“This is the last night that we shall sleep here, dears, in the house where we were born,” she said quickly. “We ought to think of it, oughtn’t we?”
They all became silent; with the impressibility of their age they were ready to burst into tears at the picture of finality she had conjured up, though all the day hitherto they had been rejoicing in the idea of a new place. Tess changed the subject.
“Sing to me, dears,” she said.
“What shall we sing?”
“Anything you know; I don’t mind.”
There was a momentary pause; it was broken, first, in one little tentative note; then a second voice strengthened it, and a third and a fourth chimed in unison, with words they had learnt at the Sunday-school—
Here we suffer grief
Here we meet to part again;
In Heaven we part no more.
The four sang on with the phlegmatic passivity of persons who had long ago settled the question, and there being no mistake about it, felt that further thought was not required. With features strained hard to enunciate the syllables they continued to regard the centre of the flickering fire, the notes of the youngest straying over into the pauses of the rest.
Tess turned from them, and went to the window again. Darkness had now fallen without, but she put her face to the pane as though to peer into the gloom. It was really to hide her tears. If she could only believe what the children were singing; if she were only sure, how different all would now be; how confidently she would leave them to Providence and their future kingdom! But, in default of that, it behoved her to do something; to be their Providence; for to Tess, as to not a few millions of others, there was ghastly satire in the poet’s lines—
in utter nakedness
But trailing clouds of glory do we come.
To her and her like, birth itself was an ordeal of degrading personal compulsion, whose gratuitousness nothing in the result seemed to justify, and at best could only palliate.
In the shades of the wet road she soon discerned her mother with tall ’Liza-Lu and Abraham. Mrs Durbeyfield’s pattens clicked up to the door, and Tess opened it.
“I see the tracks of a horse outside the window,” said Joan. “Hev somebody called?”
“No,” said Tess.
The children by the fire looked gravely at her, and one murmured—
“Why, Tess, the gentleman a-horseback!”
“He didn’t call,” said Tess. “He spoke to me in passing.”
“Who was the gentleman?” asked the mother. “Your husband?”
“No. He’ll never, never come,” answered Tess in stony hopelessness.
“Then who was it?”
“Oh, you needn’t ask. You’ve seen him before, and so have I.”
“Ah! What did he say?” said Joan curiously.
“I will tell you when we are settled in our lodging at Kingsbere to-morrow—every word.”