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7

 

One day in August the sun was rising through the mistIn a yellow cornfield near Marlott village it shone on two large arms of painted woodThesewith two others below formed the turning cross of the reapingmachineIt was ready for today's harvest A group of men and a group of women came down the road at sunrise As they walked along their heads were in the sun while their feet were in the shadow of the hedgeThey went into the field

Soon there came a sound like the lovemaking of the grasshopperThe machine had begun and three horses pulled it slowly along the fieldIts arms turnedbright in the sunlightGradually the area of standing corn was reducedSo was the living space of the small field animalswho crowded togethernot knowing that they could not escape the machine in the end

The harvesters followed the machine picking and tying up bundles of corn The girls were perhaps more interesting to look atThey wore large cotton hats to keep off the sun and gloves to protect their hands from the cornThe prettiest was the one in the pale pink jacketwho never looked around her as she workedShe moved forward bending and tying like a machineOccasionally she stood up to restThen her face could be seena lovely young facewith deep dark eyes and long heavy curling hairHer cheeks were palerher teeth more regular and her red lips thinner than most country girls’.

It was Tess Durbeyfield or dUrberville rather changed living as a stranger in her home villageShe had decided to do outdoor work and earn a little money in the harvest

The work continued all morningand Tess began to glance towards the hill At eleven oclock a group of children came over the hill Tess blushed a littlebut still did not pause in her workThe eldest child carried in her arms a baby in long clothes Another brought some lunch The harvesters stopped worksat down and started to eat and drink

Tess also sat down some way from the others She called the girl her sister and took the baby from her Unfastening her dress and still blushing she began feeding her child The men kindly turned awaysome of them beginning to smoke All the other women started to talk and rearrange their hair When the baby had finished Tess played with him without showing much enthusiasm Then suddenly she kissed him again and againas if she could not stopThe baby cried out at the violence of her kisses

She loves that childthough she says she hates him and wishes they were both dead,’said one of the womenwatching the young mother

She'll soon stop saying that,’replied another.‘She'll get used to itIt happens to lots of girls.’.

Well it wasn't her fault She was forced into it that night in The Chase People heard her sobbing A certain gentleman might have been punished if somebody had passed by and seen them.’

It was a pity it happened to herthe prettiest in the villageBut that's how it happensThe ugly ones are as safe as housesaren't they Jenny?’and the speaker turned to one who was certainly not beautiful

Tess sat thereunaware of their conversation Her mouth was like a flower and her eyes were large and soft sometimes blackblue or grey sometimes all three colours together She had spent months regretting her experience and crying over it but suddenly decided that the past was the pastIn a few years her shameand she herselfwould be forgotten Meanwhile the trees were just as green and the sun shone just as brightlyas beforeLife went on

She most feared what people thought of her and imagined that they talked constantly about her behind her backIn fact she was not often discussedand even her friends only thought about her occasionally Other things of more importance took up their timeIf there had been no people around herTess would not have made herself so unhappy She would have accepted the situation as it wasShe was miserablenot because she felt unhappybut because she imagined herself rejected by society

Now she wanted to be useful again and to work So she dressed neatlyand helped in the harvestand looked people calmly in the faceeven when holding her baby in her arms

Having eaten her lunch quickly Tess went back to work with the harvesters in the cornfield until it was darkThey all came home on one of the largest waggonssinging and laughing together

But when Tess reached home she discovered that the baby had fallen ill that afternoonHe was so small and weak that illness was to be expectedbut this still came as a shock to TessShe forgot the shame surrounding his birth and only wished passionately to keep him aliveHoweverit became clear that he was dyingNow Tess had a greater problem Her baby had not been baptized

Her ideas on religion were not very developed She had more or less accepted that she would go to hell for her crimeand did not much care what would happen to her after death But fo her baby it was different He was dyingand must be saved from hell

It was nearly bedtime but she rushed downstairs and asked if she could send for the parson Her father had just returned from the public house and was at his most sensitive to the shame brought upon his noble name by TessHe refused to allow the parson in and locked the door

The family went to sleepAs the night passed Tess realizedin great miserythat the baby was close to death She walked feverishly up and down the roomuntil an idea came to her

AhPerhaps baby can be savedPerhaps it will be just the same!’

She lit a candleand woke her young brothers and sisters Having poured some water into a bowlshe made them kneel aroundwith their hands together as in churchThe children were hardly awake and watched Tess with big round eyes

She looked tall in her long white nightdress her long dark hair hanging down her back to her waist Her enthusiasm lit up her face giving it a beautiful puritythe face which had caused her shame

She picked up the baby One of the children asked,‘Are you really going to baptize him Tess What's his name going to be?’

