Part 9 out of 11
"No, no! Don't beg my pardon. But since you wear a
veil to hide your good looks, why don't you keep it
She pulled down the veil, saying hastily, "It was
mostly to keep off the wind."
"It may seem harsh of me to dictate like this," he went
on; "but it is better that I should not look too often
on you. It might be dangerous."
"Ssh!" said Tess.
"Well, women's faces have had too much power over me
already for me not to fear them! An evangelist has
nothing to do with such as they; and it reminds me of
the old times that I would forget!"
After this their conversation dwindled to a casual
remark now and then as they rambled onward, Tess
inwardly wondering how far he was going with her, and
not liking to send him back by positive mandate.
Frequently when they came to a gate or stile they found
painted thereon in red or blue letters some text of
Scripture, and she asked him if he knew who had been at
the pains to blazon these announcements. He told her
that the man was employed by himself and others who
were working with him in that district, to paint these
reminders that no means might be left untried which
might move the hearts of a wicked generation.
At length the road touched the spot called
"Cross-in-Hand." Of all spots on the bleached and
desolate upland this was the most forlorn. It was so
far removed from the charm which is sought in landscape
by artists and view-lovers as to reach a new kind of
beauty, a negative beauty of tragic tone. The place
took its name from a stone pillar which stood there, a
strange rude monolith, from a stratum unknown in any
local quarry, on which was roughly carved a human hand.
Differing accounts were given of its history and
purport. Some authorities stated that a devotional
cross had once formed the complete erection thereon, of
which the present relic was but the stump; others that
the stone as it stood was entire, and that it had been
fixed there to mark a boundary or place of meeting.
Anyhow, whatever the origin of the relic, there was and
is something sinister, or solemn, according to mood, in
the scene amid which it stands; something tending to
impress the most phlegmatic passer-by.
"I think I must leave you now," he remarked, as they
drew near to this spot. "I have to preach at
Abbot's-Cernel at six this evening, and my way lies
across to the right from here. And you upset me
somewhat too, Tessy--I cannot, will not, say why.
I must go away and get strength. ... How is it that you
speak so fluently now? Who has taught you such good
"I have learnt things in my troubles," she said
"What troubles have you had?"
She told him of the first one--the only one that
related to him.
D'Urberville was struck mute. "I knew nothing of this
till now!" he next murmured. "Why didn't you write to
me when you felt your trouble coming on?"
She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding:
"Well--you will see me again."
"No," she answered. "Do not again come near me!"
"I will think. But before we part come here."
He stepped up to the pillar. "This was once a Holy Cross.
Relics are not in my creed; but I fear you at moments--far
more than you need fear me at present; and to lessen my
fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear
that you will never tempt me--by your charms or ways."
"Good God--how can you ask what is so unnecessary!
All that is furthest from my thought!"
"Yes--but swear it."
Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity;
placed her hand upon the stone and swore.
"I am sorry you are not a believer," he continued;
"that some unbeliever should have got hold of you and
unsettled your mind. But no more now. At home at
least I can pray for you; and I will; and who knows
what may not happen? I'm off. Goodbye!"
He turned to a hunting-gate in the hedge, and without
letting his eyes again rest upon her leapt over, and
struck out across the down in the direction of
Abbot's-Cernel. As he walked his pace showed
perturbation, and by-and-by, as if instigated by a
former thought, he drew from his pocket a small book,
between the leaves of which was folded a letter, worn
and soiled, as from much re-reading. D'Urberville
opened the letter. It was dated several months before
this time, and was signed by Parson Clare.
The letter began by expressing the writer's unfeigned
joy at d'Urberville's conversion, and thanked him for
his kindness in communicating with the parson on the
subject. It expressed Mr Clare's warm assurance of
forgiveness for d'Urberville's former conduct, and his
interest in the young man's plans for the future. He,
Mr Clare, would much have liked to see d'Urberville in
the Church to whose ministry he had devoted so many
years of his own life, and would have helped him to
enter a theological college to that end; but since his
correspondent had possibly not cared to do this on
account of the delay it would have entailed, he was not
the man to insist upon its paramount importance. Every
man must work as he could best work, and in the method
towards which he felt impelled by the Spirit.
D'Urberville read and re-read this letter, and seemed
to quiz himself cynically. He also read some passages
from memoranda as he walked till his face assumed a
calm, and apparently the image of Tess no longer
troubled his mind.
She meanwhile had kept along the edge of the hill by
which lay her nearest way home. Within the distance of
a mile she met a solitary shepherd.
"What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?"
she asked of him. "Was it ever a Holy Cross?"
"Cross--no; 'twer not a cross! "Tis a thing of
ill-omen, Miss. It was put up in wuld times by the
relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by
nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The
bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the
devil, and that he walks at times."
She felt the PETIT MORT at this unexpectedly gruesome
information, and left the solitary man behind her. It
was dusk when she drew near to Flintcomb-Ash, and in
the lane at the entrance to the hamlet she approached a
girl and her lover without their observing her. They
were talking no secrets, and the clear unconcerned
voice of the young woman, in response to the warmer
accents of the man, spread into the chilly air as the
one soothing thing within the dusky horizon, full of a
stagnant obscurity upon which nothing else intruded.
For a moment the voices cheered the heart of Tess, till
she reasoned that this interview had its origin, on one
side or the other, in the same attraction which had
been the prelude to her own tribulation. When she came
close the girl turned serenely and recognized her, the
young man walking off in embarrassment. The woman was
Izz Huett, whose interest in Tess's excursion
immediately superseded her own proceedings. Tess did
not explain very clearly its results, and Izz, who was
a girl of tact, began to speak of her own little
affair, a phase of which Tess had just witnessed.
"He is Amby Seedling, the chap who used to sometimes
come and help at Talbothays," she explained
indifferently. "He actually inquired and found out
that I had come here, and has followed me. He says
he's been in love wi' me these two years. But I've
hardly answered him."
