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第19节 第三十一章 【
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第二天,苔丝给母亲写了一封最动情、最紧迫的信,在周末她就收到了母亲琼·德北菲尔德写给她的回信,信是用上个世纪的花体字写的。
亲爱的苔丝,——我给你写一封短信,现在寄出这封信的时候,托上帝的福,我的身体很好,希望你的身体也很好。亲爱的苔丝,听说不久你真的就要结婚,我们全家人都感到很高兴、不过关于你那个问题,苔丝,要千万千万保守秘密,只能让我们两个人知道,决不能把你过去的不幸对他说一个字。我没有把所有的事都告诉你的父亲,因为他总以为自己门第高贵,自命不凡,也许你的未婚夫也是如此。许多女人——有些世界上最高贵的女人——一生中也曾有过不幸;为什么她们就可以不声不响,而你却要宣扬出去呢?没有一个女孩子会是这样傻的,尤其是事情已经过去这样久了,况且本来就不是你的错。即使你问我五十次,我也是这样回答你。另外,你一定要把那件事埋在心里,我知道你那种小孩子的天性,愿意把心里的话都告诉别人——你太单纯了!——为了你将来的幸福,我曾经要你答应我,永远不得以言语和行动泄露你过去的事;你在从这个门口离开的时候,你已经郑重其事地答应过我。我还没有把你那个问题和你现在的婚事,告诉你的父亲,因为他一听说就要到处嚷嚷的,真是一个头脑传单的人。
亲爱的苔丝,把你的勇气鼓起来,我们想在你结婚的时候送给你一大桶苹果酒,我们知道你们那一带的酒不多,而且又淡又酸。现在不多写了,代我向你的未婚夫问好。——爱你的母亲亲笔。
  琼·德北菲尔德
“啊,妈妈啊,妈妈!”苔丝低声说。
她从信中看出来,即使最深重的事情压在德北菲尔德太太的富有弹性的精神上,也会轻松得不着痕迹。她母亲对生活的理解,和她对生活的理解是不相同的。对她母亲来说,她萦绕在心头的那件往事,只不过是一件烟消云散的偶然事件。不过,无论她的母亲的理由是什么,她出的主意也许是对的。从表面上看,为了她一心崇拜的那个人的幸福,沉默似乎是最好的办法:既然如此,那就沉默好啦。
在这个世界上,唯一有一点儿权利控制住她的行动的人,就是她的母亲了,现在她的母亲写来了信,她也就定下了心。苔丝慢慢平静下来。责任已经被推卸掉了,和这几个星期以来的沉重心情比起来,现在也变得轻松多了。在她答应他的求婚以后,十月的深秋就开始了,在整个秋季里,同她以前的生活相比,她生活在一种快乐的精神状态里,都差不多达到了快乐的极点。
她对克莱尔的爱情,几乎没有一丝世俗的痕迹。在她崇高的信任里,他身上能有的就是美德——他懂得一个导师、哲学家和朋友懂得的一切。在她看来,他身上的每一根线条都是男性美的极点,他的灵魂就是一个圣徒的灵魂,他的智慧就是一个先知的智慧。她爱上了他这就是一种智慧,作为爱情,又维持了她的高贵;她好像觉得自己正在戴上一顶皇冠。因为在她看来,他爱她就是对她的一种同情,这就使她对他更加倾心相爱。他有时候也注意到她那双虔诚的大眼睛,深不可测,正在从最深处看着他,仿佛她看见了自己面前不朽的神一样。
她抛弃了过去——用脚踩它,把它消除掉,就像一个人用脚踩还在冒烟的危险炭火一样。
她从来也不知道,男人爱起女子来,也会像他那样无私、殷勤、呵护。但是在这一点上,安琪尔·克莱尔和她以为的那样完全不同;实在说来是绝对不同;实际上,他恋爱中的精神的成分多,肉欲的成分少;他能够很好地克制自己,完全没有粗鄙的表现。虽然他并非天性冷淡,但是乖巧胜于热烈——他像拜伦少些,却像雪莱多些;他可以爱得痴情,但是他的爱又特别倾向于想象,倾向于空灵;他的爱是一种偏执的感情,能够克制住自己,保护自己所爱的人不受侵犯。一直到现在,苔丝对男人的经验仍然很少,所以不禁对他感到吃惊,感到快乐;她以前对男性的反应是憎恨,现在却变成了对克莱尔的极度尊敬。
他们相互邀请作伴,毫无忸怩之态;在她坦诚的信任里,她从来也不掩饰想和他在一起的愿望。她对于这件事的全部本能,如果清楚地表述出来,那就是说,如果她躲躲闪闪,这种态度只能吸引一般的男人,而对于一个完美的男人,在海誓山盟之后也许就要讨厌这种态度了,因为就其本质说,这种态度带有矫揉造作的嫌疑。
