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.
He had been on the point of kissing that too tempting mouth, but he checked himself, for tender conscience’ sake.
“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!”
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.
“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 and Clare.
She slipped up from her seat, and they stood together, his arm still encircling her. Tess’s eyes, fixed on distance, began to fill.
“Why do you cry, my darling?” he said.
“O—I don’t know!” she murmured.
As she saw and felt more clearly the position she was in she became agitated and tried to withdraw.
“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?”
“N’—I can’t tell.”
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.
END OF PHASE THE THIRD
Phase the Fourth: The Consequence
Clare, restless, went out into the dusk when evening drew on, she who had won him having retired to her chamber.