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A Changed Man

 

17

 

This was the first time she had seen or heard of dUrberville since she had left TrantridgeAnd although he stood there openly as a preacheras a religious manshe still felt afraid of himHe had changed his clotheshis hairhis moustache and his expressionbut could she really believe that he had changed his most secret thoughts and beliefs

As soon as she recovered from her surpriseshe moved away so that he would not notice herBut he suddenly caught sight of herand the effect on him was electricHis enthusiasm fadedhis voice hesitatedhis lips trembledhis eyes dropped in confusionTess walked rapidly away along the road

Howeveras she walked she felt he must be looking at her back as she walked awayAnd now she knew she could never escape the pastas she had hopedReminders of her past would surround her until she diedAs she walked uphill she heard footsteps behind herandturningsaw that it was the one person in the whole world she did not want to meet this side of the grave

Tess!’he said.‘I'm Alec dUrberville!’

I see you are,’she said coldlyThey walked on together

You may wonder why I'm following youWellI feel you are the person I would most like to save from hellSo I have come to do that.’

Have you saved yourself?’Tess asked bitterly

God has done it allnot meI must tell you how I came to believe in HimHave you ever heard of the parson of Emminsterold Mr ClareA very strictsincere man.’

I have,’said Tess

Wellhe came to Trantridge once and tried to show me how wicked my life wasI insulted him at the timeBut later my mother diedand somehow I began to think about what old Mr Clare saidSince then my one desire has been to help others to understand God too…’

Don't go on!’cried Tess.‘I can't believe in such a sudden changeI almost hate you for talking to me like this when you know how you've ruined my lifeYou enjoy yourself for a while and then you make sure of your place in heaven!’As she spoke she looked him full in the face with her great beautiful eyes

Don't look at me like that!’said Alec.‘Your eyes remind me ofwellwomen's faces have too much power over meDon't look at meIt might be dangerous for you!’

Eventually they came to a crossroadswhere a strange stone stoodIt was a lonelyunfriendly placewhere people did not like to stay for longAlec stopped here

I must go to the right hereI'm preaching at six this eveningTell mehow has your life been since we last met?’

Tess told him about the babyAlec was shocked

You should have told meBut before we partcomeput your hand on this stoneIt was once a holy crossI'm afraid of your power over meSwear on the cross that you will never tempt me into wickedness!’

Good GodHow can you ask such an unnecessary thingI don't want to see you ever again!’

Nobut swear it.’

Tess placed her hand on the stone and swore

I shall pray for you,’called Alec as he walked away.‘Who knowswe may meet again!’

Tess went on her wayfeeling upsetand soon met a man on the roadHe told her that the cross was not religiousbut marked the place where a criminal was put to death and buriedTrembling a little at this informationshe finally arrived at FlintcombAsh

One day the following week when Tess was working in the fields as usualAlec dUrberville came to see herHe explained to her that he intended to sell his land at Trantridge and go to help poor people in Africa

Will you help me put right the wicked thing I did to youWill you be my wife?’

Oh nosir!’she criedhorrified

Why not?’Disappointment was visible in his faceIt was not only duty which pushed him to make this offerbut also his old passion for her

You know I don't love you,’answered Tess.‘In factI love somebody else.’

Perhaps that is only a passing feeling…’

No!’

YesWhy notYou must tell me!’

Wellthen I have married him.’

Ah!’he cried and looked hard at her

It's a secret here,’she begged.‘Please don't tell anybody.’

Who is he?’asked dUrberville.‘Where is heWhy isn't he here to look after youWhat sort of husband can he beleaving you to work like this?’

Don't ask!’cried Tessher eyes flashing

Your eyes!’whispered Alec.‘I thought I no longer felt anything for youbut when I look into your eyes…’He took her hand

She pulled it quickly away

Go nowpleasein the name of your new religiongoRespect me and my husband!’

Don't worryI can control myselfI just hoped that our marriage would take away the bad in both of usBut that plan is no good now.’He walked slowly awayhis head bent in thought

The farmer approached at that moment and was angry with Tess for wasting time talking to a strangerTess preferred hard words from this man of stone to sweet ones from Alec dUrbervilleFor a momenthowevershe imagined escaping from her present hard life by marrying Alecbut rejected it immediately

At home that night she began a letter to Claretelling him of her great love for himReading between the lines he would have seen her secret fear for the futureBut again she could not finish the letterthinking of his offer to lzzand so he never received it

On a Sunday in February she was eating her lunch in the cottage where she livedwhen dUrberville knocked at the doorHe rushed in and threw himself into a chair

Tess!’he cried desperately.‘I can't help itI can't stop thinking of youPray for meTess!’

Tess did not pity him.‘I cannot because I don't believe God would change His plans just because I asked Him.’

