She imperceptibly crept closer, and he wrapped round them both a large piece
of sail-cloth, which was sometimes used to keep the sun off the milk-cans. Tess
held it from slipping off him as well as herself, Clare's hands being occupied.
''Now we are all right again. Ah-no we are not! It runs down into my neck a little,
and it must still more into yours. That's better. Your arms are like wet marble,
Tess. Wipe them in the cloth. Now, if you stay quiet, you will not get another drop.
Well, dear-about that question of mine-that long-standing question?''
The only reply that he could hear for a little while was the smack of the horse's
hoofs on the moistening road, and the cluck of the milk in the cans behind them.
''Do you remember what you said?''
''I do,'' she replied.
''Before we get home, mind.''
He said no more then. As they drove on the fragment of an old manor house of
Caroline date rose against the sky, and was in due course passed and left behind.
''That,'' he observed, to entertain her, ''is an interesting old place-one of
the several seats which belonged to an ancient Norman family formerly of great influence
in this county, the d'Urbervilles. I never pass one of their residences without
thinking of them. There is something very sad in the extinction of a family of renown,
even if it was fierce, domineering, feudal renown.''
''Yes,'' said Tess.
They crept along towards a point in the expanse of shade just at hand at which
a feeble light was beginning to assert its presence, a spot where, by day, a fitful
white streak of steam at intervals upon the dark green background denoted intermittent
moments of contact between their secluded world and modern life. Modern life stretched
out its steam feeler to this point three or four times a day, touched the native
existences, and quickly withdrew its feeler again, as if what it touched had been
They reached the feeble light, which came from the smoky lamp of a little railway
station; a poor enough terrestrial star, yet in one sense of more importance to
Talbothays Dairy and mankind than the celestial ones to which it stood in such humiliating
contrast. The cans of new milk were unladen in the rain, Tess getting a little shelter
from a neighbouring holly tree.
Then there was the hissing of a train, which drew up almost silently upon the
wet rails, and the milk was rapidly swung can by can into the truck. The light of
the engine flashed for a second upon Tess Durbeyfield's figure, motionless under
the great holly tree. No object could have looked more foreign to the gleaming cranks
and wheels than this unsophisticated girl, with the round bare arms, the rainy face
and hair, the suspended attitude of a friendly leopard at pause, the print gown
of no date or fashion, and the cotton bonnet drooping on her brow.
She mounted again beside her lover, with a mute obedience characteristic of impassioned
natures at times, and when they had wrapped themselves up over head and ears in
the sailcloth again, they plunged back into the now thick night. Tess was so receptive
that the few minutes of contact with the whirl of material progress lingered in
''Londoners will drink it at their breakfasts tomorrow, won't they?'' she asked.
''Strange people that we have never seen.''
''Yes-I suppose they will. Though not as we send it. When its strength has been
lowered, so that it may not get up into their heads.''
''Noble men and noble women, ambassadors and centurions, ladies and tradeswomen,
and babies who have never seen a cow.''
''Well, yes; perhaps; particularly centurions.''
''Who don't know anything of us, and where it comes from; or think how we two
drove miles across the moor tonight in the rain that it might reach 'em in time?''
''We did not drive entirely on account of these precious Londoners; we drove
a little on our own-on account of that anxious matter which you will, I am sure,
set at rest, dear Tess. Now, permit me to put it in this way. You belong to me already,
you know; your heart, I mean. Does it not?''
''You know as well as I. O yes-yes!''
''Then, if your heart does, why not your hand?''
''My only reason was on account of you-on account of a question. I have something
to tell you-''
''But suppose it to be entirely for my happiness, and my worldly convenience
''O yes; if it is for your happiness and worldly convenience. But my life before
I came here-I want-''
''Well, it is for my convenience as well as my happiness. If I have a very large
farm, either English or colonial, you will be invaluable as a wife to me; better
than a woman out of the largest mansion in the country. So please-please, dear Tessy,
disabuse your mind of the feeling that you will stand in my way.''
''But my history. I want you to know it-you must let me tell you-you will not
like me so well!''
''Tell it if you wish to, dearest. This precious history then. Yes, I was born
at so and so, Anno Domini-''
''I was born at Marlott,'' she said, catching at his words as a help, lightly
as they were spoken. ''And I grew up there. And I was in the Sixth Standard when
I left school, and they said I had great aptness, and should make a good teacher,
so it was settled that I should be one. But there was trouble in my family; father
was not very industrious, and he drank a little.''
''Yes, yes. Poor child! Nothing new.'' He pressed her more closely to his side.
''And then-there is something very unusual about it-about me. I-I was-''
Tess's breath quickened.
''Yes, dearest. Never mind.''
''I-I-am not a Durbeyfield, but a d'Urberville-a descendant of the same family
as those that owned the old house we passed. And-we are all gone to nothing!'' ''A
d'Urberville!-Indeed! And is that all the trouble, dear Tess?''
''Yes,'' she answered faintly.
''Well-why should I love you less after knowing this?''
''I was told by the dairyman that you hated old families.''
''Well, it is true, in one sense. I do hate the aristocratic principle of blood
before everything, and do think that as reasoners the only pedigrees we ought to
respect are those spiritual ones of the wise and virtuous, without regard to corporal
paternity. But I am extremely interested in this news-you can have no idea how interested
I am! Are you not interested yourself in being one of that well-known line?''
''No. I have thought it sad-especially since coming here, and knowing that many
of the hills and fields I see once belonged to my father's people. But other hills
and field belonged to Retty's people, and perhaps others to Marian's, so that I
don't value it particularly.''
