“Yes—I will go,” said Izz, after a pause.
“You will? You know what it means, Izz?”
“It means that I shall live with you for the time you are over there—that’s good enough for me.”
“Remember, you are not to trust me in morals now. But I ought to remind you that it will be wrong-doing in the eyes of civilization—Western civilization, that is to say.”
“I don’t mind that; no woman do when it comes to agony-point, and there’s no other way!”
“Then don’t get down, but sit where you are.”
He drove past the cross-roads, one mile, two miles, without showing any signs of affection.
“You love me very, very much, Izz?” he suddenly asked.
“I do—I have said I do! I loved you all the time we was at the dairy together!”
“More than Tess?”
She shook her head.
“No,” she murmured, “not more than she.”
“Because nobody could love ’ee more than Tess did! ... She would have laid down her life for ’ee. I could do no more.”
Like the prophet on the top of Peor, Izz Huett would fain have spoken perversely at such a moment, but the fascination exercised over her rougher nature by Tess’s character compelled her to grace.
Clare was silent; his heart had risen at these straightforward words from such an unexpected unimpeachable quarter. In his throat was something as if a sob had solidified there. His ears repeated, “SHE WOULD HAVE LAID DOWN HER LIFE FOR ’EE. I COULD DO NO MORE!”
“Forget our idle talk, Izz,” he said, turning the horse’s head suddenly. “I don’t know what I’ve been saying! I will now drive you back to where your lane branches off.”
“So much for honesty towards ’ee! O—how can I bear it—how can I—how can I!”
Izz Huett burst into wild tears, and beat her forehead as she saw what she had done.
“Do you regret that poor little act of justice to an absent one? O, Izz, don’t spoil it by regret!”
She stilled herself by degrees.
“Very well, sir. Perhaps I didn’t know what I was saying, either, wh—when I agreed to go! I wish—what cannot be!”
“Because I have a loving wife already.”
“Yes, yes! You have!”
They reached the corner of the lane which they had passed half an hour earlier, and she hopped down.
“Izz—please, please forget my momentary levity!” he cried. “It was so ill-considered, so ill-advised!”
“Forget it? Never, never! O, it was no levity to me!”
He felt how richly he deserved the reproach that the wounded cry conveyed, and, in a sorrow that was inexpressible, leapt down and took her hand.
“Well, but, Izz, we’ll part friends, anyhow? You don’t know what I’ve had to bear!”
She was a really generous girl, and allowed no further bitterness to mar their adieux.