<br/>Clare arose in the light of a dawn that was ashy and
furtive, as though associated with crime. The
fireplace confronted him with its extinct embers; the
spread supper-table, whereon stood the two full
glasses of untasted wine, now flat and filmy; her
vacated seat and his own; the other articles of
furniture, with their eternal look of not being able to
help it, their intolerable inquiry what was to be done?
From above there was no sound; but in a few minutes
there came a knock at the door. He remembered that it
would be the neighbouring cottager's wife, who was to
minister to their wants while they remained here.
<br/>The presence of a third person in the house would be
extremely awkward just now, and, being already dressed,
he opened the window and informed her that they could
manage to shift for themselves that morning. She had a
milk-can in her hand, which he told her to leave at the
door. When the dame had gone away he searched in the
back quarters of the house for fuel, and speedily lit a
fire. There was plenty of eggs, butter, bread, and so
on in the larder, and Clare soon had breakfast laid,
his experiences at the dairy having rendered him facile
in domestic preparations. The smoke of the kindled
wood rose from the chimney without like a lotus-headed
column; local people who were passing by saw it, and
thought of the newly-married couple, and envied their
<br/>Angel cast a final glance round, and then going to the
foot of the stairs, called in a conventional voice—
<br/>"Breakfast is ready!"
<br/>He opened the front door, and took a few steps in the
morning air. When, after a short space, he came back
she was already in the sitting-room mechanically
readjusting the breakfast things. As she was fully
attired, and the interval since his calling her had
been but two or three minutes, she must have been
dressed or nearly so before he went to summon her. Her
hair was twisted up in a large round mass at the back
of her head, and she had put on one of the new
frocks—a pale blue woollen garment with neck-frillings of
white. Her hands and face appeared to be cold, and she
had possibly been sitting dressed in the bedroom a long
time without any fire. The marked civility of Clare's
tone in calling her seemed to have inspired her, for
the moment, with a new glimmer of hope. But it soon
died when she looked at him.
<br/>The pair were, in truth, but the ashes of their former
fires. To the hot sorrow of the previous night had
succeeded heaviness; it seemed as if nothing could
kindle either of them to fervour of sensation any more.
<br/>He spoke gently to her, and she replied with a like
undemonstrativeness. At last she came up to him,
looking in his sharply-defined face as one who had no
consciousness that her own formed a visible object also.
<br/>"Angel!" she said, and paused, touching him with her
fingers lightly as a breeze, as though she could hardly
believe to be there in the flesh the man who was once
her lover. Her eyes were bright, her pale cheek still
showed its wonted roundness, though half-dried tears
had left glistening traces thereon; and the usually
ripe red mouth was almost as pale as her cheek.
Throbbingly alive as she was still, under the stress of
her mental grief the life beat so brokenly that a
little further pull upon it would cause real illness,
dull her characteristic eyes, and make her mouth thin.
<br/>She looked absolutely pure. Nature, in her fantastic
trickery, had set such a seal of maidenhood upon Tess's
countenance that he gazed at her with a stupefied air.
<br/>"Tess! Say it is not true! No, it is not true!"
<br/>"It is true."
<br/>He looked at her imploringly, as if he would willingly
have taken a lie from her lips, knowing it to be one,
and have made of it, by some sort of sophistry, a valid
denial. However, she only repeated—
<br/>"It is true."
<br/>"Is he living?" Angel then asked.
<br/>"The baby died."
<br/>"But the man?"
<br/>"He is alive."
<br/>A last despair passed over Clare's face.
<br/>"Is he in England?"
<br/>He took a few vague steps.
<br/>"My position—is this," he said abruptly. "I
thought—any man would have thought—that by giving up
all ambition to win a wife with social standing, with
fortune, with knowledge of the world, I should secure
rustic innocence as surely as I should secure pink
cheeks; but—However, I am no man to reproach you,
and I will not."
<br/>Tess felt his position so entirely that the remainder
had not been needed. Therein lay just the distress of
it; she saw that he had lost all round.
<br/>"Angel—I should not have let it go on to marriage with
you if I had not known that, after all, there was a
last way out of it for you; though I hoped you would
<br/>Her voice grew husky.
<br/>"A last way?"
<br/>"I mean, to get rid of me. You <i>can</i> get rid of me."
<br/>"By divorcing me."
<br/>"Good heavens—how can you be so simple! How can I
<br/>"Can't you—now I have told you? I thought my
confession would give you grounds for that."
<br/>"O Tess—you are too, too—childish—unformed—crude,
I suppose! I don't know what you are. You don't
understand the law—you don't understand!"
<br/>"Indeed I cannot."
<br/>A quick shame mixed with the misery upon his listener's
<br/>"I thought—I thought," she whispered. "O, now I see
how wicked I seem to you! Believe me—believe me, on
my soul, I never thought but that you could! I hoped
you would not; yet I believed, without a doubt, that
you could cast me off if you were determined, and
didn't love me at—at—all!"
