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About the Author
Thomas Hardy was born on 2 June 1840 at Higher Bockhampton in Dorset. His father was a stonemason. Hardy attended school in Dorchester and then trained as an architect. In 1868 his work took him to St Juliot’s church in Cornwall where he met his wife-to-be, Emma. His first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, was rejected by publishers but Desperate Remedies was published in 1871 and this was rapidly followed by Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1874). He also wrote many other novels, poems and short stories. Tess of the d’Urbervilles was published in 1891 and he published his final novel, Jude the Obscure, in 1895. Hardy was awarded the Order of Merit in 1910 and the gold medal of the Royal Society of Literature in 1912. Emma died in 1912 and Hardy married his second wife, Florence, in 1914. Thomas Hardy died on 11 January 1928.
Anne Michaels was born in Toronto in 1958. She is a poet and novelist. Her works include the novel The Winter Vault (2009) and Poems (2000) which includes three collections of poetry: The Weight of Oranges, which won the Commonwealth Prize for the Americas; Miner’s Pond, which won the Canadian Authors Association Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and the Trillium Award; and Skin Divers. Her first novel, Fugitive Pieces, was published in 1997 to worldwide critical acclaim. Fugitive Pieces won the Orange Prize for fiction in 1997.
For more information on Orange Inheritance
editions please see
Desperate Remedies
Under the Greenwood Tree
A Pair of Blue Eyes
Far from the Madding Crowd
The Hand of Ethelberta
The Return of the Native
The Trumpet-Major
A Laodicean
Two on a Tower
The Mayor of Casterbridge
The Woodlanders
The Well-Beloved
Jude the Obscure

About the Author
Other Novels by Thomas Hardy
Explanatory Note to the First Edition
Preface to the Fifth and Later Editions
PHASE THE SECOND. Maiden no More
PHASE THE FOURTH. The Consequence
This novel being one wherein the great campaign of the heroine begins after an event in her experience which has usually been treated as fatal to her part of protagonist, or at least as the virtual ending of her enterprises and hopes, it was quite contrary to avowed conventions that the public should welcome the book, and agree with me in holding that there was something more to be said in fiction than had been said about the shaded side of a well-known catastrophe. But the responsive spirit in which Tess of the d’Urbervilles has been received by the readers of England and America, would seem to prove that the plan of laying down a story on the lines of tacit opinion, instead of making it to square with the merely vocal formulae of society, is not altogether a wrong one, even when exemplified in so unequal and partial an achievement as the present. For this responsiveness I cannot refrain from expressing my thanks; and my regret is that, in a world where one so often hungers in vain for friendship, where even not to be wilfully misunderstood is felt as a kindness, I shall never meet in person these appreciative readers, male and female, and shake them by the hand.
I include amongst them the reviewers – by far the majority – who have so generously welcomed the tale. Their words show that they, like the others, have only too largely repaired my defects of narration by their own imaginative intuition.
Nevertheless, though the novel was intended to be neither didactic nor aggressive, but in the scenic parts to be representative simply, and in the contemplative to be oftener charged with impressions than with convictions, there have been objectors both to the matter and to the rendering.
The most austere of these maintain a conscientious difference of opinion concerning, among other things, subjects fit for art, and reveal an inability to associate the idea of the sub-title adjective with any but the artificial and derivative meaning which has resulted to it from the ordinances of civilization. They ignore the meaning of the word in Nature, together with all aesthetic claims upon it, not to mention the spiritual interpretation afforded by the finest side of their own Christianity. Others dissent on grounds which are intrinsically no more than an assertion that the novel embodies the views of life prevalent at the end of the nineteenth century, and not those of an earlier and simpler generation – an assertion which I can only hope may be well founded. Let me repeat that a novel is an impression, not an argument; and there the matter must rest; as one is reminded by a passage which occurs in the letters of Schiller to Goethe on judges of this class: ‘They are those who seek only their own ideas in a representation, and prize that which should be as higher than what is. The cause of the dispute, therefore, lies in the very first principles, and it would be utterly impossible to come to an understanding with them.’ And again: ‘As soon as I observe that any one, when judging of poetical representations, considers anything more important than the inner Necessity and Truth, I have done with him.’
In the introductory words to the first edition I suggested the possible advent of the genteel person who would not be able to endure something or other in these pages. That person duly appeared among the aforesaid objectors. In one case he felt upset that it was not possible for him to read the book through three times, owing to my not having made that critical effort which ‘alone can prove the salvation of such an one’. In another, he objected to such vulgar articles as the Devil’s pitchfork, a lodging-house carving-knife, and a shame-bought parasol, appearing in a respectable story. In another place he was a gentleman who turned Christian for half-an-hour the better to express his grief that a disrespectful phrase about the Immortals should have been used; though the same innate gentility compelled him to excuse the author in words of pity that one cannot be too thankful for: ‘He does but give us of his best.’ I can assure this great critic that to exclaim illogically against the gods, singular or plural, is not such an original sin of mine as he seems to imagine. True, it may have some local originality; though if Shakespeare were an authority on history, which perhaps he is not, I could show that the sin was introduced into Wessex as early as the Heptarchy itself. Says Glo’ster in Lear, otherwise Ina, king of that country:
As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods;
They kill us for their sport.
