youngest child said, "I wish poor, poor Tess wasn't gone away to be a
lady!" and, lowering the corners of his lips, burst out crying. The
new point of view was infectious, and the next child did likewise,
and then the next, till the whole three of them wailed loud.
There were tears also in Joan Durbeyfield's eyes as she turned to
go home. But by the time she had got back to the village she was
passively trusting to the favour of accident. However, in bed that
night she sighed, and her husband asked her what was the matter.
"Oh, I don't know exactly," she said. "I was thinking that perhaps
it would ha' been better if Tess had not gone."
"Oughtn't ye to have thought of that before?"
"Well, 'tis a chance for the maid - Still, if 'twere the doing again,
I wouldn't let her go till I had found out whether the gentleman
is really a good-hearted young man and choice over her as his
"Yes, you ought, perhaps, to ha' done that," snored Sir John.
Joan Durbeyfield always managed to find consolation somewhere: "Well,
as one of the genuine stock, she ought to make her way with 'en, if
she plays her trump card aright. And if he don't marry her afore he
will after. For that he's all afire wi' love for her any eye can
"What's her trump card? Her d'Urberville blood, you mean?"
"No, stupid; her face - as 'twas mine."
Having mounted beside her, Alec d'Urberville drove rapidly along
the crest of the first hill, chatting compliments to Tess as they
went, the cart with her box being left far behind. Rising still, an
immense landscape stretched around them on every side; behind, the
green valley of her birth, before, a gray country of which she knew
nothing except from her first brief visit to Trantridge. Thus they
reached the verge of an incline down which the road stretched in a
long straight descent of nearly a mile.
Ever since the accident with her father's horse Tess Durbeyfield,
courageous as she naturally was, had been exceedingly timid on
wheels; the least irregularity of motion startled her. She began to
get uneasy at a certain recklessness in her conductor's driving.
"You will go down slow, sir, I suppose?" she said with attempted
D'Urberville looked round upon her, nipped his cigar with the tips of
his large white centre-teeth, and allowed his lips to smile slowly of
"Why, Tess," he answered, after another whiff or two, "it isn't a
brave bouncing girl like you who asks that? Why, I always go down at
full gallop. There's nothing like it for raising your spirits."
"But perhaps you need not now?"
"Ah," he said, shaking his head, "there are two to be reckoned with.
It is not me alone. Tib has to be considered, and she has a very
"Why, this mare. I fancy she looked round at me in a very grim way
just then. Didn't you notice it?"
"Don't try to frighten me, sir," said Tess stiffly.
"Well, I don't. If any living man can manage this horse I can: I
won't say any living man can do it - but if such has the power, I am
"Why do you have such a horse?"
"Ah, well may you ask it! It was my fate, I suppose. Tib has killed
one chap; and just after I bought her she nearly killed me. And
then, take my word for it, I nearly killed her. But she's touchy
still, very touchy; and one's life is hardly safe behind her
They were just beginning to descend; and it was evident that the
horse, whether of her own will or of his (the latter being the more
likely), knew so well the reckless performance expected of her that
she hardly required a hint from behind.
Down, down, they sped, the wheels humming like a top, the dog-cart
rocking right and left, its axis acquiring a slightly oblique set
in relation to the line of progress; the figure of the horse rising
and falling in undulations before them. Sometimes a wheel was off
the ground, it seemed, for many yards; sometimes a stone was sent
spinning over the hedge, and flinty sparks from the horse's hoofs
outshone the daylight. The aspect of the straight road enlarged with
their advance, the two banks dividing like a splitting stick; one
rushing past at each shoulder.
The wind blew through Tess's white muslin to her very skin, and her
washed hair flew out behind. She was determined to show no open
fear, but she clutched d'Urberville's rein-arm.
"Don't touch my arm! We shall be thrown out if you do! Hold on
round my waist!"
She grasped his waist, and so they reached the bottom.
"Safe, thank God, in spite of your fooling!" said she, her face on
"Tess - fie! that's temper!" said d'Urberville.
"Well, you need not let go your hold of me so thanklessly the moment
you feel yourself our of danger."
