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第31节 第四十三章 【
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玛丽安把这个地方叫做饥饿的土地并没有夸张。这个地方唯一说得上胖的就是玛丽安自己了,而她也是外来的。英国的乡村分为三种,一种是由地主自己耕种的,一种是由村子的人耕种的,还有一种既不是由村子的人也不是由地主耕种的(换一句话说,第一种是由住在乡下的地主把地租给别人种,第二种是由不动产的所有人或者副本持有不动产的人①耕种),燧石山农场这个地方属于第三种。
 
①不动产的所有人或者副本持有不动产的人(free holder or copy holder),英国法律名词。不动产的所有人指一个人可以占有无条件继承的不动产,指定继承人继承的不动产,或者终身占有的不动产;副本持有不动产的人就是指根据土地登录簿(公簿)的副本而持有土地的人。

苔丝开始干活了。由道德上的勇敢和身体上的懦弱混合而成的耐心,现在已经变成苔丝身上的主要特点了;现在支撑着她的就是这种耐心。
苔丝和她的同伴开始动手挖瑞典萝卜的那块田地,是一百多亩的一大片,也是那个农场上最高的一块,突出在白垩质地层或者砂石混杂的地面上——它的外层是白垩质岩层中硅质矿床形成的,里面混合着无数的白色燧石,有的像球茎,有的像人的牙齿,有的像人的生殖器。萝卜的上半截已经叫牲畜啃掉了,这两个女人要干的活儿就是用有弯齿的锄头把剩下的埋在地下的半截萝卜刨出来,因为这些萝卜还可以食用。所有萝卜的叶子都已经被吃掉了,整片农田都是一种凄凉的黄色;它仿佛是一张没有五官的人脸,从下巴到额头,只有一张覆盖着的皮肤。天上也同样凄凉,只是颜色不同而已;那是一张五官俱无的空洞洞的白脸。一天到晚,天上地下的两张脸就这样遥遥相对,白色的脸向下看着黄色的脸,黄色的脸向上看着白色的脸,在天地之间什么东西也没有,只有那两个姑娘趴在那儿,就像地面上的两个苍蝇一样。
没有人走近她们;她们的动作像机械一样地一致;她们站在那儿,身上裹着麻布罩衫——这是一种带袖子的黄色围裙,从背后一直扣到下摆,免得让风吹来吹去——穿着短裙,短裙下面是脚上穿的靴子,靴子的高度到达了脚踝以上,手上戴的是带有护腕的羊皮手套。她们低着头,头上戴着带帽檐的帽子,显示出深思的样子,这会使看见她们的人想起某些早期意大利画家心目中的两位玛利亚①。
 
