<br/>As for Tess Durbeyfield, she did not so easily dislodge
the incident from her consideration. She had no spirit
to dance again for a long time, though she might have
had plenty of partners; but ah! they did not speak so
nicely as the strange young man had done. It was not
till the rays of the sun had absorbed the young
stranger's retreating figure on the hill that she shook
off her temporary sadness and answered her would-be
partner in the affirmative.
<br/>She remained with her comrades till dusk, and
participated with a certain zest in the dancing;
though, being heart-whole as yet, she enjoyed treading
a measure purely for its own sake; little divining when
she saw "the soft torments, the bitter sweets, the
pleasing pains, and the agreeable distresses" of those
girls who had been wooed and won, what she herself was
capable of in that kind. The struggles and wrangles of
the lads for her hand in a jig were an amusement to
her—no more; and when they became fierce she rebuked them.
<br/>She might have stayed even later, but the incident of
her father's odd appearance and manner returned upon
the girl's mind to make her anxious, and wondering what
had become of him she dropped away from the dancers and
bent her steps towards the end of the village at which
the parental cottage lay.
<br/>While yet many score yards off, other rhythmic sounds
than those she had quitted became audible to her;
sounds that she knew well—so well. They were a
regular series of thumpings from the interior of the
house, occasioned by the violent rocking of a cradle
upon a stone floor, to which movement a feminine voice
kept time by singing, in a vigorous gallopade, the
favourite ditty of "The Spotted Cow"—
I saw her lie do′-own in yon′-der green gro′-ove;<br/>
Come, love!′ and I'll tell′ you where!′<br/>
<br/>The cradle-rocking and the song would cease
simultaneously for a moment, and an exclamation at
highest vocal pitch would take the place of the melody.
<br/>"God bless thy diment eyes! And thy waxen cheeks! And
thy cherry mouth! And thy Cubit's thighs! And every
bit o' thy blessed body!"
<br/>After this invocation the rocking and the singing would
recommence, and the "Spotted Cow" proceed as before.
So matters stood when Tess opened the door and paused
upon the mat within it, surveying the scene.
<br/>The interior, in spite of the melody, struck upon the
girl's senses with an unspeakable dreariness. From the
holiday gaieties of the field—the white gowns, the
nosegays, the willow-wands, the whirling movements on
the green, the flash of gentle sentiment towards the
stranger—to the yellow melancholy of this one-candled
spectacle, what a step! Besides the jar of contrast
there came to her a chill self-reproach that she had
not returned sooner, to help her mother in these
domesticities, instead of indulging herself
<br/>There stood her mother amid the group of children, as
Tess had left her, hanging over the Monday washing-tub,
which had now, as always, lingered on to the end of the
week. Out of that tub had come the day before—Tess
felt it with a dreadful sting of remorse—the very
white frock upon her back which she had so carelessly
greened about the skirt on the damping grass—which had
been wrung up and ironed by her mother's own hands.
<br/>As usual, Mrs Durbeyfield was balanced on one foot
beside the tub, the other being engaged in the
aforesaid business of rocking her youngest child.
The cradle-rockers had done hard duty for so many years,
under the weight of so many children, on that flagstone
floor, that they were worn nearly flat, in consequence
of which a huge jerk accompanied each swing of the cot,
flinging the baby from side to side like a weaver's
shuttle, as Mrs Durbeyfield, excited by her song, trod
the rocker with all the spring that was left in her
after a long day's seething in the suds.
<br/>Nick-knock, nick-knock, went the cradle; the
candle-flame stretched itself tall, and began jigging
up and down; the water dribbled from the matron's
elbows, and the song galloped on to the end of the
verse, Mrs Durbeyfield regarding her daughter the
while. Even now, when burdened with a young family,
Joan Durbeyfield was a passionate lover of tune. No
ditty floated into Blackmoor Vale from the outer world
but Tess's mother caught up its notation in a week.
<br/>There still faintly beamed from the woman's features
something of the freshness, and even the prettiness,
of her youth; rendering it probable that the personal
charms which Tess could boast of were in main part her
mother's gift, and therefore unknightly, unhistorical.
