Tess is walking up the road between Trantridge and her home in Marlott, carrying a heavy bundle.
She's thinking sadly about what a difference there is between the girl she was last June, when she came to Trantridge, and the girl she is now.
She's just reached the top of a hill—the very one that Alec had driven down so wildly—when she is overtaken by a cart coming up behind her.
It's Alec. He offers to drive her the rest of the way, if he can't persuade her to come back.
He can't, of course.
Tess climbs into the cart, and answers his questions spiritlessly.
She's clearly depressed. She cries a bit when she sees the edge of her village, and says she wishes that she'd never been born.
Alec asks why she had come to Trantridge, if she didn't wish to—it surely wasn't "for love of [him]" (12.17).
Tess says that, if she had loved him, she wouldn't "hate [her]self" for her "weakness" as she does. But, she says, "I didn't understand your meaning till it was too late" (12.18-20).
Alec answers flippantly: "That's what every woman says" (12.21).
Wrong answer: Tess gets frustrated, and says that she really feels that way. She actually was innocent of what he was trying to do until it was too late.
Alec gets defensive. He admits that he has done wrong, but tells her not to keep guilting him about it. He offers to pay for it—and he does mean, literally, to pay for it.
But Tess doesn't want his money. That would make her "his creature" even more than she already is. Basically, it would make her feel like a prostitute (12.25).
He thinks she's being too proud, but he doesn't push the point, other than to hint that if "certain circumstances should arise" (i.e., if she should become pregnant), she should let him know, and he'd take care of her (12.26).
Tess doesn't answer, but asks to get down from the cart. They've reached the edge of Marlott.
She starts to walk away, but he stops her, and asks for a kiss.
She turns her mouth up to him indifferently, saying, "see how you've mastered me!" (12.30).
He kisses her, but she doesn't kiss him back.
He remarks on this, and she says it's because she doesn't love him. Lying to herself or to him, and saying that she did love him, might make her feel better, but she has "honour enough left […] not to tell that lie" (12.35).
Alec feels either hurt or guilty (or both), and says goodbye.
Tess walks along the road into the village.
After a few minutes, a man catches up with her, and says "Good morning!" He's carrying a pot of paint.
He offers to carry her basket, and chats about how early it is on a Sunday morning to be out walking.
But, he says, he works "for the glory of God" on Sundays.
He pauses at a stile to paint a verse from the Bible on it: "Thy damnation slumbereth not" (see "Shout Outs" for more on this quotation) (12.51).
Given what has just happened to her, the lines horrify Tess.
She asks if he believes the words—of course he does. He walks around every Sunday painting them on blank walls and gates.
Tess thinks the words are "crushing," but he says they're supposed to be (12.59).
But what, she asks, if "your sin was not of your own seeking?" (12.56).
He shakes his head.
He stops at another wall, and asks if she'll wait.
She continues without him, but pauses long enough to see him write "Thou Shalt Not Commit—" (again, check out the "Shout-Outs" for more on this) (12.62).
As she walks away, he calls after her that a preacher is in Marlott who would be able to explain it all to her, if she liked. His name is Clare.
Tess walks along, trying to persuade herself that she doesn't believe a word of it.
Tess gets to her parents' house, and walks in.
Her mother asks if she's come home to be married, or for a holiday?
Tess tells her what happened.
Her mother is shocked and horrified that Tess isn't going to be married, after what happened. She says that "any woman would have" gotten him to marry her.
Tess isn't like other women.
And her mother doesn't understand her feelings towards Alec—she doesn't quite hate him, but he's nothing to her, and she wouldn't want to marry him even to save her good name (to have had sex before marriage wasn't quite so bad, socially, if you married the person afterwards).
Besides, Alec hadn't said anything about marriage. He'd given the horse to her father in an attempt to get Tess to trust him, so that he could seduce her. It wasn't because he was trying to persuade her to marry him.
Her mother continues to complain as Tess thinks all these things to herself, and Tess is about to cry.
She asks her mother how she could have known? She was a girl when she left Marlott, and didn't know there was any danger from men, and her mother didn't warn her.
Her mother recognizes the truth in this, and stops complaining.
Mrs. Durbeyfield says that they'll just have to make the best of it, because it is, after all, natural.