Mrs Durbeyfield was welcomed with glances and nods by the remainder of the conclave, and turned to where her husband sat. He was humming absently to himself, in a low tone: “I be as good as some folks here and there! I’ve got a great family vault at Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill, and finer skillentons than any man in Wessex!”
“I’ve something to tell ’ee that’s come into my head about that—a grand projick!” whispered his cheerful wife. “Here, John, don’t ’ee see me?” She nudged him, while he, looking through her as through a window-pane, went on with his recitative.
“Hush! Don’t ’ee sing so loud, my good man,” said the landlady; “in case any member of the Gover’ment should be passing, and take away my licends.”
“He’s told ’ee what’s happened to us, I suppose?” asked Mrs Durbeyfield.
“Yes—in a way. D’ye think there’s any money hanging by it?”
“Ah, that’s the secret,” said Joan Durbeyfield sagely. “However, ’tis well to be kin to a coach, even if you don’t ride in ’en.” She dropped her public voice, and continued in a low tone to her husband: “I’ve been thinking since you brought the news that there’s a great rich lady out by Trantridge, on the edge o’ The Chase, of the name of d’Urberville.”
“Hey—what’s that?” said Sir John.
She repeated the information. “That lady must be our relation,” she said. “And my projick is to send Tess to claim kin.”
“There is a lady of the name, now you mention it,” said Durbeyfield. “Pa’son Tringham didn’t think of that. But she’s nothing beside we—a junior branch of us, no doubt, hailing long since King Norman’s day.”
While this question was being discussed neither of the pair noticed, in their preoccupation, that little Abraham had crept into the room, and was awaiting an opportunity of asking them to return.
“She is rich, and she’d be sure to take notice o’ the maid,” continued Mrs Durbeyfield; “and ’twill be a very good thing. I don’t see why two branches o’ one family should not be on visiting terms.”
“Yes; and we’ll all claim kin!” said Abraham brightly from under the bedstead. “And we’ll all go and see her when Tess has gone to live with her; and we’ll ride in her coach and wear black clothes!”
“How do you come here, child? What nonsense be ye talking! Go away, and play on the stairs till father and mother be ready! ... Well, Tess ought to go to this other member of our family. She’d be sure to win the lady—Tess would; and likely enough ’twould lead to some noble gentleman marrying her. In short, I know it.”
“I tried her fate in the Fortune-Teller, and it brought out that very thing! ... You should ha’ seen how pretty she looked to-day; her skin is as sumple as a duchess’.”
“What says the maid herself to going?”
“I’ve not asked her. She don’t know there is any such lady-relation yet. But it would certainly put her in the way of a grand marriage, and she won’t say nay to going.”