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"By experience," says Roger Ascham, "we find out a short way by a long wandering."
Not seldom that long wandering unfits us for further travel, and of what use is our
experience to us then?
Tess Durbeyfield's experience was of this incapacitating kind.
At last she had learned what to do; but who would now accept her doing?
If before going to the d'Urbervilles' she had vigorously moved under the guidance of
sundry gnomic texts and phrases known to her and to the world in general, no doubt
she would never have been imposed on.
But it had not been in Tess's power--nor is it in anybody's power--to feel the whole
truth of golden opinions while it is possible to profit by them.
She--and how many more--might have ironically said to God with Saint
Augustine: "Thou hast counselled a better course than Thou hast permitted."
She remained at her father's house during the winter months, plucking fowls, or
cramming turkeys and geese, or making clothes for her sisters and brothers out of
some finery which d'Urberville had given her, and she had put by with contempt.
Apply to him she would not.
But she would often clasp her hands behind her head and muse when she was supposed to
be working hard.
She philosophically noted dates as they came past in the revolution of the year;
the disastrous night of her undoing at Trantridge with its dark background of The
Chase; also the dates of the baby's birth
and death; also her own birthday; and every other day individualized by incidents in
which she had taken some share.
She suddenly thought one afternoon, when looking in the glass at her fairness, that
there was yet another date, of greater importance to her than those; that of her
own death, when all these charms would have
disappeared; a day which lay sly and unseen among all the other days of the year,
giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it; but not the less surely
When was it? Why did she not feel the chill of each
yearly encounter with such a cold relation?
She had Jeremy Taylor's thought that some time in the future those who had known her
would say: "It is the ----th, the day that poor Tess Durbeyfield died"; and there
would be nothing singular to their minds in the statement.
Of that day, doomed to be her terminus in time through all the ages, she did not know
the place in month, week, season or year.
Almost at a leap Tess thus changed from simple girl to complex woman.
Symbols of reflectiveness passed into her face, and a note of tragedy at times into
her voice.
Her eyes grew larger and more eloquent.
She became what would have been called a fine creature; her aspect was fair and
arresting; her soul that of a woman whom the turbulent experiences of the last year
or two had quite failed to demoralize.
But for the world's opinion those experiences would have been simply a
liberal education.
She had held so aloof of late that her trouble, never generally known, was nearly
forgotten in Marlott.
But it became evident to her that she could never be really comfortable again in a
place which had seen the collapse of her family's attempt to "claim kin"--and,
through her, even closer union--with the rich d'Urbervilles.
At least she could not be comfortable there till long years should have obliterated her
keen consciousness of it.
Yet even now Tess felt the pulse of hopeful life still warm within her; she might be
happy in some nook which had no memories.
To escape the past and all that appertained thereto was to annihilate it, and to do
that she would have to get away. Was once lost always lost really true of
chastity? she would ask herself.
She might prove it false if she could veil bygones.
The recuperative power which pervaded organic nature was surely not denied to
maidenhood alone.
She waited a long time without finding opportunity for a new departure.
A particularly fine spring came round, and the stir of germination was almost audible
in the buds; it moved her, as it moved the wild animals, and made her passionate to
At last, one day in early May, a letter reached her from a former friend of her
mother's, to whom she had addressed inquiries long before--a person whom she
had never seen--that a skilful milkmaid was
required at a dairy-house many miles to the southward, and that the dairyman would be
glad to have her for the summer months.
It was not quite so far off as could have been wished; but it was probably far
enough, her radius of movement and repute having been so small.
To persons of limited spheres, miles are as geographical degrees, parishes as counties,
counties as provinces and kingdoms.
On one point she was resolved: there should be no more d'Urberville air-castles in the
dreams and deeds of her new life. She would be the dairymaid Tess, and
nothing more.
Her mother knew Tess's feeling on this point so well, though no words had passed
between them on the subject, that she never alluded to the knightly ancestry now.
Yet such is human inconsistency that one of the interests of the new place to her was
the accidental virtues of its lying near her forefathers' country (for they were not
Blakemore men, though her mother was Blakemore to the bone).
The dairy called Talbothays, for which she was bound, stood not remotely from some of
the former estates of the d'Urbervilles, near the great family vaults of her
granddames and their powerful husbands.
She would be able to look at them, and think not only that d'Urberville, like
Babylon, had fallen, but that the individual innocence of a humble descendant
could lapse as silently.
All the while she wondered if any strange good thing might come of her being in her
ancestral land; and some spirit within her rose automatically as the sap in the
It was unexpected youth, surging up anew after its temporary check, and bringing
with it hope, and the invincible instinct towards self-delight.
On a thyme-scented, bird-hatching morning in May, between two and three years after
the return from Trantridge--silent, reconstructive years for Tess Durbeyfield--
she left her home for the second time.
Having packed up her luggage so that it could be sent to her later, she started in
a hired trap for the little town of Stourcastle, through which it was necessary
to pass on her journey, now in a direction
almost opposite to that of her first adventuring.
On the curve of the nearest hill she looked back regretfully at Marlott and her
father's house, although she had been so anxious to get away.
Her kindred dwelling there would probably continue their daily lives as heretofore,
with no great diminution of pleasure in their consciousness, although she would be
far off, and they deprived of her smile.
In a few days the children would engage in their games as merrily as ever, without the
sense of any gap left by her departure.
This leaving of the younger children she had decided to be for the best; were she to
remain they would probably gain less good by her precepts than harm by her example.
She went through Stourcastle without pausing and onward to a junction of
highways, where she could await a carrier's van that ran to the south-west; for the
railways which engirdled this interior
tract of country had never yet struck across it.
While waiting, however, there came along a farmer in his spring cart, driving
approximately in the direction that she wished to pursue.
Though he was a stranger to her she accepted his offer of a seat beside him,
ignoring that its motive was a mere tribute to her countenance.
He was going to Weatherbury, and by accompanying him thither she could walk the
remainder of the distance instead of travelling in the van by way of
Tess did not stop at Weatherbury, after this long drive, further than to make a
slight nondescript meal at noon at a cottage to which the farmer recommended
Thence she started on foot, basket in hand, to reach the wide upland of heath dividing
this district from the low-lying meads of a further valley in which the dairy stood
that was the aim and end of her day's pilgrimage.
Tess had never before visited this part of the country, and yet she felt akin to the
Not so very far to the left of her she could discern a dark patch in the scenery,
which inquiry confirmed her in supposing to be trees marking the environs of Kingsbere-
-in the church of which parish the bones of
her ancestors--her useless ancestors--lay entombed.
She had no admiration for them now; she almost hated them for the dance they had
led her; not a thing of all that had been theirs did she retain but the old seal and
"Pooh--I have as much of mother as father in me!" she said.
"All my prettiness comes from her, and she was only a dairymaid."
The journey over the intervening uplands and lowlands of Egdon, when she reached
them, was a more troublesome walk than she had anticipated, the distance being
actually but a few miles.
It was two hours, owing to sundry wrong turnings, ere she found herself on a summit
commanding the long-sought-for vale, the Valley of the Great Dairies, the valley in
which milk and butter grew to rankness, and
were produced more profusely, if less delicately, than at her home--the verdant
plain so well watered by the river Var or Froom.
It was intrinsically different from the Vale of Little Dairies, Blackmoor Vale,
which, save during her disastrous sojourn at Trantridge, she had exclusively known
till now.
The world was drawn to a larger pattern here.
The enclosures numbered fifty acres instead of ten, the farmsteads were more extended,
the groups of cattle formed tribes hereabout; there only families.
These myriads of cows stretching under her eyes from the far east to the far west
outnumbered any she had ever seen at one glance before.
The green lea was speckled as thickly with them as a canvas by Van Alsloot or Sallaert
with burghers.
The ripe hue of the red and dun kine absorbed the evening sunlight, which the
white-coated animals returned to the eye in rays almost dazzling, even at the distant
elevation on which she stood.
The bird's-eye perspective before her was not so luxuriantly beautiful, perhaps, as
that other one which she knew so well; yet it was more cheering.
It lacked the intensely blue atmosphere of the rival vale, and its heavy soils and
scents; the new air was clear, bracing, ethereal.
The river itself, which nourished the grass and cows of these renowned dairies, flowed
not like the streams in Blackmoor.
Those were slow, silent, often turbid; flowing over beds of mud into which the
incautious wader might sink and vanish unawares.
The Froom waters were clear as the pure River of Life shown to the Evangelist,
rapid as the shadow of a cloud, with pebbly shallows that prattled to the sky all day
There the water-flower was the lily; the crow-foot here.
Either the change in the quality of the air from heavy to light, or the sense of being
amid new scenes where there were no invidious eyes upon her, sent up her
spirits wonderfully.
Her hopes mingled with the sunshine in an ideal photosphere which surrounded her as
she bounded along against the soft south wind.
She heard a pleasant voice in every breeze, and in every bird's note seemed to lurk a
Her face had latterly changed with changing states of mind, continually fluctuating
between beauty and ordinariness, according as the thoughts were gay or grave.
One day she was pink and flawless; another pale and tragical.
When she was pink she was feeling less than when pale; her more perfect beauty accorded
with her less elevated mood; her more intense mood with her less perfect beauty.
It was her best face physically that was now set against the south wind.
The irresistible, universal, automatic tendency to find sweet pleasure somewhere,
which pervades all life, from the meanest to the highest, had at length mastered
Being even now only a young woman of twenty, one who mentally and sentimentally
had not finished growing, it was impossible that any event should have left upon her an
impression that was not in time capable of transmutation.
And thus her spirits, and her thankfulness, and her hopes, rose higher and higher.
She tried several ballads, but found them inadequate; till, recollecting the psalter
that her eyes had so often wandered over of a Sunday morning before she had eaten of
the tree of knowledge, she chanted: "O ye Sun and Moon ...
O ye Stars ... ye Green Things upon the Earth ... ye Fowls of the Air ...
Beasts and Cattle ...
Children of Men ... bless ye the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him for ever!"
She suddenly stopped and murmured: "But perhaps I don't quite know the Lord as
And probably the half-unconscious rhapsody was a Fetishistic utterance in a
Monotheistic setting; women whose chief companions are the forms and forces of
outdoor Nature retain in their souls far
more of the Pagan fantasy of their remote forefathers than of the systematized
religion taught their race at later date.
However, Tess found at least approximate expression for her feelings in the old
Benedicite that she had lisped from infancy; and it was enough.
Such high contentment with such a slight initial performance as that of having
started towards a means of independent living was a part of the Durbeyfield
Tess really wished to walk uprightly, while her father did nothing of the kind; but she
resembled him in being content with immediate and small achievements, and in
having no mind for laborious effort towards
such petty social advancement as could alone be effected by a family so heavily
handicapped as the once powerful d'Urbervilles were now.
There was, it might be said, the energy of her mother's unexpended family, as well as
the natural energy of Tess's years, rekindled after the experience which had so
overwhelmed her for the time.
