"You ought to het a quart o' drink into 'ee, as I've done," said
Marian. "You wouldn't look so white then. Why, souls above us,
your face is as if you'd been hagrode!"
It occurred to the good-natured Marian that, as Tess was so tired,
her discovery of her visitor's presence might have the bad effect of
taking away her appetite; and Marian was thinking of inducing Tess
to descend by a ladder on the further side of the stack when the
gentleman came forward and looked up.
Tess uttered a short little "Oh!" And a moment after she said,
quickly, "I shall eat my dinner here - right on the rick."
Sometimes, when they were so far from their cottages, they all did
this; but as there was rather a keen wind going to-day, Marian and
the rest descended, and sat under the straw-stack.
The newcomer was, indeed, Alec d'Urberville, the late Evangelist,
despite his changed attire and aspect. It was obvious at a glance
that the original _Weltlust_ had come back; that he had restored
himself, as nearly as a man could do who had grown three or four
years older, to the old jaunty, slapdash guise under which Tess
had first known her admirer, and cousin so-called. Having decided
to remain where she was, Tess sat down among the bundles, out of
sight of the ground, and began her meal; till, by-and-by, she heard
footsteps on the ladder, and immediately after Alec appeared upon the
stack - now an oblong and level platform of sheaves. He strode across
them, and sat down opposite of her without a word.
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
"I am here again, as you see," said d'Urberville.
"Why do you trouble me so!" she cried, reproach flashing from her
"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 done it!"
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
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
"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!' ... Tess, my trap
is waiting just under the hill, and - darling mine, not his! - you know
Her face had been rising to a dull crimson fire while he spoke; but
she did not answer.
"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 bleeding lips.
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 me."
"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
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
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 rick.
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
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.
Her lover, who had only looked on at the rat-catching, was promptly
at her side.
"What - after all - my insulting slap, too!" said she in an
underbreath. She was so utterly exhausted that she had not strength
to speak louder.
"I should indeed be foolish to feel offended at anything you say or
do," he answered, in the seductive voice of the Trantridge time.
"How the little limbs tremble! You are as weak as a bled calf, you
know you are; and yet you need have done nothing since I arrived.
How could you be so obstinate? However, I have told the farmer that
he has no right to employ women at steam-threshing. It is not proper
work for them; and on all the better class of farms it has been given
up, as he knows very well. I will walk with you as far as your
"O yes," she answered with a jaded gait. "Walk wi' me if you will!
I do bear in mind that you came to marry me before you knew o' my
state. Perhaps - perhaps you are a little better and kinder than I
have been thinking you were. Whatever is meant as kindness I am
grateful for; whatever is meant in any other way I am angered at.
I cannot sense your meaning sometimes."
"If I cannot legitimize our former relations at least I can assist
you. And I will do it with much more regard for your feelings than
I formerly showed. My religious mania, or whatever it was, is over.
But I retain a little good nature; I hope I do. Now, Tess, by
all that's tender and strong between man and woman, trust me! I
have enough and more than enough to put you out of anxiety, both
for yourself and your parents and sisters. I can make them all
comfortable if you will only show confidence in me."
"Have you seen 'em lately?" she quickly inquired.
"Yes. They didn't know where you were. It was only by chance that I
found you here."
The cold moon looked aslant upon Tess's fagged face between the twigs
of the garden-hedge as she paused outside the cottage which was her
temporary home, d'Urberville pausing beside her.
"Don't mention my little brothers and sisters - don't make me break
down quite!" she said. "If you want to help them - God knows they
need it - do it without telling me. But no, no!" she cried. "I will
take nothing from you, either for them or for me!"
He did not accompany her further, since, as she lived with the
household, all was public indoors. No sooner had she herself
entered, laved herself in a washing-tub, and shared supper with the
family than she fell into thought, and withdrawing to the table under
the wall, by the light of her own little lamp wrote in a passionate
MY OWN HUSBAND, -
Let me call you so - I must - even if it makes you angry to
think of such an unworthy wife as I. I must cry to you
in my trouble - I have no one else! I am so exposed to
temptation, Angel. I fear to say who it is, and I do not
like to write about it at all. But I cling to you in a way
you cannot think! Can you not come to me now, at once,
before anything terrible happens? O, I know you cannot,
because you are so far away! I think I must die if you do
not come soon, or tell me to come to you. The punishment
you have measured out to me is deserved - I do know that -
well deserved - and you are right and just to be angry with
me. But, Angel, please, please, not to be just - only a
little kind to me, even if I do not deserve it, and come to
me! If you would come, I could die in your arms! I would
be well content to do that if so be you had forgiven me!
