“I don’t know.”
“You go to church very regularly, and our parson here is not very High, they tell me.”
Tess’s ideas on the views of the parish clergyman, whom she heard every week, seemed to be rather more vague than Clare’s, who had never heard him at all.
“I wish I could fix my mind on what I hear there more firmly than I do,” she remarked as a safe generality. “It is often a great sorrow to me.”
She spoke so unaffectedly that Angel was sure in his heart that his father could not object to her on religious grounds, even though she did not know whether her principles were High, Low or Broad. He himself knew that, in reality, the confused beliefs which she held, apparently imbibed in childhood, were, if anything, Tractarian as to phraseology, and Pantheistic as to essence. Confused or otherwise, to disturb them was his last desire:
Leave thou thy sister, when she
Her early Heaven, her happy views;
Nor thou with shadow’d hint confuse
A life that leads melodious days.
He had occasionally thought the counsel less honest than musical; but he gladly conformed to it now.
He spoke further of the incidents of his visit, of his father’s mode of life, of his zeal for his principles; she grew serener, and the undulations disappeared from her skimming; as she finished one lead after another he followed her, and drew the plugs for letting down the milk.
“I fancied you looked a little downcast when you came in,” she ventured to observe, anxious to keep away from the subject of herself.
“Yes—well, my father had been talking a good deal to me of his troubles and difficulties, and the subject always tends to depress me. He is so zealous that he gets many snubs and buffetings from people of a different way of thinking from himself, and I don’t like to hear of such humiliations to a man of his age, the more particularly as I don’t think earnestness does any good when carried so far. He has been telling me of a very unpleasant scene in which he took part quite recently. He went as the deputy of some missionary society to preach in the neighbourhood of Trantridge, a place forty miles from here, and made it his business to expostulate with a lax young cynic he met with somewhere about there—son of some landowner up that way—and who has a mother afflicted with blindness. My father addressed himself to the gentleman point-blank, and there was quite a disturbance. It was very foolish of my father, I must say, to intrude his conversation upon a stranger when the probabilities were so obvious that it would be useless. But whatever he thinks to be his duty, that he’ll do, in season or out of season; and, of course, he makes many enemies, not only among the absolutely vicious, but among the easy-going, who hate being bothered. He says he glories in what happened, and that good may be done indirectly; but I wish he would not wear himself out now he is getting old, and would leave such pigs to their wallowing.”