The dull sky soon began to tell its meaning by sending down herald-drops of rain, and the stagnant air of the day changed into a fitful breeze which played about their faces. The quick-silvery glaze on the rivers and pools vanished; from broad mirrors of light they changed to lustreless sheets of lead, with a surface like a rasp. But that spectacle did not affect her preoccupation. Her countenance, a natural carnation slightly embrowned by the season, had deepened its tinge with the beating of the rain-drops; and her hair, which the pressure of the cows’ flanks had, as usual, caused to tumble down from its fastenings and stray beyond the curtain of her calico bonnet, was made clammy by the moisture, till it hardly was better than seaweed.
“I ought not to have come, I suppose,” she murmured, looking at the sky.
“I am sorry for the rain,” said he. “But how glad I am to have you here!”
Remote Egdon disappeared by degree behind the liquid gauze. The evening grew darker, and the roads being crossed by gates, it was not safe to drive faster than at a walking pace. The air was rather chill.
“I am so afraid you will get cold, with nothing upon your arms and shoulders,” he said. “Creep close to me, and perhaps the drizzle won’t hurt you much. I should be sorrier still if I did not think that the rain might be helping me.”
She imperceptibly crept closer, and he wrapped round them both a large piece of sail-cloth, which was sometimes used to keep the sun off the milk-cans. Tess held it from slipping off him as well as herself, Clare’s hands being occupied.
“Now we are all right again. Ah—no we are not! It runs down into my neck a little, and it must still more into yours. That’s better. Your arms are like wet marble, Tess. Wipe them in the cloth. Now, if you stay quiet, you will not get another drop. Well, dear—about that question of mine—that long-standing question?”
The only reply that he could hear for a little while was the smack of the horse’s hoofs on the moistening road, and the cluck of the milk in the cans behind them.
“Do you remember what you said?”
“I do,” she replied.
“Before we get home, mind.”
He said no more then. As they drove on, the fragment of an old manor house of Caroline date rose against the sky, and was in due course passed and left behind.
“That,” he observed, to entertain her, “is an interesting old place—one of the several seats which belonged to an ancient Norman family formerly of great influence in this county, the d’Urbervilles. I never pass one of their residences without thinking of them. There is something very sad in the extinction of a family of renown, even if it was fierce, domineering, feudal renown.”
“Yes,” said Tess.
They crept along towards a point in the expanse of shade just at hand at which a feeble light was beginning to assert its presence, a spot where, by day, a fitful white streak of steam at intervals upon the dark green background denoted intermittent moments of contact between their secluded world and modern life. Modern life stretched out its steam feeler to this point three or four times a day, touched the native existences, and quickly withdrew its feeler again, as if what it touched had been uncongenial.