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by Thomas Hardy
The original, squashed down to read in about 50 minutes
Hardy, son of a stonemason, created in the imaginary county of 'Wessex' a version of the then-disappearing old-time rural West of England. His melodramatic stories, generally of people failing to escape their destiny, are among the most popular novels of all time, 'Tess' alone has been filmed at least seven times. They challenged and often outraged the sexual and religious conventions of his day to the point where one book was solemnly burned by a bishop.
For more works by Thomas Hardy, see The Index
On an evening in the latter part of May, a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the Vale of Blakemore. The pair of legs that carried him were rickety, and there was a bias in his gait which inclined him somewhat to the left of a straight line. Presently he was met by an elderly parson astride on a gray mare, who, as he rode, hummed a wandering tune.
"Good night, Sir John," said the parson.
The pedestrian halted, and turned round.
"What might your meaning be in calling me 'Sir John', when I be plain Jack Durbeyfield, the haggler?"
Parson Tringham rode a step or two nearer.
"I am an antiquarian. Throw up your chin a moment. Yes, that's the d'Urberville nose and chin - a little debased. Your ancestors held manors over all this part of England; their names appear in the Pipe Rolls of King Stephen. Aye, there have been generations of Sir Johns among you."
"Ye don't say so! And where be our family mansions and estates?"
"You are extinct - as a county family."
"And shall we ever come into our own again?"
"Ah - that I can't tell!"
Concluding thus, the parson rode on his way, leaving Durbeyfield in a profound reverie with the faint notes of a band the only human sounds audible within the rim of blue hills.
The village of Marlott lay amid the tract of country, known in former times as the Forest of the White Hart. The forests have departed, but some old customs remain. The Women's May-Day dance, or "club-walking," had been walked for hundreds of years as a votive sisterhood of some sort; and it walked still. In addition to the distinction of a white frock, every woman and girl carried in her right hand a peeled willow wand, and in her left a bunch of white flowers.
As they came round by The Pure Drop Inn, one of the women said -
"The Load-a-Lord! Why, Tess Durbeyfield, if there isn't thy father!"
A young member of the band turned her head at the exclamation to see Durbeyfield moving along the road in a chaise belonging to The Pure Drop, leaning back, his eyes closed luxuriously, and singing -
"I've-got-a-gr't-family-vault-at-Kingsbere - and knighted-forefathers-in-lead-coffins-there!"
"He's tired, that's all," said Tess hastily.
"Bless thy simplicity, Tess," said her companions.
Among the on-lookers were three young men of a superior class, brethren spending their Whitsun holidays in a walking tour. The younger unstrapped his knapsack and opened the gate.
"What are you going to do, Angel?" asked the eldest, "Go dancing in public with a troop of country hoydens!"
But the young man took the first that came to hand. Their eyes met, but pedigree, ancestral skeletons and the d'Urberville lineaments, did not help Tess in her life's battle as yet.
Tess Durbeyfield remained with her comrades till dusk came and then bent her steps towards the parental cottage.
"Well, I'm glad you've come," her mother, Jane, said, "I want to tell 'ee what have happened! We've been found to be the greatest gentlefolk in the whole county - reaching all back long before Oliver Grumble's time - to the days of the Pagan Turks - with monuments, and vaults, and crests, and the Lord knows what all. Don't that make your bosom plim?"
"Will it do us any good, mother?"
"O yes! 'Tis thoughted that great things may come o't. Your father learnt it on his way hwome."
"Where is father now?" asked Tess suddenly.
Her mother put on a deprecating look. "He went up to Rolliver's half an hour ago. He do want to get up his strength for his journey to-morrow with that load of beehives, which must be delivered, family or no."
"Get up his strength!" said Tess impetuously.
"O, Tess. I will go," she said. "You hide the Compleat Fortune-Teller in the outhouse."
At Rolliver's inn Mrs Durbeyfield was welcomed with a mug and glances and nods by the conclave.
"He's told 'ee what's happened to us, I suppose?"
"Yes - in a way. D'ye think there's any money hanging by it?" said the landlady.
