was really a trustworthy girl though of
coarser grain than Tess, promised anything she asked.
"This is pay-night," she said, "and if you were to come
with me you would know at once. I be real sorry that
you are not happy; but 'tis because he's away, I know.
You couldn't be unhappy if he were here, even if he
gie'd ye no money--even if used you like a drudge."
"That's true; I could not!"
They walked on together, and soon reached the
farmhouse, which was almost sublime in its dreariness.
There was not a tree within sight; there was not, at
this season, a green pasture--nothing but fallow and
turnips everywhere; in large fields divided by hedges
plashed to unrelieved levels.
Tess waited outside the door of the farmhouse till the
group of workfolk had received their wages, and then
Marian introduced her. The farmer himself, it
appeared, was not at home, but his wife, who
represented him this evening, made no objection to
hiring Tess, on her agreeing to remain till Old
Lady-Day. Female field-labour was seldom offered now,
and its cheapness made it profitable for tasks which
women could perform as readily as men.
Having signed the agreement, there was nothing more for
Tess to do at present than to get a lodging, and she
found one in the house at whose gable-wall she had
warmed herself. It was a poor subsistence that she had
ensured, but it would afford a shelter for the winter
at any rate.
That night she wrote to inform her parents of her new
address, in case a letter should arrive at Marlott from
her husband. But she did not tell them of the
sorriness of her situation: it might have brought
reproach upon him.
There was no exaggeration in Marian's definition of
Flintcomb-Ash farm as a starve-acre place. The single
fat thing on the soil was Marian herself; and she was
an importation. Of the three classes of village, the
village cared for by its lord, the village cared for by
itself, and the village uncared for either by itself or
by its lord (in other words, the village of a resident
squires's tenantry, the village of free or
copy-holders, and the absentee-owner's village, farmed
with the land) this place, Flintcomb-Ash, was the
But Tess set to work. Patience, that blending of moral
courage with physical timidity, was now no longer a
minor feature in Mrs Angel Clare; and it sustained her.
The swede-field in which she and her companion were set
hacking was a stretch of a hundred odd acres, in one
patch, on the highest ground of the farm, rising above
stony lanchets or lynchets--the outcrop of siliceous
veins in the chalk formation, composed of myriads of
loose white flints in bulbous, cusped, and phallic
shapes. The upper half of each turnip had been eaten
off by the live-stock, and it was the business of the
two women to grub up the lower or earthy half of the
root with a hooked fork called a hacker, that it might
be eaten also. Every leaf of the vegetable having
already been consumed, the whole field was in colour a
desolate drab; it was a complexion without features, as
if a face, from chin to brow, should be only an expanse
of skin. The sky wore, in another colour, the same
likeness; a white vacuity of countenance with the
lineaments gone. So these two upper and nether visages
confronted each other all day long, the white face
looking down on the brown face, and the brown face
looking up at the white face, without anything standing
between them but the two girls crawling over the
surface of the former like flies.
Nobody came near them, and their movements showed a
mechanical regularity; their forms standing enshrouded
in Hessian "wroppers"--sleeved brown pinafores, tied
behind to the bottom, to keep their gowns from blowing
about--scant skirts revealing boots that reached high
up the ankles, and yellow sheepskin gloves with
gauntlets. The pensive character which the curtained
hood lent to their bent heads would have reminded the
observer of some early Italian conception of the two
They worked on hour after hour, unconscious of the
forlorn aspect they bore in the landscape, not thinking
of the justice or injustice of their lot. Even in such
a position as theirs it was possible to exist in a
dream. In the afternoon the rain came on again, and
Marian said that they need not work any more. But if
they did not work they would not be paid; so they
worked on. It was so high a situation, this field,
that the rain had no occasion to fall, but raced along
horizontally upon the yelling wind, sticking into them
like glass splinters till they were wet through. Tess
had not known till now what was really meant by that.
There are degrees of dampness, and a very little is
called being wet through in common talk. But to stand
working slowly in a field, and feel the creep of
rain-water, first in legs and shoulders, then on hips
and head, then at back, front, and sides, and yet to
work on till the leaden light diminishes and marks that
the sun is down, demands a distinct modicum of
stoicism, even of valour.
Yet they did not feel the wetness so much as might be
supposed. They were both young, and they were talking
of the time when they lived and loved together at
Talbothays Dairy, that happy green tract of land where
summer had been liberal in her gifts; in substance to
all, emotionally to these. Tess would fain not have
conversed with Marian of the man who was legally, if
not actually, her husband; but the irresistible
fascination of the subject betrayed her into
reciprocating Marian's remarks. And thus, as has been
said, though the damp curtains of their bonnets flapped
smartly into their faces, and their wrappers clung
about them to wearisomeness, they lived all this
afternoon in memories of green, sunny, romantic
"You can see a gleam of a hill within a few miles o'
Froom Valley from here when 'tis fine," said Marian.