The remaining two or three manipulators of Tess were of the predetermined sort whom most writers and readers would gladly forget; professed literary boxers, who put on their convictions for the occasion; modern ‘Hammers of Heretics’; sworn Discouragers, ever on the watch to prevent the tentative half-success from becoming the whole success later on; who pervert plain meanings, and grow personal under the name of practising the great historical method. However, they may have causes to advance, privileges to guard, traditions to keep going, some of which a mere tale-teller, who writes down how the things of the world strike him, without any ulterior intentions whatever, has overlooked, and may by pure inadvertence have run foul of when in the least aggressive mood. Perhaps some passing perception, the outcome of a dream hour, would, if generally acted on, cause such an assailant considerable inconvenience with respect to position, interests, family, servant, ox, ass, neighbour, or neighbour’s wife. He therefore valiantly hides his personality behind a publisher’s shutters, and cries ‘Shame!’ So densely is the world thronged that any shifting of positions, even the best warranted advance, galls somebody’s kibe. Such shiftings often begin in sentiment, and such sentiment sometimes begins in a novel.
July 1892
The foregoing remarks were written during the early career of this story, when a spirited public and private criticism of its points was still fresh to the feelings. The pages are allowed to stand for what they are worth, as something once said; but probably they would not have been written now. Even in the short time which has elapsed since the book was first published, some of the critics who provoked the reply have ‘gone down into silence’, as if to remind one of the infinite unimportance of both their say and mine.
January 1895
The present edition of this novel contains a few pages that have never appeared in any previous edition. When the detached episodes were collected as stated in the preface of 1891, these pages were overlooked, though they were in the original manuscript. They occur in Chapter x.
Respecting the sub-title, to which allusion was made above, I may add that it was appended at the last moment, after reading the final proofs, as being the estimate left in a candid mind of the heroine’s character – an estimate that nobody would be likely to dispute. It was disputed more than anything else in the book. Melius fuerat non scribere. But there it stands.
The novel was first published complete, in three volumes, in November 1891.
March 1912
Some books, the best ones, have a soul; they offer a world view so complete, its mystery is inviolable. They reach us like an embrace before we know we need it; a philosophical arm outstretched that makes us aware we are falling; like whispering in the night. Some books, the best ones, are an encounter with a set of inchoate questions, powerful as someone returning your gaze, someone unknown a moment before, and never unknown again. These are the books we return to – personally, and as a culture; there is a life to these books that cannot be exhausted by criticism or familiarity.
I was fifteen when I first read Thomas Hardy; it was a time of absolute intoxication with literature, the same age I first devoured the short stories of Chekhov, Tolstoy, and James Joyce; and Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist, Joyce Carey’s The Horse’s Mouth, the Brontës, Dickens, Keats, Tennyson, Yeats, Dante, Camus, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and King Lear. This was my first acute awareness of the capability of language to hold, in one simultaneous embrace, the specific experience of intense pleasure and unbearable loss. And other dualities; sitting on the bottom step of the staircase into the basement, reading the thrillingly satisfying final chapter of Jane Eyre to the sound of the washing machine, suddenly aware of the simple, astounding fact that a reader always inhabits two places at once. And even then, intimating something I would not be able to put into words until much later: we read, and we write, in order to hold another human being close.
Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles was first published in 1891 and was immediately condemned for moral depravity because of its sympathetic portrayal of a fallen woman. Hardy struggled against this condemnation and, in its fifth edition, he ‘appended at the last moment’ a subtitle in order to address the issue directly: ‘A Pure Woman’.
It is no wonder the Victorians objected so strenuously, while also welcoming the book with secret jubilation. Here was a perception of life saturated with sensuality and the concept of individual morality; at the same time Tess’s world closes around her, a new world opened for the reader. Its pages contain a character, Angel Clare, who gradually comes to recognise his moral prejudices, a character able to admit, clearly and emphatically (though too late, too late!, to save Tess in a material way) that his views were wrong; he begs forgiveness of the one he had condemned as immoral. Hardy sets out to defend Tess’s honour and no Victorian reader would be immune to the implications of Hardy’s ideas of a changed world.
