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13

Clare was not depressed by Tess’s refusal, feeling sure that she would finally accept him. A few days later he asked her again.

‘Tess, why did you say “no” so positively?’

‘I’m not good enough.’

‘Not enough of a fine lady?’

‘Yes. Your family would not respect me.’

‘You know, you’re wrong. My father and mother would. And 1 don’t care about my brothers.1 He held her to stop her slipping away. ‘You didn’t mean it, did you? I can’t work or read or play or anything until I know that you will some day be mine! Say you will, Tess!’

She could only shake her head and look away.

‘Then I ought not to hold you, to talk to you like this? Why, Tess?’

‘It is for your good, my dearest! I can’t give myselfthe great happi ness of promising to be yours — because I am sure I ought not to!’

‘But you will make me happy!’

‘Ah, you think so, but you don’t know!’

After a struggle like this, Tess would go to the fields or her room to cry. Her heart was so strongly on the side of his that she feared she might give way.

‘Why doesn’t somebody tell him all about me?’ she thought.

‘It was only forty miles away. Somebody must know!’ But nobody knew and nobody told him.

Tess’s life now had two parts, positive pleasure and positive pain. Every time she and Angel were alone together he would ask her again, and she would refuse. She was keeping her promise to herself, but in her heart of hearts Tess knew that eventually she would accept him. Love and nature both advised her to have him without thinking of complications, to delight in passion without considering future pain.

‘I know I shall say yes — I can’t help it!’ she cried to herself in bed one night. ‘But it may kill him when he knows! Oh, oh!’

Tve got some news for you all,’ said Dairyman Crick as they sat down to breakfast one Sunday morning. ‘It’s that Jack Dollop again.’

The lover in the butter-churn?’ said Angel Clare, looking up from his newspaper. ‘And has he married the young milkmaid, as he promised?’

‘Not he, sir,’ replied the dairyman. ‘He’s married an older woman who had £50 a year. They married in a great hurry and then she told him that by marrying she’d lost her £50 a year! He only married her for her money too. So now they’re always quarrelling.’

‘She ought to have told him just before they went to church,’

said Marian.

‘She ought to have seen he only wanted her money, and refused him,’ said Retty.

‘What do you say, my dear?’ the dairyman asked Tess.

‘I think she ought . . . to have told him the truth - or else refused him . . . I don’t know,’ replied Tess, who could not swallow her food. She soon left the table and went into the fields, feeling the pain in the story. She had continued to refuse Angel’s offers of marriage, but from that Sunday he changed his approach towards her. He looked for her and came to talk to her at every possible moment, at milking, butter-making, cheese-making, among chickens and among pigs. She knew she could not resist much longer. She loved him so passionately, and he was so like a god in her eyes. He treated her as if he would love and defend her under any circumstances. This began to make her feel less afraid about agreeing to marry him, and telling him the truth about herself.

The days were shorter now, and in the mornings the dairy worked by candlelight. One morning between three and four she ran up to Clare’s room to wake him, before waking the others.

Having dressed, she was about to go downstairs when Angel came out of his room and stopped her.

‘Now, miss,’ he said firmly. ‘You must give me an answer or I shall have to leave the house. You aren’t safe with me. I saw you just now in your nightdress. Well? Is it yes at last?’

T really will think seriously about it, Mr Clare.’

‘Call me Angel then, and not Mr Clare. Why not Angel dearest?’

‘It would mean I agree, wouldn’t it?’

‘It would only mean you love me, and you did admit that long ago.’

‘Very well then, Angel dearest, if I must,’ she murmured, smiling. Clare could not resist kissing her warm cheek.

After milking and skimming, all the dairy people went outside. Tess generously tried for the last time to interest Angel in the other dairymaids.

‘There’s more in those three than you think,’ she said. ‘Any of them would make you a better wife than I could. And perhaps they love you as much as I do — almost.’

‘Oh Tessy!’ he cried impatiently. She was so relieved to hear this that she could not make any further self-sacrifice. She knew that this day would decide it.

