Next, he wished to see a little of the working of a flour-mill, having an idea that he might combine the use of one with corn-growing. The proprietor of a large old water-mill at Wellbridge—once the mill of an Abbey—had offered him the inspection of his time-honoured mode of procedure, and a hand in the operations for a few days, whenever he should choose to come. Clare paid a visit to the place, some few miles distant, one day at this time, to inquire particulars, and returned to Talbothays in the evening. She found him determined to spend a short time at the Wellbridge flour-mills. And what had determined him? Less the opportunity of an insight into grinding and bolting than the casual fact that lodgings were to be obtained in that very farmhouse which, before its mutilation, had been the mansion of a branch of the d’Urberville family. This was always how Clare settled practical questions; by a sentiment which had nothing to do with them. They decided to go immediately after the wedding, and remain for a fortnight, instead of journeying to towns and inns.
“Then we will start off to examine some farms on the other side of London that I have heard of,” he said, “and by March or April we will pay a visit to my father and mother.”
Questions of procedure such as these arose and passed, and the day, the incredible day, on which she was to become his, loomed large in the near future. The thirty-first of December, New Year’s Eve, was the date. His wife, she said to herself. Could it ever be? Their two selves together, nothing to divide them, every incident shared by them; why not? And yet why?
One Sunday morning Izz Huett returned from church, and spoke privately to Tess.
“You was not called home this morning.”
“It should ha’ been the first time of asking to-day,” she answered, looking quietly at Tess. “You meant to be married New Year’s Eve, deary?”
The other returned a quick affirmative.
“And there must be three times of asking. And now there be only two Sundays left between.”
Tess felt her cheek paling; Izz was right; of course there must be three. Perhaps he had forgotten! If so, there must be a week’s postponement, and that was unlucky. How could she remind her lover? She who had been so backward was suddenly fired with impatience and alarm lest she should lose her dear prize.
A natural incident relieved her anxiety. Izz mentioned the omission of the banns to Mrs Crick, and Mrs Crick assumed a matron’s privilege of speaking to Angel on the point.
“Have ye forgot ’em, Mr Clare? The banns, I mean.”
“No, I have not forgot ’em,” says Clare.
As soon as he caught Tess alone he assured her:
“Don’t let them tease you about the banns. A licence will be quieter for us, and I have decided on a licence without consulting you. So if you go to church on Sunday morning you will not hear your own name, if you wished to.”