Hardy’s compassion runs deep; the narration is so rooted in Tess’s consciousness that it is almost a gallantry. If one may be forgiven for saying so in our day and age, even without knowing the author, one would easily guess it is a man writing about a woman. Hardy is chivalrous even in his use of symbolism. His symbols are a form of respect for Tess’s character; he uses exactly the terms of grandeur or helplessness that Tess herself would have understood and felt honoured by, whether it is the symbolic wounded birds (the pheasants that fill Tess with pity and shame at her own self-pity in the depths of her abandonment: ‘Poor darlings – to suppose myself the most miserable being on earth in the sight o’ such misery as yours . . . I be not mangled, and I be not bleeding, and I have two hands to feed and clothe me’) or the surrender of Tess at the great circle of Stonehenge. There is no mockery or sense of the overwrought in these terms of expression, but always an appropriateness; we are fully in Tess’s world, and the novel, despite Tess’s ordeals and Hardy’s objective tone, is full of authorial compassion for her.
The choice of Stonehenge as the site of Tess’s arrest is chosen by Hardy to illustrate the final agonising conflict between pagan Nature and the tyrannical conventions of religious morality – but it is also chosen because he wants us to understand that nothing less than the grandeur of Stonehenge befits Tess’s moral status and the heroism of her struggle. It is precisely her flawed and loving nature that elevates her, the goodness she so strenuously strives to uphold, her compassion and her humility; human error and human love combined.
Some critics have abused Hardy for an excess of ‘self-expression’, that is, for his intensity of feeling, and for his insistence that landscape be entwined with the inner life of his characters. But this is rural life, where landscape will not be separated from experience. And, of course, Hardy is saying something more: about the consequences of industrialisation, and his desire to bear witness to a way of life that was vanishing rapidly before his eyes. It is the world of the rural working class on the eve of full-scale industrialisation. What was being lost, among everything else that was plain to see, was also something ineffable. And it is this ineffable quality, the metaphysical embedded in the physical landscape, that Hardy is so superb, one might say, almost unrivalled, at rendering. There are so many iconic, active descriptions in this book; his landscapes are not merely passive receptors for the feelings and views of the characters, but exist vividly in their own right, alive and engaged participants in the story. Hardy makes the reader understand the reality of distances covered on foot, of working in the fields, of weather, of harshness and lushness on the spirit. These realities play their part, their meaning is not imposed by Hardy merely to prove a point – landscape is not a standard literary device in Hardy’s world – there is much more integrity to his vision; Hardy allows landscape its due in the course of his characters’ lives. Long distances are walked, sometimes lifts are offered and received gratefully, and in the early hours or late hours of a long working day, half-light and proximity create circumstances and consequences.
When objects do take on the moods and point of view of the characters, it is not merely as ‘objective correlative’; it is not merely the authorial voice anthropomorphising; rather, it is landscape seen through the point of view of the characters themselves. This is a vital distinction, for it parallels Hardy’s views on Fate and Free Will in this book.
It is a common reading that Tess is a character bludgeoned by Fate, but I believe Hardy is up to something far more subtle and shrewd. It is the same shrewdness he demonstrates in his deliberate ambiguity regarding Tess’s fall from grace; has she been forced, or has she been seduced? Is there a true distinction in Tess’s case? At the crucial moment Hardy steps back and leaves it to the reader to decide, and in this way ensures our moral engagement with all that follows.
It is not the great blunt instrument of Fate that overcomes Tess, but rather, her belief in Fate. She struggles against her sense of determinism, which she has been taught and steeped in, and in this struggle she exhibits real courage each time she asserts her love for Angel Clare (allowing herself brief outbursts of feelings of worthiness or hope) or asserts her sense of justice. Tess’s belief in Fate as the ultimate manipulator of all that befalls her is masterfully expressed by Hardy throughout the novel: he understands that such a belief is gnarled with the ambiguities of conflicting ideas and sentiments, desire and ignorance, self-knowledge and self-deception. We are a mess of assumptions and unproved habits of perception, inherited beliefs and our defences against them. In this way, Tess is real to us; and in the end, this web of assumptions and guilt, Tess’s rebellion and submission to these ideas, coalesce into tragedy.
Decades have passed since my first encounter with ‘Tess’ and yet the book remains vivid to me. One scene that moved me when I was young and moves me still is that of Tess’s long walk to see Angel Clare’s parents; she has gathered her courage and intends to reveal all, hoping for their understanding. The only way Tess can reach them is by walking, and it is a long walk – fifteen miles each direction – and she must wake very early to get there and back in time on her single day off work, Sunday. She dresses carefully, in a frock Angel Clare had given her, and sets out, carrying her good shoes, so she will not have to appear at their doorstep in her walking boots. On the outskirts of the village she changes into her good shoes, these also having been given to her by Angel Clare, and approaches the house. She steels herself and rings the bell, and rings again. No one answers, and she realises the entire household, including the servants, are at church. She walks out the gate and along the road, prepared to wait for their return and finds herself in the procession of those leaving the church on their way home. She overhears Angel’s brothers discussing Angel and his ‘ill-considered marriage’, and Tess loses the small hope she had of receiving any sympathy from Angel’s family. Angel’s brothers meet up with Mercy Chant, whom the family had supposed would some day be Angel’s wife; they find Tess’s boots half-hidden in the hedge and Mercy scorns the owner of the boots, whom she cynically assumes is a beggar who has taken them off to walk barefoot into town and so ‘excite our sympathies’. She takes the boots in order to pass them along as charity to the deserving poor. This is the final straw for Tess, who must now walk fifteen miles home in her dress shoes, her mission unfulfilled. As Tess begins walking back in tears, Hardy tells us: ‘She knew that it was all sentiment, all baseless impressibility, which has caused her to read the scene as her own condemnation; nevertheless she could not get over it; she could not contravene in her own defenceless person all these untoward omens.’ In a typical Hardy touch, he tells us also that, in fact, Angel’s parents would have been most sympathetic to her situation, unlike Angel’s brothers, and would have come to her assistance, if only they had known of her need.
