All that she could at first distinguish of them was one syllable, continually repeated in a low note of moaning, as if it came from a soul bound to some Ixionian wheel—
Then a silence, then a heavy sigh, and again—
The landlady looked through the keyhole. Only a small space of the room inside was visible, but within that space came a corner of the breakfast table, which was already spread for the meal, and also a chair beside. Over the seat of the chair Tess’s face was bowed, her posture being a kneeling one in front of it; her hands were clasped over her head, the skirts of her dressing-gown and the embroidery of her night-gown flowed upon the floor behind her, and her stockingless feet, from which the slippers had fallen, protruded upon the carpet. It was from her lips that came the murmur of unspeakable despair.
Then a man’s voice from the adjoining bedroom—
“What’s the matter?”
She did not answer, but went on, in a tone which was a soliloquy rather than an exclamation, and a dirge rather than a soliloquy. Mrs Brooks could only catch a portion:
“And then my dear, dear husband came home to me ... and I did not know it! ... And you had used your cruel persuasion upon me ... you did not stop using it—no—you did not stop! My little sisters and brothers and my mother’s needs—they were the things you moved me by ... and you said my husband would never come back—never; and you taunted me, and said what a simpleton I was to expect him! ... And at last I believed you and gave way! ... And then he came back! Now he is gone. Gone a second time, and I have lost him now for ever ... and he will not love me the littlest bit ever any more—only hate me! ... O yes, I have lost him now—again because of—you!” In writhing, with her head on the chair, she turned her face towards the door, and Mrs Brooks could see the pain upon it, and that her lips were bleeding from the clench of her teeth upon them, and that the long lashes of her closed eyes stuck in wet tags to her cheeks. She continued: “And he is dying—he looks as if he is dying! ... And my sin will kill him and not kill me! ... O, you have torn my life all to pieces ... made me be what I prayed you in pity not to make me be again! ... My own true husband will never, never—O God—I can’t bear this!—I cannot!”
There were more and sharper words from the man; then a sudden rustle; she had sprung to her feet. Mrs Brooks, thinking that the speaker was coming to rush out of the door, hastily retreated down the stairs.
She need not have done so, however, for the door of the sitting-room was not opened. But Mrs Brooks felt it unsafe to watch on the landing again, and entered her own parlour below.