''I fancied you looked a little downcast when you came in,'' she ventured to
observe, anxious to keep away from the subject of herself.
''Yes-well, my father had been talking a good deal to me of his troubles and
difficulties, and the subject always tends to depress me. He is so zealous that
he gets many snubs and buffetings from people of a different way of thinking from
himself, and I don't like to hear of such humiliations to a man of his age, the
more particularly as I don't think earnestness does any good when carried so far.
He has been telling me of a very unpleasant scene in which he took part quite recently.
He went as the deputy of some missionary society to preach in the neighbourhood
of Trantridge, a place forty miles from here, and made it his business to expostulate
with a lax young cynic he met with somewhere about there-son of some landowner up
that way-and who has a mother afflicted with blindness. My father addressed himself
to the gentleman point-blank, and there was quite a disturbance. It was very foolish
of my father, I must say, to intrude his conversation upon a stranger when the probabilities
were so obvious that it would be useless. But whatever he thinks to be his duty,
that he'll do, in season or out of season; and, of course, he makes many enemies,
not only among the absolutely vicious, but among the easy-going, who hate being
bothered. He says he glories in what happened, and that good may be done indirectly;
but I wish he would not wear himself out now he is getting old, and would leave
such pigs to their wallowing.''
Tess's look had grown hard and worn, and her ripe mouth tragical; but she no
longer showed any tremulousness. Clare's revived thoughts of his father prevented
his noticing her particularly; and so they went on down the white row of liquid
rectangles till they had finished and drained them off, when the other maids returned,
and took their pails, and Deb came to scald out the leads for the new milk. As Tess
withdrew to go afield to the cows he said to her softly-
''And my question, Tessy?''
''O no-no!'' replied she with grave hopelessness, as one who had heard anew the
turmoil of her own past in the allusion to Alec d'Urberville. ''It CAN'T be!''
She went out towards the mead, joining the other milkmaids with a bound, as if
trying to make the open air drive away her sad constraint. All the girls drew onward
to the spot where the cows were grazing in the farther mead, the bevy advancing
with the bold grace of wild animals-the reckless unchastened motion of women accustomed
to unlimited space-in which they abandoned themselves to the air as a swimmer to
the wave. It seemed natural enough to him now that Tess was again in sight to choose
a mate from unconstrained Nature, and not from the abodes of Art.
Her refusal, though unexpected, did not permanently daunt Clare. His experience
of women was great enough for him to be aware that the negative often meant nothing
more than the preface to the affirmative; and it was little enough for him not to
know that in the manner of the present negative there lay a great exception to the
dallyings of coyness. That she had already permitted him to make love to her he
read as an additional assurance, not fully trowing that in the fields and pastures
to ''sigh gratis'' is by no means deemed waste; love-making being here more often
accepted inconsiderately and for its own sweet sake than in the carking anxious
homes of the ambitious, where a girl's craving for an establishment paralyzes her
healthy thought of a passion as an end.
''Tess, why did you say 'no' in such a positive way?'' he asked her in the course
of a few days.
''Don't ask me. I told you why-partly. I am not good enough-not worthy enough.''
''How? Not fine lady enough?''
''Yes-something like that,'' murmured she. ''Your friends would scorn me.''
''Indeed, you mistake them-my father and mother. As for my brothers, I don't
care-'' He clasped his fingers behind her back to keep her from slipping away. ''Now-you
did not mean it, sweet?-I am sure you did not! You have made me so restless that
I cannot read, or play, or do anything. I am in no hurry, Tess, but I want to know-to
hear from your own warm lips-that you will some day be mine-any time you may choose;
but some day?''
She could only shake her head and look away from him.
Clare regarded her attentively, conned the characters of her face as if they
had been hieroglyphics. The denial seemed real.
''Then I ought not to hold you in this way-ought I? I have no right to you-no
right to seek out where you are, or walk with you! Honestly, Tess, do you love any
''How can you ask?'' she said, with continued self-suppression.
''I almost know that you do not. But then, why do you repulse me?''
''I don't repulse you. I like you to-tell me you love me; and you may always
tell me so as you go about with me-and never offend me.''
''But you will not accept me as a husband?''
''Ah-that's different-it is for your good, indeed, my dearest! O, believe me,
it is only for your sake! I don't like to give myself the great happiness o' promising
to be yours in that way-because-because I am SURE I ought not to do it.''
''But you will make me happy!''
''Ah-you think so, but you don't know!''
At such times as this, apprehending the grounds of her refusal to be her modest
sense of incompetence in matters social and polite, he would say that she was wonderfully
well-informed and versatile-which was certainly true, her natural quickness, and
her admiration for him, having led her to pick up his vocabulary, his accent, and
fragments of his knowledge, to a surprising extent. After these tender contests
and her victory she would go away by herself under the remotest cow, if at milking-time,
or into the sedge, or into her room, if at a leisure interval, and mourn silently,
not a minute after an apparently phlegmatic negative.
The struggle was so fearful; her own heart was so strongly on the side of his-two
ardent hearts against one poor little conscience-that she tried to fortify her resolution
by every means in her power. She had come to Talbothays with a made-up mind. On
no account could she agree to a step which might afterwards cause bitter rueing
to her husband for his blindness in wedding her. And she held that what her conscience
had decided for her when her mind was unbiassed ought not to be overruled now.
''Why don't somebody tell him all about me?'' she said. ''It was only forty miles
off-why hasn't it reached here? Somebody must know!''
Yet nobody seemed to know; nobody told him.