Several days had passed since her futile journey, and
Tess was afield. The dry winter wind still blew, but a
screen of thatched hurdles erected in the eye of the
blast kept its force away from her. On the sheltered
side was a turnip-slicing machine, whose bright blue
hue of new paint seemed almost vocal in the otherwise
subdued scene. Opposite its front was a long mound or
"grave", in which the roots had been preserved since
early winter. Tess was standing at the uncovered end,
chopping off with a bill-hook the fibres and earth from
each root, and throwing it after the operation into the
slicer. A man was turning the handle of the machine,
and from its trough came the newly-cut swedes, the
fresh smell of whose yellow chips was accompanied by
the sounds of the snuffling wind, the smart swish of
the slicing-blades, and the choppings of the hook in
Tess's leather-gloved hand.
The wide acreage of blank agricultural brownness,
apparent where the swedes had been pulled, was
beginning to be striped in wales of darker brown,
gradually broadening to ribands. Along the edge of
each of these something crept upon ten legs, moving
without haste and without rest up and down the whole
length of the field; it was two horses and a man, the
plough going between them, turning up the cleared
ground for a spring sowing.
For hours nothing relieved the joyless monotony of
things. Then, far beyond the ploughing-teams, a black
speck was seen. It had come from the corner of a
fence, where there was a gap, and its tendency was up
the incline, towards the swede-cutters. From the
proportions of a mere point it advanced to the shape of
a ninepin, and was soon perceived to be a man in black,
arriving from the direction of Flintcomb-Ash. The man
at the slicer, having nothing else to do with his eyes,
continually observed the comer, but Tess, who was
occupied, did not perceived him till her companion
directed her attention to his approach.
It was not her hard taskmaster, Farmer Groby; it was
one in a semi-clerical costume, who now represented
what had once been the free-and-easy Alec d'Urberville.
Not being hot at his preaching there was less
enthusiasm about him now, and the presence of the
grinder seemed to embarrass him. A pale distress was
already on Tess's face, and she pulled her curtained
hood further over it.
D'Urberville came up and said quietly----
"I want to speak to you, Tess."
"You have refused my last request, not to come near
me!" said she.
"Yes, but I have a good reason."
"Well, tell it."
"It is more serious than you may think."
He glanced round to see if he were overheard. They
were at some distance from the man who turned the
slicer, and the movement of the machine, too,
sufficiently prevented Alec's words reaching other
ears. D'Urberville placed himself so as to screen Tess
from the labourer, turning his back to the latter.
"It is this," he continued, with capricious
compunction. "In thinking of your soul and mine when
we last met, I neglected to inquire as to your worldly
condition. You were well dressed, and I did not think
of it. But I see now that it is hard--harder than it
used to be when I--knew you--harder than you deserve.
Perhaps a good deal of it is owning to me!"
She did not answer, and he watched her inquiringly, as,
with bent head, her face completely screened by the
hood, she resumed her trimming of the swedes. By going
on with her work she felt better able to keep him
outside her emotions.
"Tess," he added, with a sigh of discontent,--"yours
was the very worst case I ever was concerned in! I had
no idea of what had resulted till you told me. Scamp
that I was to foul that innocent life! The whole blame
was mine--the whole unconventional business of our time
at Trantridge. You, too, the real blood of which I am
but the base imitation, what a blind young thing you
were as to possibilities! I say in all earnestness
that it is a shame for parents to bring up their girls
in such dangerous ignorance of the gins and nets that
the wicked may set for them, whether their motive be a
good one or the result of simple indifference."
Tess still did no more than listen, throwing down one
globular root and taking up another with automatic
regularity, the pensive contour of the mere fieldwoman
alone marking her.
"But it is not that I came to say," d'Urberville went
on. "My circumstances are these. I have lost my mother
since you were at Trantridge, and the place is my own.
But I intend to sell it, and devote myself to
missionary work in Africa. A devil of a poor hand I
shall make at the trade, no doubt. However, what I want
to ask you is, will you put it in my power to do my
duty--to make the only reparation I can make for the
trick played you: that is, will you be my wife, and go
with me? ... I have already obtained this precious
document. It was my old mother's dying wish."
He drew a piece of parchment from his pocket, with a
slight fumbling of embarrassment.
"What is it?" said she.
"A marriage licence."
"O no, sir--no!" she said quickly, starting back.
"You will not? Why is that?"
And as he asked the question a disappointment which was
not entirely the disappointment of thwarted duty
crossed d'Urberville's face. It was unmistakably a
symptom that something of his old passion for her had
been revived; duty and desire ran hand-in-hand.
"Surely," he began again, in more impetuous tones, and
then looked round at the labourer who turned the
Tess, too, felt that the argument could not be ended
there. Informing the man that a gentleman had come to
see her, with whom she wished to walk a little way, she
moved off with d'Urberville across the zebra-striped
field. When they reached the first newly-ploughed
section he held out his hand to help her over it; but
she stepped forward on the summits of the earth-rolls
as if she did not see him.
"You will not marry me, Tess, and make me a
self-respecting man?" he repeated, as soon as they were
over the furrows.
"You know I have no affection for you."
"But you would get to feel that in time, perhaps--as
soon as you really could forgive me?"
"Why so positive?"
"I love somebody else."
The words seemed to astonish him.
"You do?" he cried. "Somebody else? But has not a
sense of what is morally right and proper any weight
"No, no, no--don't say that!"
"Anyhow, then, your love for this other man may be only
a passing feeling which you will overcome----"
"Yes, yes! Why not?"
"I cannot tell you."
"You must in honour!"
"Well then ... I have married him."
"Ah!" he exclaimed; and he stopped dead and gazed at
"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--are we? Strangers!"
For a moment a flash of his old irony marked his face;
but he determinedly chastened it down.
"Is that man your husband?" he asked mechanically,
denoting by a sign the labourer who turned the machine.
"That man!" she said proudly. "I should think not!"
"Do not ask what I do not wish to tell!" she begged,
and flashed her appeal to him from her upturned face
and lash-shadowed eyes.
D'Urberville was disturbed.
"But I only asked for your sake!" he retorted hotly.
"Angels of heaven!--God forgive me for such an
expression--I came here, I swear, as I thought for your
good. Tess--don't look at me so--I cannot stand your
looks! There never were such eyes, surely, before
Christianity or since! There--I won't lose my head;
I dare not. I own that the sight of you had waked up my
love for you, which, I believed, was extinguished with
all such feelings. But I thought that our marriage
might be a sanctification for us both. 'The
unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the
unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband', I said
to myself. But my plan is dashed from me; and I must
bear the disappointment!"
