<br/>Every village has its idiosyncrasy, its constitution,
often its own code of morality. The levity of some of
the younger women in and about Trantridge was marked,
and was perhaps symptomatic of the choice spirit who
ruled The Slopes in that vicinity. The place had also
a more abiding defect; it drank hard. The staple
conversation on the farms around was on the uselessness
of saving money; and smock-frocked arithmeticians,
leaning on their ploughs or hoes, would enter into
calculations of great nicety to prove that parish
relief was a fuller provision for a man in his old age
than any which could result from savings out of their
wages during a whole lifetime.
<br/>The chief pleasure of these philosophers lay in going
every Saturday night, when work was done, to
Chaseborough, a decayed market-town two or three miles
distant; and, returning in the small hours of the next
morning, to spend Sunday in sleeping off the dyspeptic
effects of the curious compounds sold to them as beer
by the monopolizers of the once-independent inns.
<br/>For a long time Tess did not join in the weekly
pilgrimages. But under pressure from matrons not much
older than herself—for a field-man's wages being as
high at twenty-one as at forty, marriage was early
here—Tess at length consented to go. Her first
experience of the journey afforded her more enjoyment
than she had expected, the hilariousness of the others
being quite contagious after her monotonous attention
to the poultry-farm all the week. She went again and
again. Being graceful and interesting, standing
moreover on the momentary threshold of womanhood, her
appearance drew down upon her some sly regards from
loungers in the streets of Chaseborough; hence, though
sometimes her journey to the town was made
independently, she always searched for her fellows at
nightfall, to have the protection of their
<br/>This had gone on for a month or two when there came a
Saturday in September, on which a fair and a market
coincided; and the pilgrims from Trantridge sought
double delights at the inns on that account. Tess's
occupations made her late in setting out, so that her
comrades reached the town long before her. It was a
fine September evening, just before sunset, when yellow
lights struggle with blue shades in hairlike lines, and
the atmosphere itself forms a prospect without aid from
more solid objects, except the innumerable winged
insects that dance in it. Through this low-lit
mistiness Tess walked leisurely along.
<br/>She did not discover the coincidence of the market with
the fair till she had reached the place, by which time
it was close upon dusk. Her limited marketing was soon
completed; and then as usual she began to look about
for some of the Trantridge cottagers.
<br/>At first she could not find them, and she was informed
that most of them had gone to what they called a
private little jig at the house of a hay-trusser and
peat-dealer who had transactions with their farm. He
lived in an out-of-the-way nook of the townlet, and in
trying to find her course thither her eyes fell upon
Mr d'Urberville standing at a street corner.
<br/>"What—my Beauty? You here so late?" he said.
<br/>She told him that she was simply waiting for company
<br/>"I'll see you again," said he over her shoulder as she
went on down the back lane.
<br/>Approaching the hay-trussers, she could hear the fiddled
notes of a reel proceeding from some building in the
rear; but no sound of dancing was audible—an
exceptional state of things for these parts, where as a
rule the stamping drowned the music. The front door
being open she could see straight through the house
into the garden at the back as far as the shades of
night would allow; and nobody appearing to her knock,
she traversed the dwelling and went up the path to the
outhouse whence the sound had attracted her.
<br/>It was a windowless erection used for storage, and from
the open door there floated into the obscurity a mist
of yellow radiance, which at first Tess thought to be
illuminated smoke. But on drawing nearer she perceived
that it was a cloud of dust, lit by candles within the
outhouse, whose beams upon the haze carried forward the
outline of the doorway into the wide night of the
<br/>When she came close and looked in she beheld indistinct
forms racing up and down to the figure of the dance,
the silence of their footfalls arising from their being
overshoe in "scroff"—that is to say, the powdery
residuum from the storage of peat and other products,
the stirring of which by their turbulent feet created
the nebulosity that involved the scene. Through this
floating, fusty <i>debris</i> of peat and hay, mixed with
the perspirations and warmth of the dancers, and forming
together a sort of vegeto-human pollen, the muted
fiddles feebly pushed their notes, in marked contrast
to the spirit with which the measure was trodden out.
