“Why do you have such a horse?”
“Ah, well may you ask it! It was my fate, I suppose. Tib has killed one chap; and just after I bought her she nearly killed me. And then, take my word for it, I nearly killed her. But she’s touchy still, very touchy; and one’s life is hardly safe behind her sometimes.”
They were just beginning to descend; and it was evident that the horse, whether of her own will or of his (the latter being the more likely), knew so well the reckless performance expected of her that she hardly required a hint from behind.
Down, down, they sped, the wheels humming like a top, the dog-cart rocking right and left, its axis acquiring a slightly oblique set in relation to the line of progress; the figure of the horse rising and falling in undulations before them. Sometimes a wheel was off the ground, it seemed, for many yards; sometimes a stone was sent spinning over the hedge, and flinty sparks from the horse’s hoofs outshone the daylight. The aspect of the straight road enlarged with their advance, the two banks dividing like a splitting stick; one rushing past at each shoulder.
The wind blew through Tess’s white muslin to her very skin, and her washed hair flew out behind. She was determined to show no open fear, but she clutched d’Urberville’s rein-arm.
“Don’t touch my arm! We shall be thrown out if you do! Hold on round my waist!”
She grasped his waist, and so they reached the bottom.
“Safe, thank God, in spite of your fooling!” said she, her face on fire.
“Tess—fie! that’s temper!” said d’Urberville.
“Well, you need not let go your hold of me so thanklessly the moment you feel yourself our of danger.”
She had not considered what she had been doing; whether he were man or woman, stick or stone, in her involuntary hold on him. Recovering her reserve, she sat without replying, and thus they reached the summit of another declivity.
“Now then, again!” said d’Urberville.
“No, no!” said Tess. “Show more sense, do, please.”
“But when people find themselves on one of the highest points in the county, they must get down again,” he retorted.
He loosened rein, and away they went a second time. D’Urberville turned his face to her as they rocked, and said, in playful raillery: “Now then, put your arms round my waist again, as you did before, my Beauty.”
“Never!” said Tess independently, holding on as well as she could without touching him.
“Let me put one little kiss on those holmberry lips, Tess, or even on that warmed cheek, and I’ll stop—on my honour, I will!”
Tess, surprised beyond measure, slid farther back still on her seat, at which he urged the horse anew, and rocked her the more.
“Will nothing else do?” she cried at length, in desperation, her large eyes staring at him like those of a wild animal. This dressing her up so prettily by her mother had apparently been to lamentable purpose.