Tess of the d'Urbervilles, A Pure Woman, by Thomas Hardy
Part 5 out of 11
His father's hill-surrounded little town, the Tudor
church-tower of red stone, the clump of trees near the
Vicarage, came at last into view beneath him, and he
rode down towards the well-known gate. Casting a
glance in the direction of the church before entering
his home, he beheld standing by the vestry-door a group
of girls, of ages between twelve and sixteen,
apparently awaiting the arrival of some other one, who
in a moment became visible; a figure somewhat older
than the school-girls, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and
highly-starched cambric morning-gown, with a couple of
books in her hand.
Clare knew her well. He could not be sure that she
observed him; he hoped she did not, so as to render it
unnecessary that he should go and speak to her,
blameless creature that she was. An overpowering
reluctance to greet her made him decide that she had
not seen him. The young lady was Miss Mercy Chant, the
only daughter of his father's neighbour and friend,
whom it was his parents' quiet hope that he might wed
some day. She was great at Antinomianism and Bible-
classes, and was plainly going to hold a class now.
Clare's mind flew to the impassioned, summer-steeped
heathens in the Var Vale, their rosy faces
court-patched with cow-droppings; and to one the most
impassioned of them all. It was on the impulse of the
moment that he had resolved to trot over to Emminster,
and hence had not written to apprise his mother and
father, aiming, however, to arrive about the breakfast
hour, before they should have gone out to their parish
duties. He was a little late, and they had already sat
down to the morning meal. The group at the table
jumped up to welcome him as soon as he entered. They
were his father and mother, his brother the Reverend
Felix--curate at a town in the adjoining county, home
for the inside of a fortnight--and his other brother,
the Reverend Cuthbert, the classical scholar, and
Fellow and Dean of his College, down from Cambridge for
the long vacation. His mother appeared in a cap and
silver spectacles, and his father looked what in fact
he was--an earnest, God-fearing man, somewhat gaunt, in
years about sixty-five, his pale face lined with
thought and purpose. Over their heads hung the picture
of Angel's sister, the eldest of the family, sixteen
years his senior, who had married a missionary and gone
out to Africa.
Old Mr Clare was a clergyman of a type which, within
the last twenty years, has wellnigh dropped out of
contemporary life. A spiritual descendant in the
direct line from Wycliff, Huss, Luther, Calvin; an
Evangelical of the Evangelicals, a Conversionist, a man
of Apostolic simplicity in life and thought, he had in
his raw youth made up his mind once for all in the
deeper questions of existence, and admitted no further
reasoning on them thenceforward. He was regarded even
by those his own date and school of thinking as
extreme; while, on the other hand, those totally
opposed to him were unwillingly won to admiration for
his thoroughness, and for the remarkable power he
showed in dismissing all question as to principles in
his energy for applying them. He loved Paul of Tarsus,
liked St John, hated St James as much as he dared, and
regarded with mixed feelings Timothy, Titus, and
Philemon. The New Testament was less a Christiad then
a Pauliad to his intelligence--less an argument than an
intoxication. His creed of determinism was such that
it almost amounted to a vice, and quite amounted, on
its negative side, to a renunciative philosophy which
had cousinship with that of Schopenhauer and Leopardi.
He despised the Canons and Rubric, swore by the
Articles, and deemed himself consistent through the
whole category--which in a way he might have been. One
thing he certainly was--sincere.
To the aesthetic, sensuous, pagan pleasure in natural
life and lush womanhood which his son Angel had lately
been experiencing in Var Vale, his temper would have
been antipathetic in a high degree, had he either by
inquiry or imagination been able to apprehend it. Once
upon a time Angel had been so unlucky as to say to his
father, in a moment of irritation, that it might have
resulted far better for mankind if Greece had been the
source of the religion of modern civilization, and not
Palestine; and his father's grief was of that blank
description which could not realize that there might
lurk a thousandth part of a truth, much less a half
truth or a whole truth, in such a proposition. He had
simply preached austerely at Angel for some time after.
But the kindness of his heart was such that he never
resented anything for long, and welcomed his son today
with a smile which was as candidly sweet as a child's.
Angel sat down, and the place felt like home; yet he
did not so much as formerly feel himself one of the
family gathered there. Every time that he returned
hither he was conscious of this divergence, and since
he had last shared in the Vicarage life it had grown
even more distinctly foreign to his own than usual.
Its transcendental aspirations--still unconsciously
based on the geocentric view of things, a zenithal
paradise, a nadiral hell--were as foreign to his own as
if they had been the dreams of people on another
planet. Latterly he had seen only Life, felt only the
great passionate pulse of existence, unwarped,
uncontorted, untrammelled by those creeds which
futilely attempt to check what wisdom would be content
On their part they saw a great difference in him, a
growing divergence from the Angel Clare of former
times. It was chiefly a difference in his manner that
they noticed just now, particularly his brothers. He
was getting to behave like a farmer; he flung his legs
about; the muscles of his face had grown more
expressive; his eyes looked as much information as his
tongue spoke, and more. The manner of the scholar had
nearly disappeared; still more the manner of the
drawing-room young man. A prig would have said that he
had lost culture, and a prude that he had become
coarse. Such was the contagion of domiciliary
fellowship with the Talbothays nymphs and swains.
After breakfast he walked with his two brothers,
non-evangelical, well-educated, hall-marked young men,
correct to their remotest fibre, such unimpeachable
models as are turned out yearly by the lathe of a
systematic tuition. They were both somewhat
short-sighted, and when it was the custom to wear a
single eyeglass and string they wore a single eyeglass
and string; when it was the custom to wear a double
glass they wore a double glass; when it was the custom
to wear spectacles they wore spectacles straightway,
all without reference to the particular variety of
defect in their own vision. When Wordsworth was
enthroned they carried pocket copies; and when Shelley
was belittled they allowed him to grow dusty on their
shelves. When Correggio's Holy Families were admired,
they admired Correggio's Holy Families; when he was
decried in favour of Velasquez, they sedulously
followed suit without any personal objection.
If these two noticed Angel's growing social ineptness,
he noticed their growing mental limitations. Felix
seemed to him all Church; Cuthbert all College. His
Diocesan Synod and Visitations were the mainsprings of
the world to the one; Cambridge to the other. Each
brother candidly recognized that there were a few
unimportant score of millions of outsiders in civilized
society, persons who were neither University men nor
churchmen; but they were to be tolerated rather than
reckoned with and respected.
They were both dutiful and attentive sons, and were
regular in their visits to their parents. Felix, though
an offshoot from a far more recent point in the
devolution of theology than his father, was less
self-sacrificing and disinterested. More tolerant than
his father of a contradictory opinion, in its aspect as
a danger to its holder, he was less ready than his
father to pardon it as a slight to his own teaching.
Cuthbert was, upon the whole, the more liberal-minded,
though, with greater subtlety, he had not so much
As they walked along the hillside Angel's former
feeling revived in him--that whatever their advantages
by comparison with himself, neither saw or set forth
life as it really was lived. Perhaps, as with many
men, their opportunities of observation were not so
good as their opportunities of expression. Neither had
an adequate conception of the complicated forces at
work outside the smooth and gentle current in which
they and their associates floated. Neither saw the
difference between local truth and universal truth;
that what the inner world said in their clerical and
academic hearing was quite a different thing from what
the outer world was thinking.
"I suppose it is farming or nothing for you now, my
dear fellow," Felix was saying, among other things, to
his youngest brother, as he looked through his
spectacles at the distant fields with sad austerity.
"And, therefore, we must make the best of it. But I do
entreat you to endeavour to keep as much as possible in
touch with moral ideals. Farming, of course, means
roughing it externally; but high thinking may go with
plain living, nevertheless."
"Of course it may," said Angel. "Was it not proved
nineteen hundred years ago--if I may trespass upon your
domain a little? Why should you think, Felix, that I
am likely to drop my high thinking and my moral
"Well, I fancied, from the tone of your letters and our
conversation--it may be fancy only--that you were
somehow losing intellectual grasp. Hasn't it struck
"Now, Felix," said Angel drily, "we are very good
friends, you know; each of us treading our allotted
circles; but if it comes to intellectual grasp, I think
you, as a contented dogmatist, had better leave mine
alone, and inquire what has become of yours."
They returned down the hill to dinner, which was fixed
at any time at which their father's and mother's
morning work in the parish usually concluded.