She had not thought of that but remembered the story of Adam and Eve in the BibleBecause they did wrong together God said they would live in sorrow for the rest of their lives

She said firmly,‘SORROWI baptize you in the name of the Fatherand of the Sonand of the Holy Ghost.’

She splashed some water on the childand there was silence

Say Amenchildren.’

Amen,’they replied

Tess put her hand into the waterand drew a huge cross upon the baby with her finger She continued the service in the wellknown words asking for the baby to be protected against the world and against wickedness Her belief gave her hopeher sweet warm voice rang out the thanks that follow the baptismThe single candle was reflected in her shining eyes like a diamondThe children asked no more questionsbut looked up at her in amazementShe seemed almost like a god to them

Poor Sorrow's fight against the world and wickedness was a short one fortunately perhapstaking into account his situation In the blue light of the morning he breathed his last Tess had been calm since the baptism and she remained calm She was no longer worried about Sorrow's afterlifeIf God did not accept the baptismshe did not value His Heaveneither for herself or for her child

Tess thought a good deal about the baptism however and wondered if it might mean that Sorrow could be buried in the churchyardwith a church service She went to the parson's house after dark and met him near his gate

I should like to ask you somethingsirMy baby was very illand I wanted you to baptize him but my father refused to allow itSo I baptized him myselfNow sir can you tell me this,’and she looked him straight in the eyes,‘ will it be just the same for him as if you had baptized him?’

The parson wanted to say no She had done what should have been his jobBut the girl's strong feeling impressed him The man and the parson fought inside him and the man won

My dear girl,’he said,‘it will be just the same.’

Then will you bury him in the churchyard?’ she asked quickly

The parson felt trapped It was a difficult question to answer.‘Ahthat's a different matter,’he said.‘1'm sorryI cannot.’

Oh sir!’She took his hand as she spoke

He took it awayshaking his head

Then I'll never come to church again!’she cried.‘But perhaps it will be the same for him Tell me have pity on me poor metell me what you really think!’

The parson was deeply touched by her emotion For a surprising moment he forgot the strict rules of his church

It will be just the same,’he answered kindly

So the baby was carried in a cheap wooden box to the churchyard at nigntThere is a corner of the churchyard where the grass grows longand where the suicidesdrunks unbaptized babies and other supposed criminals are laid Sorrow was buried hereat the cost of a shilling and a pint of beer for the gravediggerTess bravely made a little cross and put it at the head of the grave one eveningwhen she could enter the churchyard without being seen

It is all very well saying that we learn from experience Tess had certainly learnt from experiencebut could not see how to use her knowledgeso painfully gained

So she stayed in her parents home during the winter helping to look after the children making clothes for them and earning a little money whenever she couldImportant dates came round againthe night of her shame in The Chasethe baby's birth and death her own birthday One day when she was looking at her pretty face in the mirrorshe thought of another dateeven more importanther own death When it came it would swallow up all her prettiness and everything that had happened to herWhen was itIt was a day lying hidden among all the other days of the year so that she noticed nothing when it came roundand did not know what week monthseason or year it would be

In a flash Tess changed from simple girl to complicated womanHer face was often thoughtfuland there was sometimes a tragic note in her voiceHer eyes grew larger and more expressiveShe became a beautiful woman She had sufferedbut had gained a certain selfconfidence from her experiences

Although the village people had almost forgotten her trouble she decided she could never be really happy in MarlottTrying to claim relationship with the rich dUrbervilles seemed so foolish and shameful to her She thought her family would never be respected there again Even now she felt hope rise within herhope of finding a place with no family connections and no memoriesIn escaping from Marlott she intended to destroy the pastPerhaps now she could make up for her crime against society

Consequently she looked hard for work away from Marlott She finally heard that a dairyman some miles to the south needed a good milkmaid for the summerHaving decided to go thereshe promised herself there would be no more hopeless dreamsShe would simply be the dairymaid Tess and nothing moreEven her mother no longer talked about their connection with the noble dUrbervilles

But in spite of Tess's decision to forget her ancestors the dairy called Talbothaysespecially attracted her because it was near the former lands of the old dUrberville family She would be able to look at them and not only observe that the noble dUrberville family had lost its greatnessbut also remember that a poor descendant had lost her innocenceShe wondered if some good might come of being in the land of her ancestorsHope and youthful energy rose up in her againlike leaves on a young tree in spring

 


 

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