In the late afternoon Angel Clare offered to drive the waggon with its buckets of milk to the station. He persuaded Tess to go with him.

At first there was silence as they drove along the quiet road, simply enjoying being close to each other. Soon drops of rain started falling. Tess’s cheeks were pink and her long hair was wet. She had no jacket, and crept close to Clare. She held an old piece of cloth over them both to keep the rain off.

‘Well, dear,’ said Angel, ‘what about my question?’

Til answer you soon.’

‘Before we get home?’

Tiltry.’

They passed an old house. Angel explained that it was an interesting place which belonged to the ancient family of the d’Urbervilles.

‘It’s very sad when a noble family dies out,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ said Tess.

At last they reached the station and watched the milk being lifted on to the train. Tess was fascinated.

‘Londoners will drink it for breakfast, won’t they? People who don’t know we drove for miles in the rain so that it might reach them in time.’

‘That’s true, but we drove a little for our own reasons too.

Now Tess,’ he said anxiously, as they drove away into the night, ‘your heart belongs to me. Why can’t you give me your hand as well?’

‘My only reason is you . . . I have something to tell you - I must tell you about my past life!’

Tell me if you want to, dearest. I expect you have had as many experiences as that flower over there!’

‘I grew up in Marlott. And at school they said I would make a good teacher. But there was trouble in my family. Father didn’t work very hard and he drank a little.’

‘Poor child! That’s nothing new.’ He held her more closely to his side.

‘And there is something unusual about me. I . . . I am not a Durbeyfield, but a d’Urberville. I’m a descendant of the same family who owned that house we passed.’

‘A d’Urberville! And is that the whole story, Tess?’

‘Yes,’ she answered faintly.

‘Well, why should I love you less because of that?’

‘The dairyman told me you hated old families.’

He laughed. ‘Well, I hate the idea that noble blood should be more important than anything else. But I am really very interested in your news. What do you think of it?’

‘I think it’s sad, especially here, to see the fields which once belonged to my ancestors.’

‘So that’s the awful secret!’

She had not told him. At the last moment she had not been brave enough.

Angel was delighted. ‘You see, Tess, society likes a noble name, and will accept you better as my wife, because you are a d’Urberville. Even my mother will like you better. You must use the name of d’Urberville from this very day.’

‘I like the other name best.1

‘But you must By the way, there’s someone who has taken the d’Urberville name near The Chase. Yes, he’s the man who insulted my father. How strange!’

‘Angel, I would rather not take that name!’

‘Now then, Teresa d’Urberville, I’ve got you! Take my name and you will escape yours!’

‘If it is sure to make you happy and you do wish to marry me very very much . . .*

‘I do, dearest, of course! Say you will be mine for ever!’

He held her and kissed her.

‘Yes!’ No sooner had she said it than she burst into a dry hard sobbing. Angel was surprised.

‘Why are you crying?’

‘I’m crying because I promised I would die unmarried! Oh, I sometimes wish I had never been born!’

‘Tess, how could you wish that if you really loved me? I wish you could prove your love in some way.’

‘Will this prove it more?’ cried Tess desperately, holding him close and kissing him. For the first time Clare learnt what a passionate woman’s kisses were like, on the lips of one she loved with all ber heart and soul, as Tess loved him.

There - now do you believe?’ she asked, wiping her eyes.

‘Yes. I never really doubted — never!’

They drove on in the darkness, forming one bundle under the cloth.

T must write to my mother,’ she said.

‘Of course, dear child. Where does she live?’

Tn Marlott.’

‘Ah, then I have seen you before . . .’

‘Yes, when you would not dance with me. Oh, I hope that doesn’t mean bad luck!’

After this decision Tess wrote an urgent letter to her mother.

This was the reply she received:

Dear Tess,

I hope you are well, as I am. We are all glad to hear you are going to be married soon. But Tess, in answer to your question, whatever you do, don’t tell your future husband anything about your past experience. No girl would be so foolish, especially as it is so long ago, and not your fault at all. Remember you promised me you would never tell anybody. Best wishes to your young man.