He moodily reflected with his eyes on the ground.
"Married. Married! ... Well, that being so," he added,
quite calmly, tearing the licence slowly into halves
and putting them in his pocket; "that being prevented,
I should like to do some good to you and your husband,
whoever he may be. There are many questions that I am
tempted to ask, but I will not do so, of course, in
opposition to your wishes. Though, if I could know your
husband, I might more easily benefit him and you.
Is he on this farm?"
"No," she murmured. "He is far away."
"Far away? From YOU? What sort of husband can he be?"
"O, do not speak against him! It was through you! He
"Ah, is it so! ... That's sad, Tess!"
"But to stay away from you--to leave you to work like
"He does not leave me to work!" she cried, springing to
the defence of the absent one with all her fervour.
"He don't know it! It is by my own arrangement."
"Then, does he write?"
"I--I cannot tell you. There are things which are
private to ourselves."
"Of course that means that he does not. You are a
deserted wife, my fair Tess----"
In an impulse he turned suddenly to take her hand; the
buff-glove was on it, and he seized only the rough
leather fingers which did not express the life or shape
of those within.
"You must not--you must not!" she cried fearfully,
slipping her hand from the glove as from a pocket, and
leaving it in his grasp. "O, will you go away--for the
sake of me and my husband--go, in the name of your own
"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
"Indeed, Mister! And what mid Methodist pa'sons have
to do with she?"
"Who is the fellow?" asked d'Urberville, turning to
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.
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
That very night she began an appealing letter to Clare,
concealing from him her hardships, and assuring him of
her undying affection. Any one who had been in a
position to read between the lines would have seen that
at the back of her great love was some monstrous
fear--almost a desperation--as to some secret
contingencies which were not disclosed. But again she
did not finish her effusion; he had asked Izz to go
with him, and perhaps he did not care for her at all.
She put the letter in her box, and wondered if it would
ever reach Angel's hands.
After this her daily tasks were gone through heavily
enough, and brought on the day which was of great
import to agriculturists--the day of the Candlemas
Fair. It was at this fair that new engagements were
entered into for the twelve months following the
ensuing Lady-Day, and those of the farming population
who thought of changing their places duly attended at
the county-town where the fair was held. Nearly all
the labourers on Flintcomb-Ash farm intended flight,
and early in the morning there was a general exodus in
the direction of the town, which lay at a distance of
from ten to a dozen miles over hilly country. Though
Tess also meant to leave at the quarter-day she was one
of the few who did not go to the fair, having a
vaguely-shaped hope that something would happen to
render another outdoor engagement unnecessary.
It was a peaceful February day, of wonderful softness
for the time, and one would almost have thought that
winter was over. She had hardly finished her dinner
when d'Urberville's figure darkened the window of the
cottage wherein she was a lodger, which she had all to
Tess jumped up, but her visitor had knocked at the
door, and she could hardly in reason run away.
D'Urberville's knock, his walk up to the door, had some
indescribable quality of difference from his air when
she last saw him. They seemed to be acts of which the
doer was ashamed. She thought that she would not open
the door; but, as there was no sense in that either,
she arose, and having lifted the latch stepped back
quickly. He came in, saw her, and flung himself down
into a chair before speaking.
"Tess--I couldn't help it!" he began desperately, as he
wiped his heated face, which had also a superimposed
flush of excitement. "I felt that I must call at least
to ask how you are. I assure you I had not been
thinking of you at all till I saw you that Sunday; now
I cannot get rid of your image, try how I may! It is
hard that a good woman should do harm to a bad man; yet
so it is. If you would only pray for me, Tess!"
The suppressed discontent of his manner was almost
pitiable, and yet Tess did not pity him.
"How can I pray for you," she said, "when I am
forbidden to believe that the great Power who moves the
world would alter His plans on my account?"
"You really think that?"
"Yes. I have been cured of the presumption of thinking
"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
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
"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
"Yes, but you should not take negative opinions
wholesale from another person like that. A pretty
fellow he must be to teach you such scepticism!"
"He never forced my judgement! He would never argue on
the subject with me! But I looked at it in this way;
what he believed, after inquiring deep into doctrines,
was much more likely to be right than what I might
believe, who hadn't looked into doctrines at all."
"What used he to say? He must have said something?"
She reflected; and with her acute memory for the letter
of Angel Clare's remarks, even when she did not
comprehend their spirit, she recalled a merciless
polemical syllogism that she had heard him use when, as
it occasionally happened, he indulged in a species of
thinking aloud with her at his side. In delivering it
she gave also Clare's accent and manner with
"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
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
"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 today 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 today! But I started from home to go to
Casterbridge Fair, where I have undertaken to preach
the Word from a waggon at half-past two this afternoon,
and where all the brethren are expecting me this
minute. Here's the announcement."
He drew from his breast-pocket a poster whereon was
printed the day, hour, and place of meeting, at which
he, d'Urberville, would preach the Gospel as aforesaid.
"But how can you get there?" said Tess, looking at the
"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?" 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
"I couldn't help your seeing me again!" said Tess,
"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 seemed to neglect you utterly!"
"Don't speak against him--he is absent!" she cried in
much excitement. "Treat him honourably--he has never
wronged you! O leave his wife before any scandal
spreads that may do harm to his honest name!"
"I will--I will," he said, like a man awakening from a
luring dream. "I have broken my engagement to preach
to those poor drunken boobies at the fair--it is the
first time I have played such a practical joke. A
month ago I should have been horrified at such a
possibility. I'll go away--to swear--and--ah, can I!
to keep away." Then, suddenly: "One clasp, Tessy--one!
Only for old friendship-----"
"I am without defence. Alec! A good man's honour is in
my keeping--think--be ashamed!"
"Pooh! Well, yes--yes!"
He clenched his lips, mortified with himself for his
weakness. His eyes were equally barren of worldly and
religious faith. The corpses of those old fitful
passions which had lain inanimate amid the lines of his
face ever since his reformation seemed to wake and come
together as in a resurrection. He went out
Though d'Urberville had declared that this breach of
his engagement today 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
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
engineman. 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
What he looked he felt. He was in the agricultural
world, but not of it. He served fire and smoke; these
denizens of the fields served vegetation, weather,
frost, and sun. He travelled with his engine from farm
to farm, from county to county, for as yet the steam
threshing-machine was itinerant in this part of Wessex.
