“He can with my assistance. He must!”
“And with mine.”
“How damned foolish this is!” burst out d’Urberville. “Why, he thinks we are the same family; and will be quite satisfied!”
“He don’t. I’ve undeceived him.”
“The more fool you!”
D’Urberville in anger retreated from her to the hedge, where he pulled off the long smockfrock which had disguised him; and rolling it up and pushing it into the couch-fire, went away.
Tess could not get on with her digging after this; she felt restless; she wondered if he had gone back to her father’s house; and taking the fork in her hand proceeded homewards.
Some twenty yards from the house she was met by one of her sisters.
“O, Tessy—what do you think! ’Liza-Lu is a-crying, and there’s a lot of folk in the house, and mother is a good deal better, but they think father is dead!”
The child realized the grandeur of the news; but not as yet its sadness, and stood looking at Tess with round-eyed importance till, beholding the effect produced upon her, she said—
“What, Tess, shan’t we talk to father never no more?”
“But father was only a little bit ill!” exclaimed Tess distractedly.
’Liza-Lu came up.
“He dropped down just now, and the doctor who was there for mother said there was no chance for him, because his heart was growed in.”
Yes; the Durbeyfield couple had changed places; the dying one was out of danger, and the indisposed one was dead. The news meant even more than it sounded. Her father’s life had a value apart from his personal achievements, or perhaps it would not have had much. It was the last of the three lives for whose duration the house and premises were held under a lease; and it had long been coveted by the tenant-farmer for his regular labourers, who were stinted in cottage accommodation. Moreover, “liviers” were disapproved of in villages almost as much as little freeholders, because of their independence of manner, and when a lease determined it was never renewed.
Thus the Durbeyfields, once d’Urbervilles, saw descending upon them the destiny which, no doubt, when they were among the Olympians of the county, they had caused to descend many a time, and severely enough, upon the heads of such landless ones as they themselves were now. So do flux and reflux—the rhythm of change—alternate and persist in everything under the sky.
At length it was the eve of Old Lady-Day, and the agricultural world was in a fever of mobility such as only occurs at that particular date of the year. It is a day of fulfilment; agreements for outdoor service during the ensuing year, entered into at Candlemas, are to be now carried out. The labourers—or “work-folk”, as they used to call themselves immemorially till the other word was introduced from without—who wish to remain no longer in old places are removing to the new farms.