Let the truth be told--women do as a rule live through such humiliations, and regain
their spirits, and again look about them with an interested eye.
While there's life there's hope is a conviction not so entirely unknown to the
"betrayed" as some amiable theorists would have us believe.
Tess Durbeyfield, then, in good heart, and full of zest for life, descended the Egdon
slopes lower and lower towards the dairy of her pilgrimage.
The marked difference, in the final particular, between the rival vales now
showed itself.
The secret of Blackmoor was best discovered from the heights around; to read aright the
valley before her it was necessary to descend into its midst.
When Tess had accomplished this feat she found herself to be standing on a carpeted
level, which stretched to the east and west as far as the eye could reach.
The river had stolen from the higher tracts and brought in particles to the vale all
this horizontal land; and now, exhausted, aged, and attenuated, lay serpentining
along through the midst of its former spoils.
Not quite sure of her direction, Tess stood still upon the hemmed expanse of verdant
flatness, like a fly on a billiard-table of indefinite length, and of no more
consequence to the surroundings than that fly.
The sole effect of her presence upon the placid valley so far had been to excite the
mind of a solitary heron, which, after descending to the ground not far from her
path, stood with neck erect, looking at her.
Suddenly there arose from all parts of the lowland a prolonged and repeated call--
"Waow! waow! waow!"
From the furthest east to the furthest west the cries spread as if by contagion,
accompanied in some cases by the barking of a dog.
It was not the expression of the valley's consciousness that beautiful Tess had
arrived, but the ordinary announcement of milking-time--half-past four o'clock, when
the dairymen set about getting in the cows.
The red and white herd nearest at hand, which had been phlegmatically waiting for
the call, now trooped towards the steading in the background, their great bags of milk
swinging under them as they walked.
Tess followed slowly in their rear, and entered the barton by the open gate through
which they had entered before her.
Long thatched sheds stretched round the enclosure, their slopes encrusted with
vivid green moss, and their eaves supported by wooden posts rubbed to a glossy
smoothness by the flanks of infinite cows
and calves of bygone years, now passed to an oblivion almost inconceivable in its
Between the post were ranged the milchers, each exhibiting herself at the present
moment to a whimsical eye in the rear as a circle on two stalks, down the centre of
which a switch moved pendulum-wise; while
the sun, lowering itself behind this patient row, threw their shadows accurately
inwards upon the wall.
Thus it threw shadows of these obscure and homely figures every evening with as much
care over each contour as if it had been the profile of a court beauty on a palace
wall; copied them as diligently as it had
copied Olympian shapes on marble facades long ago, or the outline of Alexander,
Caesar, and the Pharaohs. They were the less restful cows that were
Those that would stand still of their own will were milked in the middle of the yard,
where many of such better behaved ones stood waiting now--all prime milchers, such
as were seldom seen out of this valley, and
not always within it; nourished by the succulent feed which the water-meads
supplied at this prime season of the year.
Those of them that were spotted with white reflected the sunshine in dazzling
brilliancy, and the polished brass knobs of their horns glittered with something of
military display.
Their large-veined udders hung ponderous as sandbags, the teats sticking out like the
legs of a gipsy's crock; and as each animal lingered for her turn to arrive the milk
oozed forth and fell in drops to the ground.
The dairymaids and men had flocked down from their cottages and out of the dairy-
house with the arrival of the cows from the meads; the maids walking in pattens, not on
account of the weather, but to keep their shoes above the mulch of the barton.
Each girl sat down on her three-legged stool, her face sideways, her right cheek
resting against the cow, and looked musingly along the animal's flank at Tess
as she approached.
The male milkers, with hat-brims turned down, resting flat on their foreheads and
gazing on the ground, did not observe her.
One of these was a sturdy middle-aged man-- whose long white "pinner" was somewhat
finer and cleaner than the wraps of the others, and whose jacket underneath had a
presentable marketing aspect--the master-
dairyman, of whom she was in quest, his double character as a working milker and
butter maker here during six days, and on the seventh as a man in shining broad-cloth
in his family pew at church, being so marked as to have inspired a rhyme:
Dairyman Dick All the week:-- On Sundays Mister Richard Crick.
Seeing Tess standing at gaze he went across to her.
The majority of dairymen have a cross manner at milking time, but it happened
that Mr Crick was glad to get a new hand-- for the days were busy ones now--and he
received her warmly; inquiring for her
mother and the rest of the family--(though this as a matter of form merely, for in
reality he had not been aware of Mrs Durbeyfield's existence till apprised of
the fact by a brief business-letter about Tess).
"Oh--ay, as a lad I knowed your part o' the country very well," he said terminatively.
"Though I've never been there since.
And a aged woman of ninety that use to live nigh here, but is dead and gone long ago,
told me that a family of some such name as yours in Blackmoor Vale came originally
from these parts, and that 'twere a old
ancient race that had all but perished off the earth--though the new generations
didn't know it. But, Lord, I took no notice of the old
woman's ramblings, not I."
"Oh no--it is nothing," said Tess. Then the talk was of business only.
"You can milk 'em clean, my maidy? I don't want my cows going azew at this
time o' year."
She reassured him on that point, and he surveyed her up and down.
She had been staying indoors a good deal, and her complexion had grown delicate.
"Quite sure you can stand it?
'Tis comfortable enough here for rough folk; but we don't live in a cowcumber
She declared that she could stand it, and her zest and willingness seemed to win him
over. "Well, I suppose you'll want a dish o' tay,
or victuals of some sort, hey?
Not yet? Well, do as ye like about it.
But faith, if 'twas I, I should be as dry as a kex wi' travelling so far."
"I'll begin milking now, to get my hand in," said Tess.
She drank a little milk as temporary refreshment--to the surprise--indeed,
slight contempt--of Dairyman Crick, to whose mind it had apparently never occurred
that milk was good as a beverage.
"Oh, if ye can swaller that, be it so," he said indifferently, while holding up the
pail that she sipped from. "'Tis what I hain't touched for years--not
Rot the stuff; it would lie in my innerds like lead.
You can try your hand upon she," he pursued, nodding to the nearest cow.
"Not but what she do milk rather hard.
We've hard ones and we've easy ones, like other folks.
However, you'll find out that soon enough."
When Tess had changed her bonnet for a hood, and was really on her stool under the
cow, and the milk was squirting from her fists into the pail, she appeared to feel
that she really had laid a new foundation for her future.
The conviction bred serenity, her pulse slowed, and she was able to look about her.
The milkers formed quite a little battalion of men and maids, the men operating on the
hard-teated animals, the maids on the kindlier natures.
It was a large dairy.
There were nearly a hundred milchers under Crick's management, all told; and of the
herd the master-dairyman milked six or eight with his own hands, unless away from
These were the cows that milked hardest of all; for his journey-milkmen being more or
less casually hired, he would not entrust this half-dozen to their treatment, lest,
from indifference, they should not milk
them fully; nor to the maids, lest they should fail in the same way for lack of
finger-grip; with the result that in course of time the cows would "go azew"--that is,
dry up.
It was not the loss for the moment that made slack milking so serious, but that
with the decline of demand there came decline, and ultimately cessation, of
After Tess had settled down to her cow there was for a time no talk in the barton,
and not a sound interfered with the purr of the milk-jets into the numerous pails,
except a momentary exclamation to one or
other of the beasts requesting her to turn round or stand still.
The only movements were those of the milkers' hands up and down, and the swing
of the cows' tails.
Thus they all worked on, encompassed by the vast flat mead which extended to either
slope of the valley--a level landscape compounded of old landscapes long
forgotten, and, no doubt, differing in
character very greatly from the landscape they composed now.
"To my thinking," said the dairyman, rising suddenly from a cow he had just finished
off, snatching up his three-legged stool in one hand and the pail in the other, and
moving on to the next hard-yielder in his
vicinity, "to my thinking, the cows don't gie down their milk to-day as usual.
Upon my life, if Winker do begin keeping back like this, she'll not be worth going
under by midsummer."
"'Tis because there's a new hand come among us," said Jonathan Kail.
"I've noticed such things afore." "To be sure.
It may be so.
I didn't think o't." "I've been told that it goes up into their
horns at such times," said a dairymaid.
"Well, as to going up into their horns," replied Dairyman Crick dubiously, as though
even witchcraft might be limited by anatomical possibilities, "I couldn't say;
I certainly could not.
But as nott cows will keep it back as well as the horned ones, I don't quite agree to
it. Do ye know that riddle about the nott cows,
Why do nott cows give less milk in a year than horned?"
"I don't!" interposed the milkmaid, "Why do they?"
"Because there bain't so many of 'em," said the dairyman.
"Howsomever, these gam'sters do certainly keep back their milk to-day.
Folks, we must lift up a stave or two-- that's the only cure for't."
Songs were often resorted to in dairies hereabout as an enticement to the cows when
they showed signs of withholding their usual yield; and the band of milkers at
this request burst into melody--in purely
business-like tones, it is true, and with no great spontaneity; the result, according
to their own belief, being a decided improvement during the song's continuance.
When they had gone through fourteen or fifteen verses of a cheerful ballad aboutb a
murderer who was afraid to go to bed in the dark because he saw certain brimstone
flames around him, one of the male milkers said--
"I wish singing on the stoop didn't use up so much of a man's wind!
You should get your harp, sir; not but what a fiddle is best."
Tess, who had given ear to this, thought the words were addressed to the dairyman,
but she was wrong.
A reply, in the shape of "Why?" came as it were out of the belly of a dun cow in the
stalls; it had been spoken by a milker behind the animal, whom she had not
hitherto perceived.
"Oh yes; there's nothing like a fiddle," said the dairyman.
"Though I do think that bulls are more moved by a tune than cows--at least that's
my experience.
Once there was an old aged man over at Mellstock--William Dewy by name--one of the
family that used to do a good deal of business as tranters over there--Jonathan,
do ye mind?--I knowed the man by sight as
well as I know my own brother, in a manner of speaking.
Well, this man was a coming home along from a wedding, where he had been playing his
fiddle, one fine moonlight night, and for shortness' sake he took a cut across Forty-
acres, a field lying that way, where a bull was out to grass.
The bull seed William, and took after him, horns aground, begad; and though William
runned his best, and hadn't MUCH drink in him (considering 'twas a wedding, and the
folks well off), he found he'd never reach
the fence and get over in time to save himself.
Well, as a last thought, he pulled out his fiddle as he runned, and struck up a jig,
turning to the bull, and backing towards the corner.
The bull softened down, and stood still, looking hard at William Dewy, who fiddled
on and on; till a sort of a smile stole over the bull's face.
But no sooner did William stop his playing and turn to get over hedge than the bull
would stop his smiling and lower his horns towards the seat of William's breeches.
Well, William had to turn about and play on, willy-nilly; and 'twas only three
o'clock in the world, and 'a knowed that nobody would come that way for hours, and
he so leery and tired that 'a didn't know what to do.
