The rather too inclusive speech brought down a torrent of vituperation from other
quarters upon fair Tess's unlucky head, particularly from the Queen of Diamonds,
who having stood in the relations to d'Urberville that Car had also been suspected
of, united with the latter against the common enemy. Several other women also chimed
in, with an animus which none of them would have been so fatuous as to show but
for the rollicking evening they had passed. Thereupon, finding Tess unfairly browbeaten,
the husbands and lovers tried to make peace by defending her; but the result of
that attempt was directly to increase the war.
Tess was indignant and ashamed. She no longer minded the loneliness of the way
and the lateness of the hour; her one object was to get away from the whole crew
as soon as possible. She knew well enough that the better among them would repent
of their passion next day. They were all now inside the field, and she was edging
back to rush off alone when a horseman emerged almost silently from the corner of
the hedge that screened the road, and Alec d'Urberville looked round upon them.
''What the devil is all this row about, work-folk?'' he asked.
The explanation was not readily forthcoming; and, in truth, he did not require
any. Having heard their voices while yet some way off he had ridden creepingly forward,
and learnt enough to satisfy himself.
Tess was standing apart from the rest, near the gate. He bent over towards her.
''Jump up behind me,'' he whispered, ''and we'll get shot of the screaming cats
in a jiffy!''
She felt almost ready to faint, so vivid was her sense of the crisis. At almost
any other moment of her life she would have refused such proffered aid and company,
as she had refused them several times before; and now the loneliness would not of
itself have forced her to do otherwise. But coming as the invitation did at the
particular juncture when fear and indignation at these adversaries could be transformed
by a spring of the foot into a triumph over them, she abandoned herself to her impulse,
climbed the gate, put her toe upon his instep, and scrambled into the saddle behind
him. The pair were speeding away into the distant gray by the time that the contentious
revellers became aware of what had happened.
The Queen of Spades forgot the stain on her bodice, and stood beside the Queen
of Diamonds and the new-married, staggering young woman-all with a gaze of fixity
in the direction in which the horse's tramp was diminishing into silence on the
''What be ye looking at?'' asked a man who had not observed the incident.
''Ho-ho-ho!'' laughed dark Car.
''Hee-hee-hee!'' laughed the tippling bride, as she steadied herself on the arm
of her fond husband.
''Heu-heu-heu!'' laughed dark Car's mother, stroking her moustache as she explained
laconically: ''Out of the frying-pan into the fire!''
Then these children of the open air, whom even excess of alcohol could scarce
injure permanently, betook themselves to the field-path; and as they went there
moved onward with them, around the shadow of each one's head, a circle of opalized
light, formed by the moon's rays upon the glistening sheet of dew. Each pedestrian
could see no halo but his or her own, which never deserted the head-shadow, whatever
its vulgar unsteadiness might be; but adhered to it, and persistently beautified
it; till the erratic motions seemed an inherent part of the irradiation, and the
fumes of their breathing a component of the night's mist; and the spirit of the
scene, and of the moonlight, and of Nature, seemed harmoniously to mingle with the
spirit of wine.
The twain cantered along for some time without speech, Tess as she clung to him
still panting in her triumph, yet in other respects dubious. She had perceived that
the horse was not the spirited one he sometimes rose, and felt no alarm on that
score, though her seat was precarious enough despite her tight hold of him. She
begged him to slow the animal to a walk which Alec accordingly did.
''Neatly done, was it not, dear Tess?'' he said by and by.
''Yes!'' said she. ''I am sure I ought to be much obliged to you.''
''And are you?''
She did not reply.
''Tess, why do you always dislike my kissing you?''
''I suppose-because I don't love you.''
''You are quite sure?''
''I am angry with you sometimes!''
''Ah, I half feared as much.'' Nevertheless, Alec did not object to that confession.
He knew that anything was better then frigidity. ''Why haven't you told me when
I have made you angry?''
''You know very well why. Because I cannot help myself here.''
''I haven't offended you often by love-making?''
''You have sometimes.''
''How many times?''
''You know as well as I-too many times.''
''Every time I have tried?''
She was silent, and the horse ambled along for a considerable distance, till
a faint luminous fog, which had hung in the hollows all the evening, became general
and enveloped them. It seemed to hold the moonlight in suspension, rendering it
more pervasive than in clear air. Whether on this account, or from absent-mindedness,
or from sleepiness, she did not perceive that they had long ago passed the point
at which the lane to Trantridge branched from the highway, and that her conductor
had not taken the Trantridge track.
She was inexpressibly weary. She had risen at five o'clock every morning of that
week, had been on foot the whole of each day, and on this evening had in addition
walked the three miles to Chaseborough, waited three hours for her neighbours without
eating or drinking, her impatience to start them preventing either; she had then
walked a mile of the way home, and had undergone the excitement of the quarrel,
till, with the slow progress of their steed, it was now nearly one o'clock. Only
once, however, was she overcome by actual drowsiness. In that moment of oblivion
her head sank gently against him.
D'Urberville stopped the horse, withdrew his feet from the stirrups, turned sideways
on the saddle, and enclosed her waist with his arm to support her.
This immediately put her on the defensive, and with one of those sudden impulses
of reprisal to which she was liable she gave him a little push from her. In his
ticklish position he nearly lost his balance and only just avoided rolling over
into the road, the horse, though a powerful one, being fortunately the quietest
''That is devilish unkind!'' he said. ''I mean no harm-only to keep you from
She pondered suspiciously; till, thinking that this might after all be true,
she relented, and said quite humbly, ''I beg your pardon, sir.''
