<br/>The hot weather of July had crept upon them unawares,
and the atmosphere of the flat vale hung heavy as an
opiate over the dairy-folk, the cows, and the trees.
Hot steaming rains fell frequently, making the grass
where the cows fed yet more rank, and hindering the
late hay-making in the other meads.
<br/>It was Sunday morning; the milking was done; the
outdoor milkers had gone home. Tess and the other
three were dressing themselves rapidly, the whole bevy
having agreed to go together to Mellstock Church, which
lay some three or four miles distant from the
dairy-house. She had now been two months at
Talbothays, and this was her first excursion.
<br/>All the preceding afternoon and night heavy
thunderstorms had hissed down upon the meads, and
washed some of the hay into the river; but this morning
the sun shone out all the more brilliantly for the
deluge, and the air was balmy and clear.
<br/>The crooked lane leading from their own parish to
Mellstock ran along the lowest levels in a portion of
its length, and when the girls reached the most
depressed spot they found that the result of the rain
had been to flood the lane over-shoe to a distance of
some fifty yards. This would have been no serious
hindrance on a week-day; they would have clicked
through it in their high patterns and boots quite
unconcerned; but on this day of vanity, this Sun's-day,
when flesh went forth to coquet with flesh while
hypocritically affecting business with spiritual
things; on this occasion for wearing their white
stockings and thin shoes, and their pink, white, and
lilac gowns, on which every mud spot would be visible,
the pool was an awkward impediment. They could hear
the church-bell calling—as yet nearly a mile off.
<br/>"Who would have expected such a rise in the river in
summer-time!" said Marian, from the top of the
roadside bank on which they had climbed, and were
maintaining a precarious footing in the hope of
creeping along its slope till they were past the pool.
<br/>"We can't get there anyhow, without walking right
through it, or else going round the Turnpike way; and
that would make us so very late!" said Retty, pausing
<br/>"And I do colour up so hot, walking into church late,
and all the people staring round," said Marian,
"that I hardly cool down again till we get into the
<br/>While they stood clinging to the bank they heard a
splashing round the bend of the road, and presently
appeared Angel Clare, advancing along the lane towards
them through the water.
<br/>Four hearts gave a big throb simultaneously.
<br/>His aspect was probably as un-Sabbatarian a one as a
dogmatic parson's son often presented; his attire being
his dairy clothes, long wading boots, a cabbage-leaf
inside his hat to keep his head cool, with a
thistle-spud to finish him off. "He's not going to
church," said Marian.
<br/>"No—I wish he was!" murmured Tess.
<br/>Angel, in fact, rightly or wrongly (to adopt the safe
phrase of evasive controversialists), preferred sermons
in stones to sermons in churches and chapels on fine
summer days. This morning, moreover, he had gone out
to see if the damage to the hay by the flood was
considerable or not. On his walk he observed the girls
from a long distance, though they had been so occupied
with their difficulties of passage as not to notice
him. He knew that the water had risen at that spot,
and that it would quite check their progress. So he
had hastened on, with a dim idea of how he could help
them—one of them in particular.
<br/>The rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed quartet looked so
charming in their light summer attire, clinging to the
roadside bank like pigeons on a roof-slope, that he
stopped a moment to regard them before coming close.
Their gauzy skirts had brushed up from the grass
innumerable flies and butterflies which, unable to
escape, remained caged in the transparent tissue as in
an aviary. Angel's eye at last fell upon Tess, the
hindmost of the four; she, being full of suppressed
laughter at their dilemma, could not help meeting his
<br/>He came beneath them in the water, which did not rise
over his long boots; and stood looking at the entrapped
flies and butterflies.
<br/>"Are you trying to get to church?" he said to Marian,
who was in front, including the next two in his remark,
but avoiding Tess.
<br/>"Yes, sir; and 'tis getting late; and my colour do come
<br/>"I'll carry you through the pool—every Jill of you."
<br/>The whole four flushed as if one heart beat through
<br/>"I think you can't, sir," said Marian.
<br/>"It is the only way for you to get past. Stand still.
Nonsense—you are not too heavy! I'd carry you all
four together. Now, Marian, attend," he continued, "and
put your arms round my shoulders, so. Now! Hold on.
That's well done."
