lives which had been brought under its influence. This belief was
confirmed by his experience of women, which, having latterly been
extended from the cultivated middle-class into the rural community,
had taught him how much less was the intrinsic difference between the
good and wise woman of one social stratum and the good and wise woman
of another social stratum, than between the good and bad, the wise
and the foolish, of the same stratum or class.
It was the morning of his departure. His brothers had already left
the Vicarage to proceed on a walking tour in the north, whence one
was to return to his college, and the other to his curacy. Angel
might have accompanied them, but preferred to rejoin his sweetheart
at Talbothays. He would have been an awkward member of the
party; for, though the most appreciative humanist, the most ideal
religionist, even the best-versed Christologist of the three, there
was alienation in the standing consciousness that his squareness
would not fit the round hole that had been prepared for him. To
neither Felix nor Cuthbert had he ventured to mention Tess.
His mother made him sandwiches, and his father accompanied him,
on his own mare, a little way along the road. Having fairly well
advanced his own affairs, Angel listened in a willing silence, as
they jogged on together through the shady lanes, to his father's
account of his parish difficulties, and the coldness of brother
clergymen whom he loved, because of his strict interpretations of
the New Testament by the light of what they deemed a pernicious
"Pernicious!" said Mr Clare, with genial scorn; and he proceeded to
recount experiences which would show the absurdity of that idea.
He told of wondrous conversions of evil livers of which he had been
the instrument, not only amongst the poor, but amongst the rich and
well-to-do; and he also candidly admitted many failures.
As an instance of the latter, he mentioned the case of a young
upstart squire named d'Urberville, living some forty miles off, in
the neighbourhood of Trantridge.
"Not one of the ancient d'Urbervilles of Kingsbere and other places?"
asked his son. "That curiously historic worn-out family with its
ghostly legend of the coach-and-four?"
"O no. The original d'Urbervilles decayed and disappeared sixty
or eighty years ago - at least, I believe so. This seems to be a
new family which had taken the name; for the credit of the former
knightly line I hope they are spurious, I'm sure. But it is odd
to hear you express interest in old families. I thought you set less
store by them even than I."
"You misapprehend me, father; you often do," said Angel with a
little impatience. "Politically I am sceptical as to the virtue of
their being old. Some of the wise even among themselves 'exclaim
against their own succession,' as Hamlet puts it; but lyrically,
dramatically, and even historically, I am tenderly attached to them."
This distinction, though by no means a subtle one, was yet too
subtle for Mr Clare the elder, and he went on with the story he had
been about to relate; which was that after the death of the senior
so-called d'Urberville, the young man developed the most culpable
passions, though he had a blind mother, whose condition should have
made him know better. A knowledge of his career having come to
the ears of Mr Clare, when he was in that part of the country
preaching missionary sermons, he boldly took occasion to speak to
the delinquent on his spiritual state. Though he was a stranger,
occupying another's pulpit, he had felt this to be his duty, and
took for his text the words from St Luke: "Thou fool, this night thy
soul shall be required of thee!" The young man much resented this
directness of attack, and in the war of words which followed when
they met he did not scruple publicly to insult Mr Clare, without
respect for his gray hairs.
Angel flushed with distress.
"Dear father," he said sadly, "I wish you would not expose yourself
to such gratuitous pain from scoundrels!"
"Pain?" said his father, his rugged face shining in the ardour of
self-abnegation. "The only pain to me was pain on his account, poor,
foolish young man. Do you suppose his incensed words could give
me any pain, or even his blows? 'Being reviled we bless; being
persecuted we suffer it; being defamed we entreat; we are made as the
filth of the world, and as the offscouring of all things unto this
day.' Those ancient and noble words to the Corinthians are strictly
true at this present hour."
"Not blows, father? He did not proceed to blows?"
"No, he did not. Though I have borne blows from men in a mad state
"A dozen times, my boy. What then? I have saved them from the guilt
of murdering their own flesh and blood thereby; and they have lived
to thank me, and praise God."
"May this young man do the same!" said Angel fervently. "But I fear
otherwise, from what you say."
"We'll hope, nevertheless," said Mr Clare. "And I continue to pray
for him, though on this side of the grave we shall probably never
meet again. But, after all, one of those poor words of mine may
spring up in his heart as a good seed some day."
Now, as always, Clare's father was sanguine as a child; and though
the younger could not accept his parent's narrow dogma, he revered
his practice and recognized the hero under the pietist. Perhaps he
revered his father's practice even more now than ever, seeing that,
in the question of making Tessy his wife, his father had not once
thought of inquiring whether she were well provided or penniless.
