Phase the Fifth: The Woman Pays
35. CHAPTER XXXV
Her narrative ended; even its re-assertions and
secondary explanations were done. Tess's voice
throughout had hardly risen higher than its opening
tone; there had been no exculpatory phrase of any kind,
and she had not wept.
But the complexion even of external things seemed to
suffer transmutation as her announcement progressed.
The fire in the grate looked impish--demoniacally
funny, as if it did not care in the least about her
strait. The fender grinned idly, as if it too did not
care. The light from the water-bottle was merely
engaged in a chromatic problem. All material objects
around announced their irresponsibility with terrible
iteration. And yet nothing had changed since the
moments when he had been kissing her; or rather,
nothing in the substance of things. But the essence of
things had changed.
When she ceased the auricular impressions from their
previous endearments seemed to hustle away into the
corner of their brains, repeating themselves as echoes
from a time of supremely purblind foolishness.
Clare performed the irrelevant act of stirring the
fire; the intelligence had not even yet got to the
bottom of him. After stirring the embers he rose to his
feet; all the force of her disclosure had imparted
itself now. His face had withered. In the
strenuousness of his concentration he treadled fitfully
on the floor. He could not, by any contrivance, think
closely enough; that was the meaning of his vague
movement. When he spoke it was in the most inadequate,
commonplace voice of the many varied tones she had
heard from him.
"Am I to believe this? From your manner I am to take
it as true. O you cannot be out of your mind! You
ought to be! Yet you are not. ... My wife, my
Tess--nothing in you warrants such a supposition as
"I am not out of my mind," she said.
"And yet----" He looked vacantly at her, to resume
with dazed senses: "Why didn't you tell me before?
Ah, yes, you would have told me, in a way--but I hindered
you, I remember!"