To think of what emanated from that countenance when she saw it last,
and to behold it now! ... There was the same handsome unpleasantness
of mien, but now he wore neatly trimmed, old-fashioned whiskers, the
sable moustache having disappeared; and his dress was half-clerical,
a modification which had changed his expression sufficiently to
abstract the dandyism from his features, and to hinder for a second
her belief in his identity.
To Tess's sense there was, just at first, a ghastly _bizarrerie_,
a grim incongruity, in the march of these solemn words of Scripture
out of such a mouth. This too familiar intonation, less than four
years earlier, had brought to her ears expressions of such divergent
purpose that her heart became quite sick at the irony of the
It was less a reform than a transfiguration. The former curves of
sensuousness were now modulated to lines of devotional passion.
The lip-shapes that had meant seductiveness were now made to
express supplication; the glow on the cheek that yesterday could be
translated as riotousness was evangelized to-day into the splendour
of pious rhetoric; animalism had become fanaticism; Paganism,
Paulinism; the bold rolling eye that had flashed upon her form in
the old time with such mastery now beamed with the rude energy of a
theolatry that was almost ferocious. Those black angularities which
his face had used to put on when his wishes were thwarted now did
duty in picturing the incorrigible backslider who would insist upon
turning again to his wallowing in the mire.
The lineaments, as such, seemed to complain. They had been diverted
from their hereditary connotation to signify impressions for which
Nature did not intend them. Strange that their very elevation was a
misapplication, that to raise seemed to falsify.
Yet could it be so? She would admit the ungenerous sentiment no
longer. D'Urberville was not the first wicked man who had turned
away from his wickedness to save his soul alive, and why should she
deem it unnatural in him? It was but the usage of thought which had
been jarred in her at hearing good new words in bad old notes. The
greater the sinner, the greater the saint; it was not necessary to
dive far into Christian history to discover that.
Such impressions as these moved her vaguely, and without strict
definiteness. As soon as the nerveless pause of her surprise would
allow her to stir, her impulse was to pass on out of his sight. He
had obviously not discerned her yet in her position against the sun.
But the moment that she moved again he recognized her. The effect
upon her old lover was electric, far stronger than the effect of his
presence upon her. His fire, the tumultuous ring of his eloquence,
seemed to go out of him. His lip struggled and trembled under the
words that lay upon it; but deliver them it could not as long as she
faced him. His eyes, after their first glance upon her face, hung
confusedly in every other direction but hers, but came back in a
desperate leap every few seconds. This paralysis lasted, however,
but a short time; for Tess's energies returned with the atrophy of
his, and she walked as fast as she was able past the barn and onward.
As soon as she could reflect, it appalled her, this change in their
relative platforms. He who had wrought her undoing was now on the
side of the Spirit, while she remained unregenerate. And, as in the
legend, it had resulted that her Cyprian image had suddenly appeared
upon his altar, whereby the fire of the priest had been well nigh
She went on without turning her head. Her back seemed to be endowed
with a sensitiveness to ocular beams - even her clothing - so alive
was she to a fancied gaze which might be resting upon her from the
outside of that barn. All the way along to this point her heart
had been heavy with an inactive sorrow; now there was a change in
the quality of its trouble. That hunger for affection too long
withheld was for the time displaced by an almost physical sense
of an implacable past which still engirdled her. It intensified
her consciousness of error to a practical despair; the break of
continuity between her earlier and present existence, which she had
hoped for, had not, after all, taken place. Bygones would never be
complete bygones till she was a bygone herself.
Thus absorbed, she recrossed the northern part of Long-Ash Lane at
right angles, and presently saw before her the road ascending whitely
to the upland along whose margin the remainder of her journey lay.
Its dry pale surface stretched severely onward, unbroken by a single
figure, vehicle, or mark, save some occasional brown horse-droppings
which dotted its cold aridity here and there. While slowly breasting
this ascent Tess became conscious of footsteps behind her, and
turning she saw approaching that well-known form - so strangely
accoutred as the Methodist - the one personage in all the world she
wished not to encounter alone on this side of the grave.