Convenience as regarded afternoon callers was the last
thing to enter into the consideration of unselfish Mr
and Mrs Clare; though the three sons were sufficiently
in unison on this matter to wish that their parents
would conform a little to modern notions.
The walk had made them hungry, Angel in particular, who
was now an outdoor man, accustomed to the profuse DAPES
INEMPTAE of the dairyman's somewhat coarsely-laden
table. But neither of the old people had arrived, and
it was not till the sons were almost tired of waiting
that their parents entered. The self-denying pair had
been occupied in coaxing the appetites of some of their
sick parishioners, whom they, somewhat inconsistently,
tried to keep imprisoned in the flesh, their own
appetites being quite forgotten.
The family sat down to table, and a frugal meal of cold
viands was deposited before them. Angel looked round
for Mrs Crick's black-puddings, which he had directed
to be nicely grilled as they did them at the dairy, and
of which he wished his father and mother to appreciate
the marvellous herbal savours as highly as he did
"Ah! you are looking for the black-puddings, my dear
boy," observed Clare's mother. "But I am sure you will
not mind doing without them as I am sure your father
and I shall not, when you know the reason. I suggested
to him that we should take Mrs Crick's kind present to
the children of the man who can earn nothing just now
because of his attacks of delirium tremens; and he
agreed that it would be a great pleasure to them; so we
"Of course," said Angel cheerfully, looking round for
"I found the mead so extremely alcoholic," continued
his mother, "that it was quite unfit for use as a
beverage, but as valuable as rum or brandy in an
emergency; so I have put it in my medicine-closet."
"We never drink spirits at this table, on principle,"
added his father.
"But what shall I tell the dairyman's wife?" said Angel.
"The truth, of course," said his father.
"I rather wanted to say we enjoyed the mead and the
black-puddings very much. She is a kind, jolly sort
of body, and is sure to ask me directly I return."
"You cannot, if we did not," Mr Clare answered lucidly.
"Ah--no; though that mead was a drop of pretty tipple."
"A what?" said Cuthbert and Felix both.
"Oh--'tis an expression they use down at Talbothays,"
replied Angel, blushing. He felt that his parents were
right in their practice if wrong in their want of
sentiment, and said no more.
It was not till the evening, after family prayers, that
Angel found opportunity of broaching to his father one
or two subjects near his heart. He had strung himself
up to the purpose while kneeling behind his brothers on
the carpet, studying the little nails in the heels of
their walking boots. When the service was over they
went out of the room with their mother, and Mr Clare
and himself were left alone.
The young man first discussed with the elder his plans
for the attainment of his position as a farmer on an
extensive scale--either in England or in the Colonies.
His father then told him that, as he had not been put
to the expense of sending Angel up to Cambridge, he had
felt it his duty to set by a sum of money every year
towards the purchase or lease of land for him some day,
that he might not feel himself unduly slighted.
"As far as worldly wealth goes," continued his father,
"you will no doubt stand far superior to your brothers
in a few years."
This considerateness on old Mr Clare's part led Angel
onward to the other and dearer subject. He observed to
his father that he was then six-and-twenty, and that
when he should start in the farming business he would
require eyes in the back of his head to see to all
matters--some one would be necessary to superintend the
domestic labours of his establishment whilst he was
afield. Would it not be well, therefore, for him to
His father seemed to think this idea not unreasonable;
and then Angel put the question--
"What kind of wife do you think would be best for me as
a thrifty hard-working farmer?"
"A truly Christian woman, who will be a help and a
comfort to you in your goings-out and your comings-in.
Beyond that, it really matters little. Such an one can
be found; indeed, my earnest-minded friend and
neighbour, Dr Chant--"
"But ought she not primarily to be able to milk cows,
churn good butter, make immense cheeses; know how to
sit hens and turkeys and rear chickens, to direct a
field of labourers in an emergency, and estimate the
value of sheep and calves?"
"Yes; a farmer's wife; yes, certainly. It would be
desirable." Mr Clare, the elder, had plainly never
thought of these points before. "I was going to add,"
he said, "that for a pure and saintly woman you will
not find one more to your true advantage, and certainly
not more to your mother's mind and my own, than your
friend Mercy, whom you used to show a certain interest
in. It is true that my neighbour Chant's daughter had
lately caught up the fashion of the younger clergy
round about us for decorating the Communion-
table--alter, as I was shocked to hear her call it one
day--with flowers and other stuff on festival
occasions. But her father, who is quite as opposed to
such flummery as I, says that can be cured. It is a
mere girlish outbreak which, I am sure, will not be
"Yes, yes; Mercy is good and devout, I know. But,
father, don't you think that a young woman equally pure
and virtuous as Miss Chant, but one who, in place of
that lady's ecclesiastical accomplishments, understands
the duties of farm life as well as a farmer himself,
would suit me infinitely better?"
His father persisted in his conviction that a knowledge
of a farmer's wife's duties came second to a Pauline
view of humanity; and the impulsive Angel, wishing to
honour his father's feelings and to advance the cause
of his heart at the same time, grew specious. He said
that fate or Providence had thrown in his way a woman
who possessed every qualification to be the helpmate of
an agriculturist, and was decidedly of a serious turn
of mind. He would not say whether or not she had
attached herself to the sound Low Church School of his
father; but she would probably be open to conviction on
that point; she was a regular church-goer of simple
faith; honest-hearted, receptive, intelligent, graceful
to a degree, chaste as a vestal, and, in personal
appearance, exceptionally beautiful.
"Is she of a family such as you would care to marry
into--a lady, in short?" asked his startled mother, who
had come softly into the study during the conversation.
"She is not what in common parlance is called a lady,"
said Angel, unflinchingly, "for she is a cottager's
daughter, as I am proud to say. But she IS a lady,
nevertheless--in feeling and nature."
"Mercy Chant is of a very good family."
"Pooh!--what's the advantage of that, mother?" said
Angel quickly. "How is family to avail the wife of a
man who has to rough it as I have, and shall have to
"Mercy is accomplished. And accomplishments have their
charm," returned his mother, looking at him through her
"As to external accomplishments, what will be the use
of them in the life I am going to lead?--while as to
her reading, I can take that in hand. She'll be apt
pupil enough, as you would say if you knew her. She's
brim full of poetry--actualized poetry, if I may use
the expression. She LIVES what paper-poets only
write.... And she is an unimpeachable Christian, I am
sure; perhaps of the very tribe, genus, and species you
desire to propagate."
"O Angel, you are mocking!"
"Mother, I beg pardon. But as she really does attend
Church almost every Sunday morning, and is a good
Christian girl, I am sure you will tolerate any social
shortcomings for the sake of that quality, and feel
that I may do worse than choose her." Angel waxed
quite earnest on that rather automatic orthodoxy in his
beloved Tess which (never dreaming that it might stand
him in such good stead) he had been prone to slight
when observing it practised by her and the other
milkmaids, because of its obvious unreality amid
beliefs essentially naturalistic.
In their sad doubts as to whether their son had himself
any right whatever to the title he claimed for the
unknown young woman, Mr and Mrs Clare began to feel it
as an advantage not to be overlooked that she at least
was sound in her views; especially as the conjunction
of the pair must have arisen by an act of Providence;
for Angel never would have made orthodoxy a condition
of his choice. They said finally that it was better
not to act in a hurry, but that they would not object
to see her.
Angel therefore refrained from declaring more
particulars now. He felt that, single-minded and
self-sacrificing as his parents were, there yet existed
certain latent prejudices of theirs, as middle-class
people, which it would require some tact to overcome.
For though legally at liberty to do as he chose, and
though their daughter-in-law's qualifications could
make no practical difference to their lives, in the
probability of her living far away from them, he wished
for affection's sake not to wound their sentiment in
the most important decision of his life.
He observed his own inconsistencies in dwelling upon
accidents in Tess's life as if they were vital
features. It was for herself that he loved Tess; her
soul, her heart, her substance--not for her skill in
the dairy, her aptness as his scholar, and certainly
not for her simple formal faith-professions. Her
unsophisticated open-air existence required no varnish
of conventionality to make it palatable to him. He held
that education had as yet but little affected the beats
of emotion and impulse on which domestic happiness
depends. It was probable that, in the lapse of ages,
improved systems of moral and intellectual training
would appreciably, perhaps considerably, elevate the
involuntary and even the unconscious instincts of human
nature; but up to the present day culture, as far as he
could see, might be said to have affected only the
mental epiderm of those lives which had been brought
under its influence. This belief was confirmed by his
experience of women, which, having latterly been
extended from the cultivated middle-class into the
rural community, had taught him how much less was the
intrinsic difference between the good and wise woman of
one social stratum and the good and wise woman of
another social stratum, than between the good and bad,
the wise and the foolish, of the same stratum or class.
