“Ah!” she said, still sighing in pity of herself, “THEY didn’t know that I wore those over the roughest part of the road to save these pretty ones HE bought for me—no—they did not know it! And they didn’t think that HE chose the colour o’ my pretty frock—no—how could they? If they had known perhaps they would not have cared, for they don’t care much for him, poor thing!”
Then she grieved for the beloved man whose conventional standard of judgement had caused her all these latter sorrows; and she went her way without knowing that the greatest misfortune of her life was this feminine loss of courage at the last and critical moment through her estimating her father-in-law by his sons. Her present condition was precisely one which would have enlisted the sympathies of old Mr and Mrs Clare. Their hearts went out of them at a bound towards extreme cases, when the subtle mental troubles of the less desperate among mankind failed to win their interest or regard. In jumping at Publicans and Sinners they would forget that a word might be said for the worries of Scribes and Pharisees; and this defect or limitation might have recommended their own daughter-in-law to them at this moment as a fairly choice sort of lost person for their love.
Thereupon she began to plod back along the road by which she had come not altogether full of hope, but full of a conviction that a crisis in her life was approaching. No crisis, apparently, had supervened; and there was nothing left for her to do but to continue upon that starve-acre farm till she could again summon courage to face the Vicarage. She did, indeed, take sufficient interest in herself to throw up her veil on this return journey, as if to let the world see that she could at least exhibit a face such as Mercy Chant could not show. But it was done with a sorry shake of the head. “It is nothing—it is nothing!” she said. “Nobody loves it; nobody sees it. Who cares about the looks of a castaway like me!”
Her journey back was rather a meander than a march. It had no sprightliness, no purpose; only a tendency. Along the tedious length of Benvill Lane she began to grow tired, and she leant upon gates and paused by milestones.
She did not enter any house till, at the seventh or eighth mile, she descended the steep long hill below which lay the village or townlet of Evershead, where in the morning she had breakfasted with such contrasting expectations. The cottage by the church, in which she again sat down, was almost the first at that end of the village, and while the woman fetched her some milk from the pantry, Tess, looking down the street, perceived that the place seemed quite deserted.
“The people are gone to afternoon service, I suppose?” she said.
“No, my dear,” said the old woman. “’Tis too soon for that; the bells hain’t strook out yet. They be all gone to hear the preaching in yonder barn. A ranter preaches there between the services—an excellent, fiery, Christian man, they say. But, Lord, I don’t go to hear’n! What comes in the regular way over the pulpit is hot enough for I.”