The same unworldliness was what had necessitated Angel's getting
a living as a farmer, and would probably keep his brothers in the
position of poor parsons for the term of their activities; yet Angel
admired it none the less. Indeed, despite his own heterodoxy, Angel
often felt that he was nearer to his father on the human side than
was either of his brethren.
An up-hill and down-hill ride of twenty-odd miles through a garish
mid-day atmosphere brought him in the afternoon to a detached knoll
a mile or two west of Talbothays, whence he again looked into that
green trough of sappiness and humidity, the valley of the Var or
Froom. Immediately he began to descend from the upland to the fat
alluvial soil below, the atmosphere grew heavier; the languid perfume
of the summer fruits, the mists, the hay, the flowers, formed therein
a vast pool of odour which at this hour seemed to make the animals,
the very bees and butterflies drowsy. Clare was now so familiar with
the spot that he knew the individual cows by their names when, a long
distance off, he saw them dotted about the meads. It was with a
sense of luxury that he recognized his power of viewing life here
from its inner side, in a way that had been quite foreign to him in
his student-days; and, much as he loved his parents, he could not
help being aware that to come here, as now, after an experience of
home-life, affected him like throwing off splints and bandages; even
the one customary curb on the humours of English rural societies
being absent in this place, Talbothays having no resident landlord.
Not a human being was out of doors at the dairy. The denizens were
all enjoying the usual afternoon nap of an hour or so which the
exceedingly early hours kept in summer-time rendered a necessity.
At the door the wood-hooped pails, sodden and bleached by infinite
scrubbings, hung like hats on a stand upon the forked and peeled limb
of an oak fixed there for that purpose; all of them ready and dry
for the evening milking. Angel entered, and went through the silent
passages of the house to the back quarters, where he listened for a
moment. Sustained snores came from the cart-house, where some of
the men were lying down; the grunt and squeal of sweltering pigs
arose from the still further distance. The large-leaved rhubarb and
cabbage plants slept too, their broad limp surfaces hanging in the
sun like half-closed umbrellas.
He unbridled and fed his horse, and as he re-entered the house the
clock struck three. Three was the afternoon skimming-hour; and, with
the stroke, Clare heard the creaking of the floor-boards above, and
then the touch of a descending foot on the stairs. It was Tess's,
who in another moment came down before his eyes.
She had not heard him enter, and hardly realized his presence there.
She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it
had been a snake's. She had stretched one arm so high above her
coiled-up cable of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above
the sunburn; her face was flushed with sleep, and her eyelids hung
heavy over their pupils. The brim-fulness of her nature breathed
from her. It was a moment when a woman's soul is more incarnate than
at any other time; when the most spiritual beauty bespeaks itself
flesh; and sex takes the outside place in the presentation.
Then those eyes flashed brightly through their filmy heaviness,
before the remainder of her face was well awake. With an oddly
compounded look of gladness, shyness, and surprise, she exclaimed - "O
Mr Clare! How you frightened me - I - "
There had not at first been time for her to think of the changed
relations which his declaration had introduced; but the full sense of
the matter rose up in her face when she encountered Clare's tender
look as he stepped forward to the bottom stair.
"Dear, darling Tessy!" he whispered, putting his arm round her, and
his face to her flushed cheek. "Don't, for Heaven's sake, Mister me
any more. I have hastened back so soon because of you!"
Tess's excitable heart beat against his by way of reply; and there
they stood upon the red-brick floor of the entry, the sun slanting in
by the window upon his back, as he held her tightly to his breast;
upon her inclining face, upon the blue veins of her temple, upon her
naked arm, and her neck, and into the depths of her hair. Having
been lying down in her clothes she was warm as a sunned cat. At
first she would not look straight up at him, but her eyes soon
lifted, and his plumbed the deepness of the ever-varying pupils, with
their radiating fibrils of blue, and black, and gray, and violet,
while she regarded him as Eve at her second waking might have
"I've got to go a-skimming," she pleaded, "and I have on'y old Deb to
help me to-day. Mrs Crick is gone to market with Mr Crick, and Retty
is not well, and the others are gone out somewhere, and won't be home
As they retreated to the milk-house Deborah Fyander appeared on the
"I have come back, Deborah," said Mr Clare, upwards. "So I can help
Tess with the skimming; and, as you are very tired, I am sure, you
needn't come down till milking-time."