Who told you that?’

My husband.’

Ahyour dear husband Tell me what he believes.’

Tess explainedas clearly as she could rememberAngel's beliefsAlec watched her closely

The fact isyou just believe whatever he saysThat's just like you women!’

Ahthat's because he knows everything!’Tess replied with enthusiasm.‘What is good enough for him is good enough for me.’

H'minteresting,’murmured dUrberville.‘Perhaps he understands religion better than old Mr ClarePerhaps he's right not to attach too much importance to the Bible and to fixed ideasPerhaps I was wrong to become a preacherToday I should be preaching at halfpast twoand here I amMy passion for you was too strong for me!’

You have let all those people downThey are waiting for you!’

What do I careYou are the one woman I have always wantedWhy have you tempted me away from religionI can't resist you!’His black eyes flashed passionatelyHe advanced towards her

I couldn't help your seeing me again!’cried Tessmoving nervously away from him.‘Please leave meRemember I am marriedRemember I can't defend myself!’

Alec stoppedturnedand went out without another wordBut he went on thinking of Angel's religious logicas explained by TessIt seemed to make sense.‘That clever husband doesn't know that his ideas may lead me back to her!’he laughed to himself

In March the threshingmachine came for a day to FlintcombAshIt was a huge red machine which ate all the corn the farmworkers could feed itNext to it stood the engine which ran itand the engineerHe lived in a world of fire and smokeand was permanently blackas if he came from hellThe farmer put Tess next to the threshingmachineso that she had the hardest and most tiring job of allShe had little chance to talk or restand at lunch time was about to start eating when she noticed dUrberville approachingHe had Changed his parson's clothes and now looked just like the young gentleman she had first met at Trantridge

I am here againyou see,’he saidsmiling at her

Why do you bother me like this?’she cried

You trouble meYour eyes look at me night and dayI can't forget themTesswhen you told me about that child of oursmy feelings for you became strong againI have lost interest in religion and it is your fault!’

You have stopped preaching?’asked Tessshocked

I haveWhat a lot of stupid people they are to listen to a preacher anywayAnd I am convinced that your wonderful husband's views are better than old Parson Clare'sI don't know how I became so enthusiasticSo nowhere I ammy lovejust as in the old times!’

Not like that at allnonow it's different!’she said firmly.‘Oh why couldn't you stay religious?’

Because you've explained your husband's ideas so well to me that I accept themHa haBut seriouslyTessyou need helpI am here and this husband of yours is notCome with meMy carriage is waiting the other side of the fieldYou have tempted menow share my life for ever!’He put an arm round her waistTess was red with anger but said nothingShe picked up a heavy leather glove and hit him in the face with itIt was an action which her ancestors must have often practisedAlec jumped up and wiped the blood from his mouth

Remember one thing!’he said angrilyonly just controlling himself as he held her by the shoulders.‘Remembermy ladyif you are any man's wifeyou are mineI will have you againI'll come back for an answer later on!’

So he leftand the farmworkers started the afternoon's threshingIt went on until the eveningas the work had to be finished that dayTess became more and more exhausted and was near to fainting when they finally stoppedAlec dUrbervillewho had been waiting for this momentappeared at her side

You are so weak,’he saidholding her arm.‘I've told the farmer he should not use women for work with the threshingmachineIt's too hardI'll walk home with you.’

Oh yesplease do!’murmured Tesstoo tired to be afraid of him.‘You are kind sometimesAnd at least you wanted to put right the wrong by offering to marry me.’

If I can't marry youat least I can help youI have finished with religionBut you must trust meI have enough money to help your family and make them comfortable.’

Have you seen them lately?’asked Tess quickly.‘God knows they need helpbut nonoI can take nothing from youeither for them or for mePlease leave me alone!’

As soon as she reached her room she wrote a passionate letter to AngelMy own husband

I must call you thatI must ask you for helpI have no one elseI am so open to temptationAngelI cannot tell you who it isCan't you come to me nowbefore anything terrible happensI know you are far awaybut I need helpI know I deserved the punishment you gave mebut pleaseAngelplease be kind to meIf you would comeI could die in your arms

I live only for youDon't think I shall be bitter because you left meI am so lonely without youmy darling

Haven't you ever felt one little bit of your love for me at the dairyI am the same woman you fell in love with thenthe very sameAs soon as I met youthe past was dead for meCan't you see this

How silly I was to trust that you would always love meI ought to have known I couldn't be so lucky

People say I am still rather prettyAngelBut I don't care about my looks because you are not here

If you won't come to mecould I come to youI'm so worriedI'm afraid I may fall into some wicked trapSave me from what threatens me

Your faithful heartbroken

Tess

 


 

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