It was the morning of his departure. His brothers had
already left the Vicarage to proceed on a walking tour
in the north, whence one was to return to his college,
and the other to his curacy. Angel might have
accompanied them, but preferred to rejoin his
sweetheart at Talbothays. He would have been an
awkward member of the party; for, though the most
appreciative humanist, the most ideal religionist, even
the best-versed Christologist of the three, there was
alienation in the standing consciousness that his
squareness would not fit the round hole that had been
prepared for him. To neither Felix nor Cuthbert had he
ventured to mention Tess.
His mother made him sandwiches, and his father
accompanied him, on his own mare, a little way along
the road. Having fairly well advanced his own affairs
Angel listened in a willing silence, as they jogged on
together through the shady lanes, to his father's
account of his parish difficulties, and the coldness of
brother clergymen whom he loved, because of his strict
interpretations of the New Testament by the light of
what they deemed a pernicious Calvinistic doctrine.
"Pernicious!" said Mr Clare, with genial scorn; and he
proceeded to recount experiences which would show the
absurdity of that idea. He told of wondrous
conversions of evil livers of which he had been the
instrument, not only amongst the poor, but amongst the
rich and well-to-do; and he also candidly admitted many
As an instance of the latter, he mentioned the case of
a young upstart squire named d'Urberville, living some
forty miles off, in the neighbourhood of Trantridge.
"Not one of the ancient d'Urbervilles of Kingsbere and
other places?" asked his son. "That curiously historic
worn-out family with its ghostly legend of the
"O no. The original d'Urbervilles decayed and
disappeared sixty or eighty years ago--at least,
I believe so. This seems to be a new family which had
taken the name; for the credit of the former knightly
line I hope they are spurious, I'm sure. But it is odd
to hear you express interest in old families.
I thought you set less store by them even than I."
"You misapprehend me, father; you often do," said Angel
with a little impatience. "Politically I am sceptical
as to the virtue of their being old. Some of the wise
even among themselves 'exclaim against their own
succession,' as Hamlet puts it; but lyrically,
dramatically, and even historically, I am tenderly
attached to them."
This distinction, though by no means a subtle one, was
yet too subtle for Mr Clare the elder, and he went on
with the story he had been about to relate; which was
that after the death of the senior so-called
d'Urberville the young man developed the most culpable
passions, though he had a blind mother, whose condition
should have made him know better. A knowledge of his
career having come to the ears of Mr Clare, when he was
in that part of the country preaching missionary
sermons, he boldly took occasion to speak to the
delinquent on his spiritual state. Though he was a
stranger, occupying another's pulpit, he had felt this
to be his duty, and took for his text the words from St
Luke: "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required
of thee!" The young man much resented this directness
of attack, and in the war of words which followed when
they met he did not scruple publicly to insult Mr
Clare, without respect for his gray hairs.
Angel flushed with distress.
"Dear father," he said sadly, "I wish you would not
expose yourself to such gratuitous pain from
"Pain?" said his father, his rugged face shining in the
ardour of self-abnegation. "The only pain to me was
pain on his account, poor, foolish young man. Do you
suppose his incensed words could give me any pain, or
even his blows? 'Being reviled we bless; being
persecuted we suffer it; being defamed we entreat; we
are made as the filth of the world, and as the
offscouring of all things unto this day.' Those ancient
and noble words to the Corinthians are strictly true at
this present hour."
"Not blows, father? He did not proceed to blows?"
"No, he did not. Though I have borne blows from men in
a mad state of intoxication."
"No!" "A dozen times, my boy. What then? I have saved
them from the guilt of murdering their own flesh and
blood thereby; and they have lived to thank me, and
"May this young man do the same!" said Angel fervently.
"But I fear otherwise, from what you say."
"We'll hope, nevertheless," said Mr Clare. "And I
continue to pray for him, though on this side of the
grave we shall probably never meet again. But, after
all, one of those poor words of mine may spring up in
his heart as a good seed some day."
Now, as always, Clare's father was sanguine as a child;
and though the younger could not accept his parent's
narrow dogma he revered his practice, and recognized
the hero under the pietist. Perhaps he revered his
father's practice even more now than ever, seeing that,
in the question of making Tessy his wife, his father
had not once thought of inquiring whether she were well
provided or penniless. The same unworldliness was what
had necessitated Angel's getting a living as a farmer,
and would probably keep his brothers in the position of
poor parsons for the term of their activities; yet
Angel admired it none the less. Indeed, despite his
own heterodoxy, Angel often felt that he was nearer to
his father on the human side than was either of his
An up-hill and down-hill ride of twenty-odd miles
through a garish mid-day atmosphere brought him in the
afternoon to a detached knoll a mile or two west of
Talbothays, whence he again looked into that green
trough of sappiness and humidity, the valley of the Var
or Froom. Immediately he began to descend from the
upland to the fat alluvial soil below, the atmosphere
grew heavier; the languid perfume of the summer fruits,
the mists, the hay, the flowers, formed therein a vast
pool of odour which at this hour seemed to make the
animals, the very bees and butterflies drowsy. Clare
was now so familiar with the spot that he knew the
individual cows by their names when, a long distance
off, he saw them dotted about the meads. It was with a
sense of luxury that he recognized his power of viewing
life here from its inner side, in a way that had been
quite foreign to him in his student-days; and, much as
he loved his parents, he could not help being aware
that to come here, as now, after an experience of
home-life, affected him like throwing off splints and
bandages; even the one customary curb on the humours of
English rural societies being absent in this place,
Talbothays having no resident landlord.
Not a human being was out of doors at the dairy. The
denizens were all enjoying the usual afternoon nap of
an hour or so which the exceedingly early hours kept in
summer-time rendered a necessity. At the door the
wood-hooped pails, sodden and bleached by infinite
scrubbings, hung like hats on a stand upon the forked
and peeled limb of an oak fixed there for that purpose;
all of them ready and dry for the evening milking.
Angel entered, and went through the silent passages of
the house to the back quarters, where he listened for a
moment. Sustained snores came from the cart-house,
where some of the men were lying down; the grunt and
squeal of sweltering pigs arose from the still further
distance. The large-leaved rhubarb and cabbage plants
slept too, their broad limp surfaces hanging in the sun
like half-closed umbrellas.
He unbridled and fed his horse, and as he re-entered
the house the clock struck three. Three was the
afternoon skimming-hour; and, with the stroke, Clare
heard the creaking of the floor-boards above, and then
the touch of a descending foot on the stairs. It was
Tess's, who in another moment came down before his
She had not heard him enter, and hardly realized his
presence there. She was yawning, and he saw the red
interior of her mouth as if it had been a snake's. She
had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up cable
of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above the
sunburn; her face was flushed with sleep, and her
eyelids hung heavy over their pupils. The brim-fulness
of her nature breathed from her. It was a moment when a
woman's soul is more incarnate than at any other time;
when the most spiritual beauty bespeaks itself flesh;
and sex takes the outside place in the presentation.
Then those eyes flashed brightly through their filmy
heaviness, before the remainder of her face was well
awake. With an oddly compounded look of gladness,
shyness, and surprise, she exclaimed--"O Mr Clare!
How you frightened me--I----"
There had not at first been time for her to think of
the changed relations which his declaration had
introduced; but the full sense of the matter rose up in
her face when she encountered Clare's tender look as he
stepped forward to the bottom stair.
"Dear, darling Tessy!" he whispered, putting his arm
round her, and his face to her flushed cheek. "Don't,
for Heaven's sake, Mister me any more. I have hastened
back so soon because of you!"
Tess's excitable heart beat against his by way of
reply; and there they stood upon the red-brick floor of
the entry, the sun slanting in by the window upon his
back, as he held her tightly to his breast; upon her
inclining face, upon the blue veins of her temple, upon
her naked arm, and her neck, and into the depths of her
hair. Having been lying down in her clothes she was
warm as a sunned cat. At first she would not look
straight up at him, but her eyes soon lifted, and his
plumbed the deepness of the ever-varying pupils, with
their radiating fibrils of blue, and black, and gray,
and violet, while she regarded him as Eve at her second
waking might have regarded Adam.
