Thus steadied by a command from the only person in the world who had any shadow
of right to control her action, Tess grew calmer. The responsibility was shifted,
and her heart was lighter than it had been for weeks. The days of declining autumn
which followed her assent, beginning with the month of October, formed a season
through which she lived in spiritual altitudes more nearly approaching ecstasy than
any other period of her life.
There was hardly a touch of earth in her love for Clare. To her sublime trustfulness
he was all that goodness could be-knew all that a guide, philosopher, and friend
should know. She thought every line in the contour of his person the perfection
of masculine beauty, his soul the soul of a saint, his intellect that of a seer.
The wisdom of her love for him, as love, sustained her dignity; she seemed to be
wearing a crown. The compassion of his love for her, as she saw it, made her lift
up her heart to him in devotion. He would sometimes catch her large, worshipful
eyes, that had no bottom to them looking at him from their depths, as if she saw
something immortal before her.
She dismissed the past-trod upon it and put it out, as one treads on a coal that
is smouldering and dangerous.
She had not known that men could be so disinterested, chivalrous, protective,
in their love for women as he. Angel Clare was far from all that she thought him
in this respect; absurdly far, indeed; but he was, in truth, more spiritual than
animal; he had himself well in hand, and was singularly free from grossness. Though
not cold-natured, he was rather bright than hot-less Byronic than Shelleyan; could
love desperately, but with a love more especially inclined to the imaginative and
ethereal; it was a fastidious emotion which could jealously guard the loved one
against his very self. This amazed and enraptured Tess, whose slight experiences
had been so infelicitous till now; and in her reaction from indignation against
the male sex she swerved to excess of honour for Clare.
They unaffectedly sought each other's company; in her honest faith she did not
disguise her desire to be with him. The sum of her instincts on this matter, if
clearly stated, would have been that the elusive quality of her sex which attracts
men in general might be distasteful to so perfect a man after an avowal of love,
since it must in its very nature carry with it a suspicion of art.
The country custom of unreserved comradeship out of doors during betrothal was
the only custom she knew, and to her it had no strangeness; though it seemed oddly
anticipative to Clare till he saw how normal a thing she, in common with all the
other dairy-folk, regarded it. Thus, during this October month of wonderful afternoons
they roved along the meads by creeping paths which followed the brinks of trickling
tributary brooks, hopping across by little wooden bridges to the other side, and
back again. They were never out of the sound of some purling weir, whose buzz accompanied
their own murmuring, while the beams of the sun, almost as horizontal as the mead
itself, formed a pollen of radiance over the landscape. They saw tiny blue fogs
in the shadows of trees and hedges, all the time that there was bright sunshine
elsewhere. The sun was so near the ground, and the sward so flat, that the shadows
of Clare and Tess would stretch a quarter of a mile ahead of them, like two long
fingers pointing afar to where the green alluvial reaches abutted against the sloping
sides of the vale.
Men were at work here and there-for it was the season for ''taking up'' the meadows,
or digging the little waterways clear for the winter irrigation, and mending their
banks where trodden down by the cows. The shovelfuls of loam, black as jet, brought
there by the river when it was as wide as the whole valley, were an essence of soils,
pounded campaigns of the past, steeped, refined, and subtilized to extraordinary
richness, out of which came all the fertility of the mead, and of the cattle grazing
Clare hardily kept his arm round her waist in sight of these watermen, with the
air of a man who was accustomed to public dalliance, though actually as shy as she
who, with lips parted and eyes askance on the labourers, wore the look of a wary
animal the while.
''You are not ashamed of owning me as yours before them!'' she said gladly.
''But if it should reach the ears of your friends at Emminster that you are walking
about like this with me, a milkmaid-''
''The most bewitching milkmaid every seen.''
''They might feel it a hurt to their dignity.''
''My dear girl-a d'Urberville hurt the dignity of a Clare!'' It is a grand card
to play-that of your belonging to such a family, and I am reserving it for a grand
effect when we are married, and have the proofs of your descent from Parson Tringham.
Apart from that, my future is to be totally foreign to my family-it will not affect
even the surface of their lives. We shall leave this part of England-perhaps England
itself-and what does it matter how people regard us here? You will like going, will
She could answer no more than a bare affirmative, so great was the emotion aroused
in her at the thought of going through the world with him as his own familiar friend.
Her feelings almost filled her ears like a babble of waves, and surged up to her
eyes. She put her hand in his, and thus they went on, to a place where the reflected
sun glared up from the river, under a bridge, with a molten-metallic glow that dazzled
their eyes, though the sun itself was hidden by the bridge. They stood still, whereupon
little furred and feathered heads popped up from the smooth surface of the water;
but, finding that the disturbing presences had paused, and not passed by, they disappeared
again. Upon this river-brink they lingered till the fog began to close round them-which
was very early in the evening at this time of the year-settling on the lashes of
her eyes, where it rested like crystals, and on his brows and hair.
They walked later on Sundays, when it was quite dark. Some of the dairy-people,
who were also out of doors on the first Sunday evening after their engagement, heard
her impulsive speeches, ecstasized to fragments, though they were too far off to
hear the words discoursed; noted the spasmodic catch in her remarks, broken into
syllables by the leapings of her heart, as she walked leaning on his arm; her contented
pauses, the occasional little laugh upon which her soul seemed to ride-the laugh
of a woman in company with the man she loves and has won from all other women-unlike
anything else in nature. They marked the buoyancy of her tread, like the skim of
a bird which had not quite alighted.
