`Gone away! When was you married, then? The day you said?'

`Yes, Tuesday, mother.'

`And now 'tis on'y Saturday, and he gone away?'

`Yes; he's gone.'

`What's the meaning o' that? `Nation seize such husbands as you seem to get, say I!'

`Mother!' Tess went across to Joan Durbeyfield, laid her face upon the matron's bosom, and burst into sobs. `I don't know how to tell 'ee, mother! You said to me, and wrote to me, that I was not to tell him. But I did tell him - I couldn't help it - and he went away!'

`O you little fool - you little fool!' burst out Mrs Durbeyfield, splashing Tess and herself in her agitation. `My good God! that ever I should ha' lived to say it, but I say it again, you little fool!'

Tess was convulsed with weeping, the tension of so many days having relaxed at last.

`I know it - I know - I know!' she gasped through her sobs. `But, O my mother, I could not help it! He was so good - and I felt the wickedness of trying to blind him as to what had happened! If - if - it were to be done again - I should do the same. I could not - I dared not - so sin - against him!'

`But you sinned enough to marry him first!'

`Yes, yes; that's where my misery do lie! But I thought he could get rid o' me by law if he were determined not to overlook it. And O, if you knew - if you could only half know how I loved him how anxious I was to have him - and how wrung I was between caring so much for him and my wish to be fair to him!'

Tess was so shaken that she could get no further, and sank a helpless thing into a chair.

`Well, well; what's done can't be undone! I'm sure I don't know why children o' my bringing forth should all be bigger simpletons than other people's - not to know better than to blab such a thing as that, when he couldn't ha' found it out till too late!' Here Mrs Durbeyfield began shedding tears on her own account as a mother to be pitied. `What your father will say I don't know,' she continued: `for he's been talking about the wedding up at Roliver's and The Pure Drop every day since, and about his family getting back to their rightful position through you - poor silly man! - and now you've made this mess of it! The Lord- a-Lord!'

As if to bring matters to a focus, Tess's father was heard approaching at that moment. He did not however, enter immediately, and Mrs Durbeyfield said that she would break the bad news to him herself, Tess keeping out of sight for the present. After her first burst of disappointment Joan began to take the mishap as she had taken Tess's original trouble, as she would have taken a wet holiday or failure in the potato- crop; as a thing which had come upon them irrespective of desert or folly; a chance external impingement to be borne with; not a lesson.

Tess retreated upstairs, and beheld casually that the beds had been shifted, and new arrangements made. Her old bed had been adapted for two younger children. There was no place here for her now.

The room below being unceiled she could hear most of what went on there. Presently her father entered, apparently carrying a live hen. He was a foot-haggler now, having been obliged to sell his second horse, and he travelled with his basket on his arm. The hen had been carried about this morning as it was often carried, to show people that he was in his work, though it had lain, with its legs tied, under the table at Rolliver's for more than an hour.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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