①两位玛利亚,《圣经》中的人物。一位是抹大拿的玛利亚,一位是雅各和约西的母亲玛利亚。意大利早期画家多以这两位玛利亚为主题,画她们悲伤的样子。

她们一个小时接一个小时地工作着,对她们处在这片景物中的凄凉光景毫无感觉,也不去想她们命运的公正和不公正。即使在她们这种处境里,她们也可能只是生活在梦幻里。下午天又下起雨来,于是玛丽安就说她们不必继续工作了。但是她们不工作,她们是得不到工钱的,所以她们还是继续工作着。这片田地的地势真高,天上的大雨还来不及落到地上,就被呼号的狂风吹得横扫过来,像玻璃碴子一样打在她们的身上,把她们浑身上下淋得透湿。直到现在,苔丝才知道被雨淋透了是什么滋味。被雨淋湿的程度是有差别的,在我们平常的谈话中,被雨淋湿了一点儿,我们也说被淋得透湿。但是对于站在地里慢慢工作的她们来说,她们只是感到雨水在流动,首先是流进了她们的肩膀和小腿里,然后是脑袋和大腿,接着又是后背和前胸,腰部的两侧,但是她们还得继续工作,直到天上表示太阳落山的铅灰色亮光消失了,她们才歇下来,这的确是需要不同寻常的坚忍精神,甚至是勇敢的精神才能坚持。
但是她们两个人并没有像我们以为的那样感到被雨淋得透湿。她们两个都是年轻人,互相谈着她们一起在泰波塞斯奶牛场生活恋爱的情景,谈那片令人愉快的绿色的原野,在那儿,夏季给人以丰厚的赐予;在物质上赐予所有的人,在感情上只赐予她们两个人。苔丝不愿和玛丽安谈她那个法律上是而实际上不是她的丈夫的事;但是这方面的话题又有不可抗拒的魔力,使她不得不违背自己的本意和玛丽安互相谈起来。她们就像我们说的这样谈着,虽然她们头上戴的帽子湿透了,帽檐拍拍地打着她们的脸,她们的罩衫紧紧地箍在身上,增加了她们的累赘,但是整个下午她们都生活在对阳光灿烂的、浪漫的和绿色的泰波塞斯的回忆里。
“在天气好的时候,你在这儿可以望见一座小山的闪光,那座山离佛卢姆谷只有几英里远!”玛丽安说。
“啊!真的?”苔丝说,又发现了这个地点新的价值。
在这个地方就像在其它地方一样,有两股力量在相互冲突着,一种是渴望享乐的天生意志,一种是不容许享乐的环境意志。玛丽安有一种增加自己的意志的方法,下午慢慢过去了,她就从自己口袋里掏出来一个一品特的酒瓶子,瓶子上盖着白布塞子,她请苔丝喝瓶子里的酒。苔丝当时已经进入幻想了,不需要酒的力量来加强这种幻想,所以只喝了一口,而玛丽安就一口气把酒瓶里的酒全喝光了。
“我已经习惯喝这个了,”玛丽安说,“我现在已经离不开它了。酒是我唯一的安慰——你知道,我失去了他,而你得到了他,所以你也许用不着喝酒了。”
苔丝心想,自己的失意和玛丽安的一样大,但是她至少在名义上是安琪尔的妻子,这种自尊使她承认自己和玛丽安是不同的。
在早上的寒霜和午后的苦雨中,苔丝像奴隶一样在这种环境里工作着。她们在不挖萝卜的时候,就要清理萝卜,在萝卜贮存起来供将来食用之前,她们得用一把弯刀把萝卜上的泥土和根须去掉。她们干这种活儿的时候如果天上下雨可以到茅草棚子里去躲一躲;但是在霜冻天气,即使她们戴着皮手套,也挡不住手中的冰萝卜冻得手指生疼。但是苔丝仍然抱着希望。她坚持认为宽厚是克莱尔性格中主要的一面,她的丈夫迟早会来同她和好的。
玛丽安喝了酒,变得高兴起来,就找出一些前面说过的奇形怪状的燧石,尖声大笑起来,苔丝却一直是一副不说不笑的迟钝样子。她们的目光常常越过这片乡村,眺望瓦尔河或者佛卢姆河流过的地方,尽管她们什么也看不见,但是她们还是望着笼罩在那儿的灰色迷雾,心里想着她们在那儿度过的的旧日时光。
“唉,”玛丽安说,“我多想过去的老朋友再有一两个到这儿来呀!要是那样的话,我们就能够每天都在地里回忆泰波塞斯了,可以谈他了,谈我们在那儿度过的快乐时光,谈那儿我们熟悉的事,让泰波塞斯又重新再现出来!”玛丽安一想到过去的情景,她的眼睛就湿润了,说话也含糊起来。“我要给伊茨·休特写信,”她说。“我知道,她现在闲住在家里,什么事也不做,我要告诉她我们在这儿,要她到这儿来;莱蒂的病现在也许好多了。”
对于她的建议,苔丝也没有什么反对的话可说,她第二次听说把泰波塞斯的旧日欢乐引进到这儿的话,是在两三天以后,玛丽安告诉她,说伊茨已经给她回了信,答应她能来就来。
许多年来,这种冬天是没有过的。它是悄悄地来的,一点儿声音也没有,就像棋手下棋移动棋子一样。有一天早晨,那几棵孤零零的大树和篱树的荆棘,看上去就像脱掉了皮的植物一样,长出了动物的毛。一夜之间,所有的枝条都挂上了白绒,树皮上都长出了一层白毛,它们的粗细和原先相比增加了四倍;在天空和地平线惨淡的光线里,大树和灌木就像是用白色线条画的醒目的素描画。棚子里和墙上原先看不见的蛛网现在露出了本相,在结晶的空气里看得清清楚楚,它们像一圈圈白色的绒线,醒目地挂在外屋、柱子和大门的角落里。
潮气结为雾淞的季节过去了,接着而来的是一段干燥的霜冻时期,北极后面一些奇怪的鸟儿开始悄悄地飞到燧石山的高地上来;这些骨瘦如柴的鬼怪似的鸟儿,长着悲伤的眼睛,在人类无法想象其广袤寥廓的人迹罕至的极地,在人类无法忍受的凝固血液的气温里,这种眼睛曾经目睹过灾难性地质变迁的恐怖;在黎明女神播洒出来的光明里,亲眼看到过冰山的崩裂,雪山的滑动;在巨大的暴风雪和海水陆地的巨变所引起的漩流中,它们的眼睛被弄得瞎了一半;在它们的眼睛里,至今还保留着当时看到这种场面的表情特点。这些无名的鸟儿飞到苔丝和玛丽安的身边。不过它们对所看到的人类没有看到过的一切并没有讲述出来。它们没有游客渴望讲述自已经历的野心,而只是不动声色地把它们不重视的经历抛开,一心注意着眼前这片贫瘠高地上的事物。它们看着那两个姑娘手拿锄头挖地的细小动作,因为她们可以从地里挖出来一些东西,它们可以当作美味的食物。