"Ah! Can you?" said Tess, awake to the new value of
So the two forces were at work here as everywhere, the
inherent will to enjoy, and the circumstantial will
against enjoyment. Marian's will had a method of
assisting itself by taking from her pocket as the
afternoon wore on a pint bottle corked with white rag,
from which she invited Tess to drink. Tess's
unassisted power of dreaming, however, being enough for
her sublimation at present, she declined except the
merest sip, and then Marian took a pull from the
"I've got used to it," she said, "and can't leave it
off now. 'Tis my only comfort----You see I lost him:
you didn't; and you can do without it perhaps."
Tess thought her loss as great as Marian's, but upheld
by the dignity of being Angel's wife, in the letter at
least, she accepted Marian's differentiation.
Amid this scene Tess slaved in the morning frosts and
in the afternoon rains. When it was not swede-grubbing
it was swede-trimming, in which process they sliced off
the earth and the fibres with a bill-hook before
storing the roots for future use. At this occupation
they could shelter themselves by a thatched hurdle if
it rained; but if it was frosty even their thick
leather gloves could not prevent the frozen masses they
handled from biting their fingers. Still Tess hoped.
She had a conviction that sooner or later the
magnanimity which she persisted in reckoning as a chief
ingredient of Clare's character would lead him to
Marian, primed to a humorous mood, would discover the
queer-shaped flints aforesaid, and shriek with
laughter, Tess remaining severely obtuse. They often
looked across the country to where the Var or Froom was
know to stretch, even though they might not be able to
see it; and, fixing their eyes on the cloaking gray
mist, imagined the old times they had spent out there.
"Ah," said Marian, "how I should like another or two of
our old set to come here! Then we could bring up
Talbothays every day here afield, and talk of he, and
of what nice times we had there, and o' the old things
we used to know, and make it all come back a'most, in
seeming!" Marian's eyes softened, and her voice grew
vague as the visions returned. "I'll write to Izz
Huett," she said. "She's biding at home doing nothing
now, I know, and I'll tell her we be here, and ask her
to come; and perhaps Retty is well enough now."
Tess had nothing to say against the proposal, and the
next she heard of this plan for importing old
Talbothays' joys was two or three days later, when
Marian informed her that Izz had replied to her
inquiry, and had promised to come if she could.
There had not been such a winter for years. It came on
in stealthy and measured glides, like the moves of a
chess-player. One morning the few lonely trees and
the thorns of the hedgerows appeared as if they had put
off a vegetable for an animal integument. Every twig
was covered with a white nap as of fur grown from the
rind during the night, giving it four times its usual
stoutness; the whole bush or tree forming a staring
sketch in white lines on the mournful gray of the sky
and horizon. Cobwebs revealed their presence on sheds
and walls where none had ever been observed till
brought out into visibility by the crystallizing
atmosphere, hanging like loops of white worsted from
salient points of the out-houses, posts, and gates.
After this season of congealed dampness came a spell of
dry frost, when strange birds from behind the North
Pole began to arrive silently on the upland of
Flintcomb-Ash; gaunt spectral creatures with tragical
eyes--eyes which had witnessed scenes of cataclysmal
horror in inaccessible polar regions of a magnitude
such as no human being had ever conceived, in curdling
temperatures that no man could endure; which had beheld
the crash of icebergs and the slide of snow-hills by
the shooting light of the Aurora; been half blinded by
the whirl of colossal storms and terraqueous
distortions; and retained the expression of feature
that such scenes had engendered. These nameless birds
came quite near to Tess and Marian, but of all they had
seen which humanity would never see, they brought no
account. The traveller's ambition to tell was not
theirs, and, with dumb impassivity, they dismissed
experiences which they did not value for the immediate
incidents of this homely upland--the trivial movements
of the two girls in disturbing the clods with their
hackers so as to uncover something or other that these
visitants relished as food.
Then one day a peculiar quality invaded the air of this
open country. There came a moisture which was not of
rain, and a cold which was not of frost. It chilled
the eyeballs of the twain, made their brows ache,
penetrated to their skeletons, affecting the surface of
the body less than its core. They knew that it meant
snow, and in the night the snow came. Tess, who
continued to live at the cottage with the warm gable
that cheered any lonely pedestrian who paused beside
it, awoke in the night, and heard above the thatch
noises which seemed to signify that the roof had turned
itself into a gymnasium of all the winds. When she lit
her lamp to get up in the morning she found that the
snow had blown through a chink in the casement, forming
a white cone of the finest powder against the inside,
and had also come down the chimney, so that it lay
sole-deep upon the floor, on which her shoes left
tracks when she moved about. Without, the storm drove
so fast as to create a snow-mist in the kitchen; but as
yet it was too dark out-of-doors to see anything.
Tess knew that it was impossible to go on with the
swedes; and by the time she had finished breakfast
beside the solitary little lamp, Marian arrived to tell
her that they were to join the rest of the women at
reed-drawing in the barn till the weather changed.
As soon, therefore, as the uniform cloak of darkness
without began to turn to a disordered medley of grays,
they blew out the lamp, wrapped themselves up in their
thickest pinners, tied their woollen cravats round
their necks and across their chests, and started for
the barn. The snow had followed the birds from the
polar basin as a white pillar of a cloud, and
individual flakes could not be seen. The blast smelt
of icebergs, arctic seas, whales, and white bears,
carrying the snow so that it licked the land but did
not deepen on it. They trudged onwards with slanted
bodies through the flossy fields, keeping as well as
they could in the shelter of hedges, which, however,
acted as strainers rather than screens. The air,
afflicted to pallor with the hoary multitudes that
infested it, twisted and spun them eccentrically,
suggesting an achromatic chaos of things. But both the
young women were fairly cheerful; such weather on a dry
upland is not in itself dispiriting.
