she stood under its shelter, and watched the evening close in.
"Who would think I was Mrs Angel Clare!" she said.
The wall felt warm to her back and shoulders, and she found that
immediately within the gable was the cottage fireplace, the heat of
which came through the bricks. She warmed her hands upon them, and
also put her cheek - red and moist with the drizzle - against their
comforting surface. The wall seemed to be the only friend she had.
She had so little wish to leave it that she could have stayed there
Tess could hear the occupants of the cottage - gathered together after
their day's labour - talking to each other within, and the rattle of
their supper-plates was also audible. But in the village-street she
had seen no soul as yet. The solitude was at last broken by the
approach of one feminine figure, who, though the evening was cold,
wore the print gown and the tilt-bonnet of summer time. Tess
instinctively thought it might be Marian, and when she came near
enough to be distinguishable in the gloom, surely enough it was
she. Marian was even stouter and redder in the face than formerly,
and decidedly shabbier in attire. At any previous period of her
existence Tess would hardly have cared to renew the acquaintance in
such conditions; but her loneliness was excessive, and she responded
readily to Marian's greeting.
Marian was quite respectful in her inquiries, but seemed much moved
by the fact that Tess should still continue in no better condition
than at first; though she had dimly heard of the separation.
"Tess - Mrs Clare - the dear wife of dear he! And is it really so bad
as this, my child? Why is your cwomely face tied up in such a way?
Anybody been beating 'ee? Not HE?"
"No, no, no! I merely did it not to be clipsed or colled, Marian."
She pulled off in disgust a bandage which could suggest such wild
"And you've got no collar on" (Tess had been accustomed to wear a
little white collar at the dairy).
"I know it, Marian."
"You've lost it travelling."
"I've not lost it. The truth is, I don't care anything about my
looks; and so I didn't put it on."
"And you don't wear your wedding-ring?"
"Yes, I do; but not in public. I wear it round my neck on a ribbon.
I don't wish people to think who I am by marriage, or that I am
married at all; it would be so awkward while I lead my present life."
"But you BE a gentleman's wife; and it seems hardly fair that you
should live like this!"
"O yes it is, quite fair; though I am very unhappy."
"Well, well. HE married you - and you can be unhappy!"
"Wives are unhappy sometimes; from no fault of their husbands - from
"You've no faults, deary; that I'm sure of. And he's none. So it
must be something outside ye both."
"Marian, dear Marian, will you do me a good turn without asking
questions? My husband has gone abroad, and somehow I have overrun my
allowance, so that I have to fall back upon my old work for a time.
Do not call me Mrs Clare, but Tess, as before. Do they want a hand
"O yes; they'll take one always, because few care to come. 'Tis a
starve-acre place. Corn and swedes are all they grow. Though I be
here myself, I feel 'tis a pity for such as you to come."
"But you used to be as good a dairywoman as I."
"Yes; but I've got out o' that since I took to drink. Lord, that's
the only comfort I've got now! If you engage, you'll be set
swede-hacking. That's what I be doing; but you won't like it."
"O - anything! Will you speak for me?"
"You will do better by speaking for yourself."
"Very well. Now, Marian, remember - nothing about HIM if I get the
place. I don't wish to bring his name down to the dirt."
Marian, who was really a trustworthy girl though of coarser grain
than Tess, promised anything she asked.
"This is pay-night," she said, "and if you were to come with me you
would know at once. I be real sorry that you are not happy; but 'tis
because he's away, I know. You couldn't be unhappy if he were here,
even if he gie'd ye no money - even if he used you like a drudge."
"That's true; I could not!"
They walked on together and soon reached the farmhouse, which was
almost sublime in its dreariness. There was not a tree within sight;
there was not, at this season, a green pasture - nothing but fallow
and turnips everywhere, in large fields divided by hedges plashed to
Tess waited outside the door of the farmhouse till the group of
workfolk had received their wages, and then Marian introduced her.
The farmer himself, it appeared, was not at home, but his wife, who
represented him this evening, made no objection to hiring Tess, on
her agreeing to remain till Old Lady-Day. Female field-labour was
seldom offered now, and its cheapness made it profitable for tasks
which women could perform as readily as men.
