The event of Tess Durbeyfield's return from the manor
of her bogus kinsfolk
was rumoured abroad, if rumour be not too large a word for a space of a square mile. In the afternoon several young girls of Marlott, former schoolfellows and acquaintances of Tess, called to see her, arriving dressed in their best starched
and ironed, as became visitors to a person who had made a transcendent conquest
(as they supposed), and sat round the room looking at her with great curiosity. For the fact that it was this said thirty-first cousin, Mr d'Urberville, who had fallen in love with her, a gentleman not altogether local, whose reputation as a reckless gallant
and heart-breaker was beginning to spread beyond the immediate boundaries of Trantridge, lent Tess's supposed position, by its fearsomeness, a far higher fascination than it would have exercised if unhazardous
Their interest was so deep that the younger ones whispered when her back was turned--
'How pretty she is; and how that best frock
do set her off! I believe it cost an immense
deal, and that it was a gift from him.'
Tess, who was reaching up to get the tea-things from the corner-cupboard, did not hear these commentaries
If she had heard them, she might soon have set her friends right on the matter. But her mother heard, and Joan's simple vanity
, having been denied the hope of a dashing marriage, fed itself as well as it could upon the sensation
of a dashing flirtation
. Upon the whole she felt gratified, even though such a limited and evanescent
triumph should involve her daughter's reputation; it might end in marriage yet, and in the warmth of her responsiveness
to their admiration she invited her visitors to stay to tea.
Their chatter, their laughter, their good-humoured innuendoes
, above all, their flashes and flickerings of envy, revived Tess's spirits also; and, as the evening wore on, she caught the infection of their excitement, and grew almost gay. The marble
hardness left her face, she moved with something of her old bounding step, and flushed in all her young beauty.