He spoke in a strange northern accent; his thoughts
being turned inwards upon himself, his eye on his iron
charge, hardly perceiving the scenes around him, and
caring for them not at all: holding only strictly
necessary intercourse with the natives, as if some
ancient doom compelled him to wander here against his
will in the service of his Plutonic master. The long
strap which ran from the driving-wheel of his engine to
the red thresher under the rick was the sole tie-line
between agriculture and him.
While they uncovered the sheaves he stood apathetic
beside his portable repository of force, round whose
hot blackness the morning air quivered. He had nothing
to do with preparatory labour. His fire was waiting
incandescent, his steam was at high pressure, in a few
seconds he could make the long strap move at an
invisible velocity. Beyond its extent the environment
might be corn, straw, or chaos; it was all the same to
him. If any of the autochthonous idlers asked him what
he called himself, he replied shortly, "an engineer."
The rick was unhaled by full daylight; the men then
took their places, the women mounted, and the work
began. Farmer Groby--or, as they called him, "he"--had
arrived ere this, and by his orders Tess was placed on
the platform of the machine, close to the man who fed
it, her business being to untie every sheaf of corn
handed on to her by Izz Huett, who stood next, but on
the rick; so that the feeder could seize it and spread
it over the revolving drum, which whisked out every
grain in one moment. They were soon in full progress,
after a preparatory hitch or two, which rejoiced the
hearts of those who hated machinery. The work sped on
till breakfast time, when the thresher was stopped for
half an hour; and on starting again after the meal the
whole supplementary strength of the farm was thrown
into the labour of constructing the straw-rick, which
began to grow beside the stack of corn. A hasty lunch
was eaten as they stood, without leaving their
positions, and then another couple of hours brought
them near to dinner-time; the inexorable wheel
continuing to spin, and the penetrating hum of the
thresher to thrill to the very marrow all who were near
the revolving wire-cage.
The old men on the rising straw-rick talked of the past
days when they had been accustomed to thresh with
flails on the oaken barn-door; 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
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
"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
"He hev left off his black coat and white neckercher,
and hev cut off his whiskers; but he's the same man for
"D'ye really think so? Then I'll tell her," said
"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
"Oh--he can do her no harm," said Izz drily. "Her mind
can no more be heaved from that one place where it do
bide than a stooded waggon from the hole he's in. Lord
love 'ee, neither court-paying, nor preaching, nor the
seven thunders themselves, can wean a woman when
'twould be better for her that she should be weaned."
Dinner-time came, and the whirling ceased; whereupon
Tess left her post, her knees trembling so wretchedly
with the shaking of the machine that she could scarcely
"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
It occurred to the good-natured Marian that, as Tess
was so tired, her discovery of her visitor's presence
might have the bad effect of taking away her appetite;
and Marian was thinking of inducing Tess to descend by
a ladder on the further side of the stack when the
gentleman came forward and looked up.
Tess uttered a short little "Oh!" And a moment after
she said, quickly, "I shall eat my dinner here--right
on the rick."
Sometimes, when they were so far from their cottages,
they all did this; but as there was rather a keen wind
going today, Marian and the rest descended, and sat
under the straw-stack. The newcomer was, indeed, Alec
d'Urberville, the late Evangelist, despite his changed
attire and aspect. It was obvious at a glance that the
original WELTLUST had come back; that he had restored
himself, as nearly as a man could do who had grown
three or four years older, to the old jaunty, slapdash
guise under which Tess had first known her admirer, and
cousin so-called. Having decided to remain where she
was, Tess sat down among the bundles, out of sight of
the ground, and began her meal; till, by-and-by, she
heard footsteps on the ladder, and immediately after
Alec appeared upon the stack--now an oblong and level
platform of sheaves. He strode across them, and sat
down opposite of her without a word.
Tess continued to eat her modest dinner, a slice of
thick pancake which she had brought with her. The
other workfolk were by this time all gathered under the
rick, where the loose straw formed a comfortable
"I am here again, as you see," said d'Urberville.
"Why do you trouble me so!" she cried, reproach
flashing from her very finger-ends.
"I trouble YOU? I think I may ask, why do you trouble
"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--
"Entirely. I have broken every engagement since that
afternoon I was to address the drunkards at
Casterbridge Fair. The deuce only knows what I am
thought of by the brethren. Ah-ha! The brethren! No
doubt they pray for me--weep for me; for they are kind
people in their way. But what do I care? How could I
go on with the thing when I had lost my faith in
it?--it would have been hypocrisy of the basest kind!
Among them I should have stood like Hymenaeus and
Alexander, who were delivered over to Satan that they
might learn not to blaspheme. What a grand revenge you
have taken! I saw you innocent, and I deceived you.
Four years after, you find me a Christian enthusiast;
you then work upon me, perhaps to my complete
perdition! But Tess, my coz, as I used to call you,
this is only my way of talking, and you must not look
so horribly concerned. Of course you have done nothing
except retain your pretty face and shapely figure.
I saw it on the rick before you saw me--that tight
pinafore-thing sets it off, and that wing-bonnet--you
field-girls should never wear those bonnets if you wish
to keep out of danger." He regarded her silently for a
few moments, and with a short cynical laugh resumed:
"I believe that if the bachelor-apostle, whose deputy I
thought I was, had been tempted by such a pretty face,
he would have let go the plough for her sake as I do!"
Tess attempted to expostulate, but at this juncture all
her fluency failed her, and without heeding he added:
"Well, this paradise that you supply is perhaps as good
as any other, after all. But to speak seriously.
Tess." D'Urberville rose and came nearer, reclining
sideways amid the sheaves, and resting upon his elbow.
"Since I last saw you, I have been thinking of what you
said that HE said. I have come to the conclusion that
there does seem rather a want of common-sense in these
threadbare old propositions; how I could have been so
fired by poor Parson Clare's enthusiasm, and have gone
so madly to work, transcending even him, I cannot make
out! As for what you said last time, on the strength of
your wonderful husband's intelligence--whose name you
have never told me--about having what they call an
ethical system without any dogma, I don't see my way to
that at all."
