"Wait — what for? For that nice husband, no doubt. Now look here, Tess, I know what men are, and, bearing in mind the grounds of your separation, I am quite positive he will never make it up with you. Now, though I have been your enemy, I am your friend, even if you won't believe it. Come to this cottage of mine. We'll get up a regular colony of fowls, and your mother can attend to them excellently; and the children can go to school."
Tess breathed more and more quickly, and at length she said —
"How do I know that you would do all this? Your views may change — and then — we should be — my mother would be — homeless again."
"O no — no. I would guarantee you against such as that in writing, if necessary. Think it over."
Tess shook her head. But d'Urberville persisted; she had seldom seen him so determined; he would not take a negative.
"Please just tell your mother," he said, in emphatic tones. "It is her business to judge — not yours. I shall get the house swept out and whitened to-morrow morning, and fires lit; and it will be dry by the evening, so that you can come straight there. Now mind, I shall expect you."
Tess again shook her head, her throat swelling with complicated emotion. She could not look up at d'Urberville.
"I owe you something for the past, you know," he resumed. "And you cured me, too, of that craze; so I am glad — "
"I would rather you had kept the craze, so that you had kept the practice which went with it!"
"I am glad of this opportunity of repaying you a little. To-morrow I shall expect to hear your mother's goods unloading... Give me your hand on it now — dear, beautiful Tess!"
With the last sentence he had dropped his voice to a murmur, and put his hand in at the half-open casement. With stormy eyes she pulled the stay-bar quickly, and, in doing so, caught his arm between the casement and the stone mullion.
"Damnation — you are very cruel!" he said, snatching out his arm. "No, no! — I know you didn't do it on purpose. Well I shall expect you, or your mother and children at least."
"I shall not come — I have plenty of money!" she cried.
"At my father-in-law's, if I ask for it."
"IF you ask for it. But you won't, Tess; I know you; you'll never ask for it — you'll starve first!"
With these words he rode off. Just at the corner of the street he met the man with the paint-pot, who asked him if he had deserted the brethren.
"You go to the devil!" said d'Urberville.
Tess remained where she was a long while, till a sudden rebellious sense of injustice caused the region of her eyes to swell with the rush of hot tears thither. Her husband, Angel Clare himself, had, like others, dealt out hard measure to her; surely he had! She had never before admitted such a thought; but he had surely! Never in her life — she could swear it from the bottom of her soul — had she ever intended to do wrong; yet these hard judgements had come. Whatever her sins, they were not sins of intention, but of inadvertence, and why should she have been punished so persistently?
She passionately seized the first piece of paper that came to hand, and scribbled the following lines:
O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do not deserve it. I have thought it all over carefully, and I can never, never forgive you! You know that I did not intend to wrong you — why have you so wronged me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to forget you. It is all injustice I have received at your hands! T.
She watched till the postman passed by, ran out to him with her epistle, and then again took her listless place inside the window-panes.
It was just as well to write like that as to write tenderly. How could he give way to entreaty? The facts had not changed: there was no new event to alter his opinion.
It grew darker, the fire-light shining over the room. The two biggest of the younger children had gone out with their mother; the four smallest, their ages ranging from three-and-a-half years to eleven, all in black frocks, were gathered round the hearth babbling their own little subjects. Tess at length joined them, without lighting a candle.
"This is the last night that we shall sleep here, dears, in the house where we were born," she said quickly. "We ought to think of it, oughtn't we?"
They all became silent; with the impressibility of their age they were ready to burst into tears at the picture of finality she had conjured up, though all the day hitherto they had been rejoicing in the idea of a new place. Tess changed the subject.
"Sing to me, dears," she said.
"What shall we sing?"
"Anything you know; I don't mind."
There was a momentary pause; it was broken, first, in one little tentative note; then a second voice strengthened it, and a third and a fourth chimed in unison, with words they had learnt at the Sunday-school —
Here we suffer grief and pain, Here we meet to part again; In Heaven we part no more.
The four sang on with the phlegmatic passivity of persons who had long ago settled the question, and there being no mistake about it, felt that further thought was not required. With features strained hard to enunciate the syllables they continued to regard the centre of the flickering fire, the notes of the youngest straying over into the pauses of the rest.
Tess turned from them, and went to the window again. Darkness had now fallen without, but she put her face to the pane as though to peer into the gloom. It was really to hide her tears. If she could only believe what the children were singing; if she were only sure, how different all would now be; how confidently she would leave them to Providence and their future kingdom! But, in default of that, it behoved her to do something; to be their Providence; for to Tess, as to not a few millions of others, there was ghastly satire in the poet's lines —
Not in utter nakedness But trailing clouds of glory do we come.
To her and her like, birth itself was an ordeal of degrading personal compulsion, whose gratuitousness nothing in the result seemed to justify, and at best could only palliate.
In the shades of the wet road she soon discerned her mother with tall 'Liza-Lu and Abraham. Mrs Durbeyfield's pattens clicked up to the door, and Tess opened it.
"I see the tracks of a horse outside the window," said Joan. "Hev somebody called?"
"No," said Tess.
The children by the fire looked gravely at her, and one murmured —
"Why, Tess, the gentleman a-horseback!"
"He didn't call," said Tess. "He spoke to me in passing."
"Who was the gentleman?" asked the mother. "Your husband?"
"No. He'll never, never come," answered Tess in stony hopelessness.
"Then who was it?"
"Oh, you needn't ask. You've seen him before, and so have I."
"Ah! What did he say?" said Joan curiously.
"I will tell you when we are settled in our lodging at Kingsbere to-morrow — every word."
It was not her husband, she had said. Yet a consciousness that in a physical sense this man alone was her husband seemed to weigh on her more and more.