<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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
<br/>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.
<br/>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—"
<br/>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.
<br/>"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!"
<br/>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.
<br/>"I've got to go a-skimming," she pleaded, "and I have
on'y old Deb to help me to-day. 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
<br/>As they retreated to the milk-house Deborah Fyander
appeared on the stairs.
<br/>"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
<br/>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.
<br/>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
<br/>"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?"
<br/>He put it that way that she might not think he had
yielded to an impulse of which his head would
<br/>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.
<br/>"O Mr Clare—I cannot be your wife—I cannot be!"
<br/>The sound of her own decision seemed to break Tess's
very heart, and she bowed her face in her grief.
<br/>"But, Tess!" he said, amazed at her reply, and holding
her still more greedily close. "Do you say no? Surely
you love me?"
<br/>"O yes, yes! And I would rather be yours than
anybody's in the world," returned the sweet and honest
voice of the distressed girl. "But I <i>cannot</i> marry
<br/>"Tess," he said, holding her at arm's length, "you are
engaged to marry some one else!"
<br/>"Then why do you refuse me?"
<br/>"I don't want to marry! I have not thought of doing
it. I cannot! I only want to love you."
<br/>Driven to subterfuge, she stammered—
<br/>"Your father is a parson, and your mother wouldn' like
you to marry such as me. She will want you to marry a
<br/>"Nonsense—I have spoken to them both. That was partly
why I went home."
<br/>"I feel I cannot—never, never!" she echoed.
<br/>"Is it too sudden to be asked thus, my Pretty?"
<br/>"Yes—I did not expect it."
<br/>"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."
<br/>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.
<br/>"I can't skim—I can't!" she said, turning away from
<br/>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?"
<br/>"I don't know."
<br/>"You go to church very regularly, and our parson here
is not very High, they tell me."
<br/>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.
<br/>"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."
<br/>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,<br/>
Her early Heaven, her happy views;<br/>
Nor thou with shadow'd hint confuse<br/>
A life that leads melodious days.<br/>
<br/>He had occasionally thought the counsel less honest
than musical; but he gladly conformed to it now.
<br/>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
<br/>"I fancied you looked a little downcast when you came
in," she ventured to observe, anxious to keep away from
the subject of herself.
<br/>"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."
<br/>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—
<br/>"And my question, Tessy?"
<br/>"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 <i>can't</i> be!"
<br/>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.
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