There was not much time, however, for thought or elusion, and she
yielded as calmly as she could to the necessity of letting him
overtake her. She saw that he was excited, less by the speed of his
walk than by the feelings within him.
"Tess!" he said.
She slackened speed without looking round.
"Tess!" he repeated. "It is I - Alec d'Urberville."
She then looked back at him, and he came up.
"I see it is," she answered coldly.
"Well - is that all? Yet I deserve no more! Of course," he added,
with a slight laugh, "there is something of the ridiculous to your
eyes in seeing me like this. But - I must put up with that. ... I
heard you had gone away; nobody knew where. Tess, you wonder why I
have followed you?"
"I do, rather; and I would that you had not, with all my heart!"
"Yes - you may well say it," he returned grimly, as they moved onward
together, she with unwilling tread. "But don't mistake me; I beg
this because you may have been led to do so in noticing - if you did
notice it - how your sudden appearance unnerved me down there. It was
but a momentary faltering; and considering what you have been to me,
it was natural enough. But will helped me through it - though perhaps
you think me a humbug for saying it - and immediately afterwards I
felt that of all persons in the world whom it was my duty and desire
to save from the wrath to come - sneer if you like - the woman whom I
had so grievously wronged was that person. I have come with that
sole purpose in view - nothing more."
There was the smallest vein of scorn in her words of rejoinder: "Have
you saved yourself? Charity begins at home, they say."
"_I_ have done nothing!" said he indifferently. "Heaven, as I have
been telling my hearers, has done all. No amount of contempt that
you can pour upon me, Tess, will equal what I have poured upon
myself - the old Adam of my former years! Well, it is a strange
story; believe it or not; but I can tell you the means by which my
conversion was brought about, and I hope you will be interested
enough at least to listen. Have you ever heard the name of the
parson of Emminster - you must have done do? - old Mr Clare; one of the
most earnest of his school; one of the few intense men left in the
Church; not so intense as the extreme wing of Christian believers
with which I have thrown in my lot, but quite an exception among the
Established clergy, the younger of whom are gradually attenuating the
true doctrines by their sophistries, till they are but the shadow of
what they were. I only differ from him on the question of Church and
State - the interpretation of the text, 'Come out from among them and
be ye separate, saith the Lord' - that's all. He is one who, I firmly
believe, has been the humble means of saving more souls in this
country than any other man you can name. You have heard of him?"
"I have," she said.
"He came to Trantridge two or three years ago to preach on behalf of
some missionary society; and I, wretched fellow that I was, insulted
him when, in his disinterestedness, he tried to reason with me and
show me the way. He did not resent my conduct, he simply said that
some day I should receive the first-fruits of the Spirit - that those
who came to scoff sometimes remained to pray. There was a strange
magic in his words. They sank into my mind. But the loss of my
mother hit me most; and by degrees I was brought to see daylight.
Since then my one desire has been to hand on the true view to others,
and that is what I was trying to do to-day; though it is only lately
that I have preached hereabout. The first months of my ministry have
been spent in the North of England among strangers, where I preferred
to make my earliest clumsy attempts, so as to acquire courage before
undergoing that severest of all tests of one's sincerity, addressing
those who have known one, and have been one's companions in the days
of darkness. If you could only know, Tess, the pleasure of having a
good slap at yourself, I am sure - "
"Don't go on with it!" she cried passionately, as she turned away
from him to a stile by the wayside, on which she bent herself. "I
can't believe in such sudden things! I feel indignant with you for
talking to me like this, when you know - when you know what harm
you've done me! You, and those like you, take your fill of pleasure
on earth by making the life of such as me bitter and black with
sorrow; and then it is a fine thing, when you have had enough of
that, to think of securing your pleasure in heaven by becoming
converted! Out upon such - I don't believe in you - I hate it!"
"Tess," he insisted; "don't speak so! It came to me like a jolly new
idea! And you don't believe me? What don't you believe?"
"Your conversion. Your scheme of religion."
