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第12节 第二十三章 【
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七月的炎热天气在不知不觉中来到了人们身边,平坦山谷中的大气好像麻醉剂一样,既沉重又沉闷,笼罩着奶牛场的人们、奶牛和树木。热气腾腾的绵绵大雨,使得供奶牛放牧的牧草长得更加茂盛了,但是也妨碍了其它牧场上晚期收割牧草的工作。
那是一个礼拜天的早晨;牛奶已经挤完了;住在场外的挤奶工人也回家了。梅尔斯托克教堂离奶牛场大约有三四英里远近,苔丝和另外三个挤奶的女工已经商量好了,打算一块儿去那儿作礼拜,所以她们就迅速换好了衣服。到现在为止,苔丝来泰波塞斯已经两个月了,这还是她第一次出门去玩。在头一天的整个下午和晚上,雷阵雨哗哗地倾倒在牧场上,牧场上有些干草也被冲进河里去了;但是今天早上,大地经过雨水的冲洗,太阳照射在牧场上,显得更加明亮,空气清新而芬芳。
从她们的教区通往梅尔斯托克的那条弯弯曲曲的小路,有一段是沿着谷中最低洼的地方通过的。那几个姑娘走到那段最低洼的地方时,发现大雨过后有一段大约五十码长的路面被淹没了,积水深过脚面。在平常的日子里,这并不是什么大不了的障碍;她们都是穿的高底木头套鞋和靴子,可以满不在乎地从水中蹚过去;但是这天是礼拜天,是她们抛头露面的日子,她们口头说的是去进行精神上的陶冶,而实际上是去进行肉体征服肉体的谈情说爱;这个时候她们都会穿上白色的袜子和轻俏的鞋,有的穿粉红的连衣裙,有的穿白色的连衣裙,有的穿淡紫色的连衣裙,只要上面溅上了一点儿泥都能被人看见;这片水塘把她们挡住了,叫她们犯了难。她们能够听见教堂的钟声已经敲响了——可是她们差不多还在一英里路以外。
“谁能够想到在夏天这条河里还会涨这样大的水呢!”玛丽安说,她们已经爬到了路边的坡顶上,犹豫不定地站在那儿,希望沿着山坡爬过去,绕过那个水塘。“如果不从水里蹚过去,或者另外从征收通行税的路上绕过去,我们是过不了这个水塘的;要是绕过去的话,我们一定很晚才能到!”莱蒂毫无办法地站在那儿说。
“我们要是进教堂晚了,让所有的人看着,我一定要难堪不过的。”玛丽安说,“不等到‘求主这个,求主那个’的时候,我是恢复不过来的。”
正当她们挤在斜坡上站着的时候,她们听见了路边拐弯的地方传来一阵水声,接着安琪尔·克莱尔就在眼前出现了,他正在水中沿着那条被水淹的小路走来。
她们四个人的心脏都不约而同地猛跳了一下。
他的外表不像是过礼拜的,这大概是那个严守教条的牧师教育出来的儿子的样子吧;他穿的衣服还是在奶牛场挤奶时穿的衣服,脚上穿着走泥泞道路的靴子,帽子里面还塞了一片卷心菜叶,以保持头部的凉爽,手里拿一把小草铲,这就是他全身的装束。
“他不是上教堂去的,”玛丽安说。
“不是的——但我希望他是上教堂去的!”苔丝低声说。
实际上,对也好错也罢(借用巧舌如簧的辩论家的话),在夏季天气晴朗的日子里,安琪尔与其说在大小教堂里听人讲道,不如说是在大自然里接受教训。而且这天早晨,他还出门去了解过洪水冲走干草是不是带来了巨大的损失。他在路上老远就望见了那几个姑娘们,尽管她们把心思集中在途中的困难上而没有注意到他。他知道那个地点的水位已经升高了,也知道那片积水完全有可能成为她们路上的障碍。所以,他就急急忙忙地赶来,心里模模糊糊地想着怎样才能帮助她们——尤其是要帮助她们中间的某一个人。
四个姑娘的面颊红扑扑的,明亮的大眼睛水汪汪的,身穿轻盈的夏装站在路边的土坡上,就像鸽子挤在屋脊上一样,看上去是那样迷人,因此他在走到她们跟前之前,就停下来把她们端详了一番。姑娘们穿着细纱长裙,长裙的下摆从草丛中赶出来无数的飞虫和蝴蝶,它们被关在透明的裙摆之中飞不出来,就像关在笼中的小鸟一样。安琪尔的眼光终于落在了苔丝的身上。苔丝站在四人队伍的最后,正为她们进退两难而忍不住要笑的时候,接触到他的目光,不禁变得容光焕发。
积水不比安琪尔的靴子深,他就从水中走到了她们的下边;他站在那儿,看着网罗在长裙中的飞虫和蝴蝶。
“你们是想去教堂吗?”他对站在最前面的玛丽安说,说话里也包括了后面的两个,但是却把苔丝排除在外。
“是的,先生;已经这么晚了;我一定会难堪死了——”
“我来把你们抱过这个水塘吧——我把你们一个一个地抱过去。”
四个姑娘的脸一起都变红了,仿佛在她们胸膛里跳动的是一颗心。
“我想你抱不动的,先生,”玛丽安说。
“你们要过去,这是唯一的办法了。站着别动。瞎说——你们不会太重的!我能够把你们四个人一起抱起来。好了,玛丽女,你来吧,”他接着说,“把你的胳膊伸过来,抱着我的肩膀,就这样。好啦!抱紧。你做得很好。”
玛丽安按照克莱尔的吩咐,伏在他的肩上,让他用胳膊抱着走过去,他的身材又高又瘦,从后面看过去,就好像一根花枝,抱着的玛丽安就像是上面的一束鲜花。他们走到路上拐弯的地方不见了,但是从传过来的他们在水中走路的声音和玛丽安帽子上露出来的丝带,可以知道他们走到了哪儿。不一会儿他就回来了。按照她们站在斜坡上的顺序,伊茨·休特是第二个。
“他回来了,”伊茨·休特低声说,她们听得出来,她的嘴唇已经被感情烧干了。“我也要和玛丽安一样,用胳膊搂着他的脖子,对着他的脸。”
“那也没有什么呀,”苔丝急忙说。
“什么事都是有定数的,”伊茨没有听到苔丝说话,接着说。“拥抱有定数,不拥抱也有定数;现在我拥抱的时候来了。”①
 
