Thomas Hardy >> Tess of the d'Urbervilles (page 35)

How strange it was! He seemed to be her double. She did not speak, and Clare went on-

''I did not mention it because I was afraid of endangering my chance of you, darling, the great prize of my life-my Fellowship I call you. My brother's Fellowship was won at his college, mine at Talbothays Dairy. Well, I would not risk it. I was going to tell you a month ago-at the time you agreed to be mine, but I could not; I thought it might frighten you away from me. I put it off; then I thought I would tell you yesterday, to give you a chance at least of escaping me. But I did not. And I did not this morning, when you proposed our confessing our faults on the landing-the sinner that I was! But I must, now I see you sitting there so solemnly. I wonder if you will forgive me?''

''O yes! I am sure that-''

''Well, I hope so. But wait a minute. You don't know. To begin at the beginning. Though I imagine my poor father fears that I am one of the eternally lost for my doctrines, I am of course, a believer in good morals, Tess, as much as you. I used to wish to be a teacher of men, and it was a great disappointment to me when I found I could not enter the Church. I admired spotlessness, even though I could lay no claim to it, and hated impurity, as I hope I do now. Whatever one may think of plenary inspiration, one must heartily subscribe to these words of Paul: 'Be thou an example– in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.' It is the only safeguard for us poor human beings. 'INTEGER VITAE,' says a Roman poet, who is strange company for St Paul-

The man of upright life, from frailties free,

Stands not in need of Moorish spear or bow
Well, a certain place is paved with good intentions, and having felt all that so strongly, you will see what a terrible remorse it bred in me when, in the midst of my fine aims for other people, I myself fell.''

He then told her of that time of his life to which allusion has been made when, tossed about by doubts and difficulties in London, like a cork on the waves, he plunged into eight-and-forty hours' dissipation with a stranger.

''Happily I awoke almost immediately to a sense of my folly,'' he continued. ''I would have no more to say to her, and I came home. I have never repeated the offence. But I felt I should like to treat you with perfect frankness and honour, and I could not do so without telling this. Do you forgive me?''

She pressed his hand tightly for an answer.

''Then we will dismiss it at once and for ever!-too painful as it is for the occasion-and talk of something lighter.''

''O, Angel-I am almost glad-because now YOU can forgive ME! I have not made my confession. I have a confession, too-remember, I said so.''

''Ah, to be sure! Now then for it, wicked little one.''

''Perhaps, although you smile, it is as serious as yours, or more so.''

''It can hardly be more serious, dearest.''

''It cannot-O no, it cannot!'' She jumped up joyfully at the hope. ''No, it cannot be more serious, certainly,'' she cried, ''because 'tis just the same! I will tell you now.''

She sat down again.

Their hands were still joined. The ashes under the grate were lit by the fire vertically, like a torrid waste. Imagination might have beheld a Last Day luridness in this red-coaled glow, which fell on his face and hand, and on hers, peering into the loose hair about her brow, and firing the delicate skin underneath. A large shadow of her shape rose upon the wall and ceiling. She bent forward, at which each diamond on her neck gave a sinister wink like a toad's; and pressing her forehead against his temple she entered on her story of her acquaintance with Alec d'Urberville and its results, murmuring the words without flinching, and with her eyelids drooping down.

Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays XXXV Her narrative ended; even its re-assertions and secondary explanations were done. Tess's voice throughout had hardly risen higher than its opening tone; there had been no exculpatory phrase of any kind, and she had not wept.

But the complexion even of external things seemed to suffer transmutation as her announcement progressed. The fire in the grate looked impish-demoniacally funny, as if it did not care in the least about her strait. The fender grinned idly, as if it too did not care. The light from the water-bottle was merely engaged in a chromatic problem. All material objects around announced their irresponsibility with terrible iteration. And yet nothing had changed since the moments when he had been kissing her; or rather, nothing in the substance of things. But the essence of things had changed.

When she ceased the auricular impressions from their previous endearments seemed to hustle away into the corner of their brains, repeating themselves as echoes from a time of supremely purblind foolishness.

Clare performed the irrelevant act of stirring the fire; the intelligence had not even yet got to the bottom of him. After stirring the embers he rose to his feet; all the force of her disclosure had imparted itself now. His face had withered. In the strenuousness of his concentration he treadled fitfully on the floor. He could not, by any contrivance, think closely enough; that was the meaning of his vague movement. When he spoke it was in the most inadequate, commonplace voice of the many varied tones she had heard from him.


''Yes, dearest.''

''Am I to believe this? From your manner I am to take it as true. O you cannot be out of your mind! You ought to be! Yet you are not. … My wife, my Tess-nothing in you warrants such a supposition as that?''

''I am not out of my mind,'' she said.

''And yet-'' He looked vacantly at her, to resume with dazed senses: ''Why didn't you tell me before? Ah, yes, you would have told me, in a way-but I hindered you, I remember!''

These and other of his words were nothing but the perfunctory babble of the surface while the depths remained paralyzed. He turned away, and bent over a chair. Tess followed him to the middle of the room where he was, and stood there staring at him with eyes that did not weep. Presently she slid down upon her knees beside his foot, and from this position she crouched in a heap.

''In the name of our love, forgive me!'' she whispered with a dry mouth. ''I have forgiven you for the same!''

And, as he did not answer, she said again-

''Forgive me as you are forgiven! I forgive YOU, Angel.''

''You-yes, you do.''

''But you do not forgive me?''

''O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another. My God-how can forgiveness meet such a grotesque-prestidigitation as that!''