And of course, once read, one can hardly forget the chilling conversation between Tess and Angel on their wedding night: ‘Having begun to love you, I love you forever – in all changes, in all disgraces, because you are yourself . . .’ says Tess, ‘ . . . how can you, O my husband, stop loving me?’ But, Angel coldly maintains, ‘You were one person; now you are another.’
Why does ‘Tess’ continue to move us? I think there are several reasons. One is Hardy’s relentless compassion. His characters are deeply human – flawed, misguided, ignorant, prejudiced, judgemental, lacking courage; and yet, able to admit mistakes and willing to accept responsibility for these mistakes. And there is Tess herself, her lack of self-pity, her humility, her heroism. She is tested to her limit and yet still retains her stoicism and her tenderness of heart. In the end, her blinding and violent anger is not caused by one of the ‘selfish’ passions – jealousy, envy, pride, a desire to hurt or overpower – but by rage at the injustice done to her. And, of course, it is Hardy’s writing – gloriously physical, full of passion and irony, humour and tenderness.
The qualities Hardy’s critics decry as excesses are, to me, his particular virtues: a saturation of feeling, a strong sense of justice and human fallibility, his insistence on the real effects of landscape on the spirit, his chivalry, and his unabashed affection for his main character, Tess.
Each of Hardy’s novels begins with a seemingly innocent detail or incident, the consequences of which unravel throughout the course of the narrative. Every choice we make obliterates other choices. It is this basic truth that lies at the heart of all Hardy’s fiction. This truth, and what we choose to make of it is what Hardy finds most compelling.
Hardy documents the inexorable encroachment of industrialisation without commentary, in scenes of stark detail. One such scene is Tess’s evening cart-ride with Angel Clare to deliver the milk from Talbothays dairy farm to the train station, and the tableau that fixes for ever in the reader’s mind the clash between modern industrialised life and rural tradition:
Then there was the hissing of a train, which drew up almost silently upon the wet rails, and the milk was rapidly swung can by can into the truck. The light of the engine flashed for a second upon Tess Durbeyfield’s figure, motionless under the great holly tree. No object could have looked more foreign to the gleaming cranks and wheels than this unsophisticated girl, with the round bare arms, the rainy face and hair, the suspended attitude of a friendly leopard at pause, the print gown of no date or fashion, and the cotton bonnet drooping on her brow.
‘Londoners will drink it at their breakfasts to-morrow, won’t they?’ she asked. ‘Strange people that we have never seen.’
‘Yes, I suppose they will . . .’
‘Noble men and noble women, ambassadors and centurions, ladies and tradeswomen, and babies who have never seen a cow . . .’
Hardy’s work reflected the cleft heart of the age, and one senses that Hardy, of all the great Victorian writers, found these dualities particularly painful. On the one hand, the Victorian writers were straining towards the expression and the defence of a new and more generous morality, or at least the loosening of conventional judgements; yet the public still looked to its writers for moral shepherding and even admonition. And it reflected the ever-widening gap between urban labour (and the rapid growth of cities and other overwhelming effects of industrialisation) and the vanishing life of rural labour. Rural life celebrated older and worthier traditions than the pompous religiosity Hardy spoke against so passionately. These were traditions that grew out of nature and our relationship to nature, traditions based on the seasons, weather, hours of daylight and other cycles, and the traditions within a single farm community. The loss of these traditions Hardy mourned keenly.
When Hardy was a young man, he worked as a surveyor and assistant to the architect Arthur Blomfield in London. At this time, the small graveyard at St Pancras was to be upturned and demolished to make way for the expansion of the Midland rail line. (This unfortunate churchyard would, in the future, be repeatedly dug up to make way for the trains.) It was Hardy’s task to determine just what to do with the dead. His response to this duty, above anything else we know of his biography, seems to me to be the most telling.
I imagine Hardy standing amid the noise of men working at the construction site, the devastation and debris of the new age all around him; standing amid the upturning of the earth in the churchyard and the scattering of bones, wondering what security he could provide for the dead against that onslaught, and perhaps wondering too why this heart-wrenching responsibility for the past had fallen to him.