<br/>"I'll rock the cradle for 'ee, mother," said the
daughter gently. "Or I'll take off my best frock and
help you wring up? I thought you had finished long
<br/>Her mother bore Tess no ill-will for leaving the
housework to her single-handed efforts for so long;
indeed, Joan seldom upbraided her thereon at any time,
feeling but slightly the lack of Tess's assistance
whilst her instinctive plan for relieving herself of
her labours lay in postponing them. To-night, however,
she was even in a blither mood than usual. There was a
dreaminess, a pre-occupation, an exaltation, in the
maternal look which the girl could not understand.
<br/>"Well, I'm glad you've come," her mother said, as soon
as the last note had passed out of her. "I want to go
and fetch your father; but what's more'n that, I want
to tell 'ee what have happened. Y'll be fess enough, my
poppet, when th'st know!" (Mrs Durbeyfield habitually
spoke the dialect; her daughter, who had passed the
Sixth Standard in the National School under a
London-trained mistress, spoke two languages: the
dialect at home, more or less; ordinary English abroad
and to persons of quality.)
<br/>"Since I've been away?" Tess asked.
<br/>"Had it anything to do with father's making such a
mommet of himself in thik carriage this afternoon?
Why did 'er? I felt inclined to sink into the ground
<br/>"That wer all a part of the larry! We've been found to
be the greatest gentlefolk in the whole
county—reaching all back long before Oliver Grumble's
time—to the days of the Pagan Turks—with monuments,
and vaults, and crests, and 'scutcheons, and the Lord
knows what all. In Saint Charles's days we was made
Knights o' the Royal Oak, our real name being
d'Urberville! … Don't that make your bosom plim?
'Twas on this account that your father rode home in the
vlee; not because he'd been drinking, as people
<br/>"I'm glad of that. Will it do us any good, mother?"
<br/>"O yes! 'Tis thoughted that great things may come o't.
No doubt a mampus of volk of our own rank will be down
here in their carriages as soon as 'tis known. Your
father learnt it on his way hwome from Shaston, and he
has been telling me the whole pedigree of the matter."
<br/>"Where is father now?" asked Tess suddenly.
<br/>Her mother gave irrelevant information by way of
answer: "He called to see the doctor to-day in Shaston.
It is not consumption at all, it seems. It is fat
round his heart, 'a says. There, it is like this."
Joan Durbeyfield, as she spoke, curved a sodden thumb
and forefinger to the shape of the letter C, and used
the other forefinger as a pointer. "'At the present
moment,' he says to your father, 'your heart is
enclosed all round there, and all round there; this
space is still open,' 'a says. 'As soon as it do meet,
so,'"—Mrs Durbeyfield closed her fingers into a circle
complete—"'off you will go like a shadder,
Mr Durbeyfield,' 'a says. 'You mid last ten years; you
mid go off in ten months, or ten days.'"
<br/>Tess looked alarmed. Her father possibly to go behind
the eternal cloud so soon, notwithstanding this sudden
<br/>"But where <i>is</i> father?" she asked again.
<br/>Her mother put on a deprecating look. "Now don't you
be bursting out angry! The poor man—he felt so rafted
after his uplifting by the pa'son's news—that he went
up to Rolliver's half an hour ago. He do want to get up
his strength for his journey to-morrow with that load of
beehives, which must be delivered, family or no. He'll
have to start shortly after twelve to-night, as the
distance is so long."
<br/>"Get up his strength!" said Tess impetuously, the tears
welling to her eyes. "O my God! Go to a public-house
to get up his strength! And you as well agreed as he, mother!"
<br/>Her rebuke and her mood seemed to fill the whole room,
and to impart a cowed look to the furniture, and
candle, and children playing about, and to her mother's
<br/>"No," said the latter touchily, "I be not agreed.
I have been waiting for 'ee to bide and keep house while
I go fetch him."
<br/>"O no, Tess. You see, it would be no use."
<br/>Tess did not expostulate. She knew what her mother's
objection meant. Mrs Durbeyfield's jacket and bonnet
were already hanging slily upon a chair by her side, in
readiness for this contemplated jaunt, the reason for
which the matron deplored more than its necessity.
<br/>"And take the <i>Compleat Fortune-Teller</i> to the
outhouse," Joan continued, rapidly wiping her hands,
and donning the garments.