When he had scraped till about four o'clock he felt that he verily would have to give
over soon, and he said to himself, 'There's only this last tune between me and eternal
Heaven save me, or I'm a done man.' Well, then he called to mind how he'd seen
the cattle kneel o' Christmas Eves in the dead o' night.
It was not Christmas Eve then, but it came into his head to play a trick upon the
So he broke into the 'Tivity Hymm, just as at Christmas carol-singing; when, lo and
behold, down went the bull on his bended knees, in his ignorance, just as if 'twere
the true 'Tivity night and hour.
As soon as his horned friend were down, William turned, clinked off like a long-
dog, and jumped safe over hedge, before the praying bull had got on his feet again to
take after him.
William used to say that he'd seen a man look a fool a good many times, but never
such a fool as that bull looked when he found his pious feelings had been played
upon, and 'twas not Christmas Eve....
Yes, William Dewy, that was the man's name; and I can tell you to a foot where's he a-
lying in Mellstock Churchyard at this very moment--just between the second yew-tree
and the north aisle."
"It's a curious story; it carries us back to medieval times, when faith was a living
The remark, singular for a dairy-yard, was murmured by the voice behind the dun cow;
but as nobody understood the reference, no notice was taken, except that the narrator
seemed to think it might imply scepticism as to his tale.
"Well, 'tis quite true, sir, whether or no. I knowed the man well."
"Oh yes; I have no doubt of it," said the person behind the dun cow.
Tess's attention was thus attracted to the dairyman's interlocutor, of whom she could
see but the merest patch, owing to his burying his head so persistently in the
flank of the milcher.
She could not understand why he should be addressed as "sir" even by the dairyman
But no explanation was discernible; he remained under the cow long enough to have
milked three, uttering a private ejaculation now and then, as if he could
not get on.
"Take it gentle, sir; take it gentle," said the dairyman.
"'Tis knack, not strength, that does it." "So I find," said the other, standing up at
last and stretching his arms.
"I think I have finished her, however, though she made my fingers ache."
Tess could then see him at full length.
He wore the ordinary white pinner and leather leggings of a dairy-farmer when
milking, and his boots were clogged with the mulch of the yard; but this was all his
local livery.
Beneath it was something educated, reserved, subtle, sad, differing.
But the details of his aspect were temporarily thrust aside by the discovery
that he was one whom she had seen before.
Such vicissitudes had Tess passed through since that time that for a moment she could
not remember where she had met him; and then it flashed upon her that he was the
pedestrian who had joined in the club-dance
at Marlott--the passing stranger who had come she knew not whence, had danced with
others but not with her, and slightingly left her, and gone on his way with his
The flood of memories brought back by this revival of an incident anterior to her
troubles produced a momentary dismay lest, recognizing her also, he should by some
means discover her story.
But it passed away when she found no sign of remembrance in him.
She saw by degrees that since their first and only encounter his mobile face had
grown more thoughtful, and had acquired a young man's shapely moustache and beard--
the latter of the palest straw colour where
it began upon his cheeks, and deepening to a warm brown farther from its root.
Under his linen milking-pinner he wore a dark velveteen jacket, cord breeches and
gaiters, and a starched white shirt.
Without the milking-gear nobody could have guessed what he was.
He might with equal probability have been an eccentric landowner or a gentlemanly
That he was but a novice at dairy work she had realized in a moment, from the time he
had spent upon the milking of one cow.
Meanwhile many of the milkmaids had said to one another of the newcomer, "How pretty
she is!" with something of real generosity and admiration, though with a half hope
that the auditors would qualify the
assertion--which, strictly speaking, they might have done, prettiness being an
inexact definition of what struck the eye in Tess.
When the milking was finished for the evening they straggled indoors, where Mrs
Crick, the dairyman's wife--who was too respectable to go out milking herself, and
wore a hot stuff gown in warm weather
because the dairymaids wore prints--was giving an eye to the leads and things.
Only two or three of the maids, Tess learnt, slept in the dairy-house besides
herself, most of the helpers going to their homes.
She saw nothing at supper-time of the superior milker who had commented on the
story, and asked no questions about him, the remainder of the evening being occupied
in arranging her place in the bed-chamber.
It was a large room over the milk-house, some thirty feet long; the sleeping-cots of
the other three indoor milkmaids being in the same apartment.
They were blooming young women, and, except one, rather older than herself.
By bedtime Tess was thoroughly tired, and fell asleep immediately.
But one of the girls, who occupied an adjoining bed, was more wakeful than Tess,
and would insist upon relating to the latter various particulars of the homestead
into which she had just entered.
The girl's whispered words mingled with the shades, and, to Tess's drowsy mind, they
seemed to be generated by the darkness in which they floated.
"Mr Angel Clare--he that is learning milking, and that plays the harp--never
says much to us. He is a pa'son's son, and is too much taken
up wi' his own thoughts to notice girls.
He is the dairyman's pupil--learning farming in all its branches.
He has learnt sheep-farming at another place, and he's now mastering dairy-
Yes, he is quite the gentleman-born. His father is the Reverent Mr Clare at
Emminster--a good many miles from here." "Oh--I have heard of him," said her
companion, now awake.
"A very earnest clergyman, is he not?" "Yes--that he is--the earnestest man in all
Wessex, they say--the last of the old Low Church sort, they tell me--for all about
here be what they call High.
All his sons, except our Mr Clare, be made pa'sons too."
Tess had not at this hour the curiosity to ask why the present Mr Clare was not made a
parson like his brethren, and gradually fell asleep again, the words of her
informant coming to her along with the
smell of the cheeses in the adjoining cheeseloft, and the measured dripping of
the whey from the wrings downstairs.
Angel Clare rises out of the past not altogether as a distinct figure, but as an
appreciative voice, a long regard of fixed, abstracted eyes, and a mobility of mouth
somewhat too small and delicately lined for
a man's, though with an unexpectedly firm close of the lower lip now and then; enough
to do away with any inference of indecision.
Nevertheless, something nebulous, preoccupied, vague, in his bearing and
regard, marked him as one who probably had no very definite aim or concern about his
material future.
Yet as a lad people had said of him that he was one who might do anything if he tried.
He was the youngest son of his father, a poor parson at the other end of the county,
and had arrived at Talbothays Dairy as a six months' pupil, after going the round of
some other farms, his object being to
acquire a practical skill in the various processes of farming, with a view either to
the Colonies or the tenure of a home-farm, as circumstances might decide.
His entry into the ranks of the agriculturists and breeders was a step in
the young man's career which had been anticipated neither by himself nor by
Mr Clare the elder, whose first wife had died and left him a daughter, married a
second late in life.
This lady had somewhat unexpectedly brought him three sons, so that between Angel, the
youngest, and his father the Vicar there seemed to be almost a missing generation.
Of these boys the aforesaid Angel, the child of his old age, was the only son who
had not taken a University degree, though he was the single one of them whose early
promise might have done full justice to an academical training.
Some two or three years before Angel's appearance at the Marlott dance, on a day
when he had left school and was pursuing his studies at home, a parcel came to the
Vicarage from the local bookseller's, directed to the Reverend James Clare.
The Vicar having opened it and found it to contain a book, read a few pages; whereupon
he jumped up from his seat and went straight to the shop with the book under
his arm.
"Why has this been sent to my house?" he asked peremptorily, holding up the volume.
"It was ordered, sir." "Not by me, or any one belonging to me, I
am happy to say."
The shopkeeper looked into his order-book. "Oh, it has been misdirected, sir," he
said. "It was ordered by Mr Angel Clare, and
should have been sent to him."
Mr Clare winced as if he had been struck. He went home pale and dejected, and called
Angel into his study. "Look into this book, my boy," he said.
"What do you know about it?"
"I ordered it," said Angel simply. "What for?"
"To read." "How can you think of reading it?"
"How can I?
Why--it is a system of philosophy. There is no more moral, or even religious,
work published." "Yes--moral enough; I don't deny that.
But religious!--and for YOU, who intend to be a minister of the Gospel!"
"Since you have alluded to the matter, father," said the son, with anxious thought
upon his face, "I should like to say, once for all, that I should prefer not to take
I fear I could not conscientiously do so. I love the Church as one loves a parent.
I shall always have the warmest affection for her.
There is no institution for whose history I have a deeper admiration; but I cannot
honestly be ordained her minister, as my brothers are, while she refuses to liberate
her mind from an untenable redemptive theolatry."
It had never occurred to the straightforward and simple-minded Vicar
that one of his own flesh and blood could come to this!
He was stultified, shocked, paralysed.
And if Angel were not going to enter the Church, what was the use of sending him to
The University as a step to anything but ordination seemed, to this man of fixed
ideas, a preface without a volume.
He was a man not merely religious, but devout; a firm believer--not as the phrase
is now elusively construed by theological thimble-riggers in the Church and out of
it, but in the old and ardent sense of the Evangelical school: one who could
Indeed opine That the Eternal and Divine
Did, eighteen centuries ago In very truth...
Angel's father tried argument, persuasion, entreaty.
"No, father; I cannot underwrite Article Four (leave alone the rest), taking it 'in
the literal and grammatical sense' as required by the Declaration; and,
therefore, I can't be a parson in the present state of affairs," said Angel.
"My whole instinct in matters of religion is towards reconstruction; to quote your
favorite Epistle to the Hebrews, 'the removing of those things that are shaken,
as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.'"
His father grieved so deeply that it made Angel quite ill to see him.
"What is the good of your mother and me economizing and stinting ourselves to give
you a University education, if it is not to be used for the honour and glory of God?"
his father repeated.
"Why, that it may be used for the honour and glory of man, father."
Perhaps if Angel had persevered he might have gone to Cambridge like his brothers.
But the Vicar's view of that seat of learning as a stepping-stone to Orders
alone was quite a family tradition; and so rooted was the idea in his mind that
perseverance began to appear to the
sensitive son akin to an intent to misappropriate a trust, and wrong the pious
heads of the household, who had been and were, as his father had hinted, compelled
to exercise much thrift to carry out this
uniform plan of education for the three young men.
"I will do without Cambridge," said Angel at last.
"I feel that I have no right to go there in the circumstances."
The effects of this decisive debate were not long in showing themselves.
He spent years and years in desultory studies, undertakings, and meditations; he
began to evince considerable indifference to social forms and observances.
The material distinctions of rank and wealth he increasingly despised.
Even the "good old family" (to use a favourite phrase of a late local worthy)
had no aroma for him unless there were good new resolutions in its representatives.
As a balance to these austerities, when he went to live in London to see what the
world was like, and with a view to practising a profession or business there,
he was carried off his head, and nearly
entrapped by a woman much older than himself, though luckily he escaped not
greatly the worse for the experience.
Early association with country solitudes had bred in him an unconquerable, and
almost unreasonable, aversion to modern town life, and shut him out from such
success as he might have aspired to by
following a mundane calling in the impracticability of the spiritual one.
