For a long time Tess did not join in the weekly pilgrimages. But under pressure
from matrons not much older than herself-for a field-man's wages being as high at
twenty-one as at forty, marriage was early here-Tess at length consented to go.
Her first experience of the journey afforded her more enjoyment than she had expected,
the hilariousness of the others being quite contagious after her monotonous attention
to the poultry-farm all the week. She went again and again. Being graceful and interesting,
standing moreover on the momentary threshold of womanhood, her appearance drew down
upon her some sly regards from loungers in the streets of Chaseborough; hence, though
sometimes her journey to the town was made independently, she always searched for
her fellows at nightfall, to have the protection of their companionship homeward.
This had gone on for a month or two when 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. Tess's occupations made her late in
setting out, so that her comrades reached the town long before her. It was a fine
September evening, just before sunset, when yellow lights struggle with blue shades
in hairlike lines, and the atmosphere itself forms a prospect without aid from more
solid objects, except the innumerable winged insects that dance in it. Through this
low-lit mistiness Tess walked leisurely along.
She did not discover the coincidence of the market with the fair till she had
reached the place, by which time it was close upon dusk. Her limited marketing was
soon completed; and then as usual she began to look about for some of the Trantridge
At first she could not find them, and she was informed that most of them had
gone to what they called a private little jig at the house of a hay-trusser and
peat-dealer who had transactions with their farm. He lived in an out-of-the-way
nook of the townlet, and in trying to find her course thither her eyes fell upon
Mr d'Urberville standing at a street corner.
''What-my Beauty? You here so late?'' he said.
She told him that she was simply waiting for company homeward.
''I'll see you again,'' said he over her shoulder as she went on down the back
Approaching the hay-trussers she could hear the fiddled notes of a reel proceeding
from some building in the rear; but no sound of dancing was audible-an exceptional
state of things for these parts, where as a rule the stamping drowned the music.
The front door being open she could see straight through the house into the garden
at the back as far as the shades of night would allow; and nobody appearing to her
knock she traversed the dwelling and went up the path to the outhouse whence the
sound had attracted her.
It was a windowless erection used for storage, and from the open door there floated
into the obscurity a mist of yellow radiance, which at first Tess thought to be
illuminated smoke. But on drawing nearer she perceived that it was a cloud of dust,
lit by candles within the outhouse, whose beams upon the haze carried forward the
outline of the doorway into the wide night of the garden.
When she came close and looked in she beheld indistinct forms racing up and down
to the figure of the dance, the silence of their footfalls arising from their being
overshoe in ''scroff''-that is to say, the powdery residuum from the storage of
peat and other products, the stirring of which by their turbulent feet created the
nebulosity that involved the scene. Through this floating, fusty DEBRIS of peat
and hay, mixed with the perspirations and warmth of the dancers, and forming together
a sort of vegeto-human pollen, the muted fiddles feebly pushed their notes, in marked
contrast to the spirit with which the measure was trodden out. They coughed as they
danced, and laughed as they coughed. Of the rushing couples there could barely be
discerned more than the high lights-the indistinctness shaping them to satyrs clasping
nymphs-a multiplicity of Pans whirling a multiplicity of Syrinxes; Lotis attempting
to elude Priapus, and always failing.
At intervals a couple would approach the doorway for air, and the haze no longer
veiling their features, the demigods resolved themselves into the homely personalities
of her own next-door neighbours. Could Trantridge in two or three short hours have
metamorphosed itself thus madly!
Some Sileni of the throng sat on benches and hay-trusses by the wall; and one
of them recognized her.
''The maids don't think it respectable to dance at The Flower-de-Luce,'' he explained.
''They don't like to let everybody see which be their fancy-men. Besides, the house
sometimes shuts up just when their jints begin to get greased. So we come here and
send out for liquor.''
''But when be any of you going home?'' asked Tess with some anxiety.
''Now-a'most directly. This is all but the last jig.''
She waited. The reel drew to a close, and some of the party were in the mind
of starting. But others would not, and another dance was formed. This surely would
end it, thought Tess. But it merged in yet another. She became restless and uneasy;
yet, having waited so long, it was necessary to wait longer; on account of the fair
the roads were dotted with roving characters of possibly ill intent; and, though
not fearful of measurable dangers, she feared the unknown. Had she been near Marlott
she would have had less dread.
''Don't ye be nervous, my dear good soul,'' expostulated, between his coughs,
a young man with a wet face, and his straw hat so far back upon his head that the
brim encircled it like the nimbus of a saint. ''What's yer hurry? Tomorrow is Sunday,
thank God, and we can sleep it off in church-time. Now, have a turn with me?''
She did not abhor dancing, but she was not going to dance here. The movement
grew more passionate: the fiddlers behind the luminous pillar of cloud now and then
varied the air by playing on the wrong side of the bridge or with the back of the
bow. But it did not matter; the panting shapes spun onwards.
They did not vary their partners if their inclination were to stick to previous
ones. Changing partners simply meant that a satisfactory choice had not as yet been
arrived at by one or other of the pair, and by this time every couple had been suitable
matched. It was then that the ecstasy and the dream began, in which emotion was
the matter of the universe, and matter but an adventitious intrusion likely to hinder
you from spinning where you wanted to spin.
