“Well, never mind,” he resumed. “Here I am, my love, as in the old times!”
“Not as then—never as then—’tis different!” she entreated. “And there was never warmth with me! O why didn’t you keep your faith, if the loss of it has brought you to speak to me like this!”
“Because you’ve knocked it out of me; so the evil be upon your sweet head! Your husband little thought how his teaching would recoil upon him! Ha-ha—I’m awfully glad you have made an apostate of me all the same! Tess, I am more taken with you than ever, and I pity you too. For all your closeness, I see you are in a bad way—neglected by one who ought to cherish you.”
She could not get her morsels of food down her throat; her lips were dry, and she was ready to choke. The voices and laughs of the workfolk eating and drinking under the rick came to her as if they were a quarter of a mile off.
“It is cruelty to me!” she said. “How—how can you treat me to this talk, if you care ever so little for me?”
“True, true,” he said, wincing a little. “I did not come to reproach you for my deeds. I came Tess, to say that I don’t like you to be working like this, and I have come on purpose for you. You say you have a husband who is not I. Well, perhaps you have; but I’ve never seen him, and you’ve not told me his name; and altogether he seems rather a mythological personage. However, even if you have one, I think I am nearer to you than he is. I, at any rate, try to help you out of trouble, but he does not, bless his invisible face! The words of the stern prophet Hosea that I used to read come back to me. Don’t you know them, Tess?—’And she shall follow after her lover, but she shall not overtake him; and she shall seek him, but shall not find him; then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then was it better with me than now!’ ... Tess, my trap is waiting just under the hill, and—darling mine, not his!—you know the rest.”
Her face had been rising to a dull crimson fire while he spoke; but she did not answer.
“You have been the cause of my backsliding,” he continued, stretching his arm towards her waist; “you should be willing to share it, and leave that mule you call husband for ever.”
One of her leather gloves, which she had taken off to eat her skimmer-cake, lay in her lap, and without the slightest warning she passionately swung the glove by the gauntlet directly in his face. It was heavy and thick as a warrior’s, and it struck him flat on the mouth. Fancy might have regarded the act as the recrudescence of a trick in which her armed progenitors were not unpractised. Alec fiercely started up from his reclining position. A scarlet oozing appeared where her blow had alighted, and in a moment the blood began dropping from his mouth upon the straw. But he soon controlled himself, calmly drew his handkerchief from his pocket, and mopped his bleeding lips.