Writing My Life

Now and Then

… chapter IV of TESS of the d’URBERLOUPS: A MashUp Novel …

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I read once where fans of Charles Dickens would sit on dock sides waiting for the newest episodes of his latest novel. Published in English newspapers, each chapter had to cross the Atlantic before American readers could learn the fate of David Copperfield or Little Dorsett. So if the 4 or 5 people who follow the d’Urberloupes are tired of waiting at their computers for chapter 4, I apologize. Profusely.

Hardy’s version of this chapter is VERY LONG, and because I love the author’s writing, it is hard for me to delete any of his great descriptions and deep reflections. Consequently, this mash-up version of chapter 4 is even LONGER. As a result, this post is just the first half of the fourth chapter.

Chapter IV

Road to Rolliver's

Rolliver’s inn, the single alehouse at this end of the long and broken village, could only boast of an off-licence; hence, as nobody could legally drink on the premises, the amount of overt accommodation for consumers was strictly limited to a little board about six inches wide and two yards long, fixed to the garden palings by pieces of wire, so as to form a ledge. On this board thirsty strangers deposited their cups as they stood in the road and drank, and threw the dregs on the dusty ground to the pattern of Polynesia, and wished they could have a restful seat inside.

Thus the strangers. But there were also local customers who felt the same wish; and where there’s a will there’s a way.

In a large bedroom upstairs, the window of which was thickly curtained with a great woollen shawl lately discarded by the landlady Mrs Rolliver, were gathered on this evening nearly a dozen persons, all seeking beatitude; all old inhabitants of the nearer end of Marlott, and frequenters of this retreat. Not only did the distance to the The Pure Drop, the fully-licensed tavern at the further part of the dispersed village, render its accommodation practically unavailable for dwellers at this end; but the far more serious question, the quality of the liquor, confirmed the prevalent opinion that it was better to drink with Rolliver in a corner of the housetop than with the other landlord in a wide house.

A gaunt four-post bedstead which stood in the room afforded sitting-space for several persons gathered round three of its sides; a couple more men had elevated themselves on a chest of drawers; another rested on the oak-carved “cwoffer”; two on the wash-stand; another on the stool; and thus all were, somehow, seated at their ease. The stage of mental comfort to which they had arrived at this hour was one wherein their souls expanded beyond their skins, and spread their personalities warmly through the room. In this process the chamber and its furniture grew more and more dignified and luxurious; the shawl hanging at the window took upon itself the richness of tapestry; the brass handles of the chest of drawers were as golden knockers; and the carved bedposts seemed to have some kinship with the magnificent pillars of Solomon’s temple.

Mrs Durbeylou, having quickly walked hitherward after parting from Tess, opened the front door, crossed the downstairs room, which was in deep gloom, and then unfastened the stair-door like one whose fingers knew the tricks of the latches well. Her ascent of the crooked staircase was a slower process, and her face, as it rose into the light above the last stair, encountered the gaze of all the party assembled in the bedroom.

“—-Being a few private friends I’ve asked in to keep up club-walking at my own expense,” the landlady exclaimed at the sound of footsteps, as glibly as a child repeating the Catechism, while she peered over the stairs. “Oh, ’tis you, Mrs Durbeylou–Lard–how you frightened me!–I thought it might be some gaffer sent by Gover’ment.”

Mrs Durbeylou was welcomed with glances and nods by the remainder of the conclave, and turned to where her husband sat. He was humming absently to himself, in a low tone: “I be as good as some folks here and there! I’ve got a great family vault near t’Kingsbere- sub-Greenhill, and finer skillentons than any man er wolf in Wessex! Heh, heh, heh.”

“I’ve something to tell ‘ee that’s come into my head about that–a grand projick!” whispered his cheerful wife. “Here, John, don’t ‘ee see me?” She nudged him, while he, looking through her as through a window-pane, went on with his recitative.

