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第24节 第三十六章 【
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黎明的晨光一片惨淡,时明时暗,仿佛跟犯罪有了牵连,克莱尔在这时候起了床。他的面前是壁炉里一堆已经熄灭了的灰烬;在摆好的饭桌上面,放着两杯满满的碰也没有碰过的葡萄酒,现在已经走了味,变得浑浊了;她和他的椅子都空着;其它的家俱也是一副爱莫能助的样子,老是在那儿发问:怎么办呢?问得叫人心烦意乱。楼上一点儿声音也没有,但是过了几分钟,门上传来了敲门声。他想起来了,那大概是附近那家农户的妻子来了,他们在这儿住的期间,由她来照应。
此时此刻有第三个人出现在屋子里是令人极其尴尬的,他这时已经穿好了衣服,就打开窗户告诉那个女人,那天早晨他们自己可以安排,她就不用来了。她手里拿着一罐牛奶,他让她把牛奶放在门口。那个女人走了以后,他就到屋子后面寻找柴火,很快就生起了火。食品间里有大量的鸡蛋、黄油、面包等之类的东西,不久,克莱尔就把早饭摆到了桌子上,在奶牛场里,他已经学会了做家务事。燃烧着的木柴产生的轻烟,从烟囱里冒出来,就像一根莲花头的柱子;从屋旁经过的本地人看见了,就想起了这对新婚夫妇,羡慕他们的幸福。
克莱尔最后把四周扫视了一眼,然后就走到楼梯脚下,用一种传统的声音喊——
“早饭已经好了!”
他打开前门,出门在早晨的空气里走了几步。不一会儿,他又走了回来,这时候苔丝已经穿好衣服来到了起居室,正在机械地重新调整早餐用的杯盘。她穿戴得整整齐齐,从他叫她起床的这段时间,只不过两三分钟,那一定在他去叫她之前,她已经早就穿戴好了,或者是差不多穿戴好了。她的头发被挽成了一个大圆髻盘在脑后,穿了一件新的长袍——一件淡蓝色的呢子服装,领口镶有白色的皱边。她的双手和脸看起来冰凉,很可能是她坐在没有生火的房间里穿衣服时间太长了。克莱尔刚才喊她的声音,明显很有礼貌,这似乎一时鼓舞了她,使她又似乎看到了希望的闪光。不过当她看见他时,她的希望很快就消失了。
说实在的,他们两个人先前像一团烈火,现在只剩下一堆灰烬了。昨天晚上强烈的悲痛,现在变成了沉重的抑郁;他们两个人的热烈感情,似乎再也没有什么东西能够把它们重新点燃了。
他温和地同她说话,她也不露声色地回答。后来,她走到他的面前,看着他那张轮廓分明的脸,就好像没有意识到自己的脸也是可以看得见的。
“安琪尔!”她喊了一声就住口了,伸出手指轻轻地去摸他,轻得就像一阵微风,仿佛她不敢相信这个曾经爱过她的人活生生地站在她的面前。她的眼睛是明亮的,她灰白的脸颊还是像往日那样丰润饱满,不过半干的眼泪已经在那儿留下了闪亮的痕迹;她那往常丰满成熟的嘴唇,几乎和她的脸颊一样苍白。尽管她仍然还活着,但是在她内心悲伤的重压之下,她的生命的搏动时断时续,只要稍微再加一点压力,她就会真正地病倒了,她的富有特点的眼睛就要失去光彩,她的嘴唇就要消瘦了。
她的样子看起来绝对纯洁。自然用它异想天开的诡计,在苔丝的脸卜刻下一种处女的标志,安琪尔看着她,不禁目瞪口呆。
“苔丝!告诉我那不是真的!不,不是真的!”
“是真的!”
“句句属实?”
“句句属实。”
他带着哀求的神情看着她,仿佛他情愿从她的嘴里听到一句谎话,尽管明知道那是谎话,他还是希望借助诡辩的巧妙,把那句谎话当作有用的真话。但是,她只是重复说——
“是真的。”
“他还活着吗?”
“孩子死了。”
“但是那男人呢?”
“他还活着。”
克莱尔的脸上显露出最后的绝望。
“他在英国吗?”
“是的。”
他不知所以地走了几步。
“我的地位——是这样的,”他突然说。“我想——无论谁都会这样想——我放弃了所有的野心,不娶一个有社会地位、有财富、有教养的妻子,我想我就可以得到一个娇艳美丽、朴素纯洁的妻子了;可是——唉,我不会责备你了,我不会了。”
苔丝完全理解他的情形,所以剩下的话就不必说了。叫人痛苦的地方就在那儿;她明白无论哪方面他都吃了亏。
“安琪尔——我要是不知道你毕竟还有最后一条出路的话,我就不会答应同你结婚了;尽管我希望你不会——”
她的声音变得嘶哑了。
“最后一条出路?”
“我是说你可以摆脱我呀。你能够摆脱我呀。”
“怎么摆脱?”
“和我离婚呀。”
“天啦——你怎么这样简单呀!我怎么能同你离婚呀?”
“不能吗——现在我不是已经告诉你了?我想我的自白就是你离婚的理由。”
“啊,苔丝——你太,太——孩子气了——太幼稚了——太浅薄了。我不知道怎样说你好啦。你不懂得法律——你不懂!”
“什么——你不能离婚?”
“我确实不能离婚。”
在她倾听的脸上立刻露出来一种羞愧混合着痛苦的神情。
“我以为你能够的——我以为你能够的,”她低声说。“啊,现在我明白我对你是多么地坏了!相信我——相信我,我向你发誓,我从来就没有想到你不能和我离婚!我曾经希望你不会和我离婚;可是我相信,从来也没有怀疑过,只要你打定了主意,你就可以把我抛开,根本不——不要爱我!”
