Within the window under which the bedstead stood were the tombs of the family, covering in their dates several centuries. They were canopied, altar-shaped, and plain; their carvings being defaced and broken; their brasses torn from the matrices, the rivet-holes remaining like martin-holes in a sandcliff. Of all the reminders that she had ever received that her people were socially extinct, there was none so forcible as this spoliation.
She drew near to a dark stone on which was inscribed:
OSTIUM SEPULCHRI ANTIQUAE FAMILIAE D’URBERVILLE
Tess did not read Church-Latin like a Cardinal, but she knew that this was the door of her ancestral sepulchre, and that the tall knights of whom her father had chanted in his cups lay inside.
She musingly turned to withdraw, passing near an altar-tomb, the oldest of them all, on which was a recumbent figure. In the dusk she had not noticed it before, and would hardly have noticed it now but for an odd fancy that the effigy moved. As soon as she drew close to it she discovered all in a moment that the figure was a living person; and the shock to her sense of not having been alone was so violent that she was quite overcome, and sank down nigh to fainting, not, however, till she had recognized Alec d’Urberville in the form.
He leapt off the slab and supported her.
“I saw you come in,” he said smiling, “and got up there not to interrupt your meditations. A family gathering, is it not, with these old fellows under us here? Listen.”
He stamped with his heel heavily on the floor; whereupon there arose a hollow echo from below.
“That shook them a bit, I’ll warrant!” he continued. “And you thought I was the mere stone reproduction of one of them. But no. The old order changeth. The little finger of the sham d’Urberville can do more for you than the whole dynasty of the real underneath... Now command me. What shall I do?”
“Go away!” she murmured.
“I will—I’ll look for your mother,” said he blandly. But in passing her he whispered: “Mind this; you’ll be civil yet!”
When he was gone she bent down upon the entrance to the vaults, and said—
“Why am I on the wrong side of this door!”
In the meantime Marian and Izz Huett had journeyed onward with the chattels of the ploughman in the direction of their land of Canaan— the Egypt of some other family who had left it only that morning. But the girls did not for a long time think of where they were going. Their talk was of Angel Clare and Tess, and Tess’s persistent lover, whose connection with her previous history they had partly heard and partly guessed ere this.
“’Tisn’t as though she had never known him afore,” said Marian. “His having won her once makes all the difference in the world. ’Twould be a thousand pities if he were to tole her away again. Mr Clare can never be anything to us, Izz; and why should we grudge him to her, and not try to mend this quarrel? If he could on’y know what straits she’s put to, and what’s hovering round, he might come to take care of his own.”