<br/>Several days had passed since her futile journey, and
Tess was afield. The dry winter wind still blew, but a
screen of thatched hurdles erected in the eye of the
blast kept its force away from her. On the sheltered
side was a turnip-slicing machine, whose bright blue
hue of new paint seemed almost vocal in the otherwise
subdued scene. Opposite its front was a long mound or
"grave", in which the roots had been preserved since
early winter. Tess was standing at the uncovered end,
chopping off with a bill-hook the fibres and earth from
each root, and throwing it after the operation into the
slicer. A man was turning the handle of the machine,
and from its trough came the newly-cut swedes, the
fresh smell of whose yellow chips was accompanied by
the sounds of the snuffling wind, the smart swish of
the slicing-blades, and the choppings of the hook in
Tess's leather-gloved hand.
<br/>The wide acreage of blank agricultural brownness,
apparent where the swedes had been pulled, was
beginning to be striped in wales of darker brown,
gradually broadening to ribands. Along the edge of
each of these something crept upon ten legs, moving
without haste and without rest up and down the whole
length of the field; it was two horses and a man, the
plough going between them, turning up the cleared
ground for a spring sowing.
<br/>For hours nothing relieved the joyless monotony of
things. Then, far beyond the ploughing-teams, a black
speck was seen. It had come from the corner of a
fence, where there was a gap, and its tendency was up
the incline, towards the swede-cutters. From the
proportions of a mere point it advanced to the shape of
a ninepin, and was soon perceived to be a man in black,
arriving from the direction of Flintcomb-Ash. The man
at the slicer, having nothing else to do with his eyes,
continually observed the comer, but Tess, who was
occupied, did not perceive him till her companion
directed her attention to his approach.
<br/>It was not her hard taskmaster, Farmer Groby; it was
one in a semi-clerical costume, who now represented
what had once been the free-and-easy Alec d'Urberville.
Not being hot at his preaching there was less
enthusiasm about him now, and the presence of the
grinder seemed to embarrass him. A pale distress was
already on Tess's face, and she pulled her curtained
hood further over it.
<br/>D'Urberville came up and said quietly—
<br/>"I want to speak to you, Tess."
<br/>"You have refused my last request, not to come near
me!" said she.
<br/>"Yes, but I have a good reason."
<br/>"Well, tell it."
<br/>"It is more serious than you may think."
<br/>He glanced round to see if he were overheard. They
were at some distance from the man who turned the
slicer, and the movement of the machine, too,
sufficiently prevented Alec's words reaching other
ears. D'Urberville placed himself so as to screen Tess
from the labourer, turning his back to the latter.
<br/>"It is this," he continued, with capricious
compunction. "In thinking of your soul and mine when
we last met, I neglected to inquire as to your worldly
condition. You were well dressed, and I did not think
of it. But I see now that it is hard—harder than it
used to be when I—knew you—harder than you deserve.
Perhaps a good deal of it is owning to me!"
<br/>She did not answer, and he watched her inquiringly, as,
with bent head, her face completely screened by the
hood, she resumed her trimming of the swedes. By going
on with her work she felt better able to keep him
outside her emotions.
<br/>"Tess," he added, with a sigh of discontent,—"yours
was the very worst case I ever was concerned in! I had
no idea of what had resulted till you told me. Scamp
that I was to foul that innocent life! The whole blame
was mine—the whole unconventional business of our time
at Trantridge. You, too, the real blood of which I am
but the base imitation, what a blind young thing you
were as to possibilities! I say in all earnestness
that it is a shame for parents to bring up their girls
in such dangerous ignorance of the gins and nets that
the wicked may set for them, whether their motive be a
good one or the result of simple indifference."
<br/>Tess still did no more than listen, throwing down one
globular root and taking up another with automatic
regularity, the pensive contour of the mere fieldwoman
alone marking her.
<br/>"But it is not that I came to say," d'Urberville went
on. "My circumstances are these. I have lost my mother
since you were at Trantridge, and the place is my own.
