Chapter 28

Her refusal, though unexpected, did not permanently daunt Clare. His experience of women was great enough for him to be aware that the negative often meant nothing more than the preface to the affirmative; and it was little enough for him not to know that in the manner of the present negative there lay a great exception to the dallyings of coyness. That she had already permitted him to make love to her he read as an additional assurance, not fully trowing that in the fields and pastures to `sigh gratis' is by no means deemed waste; love- making being here more often accepted inconsiderately and for its own sweet sake than in the carking anxious homes of the ambitious, where a girl's craving for an establishment paralyzes her healthy thought of a passion as an end.

`Tess, why did you say "no" in such a positive way?' he asked her in the course of a few days.

She started.

`Don't ask me. I told you why - partly. I am not good enough not worthy enough.'

`How? Not fine lady enough?'

`Yes - something like that,' murmured she. `Your friends would scorn me.'

`Indeed, you mistake them - my father and mother. As for my brothers, I don't care--' He clasped his fingers behind her back to keep her from slipping away. `Now - you did not mean it, sweet? - I am sure you did not! You have made me so restless that I cannot read, or play, or do anything. I am in no hurry, Tess, but I want to know - to hear from your own warm lips - that you will some day be mine - any time you may choose; but some day?' She could only shake her head and look away from him.

Clare regarded her attentively, conned the characters of her face as if they had been hieroglyphics. The denial seemed real.

`Then I ought not to hold you in this way - ought I? I have no right to you - no right to seek out where you are, or to walk with you! Honestly, Tess, do you love any other man?'

`How can you ask?' she said, with continued self-suppression.

`I almost know that you do not. But then, why do you repulse me?'

`I don't repulse you. I like you to - tell me you love me; and you may always tell me so as you go about with me - and never offend me.'

`But you will not accept me as a husband?'

`Ah - hat's different - it is for your good, indeed my dearest! O, believe me, it is only for your sake! I don't like to give myself the great happiness o' promising to be yours in that way - because - because I am sure I ought not to do it.'

`But you will make me happy!'

`Ah - you think so, but you don't know!'

At such times as this, apprehending the grounds of her refusal to be her modest sense of incompetence in matters social and polite, he was wonderfully well-informed and versatile - which was certainly true, her natural quickness, and her admiration for him, having led her to pick up his vocabulary, his accent, and fragments of his knowledge, to a surprising extent. After these tender contests and her victory she would go away by herself under the remotest cow, if at milking-time, or into the sedge, or into her room, if at a leisure interval, and mourn silently, not a minute after an apparently phlegmatic negative.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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