In the end, Hardy chose a simple gesture of surprising longevity. He instructed that all the gravestones be gathered up and set in a crowded circle under the embrace and shelter of an ash tree. The grave markers remain and Hardy’s tree remains, though all around them the city and the trains accelerate onward.
Anne Michaels, 2011
The main portion of the following story appeared – with slight modifications – in the Graphic newspaper; other chapters, more especially addressed to adult readers, in the Fortnightly Review and the National Observer, as episodic sketches. My thanks are tendered to the editors and proprietors of those periodicals for enabling me now to piece the trunk and limbs of the novel together, and print it complete, as originally written two years ago.
I will just add that the story is sent out in all sincerity of purpose, as an attempt to give artistic form to a true sequence of things; and in respect of the book’s opinions and sentiments, I would ask any too genteel reader, who cannot endure to have said what everybody nowadays thinks and feels, to remember a well-worn sentence of St Jerome’s: If an offence come out of the truth, better is it that the offence come than that the truth be concealed.
November 1891

Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Anne Michaels
Faithfully presented by
‘. . . Poor wounded name! My bosom as a bed
Shall lodge thee.’

W. Shakespeare.
ON an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore or Blackmoor. The pair of legs that carried him were rickety, and there was a bias in his gait which inclined him somewhat to the left of a straight line. He occasionally gave a smart nod, as if in confirmation of some opinion, though he was not thinking of anything in particular. An empty egg-basket was slung upon his arm, the nap of his hat was ruffled, a patch being quite worn away at its brim where his thumb came in taking it off. Presently he was met by an elderly parson astride on a gray mare, who, as he rode, hummed a wandering tune.
‘Good night t’ee,’ said the man with the basket.
‘Good night, Sir John,’ said the parson.
The pedestrian, after another pace or two, halted, and turned round.
‘Now, sir, begging your pardon; we met last market-day on this road about this time, and I zaid “Good night,” and you made reply “Good night, Sir John,” as now.’
‘I did,’ said the parson.
‘And once before that – near a month ago.’
‘I may have.’
‘Then what might your meaning be in calling me “Sir John” these different times, when I be plain Jack Durbeyfield, the haggler?’
The parson rode a step or two nearer.
‘It was only my whim,’ he said; and, after a moment’s hesitation: ‘It was on account of a discovery I made some little time ago, whilst I was hunting up pedigrees for the new country history. I am Parson Tringham, the antiquary, of Stagfoot Lane. Don’t you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?’
‘Never heard it before, sir!’
‘Well it’s true. Throw up your chin a moment, so that I may catch the profile of your face better. Yes, that’s the d’Urberville nose and chin – a little debased. Your ancestor was one of the twelve knights who assisted the Lord of Estremavilla in Normandy in his conquest of Glamorganshire. Branches of your family held manors over all this part of England; their names appear in the Pipe Rolls in the time of King Stephen. In the reign of King John one of them was rich enough to give a manor to the Knights Hospitallers; and in Edward the Second’s time your forefather Brian was summoned to Westminster to attend the great Council there. You declined a little in Oliver Cromwell’s time, but to no serious extent, and in Charles the Second’s reign you were made Knights of the Royal Oak for your loyalty. Aye, there have been generations of Sir Johns among you, and if knighthood were hereditary, like a baronetcy, as it practically was in old times, when men were knighted from father to son, you would be Sir John now.’
‘Ye don’t say so!’
‘In short,’ concluded the parson, decisively smacking his leg with his switch, ‘there’s hardly such another family in England.’
‘Daze my eyes, and isn’t there?’ said Durbeyfield. ‘And here have I been knocking about, year after year, from pillar to post, as if I was no more than the commonest feller in the parish . . . And how long hey this news about me been knowed, Pa’son Tringham?’
The clergyman explained that, as far as he was aware, it had quite died out of knowledge, and could hardly be said to be known at all. His own investigations had begun on a day in the preceding spring when, having been engaged in tracing the vicissitudes of the d’Urberville family, he had observed Durbeyfield’s name on his waggon, and had thereupon been led to make inquiries about his father and grandfather till he had no doubt on the subject.
‘At first I resolved not to disturb you with such a useless piece of information,’ said he. ‘However, our impulses are too strong for our judgment sometimes. I thought you might perhaps know something of it all the while.’
‘Well, I have heard once or twice, ’tis true, that my family had seen better days afore they came to Blackmoor. But I took no notice o’t, thinking it to mean that we had once kept two horses where we now keep only one. I’ve got a wold silver spoon, and a wold graven seal at home, too; but, Lord, what’s a spoon and seal? . . . And to think that I and these noble d’Urbervilles were one flesh all the time. ’Twas said that my gr’t-grandfer had secrets, and didn’t care to talk of where he came from . . . And where do we raise our smoke, now, parson, if I may make so bold; I mean, where do we d’Urbervilles live?’
