Tess of the d'Urbervilles: Chapter 46 - Summary

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      Several days had passed since her disappointing journey to Emminster, and Tess was at field. The dry winter wind still blew. A turnip-slicing machine was in operation. Tess was standing at the uncovered end, chopping off with a hill-hook the fibers and earth from each root, and throwing it after the operation into the slicer. A man was turning the handle of the machine, and from it came the newly-cut swedes. At a big distance something could be seen moving with two horses and a man. Soon a man in black, arriving from the direction of Flintcomb-Ash, stood at the machine. Tess, who was occupied, did not perceive him till her companion directed her attention to his approach. It was not her master, Farmer Groby but Alec in a semi-clerical costume. A pale distress was already on Tess’s face and she pulled her curtained hood further over it. ‘I want to speak to you, Tess, said Alec coming up to her. ‘You have refused my last request not to come near me!’ said she. He told her that he had a good reason. The last time when they met, he neglected to inquire as to her worldly condition. He pointed out that on seeing it, he had discovered that it was. harder than she deserved. “Perhaps a good deal of it is owing to me.” He added. She did not answer and remained at her work. He continued, ‘Tess, yours was the worst case I ever was concerned in !... The whole blame was mine.’ Tess did no more than listen. ‘But it is not that I came to say’, he went on. ‘I have lost my mother since you were at Trantridge, and the place is my own. But I intend to sell it, and devote myself to missionary work in Africa...will you be my wife, and go with me? He showed her the marriage license. ‘O no, Sir-no!’ she said quickly, startling back. He was greatly disappointed but at the same time felt that his old passion for her had been revived. On his insistence to give him the reasons for her refusal, Tess informed the man at the machine that a gentleman had come to see her with whom she wished to walk a little way. She moved off with him across the field. ‘You will not marry me, Tess, and make me a self-respecting man?’ he repeated. She said ‘no’ because she loved somebody else. She further told him that she had married him. Alec stopped dead and gazed at her. He asked her many more questions and could know that she was a deserted wife. He could not also help saying that the sight of her had waked up his love once again. In an impulse, he turned suddenly to take her hand. ‘You must not — you must not!’ she cried fearfully and asked him to go away in the name of Christianity. Facing round, however, he said, ‘Tess, as God is my judge, I meant no humbug in taking your hand!’ In the meantime Farmer Groby had seen the two talking in his field, and shouted, ‘What the devil are you doing away from your work at this time o’day?’ Alec took strong exception to these words and wanted to set Farmer Groby right. But Tess said, ‘Go—I do beg you!’ And he left. The farmer continued his reprimand but she took it with the greatest coolness. That very night she began an appealing letter to Clare, concealing from him her hardships, and assuring him of her undying affection. Again she did not finish it, she put it in her box and wondered if it would ever reach Angel’s hands. After this, her daily tasks were gone through heavily enough. The day of the Candlemas Fair had approached. It was at this fair that new engagements were entered into. Nearly all the laborers on Flintcomb-Ash farm intended to attend it and early in the morning, there was a general exodus in the direction of the town, at a distance of ten to a dozen miles. Tess was one of the few who did not go to the fair. It was a peaceful February day and one would almost have thought that winter was over. She had hardly finished her dinner, when Alec d’Urberville’s figure could be seen at the window of her cottage. Tess jumped up, but her visitor had knocked at the door, and she could hardly have reason to run away. She thought that she would not open the door; but, as there was no sense in that either, she arose, and having lifted the latch stepped back quickly. He came in, saw her, and flung himself down into a chair before speaking ‘Tess—I couldn’t help it!’ he began. ‘I felt that I must call at least to ask how you are...now I cannot get rid of your image, try how I may! It is hard that a good woman should do harm to a bad man; yet so it is. If you would only pray for me, Tess!’ And yet she did not pity him. He went on to tell her that he, had come all the way to see her. He started from home to go to Casterbridge Fair where he had to preach the Word at half-past two this afternoon, and where all the brethren were expecting him this minute. ‘But how can you get there?’ said Tess, looking at the clock ‘I have arranged to preach, and I shall not be there by reason of my burning desire to see a woman whom I once despised!—No, by my word and truth, I never despised you if I had I should not love you now?’

      Getting no reply, he continued, ‘Tess, my girl, I was on the way to, at least, social salvation till I saw you again! And why then have you tempted me? I was firm as a man could be till I saw those eyes and that mouth again—surely there never was such a maddening mouth since Eve’s!” “I couldn’t help your seeing me again!” said Tess, recoiling. Then suddenly he said: ‘one clasp, Tessy-one! Only for old friendship.’ He, however, went out without executing his plan. But as he left her, he still had some hope.

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