<br/>"You were mistaken," he said.
<br/>"O, then I ought to have done it, to have done it last
night! But I hadn't the courage. That's just like
<br/>"The courage to do what?"
<br/>As she did not answer he took her by the hand.
<br/>"What were you thinking of doing?" he inquired.
<br/>"Of putting an end to myself."
<br/>She writhed under this inquisitorial manner of his.
"Last night," she answered.
<br/>"Under your mistletoe."
<br/>"My good—! How?" he asked sternly.
<br/>"I'll tell you, if you won't be angry with me!" she
said, shrinking. "It was with the cord of my box. But
I could not—do the last thing! I was afraid that it
might cause a scandal to your name."
<br/>The unexpected quality of this confession, wrung from
her, and not volunteered, shook him perceptibly. But
he still held her, and, letting his glance fall from
her face downwards, he said, "Now, listen to this.
You must not dare to think of such a horrible thing!
How could you! You will promise me as your husband to
attempt that no more."
<br/>"I am ready to promise. I saw how wicked it was."
<br/>"Wicked! The idea was unworthy of you beyond
<br/>"But, Angel," she pleaded, enlarging her eyes in calm
unconcern upon him, "it was thought of entirely on your
account—to set you free without the scandal of the
divorce that I thought you would have to get. I should
never have dreamt of doing it on mine. However, to do
it with my own hand is too good for me, after all.
It is you, my ruined husband, who ought to strike the
blow. I think I should love you more, if that were
possible, if you could bring yourself to do it, since
there's no other way of escape for 'ee. I feel I am so
utterly worthless! So very greatly in the way!"
<br/>"Well, since you say no, I won't. I have no wish
opposed to yours."
<br/>He knew this to be true enough. Since the desperation
of the night her activities had dropped to zero, and
there was no further rashness to be feared.
<br/>Tess tried to busy herself again over the
breakfast-table with more or less success, and they sat
down both on the same side, so that their glances did
not meet. There was at first something awkward in
hearing each other eat and drink, but this could not be
escaped; moreover, the amount of eating done was small
on both sides. Breakfast over, he rose, and telling her
the hour at which he might be expected to dinner, went
off to the miller's in a mechanical pursuance of the
plan of studying that business, which had been his only
practical reason for coming here.
<br/>When he was gone Tess stood at the window, and
presently saw his form crossing the great stone bridge
which conducted to the mill premises. He sank behind
it, crossed the railway beyond, and disappeared. Then,
without a sigh, she turned her attention to the room,
and began clearing the table and setting it in order.
<br/>The charwoman soon came. Her presence was at first a
strain upon Tess, but afterwards an alleviation. At
half-past twelve she left her assistant alone in the
kitchen, and, returning to the sitting-room, waited for
the reappearance of Angel's form behind the bridge.
<br/>About one he showed himself. Her face flushed,
although he was a quarter of a mile off. She ran to
the kitchen to get the dinner served by the time he
should enter. He went first to the room where they had
washed their hands together the day before, and as he
entered the sitting-room the dish-covers rose from the
dishes as if by his own motion.
<br/>"How punctual!" he said.
<br/>"Yes. I saw you coming over the bridge," said she.
<br/>The meal was passed in commonplace talk of what he had
been doing during the morning at the Abbey Mill, of the
methods of bolting and the old-fashioned machinery,
which he feared would not enlighten him greatly on
modern improved methods, some of it seeming to have
been in use ever since the days it ground for the monks
in the adjoining conventual buildings—now a heap of
ruins. He left the house again in the course of an
hour, coming home at dusk, and occupying himself
through the evening with his papers. She feared she
was in the way and, when the old woman was gone,
retired to the kitchen, where she made herself busy as
well as she could for more than an hour.
<br/>Clare's shape appeared at the door. "You must not work
like this," he said. "You are not my servant; you are
<br/>She raised her eyes, and brightened somewhat. "I may
think myself that—indeed?" she murmured, in piteous
raillery. "You mean in name! Well, I don't want to be
<br/>"You <i>may</i> think so, Tess! You are.
What do you mean?"
<br/>"I don't know," she said hastily, with tears in her
accents. "I thought I—because I am not respectable,
I mean. I told you I thought I was not respectable
enough long ago—and on that account I didn't want to
marry you, only—only you urged me!"
<br/>She broke into sobs, and turned her back to him. It
would almost have won round any man but Angel Clare.
Within the remote depths of his constitution, so gentle
and affectionate as he was in general, there lay hidden
a hard logical deposit, like a vein of metal in a soft
loam, which turned the edge of everything that
attempted to traverse it. It had blocked his acceptance
of the Church; it blocked his acceptance of Tess.
