Phase the Third: The Rally
23. CHAPTER XXIII
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 parrish 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.
"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.
"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