"Ha-ha! the cunning northern birds knew this was
coming," said Marian. "Depend upon't, they keep just
in front o't all the way from the North Star. Your
husband, my dear, is, I make no doubt, having scorching
weather all this time. Lord, if he could only see his
pretty wife now! Not that this weather hurts your
beauty at all--in fact, it rather does it good."
"You mustn't talk about him to me, Marian," said Tess
"Well, but--surely you care for'n! Do you?"
Instead of answering, Tess, with tears in her eyes,
impulsively faced in the direction in which she
imagined South America to lie, and, putting up her
lips, blew out a passionate kiss upon the snowy wind.
"Well, well, I know you do. But 'pon my body, it is a
rum life for a married couple! There--I won't say
another word! Well, as for the weather, it won't hurt
us in the wheat-barn; but reed-drawing is fearful hard
work--worse than swede-hacking. I can stand it because
I'm stout; but you be slimmer than I. I can't think
why maister should have set 'ee at it."
They reached the wheat-barn and entered it. One end of
the long structure was full of corn; the middle was
where the reed-drawing was carried on, and there had
already been placed in the reed-press the evening
before as many sheaves of wheat as would be sufficient
for the women to draw from during the day.
"Why, here's Izz!" said Marian.
Izz it was, and she came forward. She had walked all
the way from her mother's home on the previous
afternoon, and, not deeming the distance so great, had
been belated, arriving, however, just before the snow
began, and sleeping at the alehouse. The farmer had
agreed with her mother at market to take her on if she
came today, and she had been afraid to disappoint him
In addition to Tess, Marian, and Izz, there were two
women from a neighbouring village; two Amazonian
sisters, whom Tess with a start remembered as Dark Car
the Queen of Spades and her junior the Queen of
Diamonds--those who had tried to fight with her in the
midnight quarrel at Trantridge. They showed no
recognition of her, and possibly had none, for they had
been under the influence of liquor on that occasion,
and were only temporary sojourners there as here. They
did all kinds of men's work of preference, including
well-sinking, hedging, ditching, and excavating,
without any sense of fatigue. Noted reed-drawers were
they too, and looked round upon the other three with
Putting on their gloves all set to work in a row in
front of the press, an erection formed of two posts
connected by a cross-beam, under which the sheaves to
be drawn from were laid ears outward, the beam being
pegged down by pins in the uprights, and lowered as the
The day hardened in colour, the light coming in at the
barndoors upwards from the snow instead of downwards
from the sky. The girls pulled handful after handful
from the press; but by reason of the presence of the
strange women, who were recounting scandals, Marian and
Izz could not at first talk of old times as they wished
to do. Presently they heard the muffled tread of a
horse, and the farmer rode up to the barndoor. When he
had dismounted he came close to Tess, and remained
looking musingly at the side of her face. She had not
turned at first, but his fixed attitude led her to look
round, when she perceived that her employer was the
native of Trantridge from whom she had taken flight on
the high-road because of his allusion to her history.
He waited till she had carried the drawn bundles to the
pile outside, when he said, "So you be the young woman
who took my civility in such ill part? Be drowned if I
didn't think you might be as soon as I heard of your
being hired! Well, you thought you had got the better
of me the first time at the inn with your fancy-man,
and the second time on the road, when you bolted; but
now I think I've got the better you." He concluded
with a hard laugh.
Tess, between the Amazons and the farmer like a bird
caught in a clap-net, returned no answer, continuing to
pull the straw. She could read character sufficiently
well to know by this time that she had nothing to fear
from her employer's gallantry; it was rather the
tyranny induced by his mortification at Clare's
treatment of him. Upon the whole she preferred that
sentiment in man and felt brave enough to endure it.
"You thought I was in love with 'ee I suppose? Some
women are such fools, to take every look as serious
earnest. But there's nothing like a winter afield for
taking that nonsense out o' young wenches' heads; and
you've signed and agreed till Lady-Day. Now, are you
going to beg my pardon?"
"I think you ought to beg mine."
"Very well--as you like. But we'll see which is master
here. Be they all the sheaves you've done today?"
"'Tis a very poor show. Just see what they've done
over there" (pointing to the two stalwart women).
"The rest, too, have done better than you."
"They've all practised it before, and I have not. And
I thought it made no difference to you as it is task
work, and we are only paid for what we do."
"Oh, but it does. I want the barn cleared."
"I am going to work all the afternoon instead of
leaving at two as the others will do."
He looked sullenly at her and went away. Tess felt
that she could not have come to a much worse place; but
anything was better than gallantry. When two o'clock
arrived the professional reed-drawers tossed off the
last half-pint in their flagon, put down their hooks,
tied their last sheaves, and went away. Marian and Izz
would have done likewise, but on hearing that Tess
meant to stay, to make up by longer hours for her lack
of skill, they would not leave her. Looking out at the
snow, which still fell, Marian exclaimed, "Now, we've
got it all to ourselves." And so at last the
conversation turned to their old experiences at the
dairy; and, of course, the incidents of their affection
for Angel Clare.
