"Yes. The dairyman has got rid of her."
"I don't drink, and I bain't in a decline. But — I am no great things at singing afore breakfast now!"
"How is that? Do you remember how neatly you used to turn ''Twas down in Cupid's Gardens' and 'The Tailor's Breeches' at morning milking?"
"Ah, yes! When you first came, sir, that was. Not when you had been there a bit."
"Why was that falling-off?"
Her black eyes flashed up to his face for one moment by way of answer.
"Izz! — how weak of you — for such as I!" he said, and fell into reverie. "Then — suppose I had asked YOU to marry me?"
"If you had I should have said 'Yes', and you would have married a woman who loved 'ee!"
"Down to the ground!" she whispered vehemently. "O my God! did you never guess it till now!"
By-and-by they reached a branch road to a village.
"I must get down. I live out there," said Izz abruptly, never having spoken since her avowal.
Clare slowed the horse. He was incensed against his fate, bitterly disposed towards social ordinances; for they had cooped him up in a corner, out of which there was no legitimate pathway. Why not be revenged on society by shaping his future domesticities loosely, instead of kissing the pedagogic rod of convention in this ensnaring manner?
"I am going to Brazil alone, Izz," said he. "I have separated from my wife for personal, not voyaging, reasons. I may never live with her again. I may not be able to love you; but — will you go with me instead of her?"
"You truly wish me to go?"
"I do. I have been badly used enough to wish for relief. And you at least love me disinterestedly."
"Yes — I will go," said Izz, after a pause.
"You will? You know what it means, Izz?"
"It means that I shall live with you for the time you are over there — that's good enough for me."
"Remember, you are not to trust me in morals now. But I ought to remind you that it will be wrong-doing in the eyes of civilization — Western civilization, that is to say."
"I don't mind that; no woman do when it comes to agony-point, and there's no other way!"
"Then don't get down, but sit where you are."
He drove past the cross-roads, one mile, two miles, without showing any signs of affection.
"You love me very, very much, Izz?" he suddenly asked.
"I do — I have said I do! I loved you all the time we was at the dairy together!"
"More than Tess?"
She shook her head.
"No," she murmured, "not more than she."
"Because nobody could love 'ee more than Tess did! ... She would have laid down her life for 'ee. I could do no more."
Like the prophet on the top of Peor, Izz Huett would fain have spoken perversely at such a moment, but the fascination exercised over her rougher nature by Tess's character compelled her to grace.
Clare was silent; his heart had risen at these straightforward words from such an unexpected unimpeachable quarter. In his throat was something as if a sob had solidified there. His ears repeated, "SHE WOULD HAVE LAID DOWN HER LIFE FOR 'EE. I COULD DO NO MORE!"
"Forget our idle talk, Izz," he said, turning the horse's head suddenly. "I don't know what I've been saying! I will now drive you back to where your lane branches off."
"So much for honesty towards 'ee! O — how can I bear it — how can I — how can I!"
Izz Huett burst into wild tears, and beat her forehead as she saw what she had done.
"Do you regret that poor little act of justice to an absent one? O, Izz, don't spoil it by regret!"
She stilled herself by degrees.
"Very well, sir. Perhaps I didn't know what I was saying, either, wh — when I agreed to go! I wish — what cannot be!"
"Because I have a loving wife already."