D’Urberville stopped the horse, withdrew his feet from the stirrups, turned sideways on the saddle, and enclosed her waist with his arm to support her.
This immediately put her on the defensive, and with one of those sudden impulses of reprisal to which she was liable she gave him a little push from her. In his ticklish position he nearly lost his balance and only just avoided rolling over into the road, the horse, though a powerful one, being fortunately the quietest he rode.
“That is devilish unkind!” he said. “I mean no harm—only to keep you from falling.”
She pondered suspiciously, till, thinking that this might after all be true, she relented, and said quite humbly, “I beg your pardon, sir.”
“I won’t pardon you unless you show some confidence in me. Good God!” he burst out, “what am I, to be repulsed so by a mere chit like you? For near three mortal months have you trifled with my feelings, eluded me, and snubbed me; and I won’t stand it!”
“I’ll leave you to-morrow, sir.”
“No, you will not leave me to-morrow! Will you, I ask once more, show your belief in me by letting me clasp you with my arm? Come, between us two and nobody else, now. We know each other well; and you know that I love you, and think you the prettiest girl in the world, which you are. Mayn’t I treat you as a lover?”
She drew a quick pettish breath of objection, writhing uneasily on her seat, looked far ahead, and murmured, “I don’t know—I wish—how can I say yes or no when—”
He settled the matter by clasping his arm round her as he desired, and Tess expressed no further negative. Thus they sidled slowly onward till it struck her they had been advancing for an unconscionable time—far longer than was usually occupied by the short journey from Chaseborough, even at this walking pace, and that they were no longer on hard road, but in a mere trackway.
“Why, where be we?” she exclaimed.
“Passing by a wood.”
“A wood—what wood? Surely we are quite out of the road?”
“A bit of The Chase—the oldest wood in England. It is a lovely night, and why should we not prolong our ride a little?”
“How could you be so treacherous!” said Tess, between archness and real dismay, and getting rid of his arm by pulling open his fingers one by one, though at the risk of slipping off herself. “Just when I’ve been putting such trust in you, and obliging you to please you, because I thought I had wronged you by that push! Please set me down, and let me walk home.”
“You cannot walk home, darling, even if the air were clear. We are miles away from Trantridge, if I must tell you, and in this growing fog you might wander for hours among these trees.”
“Never mind that,” she coaxed. “Put me down, I beg you. I don’t mind where it is; only let me get down, sir, please!”