"Why, you can have the religion of loving-kindness and
purity at least, if you can't have--what do you call
"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
"True, true," he said, wincing a little. "I did not
come to reproach you for my deeds. I came Tess, to say
that I don't like you to be working like this, and I
have come on purpose for you. You say you have a
husband who is not I. Well, perhaps you have; but I've
never seen him, and you've not told me his name; and
altogether he seems rather a mythological personage.
However, even if you have one, I think I am nearer to
you than he is. I, at any rate, try to help you out of
trouble, but he does not, bless his invisible face!
The words of the stern prophet Hosea that I used to
read come back to me. Don't you know them, Tess?--'And
she shall follow after her lover, but she shall not
overtake him; and she shall seek him, but shall not
find him; then shall she say, I will go and return to
my first husband; for then was it better with me than
now!' ... Tess, my trap is waiting just under the hill,
and--darling mine, not his!--you know the rest."
Her face had been rising to a dull crimson fire while
he spoke; but she did not answer.
"You have been the cause of my backsliding," he
continued, stretching his arm towards her waist; "you
should be willing to share it, and leave that mule you
call husband for ever."
One of her leather gloves, which she had taken off to
eat her skimmer-cake, lay in her lap, and without the
slightest warning she passionately swung the glove by
the gauntlet directly in his face. It was heavy and
thick as a warrior's, and it struck him flat on the
mouth. Fancy might have regarded the act as the
recrudescence of a trick in which her armed progenitors
were not unpractised. Alec fiercely started up from his
reclining position. A scarlet oozing appeared where
her blow had alighted, and in a moment the blood began
dropping from his mouth upon the straw. But he soon
controlled himself, calmly drew his handkerchief from
his pocket, and mopped his bleeding lips.
She too had sprung up, but she sank down again. "Now,
punish me!" she said, turning up her eyes to him with
the hopeless defiance of the sparrow's gaze before its
captor twists its neck. "Whip me, crush me; you need
not mind those people under the rick! I shall not cry
out. Once victim, always victim--that's the law!"
"O no, no, Tess," he said blandly. "I can make full
allowance for this. Yet you most unjustly forget one
thing, that I would have married you if you had not put
it out of my power to do so. Did I not ask you flatly
to be my wife--hey? Answer me."
"And you cannot be. But remember one thing!" His
voice hardened as his temper got the better of him with
the recollection of his sincerity in asking her and her
present ingratitude, and he stepped across to her side
and held her by the shoulders, so that she shook under
his grasp. "Remember, my lady, I was your master once!
I will be your master again. If you are any man's wife
you are mine!"
The threshers now began to stir below.
"So much for our quarrel," he said, letting her go.
"Now I shall leave you, and shall come again for your
answer during the afternoon. You don't know me yet!
But I know you."
She had not spoken again, remaining as if stunned.
D'Urberville retreated over the sheaves, and descended
the ladder, while the workers below rose and stretched
their arms, and shook down the beer they had drunk.
Then the threshing-machine started afresh; and amid the
renewed rustle of the straw Tess resumed her position
by the buzzing drum as one in a dream, untying sheaf
after sheaf in endless succession.
In the afternoon the farmer made it known that the rick
was to be finished that night, since there was a moon
by which they could see to work, and the man with the
engine was engaged for another farm on the morrow.
Hence the twanging and humming and rustling proceeded
with even less intermission than usual.
It was not till "nammet"-time, about three o-clock,
that Tess raised her eyes and gave a momentary glance
round. She felt but little surprise at seeing that
Alec d'Urberville had come back, and was standing under
the hedge by the gate. He had seen her lift her eyes,
and waved his hand urbanely to her, while he blew her a
kiss. It meant that their quarrel was over. Tess
looked down again, and carefully abstained from gazing
in that direction.
Thus the afternoon dragged on. The wheat-rick shrank
lower, and the straw-rick grew higher, and the
corn-sacks were carted away. At six o'clock the
wheat-rick was about shoulder-high from the ground.
But the unthreshed sheaves remaining untouched seemed
countless still, notwithstanding the enormous numbers
that had been gulped down by the insatiable swallower,
fed by the man and Tess, through whose two young hands
the greater part of them had passed. And the immense
stack of straw where in the morning there had been
nothing, appeared as the FAECES of the same buzzing red
glutton. From the west sky a wrathful shine--all that
wild March could afford in the way of sunset--had burst
forth after the cloudy day, flooding the tired and
sticky faces of the threshers, and dyeing them with a
coppery light, as also the flapping garments of the
women, which clung to them like dull flames.
A panting ache ran through the rick. The man who fed
was weary, and Tess could see that the red nape of his
neck was encrusted with dirt and husks. She still
stood at her post, her flushed and perspiring face
coated with the corndust, and her white bonnet
embrowned by it. She was the only woman whose place
was upon the machine so as to be shaken bodily by its
spinning, and the decrease of the stack now separated
her from Marian and Izz, and prevented their changing
duties with her as they had done. The incessant
quivering, in which every fibre of her frame
participated, had thrown her into a stupefied reverie
in which her arms worked on independently of her
consciousness. She hardly knew where she was, and did
not hear Izz Huett tell her from below that her hair
was tumbling down.
By degrees the freshest among them began to grow
cadaverous and saucer-eyed. Whenever Tess lifted her
head she beheld always the great upgrown straw-stack,
with the men in shirt-sleeves upon it, against the gray
north sky; in front of it the long red elevator like a
Jacob's ladder, on which a perpetual stream of threshed
straw ascended, a yellow river running uphill, and
spouting out on the top of the rick.
She knew that Alec d'Urberville was still on the scene,
observing her from some point or other, though she
could not say where. There was an excuse for his
remaining, for when the threshed rick drew near its
final sheaves a little ratting was always done, and men
unconnected with the threshing sometimes dropped in for
that performance--sporting characters of all
descriptions, gents with terriers and facetious pipes,
roughs with sticks and stones.
But there was another hour's work before the layer of
live rats at the base of the stack would be reached;
and as the evening light in the direction of the
Giant's Hill by Abbot's-Cernel dissolved away, the
white-faced moon of the season arose from the horizon
that lay towards Middleton Abbey and Shottsford on the
other side. For the last hour or two Marian had felt
uneasy about Tess, whom she could not get near enough
to speak to, the other women having kept up their
strength by drinking ale, and Tess having done without
it through traditionary dread, owing to its results at
her home in childhood. But Tess still kept going: if
she could not fill her part she would have to leave;
and this contingency, which she would have regarded
with equanimity and even with relief a month or two
earlier, had become a terror since d'Urberville had
begun to hover round her.
