Phase the Sixth: The Convert
45. CHAPTER XLV (continued)
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."
She felt the PETIT MORT at this unexpectedly gruesome
information, and left the solitary man behind her. It
was dusk when she drew near to Flintcomb-Ash, and in
the lane at the entrance to the hamlet she approached a
girl and her lover without their observing her. They
were talking no secrets, and the clear unconcerned
voice of the young woman, in response to the warmer
accents of the man, spread into the chilly air as the
one soothing thing within the dusky horizon, full of a
stagnant obscurity upon which nothing else intruded.
For a moment the voices cheered the heart of Tess, till
she reasoned that this interview had its origin, on one
side or the other, in the same attraction which had
been the prelude to her own tribulation. When she came
close the girl turned serenely and recognized her, the
young man walking off in embarrassment. The woman was
Izz Huett, whose interest in Tess's excursion
immediately superseded her own proceedings. Tess did
not explain very clearly its results, and Izz, who was
a girl of tact, began to speak of her own little
affair, a phase of which Tess had just witnessed.
"He is Amby Seedling, the chap who used to sometimes
come and help at Talbothays," she explained
indifferently. "He actually inquired and found out
that I had come here, and has followed me. He says
he's been in love wi' me these two years. But I've
hardly answered him."