“你错了,”他说。
“啊,那么我昨天就应该作个了断,作个了断!可是我当时又没有勇气。唉,我就是这么样一个人!”
“你没有勇气干什么?”
因为她没有回答,他就抓住她的手问。
“你是打算干什么呀?”他问。
“结束我的生命啊。”
“什么时候?”
他这么一问,她就退缩了。“昨天晚上,”她回答说。
“在哪儿?”
“在你的槲寄生下面。”
“我的天呀——!你用什么办法?”他严厉地问。
“要是你不生我的气,我就告诉你!”她退缩着说。“用捆我箱子的绳子。可是后来我——我又放弃了!我害怕你会担上谋杀的罪名。”
没有想到的这段供词是逼出来的,不是她自动说的,这显然使他感到震惊。但是他仍旧拉着她,盯在她脸上的目光垂到地上,他说:
“好啦,你现在听着。你决不能去想这种可怕的事!你怎能想这种事呢!你得向我、你的丈夫保证,以后不再想这种事。”
“我愿意保证。我知道那样做是很坏的。”
“很坏!这种想法坏得没法说了。”
“可是,安琪尔,”她辩护说,一边把她的眼睛睁得大大的,满不在乎的看着他,“我完全是为你着想啊——我想这样你就可以摆脱我,得到自由,但是又不会落下离婚的骂名。要是为了我,我做梦也不会想到那个呀。不过,死在我自己的手里毕竟是太便宜了我。应该是你,被我毁了的丈夫来把我结果了。既然你已经无路可走了,如果你自己动手把我结果了,我觉得我会更加爱你的,如果我还能更加爱你的话。我觉得自己一钱不值了!又是你路上的巨大障碍!”
“别说啦!”
“好吧,既然你不让我说,我就不说好啦。我绝没有反对你的意思。”
他知道这话完全是对的。自从那个绝望的夜晚过去以后,她已经一点儿精神也没有了,所以不怕她再有什么鲁莽的举动。
苔丝又忙着到饭桌上去安排早饭,这多少有些成功。他们都在同一边一起坐下来,这样可以避免他们的目光相遇。开始他们两个听见吃喝的声音,感到有些别扭,但这是没有办法避免的;不过,他们两个人吃东西都吃得很少。吃完早饭,他站起来对她说了他可能回来吃正餐的时间,就出门去了磨坊,好去机械地进行他的研究计划,而这也是他到这儿来的唯一的一个实际理由。
他走了以后,苔丝站在窗前,立刻就看到他穿过那座大石桥的身影,那座石桥通向磨坊的房屋。他走下石桥,穿过铁路,然后就看不见了。于是苔丝没有叹一口气,就把注意力转向室内,开始收拾桌子,整理房问。
不久做杂活的女人来了。有她在房间里,苔丝最初感到紧张,不过后来她反而感到轻松了。十二点半钟的时候,她就把那女人一个人留在厨房里,自己回到起居室里,等着安琪尔的身影从桥后重新出现。
大约一点钟的时候,安琪尔出现了。虽然他离开她还有四分之一英里远,但是她的脸变红了。她跑进厨房,吩咐说他一进门就开饭。他首先走进前天他们曾经一起洗手的房间,当他走进起居室的时候,盘子的盖子已经揭开了,仿佛是因为他走进来才被揭开的。
“好准时呀!”他说。
“是的。你过桥时我看见你了,”她说。
在吃饭的时候,他谈一些普通的话题,如早上他在寺庙的磨坊做些什么呀,上螺栓的方法和老式的机械等,他还说他担心在先进的现代方法面前,那些机械不会给他太多的启发,因为有些机械似乎是当年给隔壁寺庙的和尚磨面的时候就开始使用了,而那座寺庙现在已经变成一堆瓦砾。吃完饭后不到一个小时,他又离开屋子去了磨坊,直到黄昏才回来,整个晚上都在整理他的资料。她担心她妨碍了他,所以在那个年老的女人离开以后,她就回到厨房,在那儿足足忙了一个钟头。
克莱尔的身影在门口出现了。
“你不必那样干活,”他说。“你不是我的仆人;你是我的妻子。”
她抬起眼睛,神色开朗了一会儿。“我自己可以这样认为吗——真的吗?”她低声说,用的是可怜的自嘲口气。“你指的是名义上!唉,我也不能有多的指望了。”
“你也可以这样想,苔丝!你是我的妻子。你刚才说的话是什么意思?”
“我不知道,”她急忙说,声音里带着悲伤。“我想我——我的意思是说,我是一个不名誉的人。很久以前我就告诉过你,我是一个很不名誉的人——因为那个原因,我才不愿嫁给你,只是——只是你逼着我!”
她忍不住抽抽搭搭地哭起来,背过身去。除了安琪尔·克莱尔,她这种样子会使任何人回心转意的。总的说来,安琪尔温柔而富有热情,但在他的内心深处,却隐藏着一块坚硬的逻辑沉淀,就像是松软的土壤里埋着的金属矿床,无论什么东西要穿过去,都得折断尖刃。这也妨碍他接受宗教;妨碍他接受苔丝。而且,他的热情本身与其说是烈火,不如说是火焰,而对于女性,他一旦不再信任,就不再追求;在这方面同许多感情易受影响的人大不相同,因为那种人虽然在理智上鄙视一个女人,但是往往在感情上却恋恋不舍。他在那儿等着,直到她哭完了。
“我希望在英格兰能有一半女人像你一样名誉就好了,”他对全英国的妇女发了一阵牢骚说。“这不是一个名誉的问题,而是一个原则的问题。”