"Ah," said Joan Durbeyfield sagely. "There's a great rich lady out by Trantridge, of the name of d'Urberville. My projick is to send Tess to claim kin with her. I tried her fate in the Fortune-Teller, and it brought out that very thing!"
The conversation became inclusive, and presently other footsteps were heard. The newcomer was Tess; and hardly was a reproachful flash from her dark eyes needed to make her father and mother rise from their seats, hastily finish their ale, and descend the stairs behind her.
It was eleven o'clock before the family were all in bed, and two o'clock next morning was the latest hour for starting with the beehives if they were to be delivered to Casterbridge before the Saturday market. Her father was clearly in no proper state, so Tess hastily dressed herself; and went out to the stable.
Tess was not skilful in the management of a horse, but Prince required only slight attention, lacking energy for superfluous movements of any sort. Tess fell deeply into reverie, until a sudden jerk shook her in her seat.
The morning mail-cart, speeding along these lanes like an arrow, had driven into her slow and unlighted equipage. The pointed shaft of the cart had entered the breast of the unhappy Prince like a sword, and he suddenly sank down in a heap. The knacker and tanner offered only a very few shillings for his carcase, so, like a knight's charger of old, he was buried in the family garden. Tess regarded herself in the light of a murderess.
The haggling business, which had mainly depended on the horse, became disorganized forthwith. Tess, as the one who had dragged her parents into this quagmire, was silently wondering what she could do to help them out of it when her mother broached her scheme.
At Mrs d'Urberville's seat, The Slopes, simple Tess Durbeyfield stood at gaze, in a half-alarmed attitude, on the edge of the gravel sweep.
"I thought we were an old family; but this is all new!" she said, in her artlessness.
Parson Tringham had spoken truly - our shambling John Durbeyfield was the only lineal representative of the old d'Urberville family. Mr Simon Stoke, latterly deceased, had, on retiring, felt the necessity of a name that would not too readily identify him with the smart tradesman of the past. An hour of study in the British Museum discovered "d'Urberville", which, accordingly was annexed for himself and his heirs eternally.
Tess still stood hesitating like a bather about to make his plunge, when a tall young man came forth.
"Well, my Beauty, what can I do for you?" said he, "I am Alec d'Urberville. What is your business?"
"It is so very foolish," she stammered; "I came, sir, to tell you that we are of the same family as you."
"Ho! Poor relations?"
"Ay, ay; I mean d'Urbervilles."
"Our names are worn away to Durbeyfield; but we have an old seal, marked with a ramping lion on a shield, and a castle over him. And we have a very old silver spoon, which mother uses to stir the pea-soup."
"Supposing we walk round the grounds to pass the time, my pretty coz?"
Tess wished to abridge her visit as much as possible; but the young man was pressing, and asked her if she liked strawberries.
"Yes," said Tess, "when they come."
"They are already here." D'Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit, and holding one by the stem to her mouth.
"No - no!" she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. "I would rather take it in my own hand."
"Nonsense!" he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.
"I must think if I cannot do something for you. My mother must find a berth for you. But, no nonsense about 'd'Urberville'; - 'Durbeyfield' only, you know - quite another name."
"I wish for no better, sir," said she with something of dignity.
So it was that Tess found herself at The Slopes, mistress of a community of fowls, and a familiarity with Alec d'Urberville's presence - which that young man carefully cultivated in her by playful dialogue.
Then there came a Saturday in September, on which a fair and a market coincided; and the pilgrims from Trantridge sought double delights at the inns on that account. After the jigs were over, Tess and her companions began to make their way home.
Passing through a field-gate, an argument broke out. Fists were about to be raised at Tess, when a horseman emerged almost silently from the corner of the hedge, and Alec d'Urberville looked round upon them.
"What the devil is all this row about?" he asked.
Tess was standing apart from the rest, near the gate. "Jump up behind me," he whispered, "and we'll get shot of the screaming cats in a jiffy!"
At almost any other moment of her life she would have refused, but she scrambled into the saddle behind him.
"Heu-heu-heu!" laughed one of the girls: "Out of the frying-pan into the fire!"