She had not considered what she had been doing; whether he were man
or woman, stick or stone, in her involuntary hold on him. Recovering
her reserve, she sat without replying, and thus they reached the
summit of another declivity.
"Now then, again!" said d'Urberville.
"No, no!" said Tess. "Show more sense, do, please."
"But when people find themselves on one of the highest points in the
county, they must get down again," he retorted.
He loosened rein, and away they went a second time. D'Urberville
turned his face to her as they rocked, and said, in playful raillery:
"Now then, put your arms round my waist again, as you did before, my
"Never!" said Tess independently, holding on as well as she could
without touching him.
"Let me put one little kiss on those holmberry lips, Tess, or even on
that warmed cheek, and I'll stop - on my honour, I will!"
Tess, surprised beyond measure, slid farther back still on her seat,
at which he urged the horse anew, and rocked her the more.
"Will nothing else do?" she cried at length, in desperation, her
large eyes staring at him like those of a wild animal. This dressing
her up so prettily by her mother had apparently been to lamentable
"Nothing, dear Tess," he replied.
"Oh, I don't know - very well; I don't mind!" she panted miserably.
He drew rein, and as they slowed he was on the point of imprinting
the desired salute, when, as if hardly yet aware of her own modesty,
she dodged aside. His arms being occupied with the reins there was
left him no power to prevent her manoeuvre.
"Now, damn it - I'll break both our necks!" swore her capriciously
passionate companion. "So you can go from your word like that, you
young witch, can you?"
"Very well," said Tess, "I'll not move since you be so determined!
But I - thought you would be kind to me, and protect me, as my
"Kinsman be hanged! Now!"
"But I don't want anybody to kiss me, sir!" she implored, a big
tear beginning to roll down her face, and the corners of her mouth
trembling in her attempts not to cry. "And I wouldn't ha' come if
I had known!"
He was inexorable, and she sat still, and d'Urberville gave her the
kiss of mastery. No sooner had he done so than she flushed with
shame, took out her handkerchief, and wiped the spot on her cheek
that had been touched by his lips. His ardour was nettled at the
sight, for the act on her part had been unconsciously done.
"You are mighty sensitive for a cottage girl!" said the young man.
Tess made no reply to this remark, of which, indeed, she did not
quite comprehend the drift, unheeding the snub she had administered
by her instinctive rub upon her cheek. She had, in fact, undone the
kiss, as far as such a thing was physically possible. With a dim
sense that he was vexed she looked steadily ahead as they trotted on
near Melbury Down and Wingreen, till she saw, to her consternation,
that there was yet another descent to be undergone.
"You shall be made sorry for that!" he resumed, his injured tone
still remaining, as he flourished the whip anew. "Unless, that is,
you agree willingly to let me do it again, and no handkerchief."
She sighed. "Very well, sir!" she said. "Oh - let me get my hat!"
At the moment of speaking her hat had blown off into the road, their
present speed on the upland being by no means slow. D'Urberville
pulled up, and said he would get it for her, but Tess was down on the
She turned back and picked up the article.
"You look prettier with it off, upon my soul, if that's possible," he
said, contemplating her over the back of the vehicle. "Now then, up
again! What's the matter?"
The hat was in place and tied, but Tess had not stepped forward.
"No, sir," she said, revealing the red and ivory of her mouth as her
eye lit in defiant triumph; "not again, if I know it!"
"What - you won't get up beside me?"
"No; I shall walk."
"'Tis five or six miles yet to Trantridge."
"I don't care if 'tis dozens. Besides, the cart is behind."
"You artful hussy! Now, tell me - didn't you make that hat blow off
on purpose? I'll swear you did!"
Her strategic silence confirmed his suspicion.
Then d'Urberville cursed and swore at her, and called her everything
he could think of for the trick. Turning the horse suddenly he tried
to drive back upon her, and so hem her in between the gig and the
hedge. But he could not do this short of injuring her.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself for using such wicked words!"
cried Tess with spirit, from the top of the hedge into which she had
scrambled. "I don't like 'ee at all! I hate and detest you! I'll
go back to mother, I will!"