She dropped her voice. "Because a better man than you does not
believe in such."
"What a woman's reason! Who is this better man?"
"I cannot tell you."
"Well," he declared, a resentment beneath his words seeming ready to
spring out at a moment's notice, "God forbid that I should say I am
a good man - and you know I don't say any such thing. I am new to
goodness, truly; but newcomers see furthest sometimes."
"Yes," she replied sadly. "But I cannot believe in your conversion
to a new spirit. Such flashes as you feel, Alec, I fear don't last!"
Thus speaking she turned from the stile over which she had been
leaning, and faced him; whereupon his eyes, falling casually upon
the familiar countenance and form, remained contemplating her. The
inferior man was quiet in him now; but it was surely not extracted,
nor even entirely subdued.
"Don't look at me like that!" he said abruptly.
Tess, who had been quite unconscious of her action and mien,
instantly withdrew the large dark gaze of her eyes, stammering with
a flush, "I beg your pardon!" And there was revived in her the
wretched sentiment which had often come to her before, that in
inhabiting the fleshly tabernacle with which Nature had endowed her
she was somehow doing wrong.
"No, no! Don't beg my pardon. But since you wear a veil to hide
your good looks, why don't you keep it down?"
She pulled down the veil, saying hastily, "It was mostly to keep off
"It may seem harsh of me to dictate like this," he went on; "but
it is better that I should not look too often on you. It might be
"Ssh!" said Tess.
"Well, women's faces have had too much power over me already for me
not to fear them! An evangelist has nothing to do with such as they;
and it reminds me of the old times that I would forget!"
After this their conversation dwindled to a casual remark now and
then as they rambled onward, Tess inwardly wondering how far he was
going with her, and not liking to send him back by positive mandate.
Frequently when they came to a gate or stile they found painted
thereon in red or blue letters some text of Scripture, and she
asked him if he knew who had been at the pains to blazon these
announcements. He told her that the man was employed by himself and
others who were working with him in that district, to paint these
reminders that no means might be left untried which might move the
hearts of a wicked generation.
At length the road touched the spot called "Cross-in-Hand." Of all
spots on the bleached and desolate upland this was the most forlorn.
It was so far removed from the charm which is sought in landscape by
artists and view-lovers as to reach a new kind of beauty, a negative
beauty of tragic tone. The place took its name from a stone pillar
which stood there, a strange rude monolith, from a stratum unknown
in any local quarry, on which was roughly carved a human hand.
Differing accounts were given of its history and purport. Some
authorities stated that a devotional cross had once formed the
complete erection thereon, of which the present relic was but the
stump; others that the stone as it stood was entire, and that it had
been fixed there to mark a boundary or place of meeting. Anyhow,
whatever the origin of the relic, there was and is something
sinister, or solemn, according to mood, in the scene amid which it
stands; something tending to impress the most phlegmatic passer-by.
"I think I must leave you now," he remarked, as they drew near to
this spot. "I have to preach at Abbot's-Cernel at six this evening,
and my way lies across to the right from here. And you upset me
somewhat too, Tessy - I cannot, will not, say why. I must go away and
get strength. ... How is it that you speak so fluently now? Who has
taught you such good English?"
"I have learnt things in my troubles," she said evasively.
"What troubles have you had?"
She told him of the first one - the only one that related to him.
D'Urberville was struck mute. "I knew nothing of this till now!"
he next murmured. "Why didn't you write to me when you felt your
trouble coming on?"
She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding: "Well - you
will see me again."
"No," she answered. "Do not again come near me!"
"I will think. But before we part come here." He stepped up to the
pillar. "This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but
I fear you at moments - far more than you need fear me at present; and
to lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that
you will never tempt me - by your charms or ways."
"Good God - how can you ask what is so unnecessary! All that is
furthest from my thought!"
"Yes - but swear it."
Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity; placed her hand
upon the stone and swore.
"I am sorry you are not a believer," he continued; "that some
unbeliever should have got hold of you and unsettled your mind. But
no more now. At home at least I can pray for you; and I will; and
who knows what may not happen? I'm off. Goodbye!"