The twain cantered along for some time, until Tess begged him to slow the animal to a walk.
"Neatly done, was it not, dear Tess?" he said by and by.
"Where be we?" she exclaimed.
"A bit of The Chase - the oldest wood in England. It is a lovely night, why not prolong our ride a little?"
"Put me down, I beg you, sir, please!"
"Very well, then, I will. But as to your getting to Trantridge without assistance, it is quite impossible."
She accepted these terms, and slid off on the near side, though not till he had stolen a cursory kiss. He sprang down on the other side.
He took a few steps away from her, but, returning, said, "By the bye, Tess, your father has a new cob to-day. Somebody gave it to him."
He touched her with his fingers, which sank into her as into down. "You have only that puffy muslin dress on - how's that?"
Doubtless some of Tess d'Urberville's mailed ancestors rollicking home from a fray had dealt the same measure even more ruthlessly towards peasant girls of their time. But though to visit the sins of the fathers upon the children may be a morality good enough for divinities, it is scorned by average human nature; and it does not mend the matter.
It was a Sunday morning in late October when Tess returned home, and by reaping time her new baby's offence against society in coming into the world was forgotten. 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 her baby had not been baptized.
Like all village girls, she was well grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and 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, to which picture she added many other quaint and curious details of torment sometimes taught the young in this Christian country.
One night the infant's breathing grew more difficult. She lit a candle, and awoke her young sisters and brothers. Pulling out the washing-stand, she poured some water from a jug, and made them kneel around, putting their hands together with fingers exactly vertical; and thus the girl set about baptizing her child.
"Be you really going to christen him, Tess?"
The girl-mother replied in a grave affirmative.
"What's his name going to be?"
She had not thought of that, but a name suggested by a phrase in the book of Genesis came into her head:
"SORROW, I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
She sprinkled the water, and there was silence.
In the blue of the morning that fragile soldier and servant breathed his last. So passed away Sorrow the Undesired - that intrusive creature, that bastard gift of shameless Nature; a waif to whom eternal Time had been a matter of days merely, to whom the cottage interior was the universe, and the instinct to suck human knowledge.
Even if the parson assured her that amateur efforts were doctrinally sufficient to secure salvation, that did not, it seemed, extend to a Christian burial. So the baby was 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. Tess bravely made a little cross of two laths and a piece of string, putting at the foot also a bunch of 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.
She - and how many more - might have ironically said to God with Saint Augustine: "Thou hast counselled a better course than Thou hast permitted."
Almost at a leap Tess thus changed from simple girl to complex woman. On one point she was resolved: there should be no more d'Urberville air-castles. She would be the dairymaid Tess, and nothing more.
On a thyme-scented, bird-hatching morning in May, between two and three years after the return from Trantridge, Tess Durbeyfield left her home for the second time. In good heart, and full of zest for life, she descended the Egdon slopes towards the dairy of her pilgrimage. The master-dairyman, Mr Crick, was glad to get a new hand, and he received her warmly, with his vague recollection of "some such name as yours in Blackmoor Vale that 'twere a old ancient race."
Two or three of the maids, blooming young women, Tess learnt, slept in the dairy-house besides herself and by bedtime one of her fellows insisted upon relating various particulars of the homestead into which she had entered.
"Mr Angel Clare - he that is here learning farming - is too much taken up wi' his own thoughts to notice girls. His father is the Reverent Mr Clare at Emminster - a very earnest clergyman."
At breakfast that Mr. Angel Clare noticed Tess, and seemed to discern in this virginal daughter of Nature something that was familiar, something which carried him back into a joyous and unforeseeing past.
The season developed and matured. Another year's instalment of flowers, leaves, nightingales, thrushes, finches, and such ephemeral creatures, took up their positions where only a year ago others had stood in their place when these were nothing more than germs and inorganic particles. Tess and Clare unconsciously studied each other, ever balanced on the edge of a passion, yet apparently keeping out of it. All the while they were converging, under an irresistible law, as surely as two streams in one vale.