''Yes-it is surprising how many of the present tillers of the soil were once
owners of it, and I sometimes wonder that a certain school of politicians don't
make capital of the circumstance; but they don't seem to know itЕ. I wonder that
I did not see the resemblance of your name of d'Urberville, and trace the manifest
corruption. And this was the carking secret!''
She had not told. At the last moment her courage had failed her, she feared his
blame for not telling him sooner; and her instinct of self-preservation was stronger
than her candour.
''Of course,'' continued the unwitting Clare, ''I should have been glad to know
you to be descended exclusively from the long-suffering, dumb, unrecorded rank and
file of the English nation, and not from the self-seeking few who made themselves
powerful at the expense of the rest. But I am corrupted away from that by my affection
for you, Tess (he laughed as he spoke), and made selfish likewise. For your own
sake I rejoice in your descent. Society is hopelessly snobbish, and this fact of
your extraction may make an appreciable difference to its acceptance of you as my
wife, after I have made you the well-read woman that I mean to make you. My mother
too, poor soul, will think so much better of you on account of it. Tess, you must
spell your name correctly-d'Urberville-from this very day.''
''I like the other way rather best.''
''But you MUST, dearest! Good heavens, why dozens of mushroom millionaires would
jump at such a possession! By the bye, there's one of that kidney who has taken
the name-where have I heard of him?-Up in the neighbourhood of The Chase, I think.
Why, he is the very man who had that rumpus with my father I told you of. What an
''Angel, I think I would rather not take the name! It is unlucky, perhaps!''
She was agitated.
''Now then, Mistress Teresa d'Urberville, I have you. Take my name, and so you
will escape yours! The secret is out, so why should you any longer refuse me?''
''If it is SURE to make you happy to have me as your wife, and you feel that
you do wish to marry me, VERY, VERY much-''
''I do, dearest, of course!''
''I mean, that it is only your wanting me very much, and being hardly able to
keep alive without me, whatever my offences, that would make me feel I ought to
say I will.''
''You will-you do say it, I know! You will be mine for ever and ever.''
He clasped her close and kissed her.
She had no sooner said it than she burst into a dry hard sobbing, so violent
that it seemed to rend her. Tess was not a hysterical girl by any means, and he
''Why do you cry, dearest?''
''I can't tell-quite!-I am so glad to think-of being yours, and making you happy!''
''But this does not seem very much like gladness, my Tessy!''
''I mean-I cry because I have broken down in my vow! I said I would die unmarried!''
''But, if you love me you would like me to be your husband?''
''Yes, yes, yes! But O, I sometimes wish I had never been born!''
''Now, my dear Tess, if I did not know that you are very much excited, and very
inexperienced, I should say that remark was not very complimentary. How came you
to wish that if you care for me? Do you care for me? I wish you would prove it in
''How can I prove it more than I have done?'' she cried, in a distraction of
tenderness. ''Will this prove it more?''
She clasped his neck, and for the first time Clare learnt what an impassioned
woman's kisses were like upon the lips of one whom she loved with all her heart
and soul, as Tess loved him.
''There-now do you believe?'' she asked, flushed, and wiping her eyes.
''Yes. I never really doubted-never, never!''
So they drove on through the gloom, forming one bundle inside the sail-cloth,
the horse going as he would, and the rain driving against them. She had consented.
She might as well have agreed at first. The ''appetite for joy'' which pervades
all creation, that tremendous force which sways humanity to its purpose, as the
tide sways the helpless weed, was not to be controlled by vague lucubrations over
the social rubric.
''I must write to my mother,'' she said. ''You don't mind my doing that?''
''Of course not, dear child. You are a child to me, Tess, not to know how very
proper it is to write to your mother at such a time, and how wrong it would be in
me to object. Where does she live?''
''At the same place-Marlott. On the further side of Blackmoor Vale.''
''Ah, then I HAVE seen you before this summer-''
''Yes; at that dance on the green; but you would not dance with me. O, I hope
that is of no ill-omen for us now!''
Tess wrote a most touching and urgent letter to her mother the very next day, and
by the end of the week a response to her communication arrive in Joan Durbeyfield's
wandering last-century hand.
DEAR TESS,-J write these few lines Hoping they will find you well, as they leave
me at Present, thank God for it. Dear Tess, we are all glad to Hear that you are
going really to be married soon. But with respect to your question, Tess, J say
between ourselves, quite private but very strong, that on no account do you say
a word of your Bygone Trouble to him. J did not tell everything to your Father,
he being so Proud on account of his Respectability, which, perhaps, your Intended
is the same. Many a woman-some of the Highest in the Land-have had a Trouble in
their time; and why should you Trumpet yours when others don't Trumpet theirs? No
girl would be such a Fool, specially as it is so long ago, and not your Fault at
all. J shall answer the same if you ask me fifty times. Besides, you must bear in
mind that, knowing it to be your Childish Nature to tell all that's in your heart-so
simple!-J made you promise me never to let it out by Word or Deed, having your Welfare
in my Mind; and you most solemnly did promise it going from this Door. J have not
named either that Question or your coming marriage to your Father, as he would blab
it everywhere, poor Simple Man.
Dear Tess, keep up your Spirits, and we mean to send you a Hogshead of Cyder
for you Wedding, knowing there is not much in your parts, and thin Sour Stuff what
there is. So no more at present, and with kind love to your Young Man.-From your
''O mother, mother!'' murmured Tess.
She was recognizing how light was the touch of events the most oppressive upon
Mrs Durbeyfield's elastic spirit. Her mother did not see life as Tess saw it. That
haunting episode of bygone days was to her mother but a passing accident. But perhaps
her mother was right as to the course to be followed, whatever she might be in her
reasons. Silence seemed, on the face of it, best for her adored one's happiness:
silence it should be.