Having signed the agreement, there was nothing more for Tess to do
at present than to get a lodging, and she found one in the house at
whose gable-wall she had warmed herself. It was a poor subsistence
that she had ensured, but it would afford a shelter for the winter
at any rate.
That night she wrote to inform her parents of her new address, in
case a letter should arrive at Marlott from her husband. But she
did not tell them of the sorriness of her situation: it might have
brought reproach upon him.
There was no exaggeration in Marian's definition of Flintcomb-Ash
farm as a starve-acre place. The single fat thing on the soil was
Marian herself; and she was an importation. Of the three classes of
village, the village cared for by its lord, the village cared for by
itself, and the village uncared for either by itself or by its lord
(in other words, the village of a resident squires's tenantry, the
village of free- or copy-holders, and the absentee-owner's village,
farmed with the land) this place, Flintcomb-Ash, was the third.
But Tess set to work. Patience, that blending of moral courage with
physical timidity, was now no longer a minor feature in Mrs Angel
Clare; and it sustained her.
The swede-field in which she and her companion were set hacking was
a stretch of a hundred odd acres in one patch, on the highest ground
of the farm, rising above stony lanchets or lynchets - the outcrop of
siliceous veins in the chalk formation, composed of myriads of loose
white flints in bulbous, cusped, and phallic shapes. The upper half
of each turnip had been eaten off by the live-stock, and it was the
business of the two women to grub up the lower or earthy half of the
root with a hooked fork called a hacker, that it might be eaten also.
Every leaf of the vegetable having already been consumed, the whole
field was in colour a desolate drab; it was a complexion without
features, as if a face, from chin to brow, should be only an expanse
of skin. The sky wore, in another colour, the same likeness; a white
vacuity of countenance with the lineaments gone. So these two upper
and nether visages confronted each other all day long, the white face
looking down on the brown face, and the brown face looking up at the
white face, without anything standing between them but the two girls
crawling over the surface of the former like flies.
Nobody came near them, and their movements showed a mechanical
regularity; their forms standing enshrouded in Hessian "wroppers" -
sleeved brown pinafores, tied behind to the bottom, to keep their
gowns from blowing about - scant skirts revealing boots that reached
high up the ankles, and yellow sheepskin gloves with gauntlets. The
pensive character which the curtained hood lent to their bent heads
would have reminded the observer of some early Italian conception of
the two Marys.
They worked on hour after hour, unconscious of the forlorn aspect
they bore in the landscape, not thinking of the justice or injustice
of their lot. Even in such a position as theirs it was possible
to exist in a dream. In the afternoon the rain came on again, and
Marian said that they need not work any more. But if they did not
work they would not be paid; so they worked on. It was so high a
situation, this field, that the rain had no occasion to fall, but
raced along horizontally upon the yelling wind, sticking into them
like glass splinters till they were wet through. Tess had not
known till now what was really meant by that. There are degrees of
dampness, and a very little is called being wet through in common
talk. But to stand working slowly in a field, and feel the creep of
rain-water, first in legs and shoulders, then on hips and head, then
at back, front, and sides, and yet to work on till the leaden light
diminishes and marks that the sun is down, demands a distinct modicum
of stoicism, even of valour.
Yet they did not feel the wetness so much as might be supposed. They
were both young, and they were talking of the time when they lived
and loved together at Talbothays Dairy, that happy green tract of
land where summer had been liberal in her gifts; in substance to
all, emotionally to these. Tess would fain not have conversed with
Marian of the man who was legally, if not actually, her husband;
but the irresistible fascination of the subject betrayed her into
reciprocating Marian's remarks. And thus, as has been said, though
the damp curtains of their bonnets flapped smartly into their faces,
and their wrappers clung about them to wearisomeness, they lived all
this afternoon in memories of green, sunny, romantic Talbothays.
"You can see a gleam of a hill within a few miles o' Froom Valley
from here when 'tis fine," said Marian.
"Ah! Can you?" said Tess, awake to the new value of this locality.
