<br/>It was a hazy sunrise in August. The denser nocturnal
vapours, attacked by the warm beams, were dividing and
shrinking into isolated fleeces within hollows and
coverts, where they waited till they should be dried
away to nothing.
<br/>The sun, on account of the mist, had a curious
sentient, personal look, demanding the masculine
pronoun for its adequate expression. His present
aspect, coupled with the lack of all human forms in the
scene, explained the old-time heliolatries in a moment.
One could feel that a saner religion had never
prevailed under the sky. The luminary was a
golden-haired, beaming, mild-eyed, God-like creature,
gazing down in the vigour and intentness of youth upon
an earth that was brimming with interest for him.
<br/>His light, a little later, broke though chinks of
cottage shutters, throwing stripes like red-hot pokers
upon cupboards, chests of drawers, and other furniture
within; and awakening harvesters who were not already
<br/>But of all ruddy things that morning the brightest were
two broad arms of painted wood, which rose from the
margin of yellow cornfield hard by Marlott village.
They, with two others below, formed the revolving
Maltese cross of the reaping-machine, which had been
brought to the field on the previous evening to be
ready for operations this day. The paint with which
they were smeared, intensified in hue by the sunlight,
imparted to them a look of having been dipped in liquid
<br/>The field had already been "opened"; that is to say,
a lane a few feet wide had been hand-cut through the
wheat along the whole circumference of the field for
the first passage of the horses and machine.
<br/>Two groups, one of men and lads, the other of women,
had come down the lane just at the hour when the
shadows of the eastern hedge-top struck the west hedge
midway, so that the heads of the groups were enjoying
sunrise while their feet were still in the dawn. They
disappeared from the lane between the two stone posts
which flanked the nearest field-gate.
<br/>Presently there arose from within a ticking like the
love-making of the grasshopper. The machine had begun,
and a moving concatenation of three horses and the
aforesaid long rickety machine was visible over the
gate, a driver sitting upon one of the hauling horses,
and an attendant on the seat of the implement. Along
one side of the field the whole wain went, the arms of
the mechanical reaper revolving slowly, till it passed
down the hill quite out of sight. In a minute it came
up on the other side of the field at the same equable
pace; the glistening brass star in the forehead of the
fore horse first catching the eye as it rose into view
over the stubble, then the bright arms, and then the
<br/>The narrow lane of stubble encompassing the field grew
wider with each circuit, and the standing corn was
reduced to a smaller area as the morning wore on.
Rabbits, hares, snakes, rats, mice, retreated inwards
as into a fastness, unaware of the ephemeral nature of
their refuge, and of the doom that awaited them later
in the day when, their covert shrinking to a more and
more horrible narrowness, they were huddled together,
friends and foes, till the last few yards of upright
wheat fell also under the teeth of the unerring reaper,
and they were every one put to death by the sticks and
stones of the harvesters.
<br/>The reaping-machine left the fallen corn behind it in
little heaps, each heap being of the quantity for a
sheaf; and upon these the active binders in the rear
laid their hands—mainly women, but some of them men in
print shirts, and trousers supported round their waists
by leather straps, rendering useless the two buttons
behind, which twinkled and bristled with sunbeams at
every movement of each wearer, as if they were a pair
of eyes in the small of his back.
<br/>But those of the other sex were the most interesting of
this company of binders, by reason of the charm which
is acquired by woman when she becomes part and parcel
of outdoor nature, and is not merely an object set down
therein as at ordinary times. A field-man is a
personality afield; a field-woman is a portion of the
field; she had somehow lost her own margin, imbibed the
essence of her surrounding, and assimilated herself
<br/>The women—or rather girls, for they were mostly
young—wore drawn cotton bonnets with great flapping
curtains to keep off the sun, and gloves to prevent
their hands being wounded by the stubble. There was one
wearing a pale pink jacket, another in a cream-coloured
tight-sleeved gown, another in a petticoat as red as
the arms of the reaping-machine; and others, older, in
the brown-rough "wropper" or over-all—the
old-established and most appropriate dress of the
field-woman, which the young ones were abandoning.