"Izz and Marian," said Mrs Angel Clare, with a dignity
which was extremely touching, seeing how very little of
a wife she was: "I can't join in talk with you now, as
I used to do, about Mr Clare; you will see that I
cannot; because, although he is gone away from me for
the present, he is my husband."
Izz was by nature the sauciest and most caustic of all
the four girls who had loved Clare. "He was a very
splendid lover, no doubt," she said; "but I don't think
he is a too fond husband to go away from you so soon."
"He had to go--he was obliged to go, to see about the
land over there!" pleaded Tess.
"He might have tided 'ee over the winter."
"Ah--that's owing to an accident--a misunderstanding;
and we won't argue it," Tess answered, with tearfulness
in her words. "Perhaps there's a good deal to be said
for him! He did not go away, like some husbands,
without telling me; and I can always find out where he
After this they continued for some long time in a
reverie, as they went on seizing the ears of corn,
drawing out the straw, gathering it under their arms,
and cutting off the ears with their bill-hooks, nothing
sounding in the barn but the swish of the straw and the
crunch of the hook. Then Tess suddenly flagged, and
sank down upon the heap of wheat-ears at her feet.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to stand it!" cried
Marian. "It wants harder flesh than yours for this
Just then the farmer entered. "Oh, that's how you get
on when I am away," he said to her.
"But it is my own loss," she pleaded. "Not yours."
"I want it finished," he said doggedly, as he crossed
the barn and went out at the other door.
"Don't 'ee mind him, there's a dear," said Marian.
"I've worked here before. Now you go and lie down
there, and Izz and I will make up your number."
"I don't like to let you do that. I'm taller than you,
However, she was so overcome that she consented to lie
down awhile, and reclined on a heap of pull-tails--the
refuse after the straight straw had been drawn--thrown
up at the further side of the barn. Her succumbing had
been as largely owning to agitation at the re-opening
the subject of her separation from her husband as to
the hard work. She lay in a state of percipience
without volition, and the rustle of the straw and the
cutting of the ears by the others had the weight of
She could hear from her corner, in addition to these
noises, the murmur of their voices. She felt certain
that they were continuing the subject already broached,
but their voices were so low that she could not catch
the words. At last Tess grew more and more anxious to
know what they were saying, and, persuading herself
that she felt better, she got up and resumed work.
Then Izz Huett broke down. She had walked more than a
dozen miles the previous evening, had gone to bed at
midnight, and had risen again at five o'clock. Marian
alone, thanks to her bottle of liquor and her stoutness
of build, stood the strain upon back and arms without
suffering. Tess urged Izz to leave off, agreeing, as
she felt better, to finish the day without her, and
make equal division of the number of sheaves.
Izz accepted the offer gratefully, and disappeared
through the great door into the snowy track to her
lodging. Marian, as was the case every afternoon at
this time on account of the bottle, began to feel in a
"I should not have thought it of him--never!" she said
in a dreamy tone. "And I loved him so! I didn't mind
his having YOU. But this about Izz is too bad!"
Tess, in her start at the words, narrowly missed
cutting off a finger with the bill-hook.
"Is it about my husband?" she stammered.
"Well, yes. Izz said, 'Don't 'ee tell her'; but I am
sure I can't help it! It was what he wanted Izz to do.
He wanted her to go off to Brazil with him."
Tess's face faded as white as the scene without, and
its curves straightened. "And did Izz refuse to go?"
"I don't know. Anyhow he changed his mind."
"Pooh--then he didn't mean it! 'Twas just a man's
"Yes he did; for he drove her a good-ways towards the
"He didn't take her!"
They pulled on in silence till Tess, without any
premonitory symptoms, burst out crying.
"There!" said Marian. "Now I wish I hadn't told 'ee!"
"No. It is a very good thing that you have done! I
have been living on in a thirtover, lackaday way, and
have not seen what it may lead to! I ought to have sent
him a letter oftener. He said I could not go to him,
but he didn't say I was not to write as often as I
liked. I won't dally like this any longer! I have
been very wrong and neglectful in leaving everything to
be done by him!"
The dim light in the barn grew dimmer, and they could
see to work no longer. When Tess had reached home that
evening, and had entered into the privacy of her little
white-washed chamber, she began impetuously writing a
letter to Clare. But falling into doubt she could not
finish it. Afterwards she took the ring from the
ribbon on which she wore it next her heart, and
retained it on her finger all night, as if to fortify
herself in the sensation that she was really the wife
of this elusive lover of hers, who could propose that
Izz should go with him abroad, so shortly after he had
left her. Knowing that, how could she write entreaties
to him, or show that she cared for him any more?