他对她说了这些话,还说了一些跟这些话相似的话,在那个时候,他仍然还受到反感浪潮的支配,当一个人发觉自己的眼光受到外表的愚弄,他就必然要产生歪曲的看法。在这股浪潮里面,其实还是有一股同情的暗流,一个老于世故的女人本可以利用它来征服他的。但是苔丝没有想到这些;她把一切都作为对她的惩罚接受下来,几乎没有开口说过一句话。她对他那样忠心耿耿,简直让人感到可怜;虽然她天生是一个脾气急躁的人,但是他对她说的话却没有让她失态;她完全不顾自己,也没有因此着恼;无论他怎样对待她,她都是这样。现在她自己也许就是圣徒式的博爱,又回到了自私自利的现代社会了。
这一天从傍晚到夜晚再到早晨,和前一天一点不差地过去了。有一次,而且只有一次,从前自由和独立的苔丝曾经勇敢地采取行动。那是在他吃完饭后第三次动身去面粉厂的时候。他对苔丝说了一声再见,就要离开桌子,她也同样对他说了一声再见,同时把自己的嘴巴朝向他。他没有接受她的一片情意,就急忙把身子扭向一边,嘴里说——
“我会准时回家的。”
苔丝缩了回去,就像被人打了一样。有多少次他不顾她的同意,想去接触这两片嘴唇——有多少次他快活地说,她的嘴唇,她的呼吸,就像赖以为生的黄油、鸡蛋、牛奶、蜂蜜的味道一样,他可以从那儿得到滋养,他还说过诸如此类的傻话。但是现在他对她的嘴唇不感兴趣了。他看见她突然退了回去,就温和地对她说——
“你是知道的,我一定得想个办法。我们现在不得不在一起住上几天,免得因为我们突然分开给你带来流言蜚语。不过你要明白,这只是为了顾全面子。”
“是的,”苔丝心不在焉地说。
他出门走了,在去磨坊的路上站了一会儿,心里只后悔没有对她更温柔些,至少没有吻她一次。
他们就这样一起过了一两天绝望的日子;不错,他们是住在同一座屋里;同他们还不是情人的时候相比,他们变得更加疏远了。她明显地看出,正如他自己所说,他生活在瘫痪的行动中,正在努力想出一个行动计划。她恐惧地发现,他的外表是那样温柔,心里头却是那样地坚定。他这种坚定的态度的确太残酷了。现在她不再想得到什么宽恕。她不只一次想到,在他出门到磨坊去的时候,她就离开他;但是她又担心这样做不仅对他没有什么好处,反而张扬出去会让她感到麻烦和羞辱。
同时,克莱尔也正在那儿不停地思考着。他的思考一直没有间断过;因为思考,他已经病倒了;因为思考,他的人已经变得消瘦,也因为思考变得憔悴了;因为思考的折磨,他以前天生的对家庭生活的情趣也变得没有了。他走来走去,一边嘴里说着,“怎么办呢——怎么办呢?”偶尔能够听见他这样说着。他们一直对他们的未来保持沉默,这时她就打破沉默开口说话了。
“我想——你是不打算长时间地——和我住在一起了,是不是,安琪尔?”她问,她说话的时候脸上保持着镇静,但是从她的嘴角向下耷拉的样子可以看出,她脸上的镇静完全是机械地装出来的。
“我不能,”他说,“瞧不起我自己,也许更糟的是,我会瞧不起你的。当然,我是说不能按照通常的意义和你生活在一起。在目前,无论我有什么样的感觉,我都不会轻视你。让我明白地说吧,或许你还没有明白我所有的难处。只要那个男人还活着,我怎能和你住在一起呢?——实质上你的丈夫是他,而不是我。如果他死了,这个问题也许就不同了——除此而外,这还不是所有的难处;还有另外一个值得考虑的方面—一不只是我们两个人,还关系到另外一个人的前途啊。你想一想,几年以后,我们有了儿女,这件过去的事让人知道了——这件事肯定会让人知道的。天底下最遥远的地方也有人从其它的地方来,到其它的地方去。唉,想一想吧,我们的骨肉遭到别人的嘲笑,随着他们不断地长大,不断地懂事,他们该有多痛苦。他们明白过来后,该有多么难堪!他们的前途该有多么黑暗!你要是考虑到这些问题,凭良心你还能说和我住在一起吗?你不认为我们忍受现有的痛苦强似再找另外的痛苦吗?”
她的本来就因为痛苦而耷拉下来的眼皮,现在继续像从前一样耷拉着。“我不会要求和你住在一起的,”她回答说。“我不会这样要求的;我还没有想到这样远呢。”
苔丝女性的希望——我们应不应该承认?——又这样强烈地燃烧起来,使她在心里头悄悄生出来一些幻象,只要亲密地生活在一起,时间长了,就能消除他的冷淡,推翻他的判断。虽然一般说来她不通世故人情,但也不是一个智力不全的人;要是她不能从本能上知道亲密地生活在一起的力量,那就是说她没有资格做女人了。她知道,如果这样也没有效果的话,别的方法对他就更没有用处了。她对自己说,寄希望于用计谋耍手腕是不该的,但这种办法她也没有让它熄灭。克莱尔已经最后表了态,正如她所说,那是一个新的观点。她实在没有想到他想得那么远,经他清楚地一描绘,他们将来的子女会瞧不起她,这对她以慈爱为中心的最忠厚的心灵来说,真是觉得入情入理。她全凭经验已经懂得,在某些情形里,有一个比过诚实的生活更好的办法,那就是无论什么生活也不过。她跟所有经过苦难而获得先见之明的人一样,用庶利·普吕东①的话说,她能够听到宣读的判决书,“你要下世为人”,尤其是如果判决书是对她未来的儿女宣读的。
 