This morning the eye returns involuntarily to the girl
in the pink cotton jacket, she being the most flexuous
and finely-drawn figure of them all. But her bonnet is
pulled so far over her brow that none of her face is
disclosed while she binds, though her complexion may be
guessed from a stray twine or two of dark brown hair
which extends below the curtain of her bonnet. Perhaps
one reason why she seduces casual attention is that she
never courts it, though the other women often gaze
<br/>Her binding proceeds with clock-like monotony. From
the sheaf last finished she draws a handful of ears,
patting their tips with her left palm to bring them
even. Then, stooping low, she moves forward, gathering
the corn with both hands against her knees, and pushing
her left gloved hand under the bundle to meet the right
on the other side, holding the corn in an embrace like
that of a lover. She brings the ends of the bond
together, and kneels on the sheaf while she ties it,
beating back her skirts now and then when lifted by the
breeze. A bit of her naked arm is visible between the
buff leather of the gauntlet and the sleeve of her
gown; and as the day wears on its feminine smoothness
becomes scarified by the stubble and bleeds.
<br/>At intervals she stands up to rest, and to retie her
disarranged apron, or to pull her bonnet straight.
Then one can see the oval face of a handsome young
woman with deep dark eyes and long heavy clinging
tresses, which seem to clasp in a beseeching way
anything they fall against. The cheeks are paler, the
teeth more regular, the red lips thinner than is usual
in a country-bred girl.
<br/>It is Tess Durbeyfield, otherwise d'Urberville,
somewhat changed—the same, but not the same; at the
present stage of her existence living as a stranger and
an alien here, though it was no strange land that she
was in. After a long seclusion she had come to a
resolve to undertake outdoor work in her native
village, the busiest season of the year in the
agricultural world having arrived, and nothing that she
could do within the house being so remunerative for the
time as harvesting in the fields.
<br/>The movements of the other women were more or less
similar to Tess's, the whole bevy of them drawing
together like dancers in a quadrille at the completion
of a sheaf by each, every one placing her sheaf on end
against those of the rest, till a shock, or "stitch" as
it was here called, of ten or a dozen was formed.
<br/>They went to breakfast, and came again, and the work
proceeded as before. As the hour of eleven drew near a
person watching her might have noticed that every now
and then Tess's glance flitted wistfully to the brow of
the hill, though she did not pause in her sheafing. On
the verge of the hour the heads of a group of children,
of ages ranging from six to fourteen, rose over the
stubbly convexity of the hill.
<br/>The face of Tess flushed slightly, but still she did
<br/>The eldest of the comers, a girl who wore a triangular
shawl, its corner draggling on the stubble, carried in
her arms what at first sight seemed to be a doll, but
proved to be an infant in long clothes. Another
brought some lunch. The harvesters ceased working,
took their provisions, and sat down against one of the
shocks. Here they fell to, the men plying a stone jar
freely, and passing round a cup.
<br/>Tess Durbeyfield had been one of the last to suspend
her labours. She sat down at the end of the shock, her
face turned somewhat away from her companions. When
she had deposited herself a man in a rabbit-skin cap,
and with a red handkerchief tucked into his belt, held
the cup of ale over the top of the shock for her to
drink. But she did not accept his offer. As soon as
her lunch was spread she called up the big girl, her
sister, and took the baby of her, who, glad to be
relieved of the burden, went away to the next shock and
joined the other children playing there. Tess, with a
curiously stealthy yet courageous movement, and with a
still rising colour, unfastened her frock and began
suckling the child.
<br/>The men who sat nearest considerately turned their
faces towards the other end of the field, some of them
beginning to smoke; one, with absent-minded fondness,
regretfully stroking the jar that would no longer yield
a stream. All the women but Tess fell into animated
talk, and adjusted the disarranged knots of their hair.
<br/>When the infant had taken its fill, the young mother sat
it upright in her lap, and looking into the far
distance, dandled it with a gloomy indifference that was
almost dislike; then all of a sudden she fell to
violently kissing it some dozens of times, as if she
could never leave off, the child crying at the
vehemence of an onset which strangely combined
passionateness with contempt.
<br/>"She's fond of that there child, though she mid pretend
to hate en, and say she wishes the baby and her too
were in the churchyard," observed the woman in the red
<br/>"She'll soon leave off saying that," replied the one in
buff. "Lord, 'tis wonderful what a body can get used to
o' that sort in time!"
<br/>"A little more than persuading had to do wi' the coming
o't, I reckon. There were they that heard a sobbing
one night last year in The Chase; and it mid ha' gone
hard wi' a certain party if folks had come along."
<br/>"Well, a little more, or a little less, 'twas a
thousand pities that it should have happened to she, of
all others. But 'tis always the comeliest! The plain
ones be as safe as churches—hey, Jenny?" The speaker
turned to one of the group who certainly was not
ill-defined as plain.