乡村的风气是在定婚期间,男女可以出门相互为伴,不拘形迹,这也是她唯一知道的风气,所以在她看来没有什么奇怪;这似乎是克莱尔没有预料到的,也感到有些奇怪,但是在他看到苔丝和所有其他的奶牛场的工人都如同寻常时,才知道她完全是一个正常的人。在整个十月间美妙的下午,他们就这样在草场上漫游,沿着小溪旁边弯曲的小径漫步,倾听着小溪里的淙淙流水,从小溪上木桥的一边跨过去,然后又跨回来。他们所到之处,耳边都是潺潺的流水声,水声同他们的喁喁低语交织在一起,而太阳的光线,差不多已经和草场平行,为四周的景色罩上了一层花粉似的光辉。他们看见在树林和树篱的树阴里,有一些小小的蓝色暮霭,而其它地方都是灿烂的阳光。太阳和地面如此接近,草地又是那样平坦,所以克莱尔和苔丝两个人的影子,就在他们的面前伸展出去四分之一英里远近,就像两根细长的手指,远远地指点着同山谷斜坡相连的绿色冲积平原。
男工们正在四处干活——因为现在是修整牧场的季节,或者把草场上的一些冬天用来灌溉的沟渠挖干净,把被奶牛踩坏的坡岸修理好。一铲一铲的黑土,像墨玉一样漆黑,是在河流还同山谷一样宽阔时被冲到这儿的,它们是土壤的精华,是过去被打碎的原野经过浸泡、提炼,才变得特别肥沃,从这种土壤里又长出丰茂的牧草,喂养那儿的牛群。
在这些工人面前,克莱尔仍然大胆地用胳膊搂着苔丝的腰,脸上是一种惯于公开调情的神气,尽管实际上他也像苔丝一样羞怯,而苔丝张着嘴,斜眼看着那些干活的工人们,脸上的神色看上去就像是一只胆小的动物。
“在他们面前,你不怕承认我是你的人呢!”她高兴地说。
“啊,不怕!”
“但是如果传到爱敏寺你家里的人的耳朵里,说你这样和我散步,和一个挤牛奶的姑娘——”
“从来没有过的最迷人的挤奶姑娘。”
“他们也许会感到这有损他们的尊贵。”
“我亲爱的姑娘——德北菲尔德家的小姐伤害了克莱尔家的尊贵!你属于这样一个家庭的出身,这才是一张王牌呢。我现在留着它,等我们结了婚,从特林汉姆牧师那儿找来你的出身的证据,然后再打出去,才有惊人的效果。除此而外,我们将来的生活同我的家庭完全没有关系——甚至连他们生活的表面也不会有一点儿影响。我们也许要离开英国这一带——也许离开英国——别人怎样看待我们又有什么关系呢?你愿意离开吧,是不是?”
她除了表示同意而外,再也说不出话来,她一想到要和她亲密的朋友一起去闯荡世界,就引起她感情的无比激动。她的感情就像波涛的浪花,塞满了她的耳朵,涌满了她的眼睛。她握住他的手,就这样向前走,走到了一座桥的地方,耀眼的太阳从河面上反射上来,就像是熔化了的金属一样放射的光,使人头晕目炫。他们静静地站在那儿,桥下一些长毛和长羽毛的小脑袋从平静的水面冒了出来;不过当它们发现打搅它们的两个人还站在那儿,并没有走过去,于是就又钻进水里不见了。他们一直在河边走来走去,直到雾霭开始把他们包围起来——在一年中这个时候,夜雾起得非常早——它们好像一串串水晶,凝结在他们的眼睫毛上,凝结在他们的额头上和头发上。
星期天他们在外面呆的时间更久,一直等到天完全黑了才回去。在他们订婚后的第一个礼拜天的傍晚,有些奶牛场的工人也在外面散步,听见了苔丝激动的说话,由于太高兴,说话断断续续的,不过他们隔得太远,听不清她说的什么话;只见她靠在克莱尔的胳膊上走着,说的话时断时续,因为心的跳动而变成了一个个音节;还看见她心满意足地停住说话,偶尔低声一笑,好像她的灵魂就驾驭着她的笑声——这是一个女人陪着她所爱的男人而且还是从其他女人手中赢来的男人散步时发出的笑声——自然中任何其它的东西都不能与之相比。他们看见她走路时轻快的样子,好像还没有完全落下来的鸟儿滑翔似的。
她对他的爱现在达到了极点,成了她生命的存在;它像一团灵光把她包围起来,让她眼花缭乱,忘记了过去的不幸,赶走了那些企图向她扑来的忧郁的幽灵——疑虑、恐惧、郁闷、烦恼、羞辱。她也知道,它们像狼一样,正等在那团灵光的外面,但是她有持久的力量制服它们,让它们饿着肚子呆在外面。
精神上的忘却和理智上的回忆是同时并存的。她在光明里走着,但是她也知道,她背后的那些黑色幽灵正在蠢蠢欲动。它们也许会后退一点儿,也许会前进一点儿,每天都在一点一点地变化着。
