“Good God—how can you ask what is so unnecessary! All that is furthest from my thought!”
“Yes—but swear it.”
Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity; placed her hand upon the stone and swore.
“I am sorry you are not a believer,” he continued; “that some unbeliever should have got hold of you and unsettled your mind. But no more now. At home at least I can pray for you; and I will; and who knows what may not happen? I’m off. Goodbye!”
He turned to a hunting-gate in the hedge and, without letting his eyes again rest upon her, leapt over and struck out across the down in the direction of Abbot’s-Cernel. As he walked his pace showed perturbation, and by-and-by, as if instigated by a former thought, he drew from his pocket a small book, between the leaves of which was folded a letter, worn and soiled, as from much re-reading. D’Urberville opened the letter. It was dated several months before this time, and was signed by Parson Clare.
The letter began by expressing the writer’s unfeigned joy at d’Urberville’s conversion, and thanked him for his kindness in communicating with the parson on the subject. It expressed Mr Clare’s warm assurance of forgiveness for d’Urberville’s former conduct and his interest in the young man’s plans for the future. He, Mr Clare, would much have liked to see d’Urberville in the Church to whose ministry he had devoted so many years of his own life, and would have helped him to enter a theological college to that end; but since his correspondent had possibly not cared to do this on account of the delay it would have entailed, he was not the man to insist upon its paramount importance. Every man must work as he could best work, and in the method towards which he felt impelled by the Spirit.
D’Urberville read and re-read this letter, and seemed to quiz himself cynically. He also read some passages from memoranda as he walked till his face assumed a calm, and apparently the image of Tess no longer troubled his mind.
She meanwhile had kept along the edge of the hill by which lay her nearest way home. Within the distance of a mile she met a solitary shepherd.
“What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?” she asked of him. “Was it ever a Holy Cross?”
“Cross—no; ’twer not a cross! ’Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It was put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks at times.”