They coughed as they danced, and laughed as they
coughed. Of the rushing couples there could barely be
discerned more than the high lights—the indistinctness
shaping them to satyrs clasping nymphs—a multiplicity
of Pans whirling a multiplicity of Syrinxes; Lotis
attempting to elude Priapus, and always failing.
<br/>At intervals a couple would approach the doorway for
air, and the haze no longer veiling their features, the
demigods resolved themselves into the homely
personalities of her own next-door neighbours.
Could Trantridge in two or three short hours have
metamorphosed itself thus madly!
<br/>Some Sileni of the throng sat on benches and
hay-trusses by the wall; and one of them recognized
<br/>"The maids don't think it respectable to dance at The
Flower-de-Luce," he explained. "They don't like to
let everybody see which be their fancy-men. Besides,
the house sometimes shuts up just when their jints
begin to get greased. So we come here and send out for
<br/>"But when be any of you going home?" asked Tess with
<br/>"Now—a'most directly. This is all but the last jig."
<br/>She waited. The reel drew to a close, and some of the
party were in the mind of starting. But others would
not, and another dance was formed. This surely would
end it, thought Tess. But it merged in yet another.
She became restless and uneasy; yet, having waited so
long, it was necessary to wait longer; on account of
the fair the roads were dotted with roving characters
of possibly ill intent; and, though not fearful of
measurable dangers, she feared the unknown. Had she
been near Marlott she would have had less dread.
<br/>"Don't ye be nervous, my dear good soul," expostulated,
between his coughs, a young man with a wet face and
his straw hat so far back upon his head that the brim
encircled it like the nimbus of a saint. "What's yer
hurry? To-morrow is Sunday, thank God, and we can sleep
it off in church-time. Now, have a turn with me?"
<br/>She did not abhor dancing, but she was not going to
dance here. The movement grew more passionate: the
fiddlers behind the luminous pillar of cloud now and
then varied the air by playing on the wrong side of the
bridge or with the back of the bow. But it did not
matter; the panting shapes spun onwards.
<br/>They did not vary their partners if their inclination
were to stick to previous ones. Changing partners
simply meant that a satisfactory choice had not as yet
been arrived at by one or other of the pair, and by
this time every couple had been suitably matched. It
was then that the ecstasy and the dream began, in which
emotion was the matter of the universe, and matter but
an adventitious intrusion likely to hinder you from
spinning where you wanted to spin.
<br/>Suddenly there was a dull thump on the ground: a couple
had fallen, and lay in a mixed heap. The next couple,
unable to check its progress, came toppling over the
obstacle. An inner cloud of dust rose around the
prostrate figures amid the general one of the room, in
which a twitching entanglement of arms and legs was
<br/>"You shall catch it for this, my gentleman, when you
get home!" burst in female accents from the human
heap—those of the unhappy partner of the man whose
clumsiness had caused the mishap; she happened also to
be his recently married wife, in which assortment there
was nothing unusual at Trantridge as long as any
affection remained between wedded couples; and, indeed,
it was not uncustomary in their later lives, to avoid
making odd lots of the single people between whom there
might be a warm understanding.
<br/>A loud laugh from behind Tess's back, in the shade of
the garden, united with the titter within the room.
She looked round, and saw the red coal of a cigar: Alec
d'Urberville was standing there alone. He beckoned to
her, and she reluctantly retreated towards him.
<br/>"Well, my Beauty, what are you doing here?"
<br/>She was so tired after her long day and her walk that
she confided her trouble to him—that she had been
waiting ever since he saw her to have their company
home, because the road at night was strange to her.
"But it seems they will never leave off, and I really
think I will wait no longer."
<br/>"Certainly do not. I have only a saddle-horse here
to-day; but come to The Flower-de-Luce, and I'll hire a
trap, and drive you home with me."
<br/>Tess, though flattered, had never quite got over her
original mistrust of him, and, despite their tardiness,
she preferred to walk home with the work-folk. So she
answered that she was much obliged to him, but would
not trouble him. "I have said that I will wait for
'em, and they will expect me to now."