Angel, I live entirely for you. I love you too much to
blame you for going away, and I know it was necessary you
should find a farm. Do not think I shall say a word of
sting or bitterness. Only come back to me. I am desolate
without you, my darling, O, so desolate! I do not mind
having to work: but if you will send me one little line,
and say, "I am coming soon," I will bide on, Angel - O, so
It has been so much my religion ever since we were married
to be faithful to you in every thought and look, that even
when a man speaks a compliment to me before I am aware, it
seems wronging you. Have you never felt one little bit of
what you used to feel when we were at the dairy? If you
have, how can you keep away from me? I am the same women,
Angel, as you fell in love with; yes, the very same! - not
the one you disliked but never saw. What was the past to me
as soon as I met you? It was a dead thing altogether. I
became another woman, filled full of new life from you. How
could I be the early one? Why do you not see this? Dear,
if you would only be a little more conceited, and believe
in yourself so far as to see that you were strong enough to
work this change in me, you would perhaps be in a mind to
come to me, your poor wife.
How silly I was in my happiness when I thought I could trust
you always to love me! I ought to have known that such as
that was not for poor me. But I am sick at heart, not only
for old times, but for the present. Think - think how it do
hurt my heart not to see you ever - ever! Ah, if I could
only make your dear heart ache one little minute of each day
as mine does every day and all day long, it might lead you
to show pity to your poor lonely one.
People still say that I am rather pretty, Angel (handsome is
the word they use, since I wish to be truthful). Perhaps I
am what they say. But I do not value my good looks; I only
like to have them because they belong to you, my dear, and
that there may be at least one thing about me worth your
having. So much have I felt this, that when I met with
annoyance on account of the same, I tied up my face in a
bandage as long as people would believe in it. O Angel, I
tell you all this not from vanity - you will certainly know
I do not - but only that you may come to me!
If you really cannot come to me, will you let me come to
you? I am, as I say, worried, pressed to do what I will
not do. It cannot be that I shall yield one inch, yet I am
in terror as to what an accident might lead to, and I so
defenceless on account of my first error. I cannot say more
about this - it makes me too miserable. But if I break down
by falling into some fearful snare, my last state will be
worse than my first. O God, I cannot think of it! Let me
come at once, or at once come to me!
I would be content, ay, glad, to live with you as your
servant, if I may not as your wife; so that I could only be
near you, and get glimpses of you, and think of you as mine.
The daylight has nothing to show me, since you are not here,
and I don't like to see the rooks and starlings in the
field, because I grieve and grieve to miss you who used to
see them with me. I long for only one thing in heaven or
earth or under the earth, to meet you, my own dear! Come
to me - come to me, and save me from what threatens me! -
Your faithful heartbroken
The appeal duly found its way to the breakfast-table of the quiet
Vicarage to the westward, in that valley where the air is so soft and
the soil so rich that the effort of growth requires but superficial
aid by comparison with the tillage at Flintcomb-Ash, and where to
Tess the human world seemed so different (though it was much the
same). It was purely for security that she had been requested by
Angel to send her communications through his father, whom he kept
pretty well informed of his changing addresses in the country he
had gone to exploit for himself with a heavy heart.
"Now," said old Mr Clare to his wife, when he had read the envelope,
"if Angel proposes leaving Rio for a visit home at the end of next
month, as he told us that he hoped to do, I think this may hasten his
plans; for I believe it to be from his wife." He breathed deeply at
the thought of her; and the letter was redirected to be promptly sent
on to Angel.
"Dear fellow, I hope he will get home safely," murmured Mrs Clare.
"To my dying day I shall feel that he has been ill-used. You should
have sent him to Cambridge in spite of his want of faith and given
him the same chance as the other boys had. He would have grown out
of it under proper influence, and perhaps would have taken Orders
after all. Church or no Church, it would have been fairer to him."
This was the only wail with which Mrs Clare ever disturbed her
husband's peace in respect to their sons. And she did not vent this
often; for she was as considerate as she was devout, and knew that
his mind too was troubled by doubts as to his justice in this matter.