“O, my boy, my boy—home again at last!” cried Mrs Clare, who cared no more at that moment for the stains of heterodoxy which had caused all this separation than for the dust upon his clothes. What woman, indeed, among the most faithful adherents of the truth, believes the promises and threats of the Word in the sense in which she believes in her own children, or would not throw her theology to the wind if weighed against their happiness? As soon as they reached the room where the candles were lighted she looked at his face.
“O, it is not Angel—not my son—the Angel who went away!” she cried in all the irony of sorrow, as she turned herself aside.
His father, too, was shocked to see him, so reduced was that figure from its former contours by worry and the bad season that Clare had experienced, in the climate to which he had so rashly hurried in his first aversion to the mockery of events at home. You could see the skeleton behind the man, and almost the ghost behind the skeleton. He matched Crivelli’s dead Christus. His sunken eye-pits were of morbid hue, and the light in his eyes had waned. The angular hollows and lines of his aged ancestors had succeeded to their reign in his face twenty years before their time.
“I was ill over there, you know,” he said. “I am all right now.”
As if, however, to falsify this assertion, his legs seemed to give way, and he suddenly sat down to save himself from falling. It was only a slight attack of faintness, resulting from the tedious day’s journey, and the excitement of arrival.
“Has any letter come for me lately?” he asked. “I received the last you sent on by the merest chance, and after considerable delay through being inland; or I might have come sooner.”
“It was from your wife, we supposed?”
Only one other had recently come. They had not sent it on to him, knowing he would start for home so soon.
He hastily opened the letter produced, and was much disturbed to read in Tess’s handwriting the sentiments expressed in her last hurried scrawl to him.
O why have you treated me so monstrously, Angel! I do
not deserve it. I have thought it all over carefully,
and I can never, never forgive you! You know that I
did not intend to wrong you—why have you so wronged
me? You are cruel, cruel indeed! I will try to forget
you. It is all injustice I have received at your
“It is quite true!” said Angel, throwing down the letter. “Perhaps she will never be reconciled to me!”
“Don’t, Angel, be so anxious about a mere child of the soil!” said his mother.
“Child of the soil! Well, we all are children of the soil. I wish she were so in the sense you mean; but let me now explain to you what I have never explained before, that her father is a descendant in the male line of one of the oldest Norman houses, like a good many others who lead obscure agricultural lives in our villages, and are dubbed ‘sons of the soil.’”