Love from your mother

Tess could not accept her mother’s view of life, but perhaps Joan was right in this. Silence seemed best for Angel’s happiness. So she grew calm, and from October onwards she was completely happy. Clare seemed the perfect guide, thinker, and friend. She saw perfection in his face, his intelligence, and his soul. She dismissed the past from her mind.

They spent all their time together, as country people do once they are engaged. In the wonderful autumn afternoons they walked by streams, crossing on little wooden bridges. They saw tiny blue fogs in the shadows of trees and hedges, and at the same time bright sunshine in the fields. The sun was so near the ground that the shadows of Clare and Tess stretched a quarter of a mile ahead of them, like two long pointing fingers. When Clare talked to Tess of their future, and the farm they would have abroad, she could hardly believe that she would be going through the world by his side. Her feeling for him was now the breath and life of Tess’s being. It made her forget her past sorrows, but she knew they were waiting like wolves for their moment to attack.

One day she cried out to Angel: ‘Why didn’t you stay and love me when I was sixteen . . . when you danced in Marlott? Oh, why didn’t you?’

‘Ah yes! If only I had known! But you must not regret so bitterly! Why should you?’

Hiding her feelings quickly, she said, ‘I would have had four more years of your love than I can ever have now.’

They had to tell the dairyman and his wife that they were planning to marry. That night as Tess entered the bedroom, all three dairymaids were waiting for her.

‘You are going to marry him!’ said Marian.

‘Yes, some day,’ said Tess.

‘Going to marry him, a gentleman!’ said Izz.

‘It’s strange,’ said Marian, ‘to think Tess will be his wife, not a fine lady, but a girl who lives like us.’

‘Do you all hate me for it?’ asked Tess in a low voice.

‘I want to hate you, but I cannot!’ said Retty.

That’s how I feel!’ said Marian and Izz.

‘He ought to marry one of you,’ murmured Tess. ‘You are all better than I am!’

‘No, no, dear Tess,’ they all said.

‘I think I ought to make him marry one of you even now!’ she sobbed. They went up to her and calmed her and helped her to bed. Before they went to sleep, Marian whispered, ‘You will think of us when you are his wife, Tess, and how we did not hate you, because we did not expect to be chosen by him.’

The girls did not know that Tess cried even more at this, and that she decided she would tell Angel all her history.

Because of this, she would not set a date for the wedding. She wanted to stay as she was, not move forward into a new life. But soon it was clear that the dairyman did not want so many dairymaids at this time of year. Tess would have to leave the dairy at Christmas.

Tm afraid I’m glad of it,1 said Angel to her, ‘because now we must decide when to marry. We can’t go on like this for ever.’

‘I wish we could. 1 wish it could be always summer and autumn, with you always loving me!’

‘I always shall.’

‘Oh, I know you will! Angel, I’ll fix the day!’

So they decided on 31st December. The wedding was to take place as privately as possible at the dairy. Tess now felt she could not stop things happening, and agreed passively to whatever Angel suggested. In fact Angel’s plans were a little hurried. He had not meant to marry so soon. But he wanted to keep her with him, to help her with her reading and studying, so that he could present her proudly as a lady to his parents. He also planned to spend some time studying work in a flour-mill.

They could spend their honeymoon staying in the old farmhouse which had once belonged to the d’Urbervilles, while Angel studied at the mil! nearby.

The day, the impossible day of their wedding, came closer.

His wife, Tess said to herself. Could it ever be?

Angel and Tess decided to spend a day together shopping on Christmas Eve. They went into town in a borrowed carriage.

The town was full of strangers, who stared at Tess, happy and beautiful on Angel’s arm. At the end of the day, Tess was waiting for Angel to bring the horse and carriage, when two men passed her in the street.

‘She’s a lovely maiden,’ one said to his friend.

‘She’s lovely, yes. But she’s no maiden,’ replied the other.

Angel returned at that moment and heard these words. Wildly angry at this insult to Tess, he hit the man in the face. The man said quickly:

Tm sorry, sir, I must have made a mistake.’