D'Urberville's bad temper cleared up at sight of hers; and he laughed
"Well, I like you all the better," he said. "Come, let there be
peace. I'll never do it any more against your will. My life upon
Still Tess could not be induced to remount. She did not, however,
object to his keeping his gig alongside her; and in this manner, at
a slow pace, they advanced towards the village of Trantridge. From
time to time d'Urberville exhibited a sort of fierce distress at
the sight of the tramping he had driven her to undertake by his
misdemeanour. She might in truth have safely trusted him now; but he
had forfeited her confidence for the time, and she kept on the ground
progressing thoughtfully, as if wondering whether it would be wiser
to return home. Her resolve, however, had been taken, and it seemed
vacillating even to childishness to abandon it now, unless for graver
reasons. How could she face her parents, get back her box, and
disconcert the whole scheme for the rehabilitation of her family on
such sentimental grounds?
A few minutes later the chimneys of The Slopes appeared in view, and
in a snug nook to the right the poultry-farm and cottage of Tess'
The community of fowls to which Tess had been appointed as
supervisor, purveyor, nurse, surgeon, and friend made its
headquarters in an old thatched cottage standing in an enclosure that
had once been a garden, but was now a trampled and sanded square.
The house was overrun with ivy, its chimney being enlarged by the
boughs of the parasite to the aspect of a ruined tower. The lower
rooms were entirely given over to the birds, who walked about them
with a proprietary air, as though the place had been built by
themselves, and not by certain dusty copyholders who now lay east
and west in the churchyard. The descendants of these bygone owners
felt it almost as a slight to their family when the house which had
so much of their affection, had cost so much of their forefathers'
money, and had been in their possession for several generations
before the d'Urbervilles came and built here, was indifferently
turned into a fowl-house by Mrs Stoke-d'Urberville as soon as the
property fell into hand according to law. "'Twas good enough for
Christians in grandfather's time," they said.
The rooms wherein dozens of infants had wailed at their nursing now
resounded with the tapping of nascent chicks. Distracted hens in
coops occupied spots where formerly stood chairs supporting sedate
agriculturists. The chimney-corner and once-blazing hearth was now
filled with inverted beehives, in which the hens laid their eggs;
while out of doors the plots that each succeeding householder had
carefully shaped with his spade were torn by the cocks in wildest
The garden in which the cottage stood was surrounded by a wall, and
could only be entered through a door.
When Tess had occupied herself about an hour the next morning in
altering and improving the arrangements, according to her skilled
ideas as the daughter of a professed poulterer, the door in the wall
opened and a servant in white cap and apron entered. She had come
from the manor-house.
"Mrs d'Urberville wants the fowls as usual," she said; but perceiving
that Tess did not quite understand, she explained, "Mis'ess is a old
lady, and blind."
"Blind!" said Tess.
Almost before her misgiving at the news could find time to shape
itself she took, under her companion's direction, two of the
most beautiful of the Hamburghs in her arms, and followed the
maid-servant, who had likewise taken two, to the adjacent mansion,
which, though ornate and imposing, showed traces everywhere on this
side that some occupant of its chambers could bend to the love of
dumb creatures - feathers floating within view of the front, and
hen-coops standing on the grass.
In a sitting-room on the ground-floor, ensconced in an armchair with
her back to the light, was the owner and mistress of the estate, a
white-haired woman of not more than sixty, or even less, wearing a
large cap. She had the mobile face frequent in those whose sight
has decayed by stages, has been laboriously striven after, and
reluctantly let go, rather than the stagnant mien apparent in persons
long sightless or born blind. Tess walked up to this lady with her
feathered charges - one sitting on each arm.
"Ah, you are the young woman come to look after my birds?" said Mrs
d'Urberville, recognizing a new footstep. "I hope you will be kind
to them. My bailiff tells me you are quite the proper person.
Well, where are they? Ah, this is Strut! But he is hardly so
lively to-day, is he? He is alarmed at being handled by a stranger,
I suppose. And Phena too - yes, they are a little frightened - aren't
you, dears? But they will soon get used to you."
While the old lady had been speaking Tess and the other maid, in
obedience to her gestures, had placed the fowls severally in her lap,
and she had felt them over from head to tail, examining their beaks,
their combs, the manes of the cocks, their wings, and their claws.
