<h3>Phase the Sixth: The Convert, XLV-LII</h3>
<br/>Till this moment she had never seen or heard from
d'Urberville since her departure from Trantridge.
<br/>The rencounter came at a heavy moment, one of all
moments calculated to permit its impact with the least
emotional shock. But such was unreasoning memory that,
though he stood there openly and palpably a converted
man, who was sorrowing for his past irregularities, a
fear overcame her, paralyzing her movement so that she
neither retreated nor advanced.
<br/>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
<br/>To Tess's sense there was, just at first, a ghastly
<i>bizarrerie</i>, 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 contrast.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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
<br/>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.
<br/>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 extinguished.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>"Tess!" he said.
<br/>She slackened speed without looking round.
<br/>"Tess!" he repeated. "It is I—Alec d'Urberville."
<br/>She then looked back at him, and he came up.
<br/>"I see it is," she answered coldly.
<br/>"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?"
<br/>"I do, rather; and I would that you had not, with all
<br/>"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
<br/>There was the smallest vein of scorn in her words of
rejoinder: "Have you saved yourself? Charity begins at
home, they say."
<br/>"<i>I</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?"
<br/>"I have," she said.
<br/>"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—"
<br/>"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!"
<br/>"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?"
<br/>"Your conversion. Your scheme of religion."
<br/>She dropped her voice. "Because a better man than you
does not believe in such."
<br/>"What a woman's reason! Who is this better man?"
<br/>"I cannot tell you."
<br/>"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."
<br/>"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!"
<br/>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.
<br/>"Don't look at me like that!" he said abruptly.
<br/>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.
<br/>"No, no! Don't beg my pardon. But since you wear a
veil to hide your good looks, why don't you keep it
<br/>She pulled down the veil, saying hastily, "It was
mostly to keep off the wind."
<br/>"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 dangerous."
<br/>"Ssh!" said Tess.
<br/>"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!"
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>"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?"
<br/>"I have learnt things in my troubles," she said
<br/>"What troubles have you had?"
<br/>She told him of the first one—the only one that
related to him.
<br/>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?"
<br/>She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding:
"Well—you will see me again."
<br/>"No," she answered. "Do not again come near me!"
<br/>"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."
<br/>"Good God—how can you ask what is so unnecessary!
All that is furthest from my thought!"
<br/>"Yes—but swear it."
<br/>Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity;
placed her hand upon the stone and swore.
<br/>"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!"
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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.
<br/>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 shepherd.
<br/>"What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?"
she asked of him. "Was it ever a Holy Cross?"
<br/>"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."
<br/>She felt the <i>petite mort</i> 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.
<br/>"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."
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