①参见《圣经·传道书》第三章。

“喂——那是《圣经》中的话呀,伊茨!”
“不错,”伊茨说,“在教堂里,我总是喜欢这些漂亮的诗句。”
安琪尔·克莱尔现在走到了伊茨的面前,不过在他的这番举动里,有四分之三是出于一种帮忙的性质。伊茨一声不响地朦朦胧胧地伏到克莱尔的肩上,克莱尔机械地把她抱起来走了。当莱蒂听见他第三次转回来时,她那一颗心怦怦地跳着,把她激动得差不多都摇晃起来了。克莱尔走到这个长着红头发的姑娘面前,在他把她抱起来时,他看了苔丝一眼。他不能够用嘴巴把话更明白地说出来。“一会儿就只剩下你和我了。”她脸上的表情说明她理解了他的意思;她有些喜形于色。他们都能善解人意。
可怜的小莱蒂尽管身子最轻,但是抱着她却最麻烦。玛丽安胖乎乎的一堆死肉,好像一口袋粮食,几乎都把克莱尔给压倒了。伊茨很懂事,靠在他的肩上一动也不动。莱蒂却是歇斯底里的一团。
不过,他还是把这个不安静的姑娘抱过了水塘,把她放在地上,转身走了,苔丝从树篱的顶上望过去,看见远处她们三个人挤在一起,站在他把她们放下的那块高地上,现在轮到她了。苔丝心里感到局促不安,因为她看见她的伙伴们接近克莱尔的呼吸和眼睛时那样激动,曾经嗤之以鼻,而现在却轮到她自己紧张了;她好像是害怕泄露了自己心中的秘密似的,到了最后一刻竟然推托搪塞起来。
“也许我能够沿着这面土坡走过去——走路我比她们强得多。你一定太累了,克莱尔先生!”
“不,不,苔丝,”克莱尔急忙说。苔丝几乎在不知不觉当中倒进了他的怀里,靠在了他的肩上。
“娶三个利亚只是为了得到一个拉结呀!”①他轻声说。
“她们都是比我强的女孩子呀,”她回答说,说话里仍然很慷慨地坚持着自己心中要成全她们的决定。
 