He paused, contemplating this definition; then suddenly broke into horrible laughter-as unnatural and ghastly as a laugh in hell.

''Don't-don't! It kills me quite, that!'' she shrieked. ''O have mercy upon me-have mercy!''

He did not answer; and, sickly white, she jumped up.

''Angel, Angel! what do you mean by that laugh?'' she cried out. ''Do you know what this is to me?''

He shook his head.

''I have been hoping, longing, praying, to make you happy! I have thought what joy it will be to do it, what an unworthy wife I shall be if I do not! That's what I have felt, Angel!''

''I know that.''

''I thought, Angel, that you loved me-me, my very self! If it is I you do love, O how can it be that you look and speak so? It frightens me! Having begun to love you, I love you for ever-in all changes, in all disgraces, because you are yourself. I ask no more. Then how can you, O my own husband, stop loving me?''

''I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.''

''But who?''

''Another woman in your shape.''

She perceived in his words the realization of her own apprehensive foreboding in former times. He looked upon her as a species of imposter; a guilty woman in the guise of an innocent one. Terror was upon her white face as she saw it; her cheek was flaccid, and her mouth had almost the aspect of a round little hole. The horrible sense of his view of her so deadened her that she staggered; and he stepped forward, thinking she was going to fall.

''Sit down, sit down,'' he said gently. ''You are ill; and it is natural that you should be.''

She did sit down, without knowing where she was, that strained look still upon her face, and her eyes such as to make his flesh creep.

''I don't belong to you any more, then; do I, Angel?'' she asked helplessly. ''It is not me, but another woman like me that he loved, he says.''

The image raised caused her to take pity upon herself as one who was ill-used. Her eyes filled as she regarded her position further; she turned round and burst into a flood of self-sympathetic tears.

Clare was relieved at this change, for the effect on her of what had happened was beginning to be a trouble to him only less than the woe of the disclosure itself. He waited patiently, apathetically, till the violence of her grief had worn itself out, and her rush of weeping had lessened to a catching gasp at intervals.

''Angel,'' she said suddenly, in her natural tones, the insane, dry voice of terror having left her now. ''Angel, am I too wicked for you and me to live together?''

''I have not been able to think what we can do.''

''I shan't ask you to let me live with you, Angel, because I have no right to! I shall not write to mother and sisters to say we be married, as I said I would do; and I shan't finish the good-hussif' I cut out and meant to make while we were in lodgings.''

''Shan't you?''

''No, I shan't do anything, unless you order me to; and if you go away from me I shall not follow 'ee; and if you never speak to me any more I shall not ask why, unless you tell me I may.''

''And if I order you to do anything?''

''I will obey you like your wretched slave, even if it is to lie down and die.''

''You are very good. But it strikes me that there is a want of harmony between your present mood of self-sacrifice and your past mood of self-preservation.''

These were the first words of antagonism. To fling elaborate sarcasms at Tess, however, was much like flinging them at a dog or cat. The charms of their subtlety passed by her unappreciated, and she only received them as inimical sounds which meant that anger ruled. She remained mute, not knowing that he was smothering his affection for her. She hardly observed that a tear descended slowly upon his cheek, a tear so large that it magnified the pores of the skin over which it rolled, like the object lens of a microscope. Meanwhile reillumination as to the terrible and total change that her confession had wrought in his life, in his universe, returned to him, and he tried desperately to advance among the new conditions in which he stood. Some consequent action was necessary; yet what?

''Tess,'' he said, as gently as he could speak, ''I cannot stay-in this room-just now. I will walk out a little way.''

He quietly left the room, and the two glasses of wine that he had poured out for their supper-one for her, one for him-remained on the table untasted. This was what their AGAPE had come to. At tea, two or three hours earlier, they had, in the freakishness of affection, drunk from one cup.

The closing of the door behind him, gently as it had been pulled to, roused Tess from her stupor. He was gone; she could not stay. Hastily flinging her cloak around her she opened the door and followed, putting out the candles as if she were never coming back. The rain was over and the night was now clear.

She was soon close at his heels, for Clare walked slowly and without purpose. His form beside her light gray figure looked black, sinister, and forbidding, and she felt as sarcasm the touch of the jewels of which she had been momentarily so proud. Clare turned at hearing her footsteps, but his recognition of her presence seemed to make no difference to him, and he went on over the five yawning arches of the great bridge in front of the house.

The cow and horse tracks in the road were full of water, and rain having been enough to charge them, but not enough to wash them away. Across these minute pools the reflected stars flitted in a quick transit as she passed; she would not have known they were shining overhead if she had not seen them there-the vastest things of the universe imaged in objects so mean.

The place to which they had travelled today was in the same valley as Talbothays, but some miles lower down the river; and the surroundings being open she kept easily in sight of him. Away from the house the road wound through the meads, and along these she followed Clare without any attempt to come up with him or to attract him, but with dumb and vacant fidelity.

At last, however, her listless walk brought her up alongside him, and still he said nothing. The cruelty of fooled honesty is often great after enlightenment, and it was mighty in Clare now. The outdoor air had apparently taken away from him all tendency to act on impulse; she knew that he saw her without irradiation-in all her bareness; that Time was chanting his satiric psalm at her then-
Behold, when thy face is made bare, he that loved thee shall

hate; Thy face shall be no more fair at the fall of thy fate For thy life shall fall as a leaf and be shed as the rain; And the veil of thine head shall be grief, and the crown shall be

Title: Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Author: Thomas Hardy
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