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Thomas Hardy >> Tess of the d'Urbervilles (page 12)


''Tess!'' said d'Urberville.

There was no answer. The obscurity was now so great that he could see absolutely nothing but a pale nebulousness at his feet, which represented the white muslin figure he had left upon the dead leaves. Everything else was blackness alike. D'Urberville stooped; and heard a gentle regular breathing. He knelt and bent lower, till her breath warmed his face, and in a moment his cheek was in contact with hers. She was sleeping soundly, and upon her eyelashes there lingered tears.

Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around. Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which there poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap; and about them stole the hopping rabbits and hares. But, might some say, where was Tess's guardian angel? where was the providence of her simple faith? Perhaps, like that other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was in a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be awaked.

Why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong woman the man, many thousand years of analytical philosophy have failed to explain to our sense of order. One may, indeed, admit the possibility of a retribution lurking in the present catastrophe. 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 therefore does not mend the matter.

As Tess's own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: ''It was to be.'' There lay the pity of it. An immeasurable social chasm was to divide our heroine's personality thereafter from that previous self of hers who stepped from her mother's door to try her fortune at Trantridge poultry-farm.

Phase the Second: Maiden No More XII The basket was heavy and the bundle was large, but she lugged them along like a person who did not find her especial burden in material things. Occasionally she stopped to rest in a mechanical way by some gate or post; and then, giving the baggage another hitch upon her full round arm, went steadily on again.

It was a Sunday morning in late October, about four months after Tess Durbeyfield's arrival at Trantridge, and some few weeks subsequent to the night ride in The Chase. The time was not long past daybreak, and the yellow luminosity upon the horizon behind her back lighted the ridge towards which her face was set-the barrier of the vale wherein she had of late been a stranger-which she would have to climb over to reach her birthplace. The ascent was gradual on this side, and the soil and scenery differed much from those within Blackmore Vale. Even the character and accent of the two peoples had shades of difference, despite the amalgamating effects of a roundabout railway; so that, though less than twenty miles from the place of her sojourn at Trantridge, her native village had seemed a far-away spot. The field-folk shut in there traded northward and westward, travelled, courted, and married northward and westward, thought northward and westward; those on this side mainly directed their energies and attention to the east and south.

The incline was the same down which d'Urberville had driven her so wildly on that day in June. Tess went up the remainder of its length without stopping, and on reaching the edge of the escarpment gazed over the familiar green world beyond, now half-veiled in mist. It was always beautiful from here; it was terribly beautiful to Tess today, for since her eyes last fell upon it she had learnt that the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sing, and her views of life had been totally changed for her by the lesson. Verily another girl than the simple one she had been at home was she who, bowed by thought, stood still here, and turned to look behind her. She could not bear to look forward into the Vale.

Ascending by the long white road that Tess herself had just laboured up, she saw a two-wheeled vehicle, beside which walked a man, who held up his hand to attract her attention.

She obeyed the signal to wait for him with unspeculative repose, and in a few minutes man and horse stopped beside her.

''Why did you slip away by stealth like this?'' said d'Urberville, with upbraiding breathlessness; ''on a Sunday morning, too, when people were all in bed! I only discovered it by accident, and I have been driving like the deuce to overtake you. Just look at the mare. Why go off like this? You know that nobody wished to hinder your going. And how unnecessary it has been for you to toil along on foot, and encumber yourself with this heavy load! I have followed like a madman, simply to drive you the rest of the distance, if you won't come back.''

''I shan't come back,'' said she.

''I thought you wouldn't-I said so! Well, then, put up your basket, and let me help you on.''

She listlessly placed her basket and bundle within the dog-cart, and stepped up, and they sat side by side. She had no fear of him now, and in the cause of her confidence her sorrow lay.

D'Urberville mechanically lit a cigar, and the journey was continued with broken unemotional conversation on the commonplace objects by the wayside. He had quite forgotten his struggle to kiss her when, in the early summer, they had driven in the opposite direction along the same road. But she had not, and she sat now, like a puppet, replying to his remarks in monosyllables. After some miles they came in view of the clump of trees beyond which the village of Marlott stood. It was only then that her still face showed the least emotion, a tear or two beginning to trickle down.

''What are you crying for?'' he coldly asked.

''I was only thinking that I was born over there,'' murmured Tess.

''Well-we must all be born somewhere.''

''I wish I had never been born-there or anywhere else!''

''Pooh! Well, if you didn't wish to come to Trantridge why did you come?''

She did not reply.

''You didn't come for love of me, that I'll swear.''

'''Tis quite true. If I had gone for love o' you, if I had ever sincerely loved you, if I loved you still, I should not so loathe and hate myself for my weakness as I do now! Е My eyes were dazed by you for a little, and that was all.''

He shrugged his shoulders. She resumed-

''I didn't understand your meaning till it was too late.''

''That"s what every woman says.''

''How can you dare to use such words!'' she cried, turning impetuously upon him, her eyes flashing as the latent spirit (of which he was to see more some day) awoke in her. ''My God! I could knock you out of the gig! Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says some women may feel?''