<br/>It was a thousand pities, indeed; it was impossible for
even an enemy to feel otherwise on looking at Tess as
she sat there, with her flower-like mouth and large
tender eyes, neither black nor blue nor grey nor
violet; rather all those shades together, and a hundred
others, which could be seen if one looked into their
irises—shade behind shade—tint beyond tint—around
pupils that had no bottom; an almost standard woman,
but for the slight incautiousness of character
inherited from her race.
<br/>A resolution which had surprised herself had brought
her into the fields this week for the first time during
many months. After wearing and wasting her palpitating
heart with every engine of regret that lonely
inexperience could devise, common sense had illuminated
her. She felt that she would do well to be useful
again—to taste anew sweet independence at any price.
The past was past; whatever it had been, it was no more
at hand. Whatever its consequences, time would close
over them; they would all in a few years be as if they
had never been, and she herself grassed down and
forgotten. Meanwhile the trees were just as green as
before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now
as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened
because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.
<br/>She might have seen that what had bowed her head so
profoundly—the thought of the world's concern at her
situation—was founded on an illusion. She was not an
existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of
sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind
besides, Tess was only a passing thought. Even to
friends she was no more than a frequently passing
thought. If she made herself miserable the livelong
night and day it was only this much to them—"Ah, she
makes herself unhappy." If she tried to be cheerful,
to dismiss all care, to take pleasure in the daylight,
the flowers, the baby, she could only be this idea to
them—"Ah, she bears it very well." Moreover, alone in
a desert island would she have been wretched at what
had happened to her? Not greatly. If she could have
been but just created, to discover herself as a
spouseless mother, with no experience of life except as
the parent of a nameless child, would the position have
caused her to despair? No, she would have taken it
calmly, and found pleasure therein. Most of the misery
had been generated by her conventional aspect, and not
by her innate sensations.
<br/>Whatever Tess's reasoning, some spirit had induced her
to dress herself up neatly as she had formerly done,
and come out into the fields, harvest-hands being
greatly in demand just then. This was why she had
borne herself with dignity, and had looked people
calmly in the face at times, even when holding the baby
in her arms.
<br/>The harvest-men rose from the shock of corn, and
stretched their limbs, and extinguished their pipes.
The horses, which had been unharnessed and fed, were
again attached to the scarlet machine. Tess, having
quickly eaten her own meal, beckoned to her eldest
sister to come and take away the baby, fastened her
dress, put on the buff gloves again, and stooped anew
to draw a bond from the last completed sheaf for the
tying of the next.
<br/>In the afternoon and evening the proceedings of the
morning were continued, Tess staying on till dusk with
the body of harvesters. Then they all rode home in one
of the largest wagons, in the company of a broad
tarnished moon that had risen from the ground to the
eastwards, its face resembling the outworn gold-leaf
halo of some worm-eaten Tuscan saint. Tess's female
companions sang songs, and showed themselves very
sympathetic and glad at her reappearance out of doors,
though they could not refrain from mischievously
throwing in a few verses of the ballad about the maid
who went to the merry green wood and came back a
changed state. There are counterpoises and
compensations in life; and the event which had made of
her a social warning had also for the moment made her
the most interesting personage in the village to many.
Their friendliness won her still farther away from
herself, their lively spirits were contagious, and she
became almost gay.
<br/>But now that her moral sorrows were passing away a
fresh one arose on the natural side of her which knew
no social law. When she reached home it was to learn
to her grief that the baby had been suddenly taken ill
since the afternoon. Some such collapse had been
probable, so tender and puny was its frame; but the
event came as a shock nevertheless.
<br/>The baby's offence against society in coming into the
world was forgotten by the girl-mother; her soul's
desire was to continue that offence by preserving the
life of the child. However, it soon grew clear that
the hour of emancipation for that little prisoner of
the flesh was to arrive earlier than her worst
misgiving had conjectured. And when she had discovered
this she was plunged into a misery which transcended
that of the child's simple loss. Her baby had not been
<br/>Tess had drifted into a frame of mind which accepted
passively the consideration that if she should have to
burn for what she had done, burn she must, and there
was an end of it. Like all village girls, she was well
grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and had dutifully
studied the histories of Aholah and Aholibah, and knew
the inferences to be drawn therefrom. But when the
same question arose with regard to the baby, it had a
very different colour. Her darling was about to die,
and no salvation.
