Note to the fine readers of this work-in-progress: The greater part of Thomas Hardy’s TESS first appeared in the GRAPHIC newspaper, but other chapters were published as “episodic sketches” in the FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW and the NATIONAL OBSERVER. These publications were “more especially addressed to adult readers” probably because of the “suggestive” content, which shocked readers of that era. Even today, TESS occupies a place on the list of “Most Frequently Banned Books” because of its sensuality.
This “honor” rather surprises me as Hardy’s innuendos are are rather mild compared to today’s licentious mores, or they are so obscured in his lengthy sentences and complex word choices that many do not recognize the sexual connotations!
While I don’t plan on exposing those provocative references beyond what Hardy has already written, I will add more danger and craziness to them with my introduction of wolves into Wessex!
As for Tess Durbeylou, she did not so easily dislodge the incident from her consideration. She had no spirit to dance again for a long time, though she might have had plenty of partners; but ah! they did not speak so nicely nor delight and cloud Tess’s heart and mind as the strange young man had done. If asked, she could not explain with any clarity the allure and the fear that quickened her pulsating blood and disturbed the hackles on her neck.
Was it the urbane conversation or the limpid state of his countenance that turned her attentions? And did his transient scrutiny raise her pique or was there more behind his cursory glance that tortured her thinking?
It was not till the rays of the sun had absorbed the young stranger’s retreating figure on the hill that she shook off her temporary sadness and vexation to answer her would-be partner in the affirmative.
She remained with her comrades till dusk, and participated with a certain zest in the dancing; though, the struggles and wrangles of the lads for her hand in a jig were an amusement to her–no more; and when they became fierce she rebuked them.
She might have stayed even later, but the incident of her father’s odd appearance and manner returned upon the girl’s mind to make her anxious, and wondering what had become of him she dropped away from the dancers and bent her steps towards the end of the village at which the parental cottage lay.
While yet many score yards off, other rhythmic sounds than those she had quitted became audible to her; sounds that she knew well–so well. They were a regular series of thumpings from the interior of the house, occasioned by the violent rocking of a cradle upon a stone floor, to which movement a feminine voice kept time by singing, in a vigorous gallopade, the favourite ditty of “The Wessex Wolf and the Spotted Cow”—
“The maid replied, ‘Kind sir,’ she cried.
‘I’ve lost my spotted cow.’
“No longer weep, no longer mourn
Your cow’s not lost my dear,
I saw her lie do’–own in yon’–der green gro’–ove;
Come, love!’ and I’ll tell’ you where!’
“And in the gro’–ve, the night drew nigh,
Then brightly shone the moon,
First the light and then my cry;
The shape-shift came too soon.
The cradle-rocking and the song would cease simultaneously for a moment, and an explanation at highest vocal pitch would take the place of the melody.
“God bless thy diment eyes! And thy waxen cheeks! And thy cherry mouth! And thy Cubit’s thighs! And every bit o’ thy blessed body! Don’t ye go cryin’ now. No wolves will steal you away from your mum. Your cradle’s safe, and that’s a promise.”
After this invocation the rocking and the singing would recommence, and the “The Wessex Wolf and the Spotted Cow’ proceed as before. So matters stood when Tess opened the door, and paused upon the mat within it surveying the scene.
The interior of the cottage, and the peculiarity of the melody, struck upon the girl’s senses with an unspeakable dreariness. From the holiday gaieties of the field–the white gowns, the nosegays, the willow-wands, the whirling movements on the green, the flash of gentle sentiment towards the stranger–to the yellow melancholy of this one-candled spectacle and the discordant reminders of a once dormant legend, what a step! Tess questioned why her mother would now be singing about the wolves of Wessex; creatures that came from Normandy with William the Conquerer. Besides the jar of contrast there came to her a chill self-reproach that she had not returned sooner, to help her mother in these domesticities, instead of indulging herself out-of-doors.
There stood her mother amid the group of children, as Tess had left her, hanging over the Monday washing-tub, which had now, as always, lingered on to the end of the week. Out of that tub had come the day before–Tess felt it with a dreadful sting of remorse–the very white frock upon her back which she had so carelessly greened about the skirt on the damping grass–which had been wrung up and ironed by her mother’s own hands.
