The name entered quickly into Tess Durbeyfield's consciousness, for it was the
name of the lover who had wronged his sweetheart, and had afterwards been so roughly
used by the young woman's mother in the butter-churn.
''And had he married the valiant matron's daughter, as he promised?'' asked Angel
Clare absently, as he turned over the newspaper he was reading at the little table
to which he was always banished by Mrs Crick, in her sense of his gentility.
''Not he, sir. Never meant to,'' replied the dairyman. ''As I say, 'tis a widow-woman,
and she had money, it seems-fifty poun' a year or so; and that was all he was after.
They were married in a great hurry; and then she told him that by marrying she had
lost her fifty poun' a year. Just fancy the state o' my gentleman's mind at that
news! Never such a catЦ and-dog life as they've been leading ever since! Serve him
will beright. But onluckily the poor woman gets the worst o't.''
''Well, the silly body should have told en sooner that the ghost of her first
man would trouble him,'' said Mrs Crick.
''Ay; ay,'' responded the dairyman indecisively. ''Still, you can see exactly
how 'twas. She wanted a home, and didn't like to run the risk of losing him. Don't
ye think that was something like it, maidens?''
He glanced towards the row of girls.
''She ought to ha' told him just before they went to church, when he could hardly
have backed out,'' exclaimed Marian.
''Yes, she ought,'' agreed Izz.
''She must have seen what he was after, and should ha' refused him,'' cried Retty
''And what do you say, my dear?'' asked the dairyman of Tess.
''I think she ought-to have told him the true state of things-or else refused
him-I don't know,'' replied Tess, the bread-and-butter choking her.
''Be cust if I'd have done either o't,'' said Beck Knibbs, a married helper from
one of the cottages. ''All's fair in love and war. I'd ha' married en just as she
did, and if he'd said two words to me about not telling him beforehand anything
whatsomdever about my first chap that I hadn't chose to tell, I'd ha' knocked him
down wi' the rolling-pin-a scram little feller like he! Any woman could do it.''
The laughter which followed this sally was supplemented only by a sorry smile,
for form's sake, from Tess. What was comedy to them was tragedy to her; and she
could hardly bear their mirth. She soon rose from table, and, with an impression
that Clare would soon follow her, went along a little wriggling path, now stepping
to one side of the irrigating channels, and now to the other, till she stood by
the main stream of the Var. Men had been cutting the water-weeds higher up the river,
and masses of them were floating past her-moving islands of green crow-foot, whereon
she might almost have ridden; long locks of which weed had lodged against the piles
driven to keep the cows from crossing.
Yes, there was the pain of it. This question of a woman telling her story-the
heaviest of crosses to herself-seemed but amusement to others. It was as if people
should laugh at martyrdom.
''Tessy!'' came from behind her, and Clare sprang across the gully, alighting
beside her feet. ''My wife-soon!''
''No, no; I cannot. For your sake, O Mr Clare; for your sake, I say no!''
''Still I say no!'' she repeated.
Not expecting this he had put his arm lightly round her waist the moment after
speaking, beneath her hanging tail of hair. (The younger dairymaids, including Tess,
breakfasted with their hair loose on Sunday mornings before building it up extra
high for attending church, a style they could not adopt when milking with their
heads against the cows.) If she had said ''Yes'' instead of ''No'' he would have
kissed her; it had evidently been his intention; but her determined negative deterred
his scrupulous heart. Their condition of domiciliary comradeship put her, as the
woman, to such disadvantage by its enforced intercourse, that he felt it unfair
to her to exercise any pressure of blandishment which he might have honestly employed
had she been better able to avoid him. He release her momentarily-imprisoned waist,
and withheld the kiss.
It all turned on that release. What had given her strength to refuse him this
time was solely the tale of the widow told by the dairyman; and that would have
been overcome in another moment. But Angel said no more; his face was perplexed;
he went away.
Day after day they met-somewhat less constantly than before; and thus two or
three weeks went by. The end of September drew near, and she could see in his eye
that he might ask her again.
His plan of procedure was different now-as though he had made up his mind that
her negatives were, after all, only coyness and youth startled by the novelty of
the proposal. The fitful evasiveness of her manner when the subject was under discussion
countenanced the idea. So he played a more coaxing game; and while never going beyond
words, or attempting the renewal of caresses, he did his utmost orally.
In this way Clare persistently wooed her in undertones like that of the purling
milk-at the cow's side, at skimmings, at butter-makings, at cheese-makings, among
broody poultry, and among farrowing pigs-as no milkmaid was ever wooed before by
such a man.
Tess knew that she must break down. Neither a religious sense of a certain moral
validity in the previous union nor a conscientious wish for candour could hold out
against it much longer. She loved him so passionately, and he was so godlike in
her eyes; and being, though untrained, instinctively refined, her nature cried for
his tutelary guidance. And thus, though Tess kept repeating to herself, ''I can
never be his wife,'' the words were vain. A proof of her weakness lay in the very
utterance of what calm strength would not have taken the trouble to formulate. Every
sound of his voice beginning on the old subject stirred her with a terrifying bliss,
and she coveted the recantation she feared.
His manner was-what man's is not?-so much that of one who would love and cherish
and defend her under any conditions, changes, charges, or revelations, that her
gloom lessened as she basked in it. The season meanwhile was drawing onward to the
equinox, and though it was still fine, the days were much shorter. The dairy had
again worked by morning candlelight for a long time; and a fresh renewal of Clare's
pleading occurred one morning between three and four.
She had run up in her bedgown to his door to call him as usual; then had gone
back to dress and call the others; and in ten minutes was walking to the head of
the stairs with the candle in her hand. At the same moment he came down his steps
from above in his shirt-sleeves and put his arm across the stairway.
