''Oh! would you? Why?'' said wondering Retty.
''It cannot be! But I will be plain. Putting myself quite on one side. I don't
think he will choose either of you.''
''I have never expected it-thought of it!'' moaned Retty. ''But O! I wish I was
The poor child, torn by a feeling which she hardly understood, turned to the
other two girls who came upstairs just then.
''We be friends with her again,'' she said to them. ''She thinks no more of his
choosing her than we do.''
So the reserve went off, and they were confiding and warm.
''I don't seem to care what I do now,'' said Marian, whose mood was turned to
its lowest bass. ''I was going to marry a dairyman at Stickleford, who's asked me
twice; but-my soul-I would put an end to myself rather'n be his wife now! Why don't
ye speak, Izz?''
''To confess, then,'' murmured Izz, ''I made sure today that he was going to
kiss me as he held me; and I lay still against his breast, hoping and hoping, and
never moved at all. But he did not. I don't like biding here at Talbothays any longer!
I shall go hwome.''
The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the hopeless passion
of the girls. They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion thrust
on them by cruel Nature's law-an emotion which they had neither expected nor desired.
The incident of the day had fanned the flame that was burning the inside of their
hearts out, and the torture was almost more than they could endure. The differences
which distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by this passion, and each
was but portion of one organism called sex. There was so much frankness and so little
jealousy because there was no hope. Each one was a girl of fair common sense, and
she did not delude herself with any vain conceits, or deny her love, or give herself
airs, in the idea of outshining the others. The full recognition of the futility
of their infatuation, from a social point of view; its purposeless beginning; its
self-bounded outlook; its lack of everything to justify its existence in the eye
of civilization (while lacking nothing in the eye of Nature); the one fact that
it did exist, ecstasizing them to a killing joy; all this imparted to them a resignation,
a dignity, which a practical and sordid expectation of winning him as a husband
would have destroyed.
They tossed and turned on their little beds, and the cheese-wring dripped monotonously
''B' you awake, Tess?'' whispered one, half-an-hour later.
It was Izz Huett's voice.
Tess replied in the affirmative, whereupon also Retty and Marian suddenly flung
the bedclothes off them, and sighed-
''So be we!''
''I wonder what she is like-the lady they say his family have looked out for
''I wonder,'' said Izz.
''Some lady looked out for him?'' gasped Tess, starting. ''I have never heard
''O yes-'tis whispered; a young lady of his own rank, chosen by his family; a
Doctor of Divinity's daughter near his father's parish of Emminster; he don't much
care for her, they say. But he is sure to marry her.''
They had heard so very little of this; yet it was enough to build up wretched
dolorous dreams upon, there in the shade of the night. They pictured all the details
of his being won round to consent, of the wedding preparations, of the bride's happiness,
of her dress and veil, of her blissful home with him, when oblivion would have fallen
upon themselves as far as he and their love were concerned. Thus they talked, and
ached, and wept till sleep charmed their sorrow away.
After this disclosure Tess nourished no further foolish thought that there lurked
any grave and deliberate import in Clare's attentions to her. It was a passing summer
love of her face, for love's own temporary sake-nothing more. And thorny crown of
this sad conception was that she whom he really did prefer in a cursory way to the
rest, she who knew herself to be more impassioned in nature, cleverer, more beautiful
than they, was in the eyes of propriety far less worthy of him than the homelier
ones whom he ignored.
Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom Vale, at a season when the
rush of juices could almost be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was impossible
that the most fanciful love should not grow passionate. The ready bosoms existing
there were impregnated by their surroundings.
July passed over their heads, and the Thermidorean weather which came in its
wake seemed an effort on the part of Nature to match the state of hearts at Talbothays
Dairy. The air of the place, so fresh in the spring and early summer, was stagnant
and enervating now. Its heavy scents weighed upon them, and at mid-day the landscape
seemed lying in a swoon. Ethiopic scorchings browned the upper slopes of the pastures,
but there was still bright green herbage here where the watercourses purled. And
as Clare was oppressed by the outward heats, so was he burdened inwardly by waxing
fervour of passion for the soft and silent Tess.
The rains having passed the uplands were dry. The wheels of the dairyman's spring
cart, as he sped home from market, licked up the pulverized surface of the highway,
and were followed by white ribands of dust, as if they had set a thin powertrain
on fire. The cows jumped wildly over the five-barred barton-gate, maddened by the
gad-fly; Dairyman Crick kept his shirt-sleeves permanently rolled up from Monday
to Saturday; open windows had no effect in ventilation without open doors, and in
the dairy-garden the blackbirds and thrushes crept about under the currant-bushes,
rather in the manner of quadrupeds than of winged creatures. The flies in the kitchen
were lazy, teasing, and familiar, crawling about in the unwonted places, on the
floors, into drawers, and over the backs of the milkmaids' hands. Conversations
were concerning sunstroke; while butter-making, and still more butter-keeping, was
They milked entirely in the meads for coolness and convenience, without driving
in the cows. During the day the animals obsequiously followed the shadow of the
smallest tree as it moved round the stem with the diurnal roll; and when the milkers
came they could hardly stand still for the flies.
On one of these afternoons four or five unmilked cows chanced to stand apart
from the general herd, behind the corner of a hedge, among them being Dumpling and
Old Pretty, who loved Tess's hands above those of any other maid. When she rose
from her stool under a finished cow Angel Clare, who had been observing her for
some time, asked her if she would take the aforesaid creatures next. She silently
assented, and with her stool at arm's length, and the pail against her knee, went
round to where they stood. Soon the sound of Old Pretty's milk fizzing into the
pail came through the hedge, and then Angel felt inclined to go round the corner
also, to finish off a hard-yielding milcher who had strayed there, he being now
as capable of this as the dairyman himself.