So the two forces were at work here as everywhere, the inherent will
to enjoy, and the circumstantial will against enjoyment. Marian's
will had a method of assisting itself by taking from her pocket as
the afternoon wore on a pint bottle corked with white rag, from which
she invited Tess to drink. Tess's unassisted power of dreaming,
however, being enough for her sublimation at present, she declined
except the merest sip, and then Marian took a pull from the spirits.
"I've got used to it," she said, "and can't leave it off now. 'Tis
my only comfort - You see I lost him: you didn't; and you can do
without it perhaps."
Tess thought her loss as great as Marian's, but upheld by the dignity
of being Angel's wife, in the letter at least, she accepted Marian's
Amid this scene Tess slaved in the morning frosts and in
the afternoon rains. When it was not swede-grubbing it was
swede-trimming, in which process they sliced off the earth and the
fibres with a bill-hook before storing the roots for future use. At
this occupation they could shelter themselves by a thatched hurdle if
it rained; but if it was frosty even their thick leather gloves could
not prevent the frozen masses they handled from biting their fingers.
Still Tess hoped. She had a conviction that sooner or later the
magnanimity which she persisted in reckoning as a chief ingredient
of Clare's character would lead him to rejoin her.
Marian, primed to a humorous mood, would discover the queer-shaped
flints aforesaid, and shriek with laughter, Tess remaining severely
obtuse. They often looked across the country to where the Var or
Froom was know to stretch, even though they might not be able to see
it; and, fixing their eyes on the cloaking gray mist, imagined the
old times they had spent out there.
"Ah," said Marian, "how I should like another or two of our old set
to come here! Then we could bring up Talbothays every day here
afield, and talk of he, and of what nice times we had there, and o'
the old things we used to know, and make it all come back a'most, in
seeming!" Marian's eyes softened, and her voice grew vague as the
visions returned. "I'll write to Izz Huett," she said. "She's
biding at home doing nothing now, I know, and I'll tell her we be
here, and ask her to come; and perhaps Retty is well enough now."
Tess had nothing to say against the proposal, and the next she heard
of this plan for importing old Talbothays' joys was two or three days
later, when Marian informed her that Izz had replied to her inquiry,
and had promised to come if she could.
There had not been such a winter for years. It came on in stealthy
and measured glides, like the moves of a chess-player. One morning
the few lonely trees and the thorns of the hedgerows appeared as if
they had put off a vegetable for an animal integument. Every twig
was covered with a white nap as of fur grown from the rind during the
night, giving it four times its usual stoutness; the whole bush or
tree forming a staring sketch in white lines on the mournful gray
of the sky and horizon. Cobwebs revealed their presence on sheds
and walls where none had ever been observed till brought out into
visibility by the crystallizing atmosphere, hanging like loops of
white worsted from salient points of the out-houses, posts, and
After this season of congealed dampness came a spell of dry frost,
when strange birds from behind the North Pole began to arrive
silently on the upland of Flintcomb-Ash; gaunt spectral creatures
with tragical eyes - eyes which had witnessed scenes of cataclysmal
horror in inaccessible polar regions of a magnitude such as no human
being had ever conceived, in curdling temperatures that no man could
endure; which had beheld the crash of icebergs and the slide of
snow-hills by the shooting light of the Aurora; been half blinded
by the whirl of colossal storms and terraqueous distortions; and
retained the expression of feature that such scenes had engendered.
These nameless birds came quite near to Tess and Marian, but of
all they had seen which humanity would never see, they brought no
account. The traveller's ambition to tell was not theirs, and, with
dumb impassivity, they dismissed experiences which they did not
value for the immediate incidents of this homely upland - the trivial
movements of the two girls in disturbing the clods with their hackers
so as to uncover something or other that these visitants relished as
Then one day a peculiar quality invaded the air of this open country.
There came a moisture which was not of rain, and a cold which was not
of frost. It chilled the eyeballs of the twain, made their brows
ache, penetrated to their skeletons, affecting the surface of the
body less than its core. They knew that it meant snow, and in the
night the snow came. Tess, who continued to live at the cottage with
the warm gable that cheered any lonely pedestrian who paused beside
it, awoke in the night, and heard above the thatch noises which
seemed to signify that the roof had turned itself into a gymnasium
of all the winds. When she lit her lamp to get up in the morning
she found that the snow had blown through a chink in the casement,
forming a white cone of the finest powder against the inside, and had
also come down the chimney, so that it lay sole-deep upon the floor,
on which her shoes left tracks when she moved about. Without, the
storm drove so fast as to create a snow-mist in the kitchen; but as
yet it was too dark out-of-doors to see anything.