<br/>Marian had lowered herself upon his arm and shoulder as
directed, and Angel strode off with her, his slim
figure, as viewed from behind, looking like the mere
stem to the great nosegay suggested by hers. They
disappeared round the curve of the road, and only his
sousing footsteps and the top ribbon of Marian's bonnet
told where they were. In a few minutes he reappeared.
Izz Huett was the next in order upon the bank.
<br/>"Here he comes," she murmured, and they could hear that
her lips were dry with emotion. "And I have to put my
arms round his neck and look into his face as Marian
<br/>"There's nothing in that," said Tess quickly.
<br/>"There's a time for everything," continued Izz,
unheeding. "A time to embrace, and a time to refrain
from embracing; the first is now going to be mine."
<br/>"Fie—it is Scripture, Izz!"
<br/>"Yes," said Izz, "I've always a' ear at church for
<br/>Angel Clare, to whom three-quarters of this performance
was a commonplace act of kindness, now approached Izz.
She quietly and dreamily lowered herself into his arms,
and Angel methodically marched off with her. When he
was heard returning for the third time Retty's
throbbing heart could be almost seen to shake her. He
went up to the red-haired girl, and while he was
seizing her he glanced at Tess. His lips could not
have pronounced more plainly, "It will soon be you and
I." Her comprehension appeared in her face; she could
not help it. There was an understanding between them.
<br/>Poor little Retty, though by far the lightest weight,
was the most troublesome of Clare's burdens. Marian
had been like a sack of meal, a dead weight of
plumpness under which he has literally staggered.
Izz had ridden sensibly and calmly. Retty was a bunch of
<br/>However, he got through with the disquieted creature,
deposited her, and returned. Tess could see over the
hedge the distant three in a group, standing as he had
placed them on the next rising ground. It was now her
turn. She was embarrassed to discover that excitement
at the proximity of Mr Clare's breath and eyes, which
she had contemned in her companions, was intensified in
herself; and as if fearful of betraying her secret, she
paltered with him at the last moment.
<br/>"I may be able to clim' along the bank perhaps—I can
clim' better than they. You must be so tired, Mr Clare!"
<br/>"No, no, Tess," said he quickly. And almost before she
was aware, she was seated in his arms and resting
against his shoulder.
<br/>"Three Leahs to get one Rachel," he whispered.
<br/>"They are better women than I," she replied,
magnanimously sticking to her resolve.
<br/>"Not to me," said Angel.
<br/>He saw her grow warm at this; and they went some steps
<br/>"I hope I am not too heavy?" she said timidly.
<br/>"O no. You should lift Marian! Such a lump. You are
like an undulating billow warmed by the sun. And all
this fluff of muslin about you is the froth."
<br/>"It is very pretty—if I seem like that to you."
<br/>"Do you know that I have undergone three-quarters of
this labour entirely for the sake of the fourth
<br/>"I did not expect such an event to-day."
<br/>"Nor I… The water came up so sudden."
<br/>That the rise in the water was what she understood him
to refer to, the state of breathing belied. Clare
stood still and inclinced his face towards hers.
<br/>"O Tessy!" he exclaimed.
<br/>The girl's cheeks burned to the breeze, and she could
not look into his eyes for her emotion. It reminded
Angel that he was somewhat unfairly taking advantage of
an accidental position; and he went no further with it.
No definite words of love had crossed their lips as
yet, and suspension at this point was desirable now.
However, he walked slowly, to make the remainder of the
distance as long as possible; but at last they came to
the bend, and the rest of their progress was in full
view of the other three. The dry land was reached, and
he set her down.
<br/>Her friends were looking with round thoughtful eyes at
her and him, and she could see that they had been
talking of her. He hastily bade them farewell, and
splashed back along the stretch of submerged road.
<br/>The four moved on together as before, till Marian broke
the silence by saying—
<br/>"No—in all truth; we have no chance against her!"
She looked joylessly at Tess.
<br/>"What do you mean?" asked the latter.
<br/>"He likes 'ee best—the very best! We could see it as
he brought 'ee. He would have kissed 'ee, if you had
encouraged him to do it, ever so little."
<br/>"No, no," said she.
<br/>The gaiety with which they had set out had somehow
vanished; and yet there was no enmity or malice between
them. They were generous young souls; they had been
reared in the lonely country nooks where fatalism is a
strong sentiment, and they did not blame her. Such
supplanting was to be.