"I've got to go a-skimming," she pleaded, "and I have
on'y old Deb to help me today. Mrs Crick is gone to
market with Mr Crick, and Retty is not well, and the
others are gone out somewhere, and won't be home till
As they retreated to the milk-house Deborah Fyander
appeared on the stairs.
"I have come back, Deborah," said Mr Clare, upwards.
"So I can help Tess with the skimming; and, as you are
very tired, I am sure, you needn't come down till
Possibly the Talbothays milk was not very thoroughly
skimmed that afternoon. Tess was in a dream wherein
familiar objects appeared as having light and shade and
position, but no particular outline. Every time she
held the skimmer under the pump to cool it for the work
her hand trembled, the ardour of his affection being so
palpable that she seemed to flinch under it like a
plant in too burning a sun.
Then he pressed her again to his side, and when she had
done running her forefinger round the leads to cut off
the cream-edge, he cleaned it in nature's way; for the
unconstrained manners of Talbothays dairy came
"I may as well say it now as later, dearest," he
resumed gently. "I wish to ask you something of a very
practical nature, which I have been thinking of ever
since that day last week in the meads. I shall soon
want to marry, and, being a farmer, you see I shall
require for my wife a woman who knows all about the
management of farms. Will you be that woman, Tessy?"
He put it that way that she might not think he had
yielded to an impulse of which his head would
She turned quite careworn. She had bowed to the
inevitable result of proximity, the necessity of loving
him; but she had not calculated upon this sudden
corollary, which, indeed, Clare had put before her
without quite meaning himself to do it so soon. With
pain that was like the bitterness of dissolution she
murmured the words of her indispensable and sworn
answer as an honourable woman.
"O Mr Clare--I cannot be your wife--I cannot be!"
The sound of her own decision seemed to break Tess's
very heart, and she bowed her face in her grief.
"But, Tess!" he said, amazed at her reply, and holding
her still more greedily close. "Do you say no? Surely
you love me?"
"O yes, yes! And I would rather by yours than
anybody's in the world," returned the sweet and honest
voice of the distressed girl. "But I CANNOT marry you!"
"Tess," he said, holding her at arm's length, "you are
engaged to marry some one else!"
"Then why do you refuse me?"
"I don't want to marry! I have not thought of doing
it. I cannot! I only want to love you."
Driven to subterfuge, she stammered--
"Your father is a parson, and your mother wouldn' like
you to marry such as me. She will want you to marry a
"Nonsense--I have spoken to them both. That was partly
why I went home."
"I feel I cannot--never, never!" she echoed.
"Is it too sudden to be asked thus, my Pretty?"
"Yes--I did not expect it."
"If you will let it pass, please, Tessy, I will give
you time," he said. "It was very abrupt to come home
and speak to you all at once. I'll not allude to it
again for a while."
She again took up the shining skimmer, held it beneath
the pump, and began anew. But she could not, as at
other times, hit the exact under-surface of the cream
with the delicate dexterity required, try as she might;
sometimes she was cutting down into the milk, sometimes
in the air. She could hardly see, her eyes having
filled with two blurring tears drawn forth by a grief
which, to this her best friend and dear advocate she
could never explain.
"I can't skim--I can't!" she said, turning away from
Not to agitate and hinder her longer the considerate
Clare began talking in a more general way:
"You quite misapprehend my parents. They are the most
simple-mannered people alive, and quite unambitious.
They are two of the few remaining Evangelical school.
Tessy, are you an Evangelical?"
"I don't know."
"You go to church very regularly, and our parson here
is not very High, they tell me."
Tess's ideas on the views of the parish clergyman, whom
she heard every week, seemed to be rather more vague
than Clare's, who had never heard him at all.
"I wish I could fix my mind on what I hear there more
firmly than I do," she remarked as a safe generality.
"It is often a great sorrow to me."
She spoke so unaffectedly that Angel was sure in his
heart that his father could not object to her on
religious grounds, even though she did not know whether
her principles were High, Low or Broad. He himself
knew that, in reality, the confused beliefs which she
held, apparently imbibed in childhood, were, if
anything, Tractarian as to phraseology, and Pantheistic
as to essence. Confused or otherwise, to disturb them
was his last desire:
Leave thou thy sister, when she prays,
Her early Heaven, her happy views;
Nor thou with shadow'd hint confuse
A life that leads melodious days.
He had occasionally thought the counsel less honest
than musical; but he gladly conformed to it now.
He spoke further of the incidents of his visit, of his
father's mode of life, of his zeal for his principles;
she grew serener, and the undulations disappeared from
her skimming; as she finished one lead after another he
followed her, and drew the plugs for letting down the
"I fancied you looked a little downcast when you came
in," she ventured to observe, anxious to keep away from
the subject of herself.
"Yes--well, my father had been talking a good deal to
me of his troubles and difficulties, and the subject
always tends to depress me. He is so zealous that he
gets many snubs and buffetings from people of a
different way of thinking from himself, and I don't
like to hear of such humiliations to a man of his age,
the more particularly as I don't think earnestness does
any good when carried so far. He has been telling me
of a very unpleasant scene in which he took part quite
recently. He went as the deputy of some missionary
society to preach in the neighbourhood of Trantridge, a
place forty miles from here, and made it his business
to expostulate with a lax young cynic he met with
somewhere about there--son of some landowner up that
way--and who has a mother afflicted with blindness. My
father addressed himself to the gentleman point-blank,
and there was quite a disturbance. It was very foolish
of my father, I must say, to intrude his conversation
upon a stranger when the probabilities were so obvious
that it would be useless. But whatever he thinks to be
his duty, that he'll do, in season or out of season;
and, of course, he makes many enemies, not only among
the absolutely vicious, but among the easy-going, who
hate being bothered. He says he glories in what
happened, and that good may be done indirectly; but I
wish he would not wear himself out now he is getting
old, and would leave such pigs to their wallowing."
Tess's look had grown hard and worn, and her ripe mouth
tragical; but she no longer showed any tremulousness.
Clare's revived thoughts of his father prevented his
noticing her particularly; and so they went on down the
white row of liquid rectangles till they had finished
and drained them off, when the other maids returned,
and took their pails, and Deb came to scald out the
leads for the new milk. As Tess withdrew to go afield
to the cows he said to her softly--
"And my question, Tessy?"
"O no--no!" replied she with grave hopelessness, as one
who had heard anew the turmoil of her own past in the
allusion to Alec d'Urberville. "It CAN'T be!"
She went out towards the mead, joining the other
milkmaids with a bound, as if trying to make the open
air drive away her sad constraint. All the girls drew
onward to the spot where the cows were grazing in the
farther mead, the bevy advancing with the bold grace of
wild animals--the reckless unchastened motion of women
accustomed to unlimited space--in which they abandoned
themselves to the air as a swimmer to the wave. It
seemed natural enough to him now that Tess was again in
sight to choose a mate from unconstrained Nature, and
not from the abodes of Art.
Her refusal, though unexpected, did not permanently
daunt Clare. His experience of women was great enough
for him to be aware that the negative often meant
nothing more than the preface to the affirmative; and
it was little enough for him not to know that in the
manner of the present negative there lay a great
exception to the dallyings of coyness. That she had
already permitted him to make love to her he read as an
additional assurance, not fully trowing that in the
fields and pastures to "sigh gratis" is by no means
deemed waste; love-making being here more often
accepted inconsiderately and for its own sweet sake
than in the carking anxious homes of the ambitious,
where a girl's craving for an establishment paralyzes
her healthy thought of a passion as an end.
"Tess, why did you say 'no' in such a positive way?"
he asked her in the course of a few days.
"Don't ask me. I told you why--partly. I am not good
enough--not worthy enough."
"How? Not fine lady enough?"
"Yes--something like that," murmured she. "Your
friends would scorn me."
"Indeed, you mistake them--my father and mother.
As for my brothers, I don't care----" He clasped his
fingers behind her back to keep her from slipping away.
"Now--you did not mean it, sweet?--I am sure you did
not! You have made me so restless that I cannot read,
or play, or do anything. I am in no hurry, Tess, but I
want to know--to hear from your own warm lips--that you
will some day be mine--any time you may choose; but
She could only shake her head and look away from him.
Clare regarded her attentively, conned the characters
of her face as if they had been hieroglyphics. The
denial seemed real.
"Then I ought not to hold you in this way--ought I?
I have no right to you--no right to seek out where you
are, or walk with you! Honestly, Tess, do you love any
"How can you ask?" she said, with continued self-suppression.
