“You artful hussy! Now, tell me—didn’t you make that hat blow off on purpose? I’ll swear you did!”
Her strategic silence confirmed his suspicion.
Then d’Urberville cursed and swore at her, and called her everything he could think of for the trick. Turning the horse suddenly he tried to drive back upon her, and so hem her in between the gig and the hedge. But he could not do this short of injuring her.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself for using such wicked words!” cried Tess with spirit, from the top of the hedge into which she had scrambled. “I don’t like ’ee at all! I hate and detest you! I’ll go back to mother, I will!”
D’Urberville’s bad temper cleared up at sight of hers; and he laughed heartily.
“Well, I like you all the better,” he said. “Come, let there be peace. I’ll never do it any more against your will. My life upon it now!”
Still Tess could not be induced to remount. She did not, however, object to his keeping his gig alongside her; and in this manner, at a slow pace, they advanced towards the village of Trantridge. From time to time d’Urberville exhibited a sort of fierce distress at the sight of the tramping he had driven her to undertake by his misdemeanour. She might in truth have safely trusted him now; but he had forfeited her confidence for the time, and she kept on the ground progressing thoughtfully, as if wondering whether it would be wiser to return home. Her resolve, however, had been taken, and it seemed vacillating even to childishness to abandon it now, unless for graver reasons. How could she face her parents, get back her box, and disconcert the whole scheme for the rehabilitation of her family on such sentimental grounds?
A few minutes later the chimneys of The Slopes appeared in view, and in a snug nook to the right the poultry-farm and cottage of Tess’ destination.
The community of fowls to which Tess had been appointed as supervisor, purveyor, nurse, surgeon, and friend made its headquarters in an old thatched cottage standing in an enclosure that had once been a garden, but was now a trampled and sanded square. The house was overrun with ivy, its chimney being enlarged by the boughs of the parasite to the aspect of a ruined tower. The lower rooms were entirely given over to the birds, who walked about them with a proprietary air, as though the place had been built by themselves, and not by certain dusty copyholders who now lay east and west in the churchyard. The descendants of these bygone owners felt it almost as a slight to their family when the house which had so much of their affection, had cost so much of their forefathers’ money, and had been in their possession for several generations before the d’Urbervilles came and built here, was indifferently turned into a fowl-house by Mrs Stoke-d’Urberville as soon as the property fell into hand according to law. “’Twas good enough for Christians in grandfather’s time,” they said.