一天傍晚,住在奶牛场里的人都出去了,只剩下苔丝和克莱尔留在家里看守屋子。他们在一起谈着,苔丝满腹心事地抬起头来,看着克莱尔,恰好同他欣赏的目光相遇。
“我配不上你——配不上,我配不上!”她突然说,一面从她坐的小凳子上跳起来,仿佛是因为他忠实于她而被吓坏了,但其中也表现出她满心的欢喜。
克莱尔认为她激动的全部原因就在于此,而其实只是其中很小的一部分,他说——
“我不许你说这种话,亲爱的苔丝!在夸夸其谈的一套毫无用处的传统礼仪中,并不存在什么高贵的身分,而高贵的身分存在于那些具有美德的人身上,如真实、诚恳、公正、纯洁、可爱和有美名的人身上——就像你一样,我的苔丝。”
她极力忍住喉咙里的哽咽。近来在教堂里,正是那一串美德,常常让她年轻的心痛苦不堪。现在他又把它们数说出来,这有多么奇怪呀。
“我——我在十六岁那年你为什么不留下来爱我呢?那时候我还和我的小弟弟小妹妹住在一起,你还在草地上和女孩子跳过舞,是不是?啊,你为什么不呀!你为什么不呀!”她急得扭着自己的手说。
安琪尔开始安慰她,要她放心,心里一面想,说得完全对,她是一个感情多么丰富的人啊,当她把自己的幸福完全寄托在他身上时,他要多么仔细地照顾她才对啊。
“啊——为什么我没有留下来!”他说,“这也正是我想到的问题呀。要是我知道,我能不留下来吗?但是你也不能太难过、太遗憾啊——你为什么要难过呢?”
出于女人掩饰的本能,她急忙改口说——
“和我现在相比,我不是就可以多得到你四年的爱了吗?那样我过去的光阴,就不会浪费掉了——那样我就可以得到更多的爱了。”
这样遭受折磨的并不是一个在过去有许多见不得人的风流艳史的成熟女人,而是一个生活单纯不过二十一岁的姑娘,还在她不通世事的年代,她就像一只小鸟,陷入了罗网,被人捉住了。为了让自己完全平静下来,她就从小凳子上站起来,离开了房间,在她走的时候,裙角把凳子带翻了。
他坐在壁炉的旁边,在壁炉里薪架上,燃烧着一堆绿色的桦树枝,上面闪耀着欢乐的火苗;树枝烧得劈劈啪啪地直响,树枝的端头烧得冒出了白沫。苔丝进来时,她已经恢复平静了。
“你不觉得你有点儿喜怒无常吗,苔丝?”他高兴地问她,一边为她在小凳上铺上垫子,自己在她的旁边坐下来。“我想问你一点儿事,你却正好走了。”
“是的,也许我有些情绪波动,”她小声说。她突然走到他的面前,一手握住他的一只胳膊。“不,安琪尔,我真的不是这样的——我是说,我本来不是这样的。”她为了要向他保证她不是喜怒无常的,就坐在他的对面,把头靠在克莱尔的肩膀上。“你想问我什么呢——我一定会回答你的。”她温顺地接着说。
“啊,你爱我,也同意嫁给我,因此接着而来的是第三个问题,‘我们什么时候结婚呢?’”
“我喜欢这个样子生活下去。”
“可是,在明年,或者在稍晚一点儿的时候,我想我一定得开始我自己的事业了。在我被新的繁杂的琐事缠住以前,我想我应该把我伴侣的事情肯定下来。”
“可是,”她胆怯地回答说,“说得实在一些,等你把事情办好以后再结婚不是更好吗?——尽管我一想到你要离开,想到你要把我留在这儿,我就受不了!”
“你当然受不了——这也不是什么好办法。在我开创事业的时候,在许多方面我还需要你帮忙啊。什么时候结婚?为什么不在两星期后结婚呢?”
“不,”她说,变得严肃起来,“有许多事情我还要先想一想。”
“可是——”
他温柔地把她拉得更近了些。
婚姻的现实隐约出现时,让她感到吃惊。他们正要把这个问题再深入地讨论下去,身后的拐角处有几个人走到了有亮光的地方,他们是奶牛场的老板和老板娘,还有另外两个姑娘。
苔丝好像一个有弹力的皮球似的,一下子就从克莱尔身边跳开了,她满脸通红,一双眼睛在火光里闪闪发亮。
“只要坐得离他这样近,我就知道后来的结果了!”她懊丧地说。“我自己说过,他们回来一定要撞到我们的!不过我真的没有坐在他膝上,尽管看上去似乎我差不多是那样的!”
“啊——要是你没有这样告诉我,我敢肯定在这种光线里,我一定不会注意到你坐在什么地方的,”奶牛场老板回答说。他继续对他的妻子说,脸上的冷淡态度,就好像他一点儿也不懂与婚姻相关的情感——“好啦,克里斯汀娜,这说明,人们不要去猜想别人正在想什么,实际上他们没有想什么呢。啊,不要瞎猜,要不是她告诉我,我永远也想不到她坐在哪儿呢——我想不到。”
