“You ought to have been more careful if you didn’t mean to get him to make you his wife!”
“O mother, my mother!” cried the agonized girl, turning passionately upon her parent as if her poor heart would break. “How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to fend hands against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’ learning in that way, and you did not help me!”
Her mother was subdued.
“I thought if I spoke of his fond feelings and what they might lead to, you would be hontish wi’ him and lose your chance,” she murmured, wiping her eyes with her apron. “Well, we must make the best of it, I suppose. ’Tis nater, after all, and what do please God!”
The event of Tess Durbeyfield’s return from the manor of her bogus kinsfolk was rumoured abroad, if rumour be not too large a word for a space of a square mile. In the afternoon several young girls of Marlott, former schoolfellows and acquaintances of Tess, called to see her, arriving dressed in their best starched and ironed, as became visitors to a person who had made a transcendent conquest (as they supposed), and sat round the room looking at her with great curiosity. For the fact that it was this said thirty-first cousin, Mr d’Urberville, who had fallen in love with her, a gentleman not altogether local, whose reputation as a reckless gallant and heartbreaker was beginning to spread beyond the immediate boundaries of Trantridge, lent Tess’s supposed position, by its fearsomeness, a far higher fascination that it would have exercised if unhazardous.
Their interest was so deep that the younger ones whispered when her back was turned—
“How pretty she is; and how that best frock do set her off! I believe it cost an immense deal, and that it was a gift from him.”
Tess, who was reaching up to get the tea-things from the corner-cupboard, did not hear these commentaries. If she had heard them, she might soon have set her friends right on the matter. But her mother heard, and Joan’s simple vanity, having been denied the hope of a dashing marriage, fed itself as well as it could upon the sensation of a dashing flirtation. Upon the whole she felt gratified, even though such a limited and evanescent triumph should involve her daughter’s reputation; it might end in marriage yet, and in the warmth of her responsiveness to their admiration she invited her visitors to stay to tea.
Their chatter, their laughter, their good-humoured innuendoes, above all, their flashes and flickerings of envy, revived Tess’s spirits also; and, as the evening wore on, she caught the infection of their excitement, and grew almost gay. The marble hardness left her face, she moved with something of her old bounding step, and flushed in all her young beauty.