Tess went down the hill to Trantridge Cross, and inattentively waited to take her seat in the van returning from Chaseborough to Shaston. She did not know what the other occupants said to her as she entered, though she answered them; and when they had started anew she rode along with an inward and not an outward eye.
One among her fellow-travellers addressed her more pointedly than any had spoken before: "Why, you be quite a posy! And such roses in early June!"
Then she became aware of the spectacle she presented to their surprised vision: roses at her breasts; roses in her hat; roses and strawberries in her basket to the brim. She blushed, and said confusedly that the flowers had been given to her. When the passengers were not looking she stealthily removed the more prominent blooms from her hat and placed them in the basket, where she covered them with her handkerchief. Then she fell to reflecting again, and in looking downwards a thorn of the rose remaining in her breast accidentally pricked her chin. Like all the cottagers in Blackmoor Vale, Tess was steeped in fancies and prefigurative superstitions; she thought this an ill omen — the first she had noticed that day.
The van travelled only so far as Shaston, and there were several miles of pedestrian descent from that mountain-town into the vale to Marlott. Her mother had advised her to stay here for the night, at the house of a cottage-woman they knew, if she should feel too tired to come on; and this Tess did, not descending to her home till the following afternoon.
When she entered the house she perceived in a moment from her mother's triumphant manner that something had occurred in the interim.
"Oh yes; I know all about it! I told 'ee it would be all right, and now 'tis proved!"
"Since I've been away? What has?" said Tess rather wearily.
Her mother surveyed the girl up and down with arch approval, and went on banteringly: "So you've brought 'em round!"
"How do you know, mother?"
"I've had a letter."
Tess then remembered that there would have been time for this.
"They say — Mrs d'Urberville says — that she wants you to look after a little fowl-farm which is her hobby. But this is only her artful way of getting 'ee there without raising your hopes. She's going to own 'ee as kin — that's the meaning o't."
"But I didn't see her."
"You zid somebody, I suppose?"
"I saw her son."
"And did he own 'ee?"
"Well — he called me Coz."
"An' I knew it! Jacky — he called her Coz!" cried Joan to her husband. "Well, he spoke to his mother, of course, and she do want 'ee there."
"But I don't know that I am apt at tending fowls," said the dubious Tess.
"Then I don't know who is apt. You've be'n born in the business, and brought up in it. They that be born in a business always know more about it than any 'prentice. Besides, that's only just a show of something for you to do, that you midn't feel beholden."
"I don't altogether think I ought to go," said Tess thoughtfully. "Who wrote the letter? Will you let me look at it?"
"Mrs d'Urberville wrote it. Here it is."
The letter was in the third person, and briefly informed Mrs Durbeyfield that her daughter's services would be useful to that lady in the management of her poultry-farm, that a comfortable room would be provided for her if she could come, and that the wages would be on a liberal scale if they liked her.
"Oh — that's all!" said Tess.
"You couldn't expect her to throw her arms round 'ee, an' to kiss and to coll 'ee all at once."
Tess looked out of the window.
"I would rather stay here with father and you," she said.
"I'd rather not tell you why, mother; indeed, I don't quite know why."
A week afterwards she came in one evening from an unavailing search for some light occupation in the immediate neighbourhood. Her idea had been to get together sufficient money during the summer to purchase another horse. Hardly had she crossed the threshold before one of the children danced across the room, saying, "The gentleman's been here!"
Her mother hastened to explain, smiles breaking from every inch of her person. Mrs d'Urberville's son had called on horseback, having been riding by chance in the direction of Marlott. He had wished to know, finally, in the name of his mother, if Tess could really come to manage the old lady's fowl-farm or not; the lad who had hitherto superintended the birds having proved untrustworthy. "Mr d'Urberville says you must be a good girl if you are at all as you appear; he knows you must be worth your weight in gold. He is very much interested in 'ee — truth to tell."
Tess seemed for the moment really pleased to hear that she had won such high opinion from a stranger when, in her own esteem, she had sunk so low.
"It is very good of him to think that," she murmured; "and if I was quite sure how it would be living there, I would go any-when."
"He is a mighty handsome man!"
"I don't think so," said Tess coldly.
"Well, there's your chance, whether or no; and I'm sure he wears a beautiful diamond ring!"
"Yes," said little Abraham, brightly, from the window-bench; "and I seed it! and it did twinkle when he put his hand up to his mistarshers. Mother, why did our grand relation keep on putting his hand up to his mistarshers?"
"Hark at that child!" cried Mrs Durbeyfield, with parenthetic admiration.
"Perhaps to show his diamond ring," murmured Sir John, dreamily, from his chair.