Tess knew that it was impossible to go on with the swedes; and by
the time she had finished breakfast beside the solitary little lamp,
Marian arrived to tell her that they were to join the rest of the
women at reed-drawing in the barn till the weather changed. As soon,
therefore, as the uniform cloak of darkness without began to turn
to a disordered medley of grays, they blew out the lamp, wrapped
themselves up in their thickest pinners, tied their woollen cravats
round their necks and across their chests, and started for the barn.
The snow had followed the birds from the polar basin as a white
pillar of a cloud, and individual flakes could not be seen. The
blast smelt of icebergs, arctic seas, whales, and white bears,
carrying the snow so that it licked the land but did not deepen on
it. They trudged onwards with slanted bodies through the flossy
fields, keeping as well as they could in the shelter of hedges,
which, however, acted as strainers rather than screens. The air,
afflicted to pallor with the hoary multitudes that infested it,
twisted and spun them eccentrically, suggesting an achromatic chaos
of things. But both the young women were fairly cheerful; such
weather on a dry upland is not in itself dispiriting.
"Ha-ha! the cunning northern birds knew this was coming," said
Marian. "Depend upon't, they keep just in front o't all the way from
the North Star. Your husband, my dear, is, I make no doubt, having
scorching weather all this time. Lord, if he could only see his
pretty wife now! Not that this weather hurts your beauty at all - in
fact, it rather does it good."
"You mustn't talk about him to me, Marian," said Tess severely.
"Well, but - surely you care for'n! Do you?"
Instead of answering, Tess, with tears in her eyes, impulsively faced
in the direction in which she imagined South America to lie, and,
putting up her lips, blew out a passionate kiss upon the snowy wind.
"Well, well, I know you do. But 'pon my body, it is a rum life for
a married couple! There - I won't say another word! Well, as for
the weather, it won't hurt us in the wheat-barn; but reed-drawing is
fearful hard work - worse than swede-hacking. I can stand it because
I'm stout; but you be slimmer than I. I can't think why maister
should have set 'ee at it."
They reached the wheat-barn and entered it. One end of the long
structure was full of corn; the middle was where the reed-drawing was
carried on, and there had already been placed in the reed-press the
evening before as many sheaves of wheat as would be sufficient for
the women to draw from during the day.
"Why, here's Izz!" said Marian.
Izz it was, and she came forward. She had walked all the way from
her mother's home on the previous afternoon, and, not deeming the
distance so great, had been belated, arriving, however, just before
the snow began, and sleeping at the alehouse. The farmer had agreed
with her mother at market to take her on if she came to-day, and she
had been afraid to disappoint him by delay.
In addition to Tess, Marian, and Izz, there were two women from a
neighbouring village; two Amazonian sisters, whom Tess with a start
remembered as Dark Car, the Queen of Spades, and her junior, the
Queen of Diamonds - those who had tried to fight with her in the
midnight quarrel at Trantridge. They showed no recognition of her,
and possibly had none, for they had been under the influence of
liquor on that occasion, and were only temporary sojourners there
as here. They did all kinds of men's work by preference, including
well-sinking, hedging, ditching, and excavating, without any sense of
fatigue. Noted reed-drawers were they too, and looked round upon the
other three with some superciliousness.
Putting on their gloves, all set to work in a row in front of the
press, an erection formed of two posts connected by a cross-beam,
under which the sheaves to be drawn from were laid ears outward, the
beam being pegged down by pins in the uprights, and lowered as the
The day hardened in colour, the light coming in at the barndoors
upwards from the snow instead of downwards from the sky. The girls
pulled handful after handful from the press; but by reason of the
presence of the strange women, who were recounting scandals, Marian
and Izz could not at first talk of old times as they wished to do.
