to escape, remained caged in the transparent tissue as in an aviary. Angel's eye at last fell upon Tess, the hindmost of the four; she, being full of suppressed laughter at their dilemma, could not help meeting his glance radiantly.
He came beneath them in the water, which did not rise over his long boots; and stood looking at the entrapped flies and butterflies.
`Are you trying to get to church?' he said to Marian, who was in front, including the next two in his remark, but avoiding Tess.
`Yes, sir; and 'tis getting late; and my colour do come up so--'
`I'll carry you through the pool - every Jill of you.'
The whole four flushed as if one heart beat through them.
`I think you can't, sir,' said Marian.
`It is the only way for you to get past. Stand still. Nonsense - you are not too heavy! I'd carry you all four together. Now, Marian, attend,' he continued, `and put your arms round my shoulders, so. Now! Hold on. That's well done.'
Marian had lowered herself upon his arm and shoulder as directed, and Angel strode off with her, his slim figure, as viewed from behind, looking like the mere stem to the great nosegay suggested by hers. They disappeared round the curve of the road, and only his sousing footsteps and the top ribbon of Marian's bonnet told where they were. In a few minutes he reappeared. Izz Huett was the next in order upon the bank.
`Here he comes,' she murmured, and they could hear that her lips were dry with emotion. `And I have to put my arms round his neck and look into his face as Marian did.'
`There's nothing in that,' said Tess quickly.
`There's a time for everything,' continued Izz, unheeding. `A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; the first is now going to be mine.'
`Fie - it is Scripture, Izz!'
`Yes,' said Izz, `I've always a' ear at church for pretty verses.' Angel Clare, to whom three-quarters of this performance was a commonplace act of kindness, now approached Izz. She quietly and dreamily lowered herself into his arms, and Angel methodically marched off with her. When he was heard returning for the third time Retty's throbbing heart could be almost seen to shake her. He went up to the red-haired girl, and while he was seizing her he glanced at Tess. His lips could not have pronounced more plainly, `It will soon be you and J.' Her comprehension appeared in her face; she could not help it. There was an understanding between them.
Poor little Retty, though by far the lightest weight, was the most troublesome of Clare's burdens. Marian had been like a sack of meal, a dead weight of plumpness under which he had literally staggered. Izz had ridden sensibly and calmly. Retty was a bunch of hysterics.
However, he got through with the disquieted creature, deposited her, and returned. Tess could see over the hedge the distant three in a group, standing as he had placed them on the next rising ground. It was now her turn. She was embarrassed to discover that excitement at the proximity of Mr Clare's breath and eyes, which she had contemned in her companions, was intensified in herself; and as if fearful of betraying her secret she pattered with him at the last moment.
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