Her touch enabled her to recognize them in a moment, and to discover
if a single feather were crippled or draggled. She handled their
crops, and knew what they had eaten, and if too little or too much;
her face enacting a vivid pantomime of the criticisms passing in her
The birds that the two girls had brought in were duly returned to the
yard, and the process was repeated till all the pet cocks and hens
had been submitted to the old woman - Hamburghs, Bantams, Cochins,
Brahmas, Dorkings, and such other sorts as were in fashion just
then - her perception of each visitor being seldom at fault as she
received the bird upon her knees.
It reminded Tess of a Confirmation, in which Mrs d'Urberville was the
bishop, the fowls the young people presented, and herself and the
maid-servant the parson and curate of the parish bringing them up.
At the end of the ceremony Mrs d'Urberville abruptly asked Tess,
wrinkling and twitching her face into undulations, "Can you whistle?"
"Yes, whistle tunes."
Tess could whistle like most other country-girls, though the
accomplishment was one which she did not care to profess in genteel
company. However, she blandly admitted that such was the fact.
"Then you will have to practise it every day. I had a lad who did it
very well, but he has left. I want you to whistle to my bullfinches;
as I cannot see them, I like to hear them, and we teach 'em airs
that way. Tell her where the cages are, Elizabeth. You must begin
to-morrow, or they will go back in their piping. They have been
neglected these several days."
"Mr d'Urberville whistled to 'em this morning, ma'am," said
The old lady's face creased into furrows of repugnance, and she made
no further reply.
Thus the reception of Tess by her fancied kinswoman terminated, and
the birds were taken back to their quarters. The girl's surprise at
Mrs d'Urberville's manner was not great; for since seeing the size of
the house she had expected no more. But she was far from being aware
that the old lady had never heard a word of the so-called kinship.
She gathered that no great affection flowed between the blind woman
and her son. But in that, too, she was mistaken. Mrs d'Urberville
was not the first mother compelled to love her offspring resentfully,
and to be bitterly fond.
In spite of the unpleasant initiation of the day before, Tess
inclined to the freedom and novelty of her new position in the
morning when the sun shone, now that she was once installed there;
and she was curious to test her powers in the unexpected direction
asked of her, so as to ascertain her chance of retaining her post.
As soon as she was alone within the walled garden she sat herself
down on a coop, and seriously screwed up her mouth for the
long-neglected practice. She found her former ability to have
degenerated to the production of a hollow rush of wind through the
lips, and no clear note at all.
She remained fruitlessly blowing and blowing, wondering how she
could have so grown out of the art which had come by nature, till
she became aware of a movement among the ivy-boughs which cloaked
the garden-wall no less then the cottage. Looking that way she
beheld a form springing from the coping to the plot. It was Alec
d'Urberville, whom she had not set eyes on since he had conducted
her the day before to the door of the gardener's cottage where she
"Upon my honour!" cried he, "there was never before such a beautiful
thing in Nature or Art as you look, 'Cousin' Tess ('Cousin' had a
faint ring of mockery). I have been watching you from over the
wall - sitting like IM-patience on a monument, and pouting up that
pretty red mouth to whistling shape, and whooing and whooing, and
privately swearing, and never being able to produce a note. Why,
you are quite cross because you can't do it."
"I may be cross, but I didn't swear."
"Ah! I understand why you are trying - those bullies! My mother
wants you to carry on their musical education. How selfish of her!
As if attending to these curst cocks and hens here were not enough
work for any girl. I would flatly refuse, if I were you."
"But she wants me particularly to do it, and to be ready by to-morrow
"Does she? Well then - I'll give you a lesson or two."
"Oh no, you won't!" said Tess, withdrawing towards the door.
"Nonsense; I don't want to touch you. See - I'll stand on this side
of the wire-netting, and you can keep on the other; so you may feel
quite safe. Now, look here; you screw up your lips too harshly.
There 'tis - so."
He suited the action to the word, and whistled a line of "Take, O
take those lips away." But the allusion was lost upon Tess.
"Now try," said d'Urberville.
She attempted to look reserved; her face put on a sculptural
severity. But he persisted in his demand, and at last, to get rid of
him, she did put up her lips as directed for producing a clear note;
laughing distressfully, however, and then blushing with vexation that
she had laughed.