后来有一天,这片空旷乡村的空气中出现了一种特殊的性质。出现的这种东西不是由雨水产生的湿气,也不是由霜冻而产生的寒冷,它冻得她们的两个眼珠发酸,冻得她们的额头发疼,并且还钻到她们的头骨里,这样对她们身体表面的影响还不如对她们骨子的影响大。她们知道天快下雪了,果然那天晚上就下起雪来。苔丝继续住在那个用温暖的山墙给任何停在它旁边的行人以安慰的小屋里。她在夜里醒了,听见草屋顶上有一种奇怪的声音,好像屋顶变成了一个运动场,狂风从四面八方一起汇聚到了屋顶。她早上点了灯准备起床,却发现雪已经从窗户缝里被风吹了进来,在窗户里面形成了一个用最细的粉末堆成的锥体,烟囱里也有雪吹进来,地板上积了鞋底那么厚的一层,当她在地板上来回走动的时候,地板上就留下她走过的脚印。屋外风雪飞舞,吹进了厨房里,形成一片雪雾;不过那时候屋子外面太黑,还看不见任何东西。
苔丝知道,今天是不能挖瑞典萝卜了;她刚刚在那盏小小的孤灯旁边吃完早饭,玛丽安就走了进来,告诉她说,在天气变好之前,她们得和其他的女工到仓库里去整理麦草;因此,等到外面黑沉沉的天幕开始变成一种混杂的灰色时,她们就吹熄了灯,用厚厚的头巾把自己包裹起来,再用毛围巾把自己的脖子和前胸围起来,然后动身去仓库。这场雪是跟随着那些鸟儿从北极的盆地刮来的,就和白色的云柱一样,单独的雪花是看不见的。在这阵风雪里,闻得出冰山、北极海和北极熊的气味,风吹雪舞,雪一落到地上,立即就被风吹走了。她们侧着身子,在风雪茫茫的田野里挣扎着往前走去,她们尽量利用树篱遮挡自己,其实,与其说树篱是可以抵挡风雪的屏障,不如说是过滤风雪的筛子。空中大雪弥漫,一片灰白,连空气也变得灰暗了,空气夹着雪胡乱扭动着、旋转着,使人联想到一个没有颜色的混沌世界。但是这两个年轻的姑娘却十分快活;出现在干燥高原上的这种天气,并没有让她们的情绪低落下去。
“哈——哈!这些可爱的北方鸟儿早就知道风雪要来了,”玛丽安说。“我敢肯定,它们从北极星那儿一路飞过来,刚好飞在风雪的前头。你的丈夫,亲爱的,我敢说现在正受着懊热天气煎熬呢。天啦,要是现在他能够看见他漂亮的夫人就好啦!这种天气对你的美貌一点儿害处也没有——事实上对你的美貌还有好处啦。”
“我不许你再向我谈他的事了,玛丽安,”苔丝严肃地说。
“好吧,可是——你心里实在想着他啊!难道不是吗?”
苔丝没有回答,眼睛里满含着泪水,急忙把身子转过去,朝向她想象中的南美所在的方向,撅起她的小嘴,借着风雪送去一个深情的吻。
“唉,唉,我就知道你心里想着他。我敢发誓,一对夫妇这样生活真是太别扭了!好啦——我什么也不说了!啊,至于这天气,只要我们在麦仓里,就会冻不着的。我倒不怕这种天气,因为我比你结实;可是你,却比我娇嫩多了啊。我真想不到老板也会让你来干这种活儿。”
他们走到了麦仓,进了仓门。长方形结构的麦仓的另一头堆满了麦子;麦仓的中部就是整理麦草的地方,昨天晚上,已经有许多麦束被搬了进米,放在整理麦草的机器上,足够女工们用一天的了。
“哟,这不是伊茨吗!”玛丽安说。
的确是伊茨,她走上前来。前天下午,她从她母亲家里一路走了来,没有想到到这儿的路这样远,走到这儿时天已经很晚了,不过还好,她到了这儿天才开始下雪,在客栈里睡了一个晚上。这儿的农场卞在集市上答应了她的母亲,只要她今天赶到这儿,他就雇用她,她一直害怕耽误了,让那个农场主不高兴。
除了苔丝和玛丽安,这儿还有从附近村子里来的另外两个女人;她们是亚马逊印第安人,是姊妹俩,苔丝见了,吃了一惊,她记起来了,一个是黑桃皇后黑卡尔,另一个是她的妹妹方块皇后——在特兰里奇半夜里吵架那一回,想和她打架的就是她们俩。她们似乎没有认出她来,也可能真的忘了,因为这时候她们还没有摆脱酒精的影响,她们在特兰里奇和在这儿一样,都是打短工的。她们宁肯干男人干的活儿,包括掘井,修剪树篱,开沟挖渠,刨坑,而且不感到劳累。她们也是整理麦草的好手,扭头看看她们三个,眼睛里都是瞧不起的神色。
她们戴上手套,在机器的前面站成一排,就开始工作了。机器是由两条腿支撑起来的架子,两条腿中间用一个横梁连接起来,下面放着一束束麦草,麦穗朝外,横梁用销子钉在柱子上,随着麦束越来越少,横梁也就越降越低。
天色更阴沉了,从麦仓门口反射进来的光线,不是来自上面的天空,而是来自地下的落雪。姑娘们开始从机器里把麦草一束束抽出来,不过由于在两个正在那儿说长道短的陌生女人面前,玛丽安和伊茨刚见面也不能叙叙她们想叙的旧情了。不久,她们听见了马蹄声,农场主骑着马走到了麦仓的门口。他下了马,走到苔丝的面前,默默地从旁边打量着苔丝。她起初并没有把头扭过去,但是他老盯着她,她就回过头去看。她看见,盯着她看的人不是别人,竟是她的雇主,那个在大路上揭发她的历史,吓得她飞跑的特兰里奇人。
他等在那儿,直到苔丝把割下的麦穗抱出去,堆在门外,他才说,“你就是那个把我的好心当作驴肝肺的年轻女人啊,是不是?我一听说刚雇了一个女工,要是我没有猜出是你,让我掉到河里淹死好啦!啊,第一次在客栈里,你仗着和你的情人在一起,占了我的便宜,第二次在路上,你又跑掉了;可是现在,我想我不会吃亏了吧。”他最后冷笑着说。
苔丝处在亚马逊印第安女人和农场主中间,就像一只掉进罗网的小鸟一样,没有做声,继续整理她的麦草;她已经从农场主身上完全看出来了,她这次用不着害怕她的雇主献殷勤了;他只是上次挨了克莱尔的打,现在要在她的身上寻报复就是了。总的说来,她宁肯男人对她抱这种情绪,并觉得自己有足够的勇气忍受。
“你上次以为我爱上你了,是不是?有些女人就是这样傻,别人看她一眼就以为人家爱上她了。但是我只要让你在地里干一冬天的活儿,你就会知道我是不是真的爱上你了;你已经签了合同,答应干到圣母节。现在,你应该向我道歉了吧?”
