<br/>"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?"
<br/>One guessed, and another guessed. Mrs Crick did not
guess, because she knew already.
<br/>"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."
<br/>"Not Jack Dollop? A villain—to think o' that!" said a
<br/>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
<br/>"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.
<br/>"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!
Serves him well beright. But onluckily the poor woman
gets the worst o't."
<br/>"Well, the silly body should have told en sooner that
the ghost of her first man would trouble him," said Mrs
<br/>"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?"
<br/>He glanced towards the row of girls.
<br/>"She ought to ha' told him just before they went to
church, when he could hardly have backed out,"
<br/>"Yes, she ought," agreed Izz.
<br/>"She must have seen what he was after, and should ha'
refused him," cried Retty spasmodically.
<br/>"And what do you say, my dear?" asked the dairyman of
<br/>"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.
<br/>"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."
<br/>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
<br/>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.
<br/>"Tessy!" came from behind her, and Clare sprang across
the gully, alighting beside her feet. "My wife—soon!"
<br/>"No, no; I cannot. For your sake, O Mr Clare; for your
sake, I say no!"
<br/>"Still I say no!" she repeated.
<br/>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 released her momentarily-imprisoned
waist, and withheld the kiss.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>"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 <i>must</i> 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
<br/>"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
<br/>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.
<br/>"Call me Angel, then, and not Mr Clare."
<br/>"Angel dearest—why not?"
<br/>"'Twould mean that I agree, wouldn't it?"
<br/>"It would only mean that you love me, even if you
cannot marry me; and you were so good as to own that
<br/>"Very well, then, 'Angel dearest', if I <i>must</i>," she
murmured, looking at her candle, a roguish curl coming
upon her mouth, notwithstanding her suspense.
<br/>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
<br/>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
<br/>"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.
<br/>"Not so very different, I think," she said.
<br/>"Why do you think that?"
<br/>"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."
<br/>"What is in them?"
<br/>"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."
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>"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 to-day 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
<br/>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
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