The unexpectedness of his presence, the grotesqueness of his appearance in a gathered smockfrock, such as was now worn only by the most old-fashioned of the labourers, had a ghastly comicality that chilled her as to its bearing. D’Urberville emitted a low, long laugh.
“If I were inclined to joke, I should say, How much this seems like Paradise!” he remarked whimsically, looking at her with an inclined head.
“What do you say?” she weakly asked.
“A jester might say this is just like Paradise. You are Eve, and I am the old Other One come to tempt you in the disguise of an inferior animal. I used to be quite up in that scene of Milton’s when I was theological. Some of it goes—
“’Empress, the way is ready, and not long, Beyond a row of myrtles... ... If thou accept My conduct, I can bring thee thither soon.’ ‘Lead then,’ said Eve.
“And so on. My dear Tess, I am only putting this to you as a thing that you might have supposed or said quite untruly, because you think so badly of me.”
“I never said you were Satan, or thought it. I don’t think of you in that way at all. My thoughts of you are quite cold, except when you affront me. What, did you come digging here entirely because of me?”
“Entirely. To see you; nothing more. The smockfrock, which I saw hanging for sale as I came along, was an afterthought, that I mightn’t be noticed. I come to protest against your working like this.”
“But I like doing it—it is for my father.”
“Your engagement at the other place is ended?”
“Where are you going to next? To join your dear husband?”
She could not bear the humiliating reminder.
“O—I don’t know!” she said bitterly. “I have no husband!”
“It is quite true—in the sense you mean. But you have a friend, and I have determined that you shall be comfortable in spite of yourself. When you get down to your house you will see what I have sent there for you.”
“O, Alec, I wish you wouldn’t give me anything at all! I cannot take it from you! I don’t like—it is not right!”
“It IS right!” he cried lightly. “I am not going to see a woman whom I feel so tenderly for as I do for you in trouble without trying to help her.”
“But I am very well off! I am only in trouble about—about—not about living at all!”
She turned, and desperately resumed her digging, tears dripping upon the fork-handle and upon the clods.
“About the children—your brothers and sisters,” he resumed. “I’ve been thinking of them.”
Tess’s heart quivered—he was touching her in a weak place. He had divined her chief anxiety. Since returning home her soul had gone out to those children with an affection that was passionate.
“If your mother does not recover, somebody ought to do something for them; since your father will not be able to do much, I suppose?”