‘You don’t live anywhere. You are extinct – as a county family.’
‘That’s bad.’
‘Yes – what the mendacious family chronicles call extinct in the male line – that is, gone down – gone under.’
‘Then where do we lie?’
‘At Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill: rows and rows of you in your vaults, with your effigies under Purbeck-marble canopies.’
‘And where be our family mansions and estates?’
‘You haven’t any.’
‘Oh? No lands neither?’
‘None; though you once had ’em in abundance, as I said, for your family consisted of numerous branches. In this county there was a seat of yours at Kingsbere, and another at Sherton, and another at Millpond, and another at Lullstead, and another at Wellbridge.’
‘And shall we ever come into our own again?’
‘Ah – that I can’t tell!’
‘And what had I better do about it, sir?’ asked Durbeyfield, after a pause.
‘Oh – nothing, nothing; except chasten yourself with the thought of “how are the mighty fallen.” It is a fact of some interest to the local historian and genealogist, nothing more. There are several families among the cottagers of this county of almost equal lustre. Good night.’
‘But you’ll turn back and have a quart of beer wi’ me on the strength o’t, Pa’son Tringham? There’s a very pretty brew in tap at The Pure Drop – though, to be sure, not so good as at Rolliver’s.’
‘No, thank you – not this evening, Durbeyfield. You’ve had enough already.’ Concluding thus the parson rode on his way, with doubts as to his discretion in retailing this curious bit of lore.
When he was gone Durbeyfield walked a few steps in a profound reverie, and then sat down upon the grassy bank by the roadside, depositing his basket before him. In a few minutes a youth appeared in the distance, walking in the same direction as that which had been pursued by Durbeyfield. The latter, on seeing him, held up his hand, and the lad quickened his pace and came near.
‘Boy, take up that basket! I want ’ee to go on an errand for me.’
The lath-like stripling frowned. ‘Who be you, then, John Durbeyfield, to order me about and call me “boy”? You know my name as well as I know yours!’
‘Do you, do you? That’s the secret – that’s the secret! Now obey my orders, and take the message I’m going to charge ’ee wi’ . . . Well, Fred, I don’t mind telling you that the secret is that I’m one of a noble race – it has been just found out by me this present afternoon, P.M.’ And as he made the announcement, Durbeyfield, declining from his sitting position, luxuriously stretched himself out upon the bank among the daisies.
The lad stood before Durbeyfield, and contemplated his length from crown to toe.
‘Sir John d’Urberville – that’s who I am,’ continued the prostrate man. ‘That is if knights were baronets – which they be. ’Tis recorded in history all about me. Dost know of such a place, lad, as Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill?’
‘Ees. I’ve been there to Greenhill Fair.’
‘Well, under the church of that city there lie —’
‘’Tisn’t a city, the place I mean; leastwise ’twaddn’ when I was there – ’twas a little one-eyed, blinking sort o’place.’
‘Never you mind the place, boy, that’s not the question before us. Under the church of that there parish lie my ancestors – hundreds of ’em – in coats of mail and jewels, in gr’t lead coffins weighing tons and tons. There’s not a man in the country o’ South-Wessex that’s got grander and nobler skillentons in his family than I.’
‘Now take up that basket, and goo on to Marlott, and when you’ve come to The Pure Drop Inn, tell ’em to send a horse and carriage to me immed’ately, to carry me hwome. And in the bottom o’ the carriage they be to put a noggin o’ rum in a small bottle, and chalk it up to my account. And when you’ve done that goo on to my house with the basket, and tell my wife to put away that washing, because she needn’t finish it, and wait till I come hwome, as I’ve news to tell her.’
As the lad stood in a dubious attitude, Durbeyfield put his hand in his pocket, and produced a shilling, one of the chronically few that he possessed.
‘Here’s for your labour, lad.’
This made a difference in the young man’s estimate of the position.
‘Yes, Sir John. Thank ’ee. Anything else I can do for ’ee, Sir John?’
‘Tell ’em at hwome that I should like for supper, – well, lamb’s fry if they can get it; and if they can’t, black-pot; and if they can’t get that, well, chitterlings will do.’
‘Yes, Sir John.’
The boy took up the basket, and as he set out the notes of a brass band were heard from the direction of the village.
‘What’s that?’ said Durbeyfield. ‘Not on account o’ I?’
‘’Tis the women’s club-walking, Sir John. Why, your da’ter is one o’ the members.’
‘To be sure – I’d quite forgot it in my thoughts of greater things! Well, vamp on to Marlott, will ye, and order that carriage, and maybe I’ll drive round and inspect the club.’
The lad departed, and Durbeyfield lay waiting on the grass and daisies in the evening sun. Not a soul passed that way for a long while, and the faint notes of the band were the only human sounds audible within the rim of blue hills.