But something had to be done; he had wasted many valuable years; and having an
acquaintance who was starting on a thriving life as a Colonial farmer, it occurred to
Angel that this might be a lead in the right direction.
Farming, either in the Colonies, America, or at home--farming, at any rate, after
becoming well qualified for the business by a careful apprenticeship--that was a
vocation which would probably afford an
independence without the sacrifice of what he valued even more than a competency--
intellectual liberty.
So we find Angel Clare at six-and-twenty here at Talbothays as a student of kine,
and, as there were no houses near at hand in which he could get a comfortable
lodging, a boarder at the dairyman's.
His room was an immense attic which ran the whole length of the dairy-house.
It could only be reached by a ladder from the cheese-loft, and had been closed up for
a long time till he arrived and selected it as his retreat.
Here Clare had plenty of space, and could often be heard by the dairy-folk pacing up
and down when the household had gone to rest.
A portion was divided off at one end by a curtain, behind which was his bed, the
outer part being furnished as a homely sitting-room.
At first he lived up above entirely, reading a good deal, and strumming upon an
old harp which he had bought at a sale, saying when in a bitter humour that he
might have to get his living by it in the streets some day.
But he soon preferred to read human nature by taking his meals downstairs in the
general dining-kitchen, with the dairyman and his wife, and the maids and men, who
all together formed a lively assembly; for
though but few milking hands slept in the house, several joined the family at meals.
The longer Clare resided here the less objection had he to his company, and the
more did he like to share quarters with them in common.
Much to his surprise he took, indeed, a real delight in their companionship.
The conventional farm-folk of his imagination-- personified in the newspaper-
press by the pitiable dummy known as Hodge- -were obliterated after a few days'
At close quarters no Hodge was to be seen. At first, it is true, when Clare's
intelligence was fresh from a contrasting society, these friends with whom he now
hobnobbed seemed a little strange.
Sitting down as a level member of the dairyman's household seemed at the outset
an undignified proceeding. The ideas, the modes, the surroundings,
appeared retrogressive and unmeaning.
But with living on there, day after day, the acute sojourner became conscious of a
new aspect in the spectacle.
Without any objective change whatever, variety had taken the place of
His host and his host's household, his men and his maids, as they became intimately
known to Clare, began to differentiate themselves as in a chemical process.
The thought of Pascal's was brought home to him: "A mesure qu'on a plus d'esprit, on
trouve qu'il y a plus d'hommes originaux. Les gens du commun ne trouvent pas de
difference entre les hommes."
The typical and unvarying Hodge ceased to exist.
He had been disintegrated into a number of varied fellow-creatures--beings of many
minds, beings infinite in difference; some happy, many serene, a few depressed, one
here and there bright even to genius, some
stupid, others wanton, others austere; some mutely Miltonic, some potentially
Cromwellian--into men who had private views of each other, as he had of his friends;
who could applaud or condemn each other,
amuse or sadden themselves by the contemplation of each other's foibles or
vices; men every one of whom walked in his own individual way the road to dusty death.
Unexpectedly he began to like the outdoor life for its own sake, and for what it
brought, apart from its bearing on his own proposed career.
Considering his position he became wonderfully free from the chronic
melancholy which is taking hold of the civilized races with the decline of belief
in a beneficent Power.
For the first time of late years he could read as his musings inclined him, without
any eye to cramming for a profession, since the few farming handbooks which he deemed
it desirable to master occupied him but little time.
He grew away from old associations, and saw something new in life and humanity.
Secondarily, he made close acquaintance with phenomena which he had before known
but darkly--the seasons in their moods, morning and evening, night and noon, winds
in their different tempers, trees, waters
and mists, shades and silences, and the voices of inanimate things.
The early mornings were still sufficiently cool to render a fire acceptable in the
large room wherein they breakfasted; and, by Mrs Crick's orders, who held that he was
too genteel to mess at their table, it was
Angel Clare's custom to sit in the yawning chimney-corner during the meal, his cup-
and-saucer and plate being placed on a hinged flap at his elbow.
The light from the long, wide, mullioned window opposite shone in upon his nook,
and, assisted by a secondary light of cold blue quality which shone down the chimney,
enabled him to read there easily whenever disposed to do so.
Between Clare and the window was the table at which his companions sat, their munching
profiles rising sharp against the panes; while to the side was the milk-house door,
through which were visible the rectangular
leads in rows, full to the brim with the morning's milk.
At the further end the great churn could be seen revolving, and its slip-slopping
heard--the moving power being discernible through the window in the form of a
spiritless horse walking in a circle and driven by a boy.
For several days after Tess's arrival Clare, sitting abstractedly reading from
some book, periodical, or piece of music just come by post, hardly noticed that she
was present at table.
She talked so little, and the other maids talked so much, that the babble did not
strike him as possessing a new note, and he was ever in the habit of neglecting the
particulars of an outward scene for the general impression.
One day, however, when he had been conning one of his music-scores, and by force of
imagination was hearing the tune in his head, he lapsed into listlessness, and the
music-sheet rolled to the hearth.
He looked at the fire of logs, with its one flame pirouetting on the top in a dying
dance after the breakfast-cooking and boiling, and it seemed to jig to his inward
tune; also at the two chimney crooks
dangling down from the cotterel, or cross- bar, plumed with soot, which quivered to
the same melody; also at the half-empty kettle whining an accompaniment.
The conversation at the table mixed in with his phantasmal orchestra till he thought:
"What a fluty voice one of those milkmaids has!
I suppose it is the new one."
Clare looked round upon her, seated with the others.
She was not looking towards him. Indeed, owing to his long silence, his
presence in the room was almost forgotten.
"I don't know about ghosts," she was saying; "but I do know that our souls can
be made to go outside our bodies when we are alive."
The dairyman turned to her with his mouth full, his eyes charged with serious
inquiry, and his great knife and fork (breakfasts were breakfasts here) planted
erect on the table, like the beginning of a gallows.
"What--really now? And is it so, maidy?" he said.
"A very easy way to feel 'em go," continued Tess, "is to lie on the grass at night and
look straight up at some big bright star; and, by fixing your mind upon it, you will
soon find that you are hundreds and
hundreds o' miles away from your body, which you don't seem to want at all."
The dairyman removed his hard gaze from Tess, and fixed it on his wife.
"Now that's a rum thing, Christianer--hey?
To think o' the miles I've vamped o' starlight nights these last thirty year,
courting, or trading, or for doctor, or for nurse, and yet never had the least notion
o' that till now, or feeled my soul rise so much as an inch above my shirt-collar."
The general attention being drawn to her, including that of the dairyman's pupil,
Tess flushed, and remarking evasively that it was only a fancy, resumed her breakfast.
Clare continued to observe her.
She soon finished her eating, and having a consciousness that Clare was regarding her,
began to trace imaginary patterns on the tablecloth with her forefinger with the
constraint of a domestic animal that perceives itself to be watched.
"What a fresh and virginal daughter of Nature that milkmaid is!" he said to
And then he seemed to discern in her something that was familiar, something
which carried him back into a joyous and unforeseeing past, before the necessity of
taking thought had made the heavens gray.
He concluded that he had beheld her before; where he could not tell.
A casual encounter during some country ramble it certainly had been, and he was
not greatly curious about it.
But the circumstance was sufficient to lead him to select Tess in preference to the
other pretty milkmaids when he wished to contemplate contiguous womankind.
In general the cows were milked as they presented themselves, without fancy or
But certain cows will show a fondness for a particular pair of hands, sometimes
carrying this predilection so far as to refuse to stand at all except to their
favourite, the pail of a stranger being unceremoniously kicked over.
It was Dairyman Crick's rule to insist on breaking down these partialities and
aversions by constant interchange, since otherwise, in the event of a milkman or
maid going away from the dairy, he was placed in a difficulty.
The maids' private aims, however, were the reverse of the dairyman's rule, the daily
selection by each damsel of the eight or ten cows to which she had grown accustomed
rendering the operation on their willing udders surprisingly easy and effortless.
Tess, like her compeers, soon discovered which of the cows had a preference for her
style of manipulation, and her fingers having become delicate from the long
domiciliary imprisonments to which she had
subjected herself at intervals during the last two or three years, she would have
been glad to meet the milchers' views in this respect.
Out of the whole ninety-five there were eight in particular--Dumpling, Fancy,
Lofty, Mist, Old Pretty, Young Pretty, Tidy, and Loud--who, though the teats of
one or two were as hard as carrots, gave
down to her with a readiness that made her work on them a mere touch of the fingers.
Knowing, however, the dairyman's wish, she endeavoured conscientiously to take the
animals just as they came, expecting the very hard yielders which she could not yet
But she soon found a curious correspondence between the ostensibly chance position of
the cows and her wishes in this matter, till she felt that their order could not be
the result of accident.
The dairyman's pupil had lent a hand in getting the cows together of late, and at
the fifth or sixth time she turned her eyes, as she rested against the cow, full
of sly inquiry upon him.
"Mr Clare, you have ranged the cows!" she said, blushing; and in making the
accusation, symptoms of a smile gently lifted her upper lip in spite of her, so as
to show the tips of her teeth, the lower lip remaining severely still.
"Well, it makes no difference," said he. "You will always be here to milk them."
"Do you think so?
I HOPE I shall! But I don't KNOW."
She was angry with herself afterwards, thinking that he, unaware of her grave
reasons for liking this seclusion, might have mistaken her meaning.
She had spoken so earnestly to him, as if his presence were somehow a factor in her
Her misgiving was such that at dusk, when the milking was over, she walked in the
garden alone, to continue her regrets that she had disclosed to him her discovery of
his considerateness.
It was a typical summer evening in June, the atmosphere being in such delicate
equilibrium and so transmissive that inanimate objects seemed endowed with two
or three senses, if not five.
There was no distinction between the near and the far, and an auditor felt close to
everything within the horizon.
The soundlessness impressed her as a positive entity rather than as the mere
negation of noise. It was broken by the strumming of strings.
Tess had heard those notes in the attic above her head.
Dim, flattened, constrained by their confinement, they had never appealed to her
as now, when they wandered in the still air with a stark quality like that of nudity.
To speak absolutely, both instrument and execution were poor; but the relative is
all, and as she listened Tess, like a fascinated bird, could not leave the spot.
Far from leaving she drew up towards the performer, keeping behind the hedge that he
might not guess her presence.
The outskirt of the garden in which Tess found herself had been left uncultivated
for some years, and was now damp and rank with juicy grass which sent up mists of
pollen at a touch; and with tall blooming
weeds emitting offensive smells--weeds whose red and yellow and purple hues formed
a polychrome as dazzling as that of cultivated flowers.