①《旧约·创世纪》第二十八章说,以撒吩咐雅各到外祖家去,在拉班的三个女儿中娶一个为妻。第二十九章接着说,雅各为拉班工作了七年,拉班把大女儿利亚(Leah)和使女兹尔巴许配给他,但雅各为了得到拉班的小女儿拉结(Rachel),又为拉班工作了七年。

“在我看来不是这样的,”安琪尔说。
他看见她听了他说的话脸上一红;就抱着她往前走了几步,没有说话。
“但愿我不要太重才好?”她羞怯地问。
“啊,不重。你试试玛丽安就知道!她是那样重的一堆肉呢。你却像阳光照耀下上下起伏的一片波浪。你身上穿的这件细纱衣裳,就是从波浪里飞出来的浪花。”
“这真让人高兴——要是你觉得我真像波浪的话。”
“我在前面出的四分之三的力气完全是为了后面这四分之一的缘故呀。你知道吗?”
“不知道。”
“我真没有想到今天会碰到这件事。”
“我也没有想到……水是突然上涨的。”
她嘴里说着水涨了的话,但是她明白他说的话里面的意思,因此她的呼吸把她的真情泄漏了。克莱尔静静地站着,把自己的脸朝向她的脸。
“啊,苔丝!”他感叹地说。
苔丝姑娘的面颊在微风中烧得发烫,情感荡漾,不敢再看他的眼睛了。安琪尔这时也想到,他利用这个偶然得来的优势有些不公平;他因此就不再迈她了。他们口中虽然没有明白地把他们的情话说出来,但是他们却希望现在就适可而止。但是,他走得很慢,尽量把抱着她走路的时间延长;不过他们最后还是走到了拐弯的地方,剩下的一段路就完全暴露在另外三个姑娘的眼中了。他们走到了干燥的地面,克莱尔把苔丝放了下来。
苔丝的朋友们把眼睛睁得圆圆的,带着深思,看着她和安琪尔,她也看得出来她们一直在议论她。他急急忙忙地向她们告了别,又沿着被水淹没的道路哗哗地走了回去。
四个姑娘又像以前一样往前走了,后来玛丽安打破沉默说——
“不——不管怎么说;我们没有办法比过她!”她神情沮丧地看着苔丝说。
“你这话什么意思?”苔丝问。
“他最喜欢你呀——他最最喜欢你呀!他抱你过来时我们都看见啦。要是你给他一点点儿鼓励,只要很小一点儿,他就一定吻过你了。”
“没有的事,没有的事。”她说。
她们一块儿出门时的欢乐情绪也不知道怎么消失了;但是在她们中间并没有仇恨和恶意。她们都是纯朴的年轻女孩子;她们都生长在偏僻的农村里,都非常相信宿命论的思想,所以谁也没有恨她。她们是无法取代苔丝的。
苔丝心里头很难过。她无法掩盖自己已经爱上了安琪尔·克莱尔的事实,也许,她在知道其他几个姑娘也倾心于他的时候,她爱他就爱得更加强烈了。这种情绪是能够相互传染的,在女孩子中间尤其如此。可是,她那颗同样渴望爱情的心也很同情她的朋友们。苔丝天性极其忠厚,但是要去同爱情搏斗又未免力量太弱小了,所以后来的结果是自然而然的。
“我决不会妨碍你的,也不会妨碍你们中间任何一个!”当天夜里苔丝在寝室里对莱蒂声明说(说的时候流着眼泪)。“我不能不说,亲爱的!我觉得他心里一点结婚的意思也没有;但是如果他向我求婚,我是会拒绝他的,就像我拒绝其他的人一样。”
“啊,真的吗?为什么?”莫名其妙的莱蒂问。
“那是不可能的!不过我得把话说明白。我要把自己完全撇在一边,但是他也不会从你们中间选一个的。”
“我从来没有这样希望过——也没有这样想过!”莱蒂痛苦地说。“可是,唉!我但愿我已经死了才好。”
这个可怜的女孩子,被一种连她自己都不明白的感情折磨着,转身面向刚刚上楼的另外两个女孩子。
“我们跟她还是朋友,”她对她们说。“她觉得他娶她的机会并不比娶我们的多。”