<br/>"Very well, Miss Independence. Please
yourself… Then I shall not hurry… My good
Lord, what a kick-up they are having there!"
<br/>He had not put himself forward into the light, but some
of them had perceived him, and his presence led to a
slight pause and a consideration of how the time was
flying. As soon as he had re-lit a cigar and walked
away the Trantridge people began to collect themselves
from amid those who had come in from other farms, and
prepared to leave in a body. Their bundles and baskets
were gathered up, and half an hour later, when the
clock-chime sounded a quarter past eleven, they were
straggling along the lane which led up the hill towards
<br/>It was a three-mile walk, along a dry white road, made
whiter to-night by the light of the moon.
<br/>Tess soon perceived as she walked in the flock,
sometimes with this one, sometimes with that, that the
fresh night air was producing staggerings and
serpentine courses among the men who had partaken too
freely; some of the more careless women also were
wandering in their gait—to wit, a dark virago, Car
Darch, dubbed Queen of Spades, till lately a favourite
of d'Urberville's; Nancy, her sister, nicknamed the
Queen of Diamonds; and the young married woman who had
already tumbled down. Yet however terrestrial and
lumpy their appearance just now to the mean unglamoured
eye, to themselves the case was different. They
followed the road with a sensation that they were
soaring along in a supporting medium, possessed of
original and profound thoughts, themselves and
surrounding nature forming an organism of which all the
parts harmoniously and joyously interpenetrated each
other. They were as sublime as the moon and stars
above them, and the moon and stars were as ardent as
<br/>Tess, however, had undergone such painful experiences
of this kind in her father's house that the discovery
of their condition spoilt the pleasure she was
beginning to feel in the moonlight journey. Yet she
stuck to the party, for reasons above given.
<br/>In the open highway they had progressed in scattered
order; but now their route was through a field-gate,
and the foremost finding a difficulty in opening it,
they closed up together.
<br/>This leading pedestrian was Car the Queen of Spades,
who carried a wicker-basket containing her mother's
groceries, her own draperies, and other purchases for
the week. The basket being large and heavy, Car had
placed it for convenience of porterage on the top of
her head, where it rode on in jeopardized balance as
she walked with arms akimbo.
<br/>"Well—whatever is that a-creeping down thy back, Car
Darch?" said one of the group suddenly.
<br/>All looked at Car. Her gown was a light cotton print,
and from the back of her head a kind of rope could be
seen descending to some distance below her waist, like
a Chinaman's queue.
<br/>"'Tis her hair falling down," said another.
<br/>No; it was not her hair: it was a black stream of
something oozing from her basket, and it glistened like
a slimy snake in the cold still rays of the moon.
<br/>"'Tis treacle," said an observant matron.
<br/>Treacle it was. Car's poor old grandmother had a
weakness for the sweet stuff. Honey she had in plenty
out of her own hives, but treacle was what her soul
desired, and Car had been about to give her a treat of
surprise. Hastily lowering the basket the dark girl
found that the vessel containing the syrup had been
<br/>By this time there had arisen a shout of laughter at
the extraordinary appearance of Car's back, which
irritated the dark queen into getting rid of the
disfigurement by the first sudden means available, and
independently of the help of the scoffers. She rushed
excitedly into the field they were about to cross, and
flinging herself flat on her back upon the grass, began
to wipe her gown as well as she could by spinning
horizontally on the herbage and dragging herself over
it upon her elbows.
<br/>The laughter rang louder; they clung to the gate, to
the posts, rested on their staves, in the weakness
engendered by their convulsions at the spectacle of
Car. Our heroine, who had hitherto held her peace, at
this wild moment could not help joining in with the
<br/>It was a misfortune—in more ways than one. No sooner
did the dark queen hear the soberer richer note of Tess
among those of the other work-people than a
long-smouldering sense of rivalry inflamed her to madness.
She sprang to her feet and closely faced the object of
<br/>"How darest th' laugh at me, hussy!" she cried.
