She pressed his hand tightly for an answer.
“Then we will dismiss it at once and for ever!—too painful as it is for the occasion—and talk of something lighter.”
“O, Angel—I am almost glad—because now YOU can forgive ME! I have not made my confession. I have a confession, too—remember, I said so.”
“Ah, to be sure! Now then for it, wicked little one.”
“Perhaps, although you smile, it is as serious as yours, or more so.”
“It can hardly be more serious, dearest.”
“It cannot—O no, it cannot!” She jumped up joyfully at the hope. “No, it cannot be more serious, certainly,” she cried, “because ’tis just the same! I will tell you now.”
She sat down again.
Their hands were still joined. The ashes under the grate were lit by the fire vertically, like a torrid waste. Imagination might have beheld a Last Day luridness in this red-coaled glow, which fell on his face and hand, and on hers, peering into the loose hair about her brow, and firing the delicate skin underneath. A large shadow of her shape rose upon the wall and ceiling. She bent forward, at which each diamond on her neck gave a sinister wink like a toad’s; and pressing her forehead against his temple she entered on her story of her acquaintance with Alec d’Urberville and its results, murmuring the words without flinching, and with her eyelids drooping down.
END OF PHASE THE FOURTH
Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
Her narrative ended; even its re-assertions and secondary explanations were done. Tess’s voice throughout had hardly risen higher than its opening tone; there had been no exculpatory phrase of any kind, and she had not wept.
But the complexion even of external things seemed to suffer transmutation as her announcement progressed. The fire in the grate looked impish—demoniacally funny, as if it did not care in the least about her strait. The fender grinned idly, as if it too did not care. The light from the water-bottle was merely engaged in a chromatic problem. All material objects around announced their irresponsibility with terrible iteration. And yet nothing had changed since the moments when he had been kissing her; or rather, nothing in the substance of things. But the essence of things had changed.
When she ceased, the auricular impressions from their previous endearments seemed to hustle away into the corner of their brains, repeating themselves as echoes from a time of supremely purblind foolishness.
Clare performed the irrelevant act of stirring the fire; the intelligence had not even yet got to the bottom of him. After stirring the embers he rose to his feet; all the force of her disclosure had imparted itself now. His face had withered. In the strenuousness of his concentration he treadled fitfully on the floor. He could not, by any contrivance, think closely enough; that was the meaning of his vague movement. When he spoke it was in the most inadequate, commonplace voice of the many varied tones she had heard from him.