For two or three days no more was said. She guessed from the sad countenances
of her chamber companions that they regarded her not only as the favourite, but
as the chosen; but they could see for themselves that she did not put herself in
Tess had never before known a time in which the thread of her life was so distinctly
twisted of two strands, positive pleasure and positive pain. At the next cheese-making
the pair were again left alone together. The dairyman himself had been lending a
hand; but Mr Crick, as well as his wife, seemed latterly to have acquired a suspicion
of mutual interest between these two; though they walked so circumspectly that suspicion
was but of the faintest. Anyhow, the dairyman left them to themselves.
They were breaking up the masses of curd before putting them into the vats. The
operation resembled the act of crumbling bread on a large scale; and amid the immaculate
whiteness of the curds Tess Durbeyfield's hands showed themselves of the pinkness
of the rose. Angel, who was filling the vats with his handful, suddenly ceased,
and laid his hands flat upon hers. Her sleeves were rolled far above the elbow,
and bending lower he kissed the inside vein of her soft arm.
Although the early September weather was sultry, her arm, from her dabbling in
the curds, was as cold and damp to his mouth as a new-gathered mushroom, and tasted
of the whey. But she was such a sheaf of susceptibilities that her pulse was accelerated
by the touch, her blood driven to her finder-ends, and the cool arms flushed hot.
Then, as though her heart had said, ''Is coyness longer necessary? Truth is truth
between man and woman, as between man and man,'' she lifted her eyes and they beamed
devotedly into his, as her lip rose in a tender half-smile.
''Do you know why I did that, Tess?'' he said.
''Because you love me very much!''
''Yes, and as a preliminary to a new entreaty.''
She looked a sudden fear that her resistance might break down under her own desire.
''O, Tessy!'' he went on, ''I CANNOT think why you are so tantalizing. Why do
you disappoint me so? You seem almost like a coquette, upon my life you do-a coquette
of the first urban water! They blow hot and blow cold, just as you do, and it is
the very last sort of thing to expect to find in a retreat like Talbothays. Е And
yet, dearest,'' he quickly added, observing now the remark had cut her, ''I know
you to be the most honest, spotless creature that ever lived. So how can I suppose
you a flirt? Tess, why don't you like the idea of being my wife, if you love me
as you seem to do?''
''I have never said I don't like the idea, and I never could say it; because-it
The stress now getting beyond endurance her lip quivered, and she was obliged
to go away. Clare was so pained and perplexed that he ran after and caught her in
''Tell me, tell me!'' he said, passionately clasping her, in forgetfulness of
his curdy hands: ''do tell me that you won't belong to anybody but me!''
''I will, I will tell you!'' she exclaimed. ''And I will give you a complete
answer, if you will let me go now. I will tell you my experiences-all about myself-all!''
''Your experiences, dear; yes, certainly; and number.'' He expressed assent in
loving satire, looking into her face. ''My Tess, no doubt, almost as many experiences
as that wild convolvulus out there on the garden hedge, that opened itself this
morning for the first time. Tell me anything, but don't use that wretched expression
any more about not being worthy of me.''
''I will try-not! And I'll give you my reasons tomorrow-next week.''
''Say on Sunday?''
''Yes, on Sunday.''
At last she got away, and did not stop in her retreat till she was in the thicket
of pollard willows at the lower side of the barton, where she could be quite unseen.
Here Tess flung herself down upon the rustling undergrowth of spear-grass, as upon
a bed, and remained crouching in palpitating misery broken by momentary shoots of
joy, which her fears about the ending could not altogether suppress.
In reality, she was drifting into acquiescence. Every see-saw of her breath,
every wave of her blood, every pulse singing in her ears, was a voice that joined
with nature in revolt against her scrupulousness. Reckless, inconsiderate acceptance
of him; to close with him at the altar, revealing nothing, and chancing discovery;
to snatch ripe pleasure before the iron teeth of pain could have time to shut upon
her: that was what love counselled; and in almost a terror of ecstasy Tess divined
that, despite her many months of lonely self-chastisement, wrestlings, communings,
schemes to lead a future of austere isolation, love's counsel would prevail.
The afternoon advanced, and still she remained among the willows. She heard the
rattle of taking down the pails from the forked stands; the ''waow-waow!'' which
accompanied the getting together of the cows. But she did not go to the milking.
They would see her agitation; and the dairyman, thinking the cause to be love alone,
would good-naturedly tease her; and that harassment could not be borne.
Her lover must have guessed her overwrought state, and invented some excuse for
her non-appearance, for no inquiries were made or calls given. At half-past six
the sun settled down upon the levels, with the aspect of a great forge in the heavens;
and presently a monstrous pumpkin-like moon arose on the other hand. The pollard
willows, tortured out of their natural shape by incessant choppings, became spiny-haired
monsters as they stood up against it. She went in, and upstairs without a light.
It was now Wednesday. Thursday came, and Angel looked thoughtfully at her from
a distance, but intruded in no way upon her. The indoor milkmaids, Marian and the
rest, seemed to guess that something definite was afoot, for they did not force
any remarks upon her in the bedchamber. Friday passed; Saturday. Tomorrow was the
''I shall give way-I shall say yes-I shall let myself marry him-I cannot help
it!'' she jealously panted, with her hot face to the pillow that night, on hearing
one of the other girls sigh his name in her sleep. ''I can't bear to let anybody
have him but me! Yet it is a wrong to him, and may kill him when he knows! O my
''Now, who mid ye think I've heard news o' this morning?'' said Dairyman Crick,
as he sat down to breakfast next day, with a riddling gaze round upon the munching
men and maids. ''Now, just who mid ye think?''
One guessed, and another guessed. Mrs Crick did not guess, because she knew already.
''Well,'' said the dairyman, '''tis that slack-twisted 'hore's-bird of a feller,
Jack Dollop. He's lately got married to a widow-woman.''
''Not Jack Dollop? A villain-to think o' that!'' said a milker.