"O Alec d'Urberville! what does this mean? What have I done!"
"Done?" he said, with a soulless sneer in the word. "Nothing intentionally. But you have been the means — the innocent means — of my backsliding, as they call it. I ask myself, am I, indeed, one of those 'servants of corruption' who, 'after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, are again entangled therein and overcome' — whose latter end is worse than their beginning?" He laid his hand on her shoulder. "Tess, my girl, I was on the way to, at least, social salvation till I saw you again!" he said freakishly shaking her, as if she were a child. "And why then have you tempted me? I was firm as a man could be till I saw those eyes and that mouth again — surely there never was such a maddening mouth since Eve's!" His voice sank, and a hot archness shot from his own black eyes. "You temptress, Tess; you dear damned witch of Babylon — I could not resist you as soon as I met you again!"
"I couldn't help your seeing me again!" said Tess, recoiling.
"I know it — I repeat that I do not blame you. But the fact remains. When I saw you ill-used on the farm that day I was nearly mad to think that I had no legal right to protect you — that I could not have it; whilst he who has it seems to neglect you utterly!"
"Don't speak against him — he is absent!" she cried in much excitement. "Treat him honourably — he has never wronged you! O leave his wife before any scandal spreads that may do harm to his honest name!"
"I will — I will," he said, like a man awakening from a luring dream. "I have broken my engagement to preach to those poor drunken boobies at the fair — it is the first time I have played such a practical joke. A month ago I should have been horrified at such a possibility. I'll go away — to swear — and — ah, can I! to keep away." Then, suddenly: "One clasp, Tessy — one! Only for old friendship — "
"I am without defence. Alec! A good man's honour is in my keeping — think — be ashamed!"
"Pooh! Well, yes — yes!"
He clenched his lips, mortified with himself for his weakness. His eyes were equally barren of worldly and religious faith. The corpses of those old fitful passions which had lain inanimate amid the lines of his face ever since his reformation seemed to wake and come together as in a resurrection. He went out indeterminately.
Though d'Urberville had declared that this breach of his engagement to-day was the simple backsliding of a believer, Tess's words, as echoed from Angel Clare, had made a deep impression upon him, and continued to do so after he had left her. He moved on in silence, as if his energies were benumbed by the hitherto undreamt-of possibility that his position was untenable. Reason had had nothing to do with his whimsical conversion, which was perhaps the mere freak of a careless man in search of a new sensation, and temporarily impressed by his mother's death.
The drops of logic Tess had let fall into the sea of his enthusiasm served to chill its effervescence to stagnation. He said to himself, as he pondered again and again over the crystallized phrases that she had handed on to him, "That clever fellow little thought that, by telling her those things, he might be paving my way back to her!"