“Who would think I was Mrs Angel Clare!” she said.
The wall felt warm to her back and shoulders, and she found that immediately within the gable was the cottage fireplace, the heat of which came through the bricks. She warmed her hands upon them, and also put her cheek—red and moist with the drizzle—against their comforting surface. The wall seemed to be the only friend she had. She had so little wish to leave it that she could have stayed there all night.
Tess could hear the occupants of the cottage—gathered together after their day’s labour—talking to each other within, and the rattle of their supper-plates was also audible. But in the village-street she had seen no soul as yet. The solitude was at last broken by the approach of one feminine figure, who, though the evening was cold, wore the print gown and the tilt-bonnet of summer time. Tess instinctively thought it might be Marian, and when she came near enough to be distinguishable in the gloom, surely enough it was she. Marian was even stouter and redder in the face than formerly, and decidedly shabbier in attire. At any previous period of her existence Tess would hardly have cared to renew the acquaintance in such conditions; but her loneliness was excessive, and she responded readily to Marian’s greeting.
Marian was quite respectful in her inquiries, but seemed much moved by the fact that Tess should still continue in no better condition than at first; though she had dimly heard of the separation.
“Tess—Mrs Clare—the dear wife of dear he! And is it really so bad as this, my child? Why is your cwomely face tied up in such a way? Anybody been beating ’ee? Not HE?”
“No, no, no! I merely did it not to be clipsed or colled, Marian.”
She pulled off in disgust a bandage which could suggest such wild thoughts.
“And you’ve got no collar on” (Tess had been accustomed to wear a little white collar at the dairy).
“I know it, Marian.”
“You’ve lost it travelling.”
“I’ve not lost it. The truth is, I don’t care anything about my looks; and so I didn’t put it on.”
“And you don’t wear your wedding-ring?”
“Yes, I do; but not in public. I wear it round my neck on a ribbon. I don’t wish people to think who I am by marriage, or that I am married at all; it would be so awkward while I lead my present life.”
“But you BE a gentleman’s wife; and it seems hardly fair that you should live like this!”
“O yes it is, quite fair; though I am very unhappy.”
“Well, well. HE married you—and you can be unhappy!”
“Wives are unhappy sometimes; from no fault of their husbands—from their own.”
“You’ve no faults, deary; that I’m sure of. And he’s none. So it must be something outside ye both.”
“Marian, dear Marian, will you do me a good turn without asking questions? My husband has gone abroad, and somehow I have overrun my allowance, so that I have to fall back upon my old work for a time. Do not call me Mrs Clare, but Tess, as before. Do they want a hand here?”