Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
29. CHAPTER XXIX (continued)
"What is in them?"
"Almost either of 'em," she began, "would make--perhaps
would make--a properer wife than I. And perhaps they
love you as well as I--almost."
There were signs that it was an exquisite relief to her
to hear the impatient exclamation, though she had
resolved so intrepidly to let generosity make one bid
against herself. That was now done, and she had not the
power to attempt self-immolation a second time then.
They were joined by a milker from one of the cottages,
and no more was said on that which concerned them so
deeply. But Tess knew that this day would decide it.
In the afternoon several of the dairyman's household
and assistants went down to the meads as usual, a long
way from the dairy, where many of the cows were milked
without being driven home. The supply was getting less
as the animals advanced in calf, and the supernumerary
milkers of the lush green season had been dismissed.
The work progressed leisurely. Each pailful was poured
into tall cans that stood in a large spring-waggon
which had been brought upon the scene; and when they
were milked the cows trailed away. Dairyman Crick, who
was there with the rest, his wrapper gleaming
miraculously white against a leaden evening sky,
suddenly looked at his heavy watch.
"Why, 'tis later than I thought," he said. "Begad! We
shan't be soon enough with this milk at the station, if
we don't mind. There's no time today to take it home
and mix it with the bulk afore sending off. It must go
to station straight from here. Who'll drive it
Mr Clare volunteered to do so, though it was none of
his business, asking Tess to accompany him. The
evening, though sunless, had been warm and muggy for
the season, and Tess had come out with her milking-hood
only, naked-armed and jacketless; certainly not dressed
for a drive. She therefore replied by glancing over
her scant habiliments; but Clare gently urged her. She
assented by relinquishing her pail and stool to the
dairyman to take home; and mounted the spring-waggon