“Where was she?”
“Well, she is not there now.”
In her evasiveness she paused again, and the younger children had by this time crept to the door, where, pulling at his mother’s skirts, the youngest murmured—
“Is this the gentleman who is going to marry Tess?”
“He has married her,” Joan whispered. “Go inside.”
Clare saw her efforts for reticence, and asked—
“Do you think Tess would wish me to try and find her? If not, of course—”
“I don’t think she would.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am sure she wouldn’t.”
He was turning away; and then he thought of Tess’s tender letter.
“I am sure she would!” he retorted passionately. “I know her better than you do.”
“That’s very likely, sir; for I have never really known her.”
“Please tell me her address, Mrs Durbeyfield, in kindness to a lonely wretched man!” Tess’s mother again restlessly swept her cheek with her vertical hand, and seeing that he suffered, she at last said, is a low voice—
“She is at Sandbourne.”
“Ah—where there? Sandbourne has become a large place, they say.”
“I don’t know more particularly than I have said—Sandbourne. For myself, I was never there.”
It was apparent that Joan spoke the truth in this, and he pressed her no further.
“Are you in want of anything?” he said gently.
“No, sir,” she replied. “We are fairly well provided for.”
Without entering the house Clare turned away. There was a station three miles ahead, and paying off his coachman, he walked thither. The last train to Sandbourne left shortly after, and it bore Clare on its wheels.
At eleven o’clock that night, having secured a bed at one of the hotels and telegraphed his address to his father immediately on his arrival, he walked out into the streets of Sandbourne. It was too late to call on or inquire for any one, and he reluctantly postponed his purpose till the morning. But he could not retire to rest just yet.
This fashionable watering-place, with its eastern and its western stations, its piers, its groves of pines, its promenades, and its covered gardens, was, to Angel Clare, like a fairy place suddenly created by the stroke of a wand, and allowed to get a little dusty. An outlying eastern tract of the enormous Egdon Waste was close at hand, yet on the very verge of that tawny piece of antiquity such a glittering novelty as this pleasure city had chosen to spring up. Within the space of a mile from its outskirts every irregularity of the soil was prehistoric, every channel an undisturbed British trackway; not a sod having been turned there since the days of the Caesars. Yet the exotic had grown here, suddenly as the prophet’s gourd; and had drawn hither Tess.
By the midnight lamps he went up and down the winding way of this new world in an old one, and could discern between the trees and against the stars the lofty roofs, chimneys, gazebos, and towers of the numerous fanciful residences of which the place was composed. It was a city of detached mansions; a Mediterranean lounging-place on the English Channel; and as seen now by night it seemed even more imposing than it was.