He turned to a hunting-gate in the hedge and, without letting his
eyes again rest upon her, leapt over and struck out across the down
in the direction of Abbot's-Cernel. As he walked his pace showed
perturbation, and by-and-by, as if instigated by a former thought,
he drew from his pocket a small book, between the leaves of which
was folded a letter, worn and soiled, as from much re-reading.
D'Urberville opened the letter. It was dated several months before
this time, and was signed by Parson Clare.
The letter began by expressing the writer's unfeigned joy at
d'Urberville's conversion, and thanked him for his kindness in
communicating with the parson on the subject. It expressed Mr
Clare's warm assurance of forgiveness for d'Urberville's former
conduct and his interest in the young man's plans for the future.
He, Mr Clare, would much have liked to see d'Urberville in the Church
to whose ministry he had devoted so many years of his own life, and
would have helped him to enter a theological college to that end; but
since his correspondent had possibly not cared to do this on account
of the delay it would have entailed, he was not the man to insist
upon its paramount importance. Every man must work as he could best
work, and in the method towards which he felt impelled by the Spirit.
D'Urberville read and re-read this letter, and seemed to quiz himself
cynically. He also read some passages from memoranda as he walked
till his face assumed a calm, and apparently the image of Tess no
longer troubled his mind.
She meanwhile had kept along the edge of the hill by which lay her
nearest way home. Within the distance of a mile she met a solitary
"What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?" she asked of
him. "Was it ever a Holy Cross?"
"Cross - no; 'twer not a cross! 'Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It
was put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was
tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung.
The bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil,
and that he walks at times."
She felt the _petite mort_ at this unexpectedly gruesome information,
and left the solitary man behind her. It was dusk when she drew near
to Flintcomb-Ash, and in the lane at the entrance to the hamlet she
approached a girl and her lover without their observing her. They
were talking no secrets, and the clear unconcerned voice of the young
woman, in response to the warmer accents of the man, spread into the
chilly air as the one soothing thing within the dusky horizon, full
of a stagnant obscurity upon which nothing else intruded. For a
moment the voices cheered the heart of Tess, till she reasoned that
this interview had its origin, on one side or the other, in the same
attraction which had been the prelude to her own tribulation. When
she came close, the girl turned serenely and recognized her, the
young man walking off in embarrassment. The woman was Izz Huett,
whose interest in Tess's excursion immediately superseded her own
proceedings. Tess did not explain very clearly its results, and Izz,
who was a girl of tact, began to speak of her own little affair, a
phase of which Tess had just witnessed.
"He is Amby Seedling, the chap who used to sometimes come and help at
Talbothays," she explained indifferently. "He actually inquired and
found out that I had come here, and has followed me. He says he's
been in love wi' me these two years. But I've hardly answered him."
Several days had passed since her futile journey, and Tess was
afield. The dry winter wind still blew, but a screen of thatched
hurdles erected in the eye of the blast kept its force away from her.
On the sheltered side was a turnip-slicing machine, whose bright blue
hue of new paint seemed almost vocal in the otherwise subdued scene.
Opposite its front was a long mound or "grave", in which the roots
had been preserved since early winter. Tess was standing at the
uncovered end, chopping off with a bill-hook the fibres and earth
from each root, and throwing it after the operation into the slicer.
A man was turning the handle of the machine, and from its trough
came the newly-cut swedes, the fresh smell of whose yellow chips
was accompanied by the sounds of the snuffling wind, the smart swish
of the slicing-blades, and the choppings of the hook in Tess's
The wide acreage of blank agricultural brownness, apparent where
the swedes had been pulled, was beginning to be striped in wales of
darker brown, gradually broadening to ribands. Along the edge of
each of these something crept upon ten legs, moving without haste
and without rest up and down the whole length of the field; it was
two horses and a man, the plough going between them, turning up the
cleared ground for a spring sowing.
