Tess continued to eat her modest dinner, a slice of thick pancake which she had
brought with her. The other workfolk were by this time all gathered under the rick,
where the loose straw formed a comfortable retreat.
''I am here again, as you see,'' said d'Urberville.
''Why do you trouble me so!'' she cried, reproach flashing from her very finger-ends.
''I trouble YOU? I think I may ask, why do you trouble me?''
''Sure, I don't trouble you any-when!''
''You say you don't? But you do! You haunt me. Those very eyes that you turned
upon my with such a bitter flash a moment ago, they come to me just as you showed
them then, in the night and in the day! Tess, ever since you told me of that child
of ours, it is just as if my feelings, which have been flowing in a strong puritanical
stream, had suddenly found a way open in the direction of you, and had all at once
gushed through. The religious channel is left dry forthwith; and it is you who have
She gazed in silence.
''What-you have given up your preaching entirely?'' she asked. She had gathered
from Angel sufficient of the incredulity of modern thought to despise flash enthusiasm;
but, as a woman, she was somewhat appalled.
In affected severity d'Urberville continued-
''Entirely. I have broken every engagement since that afternoon I was to address
the drunkards at Casterbridge Fair. The deuce only knows what I am thought of by
the brethren. Ah-ha! The brethren! No doubt they pray for me-weep for me; for they
are kind people in their way. But what do I care? How could I go on with the thing
when I had lost my faith in it?-it would have been hypocrisy of the basest kind!
Among them I should have stood like Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were delivered
over to Satan that they might learn not to blaspheme. What a grand revenge you have
taken! I saw you innocent, and I deceived you. Four years after, you find me a Christian
enthusiast; you then work upon me, perhaps to my complete perdition! But Tess, my
coz, as I used to call you, this is only my way of talking, and you must not look
so horribly concerned. Of course you have done nothing except retain your pretty
face and shapely figure. I saw it on the rick before you saw me-that tight pinafore-thing
sets it off, and that wing-bonnet-you field-girls should never wear those bonnets
if you wish to keep out of danger.'' He regarded her silently for a few moments,
and with a short cynical laugh resumed: ''I believe that if the bachelor-apostle,
whose deputy I thought I was, had been tempted by such a pretty face, he would have
let go the plough for her sake as I do!''
Tess attempted to expostulate, but at this juncture all her fluency failed her,
and without heeding he added:
''Well, this paradise that you supply is perhaps as good as any other, after
all. But to speak seriously. Tess.'' D'Urberville rose and came nearer, reclining
sideways amid the sheaves, and resting upon his elbow. ''Since I last saw you, I
have been thinking of what you said that HE said. I have come to the conclusion
that there does seem rather a want of common-sense in these threadbare old propositions;
how I could have been so fired by poor Parson Clare's enthusiasm, and have gone
so madly to work, transcending even him, I cannot make out! As for what you said
last time, on the strength of your wonderful husband's intelligence-whose name you
have never told me-about having what they call an ethical system without any dogma,
I don't see my way to that at all.''
''Why, you can have the religion of loving-kindness and purity at least, if you
can't have-what do you call it-dogma.''
''O no! I'm a different sort of fellow from that! If there's nobody to say, 'Do
this, and it will be a good thing for you after you are dead; do that, and if will
be a bad thing for you,' I can't warm up. Hang it, I am not going to feel responsible
for my deeds and passions if there's nobody to be responsible to; and if I were
you, my dear, I wouldn't either!''
She tried to argue, and tell him that he had mixed in his dull brain two matters,
theology and morals, which in the primitive days of mankind had been quite distinct.
But owing to Angel Clare's reticence, to her absolute want of training, and to her
being a vessel of emotions rather than reasons, she could not get on. ''Well, never
mind,'' he resumed. ''Here I am, my love, as in the old times!''
''Not as then-never as then-'tis different!'' she entreated. ''And there was
never warmth with me! O why didn't you keep your faith, if the loss of it has brought
you to speak to me like this!''
