In chapter LIV Angel searches the countryside for Tess, learning of the conditions she lived through in his absence. He eventually finds Tess’ mother who informs him that Tess doesn’t want to see him but then tells him she is in Sandbourne.
It’s 11 PM in Sanbourne and Angel is wandering around wondering what Tess is doing in this very fashionable city. He goes to bed around Midnight, but doesn’t sleep, still wondering what she is doing here.
He sets out early the next morning and asks the postman about a Mrs. Clare? HA! Nope, no Mrs. Clare here. But there is a d’Urberville at The Herons, a stylish lodging-house. Off he goes, imagining her working at The Herons, hoping she’s not working too hard. No, I don’t think that will be a problem…
The landlady answers and brings Angel to the dining room; he’s getting the impression that she’s not being overworked; maybe she sold his godmother’s jewels. But he does wonder what she will think of him and his gaunt and haggard appearance. When Tess arrives she is well (though hastily) dressed and she does not run to Angel’s arms.
“It is too late,” is her response to him.
Angel begs for forgiveness, he thinks the problem is his appearance, and that she’s being fickle. Then he goes on with a classic Angel Clare line, saying that his mother and father will accept her now. Seriously dude, you so suck at this romance stuff.
Tess is confused though, he found her, but somehow doesn’t know her status. She goes on to say:
I waited and waited for you. But you did not come. And I wrote you, and you did not come! He kept on saying you would never come any more, and that I was a foolish woman. He was very kind to me, and to mother, and to all of us after father’s death.
Yes, Alec won her back. She’s now a lady who does not have to work anymore. But this lady is not the Tess he left. This is the dead inside Tess who sacrificed herself to a man she did not love for her family. And now she hates that man. Alec told her that Angel wouldn’t come back, but here he is now.
Angel finally realizes the enormity of his mistake and finds himself wandering the streets of Sandbourne without the woman he loves. And I actually feel badly for them both.