Angel accepted this, gave the man some money, said goodnight, and drove off with Tess. The two men went in the opposite direction.

‘And was it a mistake?’ asked the second man.

‘Certainly not,’ said his friend.

On the way home Tess was very serious. She felt she could not tell him the truth to his face, but there was another way. So she went to her room and wrote a four-page letter describing exactly what had happened three or four years ago. In the night she crept up to Angel’s room and pushed the letter under his door.

Next morning she looked anxiously at him, but he kissed her as usual. He said nothing about the letter. Had he read it? Did he forgive her? Every morning and night he was the same, until finally the wedding day came.

Tess had not invited her family from Marlott. Angel had written to his. His brothers had not replied, and his parents wrote that they hoped he was not hurrying into marriage, but that he was old enough to decide for himself. Angel did not mind, because he was planning to introduce Tess to them as a d’Urberville as well as a dairymaid, some months later.

Tess was still worried about her confession, and left the crowd of busy people downstairs to creep silently up to Angel’s bedroom. There she found her letter unopened, just under the carpet. He had not seen it. She could not let him read it now, in the middle of the preparations. She found him alone for a moment.

‘I must confess all my mistakes to you!’ she said, trying to keep her words light.

‘Not today, my sweet! We’ll have plenty of time later on! I’ll confess mine too.1

‘Then you really don’t want me to?’

‘I don’t, Tessy, really.’

From now on, her one desire, to call him husband, and then if necessary to die, carried her on. She moved in a cloud.

There were few people in the church. At one point she let her shoulder touch Clare’s arm, to be sure that he was really there. It was only when she came out that she noticed the carriage they were driving back in. She felt she must have seen it in a dream.

‘Oh, maybe you know the story of the d’Urberville carriage,’

said Angel, ‘and this one reminds you of it. In the past a certain d’Urberville committed a crime in his carriage, and since then d’Urbervilles see or hear the old carriage whenever . . . But it’s rather depressing to talk about.’

‘Is it when we are going to die, Angel, or is it when we have committed a crime?’

‘Now, Tess!’ He kissed her. But she had no energy left. She was now Mrs Angel Clare, but wasn’t she really Mrs Alexander d’Urberville?

Later that afternoon they left the dairy. All the dairy people watched them leave, and Clare kissed the dairymaids goodbye.

As he was thanking the dairyman, a cock crowed just in front of him.

That’s bad!’ whispered the dairymen to each other. ‘When a cock crows at a husband like that. . .’ and they laughed together behind their hands.

‘Go away!’ shouted Mr Crick at the cock. Later he said to his wife, ‘Why did it have to crow at Mr Clare like that?’

‘It only means a change in the weather,’ said Mrs Crick, ‘not what you think. That’s impossible.’

Tess and Angel arrived at the old d’Urberville farmhouse. It was empty, although a woman came to cook and clean for them.

They had their tea together, and Clare delighted in eating from the same plate as Tess. Looking at her he thought, ‘Do I realize how important I am to this woman? And how I must look after her? I must never forget to think about her feelings!’

It started to rain as it grew dark outside. Finally a man arrived from the dairy with their bags.

T’m sorry I’m late, sir,’ he said, ‘but terrible things have been happening at the dairy. You remember the cock crowing? Well, whatever it means, poor little Retty Priddle has tried to drown herself!’

to die, carried her on.

‘What happened?’ asked Angel.

‘Well, after you left, she and Marian walked from one public house to another, drinking. Retty was found in the river, later on. And Marian was found drunk in a field!’

‘And Izz?’ asked Tess.

(Izz is at home as usual, but very sad and depressed/ As the man left, Tess sat sadly by the fire, looking into it. They were simple innocent girls who had not been loved. It was wicked of her to take all the love without paying for it. She would pay: she would tell, there and then.

Angel was sitting beside her, holding her hand. Their faces were red in the firelight.

