And when Angel left, he took all the colors of the world along with him. In the world which had become all grays and browns, I could feel the red-hot shame and anger of Sorrow's grave, burning, pulsing, calling me. As if the peaks and valleys separating me from the patch of unconsecrated ground were level, flat, and of no importance. I saw it there; I knew I'd go to the only place I could.
Home was the landing place- each time I left I soared into the air like a winged thing, going to something higher, better, different. Once before I had been shot from the sky, plummeted, and hit the ground, landing at the heath where I took my first steps.
The second time I left, it was longer before I was airborne- sorrow and Sorrow weighing me down. But then came Angel and I flew higher than before- the sun beating my face, looking down upon the clouds, laughing at the birds who, lacking Angel's love, came not so high as I.
And so the second landing came from further away, broke more bones, shocked my heart and nerve and sinew and had me almost dead. And still Sorrow burned.
I found the grave was too near, too fresh, too searing; my skin blistered, my eyes scratched in my head. I bore it as long as I could and then…More suffering and more leaving- not on wings, on barely mended bones and legs twisted with dread.
Months and weeks and days bleeding together in a writhing mass of shame and degradation. Looking, asking, begging, groveling… Thoughts of Angel kept me moving- the thought that someday soon he'd realize the truth of my love, that its purity and truth had razed my past and rendered me new, and he would come for me. How proud he would be to find that my time was not spent idly, but in honest labor, in further endeavor to make myself worthy.
I sent letter after letter- no, that's not right- I wrote letter after letter- I only sent the one. Had the girls check it for me, make sure it sounded humble and contrite. To let him know that I understood why he'd gone, and accepted my part in earning his scorn, but that my love was no less and he would welcomed back by a woman eager to work and prove her love, and to pay penance.
Somewhere in there, a kernel fell into my heart- a kernel of doubt. What had happened to me was just that- something which had been done to me, on me, against me. I'd no hand in the act- I did not choose it, I could not stop it.
So- was Angel right to punish me? If there were punishment, were it not due to Alec- the man who put hand to me in such a way that ever after I bore the mark of a woman who had elected her fate and it were the one of Flesh and Worldly Sin?
If I had asked for his attentions, the matter might be different- but I never once looked for it or approved of it when it was freely given. I never had a mind to what Alec had in store for me, for my fate- had never heard of such things between gentlemen and ladies.
But, still, he was a shifty fellow. For all he was so generous to me and my family, his eyes could never rest on a single place for long. The sounds of his breathing changed when he neared me- quick, sharp… Didn't recognize until too late that it was the sound a fox makes near a chicken.
I swear I never enticed him- not knowingly. I was still such a child when I came to Trantridge, anything he mistook in that way was unintentional. How could a child know to ask for that which it doesn't know exists?
All the while he was hurting me, on top of me, he gasped that my eyes had called him, my lips, my blushes spoke eloquently of my desire, inviting and asking him- even the curve of my neck spoke and begged for his kisses. If this were somehow true, and if I did it not intentionally, there were two entities to blame- nature (my nature, my body itself), or the God who gave me that nature.
Having borne a child who was outright denied a Christian burial and, thereby, Heaven itself, perhaps such blasphemous thoughts came easier to me. What kind of God would damn an Innocent to Hell for not having a particular person pronounce certain rites before it exited the world? What sort of god would give a woman a body and nature to attract trouble she never wanted nor understood, then doom her to wretchedness for the rest of her days?
Such were frequently my thoughts that winter. In a last fit of hope for my marriage, I went to see Angel's family, only to have them speak so very ill of me. That they said such things not knowing I could hear seemed a small consequence- I believe to this day that , had they known I was there, their words might have changed, but their attitudes would not. I ran into his father and mother, whose faces and eyes were more open and kind, but by the time I saw them it was too late- with a cry I had exposed myself and had to flee. And flee I did, knowing that his family was a nail in the coffin of my love for Angel Clare.
A man raised with such people would never forgive whatever offence I was being held accountable for. He really was never coming back… and I was starting to think that was for the best, given my growing resentment of him- he might relent and "forgive" me, but could I forgive him for leaving me so utterly alone, without aid or hope?
