"No noise, please, if ye'll be so good, my dears; or I mid lose my licends, and be summons'd, and I don't know what all! 'Night t'ye!"
They went home together, Tess holding one arm of her father, and Mrs Durbeyfield the other. He had, in truth, drunk very little — not a fourth of the quantity which a systematic tippler could carry to church on a Sunday afternoon without a hitch in his eastings or genuflections; but the weakness of Sir John's constitution made mountains of his petty sins in this kind. On reaching the fresh air he was sufficiently unsteady to incline the row of three at one moment as if they were marching to London, and at another as if they were marching to Bath — which produced a comical effect, frequent enough in families on nocturnal homegoings; and, like most comical effects, not quite so comic after all. The two women valiantly disguised these forced excursions and countermarches as well as they could from Durbeyfield, their cause, and from Abraham, and from themselves; and so they approached by degrees their own door, the head of the family bursting suddenly into his former refrain as he drew near, as if to fortify his soul at sight of the smallness of his present residence —
"I've got a fam — ily vault at Kingsbere!"
"Hush — don't be so silly, Jacky," said his wife. "Yours is not the only family that was of 'count in wold days. Look at the Anktells, and Horseys, and the Tringhams themselves — gone to seed a'most as much as you — though you was bigger folks than they, that's true. Thank God, I was never of no family, and have nothing to be ashamed of in that way!"
"Don't you be so sure o' that. From you nater 'tis my belief you've disgraced yourselves more than any o' us, and was kings and queens outright at one time."
Tess turned the subject by saying what was far more prominent in her own mind at the moment than thoughts of her ancestry — "I am afraid father won't be able to take the journey with the beehives to-morrow so early."
"I? I shall be all right in an hour or two," said Durbeyfield.
It was eleven o'clock before the family were all in bed, and two o'clock next morning was the latest hour for starting with the beehives if they were to be delivered to the retailers in Casterbridge before the Saturday market began, the way thither lying by bad roads over a distance of between twenty and thirty miles, and the horse and waggon being of the slowest. At half-past one Mrs Durbeyfield came into the large bedroom where Tess and all her little brothers and sisters slept.
"The poor man can't go," she said to her eldest daughter, whose great eyes had opened the moment her mother's hand touched the door.
Tess sat up in bed, lost in a vague interspace between a dream and this information.
"But somebody must go," she replied. "It is late for the hives already. Swarming will soon be over for the year; and it we put off taking 'em till next week's market the call for 'em will be past, and they'll be thrown on our hands."
Mrs Durbeyfield looked unequal to the emergency. "Some young feller, perhaps, would go? One of them who were so much after dancing with 'ee yesterday," she presently suggested.
"O no — I wouldn't have it for the world!" declared Tess proudly. "And letting everybody know the reason — such a thing to be ashamed of! I think I could go if Abraham could go with me to kip me company."
Her mother at length agreed to this arrangement. Little Abraham was aroused from his deep sleep in a corner of the same apartment, and made to put on his clothes while still mentally in the other world. Meanwhile Tess had hastily dressed herself; and the twain, lighting a lantern, went out to the stable. The rickety little waggon was already laden, and the girl led out the horse, Prince, only a degree less rickety than the vehicle.
The poor creature looked wonderingly round at the night, at the lantern, at their two figures, as if he could not believe that at that hour, when every living thing was intended to be in shelter and at rest, he was called upon to go out and labour. They put a stock of candle-ends into the lantern, hung the latter to the off-side of the load, and directed the horse onward, walking at his shoulder at first during the uphill parts of the way, in order not to overload an animal of so little vigour. To cheer themselves as well as they could, they made an artificial morning with the lantern, some bread and butter, and their own conversation, the real morning being far from come. Abraham, as he more fully awoke (for he had moved in a sort of trance so far), began to talk of the strange shapes assumed by the various dark objects against the sky; of this tree that looked like a raging tiger springing from a lair; of that which resembled a giant's head.
When they had passed the little town of Stourcastle, dumbly somnolent under its thick brown thatch, they reached higher ground. Still higher, on their left, the elevation called Bulbarrow, or Bealbarrow, well-nigh the highest in South Wessex, swelled into the sky, engirdled by its earthen trenches. From hereabout the long road was fairly level for some distance onward. They mounted in front of the waggon, and Abraham grew reflective.
"Tess!" he said in a preparatory tone, after a silence.
"Bain't you glad that we've become gentlefolk?"
"Not particular glad."
"But you be glad that you 'm going to marry a gentleman?"
"What?" said Tess, lifting her face.
"That our great relation will help 'ee to marry a gentleman."
"I? Our great relation? We have no such relation. What has put that into your head?"
"I heard 'em talking about it up at Rolliver's when I went to find father. There's a rich lady of our family out at Trantridge, and mother said that if you claimed kin with the lady, she'd put 'ee in the way of marrying a gentleman."
His sister became abruptly still, and lapsed into a pondering silence. Abraham talked on, rather for the pleasure of utterance than for audition, so that his sister's abstraction was of no account. He leant back against the hives, and with upturned face made observations on the stars, whose cold pulses were beating amid the black hollows above, in serene dissociation from these two wisps of human life. He asked how far away those twinklers were, and whether God was on the other side of them. But ever and anon his childish prattle recurred to what impressed his imagination even more deeply than the wonders of creation. If Tess were made rich by marrying a gentleman, would she have money enough to buy a spyglass so large that it would draw the stars as near to her as Nettlecombe-Tout?
The renewed subject, which seemed to have impregnated the whole family, filled Tess with impatience.
"Never mind that now!" she exclaimed.
"Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?"
"All like ours?"