“I’ll tell ’ee what ’tis, Durbeyfield,” said she exultingly; “he’ll never have the heart not to love her. But whatever you do, don’t zay too much to Tess of his fancy for her, and this chance she has got. She is such an odd maid that it mid zet her against him, or against going there, even now. If all goes well, I shall certainly be for making some return to pa’son at Stagfoot Lane for telling us—dear, good man!”
However, as the moment for the girl’s setting out drew nigh, when the first excitement of the dressing had passed off, a slight misgiving found place in Joan Durbeyfield’s mind. It prompted the matron to say that she would walk a little way—as far as to the point where the acclivity from the valley began its first steep ascent to the outer world. At the top Tess was going to be met with the spring-cart sent by the Stoke-d’Urbervilles, and her box had already been wheeled ahead towards this summit by a lad with trucks, to be in readiness.
Seeing their mother put on her bonnet, the younger children clamoured to go with her.
“I do want to walk a little-ways wi’ Sissy, now she’s going to marry our gentleman-cousin, and wear fine cloze!”
“Now,” said Tess, flushing and turning quickly, “I’ll hear no more o’ that! Mother, how could you ever put such stuff into their heads?”
“Going to work, my dears, for our rich relation, and help get enough money for a new horse,” said Mrs Durbeyfield pacifically.
“Goodbye, father,” said Tess, with a lumpy throat.
“Goodbye, my maid,” said Sir John, raising his head from his breast as he suspended his nap, induced by a slight excess this morning in honour of the occasion. “Well, I hope my young friend will like such a comely sample of his own blood. And tell’n, Tess, that being sunk, quite, from our former grandeur, I’ll sell him the title—yes, sell it—and at no onreasonable figure.”
“Not for less than a thousand pound!” cried Lady Durbeyfield.
“Tell’n—I’ll take a thousand pound. Well, I’ll take less, when I come to think o’t. He’ll adorn it better than a poor lammicken feller like myself can. Tell’n he shall hae it for a hundred. But I won’t stand upon trifles—tell’n he shall hae it for fifty—for twenty pound! Yes, twenty pound—that’s the lowest. Dammy, family honour is family honour, and I won’t take a penny less!”
Tess’s eyes were too full and her voice too choked to utter the sentiments that were in her. She turned quickly, and went out.
So the girls and their mother all walked together, a child on each side of Tess, holding her hand and looking at her meditatively from time to time, as at one who was about to do great things; her mother just behind with the smallest; the group forming a picture of honest beauty flanked by innocence, and backed by simple-souled vanity. They followed the way till they reached the beginning of the ascent,