The sheaf-pitchers and feeders had now worked the rick
so low that people on the ground could talk to them.
To Tess's surprise Farmer Groby came up on the machine
to her, and said that if she desired to join her friend
he did not wish her to keep on any longer, and would
send somebody else to take her place. The "friend" was
d'Urberville, she knew, and also that this concession
had been granted in obedience to the request of that
friend, or enemy. She shook her head and toiled on.
The time for the rat-catching arrived at last, and the
hunt began. The creatures had crept downwards with the
subsidence of the rick till they were all together at
the bottom, and being now uncovered from their last
refuge they ran across the open ground in all
directions, a loud shriek from the by-this-time
half-tipsy Marian informing her companions that one of
the rats had invaded her person--a terror which the
rest of the women had guarded against by various
schemes of skirt-tucking and self-elevation. The rat
was at last dislodged, and, amid the barking of dogs,
masculine shouts, feminine screams, oaths, stampings,
and confusion as of Pandemonium, Tess untied her last
sheaf; the drum slowed, the whizzing ceased, and she
stepped from the machine to the ground.
Her lover, who had only looked on at the rat-catching,
was promptly at her side.
"What--after all--my insulting slap, too!" said she in
an underbreath. She was so utterly exhausted that she
had not strength to speak louder.
"I should indeed be foolish to feel offended at
anything you say or do," he answered, in the seductive
voice of the Trantridge time. "How the little limbs
tremble! You are as weak as a bled calf, you know you
are; and yet you need have done nothing since I
arrived. How could you be so obstinate? However, I
have told the farmer that he has no right to employ
women at steam-threshing. It is not proper work for
them; and on all the better class of farms it has been
given up, as he knows very well. I will walk with you
as far as your home."
"O yes," she answered with a jaded gait. "Walk wi' me
if you will! I do bear in mind that you came to marry
me before you knew o' my state. Perhaps--perhaps you
are a little better and kinder than I have been
thinking you were. Whatever is meant by kindness I am
grateful for; whatever is meant in any other way I am
angered at. I cannot sense your meaning sometimes."
"If I cannot legitimize our former relations at least I
can assist you. And I will do it with much more regard
for your feelings than I formerly showed. My religious
mania, or whatever it was, is over. But I retain a
little good nature; I hope I do. Now, Tess, by all
that's tender and strong between man and woman, trust
me! I have enough and more than enough to put you out
of anxiety, both for yourself and your parents and
sisters. I can make them all comfortable if you will
only show confidence in me."
"Have you seen 'em lately?" she quickly inquired.
"Yes. They didn't know where you were. It was only by
chance that I found you here."
The cold moon looked aslant upon Tess's fagged face
between the twigs of the garden-hedge as she paused
outside the cottage which was her temporary home,
d'Urberville pausing beside her.
"Don't mention my little brothers and sisters--don't
make me break down quite!" she said. "If you want to
help them--God knows they need it--do it without
telling me. But no, no!" she cried. "I will take
nothing from you, either for them or for me!"
He did not accompany her further, since, as she lived
with the household, all was public indoors. No sooner
had she herself entered, laved herself in a
washing-tub, and shared supper with the family than she
fell into thought, and withdrawing to the table under
the wall, by the light of her own little lamp wrote in
a passionate mood--
MY OWN HUSBAND,--Let me call you so--I must--even if it
makes you angry to think of such an unworthy wife as I.
I must cry to you in my trouble--I have no one else! I
am so exposed to temptation, Angel. I fear to say who
it is, and I do not like to write about it at all. But
I cling to you in a way you cannot think! Can you not
come to me now, at once, before anything terrible
happens? O, I know you cannot, because you are so far
away! I think I must die if you do not come soon, or
tell me to come to you. The punishment you have
measured out to me is deserved--I do know that--well
deserved--and you are right and just to be angry with
me. But, Angel, please, please, not to be just--only a
little kind to me, even if I do not deserve it, and
come to me! If you would come, I could die in your
arms! I would be well content to do that if so be you
had forgiven me!
Angel, I live entirely for you. I love you too much to
blame you for going away, and I know it was necessary
you should find a farm. Do not think I shall say a
word of sting or bitterness. Only come back to me. I
am desolate without you, my darling, O, so desolate! I
do not mind having to work: but if you will send me one
little line, and say, "I AM COMING SOON," I will bide
on, Angel--O, so cheerfully!
It has been so much my religion ever since we were
married to be faithful to you in every thought and
look, that even when a man speaks a compliment to me
before I am aware, it seems wronging you. Have you
never felt one little bit of what you used to feel when
we were at the dairy? If you have, how can you keep
away from me? I am the same 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 you? It was a dead thing altogether. I
became another woman, filled full of new life from you.
How could I be the early one? Why do you not see this?
Dear, if you would only be a little more conceited, and
believe in yourself so far as to see that you were
strong enough to work this change in me, you would
perhaps be in a mind to come to me, your poor wife.
How silly I was in my happiness when I thought I could
trust you always to love me! I ought to have known
that such as that was not for poor me. But I am sick
at heart, not only for old times, but for the present.
Think--think how it do hurt my heart not to see you
ever--ever! Ah, if I could only make your dear heart
ache one little minute of each day as mine does every
day and all day long, it might lead you to show pity to
your poor lonely one.
People still say that I am rather pretty, Angel
(handsome is the word they use, since I wish to be
truthful). Perhaps I am what they say. But I do not
value my good looks; I only like to have them because
they belong to you, my dear, and that there may be at
least one thing about me worth your having. So much
have I felt this, that when I met with annoyance on
account of the same I tied up my face in a bandage as
long as people would believe in it. O Angel, I tell
you all this not from vanity--you will certainly know I
do not--but only that you may come to me!
If you really cannot come to me will you let me come to
you? I am, as I say, worried, pressed to do what I
will not do. It cannot be that I shall yield one inch,
yet I am in terror as to what an accident might lead
to, and I so defenceless on account of my first error.