By the disclosure in the barn her thoughts were led
anew in the direction which they had taken more than
once of late--to the distant Emminster Vicarage. It
was through her husband's parents that she had been
charged to send a letter to Clare if she desired; and
to write to them direct if in difficulty. But that
sense of her having morally no claim upon him had
always led Tess to suspend her impulse to send these
notes; and to the family at the Vicarage, therefore, as
to her own parents since her marriage, she was
virtually non-existent. This self-effacement in both
directions had been quite in consonance with her
independent character of desiring nothing by way of
favour or pity to which she was not entitled on a fair
consideration of her deserts. She had set herself to
stand or fall by her qualities, and to waive such
merely technical claims upon a strange family as had
been established for her by the flimsy fact of a member
of that family, in a season of impulse, writing his
name in a church-book beside hers.
But now that she was stung to a fever by Izz's tale
there was a limit to her powers of renunciation. Why
had her husband not written to her? He had distinctly
implied that he would at least let her know of the
locality to which he had journeyed; but he had not sent
a line to notify his address. Was he really
indifferent? But was he ill? Was it for her to make
some advance? Surely she might summon the courage of
solicitude, call at the Vicarage for intelligence, and
express her grief at his silence. If Angel's father
were the good man she had heard him represented to be,
he would be able to enter into her heart-starved
situation. Her social hardships she could conceal.
To leave the farm on a week-day was not in her power;
Sunday was the only possible opportunity.
Flintcomb-Ash being in the middle of the cretaceous
tableland over which no railway had climbed as yet, it
would be necessary to walk. And the distance being
fifteen miles each way she would have to allow herself
a long day for the undertaking by rising early.
A fortnight later, when the snow had gone, and had been
followed by a hard black frost, she took advantage of
the state of the roads to try the experiment. At four
o'clock that Sunday morning she came downstairs and
stepped out into the starlight. The weather was still
favourable, the ground ringing under her feet like an
Marian and Izz were much interested in her excursion,
knowing that the journey concerned her husband. Their
lodgings were in a cottage a little further along the
lane, but they came and assisted Tess in her departure,
and argued that she should dress up in her very
prettiest guise to captivate the hearts of her
parents-in-law; though she, knowing of the austere and
Calvinistic tenets of old Mr Clare, was indifferent,
and even doubtful. A year had now elapsed since her
sad marriage, but she had preserved sufficient
draperies from the wreck of her then full wardrobe to
clothe her very charmingly as a simple country girl
with no pretensions to recent fashion; a soft gray
woollen gown, with white crape quilling against the
pink skin of her face and neck, and a black velvet
jacket and hat.
"'Tis a thousand pities your husband can't see 'ee
now--you do look a real beauty!" said Izz Huett,
regarding Tess as she stood on the threshold between
the steely starlight without the yellow candlelight
within. Izz spoke with a magnanimous abandonment of
herself to the situation; she could not be--no woman
with a heart bigger than a hazel-nut could
be--antagonistic to Tess in her presence, the influence
which she exercised over those of her own sex being of
a warmth and strength quite unusual, curiously
overpowering the less worthy feminine feelings of spite
With a final tug and touch here, and a slight brush
there, they let her go; and she was absorbed into the
pearly air of the fore-dawn. They heard her footsteps
tap along the hard road as she stepped out to her full
pace. Even Izz hoped she would win, and, though
without any particular respect for her own virtue, felt
glad that she had been prevented wronging her friend
when momentarily tempted by Clare.
It was a year ago, all but a day, that Clare had
married Tess, and only a few days less than a year that
he had been absent from her. Still, to start on a
brisk walk, and on such an errand as hers, on a dry
clear wintry morning, through the rarefied air of these
chalky hogs'-backs, was not depressing; and there is no
doubt that her dream at starting was to win the heart
of her mother-in-law, tell her whole history to that
lady, enlist her on her side, and so gain back the
In time she reached the edge of the vast escarpment
below which stretched the loamy Vale of Blackmoor, now
lying misty and still in the dawn. Instead of the
colourless air of the uplands the atmosphere down there
was a deep blue. Instead of the great enclosures of a
hundred acres in which she was now accustomed to toil
there were little fields below her of less than
half-a-dozen acres, so numerous that they looked from
this height like the meshes of a net. Here the
landscape was whitey-brown; down there, as in Froom
Valley, it was always green. Yet is was in that vale
that her sorrow had taken shape, and she did not love
it as formerly. Beauty to her, as to all who have
felt, lay not in the thing, but in what the thing
Keeping the Vale on her right she steered steadily
westward; passing above the Hintocks, crossing at
right-angles the high-road from Sherton-Abbas to
Casterbridge, and skirting Dogbury Hill and High-Stoy,
with the dell between them called "The Devil's
Kitchen". Still following the elevated way she reached
Cross-in-Hand, where the stone pillar stands desolate
and silent, to mark the site of a miracle, or murder,
or both. Three miles further she cut across the
straight and deserted Roman road called Long-Ash Lane;
leaving which as soon as she reached it she dipped down
a hill by a transverse lane into the small town or
village of Evershead, being now about halfway over the
distance. She made a halt here, and breakfasted a
second time, heartily enough--not at the Sow-and-Acorn,
for she avoided inns, but at a cottage by the church.