<br/>It was nearly bedtime, but she rushed downstairs and
asked if she might send for the parson. The moment
happened to be one at which her father's sense of the
antique nobility of his family was highest, and his
sensitiveness to the smudge which Tess had set upon
that nobility most pronounced, for he had just returned
from his weekly booze at Rolliver's Inn. No parson
should come inside his door, he declared, prying into
his affairs, just then, when, by her shame, it had
become more necessary than ever to hide them. He locked
the door and put the key in his pocket.
<br/>The household went to bed, and, distressed beyond
measure, Tess retired also. She was continually waking
as she lay, and in the middle of the night found that
the baby was still worse. It was obviously
dying—quietly and painlessly, but none the less
<br/>In her misery she rocked herself upon the bed. The
clock struck the solemn hour of one, that hour when
fancy stalks outside reason, and malignant
possibilities stand rock-firm as facts. She thought of
the child consigned to the nethermost corner of hell,
as its double doom for lack of baptism and lack of
legitimacy; saw the arch-fiend tossing it with his
three-pronged fork, like the one they used for heating
the oven on baking days; to which picture she added
many other quaint and curious details of torment
sometimes taught the young in this Christian country.
The lurid presentment so powerfully affected her
imagination in the silence of the sleeping house that
her nightgown became damp with perspiration, and the
bedstead shook with each throb of her heart.
<br/>The infant's breathing grew more difficult, and the
mother's mental tension increased. It was useless to
devour the little thing with kisses; she could stay in
bed no longer, and walked feverishly about the room.
<br/>"O merciful God, have pity; have pity upon my poor
baby!" she cried. "Heap as much anger as you want to
upon me, and welcome; but pity the child!"
<br/>She leant against the chest of drawers, and murmured
incoherent supplications for a long while, till she
suddenly started up.
<br/>"Ah! perhaps baby can be saved! Perhaps it will be
just the same!"
<br/>She spoke so brightly that it seemed as though her face
might have shone in the gloom surrounding her. She lit
a candle, and went to a second and a third bed under
the wall, where she awoke her young sisters and
brothers, all of whom occupied the same room. Pulling
out the washing-stand so that she could get behind it,
she poured some water from a jug, and made them kneel
around, putting their hands together with fingers
exactly vertical. While the children, scarcely awake,
awe-stricken at her manner, their eyes growing larger
and larger, remained in this position, she took the
baby from her bed—a child's child—so immature as
scarce to seem a sufficient personality to endow its
producer with the maternal title. Tess then stood
erect with the infant on her arm beside the basin; the
next sister held the Prayer-Book open before her, as
the clerk at church held it before the parson; and thus
the girl set about baptizing her child.
<br/>Her figure looked singularly tall and imposing as she
stood in her long white nightgown, a thick cable of
twisted dark hair hanging straight down her back to her
waist. The kindly dimness of the weak candle
abstracted from her form and features the little
blemishes which sunlight might have revealed—the
stubble scratches upon her wrists, and the weariness of
her eyes—her high enthusiasm having a transfiguring
effect upon the face which had been her undoing,
showing it as a thing of immaculate beauty, with a
touch of dignity which was almost regal. The little
ones kneeling round, their sleepy eyes blinking and
red, awaited her preparations full of a suspended
wonder which their physical heaviness at that hour
would not allow to become active.
<br/>The most impressed of them said:
<br/>"Be you really going to christen him, Tess?"
<br/>The girl-mother replied in a grave affirmative.
<br/>"What's his name going to be?"
<br/>She had not thought of that, but a name suggested by a
phrase in the book of Genesis came into her head as she
proceeded with the baptismal service, and now she
<br/>"SORROW, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
<br/>She sprinkled the water, and there was silence.
<br/>"Say 'Amen,' children."
<br/>The tiny voices piped in obedient response, "Amen!"
<br/>Tess went on:
<br/>"We receive this child"—and so forth—"and do sign him
with the sign of the Cross."
<br/>Here she dipped her hand into the basin, and fervently
drew an immense cross upon the baby with her
forefinger, continuing with the customary sentences as
to his manfully fighting against sin, the world, and
the devil, and being a faithful soldier and servant
unto his life's end. She duly went on with the Lord's
Prayer, the children lisping it after her in a thin
gnat-like wail, till, at the conclusion, raising their
voices to clerk's pitch, they again piped into silence,
<br/>Then their sister, with much augmented confidence in
the efficacy of the sacrament, poured forth from the
bottom of her heart the thanksgiving that follows,
uttering it boldly and triumphantly in the
stopt-diapason note which her voice acquired when her
heart was in her speech, and which will never be
forgotten by those who knew her. The ecstasy of faith
almost apotheosized her; it set upon her face a glowing
irradiation, and brought a red spot into the middle of
each cheek; while the miniature candle-flame inverted
in her eye-pupils shone like a diamond. The children
gazed up at her with more and more reverence, and no
longer had a will for questioning. She did not look
like Sissy to them now, but as a being large, towering,
and awful—a divine personage with whom they had
nothing in common.