I cannot say more about this--it makes me too
miserable. But if I break down by falling into some
fearful snare, my last state will be worse than my
first. O God, I cannot think of it! Let me come at
once, or at once come to me!
I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your
servant, if I may not as your wife; so that I could
only be near you, and get glimpses of you, and think of
you as mine.
The daylight has nothing to show me, since you are not
here, and I don't like to see the rooks and starlings
in the field, because I grieve and grieve to miss you
who used to see them with me. I long for only one
thing in heaven or earth or under the earth, to meet
you, my own dear! Come to me--come to me, and save me
from what threatens me!--Your faithful heartbroken
The appeal duly found its way to the breakfast-table of
the quiet Vicarage to the westward, in that valley
where the air is so soft and the soil so rich that the
effort of growth requires but superficial aid by
comparison with the tillage at Flintcomb-Ash, and where
to Tess the human world seemed so different (though it
was much the same). It was purely for security that
she had been requested by Angel to send her
communications through his father, whom he kept pretty
well informed of his changing addresses in the country
he had gone to exploit for himself with a heavy heart.
"Now," said old Mr Clare to his wife, when he had read
the envelope, "if Angel proposes leaving Rio for a
visit home at the end of next month, as he told us that
he hoped to do, I think this may hasten his plans; for
I believe it to be from his wife." He breathed deeply
at the thought of her; and the letter was redirected to
be promptly sent on to Angel.
"Dear fellow, I hope he will get home safely," murmured
Mrs Clare. "To my dying day I shall feel that he had
been ill-used. You should have sent him to Cambridge in
spite of his want of faith, and given him the same
chance as the other boys had. He would have grown out
of it under proper influence, and perhaps would have
taken Orders after all. Church or no Church, it would
have been fairer to him."
This was the only wail with which Mrs Clare ever
disturbed her husband's peace in respect to their sons.
And she did not vent this often; for she was as
considerate as she was devout, and knew that his mind
too was troubled by doubts as to his justice in this
matter. Only too often had she heard him lying awake
at night, stifling sighs for Angel with prayers. But
the uncompromising Evangelical did not even now hold
that he would have been justified in giving his son, an
unbeliever, the same academic advantages that he had
given to the two others, when it was possible, if not
probable, that those very advantages might have been
used to decry the doctrines which he had made it his
life's mission and desire to propagate, and the mission
of his ordained sons likewise. To put with one hand a
pedestal under the feet of the two faithful ones, and
with the other to exalt the unfaithful by the same
artificial means, he deemed to be alike inconsistent
with his convictions, his position, and his hopes.
Nevertheless, he loved his misnamed Angel, and in
secret mourned over this treatment of him as Abraham
might have mourned over the doomed Isaac while they
went up the hill together. His silent self-generated
regrets were far bitterer than the reproaches which his
wife rendered audible.
They blamed themselves for this unlucky marriage. If
Angel had never been destined for a farmer he would
never have been thrown with agricultural girls. They
did not distinctly know what had separated him and his
wife, nor the date on which the separation had taken
place. At first they had supposed it must be something
of the nature of a serious aversion. But in his later
letters he occasionally alluded to the intention of
coming home to fetch her; from which expressions they
hoped the division might not owe its origin to anything
so hopelessly permanent as that. He had told them that
she was with her relatives, and in their doubts they
had decided not to intrude into a situation which they
knew no way of bettering.
The eyes for which Tess's letter was intended were
gazing at this time on a limitless expanse of country
from the back of a mule which was bearing him from the
interior of the South-American Continent towards the
coast. His experiences of this strange land had been
sad. The severe illness from which he had suffered
shortly after his arrival had never wholly left him,
and he had by degrees almost decided to relinquish his
hope of farming here, though, as long as the bare
possibility existed of his remaining, he kept this
change of view a secret from his parents.
The crowds of agricultural labourers who had come out
to the country in his wake, dazzled by representations
of easy independence, had suffered, died, and wasted
away. He would see mothers from English farms trudging
along with their infants in their arms, when the child
would be stricken with fever and would die; the mother
would pause to dig a hole in the loose earth with her
bare hands, would bury the babe therein with the same
natural grave-tools, shed one tear, and again trudge
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
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
The next day they were drenched in a thunder-storm.
Angel's companion was struck down with fever, and died
by the week's end. Clare waited a few hours to bury
him, and then went on his way.
The cursory remarks of the large-minded stranger, of
whom he knew absolutely nothing beyond a commonplace
name, were sublimed by his death, and influenced Clare
more than all the reasoned ethics of the philosophers.
His own parochialism made him ashamed by its contrast.
His inconsistencies rushed upon him in a flood. He had
persistently elevated Hellenic Paganism at the expense
of Christianity; yet in that civilization an illegal
surrender was not certain disesteem. Surely then he
might have regarded that abhorrence of the un-intact
state, which he had inherited with the creed of
mysticism, as at least open to correction when the
result was due to treachery. A remorse struck into
him. The words of Izz Huett, never quite stilled in
his memory, came back to him. He had asked Izz if she
loved him, and she had replied in the affirmative. Did
she love him more than Tess did? No, she had replied;
Tess would lay down her life for him, and she herself
could do no more.
He thought of Tess as she had appeared on the day of
the wedding. How her eyes had lingered upon him; how
she had hung upon his words as if they were a god's!
And during the terrible evening over the hearth, when
her simple soul uncovered itself to his, how pitiful
her face had looked by the rays of the fire, in her
inability to realize that his love and protection could
possibly be withdrawn.
Thus from being her critic he grew to be her advocate.
Cynical things he had uttered to himself about her; but
no man can be always a cynic and live; and he withdrew
them. The mistake of expressing them had arisen from
his allowing himself to be influenced by general
principles to the disregard of the particular instance.
But the reasoning is somewhat musty; lovers and
husbands have gone over the ground before today.
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 today towards yesterday, of hereafter
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
Despite her not inviolate past, what still abode in
such a woman as Tess outvalued the freshness of her
fellows. Was not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim
better than the vintage of Abi-ezer?
So spoke love renascent, preparing the way for Tess's
devoted outpouring, which was then just being forwarded
to him by his father; though owing to his distance
inland it was to be a long time in reaching him.
