The day being the sixth of April, the Durbeyfield waggon met many other waggons with families on the summit of the load, which was built on a wellnigh unvarying principle, as peculiar, probably, to the rural labourer as the hexagon to the bee. The groundwork of the arrangement was the family dresser, which, with its shining handles, and finger-marks, and domestic evidences thick upon it, stood importantly in front, over the tails of the shaft-horses, in its erect and natural position, like some Ark of the Covenant that they were bound to carry reverently.
Some of the households were lively, some mournful; some were stopping at the doors of wayside inns; where, in due time, the Durbeyfield menagerie also drew up to bait horses and refresh the travellers.
During the halt Tess’s eyes fell upon a three-pint blue mug, which was ascending and descending through the air to and from the feminine section of a household, sitting on the summit of a load that had also drawn up at a little distance from the same inn. She followed one of the mug’s journeys upward, and perceived it to be clasped by hands whose owner she well knew. Tess went towards the waggon.
“Marian and Izz!” she cried to the girls, for it was they, sitting with the moving family at whose house they had lodged. “Are you house-ridding to-day, like everybody else?”
They were, they said. It had been too rough a life for them at Flintcomb-Ash, and they had come away, almost without notice, leaving Groby to prosecute them if he chose. They told Tess their destination, and Tess told them hers.
Marian leant over the load, and lowered her voice. “Do you know that the gentleman who follows ’ee—you’ll guess who I mean—came to ask for ’ee at Flintcomb after you had gone? We didn’t tell’n where you was, knowing you wouldn’t wish to see him.”
“Ah—but I did see him!” Tess murmured. “He found me.”
“And do he know where you be going?”
“I think so.”
“Husband come back?”
She bade her acquaintance goodbye—for the respective carters had now come out from the inn—and the two waggons resumed their journey in opposite directions; the vehicle whereon sat Marian, Izz, and the ploughman’s family with whom they had thrown in their lot, being brightly painted, and drawn by three powerful horses with shining brass ornaments on their harness; while the waggon on which Mrs Durbeyfield and her family rode was a creaking erection that would scarcely bear the weight of the superincumbent load; one which had known no paint since it was made, and drawn by two horses only. The contrast well marked the difference between being fetched by a thriving farmer and conveying oneself whither no hirer waited one’s coming.