“我觉得你应该向我道歉。”
“很好——随你的便吧。不过我们要看看谁是这儿的老板。你今天干的就只有这些麦束吗?”
“是的,先生。”
“这太少了。看看那边她们干的吧(他指着那边两个又粗又壮的女人说)。其他的人也都比你干得多。”
“他们从前干过这种活儿,而我没有干过。再说这是计件的活儿,我们做多少,你就付多少钱,我想这对你没有不同啊。”
“啊,说得不错。但是我要麦仓清理干净。”
“我不会像其他人那样在两点钟离开,整个下午我都在这儿干活好啦。”
他满脸怒气地看了她一眼,转身走了。苔丝感到她不会遇到比这儿更糟糕的地方了;不过无论什么总比献殷勤好。到了两点钟的时候,那两个专门整理麦草的女人就把她们酒瓶子里剩下的半品特酒喝了,放下镰刀,捆好最后一束麦草,起身走了。玛丽安和伊茨也想站起来跟着走,不过当她们听到苔丝还想留下来多干一会儿,以此来弥补自己整理麦草的生疏时,她们也就又留了下来。看着外面还在继续下的大雪,玛丽安大声喊,“好啦,现在都是我们自己人了。”于是她们的谈话就转到她们在奶牛场里的旧事上去了;当然,她们还谈到她们都爱上了安琪儿·克莱尔的一些事。
“伊茨和玛丽安,”安琪尔·克莱尔夫人满脸严肃地说,不过这严肃特别让人伤心,因为已经看不出她是安琪尔·克莱尔的妻子了。“现在我不能和过去一样同你们一起谈论克莱尔先生了;你们也明白我不能谈了;因为,虽然他现在已经从我身边离开了,但是他还是我的丈夫。”
在同时爱上克莱尔的四个姑娘中,数伊茨最莽撞、最尖刻。“毫无疑问,他是一个出类拔萃的情人,”她说:“但是我觉得作为一个丈夫,刚一结婚就离开你有些不太像话。”
“他是不得不离开的——他必须离开,到那边去寻找土地!”苔丝辩解说。
“那他也得为你安排好过冬呀。”
“啊——那不过是因为一点小事——一场误会;我们并没有因此争吵过,”苔丝带着哽咽回答说。“也许要为他说的话多着啦!他不像别的丈夫那样,什么也不跟我说就走了;我总是能够知道他在什么地方。”
说完这话以后,她们好长时间没有说话,保持着沉默。她们继续干活,把麦穗从麦秆里理出来,夹在胳膊下,用镰刀把麦穗割下来,在麦仓里,除了麦秆的沙沙声和镰刀割麦穗的声音,听不见别的声音。后来,苔丝突然两腿一软,就倒在她面前的一堆麦穗上了。
“我就知道你坚持不下来的!”玛丽安大声说。“这种活儿,要比你的身体强壮的人才干得了啊。”
就在这时候,农场主走了进来。“啊,我走了你就是这样干活啊!”他说。
“这不过是我自己吃亏,不关你的事啊,”她回答说。
“我要你把这活儿干完,”他固执地说,说完就穿过麦仓,从另一边的门走了出去。
“别理他,亲爱的,”玛丽安说。“我以前在这儿干过。现在你过去躺一会儿,我和伊茨帮你干。”
“我不愿意你们两个帮我干。我个头儿也比你们高啊。”
但是她实在累垮了,就同意去躺一会儿,于是就在一堆乱草上躺了下去,那堆乱草是把麦秆拖走时留下的,麦秆被拖走后扔在麦仓的另一边。她这次累倒了,一方面是因为工作太累,但是主要的是因为又重新提起了她和她丈夫分居的话题。她躺在那儿,只有感觉,没有意志,麦草的沙沙声和别人剪麦穗的声音,也好像人体能够感受到。
除了整理麦秆的声音,她还能从她躺的角落里听见她们的低声交谈。她敢肯定她们还在继续谈论刚才她们已经开始了的话题,不过她们谈话的声音太小,她听不清楚。后来,苔丝越来越想知道她们正在谈论什么,就勉强劝说自己好些了,站起来去继续干活。
后来伊茨·休特也累倒了。昨天晚上她走了十几英里路,直到半夜才上床睡觉,五点钟就起了床。还剩下玛丽安一个人,她靠了身强力壮,又喝了酒,所以还能坚持,没有感到背酸胳膊疼。苔丝催着伊茨去休息,说自己已经好多了,没有她帮忙也能把活儿干完,整理出一样多的麦束。
伊茨感激地接受了好意,就走出门,从雪路上回自己的住处去了。玛丽安因为每天下午在这个时候喝一瓶酒,开始出现了一种浪漫情态。
“我从来没有想到过会出现那样的事——从来没有!”她迷迷糊糊地说。“我也很爱他呀!我也不在乎他娶了你,不过这次他对待伊茨可太不该了!”
听了玛丽安的话,苔丝有些吃惊,差一点儿没有割了手指头。
“你是说我的丈夫吗?”她结结巴巴地问。
“唉,是的。伊茨说不要告诉你,可是我忍不住不告诉你。他要伊茨做的事就是,和他一起走,到巴西去。”
苔丝的脸变白了,和外面的雪景一样白,脸也绷了起来。“伊茨没有答应他,是吧?”
“我不知道,不过他最终改变了主意。”
“呸——那么他并不是真心了!只不过是一个男人开的玩笑罢了!”
“不,不是开玩笑;因为他载着她向车站走了好远一段路呢。”
“他还是没有把她带走啊!”
她们默默地整理了一会儿麦草,苔丝当时一点儿变化也没有,但是突然放声大哭起来。
“唉!”玛丽安说。“我要是没有告诉你就好了!”
“不。你告诉我是一件好事啊!我一直生活得这样难受,还看不出会有什么结局呢!我应该经常给他写信的,但是他没有给我说,让我经常给他写信啊。我不能再这样糊涂了!我一直做错了,把什么事都留给他,自己什么也不管!”
麦仓的光线越来越暗,她们的眼睛看不清东西了,只好把活儿停一下来。那天傍晚苔丝回到住处,走进自己住的那间粉刷白了的小房间,一时感情冲动,就开始给克莱尔写一封信寄去。但是这一封信还没有写完,她就又开始犹豫起来。她把挂在胸前的戒指从拴着它的带子上取下来,整个晚上都把它戴在自己的手指上,仿佛这样就能加强自己的感觉,感到自己真的是她那个捉摸不定的情人的妻子了,正是她的这个情人,刚刚一离开她,就要求伊茨和他一起到国外去。既然如此,她怎能写信去恳求他呢?又怎能再向他表示她在挂念他呢?
 