One morning, there was a great stir in the milk-house. The churn revolved as usual, but the butter would not come. The dairy was paralyzed.
"'Tis years since I went to Conjuror Trendle's son in Egdon - years!" said the dairyman bitterly. "I don't believe in en; though 'a do cast folks' waters very true. But I shall have to go to 'n, if this sort of thing continnys!"
"Perhaps somebody in the house is in love," said Mrs Crick tentatively. "I've heard tell that will cause it."
Tess, pale-faced, had gone to the door.
"How warm 'tis to-day!" she said, almost inaudibly.
Izz Huett and Retty Priddle giggled,
"'Tis only one who is in love here," said jolly-faced Marian.
It was the hot of July when the rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, that Angel Clare's reticences, prudences, fears, fell back like a defeated battalion. He jumped up from his seat at milking, and, leaving his pail, went quickly towards the desire of his eyes, and, kneeling down beside her, clasped her in his arms.
"Forgive me, Tess dear!" he whispered. "I am devoted to you, Tessy, dearest, in all sincerity!"
Tess's eyes, fixed on distance, began to fill.
"Why do you cry, my darling?" he said.
"O - I don't know!" she murmured.
A veil had been whisked aside; the tract of each one's outlook was to have a new horizon thenceforward - for a short time or for a long.
Angel Clare spent a less than comfortable few days at his father's house in Emminster. His brothers were now returned from University and settled in holy orders, his parents expecting the same of Angel, and with an eye to their neighbour Mercy Chant as a pious wife. But he was set upon life as a farmer, which must needs a farmer's wife.
Back at the Talbothays dairy he came upon Tess skimming milk.
"I wish to ask you something of a very practical nature. 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?"
Driven to subterfuge, she stammered -
"I feel I cannot - never, never! Your father is a parson, and your mother will want you to marry a lady."
Her refusal, though unexpected, did not permanently daunt Clare, but it was some weeks before, while taking the milk cart up by Egdon Heath, that he asked her again. This time she found a different reason to refuse;
"But my history. You will not like me so well! I - I was -"
At the last moment her courage had failed her.
"I - I - am not a Durbeyfield, but a d'Urberville! I was told that you hated grand old families."
He laughed. "Now then, Mistress Teresa d'Urberville, I have you. Take my name, and so you will escape yours! You will?"
He clasped her close and kissed her.
She had no sooner said it than she burst into a dry hard sobbing, so violent that it seemed to rend her.
"I must write to my mother," she said. "You don't mind my doing that?"
"Of course not, dear child. Where does she live?"
"At Marlott. On the further side of Blackmoor Vale."
"Ah, then I have seen you before this summer - "
"Yes; at that dance on the green; but you would not dance with me. O, I hope that is of no ill-omen for us now!"
By the end of the week Tess had a response to her communication in Joan Durbeyfield's wandering last-century hand.
Dear Tess, we are all glad to Hear that you are going really to be married soon. But, Tess, J say between ourselves, quite private but very strong, that on no account do you say a word of your Bygone Trouble to him. Keep up your Spirits, and we mean to send you a Hogshead of Cyder for you Wedding, knowing there is not much in your parts, and thin Sour Stuff what there is. So with kind love to your Young Man. - From your affectte. Mother, J. Durbeyfield
The wedding was held on new year's day, and as they came out of church and the ringers swung the bells off their rests, Tess stepped into the carriage.
"I am so anxious to talk to you - I want to confess all my faults and blunders!" she said with attempted lightness.
"No, no," he cried. "we shall both have plenty of time, hereafter, I hope, to talk over our failings."
"I tremble at many things. Among other things I seem to have seen this carriage before. It is very odd."
"Oh - you have heard the legend of the d'Urberville Coach?"
"What is the legend?"
"Well - a certain d'Urberville committed a dreadful crime in his family coach; and since that time members of the family see or hear the old coach whenever - But I'll tell you another day."
They drove to the house wherein they had engaged lodgings; once portion of a fine manorial residence, the property and seat of a d'Urberville, but since its partial demolition a farmhouse. But the mouldy old habitation, full of gloomy portraits, somewhat depressed the bride. Even the arrival of Clare's godmothers' jewels, a wedding gift from his parents, little raised her mood.