"I almost know that you do not. But then, why do you
"I don't repulse you. I like you to--tell me you love
me; and you may always tell me so as you go about with
me--and never offend me."
"But you will not accept me as a husband?"
"Ah--that's different--it is for your good, indeed, my
dearest! O, believe me, it is only for your sake!
I don't like to give myself the great happiness o'
promising to be yours in that way--because--because I
am SURE I ought not to do it."
"But you will make me happy!"
"Ah--you think so, but you don't know!"
At such times as this, apprehending the grounds of her
refusal to be her modest sense of incompetence in
matters social and polite, he would say that she was
wonderfully well-informed and versatile--which was
certainly true, her natural quickness, and her
admiration for him, having led her to pick up his
vocabulary, his accent, and fragments of his knowledge,
to a surprising extent. After these tender contests
and her victory she would go away by herself under the
remotest cow, if at milking-time, or into the sedge, or
into her room, if at a leisure interval, and mourn
silently, not a minute after an apparently phlegmatic
The struggle was so fearful; her own heart was so
strongly on the side of his--two ardent hearts against
one poor little conscience--that she tried to fortify
her resolution by every means in her power. She had
come to Talbothays with a made-up mind. On no account
could she agree to a step which might afterwards cause
bitter rueing to her husband for his blindness in
wedding her. And she held that what her conscience had
decided for her when her mind was unbiassed ought not
to be overruled now.
"Why don't somebody tell him all about me?" she said.
"It was only forty miles off--why hasn't it reached
here? Somebody must know!"
Yet nobody seemed to know; nobody told him.
For two or three days no more was said. She guessed
from the sad countenances of her chamber companions
that they regarded her not only as the favourite, but
as the chosen; but they could see for themselves that
she did not put herself in his way.
Tess had never before known a time in which the thread
of her life was so distinctly twisted of two strands,
positive pleasure and positive pain. At the next
cheese-making the pair were again left alone together.
The dairyman himself had been lending a hand; but Mr
Crick, as well as his wife, seemed latterly to have
acquired a suspicion of mutual interest between these
two; though they walked so circumspectly that suspicion
was but of the faintest. Anyhow, the dairyman left them
They were breaking up the masses of curd before putting
them into the vats. The operation resembled the act of
crumbling bread on a large scale; and amid the
immaculate whiteness of the curds Tess Durbeyfield's
hands showed themselves of the pinkness of the rose.
Angel, who was filling the vats with his handful,
suddenly ceased, and laid his hands flat upon hers.
Her sleeves were rolled far above the elbow, and
bending lower he kissed the inside vein of her soft arm.
Although the early September weather was sultry, her
arm, from her dabbling in the curds, was as cold and
damp to his mouth as a new-gathered mushroom, and
tasted of the whey. But she was such a sheaf of
susceptibilities that her pulse was accelerated by the
touch, her blood driven to her finder-ends, and the
cool arms flushed hot. Then, as though her heart had
said, "Is coyness longer necessary? Truth is truth
between man and woman, as between man and man," she
lifted her eyes and they beamed devotedly into his, as
her lip rose in a tender half-smile.
"Do you know why I did that, Tess?" he said.
"Because you love me very much!"
"Yes, and as a preliminary to a new entreaty."
She looked a sudden fear that her resistance might
break down under her own desire.
"O, Tessy!" he went on, "I CANNOT think why you are so
tantalizing. Why do you disappoint me so? You seem
almost like a coquette, upon my life you do--a coquette
of the first urban water! They blow hot and blow cold,
just as you do, and it is the very last sort of thing
to expect to find in a retreat like Talbothays. ... And
yet, dearest," he quickly added, observing now the
remark had cut her, "I know you to be the most honest,
spotless creature that ever lived. So how can I
suppose you a flirt? Tess, why don't you like the idea
of being my wife, if you love me as you seem to do?"
"I have never said I don't like the idea, and I never
could say it; because--it isn't true!"
The stress now getting beyond endurance her lip
quivered, and she was obliged to go away. Clare was so
pained and perplexed that he ran after and caught her
in the passage.
"Tell me, tell me!" he said, passionately clasping her,
in forgetfulness of his curdy hands: "do tell me that
you won't belong to anybody but me!"
"I will, I will tell you!" she exclaimed. "And I will
give you a complete answer, if you will let me go now.
I will tell you my experiences--all about myself--all!"
"Your experiences, dear; yes, certainly; and number."
He expressed assent in loving satire, looking into her
face. "My Tess, no doubt, almost as many experiences as
that wild convolvulus out there on the garden hedge,
that opened itself this morning for the first time.
Tell me anything, but don't use that wretched
expression any more about not being worthy of me."
"I will try--not! And I'll give you my reasons
"Say on Sunday?"
"Yes, on Sunday."
At last she got away, and did not stop in her retreat
till she was in the thicket of pollard willows at the
lower side of the barton, where she could be quite
unseen. Here Tess flung herself down upon the rustling
undergrowth of spear-grass, as upon a bed, and
remained crouching in palpitating misery broken by
momentary shoots of joy, which her fears about the
ending could not altogether suppress.
In reality, she was drifting into acquiescence. Every
see-saw of her breath, every wave of her blood, every
pulse singing in her ears, was a voice that joined with
nature in revolt against her scrupulousness. Reckless,
inconsiderate acceptance of him; to close with him at
the altar, revealing nothing, and chancing discovery;
to snatch ripe pleasure before the iron teeth of pain
could have time to shut upon her: that was what love
counselled; and in almost a terror of ecstasy Tess
divined that, despite her many months of lonely
self-chastisement, wrestlings, communings, schemes to
lead a future of austere isolation, love's counsel
The afternoon advanced, and still she remained among
the willows. She heard the rattle of taking down the
pails from the forked stands; the "waow-waow!" which
accompanied the getting together of the cows. But she
did not go to the milking. They would see her
agitation; and the dairyman, thinking the cause to be
love alone, would good-naturedly tease her; and that
harassment could not be borne.
Her lover must have guessed her overwrought state, and
invented some excuse for her non-appearance, for no
inquiries were made or calls given. At half-past six
the sun settled down upon the levels, with the aspect
of a great forge in the heavens; and presently a
monstrous pumpkin-like moon arose on the other hand.
The pollard willows, tortured out of their natural
shape by incessant choppings, became spiny-haired
monsters as they stood up against it. She went in,
and upstairs without a light.
It was now Wednesday. Thursday came, and Angel looked
thoughtfully at her from a distance, but intruded in no
way upon her. The indoor milkmaids, Marian and the
rest, seemed to guess that something definite was
afoot, for they did not force any remarks upon her in
the bedchamber. Friday passed; Saturday. Tomorrow was
"I shall give way--I shall say yes--I shall let myself
marry him--I cannot help it!" she jealously panted,
with her hot face to the pillow that night, on hearing
one of the other girls sigh his name in her sleep.
"I can't bear to let anybody have him but me! Yet it is a
wrong to him, and may kill him when he knows! O my
"Now, who mid ye think I've heard news o' this
morning?" said Dairyman Crick, as he sat down to
breakfast next day, with a riddling gaze round upon the
munching men and maids. "Now, just who mid ye think?"
One guessed, and another guessed. Mrs Crick did not
guess, because she knew already.
"Well," said the dairyman, "'tis that slack-twisted
'hore's-bird of a feller, Jack Dollop. He's lately
got married to a widow-woman."
"Not Jack Dollop? A villain--to think o' that!" said a
The name entered quickly into Tess Durbeyfield's
consciousness, for it was the name of the lover who had
wronged his sweetheart, and had afterwards been so
roughly used by the young woman's mother in the
"And had he married the valiant matron's daughter, as
he promised?" asked Angel Clare absently, as he turned
over the newspaper he was reading at the little table
to which he was always banished by Mrs Crick, in her
sense of his gentility.
"Not he, sir. Never meant to," replied the dairyman.
"As I say, 'tis a widow-woman, and she had money, it
seems--fifty poun' a year or so; and that was all he
was after. They were married in a great hurry; and
then she told him that by marrying she had lost her
fifty poun' a year. Just fancy the state o' my
gentleman's mind at that news! Never such a cat-
and-dog life as they've been leading ever since! Serve
him will beright. But onluckily the poor woman gets
the worst o't."
"Well, the silly body should have told en sooner that
the ghost of her first man would trouble him," said Mrs
"Ay; ay," responded the dairyman indecisively.