There was no exaggeration in Marian's definition of Flintcomb-Ash farm as a starve-acre place. The single fat thing on the soil was Marian herself; and she was an importation. Of the three classes of village, the village cared for by its lord, the village cared for by itself, and the village uncared for either by itself or by its lord (in other words, the village of a resident squire's tenantry, the village of free or copy-holders, and the absentee-owner's village, farmed with the land) this place, Flintcomb-Ash, was the third.

But Tess set to work. Patience, that blending of moral courage with physical timidity, was now no longer a minor feature in Mrs Angel Clare; and it sustained her.

The swede-field in which she and her companion were set hacking was a stretch of a hundred odd acres, in one patch, on the highest ground of the farm, rising above stony lanchets or lynchets - the outcrop of siliceous veins in the chalk formation, composed of myriads of loose white flints in bulbous, cusped, and phallic shapes. The upper half of each turnip had been eaten off by the live-stock, and it was the business of the two women to grub up the lower or earthy half of the root with a hooked fork called a hacker, that it might be eaten also. Every leaf of the vegetable having already been consumed, the whole field was in colour a desolate drab; it was a complexion without features, as if a face, from chin to brow, should be only an expanse of skin. The sky wore, in another colour, the same likeness; a white vacuity of countenance with the lineaments gone. So these two upper and nether visages confronted each other all day long, the white face looking down on the brown face, and the brown face looking up at the white face, without anything standing between them but the two girls crawling over the surface of the former like flies.

Nobody came near them, and their movements showed a mechanical regularity; their forms standing enshrouded in Hessian `wroppers' - sleeved brown pinafores, tied behind to the bottom, to keep their gowns from blowing about - scant skirts revealing boots that reached high up the ankles, and yellow sheepskin gloves with gauntlets. The pensive character which the curtained hood lent to their bent heads would have reminded the observer of some early Italian conception of the two Marys.

They worked on hour after hour, unconscious of the forlorn aspect they bore in the landscape, not thinking of the justice or injustice of their lot. Even in such a position as theirs it was possible to exist in a dream. In the afternoon the rain came on again, and Marian said that they need not work any more. But if they did not work they would not be paid; so they worked on. It was so high a situation, this field, that the rain had no occasion to fall, but raced along horizontally upon the yelling wind, sticking into them like glass splinters till they were wet through. Tess had not known till now what was really meant by that. There are degrees of dampness, and a very little is called being wet through in common talk. But to stand working slowly in a field, and feel the creep of rain-water, first in legs and shoulders, then on hips and head, then at back, front, and sides, and yet to work on till the leaden light diminishes and marks that the sun is down, demands a distinct modicum of stoicism, even of valour.