The second half of her journey was through a more
gentle country, by way of Benvill Lane. But as the
mileage lessened between her and the spot of her
pilgrimage, so did Tess's confidence decrease, and her
enterprise loom out more formidably. She saw her
purpose in such staring lines, and the landscape so
faintly, that she was sometimes in danger of losing her
way. However, about noon she paused by a gate on the
edge of the basin in which Emminster and its Vicarage
The square tower, beneath which she knew that at that
moment the Vicar and his congregation were gathered,
had a severe look in her eyes. She wished that she had
somehow contrived to come on a week-day. Such a good
man might be prejudiced against a woman who had chosen
Sunday, never realizing the necessities of her case.
But it was incumbent upon her to go on now. She took
off the thick boots in which she had walked thus far,
put on her pretty thin ones of patent leather, and,
stuffing the former into the hedge by the gatepost
where she might readily find them again, descended the
hill; the freshness of colour she had derived from the
keen air thinning away in spite of her as she drew near
Tess hoped for some accident that might favour her, but
nothing favoured her. The scrubs on the Vicarage lawn
rustled uncomfortably in the frosty breeze; she could
not feel by any stretch of imagination, dressed to her
highest as she was, that the house was the residence of
near relations; and yet nothing essential, in nature or
emotion, divided her from them: in pains, pleasures,
thoughts, birth, death, and after-death, they were the
She nerved herself by an effort, entered the
swing-gate, and rang the door-bell. The thing was
done; there could be no retreat. No; the thing was not
done. Nobody answered to her ringing. The effort had
be risen to and made again. She rang a second time,
and the agitation of the act, coupled with her
weariness after the fifteen miles' walk, led her
support herself while she waited by resting her hand on
her hip, and her elbow against the wall of the porch.
The wind was so nipping that the ivy-leaves had become
wizened and gray, each tapping incessantly upon its
neighbour with a disquieting stir of her nerves. A
piece of blood-stained paper, caught up from some
meat-buyer's dust-heap, beat up and down the road
without the gate; too flimsy to rest, too heavy to fly
away; and a few straws kept it company.
The second peal had been louder, and still nobody came.
Then she walked out of the porch, opened the gate, and
passed through. And though she looked dubiously at the
house-front as if inclined to return, it was with a
breath of relied that she closed the gate. A feeling
haunted her that she might have been recognized (though
how she could not tell), and orders been given not to
Tess went as far as the corner. She had done all she
could do; but determined not to escape present
trepidation at the expense of future distress, she
walked back again quite past the house, looking up at
all the windows.
Ah--the explanation was that they were all at church,
every one. She remembered her husband saying that his
father always insisted upon the household, servants
included, going to morning-service, and, as a
consequence, eating cold food when they came home. It
was, therefore, only necessary to wait till the service
was over. She would not make herself conspicuous by
waiting on the spot, and she started to get past the
church into the lane. But as she reached the
churchyard-gate the people began pouring out, and Tess
found herself in the midst of them.
The Emminster congregation looked at her as only a
congregation of small country-townsfolk walking home at
its leisure can look at a woman out of the common whom
it perceives to be a stranger. She quickened her pace,
and ascended the the road by which she had come, to
find a retreat between its hedges till the Vicar's
family should have lunched, and it might be convenient
for them to receive her. She soon distanced the
churchgoers, except two youngish men, who, linked
arm-in-arm, were beating up behind her at a quick step.
As they drew nearer she could hear their voices engaged
in earnest discourse, and, with the natural quickness
of a woman in her situation, did not fail to recognize
in those noises the quality of her husband's tones.
The pedestrians were his two brothers. Forgetting all
her plans, Tess's one dread was lest they should
overtake her now, in her disorganized condition, before
she was prepared to confront them; for though she felt
that they could not identify her she instinctively
dreaded their scrutiny. The more briskly they walked
the more briskly walked she. They were plainly bent
upon taking a short quick stroll before going indoors
to lunch or dinner, to restore warmth to limbs chilled
with sitting through a long service.
Only one person had preceded Tess up the hill--a
ladylike young woman, somewhat interesting, though,
perhaps, a trifle GUINDEE and prudish. Tess had nearly
overtaken her when the speed of her brothers-in-law
brought them so nearly behind her back that she could
hear every word of their conversation. They said
nothing, however, which particularly interested her
till, observing the young lady still further in front,
one of them remarked, "There is Mercy Chant. Let us
Tess knew the name. It was the woman who had been
destined for Angel's life-companion by his and her
parents, and whom he probably would have married but
for her intrusive self. She would have know as much
without previous information if she had waited a
moment, for one of the brothers proceeded to say:
"Ah! poor Angel, poor Angel! I never see that nice girl
without more and more regretting his precipitancy in
throwing himself away upon a dairymaid, or whatever she
may be. It is a queer business, apparently. Whether
she has joined him yet or not I don't know; but she had
not done so some months ago when I heard from him."
"I can't say. He never tells me anything nowadays.
His ill-considered marriage seems to have completed
that estrangement from me which was begun by his
Tess beat up the long hill still faster; but she could
not outwalk them without exciting notice. At last they
outsped her altogether, and passed her by. The young
lady still further ahead heard their footsteps and
turned. Then there was a greeting and a shaking of
hands, and the three went on together.
