It wasn't until we were readying for sleep that night that Alec and I were alone and able to talk. We moved about the room in a practiced dance of undressing and hanging clothes, I hummed as we did so- Alec glowered.
"Madame, if I may, it seems to me we ought to discuss certain matters."
"Why, certainly, Mr. D'Urberville. What troubles you, sir?"
"In short, the fact that I believe I heard the most extraordinary thing just a few minutes ago. I believe I heard you invite your erstwhile husband to sojourn with us a while. Did that really happen?"
"Yes, sir, it did."
"Tess, I know you're a woman of your own heart and mind, I know that you have a kindness as big as the out of doors. I know that he is a sadly wasted wisp of who he used to be, and you pity his sorry state. But you asked him to stay…"
"Alec, don't be silly, and stop pretending to be frustrated with me- you fail miserably at the show. The man is still not himself after his illness- what should I do? You know as well as I do that the journey here from his parents wore him out and he requires rest. And so, he shall stay the night."
"But I believe the term you used when talking with him was 'as long as you like,' and that could be… who knows how long. What on earth can you have in mind?"
"You heard him at dinner- he thinks his parents are still getting over the shock of seeing him so ill, and he already felt a burden upon them in the time he's been back, resting and gathering his strength once again. Besides, you've met the brothers, who are still with the parents- can you blame him for yearning to be away from those? He might as well stay here as anywhere.
"In addition to the fact that we've more than enough room and resources to house another body, he is well-trained in the art of farming. He could be quite useful to you, and to mother. Not necessarily to run anything, but to consult when questions arise. I know he was quite the aid to Farmer Toothabays back at his farm.
"Are you angry that I did not ask you before I invited him?"
"Not even a little, my dove. I keep telling you that you are mistress of Trantridge: inviting guests is your right. I'm quite pleased to see you asserting your rights."
"Then wherein do you fault me?"
"I fault you never, my love- I bluster because…"
His voice trailed off and I knew the cause as well as he- he felt blustering was what a husband should do in this instance, so he was making a token argument.
"And besides- if he and Liza-Lu should take a fancy to one another, how would that be? Perfect, I think. He'll find no fault in her, and she'll brook none of his ridiculous masculine bravado. I think they are well-suited."
"You mean you intend for your sister to take a shine to your former beloved? You are more extraordinary with every passing moment! But, I confess- my complaint is simply that I don't like the man, and have no wish to be around him. You seem well able to forgive him-"
"Alec, don't talk nonsense. You know it took much for me to look through and past what Angel Clare did. It took a little time, and not a little effort."
He continued as if I'd not interjected. "- but I find the urge to punch him in his face nearly overwhelming. He's lucky he's been so ill, or I likely would."
I laughed once more at his words, and made a dismissive gesture with my hand. I sat at my vanity, unpinning my hair, smiling at the mirror's image of him pacing behind me, wandering a hand through his hair in an agitated manner.
I hummed a short note and then began to sing, knowing it would draw his vague distemper from him, as poison from a wound.
My own love said to me, 'My mother won't mind,
And my father won't slight you for your lack of kind.'
She laid a hand on me, and this she did say:
'You are my own love, e'en without a wedding day.'
It was a simple tune, and my voice carried all through the large room as it danced over the notes. I had just finished the removal of all those pins when he stepped behind me. I smiled, and did not stop singing. I skipped many verses, I changed words as I went, and I watched him, perhaps only imagining that I could see the worry leave his body, as well as the memory of what we'd been discussing.
Last night she came to me- my own love came in.
So softly she moved, that her feet made no din.
She laid a hand on me, and this did say:
'You are my own love, e'en without a wedding day.'
He placed both hands upon my head, gently rubbing away the tension created by the pins, easing the discomfort I endured daily with barely a notice. Under his assured touch I forgot all else, my song dying in my throat, focusing on the feeling of my blood rushing about my head, seeming to purr in response to his touch. I leaned my head back against his waist, and his hands moved from my scalp to my neck, still moving with firm strokes, banishing care. His hands roamed to settle on my shoulders, fingertips resting upon my clavicle. Having had some months in his bed, I had never grown so used to his touch that it failed to excite and entice me.