"Do you remember what we said about telling our faults?" he asked. "I want to make a confession to you, Love."
He then told her of his life in London, and an eight-and-forty hours' dissipation with a stranger.
"Do you forgive me?"
"O, Angel - I am almost glad - because now you can forgive me! I have a confession, too, 'tis just the same!"
Their hands were still joined. Before the fire, pressing her forehead against his temple, she entered on her story of her acquaintance with Alec d'Urberville.
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
Her narrative ended, Clare performed the irrelevant act of stirring the fire.
"Tess! Am I to believe this?"
"I have forgiven you for the same!" she whispered.
"Tess," he said, as gently as he could speak, "I cannot stay - in this room. I will walk out a little way."
"Angel! - Angel! I was a child - a child when it happened! I knew nothing of men."
"You were more sinned against than sinning, that I admit. I do forgive you, but forgiveness is not all."
"And love me?"
To this question he did not answer, and that night he spent on his couch in the sitting-room, as the night came in and swallowed up his happiness. At breakfast the pair were, in truth, but the ashes of their former fires.
The day went. Midnight came and passed silently, for there was nothing to announce it in the Valley of the Froom. Not long after one o'clock Tess saw the door of her bedroom open, and the figure of her husband crossed the stream of moonlight with his eyes fixed in an unnatural somnambulistic stare. Clare came close, bent lower, enclosed her in his arms, and, lifting her from the bed, he carried her across the room, murmuring
"My wife - dead, dead!" he said. "My dearest, darling Tess! So sweet, so good, so true!"
Soon they were within the Abbey grounds. Clare carefully laid Tess in the ancient stone coffin of an abbot, when he immediately fell into the deep dead slumber of exhaustion.
Tess soon had him back on his own sofa bed, covered up warmly, and, the next morning divined that Angel knew little or nothing of the nocturnal proceeding.
He had ordered a vehicle from the nearest town, and soon after breakfast it arrived. The luggage was put on the top, and the man drove them off, by the dairy from which they had started, by the mead which had been the scene of their first embrace. The gold of the summer picture was now gray, and the river cold.
"Now, let us understand each other," he said gently. "There is no anger between us. Until I come to you, you must not try to come to me."
He handed her a packet containing a fairly good sum of money, he bade her goodbye; and they parted there and then.
A few days were all that Tess allowed herself back in her family house, while, for his part, Clare observed a red-and-blue placard setting forth the Empire of Brazil as a field for the emigrating agriculturist.
Let us press on to an October day, more than eight months subsequent. We discover a lonely woman, holding but a nominal sum, and reluctant to seek help of her, or her husband's, parents. Meanwhile her husband was lying ill of fever in the clay lands near Curitiba in Brazil.
Tess was now bound towards an upland farm west of the River Brit, a region where she might at last go unrecognized. All was, alas, worse than vanity - injustice, punishment, exaction, death. Resting among leaves she heard a new strange sound. Under the trees several pheasants lay about, their rich plumage dabbled with blood; all of them writhing in agony, the remnants of some shooting-party.
"Poor darlings - to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o' such misery as yours!" she exclaimed, her tears running down as she killed the birds tenderly.
Tess went onward with fortitude, the birds' silent endurance impressing upon her the tolerable nature of her own. There is no sign of young passion in her now - she is set for swede-hacking at Flintcomb-Ash, a poor starve-acre farm, along with Izz Huett and Retty Priddle and Marian.
When the snow had gone, she took advantage of the state of the roads to try an experiment. Sunday being the only day off for a farm worker, she started early. By a brisk walk she reached the edge of the vast escarpment above the loamy Vale of Blackmoor, in which Emminster and its Vicarage lay. Arriving there she took off the thick walking boots, put on her pretty thin ones of patent leather, and, stuffing the former into the hedge by the gatepost where she might readily find them again, descended the hill. At the Vicarage she nerved herself by an effort, entered the swing-gate, and rang the door-bell. The thing was done; there could be no retreat.