This morning,’ he said suddenly, ‘we said we would both confess our mistakes. I must tell you something and you must forgive me. Perhaps I ought to have told you before. I’ve put off telling you, because I didn’t want to lose you.’

‘Angel, I’m sure I’ll forgive you . . .’ A wild hope was making Tess’s heart beat faster.

‘Well, wait a minute. You know how much I believe in goodness and purity. But I myself, when I was in London years ago, did wrong with a woman I hardly knew. It lasted two days.

I came home and I have never done anything like it since. Do you forgive me?’

‘Oh Angel, of course I do! And I am almost glad, because now you can forgive me I have a confession too.’

‘Ah yes, well confess, you wicked little girl! It can hardly be more serious than mine.’

‘It can’t, no, it can’t!’ She jumped up joyfully at the hope. ‘No, in fact, it is just the same. I will tell you now.’

She sat down again. They held hands. The fire burned like a Judgement Day fire. Her shadow rose high on the wall. Putting her head against his, she bravely told the whole story of her meeting with Alec d’Urberville and its results.

The Woman Pays

14

Her story came to an end. She had not raised her voice: she had not cried. But things seemed to change as the story progressed. The fire looked as if it was laughing at her troubles.

All the objects around her appeared not to care about her tragic history. And yet it was only a short time since he had been kissing her. Everything looked different now.

Clare stirred the fire. It was unnecessary, but he felt he had to do something. He had not really taken in the whole story yet. He stood up. Now as he began to understand the story in its full horror, his face was like an old man’s. He made uncertain movements, because everything in his head was vague and uncertain. He could not make himself think clearly.

Tess! Can I believe this? Are you mad perhaps? My wife, my Tess - you aren’t mad, are you?’

‘I am not,’ she said.

‘And yet,’ he said, looking strangely at her, ‘why didn’t you tell me before? Oh yes, you would have told me, in a way, but I stopped you, I remember!’

He was talking but could not think at the same time. His brain seemed to have stopped working. He turned away from her. Tess followed him and stood there staring at him with dry eyes. Then she went down on her knees beside him.

‘In the name of our love, forgive me!’ she whispered with a dry mouth. ‘I have forgiven you for the same!’

And as he did not answer, she said again,

‘Forgive me as you are forgiven! / forgive you. Angel!’

‘You-yes,you do.’

v ‘But you do not forgive me?’

‘Oh, Tess, it’s not a question of forgiveness! You were on^ person, now you are another. How can forgiveness put tha^.

right?’

He paused, considering this. Then suddenly he starteq laughing in an unnatural, horrible way. It was like a laugh out Of hell.

‘Don’t - don’t!’ she cried, her face dead white. ‘It kills me^ that laugh! Angel, do you know what you’re doing to me? Pv^ been hoping, longing, praying to make you happy!’

‘I know that.’

‘I thought, Angel, that you loved me - me, my very self! If y

Then how can you, my husband, stop loving me?’

‘I repeat, the woman I have been loving is not you.’

‘But who is she?’

‘Another woman in your shape.’

Suddenly she realized how he saw her. For him she was ^ guilty woman pretending to be an innocent one. There was terror in her white face as she saw this. She could not stand, an^-j he stepped forward, thinking she might fall.

‘Sit down,’ he said gently. ‘You are ill, and I am not surprised.’

She sat down, her face still full of fear and her eyes wild.

‘I don’t belong to you any more then, do I, Angel?’ she aske

‘Angel,’ she said suddenly in a normal voice, ‘am I too wicked for us to live together?’

‘I haven’t had time to think what we should do.’

‘1 won’t ask you to let me live with you, Angel, because I have no right to! I won’t write to tell my family we are married, as I said I would.’

‘Won’t you?’

‘No, I won’t do anything unless you order me to. And if you go away, I won’t follow you. And if you never speak to me again, I won’t ask why, unless you tell me I can.’

‘And if I order you to do anything?’

‘I’ll obey you, even if I have to lie down and die.’

‘How good of you. But it seems you have changed. In the past you were keen to look after yourself. Now you are keen to sacrifice yourself.’