As usual, Mrs Durbeylou was balanced on one foot beside the tub, the other being engaged in the aforesaid business of rocking her youngest child. The cradle-rockers had done hard duty for so many years, under the weight of so many children, on that flagstone floor, that they were worn nearly flat, in consequence of which a huge jerk accompanied each swing of the cot, flinging the baby from side to side like a weaver’s shuttle, as Mrs Durbeylou, excited by her song, trod the rocker with all the spring that was left in her after a long day’s seething in the suds.
Nick-knock, nick-knock, went the cradle; the candle-flame stretched itself tall, and began jigging up and down; the water dribbled from the matron’s elbows, and the song galloped on to the end of the verse where both cow and maiden were devoured by the shape-shifting wolf. Mrs Durbeylou regarded her daughter the while.
There still faintly beamed from the woman’s features something of the freshness, and even the prettiness, of her youth; rendering it probable that the personal charms which Tess could boast of were in main part her mother’s gift, and therefore unknightly, unhistorical, and uninfected. That was the observation of the county and the belief of the mother and father.
“I’ll rock the cradle for ‘ee, mother,” said the daughter gently. “Or I’ll take off my best frock and help you wring up? I thought you had finished long ago.”
Her mother bore Tess no ill-will for leaving the housework to her single-handed efforts for so long; indeed, Joan seldom upbraided her thereon at any time, feeling but slightly the lack of Tess’s assistance whilst her instinctive plan for relieving herself of her labours lay in postponing them. Tonight, however, she was even in a blither mood than usual. There was a dreaminess, a pre-occupation, an exaltation, in the maternal look which the girl could not understand.
“Well, I’m glad you’ve come,” her mother said, as soon as the last note had passed out of her, “I want to go and fetch your father; but what’s more’n that, I want to tell ‘ee what have happened. Y’ll be fess enough, my poppet, when th’st know!” (Mrs Durbeylou habitually spoke the West Saxon dialect; her daughter, who had passed the Sixth Standard in the National School under a London-trained mistress, spoke two languages: the dialect at home, more or less; ordinary English abroad and to persons of quality.)
“Since I’ve been away?” Tess asked.
“Had it anything to do with father’s making such a mommet of himself in thik carriage this afternoon? Why did ‘er? I felt inclined to sink into the ground with shame!”
“That wer all a part of the larry! We’ve been found to be the greatest gentlefolk in the whole county–reaching all back long before Oliver Grumble’s time–to the days of the Pagan Turks–with monuments, and vaults, and crests, and “scutcheons, and the Lord knows what all. In Saint Charles’s days we was made Knights o’ the Royal Oak, our real name being d’Urberloups! … Don’t that make your bosom plim? ‘Twas on this account that your father rode home in the vlee; not because he’d been drinking, as people supposed.”
“I’m glad of that. But if we are of those gentlefolk – d’Urberloups – do we not own a portion of the folklores that come with the family name? Stories akin to the ditty you were singing when I crossed the threshold? Will knowin’ this truly do us any good, mother? ”
“O yes! ‘Tis thoughted that great things may come o’t. No doubt a mampus of volk of our own rank will be down here in their carriages as soon as ’tis known. Your father learnt it on his way hwome from Shaston, and he has been telnling me the whole pedigree of the matter – exceptin’ fer the d”Urberloups’ bond w’ the Barcarlet’s. as those stories are nothin’ to us, Tess. Tales o’them Norman werewolves are for scarin’ children and low volk.”
“Where is father now?” asked Tess suddenly.
Her mother gave irrelevant information by way of answer: “He called to see the doctor today in Shaston. It is not the ale only that’s causin’ his forgettin’ things; it seems. It is vessels in his heart that are hardenin’, ‘a says ‘You mid last ten years; you mid go off in ten months, or ten days, but yer mind will be more absent with each day that passes.'”
Tess looked alarmed. Her father possibly to go behind the eternal cloud so soon, notwithstanding this sudden greatness! She mourned, too, his dulling mind that failed to take measure of his goings and comings, or what he said and did not say to his wife and children, his friends, neighbors, and business folk. Never was he a man to count on, her father, but this amnesia of his expunged any semblance of dependability.