<br/>Tess's heart ached. There was no concealing from
herself the fact that she loved Angel Clare, perhaps
all the more passionately from knowing that the others
had also lost their hearts to him. There is contagion
in this sentiment, especially among women. And yet
that same hungry nature had fought against this, but
too feebly, and the natural result had followed.
<br/>"I will never stand in your way, nor in the way of
either of you!" she declared to Retty that night in the
bedroom (her tears running down). "I can't help this,
my dear! I don't think marrying is in his mind at all;
but if he were ever to ask me I should refuse him, as I
should refuse any man."
<br/>"Oh! would you? Why?" said wondering Retty.
<br/>"It cannot be! But I will be plain. Putting myself
quite on one side, I don't think he will choose either
<br/>"I have never expected it—thought of it!" moaned
Retty. "But O! I wish I was dead!"
<br/>The poor child, torn by a feeling which she hardly
understood, turned to the other two girls who came
upstairs just then.
<br/>"We be friends with her again," she said to them.
"She thinks no more of his choosing her than we do."
<br/>So the reserve went off, and they were confiding and
<br/>"I don't seem to care what I do now," said Marian,
whose mood was turned to its lowest bass. "I was going
to marry a dairyman at Stickleford, who's asked me
twice; but—my soul—I would put an end to myself
rather'n be his wife now! Why don't ye speak, Izz?"
<br/>"To confess, then," murmured Izz, "I made sure to-day
that he was going to kiss me as he held me; and I lay
still against his breast, hoping and hoping, and never
moved at all. But he did not. I don't like biding
here at Talbothays any longer! I shall go hwome."
<br/>The air of the sleeping-chamber seemed to palpitate
with the hopeless passion of the girls. They writhed
feverishly under the oppressiveness of an emotion
thrust on them by cruel Nature's law—an emotion which
they had neither expected nor desired. The incident of
the day had fanned the flame that was burning the
inside of their hearts out, and the torture was almost
more than they could endure. The differences which
distinguished them as individuals were abstracted by
this passion, and each was but portion of one organism
called sex. There was so much frankness and so little
jealousy because there was no hope. Each one was a
girl of fair common sense, and she did not delude
herself with any vain conceits, or deny her love, or
give herself airs, in the idea of outshining the
others. The full recognition of the futility of their
infatuation, from a social point of view; its
purposeless beginning; its self-bounded outlook; its
lack of everything to justify its existence in the eye
of civilization (while lacking nothing in the eye of
Nature); the one fact that it did exist, ecstasizing
them to a killing joy—all this imparted to them a
resignation, a dignity, which a practical and sordid
expectation of winning him as a husband would have
<br/>They tossed and turned on their little beds, and the
cheese-wring dripped monotonously downstairs.
<br/>"B' you awake, Tess?" whispered one, half-an-hour
<br/>It was Izz Huett's voice.
<br/>Tess replied in the affirmative, whereupon also Retty
and Marian suddenly flung the bedclothes off them, and
<br/>"So be we!"
<br/>"I wonder what she is like—the lady they say his
family have looked out for him!"
<br/>"I wonder," said Izz.
<br/>"Some lady looked out for him?" gasped Tess, starting.
"I have never heard o' that!"
<br/>"O yes—'tis whispered; a young lady of his own rank,
chosen by his family; a Doctor of Divinity's daughter
near his father's parish of Emminster; he don't much
care for her, they say. But he is sure to marry her."
<br/>They had heard so very little of this; yet it was
enough to build up wretched dolorous dreams upon, there
in the shade of the night. They pictured all the
details of his being won round to consent, of the
wedding preparations, of the bride's happiness, of her
dress and veil, of her blissful home with him, when
oblivion would have fallen upon themselves as far as he
and their love were concerned. Thus they talked, and
ached, and wept till sleep charmed their sorrow away.
<br/>After this disclosure Tess nourished no further foolish
thought that there lurked any grave and deliberate
import in Clare's attentions to her. It was a passing
summer love of her face, for love's own temporary
sake—nothing more. And the thorny crown of this sad
conception was that she whom he really did prefer in a
cursory way to the rest, she who knew herself to be
more impassioned in nature, cleverer, more beautiful
than they, was in the eyes of propriety far less worthy
of him than the homelier ones whom he ignored.
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