As she drove on through Blackmoor Vale, and the landscape of her youth began to open around her, Tess aroused herself from her stupor. Her first thought was how would she be able to face her parents?
She reached a turnpike-gate which stood upon the highway to the village. It was thrown open by a stranger, not by the old man who had kept it for many years, and to whom she had been known; he had probably left on New Year's Day, the date when such changes were made. Having received no intelligence lately from her home, she asked the turnpike-keeper for news.
"Oh — nothing, miss," he answered. "Marlott is Marlott still. Folks have died and that. John Durbeyfield, too, hev had a daughter married this week to a gentleman-farmer; not from John's own house, you know; they was married elsewhere; the gentleman being of that high standing that John's own folk was not considered well-be-doing enough to have any part in it, the bridegroom seeming not to know how't have been discovered that John is a old and ancient nobleman himself by blood, with family skillentons in their own vaults to this day, but done out of his property in the time o' the Romans. However, Sir John, as we call 'n now, kept up the wedding-day as well as he could, and stood treat to everybody in the parish; and John's wife sung songs at The Pure Drop till past eleven o'clock."
Hearing this, Tess felt so sick at heart that she could not decide to go home publicly in the fly with her luggage and belongings. She asked the turnpike-keeper if she might deposit her things at his house for a while, and, on his offering no objection, she dismissed her carriage, and went on to the village alone by a back lane.
At sight of her father's chimney she asked herself how she could possibly enter the house? Inside that cottage her relations were calmly supposing her far away on a wedding-tour with a comparatively rich man, who was to conduct her to bouncing prosperity; while here she was, friendless, creeping up to the old door quite by herself, with no better place to go to in the world.
She did not reach the house unobserved. Just by the garden-hedge she was met by a girl who knew her — one of the two or three with whom she had been intimate at school. After making a few inquiries as to how Tess came there, her friend, unheeding her tragic look, interrupted with —
"But where's thy gentleman, Tess?"
Tess hastily explained that he had been called away on business, and, leaving her interlocutor, clambered over the garden-hedge, and thus made her way to the house.
As she went up the garden-path she heard her mother singing by the back door, coming in sight of which she perceived Mrs Durbeyfield on the doorstep in the act of wringing a sheet. Having performed this without observing Tess, she went indoors, and her daughter followed her.
The washing-tub stood in the same old place on the same old quarter-hogshead, and her mother, having thrown the sheet aside, was about to plunge her arms in anew.
"Why — Tess! — my chil' — I thought you was married! — married really and truly this time — we sent the cider — "
"Yes, mother; so I am."
"Going to be?"
"No — I am married."
"Married! Then where's thy husband?"
"Oh, he's gone away for a time."
"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 Rolliver'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.