“我们不久就要结婚了。”克莱尔说,装出一副镇静的样子。
“啊——要结婚啦!好,听了这个话,我真的感到高兴,先生。我早就想到你要这样办的。让她做一个挤牛奶的姑娘,真是导没了她——我第一天看见她的时候就这样说过——她是任何男子都想追求的人哪;而且,她做一个农场主的妻子,也是难找的啊;把她放在身边,你就不会受管家的随意摆布了。”
苔丝悄悄走掉了。她听了克里克老板笨拙的赞扬,感到不好意思,再看见跟在克里克老板身后的姑娘们的脸色,心里就更加难过了。晚饭过后,她回到宿舍,看见姑娘们都在。油灯还亮着,她们的身上都穿着白色的衣服,坐在床上等候苔丝,整个儿看上去都像是复仇的幽灵。
但是很快她也看出来,她们的神情里并没有恶意。她们从来没有希望得到的东西失去了,她们心里不会感到是一种损失。她们的神态是一种旁观的、沉思的神态。
“他要娶她了,”莱蒂眼睛看着苔丝,低声说。“从她脸上的神色里的确看得出来!”
“你要嫁给他了是不是?”玛丽安问。
“是的。”苔丝说。
“什么时候?”
“某一天吧。”
他们以为她只是在闪烁其辞。
“是的——要嫁给他了——嫁给一个绅士!”伊茨·休特重复说。
三个姑娘好像受到一种魔法的驱使,一个个从床上爬起来,光着脚站在苔丝的周围。莱蒂把她的手放在苔丝的肩上,想检验一下在经过这种奇迹之后,她的朋友是不是还有肉体的存在,另外两个姑娘用手搂着她的腰,一起看着她的脸。
“的确像真的呀!简直比我想的还要像啊!”伊茨·休特说。
玛丽安吻了吻苔丝。“不错。”她把嘴唇拿开时说。
“你吻她是因为你爱她呀,还是因为现在有另外的人在那儿吻过她呀!”伊茨对玛丽安冷冷地说。
“我才没有想到那些呢,”玛丽安简单地说。“我只不过感到奇怪罢了——要给他做妻子的是她,而不是别的人。我没有反对的意思,我们谁也没有反对的意思,因为我们谁也没有想到过要嫁给他——只是想到过喜欢他。还有,不是这个世界上的旁人嫁给他——不是一个千金小姐,不是一个穿绫罗绸缎的人;而是一个和我们一样生活的人。”
“你们肯定不会因为这件事恨我吧?”苔丝轻声说。
她们都穿着白色的睡衣站在她的周围,瞧着她,没有回答她的话,仿佛她们认为她们的回答藏在她的脸上似的。
“我不知道——我不知道,”莱蒂·普里德尔嘟哝着说。“我心里想恨你,可是我恨不起来!”
“我也是那种感觉呢,”伊茨和玛丽安一起说。“我不能恨她。她让我们恨不起来呀!”
“他应该在你们中间娶一个的。”苔丝低声说。
“为什么?”
“你们都比我强呀。”
“我们比你强?”姑娘们用低低的缓缓的声音说。“不,不,亲爱的苔丝!”
“比我强!”她有些冲动,反驳说。突然,她把她们的手推开,伏在五屉柜上歇斯底里地痛哭起来,一边不断地反复说,“啊,比我强,比我强,比我强!”
她一哭开了头,就再也止不住了。
“他应该在你们中间娶一个的!”她哭着说。“我想即使到了现在,我也应该让他在你们中间娶一个的!你们更适合嫁给他的,比——我简直不知道我在说什么!啊!啊!”
她们走上前去,拥抱她,但她还是痛苦地哽咽着。
“拿点儿水来,”玛丽安说。“我们让她激动了,可怜的人,可怜的人!”
她们轻轻地扶着她走到床边,在那儿热情地吻着她。
“你嫁给他才是最合适的,”玛丽安说。“和我们比起来,你更像一个大家闺秀,更有学识,特别是他已经教给你这样多的知识。你应该高兴才是呀。我敢说你应该高兴!”
“是的,我应该高兴,”她说;“我竟然哭了起来,真是难为情!”
等到她们都上了床,熄了灯,玛丽安隔着床铺对她耳语着说——
“等你做了他的妻子,你要想着我们啊,苔丝,不要以为我们告诉你我们怎样爱他呀,不要以为因为他选中了你我们会恨你啊,我们从来就没有恨过你啊,也从来没有想过被他选中啊。”
她们谁也没有想到,苔丝听了这些话后,悲伤和痛苦的眼泪又流了出来,湿透了她的枕头;谁也没有想到,她怎样五内俱裂地下定了决心,要不顾母亲的吩咐,把自己过去的一切告诉安琪尔·克莱尔——让那个她用自己的全部生命爱着的人鄙视她吧,让她的母亲把她看成傻瓜吧,她宁肯这样也不愿保持沉默,因为沉默就可以看成是对他的一种欺骗,也似乎可以看成是她们的一种委屈。
 

