Phases of her childhood lurked in her aspect still. As she walked along to-day, for all her bouncing handsome womanliness, you could sometimes see her twelfth year in her cheeks, or her ninth sparkling from her eyes; and even her fifth would flit over the curves of her mouth now and then.
The narrator describes Tess’s distinctions among the other women during the May-Day dance. Unlike the others described as middle-aged, elderly, or young, Tess embodies all ages at once. Readers learn of Tess’s unique attractiveness from the beginning of the story: She paradoxically exemplifies a childlike innocence as a fully developed woman. This early description of Tess tells readers that she experiences time differently than others do.
She suddenly thought one afternoon, when looking in the glass at her fairness, that there was yet another date, of greater importance to her than those; that of her own death, when all these charms would have disappeared; a day which lay sly and unseen and among all the other days of the year, giving no sign or sound when she annually passed over it; but not the less surely there. When was it? Why did she not feel the chill of each yearly encounter with such a cold relation?
After Tess’s baby dies, she begins noting important milestones of her life passing, such as the night Alec first raped her as well as the dates of her baby’s birth and death. Here, she notes that the most important date in her life will actually be the day her life comes to an end. She wonders that she has no way of predicting such an important date. This morbid way of thinking about time passing, waiting for death rather than celebrating life, colors the way Tess lives.
Tess was now carried along upon the wings of the hours, without the sense of a will. The word had been given; the number of the day written down. Her naturally bright intelligence had begun to admit the fatalistic convictions common to field-folk and those who associate more extensively with natural phenomena than with their fellow-creatures; and she accordingly drifted into that passive responsiveness to all things her lover suggested, characteristic of the frame of mind.
The narrator explains that after Tess and Angel set a date for their wedding, she releases control over her future and acquiesces to time pulling her forward. Like the way she waits for death to come, she accepts the marriage as inevitable. Even though she looks forward to the day, she approaches it passively. Just as she relies on fate to put her on the right path, she lets the wedding milestone govern all her decisions.