''I won't pardon you unless you show some confidence in me. Good God!'' he burst
out, ''what am I, to be repulsed so by a mere chit like you? For near three mortal
months have you trifled with my feelings, eluded me, and snubbed me; and I won't
''I"ll leave you tomorrow, sir.''
''No, you will not leave me tomorrow! Will you, I ask once more, show your belief
in me by letting me clasp you with my arm? Come, between us two and nobody else,
now. We know each other well; and you know that I love you, and think you the prettiest
girl in the world, which you are. Mayn't I treat you as a lover?''
She drew a quick pettish breath of objection, writhing uneasily on her seat,
looked far ahead, and murmured, ''I don't know-I wish-how can I say yes or no when-''
He settled the matter by clasping his arm round her as he desired, and Tess expressed
no further negative. Thus they sidled slowly onward till it struck her they had
been advancing for an unconscionable time-far longer than was usually occupied by
the short journey from Chaseborough, even at this walking pace, and that they were
no longer on hard road, but in a mere trackway.
''Why, where be we?'' she exclaimed.
''Passing by a wood.''
''A wood-what wood? Surely we are quite out of the road?''
''A bit of The Chase-the oldest wood in England. It is a lovely night, and why
should we not prolong our ride a little?''
''How could you be so treacherous!'' said Tess, between archness and real dismay,
and getting rid of his arm by pulling open his fingers one by one, though at the
risk of slipping off herself. ''Just when I've been putting such trust in you, and
obliging you to please you, because I thought I had wronged you by that push! Please
set me down, and let me walk home.''
''You cannot walk home, darling, even if the air were clear. We are miles away
from Trantridge, if I must tell you, and in this growing fog you might wander for
hours among these trees.''
''Never mind that,'' she coaxed. ''Put me down, I beg you. I don't mind where
it is; only let me get down, sir, please!''
''Very well, then, I will-on one condition. Having brought you here to this out-of-the-way
place, I feel myself responsible for your safe-conduct home, whatever you may yourself
feel about it. As to your getting to Trantridge without assistance, it is quite
impossible; for, to tell the truth, dear, owing to this fog, which so disguises
everything, I don't quite know where we are myself. Now, if you will promise to
wait beside the horse while I walk through the bushes till I come to some road or
house, and ascertain exactly our whereabouts, I'll deposit you here willingly. When
I come back I'll give you full directions, and if you insist upon walking you may;
or you may ride-at your pleasure.''
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.
''I suppose I must hold the horse?'' said she.
''Oh no; it's not necessary,'' replied Alec, patting the panting creature. ''He's
had enough of it for tonight.''
He turned the horse's head into the bushes, hitched him on to a bough, and made
a sort of couch or nest for her in the deep mass of dead leaves.
''Now, you sit there,'' he said. ''The leaves have not got damp as yet. Just
give an eye to the horse-it will be quite sufficient.''
He took a few steps away from her, but, returning, said, ''By the bye, Tess,
your father has a new cob today. Somebody gave it to him.''
''O how very good of you that is!'' she exclaimed, with a painful sense of the
awkwardness of having to thank him just then.
''And the children have some toys.''
''I didn't know-you ever sent them anything!'' she murmured, much moved. ''I
almost wish you had not-yes, I almost with it!''
''It-hampers me so.''
''Tessy-don't you love me ever so little now?''
''I'm grateful,'' she reluctantly admitted. ''But I fear I do not-'' The sudden
vision of his passion for herself as a factor in this result so distressed her that,
beginning with one slow tear, and then following with another, she wept outright.
''Don't cry, dear, dear one! Now sit down here, and wait till I come.'' She passively
sat down amid the leaves he had heaped, and shivered slightly. ''Are you cold?''
''Not very-a little.''
He touched her with his fingers, which sank into her as into down. ''You have
only that puffy muslin dress on-how's that?''
''It's my best summer one. 'Twas very warm when I started, and I didn't know
I was going to ride, and that it would be night.''
''Nights grow chilly in September. Let me see.'' He pulled off a light overcoat
that he had worn, and put it round her tenderly. ''That's it-now you'll feel warmer,''
he continued. ''Now, my pretty, rest there; I shall soon be back again.''
Having buttoned the overcoat round her shoulders he plunged into the webs of
vapour which by this time formed veils between the trees. She could hear the rustling
of the branches as he ascended the adjoining slope, till his movements were no louder
than the hopping of a bird, and finally died away. With the setting of the moon
the pale light lessened, and Tess became invisible as she fell into reverie upon
the leaves where he had left her.
In the meantime Alec d'Urberville had pushed on up the slope to clear his genuine
doubt as to the quarter of The Chase they were in. He had, in fact, ridden quite
at random for over an hour, taking any turning that came to hand in order to prolong
companionship with her, and giving far more attention to Tess's moonlit person than
to any wayside object. A little rest for the jaded animal being desirable, he did
not hasten his search for landmarks. A clamber over the hill into the adjoining
vale brought him to the fence of a highway whose contours he recognized, which settled
the question of their whereabouts. D'Urberville thereupon turned back; but by this
time the moon had quite gone down, and partly on account of the fog The Chase was
wrapped in thick darkness, although morning was not far off. He was obliged to advance
with outstretched hands to avoid contact with the boughs, and discovered that to
hit the exact spot from which he had started was at first entirely beyond him. Roaming
up and down, round and round, he at length heard a slight movement of the horse
close at hand; and the sleeve of his overcoat unexpectedly caught his foot.