Moreover, his affection itself was less fire than
radiance, and, with regard to the other sex, when he
ceased to believe he ceased to follow: contrasting in
this with many impressionable natures, who remain
sensuously infatuated with what they intellectually
despise. He waited till her sobbing ceased.
<br/>"I wish half the women in England were as respectable
as you," he said, in an ebullition of bitterness
against womankind in general. "It isn't a question of
respectability, but one of principle!"
<br/>He spoke such things as these and more of a kindred
sort to her, being still swayed by the antipathetic
wave which warps direct souls with such persistence
when once their vision finds itself mocked by
appearances. There was, it is true, underneath, a back
current of sympathy through which a woman of the world
might have conquered him. But Tess did not think of
this; she took everything as her deserts, and hardly
opened her mouth. The firmness of her devotion to him
was indeed almost pitiful; quick-tempered as she
naturally was, nothing that he could say made her
unseemly; she sought not her own; was not provoked;
thought no evil of his treatment of her. She might
just now have been Apostolic Charity herself returned
to a self-seeking modern world.
<br/>This evening, night, and morning were passed precisely
as the preceding ones had been passed. On one, and
only one, occasion did she—the formerly free and
independent Tess—venture to make any advances. It
was on the third occasion of his starting after a meal
to go out to the flour-mill. As he was leaving the
table he said "Goodbye," and she replied in the same
words, at the same time inclining her mouth in the way
of his. He did not avail himself of the invitation,
saying, as he turned hastily aside—
<br/>"I shall be home punctually."
<br/>Tess shrank into herself as if she had been struck.
Often enough had he tried to reach those lips against
her consent—often had he said gaily that her mouth
and breath tasted of the butter and eggs and milk and
honey on which she mainly lived, that he drew
sustenance from them, and other follies of that sort.
But he did not care for them now. He observed her
sudden shrinking, and said gently—
<br/>"You know, I have to think of a course. It was
imperative that we should stay together a little while,
to avoid the scandal to you that would have resulted
from our immediate parting. But you must see it is
only for form's sake."
<br/>"Yes," said Tess absently.
<br/>He went out, and on his way to the mill stood still,
and wished for a moment that he had responded yet more
kindly, and kissed her once at least.
<br/>Thus they lived through this despairing day or two; in
the same house, truly; but more widely apart than
before they were lovers. It was evident to her that he
was, as he had said, living with paralyzed activities
in his endeavour to think of a plan of procedure. She
was awe-stricken to discover such determination under
such apparent flexibility. His consistency was, indeed,
too cruel. She no longer expected forgiveness now.
More than once she thought of going away from him
during his absence at the mill; but she feared that
this, instead of benefiting him, might be the means of
hampering and humiliating him yet more if it should
<br/>Meanwhile Clare was meditating, verily. His thought
had been unsuspended; he was becoming ill with
thinking; eaten out with thinking, withered by
thinking; scourged out of all his former pulsating,
flexuous domesticity. He walked about saying to
himself, "What's to be done—what's to be done?" and
by chance she overheard him. It caused her to break
the reserve about their future which had hitherto
<br/>"I suppose—you are not going to live with me—long,
are you, Angel?" she asked, the sunk corners of her
mouth betraying how purely mechanical were the means by
which she retained that expression of chastened calm
upon her face.
<br/>"I cannot" he said, "without despising myself, and what
is worse, perhaps, despising you. I mean, of course,
cannot live with you in the ordinary sense. At
present, whatever I feel, I do not despise you. And,
let me speak plainly, or you may not see all my
difficulties. How can we live together while that man
lives?—he being your husband in nature, and not I.
If he were dead it might be different… Besides,
that's not all the difficulty; it lies in another
consideration—one bearing upon the future of other
people than ourselves. Think of years to come, and
children being born to us, and this past matter getting
known—for it must get known. There is not an
uttermost part of the earth but somebody comes from it
or goes to it from elsewhere. Well, think of wretches
of our flesh and blood growing up under a taunt which
they will gradually get to feel the full force of with
their expanding years. What an awakening for them!
What a prospect! Can you honestly say 'Remain' after
contemplating this contingency? Don't you think we had
better endure the ills we have than fly to others?"
<br/>Her eyelids, weighted with trouble, continued drooping
<br/>"I cannot say 'Remain,'" she answered, "I cannot; I had
not thought so far."
