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Thomas Hardy >> Tess of the d'Urbervilles (page 55)


''Didn't you see me?'' asked d'Urberville.

''I was not attending,'' she said. ''I heard you, I believe, though I fancied it was a carriage and horses. I was in a sort of dream.''

''Ah! you heard the d'Urberville Coach, perhaps. You know the legend, I suppose?''

''No. My-somebody was going to tell it me once, but didn't.''

''If you are a genuine d'Urberville I ought not to tell you either, I suppose. As for me, I'm a sham one, so it doesn't matter. It is rather dismal. It is that this sound of a non-existent coach can only be heard by one of d'Urberville blood, and it is held to be of ill-omen to the one who hears it. It has to do with a murder, committed by one of the family, centuries ago.''

''Now you have begun it, finish it.''

''Very well. One of the family is said to have abducted some beautiful woman, who tried to escape from the coach in which he was carrying her off, and in the struggle he killed her-or she killed him-I forget which. Such is one version of the tale. I see that your tubs and buckets are packed. Going away, aren't you?''

''Yes, tomorrow-Old Lady Day.''

''I heard you were, but could hardly believe it; it seems so sudden. Why is it?''

''Father's was the last life on the property, and when that dropped we had no further right to stay. Though we might, perhaps, have stayed as weekly tenants-if it had not been for me.''

''What about you?''

''I am not a-proper woman.''

D'Urberville's face flushed.

''What a blasted shame! Miserable snobs! May their dirty souls be burnt to cinders!'' he exclaimed in tones of ironic resentment. ''That's why you are going, is it? Turned out?''

''We are not turned out exactly; but as they said we should have to go soon, it was best to go now everybody was moving because there are better chances.''

''Where are you going to?''

''Kingsbere. We have taken rooms there. Mother is so foolish about father's people that she will go there.''

''But your mother's family are not fit for lodgings, and in a little hole of a town like that. Now why not come to my garden-house at Trantridge? There are hardly any poultry now, since my mother's death; but there's the house, as you know it, and the garden. It can be whitewashed in a day, and your mother can live there quite comfortably; and I will put the children to a good school. Really I ought to do something for you!''

''But we have already taken the rooms at Kingsbere!'' she declared. ''And we can wait there-''

''Wait-what for? For that nice husband, no doubt. Now look here, Tess, I know what men are, and, bearing in mind the GROUNDS of your separation, I am quite positive he will never make it up with you. Now, though I have been your enemy, I am your friend, even if you won't believe it. Come to this cottage of mine. We'll get up a regular colony of fowls, and your mother can attend to them excellently; and the children can go to school.''

Tess breathed more and more quickly, and at length she said-

''How do I know that you would do all this? Your views may change-and then-we should be-my mother would be-homeless again.''

''O no-no. I would guarantee you against such as that in writing, if necessary. Think it over.

Tess shook her head. But d'Urberville persisted; she had seldom seen him so determined; he would not take a negative.

''Please just tell your mother,'' he said, in emphatic tones. ''It is her business to judge-not yours. I shall get the house swept out and whitened tomorrow morning, and fires lit; and it will be dry by the evening, so that you can come straight there. Now mind, I shall expect you.''

Tess again shook her head; her throat swelling with complicated emotion. She could not look up at d'Urberville.

''I owe you something for the past, you know,'' he resumed. ''And you cured me, too, of that craze; so I am glad-''

''I would rather you had kept the craze, so that you had kept the practice which went with it!''

''I am glad of this opportunity of repaying you a little. Tomorrow I shall expect to hear your mother's goods unloading. Give me your hand on it now-dear, beautiful Tess!''

With the last sentence he had dropped his voice to a murmur, and put his hand in at the half-open casement. With stormy eyes she pulled the stay-bar quickly, and, in doing so, caught his arm between the casement and the stone mullion.

''Damnation-you are very cruel!'' he said, snatching out his arm. ''No, no!-I know you didn't do it on purpose. Well I shall expect you, or your mother and children at least.''

''I shall not come-I have plenty of money!'' she cried.

''Where?''

''At my father-in-law's, if I ask for it.''

''IF you ask for it. But you won't, Tess; I know you; you'll never ask for it-you'll starve first!''

With these words he rode off. Just at the corner of the street he met the man with the paint-pot, who asked him if he had deserted the brethren.

''You go to the devil!'' said d'Urberville.

Tess remained where she was a long while, till a sudden rebellious sense of injustice caused the region of her eyes to swell with the rush of hot tears thither. Her husband, Angel Clare himself, had, like others, dealt out hard measure to her, surely he had! She had never before admitted such a thought; but he had surely! Never in her life-she could swear it from the bottom of her soul-had she ever intended to do wrong; yet these hard judgements had come. Whatever her sins, they were not sins of intention, but of inadvertence, and why should she have been punished so persistently?

She passionately seized the first piece of paper that came to hand, and scribbled the following lines:
O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do not deserve it. I have thought it all over carefully, and I can never, never forgive you! You know that I did not intend to wrong you-why have you so wronged me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to forget you. It is all injustice I have received at your hands! T
She watched till the postman passed by, ran out to him with her epistle, and then again took her listless place inside the window-panes.

It was just as well to write like that as to write tenderly. How could he give way to entreaty? The facts had not changed: there was no new event to alter his opinion.

It grew darker, the fire-light shining over the room. The two biggest of the younger children had gone out with their mother; the four smallest, their ages ranging from three-and-a-half years to eleven, all in black frocks, were gathered round the hearth babbling their own little subjects. Tess at length joined them, without lighting a candle.