But I intend to sell it, and devote myself to
missionary work in Africa. A devil of a poor hand I
shall make at the trade, no doubt. However, what I want
to ask you is, will you put it in my power to do my
duty—to make the only reparation I can make for the
trick played you: that is, will you be my wife, and go
with me? … I have already obtained this precious
document. It was my old mother's dying wish."
<br/>He drew a piece of parchment from his pocket, with a
slight fumbling of embarrassment.
<br/>"What is it?" said she.
<br/>"A marriage licence."
<br/>"O no, sir—no!" she said quickly, starting back.
<br/>"You will not? Why is that?"
<br/>And as he asked the question a disappointment which was
not entirely the disappointment of thwarted duty
crossed d'Urberville's face. It was unmistakably a
symptom that something of his old passion for her had
been revived; duty and desire ran hand-in-hand.
<br/>"Surely," he began again, in more impetuous tones, and
then looked round at the labourer who turned the
<br/>Tess, too, felt that the argument could not be ended
there. Informing the man that a gentleman had come to
see her, with whom she wished to walk a little way, she
moved off with d'Urberville across the zebra-striped
field. When they reached the first newly-ploughed
section he held out his hand to help her over it; but
she stepped forward on the summits of the earth-rolls
as if she did not see him.
<br/>"You will not marry me, Tess, and make me a
self-respecting man?" he repeated, as soon as they were
over the furrows.
<br/>"You know I have no affection for you."
<br/>"But you would get to feel that in time, perhaps—as
soon as you really could forgive me?"
<br/>"Why so positive?"
<br/>"I love somebody else."
<br/>The words seemed to astonish him.
<br/>"You do?" he cried. "Somebody else? But has not a
sense of what is morally right and proper any weight
<br/>"No, no, no—don't say that!"
<br/>"Anyhow, then, your love for this other man may be only
a passing feeling which you will overcome—"
<br/>"Yes, yes! Why not?"
<br/>"I cannot tell you."
<br/>"You must in honour!"
<br/>"Well then … I have married him."
<br/>"Ah!" he exclaimed; and he stopped dead and gazed at
<br/>"I did not wish to tell—I did not mean to!" she
pleaded. "It is a secret here, or at any rate but dimly
known. So will you, <i>please</i> will you, keep from
questioning me? You must remember that we are now
<br/>"Strangers—are we? Strangers!"
<br/>For a moment a flash of his old irony marked his face;
but he determinedly chastened it down.
<br/>"Is that man your husband?" he asked mechanically,
denoting by a sign the labourer who turned the machine.
<br/>"That man!" she said proudly. "I should think not!"
<br/>"Do not ask what I do not wish to tell!" she begged,
and flashed her appeal to him from her upturned face
and lash-shadowed eyes.
<br/>D'Urberville was disturbed.
<br/>"But I only asked for your sake!" he retorted hotly.
"Angels of heaven!—God forgive me for such an
expression—I came here, I swear, as I thought for your
good. Tess—don't look at me so—I cannot stand your
looks! There never were such eyes, surely, before
Christianity or since! There—I won't lose my head;
I dare not. I own that the sight of you had waked up my
love for you, which, I believed, was extinguished with
all such feelings. But I thought that our marriage
might be a sanctification for us both. 'The
unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the
unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband,' I said
to myself. But my plan is dashed from me; and I must
bear the disappointment!"
<br/>He moodily reflected with his eyes on the ground.
<br/>"Married. Married! … Well, that being so," he
added, quite calmly, tearing the licence slowly into halves
and putting them in his pocket; "that being prevented,
I should like to do some good to you and your husband,
whoever he may be. There are many questions that I am
tempted to ask, but I will not do so, of course, in
opposition to your wishes. Though, if I could know your
husband, I might more easily benefit him and you.
Is he on this farm?"
<br/>"No," she murmured. "He is far away."
<br/>"Far away? From <i>you</i>? What sort of husband
can he be?"
<br/>"O, do not speak against him! It was through you! He
<br/>"Ah, is it so! … That's sad, Tess!"
<br/>"But to stay away from you—to leave you to work like
<br/>"He does not leave me to work!" she cried, springing to
the defence of the absent one with all her fervour.
"He don't know it! It is by my own arrangement."
<br/>"Then, does he write?"