She went stealthily as a cat through this profusion of growth, gathering cuckoo-
spittle on her skirts, cracking snails that were underfoot, staining her hands with
thistle-milk and slug-slime, and rubbing
off upon her naked arms sticky blights which, though snow-white on the apple-tree
trunks, made madder stains on her skin; thus she drew quite near to Clare, still
unobserved of him.
Tess was conscious of neither time nor space.
The exaltation which she had described as being producible at will by gazing at a
star came now without any determination of hers; she undulated upon the thin notes of
the second-hand harp, and their harmonies
passed like breezes through her, bringing tears into her eyes.
The floating pollen seemed to be his notes made visible, and the dampness of the
garden the weeping of the garden's sensibility.
Though near nightfall, the rank-smelling weed-flowers glowed as if they would not
close for intentness, and the waves of colour mixed with the waves of sound.
The light which still shone was derived mainly from a large hole in the western
bank of cloud; it was like a piece of day left behind by accident, dusk having closed
in elsewhere.
He concluded his plaintive melody, a very simple performance, demanding no great
skill; and she waited, thinking another might be begun.
But, tired of playing, he had desultorily come round the fence, and was rambling up
behind her. Tess, her cheeks on fire, moved away
furtively, as if hardly moving at all.
Angel, however, saw her light summer gown, and he spoke; his low tones reaching her,
though he was some distance off. "What makes you draw off in that way,
Tess?" said he.
"Are you afraid?" "Oh no, sir--not of outdoor things;
especially just now when the apple-blooth is falling, and everything is so green."
"But you have your indoor fears--eh?"
"Well--yes, sir." "What of?"
"I couldn't quite say." "The milk turning sour?"
"Life in general?" "Yes, sir."
"Ah--so have I, very often. This hobble of being alive is rather
serious, don't you think so?"
"It is--now you put it that way." "All the same, I shouldn't have expected a
young girl like you to see it so just yet. How is it you do?"
She maintained a hesitating silence.
"Come, Tess, tell me in confidence." She thought that he meant what were the
aspects of things to her, and replied shyly--
"The trees have inquisitive eyes, haven't they?--that is, seem as if they had.
And the river says,--'Why do ye trouble me with your looks?'
And you seem to see numbers of to-morrows just all in a line, the first of them the
biggest and clearest, the others getting smaller and smaller as they stand farther
away; but they all seem very fierce and cruel and as if they said, 'I'm coming!
Beware of me! Beware of me!'...
But YOU, sir, can raise up dreams with your music, and drive all such horrid fancies
He was surprised to find this young woman-- who though but a milkmaid had just that
touch of rarity about her which might make her the envied of her housemates--shaping
such sad imaginings.
She was expressing in her own native phrases--assisted a little by her Sixth
Standard training--feelings which might almost have been called those of the age--
the ache of modernism.
The perception arrested him less when he reflected that what are called advanced
ideas are really in great part but the latest fashion in definition--a more
accurate expression, by words in logy and
ism, of sensations which men and women have vaguely grasped for centuries.
Still, it was strange that they should have come to her while yet so young; more than
strange; it was impressive, interesting, pathetic.
Not guessing the cause, there was nothing to remind him that experience is as to
intensity, and not as to duration. Tess's passing corporeal blight had been
her mental harvest.
Tess, on her part, could not understand why a man of clerical family and good
education, and above physical want, should look upon it as a mishap to be alive.
For the unhappy pilgrim herself there was very good reason.
But how could this admirable and poetic man ever have descended into the Valley of
Humiliation, have felt with the man of Uz-- as she herself had felt two or three years
ago--"My soul chooseth strangling and death rather than my life.
I loathe it; I would not live alway." It was true that he was at present out of
his class.
But she knew that was only because, like Peter the Great in a shipwright's yard, he
was studying what he wanted to know.
He did not milk cows because he was obliged to milk cows, but because he was learning
to be a rich and prosperous dairyman, landowner, agriculturist, and breeder of
He would become an American or Australian Abraham, commanding like a monarch his
flocks and his herds, his spotted and his ring-straked, his men-servants and his
At times, nevertheless, it did seem unaccountable to her that a decidedly
bookish, musical, thinking young man should have chosen deliberately to be a farmer,
and not a clergyman, like his father and brothers.
Thus, neither having the clue to the other's secret, they were respectively
puzzled at what each revealed, and awaited new knowledge of each other's character and
mood without attempting to pry into each other's history.
Every day, every hour, brought to him one more little stroke of her nature, and to
her one more of his.
Tess was trying to lead a repressed life, but she little divined the strength of her
own vitality. At first Tess seemed to regard Angel Clare
as an intelligence rather than as a man.
As such she compared him with herself; and at every discovery of the abundance of his
illuminations, of the distance between her own modest mental standpoint and the
unmeasurable, Andean altitude of his, she
became quite dejected, disheartened from all further effort on her own part
He observed her dejection one day, when he had casually mentioned something to her
about pastoral life in ancient Greece. She was gathering the buds called "lords
and ladies" from the bank while he spoke.
"Why do you look so woebegone all of a sudden?" he asked.
"Oh, 'tis only--about my own self," she said, with a frail laugh of sadness,
fitfully beginning to peel "a lady" meanwhile.
"Just a sense of what might have been with me!
My life looks as if it had been wasted for want of chances!
When I see what you know, what you have read, and seen, and thought, I feel what a
nothing I am! I'm like the poor Queen of Sheba who lived
in the Bible.
There is no more spirit in me." "Bless my soul, don't go troubling about
Why," he said with some enthusiasm, "I should be only too glad, my dear Tess, to
help you to anything in the way of history, or any line of reading you would like to
take up--"
"It is a lady again," interrupted she, holding out the bud she had peeled.
"What?" "I meant that there are always more ladies
than lords when you come to peel them."
"Never mind about the lords and ladies. Would you like to take up any course of
study--history, for example?"
"Sometimes I feel I don't want to know anything more about it than I know
already." "Why not?"
"Because what's the use of learning that I am one of a long row only--finding out that
there is set down in some old book somebody just like me, and to know that I shall only
act her part; making me sad, that's all.
The best is not to remember that your nature and your past doings have been just
like thousands' and thousands', and that your coming life and doings 'll be like
thousands's and thousands'."
"What, really, then, you don't want to learn anything?"
"I shouldn't mind learning why--why the sun do shine on the just and the unjust alike,"
she answered, with a slight quaver in her voice.
"But that's what books will not tell me."
"Tess, fie for such bitterness!" Of course he spoke with a conventional
sense of duty only, for that sort of wondering had not been unknown to himself
in bygone days.
And as he looked at the unpracticed mouth and lips, he thought that such a daughter
of the soil could only have caught up the sentiment by rote.
She went on peeling the lords and ladies till Clare, regarding for a moment the
wave-like curl of her lashes as they dropped with her bent gaze on her soft
cheek, lingeringly went away.
When he was gone she stood awhile, thoughtfully peeling the last bud; and
then, awakening from her reverie, flung it and all the crowd of floral nobility
impatiently on the ground, in an ebullition
of displeasure with herself for her niaiserie, and with a quickening warmth in
her heart of hearts. How stupid he must think her!
In an access of hunger for his good opinion she bethought herself of what she had
latterly endeavoured to forget, so unpleasant had been its issues--the
identity of her family with that of the knightly d'Urbervilles.
Barren attribute as it was, disastrous as its discovery had been in many ways to her,
perhaps Mr Clare, as a gentleman and a student of history, would respect her
sufficiently to forget her childish conduct
with the lords and ladies if he knew that those Purbeck-marble and alabaster people
in Kingsbere Church really represented her own lineal forefathers; that she was no
spurious d'Urberville, compounded of money
and ambition like those at Trantridge, but true d'Urberville to the bone.
But, before venturing to make the revelation, dubious Tess indirectly sounded
the dairyman as to its possible effect upon Mr Clare, by asking the former if Mr Clare
had any great respect for old county
families when they had lost all their money and land.
"Mr Clare," said the dairyman emphatically, "is one of the most rebellest rozums you
ever knowed--not a bit like the rest of his family; and if there's one thing that he do
hate more than another 'tis the notion of what's called a' old family.
He says that it stands to reason that old families have done their spurt of work in
past days, and can't have anything left in 'em now.
There's the Billets and the Drenkhards and the Greys and the St Quintins and the
Hardys and the Goulds, who used to own the lands for miles down this valley; you could
buy 'em all up now for an old song a'most.
Why, our little Retty Priddle here, you know, is one of the Paridelles--the old
family that used to own lots o' the lands out by King's Hintock, now owned by the
Earl o' Wessex, afore even he or his was heard of.
Well, Mr Clare found this out, and spoke quite scornful to the poor girl for days.
'Ah!' he says to her, 'you'll never make a good dairymaid!
All your skill was used up ages ago in Palestine, and you must lie fallow for a
thousand years to git strength for more deeds!'
A boy came here t'other day asking for a job, and said his name was Matt, and when
we asked him his surname he said he'd never heard that 'a had any surname, and when we
asked why, he said he supposed his folks hadn't been 'stablished long enough.
'Ah! you're the very boy I want!' says Mr Clare, jumping up and shaking hands wi'en;
'I've great hopes of you;' and gave him half-a-crown.
O no! he can't stomach old families!"
After hearing this caricature of Clare's opinion poor Tess was glad that she had not
said a word in a weak moment about her family--even though it was so unusually old
almost to have gone round the circle and become a new one.
Besides, another diary-girl was as good as she, it seemed, in that respect.
She held her tongue about the d'Urberville vault and the Knight of the Conqueror whose
name she bore.
The insight afforded into Clare's character suggested to her that it was largely owing
to her supposed untraditional newness that she had won interest in his eyes.
The season developed and matured.
Another year's instalment of flowers, leaves, nightingales, thrushes, finches,
and such ephemeral creatures, took up their positions where only a year ago others had
stood in their place when these were
nothing more than germs and inorganic particles.
Rays from the sunrise drew forth the buds and stretched them into long stalks, lifted
up sap in noiseless streams, opened petals, and sucked out scents in invisible jets and
Dairyman Crick's household of maids and men lived on comfortably, placidly, even
Their position was perhaps the happiest of all positions in the social scale, being
above the line at which neediness ends, and below the line at which the convenances
begin to cramp natural feelings, and the
stress of threadbare modishness makes too little of enough.
Thus passed the leafy time when arborescence seems to be the one thing
aimed at out of doors.
Tess and Clare unconsciously studied each other, ever balanced on the edge of a
passion, yet apparently keeping out of it.
All the while they were converging, under an irresistible law, as surely as two
streams in one vale.
Tess had never in her recent life been so happy as she was now, possibly never would
be so happy again.
She was, for one thing, physically and mentally suited among these new
The sapling which had rooted down to a poisonous stratum on the spot of its sowing
had been transplanted to a deeper soil.
Moreover she, and Clare also, stood as yet on the debatable land between predilection
and love; where no profundities have been reached; no reflections have set in,
awkwardly inquiring, "Whither does this new current tend to carry me?