Presently they heard the muffled tread of a horse, and the farmer
rode up to the barndoor. When he had dismounted he came close to
Tess, and remained looking musingly at the side of her face. She had
not turned at first, but his fixed attitude led her to look round,
when she perceived that her employer was the native of Trantridge
from whom she had taken flight on the high-road because of his
allusion to her history.
He waited till she had carried the drawn bundles to the pile outside,
when he said, "So you be the young woman who took my civility in such
ill part? Be drowned if I didn't think you might be as soon as I
heard of your being hired! Well, you thought you had got the better
of me the first time at the inn with your fancy-man, and the second
time on the road, when you bolted; but now I think I've got the
better you." He concluded with a hard laugh.
Tess, between the Amazons and the farmer, like a bird caught in a
clap-net, returned no answer, continuing to pull the straw. She
could read character sufficiently well to know by this time that she
had nothing to fear from her employer's gallantry; it was rather the
tyranny induced by his mortification at Clare's treatment of him.
Upon the whole she preferred that sentiment in man and felt brave
enough to endure it.
"You thought I was in love with 'ee I suppose? Some women are such
fools, to take every look as serious earnest. But there's nothing
like a winter afield for taking that nonsense out o' young wenches'
heads; and you've signed and agreed till Lady-Day. Now, are you
going to beg my pardon?"
"I think you ought to beg mine."
"Very well - as you like. But we'll see which is master here. Be
they all the sheaves you've done to-day?"
"'Tis a very poor show. Just see what they've done over there"
(pointing to the two stalwart women). "The rest, too, have done
better than you."
"They've all practised it before, and I have not. And I thought it
made no difference to you as it is task work, and we are only paid
for what we do."
"Oh, but it does. I want the barn cleared."
"I am going to work all the afternoon instead of leaving at two as
the others will do."
He looked sullenly at her and went away. Tess felt that she could
not have come to a much worse place; but anything was better than
gallantry. When two o'clock arrived the professional reed-drawers
tossed off the last half-pint in their flagon, put down their hooks,
tied their last sheaves, and went away. Marian and Izz would have
done likewise, but on hearing that Tess meant to stay, to make up
by longer hours for her lack of skill, they would not leave her.
Looking out at the snow, which still fell, Marian exclaimed, "Now,
we've got it all to ourselves." And so at last the conversation
turned to their old experiences at the dairy; and, of course, the
incidents of their affection for Angel Clare.
"Izz and Marian," said Mrs Angel Clare, with a dignity which was
extremely touching, seeing how very little of a wife she was: "I
can't join in talk with you now, as I used to do, about Mr Clare; you
will see that I cannot; because, although he is gone away from me for
the present, he is my husband."
Izz was by nature the sauciest and most caustic of all the four girls
who had loved Clare. "He was a very splendid lover, no doubt," she
said; "but I don't think he is a too fond husband to go away from you
"He had to go - he was obliged to go, to see about the land over
there!" pleaded Tess.
"He might have tided 'ee over the winter."
"Ah - that's owing to an accident - a misunderstanding; and we won't
argue it," Tess answered, with tearfulness in her words. "Perhaps
there's a good deal to be said for him! He did not go away, like
some husbands, without telling me; and I can always find out where
After this they continued for some long time in a reverie, as they
went on seizing the ears of corn, drawing out the straw, gathering
it under their arms, and cutting off the ears with their bill-hooks,
nothing sounding in the barn but the swish of the straw and the
crunch of the hook. Then Tess suddenly flagged, and sank down upon
the heap of wheat-ears at her feet.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to stand it!" cried Marian. "It wants
harder flesh than yours for this work."
Just then the farmer entered. "Oh, that's how you get on when I am
away," he said to her.
"But it is my own loss," she pleaded. "Not yours."
"I want it finished," he said doggedly, as he crossed the barn and
went out at the other door.
"Don't 'ee mind him, there's a dear," said Marian. "I've worked here
before. Now you go and lie down there, and Izz and I will make up
"I don't like to let you do that. I'm taller than you, too."
However, she was so overcome that she consented to lie down awhile,
and reclined on a heap of pull-tails - the refuse after the straight
straw had been drawn - thrown up at the further side of the barn. Her