''This is the last night that we shall sleep here, dears, in the house where we were born,'' she said quickly. ''We ought to think of it, oughtn't we?''

They all became silent; with the impressibility of their age they were ready to burst into tears at the picture of finality she had conjured up, though all the day hitherto they had been rejoicing in the idea of a new place. Tess changed the subject.

''Sing to me, dears,'' she said.

''What shall we sing?''

''Anything you know; I don't mind.''

There was a momentary pause; it was broken, first, by one little tentative note; then a second voice strengthened it, and a third and a fourth chimed in in unison, with words they had learnt at the Sunday-school-

Here we suffer grief and pain,

Here we meet to part again;

In Heaven we part no more.

The four sang on with the phlegmatic passivity of persons who had long ago settled the question, and there being no mistake about it, felt that further thought was not required. With features strained hard to enunciate the syllables they continued to regard the centre of the flickering fire, the notes of the youngest straying over into the pauses of the rest.

Tess turned from them, and went to the window again. Darkness had now fallen without, but she put her face to the pane as though to peer into the gloom. It was really to hide her tears. If she could only believe what the children were singing; if she were only sure, how different all would now be; how confidently she would leave them to Providence and their future kingdom! But, in default of that, it behoved her to do something; to be their Providence; for to Tess, as to not a few millions of others, there was ghastly satire in the poet's lines-

Not in utter nakedness

But trailing clouds of glory do we come.

To her and her like, birth itself was an ordeal of degrading personal compulsion, whose gratuitousness nothing in the result seemed to justify, and at best could only palliate.

In the shades of the wet road she soon discerned her mother with tall 'Liza-Lu and Abraham. Mrs Durbeyfield's pattens clicked up to the door, and Tess opened it.

''I see the tracks of a horse outside the window,'' said Joan. ''Hev somebody called?''

''No,'' said Tess.

The children by the fire looked gravely at her, and one murmured-

''Why, Tess, the gentleman a-horseback!''

''He didn't call,'' said Tess. ''He spoke to me in passing.''

''Who was the gentleman?'' asked the mother. ''Your husband?''

''No. He'll never, never come,'' answered Tess in stony hopelessness.

''Then who was it?''

''Oh, you needn't ask. You've seen him before, and so have I.''

''Ah! What did he say?'' said Joan curiously.

''I will tell you when we are settled in our lodging at Kingsbere tomorrow-every word.''

It was not her husband, she had said. Yet a consciousness that in a physical sense this man alone was her husband seemed to weigh on her more and more.

LII
During the small hours of the next morning, while it was still dark, dwellers near the highways were conscious of a disturbance of their night's rest by rumbling noises, intermittently continuing till daylight-noises as certain to recur in this particular first week of the month as the voice of the cuckoo in the third week of the same. They were the preliminaries of the general removal, the passing of the empty waggons and teams to fetch the goods of the migrating families; for it was always by the vehicle of the farmer who required his services that the hired man was conveyed to his destination. That this might be accomplished within the day was the explanation of the reverberation occurring so soon after midnight, the aim of the carters being to reach the door of the outgoing households by six o'clock, when the loading of their movables at once began.

But to Tess and her mother's household no such anxious farmer sent his team. They were only women; they were not regular labourers; they were not particularly required anywhere; hence they had to hire a waggon at their own expense, and got nothing sent gratuitously.

It was a relief to Tess, when she looked out of the window that morning, to find that though the weather was windy and louring, it did not rain, and that the waggon had come. A wet Lady-Day was a spectre which removing families never forgot; damp furniture, damp bedding, damp clothing accompanied it, and left a train of ills.

Her mother, 'Liza-Lu, and Abraham were also awake, but the younger children were let sleep on. The four breakfasted by the thin light, and the ''house-ridding'' was taken in hand.

It proceeded with some cheerfulness, a friendly neighbour or two assisting. When the large articles of furniture had been packed in position a circular nest was made of the beds and bedding, in which Joan Durbeyfield and the young children were to sit through the journey. After loading there was a long delay before the horses were brought, these having been unharnessed during the ridding; but at length, about two o'clock, the whole was under way, the cooking-pot swinging from the axle of the waggon, Mrs Durbeyfield and family at the top, the matron having in her lap, to prevent injury to its works, the head of the clock, which, at any exceptional lurch of the waggon, struck one, or one-and-a-half, in hurt tones. Tess and the next eldest girl walked alongside till they were out of the village.

They had called on a few neighbours that morning and the previous evening, and some came to see them off, all wishing them well, though, in their secret hearts, hardly expecting welfare possible to such a family, harmless as the Durbeyfields were to all except themselves. Soon the equipage began to ascend to higher ground, and the wind grew keener with the change of level and soil.

The day being the sixth of April, the Durbeyfield waggon met many other waggons with families on the summit of the load, which was built on a wellnigh unvarying principle, as peculiar, probably, to the rural labourer as the hexagon to the bee. The groundwork of the arrangement was the family dresser, which, with its shining handles, and finger-marks, and domestic evidences thick upon it, stood importantly in front, over the tails of the shaft-horses, in its erect and natural position, like some Ark of the Covenant that they were bound to carry reverently.

Some of the households were lively, some mournful; some were stopping at the doors of wayside inns; where, in due time, the Durbeyfield menagerie also drew up to bait horses and refresh the travellers.

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