Possibly the Talbothays milk was not very thoroughly skimmed that
afternoon. Tess was in a dream wherein familiar objects appeared
as having light and shade and position, but no particular outline.
Every time she held the skimmer under the pump to cool it for the
work her hand trembled, the ardour of his affection being so palpable
that she seemed to flinch under it like a plant in too burning a sun.
Then he pressed her again to his side, and when she had done running
her forefinger round the leads to cut off the cream-edge, he cleaned
it in nature's way; for the unconstrained manners of Talbothays dairy
came convenient now.
"I may as well say it now as later, dearest," he resumed gently. "I
wish to ask you something of a very practical nature, which I have
been thinking of ever since that day last week in the meads. I shall
soon want to marry, and, being a farmer, you see I shall require for
my wife a woman who knows all about the management of farms. Will
you be that woman, Tessy?"
He put it that way that she might not think he had yielded to an
impulse of which his head would disapprove.
She turned quite careworn. She had bowed to the inevitable result of
proximity, the necessity of loving him; but she had not calculated
upon this sudden corollary, which, indeed, Clare had put before her
without quite meaning himself to do it so soon. With pain that was
like the bitterness of dissolution she murmured the words of her
indispensable and sworn answer as an honourable woman.
"O Mr Clare - I cannot be your wife - I cannot be!"
The sound of her own decision seemed to break Tess's very heart, and
she bowed her face in her grief.
"But, Tess!" he said, amazed at her reply, and holding her still more
greedily close. "Do you say no? Surely you love me?"
"O yes, yes! And I would rather be yours than anybody's in the
world," returned the sweet and honest voice of the distressed girl.
"But I CANNOT marry you!"
"Tess," he said, holding her at arm's length, "you are engaged to
marry some one else!"
"Then why do you refuse me?"
"I don't want to marry! I have not thought of doing it. I cannot!
I only want to love you."
Driven to subterfuge, she stammered -
"Your father is a parson, and your mother wouldn' like you to marry
such as me. She will want you to marry a lady."
"Nonsense - I have spoken to them both. That was partly why I went
"I feel I cannot - never, never!" she echoed.
"Is it too sudden to be asked thus, my Pretty?"
"Yes - I did not expect it."
"If you will let it pass, please, Tessy, I will give you time," he
said. "It was very abrupt to come home and speak to you all at once.
I'll not allude to it again for a while."
She again took up the shining skimmer, held it beneath the pump, and
began anew. But she could not, as at other times, hit the exact
under-surface of the cream with the delicate dexterity required, try
as she might; sometimes she was cutting down into the milk, sometimes
in the air. She could hardly see, her eyes having filled with two
blurring tears drawn forth by a grief which, to this her best friend
and dear advocate, she could never explain.
"I can't skim - I can't!" she said, turning away from him.
Not to agitate and hinder her longer, the considerate Clare began
talking in a more general way:
You quite misapprehend my parents. They are the most simple-mannered
people alive, and quite unambitious. They are two of the few
remaining Evangelical school. Tessy, are you an Evangelical?"
"I don't know."
"You go to church very regularly, and our parson here is not very
High, they tell me."
Tess's ideas on the views of the parish clergyman, whom she heard
every week, seemed to be rather more vague than Clare's, who had
never heard him at all.
"I wish I could fix my mind on what I hear there more firmly than I
do," she remarked as a safe generality. "It is often a great sorrow
She spoke so unaffectedly that Angel was sure in his heart that his
father could not object to her on religious grounds, even though she
did not know whether her principles were High, Low or Broad. He
himself knew that, in reality, the confused beliefs which she held,
apparently imbibed in childhood, were, if anything, Tractarian as to
phraseology, and Pantheistic as to essence. Confused or otherwise,
to disturb them was his last desire:
Leave thou thy sister, when she prays,
Her early Heaven, her happy views;
Nor thou with shadow'd hint confuse
A life that leads melodious days.
He had occasionally thought the counsel less honest than musical; but
he gladly conformed to it now.
He spoke further of the incidents of his visit, of his father's mode
of life, of his zeal for his principles; she grew serener, and the
undulations disappeared from her skimming; as she finished one lead
after another he followed her, and drew the plugs for letting down
"I fancied you looked a little downcast when you came in," she
ventured to observe, anxious to keep away from the subject of
"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
"How? Not fine lady enough?"
"Yes - something like that," murmured she. "Your friends would scorn
"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 other man?"
"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 his way.
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
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