Her affection for him was now the breath and life of Tess's being; it enveloped
her as a photosphere, irradiated her into forgetfulness of her past sorrows, keeping
back the gloomy spectres that would persist in their attempts to touch her-doubt,
fear, moodiness, care, shame. She knew that they were waiting like wolves just outside
the circumscribing light, but she had long spells of power to keep them in hungry
A spiritual forgetfulness co-existed with an intellectual remembrance. She walked
in brightness, but she knew that in the background those shapes of darkness were
always spread. They might be receding, or they might be approaching, one or the
other, a little every day.
One evening Tess and Clare were obliged to sit indoors keeping house, all the other
occupants of the domicile being away. As they talked she looked thoughtfully up
at him, and met his two appreciative eyes.
''I am not worthy of you-no, I am not!'' she burst out, jumping up from her low
stool as though appalled at his homage, and the fulness of her own joy thereat.
Clare, deeming the whole basis of her excitement to be that which was only the
smaller part of it, said-
''I won't have you speak like it, dear Tess! Distinction does not consist in
the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions, but in being numbered among
those who are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report-as
you are, my Tess.''
She struggled with the sob in her throat. How often had that string of excellences
made her young heart ache in church of late years, and how strange that he should
have cited them now.
''Why didn't you stay and love me when I-was sixteen; living with my little sisters
and brothers, and you danced on the green? O, why didn't you, why didn't you!''
she said, impetuously clasping her hands.
Angel began to comfort and reassure her, thinking to himself, truly enough, what
a creature of moods she was, and how careful he would have to be of her when she
depended for her happiness entirely on him.
''Ah-why didn't I stay!'' he said. ''That is just what I feel. If I had only
known! But you must not be so bitter in your regret-why should you be?''
With the woman's instinct to hide she diverged hastily-
''I should have had four years more of your heart than I can ever have now. Then
I should not have wasted my time as I have done-I should have had so much longer
It was no mature woman with a long dark vista of intrigue behind her who was
tormented thus; but a girl of simple life, not yet one-and twenty, who had been
caught during her days of immaturity like a bird in a springe. To calm herself the
more completely she rose from her little stool and left the room, overturning the
stool with her skirts as she went.
He sat on by the cheerful firelight thrown from a bundle of green ash-sticks
laid across the dogs; the sticks snapped pleasantly, and hissed out bubbles of sap
from their ends. When she came back she was herself again.
''Do you not think you are just a wee bit capricious, fitful, Tess?'' he said,
good-humouredly, as he spread a cushion for her on the stool, and seated himself
in the settle beside her. ''I wanted to ask you something, and just then you ran
''Yes, perhaps I am capricious,'' she murmured. She suddenly approached him,
and put a hand upon each of his arms. ''No, Angel, I am not really so-by nature,
I mean!'' The more particularly to assure him that she was not, she placed herself
close to him in the settle, and allowed her head to find a resting-place against
Clare's shoulder. ''What did you want to ask me-I am sure I will answer it,'' she
''Well, you love me, and have agreed to marry me, and hence there follows a thirdly,
'When shall the day be?'''
''I like living like this.''
''But I must think of starting in business on my own hook with the new year,
or a little later. And before I get involved in the multifarious details of my new
position, I should like to have secured my partner.''
''But,'' she timidly answered, ''to talk quite practically, wouldn't it be best
not to marry till after all that?-Though I can't bear the though o' your going away
and leaving me here!''
''Of course you cannot-and it is not best in this case. I want you to help me
in many ways in making my start. When shall it be? Why not a fortnight from now?''
''No,'' she said, becoming grave: ''I have so many things to think of first.''
He drew her gently nearer to him.
The reality of marriage was startling when it loomed so near. Before discussion
of the question had proceeded further there walked round the corner of the settle
into the full firelight of the apartment Mr Dairyman Crick, Mrs Crick, and two of
Tess sprang like an elastic ball from his side to her feet while her face flushed
and her eyes shone in the firelight.
''I know how it would be if I sat so close to him!'' she cried, with vexation.
''I said to myself, they are sure to come and catch us! But I wasn't really sitting
on his knee, though it might ha' seemed as if I was almost!''
''Well-if so be you hadn't told us, I am sure we shouldn't ha' noticed that ye
had been sitting anywhere at all in this light,'' replied the dairyman. He continued
to his wife, with the stolid mien of a man who understood nothing of the emotions
relating to matrimony-''Now, Christianer, that shows that folks should never fancy
other folks be supposing things when they bain't. O no, I should never ha' thought
a word of where she was a sitting to, if she hadn't told me– not I.''
''We are going to be married soon,'' said Clare, with improvised phlegm.
''Ah-and be ye! Well, I am truly glad to hear it, sir. I've thought you mid do
such a thing for some time. She's too good for a dairymaid-I said so the very first
day I zid her-and a prize for any man; and what's more, a wonderful woman for a
gentleman-farmer's wife; he won't be at the mercy of his baily wi' her at his side.''
Somehow Tess disappeared. She had been even more struck with the look of the
girls who followed Crick than abashed by Crick's blunt praise.
After supper, when she reached her bedroom, they were all present. A light was
burning, and each damsel was sitting up whitely in her bed, awaiting Tess, the whole
like a row of avenging ghosts.
But she saw in a few moments that there was no malice in their mood. They could
scarcely feel as a loss what they had never expected to have. Their condition was
''He's going to marry her!'' murmured Retty, never taking eyes off Tess. ''How
her face do show it!''
''You BE going to marry him?'' asked Marian.
''Yes,'' said Tess.
They thought that this was evasiveness only.
''YES-going to MARRY him-a gentleman!'' repeated Izz Huett.