"And you've got no collar on" (Tess had been accustomed to wear a little white collar at the dairy).
"I know it, Marian."
"You've lost it travelling."
"I've not lost it. The truth is, I don't care anything about my looks; and so I didn't put it on."
"And you don't wear your wedding-ring?"
"Yes, I do; but not in public. I wear it round my neck on a ribbon. I don't wish people to think who I am by marriage, or that I am married at all; it would be so awkward while I lead my present life."
"But you BE a gentleman's wife; and it seems hardly fair that you should live like this!"
"O yes it is, quite fair; though I am very unhappy."
"Well, well. HE married you — and you can be unhappy!"
"Wives are unhappy sometimes; from no fault of their husbands — from their own."
"You've no faults, deary; that I'm sure of. And he's none. So it must be something outside ye both."
"Marian, dear Marian, will you do me a good turn without asking questions? My husband has gone abroad, and somehow I have overrun my allowance, so that I have to fall back upon my old work for a time. Do not call me Mrs Clare, but Tess, as before. Do they want a hand here?"
"O yes; they'll take one always, because few care to come. 'Tis a starve-acre place. Corn and swedes are all they grow. Though I be here myself, I feel 'tis a pity for such as you to come."
"But you used to be as good a dairywoman as I."
"Yes; but I've got out o' that since I took to drink. Lord, that's the only comfort I've got now! If you engage, you'll be set swede-hacking. That's what I be doing; but you won't like it."
"O — anything! Will you speak for me?"
"You will do better by speaking for yourself."
"Very well. Now, Marian, remember — nothing about HIM if I get the place. I don't wish to bring his name down to the dirt."
Marian, who was really a trustworthy girl though of coarser grain than Tess, promised anything she asked.
"This is pay-night," she said, "and if you were to come with me you would know at once. I be real sorry that you are not happy; but 'tis because he's away, I know. You couldn't be unhappy if he were here, even if he gie'd ye no money — even if he used you like a drudge."
"That's true; I could not!"
They walked on together and soon reached the farmhouse, which was almost sublime in its dreariness. There was not a tree within sight; there was not, at this season, a green pasture — nothing but fallow and turnips everywhere, in large fields divided by hedges plashed to unrelieved levels.
Tess waited outside the door of the farmhouse till the group of workfolk had received their wages, and then Marian introduced her. The farmer himself, it appeared, was not at home, but his wife, who represented him this evening, made no objection to hiring Tess, on her agreeing to remain till Old Lady-Day. Female field-labour was seldom offered now, and its cheapness made it profitable for tasks which women could perform as readily as men.
Having signed the agreement, there was nothing more for Tess to do at present than to get a lodging, and she found one in the house at whose gable-wall she had warmed herself. It was a poor subsistence that she had ensured, but it would afford a shelter for the winter at any rate.
That night she wrote to inform her parents of her new address, in case a letter should arrive at Marlott from her husband. But she did not tell them of the sorriness of her situation: it might have brought reproach upon him.