①庶利·普吕东(M·Sully-Prudhomme,1839-1907),法国诗人兼批评家,着有《孤寂》、《命运》、《幸运》等。

可是自然夫人像狐狸一样狡猾,直到现在,苔丝因为对克莱尔的爱而被弄糊涂了,竟然忘记了他们生活在一起是可以产生新生命的,是可以把自己哀叹的不幸加到别人身上的。
因此她无法反驳他的论点。然而克莱尔是一个异常敏感的人,天生有一种自我争论的脾性,这时他自己心中出现了一种辩辞,几乎害怕苔丝真的会拿这种辩辞来反驳他。这种辩辞是以苔丝异乎常人的身体优势为基础的;苔丝如果利用了这一点,她还有希望达到目的。除此而外她还可以说:“我们到澳大利亚的高原去,我们到得克萨斯的平原去,这样谁会知道我们呢?谁会在乎我的不幸呢?谁会来责备你或者我呢?”但是,和大多数女人一样,她接受了克莱尔的暂时描述,认为那是合情合理的。她也许并不错。女人内心的直觉,不仅知道她自己的痛苦,而且也知道她丈夫的痛苦,即使这些想象得到的责备不是由外人来指责他或者他的子女的话,它们也可能在自己的头脑里责备自己,他的耳朵也照样听得见。
这是他们分离后的第三天。有人也许可以冒昧说一句自相矛盾的话,他的身上要是更多一些兽性的话,他的人格也许就更高尚了。我们并不这样说。但是克莱尔的爱情毫无疑问过于空灵,所以才出了错误,也过于空想,所以才不切实际。由于这些天性,有时候他爱的人在他的面前倒不如不在他的面前更令他感动;不在他的面前,他可以创造出一个理想的人来,从而把真实的缺点消除了。她发现,她的人品已经不能像她期望的那样,成为她的强有力的借口了。那个比喻的说法倒是不错:她已经变成另外一个女人了,已经不是激起他的爱欲的那个女人了。
“我已经反复考虑过你说的话了,”她对他说,一面用她的食指在桌布上划着,她那只戴戒指的手托着额头,仿佛在嘲笑他们两个人一样。“你说得完全对;肯定是那样的。你是得离开我。”
“可是你怎么办呢?”
“我可以回家。”
克莱尔还没有想到这个办法。
“真的吗?”他问。
“的确是真的。我们应该分开,我们早点让这件事过去不就完了。你曾经说过,我容易获得男人的欢心,让他们失去理智;要是我不断地出现在你的眼前,也许你会改变了主意,违背了你的理智和愿望;此后你的悔恨和我的痛昔就更可怕了。”
“你愿意回家吗?”他问。
“我愿意离开你,回家去。”
“那么就这么办吧。”
苔丝虽然没有抬起头来看他,但也不觉吃了一惊。提出建议和达成协议本来是两回事,她觉得他答应得太快了一点。
“我原来就担心会出现这个结局,”她嘟哝着说,不动声色,一副顺从的样子。“我不会抱怨的,安琪尔。我——我认为这是最好的办法。你说的话已经完全说服了我。不错,如果我们住在一起,尽管不会有别人来责备我,但是日子久了,你也许在什么时候会因为一点儿小事就生我的气,说不准就把我过去的事情说出来,也许就让外人听见了,也许就让我们的孩子听见了。啊,现在只是让我伤心,那时候却会让我痛苦,会要了我的命呀!我会离开的——明天就离开。”
“我也不在这儿住了。尽管我不愿意先提这件事,但是我看得出来,我们还是分手的好——至少分开一段时间,等到我把情势看得更清楚了,我会给你写信的。”
苔丝偷偷地看了她的丈夫一眼。他脸色苍白,甚至还在颤抖;但是她看见她嫁的这个丈夫,还是和从前一样,温柔的深处隐藏着坚定,这使她吓坏了——他有一种意志,要让粗鄙的感情服从细致的感情,要让物质的存在,服从抽象的观念,要让肉欲服从精神。一切癖好、倾向、习惯,都像枯死的树叶,被他想象力量的暴风一扫而光。
他也许看见了她的脸色,因为他又解释说——
“对那些从我身边离开的人,我会更关爱他们,”他又玩世不恭地补充说,“上帝知道的;也许有一天我们都过腻了,我们就又凑合到一块儿了;这样的人有成千上万呢。”
他在当天就开始收拾行李,她也上楼收拾行李去了。他们两个人都知道,他们心里都明白,明天早晨也许是永远分别了,尽管他们在收拾行李的过程中,都作出种种猜测宽慰自己,因为他们都是那样一种人,任何永久的别离都是痛苦的。他知道,她也知道,虽然互相吸引对方的魅力——在她那方面并不是靠才艺——大概从他们分别的第一天起就会比以往更强烈,不过时间一定会慢慢使它减弱的;那些反对他把她作为主妇接受的种种实际理论,也许从一个旁观者的眼光去看就会变得更加清楚了。而且,当两个人一旦分开了——一旦放弃了共同的居室和共同的环境——新的蓓蕾就会在不知不觉中生长出来,把各自空白的地方填补起来;难以预料的事情也可能妨碍了着意的安排,过去的计划就被忘记了。
 