Tess wrote a most touching and urgent letter to her mother the very next day, and by the end of the week a response to her communication arrived in Joan Durbeyfield's wandering last-century hand.

DEAR TESS, - I write these few lines Hoping they will find you well, as they leave me at Present, thank God for it. Dear Tess, we are all glad to Hear that you are going really to be married soon. But with respect to your question, Tess, I say between ourselves, quite private but very strong, that on no account do you say a word of your Bygone Trouble to him. I did not tell everything to your Father, he being so Proud on account of his Respectability, which, perhaps, your Intended is the same. Many a woman - some of the Highest in the Land - have had a Trouble in their time; and why should you Trumpet yours when others don't Trumpet theirs? No girl would be such a Fool, specially as it is so long ago, and not your Fault at all. I shall answer the same if you ask me fifty times. Besides, you must bear in mind that, knowing it to be your Childish Nature to tell all that's in your heart - so simple! - I made you promise me never to let it out by Word or Deed, having your Welfare in my Mind; and you most solemnly did promise it going from this Door. I have not named either that Question or your coming marriage to your Father, as he would blab it everywhere, poor Simple Man.

Dear Tess, keep up your Spirits, and we mean to send you a Hogshead of Cyder for your Wedding, knowing there is not much in your parts, and thin Sour Stuff what there is. So no more at present, and with kind love to your Young Man. - From your affectte. Mother,