Yet they did not feel the wetness so much as might be supposed. They were both young, and they were talking of the time when they lived and loved together at Talbothays Dairy, that happy green tract of land where summer had been liberal in her gifts; in substance to all, emotionally to these. Tess would fain not have conversed with Marian of the man who was legally, if not actually, her husband; but the irresistible fascination of the subject betrayed her into reciprocating Marian's remarks. And thus, as has been said, though the damp curtains of their bonnets flapped smartly into their faces, and their wrappers clung about them to wearisomeness, they lived all this afternoon in memories of green, sunny, romantic Talbothays.

`You can see a gleam of a hill within a few miles o' Froom Valley from here when 'tis fine,' said Marian.

`Ah! Can you!' said Tess, awake to the new value of this locality.

So the two forces were at work here as everywhere, the inherent will to enjoy, and the circumstantial will against enjoyment. Marian's will had a method of assisting itself by taking from her pocket as the afternoon wore on a pint bottle corked with white rag, from which she invited Tess to drink. Tess's unassisted power of dreaming, however, being enough for her sublimation at present, she declined except the merest sip, and then Marian took a pull herself from the spirits.

`I've got used to it,' she said, `and can't leave it off now. 'Tis my only comfort - You see I lost him: you didn't; and you can do without it, perhaps.'

Tess thought her loss as great as Marian's, but upheld by the dignity of being Angel's wife, in the letter at least, she accepted Marian's differentiation.

Amid this scene Tess slaved in the morning frosts and in the afternoon rains. When it was not swede-grubbing it was swede-trimming, in which process they sliced off the earth and the fibres with a bill-hook before storing the roots for future use. At this occupation they could shelter themselves by a thatched hurdle if it rained; but if it was frosty even their thick leather gloves could not prevent the frozen masses they handled from biting their fingers. Still Tess hoped. She had a conviction that sooner or later the magnanimity which she persisted in reckoning as a chief ingredient of Clare's character would lead him to rejoin her.

Marian, primed to a humorous mood, would discover the queer-shaped flints aforesaid, and shriek with laughter, Tess remaining severely obtuse. They often looked across the country to where the Var or Froom was known to stretch, even though they might not be able to see it; and, fixing their eyes on the cloaking gray mist, imagined the old times they had spent out there.

`Ah,' said Marian, `how I should like another or two of our old set to come here! Then we could bring up Talbothays every day here afield, and talk of he, and of what nice times we had there, and o' the old things we used to know, and make it all come back again almost, in seeming!' Marian's eyes softened, and her voice grew vague as the visions returned. `I'll write to Izz Huett,' she said. `She's biding at home doing nothing now, I know, and I'll tell her we be here, and ask her to come; and perhaps Retty is well enough now.'

Tess had nothing to say against the proposal, and the next she heard of this plan for importing old Talbothays' joys was two or three days later, when Marian informed her that Izz had replied to her inquiry, and had promised to come if she could.

There had not been such a winter for years. It came on in stealthy and measured glides, like the moves of a chess-player. One morning the few lonely trees and the thorns of the hedgerows appeared as if they had put off a vegetable for an animal integument. Every twig was covered with a white nap as of fur grown from the rind during the night, giving it four times its usual stoutness; the whole bush or tree forming a staring sketch in white lines on the mournful gray of the sky and horizon. Cobwebs revealed their presence on sheds and walls where none had ever been observed till brought out into visibility by the crystallizing atmosphere, hanging like loops of white worsted from salient points of the out-houses, posts, and gates.

After this season of congealed dampness came a spell of dry frost, when strange birds from behind the North Pole began to arrive silently on the upland of Flintcomb-Ash; gaunt spectral creatures with tragical eyes - eyes which had witnessed scenes of cataclysmal horror in inaccessible polar regions of a magnitude such as no human being had ever conceived, in curdling temperatures that no man could endure; which had beheld the crash of icebergs and the slide of snow hills by the shooting light of the Aurora; been half blinded by the whirl of colossal storms and terraqueous distortions; and retained the expression of feature that such scenes had engendered. These nameless birds came quite near to Tess and Marian, but of all they had seen which humanity would never see, they brought no account. The traveller's ambition to tell was not theirs, and, with dumb impassivity, they dismissed experiences which they did not value for the immediate incidents of this homely upland - the trivial movements of the two girls in disturbing the clods with their hackers so as to uncover something or other that these visitants relished as food.

Then one day a peculiar quality invaded the air of this open country. There came a moisture which was not of rain, and a cold which was not of frost. It chilled the eyeballs of the twain, made their brows ache, penetrated to their skeletons, affecting the surface of the body less than its core. They knew that it meant snow, and in the night the snow came. Tess, who continued to live at the cottage with the warm gable that cheered any lonely pedestrian who paused beside it, awoke in the night, and heard above the thatch noises which seemed to signify that the roof had turned itself into a gymnasium of all the winds. When she lit her lamp to get up in the morning she found that the snow had blown through a chink in the casement, forming a white cone of the finest powder against the inside, and had also come down the chimney, so that it lay sole-deep upon the floor, on which her shoes left tracks when she moved about. Without, the storm drove so fast as to create a snow-mist in the kitchen; but as yet it was too dark out-of-doors to see anything.