“Hush! Don’t ‘ee sing so loud, my good man,” said the landlady; “in case any member of the Gover’ment should be passing, and take away my licends.”

“He’s told ‘ee what’s happened to us, I suppose?” asked Mrs Durbeylou.

“Yes–in a way. D’ye think there’s any money hanging by it?”

“Ah, that’s the secret,” said Joan Durbeylou sagely. “However, ’tis well to be kin to a coach, even if you don’t ride in ‘en.” She dropped her public voice, and continued in a low tone to her husband: “I’ve been thinking since you brought the news that there’s a great rich lady out by Trantridge, on the edge o’ The Chase, of the name of d’Urberloupes.”

“Hey–what’s that?” said Sir John.

She repeated the information. “That lady must be our relation,” she said. “And my projick is to send Tess to claim kin.”

“There is a lady of the name, now you mention it,” said Durbeylou. “Pa’son Tringham didn’t think of that. But she’s nothing beside we–a junior branch of us, no doubt, hailing long since King Norman’s day.”

While this question was being discussed neither of the pair noticed, in their preoccupation, that little Abraham had crept into the room, and was awaiting an opportunity of asking them to return.

“She is rich, and she’d be sure to take notice o’ the maid,” continued Mrs Durbeylou; “and ’twill be a very good thing. I don’t see why two branches o’ one family should not be on visiting terms.”

“Yes; and we’ll all claim kin!” said Abraham brightly from under the bedstead. “And we’ll all go and see her when Tess has gone to live with her; and we’ll ride in her coach and wear black clothes!”

“How do you come here, child? What nonsense be ye talking! Go away, and play on the stairs till father and mother be ready! … Well, Tess ought to go to this other member of our family. She’d be sure to win the lady–Tess would; and likely enough ‘twould lead to some noble gentleman marrying her. In short, I know it.”

“How?”

“I tried her fate in the Fortune-Teller, and it brought out that very thing! … You should ha’ seen how pretty she looked today; her skin is as sumple as a duchess’s.”

“What says the maid herself to going?”

“I’ve not asked her. She don’t know there is any such lady-relation yet. But it would certainly put her in the way of a grand marriage, and she won’t say nay to going.”

“Tess is queer.”

“But she’s tractable at bottom. Leave her to me.”

Though this conversation had been private, sufficient of its import reached the understandings of those around to suggest to them that the Durbeylous had weightier concerns to talk of now than common folks had, and that Tess, their pretty eldest daughter, had fine prospects, if not a lamentable purpose in store.

“Tess is a fine figure o’ fun, as I said to myself today when I zeed her vamping round parish with the rest,” observed one of the elderly boozers in an undertone. “But Joan Durbeylou must mind that she don’t get green malt in floor.” It was a local phrase which had a peculiar warning for the light-minded mother to guard her daughter’s maidenhood against those who would rob Tess of that which is most valued.

The conversation became inclusive, and presently other footsteps were heard crossing the room below.

“—-Being a few private friends asked in tonight to keep up club-walking at my own expense.” The landlady had rapidly re-used the formula she kept on hand for intruders before she recognized that the newcomer was Tess.

Even to her mother’s gaze the girl’s young features looked sadly out of place amid the alcoholic vapours which floated here as no unsuitable medium for wrinkled middle-age; and hardly was a reproachful flash from Tess’s dark eyes needed to make her father and mother rise from their seats, hastily finish their ale, and descend the stairs behind her, Mrs Rolliver’s caution following their footsteps.

“No noise, please, if ye’ll be so good, my dears; or I mid lose my licends, and be summons’d, and I don’t know what all! ‘Night t’ye!”

They went home together, Tess holding one arm of her father, and Mrs Durbeylou the other. He had, in truth, drunk very little–not a fourth of the quantity which a systematic tippler could carry to church on a Sunday afternoon without a hitch in his eastings of genuflections; but the weakness and  aches growing in his limbs made mountains of Sir John’s petty sins in this kind. On reaching the fresh air he peered up at the lunar lozenge glowing down upon the staggering trio. The father’s distorted gaze noted the shine radiated from a moon not yet full.

