Having at last taken her course Tess was less restless and abstracted, going about her business with some self-assurance in the thought of acquiring another horse for her father by an occupation which would not be onerous. She had hoped to be a teacher at the school, but the fates seemed to decide otherwise. Being mentally older than her mother she did not regard Mrs Durbeyfield’s matrimonial hopes for her in a serious aspect for a moment. The light-minded woman had been discovering good matches for her daughter almost from the year of her birth.
On the morning appointed for her departure Tess was awake before dawn—at the marginal minute of the dark when the grove is still mute, save for one prophetic bird who sings with a clear-voiced conviction that he at least knows the correct time of day, the rest preserving silence as if equally convinced that he is mistaken. She remained upstairs packing till breakfast-time, and then came down in her ordinary week-day clothes, her Sunday apparel being carefully folded in her box.
Her mother expostulated. “You will never set out to see your folks without dressing up more the dand than that?”
“But I am going to work!” said Tess.
“Well, yes,” said Mrs Durbeyfield; and in a private tone, “at first there mid be a little pretence o’t ... But I think it will be wiser of ’ee to put your best side outward,” she added.
“Very well; I suppose you know best,” replied Tess with calm abandonment.
And to please her parent the girl put herself quite in Joan’s hands, saying serenely—“Do what you like with me, mother.”
Mrs Durbeyfield was only too delighted at this tractability. First she fetched a great basin, and washed Tess’s hair with such thoroughness that when dried and brushed it looked twice as much as at other times. She tied it with a broader pink ribbon than usual. Then she put upon her the white frock that Tess had worn at the club-walking, the airy fulness of which, supplementing her enlarged coiffure, imparted to her developing figure an amplitude which belied her age, and might cause her to be estimated as a woman when she was not much more than a child.
“I declare there’s a hole in my stocking-heel!” said Tess.
“Never mind holes in your stockings—they don’t speak! When I was a maid, so long as I had a pretty bonnet the devil might ha’ found me in heels.”
Her mother’s pride in the girl’s appearance led her to step back, like a painter from his easel, and survey her work as a whole.
“You must zee yourself!” she cried. “It is much better than you was t’other day.”
As the looking-glass was only large enough to reflect a very small portion of Tess’s person at one time, Mrs Durbeyfield hung a black cloak outside the casement, and so made a large reflector of the panes, as it is the wont of bedecking cottagers to do. After this she went downstairs to her husband, who was sitting in the lower room.