<br/>"I—I cannot tell you. There are things which are
private to ourselves."
<br/>"Of course that means that he does not. You are a
deserted wife, my fair Tess—"
<br/>In an impulse he turned suddenly to take her hand; the
buff-glove was on it, and he seized only the rough
leather fingers which did not express the life or shape
of those within.
<br/>"You must not—you must not!" she cried fearfully,
slipping her hand from the glove as from a pocket, and
leaving it in his grasp. "O, will you go away—for the
sake of me and my husband—go, in the name of your own
<br/>"Yes, yes; I will," he said abruptly, and thrusting the
glove back to her he turned to leave. Facing round,
however, he said, "Tess, as God is my judge, I meant no
humbug in taking your hand!"
<br/>A pattering of hoofs on the soil of the field, which
they had not noticed in their preoccupation, ceased
close behind them; and a voice reached her ear:
<br/>"What the devil are you doing away from your work at
this time o' day?"
<br/>Farmer Groby had espied the two figures from the
distance, and had inquisitively ridden across, to learn
what was their business in his field.
<br/>"Don't speak like that to her!" said d'Urberville, his
face blackening with something that was not
<br/>"Indeed, Mister! And what mid Methodist pa'sons have
to do with she?"
<br/>"Who is the fellow?" asked d'Urberville, turning to
<br/>She went close up to him.
<br/>"Go—I do beg you!" she said.
<br/>"What! And leave you to that tyrant? I can see in his
face what a churl he is."
<br/>"He won't hurt me. <i>He's</i> not in love with me. I can
leave at Lady-Day."
<br/>"Well, I have no right but to obey, I suppose.
<br/>Her defender, whom she dreaded more than her assailant,
having reluctantly disappeared, the farmer continued
his reprimand, which Tess took with the greatest
coolness, that sort of attack being independent of sex.
To have as a master this man of stone, who would have
cuffed her if he had dared, was almost a relief after
her former experiences. She silently walked back
towards the summit of the field that was the scene of
her labour, so absorbed in the interview which had just
taken place that she was hardly aware that the nose of
Groby's horse almost touched her shoulders.
<br/>"If so be you make an agreement to work for me till
Lady-Day, I'll see that you carry it out," he growled.
"'Od rot the women—now 'tis one thing, and then 'tis
another. But I'll put up with it no longer!"
<br/>Knowing very well that he did not harass the other
women of the farm as he harassed her out of spite for
the flooring he had once received, she did for one
moment picture what might have been the result if she
had been free to accept the offer just made her of
being the monied Alec's wife. It would have lifted her
completely out of subjection, not only to her present
oppressive employer, but to a whole world who seemed to
despise her. "But no, no!" she said breathlessly; "I
could not have married him now! He is so unpleasant to
<br/>That very night she began an appealing letter to Clare,
concealing from him her hardships, and assuring him of
her undying affection. Any one who had been in a
position to read between the lines would have seen that
at the back of her great love was some monstrous
fear—almost a desperation—as to some secret
contingencies which were not disclosed. But again she
did not finish her effusion; he had asked Izz to go
with him, and perhaps he did not care for her at all.
She put the letter in her box, and wondered if it would
ever reach Angel's hands.
<br/>After this her daily tasks were gone through heavily
enough, and brought on the day which was of great
import to agriculturists—the day of the Candlemas
Fair. It was at this fair that new engagements were
entered into for the twelve months following the
ensuing Lady-Day, and those of the farming population
who thought of changing their places duly attended at
the county-town where the fair was held. Nearly all
the labourers on Flintcomb-Ash farm intended flight,
and early in the morning there was a general exodus in
the direction of the town, which lay at a distance of
from ten to a dozen miles over hilly country. Though
Tess also meant to leave at the quarter-day, she was one
of the few who did not go to the fair, having a
vaguely-shaped hope that something would happen to
render another outdoor engagement unnecessary.
<br/>It was a peaceful February day, of wonderful softness
for the time, and one would almost have thought that
winter was over. She had hardly finished her dinner
when d'Urberville's figure darkened the window of the
cottage wherein she was a lodger, which she had all to
<br/>Tess jumped up, but her visitor had knocked at the
door, and she could hardly in reason run away.