His gait was sufficiently unsteady to incline the row of three at one moment as if they were marching to London, and at another as if they were marching to Bath–which produced a comical effect, frequent enough in families on nocturnal homegoings; and, like most comical effects, not quite so comic after all. The two women valiantly disguised these forced excursions and countermarches as well as they could from Durbeylou their cause, and from Abraham, and from themselves; and so they approached by degrees their own door, the head of the family bursting suddenly into his former refrain as he drew near, as if to fortify his soul at sight of the smallness of his present residence–

“I’ve got a fam–ily vault near t’Kingsbere! My name is as good a one as any there is in this county.

“Hush–don’t be so silly, Jacky,” said his wife. “Yours is not the only family that was of ‘count in wold days. Look at the Anktells, and Horseys, and the Tringhams themselves–gone to seed a’most as much as you–though you was bigger folks then they, that’s true. And tangled more with lupine lore any o’them as well. Thank God, I was never of no family that laid claim to any riches or fine skillentons that best lay buried. I have nothing to be ashamed of in that way!”

“Don’t you be so sure o’ that. From you nater ’tis my belief you’ve disgraced yourselves more than any o’ us, and was kings and queens outright at one time.”

Tess turned the subject by saying what was far more prominent in her own mind at the moment than thoughts of her ancestry–“I am afraid father won’t be able to take the journey with the beehives tomorrow so early.”

“I? I shall be all right in an hour or two,” said Durbeylou.

It was eleven o’clock before the family were all in bed, and two o’clock next morning was the latest hour for starting with the beehives if they were to be delivered to the retailers in Casterbridge before the Saturday market began, the way thither lying by bad roads over a distance of between twenty and thirty miles, and the horse and waggon being of the slowest. At half-past one Mrs Durbeyfield came into the large bedroom where Tess and all her little brothers and sisters slept.

“The poor man can’t go,” she said to her eldest daughter, whose great eyes had opened the moment her mother’s hand touched the door.

Tess sat up in bed, lost in a vague interspace between a dream and this information.

“But somebody must go,” she replied. “It is late for the hives already. Swarming will soon be over for the year; and it we put off taking ’em till next week’s market the call for ’em will be past, and they’ll be thrown on our hands.”

Mrs Durbeylou looked unequal to the emergency. “Some young feller, perhaps, would go? One of them who were so much after dancing with ‘ee yesterday,” she presently suggested.

“O no–I wouldn’t have it for the world!” declared Tess proudly. “And letting everybody know the reason–such a thing to be ashamed of! I think I could go if Abraham could go with me to kip me company.”

Her mother at length agreed to this arrangement. Little Abraham was aroused from his deep sleep in a corner of the same apartment, and made to put on his clothes while still mentally in the other world. Meanwhile Tess had hastily dressed herself; and the twain, lighting a lantern, went out to the stable. The rickety little waggon was already laden, and the girl led out the horse Prince, only a degree less rickety than the vehicle.

The poor creature looked wonderingly round at the night, at the lantern, at their two figures, as if he could not believe that at that hour, when every living thing was intended to be in shelter and at rest, he was called upon to go out and labour. They put a stock of candle-ends into the lantern, hung the latter to the off-side of the load, and directed the horse onward, walking at his shoulder at first during the uphill parts of the way, in order not to overload an animal of so little vigour. To cheer themselves as well as they could, they made an artificial morning with the company of the setting moon, the lantern, some bread and butter, and their own conversation, the real morning being far from come. Abraham, as he more fully awoke (for he had moved in a sort of trance so far), began to talk of the strange shapes assumed by the various dark objects against the sky; of this tree that looked like a raging wolf springing from a lair; of that branch which resembled lengthening fangs.

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Author: rbs

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