Tess knew that it was impossible to go on with the swedes; and by the time she had finished breakfast beside the solitary little lamp, Marian arrived to tell her that they were to join the rest of the women at reed-drawing in the barn till the weather changed. As soon, therefore, as the uniform cloak of darkness without began to turn to a disordered medley of grays, they blew out the lamp, wrapped themselves up in their thickest pinners, tied their woollen cravats round their necks and across their chests, and started for the barn. The snow had followed the birds from the polar basin as a white pillar of a cloud, and individual flakes could not be seen. The blast smelt of icebergs, arctic seas, whales, and white bears, carrying the snow so that it licked the land but did not deepen on it. They trudged onwards with slanted bodies through the flossy fields, keeping as well as they could in the shelter of hedges, which, however, acted as strainers rather than screens. The air, afflicted to pallor with the hoary multitudes that infested it, twisted and spun them eccentrically, suggesting an achromatic chaos of things. But both the young women were fairly cheerful; such weather on a dry upland is not in itself dispiriting.

`Ha-ha! the cunning northern birds knew this was coming,' said Marian. `Depend upon't, they keep just in front o't all the way from the North Star. Your husband, my dear, is, I make no doubt, having scorching weather all this time. Lord, if he could only see his pretty wife now! Not that this weather hurts your beauty at all - in fact, it rather does it good.'

`You mustn't talk about him to me, Marian,' said Tess severely.

`Well, but - surely you care for 'n! Do you?'

Instead of answering, Tess, with tears in her eyes, impulsively faced in the direction in which she imagined South America to lie, and, putting up her lips, blew out a passionate kiss upon the snowy wind.

`Well, well, I know you do. But upon my body, it is a rum life for a married couple! There - I won't say another word! Well, as for the weather, it won't hurt us in the wheat-barn; but reed-drawing is fearful hard work - worse than swede-hacking. I can stand it because I'm stout; but you be slimmer than I. I can't think why maister should have set 'ee at it.'

They reached the wheat-barn and entered it. One end of the long structure was full of corn; the middle was where the reed-drawing was carried on, and there had already been placed in the reed-press the evening before as many sheaves of wheat as would be sufficient for the women to draw from during the day.

`Why, here's Izz!' said Marian.

Izz it was, and she came forward. She had walked all the way from her mother's home on the previous afternoon, and, not deeming the distance so great, had been belated, arriving, however, just before the snow began, and sleeping at the ale-house. The farmer had agreed with her mother at market to take her on if she came to-day, and she had been afraid to disappoint him by delay.

In addition to Tess, Marian, and Izz, there were two women from a neighbouring village; two Amazonian sisters, whom Tess with a start remembered as Dark Car the Queen of Spades and her junior the Queen of Diamonds - those who had tried to fight with her in the midnight quarrel at Trantridge. They showed no recognition of her, and possibly had none, for they had been under the influence of liquor on that occasion, and were only temporary sojourners there as here. They did all kinds of men's work by preference, including well-sinking, hedging, ditching, and excavating, without any sense of fatigue. Noted reed-drawers were they too, and looked round upon the other three with some superciliousness.

Putting on their gloves all set to work in a row in front of the press, an erection formed of two posts connected by a cross-beam, under which the sheaves to be drawn from were laid ears outward, the beam being pegged down by pins in the uprights, and lowered as the sheaves diminished.

The day hardened in colour, the light coming in at the barn doors upwards from the snow instead of downwards from the sky. The girls pulled handful after handful from the press; but by reason of the presence of the strange women, who were recounting scandals, Marian and Izz could not at first talk of old times as they wished to do. Presently they heard the muffled tread of a horse, and the farmer rode up to the barn-door. When he had dismounted he came close to Tess, and remained looking musingly at the side of her face. She had not turned at first, but his fixed attitude led her to look round, when she perceived that her employer was the native of Trantridge from whom she had taken flight on the high-road because of his allusion to her history.

He waited till she had carried the drawn bundles to the pile outside, when he said, `So you be the young woman who took my civility in such ill part? Be drowned if I didn't think you might be as soon as I heard of your being hired! Well, you thought you had got the better of me the first time at the inn with your fancy-man, and the second time on the road, when you bolted; but now I think I've got the better of you.' He concluded with a hard laugh.

Tess, between the Amazons and the farmer like a bird caught in a clap-net, returned no answer, continuing to pull the straw. She could read character sufficiently well to know by this time that she had nothing to fear from her employer's gallantry; it was rather the tyranny induced by his mortification at Clare's treatment of him. Upon the whole she preferred that sentiment in man and felt brave enough to endure it.

`You thought I was in love with 'ee I suppose? Some women are such fools, to take every look as serious earnest. But there's nothing like a winter afield for taking that nonsense out o' young wenches' heads; and you've signed and agreed till Lady-Day. Now, are you going to beg my pardon?'

`I think you ought to beg mine.'

`Very well - as you like. But we'll see which is master here. Be they all the sheaves you've done to-day?'

`Yes, sir.'

`'Tis a very poor show. Just see what they've done over there' (pointing to the two stalwart women). `The rest, too, have done better than you.'

`They've all practised it before, and I have not. And I thought it made no difference to you as it is task work, and we are only paid for what we do.'

`Oh, but it does. I want the barn cleared.'