THE village of Marlott lay amid the north-eastern undulations of the beautiful Vale of Blakemore or Blackmoor aforesaid, an engirdled and secluded region, for the most part untrodden as yet by tourist or landscape painter, though within a four hours’ journey from London.
It is a vale whose acquaintance is best made by viewing it from the summits of the hills that surround it – except perhaps during the droughts of summer. An unguided ramble into its recesses in bad weather is apt to engender dissatisfaction with its narrow, tortuous, and miry ways.
This fertile and sheltered tract of country, in which the fields are never brown and the springs never dry, is bounded on the south by the bold chalk ridge that embraces the prominences of Hambledon Hill, Bulbarrow, Nettlecombe-Tout, Dogbury, High Stoy, and Bubb Down. The traveller from the coast, who, after plodding northward for a score of miles over calcareous downs and corn-lands, suddenly reaches the verge of one of these escarpments, is surprised and delighted to behold, extended like a map beneath him, a country differing absolutely from that which he has passed through. Behind him the hills are open, the sun blazes down upon the fields so large as to give an unenclosed character to the landscape, the lanes are white, the hedges low and plashed, the atmosphere colourless. Here, in the valley, the world seems to be constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale; the fields are mere paddocks, so reduced that from this height their hedgerows appear a network of dark green threads overspreading the paler green of the grass. The atmosphere beneath is languorous, and is so tinged with azure that what artists call the middle distance partakes also of that hue, while the horizon beyond is of the deepest ultramarine. Arable lands are few and limited; with but slight exceptions the prospect is a broad rich mass of grass and trees, mantling minor hills and dales within the major. Such is the Vale of Blackmoor.
The district is of historic, no less than of topographical interest. The Vale was known in former times as the Forest of White Hart, from a curious legend of King Henry III.’s reign, in which the killing by a certain Thomas de la Lynd of a beautiful white hart which the king had run down and spared, was made the occasion of a heavy fine. In those days, and till comparatively recent times, the country was densely wooded. Even now, traces of its earlier condition are to be found in the old oak copses and irregular belts of timber that yet survive upon its slopes, and the hollow-trunked trees that shade so many of its pastures.
The forests have departed, but some old customs of their shades remain. Many, however, linger only in a metamorphosed or disguised form. The May-Day dance, for instance, was to be discerned on the afternoon under notice, in the guise of the club revel, or ‘club-walking,’ as it was there called.
It was an interesting event to the younger inhabitants of Marlott, though its real interest was not observed by the participators in the ceremony. Its singularity lay less in the retention of a custom of walking in procession and dancing on each anniversary than in the members being solely women. In men’s clubs such celebrations were, though expiring, less uncommon; but either the natural shyness of the softer sex, or a sarcastic attitude on the part of male relatives, had denuded such women’s clubs as remained (if any other did) of this their glory and consummation. The club of Marlott alone lived to uphold the local Cerealia. It had walked for hundreds of years, if not as benefit-club, as votive sisterhood of some sort; and it walked still.
The banded ones were all dressed in white gowns – a gay survival from Old Style days, when cheerfulness and May-time were synonyms – days before the habit of taking long views had reduced emotions to a monotonous average. Their first exhibition of themselves was in a processional march of two and two round the parish. Ideal and real clashed slightly as the sun lit up their figures against the green hedges and creeper-laced house-fronts; for, though the whole troop wore white garments, no two whites were alike among them. Some approached pure blanching; some had a bluish pallor; some worn by the older characters (which had possibly lain by folded for many a year) inclined to a cadaverous tint, and to a Georgian style.
In addition to the distinction of a white frock, every woman and girl carried in her right hand a peeled willow wand, and in her left a bunch of white flowers. The peeling of the former, and the selection of the latter, had been an operation of personal care.
There were a few middle-aged and even elderly women in the train, their silver-wiry hair and wrinkled faces, scourged by time and trouble, having almost a grotesque, certainly a pathetic, appearance in such a jaunty situation. In a true view, perhaps, there was more to be gathered and told of each anxious and experienced one, to whom the years were drawing nigh when she should say, ‘I have no pleasure in them,’ than of her juvenile comrades. But let the elder be passed over here for those under whose bodices the life throbbed quick and warm.
The young girls formed, indeed, the majority of the band, and their heads of luxuriant hair reflected in the sunshine every tone of gold, and black, and brown. Some had beautiful eyes, others a beautiful nose, others a beautiful mouth and figure: few, if any, had all. A difficulty of arranging their lips in this crude exposure to public scrutiny, an inability to balance their heads, and to dissociate self-consciousness from their features, was apparent in them, and showed that they were genuine country girls, unaccustomed to many eyes.
And as each and all of them were warmed without by the sun, so each had a private little sun for her soul to bask in; some dream, some affection, some hobby, at least some remote and distant hope which, though perhaps starving to nothing, still lived on, as hopes will. Thus they were all cheerful, and many of them merry.