D'Urberville's knock, his walk up to the door, had some
indescribable quality of difference from his air when
she last saw him. They seemed to be acts of which the
doer was ashamed. She thought that she would not open
the door; but, as there was no sense in that either,
she arose, and having lifted the latch stepped back
quickly. He came in, saw her, and flung himself down
into a chair before speaking.
<br/>"Tess—I couldn't help it!" he began desperately, as he
wiped his heated face, which had also a superimposed
flush of excitement. "I felt that I must call at least
to ask how you are. I assure you I had not been
thinking of you at all till I saw you that Sunday; now
I cannot get rid of your image, try how I may! It is
hard that a good woman should do harm to a bad man; yet
so it is. If you would only pray for me, Tess!"
<br/>The suppressed discontent of his manner was almost
pitiable, and yet Tess did not pity him.
<br/>"How can I pray for you," she said, "when I am
forbidden to believe that the great Power who moves the
world would alter His plans on my account?"
<br/>"You really think that?"
<br/>"Yes. I have been cured of the presumption of thinking
<br/>"Cured? By whom?"
<br/>"By my husband, if I must tell."
<br/>"Ah—your husband—your husband! How strange it seems!
I remember you hinted something of the sort the other
day. What do you really believe in these matters,
Tess?" he asked. "You seem to have no
religion—perhaps owing to me."
<br/>"But I have. Though I don't believe in anything
<br/>D'Urberville looked at her with misgiving.
<br/>"Then do you think that the line I take is all wrong?"
<br/>"A good deal of it."
<br/>"H'm—and yet I've felt so sure about it," he said
<br/>"I believe in the <i>spirit</i> of the Sermon on the Mount,
and so did my dear husband… But I don't believe—"
<br/>Here she gave her negations.
<br/>"The fact is," said d'Urberville drily, "whatever your
dear husband believed you accept, and whatever he
rejected you reject, without the least inquiry or
reasoning on your own part. That's just like you women.
Your mind is enslaved to his."
<br/>"Ah, because he knew everything!" said she, with a
triumphant simplicity of faith in Angel Clare that the
most perfect man could hardly have deserved, much less
<br/>"Yes, but you should not take negative opinions
wholesale from another person like that. A pretty
fellow he must be to teach you such scepticism!"
<br/>"He never forced my judgement! He would never argue on
the subject with me! But I looked at it in this way;
what he believed, after inquiring deep into doctrines,
was much more likely to be right than what I might
believe, who hadn't looked into doctrines at all."
<br/>"What used he to say? He must have said something?"
<br/>She reflected; and with her acute memory for the letter
of Angel Clare's remarks, even when she did not
comprehend their spirit, she recalled a merciless
polemical syllogism that she had heard him use when, as
it occasionally happened, he indulged in a species of
thinking aloud with her at his side. In delivering it
she gave also Clare's accent and manner with
<br/>"Say that again," asked d'Urberville, who had listened
with the greatest attention.
<br/>She repeated the argument, and d'Urberville
thoughtfully murmured the words after her.
<br/>"Anything else?" he presently asked.
<br/>"He said at another time something like this"; and she
gave another, which might possibly have been paralleled
in many a work of the pedigree ranging from the
<i>Dictionnaire Philosophique</i> to Huxley's <i>Essays</i>.
<br/>"Ah—ha! How do you remember them?"
<br/>"I wanted to believe what he believed, though he didn't
wish me to; and I managed to coax him to tell me a few
of his thoughts. I can't say I quite understand that
one; but I know it is right."
<br/>"H'm. Fancy your being able to teach me what you don't
<br/>He fell into thought.
<br/>"And so I threw in my spiritual lot with his," she
resumed. "I didn't wish it to be different. What's good
enough for him is good enough for me."
<br/>"Does he know that you are as big an infidel as he?"
<br/>"No—I never told him—if I am an infidel."
<br/>"Well—you are better off to-day that I am, Tess, after
all! You don't believe that you ought to preach my
doctrine, and, therefore, do no despite to your
conscience in abstaining. I do believe I ought to
preach it, but, like the devils, I believe and tremble,
for I suddenly leave off preaching it, and give way to
my passion for you."