All the men, and some of the women, when milking, dug their foreheads into the
cows and gazed into the pail. But a few-mainly the younger ones-rested their heads
sideways. This was Tess Durbeyfield's habit, her temple pressing the milcher's flank,
her eyes fixed on the far end of the meadow with the quiet of one lost in meditation.
She was milking Old Pretty thus, and the sun chancing to be on the milking-side
it shone flat upon her pink-gowned form and her white curtain-bonnet, and upon her
profile, rendering it keen as a cameo cut from the dun background of the cow.
She did not know that Clare had followed her round, and that he sat under his
cow watching her. The stillness of her head and features was remarkable: she might
have been in a trance, her eyes open, yet unseeing. Nothing in the picture moved
but Old Pretty's tail and Tess's pink hands, the latter so gently as to be a rhythmic
pulsation only, as if they were obeying a reflex stimulus, like a beating heart.
How very lovable her face was to him. yet there was nothing ethereal about it;
all was real vitality, real warmth, real incarnation. And it was in her mouth that
this culminated. Eyes almost as deep and speaking he had seen before, and cheeks
perhaps as fair; brows as arched, a chin and throat almost as shapely; her mouth
he had seen nothing to equal on the face of the earth. To a young man with the least
fire in him that little upward lift in the middle of her red top lip was distracting,
infatuating, maddening. He had never before seen a woman's lips and teeth which
forced upon his mind with such persistent iteration the old Elizabethan simile of
roses filled with snow. Perfect, he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand.
But no-they were not perfect. And it was the touch of the imperfect upon the would-be
perfect that gave the sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity.
Clare had studied the curves of those lips so many times that he could reproduce
them mentally with ease: and now, as they again confronted him, clothed with colour
and life, they sent an AURA over his flesh, a breeze through his nerves, which wellnigh
produced a qualm; and actually produced, by some mysterious physiological process,
a prosaic sneeze.
She then became conscious that he was observing her; but she would not show it
by any change of position, though the curious dream-like fixity disappeared, and
a close eye might easily have discerned that the rosiness of her face deepened,
and then faded till only a tinge of it was left.
The influence that had passed into Clare like an excitation from the sky did
not die down. Resolutions, reticences, prudences, fears, fell back like a defeated
battalion. He jumped up from his seat, and, leaving his pail to be kicked over if
the milcher had such a mind, went quickly towards the desire of his eyes, and, kneeling
down beside her, clasped her in his arms.
Tess was taken completely by surprise, and she yielded to his embrace with unreflecting
inevitableness. Having seen that it was really her lover who had advanced, and no
one else, her lips parted, and she sank upon him in her momentary joy, with something
very like an ecstatic cry.
He had been on the point of kissing that too tempting mouth, but he checked himself,
for tender conscience' sake.
''Forgive me, Tess dear!'' he whispered. ''I ought to have asked. I-did not know
what I was doing. I do not mean it as a liberty. I am devoted to you, Tessy, dearest,
in all sincerity!''
Old Pretty by this time had looked round, puzzled; and seeing two people crouching
under her where, by immemorial custom, there should have been only one, lifted her
hind left crossly.
''She is angry-she doesn't know what we mean-she'll kick over the milk!'' exclaimed
Tess, gently striving to free herself, her eyes concerned with the quadruped's actions,
her heart more deeply concerned with herself and Clare.
She slipped up from her seat, and they stood together, his arm still encircling
her. Tess's eyes, fixed on distance, began to fill.
''Why do you cry, my darling?'' he said.
''O - I don't know!'' she murmured.
As she saw and felt more clearly the position she was in she became agitated
and tried to withdraw.
''Well, I have betrayed my feeling, Tess, at last,'' said he, with a curious
sigh of desperation, signifying unconsciously that his heart had outrun his judgement.
''That I - love you dearly and truly I need not say. But I - it shall go no further
now-it distresses you-I am as surprised as you are. You will not think I have presumed
upon your defencelessness-been too quick and unreflecting, will you?''
''N'-I can't tell.''
He had allowed her to free herself; and in a minute or two the milking of each
was resumed. Nobody had beheld the gravitation of the two into one; and when the
dairyman came round by that screened nook a few minutes later there was not a sign
to reveal that the markedly sundered pair were more to each other than mere acquaintance.
Yet in the interval since Crick's last view of them something had occurred which
changed the pivot of the universe for their two natures; something which, had he
known its quality, the dairyman would have despised, as a practical man; yet which
was based upon a more stubborn and resistless tendency than a whole heap of so-called
practicalities. 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.
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
Clare, restless, went out into the dusk when evening drew on, she who had won him
having retired to her chamber.
The night was as sultry as the day. There was no coolness after dark unless on
the grass. Roads, garden-paths, the house-fronts, the barton-walls were warm as
hearths, and reflected the noontime temperature into the noctambulist's face.
He sat on the east gate of the dairy-yard, and knew not what to think of himself.
Feeling had indeed smothered judgement that day.
Since the sudden embrace, three hours before, the twain had kept apart. She seemed
stilled, almost alarmed, at what had occurred, while the novelty, unpremeditation,
mastery of circumstance disquieted him-palpitating, contemplative being that he
was. He could hardly realize their true relations to each other as yet, and what
their mutual bearing should be before third parties thenceforward.
Angel had come as pupil to this dairy in the idea that his temporary existence
here was to be the merest episode in his life, soon passed through and early forgotten;
he had come as to a place from which as from a screened alcove he could calmly view
the absorbing world without, and, apostrophizing it with Walt Whitman-
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes,
How curious you are to me!-