Clare arose in the light of a dawn that was ashy and furtive, as though associated with crime. The fireplace confronted him with its extinct embers; the spread supper-table, whereon stood the two full glasses of untasted wine, now flat and filmy; her vacated seat and his own; the other articles of furniture, with their eternal look of not being able to help it, their intolerable inquiry what was to be done? From above there was no sound; but in a few minutes there came a knock at the door. He remembered that it would be the neighbouring cottager's wife, who was to minister to their wants while they remained here.

The presence of a third person in the house would be extremely awkward just now, and, being already dressed, he opened the window and informed her that they could manage to shift for themselves that morning. She had a milk-can in her hand, which he told her to leave at the door. When the dame had gone away he searched in the back quarters of the house for fuel, and speedily lit a fire. There was plenty of eggs, butter, bread, and so on in the larder, and Clare soon had breakfast laid, his experiences at the dairy having rendered him facile in domestic preparations. The smoke of the kindled wood rose from the chimney without like a lotus-headed column; local people who were passing by saw it, and thought of the newly-married couple, and envied their happiness.

Angel cast a final glance round, and then going to the foot of the stairs, called in a conventional voice--

`Breakfast is ready!'

He opened the front door, and took a few steps in the morning air. When, after a short space, he came back she was already in the sitting-room, mechanically readjusting the breakfast things. As she was fully attired, and the interval since his calling her had been but two or three minutes, she must have been dressed or nearly so before he went to summon her. Her hair was twisted up in a large round mass at the back of her head, and she had put on one of the new frocks - a pale blue woollen garment with neck-frillings of white. Her hands and face appeared to be cold, and she had possibly been sitting dressed in the bedroom a long time without any fire. The marked civility of Clare's tone in calling her seemed to have inspired her, for the moment, with a new glimmer of hope. But it soon died when she looked at him.

The pair were, in truth, but the ashes of their former fires. To the hot sorrow of the previous night had succeeded heaviness; it seemed as if nothing could kindle either of them to fervour of sensation any more.

He spoke gently to her, and she replied with a like undemonstrativeness. At last she came up to him, looking in his sharply-defined face as one who had no consciousness that her own formed a visible object also.

`Angel!' she said, and paused, touching him with her fingers lightly as a breeze, as though she could hardly believe to be there in the flesh the man who was once her lover. Her eyes were bright, her pale cheek still showed its wonted roundness, though half-dried tears had left glistening traces thereon; and the usually ripe red mouth was almost as pale as her cheek. Throbbingly alive as she was still, under the stress of her mental grief the life beat so brokenly, that a little further pull upon it would cause real illness, dull her characteristic eyes, and make her mouth thin.