J. DURBEYFIELD.

`O mother, mother!' murmured Tess.
She was recognizing how light was the touch of events the most oppressive upon Mrs Durbeyfield's elastic spirit. Her mother did not see life as Tess saw it. That haunting episode of bygone days was to her mother but a passing accident. But perhaps her mother was right as to the course to be followed, whatever she might be in her reasons. Silence seemed, on the face of it, best for her adored one's happiness: silence it should be.

Thus steadied by a command from the only person in the world who had any shadow of right to control her action, Tess grew calmer. The responsibility was shifted, and her heart was lighter than it had been for weeks. The days of declining autumn which followed her assent, beginning with the month of October, formed a season through which she lived in spiritual altitudes more nearly approaching ecstasy than any other period of her life.

There was hardly a touch of earth in her love for Clare. To her sublime trustfulness he was all that goodness could be - knew all that a guide, philosopher, and friend should know. She thought every line in the contour of his person the perfection of masculine beauty, his soul the soul of a saint, his intellect that of a seer. The wisdom of her love for him, as love, sustained her dignity; she seemed to be wearing a crown. The compassion of his love for her, as she saw it, made her lift up her heart to him in devotion. He would sometimes catch her large, worshipful eyes, that had no bottom to them, looking at him from their depths, as if she saw something immortal before her.

She dismissed the past - trod upon it and put it out, as one treads on a coal that is smouldering and dangerous.

She had not known that men could be so disinterested, chivalrous, protective, in their love for women as he. Angel Clare was far from all that she thought him in this respect; absurdly far, indeed; but he was, in truth, more spiritual than animal; he had himself well in hand, and was singularly free from grossness. Though not cold-natured, he was rather bright than hot - less Byronic than Shelleyan; could love desperately, but with a love more especially inclined to the imaginative and ethereal; it was a fastidious emotion which could jealously guard the loved one against his very self. This amazed and enraptured Tess, whose slight experiences had been so infelicitous till now; and in her reaction from indignation against the male sex she swerved to excess of honour for Clare.

They unaffectedly sought each other's company; in her honest faith she did not disguise her desire to be with him. The sum of her instincts on this matter, if clearly stated, would have been that the elusive quality in her sex which attracts men in general might be distasteful to so perfect a man after an avowal of love, since it must in its very nature carry with it a suspicion of art.

The country custom of unreserved comradeship out of doors during betrothal was the only custom she knew, and to her it had no strangeness; though it seemed oddly anticipative to Clare till he saw how normal a thing she, in common with all the other dairy-folk, regarded it. Thus, during this October month of wonderful afternoons they roved along the meads by creeping paths which followed the brinks of trickling tributary brooks, hopping across by little wooden bridges to the other side, and back again. They were never out of the sound of some purling weir, whose buzz accompanied their own murmuring, while the beams of the sun, almost as horizontal as the mead itself, formed a pollen of radiance over the landscape. They saw tiny blue fogs in the shadows of trees and hedges, all the time that there was bright sunshine elsewhere. The sun was so near the ground, and the sward so flat, that the shadows of Clare and Tess would stretch a quarter of a mile ahead of them, like two long fingers pointing afar to where the green alluvial reaches abutted against the sloping sides of the vale.

Men were at work here and there - for it was the season for `taking up' the meadows, or digging the little waterways clear for the winter irrigation, and mending their banks where trodden down by the cows. The shovelfuls of loam, black as `et, brought there by the river when it was as wide as the whole valley, were an essence of soils, pounded champaigns of the past, steeped, refined, and subtilized to extraordinary richness, out of which came all the fertility of the mead, and of the cattle grazing there.

Clare hardily kept his arm round her waist in sight of these watermen, with the air of a man who was accustomed to public dalliance, though actually as shy as she who, with lips parted and eyes askance on the labourers, wore the look of a wary animal the while.

`You are not ashamed of owning me as yours before them!' she said gladly.

`O no!'

`But if it should reach the ears of your friends at Emminster that you are walking about like this with me, a milkmaid--'

`The most bewitching milkmaid ever seen.'

`They might feel it a hurt to their dignity.'

`My dear girl - a d'Urberville hurt the dignity of a Clare! It is a grand card to play - that of your belonging to such a family, and I am reserving it for a grand effect when we are married, and have the proofs of your descent from Parson Tringham. Apart from that, my future is to be totally foreign to my family - it will not affect even the surface of their lives. We shall leave this part of England - perhaps England itself - and what does it matter how people regard us here. You will like going, will you not?'

She could answer no more than a bare affirmative, so great was the emotion aroused in her at the thought of going through the world with him as his own familiar friend. Her feelings almost filled her ears like a babble of waves, and surged up to her eyes. She put her hand in his, and thus they went on, to a place where the reflected sun glared up from the river, under a bridge, with a molten-metallic glow that dazzled their eyes, though the sun itself was hidden by the bridge. They stood still, whereupon little furred and feathered heads popped up from the smooth surface of the water; but, finding that the disturbing presences had paused, and not passed by, they disappeared again. Upon this river-brink they lingered till the fog began to close round them - which was very early in the evening at this time of the year - settling on the lashes of her eyes, where it rested like crystals, and on his brows and hair.

