It was a peaceful February day, of wonderful softness for the time, and one would almost have thought that winter was over. She had hardly finished her dinner when d'Urberville's figure darkened the window of the cottage wherein she was a lodger, which she had all to herself to-day.
Tess jumped up, but her visitor had knocked at the door, and she could hardly in reason run away. D'Urberville's knock, his walk up to the door, had some indescribable quality of difference from his air when she last saw him. They seemed to be acts of which the doer was ashamed. She thought that she would not open the door; but, as there was no sense in that either, she arose, and having lifted the latch stepped back quickly. He came in, saw her, and flung himself down into a chair before speaking.
"Tess — I couldn't help it!" he began desperately, as he wiped his heated face, which had also a superimposed flush of excitement. "I felt that I must call at least to ask how you are. I assure you I had not been thinking of you at all till I saw you that Sunday; now I cannot get rid of your image, try how I may! It is hard that a good woman should do harm to a bad man; yet so it is. If you would only pray for me, Tess!"
The suppressed discontent of his manner was almost pitiable, and yet Tess did not pity him.
"How can I pray for you," she said, "when I am forbidden to believe that the great Power who moves the world would alter His plans on my account?"
"You really think that?"
"Yes. I have been cured of the presumption of thinking otherwise."
"Cured? By whom?"
"By my husband, if I must tell."
"Ah — your husband — your husband! How strange it seems! I remember you hinted something of the sort the other day. What do you really believe in these matters, Tess?" he asked. "You seem to have no religion — perhaps owing to me."
"But I have. Though I don't believe in anything supernatural."
D'Urberville looked at her with misgiving.
"Then do you think that the line I take is all wrong?"
"A good deal of it."
"H'm — and yet I've felt so sure about it," he said uneasily.
"I believe in the SPIRIT of the Sermon on the Mount, and so did my dear husband... But I don't believe — "
Here she gave her negations.
"The fact is," said d'Urberville drily, "whatever your dear husband believed you accept, and whatever he rejected you reject, without the least inquiry or reasoning on your own part. That's just like you women. Your mind is enslaved to his."
"Ah, because he knew everything!" said she, with a triumphant simplicity of faith in Angel Clare that the most perfect man could hardly have deserved, much less her husband.
"Yes, but you should not take negative opinions wholesale from another person like that. A pretty fellow he must be to teach you such scepticism!"
"He never forced my judgement! He would never argue on the subject with me! But I looked at it in this way; what he believed, after inquiring deep into doctrines, was much more likely to be right than what I might believe, who hadn't looked into doctrines at all."
"What used he to say? He must have said something?"
She reflected; and with her acute memory for the letter of Angel Clare's remarks, even when she did not comprehend their spirit, she recalled a merciless polemical syllogism that she had heard him use when, as it occasionally happened, he indulged in a species of thinking aloud with her at his side. In delivering it she gave also Clare's accent and manner with reverential faithfulness.
"Say that again," asked d'Urberville, who had listened with the greatest attention.
She repeated the argument, and d'Urberville thoughtfully murmured the words after her.
"Anything else?" he presently asked.
"He said at another time something like this"; and she gave another, which might possibly have been paralleled in many a work of the pedigree ranging from the Dictionnaire Philosophique to Huxley's Essays.
"Ah — ha! How do you remember them?"
"I wanted to believe what he believed, though he didn't wish me to; and I managed to coax him to tell me a few of his thoughts. I can't say I quite understand that one; but I know it is right."
"H'm. Fancy your being able to teach me what you don't know yourself!"
He fell into thought.
"And so I threw in my spiritual lot with his," she resumed. "I didn't wish it to be different. What's good enough for him is good enough for me."
"Does he know that you are as big an infidel as he?"
"No — I never told him — if I am an infidel."
"Well — you are better off to-day that I am, Tess, after all! You don't believe that you ought to preach my doctrine, and, therefore, do no despite to your conscience in abstaining. I do believe I ought to preach it, but, like the devils, I believe and tremble, for I suddenly leave off preaching it, and give way to my passion for you."
"Why," he said aridly; "I have come all the way here to see you to-day! But I started from home to go to Casterbridge Fair, where I have undertaken to preach the Word from a waggon at half-past two this afternoon, and where all the brethren are expecting me this minute. Here's the announcement."
He drew from his breast-pocket a poster whereon was printed the day, hour, and place of meeting, at which he, d'Urberville, would preach the Gospel as aforesaid.
"But how can you get there?" said Tess, looking at the clock.
"I cannot get there! I have come here."
"What, you have really arranged to preach, and — "
"I have arranged to preach, and I shall not be there — by reason of my burning desire to see a woman whom I once despised! — No, by my word and truth, I never despised you; if I had I should not love you now! Why I did not despise you was on account of your being unsmirched in spite of all; you withdrew yourself from me so quickly and resolutely when you saw the situation; you did not remain at my pleasure; so there was one petticoat in the world for whom I had no contempt, and you are she. But you may well despise me now! I thought I worshipped on the mountains, but I find I still serve in the groves! Ha! ha!"