The pair of legs that carried him were rickety, and there was a bias in his gait which inclined him somewhat to the left of a straight line. He occasionally gave a smart nod, as if in confirmation of some opinion, though he was not thinking of anything in particular.
The narrator observes John Durbeyfield while he walks home. His legs wobble as he weaves along the road, talking to himself. Such details wryly describe John’s state of inebriation. This introduction to Tess’s father foreshadows her chaotic home life that will undermine her future.
Now obey my orders, and take the message I’m about to charge ‘ee wi’ . . . Well, Fred, I don’t mind telling you that the secret is that I’m one of a noble race—it has been just found out by me this present afternoon, P.M.
After John learns of his relation to the d’Urbervilles, he orders a boy to run an errand for him, and the boy questions why John has an attitude of condescension. John wastes no time in telling the boy of his newfound ancestry, believing this fact makes him worthy of having other people do his bidding. This scene reveals John’s naïveté to believe the parson without any proof.
She might have stayed even later, but the incident of her father’s odd appearance and manner returned upon the girl’s mind to make her anxious, and wondering what had become of him she dropped away from the dancers and bent her steps towards the end of the village at which the parental cottage lay.
After John drives by the May-Day festivities, Tess experiences a sense of urgency to leave early to check on him. Readers know that John likes to drink—often—and so incidents such as this most likely occur with frequency in the Durbeyfield family. Although John embarrasses Tess, she still feels the need to look after him due to his laziness and unreliability.
Now don’t you be bursting out angry! The poor man—he felt so rafted after his uplifting by the pa’son’s news—that he went up to Rolliver’s half an hour ago. He do want to get his strength for his journey tomorrow with that load of beehives, which must be delivered, family or no.
John’s wife, Joan, tries to justify his behavior to their daughter Tess. Tess asks her mother about her father’s whereabouts, concerned for his well-being. Joan explains his outing to the nearby drinking establishment to settle his nerves, rattled from the reversal of fortune represented by his relation to the d’Urbervilles. The journey Joan mentions actually ends up being taken by Tess and her brother, as John ends up being too drunk to go. John’s custom of making excuses for his lack of presence in the home finds accommodation in Joan’s acceptance of those excuses.
“I’m thinking of sending round to all the old antiqueerians in this part of England,” he said, “asking them to subscribe to a fund to maintain me. I’m sure they’d see it as a romantical, artistical, and proper thing to do.”
When John becomes ill and Tess wonders at his blithe good spirits, he explains that he plans on living off charity from others around him. Even though his illness endangers his health and life, he deludes himself that his lack of wealth and work ethic will have no consequences.