Nobody answered to her ringing. Ah - they were all at church, every one, and as she reached the churchyard-gate Tess found herself in the midst of them. Among them were two youngish men, in whose voices she did not fail to recognize the quality of her husband's tones. They were his two brothers.
"Here's a pair of old boots, thrown away," one said. "I'll carry them home for some poor person."
Thereupon our heroine resumed her walk. Tears, blinding tears, were running down her face. It was impossible to think of returning to the Vicarage.
Her journey back was rather a meander than a march. Sitting down at a cottage, while the woman fetched her some milk, Tess perceived that the street seemed quite deserted.
"The people are gone to hear the ranter preacher, my dear," said the old woman. "An excellent, fiery, Christian man, they say."
Tess went onward into the village, and soon heard the animated enthusiasm of the preacher. He had, he said, wantonly associated with the reckless and the lewd. But by the grace of Heaven a change had come. But more startling to Tess than the doctrine had been the voice, which, impossible as it seemed, was that of Alec d'Urberville.
There was the same handsome unpleasantness of mien, but now he wore neatly trimmed, old-fashioned whiskers and and his dress was half-clerical. The moment he recognized her the effect was electric;
"Tess!" he said. "It is I - Alec d'Urberville."
"Have you saved yourself?" she rejoined.
"I have done nothing!" said he indifferently. "Heaven has done all. My conversion was brought about by old Mr Clare; one of the few intense men left in the Church; You have heard of him?"
"I don't believe in you!", she cried passionately.
He stepped down and walked along with her. At length the road touched the spot called 'Cross-in-Hand', where an old stone pillar stands desolate and silent.
"I think I must leave you now," he remarked. "You upset me somewhat Tessy. I must go away and get strength. How is it that you speak so well now?"
"I have learnt things in my troubles," she said evasively.
"What troubles have you had?"
She told him of the first one - the one that related to him.
"I knew nothing of this!" he murmured. "Why didn't you write to me? Well - you will see me again?"
"No," she answered. "Do not again come near me!"
"I will think. But before we part come here." He stepped up to the pillar. "This was once a Holy Cross. Put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me - by your charms or ways."
"Good God - how can you ask what is so unnecessary!"
"Yes - but swear it."
Tess, half frightened, gave way; placed her hand upon the stone and swore.
"I am sorry you are not a believer," he continued, "At home at least I can pray for you. Goodbye!"
She kept along the edge of the hill by which lay her nearest way home. Within the distance of a mile she met a solitary shepherd.
"What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?" she asked of him. "Was it ever a Holy Cross?"
"Cross - no! 'Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. 'Twas for a malefactor who was tortured there. They say his soul walks at times."
But Alec did not stay away. It was but a few days before he came to Tess as she worked in the fields.
"Will you not marry me, Tess, and make me a self-respecting man?"
"Never! I love somebody else. I have married him."
"And where is he? You are a deserted wife, my fair Tess. He will never come back, you know."
Farmer Groby espied the two figures, and inquisitively rode across.
"Go - I do beg you!" she said.
"What! And leave you to that tyrant?"
"He won't hurt me. He's not in love with me. I can leave at Lady-Day."
"But - well, goodbye! Pray for me, Tess!"
"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?"
"Tess?" he asked. "You seem to have no religion."
"But I have. Though I don't believe in anything supernatural. I believe in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, and so did my dear husband."
"The fact is," said d'Urberville drily, "whatever your dear husband believed you accept. That's just like you women. Your mind is enslaved to his."
"I have arranged to preach, and I shall not be there. You have been the cause of my backsliding," he continued, stretching his arm towards her waist; "you should be willing to leave that mule you call husband for ever."
"Punish me!" she said, turning up her eyes to him with the hopeless defiance of the sparrow's gaze before its captor twists its neck. "Whip me, crush me. I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim - that's the law!"
That very night she began an appealing letter to Clare.
My own Husband, -
Something happened which made Tess think of far different matters. Before long her father was dead. The news meant even more than it sounded. Her father's life had a value apart from his personal achievements. It was the last of the three lives for whose duration the house and premises were held under a lease.