Clare’s bitter words, however, were not fully understood by Tess. She only knew that he was angry with her. She stood silent, not knowing that he was struggling with his love for her.

She did not observe a large tear rolling slowly down his cheek.

He was realizing what a change Tess’s confession had made to his whole life. He had to decide on some action.

‘Tess,’ he said, as gently as he could, ‘I can’t stay here just now. I’m going out.’

He quietly left the room. Two glasses of wine, ready for their supper, remained untouched on the table. Only two or three hours earlier they had drunk tea from the same cup.

As he closed the door behind him, Tess jumped up. He had gone: she could not stay. She put out the candles and followed him. The rain was over and the night was now clear.

Clare walked slowly and without purpose. His shape was black and frightening. She walked just behind him. There was water on the road, where the stars could be seen reflected. Away from the house the road went through the fields. She followed Clare as a dog follows its owner.

Eventually Tess could not help speaking to him.

‘What have I done? Nothing interferes with my love for you.

You don’t think I planned it, Angel, do you? I would not deceive you like that!’

‘H’m, well. No, maybe you would not, but you are not the same. No, not the same. But don’t make me blame you.’

She went on begging for forgiveness. Perhaps she said things that would have been better left to silence.

‘Angel! Angel! I was a child when it happened. I knew nothing ofmen.’

‘I admit it was not so much your fault as his.’

‘Then won’t you forgive me?’

‘I do forgive you, but forgiveness isn’t everything.’

‘And do you love me?’

He did not answer this question.

‘Oh Angel - my mother says she knows several cases which were worse than mine, and the husband has not minded much . . . well, he has accepted it at least. And in those cases the woman hasn’t loved him as I love you!’

‘Don’t, Tess, don’t argue. Those are just country people’s ways. There is a correct way of doing things. I think that parson who discovered you were a d’Urberville should have kept quiet.

Perhaps you were weak and could not refuse this man because your ancient noble blood has run thin, because your family is no good any more. I thought you were a child of nature, but you have the worst of your ancient family in you!’

Tess accepted his bitterness, not understanding the details. He did not love her as he had done, and nothing else mattered.

They went on again in silence. They walked slowly for hours, with sad anxious faces, not talking, one behind the other, like a funeral procession.

Tess said to her husband:

‘I don’t want to cause you sadness all your life. The river is down there. I can put an end to myself in it. I’m not afraid.1 ‘Don’t talk like that. Do what I ask, go back to the house and go to bed.’

‘I will,’ she said obediently.

When she returned to the house, she found everything as they had left it and the fire still burning. She went to the bedroom.

There was a mistletoe branch hanging above the bed. Now she understood why Angel had brought a strange parcel with him. It was to surprise her. He had delightedly hung it there. Now it looked foolish and out of place.

As she had nothing more to fear, and nothing more to hope for, she lay down. In a few moments lonely Tess was asleep, in the bedroom once used by the young wives of her ancestors.

Later on that night Clare also came back to the house. He prepared a bed downstairs, but crept shoeless upstairs to see if Tess was asleep. He was relieved to see her sleeping deeply. And yet he felt he alone had the whole worry of what action to take, and the responsibility for her life as well as his. He turned away from her door, and then turned back again, pulled by his love for her. But his eye was caught by a painting on the wall of one of Tess’s ancestors, a proud fierce woman, who looked as if she hated and wanted to deceive all men. He thought she and Tess looked alike. That was enough to stop him, and he went downstairs to his lonely bed.

He looked calm and cold, full of self-control. His face showed he had fought against passion and won, but did not like being the winner. He still found it difficult to accept that Tess, the pure village maiden, was not what she seemed. How unexpected life could be! He put out the candle. The night came in, unconcerned and uninterested, the night which had swallowed up his happiness.

15

When Clare woke up the next morning, the sky was grey and the sun was not shining. The fireplace in the room was full of cold ashes. The two full glasses of wine still stood untouched on the table.