''Very well,'' he said, laughing; ''I am sorry to wound you. I did wrong-I admit it.'' He dropped into some little bitterness as he continued: ''Only you needn't be so everlastingly flinging it in my face. I am ready to pay to the uttermost farthing. You know you need not work in the fields or the dairies again. You know you may clothe yourself with the best, instead of in the bald plain way you have lately affected, as if you couldn't get a ribbon more than you earn.''

Her lip lifted slightly, though there was little scorn, as a rule, in her large and impulsive nature.

''I have said I will not take anything more from you, and I will not-I cannot! I SHOULD be your creature to go on doing that, and I won't!''

''One would think you were a princess from your manner, in addition to a true and original d'Urberville-ha! ha! Well, Tess, dear, I can say no more. I suppose I am a bad fellow-a damn bad fellow. I was born bad, and I have lived bad, and I shall die bad in all probability. But, upon my lost soul, I won't be bad towards you again, Tess. And if certain circumstances should arise-you understand-in which you are in the least need, the least difficulty, send me one line, and you shall have by return whatever you require. I may not be at Trantridge-I am going to London for a time-I can't stand the old woman. But all letters will be forwarded.''

She said that she did not wish him to drive her further, and they stopped just under the clump of trees. D'Urberville alighted, and lifted her down bodily in his arms, afterwards placing her articles on the ground beside her. She bowed to him slightly, her eye just lingering in his; and then she turned to take the parcels for departure.

Alec d'Urberville removed his cigar, bent towards her, and said-

''You are not going to turn away like that, dear! Come!''

''If you wish,'' she answered indifferently. ''See how you've mastered me!''

She thereupon turned round and lifted her face to his, and remained like a marble term while he imprinted a kiss upon her cheek-half perfunctorily, half as if zest had not yet quite died out. Her eyes vaguely rested upon the remotest trees in the lane while the kiss was given, as though she were nearly unconscious of what he did.

''Now the other side, for old acquaintance' sake.''

She turned her head in the same passive way, as one might turn at the request of a sketcher or hairdresser, and he kissed the other side, his lips touching cheeks that were damp and smoothly chill as the skin of the mushrooms in the fields around.

''You don't give me your mouth and kiss me back. You never willingly do that-you'll never love me, I fear.''

''I have said so, often. It is true. I have never really and truly loved you, and I think I never can.'' She added mournfully, ''Perhaps, of all things, a lie on this thing would do the most good to me now; but I have honour enough left, little as 'tis, not to tell that lie. If I did love you I may have the best o' causes for letting you know it. But I don't.''

He emitted a laboured breath, as if the scene were getting rather oppressive to his heart, or to his conscience, or to his gentility.

''Well, you are absurdly melancholy, Tess. I have no reason for flattering you now, and I can say plainly that you need not be so sad. You can hold your own for beauty against any woman of these parts, gentle or simple; I say it to you as a practical man and well-wisher. If you are wise you will show it to the world more than you do before it fadesЕ. And yet, Tess, will you come back to me! Upon my soul I don't like to let you go like this!''

''Never, never! I made up my mind as soon as I saw-what I ought to have seen sooner; and I won't come.''

''Then good morning, my four months' cousin-goodbye!''

He leapt up lightly, arranged the reins, and was gone between the tall red-berried hedges.

Tess did not look after him, but slowly wound along the crooked lane. It was still early, and though the sun's lower limb was just free of the hill, his rays, ungenial and peering, addressed the eye rather than the touch as yet. There was not a human soul near. Sad October and her sadder self seemed the only two existences haunting that lane.

As she walked, however, some footsteps approached behind her, the footsteps of a man; and owing to the briskness of his advance he was close at her heels and had said ''Good morning'' before she had been long aware of his propinquity. He appeared to be an artisan of some sort, and carried a tin pot of red paint in his hand. He asked in a business-like manner if he should take her basket, which she permitted him to do, walking beside him.

''It is early to be astir this Sabbath morn!'' he said cheerfully.

''Yes,'' said Tess.

''When most people are at rest from their week's work.'' She also assented to this.

''Though I do more real work today than all the week besides.''

''Do you?''

''All the week I work for the glory of man, and on Sunday for the glory of God. That's more real than the other-hey? I have a little to do here at this stile.'' The man turned as he spoke to an opening at the roadside leading into a pasture. ''If you'll wait a moment,'' he added, ''I shall not be long.''

As he had her basket she could not well do otherwise; and she waited, observing him. He set down her basket and the tin pot, and stirring the paint with the brush that was in it began painting large square letters on the middle board of the three composing the stile, placing a comma after each word, as if to give pause while that word was driven well home to the reader's heart-

THY, DAMNATION, SLUMBERETH, NOT.

2 Pet. ii. 3.

Against the peaceful landscape, the pale, decaying tints of the copses, the blue air of the horizon and the lichened stileboards, these staring vermilion words shone forth. They seemed to shout themselves out and make the atmosphere ring. Some people might have cried ''Alas, poor Theology!'' at the hideous defacement-the last grotesque phase of a creed which had served mankind well in its time. But the words entered Tess with accusatory horror. It was as if this man had known her recent history; yet he was a total stranger.

Having finished his text he picked up her basket, and she mechanically resumed her walk beside him.

''Do you believe what you paint?'' she asked in low tones.

Title: Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Author: Thomas Hardy
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