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 corners 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 that?'
`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!'
These and other of his words were nothing but the perfunctory babble of the surface while the depths remained paralyzed. He turned away, and bent over a chair. Tess followed him to the middle of the room where he was, and stood there staring at him with eyes that did not weep. Presently she slid down upon her knees beside his foot, and from this position she crouched in a heap.
`In the name of our love, forgive me!' she whispered with a dry mouth. `I have forgiven you for the same!'
And, as he did not answer, she said again--
`Forgive me as you are forgiven! I forgive you, Angel.'
`You - yes, you do.'
`But you do not forgive me?'
`O Tess, forgiveness does not apply to the case! You were one person; now you are another. My God - how can forgiveness meet such a grotesque - prestidigitation as that!'
He paused, contemplating this definition; then suddenly broke into horrible laughter - as unnatural and ghastly as a laugh in hell.
`Don't - don't! It kills me quite, that!' she shrieked. `O have mercy upon me - have mercy!'
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