“But where is father?” she asked again.
Her mother put on a deprecating look. “Now don’t you be bursting out angry! The poor man–he felt so rafted after his uplifting by the pa’son’s news–that he went up to Rolliver’s half an hour ago. He do want to get up his strength for his journey tomorrow with that load of beehives, which must be delivered, family or no. He’ll have to start shortly after twelve tonight, as the distance is so long.”
“Get up his strength!” said Tess impetuously, the tears welling to her eyes. “O my God! Go to a public-house to get up his strength! And you as well agreed as he, mother! You know he’ll not remember to water his ale, and the drink will drowse him so’s he can’t drive the cart.”
Her rebuke and her mood seemed to fill the whole room, and to impart a cowed look to the furniture, and candle, and children playing about, and to her mother’s face.
“No,” said the latter touchily, “I be not agreed. I have been waiting for ‘ee to bide and keep house while I go fetch him.”
“O no, Tess. You see, it would be no use.”
Tess did not expostulate. She knew what her mother’s objection meant. Mrs Durbeylou‘s jacket and bonnet were already hanging slily upon a chair by her side, in readiness for this contemplated jaunt, the reason for which the matron deplored more than its necessity.
This going to hunt up her shiftless husband at the inn was one of Mrs Durbeylou‘s still extant enjoyments in the muck and muddle of rearing children. To discover him at Rolliver’s, to sit there for an hour or two by his side and dismiss all thought and care of the children during the interval, made her happy. She thought too of sharing the day’s news with the patrons of the tavern. A sort of halo, an occidental glow, came over life then. She felt a little as she had used to feel when she sat by her now wedded husband in the same spot during his wooing, shutting her eyes to his defects of character, and regarding him only in his ideal presentation as lover.
Tess, being left alone with the younger children, went first to the outhouse with the fortune-telling book her mother studied upon occasion. The skeptical daughter stuffed this grimy volume into the thatch as it were the woman’s fetish that prevented her ever allowing it to stay in the house all night, and hither it was brought back whenever it had been consulted. Between the mother, with her fast-perishing lumber of superstitions, folk-lore, dialect, and orally transmitted ballads, and the daughter, with her trained National teachings and Standard knowledge under an infinitely Revised Code, there was a gap of two hundred years as ordinarily understood. When they were together the Jacobean and the Victorian ages were juxtaposed.
Returning along the garden path Tess mused on what the mother could have wished to ascertain from the book on this particular day. She guessed the recent ancestral discovery to bear upon it, but did not divine that it solely concerned herself. Dismissing this, however, she busied herself with sprinkling the linen dried during the daytime, in company with her nine-year-old brother Abraham, and her sister Eliza-Louisa of twelve and a half, call “‘Liza-Lu,” the youngest ones being put to bed.
It grew later, and neither father nor mother reappeared. Tess looked out of the door, and took a mental journey through Marlott. The village was shutting its eyes. Candles and lamps were being put out everywhere: she could inwardly behold the extinguisher and the extended hand.
Her mother’s fetching simply meant one more to fetch. Tess began to perceive that a man in indifferent health, who proposed to start on a journey before one in the morning, ought not to be at an inn at this late hour celebrating his ancient blood.
“Abraham,” she said to her little brother, “do you put on your hat–you bain’t afraid?–and go up to Rolliver’s, and see what has gone wi’ father and mother.”
The boy jumped promptly from his seat, and opened the door, and the night swallowed him up. Half an hour passed yet again; neither man, woman, nor child returned. Tess opened the door and peered down the lane, hoping for a glance of her brother escorting home his wayward parents. Though the near-full moon lit the path, she saw shadows only. An involuntary shutter shook her senses as thoughts of the d’Urberloupes’ cabalistic ancestry intruded upon her search.
“Nonsense,” she muttered. “Abraham seems to have been limed and caught by that ensnaring inn. I must go myself.”
‘Liza-Lu then went to bed, and Tess, locking them all in, started on her way up the shadowy and crooked lane or street not made for hasty progress; a street laid out before inches of land had value, and when one-handed clocks sufficiently subdivided the day.