Feeling him pause, I opened my eyes and found him looking down at me, a ponderous look in his darkening eyes. Seeing me looking back at him, his fingers trailed up my neck, cupping my chin.
"Is something wrong, my love?"
"No, Tess. My Tess." His fingers caressed the planes of my face, his eyes doing the same. He knelt beside me, and I turned my head to his, now on level with mine. I brushed a lock of hair across his forehead, then kissed the small space between his eyebrows.
"Tell me you understand, tell me you believe- how every single moment of every day, I am consumed by the activity of thanking God that the roads turned and He smiled and somehow things came to pass in such a way that you came back to my life. Never think that I, for even the space of a single heartbeat, fail to wonder that you are here, with me, and that you love me. I've only just begun to believe it all, and sometimes I still fear that I will awake from this paradise we've carved out, and find it all a dream."
I laid my forehead against his, and smiled.
"I am so happy, Alec- I worry it tempts to the Fates to turn against us. I worry, too, that we are too content and complete for mere mortals, that this shall all vanish one day and I'll find myself back in the hell of the stave-acre farm. But if that is true- if this be not real, I've made up my mind to love every moment, and to love you best of all. If it will not last, I cannot think on it; I can only enjoy every look you give me, every smile, every kiss. I'd never have believed the happiness afforded by something so simple as looking up beside the fire, and seeing you there."
"Tess, oh my Tess…" He buried his face in my neck, and pulled me to him. I moved from the chair, and we pressed together, our bodies wended as if one being, our breathing coming together if not at all, our heartbeats echoing a rhythm all their own, answering one and the other. All worry was as nothing, all fears dissipated by the strength of our union, of our love.
And thus we would face any and all comers in every year to come- as one single entity. We would be the road as it road before us, hand in hand, belonging body and soul to each other and nothing or anyone else. And in the years to come, that alone would never change. Fortunes would come and go, luck would dance in and out. Children would be born and their voices add to the songs we sang each other. Things would change, they would stay the same- sorrows would enter, but sometimes be forestalled. But always was Alec, always Tess- always like a single thing.
He raised his head and his lips found mine, and I felt the kiss that ensued was the sealing of the solemnity of that moment, of that unity- stronger than any other known promise, that bound us together for now and always, world without end. Amen.
Author's Note: I really would love to write The Beginning instead of The End, but that is too cheesy for words, so I'll refrain. Also, this really is the end of me writing this story. I might end up writing little bits here and there about the life Alec & Tess live together, their children, and how Angel still ends up with Liza-Lu… But for now, this is a closing chapter.
To anyone and everyone who has read this story, I thank you. To the people who have enjoyed it, I thank you even more. To the people who have read it, enjoyed it, and reviewed it, I thank you exponentially; I don't always respond to reviews, due to the dullness of repeated THANK YOUs written in more and more capital letters and followed by more and more exclamation points. Each review has made my day, my week, and kept me going this whole year (yes, year) that I've been writing this. I can never properly express how thrilling it is when anyone says they enjoy what I've written.
Random note: I never quite got around to Alec explaining or Tess realizing that the poem he recited to her in French was about lice.
Final note: Have you ever tried to track down a chipper British folk song? It's difficult. They're all about thwarted love, fallen women, and people whose loved ones are in graves that they refuse to stop lying atop while crying and wasting away. Nothing against any of that, but my search for a happier song to be sung between Alec and Tess felt rather pointless after a while. The song she sings to him in this chapter is She Moved Through The Fair (or She Moves Through the Fair, or He Moved Through the Fair). In most recording and transcriptions the lyrics are about a true love who dies before the wedding and then visits the singer in ghostly form. Well, that's not exactly uplifting, though it is hauntingly, almost ecstatically beautiful. So, I went more with the Sinead O'Connor rendition of the lyrics and changed them up a mite to suit these characters. Which may be pretty awful of me, but, hey, if it inspires anyone to track down this song who hadn't known it before, I think I can be forgiven. Sinead O'Conner, Loreena Mckennit, Marianne Faitfhful, Fairport Convention- tons of people have recorded the song, and I highly advise checking it out. Amazing stuff (my favorite version being a Richard Thomspon rendition available on Youtube). Okay, I'm finally going away now.