What does it mean to my future? How does it stand towards my past?"
Tess was the merest stray phenomenon to Angel Clare as yet--a rosy, warming
apparition which had only just acquired the attribute of persistence in his
So he allowed his mind to be occupied with her, deeming his preoccupation to be no
more than a philosopher's regard of an exceedingly novel, fresh, and interesting
specimen of womankind.
They met continually; they could not help it.
They met daily in that strange and solemn interval, the twilight of the morning, in
the violet or pink dawn; for it was necessary to rise early, so very early,
Milking was done betimes; and before the milking came the skimming, which began at a
little past three.
It usually fell to the lot of some one or other of them to wake the rest, the first
being aroused by an alarm-clock; and, as Tess was the latest arrival, and they soon
discovered that she could be depended upon
not to sleep though the alarm as others did, this task was thrust most frequently
upon her.
No sooner had the hour of three struck and whizzed, than she left her room and ran to
the dairyman's door; then up the ladder to Angel's, calling him in a loud whisper;
then woke her fellow-milkmaids.
By the time that Tess was dressed Clare was downstairs and out in the humid air.
The remaining maids and the dairyman usually gave themselves another turn on the
pillow, and did not appear till a quarter of an hour later.
The gray half-tones of daybreak are not the gray half-tones of the day's close, though
the degree of their shade may be the same.
In the twilight of the morning, light seems active, darkness passive; in the twilight
of evening it is the darkness which is active and crescent, and the light which is
the drowsy reverse.
Being so often--possibly not always by chance--the first two persons to get up at
the dairy-house, they seemed to themselves the first persons up of all the world.
In these early days of her residence here Tess did not skim, but went out of doors at
once after rising, where he was generally awaiting her.
The spectral, half-compounded, aqueous light which pervaded the open mead
impressed them with a feeling of isolation, as if they were Adam and Eve.
At this dim inceptive stage of the day Tess seemed to Clare to exhibit a dignified
largeness both of disposition and physique, an almost regnant power, possibly because
he knew that at that preternatural time
hardly any woman so well endowed in person as she was likely to be walking in the open
air within the boundaries of his horizon; very few in all England.
Fair women are usually asleep at mid-summer dawns.
She was close at hand, and the rest were nowhere.
The mixed, singular, luminous gloom in which they walked along together to the
spot where the cows lay often made him think of the Resurrection hour.
He little thought that the Magdalen might be at his side.
Whilst all the landscape was in neutral shade his companion's face, which was the
focus of his eyes, rising above the mist stratum, seemed to have a sort of
phosphorescence upon it.
She looked ghostly, as if she were merely a soul at large.
In reality her face, without appearing to do so, had caught the cold gleam of day
from the north-east; his own face, though he did not think of it, wore the same
aspect to her.
It was then, as has been said, that she impressed him most deeply.
She was no longer the milkmaid, but a visionary essence of woman--a whole sex
condensed into one typical form.
He called her Artemis, Demeter, and other fanciful names half teasingly, which she
did not like because she did not understand them.
"Call me Tess," she would say askance; and he did.
Then it would grow lighter, and her features would become simply feminine; they
had changed from those of a divinity who could confer bliss to those of a being who
craved it.
At these non-human hours they could get quite close to the waterfowl.
Herons came, with a great bold noise as of opening doors and shutters, out of the
boughs of a plantation which they frequented at the side of the mead; or, if
already on the spot, hardily maintained
their standing in the water as the pair walked by, watching them by moving their
heads round in a slow, horizontal, passionless wheel, like the turn of puppets
by clockwork.
They could then see the faint summer fogs in layers, woolly, level, and apparently no
thicker than counterpanes, spread about the meadows in detached remnants of small
On the gray moisture of the grass were marks where the cows had lain through the
night--dark-green islands of dry herbage the size of their carcasses, in the general
sea of dew.
From each island proceeded a serpentine trail, by which the cow had rambled away to
feed after getting up, at the end of which trail they found her; the snoring puff from
her nostrils, when she recognized them,
making an intenser little fog of her own amid the prevailing one.
Then they drove the animals back to the barton, or sat down to milk them on the
spot, as the case might require.
Or perhaps the summer fog was more general, and the meadows lay like a white sea, out
of which the scattered trees rose like dangerous rocks.
Birds would soar through it into the upper radiance, and hang on the wing sunning
themselves, or alight on the wet rails subdividing the mead, which now shone like
glass rods.
Minute diamonds of moisture from the mist hung, too, upon Tess's eyelashes, and drops
upon her hair, like seed pearls.
When the day grew quite strong and commonplace these dried off her; moreover,
Tess then lost her strange and ethereal beauty; her teeth, lips, and eyes
scintillated in the sunbeams and she was
again the dazzlingly fair dairymaid only, who had to hold her own against the other
women of the world.
About this time they would hear Dairyman Crick's voice, lecturing the non-resident
milkers for arriving late, and speaking sharply to old Deborah Fyander for not
washing her hands.
"For Heaven's sake, pop thy hands under the pump, Deb!
Upon my soul, if the London folk only knowed of thee and thy slovenly ways,
they'd swaller their milk and butter more mincing than they do a'ready; and that's
saying a good deal."
The milking progressed, till towards the end Tess and Clare, in common with the
rest, could hear the heavy breakfast table dragged out from the wall in the kitchen by
Mrs Crick, this being the invariable
preliminary to each meal; the same horrible scrape accompanying its return journey when
the table had been cleared.
There was a great stir in the milk-house just after breakfast.
The churn revolved as usual, but the butter would not come.
Whenever this happened the dairy was paralyzed.
Squish, squash echoed the milk in the great cylinder, but never arose the sound they
waited for.
Dairyman Crick and his wife, the milkmaids Tess, Marian, Retty Priddle, Izz Huett, and
the married ones from the cottages; also Mr Clare, Jonathan Kail, old Deborah, and the
rest, stood gazing hopelessly at the churn;
and the boy who kept the horse going outside put on moon-like eyes to show his
sense of the situation.
Even the melancholy horse himself seemed to look in at the window in inquiring despair
at each walk round.
"'Tis years since I went to Conjuror Trendle's son in Egdon--years!" said the
dairyman bitterly. "And he was nothing to what his father had
I have said fifty times, if I have said once, that I DON'T believe in en; though 'a
do cast folks' waters very true. But I shall have to go to 'n if he's alive.
O yes, I shall have to go to 'n, if this sort of thing continnys!"
Even Mr Clare began to feel tragical at the dairyman's desperation.
"Conjuror Fall, t'other side of Casterbridge, that they used to call 'Wide-
O', was a very good man when I was a boy," said Jonathan Kail.
"But he's rotten as touchwood by now."
"My grandfather used to go to Conjuror Mynterne, out at Owlscombe, and a clever
man a' were, so I've heard grandf'er say," continued Mr Crick.
"But there's no such genuine folk about nowadays!"
Mrs Crick's mind kept nearer to the matter in hand.
"Perhaps somebody in the house is in love," she said tentatively.
"I've heard tell in my younger days that that will cause it.
Why, Crick--that maid we had years ago, do ye mind, and how the butter didn't come
then--" "Ah yes, yes!--but that isn't the rights
It had nothing to do with the love-making. I can mind all about it--'twas the damage
to the churn." He turned to Clare.
"Jack Dollop, a 'hore's-bird of a fellow we had here as milker at one time, sir,
courted a young woman over at Mellstock, and deceived her as he had deceived many
But he had another sort o' woman to reckon wi' this time, and it was not the girl
One Holy Thursday of all days in the almanack, we was here as we mid be now,
only there was no churning in hand, when we zid the girl's mother coming up to the
door, wi' a great brass-mounted umbrella in
her hand that would ha' felled an ox, and saying 'Do Jack Dollop work here?--because
I want him! I have a big bone to pick with he, I can
assure 'n!'
And some way behind her mother walked Jack's young woman, crying bitterly into
her handkercher. 'O Lard, here's a time!' said Jack, looking
out o' winder at 'em.
'She'll murder me! Where shall I get--where shall I--?
Don't tell her where I be!'
And with that he scrambled into the churn through the trap-door, and shut himself
inside, just as the young woman's mother busted into the milk-house.
'The villain--where is he?' says she.
'I'll claw his face for'n, let me only catch him!'
Well, she hunted about everywhere, ballyragging Jack by side and by seam, Jack
lying a'most stifled inside the churn, and the poor maid--or young woman rather--
standing at the door crying her eyes out.
I shall never forget it, never! 'Twould have melted a marble stone!
But she couldn't find him nowhere at all." The dairyman paused, and one or two words
of comment came from the listeners.
Dairyman Crick's stories often seemed to be ended when they were not really so, and
strangers were betrayed into premature interjections of finality; though old
friends knew better.
The narrator went on-- "Well, how the old woman should have had
the wit to guess it I could never tell, but she found out that he was inside that there
Without saying a word she took hold of the winch (it was turned by handpower then),
and round she swung him, and Jack began to flop about inside.
'O Lard! stop the churn! let me out!' says he, popping out his head.
'I shall be churned into a pummy!' (He was a cowardly chap in his heart, as
such men mostly be).
'Not till ye make amends for ravaging her virgin innocence!' says the old woman.
'Stop the churn you old witch!' screams he.
'You call me old witch, do ye, you deceiver!' says she, 'when ye ought to ha'
been calling me mother-law these last five months!'
And on went the churn, and Jack's bones rattled round again.
Well, none of us ventured to interfere; and at last 'a promised to make it right wi'
'Yes--I'll be as good as my word!' he said. And so it ended that day."
While the listeners were smiling their comments there was a quick movement behind
their backs, and they looked round.
Tess, pale-faced, had gone to the door. "How warm 'tis to-day!" she said, almost
It was warm, and none of them connected her withdrawal with the reminiscences of the
dairyman. He went forward and opened the door for
her, saying with tender raillery--
"Why, maidy" (he frequently, with unconscious irony, gave her this pet name),
"the prettiest milker I've got in my dairy; you mustn't get so fagged as this at the
first breath of summer weather, or we shall
be finely put to for want of 'ee by dog- days, shan't we, Mr Clare?"
"I was faint--and--I think I am better out o' doors," she said mechanically; and
disappeared outside.
Fortunately for her the milk in the revolving churn at that moment changed its
squashing for a decided flick-flack. "'Tis coming!" cried Mrs Crick, and the
attention of all was called off from Tess.
That fair sufferer soon recovered herself externally; but she remained much depressed
all the afternoon.
When the evening milking was done she did not care to be with the rest of them, and
went out of doors, wandering along she knew not whither.
She was wretched--O so wretched--at the perception that to her companions the
dairyman's story had been rather a humorous narration than otherwise; none of them but
herself seemed to see the sorrow of it; to
a certainty, not one knew how cruelly it touched the tender place in her experience.
The evening sun was now ugly to her, like a great inflamed wound in the sky.