When the cleaning woman came, he sent her away, not wanting a third person in the house. He found wood to make a fire, and prepared breakfast. People passing the farmhouse saw the smoke rising from the chimney, and envied the newly married couple in their happiness.

‘Breakfast is ready!’ he called upstairs in a normal voice.

Tess came down immediately. She was already dressed, but her hands and face were cold. She had no fire in her bedroom, where she had been sitting waiting for his call, and staring at the dying mistletoe. Clare’s polite words gave her a moment of hope, which died, however, when she saw his face.

They were both, in fact, the ashes of their former fires. After last night’s passionate sorrow, they both felt heavy and lacking in energy.

Tess went up to Angel, touching him lightly with her fingers.

Was this really the man who once loved her? Her eyes were bright, her cheeks still round, but her lips were pale. She looked absolutely pure. Angel looked at her in wonder.

Tess! Say it isn’t true! It can’t be true!’

‘It is true.’

‘Every word?’

‘Every word.’

He would almost have preferred her to lie, so that he could believe her blindly, but she repeated, ‘It is true.’

‘Is he living?’ asked Angel.

The baby died.’

‘But the man?’

‘He is alive.’

‘Is he in England?’

‘Yes.’

Despair passed over Clare’s face. He moved vaguely around the room.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘I thought - any man would have thought that if I didn’t look for knowledge, good family, and wealth in a wife, if I sacrificed all that, I would be sure of finding a country girl who was at least pure . . . but . . . but I should not accuse you.’

Tess understood his feelings perfectly. She saw that he had lost in every way.

‘Angel - I would not have married you if I had not known that, after all, there is a way out for you . . . only I hoped you would never . . .’ She was close to tears.

‘A way out?’

‘You can divorce me.’

‘Good heavens! How can you be so stupid? How can I divorce you?’

‘Can’t you, now I have told you everything?’

‘Oh Tess, you are so childish! You don’t understand the law.

No, I can’t.’

There was shame and misery in Tess’s face.

T thought you could,’ she whispered. ‘Don’t think I planned this! I really believed you could take that way out. Oh, then I ought to have done it last night. But I didn’t have the courage.

That’s just like me!’

‘The courage to do what?’ he asked.

To put an end to myself.’

‘Where?’

‘In the bedroom, under your mistletoe. With the rope from my box. But I couldn’t in the end! I was afraid that people would talk and you would suffer from that.’

Clare was shaken by this unexpected confession.

‘Now, listen. You must never think of such a wicked thing again. Promise me as your husband never to do anything like that.’

‘I promise. I see it was wicked. But, Angel, it was to set you free, and to avoid a divorce, which everyone would talk about.

But dying by my own hand is too good for me. You, my husband, should kill me. I think I would love you more, if that were possible, if you could bring yourself to do it. I am so much in your way!’

‘Quiet! Don’t talk about it.’

‘Well, just as you wish. I will do whatever you like.’

They sat down to breakfast, tired and sad. They did not look at each other and they did not eat much. Angel left soon afterwards to start his studies at the flour-mill nearby. Tess cleared the ashes from the fireplace, cleaned the house and prepared the lunch, waiting for his return. At lunch they talked politely of work at the flour-mill and methods of milling. In the afternoon he went back to the mill, and in the evening he studied his books and papers. Tess felt she was in his way and went to the kitchen. He came to find her there.

‘Don’t work in the kitchen like this,’ he said. ‘You’re not my servant, you’re my wife.’

She looked happier. ‘You mean, I can think of myself as that?’

she asked, trembling.

‘What do you mean, Tess? You are my wife, of course.’

T don’t know,’ she said, with tears in her eyes. T told you long ago I wasn’t good enough for you. And I’m not good enough! I was right! But you persuaded me!’

She turned her back on him, sobbing as if her heart would break. It would have won round any man but Angel Clare. Deep in him lay a hard logic, which had resisted the Church, and now resisted Tess. She accepted his treatment of her as being what she deserved. She would never have thought of criticizing his hardness. To her he was still perfection.

Another day passed by in the same way.

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