"No — no."
"Yes, yes! Why not?"
"I cannot tell you."
"You must in honour!"
"Well then ... I have married him."
"Ah!" he exclaimed; and he stopped dead and gazed at her.
"I did not wish to tell — I did not mean to!" she pleaded. "It is a secret here, or at any rate but dimly known. So will you, PLEASE will you, keep from questioning me? You must remember that we are now strangers."
"Strangers — are we? Strangers!"
For a moment a flash of his old irony marked his face; but he determinedly chastened it down.
"Is that man your husband?" he asked mechanically, denoting by a sign the labourer who turned the machine.
"That man!" she said proudly. "I should think not!"
"Do not ask what I do not wish to tell!" she begged, and flashed her appeal to him from her upturned face and lash-shadowed eyes.
D'Urberville was disturbed.
"But I only asked for your sake!" he retorted hotly. "Angels of heaven! — God forgive me for such an expression — I came here, I swear, as I thought for your good. Tess — don't look at me so — I cannot stand your looks! There never were such eyes, surely, before Christianity or since! There — I won't lose my head; I dare not. I own that the sight of you had waked up my love for you, which, I believed, was extinguished with all such feelings. But I thought that our marriage might be a sanctification for us both. 'The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband,' I said to myself. But my plan is dashed from me; and I must bear the disappointment!"
He moodily reflected with his eyes on the ground.
"Married. Married! ... Well, that being so," he added, quite calmly, tearing the licence slowly into halves and putting them in his pocket; "that being prevented, I should like to do some good to you and your husband, whoever he may be. There are many questions that I am tempted to ask, but I will not do so, of course, in opposition to your wishes. Though, if I could know your husband, I might more easily benefit him and you. Is he on this farm?"
"No," she murmured. "He is far away."
"Far away? From YOU? What sort of husband can he be?"
"O, do not speak against him! It was through you! He found out — "
"Ah, is it so! ... That's sad, Tess!"
"But to stay away from you — to leave you to work like this!"
"He does not leave me to work!" she cried, springing to the defence of the absent one with all her fervour. "He don't know it! It is by my own arrangement."
"Then, does he write?"
"I — I cannot tell you. There are things which are private to ourselves."
"Of course that means that he does not. You are a deserted wife, my fair Tess — "
In an impulse he turned suddenly to take her hand; the buff-glove was on it, and he seized only the rough leather fingers which did not express the life or shape of those within.
"You must not — you must not!" she cried fearfully, slipping her hand from the glove as from a pocket, and leaving it in his grasp. "O, will you go away — for the sake of me and my husband — go, in the name of your own Christianity!"
"Yes, yes; I will," he said abruptly, and thrusting the glove back to her he turned to leave. Facing round, however, he said, "Tess, as God is my judge, I meant no humbug in taking your hand!"
A pattering of hoofs on the soil of the field, which they had not noticed in their preoccupation, ceased close behind them; and a voice reached her ear:
"What the devil are you doing away from your work at this time o' day?"
Farmer Groby had espied the two figures from the distance, and had inquisitively ridden across, to learn what was their business in his field.
"Don't speak like that to her!" said d'Urberville, his face blackening with something that was not Christianity.
"Indeed, Mister! And what mid Methodist pa'sons have to do with she?"
"Who is the fellow?" asked d'Urberville, turning to Tess.
She went close up to him.
"Go — I do beg you!" she said.
"What! And leave you to that tyrant? I can see in his face what a churl he is."
"He won't hurt me. HE'S not in love with me. I can leave at Lady-Day."
"Well, I have no right but to obey, I suppose. But — well, goodbye!"
Her defender, whom she dreaded more than her assailant, having reluctantly disappeared, the farmer continued his reprimand, which Tess took with the greatest coolness, that sort of attack being independent of sex. To have as a master this man of stone, who would have cuffed her if he had dared, was almost a relief after her former experiences. She silently walked back towards the summit of the field that was the scene of her labour, so absorbed in the interview which had just taken place that she was hardly aware that the nose of Groby's horse almost touched her shoulders.
"If so be you make an agreement to work for me till Lady-Day, I'll see that you carry it out," he growled. "'Od rot the women — now 'tis one thing, and then 'tis another. But I'll put up with it no longer!"
Knowing very well that he did not harass the other women of the farm as he harassed her out of spite for the flooring he had once received, she did for one moment picture what might have been the result if she had been free to accept the offer just made her of being the monied Alec's wife. It would have lifted her completely out of subjection, not only to her present oppressive employer, but to a whole world who seemed to despise her. "But no, no!" she said breathlessly; "I could not have married him now! He is so unpleasant to me."
That very night she began an appealing letter to Clare, concealing from him her hardships, and assuring him of her undying affection. Any one who had been in a position to read between the lines would have seen that at the back of her great love was some monstrous fear — almost a desperation — as to some secret contingencies which were not disclosed. But again she did not finish her effusion; he had asked Izz to go with him, and perhaps he did not care for her at all. She put the letter in her box, and wondered if it would ever reach Angel's hands.
After this her daily tasks were gone through heavily enough, and brought on the day which was of great import to agriculturists — the day of the Candlemas Fair. It was at this fair that new engagements were entered into for the twelve months following the ensuing Lady-Day, and those of the farming population who thought of changing their places duly attended at the county-town where the fair was held. Nearly all the labourers on Flintcomb-Ash farm intended flight, and early in the morning there was a general exodus in the direction of the town, which lay at a distance of from ten to a dozen miles over hilly country. Though Tess also meant to leave at the quarter-day, she was one of the few who did not go to the fair, having a vaguely-shaped hope that something would happen to render another outdoor engagement unnecessary.