''Because you've knocked it out of me; so the evil be upon your sweet head! Your
husband little thought how his teaching would recoil upon him! Ha-ha-I'm awfully
glad you have made an apostate of me all the same! Tess, I am more taken with you
than ever, and I pity you too. For all your closeness, I see you are in a bad way-neglected
by one who ought to cherish you.''
She could not get her morsels of food down her throat; her lips were dry, and
she was ready to choke. The voices and laughs of the workfolk eating and drinking
under the rick came to her as if they were a quarter of a mile off.
''It is cruelty to me!'' she said. ''How-how can you treat me to this talk, if
you care ever so little for me?''
''True, true,'' he said, wincing a little. ''I did not come to reproach you for
my deeds. I came Tess, to say that I don't like you to be working like this, and
I have come on purpose for you. You say you have a husband who is not I. Well, perhaps
you have; but I've never seen him, and you've not told me his name; and altogether
he seems rather a mythological personage. However, even if you have one, I think
I am nearer to you than he is. I, at any rate, try to help you out of trouble, but
he does not, bless his invisible face! The words of the stern prophet Hosea that
I used to read come back to me. Don't you know them, Tess?-'And she shall follow
after her lover, but she shall not overtake him; and she shall seek him, but shall
not find him; then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for
then was it better with me than now!' Е Tess, my trap is waiting just under the
hill, and-darling mine, not his!-you know the rest.''
Her face had been rising to a dull crimson fire while he spoke; but she did not
''You have been the cause of my backsliding,'' he continued, stretching his arm
towards her waist; ''you should be willing to share it, and leave that mule you
call husband for ever.''
One of her leather gloves, which she had taken off to eat her skimmer-cake, lay
in her lap, and without the slightest warning she passionately swung the glove by
the gauntlet directly in his face. It was heavy and thick as a warrior's, and it
struck him flat on the mouth. Fancy might have regarded the act as the recrudescence
of a trick in which her armed progenitors were not unpractised. Alec fiercely started
up from his reclining position. A scarlet oozing appeared where her blow had alighted,
and in a moment the blood began dropping from his mouth upon the straw. But he soon
controlled himself, calmly drew his handkerchief from his pocket, and mopped his
She too had sprung up, but she sank down again. ''Now, punish me!'' she said,
turning up her eyes to him with the hopeless defiance of the sparrow's gaze before
its captor twists its neck. ''Whip me, crush me; you need not mind those people
under the rick! I shall not cry out. Once victim, always victim-that's the law!''
''O no, no, Tess,'' he said blandly. ''I can make full allowance for this. Yet
you most unjustly forget one thing, that I would have married you if you had not
put it out of my power to do so. Did I not ask you flatly to be my wife-hey? Answer
''And you cannot be. But remember one thing!'' His voice hardened as his temper
got the better of him with the recollection of his sincerity in asking her and her
present ingratitude, and he stepped across to her side and held her by the shoulders,
so that she shook under his grasp. ''Remember, my lady, I was your master once!
I will be your master again. If you are any man's wife you are mine!''
The threshers now began to stir below.
''So much for our quarrel,'' he said, letting her go. ''Now I shall leave you,
and shall come again for your answer during the afternoon. You don't know me yet!
But I know you.''
She had not spoken again, remaining as if stunned. D'Urberville retreated over
the sheaves, and descended the ladder, while the workers below rose and stretched
their arms, and shook down the beer they had drunk. Then the threshing-machine started
afresh; and amid the renewed rustle of the straw Tess resumed her position by the
buzzing drum as one in a dream, untying sheaf after sheaf in endless succession.
In the afternoon the farmer made it known that the rick was to be finished that
night, since there was a moon by which they could see to work, and the man with
the engine was engaged for another farm on the morrow. Hence the twanging and humming
and rustling proceeded with even less intermission than usual.
It was not till ''nammet''-time, about three o-clock, that Tess raised her eyes
and gave a momentary glance round. She felt but little surprise at seeing that Alec
d'Urberville had come back, and was standing under the hedge by the gate. He had
seen her lift her eyes, and waved his hand urbanely to her, while he blew her a
kiss. It meant that their quarrel was over. Tess looked down again, and carefully
abstained from gazing in that direction.