<br/>The <i>Compleat Fortune-Teller</i> was an old thick
volume, which lay on a table at her elbow, so worn by
pocketing that the margins had reached the edge of the type.
Tess took it up, and her mother started.
<br/>This going to hunt up her shiftless husband at the inn
was one of Mrs Durbeyfield's still extant enjoyments in
the muck and muddle of rearing children. To discover
him at Rolliver's, to sit there for an hour or two by
his side and dismiss all thought and care of the
children during the interval, made her happy. A sort
of halo, an occidental glow, came over life then.
Troubles and other realities took on themselves a
metaphysical impalpability, sinking to mere mental
phenomena for serene contemplation, and no longer stood
as pressing concretions which chafed body and soul.
The youngsters, not immediately within sight, seemed
rather bright and desirable appurtenances than
otherwise; the incidents of daily life were not without
humorousness and jollity in their aspect there. She
felt a little as she had used to feel when she sat by
her now wedded husband in the same spot during his
wooing, shutting her eyes to his defects of character,
and regarding him only in his ideal presentation as
<br/>Tess, being left alone with the younger children, went
first to the outhouse with the fortune-telling book,
and stuffed it into the thatch. A curious fetishistic
fear of this grimy volume on the part of her mother
prevented her ever allowing it to stay in the house all
night, and hither it was brought back whenever it had
been consulted. Between the mother, with her
fast-perishing lumber of superstitions, folk-lore,
dialect, and orally transmitted ballads, and the
daughter, with her trained National teachings and
Standard knowledge under an infinitely Revised Code,
there was a gap of two hundred years as ordinarily
understood. When they were together the Jacobean and
the Victorian ages were juxtaposed.
<br/>Returning along the garden path Tess mused on what the
mother could have wished to ascertain from the book on
this particular day. She guessed the recent ancestral
discovery to bear upon it, but did not divine that it
solely concerned herself. Dismissing this, however,
she busied herself with sprinkling the linen dried
during the day-time, in company with her nine-year-old
brother Abraham, and her sister Eliza-Louisa of twelve
and a half, called "'Liza-Lu," the youngest ones being
put to bed. There was an interval of four years and
more between Tess and the next of the family, the two
who had filled the gap having died in their infancy,
and this lent her a deputy-maternal attitude when she
was alone with her juniors. Next in juvenility to
Abraham came two more girls, Hope and Modesty; then a
boy of three, and then the baby, who had just completed
his first year.
<br/>All these young souls were passengers in the
Durbeyfield ship—entirely dependent on the judgement
of the two Durbeyfield adults for their pleasures,
their necessities, their health, even their existence.
If the heads of the Durbeyfield household chose to sail
into difficulty, disaster, starvation, disease,
degradation, death, thither were these half-dozen
little captives under hatches compelled to sail with
them—six helpless creatures, who had never been asked
if they wished for life on any terms, much less if they
wished for it on such hard conditions as were involved
in being of the shiftless house of Durbeyfield. Some
people would like to know whence the poet whose
philosophy is in these days deemed as profound and
trustworthy as his song is breezy and pure, gets his
authority for speaking of "Nature's holy plan."
<br/>It grew later, and neither father nor mother
reappeared. Tess looked out of the door, and took a
mental journey through Marlott. The village was
shutting its eyes. Candles and lamps were being put out
everywhere: she could inwardly behold the extinguisher
and the extended hand.
<br/>Her mother's fetching simply meant one more to fetch.
Tess began to perceive that a man in indifferent
health, who proposed to start on a journey before one
in the morning, ought not to be at an inn at this late
hour celebrating his ancient blood.
<br/>"Abraham," she said to her little brother, "do you put
on your hat—you bain't afraid?—and go up to
Rolliver's, and see what has gone wi' father and
<br/>The boy jumped promptly from his seat, and opened the
door, and the night swallowed him up. Half an hour
passed yet again; neither man, woman, nor child
returned. Abraham, like his parents, seemed to have
been limed and caught by the ensnaring inn.
<br/>"I must go myself," she said.
<br/>'Liza-Lu then went to bed, and Tess, locking them all
in, started on her way up the dark and crooked lane or
street not made for hasty progress; a street laid out
before inches of land had value, and when one-handed
clocks sufficiently subdivided the day.
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