Tess of the D'Urbervilles Phase VI: "The Convert," Chapter Forty-Five Summary
Tess is rooted to the spot: she hasn't seen or heard from Alec since she left Trantridge four years before, and here he is, clearly a convert, giving a rabble-rousing sermon in the village square about how sinful he used to be.
She's unconvinced of his sincerity, and then wonders if maybe it could be true. It wouldn't be the first time.
But then she moves to leave, and he sees her.
He's momentarily distracted by her beauty, and Tess walks away quickly.
After a while, he comes up behind her on the road.
He says that he followed after her to see what he could do for her, since he had done such horrible things to her before. Her appearance had distracted him, it's true, but God had helped him through it to finish his sermon.
Tess asks how he came to become a preacher.
Alec tells her about this great, earnest minister named Mr. Clare…
Yes, Tess tells him, she's heard of him somewhere.
Alec starts to tell her about his sudden conversion, but Tess doesn't believe in sudden conversions. It's too quick, she argues – and it's unfair for people like him to make other people miserable, and then to decide it's time to start thinking about getting right with God.
Alec is miffed, and asks why she doesn't believe in conversions like that.
Tess says it's because "a better man" than he is doesn't believe in them. She means Angel, of course, but she doesn't tell Alec whom she means.
Alec doesn't say much in response, but, after staring at Tess, asks her to put her veil down – her beauty is just blinding, and he doesn't want to relapse into his old wicked ways.
They walk on along the road together, and Alec asks Tess about what's happened to her over the last four years.
Tess tells him the only thing that related at all to him – that she'd had his baby, and that it had died.
Alec is shocked that she hadn't told him sooner.
As they're about to part ways, he makes her swear never to "tempt" him with her womanly wiles. As if she'd want to, she says, but she promises anyway.
She walks along back towards the farm, and comes along a young woman talking with a young man – the man is clearly hitting on the woman, and the woman is less enthusiastic about it than the guy is.
The woman turns out to be Izz Huett; the man is someone she knows from home, who has followed her out here because he's been in love with her for the last couple of years.
Izz still isn't over her crush on Angel, though, so she doesn't really answer the man's proposals one way or the other.