She looked absolutely pure. Nature, in her fantastic trickery, had set such a seal of maidenhood upon Tess's countenance that he gazed at her with a stupefied air.

`Tess! Say it is not true! No, it is not true!'

`It is true.' `Every word?'

`Every word.'

He looked at her imploringly, as if he would willingly have taken a lie from her lips, knowing it to be one, and have made of it, by some sort of sophistry, a valid denial. However, she only repeated--

`It is true.'

`Is he living?' Angel then asked.

`The baby died.'

`But the man?'

`He is alive.'

A last despair passed over Clare's face.

`Is he in England?'

`Yes.'

He took a few vague steps.

`My position - is this,' he said abruptly. `I thought - any man would have thought - that by giving up all ambition to win a wife with social standing, with fortune, with knowledge of the world, I should secure rustic innocence as surely as I should secure pink cheeks; but - However, I am no man to reproach you, and I will not.'

Tess felt his position so entirely that the remainder had not been needed. Therein lay just the distress of it; she saw that he had lost all round.

`Angel - I should not have let it go on to marriage with you if I had not known that, after all, there was a last way out of it for you; though I hoped you would never------'

Her voice grew husky.

`A last way?'

`I mean, to get rid of me. You can get rid of me.'

`How?'

`By divorcing me.'

`Good heavens - how can you be so simple! How can I divorce you?'

`Can't you - now I have told you? I thought my confession would give you grounds for that.'

`O Tess - you are too, too - childish - unformed - crude, I suppose! I don't know what you are. You don't understand the law - you don't understand!'

`What - you cannot?'

`Indeed I cannot.'

A quick shame mixed with the misery upon his listener's face.

`I thought - I thought,' she whispered. `O, now I see how wicked I seem to you! Believe me - believe me, on my soul, I never thought but that you could! I hoped you would not; yet I believed, without a doubt, that you could cast me off if you were determined, and didn't love me at - at - all!'

`You were mistaken,' he said.

`O, then I ought to have done it, to have done it last night! But I hadn't the courage. That's just like me!'

`The courage to do what?'

As she did not answer he took her by the hand.

`What were you thinking of doing?' he inquired.

`Of putting an end to myself.'

`When?'

She writhed under this inquisitorial manner of his. `Last night,' she answered.

`Where?'

`Under your mistletoe.'

`My good - ! How?' he asked sternly.

`I'll tell you, if you won't be angry with me!'she said, shrinking. `It was with the cord of my box. But I could not - do the last thing! I was afraid that it might cause a scandal to your name.'

The unexpected quality of this confession, wrung from her, and not volunteered, shook him perceptibly. But he still held her, and, letting his glance fall from her face downwards, he said,

`Now, listen to this. You must not dare to think of such a horrible thing! How could you! You will promise me as your husband to attempt that no more.'

`I am ready to promise. I saw how wicked it was.'

`Wicked! The idea was unworthy of you beyond description.'

`But, Angel,' she pleaded, enlarging her eyes in calm unconcern upon him, `it was thought of entirely on your account - to set you free without the scandal of the divorce that I thought you would have to get. I should never have dreamt of doing it on mine. However, to do it with my own hand is too good for me, after all. It is you, my ruined husband, who ought to strike the blow. I think I should love you more, if that were possible, if you could bring yourself to do it, since there's no other way of escape for 'ee. I feel I am so utterly worthless! So very greatly in the way!'

`Ssh!'

`Well, since you say no, I won't. I have no wish opposed to yours.'

He knew this to be true enough. Since the desperation of the night her activities had dropped to zero, and there was no further rashness to be feared.

Tess tried to busy herself again over the breakfast-table with more or less success, and they sat down both on the same side, so that their glances did not meet. There was at first something awkward in hearing each other eat and drink, but this could not be escaped; moreover, the amount of eating done was small on both sides. Breakfast over he rose, and telling her the hour at which he might be expected to dinner, went off to the miller's in a mechanical pursuance of the plan of studying that business, which had been his only practical reason for coming here.

When he was gone Tess stood at the window, and presently saw his form crossing the great stone bridge which conducted to the mill premises. He sank behind it, crossed the railway beyond, and disappeared. Then, without a sigh, she turned her attention to the room, and began clearing the table and setting it in order.

The charwoman soon came. Her presence was at first a strain upon Tess, but afterwards an alleviation. At half-past twelve she left her assistant alone in the kitchen, and, returning to the sitting-room, waited for the reappearance of Angel's form behind the bridge.

About one he showed himself. Her face flushed, although he was a quarter of a mile off. She ran to the kitchen to get the dinner served by the time he should enter. He went first to the room where they had washed their hands together the day before, and as he entered the sitting-room the dish-covers rose from the dishes as if by his own motion.

`How punctual!' he said.

`Yes. I saw you coming over the bridge,' said she.

