Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
33. CHAPTER XXXIII (continued)
Clare had just returned from the stable-yard, and,
confronting the man on the threshold, heard the words,
and saw the shrinking of Tess. The insult to her stung
him to the quick, and before he had considered anything
at all he struck the man on the chin with the full
force of his fist, sending him staggering backwards
into the passage.
The man recovered himself, and seemed inclined to come
on, and Clare, stepping outside the door, put himself
in a posture of defence. But his opponent began to
think better of the matter. He looked anew at Tess as
he passed her, and said to Clare---
"I beg pardon, sir; 'twas a complete mistake. I
thought she was another woman, forty miles from here."
Clare, feeling then that he had been too hasty, and
that he was, moreover, to blame for leaving her
standing in an inn-passage, did what he usually did in
such cases, gave the man five shillings to plaster the
blow; and thus they parted, bidding each other a
pacific goodnight. As soon as Clare had taken the
reins from the ostler, and the young couple had driven
off, the two men went in the other direction. "And was
it a mistake?" said the second one.
"Not a bit of it. But I didn't want to hurt the
gentleman's feelings--not I."
In the meantime the lovers were driving onward.
"Could we put off our wedding till a little later?"
Tess asked in a dry dull voice. "I mean if we wished?"
"No, my love. Calm yourself. Do you mean that the
fellow may have time to summon me for assault?" he
"No--I only meant--if it should have to be put off."
What she meant was not very clear, and he directed her
to dismiss such fancies from her mind, which she
obediently did as well as she could. But she was
grave, very grave, all the way home; till she thought,
"We shall go away, a very long distance, hundreds of
miles from these parts, and such as this can never
happen again, and no ghost of the past reach there."