"Still, you can see exactly how 'twas. She wanted a home,
and didn't like to run the risk of losing him. Don't ye
think that was something like it, maidens?"
He glanced towards the row of girls.
"She ought to ha' told him just before they went to
church, when he could hardly have backed out,"
"Yes, she ought," agreed Izz.
"She must have seen what he was after, and should ha'
refused him," cried Retty spasmodically.
"And what do you say, my dear?" asked the dairyman of
"I think she ought--to have told him the true state of
things--or else refused him--I don't know," replied
Tess, the bread-and-butter choking her.
"Be cust if I'd have done either o't," said Beck
Knibbs, a married helper from one of the cottages.
"All's fair in love and war. I'd ha' married en just
as she did, and if he'd said two words to me about not
telling him beforehand anything whatsomdever about my
first chap that I hadn't chose to tell, I'd ha' knocked
him down wi' the rolling-pin--a scram little feller
like he! Any woman could do it."
The laughter which followed this sally was supplemented
only by a sorry smile, for form's sake, from Tess.
What was comedy to them was tragedy to her; and she
could hardly bear their mirth. She soon rose from
table, and, with an impression that Clare would soon
follow her, went along a little wriggling path, now
stepping to one side of the irrigating channels, and
now to the other, till she stood by the main stream of
the Var. Men had been cutting the water-weeds higher
up the river, and masses of them were floating past
her--moving islands of green crow-foot, whereon she
might almost have ridden; long locks of which weed had
lodged against the piles driven to keep the cows from
Yes, there was the pain of it. This question of a
woman telling her story--the heaviest of crosses to
herself--seemed but amusement to others. It was as if
people should laugh at martyrdom.
"Tessy!" came from behind her, and Clare sprang across
the gully, alighting beside her feet. "My wife--soon!"
"No, no; I cannot. For your sake, O Mr Clare; for your
sake, I say no!"
"Still I say no!" she repeated.
Not expecting this he had put his arm lightly round her
waist the moment after speaking, beneath her hanging
tail of hair. (The younger dairymaids, including Tess,
breakfasted with their hair loose on Sunday mornings
before building it up extra high for attending church,
a style they could not adopt when milking with their
heads against the cows.) If she had said "Yes" instead
of "No" he would have kissed her; it had evidently been
his intention; but her determined negative deterred his
scrupulous heart. Their condition of domiciliary
comradeship put her, as the woman, to such disadvantage
by its enforced intercourse, that he felt it unfair to
her to exercise any pressure of blandishment which he
might have honestly employed had she been better able
to avoid him. He release her momentarily-imprisoned
waist, and withheld the kiss.
It all turned on that release. What had given her
strength to refuse him this time was solely the tale of
the widow told by the dairyman; and that would have
been overcome in another moment. But Angel said no
more; his face was perplexed; he went away.
Day after day they met--somewhat less constantly than
before; and thus two or three weeks went by. The end
of September drew near, and she could see in his eye
that he might ask her again.
His plan of procedure was different now--as though he
had made up his mind that her negatives were, after
all, only coyness and youth startled by the novelty of
the proposal. The fitful evasiveness of her manner when
the subject was under discussion countenanced the idea.
So he played a more coaxing game; and while never going
beyond words, or attempting the renewal of caresses, he
did his utmost orally.
In this way Clare persistently wooed her in undertones
like that of the purling milk--at the cow's side, at
skimmings, at butter-makings, at cheese-makings, among
broody poultry, and among farrowing pigs--as no
milkmaid was ever wooed before by such a man.
Tess knew that she must break down. Neither a
religious sense of a certain moral validity in the
previous union nor a conscientious wish for candour
could hold out against it much longer. She loved him
so passionately, and he was so godlike in her eyes; and
being, though untrained, instinctively refined, her
nature cried for his tutelary guidance. And thus,
though Tess kept repeating to herself, "I can never be
his wife," the words were vain. A proof of her
weakness lay in the very utterance of what calm
strength would not have taken the trouble to formulate.
Every sound of his voice beginning on the old subject
stirred her with a terrifying bliss, and she coveted
the recantation she feared.
His manner was--what man's is not?--so much that of one
who would love and cherish and defend her under any
conditions, changes, charges, or revelations, that her
gloom lessened as she basked in it. The season
meanwhile was drawing onward to the equinox, and though
it was still fine, the days were much shorter. The
dairy had again worked by morning candlelight for a
long time; and a fresh renewal of Clare's pleading
occurred one morning between three and four.
She had run up in her bedgown to his door to call him
as usual; then had gone back to dress and call the
others; and in ten minutes was walking to the head of
the stairs with the candle in her hand. At the same
moment he came down his steps from above in his
shirt-sleeves and put his arm across the stairway.
"Now, Miss Flirt, before you go down," he said
peremptorily. "It is a fortnight since I spoke, and
this won't do any longer. You MUST tell me what you
mean, or I shall have to leave this house. My door was
ajar just now, and I saw you. For your own safety I
must go. You don't know. Well? Is it to be yes at
"I am only just up, Mr Clare, and it is too early to
take me to task!" she pouted. "You need not call me
Flirt. 'Tis cruel and untrue. Wait till by and by.
Please wait till by and by! I will really think
seriously about it between now and then. Let me go
She looked a little like what he said she was as,
holding the candle sideways, she tried to smile away
the seriousness of her words.
"Call me Angel, then and not Mr Clare."
"Angel dearest--why not?"
"'Twould mean that I agree, wouldn't it?" "It would
only mean that you love me, even if you cannot marry
me; and you were so good as to own that long ago."
"Very well, then, 'Angel dearest', if I MUST," she
murmured, looking at her candle, a roguish curl coming
upon her mouth, notwithstanding her suspense.
Clare had resolved never to kiss her until he had
obtained her promise; but somehow, as Tess stood there
in her prettily tucked-up milking gown, her hair
carelessly heaped upon her head till there should be
leisure to arrange it when skimming and milking were
done, he broke his resolve, and brought his lips to her
cheek for one moment. She passed downstairs very
quickly, never looking back at him or saying another
word. The other maids were already down, and the
subject was not pursued. Except Marian, they all
looked wistfully and suspiciously at the pair, in the
sad yellow rays which the morning candles emitted in
contrast with the first cold signals of the dawn
When skimming was done--which, as the milk diminished
with the approach of autumn, was a lessening process
day by day--Retty and the rest went out. The lovers
"Our tremulous lives are so different from theirs, are
they not?" he musingly observed to her, as he regarded
the three figures tripping before him through the
frigid pallor of opening day.
"Not so very different, I think," she said.
"Why do you think that?"
"There are very few women's lives that are
not--tremulous," Tess replied, pausing over the new
word as if it impressed her. "There's more in those
three than you think."
"What is in them?"
"Almost either of 'em," she began, "would make--perhaps
would make--a properer wife than I. And perhaps they
love you as well as I--almost."
There were signs that it was an exquisite relief to her
to hear the impatient exclamation, though she had
resolved so intrepidly to let generosity make one bid
against herself. That was now done, and she had not the
power to attempt self-immolation a second time then.
They were joined by a milker from one of the cottages,
and no more was said on that which concerned them so
deeply. But Tess knew that this day would decide it.
In the afternoon several of the dairyman's household
and assistants went down to the meads as usual, a long
way from the dairy, where many of the cows were milked
without being driven home. The supply was getting less
as the animals advanced in calf, and the supernumerary
milkers of the lush green season had been dismissed.
The work progressed leisurely. Each pailful was poured
into tall cans that stood in a large spring-waggon
which had been brought upon the scene; and when they
were milked the cows trailed away. Dairyman Crick, who
was there with the rest, his wrapper gleaming
miraculously white against a leaden evening sky,
suddenly looked at his heavy watch.
"Why, 'tis later than I thought," he said. "Begad! We
shan't be soon enough with this milk at the station, if
we don't mind. There's no time today to take it home
and mix it with the bulk afore sending off. It must go
to station straight from here. Who'll drive it
Mr Clare volunteered to do so, though it was none of
his business, asking Tess to accompany him. The
evening, though sunless, had been warm and muggy for
the season, and Tess had come out with her milking-hood
only, naked-armed and jacketless; certainly not dressed
for a drive. She therefore replied by glancing over
her scant habiliments; but Clare gently urged her. She
assented by relinquishing her pail and stool to the
dairyman to take home; and mounted the spring-waggon
In the diminishing daylight they went along the level
roadway through the meads, which stretched away into
gray miles, and were backed in the extreme edge of
distance by the swarthy and abrupt slopes of Egdon
Heath. On its summit stood clumps and stretches of
fir-trees, whose notched tips appeared like
battlemented towers crowning black-fronted castles of
They were so absorbed in the sense of being close to
each other that they did not begin talking for a long
while, the silence being broken only by the clucking of
the milk in the tall cans behind them. The lane they
followed was so solitary that the hazel nuts had
remained on the boughs till they slipped from their
shells, and the blackberries hung in heavy clusters.