Thus the Durbeyfields, once d'Urbervilles, saw descending upon them the destiny which, no doubt, when they were among the Olympians of the county, they had caused to descend many a time, and severely enough, upon the heads of such landless ones as they themselves were now.
Come the eve of Old Lady-Day, and the work-folk, as they used to call themselves, who wish to remain no longer in old places are moving to new farms, and Tess, back with her mother prepares to do the same.
She hardly at first took note of a man in a white mackintosh whom she saw riding down the street.
"Didn't you see me?" asked d'Urberville. "Where are you going to?"
"Kingsbere. We have taken rooms there."
"Why not come to my garden-house at Trantridge? Your mother can live there quite comfortably; and I will put the children to a good school. Really I ought to do something for you!"
Tess shook her head.
"I owe you something for the past, you know," he resumed. "And you cured me, too, of that craze; so I am glad - "
Whatever her sins, why should she have been punished so persistently?
As they arrived with their rented waggon at the half-dead townlet of their pilgrimage, Kingsbere, where lay those ancestors of whom her father had spoken and sung to painfulness, a man could be seen advancing.
"You be Mrs Durbeyfield, I reckon?" he said.
"Widow of the late Sir John d'Urberville, poor nobleman." She said.
"Oh? Well, I know nothing about that; I am sent to tell 'ee that the rooms you wanted be let. No doubt you can get other lodgings somewhere."
"What shall we do now, Tess?" she said bitterly. "Here's a welcome to your ancestors' lands!"
An hour later, when a search for accommodation had been fruitless, the waggon left them and their poor heap of household goods up under the churchyard wall, hard by the green foundations that showed where the d'Urberville mansion once had stood.
"Isn't your family vault your own freehold?" said Tess's mother, as she returned from a reconnoitre of the church and graveyard. "That's where we will camp, girls, till the place of your ancestors finds us a roof!
The door of the church was unfastened, and Tess entered it for the first time in her life.
On the dark stone of a canopied tomb were the words:
As Tess mused on her ancestral sepulchre, one of the effigies moved. Alec d'Urberville leapt off a slab.
"A family gathering, is it not?" he said smiling.
"Go away!" she murmured.
"I will - I'll look for your mother," said he blandly.
When he was gone she bent down upon the entrance to the vaults, and said -
"Why am I on the wrong side of this door!"
Angel Clare left the home of his parents, he went to the inn and hired a trap. Travelling and asking, Clare learned that John Durbeyfield was dead; that his widow and children had left Marlott, declaring that they were going to live at Kingsbere. His way was by the field in which he had first beheld her at the dance, and on through the churchyard, where, amongst the new headstones, he saw one of a somewhat superior design to the rest:
Finding Mrs Durbeyfield's tenement, he was awkwardly obliged to explain that he was Tess's husband, "Do you think Tess would wish me to try and find her? If not - "
"I don't think she would."
"I am sure she would!" he retorted passionately. "I know her better than you do."
"That's very likely, sir; for I have never really known her. She is at Sandbourne."
The next morning he walked out into this fashionable watering-place, and, from enquiries of the postman, arrived at a house called The Herons. There, the landlady herself opened the door. Clare inquired for Teresa d'Urberville or Durbeyfield.
"Will you kindly tell her that a relative is anxious to see her?"
"What name shall I give, sir?"
"Angel. She'll understand."
He was shown into the front room and looked out through the spring curtains at the little lawn, and the rhododendrons. Obviously her position was by no means so bad as he had feared.
Tess appeared on the threshold - not at all as he had expected to see her - bewilderingly otherwise, indeed.
"Tess!" he said huskily, "can you forgive me for going away?"
"It is too late," said she.
"But don't you love me, my dear wife?"
"I waited and waited for you," she went on. "But you did not come! And I wrote to you, and you did not come! He kept on saying you would never come any more, and that I was a foolish woman. He was very kind to me, and to mother. He - "
"I don't understand."
"He has won me back to him."