<br/>Tess's feminine hope—shall we confess it?—had been so
obstinately recuperative as to revive in her
surreptitious visions of a domiciliary intimacy
continued long enough to break down his coldness even
against his judgement. Though unsophisticated in the
usual sense, she was not incomplete; and it would have
denoted deficiency of womanhood if she had not
instinctively known what an argument lies in
propinquity. Nothing else would serve her, she knew,
if this failed. It was wrong to hope in what was of
the nature of strategy, she said to herself: yet that
sort of hope she could not extinguish. His last
representation had now been made, and it was, as she
said, a new view. She had truly never thought so far
as that, and his lucid picture of possible offspring
who would scorn her was one that brought deadly
convictions to an honest heart which was humanitarian
to its centre. Sheer experience had already taught her
that in some circumstances there was one thing better
than to lead a good life, and that was to be saved from
leading any life whatever. Like all who have been
previsioned by suffering, she could, in the words of
M. Sully-Prudhomme, hear a penal sentence in the fiat,
"You shall be born," particularly if addressed to
potential issue of hers.
<br/>Yet such is the vulpine slyness of Dame Nature, that,
till now, Tess had been hoodwinked by her love for
Clare into forgetting it might result in vitalizations
that would inflict upon others what she had bewailed as
misfortune to herself.
<br/>She therefore could not withstand his argument. But
with the self-combating proclivity of the
supersensitive, an answer thereto arose in Clare's own
mind, and he almost feared it. It was based on her
exceptional physical nature; and she might have used it
promisingly. She might have added besides: "On an
Australian upland or Texan plain, who is to know or
care about my misfortunes, or to reproach me or you?"
Yet, like the majority of women, she accepted the
momentary presentment as if it were the inevitable.
And she may have been right. The intuitive heart of
woman knoweth not only its own bitterness, but its
husband's, and even if these assumed reproaches were
not likely to be addressed to him or to his by
strangers, they might have reached his ears from his
own fastidious brain.
<br/>It was the third day of the estrangement. Some might
risk the odd paradox that with more animalism he would
have been the nobler man. We do not say it. Yet
Clare's love was doubtless ethereal to a fault,
imaginative to impracticability. With these natures,
corporal presence is something less appealing than
corporal absence; the latter creating an ideal presence
that conveniently drops the defects of the real. She
found that her personality did not plead her cause so
forcibly as she had anticipated. The figurative phrase
was true: she was another woman than the one who had
excited his desire.
<br/>"I have thought over what you say," she remarked to
him, moving her forefinger over the tablecloth, her
other hand, which bore the ring that mocked them both,
supporting her forehead. "It is quite true, all of it;
it must be. You must go away from me."
<br/>"But what can you do?"
<br/>"I can go home."
<br/>Clare had not thought of that.
<br/>"Are you sure?" he inquired.
<br/>"Quite sure. We ought to part, and we may as well get
it past and done. You once said that I was apt to win
men against their better judgement; and if I am
constantly before your eyes I may cause you to change
your plans in opposition to your reason and wish; and
afterwards your repentance and my sorrow will be
<br/>"And you would like to go home?" he asked.
<br/>"I want to leave you, and go home."
<br/>"Then it shall be so."
<br/>Though she did not look up at him, she started. There
was a difference between the proposition and the
covenant, which she had felt only too quickly.
<br/>"I feared it would come to this," she murmured, her
countenance meekly fixed. "I don't complain, Angel,
I—I think it best. What you said has quite convinced
me. Yes, though nobody else should reproach me if we
should stay together, yet somewhen, years hence, you
might get angry with me for any ordinary matter, and
knowing what you do of my bygones, you yourself might be
tempted to say words, and they might be overheard,
perhaps by my own children. O, what only hurts me now
would torture and kill me then! I will go—to-morrow."
<br/>"And I shall not stay here. Though I didn't like to
initiate it, I have seen that it was advisable we
should part—at least for a while, till I can better
see the shape that things have taken, and can write to
<br/>Tess stole a glance at her husband. He was pale, even
tremulous; but, as before, she was appalled by the
determination revealed in the depths of this gentle
being she had married—the will to subdue the grosser
to the subtler emotion, the substance to the
conception, the flesh to the spirit. Propensities,
tendencies, habits, were as dead leaves upon the
tyrannous wind of his imaginative ascendency.
<br/>He may have observed her look, for he explained—
<br/>"I think of people more kindly when I am away from
them"; adding cynically, "God knows; perhaps we will
shake down together some day, for weariness; thousands
have done it!"
<br/>That day he began to pack up, and she went upstairs and
began to pack also. Both knew that it was in their two
minds that they might part the next morning for ever,
despite the gloss of assuaging conjectures thrown over
their proceeding because they were of the sort to whom
any parting which has an air of finality is a torture.
He knew, and she knew, that, though the fascination
which each had exercised over the other—on her part
independently of accomplishments—would probably in
the first days of their separation be even more potent
than ever, time must attenuate that effect; the
practical arguments against accepting her as a
housemate might pronounce themselves more strongly in
the boreal light of a remoter view. Moreover, when two
people are once parted—have abandoned a common
domicile and a common environment—new growths
insensibly bud upward to fill each vacated place;
unforeseen accidents hinder intentions, and old plans
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