Every now and then Angel would fling the lash of his
whip round one of these, pluck it off, and give it to
The dull sky soon began to tell its meaning by sending
down herald-drops of rain, and the stagnant air of the
day changed into a fitful breeze which played about
their faces. The quick-silvery glaze on the rivers and
pools vanished; from broad mirrors of light they
changed to lustreless sheets of lead, with a surface
like a rasp. But that spectacle did not affect her
preoccupation. Her countenance, a natural carnation
slightly embrowned by the season, had deepened its
tinge with the beating of the rain-drops; and her hair,
which the pressure of the cows' flanks had, as usual,
caused to tumble down from its fastenings and stray
beyond the curtain of her calico bonnet, was made
clammy by the moisture, till it hardly was better than
"I ought not to have come, I suppose," she murmured,
looking at the sky.
"I am sorry for the rain," said he. "But how glad I am
to have you here!"
Remote Egdon disappeared by degree behind the liquid
gauze. The evening grew darker, and the roads being
crossed by gates it was not safe to drive faster than
at a walking pace. The air was rather chill.
"I am so afraid you will get cold, with nothing upon
your arms and shoulders," he said. "Creep close to me,
and perhaps the drizzle won't hurt you much. I should
be sorrier still if I did not think that the rain might
be helping me."
She imperceptibly crept closer, and he wrapped round
them both a large piece of sail-cloth, which was
sometimes used to keep the sun off the milk-cans.
Tess held it from slipping off him as well as herself,
Clare's hands being occupied.
"Now we are all right again. Ah--no we are not! It
runs down into my neck a little, and it must still more
into yours. That's better. Your arms are like wet
marble, Tess. Wipe them in the cloth. Now, if you
stay quiet, you will not get another drop. Well,
dear--about that question of mine--that long-standing
The only reply that he could hear for a little while
was the smack of the horse's hoofs on the moistening
road, and the cluck of the milk in the cans behind
"Do you remember what you said?"
"I do," she replied.
"Before we get home, mind."
He said no more then. As they drove on the fragment of
an old manor house of Caroline date rose against the
sky, and was in due course passed and left behind.
"That," he observed, to entertain her, "is an
interesting old place--one of the several seats which
belonged to an ancient Norman family formerly of great
influence in this county, the d'Urbervilles. I never
pass one of their residences without thinking of them.
There is something very sad in the extinction of a
family of renown, even if it was fierce, domineering,
"Yes," said Tess.
They crept along towards a point in the expanse of
shade just at hand at which a feeble light was
beginning to assert its presence, a spot where, by day,
a fitful white streak of steam at intervals upon the
dark green background denoted intermittent moments of
contact between their secluded world and modern life.
Modern life stretched out its steam feeler to this
point three or four times a day, touched the native
existences, and quickly withdrew its feeler again, as
if what it touched had been uncongenial.
They reached the feeble light, which came from the
smoky lamp of a little railway station; a poor enough
terrestrial star, yet in one sense of more importance
to Talbothays Dairy and mankind than the celestial ones
to which it stood in such humiliating contrast. The
cans of new milk were unladen in the rain, Tess getting
a little shelter from a neighbouring holly tree.
Then there was the hissing of a train, which drew up
almost silently upon the wet rails, and the milk was
rapidly swung can by can into the truck. The light of
the engine flashed for a second upon Tess Durbeyfield's
figure, motionless under the great holly tree. No
object could have looked more foreign to the gleaming
cranks and wheels than this unsophisticated girl, with
the round bare arms, the rainy face and hair, the
suspended attitude of a friendly leopard at pause, the
print gown of no date or fashion, and the cotton bonnet
drooping on her brow.
She mounted again beside her lover, with a mute
obedience characteristic of impassioned natures at
times, and when they had wrapped themselves up over
head and ears in the sailcloth again, they plunged back
into the now thick night. Tess was so receptive that
the few minutes of contact with the whirl of material
progress lingered in her thought.
"Londoners will drink it at their breakfasts tomorrow,
won't they?" she asked. "Strange people that we have
"Yes--I suppose they will. Though not as we send it.
When its strength has been lowered, so that it may not
get up into their heads."
"Noble men and noble women, ambassadors and centurions,
ladies and tradeswomen, and babies who have never seen
"Well, yes; perhaps; particularly centurions."
"Who don't know anything of us, and where it comes
from; or think how we two drove miles across the moor
tonight in the rain that it might reach 'em in time?"
"We did not drive entirely on account of these precious
Londoners; we drove a little on our own--on account of
that anxious matter which you will, I am sure, set at
rest, dear Tess. Now, permit me to put it in this way.
You belong to me already, you know; your heart, I mean.
Does it not?"
"You know as well as I. O yes--yes!"
"Then, if your heart does, why not your hand?"
"My only reason was on account of you--on account of a
question. I have something to tell you----"
"But suppose it to be entirely for my happiness, and my
worldly convenience also?"
"O yes; if it is for your happiness and worldly
convenience. But my life before I came here--I
"Well, it is for my convenience as well as my
happiness. If I have a very large farm, either English
or colonial, you will be invaluable as a wife to me;
better than a woman out of the largest mansion in the
country. So please--please, dear Tessy, disabuse your
mind of the feeling that you will stand in my way."
"But my history. I want you to know it--you must let
me tell you--you will not like me so well!"
"Tell it if you wish to, dearest. This precious
history then. Yes, I was born at so and so, Anno
"I was born at Marlott," she said, catching at his
words as a help, lightly as they were spoken. "And I
grew up there. And I was in the Sixth Standard when I
left school, and they said I had great aptness, and
should make a good teacher, so it was settled that I
should be one. But there was trouble in my family;
father was not very industrious, and he drank a
"Yes, yes. Poor child! Nothing new." He pressed her
more closely to his side.
"And then--there is something very unusual about
it--about me. I--I was----"
Tess's breath quickened.
"Yes, dearest. Never mind."
"I--I--am not a Durbeyfield, but a d'Urberville--a
descendant of the same family as those that owned the
old house we passed. And--we are all gone to nothing!"
"A d'Urberville!--Indeed! And is that all the trouble,
"Yes," she answered faintly.
"Well--why should I love you less after knowing this?"
"I was told by the dairyman that you hated old
"Well, it is true, in one sense. I do hate the
aristocratic principle of blood before everything, and
do think that as reasoners the only pedigrees we ought
to respect are those spiritual ones of the wise and
virtuous, without regard to corporal paternity. But I
am extremely interested in this news--you can have no
idea how interested I am! Are you not interested
yourself in being one of that well-known line?"
"No. I have thought it sad--especially since coming
here, and knowing that many of the hills and fields I
see once belonged to my father's people. But other
hills and field belonged to Retty's people, and perhaps
others to Marian's, so that I don't value it
"Yes--it is surprising how many of the present tillers
of the soil were once owners of it, and I sometimes
wonder that a certain school of politicians don't make
capital of the circumstance; but they don't seem to
know it.... I wonder that I did not see the resemblance
of your name of d'Urberville, and trace the manifest
corruption. And this was the carking secret!"
She had not told. At the last moment her courage had
failed her, she feared his blame for not telling him
sooner; and her instinct of self-preservation was
stronger than her candour.
"Of course," continued the unwitting Clare, "I should
have been glad to know you to be descended exclusively
from the long-suffering, dumb, unrecorded rank and file
of the English nation, and not from the self-seeking
few who made themselves powerful at the expense of the
rest. But I am corrupted away from that by my
affection for you, Tess (he laughed as he spoke), and
made selfish likewise. For your own sake I rejoice in
your descent. Society is hopelessly snobbish, and this
fact of your extraction may make an appreciable
difference to its acceptance of you as my wife, after I
have made you the well-read woman that I mean to make
you. My mother too, poor soul, will think so much
better of you on account of it. Tess, you must spell
your name correctly--d'Urberville--from this very day."
"I like the other way rather best."