Clare looked at her keenly, then, gathering her meaning.
"He is upstairs. I hate him now, because he told me a lie - he said that you would not come again; and you have come! But - will you go away, Angel, please, and never come any more?"
They stood fixed, their baffled hearts looking out of their eyes with a joylessness pitiful to see. A few instants passed, and Tess was gone. A minute or two after, he found himself in the street.
Mrs Brooks, the landlady, sat in her back room, sewing. She heard the floorboards slightly creak, and saw the form of Tess passing through the gate and into the street.
Mrs Brooks pondered these events and leant back in her chair. As she did so her eyes were arrested by a spot in the middle of the ceiling which she had never noticed there before. She got upon the table, and touched the spot in the ceiling with her fingers. It was damp, and she fancied that it was a blood stain. Drip, drip, drip.
Within a quarter of an hour the news that a gentleman had been stabbed to death in his bed, spread through every street and villa of the popular watering-place.
Meanwhile Angel Clare had walked automatically to the station; reaching it, he sat down to wait, and as he gazed at the road a moving spot intruded on the white vacuity of its perspective. It was Tess.
"Angel," she said, breathless, "do you know what I have been running after you for? To tell you that I have killed him!" A pitiful white smile lit her face as she spoke.
"But how do you mean? What, bodily? Is he dead?"
"Yes. He heard me crying about you, and called you by a foul name; and then I did it."
Unable to realize the gravity of her conduct, she seemed at last content; and he looked at her as she lay upon his shoulder, weeping with happiness, and wondered what obscure strain in the d'Urberville blood had led to this aberration - if it were an aberration.
"I will not desert you! I will protect you, dearest love, whatever you may have done!"
"Where are we going?"
"Well, we might walk a few miles, and when it is evening find lodgings in a lonely cottage, perhaps. Can you walk well, Tessy?"
On the first night they found some rest in a deserted mansion-house. As they left for another night journey, Tess paused a moment; "Happy house - goodbye!" she said. "My life can only be a question of a few weeks."
"Don't say it, Tess! We'll keep straight north, get to a port and away."
They had proceeded gropingly some miles when on a sudden Clare became conscious of a vast erection close in his front, rising sheer from the grass. They had almost struck themselves against it in the dark.
"What monstrous place is this?" said Angel.
"It hums," said she. "Hearken!"
He listened. The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp.
"A Temple of the Winds," he said. "It is Stonehenge!"
"The heathen temple, you mean?"
"Yes. Older than the centuries; older than the d'Urbervilles!"
"And you used to say at Talbothays that I was a heathen. So now I am at home."
He knelt down and put his lips upon hers.
"Sleepy are you, dear? I think you are lying on an altar."
"I like very much to be here," she murmured. "It seems as if there were no folk in the world but we two."
Clare flung his coat upon her, and sat down by her side.
"Angel, if anything happens to me, will you watch over 'Liza-Lu for my sake?" she asked.
"I wish you would marry her if you lose me, as you will do shortly. Did they sacrifice to God here?" asked she.
"No," said he. "I believe to the sun."
"This reminds me, dear," she said. "Do you think we shall meet again after we are dead? I want to know."
He kissed her to avoid a reply.
"I fear that means no!" said she. "Not even you and I, Angel, who love each other so well?"
They slept with the great flame-shaped Sun-stone beyond them; and the Stone of Sacrifice midway. Presently the night wind died out, the dawn shone and figures came straight towards the circle of pillars in which they were.
"What is it, Angel?" she said, starting up. "Have they come for me?"
"Yes, dearest," he said. "They have come."
"It is as it should be," she murmured. "Angel, I am almost glad - yes, glad! This happiness could not have lasted. It was too much. I have had enough; and now I shall not live for you to despise me!"
She stood up, shook herself, and went forward.
"I am ready," she said quietly.
Up on a hill above the fine old city of Wintoncester Angel Clare and 'Liza-Lu watched a black flag raised above a large red-brick building, whose rows of short barred windows bespoke captivity.
"Justice" was done, and the President of the Immortals had ended his sport with Tess. And the d'Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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