她们中间的隔阂就这样消除了,又亲亲热热地说起知心话来。
“我似乎现在做什么都不在乎了,”玛丽安说,她的心情现在低落到了极点。“我要嫁给斯底克福特的一个奶牛场老板了,他已经向我求婚两次了;可是——大啊——我现在宁肯死了也不愿做他的妻子了!你为什么不说话啊,伊茨?”
“那么我承认,”伊茨小声说,“今天他抱着我走过水塘的时候,我心里想他一定要吻我的;我静静地靠在他的胸膛上,等了又等,一动也不动。但是他没有吻我。我再也不愿意在泰波塞斯住下去了!我要回家去。”
姑娘们的爱情既然没有了希望,卧室里的气氛也就变得烦躁不安起来。冷酷的自然法则把她们的感情激发出来——这种感情既不是她们想要的,也不是她们情愿的,就是在这种感情的压力下,她们在床上辗转反侧,久久不能入睡。
白天发生的事已经燃起了火苗,在她们的胸膛里燃烧着,折磨着她们,使她们痛苦得几乎无法忍受了。她们作为个体存在的差别被这种感情消除了,她们每一个人都不过是被称作女人的这种有机体的一部分。因为谁也没有希望,所以她们都是那样坦诚,没有一点儿忌妒。她们每一个人都是明白事理的姑娘,谁也没有想到为了超过别人,就用虚荣的幻想去自欺欺人,或是去否认她们的爱情,或去卖弄风情。从她们的身分地位看,她们完全明白她们的痴情不会有什么结果;这件事从一开始就是没有意义的;是她们自己建立起来的思想观念在作怪;从文明的观点看,她们的爱情根本就没有任何存在的理由(但是从自然的观点看,什么理由也不缺少);事实是,爱情是确实存在的,而且给她们带来的极度喜悦到了销魂蚀魄的程度;所有这一切也使她们产生出一种听天由命和自尊自重的思想,而她们要是真的去争夺他作丈夫,卑鄙地想心思,那么这种态度就会被破坏掉了。
她们在小床上翻来覆去的,老是睡不着,楼下的奶油榨机里也传来单调的滴答声。
“你没睡着吧,苔丝?”过了半小时,有一个女孩子低声问。
那是伊茨·体特的声音。
苔丝回答说没有睡着,刚一说完,莱蒂和玛丽安也掀开了被单叹着气说——
“我们也没有睡着呢!”
“据说他家里给他找了一位小姐——我实在想知道她长的是个什么样子!”
“我也很想知道,”伊茨说。
“给他找了一个小姐?”苔丝吃了一惊,急忙问。
“啊,不错——听人悄悄说的;是一个门户和他相当的小姐,他家里给他找的;是一个神学博士的女儿,离他父亲住的爱敏寺教区不远;他们说他不太喜欢她。不过他肯定是要娶她的。”
关于这件事,她们知道的就是这样一点点;但是在夜色深沉的晚上,这件事已经足以使她们建立起痛苦和悲哀的遐想。他们想象出所有的细节,想象他怎样被劝说得同意了,想象怎样准备婚礼,想象新娘的快乐,想象新娘的服装和婚纱,想象新娘和他住在一起的幸福之家,而他同她们之间的旧情却被忘得一干二净,她们就这样谈着,痛苦着,直到她们哭着睡着了,才算把忧愁驱散掉。
在这段新闻透露出来以后,苔丝也就断了痴心妄想的念头,不再以为克莱尔对她的殷勤含有什么严肃郑重的意义了。那只是因为她的美丽而爱她的,就像上在过去的夏季一样,也就是说,他是为了暂时的爱情欢娱而爱她的,此外没有别的。在这种悲伤的想法里,她还戴有一顶荆棘之冠,那就是他对她的暂时爱恋胜于其他的人,而她自己也知道自己在天性方面比她们更热情、更聪明、更美貌,但是从社会礼法的观点看,她却不比被他忽视的不如她美貌的那些人更值得他爱。
 

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 haymaking in the other meads.

