One among her fellow-travellers addressed her more pointedly than any had spoken before: “Why, you be quite a posy! And such roses in early June!”
Then she became aware of the spectacle she presented to their surprised vision: roses at her breasts; roses in her hat; roses and strawberries in her basket to the brim. She blushed, and said confusedly that the flowers had been given to her. When the passengers were not looking she stealthily removed the more prominent blooms from her hat and placed them in the basket, where she covered them with her handkerchief. Then she fell to reflecting again, and in looking downwards a thorn of the rose remaining in her breast accidentally pricked her chin. Like all the cottagers in Blackmoor Vale, Tess was steeped in fancies and prefigurative superstitions; she thought this an ill omen—the first she had noticed that day.
The van travelled only so far as Shaston, and there were several miles of pedestrian descent from that mountain-town into the vale to Marlott. Her mother had advised her to stay here for the night, at the house of a cottage-woman they knew, if she should feel too tired to come on; and this Tess did, not descending to her home till the following afternoon.
When she entered the house she perceived in a moment from her mother’s triumphant manner that something had occurred in the interim.
“Oh yes; I know all about it! I told ’ee it would be all right, and now ’tis proved!”
“Since I’ve been away? What has?” said Tess rather wearily.
Her mother surveyed the girl up and down with arch approval, and went on banteringly: “So you’ve brought ’em round!”
“How do you know, mother?”
“I’ve had a letter.”
Tess then remembered that there would have been time for this.
“They say—Mrs d’Urberville says—that she wants you to look after a little fowl-farm which is her hobby. But this is only her artful way of getting ’ee there without raising your hopes. She’s going to own ’ee as kin—that’s the meaning o’t.”
“But I didn’t see her.”
“You zid somebody, I suppose?”
“I saw her son.”
“And did he own ’ee?”
“Well—he called me Coz.”
“An’ I knew it! Jacky—he called her Coz!” cried Joan to her husband. “Well, he spoke to his mother, of course, and she do want ’ee there.”
“But I don’t know that I am apt at tending fowls,” said the dubious Tess.
“Then I don’t know who is apt. You’ve be’n born in the business, and brought up in it. They that be born in a business always know more about it than any ’prentice. Besides, that’s only just a show of something for you to do, that you midn’t feel beholden.”
“I don’t altogether think I ought to go,” said Tess thoughtfully. “Who wrote the letter? Will you let me look at it?”
“Mrs d’Urberville wrote it. Here it is.”