They walked later on Sundays, when it was quite dark. Some of the dairy-people, who were also out of doors on the first Sunday evening after their engagement, heard her impulsive speeches, ecstasized to fragments, though they were too far off to hear the words discoursed; noted the spasmodic catch in her remarks, broken into syllables by the leapings of her heart, as she walked leaning on his arm; her contented pauses, the occasional little laugh upon which her soul seemed to ride - the laugh of a woman in company with the man she loves and has won from all other women - unlike anything else in nature. They marked the buoyancy of her tread, like the skim of a bird which has not quite alighted.

Her affection for him was now the breath and life of Tess's being; it enveloped her as a photosphere, irradiated her into forgetfulness of her past sorrows, keeping back the gloomy spectres that would persist in their attempts to touch her - doubt, fear, moodiness, care, shame. She knew that they were waiting like wolves just outside the circumscribing light, but she had long spells of power to keep them in hungry subjection there.

A spiritual forgetfulness coexisted with an intellectual remembrance. She walked in brightness, but she knew that in the background those shapes of darkness were always spread. They might be receding, or they might be approaching, one or the other, a little every day.

One evening Tess and Clare were obliged to sit indoors keeping house, all the other occupants of the domicile being away. As they talked she looked thoughtfully up at him, and met his two appreciative eyes.

`I am not worthy of you - no, I am not!' she burst out, jumping up from her low stool as though appalled at his homage, and the fulness of her own joy thereat.

Clare, deeming the whole basis of her excitement to be that which was only the smaller part of it, said--

`I won't have you speak like it, dear Tess! Distinction does not consist in the facile use of a contemptible set of conventions, but in being numbered among those who are true, and honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report - as you are, my Tess.'

She struggled with the sob in her throat. How often had that string of excellences made her young heart ache in church of late years, and how strange that he should have cited them now.

`Why didn't you stay and love me when I - was sixteen; living with my little sisters and brothers, and you danced on the green? O, why didn't you, why didn't you!' she said, impetuously clasping her hands.

Angel began to comfort and reassure her, thinking to himself, truly enough, what a creature of moods she was, and how careful he would have to be of her when she depended for her happiness entirely on him.

`Ah - why didn't I stay!'he said. `That is just what I feel. If I had only known! But you must not be so bitter in your regret - why should you be?'

With the woman's instinct to hide she diverted hastily--

`I should have had four years more of your heart than I can ever have now. Then I should not have wasted my time as I have done - I should have had so much longer happiness!'

It was no mature woman with a long dark vista of intrigue behind her who was tormented thus; but a girl of simple life, not yet one-and-twenty, who had been caught during her days of immaturity like a bird in a springe. To calm herself the more completely she rose from her little stool and left the room, overturning the stool with her skirts as she went.

He sat on by the cheerful firelight thrown from a bundle of green ash-sticks laid across the dogs; the sticks snapped pleasantly, and hissed out bubbles of sap from their ends. When she came back she was herself again.

`Do you not think you are just a wee bit capricious, fitful, Tess?' he said, good humouredly, as he spread a cushion for her on the stool, and seated himself in the settle beside her. `I wanted to ask you something, and just then you ran away.'

`Yes, perhaps I am capricious,' she murmured. She suddenly approached him, and put a hand upon each of his arms. `No, Angel, I am not really so - by Nature, I mean!' The more particularly to assure him that she was not, she placed herself close to him in the settle, and allowed her head to find a resting-place against Clare's shoulder. `What did you want to ask me - I am sure I will answer it,' she continued humbly.

`Well, you love me, and have agreed to marry me, and hence there follows a thirdly, "When shall the day be?"

`I like living like this.'

`But I must think of starting in business on my own hook with the new year, or a little later. And before I get involved in the multifarious details of my new position, I should like to have secured my partner.'

`But,' she timidly answered, `to talk quite practically, wouldn't it be best not to marry till after all that? - Though I can't bear the thought o' your going away and leaving me here!'

`Of course you cannot - and it is not best in this case. I want you to help me in many ways in making my start. When shall it be? Why not a fortnight from now?'

`No,' she said, becoming grave; `I have so many things to think of first.'

`But--'

He drew her gently nearer to him.

The reality of marriage was startling when it loomed so near. Before discussion of the question had proceeded further there walked round the corner of the settle into the full firelight of the apartment Mr Dairyman Crick, Mrs Crick, and two of the milkmaids.

Tess sprang like an elastic ball from his side to her feet, while her face flushed and her eyes shone in the firelight.