Suddenly there was a dull thump on the ground: a couple had fallen, and lay in
a mixed heap. The next couple, unable to check its progress, came toppling over
the obstacle. An inner cloud of dust rose around the prostrate figures amid the
general one of the room, in which a twitching entanglement of arms and legs was
''You shall catch it for this, my gentleman, when you get home!'' burst in female
accents from the human heap-those of the unhappy partner of the man whose clumsiness
had caused the mishap; she happened also to be his recently married wife, in which
assortment there was nothing unusual at Trantridge as long as any affection remained
between wedded couples; and, indeed, it was not uncustomary in their later lives,
to avoid making odd lots of the single people between whom there might be a warm
A loud laugh from behind Tess's back, in the shade of the garden, united with
the titter within the room. She looked round, and saw the red coal of a cigar: Alec
d'Urberville was standing there alone. He beckoned to her, and she reluctantly retreated
''Well, my Beauty, what are you doing here?''
She was so tired after her long day and her walk that she confided her trouble
to him-that she had been waiting ever since he saw her to have their company home,
because the road at night was strange to her. ''But it seems they will never leave
off, and I really think I will wait no longer.''
''Certainly do not. I have only a saddle-horse here today; but come to The Flower-de-Luce,
and I'll hire a trap, and drive you home with me.''
Tess, though flattered, had never quite got over her original mistrust of him,
and, despite their tardiness, she preferred to walk home with the work-folk. So
she answered that she was much obliged to him, but would not trouble him. ''I have
said that I will wait for 'em, and they will expect me to now.''
''Very well, Miss Independence. Please yourself…. Then I shall not hurry…. My
good Lord, what a kick-up they are having there!''
He had not put himself forward into the light, but some of them had perceived
him, and his presence led to a slight pause and a consideration of how the time
was flying. As soon as he had re-lit a cigar and walked away the Trantridge people
began to collect themselves from amid those who had come in from other farms, and
prepared to leave in a body. Their bundles and baskets were gathered up, and half
an hour later, when the clock-chime sounded a quarter past eleven, they were straggling
along the lane which led up the hill towards their homes.
It was a three-mile walk, along a dry white road, made whiter tonight by the light
of the moon.
Tess soon perceived as she walked in the flock, sometimes with this one, sometimes
with that, that the fresh night air was producing staggerings and serpentine courses
among then men who had partaken too freely; some of the more careless women also
were wandering in their gait-to wit, a dark virago, Car Darch, dubbed Queen of Spades,
till lately a favourite of d'Urberville's; Nancy, her sister, nicknamed the Queen
of Diamonds; and the young married woman who had already tumbled down. Yet however
terrestrial and lumpy their appearance just now to the mean unglamoured eye, to
themselves the case was different. They followed the road with a sensation that
they were soaring along in a supporting medium, possessed of original and profound
thoughts, themselves and surrounding nature forming an organism of which all the
parts harmoniously and joyously interpenetrated each other. They were as sublime
as the moon and stars above them, and the moon and stars were as ardent as they.
Tess, however, had undergone such painful experiences of this kind in her father's
house, that the discovery of their condition spoilt the pleasure she was beginning
to feel in the moonlight journey. Yet she stuck to the party, for reasons above
In the open highway they had progressed in scattered order; but now their route
was through a field-gate, and the foremost finding a difficulty in opening it they
closed up together.
This leading pedestrian was Car the Queen of Spades, who carried a wicker-basket
containing her mother's groceries, her own draperies, and other purchases for the
week. The basket being large and heavy, Car had placed it for convenience of porterage
on the top of her head, where it rode on in jeopardized balance as she walked with
''Well-whatever is that a-creeping down thy back, Car Darch?'' said one of the
All looked at Car. Her gown was a light cotton print, and from the back of her
head a kind of rope could be seen descending to some distance below her waist, like
a Chinaman's queue.
'''Tis her hair falling down,'' said another.
No; it was not her hair: it was a black stream of something oozing from her basket,
and it glistened like a slimy snake in the cold still rays of the moon.
'''Tis treacle,'' said an observant matron.
Treacle it was. Car's poor old grandmother had a weakness for the sweet stuff.
Honey she had in plenty out of her own hives, but treacle was what her soul desired,
and Car had been about to give her a treat of surprise. Hastily lowering the basket
the dark girl found that the vessel containing the syrup had been smashed within.
By this time there had arisen a shout of laughter at the extraordinary appearance
of Car's back, which irritated the dark queen into getting rid of the disfigurement
by the first sudden means available, and independently of the help of the scoffers.
She rushed excitedly into the field they were about to cross, and flinging herself
flat on her back upon the grass, began to wipe her gown as well as she could by
spinning horizontally on the herbage and dragging herself over it upon her elbows.
The laughter rang louder; they clung to the gate, to the posts, rested on their
staves, in the weakness engendered by their convulsions at the spectacle of Car.
Our heroine, who had hitherto held her peace, at this wild moment could not help
joining in with the rest.
It was a misfortune-in more ways than one. No sooner did the dark queen hear
the soberer richer note of Tess among those of the other work-people than a long
smouldering sense of rivalry inflamed her to madness. She sprang to her feet and
closely faced the object of her dislike.
''How darest th' laugh at me, hussy!'' she cried.
''I couldn't really help it when t'others did,'' apologized Tess, still tittering.
''Ah, th'st think th' beest everybody, dostn't, because th' beest first favourite
with He just now! But stop a bit, my lady, stop a bit! I'm as good as two of such!
Look here-here's at 'ee!''
To Tess's horror the dark queen began stripping off the bodice of her gown-which
for the added reason of its ridiculed condition she was only too glad to be free
of-till she had bared her plump neck, shoulders, and arms to the moonshine, under
which they looked as luminous and beautiful as some Praxitelean creation, in their
possession of the faultless rotundities of a lusty country girl. She closed her
fists and squared up at Tess.
''Indeed, then, I shall not fight!'' said the latter majestically; ''and if I
had know you was of that sort, I wouldn't have so let myself down as to come with
such a whorage as this is!''