<br/>"I couldn't really help it when t'others did,"
apologized Tess, still tittering.
<br/>"Ah, th'st think th' beest everybody, dostn't, because
th' beest first favourite with He just now! But stop a
bit, my lady, stop a bit! I'm as good as two of such!
Look here—here's at 'ee!"
<br/>To Tess's horror the dark queen began stripping off the
bodice of her gown—which for the added reason of its
ridiculed condition she was only too glad to be free
of—till she had bared her plump neck, shoulders, and
arms to the moonshine, under which they looked as
luminous and beautiful as some Praxitelean creation, in
their possession of the faultless rotundities of a
lusty country-girl. She closed her fists and squared up
<br/>"Indeed, then, I shall not fight!" said the latter
majestically; "and if I had know you was of that sort,
I wouldn't have so let myself down as to come with such
a whorage as this is!"
<br/>The rather too inclusive speech brought down a torrent
of vituperation from other quarters upon fair Tess's
unlucky head, particularly from the Queen of Diamonds,
who having stood in the relations to d'Urberville that
Car had also been suspected of, united with the latter
against the common enemy. Several other women also
chimed in, with an animus which none of them would have
been so fatuous as to show but for the rollicking
evening they had passed. Thereupon, finding Tess
unfairly browbeaten, the husbands and lovers tried to
make peace by defending her; but the result of that
attempt was directly to increase the war.
<br/>Tess was indignant and ashamed. She no longer minded
the loneliness of the way and the lateness of the hour;
her one object was to get away from the whole crew as
soon as possible. She knew well enough that the better
among them would repent of their passion next day.
They were all now inside the field, and she was edging
back to rush off alone when a horseman emerged almost
silently from the corner of the hedge that screened the
road, and Alec d'Urberville looked round upon them.
<br/>"What the devil is all this row about, work-folk?" he
<br/>The explanation was not readily forthcoming; and, in
truth, he did not require any. Having heard their
voices while yet some way off he had ridden creepingly
forward, and learnt enough to satisfy himself.
<br/>Tess was standing apart from the rest, near the gate.
He bent over towards her. "Jump up behind me," he
whispered, "and we'll get shot of the screaming cats in
<br/>She felt almost ready to faint, so vivid was her sense
of the crisis. At almost any other moment of her life
she would have refused such proffered aid and company,
as she had refused them several times before; and now
the loneliness would not of itself have forced her to
do otherwise. But coming as the invitation did at the
particular juncture when fear and indignation at these
adversaries could be transformed by a spring of the
foot into a triumph over them, she abandoned herself to
her impulse, climbed the gate, put her toe upon his
instep, and scrambled into the saddle behind him. The
pair were speeding away into the distant gray by the
time that the contentious revellers became aware of
what had happened.
<br/>The Queen of Spades forgot the stain on her bodice, and
stood beside the Queen of Diamonds and the new-married,
staggering young woman—all with a gaze of fixity in
the direction in which the horse's tramp was
diminishing into silence on the road.
<br/>"What be ye looking at?" asked a man who had not
observed the incident.
<br/>"Ho-ho-ho!" laughed dark Car.
<br/>"Hee-hee-hee!" laughed the tippling bride, as she
steadied herself on the arm of her fond husband.
<br/>"Heu-heu-heu!" laughed dark Car's mother, stroking her
moustache as she explained laconically: "Out of the
frying-pan into the fire!"
<br/>Then these children of the open air, whom even excess
of alcohol could scarce injure permanently, betook
themselves to the field-path; and as they went there
moved onward with them, around the shadow of each one's
head, a circle of opalized light, formed by the moon's
rays upon the glistening sheet of dew. Each pedestrian
could see no halo but his or her own, which never
deserted the head-shadow, whatever its vulgar
unsteadiness might be; but adhered to it, and
persistently beautified it; till the erratic motions
seemed an inherent part of the irradiation, and the
fumes of their breathing a component of the night's
mist; and the spirit of the scene, and of the
moonlight, and of Nature, seemed harmoniously to mingle
with the spirit of wine.
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