In chapter LIII Angel arrives home, haggard and gaunt. He finally realizes that he needs to find Tess and make things right.
Chapter LIV starts out with Angel setting off to find Tess. As he sets out he isn’t paying attention to his surroundings, just to where he is going.
He eventually makes his way to Flintcomb-Ash, the last address of her letters. Here he finds there was no Mrs. Clare here, but Tess is well known. It becomes quite obvious to Angel the level of separation created, not just in her not using his name, but also in the hardships she had taken on.
Here he finds out that Tess had left without notice for home. Apparently the farmer here likes wealthy men, he was always much kinder to Alec and the same holds true for Angel. Meanwhile he was a nasty employer. Angel ends up staying overnight at an Inn on his way to Marlott.
I love a lot about this chapter. The effort Angel puts into finding Tess, and the journey to finding out just how much happened to her and how much her hurt her. It’s a bit of “payback is a bitch.” Angel gets some of his own medicine. As the same time, I feel him fighting for her.
The next day he goes to Marlott, the former home of Tess, and finds her house now occupied by a new family who doesn’t know or care about Tess or the Durbyfield Family. But he eventually finds out that Sir John has died and the family has gone to Kingsbere.
When Angel walks away he walks by the spot where he did NOT dance with Tess and then comes across the tombstone of John Durbyfield. He’s approached by a local who tells him that John did not want to be buried here; he wanted to be buried by his ancestors. But he didn’t have the money for that; actually, he didn’t have the money to pay for his burial or his tombstone. Hardy really knows how to twist a knife! Angel pays off that debt.
Angel continues on by himself as far as he can, seems that revelations of the past day or so have hit him quite hard. When he arrives at Joan’s “tenement.” The house has a walled off garden and is remote from the main road.
Angel finds himself meeting his mother-in-law for the first time and introduces himself. It’s apparent that she’s not excited for his visit. When Angel asks why she hasn’t written Joan responds that Tess hasn’t come home. Hmmm, I think Tess has been quite busy in the past few weeks (about a month, maybe a bit more has passed).
Joan has a great response to Angel when he inquires about Tess, “I don’t. But you ought to, sir.” Every now and then Joan does good motherly duty. There might be hope for the younger children. He goes on to ask if Tess would like to see him, to which Joan tells him, no. But Angel disagrees and says he thinks she might (he’s channeling the letter begging him to come home.) Joan admits that Angel probably does know her better than she does, that she never really knew Tess. After that she breaks down and tells Angel that Tess is in Sandbourne.
After that we find out that Joan and the family are well cared for. There is only one person who I can think of who would be able to take care of Joan, Alec. As Angel sets off for Sandbourne, I can only imagine he will not like what he has found.