<br/>"Why," he said aridly; "I have come all the way here to
see you to-day! But I started from home to go to
Casterbridge Fair, where I have undertaken to preach
the Word from a waggon at half-past two this afternoon,
and where all the brethren are expecting me this
minute. Here's the announcement."
<br/>He drew from his breast-pocket a poster whereon was
printed the day, hour, and place of meeting, at which
he, d'Urberville, would preach the Gospel as aforesaid.
<br/>"But how can you get there?" said Tess, looking at the
<br/>"I cannot get there! I have come here."
<br/>"What, you have really arranged to preach, and—"
<br/>"I have arranged to preach, and I shall not be
there—by reason of my burning desire to see a woman
whom I once despised!—No, by my word and truth, I
never despised you; if I had I should not love you now!
Why I did not despise you was on account of your being
unsmirched in spite of all; you withdrew yourself from
me so quickly and resolutely when you saw the
situation; you did not remain at my pleasure; so there
was one petticoat in the world for whom I had no
contempt, and you are she. But you may well despise me
now! I thought I worshipped on the mountains, but I
find I still serve in the groves! Ha! ha!"
<br/>"O Alec d'Urberville! what does this mean? What have I
<br/>"Done?" he said, with a soulless sneer in the word.
"Nothing intentionally. But you have been the
means—the innocent means—of my backsliding, as they
call it. I ask myself, am I, indeed, one of those
'servants of corruption' who, 'after they have escaped
the pollutions of the world, are again entangled
therein and overcome'—whose latter end is worse than
their beginning?" He laid his hand on her shoulder.
"Tess, my girl, I was on the way to, at least, social
salvation till I saw you again!" he said freakishly
shaking her, as if she were a child. "And why then
have you tempted me? I was firm as a man could be till
I saw those eyes and that mouth again—surely there
never was such a maddening mouth since Eve's!" His
voice sank, and a hot archness shot from his own black
eyes. "You temptress, Tess; you dear damned witch of
Babylon—I could not resist you as soon as I met you
<br/>"I couldn't help your seeing me again!" said Tess,
<br/>"I know it—I repeat that I do not blame you. But the
fact remains. When I saw you ill-used on the farm that
day I was nearly mad to think that I had no legal right
to protect you—that I could not have it; whilst he
who has it seems to neglect you utterly!"
<br/>"Don't speak against him—he is absent!" she cried in
much excitement. "Treat him honourably—he has never
wronged you! O leave his wife before any scandal
spreads that may do harm to his honest name!"
<br/>"I will—I will," he said, like a man awakening from a
luring dream. "I have broken my engagement to preach
to those poor drunken boobies at the fair—it is the
first time I have played such a practical joke. A
month ago I should have been horrified at such a
possibility. I'll go away—to swear—and—ah, can I!
to keep away." Then, suddenly: "One clasp, Tessy—one!
Only for old friendship—"
<br/>"I am without defence. Alec! A good man's honour is in
my keeping—think—be ashamed!"
<br/>"Pooh! Well, yes—yes!"
<br/>He clenched his lips, mortified with himself for his
weakness. His eyes were equally barren of worldly and
religious faith. The corpses of those old fitful
passions which had lain inanimate amid the lines of his
face ever since his reformation seemed to wake and come
together as in a resurrection. He went out
<br/>Though d'Urberville had declared that this breach of
his engagement to-day was the simple backsliding of a
believer, Tess's words, as echoed from Angel Clare, had
made a deep impression upon him, and continued to do so
after he had left her. He moved on in silence, as if
his energies were benumbed by the hitherto undreamt-of
possibility that his position was untenable. Reason
had had nothing to do with his whimsical conversion,
which was perhaps the mere freak of a careless man in
search of a new sensation, and temporarily impressed by
his mother's death.
<br/>The drops of logic Tess had let fall into the sea of
his enthusiasm served to chill its effervescence to
stagnation. He said to himself, as he pondered again
and again over the crystallized phrases that she had
handed on to him, "That clever fellow little thought
that, by telling her those things, he might be paving
my way back to her!"
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