He encouraged her with "Try again!"
Tess was quite serious, painfully serious by this time; and she
tried - ultimately and unexpectedly emitting a real round sound.
The momentary pleasure of success got the better of her; her eyes
enlarged, and she involuntarily smiled in his face.
"That's it! Now I have started you - you'll go on beautifully.
There - I said I would not come near you; and, in spite of such
temptation as never before fell to mortal man, I'll keep my
word... Tess, do you think my mother a queer old soul?"
"I don't know much of her yet, sir."
"You'll find her so; she must be, to make you learn to whistle to her
bullfinches. I am rather out of her books just now, but you will be
quite in favour if you treat her live-stock well. Good morning. If
you meet with any difficulties and want help here, don't go to the
bailiff, come to me."
It was in the economy of this _rÃ©gime_ that Tess Durbeyfield had
undertaken to fill a place. Her first day's experiences were fairly
typical of those which followed through many succeeding days. A
familiarity with Alec d'Urberville's presence - which that young man
carefully cultivated in her by playful dialogue, and by jestingly
calling her his cousin when they were alone - removed much of her
original shyness of him, without, however, implanting any feeling
which could engender shyness of a new and tenderer kind. But she was
more pliable under his hands than a mere companionship would have
made her, owing to her unavoidable dependence upon his mother, and,
through that lady's comparative helplessness, upon him.
She soon found that whistling to the bullfinches in Mrs
d'Urberville's room was no such onerous business when she had
regained the art, for she had caught from her musical mother numerous
airs that suited those songsters admirably. A far more satisfactory
time than when she practised in the garden was this whistling by the
cages each morning. Unrestrained by the young man's presence she
threw up her mouth, put her lips near the bars, and piped away in
easeful grace to the attentive listeners.
Mrs d'Urberville slept in a large four-post bedstead hung with heavy
damask curtains, and the bullfinches occupied the same apartment,
where they flitted about freely at certain hours, and made little
white spots on the furniture and upholstery. Once while Tess was at
the window where the cages were ranged, giving her lesson as usual,
she thought she heard a rustling behind the bed. The old lady was
not present, and turning round the girl had an impression that
the toes of a pair of boots were visible below the fringe of the
curtains. Thereupon her whistling became so disjointed that the
listener, if such there were, must have discovered her suspicion of
his presence. She searched the curtains every morning after that,
but never found anybody within them. Alec d'Urberville had evidently
thought better of his freak to terrify her by an ambush of that kind.
Every village has its idiosyncrasy, its constitution, often its own
code of morality. The levity of some of the younger women in and
about Trantridge was marked, and was perhaps symptomatic of the
choice spirit who ruled The Slopes in that vicinity. The place had
also a more abiding defect; it drank hard. The staple conversation
on the farms around was on the uselessness of saving money; and
smock-frocked arithmeticians, leaning on their ploughs or hoes, would
enter into calculations of great nicety to prove that parish relief
was a fuller provision for a man in his old age than any which could
result from savings out of their wages during a whole lifetime.
The chief pleasure of these philosophers lay in going every Saturday
night, when work was done, to Chaseborough, a decayed market-town two
or three miles distant; and, returning in the small hours of the next
morning, to spend Sunday in sleeping off the dyspeptic effects of the
curious compounds sold to them as beer by the monopolizers of the
For a long time Tess did not join in the weekly pilgrimages. But
under pressure from matrons not much older than herself - for a
field-man's wages being as high at twenty-one as at forty, marriage
was early here - Tess at length consented to go. Her first experience
of the journey afforded her more enjoyment than she had expected,
the hilariousness of the others being quite contagious after her
monotonous attention to the poultry-farm all the week. She went again
and again. Being graceful and interesting, standing moreover on the
momentary threshold of womanhood, her appearance drew down upon her
some sly regards from loungers in the streets of Chaseborough; hence,
though sometimes her journey to the town was made independently, she
always searched for her fellows at nightfall, to have the protection
of their companionship homeward.
This had gone on for a month or two when there came a Saturday in
September, on which a fair and a market coincided; and the pilgrims