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.

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.

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 pattens 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.

`Who would have expected such a rise in the river in summertime!' 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.

`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 hopelessly.

`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 That-it-may-please-Thees.'

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.

Four hearts gave a big throb simultaneously.

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.

`No - I wish he was!' murmured Tess.

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.

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 files 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 glance radiantly.

He came beneath them in the water, which did not rise over his long boots; and stood looking at the entrapped flies and butterflies.

`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.

`Yes, sir; and 'tis getting late; and my colour do come up so--'

`I'll carry you through the pool - every Jill of you.'

The whole four flushed as if one heart beat through them.

`I think you can't, sir,' said Marian.

`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.'

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.

`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 did.'

`There's nothing in that,' said Tess quickly.

`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.'

`Fie - it is Scripture, Izz!'

`Yes,' said Izz, `I've always a' ear at church for pretty verses.' 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 J.' Her comprehension appeared in her face; she could not help it. There was an understanding between them.

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 had literally staggered. Izz had ridden sensibly and calmly. Retty was a bunch of hysterics.

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 pattered with him at the last moment.

`I may be able to clim' along the bank perhaps - I can clim' better than they. You must be so tired, Mr Clare!'

`No, no, Tess,' said he quickly. And almost before she was aware she was seated in his arms and resting against his shoulder.

`Three Leahs to get one Rachel,' he whispered.

`They are better women than I,' she replied, magnanimously sticking to her resolve.

`Not to me,' said Angel.

He saw her grow warm at this; and they went some steps in silence.

`I hope I am not too heavy?' she said timidly. `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.'

`It is very pretty - if I seem like that to you.'

`Do you know that I have undergone three-quarters of this labour entirely for the sake of the fourth quarter?'

`No.'

`I did not expect such an event to-day.'

`Nor I... The water came up so sudden.'

That the rise in the water was what she understood him to refer to, the state of her breathing belied. Clare stood still and inclined his face towards hers.

`O Tessy!' he exclaimed.

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.

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.

The four moved on together as before, till Marian broke the silence by saying--

`No - in all truth; we have no chance against her!' She looked joylessly at Tess.

`What do you mean?' asked the latter.

`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.'

`No, no,' said she.

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.

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 heart of hers compassionated her friends. Tess's honest nature had fought against this, but too feebly, and the natural result had followed.

`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 even to ask me I should refuse him, as I should refuse any man.'

`Oh! would you? Why?' said wondering Retty.

`It cannot be! But I will be plain. Putting myself quite on one side, I don't think he will choose either of you.'

`I have never expected it - thought of it!'moaned Retty. `But O! I wish I was dead!'

The poor child, torn by a feeling which she hardly understood, turned to the other two girls who came upstairs just then.

`We be friends with her again,' she said to them. `She thinks no more of his choosing her than we do.'

So the reserve went off, and they were confiding and warm.

`I don't seem to care what I do now,' said Marian, whose mood was tuned 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?'

`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 Talbotbays any longer! I shall go hwome.'

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 destroyed.

They tossed and turned on their little beds, and the cheese-wring dripped monotonously downstairs.

`B' you awake, Tess?' whispered one, half-an-hour later.

It was Izz Huett's voice.

Tess replied in the affirmative, whereupon also Retty and Marian suddenly flung the bedclothes off them, and sighed--

`So be we!'

`I wonder what she is like - the lady they say his family have looked out for him!'

`I wonder,' said Izz.

`Some lady looked out for him?' gasped Tess, starting. `I have never heard o' that!'

`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.'

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.

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.