The meal was passed in commonplace talk of what he had been doing during the morning at the Abbey Mill, of the methods of bolting and the old-fashioned machinery, which he feared would not enlighten him greatly on modern improved methods, some of it seeming to have been in use ever since the days it ground for the monks in the adjoining conventual buildings - now a heap of ruins. He left the house again in the course of an hour, coming home at dusk, and occupying himself through the evening with his papers. She feared she was in the way, and, when the old woman was gone, retired to the kitchen, where she made herself busy as well as she could for more than an hour.

Clare's shape appeared at the door.

`You must not work like this,'he said. `You are not my servant; you are my wife.'

She raised her eyes, and brightened somewhat. `I may think myself that - indeed?' she murmured, in piteous raillery. `You mean in name! Well, I don't want to be anything more.'

`You may think so, Tess! You are. What do you mean?'

`I don't know,' she said hastily, with tears in her accents. `I thought I - because I am not respectable, I mean. I told you I thought I was not respectable enough long ago - and on that account I didn't want to marry you, only - only you urged me!'

She broke into sobs, and turned her back to him. It would almost have won round any man but Angel Clare. Within the remote depths of his constitution, so gentle and affectionate as he was in general, there lay hidden a hard logical deposit, like a vein of metal in a soft loam, which turned the edge of everything that attempted to traverse it. It had blocked his acceptance of the Church; it blocked his acceptance of Tess. Moreover, his affection itself was less fire than radiance, and, with regard to the other sex, when he ceased to believe he ceased to follow: contrasting in this with many impressionable natures, who remain sensuously infatuated with what they intellectually despise. He waited till her sobbing ceased.

`I wish half the women in England were as respectable as you,' he said, in an ebullition of bitterness against womankind in general. `It isn't a question of respectability, but one of principle!'

He spoke such things as these and more of a kindred sort to her, being still swayed by the antipathetic wave which warps direct souls with such persistence when once their vision finds itself mocked by appearances. There was, it is true, underneath, a back current of sympathy through which a woman of the world might have conquered him. But Tess did not think of this; she took everything as her deserts, and hardly opened her mouth. The firmness of her devotion to him was indeed almost pitiful; quick tempered as she naturally was, nothing that he could say made her unseemly; she sought not her own; was not provoked; thought no evil of his treatment of her. She might just now have been Apostolic Charity herself returned to a self-seeking modern world.

This evening, night, and morning were passed precisely as the preceding ones had been passed. On one, and only one, occasion did she - the formerly free and independent Tess - venture to make any advances. It was on the third occasion of his starting after a meal to go out to the flour-mill. As he was leaving the table he said `Good-bye', and she replied in the same words, at the same time inclining her mouth in the way of his. He did not avail himself of the invitation, saying, as he turned hastily aside'--

`I shall be home punctually.'

Tess shrank into herself as if she had been struck. Often enough had he tried to reach those lips against her consent - often had he said gaily that her mouth and breath tasted of the butter and eggs and milk and honey on which she mainly lived, that he drew sustenance from them, and other follies of that sort. But he did not care for them now. He observed her sudden shrinking, and said gently--

`You know, I have to think of a course. It was imperative that we should stay together a little while, to avoid the scandal to you that would have resulted from our immediate parting. But you must see it is only for form's sake.'

`Yes,' said Tess absently.

He went out, and on his way to the mill stood still, and wished for a moment that he had responded yet more kindly, and kissed her once at least.

Thus they lived through this despairing day or two; in the same house, truly; but more widely apart than before they were lovers. It was evident to her that he was, as he had said, living with paralyzed activities, in his endeavour to think of a plan of procedure. She was awe-stricken to discover such determination under such apparent flexibility. His consistency was, indeed, too cruel. She no longer expected forgiveness now. More than once she thought of going away from him during his absence at the mill; but she feared that this, instead of benefiting him, might be the means of hampering and humiliating him yet more if it should become known.

Meanwhile Clare was meditating, verily. His thought had been unsuspended; he was becoming ill with thinking; eaten out with thinking, withered by thinking; scourged out of all his former pulsating flexuous domesticity. He walked about saying to himself, `What's to be done - what's to be done?' and by chance she overheard him. It caused her to break the reserve about their future which had hitherto prevailed.

`I suppose - you are not going to live with me - long, are you, Angel?' she asked, the sunk corners of her mouth betraying how purely mechanical were the means by which she retained that expression of chastened calm upon her face.

`I cannot,' he said, `without despising myself, and what is worse, perhaps, despising you. I mean, of course, cannot live with you in the ordinary sense. At present, whatever I feel, I do not despise you. And, let me speak plainly, or you may not see all my difficulties. How can we live together while that man lives? - he being your husband in Nature, and not I. If he were dead it might be different... . Besides, that's not all the difficulty; it lies in another consideration - one bearing upon the future of other people than ourselves. Think of years to come, and children being born to us, and this past matter getting known - for it must get known. There is not an uttermost part of the earth but somebody comes from it or goes to it from elsewhere. Well, think of wretches of our flesh and blood growing up under a taunt which they will gradually get to feel the full force of with their expanding years. What an awakening for them! What a prospect! Can you honestly say Remain, after contemplating this contingency? Don't you think we had better endure the ills we have than fly to others?'

