<br/>Amid the oozing fatness and warm ferments of the Froom
Vale, at a season when the rush of juices could almost
be heard below the hiss of fertilization, it was
impossible that the most fanciful love should not grow
passionate. The ready bosoms existing there were
impregnated by their surroundings.
<br/>July passed over their heads, and the Thermidorean
weather which came in its wake seemed an effort on the
part of Nature to match the state of hearts at
Talbothays Dairy. The air of the place, so fresh in
the spring and early summer, was stagnant and
enervating now. Its heavy scents weighed upon them,
and at mid-day the landscape seemed lying in a swoon.
Ethiopic scorchings browned the upper slopes of the
pastures, but there was still bright green herbage here
where the watercourses purled. And as Clare was
oppressed by the outward heats, so was he burdened
inwardly by waxing fervour of passion for the soft and
<br/>The rains having passed, the uplands were dry. The
wheels of the dairyman's spring-cart, as he sped home
from market, licked up the pulverized surface of the
highway, and were followed by white ribands of dust, as
if they had set a thin powder-train on fire. The cows
jumped wildly over the five-barred barton-gate,
maddened by the gad-fly; Dairyman Crick kept his
shirt-sleeves permanently rolled up from Monday to
Saturday; open windows had no effect in ventilation
without open doors, and in the dairy-garden the
blackbirds and thrushes crept about under the
currant-bushes, rather in the manner of quadrupeds than
of winged creatures. The flies in the kitchen were
lazy, teasing, and familiar, crawling about in the
unwonted places, on the floors, into drawers, and over
the backs of the milkmaids' hands. Conversations were
concerning sunstroke; while butter-making, and still
more butter-keeping, was a despair.
<br/>They milked entirely in the meads for coolness and
convenience, without driving in the cows. During the
day the animals obsequiously followed the shadow of the
smallest tree as it moved round the stem with the
diurnal roll; and when the milkers came they could
hardly stand still for the flies.
<br/>On one of these afternoons four or five unmilked cows
chanced to stand apart from the general herd, behind
the corner of a hedge, among them being Dumpling and
Old Pretty, who loved Tess's hands above those of any
other maid. When she rose from her stool under a
finished cow, Angel Clare, who had been observing her
for some time, asked her if she would take the
aforesaid creatures next. She silently assented, and
with her stool at arm's length, and the pail against
her knee, went round to where they stood. Soon the
sound of Old Pretty's milk fizzing into the pail came
through the hedge, and then Angel felt inclined to go
round the corner also, to finish off a hard-yielding
milcher who had strayed there, he being now as capable
of this as the dairyman himself.
<br/>All the men, and some of the women, when milking, dug
their foreheads into the cows and gazed into the pail.
But a few—mainly the younger ones—rested their heads
sideways. This was Tess Durbeyfield's habit, her
temple pressing the milcher's flank, her eyes fixed on
the far end of the meadow with the quiet of one lost in
meditation. She was milking Old Pretty thus, and the
sun chancing to be on the milking-side, it shone flat
upon her pink-gowned form and her white curtain-bonnet,
and upon her profile, rendering it keen as a cameo cut
from the dun background of the cow.
<br/>She did not know that Clare had followed her round, and
that he sat under his cow watching her. The stillness
of her head and features was remarkable: she might have
been in a trance, her eyes open, yet unseeing. Nothing
in the picture moved but Old Pretty's tail and Tess's
pink hands, the latter so gently as to be a rhythmic
pulsation only, as if they were obeying a reflex
stimulus, like a beating heart.
<br/>How very lovable her face was to him. Yet there was
nothing ethereal about it; all was real vitality, real
warmth, real incarnation. And it was in her mouth that
this culminated. Eyes almost as deep and speaking he
had seen before, and cheeks perhaps as fair; brows as
arched, a chin and throat almost as shapely; her mouth
he had seen nothing to equal on the face of the earth.
To a young man with the least fire in him that little
upward lift in the middle of her red top lip was
distracting, infatuating, maddening. He had never
before seen a woman's lips and teeth which forced upon
his mind with such persistent iteration the old
Elizabethan simile of roses filled with snow. Perfect,
he, as a lover, might have called them off-hand. But
no—they were not perfect. And it was the touch of the
imperfect upon the would-be perfect that gave the
sweetness, because it was that which gave the humanity.
<br/>Clare had studied the curves of those lips so many
times that he could reproduce them mentally with ease:
and now, as they again confronted him, clothed with
colour and life, they sent an <i>aura</i> over his flesh,
a breeze through his nerves, which well nigh produced a
qualm; and actually produced, by some mysterious
physiological process, a prosaic sneeze.
<br/>She then became conscious that he was observing her;
but she would not show it by any change of position,
though the curious dream-like fixity disappeared, and a
close eye might easily have discerned that the rosiness
of her face deepened, and then faded till only a tinge
of it was left.
<br/>The influence that had passed into Clare like an
excitation from the sky did not die down. Resolutions,
reticences, prudences, fears, fell back like a defeated
battalion. He jumped up from his seat, and, leaving his
pail to be kicked over if the milcher had such a mind,
went quickly towards the desire of his eyes, and,
kneeling down beside her, clasped her in his arms.
<br/>Tess was taken completely by surprise, and she yielded
to his embrace with unreflecting inevitableness.
Having seen that it was really her lover who had
advanced, and no one else, her lips parted, and she
sank upon him in her momentary joy, with something very
like an ecstatic cry.
<br/>He had been on the point of kissing that too tempting
mouth, but he checked himself, for tender conscience'
<br/>"Forgive me, Tess dear!" he whispered. "I ought to
have asked. I—did not know what I was doing. I do
not mean it as a liberty. I am devoted to you, Tessy,
dearest, in all sincerity!"
<br/>Old Pretty by this time had looked round, puzzled; and
seeing two people crouching under her where, by
immemorial custom, there should have been only one,
lifted her hind leg crossly.
<br/>"She is angry—she doesn't know what we mean—she'll
kick over the milk!" exclaimed Tess, gently striving to
free herself, her eyes concerned with the quadruped's
actions, her heart more deeply concerned with herself
<br/>She slipped up from her seat, and they stood together,
his arm still encircling her. Tess's eyes, fixed on
distance, began to fill.
<br/>"Why do you cry, my darling?" he said.
<br/>"O—I don't know!" she murmured.
<br/>As she saw and felt more clearly the position she was
in she became agitated and tried to withdraw.
<br/>"Well, I have betrayed my feeling, Tess, at last," said
he, with a curious sigh of desperation, signifying
unconsciously that his heart had outrun his judgement.
"That I—love you dearly and truly I need not say. But
I—it shall go no further now—it distresses you—I am
as surprised as you are. You will not think I have
presumed upon your defencelessness—been too quick and
unreflecting, will you?"
<br/>"N'—I can't tell."
<br/>He had allowed her to free herself; and in a minute or
two the milking of each was resumed. Nobody had beheld
the gravitation of the two into one; and when the
dairyman came round by that screened nook a few minutes
later, there was not a sign to reveal that the markedly
sundered pair were more to each other than mere
acquaintance. Yet in the interval since Crick's last
view of them something had occurred which changed the
pivot of the universe for their two natures; something
which, had he known its quality, the dairyman would
have despised, as a practical man; yet which was based
upon a more stubborn and resistless tendency than a
whole heap of so-called practicalities. A veil had
been whisked aside; the tract of each one's outlook was
to have a new horizon thenceforward—for a short time
or for a long.
<h4>End of Phase the Third</h4>
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