Meanwhile the writer's expectation that Angel would
come in response to the entreaty was alternately great
and small. What lessened it was that the facts of her
life which had led to the parting had not
changed--could never change; and that, if her presence
had not attenuated them, her absence could not.
Nevertheless she addressed her mind to the tender
question of what she could do to please him best if he
should arrive. Sighs were expended on the wish that
she had taken more notice of the tunes he played on his
harp, that she had inquired more curiously of him which
were his favourite ballads among those the country-
girls sang. She indirectly inquired of Amby Seedling,
who had followed Izz from Talbothays, and by chance
Amby remembered that, amongst the snatches of melody in
which they had indulged at the dairyman's, to induce
the cows to let down their milk, Clare had seemed to
like "Cupid's Gardens", "I have parks, I have hounds",
and "The break o' the day"; and had seemed not to care
for "The Tailor's Breeches" and "Such a beauty I did
grow", excellent ditties as they were.
To perfect the ballads was now her whimsical desire.
She practised them privately at odd moments, especially
"The break o' the day":
Arise, arise, arise!
And pick your love a posy,
All o' the sweetest flowers
That in the garden grow.
The turtle doves and sma' birds
In every bough a-building,
So early in the May-time
At the break o' the day!
It would have melted the heart of a stone to hear her
singing these ditties, whenever she worked apart from
the rest of the girls in this cold dry time; the tears
running down her cheeks all the while at the thought
that perhaps he would not, after all, come to hear her,
and the simple silly words of the songs resounding in
painful mockery of the aching heart of the singer.
Tess was so wrapt up in this fanciful dream that she
seemed not to know how the season was advancing; that
the days had lengthened, that Lady-Day was at hand, and
would soon be followed by Old Lady-Day, the end of her
But before the quarter-day had quite come something
happened which made Tess think of far different
matters. She was at her lodging as usual one evening,
sitting in the downstairs room with the rest of the
family, when somebody knocked at the door and inquired
for Tess. Through the doorway she saw against the
declining light a figure with the height of a woman and
the breadth of a child, a tall, thin, girlish creature
whom she did not recognize in the twilight till the
girl said "Tess!"
"What--is it 'Liza-Lu?" asked Tess, in startled
accents. Her sister, whom a little over a year ago she
had left at home as a child, had sprung up by a sudden
shoot to a form of this presentation, of which as yet
Lu seemed herself scarce able to understand the
meaning. Her thin legs, visible below her once long
frock now short by her growing, and her uncomfortable
hands and arms, revealed her youth and inexperience.
"Yes, I have been traipsing about all day, Tess," said
Lu, with unemotional gravity, "a-trying to find 'ee;
and I'm very tired."
"What is the matter at home?"
"Mother is took very bad, and the doctor says she's
dying, and as father is not very well neither, and says
'tis wrong for a man of such a high family as his to
slave and drave at common labouring work, we don't know
what to do."
Tess stood in reverie a long time before she thought of
asking 'Liza-Lu to come in and sit down. When she had
done so, and 'Liza-Lu was having some tea, she came to
a decision. It was imperative that she should go home.
Her agreement did not end till Old Lady-Day, the sixth
of April, but as the interval thereto was not a long
one she resolved to run the risk of starting at once.
To go that night would be a gain of twelve-hours; but
her sister was too tired to undertake such a distance
till the morrow. Tess ran down to where Marian and Izz
lived, informed them of what had happened, and begged
them to make the best of her case to the farmer.
Returning, she got Lu a supper, and after that, having
tucked the younger into her own bed, packed up as many
of her belongings as would go into a withy basket, and
started, directing Lu to follow her next morning.
She plunged into the chilly equinoctial darkness as the
clock struck ten, for her fifteen miles' walk under the
steely stars. In lone 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
She opened the door so softly as to disturb nobody; the
lower room was vacant, but the neighbour who was
sitting up with her mother came to the top of the
stairs, and whispered that Mrs Durbeyfield was no
better, though she was sleeping just then. Tess
prepared herself a breakfast, and then took her place
as nurse in her mother's chamber.
In the morning, when she contemplated the children,
they had all a curiously elongated look; although she
had been away little more than a year their growth was
astounding; and the necessity of applying herself heart
and soul to their needs took her out of her own cares.
Her father's ill-health was the same indefinite kind,
and he sat in his chair as usual. But the day after
her arrival he was unusually bright. He had a rational
scheme for living, and Tess asked him what it was.
"I'm thinking of sending round to all the old
antiqueerians in this part of England," he said,
"asking them to subscribe to a fund to maintain me.
I'm sure they'd see it as a romantical, artistical, and
proper thing to do. They spend lots o' money in
keeping up old ruins, and finding the bones o' things,
and such like; and living remains must be more
interesting to 'em still, if they only knowed of me.
Would that somebody would go round and tell 'em what
there is living among 'em, and they thinking nothing of
him! If Pa'son Tringham, who discovered me, had lived,
he'd ha' done it, I'm sure."
Tess postponed her arguments on this high project till
she had grappled with pressing matters in hand, which
seemed little improved by her remittances. When indoor
necessities had been eased she turned her attention to
external things. It was now the season for planting
and sowing; many gardens and allotments of the
villagers had already received their spring tillage;
but the garden and the allotment of the Durbeyfields
were behindhand. She found, to her dismay, that this
was owing to their having eaten all the seed
potatoes,----that last lapse of the improvident.
At the earliest moment she obtained what others she could
procure, and in a few days her father was well enough
to see to the garden, under Tess's persuasive efforts:
while she herself undertook the allotment-plot which
they rented in a field a couple of hundred yards out of
She liked doing it after the confinement of the sick
chamber, where she was not now required by reason of
her mother's improvement. Violent motion relieved
thought. The plot of ground was in a high, dry, open
enclosure, where there were forty or fifty such pieces,
and where labour was at its briskest when the hired
labour of the day had ended. Digging began usually at
six o'clock, and extended indefinitely into the dusk or
moonlight. Just now heaps of dead weeds and refuse were
burning on many of the plots, the dry weather favouring
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 meaning of the "pillar of a cloud", which
was a wall by day and a light by night, could be
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
tonight, 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
Westward, the wiry boughs of the bare thorn hedge which
formed the boundary of the field rose against the pale