<br/>Poor Sorrow's campaign against sin, the world, and the
devil was doomed to be of limited brilliancy—luckily
perhaps for himself, considering his beginnings. In
the blue of the morning that fragile soldier and
servant breathed his last, and when the other children
awoke they cried bitterly, and begged Sissy to have
another pretty baby.
<br/>The calmness which had possessed Tess since the
christening remained with her in the
infant's loss. In the daylight, indeed, she felt her
terrors about his soul to have been somewhat
exaggerated; whether well founded or not, she had no
uneasiness now, reasoning that if Providence would not
ratify such an act of approximation she, for one, did
not value the kind of heaven lost by the
irregularity—either for herself or for her child.
<br/>So passed away Sorrow the Undesired—that intrusive
creature, that bastard gift of shameless Nature, who
respects not the social law; a waif to whom eternal
Time had been a matter of days merely, who knew not
that such things as years and centuries ever were; to
whom the cottage interior was the universe, the week's
weather climate, new-born babyhood human existence, and
the instinct to suck human knowledge.
<br/>Tess, who mused on the christening a good deal,
wondered if it were doctrinally sufficient to secure a
Christian burial for the child. Nobody could tell this
but the parson of the parish, and he was a new-comer,
and did not know her. She went to his house after
dusk, and stood by the gate, but could not summon
courage to go in. The enterprise would have been
abandoned if she had not by accident met him coming
homeward as she turned away. In the gloom she did not
mind speaking freely.
<br/>"I should like to ask you something, sir."
<br/>He expressed his willingness to listen, and she told
the story of the baby's illness and the extemporized
ordinance. "And now, sir," she added earnestly, "can
you tell me this—will it be just the same for him as
if you had baptized him?"
<br/>Having the natural feelings of a tradesman at finding
that a job he should have been called in for had been
unskilfully botched by his customers among themselves,
he was disposed to say no. Yet the dignity of the
girl, the strange tenderness in her voice, combined to
affect his nobler impulses—or rather those that he had
left in him after ten years of endeavour to graft
technical belief on actual scepticism. The man and the
ecclesiastic fought within him, and the victory fell to
<br/>"My dear girl," he said, "it will be just the same."
<br/>"Then will you give him a Christian burial?" she asked
<br/>The Vicar felt himself cornered. Hearing of the baby's
illness, he had conscientiously gone to the house after
nightfall to perform the rite, and, unaware that the
refusal to admit him had come from Tess's father and
not from Tess, he could not allow the plea of necessity
for its irregular administration.
<br/>"Ah—that's another matter," he said.
<br/>"Another matter—why?" asked Tess, rather warmly.
<br/>"Well—I would willingly do so if only we two were
concerned. But I must not—for certain reasons."
<br/>"Just for once, sir!"
<br/>"Really I must not."
<br/>"O sir!" She seized his hand as she spoke.
<br/>He withdrew it, shaking his head.
<br/>"Then I don't like you!" she burst out, "and I'll never
come to your church no more!"
<br/>"Don't talk so rashly."
<br/>"Perhaps it will be just the same to him if you
don't? … Will it be just the same? Don't for God's
sake speak as saint to sinner, but as you yourself to me
<br/>How the Vicar reconciled his answer with the strict
notions he supposed himself to hold on these subjects
it is beyond a layman's power to tell, though not to
excuse. Somewhat moved, he said in this case also—
<br/>"It will be just the same."
<br/>So the baby was carried in a small deal box, under an
ancient woman's shawl, to the churchyard that night,
and buried by lantern-light, at the cost of a shilling
and a pint of beer to the sexton, in that shabby corner
of God's allotment where He lets the nettles grow, and
where all unbaptized infants, notorious drunkards,
suicides, and others of the conjecturally damned are
laid. In spite of the untoward surroundings, however,
Tess bravely made a little cross of two laths and a
piece of string, and having bound it with flowers, she
stuck it up at the head of the grave one evening when
she could enter the churchyard without being seen,
putting at the foot also a bunch of the same flowers in
a little jar of water to keep them alive. What matter
was it that on the outside of the jar the eye of mere
observation noted the words "Keelwell's Marmalade"?
The eye of maternal affection did not see them in its
vision of higher things.
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