Her eyelids, weighted with trouble, continued drooping as before.

`I cannot say Remain,' she answered. `I cannot; I had not thought so far.'

Tess's feminine hope - shall we confess it - had been so obstinately recuperative as to revive in her surreptitious visions of a domiciliary intimacy continued long enough to break down his coldness even against his judgment. Though unsophisticated in the usual sense, she was not incomplete; and it would have denoted deficiency of womanhood if she had not instinctively known what an argument lies in propinquity. Nothing else would serve her, she knew, if this failed. It was wrong to hope in what was of the nature of strategy, she said to herself; yet that sort of hope she could not extinguish. His last representation had now been made, and it was, as she said, a new view. She had truly never thought so far as that, and his lucid picture of possible offspring who would scorn her was one that brought deadly conviction to an honest heart which was humanitarian to its centre. Sheer experience had already taught her that, in some circumstances, there was one thing better than to lead a good life, and that was to be saved from leading any life whatever. Like all who have been previsioned by suffering, she could, in the words of M. Sully-Prudhomme, hear a penal sentence in the fiat, `You shall be born,' particularly if addressed to potential issue of hers.

Yet such is the vulpine slyness of Dame Nature, that, till now, Tess had been hoodwinked by her love for Clare into forgetting it might result in vitalizations that would inflict upon others what she had bewailed as a misfortune to herself.

She therefore could not withstand his argument. But with the self-combating proclivity of the super-sensitive, an answer thereto arose in Clare's own mind, and he almost feared it. It was based on her exceptional physical nature; and she might have used it promisingly. She might have added besides: `On an Australian upland or Texan plain, who is to know or care about my misfortunes, or to reproach me or you?' Yet, like the majority of women, she accepted the momentary presentment as if it were the inevitable. And she may have been right. The intuitive heart of woman knoweth not only its own bitterness, but its husband's, and even if these assumed reproaches were not likely to be addressed to him or to his by strangers, they might have reached his ears from his own fastidious brain.

It was the third day of the estrangement. Some might risk the odd paradox that with more animalism he would have been the nobler man. We do not say it. Yet Clare's love was doubtless ethereal to a fault, imaginative to impracticability. With these natures, corporeal presence is sometimes less appealing than corporeal absence; the latter creating an ideal presence that conveniently drops the defects of the real. She found that her personality did not plead her cause so forcibly as she had anticipated. The figurative phrase was true: she was another woman than the one who had excited his desire.

`I have thought over what you say,' she remarked to him, moving her forefinger over the tablecloth, her other hand, which bore the ring that mocked them both, supporting her forehead. `It is quite true all of it; it must be. You must go away from me.'

`But what can you do?'

`I can go home.'

Clare had not thought of that.

`Are you sure?' he inquired.

`Quite sure. We ought to part, and we may as well get it past and done. You once said that I was apt to win men against their better judgment; and if I am constantly before your eyes I may cause you to change your plans in opposition to your reason and wish; and afterwards your repentance and my sorrow will be terrible.'

`And you would like to go home?' he asked.

`I want to leave you, and go home.'

`Then it shall be so.'

Though she did not look up at him, she started. There was a difference between the proposition and the covenant, which she had felt only too quickly.

`I feared it would come to this,' she murmured, her countenance meekly fixed. `I don't complain, Angel. I - I think it best. What you said has quite convinced me. Yes, though nobody else should reproach me if we should stay together, yet somewhen, years hence, you might get angry with me for any ordinary matter, and knowing what you do of my bygones you yourself might be tempted to say words, and they might be overheard, perhaps by my own children. O, what only hurts me now would torture and kill me then! I will go - to-morrow.'

`And I shall not stay here. Though I didn't like to initiate it, I have seen that it was advisable we should part - at least for a while, till I can better see the shape that things have taken, and can write to you.'

Tess stole a glance at her husband. He was pale, even tremulous; but, as before, she was appalled by the determination revealed in the depths of this gentle being she had married - the will to subdue the grosser to the subtler emotion, the substance to the conception, the flesh to the spirit. Propensities, tendencies, habits, were as dead leaves upon the tyrannous wind of his imaginative ascendency.

He may have observed her look, for he explained--

`I think of people more kindly when I am away from them'; adding cynically, `God knows; perhaps we shall shake down together some day, for weariness; thousands have done it!'

That day he began to pack up, and she went upstairs and began to pack also. Both knew that it was in their two minds that they might part the next morning for ever, despite the gloss of assuaging conjectures thrown over their proceeding because they were of the sort to whom any parting which has an air of finality is a torture. He knew, and she knew, that, though the fascination which each had exercised over the other - on her part independently of accomplishments - would probably in the first days of their separation be even more potent than ever, time must attenuate that effect; the practical arguments against accepting her as a housemate might pronounce themselves more strongly in the boreal light of a remoter view. Moreover, when two people are once parted have abandoned a common domicile and a common environment - new growths insensibly bud upward to fill each vacated place; unforeseen accidents hinder intentions, and old plans are forgotten.