One guessed, and another guessed. Mrs Crick did not guess, because she knew already.
“Well,” said the dairyman, “’tis that slack-twisted ’hore’s-bird of a feller, Jack Dollop. He’s lately got married to a widow-woman.”
“Not Jack Dollop? A villain—to think o’ that!” said a milker.
The name entered quickly into Tess Durbeyfield’s consciousness, for it was the name of the lover who had wronged his sweetheart, and had afterwards been so roughly used by the young woman’s mother in the butter-churn.
“And had he married the valiant matron’s daughter, as he promised?” asked Angel Clare absently, as he turned over the newspaper he was reading at the little table to which he was always banished by Mrs Crick, in her sense of his gentility.
“Not he, sir. Never meant to,” replied the dairyman. “As I say, ’tis a widow-woman, and she had money, it seems—fifty poun’ a year or so; and that was all he was after. They were married in a great hurry; and then she told him that by marrying she had lost her fifty poun’ a year. Just fancy the state o’ my gentleman’s mind at that news! Never such a cat-and-dog life as they’ve been leading ever since! Serves him well beright. But onluckily the poor woman gets the worst o’t.”
“Well, the silly body should have told en sooner that the ghost of her first man would trouble him,” said Mrs Crick.
“Ay, ay,” responded the dairyman indecisively. “Still, you can see exactly how ’twas. She wanted a home, and didn’t like to run the risk of losing him. Don’t ye think that was something like it, maidens?”
He glanced towards the row of girls.
“She ought to ha’ told him just before they went to church, when he could hardly have backed out,” exclaimed Marian.
“Yes, she ought,” agreed Izz.
“She must have seen what he was after, and should ha’ refused him,” cried Retty spasmodically.
“And what do you say, my dear?” asked the dairyman of Tess.
“I think she ought—to have told him the true state of things—or else refused him—I don’t know,” replied Tess, the bread-and-butter choking her.
“Be cust if I’d have done either o’t,” said Beck Knibbs, a married helper from one of the cottages. “All’s fair in love and war. I’d ha’ married en just as she did, and if he’d said two words to me about not telling him beforehand anything whatsomdever about my first chap that I hadn’t chose to tell, I’d ha’ knocked him down wi’ the rolling-pin—a scram little feller like he! Any woman could do it.”
The laughter which followed this sally was supplemented only by a sorry smile, for form’s sake, from Tess. What was comedy to them was tragedy to her; and she could hardly bear their mirth. She soon rose from table, and, with an impression that Clare would soon follow her, went along a little wriggling path, now stepping to one side of the irrigating channels, and now to the other, till she stood by the main stream of the Var. Men had been cutting the water-weeds higher up the river, and masses of them were floating past her—moving islands of green crow-foot, whereon she might almost have ridden; long locks of which weed had lodged against the piles driven to keep the cows from crossing.