Thus the afternoon dragged on. The wheat-rick shrank lower, and the straw-rick
grew higher, and the corn-sacks were carted away. At six o'clock the wheat-rick
was about shoulder-high from the ground. But the unthreshed sheaves remaining untouched
seemed countless still, notwithstanding the enormous numbers that had been gulped
down by the insatiable swallower, fed by the man and Tess, through whose two young
hands the greater part of them had passed. And the immense stack of straw where
in the morning there had been nothing, appeared as the FAECES of the same buzzing
red glutton. From the west sky a wrathful shine-all that wild March could afford
in the way of sunset-had burst forth after the cloudy day, flooding the tired and
sticky faces of the threshers, and dyeing them with a coppery light, as also the
flapping garments of the women, which clung to them like dull flames.
A panting ache ran through the rick. The man who fed was weary, and Tess could
see that the red nape of his neck was encrusted with dirt and husks. She still stood
at her post, her flushed and perspiring face coated with the corndust, and her white
bonnet embrowned by it. She was the only woman whose place was upon the machine
so as to be shaken bodily by its spinning, and the decrease of the stack now separated
her from Marian and Izz, and prevented their changing duties with her as they had
done. The incessant quivering, in which every fibre of her frame participated, had
thrown her into a stupefied reverie in which her arms worked on independently of
her consciousness. She hardly knew where she was, and did not hear Izz Huett tell
her from below that her hair was tumbling down.
By degrees the freshest among them began to grow cadaverous and saucer-eyed.
Whenever Tess lifted her head she beheld always the great upgrown straw-stack, with
the men in shirt-sleeves upon it, against the gray north sky; in front of it the
long red elevator like a Jacob's ladder, on which a perpetual stream of threshed
straw ascended, a yellow river running uphill, and spouting out on the top of the
She knew that Alec d'Urberville was still on the scene, observing her from some
point or other, though she could not say where. There was an excuse for his remaining,
for when the threshed rick drew near its final sheaves a little ratting was always
done, and men unconnected with the threshing sometimes dropped in for that performance-sporting
characters of all descriptions, gents with terriers and facetious pipes, roughs
with sticks and stones.
But there was another hour's work before the layer of live rats at the base of
the stack would be reached; and as the evening light in the direction of the Giant's
Hill by Abbot's-Cernel dissolved away, the white-faced moon of the season arose
from the horizon that lay towards Middleton Abbey and Shottsford on the other side.
For the last hour or two Marian had felt uneasy about Tess, whom she could not get
near enough to speak to, the other women having kept up their strength by drinking
ale, and Tess having done without it through traditionary dread, owing to its results
at her home in childhood. But Tess still kept going: if she could not fill her part
she would have to leave; and this contingency, which she would have regarded with
equanimity and even with relief a month or two earlier, had become a terror since
d'Urberville had begun to hover round her.
The sheaf-pitchers and feeders had now worked the rick so low that people on
the ground could talk to them. To Tess's surprise Farmer Groby came up on the machine
to her, and said that if she desired to join her friend he did not wish her to keep
on any longer, and would send somebody else to take her place. The ''friend'' was
d'Urberville, she knew, and also that this concession had been granted in obedience
to the request of that friend, or enemy. She shook her head and toiled on.
The time for the rat-catching arrived at last, and the hunt began. The creatures
had crept downwards with the subsidence of the rick till they were all together
at the bottom, and being now uncovered from their last refuge they ran across the
open ground in all directions, a loud shriek from the by-this-time half-tipsy Marian
informing her companions that one of the rats had invaded her person-a terror which
the rest of the women had guarded against by various schemes of skirt-tucking and
self-elevation. The rat was at last dislodged, and, amid the barking of dogs, masculine
shouts, feminine screams, oaths, stampings, and confusion as of Pandemonium, Tess
untied her last sheaf; the drum slowed, the whizzing ceased, and she stepped from
the machine to the ground.