Only a solitary cracked-voice reed-sparrow greeted her from the bushes by the river,
in a sad, machine-made tone, resembling that of a past friend whose friendship she
had outworn.
In these long June days the milkmaids, and, indeed, most of the household, went to bed
at sunset or sooner, the morning work before milking being so early and heavy at
a time of full pails.
Tess usually accompanied her fellows upstairs.
To-night, however, she was the first to go to their common chamber; and she had dozed
when the other girls came in.
She saw them undressing in the orange light of the vanished sun, which flushed their
forms with its colour; she dozed again, but she was reawakened by their voices, and
quietly turned her eyes towards them.
Neither of her three chamber-companions had got into bed.
They were standing in a group, in their nightgowns, barefooted, at the window, the
last red rays of the west still warming their faces and necks and the walls around
All were watching somebody in the garden with deep interest, their three faces close
together: a jovial and round one, a pale one with dark hair, and a fair one whose
tresses were auburn.
"Don't push! You can see as well as I," said Retty, the
auburn-haired and youngest girl, without removing her eyes from the window.
"'Tis no use for you to be in love with him any more than me, Retty Priddle," said
jolly-faced Marian, the eldest, slily. "His thoughts be of other cheeks than
Retty Priddle still looked, and the others looked again.
"There he is again!" cried Izz Huett, the pale girl with dark damp hair and keenly
cut lips.
"You needn't say anything, Izz," answered Retty.
"For I zid you kissing his shade." "WHAT did you see her doing?" asked Marian.
"Why--he was standing over the whey-tub to let off the whey, and the shade of his face
came upon the wall behind, close to Izz, who was standing there filling a vat.
She put her mouth against the wall and kissed the shade of his mouth; I zid her,
though he didn't." "O Izz Huett!" said Marian.
A rosy spot came into the middle of Izz Huett's cheek.
"Well, there was no harm in it," she declared, with attempted coolness.
"And if I be in love wi'en, so is Retty, too; and so be you, Marian, come to that."
Marian's full face could not blush past its chronic pinkness.
"I!" she said.
"What a tale! Ah, there he is again!
Dear eyes--dear face--dear Mr Clare!" "There--you've owned it!"
"So have you--so have we all," said Marian, with the dry frankness of complete
indifference to opinion.
"It is silly to pretend otherwise amongst ourselves, though we need not own it to
other folks. I would just marry 'n to-morrow!"
"So would I--and more," murmured Izz Huett.
"And I too," whispered the more timid Retty.
The listener grew warm. "We can't all marry him," said Izz.
"We shan't, either of us; which is worse still," said the eldest.
"There he is again!" They all three blew him a silent kiss.
"Why?" asked Retty quickly.
"Because he likes Tess Durbeyfield best," said Marian, lowering her voice.
"I have watched him every day, and have found it out."
There was a reflective silence.
"But she don't care anything for 'n?" at length breathed Retty.
"Well--I sometimes think that too." "But how silly all this is!" said Izz Huett
"Of course he won't marry any one of us, or Tess either--a gentleman's son, who's going
to be a great landowner and farmer abroad! More likely to ask us to come wi'en as
farm-hands at so much a year!"
One sighed, and another sighed, and Marian's plump figure sighed biggest of
all. Somebody in bed hard by sighed too.
Tears came into the eyes of Retty Priddle, the pretty red-haired youngest--the last
bud of the Paridelles, so important in the county annals.
They watched silently a little longer, their three faces still close together as
before, and the triple hues of their hair mingling.
But the unconscious Mr Clare had gone indoors, and they saw him no more; and, the
shades beginning to deepen, they crept into their beds.
In a few minutes they heard him ascend the ladder to his own room.
Marian was soon snoring, but Izz did not drop into forgetfulness for a long time.
Retty Priddle cried herself to sleep.
The deeper-passioned Tess was very far from sleeping even then.
This conversation was another of the bitter pills she had been obliged to swallow that
Scarce the least feeling of jealousy arose in her breast.
For that matter she knew herself to have the preference.
Being more finely formed, better educated, and, though the youngest except Retty, more
woman than either, she perceived that only the slightest ordinary care was necessary
for holding her own in Angel Clare's heart against these her candid friends.
But the grave question was, ought she to do this?
There was, to be sure, hardly a ghost of a chance for either of them, in a serious
sense; but there was, or had been, a chance of one or the other inspiring him with a
passing fancy for her, and enjoying the
pleasure of his attentions while he stayed here.
Such unequal attachments had led to marriage; and she had heard from Mrs Crick
that Mr Clare had one day asked, in a laughing way, what would be the use of his
marrying a fine lady, and all the while ten
thousand acres of Colonial pasture to feed, and cattle to rear, and corn to reap.
A farm-woman would be the only sensible kind of wife for him.
But whether Mr Clare had spoken seriously or not, why should she, who could never
conscientiously allow any man to marry her now, and who had religiously determined
that she never would be tempted to do so,
draw off Mr Clare's attention from other women, for the brief happiness of sunning
herself in his eyes while he remained at Talbothays?
They came downstairs yawning next morning; but skimming and milking were proceeded
with as usual, and they went indoors to breakfast.
Dairyman Crick was discovered stamping about the house.
He had received a letter, in which a customer had complained that the butter had
a twang.
"And begad, so 't have!" said the dairyman, who held in his left hand a wooden slice on
which a lump of butter was stuck. "Yes--taste for yourself!"
Several of them gathered round him; and Mr Clare tasted, Tess tasted, also the other
indoor milkmaids, one or two of the milking-men, and last of all Mrs Crick, who
came out from the waiting breakfast-table.
There certainly was a twang.
The dairyman, who had thrown himself into abstraction to better realize the taste,
and so divine the particular species of noxious weed to which it appertained,
suddenly exclaimed--
"'Tis garlic! and I thought there wasn't a blade left in that mead!"
Then all the old hands remembered that a certain dry mead, into which a few of the
cows had been admitted of late, had, in years gone by, spoilt the butter in the
same way.
The dairyman had not recognized the taste at that time, and thought the butter
bewitched. "We must overhaul that mead," he resumed;
"this mustn't continny!"
All having armed themselves with old pointed knives, they went out together.
As the inimical plant could only be present in very microscopic dimensions to have
escaped ordinary observation, to find it seemed rather a hopeless attempt in the
stretch of rich grass before them.
However, they formed themselves into line, all assisting, owing to the importance of
the search; the dairyman at the upper end with Mr Clare, who had volunteered to help;
then Tess, Marian, Izz Huett, and Retty;
then Bill Lewell, Jonathan, and the married dairywomen--Beck Knibbs, with her wooly
black hair and rolling eyes; and flaxen Frances, consumptive from the winter damps
of the water-meads--who lived in their respective cottages.
With eyes fixed upon the ground they crept slowly across a strip of the field,
returning a little further down in such a manner that, when they should have
finished, not a single inch of the pasture
but would have fallen under the eye of some one of them.
It was a most tedious business, not more than half a dozen shoots of garlic being
discoverable in the whole field; yet such was the herb's pungency that probably one
bite of it by one cow had been sufficient
to season the whole dairy's produce for the day.
Differing one from another in natures and moods so greatly as they did, they yet
formed, bending, a curiously uniform row-- automatic, noiseless; and an alien observer
passing down the neighbouring lane might
well have been excused for massing them as "Hodge".
As they crept along, stooping low to discern the plant, a soft yellow gleam was
reflected from the buttercups into their shaded faces, giving them an elfish,
moonlit aspect, though the sun was pouring
upon their backs in all the strength of noon.
Angel Clare, who communistically stuck to his rule of taking part with the rest in
everything, glanced up now and then.
It was not, of course, by accident that he walked next to Tess.
"Well, how are you?" he murmured. "Very well, thank you, sir," she replied
As they had been discussing a score of personal matters only half-an-hour before,
the introductory style seemed a little superfluous.
But they got no further in speech just then.
They crept and crept, the hem of her petticoat just touching his gaiter, and his
elbow sometimes brushing hers.
At last the dairyman, who came next, could stand it no longer.
"Upon my soul and body, this here stooping do fairly make my back open and shut!" he
exclaimed, straightening himself slowly with an excruciated look till quite
"And you, maidy Tess, you wasn't well a day or two ago--this will make your head ache
finely! Don't do any more, if you feel fainty;
leave the rest to finish it."
Dairyman Crick withdrew, and Tess dropped behind.
Mr Clare also stepped out of line, and began privateering about for the weed.
When she found him near her, her very tension at what she had heard the night
before made her the first to speak. "Don't they look pretty?" she said.
"Izzy Huett and Retty." Tess had moodily decided that either of
these maidens would make a good farmer's wife, and that she ought to recommend them,
and obscure her own wretched charms.
"Pretty? Well, yes--they are pretty girls--fresh
looking. I have often thought so."
"Though, poor dears, prettiness won't last long!"
"O no, unfortunately." "They are excellent dairywomen."
"Yes: though not better than you."
"They skim better than I." "Do they?"
Clare remained observing them--not without their observing him.
"She is colouring up," continued Tess heroically.
"Who?" "Retty Priddle."
Why it that?" "Because you are looking at her."
Self-sacrificing as her mood might be, Tess could not well go further and cry, "Marry
one of them, if you really do want a dairywoman and not a lady; and don't think
of marrying me!"
She followed Dairyman Crick, and had the mournful satisfaction of seeing that Clare
remained behind.
From this day she forced herself to take pains to avoid him--never allowing herself,
as formerly, to remain long in his company, even if their juxtaposition were purely
She gave the other three every chance.
Tess was woman enough to realize from their avowals to herself that Angel Clare had the
honour of all the dairymaids in his keeping, and her perception of his care to
avoid compromising the happiness of either
in the least degree bred a tender respect in Tess for what she deemed, rightly or
wrongly, the self-controlling sense of duty shown by him, a quality which she had never
expected to find in one of the opposite
sex, and in the absence of which more than one of the simple hearts who were his
house-mates might have gone weeping on her pilgrimage.
The hot weather of July had crept upon them unawares, and the atmosphere of the flat
vale hung heavy as an opiate over the dairy-folk, the cows, and the trees.
Hot steaming rains fell frequently, making the grass where the cows fed yet more rank,
and hindering the late hay-making in the other meads.
It was Sunday morning; the milking was done; the outdoor milkers had gone home.
Tess and the other three were dressing themselves rapidly, the whole bevy having
agreed to go together to Mellstock Church, which lay some three or four miles distant
from the dairy-house.
She had now been two months at Talbothays, and this was her first excursion.
All the preceding afternoon and night heavy thunderstorms had hissed down upon the
meads, and washed some of the hay into the river; but this morning the sun shone out
all the more brilliantly for the deluge, and the air was balmy and clear.
The crooked lane leading from their own parish to Mellstock ran along the lowest
levels in a portion of its length, and when the girls reached the most depressed spot
they found that the result of the rain had
been to flood the lane over-shoe to a distance of some fifty yards.