They soon reached the summit of the hill, and,
evidently intending this point to be the limit of their
promenade, slackened pace and turned all three aside to
the gate whereat Tess had paused an hour before that
time to reconnoitre the town before descending into it.
During their discourse one of the clerical brothers
probed the hedge carefully with his umbrella, and
dragged something to light.
"Here's a pair of old boots," he said. "Thrown away,
I suppose, by some tramp or other."
"Some imposter who wished to come into the town
barefoot, perhaps, and so excite our sympathies," said
Miss Chant. "Yes, it must have been, for they are
excellent walking-boots--by no means worn out. What a
wicked thing to do! I'll carry them home for some poor
Cuthbert Clare, who had been the one to find them,
picked them up for her with the crook of his stick; and
Tess's boots were appropriated.
She, who had heard this, walked past under the screen
of her woollen veil, till, presently looking back, she
perceived that the church party had left the gate with
her boots and retreated down the hill.
Thereupon our heroine resumed her walk. Tears,
blinding tears, were running down her face. She knew
that it was all sentiment, all baseless impressibility,
which had caused her to read the scene as her own
condemnation; nevertheless she could not get over it;
she could not contravene in her own defenceless person
all those untoward omens. It was impossible to think
of returning to the Vicarage. Angel's wife felt almost
as if she had been hounded up that hill like a scorned
thing by those--to her--superfine clerics. Innocently
as the slight had been inflicted, it was somewhat
unfortunate that she had encountered the sons and not
the father, who, despite his narrowness, was far less
starched and ironed than they, and had to the full the
gift of charity. As she again though of her dusty
boots she almost pitied those habiliments for the
quizzing to which they had been subjected, and felt how
hopeless life was for their owner.
"Ah!" she said, still sighing in pity of herself, "THEY
didn't know that I wore those over the roughest part of
the road to save these pretty ones HE bought for
me--no--they did not know it! And they didn't think
that HE chose the colour o' my pretty frock--no--how
could they? If they had known perhaps they would not
have cared, for they don't care much for him, poor
Then she grieved for the beloved man whose conventional
standard of judgement had caused her all these latter
sorrows; and she went her way without knowing that the
greatest misfortune of her life was this feminine loss
of courage at the last and critical moment through her
estimating her father-in-law by his sons. Her present
condition was precisely one which would have enlisted
the sympathies of old Mr and Mrs Clare. Their hearts
went out of them at a bound towards extreme cases, when
the subtle mental troubles of the less desperate among
mankind failed to win their interest or regard. In
jumping at Publicans and Sinners they would forget that
a word might be said for the worries of Scribes and
Pharisees; and this defect or limitation might have
recommended their own daughter-in-law to them at this
moment as a fairly choice sort of lost person for their
Thereupon she began to plod back along the road by
which she had come not altogether full of hope, but
full of a conviction that a crisis in her life was
approaching. No crisis, apparently, had supervened;
and there was nothing left for her to do but to
continue upon that starve-acre farm till she could
again summon courage to face the Vicarage. She did,
indeed, take sufficient interest in herself to throw up
her veil on this return journey, as if to let the world
see that she could at least exhibit a face such as
Mercy Chant could not show. But it was done with a
sorry shake of the head. "It is nothing--it is
nothing!" she said. "Nobody loves it; nobody sees it.
Who cares about the looks of a castaway like me!"
Her journey back was rather a meander than a march.
It had no sprightliness, no purpose; only a tendency.
Along the tedious length of Benvill Lane she began to
grow tired, and she leant upon gates and paused by
She did not enter any house till, at the seventh or
eighth mile, she descended the steep long hill below
which lay the village or townlet of Evershead, where in
the morning she had breakfasted with such contrasting
expectations. The cottage by the church, in which she
again sat down, was almost the first at that end of the
village, and while the woman fetched her some milk from
the pantry, Tess, looking down the street, perceived
that the place seemed quite deserted.
"The people are gone to afternoon service, I suppose?"
"No, my dear," said the old woman. "'Tis too soon for
that; the bells hain't strook out yet. They be all
gone to hear the preaching in yonder barn. A ranter
preaches there between the services--an excellent,
fiery, Christian man, they say. But, Lord, I don't go
to hear'n! What comes in the regular way over the
pulpit is hot enough for I."
Tess soon went onward into the village, her footsteps
echoing against the houses as though it were a place of
the dead. Nearing the central part her echoes were
intruded on by other sounds; and seeing the barn not
far off the road, she guessed these to be the
utterances of the preacher.
