"O yes; if it is for your happiness and worldly convenience. But my life before I came here — I want — "
"Well, it is for my convenience as well as my happiness. If I have a very large farm, either English or colonial, you will be invaluable as a wife to me; better than a woman out of the largest mansion in the country. So please — please, dear Tessy, disabuse your mind of the feeling that you will stand in my way."
"But my history. I want you to know it — you must let me tell you — you will not like me so well!"
"Tell it if you wish to, dearest. This precious history then. Yes, I was born at so and so, Anno Domini — "
"I was born at Marlott," she said, catching at his words as a help, lightly as they were spoken. "And I grew up there. And I was in the Sixth Standard when I left school, and they said I had great aptness, and should make a good teacher, so it was settled that I should be one. But there was trouble in my family; father was not very industrious, and he drank a little."
"Yes, yes. Poor child! Nothing new." He pressed her more closely to his side.
"And then — there is something very unusual about it — about me. I — I was — "
Tess's breath quickened.
"Yes, dearest. Never mind."
"I — I — am not a Durbeyfield, but a d'Urberville — a descendant of the same family as those that owned the old house we passed. And — we are all gone to nothing!"
"A d'Urberville! — Indeed! And is that all the trouble, dear Tess?"
"Yes," she answered faintly.
"Well — why should I love you less after knowing this?"
"I was told by the dairyman that you hated old families."
"Well, it is true, in one sense. I do hate the aristocratic principle of blood before everything, and do think that as reasoners the only pedigrees we ought to respect are those spiritual ones of the wise and virtuous, without regard to corporal paternity. But I am extremely interested in this news — you can have no idea how interested I am! Are you not interested yourself in being one of that well-known line?"
"No. I have thought it sad — especially since coming here, and knowing that many of the hills and fields I see once belonged to my father's people. But other hills and field belonged to Retty's people, and perhaps others to Marian's, so that I don't value it particularly."
"Yes — it is surprising how many of the present tillers of the soil were once owners of it, and I sometimes wonder that a certain school of politicians don't make capital of the circumstance; but they don't seem to know it... I wonder that I did not see the resemblance of your name to d'Urberville, and trace the manifest corruption. And this was the carking secret!"
She had not told. At the last moment her courage had failed her; she feared his blame for not telling him sooner; and her instinct of self-preservation was stronger than her candour.
"Of course," continued the unwitting Clare, "I should have been glad to know you to be descended exclusively from the long-suffering, dumb, unrecorded rank and file of the English nation, and not from the self-seeking few who made themselves powerful at the expense of the rest. But I am corrupted away from that by my affection for you, Tess (he laughed as he spoke), and made selfish likewise. For your own sake I rejoice in your descent. Society is hopelessly snobbish, and this fact of your extraction may make an appreciable difference to its acceptance of you as my wife, after I have made you the well-read woman that I mean to make you. My mother too, poor soul, will think so much better of you on account of it. Tess, you must spell your name correctly — d'Urberville — from this very day."
"I like the other way rather best."
"But you MUST, dearest! Good heavens, why dozens of mushroom millionaires would jump at such a possession! By the bye, there's one of that kidney who has taken the name — where have I heard of him? — Up in the neighbourhood of The Chase, I think. Why, he is the very man who had that rumpus with my father I told you of. What an odd coincidence!"
"Angel, I think I would rather not take the name! It is unlucky, perhaps!"
She was agitated.
"Now then, Mistress Teresa d'Urberville, I have you. Take my name, and so you will escape yours! The secret is out, so why should you any longer refuse me?"
"If it is SURE to make you happy to have me as your wife, and you feel that you do wish to marry me, VERY, VERY much — "
"I do, dearest, of course!"
"I mean, that it is only your wanting me very much, and being hardly able to keep alive without me, whatever my offences, that would make me feel I ought to say I will."
"You will — you do say it, I know! You will be mine for ever and ever."
He clasped her close and kissed her.
She had no sooner said it than she burst into a dry hard sobbing, so violent that it seemed to rend her. Tess was not a hysterical girl by any means, and he was surprised.
"Why do you cry, dearest?"
"I can't tell — quite! — I am so glad to think — of being yours, and making you happy!"
"But this does not seem very much like gladness, my Tessy!"
"I mean — I cry because I have broken down in my vow! I said I would die unmarried!"
"But, if you love me you would like me to be your husband?"
"Yes, yes, yes! But O, I sometimes wish I had never been born!"
"Now, my dear Tess, if I did not know that you are very much excited, and very inexperienced, I should say that remark was not very complimentary. How came you to wish that if you care for me? Do you care for me? I wish you would prove it in some way."
"How can I prove it more than I have done?" she cried, in a distraction of tenderness. "Will this prove it more?"
She clasped his neck, and for the first time Clare learnt what an impassioned woman's kisses were like upon the lips of one whom she loved with all her heart and soul, as Tess loved him.
"There — now do you believe?" she asked, flushed, and wiping her eyes.
"Yes. I never really doubted — never, never!"
So they drove on through the gloom, forming one bundle inside the sail-cloth, the horse going as he would, and the rain driving against them. She had consented. She might as well have agreed at first. The "appetite for joy" which pervades all creation, that tremendous force which sways humanity to its purpose, as the tide sways the helpless weed, was not to be controlled by vague lucubrations over the social rubric.
"I must write to my mother," she said. "You don't mind my doing that?"
"Of course not, dear child. You are a child to me, Tess, not to know how very proper it is to write to your mother at such a time, and how wrong it would be in me to object. Where does she live?"
"At the same place — Marlott. On the further side of Blackmoor Vale."
"Ah, then I HAVE seen you before this summer — "
"Yes; at that dance on the green; but you would not dance with me. O, I hope that is of no ill-omen for us now!"