"But you MUST, dearest! Good heavens, why dozens of
mushroom millionaires would jump at such a possession!
By the bye, there's one of that kidney who has taken
the name--where have I heard of him?--Up in the
neighbourhood of The Chase, I think. Why, he is the
very man who had that rumpus with my father I told you
of. What an odd coincidence!"
"Angel, I think I would rather not take the name!
It is unlucky, perhaps!"
She was agitated.
"Now then, Mistress Teresa d'Urberville, I have you.
Take my name, and so you will escape yours! The secret
is out, so why should you any longer refuse me?"
"If it is SURE to make you happy to have me as your
wife, and you feel that you do wish to marry me, VERY,
"I do, dearest, of course!"
"I mean, that it is only your wanting me very much, and
being hardly able to keep alive without me, whatever my
offences, that would make me feel I ought to say I
"You will--you do say it, I know! You will be mine for
ever and ever."
He clasped her close and kissed her.
She had no sooner said it than she burst into a dry
hard sobbing, so violent that it seemed to rend her.
Tess was not a hysterical girl by any means, and he was
"Why do you cry, dearest?"
"I can't tell--quite!--I am so glad to think--of being
yours, and making you happy!"
"But this does not seem very much like gladness, my
"I mean--I cry because I have broken down in my vow!
I said I would die unmarried!"
"But, if you love me you would like me to be your
"Yes, yes, yes! But O, I sometimes wish I had never
"Now, my dear Tess, if I did not know that you are very
much excited, and very inexperienced, I should say that
remark was not very complimentary. How came you to
wish that if you care for me? Do you care for me? I
wish you would prove it in some way."
"How can I prove it more than I have done?" she cried,
in a distraction of tenderness. "Will this prove it
She clasped his neck, and for the first time Clare
learnt what an impassioned woman's kisses were like
upon the lips of one whom she loved with all her heart
and soul, as Tess loved him.
"There--now do you believe?" she asked, flushed, and
wiping her eyes.
"Yes. I never really doubted--never, never!"
So they drove on through the gloom, forming one bundle
inside the sail-cloth, the horse going as he would, and
the rain driving against them. She had consented. She
might as well have agreed at first. The "appetite for
joy" which pervades all creation, that tremendous force
which sways humanity to its purpose, as the tide sways
the helpless weed, was not to be controlled by vague
lucubrations over the social rubric.
"I must write to my mother," she said. "You don't mind
my doing that?"
"Of course not, dear child. You are a child to me,
Tess, not to know how very proper it is to write to
your mother at such a time, and how wrong it would be
in me to object. Where does she live?"
"At the same place--Marlott. On the further side of
"Ah, then I HAVE seen you before this summer----"
"Yes; at that dance on the green; but you would not
dance with me. O, I hope that is of no ill-omen for us
Tess wrote a most touching and urgent letter to her
mother the very next day, and by the end of the week a
response to her communication arrive in Joan
Durbeyfield's wandering last-century hand.
DEAR TESS,--J write these few lines Hoping they will
find you well, as they leave me at Present, thank God
for it. Dear Tess, we are all glad to Hear that you
are going really to be married soon. But with respect
to your question, Tess, J say between ourselves, quite
private but very strong, that on no account do you say
a word of your Bygone Trouble to him. J did not tell
everything to your Father, he being so Proud on account
of his Respectability, which, perhaps, your Intended is
the same. Many a woman--some of the Highest in the
Land--have had a Trouble in their time; and why should
you Trumpet yours when others don't Trumpet theirs? No
girl would be such a Fool, specially as it is so long
ago, and not your Fault at all. J shall answer the
same if you ask me fifty times. Besides, you must bear
in mind that, knowing it to be your Childish Nature to
tell all that's in your heart--so simple!--J made you
promise me never to let it out by Word or Deed, having
your Welfare in my Mind; and you most solemnly did
promise it going from this Door. J have not named
either that Question or your coming marriage to your
Father, as he would blab it everywhere, poor Simple
Dear Tess, keep up your Spirits, and we mean to send
you a Hogshead of Cyder for you Wedding, knowing there
is not much in your parts, and thin Sour Stuff what
there is. So no more at present, and with kind love to
your Young Man.---From your affectte. Mother.
"O mother, mother!" murmured Tess.
She was recognizing how light was the touch of events
the most oppressive upon Mrs Durbeyfield's elastic
spirit. Her mother did not see life as Tess saw it.
That haunting episode of bygone days was to her mother
but a passing accident. But perhaps her mother was
right as to the course to be followed, whatever she
might be in her reasons. Silence seemed, on the face of
it, best for her adored one's happiness: silence it
Thus steadied by a command from the only person in the
world who had any shadow of right to control her
action, Tess grew calmer. The responsibility was
shifted, and her heart was lighter than it had been for
weeks. The days of declining autumn which followed her
assent, beginning with the month of October, formed a
season through which she lived in spiritual altitudes
more nearly approaching ecstasy than any other period
of her life.
There was hardly a touch of earth in her love for
Clare. To her sublime trustfulness he was all that
goodness could be--knew all that a guide, philosopher,
and friend should know. She thought every line in the
contour of his person the perfection of masculine
beauty, his soul the soul of a saint, his intellect
that of a seer. The wisdom of her love for him, as
love, sustained her dignity; she seemed to be wearing a
crown. The compassion of his love for her, as she saw
it, made her lift up her heart to him in devotion. He
would sometimes catch her large, worshipful eyes, that
had no bottom to them looking at him from their depths,
as if she saw something immortal before her.
She dismissed the past--trod upon it and put it out, as
one treads on a coal that is smouldering and dangerous.
She had not known that men could be so disinterested,
chivalrous, protective, in their love for women as he.
Angel Clare was far from all that she thought him in
this respect; absurdly far, indeed; but he was, in
truth, more spiritual than animal; he had himself well
in hand, and was singularly free from grossness.
Though not cold-natured, he was rather bright than
hot--less Byronic than Shelleyan; could love
desperately, but with a love more especially inclined
to the imaginative and ethereal; it was a fastidious
emotion which could jealously guard the loved one
against his very self. This amazed and enraptured Tess,
whose slight experiences had been so infelicitous till
now; and in her reaction from indignation against the
male sex she swerved to excess of honour for Clare.
They unaffectedly sought each other's company; in her
honest faith she did not disguise her desire to be with
him. The sum of her instincts on this matter, if
clearly stated, would have been that the elusive
quality of her sex which attracts men in general might
be distasteful to so perfect a man after an avowal of
love, since it must in its very nature carry with it a
suspicion of art.
The country custom of unreserved comradeship out of
doors during betrothal was the only custom she knew,
and to her it had no strangeness; though it seemed
oddly anticipative to Clare till he saw how normal a
thing she, in common with all the other dairy-folk,
regarded it. Thus, during this October month of
wonderful afternoons they roved along the meads by
creeping paths which followed the brinks of trickling
tributary brooks, hopping across by little wooden
bridges to the other side, and back again. They were
never out of the sound of some purling weir, whose buzz
accompanied their own murmuring, while the beams of the
sun, almost as horizontal as the mead itself, formed a
pollen of radiance over the landscape. They saw tiny
blue fogs in the shadows of trees and hedges, all the
time that there was bright sunshine elsewhere. The sun
was so near the ground, and the sward so flat, that the
shadows of Clare and Tess would stretch a quarter of a
mile ahead of them, like two long fingers pointing afar
to where the green alluvial reaches abutted against the
sloping sides of the vale.
Men were at work here and there--for it was the season
for "taking up" the meadows, or digging the little
waterways clear for the winter irrigation, and mending
their banks where trodden down by the cows. The
shovelfuls of loam, black as jet, brought there by the
river when it was as wide as the whole valley, were an
essence of soils, pounded campaigns of the past,
steeped, refined, and subtilized to extraordinary
richness, out of which came all the fertility of the
mead, and of the cattle grazing there.
Clare hardily kept his arm round her waist in sight of
these watermen, with the air of a man who was
accustomed to public dalliance, though actually as shy
as she who, with lips parted and eyes askance on the
labourers, wore the look of a wary animal the while.
"You are not ashamed of owning me as yours before
them!" she said gladly.
"But if it should reach the ears of your friends at
Emminster that you are walking about like this with me,
"The most bewitching milkmaid every seen."
"They might feel it a hurt to their dignity."
"My dear girl--a d'Urberville hurt the dignity of a
Clare!" It is a grand card to play--that of your
Back to Full Books