They came round by The Pure Drop Inn, and were turning out of the high road to pass through a wicket-gate into the meadows, when one of the women said –
‘The Lord-a-Lord! Why, Tess Durbeyfield, if there isn’t thy father riding hwome in a carriage!’
A young member of the band turned her head at the exclamation. She was a fine and handsome girl – not handsomer than some others, possibly – but her mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes added eloquence to colour and shape. She wore a red ribbon in her hair, and was the only one of the white company who could boast of such a pronounced adornment. As she looked round Durbeyfield was seen moving along the road in a chaise belonging to The Pure Drop, driven by a frizzle-headed brawny damsel with her gown-sleeves rolled above her elbows. This was the cheerful servant of that establishment, who, in her part of factotum, turned groom and ostler at times. Durbeyfield, leaning back, and with his eyes closed luxuriously, was waving his hand above his head, and singing in a slow recitative –
‘I’ve-got-a-gr’t-family-vault-at-Kingsbere – and knighted-forefathers-in-lead-coffins-there!’
The clubbists tittered, except the girl called Tess – in whom a slow heat seemed to rise at the sense that her father was making himself foolish in their eyes.
‘He’s tired, that’s all,’ she said hastily, ‘and he has got a lift home, because our own horse has to rest to-day.’
‘Bless thy simplicity, Tess,’ said her companions. ‘He’s got his market-nitch. Haw-haw!’
‘Look here; I won’t walk another inch with you, if you say any jokes about him!’ Tess cried, and the colour upon her cheeks spread over her face and neck. In a moment her eyes grew moist, and her glance drooped to the ground. Perceiving that they had really pained her they said no more, and order again prevailed. Tess’s pride would not allow her to turn her head again, to learn what her father’s meaning was, if he had any; and thus she moved on with the whole body to the enclosure where there was to be dancing on the green. By the time the spot was reached she had recovered her equanimity, and tapped her neighbour with her wand and talked as usual.
Tess Durbeyfield at this time of her life was a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience. The dialect was on her tongue to some extent, despite the village school: the characteristic intonation of that dialect for this district being the voicing approximately rendered by the syllable UR, probably as rich an utterance as any to be found in human speech. The pouted-up deep red mouth to which this syllable was native had hardly as yet settled into its definite shape, and her lower lip had a way of thrusting the middle of her top one upward, when they closed together after a word.
Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along to-day, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes; and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then.
Yet few knew, and still fewer considered this. A small minority, mainly strangers, would look long at her in casually passing by, and grow momentarily fascinated by her freshness, and wonder if they would ever see her again: but to almost everybody she was a fine and picturesque country girl, and no more.
Nothing was seen or heard further of Durbeyfield in his triumphal chariot under the conduct of the ostleress, and the club having entered the allotted space, dancing began. As there were no men in the company the girls danced at first with each other, but when the hour for the close of labour drew on, the masculine inhabitants of the village, together with other idlers and pedestrians, gathered round the spot, and appeared inclined to negotiate for a partner.
Among these on-lookers were three young men of a superior class, carrying small knapsacks strapped to their shoulders, and stout sticks in their hands. Their general likeness to each other, and their consecutive ages, would almost have suggested that they might be, what in fact they were, brothers. The eldest wore the white tie, high waistcoat, and thin-brimmed hat of the regulation curate; the second was the normal undergraduate; the appearance of the third and youngest would hardly have been sufficient to characterize him; there was an uncribbed, uncabined aspect in his eyes and attire, implying that he had hardly as yet found the entrance to his professional groove. That he was a desultory tentative student of something and everything might only have been predicted of him.
These three brethren told casual acquaintance that they were spending their Whitsun holidays in a walking tour through the Vale of Blackmoor, their course being south-westerly from the town of Shaston on the north-east.
They leant over the gate by the highway, and inquired as to the meaning of the dance and the white-frocked maids. The two elder of the brothers were plainly not intending to linger more than a moment, but the spectacle of a bevy of girls dancing without male partners seemed to amuse the third, and make him in no hurry to move on. He unstrapped his knapsack, put it, with his stick, on the hedge-bank, and opened the gate.
‘What are you going to do, Angel?’ asked the eldest.
‘I am inclined to go and have a fling with them. Why not all of us – just for a minute or two – it will not detain us long?’
‘No – no; nonsense!’ said the first. ‘Dancing in public with a troop of country hoydens – suppose we should be seen! Come along, or it will be dark before we get to Stourcastle, and there’s no place we can sleep at nearer than that; besides, we must get through another chapter of A Counterblast to Agnosticism before we turn in, now I have taken the trouble to bring the book.’
‘All right – I’ll overtake you and Cuthbert in five minutes; don’t stop; I give my word that I will, Felix.’
The two elder reluctantly left him and walked on, taking their brother’s knapsack to relieve him in following, and the youngest entered the field.