She impulsively whispered to him—
“Will you kiss ’em all, once, poor things, for the first and last time?”
Clare had not the least objection to such a farewell formality—which was all that it was to him—and as he passed them he kissed them in succession where they stood, saying “Goodbye” to each as he did so. When they reached the door Tess femininely glanced back to discern the effect of that kiss of charity; there was no triumph in her glance, as there might have been. If there had it would have disappeared when she saw how moved the girls all were. The kiss had obviously done harm by awakening feelings they were trying to subdue.
Of all this Clare was unconscious. Passing on to the wicket-gate he shook hands with the dairyman and his wife, and expressed his last thanks to them for their attentions; after which there was a moment of silence before they had moved off. It was interrupted by the crowing of a cock. The white one with the rose comb had come and settled on the palings in front of the house, within a few yards of them, and his notes thrilled their ears through, dwindling away like echoes down a valley of rocks.
“Oh?” said Mrs Crick. “An afternoon crow!”
Two men were standing by the yard gate, holding it open.
“That’s bad,” one murmured to the other, not thinking that the words could be heard by the group at the door-wicket.
The cock crew again—straight towards Clare.
“Well!” said the dairyman.
“I don’t like to hear him!” said Tess to her husband. “Tell the man to drive on. Goodbye, goodbye!”
The cock crew again.
“Hoosh! Just you be off, sir, or I’ll twist your neck!” said the dairyman with some irritation, turning to the bird and driving him away. And to his wife as they went indoors: “Now, to think o’ that just to-day! I’ve not heard his crow of an afternoon all the year afore.”
“It only means a change in the weather,” said she; “not what you think: ’tis impossible!”
They drove by the level road along the valley to a distance of a few miles, and, reaching Wellbridge, turned away from the village to the left, and over the great Elizabethan bridge which gives the place half its name. Immediately behind it stood the house wherein they had engaged lodgings, whose exterior features are so well known to all travellers through the Froom Valley; once portion of a fine manorial residence, and the property and seat of a d’Urberville, but since its partial demolition a farmhouse.
“Welcome to one of your ancestral mansions!” said Clare as he handed her down. But he regretted the pleasantry; it was too near a satire.
On entering they found that, though they had only engaged a couple of rooms, the farmer had taken advantage of their proposed presence during the coming days to pay a New Year’s visit to some friends, leaving a woman from a neighbouring cottage to minister to their few wants. The absoluteness of possession pleased them, and they realized it as the first moment of their experience under their own exclusive roof-tree.