For hours nothing relieved the joyless monotony of things. Then, far
beyond the ploughing-teams, a black speck was seen. It had come from
the corner of a fence, where there was a gap, and its tendency was
up the incline, towards the swede-cutters. From the proportions of
a mere point it advanced to the shape of a ninepin, and was soon
perceived to be a man in black, arriving from the direction of
Flintcomb-Ash. The man at the slicer, having nothing else to do with
his eyes, continually observed the comer, but Tess, who was occupied,
did not perceive him till her companion directed her attention to his
It was not her hard taskmaster, Farmer Groby; it was one in a
semi-clerical costume, who now represented what had once been the
free-and-easy Alec d'Urberville. Not being hot at his preaching
there was less enthusiasm about him now, and the presence of the
grinder seemed to embarrass him. A pale distress was already on
Tess's face, and she pulled her curtained hood further over it.
D'Urberville came up and said quietly -
"I want to speak to you, Tess."
"You have refused my last request, not to come near me!" said she.
"Yes, but I have a good reason."
"Well, tell it."
"It is more serious than you may think."
He glanced round to see if he were overheard. They were at some
distance from the man who turned the slicer, and the movement of the
machine, too, sufficiently prevented Alec's words reaching other
ears. D'Urberville placed himself so as to screen Tess from the
labourer, turning his back to the latter.
"It is this," he continued, with capricious compunction. "In
thinking of your soul and mine when we last met, I neglected to
inquire as to your worldly condition. You were well dressed, and I
did not think of it. But I see now that it is hard - harder than it
used to be when I - knew you - harder than you deserve. Perhaps a good
deal of it is owning to me!"
She did not answer, and he watched her inquiringly, as, with bent
head, her face completely screened by the hood, she resumed her
trimming of the swedes. By going on with her work she felt better
able to keep him outside her emotions.
"Tess," he added, with a sigh of discontent, - "yours was the very
worst case I ever was concerned in! I had no idea of what had
resulted till you told me. Scamp that I was to foul that innocent
life! The whole blame was mine - the whole unconventional business
of our time at Trantridge. You, too, the real blood of which I am
but the base imitation, what a blind young thing you were as to
possibilities! I say in all earnestness that it is a shame for
parents to bring up their girls in such dangerous ignorance of the
gins and nets that the wicked may set for them, whether their motive
be a good one or the result of simple indifference."
Tess still did no more than listen, throwing down one globular root
and taking up another with automatic regularity, the pensive contour
of the mere fieldwoman alone marking her.
"But it is not that I came to say," d'Urberville went on. "My
circumstances are these. I have lost my mother since you were at
Trantridge, and the place is my own. But I intend to sell it, and
devote myself to missionary work in Africa. A devil of a poor hand
I shall make at the trade, no doubt. However, what I want to ask
you is, will you put it in my power to do my duty - to make the only
reparation I can make for the trick played you: that is, will you be
my wife, and go with me? ... I have already obtained this precious
document. It was my old mother's dying wish."
He drew a piece of parchment from his pocket, with a slight fumbling
"What is it?" said she.
"A marriage licence."
"O no, sir - no!" she said quickly, starting back.
"You will not? Why is that?"
And as he asked the question a disappointment which was not entirely
the disappointment of thwarted duty crossed d'Urberville's face. It
was unmistakably a symptom that something of his old passion for her
had been revived; duty and desire ran hand-in-hand.
"Surely," he began again, in more impetuous tones, and then looked
round at the labourer who turned the slicer.
Tess, too, felt that the argument could not be ended there.
Informing the man that a gentleman had come to see her, with whom she
wished to walk a little way, she moved off with d'Urberville across
the zebra-striped field. When they reached the first newly-ploughed
section he held out his hand to help her over it; but she stepped
forward on the summits of the earth-rolls as if she did not see him.
"You will not marry me, Tess, and make me a self-respecting man?" he
repeated, as soon as they were over the furrows.
"You know I have no affection for you."
"But you would get to feel that in time, perhaps - as soon as you
really could forgive me?"
"Why so positive?"