His voice became so distinct in the still clear air
that she could soon catch his sentences, though she was
on the closed side of the barn. The sermon, as might
be expected, was of the extremest antinomian type; on
justification by faith, as expounded in the theology of
St Paul. This fixed idea of the rhapsodist was
delivered with animated enthusiasm, in a manner
entirely declamatory, for he had plainly no skill as a
dialectician. Although Tess had not heard the
beginning of the address, she learnt what the text had
been from its constant iteration----
"O FOOLISH GALATIANS, WHO HATH BEWITCHED YOU, THAT YE
SHOULD NOT OBEY THE TRUTH, BEFORE WHOSE EYES JESUS
CHRIST HATH BEEN EVIDENTLY SET FORTH, CRUCIFIED AMONG
Tess was all the more interested, as she stood
listening behind, in finding that the preacher's
doctrine was a vehement form of the view of Angel's
father, and her interest intensified when the speaker
began to detail his own spiritual experiences of how he
had come by those views. He had, he said, been the
greatest of sinners. He had scoffed; he had wantonly
associated with the reckless and the lewd. But a day
of awakening had come, and, in a human sense, it had
been brought about mainly by the influence of a certain
clergyman, whom he had at first grossly insulted; but
whose parting words had sunk into his heart, and had
remained there, till by the grace of Heaven they had
worked this change in him, and made him what they saw
But more startling to Tess than the doctrine had been
the voice, which, impossible as it seemed, was
precisely that of Alec d'Urberville. Her face fixed in
painful suspense, she came round to the front of the
barn, and passed before it. The low winter sun beamed
directly upon the great double-doored entrance on this
side; one of the doors being open, so that the rays
stretched far in over the threshing-floor to the
preacher and his audience, all snugly sheltered from
the northern breeze. The listeners were entirely
villagers, among them being the man whom she had seen
carrying the red paint-pot on a former memorable
occasion. But her attention was given to the central
figure, who stood upon some sacks of corn, facing the
people and the door. The three o'clock sun shone full
upon him, and the strange enervating conviction that
her seducer confronted her, which had been gaining
ground in Tess ever since she had heard his words
distinctly, was at last established as a fact indeed.
END OF PHASE THE FIFTH
Phase the Sixth: The Convert
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
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
today 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
But the moment that she moved again he recognized her.
The effect upon her old lover was electric, far
stronger than the effect of his presence upon her.
His fire, the tumultuous ring of his eloquence, seemed to
go out of him. His lip struggled and trembled under the
words that lay upon it; but deliver them it could not
as long as she faced him. His eyes, after their first
glance upon her face, hung confusedly in every other
direction but hers, but came back in a desperate leap
every few seconds. This paralysis lasted, however, but
a short time; for Tess's energies returned with the
atrophy of his, and she walked as fast as she was able
past the barn and onward.
As soon as she could reflect it appalled her, this
change in their relative platforms. He who had wrought
her undoing was now on the side of the Spirit, while
she remained unregenerate. And, as in the legend, it
had resulted that her Cyprian image had suddenly
appeared upon his alter, 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
"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
There was the smallest vein of scorn in her words of
rejoinder: "Have you saved yourself? Charity begins at
home, they say."
"I have done nothing!" said he indifferently.
"Heaven, as I have been telling my hearers, has done all.
No amount of contempt that you can pour upon me, Tess,
will equal what I have poured upon myself--the old Adam
of my former years! Well, it is a strange story;
believe it or not; but I can tell you the means by
which my conversion was brought about, and I hope you
will be interested enough at least to listen. Have you
ever heard the name of the parson of Emminster--you
must have done do?--old Mr Clare; one of the most
earnest of his school; one of the few intense men left
in the Church; not so intense as the extreme wind 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 today; though it is only lately that I have
preached hereabout. The first months of my ministry
have been spent in the North of England among
strangers, where I preferred to make my earliest clumsy
attempts, so as to acquire courage before undergoing
that severest of all tests of one's sincerity,
addressing those who have known one, and have been
one's companions in the days of darkness. If you could
only know, Tess, the pleasure of having a good slap at
yourself, I am sure----"
"Don't go on with it!" she cried passionately, as she
turned away from him to a stile by the wayside, on
which she bent herself. "I can't believe in such
sudden things! I feel indignant with you for talking
to me like this, when you know--when you know what harm
you've done me! You, and those like you, take your
fill of pleasure on earth by making the life of such as
me bitter and black with sorrow; and then it is a fine
thing, when you have had enough of that, to think of
securing your pleasure in heaven by becoming converted!
Out upon such--I don't believe in you--I hate it!"
"Tess," he insisted; "don't speak so! It came to me
like a jolly new idea! And you don't believe me? What
don't you believe?"
"Your conversion. Your scheme of religion."
She dropped her voice. "Because a better man than you
does not believe in such."
"What a woman's reason! Who is this better man?"
"I cannot tell you."
"Well," he declared, a resentment beneath his words
seeming ready to spring out at a moment's notice, "God
forbid that I should say I am a good man--and you know
I don't say any such thing. I am new to goodness,
truly; but newcomers see furthest sometimes."
"Yes," she replied sadly. "But I cannot believe in
your conversion to a new spirit. Such flashes as you
feel, Alec, I fear don't last!"
Thus speaking she turned from the stile over which she
had been leaning, and faced him; whereupon his eyes,
falling casually upon the familiar countenance and
form, remained contemplating her. The inferior man was
quiet in him now; but it was surely not extracted, nor
even entirely subdued.
"Don't look at me like that!" he said abruptly.
Tess, who had been quite unconscious of her action and
mien, instantly withdrew the large dark gaze of her
eyes, stammering with a flush, "I beg your pardon!"
And there was revived in her the wretched sentiment
which had often come to her before, that in inhabiting
the fleshly tabernacle with which Nature had endowed
her she was somehow doing wrong.