That was when I encountered Alec, who reinforced my impressions of the particular version of God worshipped by all around me. What sort of God would deny my Sorrow but accept his degenerate sire?
Alec spoke of his conversion, and I tried so hard to leave, but he grabbed my hands between his. My fingertips were so cold they'd begun to ache, but the warmth of his hands around them eased the pain and gave me pause- not since my aborted wedding night had a single other person made a move to touch me, to hold even a part of me. Something within me began to yield, to melt at the tenderness he showed, and forget the sense of revulsion I ought to have felt.
He saw me pause, must have seen something flicker across my face, through my eyes, and took encouragement. Before I knew what he was doing, he'd flung himself onto his knees. I knew that dampness must be settling into him, the mud staining his clothes, the rocks digging into the flesh of his knees and felt satisfaction at his discomfort.
"Tess- oh, darling Tess- I know I've no right to so much as speak to you after what passed between us, no- what I did to you. What I did was so wrong, so evil, that I willfully blinded myself to it for ages. I was that unable to accept my part in anything done against your person and spirit.
"You've no reason to believe me, but hand upon my heart- I have regretted, I have mourned, have sought God's Grace to find a way of atoning for this evil I committed against you.
"The reason I have never sought you out is that I understand fully that I am unworthy even to look upon your face."
"You seem to be looking upon it now." I forced my chin up, my eyes straight ahead, feeling his gaze, knowing how he craved for me to return it.
"Seeing you again, I find I can't look away. Since you left, I managed to convince myself that your beauty had grown in my mind only because of my devotion to you. I am now forced to admit my love and devotion dwarfed by the encompassing beauty of your every feature."
I pulled back my hands, pressed them to his shoulders and pushed until he fell- again, taking satisfaction from the sound of his broad shoulders smacking into the damp earth.
"Devotion?! Love?! How can you pretend that those have tainted any of your dealings me thus far, Alec D'urberville? Fear, hatred, disdain- yes, all of them. You cannot say love was what you showed me."
In the heat of my speech, all of my anger and bile surged forward and focused upon Alec, who still lay on the ground, abjectly receiving my admonition. And then it all came forward- not just how I felt toward Alec, but God, my mother, and the world at large for spurning me so. I'd spent so much time accepting all that had happened to me that I had never paid mind to the anger, the resentment- the sense that things were not fair. Now, at my feet lay the progenitor of my pains and I felt a blinding fury take hold me of like nothing I'd ever felt before. In that instant, I did something I would never have thought possible- I kicked a man as he lay on the ground.
I kicked Alec in the shin and he made a gasp- of surprise or pain, I couldn't tell. But I liked the feeling so I kicked him again, then again; this last time in the stomach. The sound he made then was unmistakably one of pain and the noise from his throat, from his gut, cut me to the quick.
I drew back in disgust with myself, and had to sit down. Now the wetness of the ground was seeping into my clothes, spreading mud on my best dress, but I couldn't care anymore. I felt the kind of desolation that had lead me to scratch and mark my face with the combination of mud and blood it bore when I first came to the starve-acre farm. My anger had receded- replaced with shame at lowering myself to Alec's state- to inflict physical pain on someone, however deserving, was an act beneath me. Better I had kept walking and never let him stop me.
My thoughts were broken by the interruption of Alec's voice, "I deserved that."
"Mayhap you did, mayhap you didn't, Alec, but doling out such punishment is not up to me."
"It should be- it could be. Shall I lie here and have you kick me some more? I'll lie still…"
"Is that some strange part of your new faith? A liking for kicks to the ribs?"
"No. In fact, avoiding such things has been a powerful motivation for most of my life. But I wronged you. You, who- I know you won't believe this, but it's true- I loved above all others, and never wanted to hurt. I dealt with you in the way I deal with all the world, with violence and under-handedness. What could you do but run away from me? You forced me to own up to my very nature, and seek recompense from the universe. You lead me to God, Tess."
"Then let Him comfort you when I walk away this time, as well."
I looked over my shoulder when I was about a hundred meters away, and saw him still there, watching me leave. I saw him shake his head and then lower it to his chest. He rose to his knees and clasped his hands together. The sight of Alec kneeling in prayer, in the mud no less, was a strangely haunting one that stayed with me all week.