`I am going to work all the afternoon instead of leaving at two as the others will do.'

He looked sullenly at her and went away. Tess felt that she could not have come to a much worse place; but anything was better than gallantry. When two o'clock arrived the professional reed-drawers tossed off the last half-pint in their flagon, put down their hooks, tied their last sheaves, and went away. Marian and Izz would have done likewise, but on hearing that Tess meant to stay, to make up by longer hours for her lack of skill, they would not leave her. Looking out at the snow, which still fell, Marian exclaimed, 'Now, we've got it all to ourselves.' And so at last the conversation turned to their old experiences at the dairy; and, of course, the incidents of their affection for Angel Clare.

`Izz and Marian,' said Mrs Angel Clare, with a dignity which was extremely touching, seeing how very little of a wife she was: `I can't join 'n talk with you now, as I used to do, about Mr Clare; you will see that I cannot; because, although he is gone away from me for the present, he is my husband.'

Izz was by nature the sauciest and most caustic of all the four girls who had loved Clare. `He was a very splendid lover, no doubt,' she said; `but I don't think he is a too fond husband to go away from you so soon.'

`He had to go - he was obliged to go, to see about the land over there!' pleaded Tess.

`He might have tided 'ee over the winter.'

`Ah - that's owing to an accident - a misunderstanding; and we won't argue it,' Tess answered, with tearfulness in her words. `Perhaps there's a good deal to be said for him! He did not go away, like some husbands, without telling me; and I can always find out where he is.'

After this they continued for some long time in a reverie, as they went on seizing the ears of corn, drawing out the straw, gathering it under their arms, and cutting off the ears with their bill-hooks, nothing sounding in the barn but the swish of the straw and the crunch of the hook. Then Tess suddenly flagged, and sank down upon the heap of wheat-ears at her feet.

`I knew you wouldn't be able to stand it!' cried Marian. `It wants harder flesh than yours for this work.'

Just then the farmer entered. `Oh, that's how you get on when I am away,' he said to her.

`But it is my own loss,' she pleaded. `Not yours.'

`I want it finished,' he said doggedly, as he crossed the barn and went out at the other door.

`Don't 'ee mind him, there's a dear,' said Marian. `I've worked here before. Now you go and lie down there, and Izz and I will make up your number.'

`I don't like to let you do that. I'm taller than you, too.'

However, she was so overcome that she consented to lie down awhile, and reclined on a heap of pull-tails - the refuse after the straight straw had been drawn - thrown up at the further side of the barn. Her succumbing had been as largely owing to agitation at re-opening the subject of her separation from her husband as to the hard work. She lay in a state of percipience without volition, and the rustle of the straw and the cutting of the ears by the others had the weight of bodily touches.

She could hear from her corner, in addition to these noises, the murmur of their voices. She felt certain that they were continuing the subject already broached, but their voices were so low that she could not catch the words. At last Tess grew more and more anxious to know what they were saying, and, persuading herself that she felt better, she got up and resumed work.

Then Izz Huett broke down. She had walked more than a dozen miles the previous evening, had gone to bed at midnight, and had risen again at five o'clock. Marian alone, thanks to her bottle of liquor and her stoutness of build, stood the strain upon back and arms without suffering. Tess urged Izz to leave off, agreeing, as she felt better, to finish the day without her, and make equal division of the number of sheaves.

Izz accepted the offer gratefully, and disappeared through the great door into the snowy track to her lodging. Marian, as was the case every afternoon at this time on account of the bottle, began to feel in a romantic vein.

`I should not have thought it of him - never!' she said in a dreamy tone. 'And I loved him so! I didn't mind his having you. But this about Izz is too bad!'

Tess, in her start at the words, narrowly missed cutting off a finger with the bill-hook.

`Is it about my husband?' she stammered.

`Well, yes. Izz said, "Don't 'ee tell her"; but I am sure I can't help it! It was what he wanted Izz to do. He wanted her to go off to Brazil with him.'

Tess's face faded as white as the scene without, and its curves straightened. `And did Izz refuse to go?' she asked.

`I don't know. Anyhow he changed his mind.'

`Pooh - then he didn't mean it! 'Twas just a man's jest!'

`Yes he did; for he drove her a good-ways towards the station.'

`He didn't take her!'

They pulled on in silence till Tess, without any premonitory symptoms, burst out crying.

`There!' said Marian. `Now I wish I hadn't told 'ee!'

`No. It is a very good thing that you have done! I have been living on in a thirtover, lackaday way, and have not seen what it may lead to! I ought to have sent him a letter oftener. He said I could not go to him, but he didn't say I was not to write as often as I liked. I won't dally like this any longer! I have been very wrong and neglectful in leaving everything to be done by him!' The dim light in the barn grew dimmer, and they could see to work no longer. When Tess had reached home that evening, and had entered into the privacy of her little white-washed chamber, she began impetuously writing a letter to Clare. But falling into doubt she could not finish it. Afterwards she took the ring from the ribbon on which she wore it next her heart, and retained it on her finger all night, as if to fortify herself in the sensation that she was really the wife of this elusive lover of hers, who could propose that Izz should go with him abroad, so shortly after he had left her. Knowing that, how could she write entreaties to him, or show that she cared for him any more?