`I knew how it would be if I sat so close to him!' she cried, with vexation. `I said to myself, they are sure to come and catch us! But I wasn't really sitting on his knee, though it might ha' seemed as if I was almost!'

`Well - if so be you hadn't told us, I am sure we shouldn't ha' noticed that ye had been sitting anywhere at all in this light,' replied the dairyman. He continued to his wife, with the stolid mien of a man who understood nothing of the emotions relating to matrimony--'Now, Christianer, that shows that folks should never fancy other folks be supposing things when they bain't. O no, I should never ha' thought a word of where she was a sitting to, if she hadn't told me - not I.'

`We are going to be married soon,' said Clare, with improvised phlegm.

`Ah - and be ye! Well, I am truly glad to hear it, sir. I've thought you mid do; such a thing for some time. She's too good for a dairymaid - I said so the very first day I zid her - and a prize for any man; and what's more, a wonderful woman for a gentleman-farmer's wife; he won't be at the mercy of his baily wi' her at his side.'

Somehow Tess disappeared. She had been even more struck with the look of the girls who followed Crick than abashed by Crick's blunt praise.

After supper, when she reached her bedroom, they were all present. A light was burning, and each damsel was sitting up whitely in her bed, awaiting Tess, the whole like a row of avenging ghosts.

But she saw in a few moments that there was no malice in their mood. They could scarcely feel as a loss what they had never expected to have. Their condition was objective, contemplative.

He's going to marry her!' murmured Retty, never taking eyes off Tess. `How her face do show it!'

`You be going to marry him?' asked Marian.

`Yes,' said Tess.

`When?'

`Some day.'

They thought that this was evasiveness only.

`Yes - going to marry him - a gentleman!' repeated Izz Huett.

And by a sort of fascination the three girls, one after another, crept out of their beds, and came and stood barefooted round Tess. Retty put her hands upon Tess's shoulders, as if to realize her friend's corporeality after such a miracle, and the other two laid their arms round her waist, all looking into her face.

`How it do seem! Almost more than I can think of!' said Izz Huett.

Marian kissed Tess. `Yes,' she murmured as she withdrew her lips.

`Was that because of love for her, or because other lips have touched there by now?' continued Izz drily to Marian.

`I wasn't thinking o' that,' said Marian simply. `I was only feeling all the strangeness o't - that she is to be his wife, and nobody else. I don't say nay to it, nor either of us, because we did not think of it - only loved him. Still, nobody else is to marry'n in the world - no fine lady, nobody in silks and satins; but she who do live like we.'

`Are you sure you don't dislike me for it?' said Tess in a low voice.

They hung about her in their white nightgowns before replying, as if they considered their answer might lie in her look.

`I don't know - I don't know,' murmured Retty Priddle. `I want to hate 'ee; but I cannot!'

`That's how I feel,' echoed Izz and Marian. `I can't hate her. Somehow she hinders me!'

`He ought to marry one of you,' murmured Tess.

`Why?'

`You are all better than I.'

`We better than you?' said the girls in a low, slow whisper. `No, no, dear Tess!'

`You are!' she contradicted impetuously. And suddenly tearing away from their clinging arms she burst into a hysterical fit of tears, bowing herself on the chest of drawers and repeating incessantly, `O yes, yes, yes!'

Having once given way she could not stop her weeping.

`He ought to have had one of you!' she cried. `I think I ought to make him even now! You would be better for him than - I don't know what I'm saying! O! O!'

They went up to her and clasped her round, but still her sobs tore her.

`Get some water,' said Marian. `She's upset by us, poor thing, poor thing!'

They gently led her back to the side of her bed, where they kissed her warmly.

`You are best for 'n,' said Marian. `More ladylike, and a better scholar than we, especially since he has taught 'ee so much. But even you ought to be proud. You be proud, I'm sure!'

`Yes, I am,' she said; `and I am ashamed at so breaking down!'

When they were all in bed, and the light was out, Marian whispered across to her--

`You will think of us when you be his wife, Tess, and of how we told 'ee that we loved him, and how we tried not to hate you, and did not hate you, and could not hate you, because you were his choice, and we never hoped to be chose by him.' They were not aware that, at these words, salt, stinging tears trickled down upon Tess's pillows anew, and how she resolved, with a bursting heart, to tell all her history to Angel Clare, despite her mother's command - to let him for whom she lived and breathed despise her if he would, and her mother regard her as a fool, rather than preserve a silence which might be deemed a treachery to him, and which somehow seemed a wrong to these.