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The Woman Pays

 

14

 

Her story came to an endShe had not raised her voice she had not criedBut things seemed to change as the story progressedThe fire looked as if it was laughing at her troublesAll the objects around her appeared not to care about her tragic historyAnd yet it was only a short time since he had been kissing herEverything looked different now

Clare stirred the fireIt was unnecessarybut he felt he had to do somethingHe had not really taken in the whole story yetHe stood upNow as he began to understand the story in its full horrorhis face was like an old man'sHe made uncertain movementsbecause everything in his head was vague and uncertainHe could not make himself think clearly

TessCan I believe thisAre you mad perhapsMy wife my Tessyou aren't madare you?’

I am not,’she said

And yet,’he saidlooking strangely at her,‘why didn't you tell me beforeOh yesyou would have told mein a waybut I stopped youI remember!’

He was talking but could not think at the same time His brain seemed to have stopped workingHe turned away from herTess followed him and stood there staring at him with dry eyesThen she went down on her knees beside him

In the name of our loveforgive meshe whispered with a 168 dry mouth.‘I have forgiven you for the same!’

And as he did not answershe said again

Forgive me as you are forgivenI forgive youAngel!’

Youyesyou do.’

But you do not forgive me?’

OhTessit's not a question of forgivenessYou were one personnow you are anotherHow can forgiveness put that right?’

He pausedconsidering thisThen suddenly he started laughing in an unnaturalhorrible wayIt was like a laugh out of hell

Don'tdon't!’she criedher face dead white.‘It kills methat laughAngeldo you know what you're doing to meI've been hopinglongingpraying to make you happy!’

I know that.’

I thoughtAngelthat you loved mememy very self!’ If you do love mehow can you treat me like thisIt frightens meHaving begun to love youI will love you for everin all changesin all troublesbecause you are yourselfI ask no moreThen how can youmy husbandstop loving me?’

I repeatthe woman I have been loving is not you.’

But who is she?’

Another woman in your shape.’

Suddenly she realized how he saw herFor him she was a guilty woman pretending to be an innocent oneThere was terror in her white face as she saw thisShe could not stand and he stepped forwardthinking she might fall

Sit down,’he said gently.‘You are illand I am not surprised.’

She sat downher face still full of fear and her eyes wild

I don't belong to you any more thendo IAngel?’she asked helplesslyAnd at last the tears cameClare watched her sobbingand waited until the first violence of her emotion had passed

Angel,’she said suddenly in a normal voice,‘am I too wicked for us to live together?’

I haven't had time to think what we should do.’

I won't ask you to let me live with youAngelbecause I have no right toI won't write to tell my family we are marriedas I said I would.’

Won't you?’

NoI won't do anything unless you order me toAnd if you go awayI won't follow youAnd if you never speak to me againI won't ask whyunless you tell me I can.’

And if I order you to do anything?’

I'll obey youeven if I have to lie down and die.’

How good of youBut it seems you have changedIn the past you were keen to look after yourselfNow you are keen to sacrifice yourself.’

Clare's bitter wordshoweverwere not fully understood by TessShe only knew that he was angry with herShe stood silentnot knowing that he was struggling with his love for her She did not observe a large tear rolling slowly down his cheek He was realizing what a change Tess's confession had made to his whole lifeHe had to decide on some action

Tess,’he saidas gently as he could,‘I can't stay here just nowI'm going out.’

He quietly left the roomTwo glasses of wineready for their supperremained untouched on the tableOnly two or three hours earlier they had drunk tea from the same cup

As he closed the door behind himTess jumped upHe had goneshe could not stayShe put out the candles and followed him The rain was over and the night was now clear

Clare walked slowly and without purposeHis shape was black and frightening She walked just behind himThere was water on the roadwhere the stars could be seen reflected Away from the house the road went through the fieldsShe followed Clare as a dog follows its owner

Eventually Tess could not help speaking to him

What have I doneNothing interferes with my love for youYou don't think I planned itAngeldo youI would not deceive you like that!’ H'm wellNomaybe you would notbut you are not the sameNonot the same But don't make me blame you.’

She went on begging for forgivenessPerhaps she said things that would have been better left to silence

AngelAngelI was a child when it happenedI knew nothing of men.’

I admit it was not so much your fault as his.’

Then won't you forgive me?’

I do forgive youbut forgiveness isn't everything.’

And do you love me?’

He did not answer this question

Oh Angelmy mother says she knows several cases which were worse than mineand the husband has not minded much wellhe has accepted it at leastAnd in those cases the woman hasn't loved him as I love you!’

Don'tTessdon't argueThose are just country people's waysThere is a correct way of doing thingsI think that parson who discovered you were a dUrberville should have kept quietPerhaps you were weak and could not refuse this man because your ancient noble blood has run thinbecause your family is no good any moreI thought you were a child of naturebut you have the worst of your ancient family in you!’

Tess accepted his bitternessnot understanding the details He did not love her as he had doneand nothing else mattered

They went on again in silenceThey walked slowly for hourswith sad anxious facesnot talkingone behind the otherlike a funeral procession Tess said to her husband

I don't want to cause you sadness all your lifeThe river is down thereI can put an end to myself in itI'm not afraid.’

Don't talk like thatDo what I askgo back to the house and go to bed.’

I will,’she said obediently

When she returned to the houseshe found everything as they had left it and the fire still burning She went to the bedroomThere was a mistletoe branch hanging above the bed Now she understood why Angel had brought a strange parcel with himIt was to surprise herHe had delightedly hung it thereNow it looked foolish and out of place

As she had nothing more to fearand nothing more to hope forshe lay downIn a few moments lonely Tess was asleep in the bedroom once used by the young wives of her ancestor

Later on that night Clare also came back to the houseHe prepared a bed downstairsbut crept shoeless upstairs to see if Tess was asleepHe was relieved to see her sleeping deeply And yet he felt he alone had the whole worry of what action to takeand the responsibility for her life as well as hisHe turned away from her doorand then turned back again pulled by his love for herBut his eye was caught by a painting on the wall of one of Tess's ancestorsa proud fierce woman who looked as if she hated and wanted to deceive all menHe thought she and Tess looked alikeThat was enough to stop himand he went downstairs to his lonely bed

He looked calm and coldfull of self-controlHis face showed he had fought against passion and wonbut did not like being the winnerHe still found it difficult to accept that Tessthe pure village maidenwas not what she seemed How unexpected life could beHe put out the candleThe night came inunconcerned and uninterestedthe night which had swallowed up his happiness

 


 

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