This would have been no serious hindrance on a week-day; they would have clicked
through it in their high patterns and boots quite unconcerned; but on this day of
vanity, this Sun's-day, when flesh went
forth to coquet with flesh while hypocritically affecting business with
spiritual things; on this occasion for wearing their white stockings and thin
shoes, and their pink, white, and lilac
gowns, on which every mud spot would be visible, the pool was an awkward
impediment. They could hear the church-bell calling--as
yet nearly a mile off.
"Who would have expected such a rise in the river in summer-time!" said Marian, from
the top of the roadside bank on which they had climbed, and were maintaining a
precarious footing in the hope of creeping
along its slope till they were past the pool.
"We can't get there anyhow, without walking right through it, or else going round the
Turnpike way; and that would make us so very late!" said Retty, pausing hopelessly.
"And I do colour up so hot, walking into church late, and all the people staring
round," said Marian, "that I hardly cool down again till we get into the That-it-
While they stood clinging to the bank they heard a splashing round the bend of the
road, and presently appeared Angel Clare, advancing along the lane towards them
through the water.
Four hearts gave a big throb simultaneously.
His aspect was probably as un-Sabbatarian a one as a dogmatic parson's son often
presented; his attire being his dairy clothes, long wading boots, a cabbage-leaf
inside his hat to keep his head cool, with a thistle-spud to finish him off.
"He's not going to church," said Marian. "No--I wish he was!" murmured Tess.
Angel, in fact, rightly or wrongly (to adopt the safe phrase of evasive
controversialists), preferred sermons in stones to sermons in churches and chapels
on fine summer days.
This morning, moreover, he had gone out to see if the damage to the hay by the flood
was considerable or not.
On his walk he observed the girls from a long distance, though they had been so
occupied with their difficulties of passage as not to notice him.
He knew that the water had risen at that spot, and that it would quite check their
So he had hastened on, with a dim idea of how he could help them--one of them in
The rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed quartet looked so charming in their light summer
attire, clinging to the roadside bank like pigeons on a roof-slope, that he stopped a
moment to regard them before coming close.
Their gauzy skirts had brushed up from the grass innumerable flies and butterflies
which, unable to escape, remained caged in the transparent tissue as in an aviary.
Angel's eye at last fell upon Tess, the hindmost of the four; she, being full of
suppressed laughter at their dilemma, could not help meeting his glance radiantly.
He came beneath them in the water, which did not rise over his long boots; and stood
looking at the entrapped flies and butterflies.
"Are you trying to get to church?" he said to Marian, who was in front, including the
next two in his remark, but avoiding Tess. "Yes, sir; and 'tis getting late; and my
colour do come up so--"
"I'll carry you through the pool--every Jill of you."
The whole four flushed as if one heart beat through them.
"I think you can't, sir," said Marian.
"It is the only way for you to get past. Stand still.
Nonsense--you are not too heavy! I'd carry you all four together.
Now, Marian, attend," he continued, "and put your arms round my shoulders, so.
Now! Hold on.
That's well done."
Marian had lowered herself upon his arm and shoulder as directed, and Angel strode off
with her, his slim figure, as viewed from behind, looking like the mere stem to the
great nosegay suggested by hers.
They disappeared round the curve of the road, and only his sousing footsteps and
the top ribbon of Marian's bonnet told where they were.
In a few minutes he reappeared.
Izz Huett was the next in order upon the bank.
"Here he comes," she murmured, and they could hear that her lips were dry with
"And I have to put my arms round his neck and look into his face as Marian did."
"There's nothing in that," said Tess quickly.
"There's a time for everything," continued Izz, unheeding.
"A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; the first is now going to
be mine."
"Fie--it is Scripture, Izz!" "Yes," said Izz, "I've always a' ear at
church for pretty verses."
Angel Clare, to whom three-quarters of this performance was a commonplace act of
kindness, now approached Izz.
She quietly and dreamily lowered herself into his arms, and Angel methodically
marched off with her.
When he was heard returning for the third time Retty's throbbing heart could be
almost seen to shake her.
He went up to the red-haired girl, and while he was seizing her he glanced at
Tess. His lips could not have pronounced more
plainly, "It will soon be you and I."
Her comprehension appeared in her face; she could not help it.
There was an understanding between them.
Poor little Retty, though by far the lightest weight, was the most troublesome
of Clare's burdens.
Marian had been like a sack of meal, a dead weight of plumpness under which he has
literally staggered. Izz had ridden sensibly and calmly.
Retty was a bunch of hysterics.
However, he got through with the disquieted creature, deposited her, and returned.
Tess could see over the hedge the distant three in a group, standing as he had placed
them on the next rising ground.
It was now her turn.
She was embarrassed to discover that excitement at the proximity of Mr Clare's
breath and eyes, which she had contemned in her companions, was intensified in herself;
and as if fearful of betraying her secret, she paltered with him at the last moment.
"I may be able to clim' along the bank perhaps--I can clim' better than they.
You must be so tired, Mr Clare!"
"No, no, Tess," said he quickly. And almost before she was aware, she was
seated in his arms and resting against his shoulder.
"Three Leahs to get one Rachel," he whispered.
"They are better women than I," she replied, magnanimously sticking to her
"Not to me," said Angel. He saw her grow warm at this; and they went
some steps in silence. "I hope I am not too heavy?" she said
"O no. You should lift Marian!
Such a lump. You are like an undulating billow warmed by
the sun.
And all this fluff of muslin about you is the froth."
"It is very pretty--if I seem like that to you."
"Do you know that I have undergone three- quarters of this labour entirely for the
sake of the fourth quarter?" "No."
"I did not expect such an event to-day."
"Nor I... The water came up so sudden."
That the rise in the water was what she understood him to refer to, the state of
breathing belied.
Clare stood still and inclinced his face towards hers.
"O Tessy!" he exclaimed.
The girl's cheeks burned to the breeze, and she could not look into his eyes for her
It reminded Angel that he was somewhat unfairly taking advantage of an accidental
position; and he went no further with it.
No definite words of love had crossed their lips as yet, and suspension at this point
was desirable now.
However, he walked slowly, to make the remainder of the distance as long as
possible; but at last they came to the bend, and the rest of their progress was in
full view of the other three.
The dry land was reached, and he set her down.
Her friends were looking with round thoughtful eyes at her and him, and she
could see that they had been talking of her.
He hastily bade them farewell, and splashed back along the stretch of submerged road.
The four moved on together as before, till Marian broke the silence by saying--
"No--in all truth; we have no chance against her!"
She looked joylessly at Tess. "What do you mean?" asked the latter.
"He likes 'ee best--the very best!
We could see it as he brought 'ee. He would have kissed 'ee, if you had
encouraged him to do it, ever so little." "No, no," said she.
The gaiety with which they had set out had somehow vanished; and yet there was no
enmity or malice between them.
They were generous young souls; they had been reared in the lonely country nooks
where fatalism is a strong sentiment, and they did not blame her.
Such supplanting was to be.
Tess's heart ached.
There was no concealing from herself the fact that she loved Angel Clare, perhaps
all the more passionately from knowing that the others had also lost their hearts to
There is contagion in this sentiment, especially among women.
And yet that same hungry nature had fought against this, but too feebly, and the
natural result had followed.
"I will never stand in your way, nor in the way of either of you!" she declared to
Retty that night in the bedroom (her tears running down).
"I can't help this, my dear!
I don't think marrying is in his mind at all; but if he were ever to ask me I should
refuse him, as I should refuse any man." "Oh! would you?
Why?" said wondering Retty.
"It cannot be! But I will be plain.
Putting myself quite on one side, I don't think he will choose either of you."
"I have never expected it--thought of it!" moaned Retty.
"But O! I wish I was dead!"
The poor child, torn by a feeling which she hardly understood, turned to the other two
girls who came upstairs just then. "We be friends with her again," she said to
"She thinks no more of his choosing her than we do."
So the reserve went off, and they were confiding and warm.
"I don't seem to care what I do now," said Marian, whose mood was turned to its lowest
"I was going to marry a dairyman at Stickleford, who's asked me twice; but--my
soul--I would put an end to myself rather'n be his wife now!
Why don't ye speak, Izz?"
"To confess, then," murmured Izz, "I made sure to-day that he was going to kiss me as
he held me; and I lay still against his breast, hoping and hoping, and never moved
at all.
But he did not. I don't like biding here at Talbothays any
longer! I shall go hwome."
The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate with the hopeless passion of the
They writhed feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion thrust on them
by cruel Nature's law--an emotion which they had neither expected nor desired.
The incident of the day had fanned the flame that was burning the inside of their
hearts out, and the torture was almost more than they could endure.
The differences which distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by this
passion, and each was but portion of one organism called sex.
There was so much frankness and so little jealousy because there was no hope.
Each one was a girl of fair common sense, and she did not delude herself with any
vain conceits, or deny her love, or give herself airs, in the idea of outshining the
The full recognition of the futility of their infatuation, from a social point of
view; its purposeless beginning; its self- bounded outlook; its lack of everything to
justify its existence in the eye of
civilization (while lacking nothing in the eye of Nature); the one fact that it did
exist, ecstasizing them to a killing joy-- all this imparted to them a resignation, a
dignity, which a practical and sordid
expectation of winning him as a husband would have destroyed.
They tossed and turned on their little beds, and the cheese-wring dripped
monotonously downstairs.
"B' you awake, Tess?" whispered one, half- an-hour later.
It was Izz Huett's voice.
Tess replied in the affirmative, whereupon also Retty and Marian suddenly flung the
bedclothes off them, and sighed-- "So be we!"
"I wonder what she is like--the lady they say his family have looked out for him!"
"I wonder," said Izz. "Some lady looked out for him?" gasped
Tess, starting.
"I have never heard o' that!"
"O yes--'tis whispered; a young lady of his own rank, chosen by his family; a Doctor of
Divinity's daughter near his father's parish of Emminster; he don't much care for
her, they say.
But he is sure to marry her." They had heard so very little of this; yet
it was enough to build up wretched dolorous dreams upon, there in the shade of the
They pictured all the details of his being won round to consent, of the wedding
preparations, of the bride's happiness, of her dress and veil, of her blissful home
with him, when oblivion would have fallen
upon themselves as far as he and their love were concerned.
Thus they talked, and ached, and wept till sleep charmed their sorrow away.
After this disclosure Tess nourished no further foolish thought that there lurked
any grave and deliberate import in Clare's attentions to her.
It was a passing summer love of her face, for love's own temporary sake--nothing
And the thorny crown of this sad conception was that she whom he really did prefer in a
cursory way to the rest, she who knew herself to be more impassioned in nature,
cleverer, more beautiful than they, was in
the eyes of propriety far less worthy of him than the homelier ones whom he ignored.


Part 3 - Tess of the d'Urbervilles Audiobook by Thomas Hardy (Chs 15-23)

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