Clare regarded her attentively, conned the characters of her face as if they had been hieroglyphics. The denial seemed real.
“Then I ought not to hold you in this way—ought I? I have no right to you—no right to seek out where you are, or walk with you! Honestly, Tess, do you love any other man?”
“How can you ask?” she said, with continued self-suppression.
“I almost know that you do not. But then, why do you repulse me?”
“I don’t repulse you. I like you to—tell me you love me; and you may always tell me so as you go about with me—and never offend me.”
“But you will not accept me as a husband?”
“Ah—that’s different—it is for your good, indeed, my dearest! O, believe me, it is only for your sake! I don’t like to give myself the great happiness o’ promising to be yours in that way—because—because I am SURE I ought not to do it.”
“But you will make me happy!”
“Ah—you think so, but you don’t know!”
At such times as this, apprehending the grounds of her refusal to be her modest sense of incompetence in matters social and polite, he would say that she was wonderfully well-informed and versatile—which was certainly true, her natural quickness and her admiration for him having led her to pick up his vocabulary, his accent, and fragments of his knowledge, to a surprising extent. After these tender contests and her victory she would go away by herself under the remotest cow, if at milking-time, or into the sedge or into her room, if at a leisure interval, and mourn silently, not a minute after an apparently phlegmatic negative.
The struggle was so fearful; her own heart was so strongly on the side of his—two ardent hearts against one poor little conscience— that she tried to fortify her resolution by every means in her power. She had come to Talbothays with a made-up mind. On no account could she agree to a step which might afterwards cause bitter rueing to her husband for his blindness in wedding her. And she held that what her conscience had decided for her when her mind was unbiassed ought not to be overruled now.
“Why don’t somebody tell him all about me?” she said. “It was only forty miles off—why hasn’t it reached here? Somebody must know!”
Yet nobody seemed to know; nobody told him.
For two or three days no more was said. She guessed from the sad countenances of her chamber companions that they regarded her not only as the favourite, but as the chosen; but they could see for themselves that she did not put herself in his way.
Tess had never before known a time in which the thread of her life was so distinctly twisted of two strands, positive pleasure and positive pain. At the next cheese-making the pair were again left alone together. The dairyman himself had been lending a hand; but Mr Crick, as well as his wife, seemed latterly to have acquired a suspicion of mutual interest between these two; though they walked so circumspectly that suspicion was but of the faintest. Anyhow, the dairyman left them to themselves.