At breakfast Brazil was the topic, and all endeavoured to take a hopeful view of Clare’s proposed experiment with that country’s soil, notwithstanding the discouraging reports of some farm-labourers who had emigrated thither and returned home within the twelve months. After breakfast Clare went into the little town to wind up such trifling matters as he was concerned with there, and to get from the local bank all the money he possessed. On his way back he encountered Miss Mercy Chant by the church, from whose walls she seemed to be a sort of emanation. She was carrying an armful of Bibles for her class, and such was her view of life that events which produced heartache in others wrought beatific smiles upon her—an enviable result, although, in the opinion of Angel, it was obtained by a curiously unnatural sacrifice of humanity to mysticism.
She had learnt that he was about to leave England, and observed what an excellent and promising scheme it seemed to be.
“Yes; it is a likely scheme enough in a commercial sense, no doubt,” he replied. “But, my dear Mercy, it snaps the continuity of existence. Perhaps a cloister would be preferable.”
“A cloister! O, Angel Clare!”
“Why, you wicked man, a cloister implies a monk, and a monk Roman Catholicism.”
“And Roman Catholicism sin, and sin damnation. Thou art in a parlous state, Angel Clare.”
“I glory in my Protestantism!” she said severely.
Then Clare, thrown by sheer misery into one of the demoniacal moods in which a man does despite to his true principles, called her close to him, and fiendishly whispered in her ear the most heterodox ideas he could think of. His momentary laughter at the horror which appeared on her fair face ceased when it merged in pain and anxiety for his welfare.
“Dear Mercy,” he said, “you must forgive me. I think I am going crazy!”
She thought that he was; and thus the interview ended, and Clare re-entered the Vicarage. With the local banker he deposited the jewels till happier days should arise. He also paid into the bank thirty pounds—to be sent to Tess in a few months, as she might require; and wrote to her at her parents’ home in Blackmoor Vale to inform her of what he had done. This amount, with the sum he had already placed in her hands—about fifty pounds—he hoped would be amply sufficient for her wants just at present, particularly as in an emergency she had been directed to apply to his father.