The note was for Clare, in the following words:
MY DEAR SON —
Possibly you have forgotten that on the death of your godmother, Mrs Pitney, when you were a lad, she — vain, kind woman that she was — left to me a portion of the contents of her jewel-case in trust for your wife, if you should ever have one, as a mark of her affection for you and whomsoever you should choose. This trust I have fulfilled, and the diamonds have been locked up at my banker's ever since. Though I feel it to be a somewhat incongruous act in the circumstances, I am, as you will see, bound to hand over the articles to the woman to whom the use of them for her lifetime will now rightly belong, and they are therefore promptly sent. They become, I believe, heirlooms, strictly speaking, according to the terms of your godmother's will. The precise words of the clause that refers to this matter are enclosed.
"I do remember," said Clare; "but I had quite forgotten."
Unlocking the case, they found it to contain a necklace, with pendant, bracelets, and ear-rings; and also some other small ornaments.
Tess seemed afraid to touch them at first, but her eyes sparkled for a moment as much as the stones when Clare spread out the set.
"Are they mine?" she asked incredulously.
"They are, certainly," said he.
He looked into the fire. He remembered how, when he was a lad of fifteen, his godmother, the Squire's wife — the only rich person with whom he had ever come in contact — had pinned her faith to his success; had prophesied a wondrous career for him. There had seemed nothing at all out of keeping with such a conjectured career in the storing up of these showy ornaments for his wife and the wives of her descendants. They gleamed somewhat ironically now. "Yet why?" he asked himself. It was but a question of vanity throughout; and if that were admitted into one side of the equation it should be admitted into the other. His wife was a d'Urberville: whom could they become better than her?
Suddenly he said with enthusiasm —
"Tess, put them on — put them on!" And he turned from the fire to help her.
But as if by magic she had already donned them — necklace, ear-rings, bracelets, and all.
"But the gown isn't right, Tess," said Clare. "It ought to be a low one for a set of brilliants like that."
"Ought it?" said Tess.
"Yes," said he.
He suggested to her how to tuck in the upper edge of her bodice, so as to make it roughly approximate to the cut for evening wear; and when she had done this, and the pendant to the necklace hung isolated amid the whiteness of her throat, as it was designed to do, he stepped back to survey her.
"My heavens," said Clare, "how beautiful you are!"
As everybody knows, fine feathers make fine birds; a peasant girl but very moderately prepossessing to the casual observer in her simple condition and attire will bloom as an amazing beauty if clothed as a woman of fashion with the aids that Art can render; while the beauty of the midnight crush would often cut but a sorry figure if placed inside the field-woman's wrapper upon a monotonous acreage of turnips on a dull day. He had never till now estimated the artistic excellence of Tess's limbs and features.
"If you were only to appear in a ball-room!" he said. "But no — no, dearest; I think I love you best in the wing-bonnet and cotton-frock — yes, better than in this, well as you support these dignities."
Tess's sense of her striking appearance had given her a flush of excitement, which was yet not happiness.
"I'll take them off," she said, "in case Jonathan should see me. They are not fit for me, are they? They must be sold, I suppose?"
"Let them stay a few minutes longer. Sell them? Never. It would be a breach of faith."
Influenced by a second thought she readily obeyed. She had something to tell, and there might be help in these. She sat down with the jewels upon her; and they again indulged in conjectures as to where Jonathan could possibly be with their baggage. The ale they had poured out for his consumption when he came had gone flat with long standing.
Shortly after this they began supper, which was already laid on a side-table. Ere they had finished there was a jerk in the fire-smoke, the rising skein of which bulged out into the room, as if some giant had laid his hand on the chimney-top for a moment. It had been caused by the opening of the outer door. A heavy step was now heard in the passage, and Angel went out.
"I couldn' make nobody hear at all by knocking," apologized Jonathan Kail, for it was he at last; "and as't was raining out I opened the door. I've brought the things, sir."
"I am very glad to see them. But you are very late."
"Well, yes, sir."
There was something subdued in Jonathan Kail's tone which had not been there in the day, and lines of concern were ploughed upon his forehead in addition to the lines of years. He continued —
"We've all been gallied at the dairy at what might ha' been a most terrible affliction since you and your Mis'ess — so to name her now — left us this a'ternoon. Perhaps you ha'nt forgot the cock's afternoon crow?"
"Dear me; — what — "
"Well, some says it do mane one thing, and some another; but what's happened is that poor little Retty Priddle hev tried to drown herself."
"No! Really! Why, she bade us goodbye with the rest — "
"Yes. Well, sir, when you and your Mis'ess — so to name what she lawful is — when you two drove away, as I say, Retty and Marian put on their bonnets and went out; and as there is not much doing now, being New Year's Eve, and folks mops and brooms from what's inside 'em, nobody took much notice. They went on to Lew-Everard, where they had summut to drink, and then on they vamped to Dree-armed Cross, and there they seemed to have parted, Retty striking across the water-meads as if for home, and Marian going on to the next village, where there's another public-house. Nothing more was zeed or heard o' Retty till the waterman, on his way home, noticed something by the Great Pool; 'twas her bonnet and shawl packed up. In the water he found her. He and another man brought her home, thinking a' was dead; but she fetched round by degrees."
Angel, suddenly recollecting that Tess was overhearing this gloomy tale, went to shut the door between the passage and the ante-room to the inner parlour where she was; but his wife, flinging a shawl round her, had come to the outer room and was listening to the man's narrative, her eyes resting absently on the luggage and the drops of rain glistening upon it.
"And, more than this, there's Marian; she's been found dead drunk by the withy-bed — a girl who hev never been known to touch anything before except shilling ale; though, to be sure, 'a was always a good trencher-woman, as her face showed. It seems as if the maids had all gone out o' their minds!"
"And Izz?" asked Tess.