''Now, Miss Flirt, before you go down,'' he said peremptorily. ''It is a fortnight
since I spoke, and this won't do any longer. You MUST tell me what you mean, or
I shall have to leave this house. My door was ajar just now, and I saw you. For
your own safety I must go. You don't know. Well? Is it to be yes at last?''
''I am only just up, Mr Clare, and it is too early to take me to task!'' she
pouted. ''You need not call me Flirt. 'Tis cruel and untrue. Wait till by and by.
Please wait till by and by! I will really think seriously about it between now and
then. Let me go downstairs!''
She looked a little like what he said she was as, holding the candle sideways,
she tried to smile away the seriousness of her words.
''Call me Angel, then and not Mr Clare.''
''Angel dearest-why not?''
'''Twould mean that I agree, wouldn't it?'' ''It would only mean that you love
me, even if you cannot marry me; and you were so good as to own that long ago.''
''Very well, then, 'Angel dearest', if I MUST,'' she murmured, looking at her
candle, a roguish curl coming upon her mouth, notwithstanding her suspense.
Clare had resolved never to kiss her until he had obtained her promise; but somehow,
as Tess stood there in her prettily tucked-up milking gown, her hair carelessly
heaped upon her head till there should be leisure to arrange it when skimming and
milking were done, he broke his resolve, and brought his lips to her cheek for one
moment. She passed downstairs very quickly, never looking back at him or saying
another word. The other maids were already down, and the subject was not pursued.
Except Marian, they all looked wistfully and suspiciously at the pair, in the sad
yellow rays which the morning candles emitted in contrast with the first cold signals
of the dawn without.
When skimming was done-which, as the milk diminished with the approach of autumn,
was a lessening process day by day-Retty and the rest went out. The lovers followed
''Our tremulous lives are so different from theirs, are they not?'' he musingly
observed to her, as he regarded the three figures tripping before him through the
frigid pallor of opening day.
''Not so very different, I think,'' she said.
''Why do you think that?''
''There are very few women's lives that are not-tremulous,'' Tess replied, pausing
over the new word as if it impressed her. ''There's more in those three than you
''What is in them?''
''Almost either of 'em,'' she began, ''would make-perhaps would make-a properer
wife than I. And perhaps they love you as well as I-almost.''
There were signs that it was an exquisite relief to her to hear the impatient
exclamation, though she had resolved so intrepidly to let generosity make one bid
against herself. That was now done, and she had not the power to attempt self-immolation
a second time then. They were joined by a milker from one of the cottages, and no
more was said on that which concerned them so deeply. But Tess knew that this day
would decide it.
In the afternoon several of the dairyman's household and assistants went down
to the meads as usual, a long way from the dairy, where many of the cows were milked
without being driven home. The supply was getting less as the animals advanced in
calf, and the supernumerary milkers of the lush green season had been dismissed.
The work progressed leisurely. Each pailful was poured into tall cans that stood
in a large spring-waggon which had been brought upon the scene; and when they were
milked the cows trailed away. Dairyman Crick, who was there with the rest, his wrapper
gleaming miraculously white against a leaden evening sky, suddenly looked at his
''Why, 'tis later than I thought,'' he said. ''Begad! We shan't be soon enough
with this milk at the station, if we don't mind. There's no time today to take it
home and mix it with the bulk afore sending off. It must go to station straight
from here. Who'll drive it across?''
Mr Clare volunteered to do so, though it was none of his business, asking Tess
to accompany him. The evening, though sunless, had been warm and muggy for the season,
and Tess had come out with her milking-hood only, naked-armed and jacketless; certainly
not dressed for a drive. She therefore replied by glancing over her scant habiliments;
but Clare gently urged her. She assented by relinquishing her pail and stool to
the dairyman to take home; and mounted the spring-waggon beside Clare.
In the diminishing daylight they went along the level roadway through the meads,
which stretched away into gray miles, and were backed in the extreme edge of distance
by the swarthy and abrupt slopes of Egdon Heath. On its summit stood clumps and
stretches of fir-trees, whose notched tips appeared like battlemented towers crowning
black-fronted castles of enchantment.
They were so absorbed in the sense of being close to each other that they did
not begin talking for a long while, the silence being broken only by the clucking
of the milk in the tall cans behind them. The lane they followed was so solitary
that the hazel nuts had remained on the boughs till they slipped from their shells,
and the blackberries hung in heavy clusters. Every now and then Angel would fling
the lash of his whip round one of these, pluck it off, and give it to his companion.
The dull sky soon began to tell its meaning by sending down herald-drops of rain,
and the stagnant air of the day changed into a fitful breeze which played about
their faces. The quick-silvery glaze on the rivers and pools vanished; from broad
mirrors of light they changed to lustreless sheets of lead, with a surface like
a rasp. But that spectacle did not affect her preoccupation. Her countenance, a
natural carnation slightly embrowned by the season, had deepened its tinge with
the beating of the rain-drops; and her hair, which the pressure of the cows' flanks
had, as usual, caused to tumble down from its fastenings and stray beyond the curtain
of her calico bonnet, was made clammy by the moisture, till it hardly was better
''I ought not to have come, I suppose,'' she murmured, looking at the sky.
''I am sorry for the rain,'' said he. ''But how glad I am to have you here!''
Remote Egdon disappeared by degree behind the liquid gauze. The evening grew
darker, and the roads being crossed by gates it was not safe to drive faster than
at a walking pace. The air was rather chill.
''I am so afraid you will get cold, with nothing upon your arms and shoulders,''
he said. ''Creep close to me, and perhaps the drizzle won't hurt you much. I should
be sorrier still if I did not think that the rain might be helping me.''